All posts by Shawgi Tell

No More Charter Schools in New York State

With a straight face, many millionaires, some media outlets, and Governor Andrew Cuomo are once again righteously demanding an increase in the number of privately-run but publicly-funded charter schools permitted in the State, specifically in New York City where these deregulated schools have run amuck. And again, instead of holding the neoliberal State accountable for over-testing students and not fully funding public schools, the media and charter school promoters are exploiting vulnerable low-income minority parents to “make a case” for their self-serving agenda to increase charter schools that close frequently.

The current State limit on these poorly-supervised schools is 460. New York City has reached its limit with 235 charter schools which collectively enroll 123,000 students. The rest of the State (“Upstate”) still has 99 charter school slots open. Some extra greedy charter school operators want a few of these “slots” shifted “Downstate” to New York City. Against the public will, the State raised the statewide charter school cap in 2007 and again in 2010.

This most recent big push by egocentric millionaires and their State for more non-transparent charter schools that siphon billions of dollars from under-funded, over-tested, over-surveilled, and constantly demonized public schools comes at a time when rejection and criticism of charter schools nationwide is becoming more mainstream and widespread. Today, few people exhibit a knee-jerk embrace of charter schools. People no longer blindly accept charter schools. Most instinctively do not trust them. And more than 95% of teacher education candidates want to teach in public schools, not charter schools. More people, especially public school boards and teachers and their unions, are beginning to really see and appreciate more deeply the many long-standing profound problems with charter schools. Naturally, they are joining with others to say no to charter schools and are calling on all to vigorously defend public schools which have served 90% of the nation’s youth for more than a century.

While charter schools have always made rich people even richer, they are plagued by racketeering and have high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates; they are notoriously unstable. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are also largely deunionized, increase segregation, avoid transparency, often perform poorly, and abuse words like “choice” to mislead vulnerable minority families. Hundreds of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools close each year—sometimes with no warning—leaving thousands of families out in the cold and feeling violated and betrayed. Virtual charter schools, in particular, have an even more appalling track record in every area.

It is time for everyone to join the growing tide of opposition to the privatization of education and defend public education and the right of the people, not owners of capital and their media, to make all major decisions in education and society.

Charter Schools Choose Parents and Students, Not the Other Way Around

Charter school supporters never tire of promoting the consumerist free market notion of “choice.” They have always seen society as a dog-eat-dog world in which parents and students are consumers who fend-for-themselves as they shop for a school that may or may not accept them. In this antisocial view, schools are considered commodities, just like any other commodity in the “free market.” Education is not viewed as a basic, socially-organized human responsibility and right.

Charter school advocates claim that one of the reasons charter schools are great is because parents are “free” to “choose” a charter school for their child, implying that there is some sort of voluntary action being taken by very well-informed individuals to enroll their child in a charter school. According to this narrative, charter schools play no role in determining who gets into a charter school, who stays, and who gets “pushed out.”

It is well-known, however, that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, which are usually poorly supervised, consistently and deliberately under-enroll students with disabilities, English Language Learners, homeless students, and many other students. Charter schools routinely cherry-pick their students and practice a range of ways to remove “undesirable” students from school.

In this connection, charter schools also often require parents to sign a contract to: (1) volunteer to undertake some kind of work the school will not hire someone for, (2) control the “behavior” of their child based on a “rewards-and-punishments” mentality, and/or (3) make some sort of financial contribution to support the “tuition-free” school.

Another way charter school supporters routinely disinform the public about “choice” and student enrollment is by pointing to charter school laws that may sound lofty, ethical, and good on paper but are not really upheld by charter schools in practice. This “plausible deniability” is meant to fool the gullible. For example, laws may require charter schools to be diverse and accept all students but charter schools more often than not increase segregation by ability, race, language, and socio-economic status. For example, in Minnesota, where the nation’s first charter school law was passed in 1991, “charter schools are at the forefront of school segregation. Of the 50 most racially concentrated Twin Cities schools, 45 are charters” (Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, 2017, p. 2, emphasis added).1 These charter schools also under-perform public schools.

Charter school supporters’ much-vaunted claim that parents (and students) have the “freedom to choose” a charter school and that charter schools automatically accept and keep all students means little given the well-documented selective enrollment practices plaguing many nonprofit and for-profit charter schools.

  1. Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. The Minnesota school choice project: Part I: Segregation and performance. 2017.

Chaos, Anarchy, and Violence in the Charter School Sector

Chaos, anarchy, and violence are inherent features of the free market.1 Instability, uncertainty, disequilibrium, unevenness, imbalance, volatility, turmoil, impulsiveness, alienation, greed, anxiety, jealousy, risk, irrational behavior, and “animal spirits” are fellow-travelers of advanced commodity production and exchange, especially in the final and highest stage of capitalism.

The free market abhors security, predictability, certainty, stability, and harmony—the very things modern humans need in today’s complex and evolving society. Hourly fluctuations and dislocations in the economy and society are considered good, desirable, and normal by free market fundamentalists. Such disruptions are not seen as a problem or something that belongs to a bygone era.

The “invisible leviathan” also guarantees winners and losers, hierarchies and inequalities, rewards and punishments. In addition, it constantly “innovates” more exotic and toxic forms of financial parasitism and decay that further enrich the top one percent while wreaking havoc in the productive sector and broader society.

The free market has been revealed time and again to be an anachronistic and damaging way of organizing society and the economy. It has failed millions for generations and simply does not meet the needs of the present or the future.

It is comical and tragic to hear and read the views of free market ideologues like former long-time chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, regarding how their free market worldview was shattered by the Wall Street-engineered economic collapse of 2008 that no one went to jail for—a fiasco that continues to stunt growth, degrade economies worldwide, and confuse economists and “leaders.” All major free market ideologues have long been members of the know-nothing club, which is why they have never been able to find a way to extricate the outmoded economic system from recurring crises that always leave millions unemployed, underemployed, impoverished, indebted, miserable, and insecure. No “policy,” “regulation,” or “reform” has stopped the tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. Few laws, if any, have actually empowered those who produce society’s wealth.

