Category Archives: Charter Schools

Charter Schools Haunt More Election Races

The intensely controversial nature of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools in the U.S., due in no small part to endless news about the infinite problems plaguing them, is increasingly a major issue in local, state, and federal election campaigns. It is hard to find a political race today where a candidate, especially a school board candidate, is not expected to have some position, hopefully well-worked out, but usually not, on charter schools. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent in some places based almost entirely on whether a candidate supports or opposes charter schools (e.g., California recently). This point is especially critical to appreciate as the tide against charter schools steadily rises. The last thing charter school advocates want is to open the door to disciplined investigation and serious discussion on charter schools. For them, disinformation and propaganda must have the upper hand. Informed, conscious, and oriented people do not serve their agenda.

Currently, more than a dozen individuals are vying for the position of Mayor of Chicago, a powerful position in one of the country’s largest cities, not to mention home to about 125 charter schools and the place from whence education privatizer and former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, sprung. Elections will be held on February 26, 2019. Incumbent Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is not seeking reelection.

A December 28, 2018 Chicago Sun-Times article titled, “Where 14 candidates for mayor stand on charter schools — their full responses,” exposes the extreme confusion that has traumatized the public and distorted the “great charter school debate” for decades.

The first paragraph of the Chicago Sun-Times article reads: “Fourteen of the candidates for mayor responded to our question about the future of charter schools in Chicago. We asked: What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?”

Revealing its bias, the Chicago Sun-Times automatically assumes that charter schools not only have a role, but an  “appropriate role,” and one “within the Chicago Public Schools system.” The newspaper could just have easily asked something like: “is there any justification for the existence of charter schools?” But it cannot do this because this is not its reference point, this is not its starting point for discussion. The paper thus begins with the acceptance of charter schools.

Predictably, candidates who support charter schools—the vast majority—tend to rely on the outdated ideologies of choice, consumerism, individualism, and competition to express their support for charter schools. This is often accompanied by the self-serving misuse of the concept of “parent power” to “justify” charter schools. The conclusion that education is a basic human right that cannot be given or taken away and that government must provide such a right with a guarantee in practice, is nowhere to be found in the discourse of charter school supporters. From their narrow perspective, everyone simply fends for themselves when it comes to getting into a good school, while hoping that the “free market” will not fail them as it has in every other sphere of life. Education is nothing more than a commodity. This old outlook also steadfastly maintains a no-facts, no-analysis, and no-discussion orientation when it comes to investigating and exposing why the rich and their state actively mandate school failure, particularly in urban communities, in the first place.

Supporters and Opponents

It is clear from the breakdown of supporters and opponents of charter schools (see below) that the corporate school reformers have the upper hand in Chicago and are determined to continue to ravage the third largest public school system in the country.

Students, teachers, parents, and others defending the public interest have their work cut out for them and will have to step up their efforts to combat the onslaught of disinformation coming from charter school supporters and their wealthy backers (e.g., the Walton family). Only one candidate appears to be reliably opposed to charter schools.

Mayoral candidates who support charter schools: Lori Lightfoot, Dorothy Brown, John Kenneth Kozlar, Paul Vallas, Gery Chico, La Shawn Ford, Jerry Joyce, Susana Mendoza, Bob Fioretti, Bill Daley, and Garry McCarthy.

Mayoral candidates who oppose charter schools: Toni Preckwinkle.

Mayoral candidate Amara Enyia provided perhaps one of the more useful critiques of charter schools but did not openly state whether she supports or opposes them. Another candidate,  Willie Wilson, also failed to clarify his position on charter schools. Candidates who fit this profile usually do not oppose charter schools firmly and unequivocally. Like many in the charter school supporter column, they will offer some convoluted, fence-riding, “balanced view” that, in effect, represents concrete support for charter schools; they just don’t wish to appear too unabashed and raw in their support of charter schools so that they appear to be “measured” in their comments on charter schools.

