All posts by Shawgi Tell

Many Teachers Keep Leaving Charter Schools

Yet another academic study shows what many have documented for years: the teacher turnover rate in charter schools remains much higher than the teacher turnover rate in public schools.1 High teacher turnover rates has been a longstanding problem for privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools across the country. Here is a typical example:

Average [teacher] attrition across the charter school sector in Massachusetts has hovered around 30 percent for the last decade. That is more than double the rate at traditional districts in the state, which have been averaging about 12 percent over the last 10 years.  (Jung, 2019, para. 5, emphasis added)2

Charter school teachers also leave the profession of teaching at higher rates than public school teachers.

This revolving door of teachers (“charter churn”) is one of many reasons that the quality of education is lower in privately-operated charter schools than public schools.

Students need a large number of qualified professional teachers who work together regularly for extended periods and develop collegiality, continuity, stability, and common understandings. An environment in which teachers are coming and going frequently is not good for students. Too many different teachers in a short period of time is destabilizing for students and lowers the level of education. Continuity, stability, and high-quality teaching and learning are impossible under such conditions.

A main reason that privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools lose so many teachers so frequently is poor working conditions. Generally speaking, conditions in public schools are better than conditions in privately-operated charter schools. Overall, teachers in public schools tend to make more money and have more credentials and years of experience than charter school teachers. Their jobs are also more secure, have better benefits, and are usually unionized. The same cannot be said of teachers in charter schools. Most charter school teachers are not unionized and often lack any type of pension benefits. They also tend to work longer days and years than their public school counterparts. Further, charter school employees, like employees at a business corporation, are usually considered “At Will” employees, which means that an employer can terminate an employee at will for any reason or for no reason at all.

As “cost-cutting” and “revenue-maximizing” private entities that fetishize the individualism, competition, and consumerism of the “free market,” charter schools do not put the right to education in first place. Narrow business considerations come first. Everything is viewed as a narrow budgetary issue. Charter school advocates try to deny all this and strive to prettify charter schools in order to fool the gullible and to keep siphoning funds and property from public schools. In this way, privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have made many “entrepreneurs” very wealthy—all at public expense.

  1. Gulosino, C., Ni, Y., & Rorrer, A. K. (2019, August). Newly hired teacher mobility in charter schools and traditional public schools: An application of segmented labor market theory. American Journal of Education, 125(4), 547-592.
  2. Jung, C. (2019, January). Mass. charter schools test new ways to reduce high teacher turnover. WBUR.

More Than 300 Privately-Operated Ohio Charter Schools Have Closed In 20 Years

Across the country, thousands of charter schools have closed in under 30 years. Corruption and poor academic performance are two key reasons for the high failure rate in the charter school sector.

Between 1998 and 2019, 306 charter schools closed in Ohio. On average, that is more than one charter school closing per month for 20 years.

Ohio is often called the “Wild West” of charter schools because of the intense chaos, anarchy, and violence in the charter school sector in that state. Ohio’s charter school laws are notoriously antisocial and charter school–friendly. Accountability and transparency are essentially zero in Ohio’s charter schools. Endless stories involving embezzlement and fraud in Ohio’s charter school sector abound. Bad charter school news is relentless and continuous.

Unfortunately, the entire segregated charter school sector is much like this.

Chaos, anarchy, and violence are not unique to Ohio’s charter schools. Disarray and destruction in the charter school sector is mostly a question of degree, that is, of how intense such chaos and anarchy are. In cities like Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington DC, the charter school sector is plagued by turmoil and instability.

This chaos, anarchy, and violence will not disappear until the ideologies of individualism, consumerism, and competition are banished from a public responsibility like education. So long as education is treated as a commodity, as nothing more than a business, then the chaos, anarchy, and violence inherent to the “free market” will make itself felt ruthlessly. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools will continue to open and close frequently, often unpredictably, and thousands of families will continue to feel violated, angry, and stressed. These parents, in turn, will no doubt share their negative charter school experiences with others, which in turn will discourage others from believing the intense hype surrounding privately-operated charter schools and dissuade them from enrolling their children in charter schools.

Add to this the fact that charter schools continually experience high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates and you have very unstable conditions in a sector that barely makes up seven percent of all schools in the country.

