In that article I highlighted some of the forms of confusion promoted by neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers to block people from concluding that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are harmful and must be opposed.
The essence of these different forms of confusion typically takes the form of listing many damning and indicting problems with charter schools, while still managing to find a convoluted way to support them.
Here is the general formula:
I know charter schools have 50 profound problems.
I just spent hours researching and showing that charter schools have many problems.
I know more people are rejecting charter schools and seeing them for what they really are.
But I will stubbornly continue to support charter schools anyway and be comfortable with such a contradictory and incoherent position.
Refer to the 2018 article for more details and analysis.
In this article I address yet another form of confusion distorting consciousness and undermining public schools and the public interest. This form of disinformation is a slight, but significant, variation of an existing confusion. It goes something like this:
There are tons of serious problems with thousands of charter schools across the country, but some charter schools are “good” or “work,” and as long as it is “all about the kids” and “increasing test scores,” then I don’t care if the school is a charter school, public school, or catholic school. I support any type of school as long as it is “a good fit for the kids.”
This is really nothing more than open support for privately-operated charter schools. It is dangerous and reveals a lack of analysis of charter schools. It is not deep or serious. It is another way of saying that funneling billions of public dollars a year to wealthy private interests is acceptable as long as the charter schools the wealthy elite benefit from are “a good fit for the children.” Such a view condones the parasitism, destruction, and decay of neoliberalism.
Obviously, it does matter who runs, governs, and decides education affairs in a society based on mass industrial production. It matters a lot.
Public and private mean the opposite of each other. Public and private are antonyms. Conceptual confusion flourishes and results in antisocial policies when these different categories are mixed up and used carelessly. This happens frequently.
Public refers to everyone, the whole society, the common good. Private means exclusive, not for everyone, not inclusive, not shared. The former focuses on we, while the latter focuses on me. For this and other reasons, the aims, preoccupations, outlook, drive, and agenda of public forces and private forces are not the same. Private wealthy interests and the common good are not identical; they actually contradict each other.
Charter schools are not public schools. They never have been. There is no such thing as a public charter school. Charter schools differ profoundly from public schools—legally, philosophically, organizationally, and operationally. Many courts have even ruled that charter schools are not public schools.
The key issue with privately-operated charter schools is not whether they are “a good fit for a student” or not. Nor is it about whether privately-operated charter schools raise test scores or not. High-stakes standardized tests come from the rich, not teachers, and are useless and harmful in many ways. The issue is that all charter schools—nonprofit and for-profit, virtual and brick-and-mortar—are privatized marketized education arrangements that have no legitimate and valid claim to public funds, assets, facilities, resources, or authority. Public wealth and property belong only to the public, not someone else.
In a society drowning in an overabundance of socially-produced wealth, no parent should have to roll the dice, shop for a school, cross their fingers, hope and pray the school chooses them, and then be violated and betrayed when the school performs poorly, over-punishes students, engages in fraud, and ends up closing, as so often happens in the unaccountable charter school sector.
Treating a fundamental social responsibility like education as a commodity, as a consumer good, as a free market exchange relation, is the opposite of what society and the economy need. Modern education cannot be run on the basis of consumerism, competition, social Darwinism, and Skinnerian ideology.
A fully-funded, world class, integrated, locally-controlled public school system available for free to every person in every neighborhood is a basic human right that government must provide with a guarantee in practice.
While billionaires Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos can take some of the “blame” for an uptick in broad opposition to the nation’s 7,000 non-profit and for-profit charter schools, resistance to privately-operated charter schools has been building for nearly three decades.
Opposition to segregated, test-obsessed, and unaccountable charter schools that fleece the public treasury is not new. Many defenders of public education and the public interest have been consistently exposing and criticizing charter schools for a long time.
If anything, billionaires Trump and DeVos have served mainly as catalysts for simmering resistance to deregulated charter schools that transfer public wealth to private interests. It was just a matter of time before this opposition took hold and became more visible and powerful.
Neoliberals and privatizers are unable and unwilling to comprehend all of this because, objectively, they can only see phenomena from a narrow capital-centered view. Looking at phenomena from the perspective of the public interest does not make sense to them.
In short, stiff and more discernable resistance to charter schools was inevitable, with or without Trump and DeVos.
Mounting opposition to charter schools stems mainly from the stubborn fact that charter schools are plagued by and cause many endless problems that are profound and impossible to cover up. No amount of disinformation, lies, worn-out platitudes, and propaganda can bury this reality. As a result, the public has become much more conscious and much less tolerant of these privatized education arrangements. That is why we are seeing what we are seeing. In many ways, charter schools have long been their own worst enemy.
Further, as more parents—especially poor and low-income minority parents—are betrayed, abandoned, and mistreated by virtual and brick-and-mortar charter schools, we will see more opposition from them as well, mainly in the form of not enrolling their kids in charter schools as readily as before, and in the form of telling other parents about their negative experiences in charter schools. This too is inevitable.
Teachers who have worked in charter schools will also further shift the discussion and momentum against charter schools even more. There is a reason why teacher turnover is exceptionally high in the nontransparent charter school sector.1 Already, there are quite a few whistleblower teachers out there blogging about the problems they witnessed while working in a charter school. Their stories depict problems that are even worse than the many problems carefully documented by official research on charter schools. Many leave a charter school within the first few weeks of employment because what they see is so problematic and troubling.
