February 8, 2021

What’s the Difference Between a Traditional Public School and a Charter School?

If you’re on the fence about whether you should choose a traditional public school or charter school, the first step is to understand the differences between them. No two schools are created equal, and it’s important to go through the advantages and disadvantages of each to choose the right school for you!

The main differences between these two types of schools are who is in charge of them, and in turn, how they can present the curriculum based on those regulations.

Traditional Public schools are controlled by a district. They are required to track their students’ performance in a specific way. Because of these regulations, traditional public schools often don’t have as much flexibility in how they teach their scholars.

Charter schools are schools run by a board of directors independent of a district. While they are required to follow strict regulations and guidelines to prove their methods are beneficial to their scholars, they may have different processes or different classes offered, as long as they have approval from their board.

Here’s a basic overview of some common features of each school:

Charter SchoolTraditional Public School
Is enrollment free?YesYes
Do they have a religious affiliation?NoNo
Who runs the school?A boardA school district
Do you have to apply to enroll?YesNo
Who determines the curriculum?A board, with regulations from the state.A school district, with regulations from the state.
Do they require uniforms?Often yesOften no
Are there athletics programs?Sometimes noOften yes
Are there fine arts programs?Often yesOften yes

What Makes a Charter School Different?

The Curriculum

While the curriculum between charter schools and traditional public schools may be different, that’s not to say that it won’t be a high quality education at either option! Charter schools are required to follow a strict curriculum through the Utah State Charter School Board, similar to what a traditional public school does. The main difference is that charter schools may have more flexibility in how they deliver their education.

Some public charter schools may focus on certain aspects of an education. For example, at Paradigm Schools, liberal arts and fine arts are a huge focus in everything we do.

Our mission is to teach scholars how to think, not what to think. This means we’re able to provide more extensive education in some areas, like more presentations, reports, and study projects to encourage our scholars to take their education into their own hands.

Class Sizes

Traditional public schools may fluctuate in attendance and are only restricted by the limit of the building and the number of students in the area. Depending on the ratio of students to teachers, class sizes vary, and you may have no control over how big a class might be. This often means there are fewer opportunities for one-on-one learning and individualized instruction.

Charter schools are limited in the number of students who can enroll, which offers more opportunities for smaller class sizes and individualized instruction. There may be certain courses offered that provide more opportunities for mentoring and extra instruction where necessary.

The Application Process

Traditional public schools accept all those within the area, but for those who want to enroll in the school outside the school boundary, they may need to get a special permit. The advantage of traditional public schools is that they are not able to turn any student away if they are in the area, so you will be able to register your scholar no matter what.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are not mandated by location. In fact, charter schools cannot discriminate based on location, need, or other factors. Instead, they choose which students can enroll by holding a random lottery each year. So, while they are able to take any scholar, you may or may not be able to enroll depending on how many other scholars chose to enroll in a given year.

It is still possible to transfer into a charter school in the middle of the school year if there are open seats. To find out if there is a spot for your scholar at a charter school of your choice, reach out to the school’s registrar to learn more about what you need to transfer.

How Are Traditional Public Schools and Charter Schools Similar?


Both traditional public and charter schools are publicly funded, which means you aren’t required to pay tuition. While certain extracurricular activities may have fees associated with them, it does not cost money to enroll in the school.

While many charter schools have a uniform, some may have a program in place to help offset the cost when possible, so it shouldn’t hold any scholar back from receiving the type of education they need.

Extracurricular Activities Are Available

While what a school offers varies per school, there are similarities in the types of programs each school offers. If your scholar wants to invest in their fine arts education, both charter schools and traditional public schools are a great choice.

Each school may offer something slightly different, so reach out to the school you’re interested in enrolling your scholar in to determine what might be a good fit for them!

Are Charter Schools Better Than Traditional Public Schools?

Each school provides different offerings for their scholars, so there isn’t a true answer of if one is better than the other. The right school depends on how your scholar learns best. Some charter schools may have different extracurricular activity offerings than some traditional public schools.

Athletic programs are more common at traditional public schools than charter schools, but some charter schools may have a relationship with traditional public schools in the area to provide that opportunity to those who are interested.

If you’re still on the fence of what type of school may be right for your scholar, learn more about the advantages of choosing a charter school.

Enroll at Paradigm Schools

If you want to pursue a public charter school as an option for your child, consider entering our lottery for the school year and start your application online! We have a variety of unique programs that are perfect for any scholar who wants to dive deeper into their education or might need extra one-on-one tutoring from our mentors.

Are you looking to transfer schools? Reach out to our registrar for more information on what options are available. We have a number of programs in place to help make that transition as smooth as possible, including shadowing opportunities that lets potential new students follow one of their peers to see what an education at Paradigm Schools, in South Jordan looks like!