In these and other ways charter schools are their own worst enemy. Charter school promoters are too anticonscious and greedy to realize that the constant churn and upheaval in the charter school sector is not a virtue, but a disaster for education, society, the economy, and the national interest. Charter school promoters want people to suspend thinking and investigation and simply believe that a major social responsibility like education, which is germane to the future of society, should be run on the basis of “free market” principles—the same principles that ensure carnage and ruin every hour in the business world.

Are Charter Schools Public Schools?

Charter school advocates have always desperately sought to convince themselves and the public that privately-run nonprofit and for-profit charter schools that operate like businesses are actually public and similar in many ways to public schools.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Charter schools are not public schools.

In reality, privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools differ in many profound ways from public schools that have been educating 90 percent of America’s youth for more than a century.

Below is an abbreviated list of the many ways in which privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools differ significantly from public schools.

  1. Charter schools are exempt from dozens, even hundreds, of state and local laws, rules, regulations, policies, and agreements that apply to all public schools.
  2. At least 90% of charter schools have no teacher unions—the opposite of public schools.
  3. Some charter school owners-operators openly and publicly insist that charter schools are private entities.

  1. Unlike public schools, charter schools are not governed by a publicly elected school board, but by a self-selecting, corporate-style board of trustees.
  2. Many charter schools are not subject to audits, at least not in the same way as public schools.
  3. Many charter schools do not uphold open-meeting laws; they dodge many such public requirements.
  4. Many charter schools do not provide the same services as public schools, e.g., transportation, nurses, food, sports, education services, etc.
  5. Thousands of charter schools are directly and/or indirectly owned, operated, or managed by private, for-profit entities.
  6. Many, if not most, charter schools regularly use discriminatory student enrollment practices. Students with disabilities and English Language Learners in particular are usually under-represented in charter schools. So are homeless students and other students.

  1. In some states charter schools are permitted to hire teachers with no license or certification; in other states charter schools can hire a percentage of teachers with no license or certification.
  2. Many charter schools entail loss of voter voice (e.g., through the creation of non-profits that can claim public funds without voter approval).
  3. Unlike public schools, charter schools cannot levy taxes and the public cannot vote on school budgets.
  4. Unlike public schools, charter schools rest on the ideologies of competition, consumerism, and individualism, as well as the chaos, anarchy, and uncertainty of the “free market.” Winning and losing are considered healthy and normal. More than 3,000 charter schools have closed in 28 years, leaving thousands of families dislocated, angry, and disillusioned.
  5. In 2016, the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency, determined that charter schools are private entities.
  6. The Supreme Court in the state of Washington ruled in 2015 that charter schools are not public schools and cannot receive public funds because they are not governed by publicly elected officials.

  1. Joining other courts, in 2009 and 2010 the Court of Appeals of New York, in two separate cases, ruled that charter schools are not public entities and/or not subject to the same practices and laws as public schools.

NY CHARTER SCHOOL v. DiNAPOLI. 13 N.Y.3d 120 (2009). Court of Appeals of New York.

CHARTER SCHOOL v. Smith. 15 N.Y. 3rd 403 (2010).  Court of Appeals of New York.

    1. The non-profit and/or for-profit status of charter schools positions them outside the public sphere (and in the so-called “Third Sector”).
    2. Charter schools rely more heavily on charity and philanthropic aid than public schools.
    3. Unlike public schools, and much like a business, charter schools often spend large sums of money on marketing & advertising their deregulated schools to parents.
    4. Charter means contract. Charter schools are contract Performance contracts are at the heart of charter schools. Contract is the quintessential market category. Contracts make commerce possible. Contract law is part of private law, not public law. Charter schools are legally classified as nonprofits or for-profits. Unlike public schools, they are not political subdivisions of the state. In some places, like New York State, charter schools are not considered political subdivisions of the state. Unlike public schools, charter schools are not state agencies.

  1. Many state constitutions state that public education cannot be operated by or serve sectarian or private interests; nor can public funds flow to them.
  2. Last, but not least, an entity does not become public just because it is labeled public or repeatedly called public. Nor does something become public just because it receives public funds. And being “tuition-free” does not automatically make an entity public either. Being public in the modern sense of the word requires much more.