Taking Up Our Social Responsibility

Charter schools are on the agenda in the U.S. like never before, and they will continue to come to the fore in more forceful ways in the months ahead, thereby expanding the space for opponents of privatization and supporters of social responsibility to reverse the destructive neoliberal direction of education and society. People no longer want to see their public schools looted by wealthy private interests concerned only with building their private empires at any cost to society.

People are increasingly realizing that those in power have no solutions and are unfit to govern. They are depriving society and its members of solutions to major problems, causing misery for millions. Experience repeatedly confirms that relying on the politicians and experts doesn’t work, and that if things are going to move in a pro-social human-centered direction, then it is up to the people alone to independently forge a path of progress free of illusions, amnesia, disinformation, and a brutal financial oligarchy that will do anything to satisfy its unlimited greed.

People have more power than they realize. It is a power that oftentimes lies latent, waiting to be activated in order to usher in exciting progress for humanity and an end to the devastation wrought by the rich and their outdated economic system.

Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them

Many individuals, groups, newspapers, and organizations claim that they oppose charter schools. But, revealing ongoing confusion, they also say, often in the same breath, that “there are some good charter schools out there,” that “not all charter schools are rotten,” that “charter schools are not a ‘panacea’ but can be part of the solution,” that “charter schools may provide a good alternative for at least some students,” or that “charter schools should be given a chance” (even though they have been around for more than 25 years). Such contradictory statements are not uncommon, keep many intellectually disoriented, and undermine social progress.

Typically, such forces effectively describe several damning and indicting problems inherent to charter schools, usually enough for the average rational person to rapidly conclude that charter schools should be eliminated immediately, but then instantly equivocate and insert some statement directly or indirectly supporting charter schools. This normalized indecisiveness has been haunting people for years because the analysis, outlook, and consciousness behind it are limited and outmoded.

Even though there is no justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools in America, it is nearly impossible to find forces who resolutely answer the call of history to oppose the entire neoliberal concept and practice of charter schools from beginning to end. Instead of defending public schools unequivocally and rejecting all attempts to loot them, we get hedging and ambivalence; lots of fence-riding, often cast as a “balanced view” or “reasonable position.”

Objectively speaking, pay-the-rich neoliberal schemes like charter schools will continue to harm thousands of public schools in many ways, especially as they continue to multiply freely. They will continue to damage society and the economy as well, mainly due to widespread crimes, scandals, waste, fraud, corruption, and racketeering. Charter schools will also continue to under-perform, practice discriminatory enrollment, fight unions, remain unaccountable, operate with impunity, practice authoritarian student discipline codes, dodge endless public governance standards, offer fewer services than public schools, and force many poorly-paid, overworked, and deunionized teachers to quit their job within the first five years of work, ensuring instability, discontinuity, and anarchy in a profession that needs the opposite. Hundreds of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools will continue to close each year, often suddenly and spontaneously, leaving thousands of families disillusioned, abandoned, angry, stressed, and victimized—and with no ability to seek real redress for the harm inflicted on them by charter schools. So much for “choice” and “parental power.”

A culture that is capital-centered, anti-investigation, and constantly reinforces anticonsciousness, individualism, narcissism, and consumerism prevents the brain from perceiving phenomena correctly and making connections in an intelligible way so as to form a coherent, integrated, human-centered, pro-social perspective on what is actually unfolding. The result is contradictory, confusing, choppy, and disorienting statements about charter schools that keep funneling billions of public dollars to private interests. This does not serve the public interest in any way.

Charter schools are part of the multi-faceted neoliberal agenda of the rich launched in the late 1970s. There is nothing grass-roots, pro-social, or progressive about them. For more than 25 years they have proved to be a textbook expression of the financial parasitism inherent to the final and highest stage of capitalism. They are a regressive phenomenon effectively contributing to the further concentration in fewer private hands of social wealth. Prettifying them will not change this fact.

The endless problems with these privatized marketized schools highlights the necessity for a new human-centered direction and outlook in education and society. “Market reform” has done nothing but deny people their rights while producing fabulous profit for the wealthy few.