Free market ideology and categories have long distorted social consciousness, and now, once again, both stand discredited and lack any explanatory power. The main role of free market ideology is to apologize for the status quo which privileges a tiny elite and marginalizes the majority. People are supposed to believe that the free market is supernatural and stands above society, the human factor, and social consciousness. The free market is allegedly a mystery that does not lend itself to comprehension and control.

Charter school supporters and promoters have long gone out of their way to parade their free market loyalties, commitments, and credentials. Their perception and cognition are objectively conditioned by a capital-centered outlook, not a human-centered perspective. Consequently, they are unable and unwilling to cognize and understand that the free market is precisely what is wreaking havoc in education, society, and the economy.

Charter school supporters and promoters come undone every time someone exposes the basic truth that charter schools exist mainly to enrich a handful of individuals who self-servingly claim to “value choice” and “care about the kids.” Charter school boosters would rather have people believe that the free market magically (invisibly) gives rise to the best of all worlds for “the kids” and that nothing sinister or nefarious is ever going on.

It is worth noting here that none of the highest-performing nations in the world have charter schools. And in late 2017, the government of New Zealand launched an organized effort to rollback its relatively new charter school program because it is harmful and ineffective. Many in New Zealand oppose school privatization and do not want schools treated as commodities that enrich a handful of wealthy individuals at the expense of “the kids.” In the U.S., six states still have no laws enabling the creation of charter schools. Charter schools remain largely a U.S. phenomenon. No other nation comes close.

The idea of “here-one-day-gone-the-next” is one of many that appears natural and normal—even healthy—to those influenced by free market ideology. Charter school supporters and promoters claim that under-performing charter schools (and there are many of them) should not only be closed (in the name of “accountability”), but that they should be “closed ruthlessly” so as to quickly enable another “entrepreneur” to scramble in and launch a new, more “innovate” and more “successful” charter school to serve “consumers”—the same way one shoe store quickly replaces another out-of-business shoe store at the mall. Schools, in this antisocial view, are nothing more than commodities; they are a business, just like any other business preoccupied with maximizing profit as fast as possible.

For privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school “reformers,” education as an organized collective social responsibility and basic right free of the corrosive effects of competition is an alien idea.

It is no accident that more than 1,000 charter schools have closed over the last five years. The free market, as noted earlier, is inherently unstable and destructive—the opposite of what modern humans need. Well over 3,500 charter schools have closed in 28 years. Currently, about 200-250 nonprofit and for-profit charter schools close each year, leaving thousands of families feeling stressed, angry, and violated. This is stunning in its own right, but it is extra striking given that there are currently only 7,000 charter schools across the country. Charter schools have always had a high rate of failure and closure; they have never been the panacea that its advocates have regularly claimed they are. Closely related problems like endless scandals, low transparency, persistently high student turnover rates, and underpaid, overworked, deunionized teachers across the charter school sector are topics for another article.

This relentless normalized churn, wrecking, and upheaval in the deregulated, non-transparent, deunionized, poorly supervised, segregated charter school sector is deemed acceptable, even a virtue, because this is how the free market “works”—through chaos, anarchy, and violence. It is “natural,” in other words, that schools, which are meant to be a large-scale socially-organized human responsibility, should close and open like any store at the mall.

And the free market is great because it supposedly works so well in other spheres of life. Regular economic booms and busts, many recessions and depressions, and the endless failures and crimes of thousands of corporations are apparently not part of the normal daily functioning of the free market and should be ignored.

The wrecking activity and callousness in the charter school sector are so severe that it is not uncommon for nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, even ones that have been around for years, to close abruptly and with little or no advance notice to parents, leaving them shocked, appalled, and betrayed. So much for “empowering parents” and giving them “better alternatives.” Besides being rife with fraud, racketeering, and waste, charter schools have been disempowering parents every year of their existence. And they have kept thousands of others on a never-ending roller-coaster of hope and despair in other ways. In New Orleans, parents do not even have the option of sending their child to a public school because all schools in that city of 400,000 residents are now charter schools. “Choice” becomes a form of coercion in this context.

It is no surprise that unprecedented public school and charter school teacher strikes that have been sweeping the nation for many months have consciously and deliberately targeted charter schools. People are openly rejecting privatized education arrangements that annually siphon billions of public dollars from public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s youth. Equally unsurprising is the large number of parents, students, women, activists, and workers from other sectors who have stood shoulder to shoulder with striking teachers to affirm their rights and to oppose the fleecing of public schools by wealthy private interests. People are increasingly combatting loud and incessant charter school disinformation. They do not want millionaires, billionaires, and their retinue to decide and control educational affairs. People want to control their own institutions without the influence of extremely wealthy cartels and monopolies who act in the narrowest, most retrogressive, and most self-serving fashion.

A modern society based on mass industrial production must provide its members with world-class, fully-funded, locally-controlled public schools open to all, at all times. No one should have to worry about receiving a great education in a society drowning in an overabundance of wealth and resources.

Education is a right and should never be based on geography, competition, consumerism, performance, the ability to pay, or the narrow aims of major owners of capital. As a basic human social responsibility, education cannot be left to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the free market. It can and must be organized in a collective responsible manner to meet the needs of individuals, the economy, society, and life.

If charter schools wish to exist, so be it. But they must never receive any kind or any amount of public property, wealth, funds, resources, facilities, assets, or authority. They have no legitimate claim to public property.

By definition, public property belongs only to the public and no one else.

Public and private are antonyms. They do not mean the same thing and should not be mixed up. Charter schools are not public schools, no matter how often privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school “reformers” ignorantly, belligerently, and self-servingly claim they are. Something does not become public just because someone calls it public over and over again. Nor does something become public just because it receives public funds or is allegedly “tuition-free.” Being public requires much more.