Many other differences between public schools and charter schools could be listed. The point is that charter school advocates remain as desperate as ever to portray charter schools as public schools so as to have a modicum of legitimacy and in order to seize extremely enormous amounts of funds and property from public schools.

Stopping privatization in all its forms is a key responsibility confronting the public at this time.

• This title is a slight variation of the title of an article “There’s No Such Thing as a “Public Charter School” written by Ann Berlak in 2016. Berlak is an author and has worked as a teacher and teacher educator.


Join Growing Resistance to Charter Schools

It has taken some time, but finally, even though they have been pillaged for decades by privately-operated unaccountable charter schools, more public school districts across the country are fighting back with greater vigor against nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. Gone are the days of silent toleration and looking the other way while charter schools wreak havoc on public education.

It is affirming and refreshing to see more public school districts filing lawsuits, passing resolutions, producing exposés, and taking other actions against privately-operated charter schools to stop the “legal” theft of public funds and property by these non-transparent contract schools that typically under-enroll certain student populations and have high teacher turnover rates.

While segregated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have rapidly enriched many owners of capital and their cheerleaders, they have not solved any major problems. The increase in privately-operated charter schools nationwide has deepened the crisis in education and society. It has made things qualitatively worse.

Nearly 30 years after they came into being, there is no compelling evidence that charter schools do better than under-funded, over-tested, and relentlessly scapegoated-and-shamed public schools confronted with immense tasks and responsibilities.

The antisocial transfer of colossal sums of public money and property from public schools to wealthy charter school owners-operators has left numerous public schools and communities in many states devastated, unable to educate many students, particularly poor and low-income minority students. The situation has become so tragic, absurd, and nauseating in some places that even charter schools are cannibalizing each other.

This was bound to happen with the rise of privatized, marketized, corporatized “schools” promoted heavily by millionaires and billionaires eagerly searching for ways to maximize profits as fast as possible.

In this context, public school board members do not need to ride the fence when opposing charter schools and defending public schools. They do not need to make equivocating statements like: “I love charter schools, charter schools are awesome, but charter schools are destroying our public school district and we must act to stop the damage caused by charter schools.”

It is neither necessary nor helpful to frame matters in this way; it just reinforces confusion. It is more helpful, honest, and straightforward to openly state that charter schools are a big problem, that charter schools are not public schools, that thousands of charter schools perform poorly, and that charter schools must have no access to public funds and property.

Everyone should support the struggles of public school boards across the country against the privatization of education, which inevitably leads to more corruption, less democracy, worse results, greater chaos, higher costs, reduced accountability, and inferior service.

There are currently about 7,000 charter schools in the U.S., but more than 3,000 privately-operated charter schools have closed in under three decades, leaving thousands of families dislocated, angry, and stressed. This is destructive, avoidable, and unnecessary.

More parents, students, teachers, principals, teacher educators, school boards, education associations, and others are slowly but surely discovering that the gap between charter school hype and charter school realities remains enormous.

More than ever, society needs fully-funded, locally-controlled, integrated, world-class public schools in every neighborhood, not pay-the-rich schemes like charter schools that are constantly mired in endless scandals.

Charter School Fictions and Grandstanding

It is no secret that charter school advocates become disingenuous and belligerent when endless problems in the scandal-ridden charter school sector are exposed, criticized, and opposed with greater depth, sophistication, and regularity.

For nearly 30 years charter school promoters have been reluctant to admit, let alone come to terms with, profound problems with privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, seems to be the modus operandi among most charter school advocates. Anticonsciousness and incoherence pervade the unaccountable charter school sector.

Charter school promoters have never wanted the public to know the true nature and essence of charter schools. They do not want any charter school problems known or acknowledged in any way. There is too much neoliberal pillaging at stake for charter school advocates to abandon the veneer of high ideals. Denying wrong-doing and prettifying charter schools is a full-time job for increasingly defensive charter school advocates.

But the gap between charter school hype and charter school realities remains as wide as ever, and charter school problems keep multiplying, not decreasing.

A main tactic used often by charter school advocates to divert attention from long-standing problems with charter schools is to fetishize form, abstractions, and appearance, while ignoring essence, content, and substance.

Some examples:

  1. Charter school advocates never tire of repeating the worn-out assertion that, “charter schools are public schools because the law says they are public schools.”