A fresh new human-centered direction cannot be established by the rich and their political and media apparatus. They are part of the old and outdated. Narrow private interests and their representatives are not concerned about the needs and well-being of the people. They are incapable of humanizing the natural and social environment. Only organized pro-public grass-roots forces can take up the social responsibility to bring into being through their own independent analyses, actions, and practical politics the kind of education system needed by modern society in the 21st century.

Impossible to Regulate Deregulated Charter Schools

Regulations have to do with what is allowed and what is not allowed. They establish what an individual, organization, or business can or cannot do. Regulations shape behaviors, actions, conduct, aims, and outcomes.

Regulations are often used in self-serving ways by different factions of the rich to benefit themselves while disadvantaging other wealthy competitors. Those with the most political-economic power hold sway and fashion regulations as they alone see fit. As in other spheres of capitalist life, “might makes right.” Power, not reason or principles, dominates affairs. The main point is that regulations, like laws and policies, are always political. They have a class character to them. Regulations are not neutral or above class interests because we do not live in a classless society.

The main question is who is creating or eliminating regulations and for what aims? The key issue is not whether regulations are “good” or “bad”, per se, or how many or how few there are, but which one of the two major classes in society do they serve? Regulations are a tool of class warfare. There is a big difference, for example, between capital-centered regulations verses human-centered regulations. The former serve the wealthy few who dominate society while the latter serve the common good.

Regulations and regulators have, of course, frequently failed to block many “bad behaviors” and problems. Regulation does not always work. Regulation does not automatically guarantee quality or progress. A major example of the failure of regulations and regulators is the Wall Street engineered economic crash of 2008 that has left most economies in awful shape for the last 10 years—with no real and sustainable improvement in sight. Indeed, it appears that there is no returning to even substandard pre-2008 economic levels. Multiple regulatory agencies that have been around for decades did not prevent this still-unfolding economic catastrophe that the mainstream media keeps trying to downplay.

In today’s context, having no regulations (deregulation) guarantees chaos, anarchy, and violence—key features of the “free market.” A rules-free environment ensures that only the “strongest” and “fittest” “survive” within the “free market” while the majority keeps losing. Deregulation has little to do with “accountability,” “innovation,” or prosperity and security for all.

Since the late 1970s deregulation has been a major feature of the neoliberal antisocial offensive of the rich to counter the inevitable falling rate of profit under capitalism. Governments at home and abroad have been wreaking havoc in their societies as a result of phony austerity agendas launched to save the rich. Deregulation goes hand in hand with privatization, a major form of which is contracting. Deregulating public agencies and enterprises (e.g., education) allows for greater privatization, often through contracting and public-private “partnerships.” This capital-centered arrangement always increases the wealth of private interests and diminishes the wealth of the public. It is not a “win-win” situation.

Neoliberal ideology insists that the rich not be constrained or regulated in any way. The rich should face no barriers according to neoliberal ideology because that would be akin to curbing their “freedom” to operate as they please. Indeed, it is virtuous to empower the egocentric rich to claim and accumulate as much wealth as possible at the expense of all.

Charter schools are deregulated marketized schools by design.

Privately-operated but publicly-funded charter schools are exempt from dozens, even hundreds, of regulations governing public schools. In Ohio, for example, charter schools are exempt from 200 state laws governing public schools.1 President Bill Clinton, an avid supporter of charter schools, once casually described charter schools as “schools with no rules.” This is a major reason why charter schools are nothing like (regulated) public schools. It is a key reason why charter schools are plagued by extensive fraud, waste, corruption, and racketeering. It is why charter schools are deunionized, unstable, and operate according to lower standards while marketing themselves as superior to under-funded, over-tested, and constantly-demonized public schools. It is not surprising that, according to the U.S. Department of Education, 1,000 charter schools closed just between 2011-2015.2 Financial malfeasance is the main reason charter schools close but weak academic performance is also widespread and persistent. Charter authorizing bodies, the entities that supposedly oversee charter schools, have had very little impact in ensuring high standards and quality in this nonpublic sector. They even admit as much in their own literature.