For their part, teachers’ unions have mainly provided a strong and valuable expression of inevitable mounting rejection of charter schools. So many people are relieved that opposition to charter schools is being led by teacher unions, and they are excited about building on this irreversible momentum. Public school teachers see first-hand the damage caused to their schools and communities by charter schools. This kind of opposition is long overdue and unlikely to go away. Charter school promoters have every reason to worry.
Endless news reports of fraud, scandal, waste, high teacher turnover rates, excessive student suspensions, inflated administrator pay, poor academic performance, and low transparency in the charter school sector, which is tiny compared to the public school system in America, will keep appearing with great frequency. Such reports are likely to increase in the months and years ahead.
Defenders of public education can and must build on the momentum against the privatization of education. They have history, facts, justice, logic, and large numbers of people on their side. Neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers, on the other hand, are only preparing more tragedies for the people.
In another recent study on charter schools, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, “finds little to no progress in charter school impact in Pennsylvania.”1
A June 4, 2019 press release from CREDO states that: “Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found over four years of study that the typical charter school student in Pennsylvania makes similar progress in reading and weaker growth in math compared to their traditional public school peer (TPS).”
The press release does not mention what sort of selective enrollment practices are practiced in Pennsylvania’s charter schools, but it is well-known that charter schools across the nation regularly cherry-pick their students. It is also worth noting that, “Of the state’s 15 cyber charters, 10 are operating with expired charters.”2
The CREDO Pennsylvania finding is extra significant given that it comes from an organization that is unrelentingly pro-charter school and funded heavily by billionaires who have been working for years to impose privately-operated charter schools on the entire country (e.g., Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation).
Nearly 30 years after they appeared on the American education landscape, charter schools, which barely make up seven percent of all schools in the country, have demonstrated weak results on a broad and consistent basis. These privately-operated segregated schools that often over-suspend students and hire uncertified teachers have also been unable to escape endless scandals and problems that appear in the news literally every few hours.
In a recent article3 I cite relevant and current research, some from charter school supporters themselves, that shows that thousands of charter schools across the country, not just Pennsylvania, continue to perform poorly.
CREDO at Stanford University finds little to no progress in charter school impact in Pennsylvania since release of CREDO’s 2013 national charter school report, June 4, 2019.
Joe Biden is one of about two dozen 2020 democratic candidates running for President of the United States. This is not his first presidential campaign.
Biden served under President Barack Obama as Vice President for eight years. Obama became well-known for many antisocial policies in many spheres, especially education, including the aggressive promotion of privately-operated charter schools that siphon enormous sums of money from over-tested, under-funded, and constantly-demonized public schools. Obama also supported the widely-rejected Race to the Top law, the much-hated Common Core, and the heavily-loathed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In 2015, Obama replaced NCLB with a worse law: the Every Student Succeeds Act. The education record of Obama and Biden is terrible.
During a recent two-day swing through Texas, Biden said the following at an event with teachers: “I do not support any federal money … for for-profit charter schools — period. The bottom line is it siphons off money from public schools, which are already in enough trouble.”1
But with the exception of millionaires, billionaires, and their retinue, who isn’t opposed to for-profit K-12 schools? Such “schools” have always been poor quality, corrupt, and immoral; they were established mainly to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of young people.
It should be noted that for-profit charter schools actually make up a larger portion of the unstable and unaccountable charter school sector than many are reporting.
It is also important to appreciate that Biden, like Presidential democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, is not addressing the fact that nonprofit charter schools are just as destructive, if not more harmful, than for-profit charter schools. The “for-profit/nonprofit” dichotomy is largely a distinction without a difference. It does not mean that much. In various ways nonprofit charter schools often get away with more than for-profit schools. Nonprofit charter schools are engaged in many ways with for-profit entities and organizations. Wealthy private interests have had no trouble using the nonprofit status to enrich themselves.
Biden’s conscious refusal to oppose charter schools is most evident in his simple statement that, “There are some charter schools that work.”2
Clearly, Biden thinks there is a place in society for privately-operated charter schools.
This is all charter school promoters need to hear. This is music to the ears of charter school boosters. Charter school advocates can now rest easy knowing that Biden, like Obama and the vast majority of 2020 democratic presidential hopefuls, is no threat to charter schools.
Biden’s assertion that “There are some charter schools that work” is nothing more than another expression of the erroneous and confused idea that, somehow, charter schools really are, or can be, valid, legitimate, responsible, productive, and much-needed arrangements in society.
In reality, pay-the-rich schemes like privately-operated contract schools that parasitically drain socially-produced wealth from schools and society are the opposite of what society needs. Pay-the-rich schemes undermine the economy and the national interest as well.
Interestingly, Biden conveniently fails to mention charter schools on his official campaign website; he sidesteps the issue, thereby revealing again his implicit support for such deunionized and segregated schools rife with fraud and racketeering. At least Bernie Sanders’ official education platform mentions charter schools openly and frequently.