Legally, politically, economically, and educationally charter schools differ fundamentally from public schools that have been around for more than 150 years. Deliberately misequating antonyms like “public” and “private” is itself a long-standing feature of the irrationalism, chaos, and wrecking within the Wild West charter school sector.

The very idea of public schools and charter schools competing for funds and students is one that people 50 years from now will find obscene, backward, and bizarre. Many already recognize how irrational and detrimental this is. They reject the commodification of education and the view that parents and students are mainly consumers and shoppers who may or may not “get into” a “good school.”

There is a pro-social alternative to this outmoded irrational state of affairs. It begins with consciously and repeatedly rejecting the current antisocial direction and working with others to reorganize society on a human-centered pro-social basis, free of the influence of owners of capital.

This means intentionally discarding a capital-centered outlook and taking responsibility for investigating society, the economy, and education. It means engaging in a conscious act of finding out so that one does not end up being a hapless victim of disinformation all the time. Such inquiry has to be serious, disciplined, deep, and uninterrupted. It cannot end.

Patient and focused study and analysis are needed to cut through the thick fog created by an anachronistic capital-centered outlook. Skim reading and digitally-induced literacy styles are useless here. They will not contribute to coherence and enlightenment. Shooting from the hip or talking off the cuff also fail to develop consciousness. Quick and clever one-liners or blind repetition of isolated facts are also unhelpful. None of these approaches will shed light on what is going on. None of these approaches help people to reject the false solutions put forward by the rich, their politicians, their cheerleaders, and their media.

With the massive never-ending onslaught of disinformation coming from those with class privilege and power, a conscious life-long commitment to questioning and investigating phenomena so as to avoid confusion and serve human-centered interests is an urgent necessity. The natural instinct to reject anything that comes from the rich needs to evolve into a full-fledged well-fortified social consciousness that further unleashes the human factor to usher in changes that favor the general interests of society.

  1. The “free market” has long been monopolized by large corporations, monopolies,  and oligopolies; it has been far from “free” for more than 150 years. Markets are rigged in endless ways. “Pure competition” has largely been a fantasy. Furthermore, college economics courses routinely present the capitalist “free market” in its most abstract and prettified form, divorced from its harsh realities.

Charter Schools Just Bad Policy?

It is no secret that charter schools coast to coast are rife with fraud, waste, corruption, and racketeering. This is closely related to the fact that charter schools annually siphon billions of public dollars from public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s youth, thereby undermining the ability of public schools to educate millions of poor and low-income minority students.

Thousands of investigative reports, news articles,  blogs, and scholarly books and articles have over-documented this relentless assault on public education, the economy, society, and the national interest by charter schools. No other sector or institution comes close to the financial malfeasance plaguing nonprofit and for-profit charter schools.

Charter schools are also riddled with many other well-documented problems, including very high teacher, student, and principal turnover rates; poor academic performance on a broad scale; union-busting; limited transparency; a tendency to increase segregation; and a long-running propensity to cherry-pick students, to name just a few other problems.

Oftentimes, however, it is argued that “bad charter schools” are essentially the result of “bad policy.” And since “bad policy” is what allows so many charter schools to be so rotten, the implication is that if policy were just better, more intelligent, more thoughtful, more humane, more technically sound, more enlightened, more rational, better crafted, and less bad, then charter schools would be great and all would be well. Such a view also uncritically presumes that the existence of charter schools is legitimate to begin with and that there is nothing inherently problematic about charter schools: we just need “good charter schools” that are the result of “good policy” made by “good people.”

The core problem with this ahistorical view that renders “good” as a meaningless universal abstraction, is that it does not recognize that “bad policy” is conscious and deliberate class policy—class war, to be precise.

Policy is never neutral or apolitical. Policy-making never takes place outside class relations. Policy is seldom produced by people without political and economic interests.

“Bad policies” represent, embody, and promote the narrow political and economic interests of major owners of capital. The rich are constantly crafting and imposing policies that serve them well but violate the public interest. The rich are not going to establish policies that undermine their narrow interests. Policy today is not human-centered and pro-social because the working class and people remain politically marginalized and disempowered in society; they do not decide the affairs of society or control the economy.

Charter schools, also known as contract schools, were conceived by the rich and their representatives before 1980 and were brought into being by the rich in the early 1990s. There has never been anything grass-roots or progressive about charter schools. Charter schools did not start out as humble, benign, accountable, transparent, empowering, teacher-centered, ethical “laboratories of innovation” that somehow unpredictably went bad years later—as many writers on the left, right, and center would have us believe. Charter schools had a problematic start from the very beginning. From the public’s perspective, charter schools were “bad policy” from the get-go.

The main undiscussed idea behind charter schools was to seize as much public funds and property from public schools in order to avert the inescapable law of the falling rate of profit under capitalism. In the context of a continually failing economy and discredited political system, charter schools would become pay-the-rich schemes by legally and politically depriving existing public schools of the “exclusive” right and authority to operate schools, specifically by making it possible to outsource education to private operators. This is how public education became deregulated, privatized, and marketized in the neoliberal period—and all under the banner of high ideals (e.g., “serving the kids,” “valuing choice,” “closing the achievement gap,” “empowering parents”).

For the rich, charter schools have always been “good policy” because they have successfully funneled tens of billions of public dollars to wealthy private interests determined to counter the inevitable law of the falling rate of profit.

But since policies that preserve and strengthen the dominance of wealthy private interests and their outdated system will never solve any problems or benefit the public, the working class and people have to collectively find creative ways to negate capital-centered thinking and assert their interests, demands, and needs. A good expression of this has been numerous teacher strikes that target charter schools and defend public education. It is not an accident that the last 12 months have seen an unprecedented number of public school teachers and charter school teachers go on strike to defend the right to education. People are fed up with the wrecking activity of charter schools and do not want a wild west scenario in an institution meant to consciously and thoughtfully plan for the education of the youth.