But we often hear from certain quarters—usually from liberals, democrats, progressives, lefties, and social justice advocates—that having more regulations or “sensible regulations” for charter schools will “reign them in” and make them more stable, ethical, non-criminal, non-scandalous, accountable, transparent, and effective. In other words, charter schools are disastrous mainly because they are (too) deregulated. Having some regulations will supposedly fix things. This is also another way of covertly saying that charter schools are somehow fundamentally acceptable and all that is needed are some refinements.

But the illusion that having better or more regulations for charter schools will improve charter schools is naïve and misses the point altogether. Similar fantasies are entertained when people talk about replacing “bad policies” with “good policies.” Such prejudice rests on the fiction that regulations and policies are simply a matter of “good advice,” “choice,” “free will,” “technical expertise,” or “based on the benevolence of policy makers.” In other words, regulations, laws, and policies are treated as if they are independent of politics and social class relations and all that is really needed are “smarter arguments,” “better information,” “more persuasion,” and “more ethical policymakers” if we want better regulations and institutions. But “smarter arguments,” “more knowledge,” “better logic,” or “more progressive policymakers” are useless when ignoring the unbreakable connection between politics and economics. Regulations are not made outside class relations and should not be psychologized or individualized. Regulations embody class interests.

The rich and their political representatives have consciously, patiently, energetically, and deliberately fashioned charter schools as deregulated arrangements so as to fortify their private empires. They know exactly what they are doing and they are not beholden to the public interest. If they had wanted something else, they would have created something else. Charter schools are deregulated by conscious class design. Deregulated deunionized charter schools, now legal in 44 states, Washington, DC., Puerto Rico, and Guam, are not an accident, the result of short-sighted thinking, based on poor decisions, or due to inadequate evidence. The crimes and problems caused by deregulated privatized education arrangements are the direct product of carefully-crafted capital-centered legislation. Charter schools are doing exactly what the rich want them to do. If the rich needed regulated charter schools, then they would have created regulated charter schools. They specifically want something other than regulated public schools. They desire something that operates outside the long-standing regulatory framework governing traditional public schools. Attempts to regulate charter schools will not be tolerated by the rich and their retinue.

In this period of economic decay and parasitism, the narrow needs of the rich necessitate deregulated, unaccountable, marketized schools that annually siphon billions of dollars in public funds from public schools. The rich are constantly striving to maximize profit as fast as possible to satisfy their unlimited greed in the context of a continually failing economy, and they will not let the general interests of society get in their way. For them, deregulated marketized education arrangements that funnel a breath-taking amount of social wealth into their pockets every year are wise schemes that should be multiplied. Regulating charter schools would mean the loss of an enormous amount of social wealth for them.

Because they are marketized arrangements based on the ideologies of competition, choice, and consumerism, attempting to regulate charter schools is as meaningless as attempting to regulate the so-called “free market.” Charter schools reflect the triumph of capital-centered non-accountability, so-called “market accountability,” over human-centered accountability. Major owners of capital want no regulations or human-centered standards governing transparency, standards, obligations, accountability, and results. They want free reign to get as rich as possible as fast as possible. This is precisely what “letting the market decide” means. “Entrepreneurial enterprise” requires a “hands-off” approach. No regulations. No constraints. Just fast and easy access to public funds, assets, and authority to avoid the falling rate of profit endemic to capitalism.

Just as a capitalist cannot stop being a capitalist, so too a charter school cannot be something other than a charter school. Deregulated unaccountable charter schools will remain deregulated and unaccountable. The comedian Chris Rock, commenting once on how a “trained” circus lion killed its long-time trainer during a circus performance, said the lion will always be a wild animal that can become violent and deadly at any moment. All the training in the world cannot change this core feature of a wild animal like the lion. A lion is a lion, not something else.

The main problem confronting the polity is how to deprive the ruling elite of their ability to deprive us of our ability to govern and decide the affairs of society, including every aspect of education. Education, healthcare, welfare, the economy, and more must be under public control and not treated as a commodity so as to benefit the rich.

  1. Boychuk, B., & Mathis, J. (2013, October 24). Debate: Are charter schools a legitimate alternative to public education? Newsday.
  2. Zais, M. M. (2018). Nationwide audit of oversight of closed charter schools, U.S. Department of Education.