It is also worth pointing out that Joe Biden’s brother, Frank Biden, has been heavily involved in the charter school sector for years.3
At the end of the day, it does not matter that much if charter schools are for-profit or nonprofit: they are still privately-operated, deregulated, segregated, poorly-supervised, deunionized, low-transparency, scandal-ridden contract schools that drain much-needed funds from demonized public schools. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools also engage in extensive fraud, have high employee turnover rates, frequently perform poorly, and typically over-pay administrators.
The narrow aim of maximizing profit as fast as possible compels owners of capital to say and do whatever they have to to get richer, no matter how irrational and contradictory, and no matter the cost to society and the environment. Such an aim is irresponsible and outdated, and needs to be replaced by a human-centered aim that recognizes the need for a modern economy controlled by the working class and people themselves.
The key distinction between class will and personal will is critical to appreciate here because it cuts through persistent confusion surrounding why major owners of capital do what they do. Individuals are not the only ones with a will. Social classes, as objective phenomena, also have their own will and dynamics. Focusing only on personal whims and intentions limits comprehension of social phenomena.
Capital is first and foremost an unequalsocial relationship, not a person or a thing. Major owners of capital are the personification of capital, the embodiment of capital, also known as capital personified or capital incarnate.
This theoretical insight is critical because it takes us away from the rabbit hole of personal intentions and personal will, and allows us instead to objectively locate greed, insecurity, inequality, poverty, unemployment, and other problems in the intrinsic built-in nature, logic, and movement of capital itself. Recognizing and grasping this shift from personal intentions to the internal core dynamics of capital itself is priceless.
In short, the concept of individuals as the personification of economic categories helps us move beyond an individual’s personal ambitions and understand the bigger, broader, deeper reasons for unequal relations in society, that is, the structure of social relations under capital.
As agents of capital, as bearers of specific class interests, major owners of capital cannot exist without constantly amassing socially-produced wealth. The singular aim of capital is to accumulate as much wealth as rapidly as possible,1 no matter how irrational and harmful the consequences are to the common good. Owners of capital will quickly go out of business if they fail to out-compete and out-profit other owners of capital.
A violent dog-eat-dog world is not a mirage.
Charter Schools Conceived, Organized, and Imposed by the Rich
Charter schools were conceived, organized, and promoted with impunity by wealthy individuals, organizations, and corporations, not grass-roots forces, more than 30 years ago. The idea of chartering was discussed even before then. It is no accident that since their inception fewer than three percent of charter schools have been started, controlled, or operated by actual teachers themselves. Charter schools were never about empowering teachers and developing “innovative” curriculum and instruction to promote student success. That’s a worn-out fairy tale. The rich and their representatives have always been the main shakers and movers behind privately-operated contract schools. And they are even more so today. The rich did not show up after charter schools appeared and then hijack charter schools for their own narrow needs; they themselves are the architects of charter schools in the United States.
A continually falling rate of profit under capitalism, especially in the neoliberal period which started in the late 1970s, has forced major owners of capital to parasitically funnel public funds and assets to themselves through diverse pay-the-rich schemes. In education, the main such scheme is charter schools. As a result, billions of public school dollars and billions of dollars’ worth of public school facilities have been seized over the years by private charter school owners-operators. Privatization necessarily results in higher costs, more corruption, more inefficiency, and lower quality service.
Hypocrisy of Charter School Advocates
Prominent charter school supporters and promoters sometimes have to criticize charter schools because there are so many serious glaring problems to criticize. Not saying anything would look, feel, and sound incongruent and strange. Facts are, after all, stubborn things. It is difficult to bury all of reality. Sometimes, fortunately, no amount of fantasy or disinformation works. Anticonsciousness is not permanent.
But despite their complaints and criticisms of profound problems in the unaccountable, unstable, segregated charter school sector, well-known charter school advocates and ideologues keep energetically pushing for more charter schools, further harming education, society, the economy, and the national interest.
Below is a pocket-sized sample of damning and indicting statements made by long-time prominent unrelenting supporters of charter schools, as well as a powerful statement from a not so well-known individual who used to blindly support these pay-the-rich schemes but no longer does.
Margaret “Macke” Raymond
Even though she has spent years documenting many problems with charter schools, Dr. Margaret “Macke” Raymond has been a steadfast supporter of charter schools for decades. She is a major neoliberal proponent of “big data”2 and has served as founder and director of the infamous Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University since its inception in 1999. CREDO supports charter schools and is heavily funded by billionaire venture “philanthropists” like the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Both organizations have harmed public education and the public interest for years. It is also worth noting that Macke is married to Dr. Eric Hanushek, who has been mystifying school funding issues in the United States for decades. Like Raymond, Hanushek is heavily promoted by neoliberals and privatizers as well. Together, Raymond and Hanushek have worked for years to impose the unpopular corporate school reform agenda on the public.
Macke’s criticism of charter schools is worth quoting at length. Fifty minutes and fifteen seconds into a 56-minute talk at the City Club of Cleveland on December 10, 2014, Macke, with no sense of irony, gives the following response to a question about charter school policy:
This is one of the big insights for me because I actually am a kind of pro-market kind of girl, but the marketplace doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education… I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career… Education is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work… I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. There are other supports that are needed… I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we need to have more oversight of the overseers… the authorizers (emphasis added).
