Comparing Charter Schools vs. Public Schools vs. Private Schools

The Charter Schools Debate

Many parents face tough decisions when it comes to their children’s education. One of the biggest choices they have to make is the type of school to send their child to. The three primary education options in the U.S. are charter schools, private schools and public schools.

The overall concept of education tends to be a hot-button issue not just for parents, but also for politicians and policymakers, and one of the most debated ideas in education right now are charter schools.

Republicans and conservatives tend to be in favor of expanding school choice options including charter schools, while liberals including Bernie Sanders have come out strongly against them. It leaves parents wondering what the right choice is for their family and their children.

The following gives a brief overview of the difference between charter and public schools, as well as an overview of what’s offered by the top private schools. It highlights key distinctions and also similarities between charter schools and the charter school system, as well as public and private schools.

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Comparison Review List

List is sorted alphabetically (click any of the names below to go directly to the detailed review and comparison section for that type of school):

High-Level Comparison Table

Charter vs. Public School vs. Private School

Charter Schools

Private SchoolsPublic Schools
AdmissionsBased on a random lottery, although other application processes may be includedVery selective, and schools have the right to choose their students based on the factors they outlineNo admissions criteria beyond living in a certain district. Everyone must be admitted.
AccountabilityOperate on a private sector model, so there can be inconsistencies in accountabilityNot accountable to a government entity, but they are accountable to parents and board membersPublic schools are accountable to state standards.
Student AchievementVaries significantly depending on the school. Much easier to close poor-performing charter schools as compared to public schools.Students tend to be high achievers and graduation rates at private schools is near 100%Achievement often varies significantly between individual schools and wealthier school districts often show much higher achievement and performance levels.
ChallengesSome people say these schools have unfair admissions standards, lacking in oversight in some areas, difficult to obtain necessary resourcesLack of diversity in the student body, not a lot of opportunity at private schools for low-income studentsThe resources at public schools are often strained, and students may not receive one-on-one attention.

Table: Charter vs. Public School and Private School | Above list is sorted alphabetically 

What To Know About Charter vs. Public Schools and Top Private Schools

Before delving into specific characteristics of charter schools, top private schools, and public schools, we’ll give you a short overview of what each is, by definition.

First, charter schools are technically public schools, but they operate under what’s called a charter. This charter is a contract between the school and an agency that authorizes it. With the charter, the school has a lot of freedom and independence when it comes to the education it provides and its approach.

Charter schools have a significant amount of decision-making authority as compared to public schools, and this also applies to curriculum, staff and also budget.

Charter schools, however, are not private. Private charter schools don’t exist, and these schools are funded by tax dollars and a combination of private funding as well, but they don’t charge tuition.

Private schools are independent and not related or administered by the government or state. They can then choose their own students, and make other decisions, and they’re funded primarily by student tuition instead of taxes.

Public funds support public schools, and everything is maintained at the expense of the public. Education is provided for free, the schools are available to everyone, and students attend based on their address through the designation of school districts.

School districts set the curriculum for all the schools in that district, but they are guided by direction from the state and the federal government. The state also outlines educational standards and testing.

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Charter Schools Review

To start this comparison of charter vs. public schools and private schools, we’ll first look at some of the key features of charter schools that make them unique. We’ll highlight the difference between charter and public schools, as well as even the best private schools.

Features of Charter Schools

The following are some of the most important features of charter schools, particularly when it comes to comparing charter vs. public schools and the best private schools.

Hybrid Approach

Charter schools are often referred to as somewhat of a hybrid in education. They are free, so in that way, there is no such thing as private charter schools. They can’t discriminate against students based on factors like gender, race, and disability, but at the same time, you are required to submit an application to enroll in a charter school.

While you do submit an application and the number of spaces available is often very limited, charter schools are funded by the government, and in some sense, they are accountable to the government body granting their charter.

Many charter schools have not only governmental funding, but they also receive a lot of private funding as well.

Since a charter school isn’t part of a school district, there are no zoning requirements for attendance, and parents get the choice of sending their child to a certain school, rather than relying on a district assignment.

One of the primary differences between the charter school system and independent private schools is that charter schools are prohibited from charging tuition because they receive some level of public funding.

Charter Schools Review

Image Source: Pixabay


There tends to be a lot of confusion about admissions to charter schools, and people think it’s similar to what happens at top private schools. This isn’t the case. However, ss mentioned, there are no private charter schools, and these schools aren’t exempt from federal laws pertaining to equal rights, discrimination, and access.  

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools emphasizes the fact that charter schools are always public schools and they accept any student. Their laws require students be admitted based on a random lottery.

With that being said, some charter schools have come under fire because they’ve gone outside the lottery standard and instead have asked for things such as essays to apply for admission to charter schools.

This is one of the primary areas of the debate surrounding charter vs. public school because opponents of these schools feel it doesn’t necessarily offer the equal opportunity it’s promised to deliver.


One of the biggest challenges faced by charter schools, and a key focus area in the debate of charter vs. public schools, is the quality of education and oversight. The growing popularity of charter schools has led to a lot of advancement in this area, but there is still inconsistency seen across the charter school system.

Some of the best charter schools may have excellent quality in education, while in the same city there may be low-performing schools that have difficulty catching up to the standards for public schools.

Charter schools also tend to face limited access to resources, and it can be tough for them to secure funding.

What to Consider

Ultimately, if you’re considering charter vs. public schools, charter schools tend to be able to focus on more specific study areas and drive their own curriculum, which a lot of parents prefer.

They also tend to operate under a private sector model, which promotes high levels of performance in some cases, or the school can face closure.

On the other hand, even the best charter schools may have inconsistencies in quality and delivery of education, they face obstacles to obtaining resources and funding, and many people have expressed dissatisfaction at how admissions are handled.

