Charter Schools in Texas tend to fall into three categories-those meant to help kids receive a high school degree as they are at risk, those meant for kids in some sort of live-in environment, and those that are "special purpose" or college preparatory. Based upon the below info (I admit needing to do more reading to understand in depth) it appears they must follow a basic set of curriculum approved by the state-likely in the form of required coursework.
Are there requirements concerning curriculum imposed on open-enrollment charter schools?
Yes. Open- enrollment charter schools are subject to some, but not all, of the curriculum requirements that apply to independent school districts. For example, their educational programs must include the curriculum required by Texas Education Code (TEC) section 28.002, implement reading diagnosis and accelerated reading instruction programs as required by TEC section 28.002, adhere to the graduation standards of TEC section 28.025, and adhere to requirements regarding special education and bilingual education and pre-kindergarten. See TEC 12.104.
In addition to fairly standard curriculum, I would expect that a charter school would be required to adhere to keeping religion out of the classroom-but it is a very interesting question give ideas such as intelligent design etc and is worthy of thought as to how it could be exploited by different groups trying to value push on students.
My expereinces with three local charter schools seems that each does have a differing "philosophy". One school followed the ideas of Gartner and "multiple intelligences", thus tried to offer children a variety of learning routes and recognition that each brings value in different ways into thier classroom experience.
Another-a school called NYOS-(Not Your Ordinary School)-teaches a more arts/soft approach focused on creativity and performance arts etc. It has an extremely long waiting list.
One of the most popular charter schools is a chain called "Harmony" which tends to be a science based curriculum. My son has went to two of these and in each he was taking science and math courses 1-2 years in advance of public ISDs, has mandatory science fair projects, robotics courses, and science and math olympiad teams. The Harmony chain has been noted by US News as being very interesting, due to high graduation rates, high college attendance and very high minority rates and low income student populations all in the same schools-they are managing to do what our public schools fail at: Helping poor minority students in bad neighborhoods succeed and improve in life.
Interestingly, to highlight an example that showcases some of your concerns, the harmony schools were started by a Turkish guy in Houston and staffed by a large number of Turkish immigrant teachers. The conservatives see this as an islamic attempt to infiltrate our schools, and these concerns get fueled by anti-charter folks on the liberal side on shows like 60 minutes. In reality, it appears the kids just get more exposure to islamic culture that the typical xenophobic Texan, via some of the teachers wearing a head scarf or having in service holidays altered by a day or two to coincide with Muslim holidays. The kids can take turkish as a second language and be in the Turkish dance club. (My son has had four years of Turkish so far.) They do not have athletics, band, performance arts, or any athletic facilities. The schools are often in odd places like strip malls, industrial offics space lots or old ugly church buildings that they fix up. (They do not receive facilities funding)
The controversy does sadden me however, as these schools WORK, and they should be being studied to understand what they are doing RIGHT, instead of vilified by people with a political agenda.
Our public schools are not functioning as well as we expect them to-if we want to fix that we have to first be willing to admit there is a problem. I have known a number of scientists who wanted to teach high school, but were turned off, not by the low salaries but by the bureaucratic administrative overhead, the extra required "education" coursework, and the treatment that independent thought by a teacher in a public school receives. How can we expect students to think critically if we penalize their teachers for doing so? My sons best teacher left public school in Michigan to teach in a private school that was more flexible-the teachers likely are not the problem-the system itself seems to be the root of the problem.
@Lark : Charter schools are PUBLIC schools, not private, thus parents dont pay anything for children to go-just wanted to clarify as I noted your post on private education in the UK.