This is an astonishing statement.
Macke is basically saying that the so-called “free market” does not work, especially in education, but let’s not change course, let’s keep doing things that don’t work.3 Such “logic” hurts the human-centered brain but appears natural, normal, and comfortable to the capital-centered brain. Sharp contradictions do not phase the capital-centered brain, especially when the profit motive is involved.
Nearly 30 years later, charter school oversight and accountability remain weak and ineffective. Charter school authorizers, especially the ones that are not part of a public school district, have rarely been reliable forces of quality control. And there is nothing to suggest that they will suddenly become more responsible and useful.
Another long-time diehard supporter of charter schools, and currently the senior vice president for state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Todd Ziebarth, had the following to say in 2009: “There are too many lousy charter schools out there” (as quoted in The Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2009).
Ten years later, on March 28, 2019, commenting on chronically under-performing charter schools in Ohio, Arizona, and Texas, Ziebarth asserted the following in USA Today: “Many of those schools probably shouldn’t have been open to begin with.”4
True. But why are so many rotten charter schools allowed to open year after year in state after state? Certainly this is nothing the public is pushing for. The average student, parent, and teacher is not in favor of more ineffective charter schools opening all the time. And would so many unsuccessful charter schools even be opening if charter authorizers were responsible and effective in the first place?
Arne Duncan was the infamous U.S. Secretary of Education (from 2009-2015) under the pro-charter school Obama administration. Many, if not most, people disapproved of Arne when he was in this important position, much the same way they broadly disapprove of corporate school reformer Michelle Rhee. Both Duncan and Rhee are recognized as supporters of antisocial policies and arrangements.
Arne was also the ill-reputed CEO of the Chicago Public School system, the third largest public school system in the country, before he was unilaterally appointed as U.S. Secretary of Education by President Obama. In Chicago, Arne oversaw and directed aggressive top-down efforts to charterize much of the public school district, wreaking havoc in one poor minority community after another. To this day, academic, financial, social, and other results remain dismal in Chicago. It is no surprise that hundreds of charter school teachers in Chicago have organized multiple strikes over the past year.
In June 2009, at the national annual conference of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Arne remarked that, “The charter movement is putting itself at risk by allowing too many second-rate and even third-rate schools to continue to exist. Your goal should always be quality, not quantity.”5
Arne is correctly noting that there are plenty of bad charter schools, as well as many extra bad charter schools out there. He is also promoting the false dichotomy of “high-quality” charter schools versus “low-quality” charter schools in order to fool the gullible.
The following year, on July 1, 2010, again at the national annual conference of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Arne said, “Bad charter schools taint all of your reputations and allow your opponents, your opposition, to use those examples.”6
Arne is right again: charter school failure remains widespread and is a liability—in more ways than one. Not surprisingly, today the charter school sector stands more tarnished, unaccountable, and scandal-ridden than ever.
Like the much-loathed neoliberal Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan remains active in widely-rejected corporate school reform efforts.
Frederick Hess is yet another prominent long-time advocate of charter schools and other antisocial school-choice schemes. He is currently director of educational policy studies at the neoliberal-neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. In a Fall 2010 piece, Hess rightly notes that, school-choice advocates have long had “a tendency to vastly overpromise.”7 A little later he states: “The path forward requires that choice advocates overcome the legacy of their inflated expectations and promises.” And in the final section of his paper, Hess correctly remarks that, “It is time for those who would like to transform America’s schools to let go of the dream that choice by itself is any kind of ‘solution.’”
The consumerist free market notion of choice has long functioned as a mechanism to remove government responsibility for the provision of education in a modern society based on mass industrial production. So-called “school-choice” turns education into a social Darwinist nightmare.
Perhaps an even bigger charter school ideologue and Skinnerian than neoliberal demagogue David Osborne,8 Chester Finn has been advocating for privately-operated contract schools for decades. Finn, a former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, is currently the president emeritus of the neoliberal-neoconservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington, D.C. He is also a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution where he chairs the Koret Task Force on K-12. Finn also serves on several other neoliberal-neoconservative organizations that support top-down antisocial policies and arrangements in education.
In a 2010 piece titled, The End of the Education Debate, Finn makes the following correct observation:
But the reform ideas generally labeled ‘school choice’ have lost some credibility, owing to the mediocrity of the actual schools they have produced. Far too many of these institutions deliver weak academic results or fall victim to organizational, political, and financial woes and shenanigans. Advocates of such alternatives have learned, to our sorrow, that while putting a ‘charter’ sign on a schoolhouse door certainly indicates potential, it is no guarantee of quality — or even of a genuinely different approach to education. Many of the people starting and running charter schools — most of them earnest and well meaning — either don’t really know what they’re doing or lack the capacity to do it well.9
Like Margaret Raymond’s observation above, this too is an astounding statement.
Finn is right: charter schools are poor and weak on many fronts; they are riddled with fraud and have an unimpressive record. In more than a few places charter schools have effectively lowered the quality of education. This is especially true in the case of virtual charter schools, which have a consistently abysmal academic and financial record.
Many other conspicuous long-time supporters of privately-operated charter schools could be quoted criticizing and complaining about the charter school sector while still avidly supporting charter schools.