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Private School Review

A private school is unique from what’s offered by the charter school system in many ways.

Private schools are also often referred to as independent private schools or just independent schools, and they are supported by tuition, and private contributions, rather than government funding and revenue obtained through taxation.

Comparing Independent Private Schools and Charter vs. Public School

Below are some of the key features of not just the best private schools and top private schools, but all independent private schools. Also below are some areas of distinction between top private schools and the charter school system, as well as public schools.

Funding and Tuition

One of the primary differences between top charter schools and public schools, in comparison to private schools, is how they are funded.

Private schools receive money by charging students and their families tuition, rather than through public funding. They also often are funded through private donations and fundraising.

According to the Council for American Private Education, around 5.5 million students attend private schools, which accounts for about 12 percent of students.

Because students pay tuition and funding aren’t from public sources, private schools can choose who they admit, and they can be very selective in doing so, unlike what happens in the charter school system, theoretically.

Tuition for private schools can be very expensive. At some of the best private schools, it may be on par with what’s paid for tuition at Ivy League Schools, although the national average is $19,100 a year.

The cost of top private schools may vary not only depending on the reputation of the school, but also the location. For example, in New York City, the cost of top private schools can be as much as $40,000 a year.

Many of the best private schools do offer scholarship programs and need-based financial aid, but these programs are often limited to only a few students a year.


Private schools are unique from public schools because since they are fully independent of the government, they can also be associated with any group or organization they choose.

For example, Catholic schools make up the largest number of top private schools in the country. There are also many other top private schools related to religions including Christianity and Judaism.

Some of the non-religious affiliations of top private schools often include Montessori and Waldorf.

Private schools may focus on providing a progressive education, a traditional education, or they may focus on one particular area of education over others, such as math and science.

The Education

While it can be expensive to attend one of the top private schools, there are benefits, in particular, the level of education that’s often offered.

Of course, not every private school is one of the top private schools, but many are able to offer a varied, independent curriculum because they’re not limited by the state or by testing. They also tend to have low teacher-student ratios, so students get a lot more attention than what teachers might be able to offer in a public school setting.

Almost all twelfth graders enrolled in private school graduate as well. In fact, at not just top private schools but all private schools, the graduation rate is nearly 100 percent.

What to Consider

Ultimately if you’re looking at charter vs. public school and then the top private schools, there are some things to consider.

First, with top private schools, you will be paying a premium, and you have to decide if you can and if so if it’s worth it.

Your child may get a better education, but many of the best private schools have a reputation for being elite, and not having a lot of diversity in their student body.

You’ll also have to think about the fact that in addition to high tuition costs, top private schools are often fundraising throughout the year, so you may be asked to donate often.

If you’re weighing the difference between the charter school system and the best charter schools and a private school, the price and the quality of education may be two of the biggest deciding factors.

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Public Schools Review

For parents who either can’t afford the cost of the best private schools or who don’t want to go that route, the biggest education question is often whether they should go with charter vs. public school, or what the difference between charter and public schools is.

Charter vs. Public School and Private School

The following are features of public schools that help illustrate the difference between charter and public schools, and highlight things to consider when comparing charter vs. public school.


Many people assume the charter school system and top charter schools outperform public schools, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, research conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that many times public schools are outperforming charter schools, although of course, this isn’t always true.

The Stanford research looked at reading and math scores on standardized tests and compared charter vs. public school outcomes.

A report comparing charter vs. public school outcomes from the New York Daily News found that New York City public schools and charter schools showed equally poor performance on state assessments.

On the other hand, in Chicago charter vs. public school, charter schools seem to be outperforming. For example, a story from the Chicago Tribune showed when comparing students at charter vs. public schools, charter school students showed more improvements in both reading and math.

The improvements were even more significant for minority and low-income students.

charter school system

Image Source: Pixabay


In their original concept, the best charter schools and the charter school system were intended to serve the needs primarily of those students who might be from low-income neighborhoods or not otherwise have access to a good education.

However, there has been barriers introduced in the charter school system, and many of these best charter schools may not be willing to admit high-need or high-risk students.

This is where charter vs. public school shows that public can be better. A public school has to admit everyone in a district, regardless of challenges, whereas charter schools aren’t required to do this.

Also, one of the big differences between charter vs. public school is the fact that the charter school system requires an application, and low-income parents or families may not be aware of the options, or they may not be researching the top charter schools for their child.

One of the biggest advantages in the debate between charter vs. public school is the fact that there is a lot of diversity and availability when it comes to public schools that often isn’t available at even the top charter schools.

Opportunities and Services

Something else to think about when looking at the difference between charter and public schools are the opportunities and services that might be available at public schools, and not offered by even the best charter schools.

Since public schools are funded by the government, there may be options for advanced classes and programs such as International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Classes.

Because of public funding, another difference between charter vs. public school  is the fact that public schools are required to provide certain services to students including transportation, reduced price lunch, and academic assistance.

In some cases, another difference between charter and public schools may be the level of teacher qualifications and accountability required.

For example, teachers at public schools are required to have state certification while neither the top charter schools nor independent private schools require this. Also, public schools are accountable for their performance by the state, whereas even the best charter schools aren’t.

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Conclusion—Charter vs. Public School and Private School

Ultimately there is no right answer to the question of whether your child should attend charter vs. public school or attend a private school.

Whether you’re considering charter vs. public schools and the difference between charter and public schools, or you’re thinking about independent private schools, there are pros and cons for each.

There are differences in admission, cost, performance, and accountability, and many of these differences are based on the individual school or the area where you live. For example, an education at one of the top charter schools in the charter school system may be drastically better than a public school education in one city, and worse in another.

It’s a personal decision that you and your family have to make, based on your child and your goals.

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