Are Charter Schools An “Innovation”?

Charter school supporters and promoters never tire of repeating the banality that “charter schools are an innovation.”

“Innovation” has become one of many hackneyed buzzwords in the neoliberal lexicon. Everyone is under intense pressure to blindly embrace “innovation” at full velocity, no matter how irresponsible.

Other closely-related and worn-out neoliberal catchwords include: “data-driven,” “results-oriented,” “performance-based,” “competition,” “choice,” “efficiency,” and “accountability.” Ludicrous phrases like “systems leader” are also appearing on the neoliberal scene.

Not surprisingly, the neoliberal world has become a comi-tragedy, a joke, a cynical dystopia saturated with dysfunction and irrationalism of all sorts; everything is upside down and incoherent, causing many to experience mental, emotional, and physical problems.

Neoliberalism offers only a bleak scenario for society, something no amount of voting in an outmoded and discredited political system can change. The only thing the two-party system of the rich has achieved effectively over the years is preventing progress that favors the people. Progress will again be a casualty in the November 2018 elections.

While they are constantly cast as an “innovation,” charter schools are nothing more than pay-the-rich schemes that are multiplying with each passing year. They are “innovative” only in the sense that they reject evidence more than others and have invented new forms of fraud, corruption, and racketeering that go beyond what any other sector has seen. Not a day goes by without an arrest or scandal in one or more of the nation’s 7,000 charter schools, which make up less than 8% of all schools in the U.S. It is not surprising that hundreds of deunionized and deregulated charter schools close each year, leaving many families angry, stressed, and abandoned.

For 25 years, these privately-managed “schools” which annually transfer billions of dollars in public funds to major owners of capital, have had nothing to do with “saving the kids,” “providing choices,” “improving schools,” or closing the 170-year old “achievement gap.” Their track record is consistently substandard and controversial. Charter school supporters and promoters are constantly on the defensive.

The main thing that charter schools have done is make major owners of capital much wealthier at the expense of the public interest. A vast amount of money has been taken out of the economy and handed over to a handful of wealthy individuals through the mechanism of charter schools, which are really contract schools; i.e., a form of outsourced education. Taking money out of the economy and further concentrating it in the hands of wealthy private interests makes it harder for society and the economy to function in a manner that serves the general interests of society. It undermines the future of society because it deprives society of the socially-produced wealth germane to extended reproduction.

Charter schools should be rejected with all the contempt they deserve. They are parasitic economic arrangements that have emerged in the context of a continually failing economy and discredited political system. Far from solving any problems, they have only created more problems. They are not a progressive breakthrough. They are not about “the kids.” “Innovation” in the neoliberal period means imposing more capital-centered arrangements on people. It has nothing to do with opening the path of progress to society.

Charter Schools Are Promoted Heavily by the Left, Not Just the Right

One of the main criticisms of charter schools is that they are terrible because right wingers are behind them.

Many right wingers are indeed behind charter schools. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a textbook example of right-wing support for charter schools. The billionaire Koch brothers are another example of right-wing support for charter schools. Many others could be cited.

But this does not tell the full story of charter schools and who else strongly supports and promotes them.

In reality, charter schools started out nearly 30 years ago with heavy support from democrats, and were, in fact, initiated and organized specifically by democrats (and so-called “centrists”).

Democrats have also consistently supported charter schools through the widely-rejected No Child Left Behind Act that plagued the nation for many years, and is still injuring the nation through its reincarnation as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (2015).

It is worth recalling as well that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both so-called democrats, enthusiastically supported charter schools when they were in power. And to this day, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have never firmly opposed the existence and expansion of charter schools.

In addition, democrats in many state legislatures have repeatedly turned out in large numbers to energetically support the existence and expansion of charter schools. There is no shortage of such democrats.

The notion that charter schools are supported mainly by right wingers is inaccurate and misleading. It defines the foes of the public interest in a narrow way, instead of depicting their true scope, breadth, and nature. Charter schools have always been much more than a right wing, republican, or conservative phenomenon.