For now, I will end this article with one last quote that reflects the direction of the future:
David Hornbeck was the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools from 1976 to 1988 and the superintendent of the Philadelphia school district from 1994 to 2000. For years he was a supporter of charter schools, seeing them as an important tool in the school reform arsenal, and as Philadelphia’s superintendent, he recommended that more than 30 charter schools be allowed to open. Now, in a reversal that is rare in education, he said this: ‘The last 20 years make it clear I was wrong’.10
Hornbeck should be commended for finding a way to reject anticonsciousness and come out and courageously oppose charter schools. A 20-year mistake is something the nation’s children and teachers cannot afford.
With the exception of Hornbeck, all the other individuals highlighted above, and many others like them, have not stopped pushing for more charter schools, despite their worsening problems.
The capital-centered brain is egocentric and objectively incapable of considering the public interest; it is narrowly focused on expanding the wealth of the owner of capital even if it means destroying the social fabric of society.
In the current context, charter school promoters are on the defensive more than ever before. The rhetoric, propaganda, lies, and disinformation promoted non-stop by charter school advocates for the last 30 years is surely and slowly dissolving. This is a good time for defenders of public schools and the public interest.
This understanding of social relations comes from political economy, the “red pill” of the social sciences. (In the 1999 science fiction action film The Matrix, the “blue pill” represents the accepted, dominant, taken-for-granted “truths” and norms of society; i.e., blissful ignorance, while the “red pill” represents the brutal truths of reality.
In today’s context “big data” has nothing to do with pro-social or human-centered policies and arrangements.
Deregulated, deunionized, segregated, test-obsessed, privately-operated charter schools that lose employees regularly, manipulate student enrollment frequently, and funnel huge sums of public funds to the rich and their allies under the banner of high ideals cannot be prettified.
Engaging in all kinds of fraud and racketeering, including endless shady, if not illegal, real estate deals that greatly enrich charter school owners-operators at the expense of the public, and then turning around and saying we are “saving black kids,” offering “choices,” and “black families want charter schools” doesn’t wash.
Pay-the-rich schemes have no pro-social qualities.
Casually handing over billions in public dollars to the rich—for poor results and a whole new set of problems—is not the way forward. It is reckless and irresponsible. Pay-the-rich schemes prevent society from moving forward and exacerbate problems. Draining socially-produced wealth from the economy in order to line the pockets of wealthy private interests solves nothing.
As the long-standing and worsening problems in the unstable and unaccountable charter school sector are exposed with greater depth and regularity, and as more people stop tolerating charter schools and see them for what they really are, charter school advocates have grown more irresponsible, terrified, irrational, and belligerent.
A tragi-comedy is unfolding. Charter school promoters know the tide is slowly turning against them.
Watching charter school supporters defend the indefensible and sell a farce to the public, especially to poor, low-income, vulnerable minority families who have been actively disempowered by the rich and their outdated system for generations, is like watching a catastrophe unfold in slow motion. Charter school promoters have nothing but worn-out platitudes, grandstanding, Skinnerian ideology, subjective rubbish, and twisted logic.
Objectively speaking, the economic and political position of charter school promoters blinds them from seeing reality from the perspective of the public and the common good. The capital-centered brain is literally unable to see life in a broad, enlightened, pro-social way. Capital-centered consciousness is objectively fixated narrowly on the egocentric accumulation of wealth at the expense of the social and natural environment. The social being of charter school promoters blocks the development of human-centered consciousness and impedes the human factor. The refusal to consider any pro-public policies and arrangements reveals the brutal and retrogressive character of charter school promoters.
Clearly, repeating malicious fictions and objectionable ideas about charter schools will not rescue charter schools. The negative consequences and realities of charter schools speak for themselves. Charter schools have failed and closed for more than 25 years. So many poor and low-income minority families have been alienated by these privately-operated contract schools..
Fortunately, it is getting harder to normalize ignorance and disinformation about charter schools. The damn has been broken and there is no turning back. A trial of strength between charter school promoters on the one hand, and everyone else on the other hand, has broken out in earnest. The contest was always there, but it is intensifying with each passing month.
Fewer people are falling for the trap that “there are some ‘good’ charter schools out there,”1 as if that is somehow a ringing endorsement of charter schools after nearly 30 years in existence. Fewer people are also saying incoherent and loaded things like “I’m a ‘semi-fan’ of charter schools.” Even fewer are falling for the con that it is really “for-profit” charter schools that are rotten, not the “nonprofit” ones.
Anticonsciousness surrounding charter schools is slowly melting and giving way to a powerful new quality: social consciousness. There is a reason that more people today instinctively question and criticize charter schools than they did just five years ago. Among other things, social consciousness considers education to be a basic human right, not a privilege, opportunity, choice, or something one “deserves.”
This nascent social consciousness is also causing more people to gradually conclude that they cannot rely on the Democrats or Republicans to defend public education and eliminate destructive neoliberal education policies and arrangements. Both parties of the rich are deeply retrogressive and part of a discredited political system that keeps people out of power. People reject with contempt the retrogressive outlook of the rich, their political representatives, and their media. It is getting harder to avoid the conclusion that people must rely on themselves to open the path of progress to society. No one else is going to save the working class and people. A new outlook, politics, and leadership can emerge only from the working class and people, not those who drag society backward with every new policy and arrangement.
