Changing public schools nationwide
Charter schools give parents, teachers, and others the chance to design a school to meet students' needs, without direct control of local school districts. Each of these new schools is granted a "charter" that defines goals and sets limits on how the school is run. Like any public school, a charter school must be open to all, is publicly funded, and involves no discrimination, no tuition, and no teaching of religion. Minnesota is the nation's leader in charter school education.
That's the big picture. But the real impact of the national movement that started in Minnesota is best seen up close, by looking at how a charter school can change a student's life. David Kraft had tried, with little success, to thrive at a number of Twin Cities public and private schools before he discovered St. Paul's Avalon School, sponsored by Hamline University. David struggles with the effects of Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that makes it difficult for him to stay organized and focused on meaningful work. He was the classic smart kid who couldn't succeed in a mainstream educational environment.
Avalon follows a college-preparation curriculum, with individualized learning plans and project-based lessons. Not only did David complete his high school requirements at Avalon. In his senior year, he was a key member of the school's State Academic Decathlon team. A self-described "eclectic geek," David, along with his teammates, took the state championship in the small-school category (less than 650 students). With 120 students, Avalon was the only charter school that participated in the competition. "Avalon really gives us the liberty to do what we want and the responsibility to follow through on our education," said David's teammate Eowyn Ward. "This culture and this environment allowed everyone to work really hard."
Today, there are 1,000,000 students enrolled in 3,700 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia. And within those schools are countless students, like David Kraft, who have found their way to academic success.
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