Charter High Schools: Alternative Paths to Graduation

November 2009

It is no secret that many urban high school students are severely behind academically and face daunting social and emotional challenges. In the face of these obstacles, states and the federal government continue to set lofty goals to graduate and send to college a much higher portion of American students. Given the vast diversity of students and student needs, it will be critical to have a greater variety of effective public schooling alternatives for high school-aged students. This white paper explores the alternative path to graduation that charter high schools make possible.

Thousands of high school students graduate from charter high schools across the country every year. This report looks at the unique contribution these schools make in terms of their ability to offer a highly focused educational experience tailored to specific populations of students. However, charter high schools vary greatly in quality and there are barriers preventing them from reaching their full potential, including inadequate funding, start-up struggles and, for some, a hesitancy to deviate from the traditional high school model. The authors explore these challenges and conclude with some recommendations for new investments in truly innovative high school models that would maximize the effectiveness of current charter high schools.