“Good” charter schools is a reference to charter schools that, unlike public schools, carefully cherry-pick their students to ensure high scores on meaningless state tests that many reject.
“Performance-based accountability” is a hackneyed, Skinnerian, neoliberal buzz-phrase often repeated dogmatically by charter school promoters in order to falsely claim that privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are more accountable and higher-performing than public schools.
But it is becoming clearer to everyone with each passing day that charter school promoters have long vastly over-promised and under-delivered, while rapidly enriching themselves at the expense of students, parents, the public, the economy, and the national interest.
Extensive research, including research funded by billionaire charter school supporters, has consistently demonstrated that poor performance remains widespread in the scandal-ridden low-transparency charter school sector that intensifies segregation.
Year after year, thousands of privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, which have been around nearly 30 years, deliver unimpressive results.
Not surprisingly, several thousand charter schools have failed and closed since 1991. At this time, about 150-200 charter schools close each year, leaving thousands of families—mostly African Americans and Latinx—betrayed and angry.
Below, in chronological order, is a tiny sample of the many studies exposing poor charter school performance in many states:
Many other studies could be cited. In addition, serious, reliable, and seasoned bloggers everywhere are also collecting, archiving, discussing, and sharing extensive evidence on the failures of charter schools on many other fronts, not just widespread poor test performance.
It is worth noting that both public schools and privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are victims of expensive, curriculum-narrowing, time-consuming, high-stakes standardized tests produced by large for-profit corporations that have no idea what a human-centered education looks like. Such corporations are retrogressive and harmful in many ways; they are not concerned with the growth and well-being of children, or the future of society.
The research on how damaging and unsound these expensive corporate tests are is robust, unassailable, and constantly-growing.
High-stakes standardized testing has nothing to do with learning, growth, joy, or serving a modern society and economy. Unsound assessments do not prepare young people for life. High-stakes standardized testing does not even rest on a scientific conception of measurement; it is discredited psychometric pseudo-science through and through.
Still, with these important caveats in mind, thousands of charter schools, even when they cherry-pick students with impunity, dodge tests and ratings, and massage or misreport test scores, perform worse on these flawed, top-down, widely-rejected corporate tests than public schools.
Editorial Cartoon — Michigan Radio
There is no justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit contract schools that are rife with fraud and endless other problems.
The Center for Research on Education Outcomes is funded by many billionaires (e.g., the Gates Foundation) who have long-supported pay-the-rich schemes like charter schools.
Charter school promoters want the public, especially poor, low-income, and vulnerable minority families who have long been exploited by the rich and their state, to believe that when it comes to nonprofit and for-profit charter schools the issue is really “high-quality” charter schools versus “low-quality” charter schools. We are told that we need more of the former and fewer of the latter.
Charter school advocates do not want anyone to believe that both the concept and the practice of charter schools are flawed and harm education, society, the economy, and the national interest. They do not want anyone asking why we have charter schools in the first place. Nor do they want people defending public schools. That bothers them. Charter schools are simply “here to stay.” Presumably, we are stuck with them and there is little we can do about them. We are to largely remain hapless victims of charter schools that increase each year.
Charter boosters want people to think that even though charter schools are plagued by endless problems and scandals, somehow their existence is legitimate, valid, and positive, and all that we have to do is make sure we are replicating “high-quality” charter schools while letting the so-called “free market” eliminate thousands of “low quality” charter schools. This will supposedly give rise to the “best of all worlds” for everyone. The fact that there are so many “low-quality” charter schools year after year is often casually glossed over or conveniently trivialized.
Both the rate and amount of failure in the charter school sector have been high for decades. There are thousands of low-quality charter schools out there. News reports on a broad range of unscrupulous and shocking activities in the charter school sector, which is tiny compared to the American public school system serving most youth, appear every few hours. A surreal atmosphere prevails in the charter school sector. The absence of a politics of social responsibility can be sharply felt.
All of this has necessarily left a bad taste in the mouths of many and tarnished the reputation of privately-operated schools that siphon billions of dollars each year from over-tested and under-funded public schools that are scapegoated, shamed, and demonized by the monopoly-controlled media every day.
Charter Schools take school funding from the bedrock of US public education.
Charter school promoters are very sensitive to criticism of charter schools and know that there are thousands of rotten charter schools across the nation, which is why they think they can fool the gullible by stressing the disinformation that what is really important and decisive is promoting “high-quality” charter schools and getting rid of “low-quality” charter schools.
The deliberate and concerted focus on the descriptor “high-quality” before the phrase “charter schools” is a sideshow designed to divert people’s attention away from the fact that there is no justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of any charter schools in the United States (or anywhere else for that matter). Just because the rich have been able to impose thousands of these segregated and deunionized “schools” on society since the early 1990s does not mean they are legitimate, socially responsible, have to be tolerated, or cannot be phased out over time. Charter schools are mainly pay-the-rich schemes that parasitically drain socially-produced wealth from the economy, society, and education.
There is no compelling reason for society to support privately-operated contract schools that choose parents and students (not the other way around), drain public coffers, perpetuate high employee turnover rates, under-enroll students with disabilities, are mired in fraud and corruption, and regularly deliver poor results.
