Charter Schools and Educational Diversity in Alberta: Assessing the success of Alberta charter schools and the potential for expansion in Alberta and other Canadian provinces
Charter schools have been operating in Alberta for over twenty years, yet their growth has been limited in the province and the model has not expanded to the rest of Canada. Functioning as autonomous, government-funded, non-profit schools which charge no tuition – each offering a unique educational approach and performing independent research – charter schools represent an innovative model of public education. An analysis of provincial enrollment data shows charter school enrollment is growing relative to total school age population in Alberta, and anecdotal evidence shows strong parental demand for charter schools. An analysis of grade six and nine Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) score data in Alberta between 1997/98 and 2016/17 shows that charter schools on average almost always outperform all other types of schools – notably outperforming independent schools – while operating at a much lower cost to government than traditional public schools. When broken down school by school, it has been shown that charter schools achieve consistently high average PAT scores, and the few charter schools that fall below the traditional public school average scores have shown steady improvement over time. Yet, the provincially mandated cap on the number of schools in the province has not been reached. It appears that regulatory and practical barriers have constrained the expansion of charter schools in the province. The Alberta government could implement policy reforms to remove these barriers, reallocate additional funding for transportation and some capital costs, and encourage charter school growth. For decades, charter schools have served as an integral part of the educational choice frameworks in both Alberta and the United States, and represent an opportunity for other Canadian provinces looking to increase diversity within their education systems and better engage students who are not best served by traditional public schools. A review of the education systems in each Canadian province and a literature review of existing research on charter schools in the United States and Alberta demonstrate that charter schools likely cannot be introduced without overcoming some political barriers. However, charter school policies bring great potential for offering a wider range of educational options to students of all income levels, and may be exceptionally valuable for engaging disadvantaged student populations in classroom learning. By several measures, the Alberta government’s experiment with charter schools has proven successful for students, but there is room to grow. The introduction of charter schools is a worthwhile policy for other provincial governments to consider, and the Alberta model offers useful lessons to aid in the process.
MacPherson, P.T. (2018). Charter Schools and Educational Diversity in Alberta: Assessing the success of Alberta charter schools and the potential for expansion in Alberta and other Canadian provinces (Unpublished master's project). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.