While some on the left and right do not support charter schools, many on both sides do. This is why so many top-down, antisocial, neoliberal education policies have “bipartisan support.”

The public should reject charter schools no matter who is behind them. There is no justification for their existence, let alone their expansion. Their track record is very unimpressive and rife with fraud, corruption, and racketeering. Arrests and scandals surround so many charter schools. Watching charter schools operate and implode is like watching a blood sport. A toxic, anarchic, and surreal ethos prevails in the charter school sector.

The nonsense that deunionized and deregulated charter schools run by private organizations are needed because public schools are “failing” ignores how and why public schools are actively set-up to fail, and the real political and economic relations behind the rise and expansion of pay-the-rich schemes such as charter schools.

The public should also reject the false left-right divide because the  neoliberal agenda remains strong across this diversionary political divide.

The public interest cannot be served by bypassing grass-roots forces and relying on the rich and their political representatives, whether they are on the so-called “right” or “left.” The issues confronting the broad polity go beyond these false and unprincipled divisions. Capital-centered ideas, policies, and arrangements harm the public interest regardless of who supports or promotes them.

Main Charter School Myth Promoted By “Progressives”

People who call themselves “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” or “social justice advocates” are becoming increasingly critical of and rejecting charter schools. This is a positive development.

But quite a few “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives, and “social justice advocates” remain victims of several harmful myths about charter schools.

Perhaps the main charter school myth perpetuated by “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” and “social justice advocates” goes something like this: “charter schools are terrible for 50 reasons, but they had progressive, noble, democratic origins and were never meant to become the terrible arrangements that they have become.” In other words, charter schools started out as a positive grass-roots effort for school improvement but were hijacked somewhere along the way and turned into horrible things with endless problems that benefit mainly major owners of capital. Different owners of capital have, according to this view, usurped the charter school movement to serve their narrow profit-maximizing aims, thereby perverting and sabotaging the “true” intent and promise of charter schools. If only the self-serving wealthy saboteurs of the charter school movement were not part of the equation, if only they had not polluted an otherwise promising educational “experiment” and “innovation,” then charter schools could have delivered on their original progressive vision, promise, and hope—and so much controversy and criticism could have been avoided.

This fairy tale may, in fact, be one of the most nagging, dogmatic, and entrenched narratives repeated by “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” and “social justice advocates.” It refuses to die. It is impervious to logic, facts, and analysis, which speaks volumes.

In September 2018, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools produced an informative and useful report titled Confronting the Education Debt. The report underscores the many ways that the system is rigged to further enrich the wealthy few while also depriving schools and students of tens of billions of dollars in public funds and resources. It specifically highlights how privatization of public schools has harmed public schools and students. It recognizes that, “The movement to privatize public schools is a deliberate strategy to throw open the ‘education marketplace’ to private interests.” It also states that, “the privatization of schools has contributed to austerity conditions in traditional public schools.” No doubt, charter schools are making things worse for many poor, low-income, and minority students, inside and outside charter schools. To be sure, the phony austerity agenda of the financial oligarchy has been wreaking havoc in all sectors and institutions for forty years.

Unfortunately, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools openly and explicitly repeats the tired fiction that, “Charter schooling did not begin as a privatization strategy.” This is not a drive-by statement. It is not a casual or flippant assertion. As noted above, it is something many, if not most, “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” “social justice advocates” faithfully repeat.

Research and investigation have shown, however, that charter schooling started out precisely as a deliberate calculated top-down policy for school privatization. Charter schooling was never a grass-roots pro-public phenomenon. Its origins were never humble and never served the public interest. Charter schools were conceived and created by many individuals and organizations with large amounts of economic, political, cultural, and educational capital. Average, ordinary, everyday people were nowhere around at the inception of charter schools. This has been documented by myself and others,1 including by the architects of charter schools themselves.2

At the end of the day, however, none of this may really matter. This point may be moot. As endless nauseating news and scholarly reports show year after year, charter schools, which continue to multiply, are incapable of escaping scandals, crimes, and other unethical practices. They are imploding in many states.