The fight to defend public education and oppose school privatization led by the rich is more than a matter of policy: it is a major front of class war.

Charter School Promoters Terrified of Growing Opposition to Their Full-Frontal Assault on Public Education

The ongoing widely-supported teachers’ strikes across the United States are bringing to the fore many problems that have been confronting public education for decades, including a big and overdue focus on the havoc and destruction caused by charter schools against public schools and the public interest for the last 28 years.

Teacher strikes everywhere are smashing the silence on charter schools and awakening many out of their charter school stupor. Even the most anti-conscious individual is slowly beginning to see the disaster that charter schools and the neoliberal antisocial offensive are producing. Criticism and rejection of charter schools is becoming more mainstream with each passing month. The charter school fairytale seems to be losing traction.

Charter school promoters are rightly fearful that their scorched earth approach to education may be slowing down due to growing social consciousness of the endless problems caused by charter schools. It is clear that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are harming every aspect of public education and the public interest. Education privatization cannot be prettified or justified.

Approximately seven thousand charter schools, legal in 44 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam, currently enroll slightly more than three million students. While hundreds of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools close each year due mainly to financial malfeasance and poor academic performance, hundreds of these test-obsessed “free market” schools still keep opening every year.

Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools must be stopped if public education and the public interest are to be defended and affirmed. Education privatization offers no solutions, just more problems and more impunity. Teachers, school boards, and the public should keep pushing for more moratoriums on these privatized schools that are making the rich even richer while causing more problems for everyone else.

Even with the unrestricted ability to routinely cherry pick their students, charter schools, 92% of which are deunionized, have never come close to offering the kind of mass quality education that public schools have offered 90% of the nation’s youth for the last 150 years. Unlike charter schools, public schools accept all students, at all times, no questions asked. Public schools also do a better job of hiring and retaining more qualified and better-paid teachers.

Charter schools mainly enrich major owners of capital while masquerading as education arrangements that “empower parents,” “increase choice,” “serve the kids,” and “close the achievement gap.” The rich and those who wittingly and unwittingly agree with them believe that the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the so-called “free market” is a modern and socially responsible way to organize mass public education in a society based on mass industrial production.

Because the tide is slowly but surely turning against their wrecking activities, supporters and beneficiaries of charter schools are becoming even more arrogant and belligerent in their efforts to expand charter schools. Their egocentric quest to maximize profit as fast as possible makes it impossible for them to adopt a human-centered perspective. They are objectively blind to the needs of an education, society, and economy that serve the people. They only see schemes to further enrich themselves and promote their narrow antisocial interests under the banner of high ideals to fool the gullible.

The millionaires and billionaires behind charter schools, and all those who intentionally and unintentionally promote their disinformation about charter schools, never realized or anticipated that people are capable of acquiring and fortifying a social consciousness that does not tolerate assaults on public funds, institutions, assets, resources, facilities, and authority. The public opposes the unlimited greed of the rich and all the havoc that pursuit of such a narrow aim necessarily brings. More people are increasingly saying enough is enough.

No Such Thing as a Regulated, Public, or Good Charter School

There are many diversionary dichotomies within the unscrupulous web of charter school disinformation that have long distorted social consciousness and undermined the fight for social progress and high quality education for all. Some include the following:

  1. regulated verses unregulated charter schools
  2. for-profit verses nonprofit charter schools
  3. good verses bad charter schools
  4. high-performing verses low-performing charter schools
  5. mom-and-pop verses corporate charter schools
  6. school district-approved verses “totally autonomous” charter schools
  7. well-funded verses poorly-funded charter schools
  8. no-excuses verses regular charter schools
  9. urban verses suburban charter schools
  10. small verses large charter schools
  11. online verses brick-and-mortar charter schools

These and other misleading contrasts are designed to maximize confusion and abolish the consciousness and outlook that the core underlying issue with all charter schools is their privatized, marketized, and corporatized character. All other considerations are generally secondary, superficial, diversionary, or false in comparison to this key issue.

The privatized, marketized, and corporatized character of all charter schools is the central issue regardless of the different forms of charter schools. Form and content are not the same. Appearance and essence are not identical. It is important to look past the diversity of charter schools and appreciate their internal state; i.e., what is common and central to all of them. This will provide a much deeper understanding of charter schools. Forms and appearances are often misleading and superficial.

The privatized, marketized, and corporatized character of all charter schools is the reason why all charter schools have nothing to do with public right and instead embrace the outmoded ideologies and practices of the “free market,” private property, consumerism, competition, and possessive individualism.

The privatized, marketized, corporatized character of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools is also the reason why more than 95% of charter schools have never been started, owned, operated, or controlled by teachers since their inception 28 years ago in Minnesota. It is why charter schools are deregulated, deunionized, segregated, non-transparent, and poorly supervised. It is why charter schools close frequently, are plagued by high teacher turnover rates, dodge public standards of governance, often underperform, cherry pick their students, and are rife with fraud, corruption, patronage, nepotism, waste, arrests, scandals, investigations, and racketeering. The situation in the charter school sector is surreal, ruthless, insane, and miserable. It makes most other dysfunctionalities and crimes in society look normal, healthy, and trivial. Most aspects of the charter school sector are unethical and offensive.

Thirty years ago when democrats were actively and energetically leading the nefarious plot to deprive public schools of their “exclusive franchise” over education, deregulation and contracting became the main buzzwords to frame and drive the vicious neoliberal attack on public schools in the name of “improving schools,” “helping the kids,” “empowering parents,” and closing the “achievement gap.”