Other false or misleading dichotomies in the “Great Charter School Debate” include:
regulated verses unregulated charter schools
for-profit verses nonprofit charter schools
independent verses CMO/EMO charter schools
online verses face-to-face/in-person charter schools
Such dichotomies are dangerous and detrimental because they distort reality and undermine the ability of people to see charter schools for what they are. They produce a debased and counterfeit consciousness by focusing on form while covering up the internal content and essence of charter schools as privately-operated contract schools. These and other dichotomies prevent people from analyzing and discussing charter schools in a serious way and reaching warranted conclusions. More often than not, the pressure is to just resort to shooting from the hip, talking off the cuff, or casually spouting off one-liners and knee-jerk assertions about charter schools—all of which are anti-analysis and do nothing to advance social consciousness and the public interest.
The main issue is the “publicness/privateness” of charter schools. There is no such thing as a public charter school. Charter schools are nonprofit and for-profit organizations that differ in fundamental ways from public schools as we know them. Among other things, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are exempt from hundreds of public laws, rules, and regulations governing public schools. Moreover, unlike public schools, charter schools cannot levy taxes, usually lack unions, and are not governed by publicly elected and publicly accountable individuals. Many other profound differences could be listed.
Charter schools came into being nearly 30 years ago on the basis of usurping and pillaging public school systems that have been around for more than 150 years. They have always lacked most of the features of public schools and are mired in deeper controversy with each passing day.
Just as nonprofit and for-profit charter schools hurt education, society, the economy, and the national interest, so too do “high-quality” charter schools and “low-quality” charter schools.
The necessity today is for the development of a fully-funded, world-class, locally-governed system of public education available for free to anyone, at all times, in every neighborhood and every zip code. No one should be reduced to a consumer who fends-for-themselves like an animal and “shops” for a school that they may or may not get into and that may or may not be high quality. A society based on large-scale industrial production that has to meet the diverse needs of millions of people cannot leave a modern social responsibility like education to chance or the private choices of “rugged individuals” fending for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world.
After wavering and making confusing statements about charter schools three years ago when he was running for President, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for President again, finally came out and issued a broad education plan on May 18, 2019 which, among other things, opposes charter schools.
Sanders begins this part of his education plan for the nation by repeating the incorrect and refuted narrative, stubbornly promoted by the left, democrats, and “progressives,” that charter schools had humble, positive, grass-roots origins, as opposed to being conceived, organized, and implemented by neoliberals committed to destroying the natural and social environment.
After that, Sanders properly notes that: “Charter schools are led by unaccountable, private bodies, and their growth has drained funding from the public school system.” He also provides data showing that charter schools are significantly more segregated than public schools.
Sanders rightly demands that: “The damage to communities caused by unregulated charter school growth must be stopped and reversed.”
Reversing charter schools should include making reparations to public schools because of the severe harm charter schools have inflicted on them for more than 25 years.
Sanders goes on to call for a ban on for-profit charter schools and a moratorium on public funds for charter school expansion. Any time the funneling of public funds to the rich is stopped, that is a good thing for the economy, society, and people.
The remaining points in Sanders’ education plan correctly call for greater accountability in the notoriously low-transparency scandal-ridden charter school sector.
All these statements and demands should be supported because they serve education, the economy, society, and the national interest.
Finally, while Sanders states that “Every human being has the fundamental right to a good education,” this is not the same as saying education is a basic human right. The phrase “fundamental right” means something specific under U.S. law, namely that a law is “fundamental” if it is explicitly or implicitly expressed in the constitution. This does not, however, speak to whether said right enshrined in the constitution is an inalienable human right that government must guarantee in practice.
For its part, the billionaire-backed National Alliance of Public Charter Schools is self-servingly mischaracterizing Sanders’ opposition to charter schools as an attack on “what African Americans want”—the same African Americans that have been disrespected, abandoned, and betrayed by thousands of charter schools that have closed over the years.
Unfortunately, when all is said and done, despite the many positives of his belated position on charter schools, Sanders, as he did three years ago, will again play the calculated role of betraying millions of people who do actually want a much better society. Millions want an alternative to capitalism. People are fed up with an economy that cannot provide for the needs of the people. Sanders knows he will not be President and can afford to sound bold, daring, and pro-social. As he did three years ago, he will hand-over millions of supporters and voters to the Democratic party, which has long supported charter schools and other antisocial arrangements. Of course, this “hand-over” did not go so smoothly in 2016, but it is the aim of Sanders’ 2020 campaign for President.
Everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should vigorously oppose nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. These privately-operated, test-obsessed, segregated schools that oppose unions and have high teacher turnover rates have caused immense harm to the social environment. The call of the times is to defend public education and deprive the rich of their ability to dictate affairs in education and other spheres.
A May 2019 report of a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 Presidential voters conducted late spring of last year shows that broad public opposition to charter schools persists.1 About half of all those polled are Democratic primary voters.
The survey was commissioned by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), an astroturf group2 created by Wall Street in 2007 to privatize public schools to further enrich millionaires.