As more students, parents, teachers, principals, school boards, teacher educators, and legislators become more aware and intolerant of the endless problems with charter schools, and as they begin to develop a broad, independent, and coherent outlook on the dangers of privatization, charter school supporters will become more irrational, defiant, and truculent. They have powerful financial incentives to oppose the public interest and expand charter schools with impunity. However, this does not mean they will prevail in the long-run. Wealthy private interests can be defeated.

  1. See Charter School Report Card (2016) by Shawgi Tell and The Untold History of Charter Schools (2017) by Rachel Cohen in Democracy Journal
  2. Junge, E. R. (2012). Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story. Minnesota: Beaver’s ond Press.

Main Charter School Myth Promoted By “Progressives”

People who call themselves “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” or “social justice advocates” are becoming increasingly critical of and rejecting charter schools. This is a positive development.

But quite a few “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives, and “social justice advocates” remain victims of several harmful myths about charter schools.

Perhaps the main charter school myth perpetuated by “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” and “social justice advocates” goes something like this: “charter schools are terrible for 50 reasons, but they had progressive, noble, democratic origins and were never meant to become the terrible arrangements that they have become.” In other words, charter schools started out as a positive grass-roots effort for school improvement but were hijacked somewhere along the way and turned into horrible things with endless problems that benefit mainly major owners of capital. Different owners of capital have, according to this view, usurped the charter school movement to serve their narrow profit-maximizing aims, thereby perverting and sabotaging the “true” intent and promise of charter schools. If only the self-serving wealthy saboteurs of the charter school movement were not part of the equation, if only they had not polluted an otherwise promising educational “experiment” and “innovation,” then charter schools could have delivered on their original progressive vision, promise, and hope—and so much controversy and criticism could have been avoided.

This fairy tale may, in fact, be one of the most nagging, dogmatic, and entrenched narratives repeated by “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” and “social justice advocates.” It refuses to die. It is impervious to logic, facts, and analysis, which speaks volumes.

In September 2018, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools produced an informative and useful report titled Confronting the Education Debt. The report underscores the many ways that the system is rigged to further enrich the wealthy few while also depriving schools and students of tens of billions of dollars in public funds and resources. It specifically highlights how privatization of public schools has harmed public schools and students. It recognizes that, “The movement to privatize public schools is a deliberate strategy to throw open the ‘education marketplace’ to private interests.” It also states that, “the privatization of schools has contributed to austerity conditions in traditional public schools.” No doubt, charter schools are making things worse for many poor, low-income, and minority students, inside and outside charter schools. To be sure, the phony austerity agenda of the financial oligarchy has been wreaking havoc in all sectors and institutions for forty years.

Unfortunately, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools openly and explicitly repeats the tired fiction that, “Charter schooling did not begin as a privatization strategy.” This is not a drive-by statement. It is not a casual or flippant assertion. As noted above, it is something many, if not most, “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” “social justice advocates” faithfully repeat.

Research and investigation have shown, however, that charter schooling started out precisely as a deliberate calculated top-down policy for school privatization. Charter schooling was never a grass-roots pro-public phenomenon. Its origins were never humble and never served the public interest. Charter schools were conceived and created by many individuals and organizations with large amounts of economic, political, cultural, and educational capital. Average, ordinary, everyday people were nowhere around at the inception of charter schools. This has been documented by myself and others,1 including by the architects of charter schools themselves.2

At the end of the day, however, none of this may really matter. This point may be moot. As endless nauseating news and scholarly reports show year after year, charter schools, which continue to multiply, are incapable of escaping scandals, crimes, and other unethical practices. They are imploding in many states.

As more students, parents, teachers, principals, school boards, teacher educators, and legislators become more aware and intolerant of the endless problems with charter schools, and as they begin to develop a broad, independent, and coherent outlook on the dangers of privatization, charter school supporters will become more irrational, defiant, and truculent. They have powerful financial incentives to oppose the public interest and expand charter schools with impunity. However, this does not mean they will prevail in the long-run. Wealthy private interests can be defeated.