In this context, it is important to appreciate that contract law is part of private law, not public law. Private law is distinct from public law. They are not the same. They differ in significant ways. Private law governs relations between independent individuals and the exchange of goods and services. It accepts the premise that society is based on commodity exchange and possessive individualism. Public law, on the other hand, governs relations between individuals and the state, and is concerned with the common good. With private law, the government is largely out of the picture and the focus is on private, individual, personal affairs. Pubic law deals with issues that affect the society as a whole. This point cannot be emphasized enough. The difference between the motives, outlook, preoccupations, and implications of both types of laws is remarkable and often overlooked. To be clear, charter schools fall in the first category (private law), whereas public schools belong in the second domain (public law). One significant implication of this critical difference is that the relationship of students and parents to charter schools differs legally and politically from the relationship of students and parents to public schools. It also means that charter schools operate according to much different criteria and governance protocols and standards than those governing public schools. This is why calling charter schools “public” schools is erroneous, self-serving, and maximizes confusion instead of clarifying matters.

Charter actually means contract. Charter and contract are synonyms. Contract is the quintessential market category. Contracts make markets possible and rest on the ideologies of private property, possessive individualism, and commodity exchange. Social contract theory emerged in the 15-19th centuries in opposition to the feudal and medieval outlook and arrangements. “Free market,” by definition, means “laissez-faire”—no rules, no regulations, let it be, hands off! The “free market” means free reign for all major owners of capital to do as they please at any cost to students, society, and the environment. The “free market” celebrates inequality and the violent dictum that “might makes right.” It treats anarchy and violence as good and normal things.

Privatizing education through the mechanism of contracting and outsourcing requires eliminating long-standing highly-valued public governance arrangements (e.g., public school boards, public standards and regulations of governance, teacher unions, collective bargaining agreements, etc.) and moving into the deregulated, private, competitive, hierarchical, do-as-you-please, fend-for-yourself sphere of the “free market” where winning and losing, carrots and sticks, and “might makes right” are the name of the cruel game. Privatization means valorizing and celebrating the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism and denigrating the public interest. Privatization is how public education, which has served 90% of all students for more than 150 years, becomes depublicized, defunded, vilified, humiliated, scapegoated, commodified, commercialized, and subject to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market”—and all of it is cynically portrayed as being socially responsible.

Privatization is retrogressive and irresponsible. It is an attack on society and its members. Privatization violates the public interest and concentrates wealth and power in fewer hands. Privatization reduces the social wealth available to workers and the government and funnels it into the hands of private sector actors determined to enrich themselves at any cost to society. Privatization essentially increases opportunities for the rich to get even richer at the expense of the public. This is why so-called “public-private-partnerships” are a joke from the perspective of the public and society as a whole. Such “partnerships” always privilege major owners of capital and deprive workers of the value they produce. Privatization does not strengthen the social fabric in any way. Privatization drags society backward.

It is critical for the polity and education advocates in particular to make a clean break from the neoliberal ideas, categories, outlook, politics, and practices fueling the relentless violent disinformation on charter schools and instead give serious consideration to investigating, discussing, and opposing charter schools without the diversionary and misleading language of “regulated verses unregulated,” “good verses bad,” etc. A serious and disciplined focus on the meaning, role, and significance of the public and private sectors, as well as issues having to do with governance and who decides the affairs of society, that is, the issue of political power and where it lies, are urgently needed. This is hard to do in a culture that is intensely anti-investigation and where attention, focus, thinking, and discipline are being rapidly eroded by the digital invasion, but it must be done.

Diversionary dichotomies such as  “regulated verses unregulated,” “good verses bad,” and “for-profit verses nonprofit” cripple perception, cognition, and consciousness. They assault the senses and violate thinking and understanding. They mystify reality, engender confusion, increase doubt, and undermine confidence. They perpetuate an anti-intellectual atmosphere and prevent people from appreciating the core issues at stake. Misleading contrasts block people from seeing how their interests are being regularly violated by a handful of major owners of capital who are not concerned about anything except their own egocentric needs. Diversionary dichotomies ultimately sabotage action with analysis that favors the public. The rich know that many are easily fooled by their manipulative rhetoric and spin, especially when repeated over and over again. They are experts at duping people to get their own selfish way.

The aim of maximizing profit as fast as possible directly contradicts and sabotages the aim of social responsibility and a society fit for all. Maximizing profit for the wealthy few has absolutely nothing to do with serving society and its members. High quality, fully-funded, locally-controlled, world class, free public schools open to all cannot and will not be guaranteed by major owners of capital. The rich are not interested in improving schools or society. They have not solved a single major problem over the last 100 years and always operate with impunity and arrogance.

If a “school” can do whatever it wants whenever it wants, flout all kinds of public standards of governance while still being called “public,” treat the “law of the jungle” as a virtue, loot millions of dollars from real public schools with a straight face, oppose and eliminate unions, avoid publicly elected school boards, selectively enroll students, increase segregation, engage in extensive fraud and waste, underpay and overwork teachers, suddenly shutdown without caring about what happens to parents and students, continually engage in shady real estate deals, and also have unimpressive test results on top of everything else, then what is the justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of such schools in the first place? Is this how society is going to move forward? With more destructive pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as solutions for families, students, and education? What is the justification for allowing billions in public dollars that belong to the public to flow to huge private interests who have no claim to this social wealth and whose main aim is to maximize profit at any cost to society? Is this what a “good” school and “good” society look like?

Good schools can be created and developed when education is recognized and affirmed as a vital social responsibility that all modern societies must carry out on an organized pro-social basis that ensures full funding for all schools, local democratic control, and high quality curriculum, instruction, technology, facilities, and personnel. Society cannot move forward without organizing education on a mass, universal, public basis. Leaving education to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market” or the private choice of “consumers” who fend for themselves like animals is backward, irrational, and avoidable.

