The chief advantage of charter schools is that they aren't bound by strict curriculum regulations and other bureaucratic requirements. This allows them to focus on specific content areas, emphasize different aspects of education, offer innovative classes, and teach subjects that aren't always found in a typical public school. A charter school might assign more difficult assignments than students at a conventional public school would face, or place a heavy emphasis on writing skills. Charter schools can let students create independent projects and even alter the length of the school day or school year.
One example of a charter school taking an innovative approach to a high school curriculum is the Western New York Maritime Charter School in Buffalo, N.Y. In addition the usual classes required of high school students, every student is enrolled in the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC). They wear naval uniforms and hold NJROTC ranks. The school emphasizes a naval code of conduct; students participate in drills, color guard and other NJROTC activities. Students have helped refurbish a sailboat and can take sailing lessons. Many of the administrators in the school served in the U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy.
Charter schools aren't completely exempt from oversight and accountability, despite their flexibility. They must still adhere to the standards set by the state or local board of education. The students still have to take and pass standardized tests as required by the state, and school performance is generally measured by the students' scores on these tests. If a charter school's test scores fall too far below the scores in nearby districts, the school may be in danger of losing its charter and closing.
Charter schools may be innovative, but why are they so controversial? We'll talk about that next.