Public charters or traditional schools; which is better?

Wisconsin is home to 245 charter schools

Independent Public Charter schools outperform traditional public schools in student growth and achievement gap scores, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Library. Wisconsin is home to 245 charter schools. Eight of them are right here in the School District of La Crosse.

Maggie McHugh teaches sixth-graders at the La Crosse Design Institute Charter Middle School, but she goes by a different title: adviser.

“I, as the adviser, help and assist students,” McHugh said.

Her title isn’t the only difference between this school and traditional schools.

“We have no testing; students are completely working towards projects where they bring in all four core disciplines: math, and science, social studies, and English,” McHugh said.

As long as it meets state and district standards, students are free to make any project they choose.

“Some are creating more hands-on creations, some are creating speeches and others have designed a new type of back pack that’s going to better distribute your weight,” McHugh said.

Because the curriculum is so different from that of a traditional classroom, officials said it’s hard to compare the two. Out of the five La Crosse middle schools rated in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s State Report Card, one exceeds expectations and four meet expectations including La Crossse Design Institute.

“People would like to make the case for charter schools that it’s somehow better than our traditional schools,” said Penny Reedy, principal of La Crosse Design Institute. “What I say to those parents or students or community members, is, it’s not better it’s different. It has to do with what’s going to be the best fit for that child.”

McHugh admits, though, that her students and others enrolled in project-based charters might have an edge in things that can’t be measured.

“Our students are thinking outside of the box, which is such a critical skill as we look towards the future in wanting students who will be problem-solvers, and come up with solutionary ideas,” McHugh said.

La Crosse School District Superintendent Randy Nelson said a good school is one that fits a certain students needs and that can be a traditional school or a charter school. He said to find out which one is best, it’s important to go to the different schools and meet the  faculty.

Wisconsin is one of the top five states with the most public charter schools. Minnesota has 149 and Iowa has three, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter schools