In other words, even though charter schools are governed by unelected individuals, cannot levy taxes, spend large sums of money on advertising, selectively enroll students, do not follow most rules followed by public schools, almost never have unions, have been deemed private by many courts, and differ in many other ways from public schools, the public is supposed to reflexively believe that just because the law calls charter schools public schools then charter schools are automatically public schools.

There is apparently no difference between charter schools on paper and charter schools in real life.

Charter school advocates believe that simply calling something public automatically makes it public and that the law is always correct and unassailable. The public is supposed to automatically believe any assertion made by charter school advocates and analyze nothing.

People are supposed to nonchalantly ignore the fact that, in practice, every day, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools operate like private businesses and are plagued by fraud, waste, and corruption.

To be sure, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have been privately-operated, deregulated, segregated, unaccountable, and mired in controversy for decades. Charter schools lack transparency, frequently perform poorly, close often, have high teacher turnover rates, avoid certain students, over-pay administrators, outsource many services, and further enrich wealthy private interests who self-servingly claim to “care about the kids.”

Charter schools are a major top-down neoliberal project in the education sphere. The rich relentlessly defend and promote charter schools no matter the damage to education, society, the economy, and the national interest.

  1. Charter school advocates also magnify and idolize hollow laws and policies when they claim that, “charter schools are accountable because charter school authorizers oversee them and because charter schools are audited and supervised by various entities.”

It is well-known that the 2008 economic collapse that continues to shake world economies years later took place despite the existence of many oversight and regulatory bodies. Today, all kinds of problems exist in different sectors and institutions that are ostensibly regulated and overseen by various entities. Regulation means little in the neoliberal period. Chaos, anarchy, and violence are the norm. An extremely dangerous situation confronts the people in all spheres.

If charter schools were regulated, supervised, or audited in any meaningful or serious way, there would not be hundreds of news articles every year, year after year, reporting on widespread crime, fraud, waste, scandal, and corruption in the charter school sector, which barely makes up seven percent of schools in the country. Further, thousands of charter schools would not perform poorly every year if they were high-quality, well-supervised, well-run, and accountable. Charter school advocates have even launched legal battles to block attempts to audit them. Charter schools do not want to be transparent and accountable, even though they are ostensibly “public” and drain billions of dollars from public schools every year.

Crisis-prone charter schools want to be called public and be seen as public, while acting like private businesses.

Charter schools have always been accountable mainly to major owners of capital. They are not pro-social arrangements. This is one of many reasons why fewer than three percent of all charter schools are owned, operated, or started by teachers and why about 90 percent of charter schools are deunionized.

  1. Charter school advocates also like to mislead the public by claiming that, “charter schools give parents choices and allow them to escape ‘failing’ public schools.”

Putting aside the fact that charter schools choose parents and students, not the other way around, charter school promoters, along with corporate school reformers, privatizers, and neoliberals never want to talk about how they themselves actively and deliberately organized policies and arrangements to steadily starve, test, demonize, punish, and privatize public schools over time—the perfect setup for the destructive neoliberal agenda and narrative.

For decades, charter school promoters, corporate school reformers, privatizers, and neoliberals have been cramming the “failing public schools” narrative down the throats of Americans to convince them that public schools are automatically and inherently rotten, and that parents should enroll their children in privately-operated, test-obsessed, segregated charter schools riddled with scandals and serious unresolved problems.

The illusions surrounding charter schools are slowly but surely melting. It has taken some time, but social consciousness about charter schools, school privatization, and neoliberal education policies and arrangements has grown significantly in recent years. This precious social consciousness cannot be destroyed.

More people are questioning charter schools. Fewer people blindly embrace charter schools. More public school boards, teacher unions, parents, teachers, researchers, public interest groups, and others are exposing profound problems in the charter school with greater frequency.

Resistance to neoliberal wrecking of education is not going away any time soon for the simple reason that charter schools are their own worst enemy and cannot escape serious problems and scandals. People do not want to stand by and passively watch public schools get destroyed by wealthy private interests who operate with impunity.

Persistent Fraudulent Enrollment in Charter Schools

While privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have long engaged in a broad range of fraudulent student enrollment practices, yet another avalanche of news reports on such dishonest practices has recently appeared.

