The explosion of charter schools in the U.S. has opened up a world of educational leadership opportunities for intrepid teachers and administrators who want to advance their careers beyond mainstream education.

Since the first charter school law went into effect in 1991, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates that there are more than 6,400* in the U.S. Each is unique in educational philosophy, management style, and curriculum, yet all provide a fertile landscape for educational innovation and entrepreneurial leadership.


The Basics

Charter schools are public schools that do not charge tuition, are open to all students, and foster collaboration between parents and teachers. Charter schools are guided by a “charter”—a contract that outlines the school’s mission, structure, and performance requirements as established by the authorizing organization (usually a local or state-run government oversight entity) for the school

A few differences between traditional public schools and charter schools include:

  • Achievement and Accountability. Charter schools are held accountable for how successful their students are at achieving milestones as outlined in the specific school’s charter. These schools are not necessarily assessed on district or state regulations, but rather, fiscal responsibilities and academic success. Traditional public schools, on the other hand, have specific district and state regulations they must follow.
  • Choice and Academic Options. Charter schools can start from community groups, parents, teachers, or other individuals interested in providing education for students at the elementary or high school level. These schools offer a curriculum that meets students at their levels and many times is ability-based. Charter schools can be based on STEM programming, performing arts, technical or trade professions, special needs—the list is endless. Public schools, in contrast, follow government guidelines for the type of education and programming that is allowed and do not have as much flexibility when it comes to adjusting programming and curriculum needs.


Breaking in to Charter School Leadership

As each charter school is unique and governed by its own charter, the requirements for teaching or obtaining an administrative leadership role vary from school to school. Charter schools do comply with applicable state and federal laws, although degree requirements for teachers vary by state. Typically, charter schools are managed at the school level with hiring decisions made by the individual school (rather than a school district, as can be the case with traditional public schools).

One of the benefits of an EdS degree for charter school teachers is the authority it provides as school administrators are making hiring decisions. It highlights your desire for continued learning and allows you to stand out when it comes to securing a leadership position in such schools. Additionally, charter schools are more likely to have differential pay levels when compared to traditional public schools. A recent survey noted that charter schools were willing to pay more for teachers with degrees from select colleges, select subject areas, and even to those willing to work extra hours.

Another opportunity as it relates to charter school leadership is to start your own charter school. Many charter schools, such as the Keiller Leadership Academy in San Diego, are founded by a partnership of teachers and school administrators. The Center for Public Education cites the Keiller Leadership Academy as one of the most well-regarded charter schools in the country.

Finally, there are many organizations committed to the development of charter school leaders. The National Charter School Resource Center, for example, has information on teacher talent development, how to start a charter school, and available funding opportunities. KIPP charter schools offer ongoing professional development programs for its educators and administrators to nurture ongoing learning and leadership development.


Innovation and Your Education Career

TIME magazine described charter schools as a “new kind of education.” Charter schools are breaking the mold and offering new options and customized learning to students. As education leaders, there is an opportunity to be a part of this innovation.

Charter schools may also foster more autonomy than traditional public schools. If you are an educator who likes to push the envelope, develop new curriculum, or think through new ways of learning, a leadership role at a charter school may be a good fit for you.


Explore an EdS in Leadership in Educational Administration as an option to prepare you for a leadership role in a charter school.


*Based on 2013-2014 estimated national data.
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