DFER wanted the survey to show that charter schools are great, popular, have no problems, and should keep multiplying. The survey did not mention anything about widespread fraud and racketeering in the test-obsessed charter school sector, or how nonprofit and for-profit charter schools increase segregation, are run by non-elected officials, often perform poorly, oppose teacher unions, selectively enroll students, and have high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.
The survey distorts reality and results in other ways as well, including by: (1) pitting minorities and white people against each other and dividing the polity in unprincipled ways, (2) reducing matters of broad public interest to a matter of voting and “voters,” and (3) failing to understand the identity of education in a modern society while putting forward a rendering of charter schools that favors the outlook and narrow agenda of neoliberals and privatizers. For example, the DFER erroneously and repeatedly refers to privately-operated charter schools that fail and close regularly as “public charter schools.” It also uses oxymorons like “progressive charter advocates” and cynically confounds “choice” with “school choice” to create the illusion that there is broader support for charter schools than there really is. While all surveys have some limitations, the DFER survey is unsound in many other ways as well.
Notwithstanding these serious limitations, the survey is unable to hide the fact that strong opposition to charter schools persists. Many people have a negative view of charter schools despite decades of intense corporate disinformation that charter schools are positive and great.
A key finding from the survey shows that:
Among all Democratic primary voters, a slight majority held an unfavorable view of public charter schools while slightly more than one-third had a favorable view. Democratic voters were more aware than Presidential voters overall of public charter schools as only about one in 10 Democrats say they were unfamiliar with charter schools. (2019, p. 2, emphasis added)
About one-third of Black democratic voters and one-third of Hispanic democratic voters had an unfavorable view of charter schools. As more poor, low-income, and vulnerable urban families are betrayed by hundreds of charter schools that close each year and thousands of other charter schools that “push out” kids they do not want, it is likely that these numbers will increase.
It is important to recall that about 60% of charter schools in the country are located in urban settings. Charter school promoters have long targeted urban school systems and poor, low-income, and vulnerable minority families whose own public schools were starved, demonized, and are now being privatized by the same wealthy elite behind charter schools. Vilified and beleaguered large urban school systems mandated to fail by the neoliberal state represent the biggest bang for the buck from the perspective of Wall Street and charter school promoters.
Survey results also show that only 50% of all Presidential voters have a favorable view of charter schools (which have been around for more than 25 years). Nearly one third of all Presidential voters polled had an unfavorable view of these privately-operated schools.
The fact that so many voters, even when not necessarily super-informed about charter schools, and even when taking a survey that spins charter schools in a positive light, voice some sort of opposition to charter schools, is a sign that many others in the broader public also oppose charter schools—something that has been borne out in other surveys as well.
The real number of charter school opponents nationwide is higher than DFER and their survey would have us believe. It is revealing and telling that the average person who may not know much about charter schools quickly concludes that charter schools are undesirable just after hearing a 15-minute cogent and concise presentation of some well-researched and well-documented basic facts and trends in the charter school sector. Most are shocked at what they hear and cannot believe charter schools are allowed to exist, let alone expand. They find it appalling. Consciousness free of neoliberal disinformation, corporate school reform ideology, and prejudice reaches warranted conclusions effortlessly. Support for charter schools remains tenuous.
At the end of the day, the results of this or that survey may not be that critical or decisive. The fact is that thousands of teachers, thousands of their supporters, so many parents and education advocates, and more and more experts, scholars, researchers, journalists, blogs, government reports, and think tank reports exposing charter schools spells bad news for the rich and their charter schools. In many ways, charter schools are their own worst enemy. The road ahead is likely to get more rocky for these privately-operated deregulated schools.
Supplemental Note:“Voters” And “The Public” Are Not Identical
One of the many ways the ruling elite routinely undermines the public interest and the rights of the people is by constantly reducing major matters of public concern to “voters” and “voting.” Another way is by reducing everyone to “investors” or “consumers.” Both approaches are extremely narrow and based on an anachronistic outlook of society and the polity. Neither approach opens the path of progress to society or captures the identity of the modern human personality.
“Voters” are only a subcategory of the public. “Voters” is not synonymous with the public. In many places and most elections voters are not even the majority of the people. The DFER survey does not address this.
The public is a much larger category than “voters,” and it is the public interest that matters more when it comes to the broadest concerns of the people and what is needed for the extended reproduction of society. From this perspective, the main issue is not “voter turnout” or “what voters think,” but what serves the public interest first and foremost.
The content, direction, and results of education matter to everyone, whether they vote or not. It is not just the views and opinions of voters that counts, it is the views of all and the objective needs of society that must come first.
There is no reason to believe that public rejection of charter schools will diminish in the months and years ahead. Based on what has been unfolding in the sphere of education over the past year, it looks like resistance to charter schools will continue to steadily and surely increase. Charter school supporters and promoters are rightly worried.
The nation is ready for more individual and collective actions against charter schools and in defense of public education and public right. An opening has presented itself to further expose and oppose charter schools, and to recognize the necessity for fighting for a pro-social human-centered alternative free of the burden and demands of capital.
Astroturf groups are fake grass-roots organizations whose main aim is to trick the public into supporting ideas, policies, and arrangements that are harmful to their interests. See Sharyl Attkisson’s TEDx Talk on astroturf groups, propaganda, and disinformation here