There seems to be no end to astonishing news in the unregulated and segregated charter school sector. Controversy, scandal, and charter schools have been fellow-travelers for more than 25 years.

Virtual charter schools, perhaps the most unsuccessful and unethical of all types of charter schools, have a long-standing tradition of enrolling “ghost students” (students that do not exist) in order to embezzle millions of public dollars. This, of course, is always accompanied by Enron-style accounting in an attempt to conceal such damaging financial malfeasance.

The latest debacle in the troubled charter school sector is the massive virtual Epic Charter School Network which operates mainly in Oklahoma. It has made headlines everywhere for enrolling “ghost students” and for engaging in other crimes and unethical behavior for a long time.

In related news, two scandal-ridden online charter schools in Indiana were also recently exposed and criticized for engaging in some of the same crimes as Epic and other cyber charter schools. Together, these virtual schools inflated their enrollments by thousands of students to pilfer enormous sums of public funds.

Sadly, many other examples of inflated enrollments and other scandalous practices in nonprofit and for-profit charter schools could be cited. Corruption plagues the entire charter school sector.

Keeping in mind that the final and highest stage of capitalism ensures greater parasitism, crime, corruption, and violence across society and many sectors, the public should expect a further intensification of fraud, corruption, and controversy from all types of charter schools in the coming months and years.

Whether they are nonprofit or for-profit, virtual or brick-and-mortar, as privatized and marketized arrangements charter schools engender more corruption in education and society. Privatization, as a general rule, is synonymous with corruption and inferior service.

“More regulation” and “better oversight” will not solve the problems plaguing the charter school sector. Charter schools are deregulated schools by definition; they are a main expression of neoliberal education arrangements. Further, the charter school sector is full of wealthy, arrogant, and defensive advocates who will not tolerate any individual or organization that attempts to stop their assault on public education, society, the economy, and the national interest. Charter school owners-operators are determined to seize as much public funds and public property as possible.

But this does not mean resistance is pointless or that the rich and their cheerleaders cannot be defeated. It means the public must develop new and creative ways to deprive the rich of their power to deprive the public of its claims and interests.

It can be done.

No public funds or public property must go to privately-operated charter schools. All public funds and public property must remain in the hands of the public. This is especially true given the fact that charter schools are not public schools, as many court cases in different jurisdictions have ruled over the years.

Can Deregulated Charter Schools Not Be Deregulated Charter Schools?

Privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have always been a top-down neoliberal economic project.

The main features of neoliberalism, launched at home and abroad in the late 1970s, are privatization, deregulation, and abdication of government responsibility for the well-being of people.

Charter schools meet all three criteria: they are deregulated arrangements that reflect government abandoning responsibility for education by handing it over to the private sector and the “free market,” where chaos, anarchy, and violence prevail. This is why so many millionaires and billionaires have been involved in the charter school sector for decades. For owners of capital, charter schools are a much-needed pay-the-rich scheme in the neoliberal period. Charter schools temporarily protect a section of the rich from the inescapable effects of falling profitability under capitalism.

Charter schools became marketized, privatized, deregulated arrangements decades ago when wealthy pioneers of charter schools consciously sought to deprive traditional public schools of their “exclusive franchise,” their so-called “monopoly,” on education. Neoliberal and privatizers wanted education to be outsourced and conducted on the basis of a performance-based contract, where government still pays for everything but the public is eliminated and wealthy private interests occupy center-stage. The wealthy developers of these contract schools wanted to deprive traditional public schools of all authority over the provision of education, even though public schools have always educated the vast majority of America’s youth.

By making it possible for anyone and everyone to “provide” education using public funds, all sorts of problems have increased and schools and society have been left worse off.

To call for charter schools to be regulated is a bit like calling for water not to be wet. Regulation, which is what the rich and the “free market” abhor, would defeat the neoliberal purpose and rationale for the existence and expansion of privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. Deregulation allows charter schools to be non-transparent, unaccountable, and do as they please, which means delivering poor results while fleecing the public treasury with impunity.

Eliminating charter schools would be far more beneficial to education, society, the economy, and the national interest than trying to rein them in through regulation or “better oversight,” which is not going to happen, let alone in a meaningful way.