The rich and their political and media cheerleaders are more determined than ever to wreck public education and to cynically convince the public that this is in their interest. They desperately want people to believe that charter schools exist to serve “the kids” and not to make the rich richer. Fortunately, the tide is turning against the mass looting of America’s public schools by charter schools. The devastation that charter schools cause and multiply is becoming more visible and offensive to more people more rapidly. Charter school havoc and destruction can no longer be prettified or concealed. Many now see right through the violent disinformation long promoted by charter school promoters. As a result, pressure is mounting nationally on state and local governments to curb the growth of charter schools. It certainly is not the best time to be a charter school promoter. People have had enough of the criminal ruthlessness of the rich and realize that private greed has never served the public good or students.

Public schools, even in their under-funded, over-tested, and scapegoated condition, still do a much better job of meeting the needs of all students than for-profit and nonprofit charter schools. The tired claim that charter schools represent a better alternative to the 100,000 public schools that serve over 45 million youth is intended to dupe the naive. Charter school supporters are in the forefront of destroying public education and offering lower quality schools.

Each year that passes with no new charter schools in a city or state is a good year for society, education, and the economy. Charter schools introduce the worst kind of “innovation” in education, society, and the economy. Far from solving anything, they multiply serious problems.

Six states currently do not allow charter schools: Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. Striking public school teachers in West Virginia recently played a big role in averting charter schools in their state. Striking public school teachers in Los Angeles and striking charter school teachers in Chicago have also lately played a positive role in opposing charter school crimes.

The momentum against charter schools is building and it will keep growing because charter schools will keep wreaking havoc on education and society. People are saying enough is enough and calling on all to defend public education.

Charter Schools: Competition Makes All Schools Losers

For most individuals, life without competition is inconceivable. Competition seems to be part of  everything we know and do. It saturates everything. Nothing seems to escape its grip. It directs and conditions people at the conscious and subconscious levels. Competition appears natural, inevitable, and normal, as if it has always existed and can never go away.

Generations of conditioning tells us that competition is what motivates us, drives us, and makes us want to improve, excel, and achieve. Competition is supposedly intrinsic to us and makes us break through barriers and reach new heights every day.

Nothing would ever supposedly get done without competition. Everyone would just be lazy and mope around at home all day eating Doritos and playing video games in their pajamas. People would allegedly aspire to nothing without the fear of winning and losing, without a protocol of rewards and punishments to “motivate” them to be productive. Competition is therefore the only way to overcome laziness and lack of productivity so as to get what one earns and deserves. In the final analysis, winning and losing supposedly brings out the best in everyone and everything and is the main way to ensure quality, excellence, and progress.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines competition as: “The action of endeavouring to gain what another endeavours to gain at the same time’; the striving of two or more for the same object; rivalry.”

Synonyms for competition include: “contention, conflict, feuding, battling, fighting, struggling, strife, war.”

Competition, the close cousin of individualism, consumerism, selfishness, greed, and anxiety is based on many long-standing myths. A main one is the myth of scarcity. According to this myth, things acquire their value from being scarce, and when there is not enough to go around, people will necessarily feud, compete, and fight with each other to obtain scarce things.

But there is no reason to compete for something, especially if it is abundant, as are so many things in the United States, an advanced capitalist economy. Why struggle, fight, battle, and feud for something if there is enough to go around? Why engage in stressful rivalry? For every homeless person in the U.S., for example, there are six vacant homes, proving that what is produced under capitalism is not for social needs, but for narrow private profit. Homelessness is not the product of a scarcity of houses but the direct result of a society based on an outdated economic and political system that embraces competition and does not recognize the rights of humans. No one should have to be homeless in a society overflowing with houses.

But there is also no automatic reason to compete for something even when it is scarce. There is nothing inherent to the scarcity of something that magically and instantly produces the drive to compete. The drive to compete is specific to the type of social order that prevails, specifically the capitalist social order.

Competition assumes, accepts, and perpetuates hierarchies, inequalities, privilege distribution systems, winners and losers. And it often brings out the worst, not the best, in everyone and everything. It rejects the idea that all humans have rights that government is duty-bound to guarantee in practice. Rights belong to people by virtue of their very being and cannot be given or taken away. They are not based on competition or merit. One’s rights, including the right to education, cannot be based on the anarchy, chaos, and violence of the “free market,” competition, individualism, and consumerism. Such a way of living is outdated, inefficient, and barbaric.

Charter school promoters and supporters never tire of reminding everyone that the ideologies of competition and the “free market” are the apex of human achievement and form the bedrock of the charter school movement. Charter schools are “market-driven” schools, they endlessly assert with a straight face. Competition is what schools need according to education privatizers who see everything as a commodity and as a matter of consumerism and individual choices. From the narrow perspective of “free market” fundamentalists, winning and losing, and punishments and rewards, are natural, healthy, normal, and eternal. It is the way things should be done. It is how you get the best. When schools compete, the “bad” ones disappear and the “good” ones prevail, and this way everyone gets to attend the “good” ones. Why, according to charter school supporters, should schools be viewed as being any different from any other commodity like beef jerky and chewing tobacco? The best way to get “good” schools, according to corporate school reformers and neoliberals, is by ruthlessly subjecting them to the same chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.”

In reality, however, both public schools and charter schools, not to mention society and the economy as a whole, suffer when the ideology and practice of competition frame and drive thinking, ideas, arrangements, relations, institutions, activities, and behaviors in society.

Public schools, already chronically underfunded, over-tested, and constantly demonized by the rich and their political and media flunkies, lose billions of public dollars each year to privately operated charter schools rife with fraud, an unimpressive academic record, high teacher and student turnover rates, discriminatory student enrollment patterns, little transparency, no regulations, no publicly elected school boards, and no unions. The “free market,” competition, and privatization have successfully increased chaos, anarchy, and violence in the sphere of education and in the lives of many families, especially those families left uprooted, angry, dislocated, and stressed when a charter school closes, often without warning. Families have no recourse when this happens 200-250 times a year. They are left to fend for themselves like animals, just another casualty of the charter school sector organized and promoted by the rich.

