Advocates of privately-operated charter schools that siphon billions of dollars a year from public schools have been a little more defensive and restive than usual in recent months.
This is to be expected given the growing number of mainstream and academic reports exposing their long-standing problems, as well as the fact that more people are seeing charter schools for what they really are.
There is a growing unstoppable social consciousness that charter schools are not just over-hyped phenomena which regularly over-promise and frequently under-deliver, but that they are fundamentally pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as “innovations” that “empower parents,” “promote choice,” and “save minority kids.”
The pious claims, platitudes, and grandstanding of charter school advocates are becoming more worn-out, hackneyed, and tired. They mean less with each passing week. Charter school advocates think that blindly repeating the same knee-jerk assertions and one-liners over and over again is the same thing as analysis and discussion. They believe that people develop convictions in a healthy and organic way by being bombarded by clichés, buzzwords, and counterfeit solutions.
Charter school supporters and promoters have always favored disinformation and irrationalism over analysis, discussion, and coherence. They have always feared that too much discussion, especially deep discussion and analysis, would expose them too much and undermine their antisocial agenda. They do not want people to think too hard and too much about what is really going on.
It is not a coincidence that in various cities charter school advocates are striving more desperately to organize more charter school “discussions” to combat the swelling irreversible social consciousness developing about major problems in the charter school sector. Of course, such “discussions” are often sponsored by pro-business organizations (e.g., chambers of commerce) and typically led by panels made up entirely, or almost entirely, of people who unequivocally support charter schools and repeat myths and banalities about them.
Some of the key topics and issues charter school advocates are unable and unwilling to analyze seriously include the following.
Blind Embrace of High-Stakes Tests
Charter school promoters never address, let alone analyze, the role, nature, meaning, and significance of expensive, curriculum-narrowing, anxiety-producing, punitive, high-stakes standardized tests produced by a handful of for-profit corporations. They are fixated on comparing and ranking schools, teachers, and students, as if this has anything to do with learning. Charter school advocates are obsessed with “win-lose” tests and feel comfortable raising no concerns about them. They automatically and erroneously assume that such tests are educationally sound, meaningful, and useful. They are too hidebound and anti-intellectual to even know what it means when someone points out that assessments today are based on psychometric pseudo-science.
Charter school promoters habitually accept the social Darwinist and Skinnerian ideologies underpinning these hazardous tests that fetishize competition and quantification, while debasing learning. But how useful and meaningful are “results” that come from assessments that are top-down and philosophically and scientifically flawed? Are civilizations built on timed, multiple-choice, memorization tests produced by large corporations? The bankruptcy of the tests charter school advocates support is also evident in the fact that there are many ways to improve test scores without improving learning. Test performance and genuine learning and growth are not synonymous. In fact, a greater focus on high-stakes standardized tests means less meaningful learning and growth. Obviously, charter school promoters have no use for such critical considerations. All they know is that high-hazard standardized tests are antidemocratic political instruments to be used for destructive neoliberal purposes.
Profound Differences Between Public and Private
Charter school supporters mindlessly repeat the disinformation that charter schools are public schools to create a pretext for seizing vast sums of public money and to conceal their inherently privatized character. They believe that a school becomes public just because it is called public or just because it receives public money. If they were openly and honestly treated as the privatized arrangements that they really are, then it would be obvious to all that charter schools have no valid or legitimate claim to public funds and assets. For this reason, charter school supporters self-servingly blur the profound distinction between public and private. They even go so far as to cynically urge the public to “move past discussions about whether charter schools are public or not.” They do not want anyone concluding that the private aim to profit from providing education will never fulfil the right to education.
Major Differences Between Choice and Rights
Another way charter school supporters avoid analysis and promote incoherence and confusion, is by manipulating the use and meaning of the word “choice” to suit their narrow needs. No one is opposed to choice as such. Everyone recognizes that, generally speaking, people should have the freedom and autonomy to select something from a list of alternatives. The key problem is that charter school advocates use choice in the narrow consumerist free market sense of the word because they view education as a commodity and see parents and students as consumers, not humans or citizens. They look at a social responsibility like education largely from the profit-oriented perspective of business and entrepreneurship. The two meanings of choice are different, however, and should not be mixed up.
It should also be recalled that charter schools usually choose parents and students, not the other way around. Unlike public schools, charter schools turn away many parents and students. Charter school advocates proudly embrace “free market” dogma. They see no problems with the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” They are unable and unwilling to see that education is a basic human right and social responsibility that government is duty-bound to guarantee. Charter school supporters do not comprehend that parents in a modern advanced society should not have to shop for a school the way they shop for peanut butter. And they think it is normal and positive for hundreds of schools to close every year.
Why and How Public Schools Have Been Purposely Mandated to Fail by the Neoliberal State So As to Privatize Them
The last thing charter school advocates want is for people to investigate and analyze why so many public schools have been actively set up to fail by the neoliberal state. Charter school advocates have been deliberately repeating the self-serving narrative that public schools are failing in order to “argue” that students should enroll in charter schools, even though thousands of charter schools across the country perform poorly and are plagued by widespread fraud and corruption. Charter school advocates offer no analysis or discussion at all about how and why these schools have been set-up to fail by the same neoliberals behind charter schools and privatization. “Starve It-Demonize It-Privatize It” has been the mantra of privatizers and neoliberals for decades. The basic formula goes like this: first, cut funding for schools every year. Bleed them dry. Set them up to fail. Then demonize, attack, scapegoat, and discredit them relentlessly for months, even years, so as to set the stage for privatization as a “solution.” In this connection, charter school advocates also want to avoid any serious discussion on the enormous role of poverty, segregation, and over-testing in ensuring failure and chaos in America’s public schools, especially its urban school systems, which are the ones most heavily targeted by charter school supporters. Charter school boosters are adamantly opposed to any solution of these problems. But, as everyone can see, far from solving a single social, economic, or educational problem, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have made everything worse.
Charter school promoters are opposed to admitting to, analyzing, and openly discussing numerous other persistent problems in the charter school sector. They quickly become defensive when confronted with these persistent unresolved problems:
- High student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.
- Widespread poor academic performance.
- Many charter school closures per year.
- High student suspension and expulsion rates.
- Unethical admissions practices.
- Extensive fraud, corruption, and racketeering.
- Increased segregation and stiff opposition to unions.
Many other stubborn problems could be listed. The point is that the crisis-prone charter school sector is causing great damage to public schools, the economy, society, and the national interest.
Instead of confronting issues, problems, and topics in an intellectually honest and rigorous manner, in a way that raises the level of discussion and thinking, charter school advocates prefer to keep things superficial and on the plane of platitudes, grandstanding, and anachronistic ideologies. There is no deep-dive into anything except how to profit off kids and the public.