So long as privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools exist they will drain massive amounts of much-needed public funds from public schools, while increasing segregation, controversy, and corruption. They will also perpetuate high teacher turnover rates and continue to close at a rate of 150-200 a year, leaving thousands of families angry, stressed, and disillusioned.

Defensive Charter School Advocates

Charter schools are privatized arrangements imposed on society by the rich and their retinue.

There is nothing public about charter schools. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools lack most of the features of public schools and typically operate as deregulated businesses.

Calling a charter school public is mainly for the self-serving purpose of illegitimately funneling vast sums of public money from public schools to wealthy private interests who own-operate nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. Charter schools are essentially pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as “innovations” that “save public education” and “give parents choices.”

Charter school owners-operators would not be able to fleece public money from public schools if they were openly recognized as the privatized arrangements that they are. Most people understand that public money belongs solely to the public, not private interests. They understand that public wealth must be used only for public purposes and that private interests have no right to decide how to use public money.

Fear of losing billions of dollars in public wealth—money that charter schools have no valid claim to—easily and quickly angers profit-obsessed charter school promoters, especially in the context of a continually failing economy and a falling rate of profit for major owners of capital. Even the loss of a tiny fraction of this public money is enough to trigger a vicious reaction by the advocates of segregated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. The overriding aim of maximizing profits as fast as possible, no matter how damaging to education, society, and the economy, naturally compels charter school advocates and their wealthy backers to be belligerent, self-righteous, and irrational in protecting their narrow financial interests. They have no regard for the social and natural environment.

At a press conference on July 16, 2019 Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania did what few, if any, governors have done: he publicly called charter schools “private” and criticized them on several counts. Further infuriating charter school advocates, the governor also publicly defended public schools.

In an August 1, 2019 letter to the governor, Ana Meyers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, the state’s largest organization representing privately-operated charter schools, expressed “grave concerns” with the governor’s legitimate criticism of the privatization of public education. Meyers lashed out at Governor Wolf, saying: “I am shocked that you and your staff are unaware that none of Pennsylvania’s charter schools [brick-and-mortar or cyber] are private or for-profit institutions.” Meyers righteously tells Governor Wolf: “I would have thought that a governor who has championed public education like you have over the past four-plus years would know better. I believe that you would have a much better understanding of how charter schools operate in Pennsylvania if you took the time to visit a few of them.”

Meyers angrily repeated other worn-out assertions, diversions, and distortions that are supposed to convince the gullible that charter schools are public in nature. In this regard, a key ideological device used repeatedly by charter school advocates is to create the impression that just because something is enshrined in law, it is therefore automatically right, just, ethical, principled, and acceptable. A closely related ideological device is to treat ideas totally in the abstract so as to divert attention from the actual concrete reality of things.

When a scam as entrenched and lucrative as charter schools is at stake, the beneficiaries of such antisocial arrangements will speak and act in belligerent, irrational, and brazen ways. Unlimited greed has always had a negative toll on society.

The public must not be scathed by such desperate and predictable antics. They are a sign of weakness, not strength. The public should stay the course and keep developing new creative ways to oppose charter schools and defend public education and democracy to ensure a bright future for all.

Charter School Apologia

The frenzied promotion of illusions about charter schools by the rich reflects their growing fear of losing the power to impose their narrow interests on the public.

Mounting internal and external criticism of privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools rightly has charter school advocates and their wealthy supporters anxious. In this fractured context, it is not an accident that the discourse and agenda of charter school advocates is becoming more irrational, brazen, and destructive.

On July 26, 2019, the charter school–friendly New York Times carried another piece attempting to apologize for scandal-ridden charter schools: “How Did Charter Schools Lose Their Luster? Our Reporter Explains.”1

The short article, which explains little, introduces a conversation around the troubled charter school sector between Eliza Shapiro, New York City education reporter now working at the New York Times, and Dodai Stewart, deputy editor of the Metro desk at the New York Times. A link to a 45-minute podcast featuring the entire conversation, with questions from Times readers, is provided at the end of the article.

Throughout the article and podcast Shapiro focuses mainly on the growing backlash against charter schools, especially against punitive “no-excuses” charter schools which siphon money from public schools and implement authoritarian student discipline practices to control low-income minority students. KIPP charter schools and Success Academy charter schools are just two of the most notorious for implementing harsh and punitive control methods over student behavior, thoughts, and appearance. Numerous disturbing reports of their Skinnerian practices are available online.