A handful of major owners of capital have gotten vastly richer by creating pay-the-rich schemes like charter schools to expand their private empires, while also working overtime to promote the illusion that charter schools are wonderful, harmless, reasonable, successful, alternative education arrangements for “the kids.” The rich are the only winners when it comes to charter schools and other forms of education commodification and financial parasitism. Charter schools have nothing to do with “empowering parents.”

Another way charter schools, public schools, students, teachers, parents, and society as a whole lose when competition is imposed on education is through the animosity, anger, resentment, stress, and protests that are generated when schools compete for students and funds. Competing for depleted funds makes both types of schools worse off, especially when economies of scale matter. Charter school supporters’ much-vaunted competition has not generated widespread mutually beneficial cooperation and growth in the sphere of education. Instead, a mean ugly spirit prevails between most public schools and charter schools. They do not see each other as allies and friends. On the contrary, the battle between public schools and charter schools has been intensifying with each passing year.

With the rise of privatized education arrangements like charter schools, we now have a fractured decaying society plagued by two sets of education arrangements mired in crisis. Charter school owners-operators have helped move society backward. Nothing has been solved. Instead, more divisions, conflicts, and losses have been inflicted on the majority and society. The “achievement gap,” largely a product of harsh class divisions in society, has not improved in any real and lasting way.

The way out of this deepening crisis is the same as the way out of all the crises society is mired in, namely to work with others to develop modern definitions, thinking, and practical politics that will deprive wealthy private interests of their ability to deprive of us of our power and rights. Supreme decision-making power, sovereignty, must lie with the people, not the financial oligarchy whose only concern is to enrich itself at the expense of the general interests of society. If all major education decisions keep being made by the top one percent of the top one percent, society and education will keep sliding backward. Only the working class and people can usher in a modern human-centered alternative. It is entirely possible and necessary to foster locally-controlled, fully-funded, world-class public schools available to all at all times. People do not need to be treated as narrow selfish consumers who fend for themselves like animals in their anxious quest to secure a great education for their kids in a society that lacks no funds and resources.

Charter Schools: School Choice in New Orleans Means No Choices for Parents

One of the many tired claims of “free-market” loving, pro-consumerist millionaires and billionaires behind nonprofit and for-profit charter schools is that charter schools “empower parents” to “choose” which school to send their child to. Charter schools, according to the top one percent, should be one of many options available to families. Taking social responsibility to invest in, defend, and strengthen real public schools that have been around for more than a century and a half is not part of the agenda of major owners of capital. Instead, the rich and their representatives routinely valorize “choice” and treat it as the end-all and be-all. Indeed, you are un-American if you oppose “choice.”

Unfortunately, thousands of families in New Orleans have no real school choices because all schools in New Orleans are charter schools. There are no public schools around anymore. They have all been eliminated by the rich and their state.

What happens if a parent in New Orleans does not want to enroll their child in a charter school and wants to send their child to a public school instead? What about teachers in New Orleans who do not want to work in a charter school but prefer to teach in a public school?

So much for “choice.”

“Choice” in New Orleans has effectively coerced parents, teachers, and students right out of any real educational choices.

Charter Schools: The Issue is Not Student Scores on High-Stakes Standardized Tests Produced by Big Business

Charter school supporters and promoters have long been severely obsessed with comparing charter school and public school students’ scores on expensive curriculum-narrowing high-stakes standardized tests produced by big corporations. They fetishize test scores and believe such scores are useful and meaningful in some way, despite what extensive evidence has shown for decades.

One reason charter school supporters and promoters dogmatically fixate on pedagogically meaningless test scores is because they do not want to draw any attention to the real underlying problem with charter schools, which is that they are privatized, marketized, corporatized, deregulated, deunionized, non-transparent, pro-competition, political-economic arrangements that siphon billions of public dollars from public schools every year and make rich people even richer while drowning in fraud, corruption, waste, arrests, scandal, and racketeering.

Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are contract schools that operate outside the public sphere and benefit mainly major owners of capital, even though they are portrayed as a way to “empower parents.” Test scores do not change this. Whether students’ scores on unsound tests produced by for-profit companies are high or low, it does not make the looting of billions of dollars in public funds by charter schools from public schools acceptable. Test scores cannot cover up this large-scale theft and destruction. Scores on tests not produced by educators and lacking a human-centered perspective necessarily serve retrogression.

Even if every student in every charter school in the country scored well on tests produced by big business, there is still no justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of charter schools and the massive looting by the rich of public funds and facilities from the public.

Charter schools have no right to public funds because they are not public schools; they are privatized deregulated arrangements based on the outmoded ideologies of competition, individualism, and consumerism. This is why charter schools differ fundamentally from public schools and should not even be compared to public schools.

Another reason for charter school promoters obsessing over useless test data that research shows has nothing to do with learning, is because this promotes the illusion of objectivity and seriousness, while also hiding the stubborn fact that most charter schools cherry pick their students and manipulate enrollment patterns in ways that are unethical and designed to portray the charter schools in the best test-performance light possible. Charter school supporters and promoters truly believe that test scores give them validation. They believe that data, metrics, and numbers imposed on society by big business tell us what we need to know about learning, growth, and complex human beings. For them, if something cannot be misquantified, it does not exist or matter.

No one should think for one second that test scores cannot be manipulated or have anything to do with learning. It is well-known that test scores can be raised in many ways without improving learning. Test scores tell us very little about what is really going on in a school, other than the socio-economic profile of students and how much test-drilling takes place. One can become a good performer without becoming a good learner. Great test takers are not the same as great learners. Many students earn A’s on exams but are not really ready to undertake rigorous learning and education. Quite a bit of research easily obtained online actually shows that reliance on the top-down testing regime imposed on the nation’s schools for generations actually lowers the level of education, thereby harming the economy and national interest as well.

Charter school supporters’ obsession with test scores is a ruse. It is designed to fool the gullible. People should recognize that public schools, funds, facilities, resources, assets, and authority belong only to the public and that wealthy private interests behind charter schools have no legitimate claim to them no matter how well or poorly charter school students—usually chosen by the school, not the other way around—score on widely-rejected corporate tests.

Chicago: Mass Charter School Teacher Strike

Angering Wall Street and other millionaires and billionaires who promote charter schools, in early December 2018 hundreds of teachers at a corporate charter school chain in Chicago called Acero set a historic record and held the nation’s first mass charter school teachers’ strike.

The strike at Acero’s 15 charter schools, attended by mostly poor and low-income Latino students, was something wealthy private interests urgently wanted to avoid because it would bring too much attention to many problems that have been plaguing charter schools for years.

Smaller classes, more school personnel, better pay, and greater teacher voice were some of the many demands that 500 Acero teachers made. Out-of-touch Acero CEO, Richard Rodriguez, made many misleading statements about the striking teachers in order to discredit their struggle and rights. Like other charter school supporters, Rodriguez is eager to deprive people of their perception and consciousness, and desperately wants people to believe the opposite of what is happening and what is needed. He wants to operate with impunity while casting teachers as irresponsible for defending their rights and the rights of their students.

Extensive research easily obtained online shows that the charter school sector has been rife with fraud, corruption, racketeering, investigations, and arrests, as well as a lack of regulations, unions, teacher stability, accountability, or transparency for decades. These and other conditions common to charter schools nationwide have long produced a low level of teaching and learning, and a high level of stress, dissatisfaction, and frustration for everyone. It was only a matter of time before a large number of teachers at a corporate charter school chain joined together to defend their rights and protest long-standing horrible working conditions. Teachers’ working conditions, and therefore students’ learning conditions, in charter schools have been subpar for decades.

About three million youth are currently enrolled in approximately 7,000 charter schools across the country. These privately operated, publicly funded schools are legal in 44 states, Washington, DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico. They are governed by individuals who are not publicly elected and who eagerly embrace the notion of education as a commodity subject to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the so-called “free market.” Charter school supporters see the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market” as a virtue. They are unable to see that such an arrangement is barbaric and outdated.

Roughly 92% of charter schools are not unionized. Charter school owners-operators are notorious for vicious union-suppression tactics. Ask any teacher at a charter school that has even thought about unionizing what usually happens to them. It’s ugly and desperate. Unions are to charter schools what the crucifix is to Dracula. But even when unions exist in charter schools, they are usually not as strong and powerful as unions in public schools. This is the same reason why more than 95% of charter schools are not started, controlled, or operated by teachers—not 30 years ago and not today.

It is no secret that teacher turnover in charter schools has always been very high across the board because working conditions are generally poor, especially compared to working conditions in public schools, which are constantly being defunded by charter schools. Teachers don’t leave charter schools because charter school operators are just so good at selecting and keeping amazing teachers while “weeding out” rotten teachers; they leave because they want to work somewhere else with better working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students.

Charter school teachers, on average, have fewer college credentials than their public school counterparts, fewer years of teaching experience, work longer school days and years, make less money, and have fewer, if any, pension or retirement benefits. Over the years, numerous sources have documented these and many other destructive trends endemic to the entire charter school sector.

Both charter school teachers and public school teachers are fed up with backwards working conditions and realize that no one is going to defend their rights except themselves. Relying on politicians, “experts,” charter school operators, major owners of capital, or the media does not work. Status quo forces have no interest in opening the path of progress to society. On the contrary, such forces are working overtime to suppress the rights of teachers and other workers under the veneer of high ideals. Teachers must rely on themselves, on their own numbers, power, and organization to forge ahead and bring about changes consistent with modern demands and requirements. They and other workers should reject a capital-centered outlook and fight for arrangements, views, and definitions that favor the working class and the people.

Striking charter school teachers in Chicago may have broken a certain threshold, sending an empowering message to other teachers, especially charter school teachers, that they do not have to be passive in the face of attacks on their rights and the rights of students. Charter school owners-operators must be held accountable for the havoc they are wreaking in the sphere of education.

Millionaires and billionaires behind charter schools are hell-bent on trampling on public right and imposing on the public a most self-serving narrative about charter schools. This is why they are also upset and demoralized about 30,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) flooding the streets of Los Angeles on January 14, 2019 to affirm their rights, especially by opposing charter schools. Thousands of parents, students, workers, and residents have turned out to support the teachers. The last such major walkout by LA teachers was in 1989. California authorized the first charter schools in 1992 and is now home to more than 1,100 charter schools, which is more than any other state.

LA teachers have specifically targeted charter schools as a major problem because these schools are directly harming every aspect of LA’s public school system.

Charter school disinformation is slowly losing its grip on social consciousness. More people are steadily coming to see the fraud that charter schools represent and that these schools cannot be prettified. Charter schools are a form of financial parasitism.

In the context of this intensifying fight, people should not be diverted by false dichotomies like “good” charter schools versus “bad” charter schools, nonprofit charter schools versus for-profit charter schools, regulated charter schools versus unregulated charter schools, mom-and-pop charter schools versus corporate charter schools, or high-performing charter schools versus low-performing charter schools. These categories are meaningless when considering that all charter schools, regardless of this or that consideration, are privatized, marketized, corporatized arrangements that have a net negative effect on the sphere of education, society, and the economy. Nor should anyone swallow hook, line, and sinker the nonsense about charter schools being about “choice” and “empowering parents.” Hundreds of charter schools close each year, often suddenly, leaving thousands of families abandoned, stressed, angry, and disillusioned. Charter schools violate and disempower parents, teachers, students, and principals all the time.