Shapiro’s main goal is to find a way to co-opt criticism of privately-operated charter schools so as to prettify and preserve them. Shapiro wants the public to believe that charter school advocates are finally admitting problems exist in charter schools and that they will be fixed.

Charter school promoters know the chickens are coming home to roost, so they are eager to liquidate people’s legitimate decades-old outrage against charter schools, especially boot-camp style “no-excuses” charter schools.

But charter schools have long been their own worst enemy and cannot be prettified or improved. Their track record proves that.

By design, privately-operated charter schools are segregated, deregulated, deunionized, marketized, privatized, performance-based contracts that differ dramatically from the nation’s 100,000 public schools that have been educating 90 percent of America’s youth for generations.

Charter schools also valorize curriculum-narrowing high-stakes standardized tests and annually siphon billions of public dollars from public schools, leaving those schools, which are usually under-funded to begin with, worse off. In addition, these contract schools regularly engage in discriminatory student enrollment practices, have high teacher turnover rates, ensure inflated administrator salaries, and are continually plagued by controversy, scandal, waste, fraud, and corruption, more so than perhaps any other sector or organization in the country.

To date, charter school owner-operators have not improved or solved anything. If anything, things are getting worse in the charter school sector.

The fact that privately-operated charter schools keep multiplying proves again that evidence, logic, and research do not matter today; it demonstrates that the public needs to deprive the rich of the power to control education and the affairs of society.

Elimination of charter schools would provide a much-needed boost to public schools, the economy, society, and the national interest.

  1. How Did Charter Schools Lose Their Luster? Our Reporter Explains, New York Times, July 26, 2019.

Charter Schools Cannot Be Prettified

A July 2019 “study” funded by the pro-privatization Walton Family Foundation, “Charter School Effects on School Segregation,” reports that charter schools intensify racial and ethnic segregation, but not by much and for reasons that are supposedly understandable and acceptable. The authors of the “study” want the public to believe that we should not be too concerned about the role of charter schools in increasing segregation. We are to believe that deregulated privately-operated charter schools are really not that bad.

As opposition to charter schools grows, the public should expect a non-stop intensification in efforts by charter school advocates to keep mystifying charter schools in order to dupe the gullible. The desperate desire to prettify charter schools so as to keep looting public schools is driven by wealthy private interests obsessed with maximizing profits in the context of an economy that continually lowers the rate and amount of profit for owners of capital.

This unlimited greed compels short-sighted charter school supporters to defend the indefensible while ignoring reality. Pay-the-rich schemes like charter schools are critical to the rich and their allies. An end to segregated charter schools would necessarily mean an enormous loss of public money for wealthy private interests who operate with impunity.

It has long been known that public schools are segregated because we live in a segregated society. American society has been a class-divided society for centuries. But more than two decades of research has definitively shown that charter schools, which are rife with fraud, markedly intensify segregation, mainly by race, ability, language, and income. The segregation effects of charter schools are not small. 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” (emphasis added).1 These charter schools also underperform public schools. The work of Iris Rotberg and many others also show that charter schools have generated similar patterns of segregation in many other communities across the country.

To be sure, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools do not enhance racial, ethnic, or economic integration. Nor do they close the “achievement gap,” improve accountability, or reduce corruption. Unlike public schools, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are notorious for regularly cherry-picking students.

The Walton Foundation-funded “study,” which does not examine economic segregation, deliberately couches the role of charter schools in increasing segregation in vague language and self-serving equivocations, intentionally promoting doubt about and downplaying the actual role of charter schools in increasing segregation. It is also worth noting that the billionaire-funded “study” does not examine the large effects of charter schools on segregation between 1991 and 1998, or between 2015 and 2019.

The public should expect desperate charter school promoters to try to get lots of mileage out of this top-down “study” funded by wealthy private interests determined to privatize education. Charter school advocates will continue to conveniently ignore extensive research that shows that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools increase all forms of inequality and stratification, while also depriving public schools of massive sums of public money each year.

  1. Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, The Minnesota school choice project: Part I: Segregation and performance, 2017, p. 2.