  1. See Charter School Report Card (2016) by Shawgi Tell and The Untold History of Charter Schools (2017) by Rachel Cohen in Democracy Journal
  2. Junge, E. R. (2012). Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story. Minnesota: Beaver’s ond Press.

Irrationalism Central to Outlook of Charter School Promoters

The Center for Education Reform (CER) may well be the most belligerent promoter of charter schools in the United States. Its main modus operandi rests on loud irrationalism and rendering everything upside down.

Irrationalism, the close cousin of voluntarism, pragmatism, and fideism, is all about distorting reality, perpetuating anticonsciousness, and blocking the new from arising. Irrationalism effectively crucifies science, facts, logic, coherence, objectivity, and laws governing thought, nature, and society. It warps the human senses, memory, and cognition, and assumes that only an individual’s blind purposeless will and “instincts” exist. In these and other ways, irrationalism obstructs the path of progress to society.

According to the CER’s long-standing disinformation program, public school teachers are always evil and utterly incapable of doing anything positive or productive. Public school teachers are essentially greedy self-interested parasites who have never cared about a young person or education in their lives. Even worse, public school teachers sometimes dare to affirm their rights. They are always the enemy. Only charter schools can supposedly engender dedicated effective teachers and provide students with what they need. Thus, the sooner we dispose of public school teachers and their unions, the better off America’s children will be, according to the CER. This is what “innovation” means for neoliberals.

Besides, all that really matters, according to the CER, are numerical scores on expensive, time-consuming, curriculum-narrowing, philosophically unsound, methodologically flawed, high-stakes standardized tests produced by a handful of large corporations. If scores on these bankrupt top-down tests are high, then everything is supposedly hunky dory. Nothing begs to be questioned.

Putting aside such absurd assertions and the scandalous track record of charter schools, the CER continually promotes irrationalism and makes crazy statements so as to pressure people to remain anticonscious long enough to ignore the many negative consequences of charter schools and real-life experience. Bellicosely repeating irrational assertions is meant to overwhelm everyone and prevent them from engaging in a conscious act of finding out. The aim is to prevent the human factor from being unleashed and put in the service of progress.

As a large and robust body of evidence against charter schools continues to grow, the CER and their allies will likely become more hidebound and truculent. They are not going to suddenly become enlightened, embrace logic, abandon retrogression, and serve the public. The rich and their representatives are objectively incapable of seeing the world from the perspective of the people. Their position in the social and economic structure of society coerces them to embrace retrogression, regardless of what their subjective will may or may not be. In the end, irrationalism not only reflects the decay and obsolescence of the old, it also serves to preserve the old and outdated, blocking the fresh and the new from emerging.

Charter Schools: Backpack Full of Cash

QUESTION: We have choices in other areas of life. Why not in schools?

RESPONSE: Choice and rights are not the same thing; they are distinct categories with different properties and should not be conflated.

Education is a right, not a privilege, opportunity, or choice. A right is essentially a need, something indispensable for the existence or development of something. Rights belong to humans by virtue of their very being and for no other reason whatsoever. Rights cannot be given or taken away. They cannot be waived, sold, transferred, or forfeited in any way. Nor are they earned, deserved, or based on “merit.” Rights are also not based on skin color, language, religion, nationality, or gender.

Choice refers to the simple act of selecting something from a list of alternatives. Under capitalism, choice means being a consumer who decides what goods or services to buy or sell. Choice in the capitalist “free market” sense rests on the idea that humans are mainly individualistic proprietors, consumers, and entrepreneurs, not humans or citizens. Among other things, choice and consumerism fetishize the “me” while citizenship and being human address the “we.” Choice and consumerism are part of the old antisocial outlook that views humans as reward-seeking “rugged individuals” who bravely fend for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world and owe nothing to anyone else. Risk and peril are built-in features of such a world.

Needs are essential and cannot be selected or unselected. They cannot be chosen, bought, sold, or forfeited. Like food and water, for example, education is not something one can choose to go without, especially in the twenty-first century. No education almost always means no future—in more ways than one. No human chooses to be hungry, homeless, unemployed, uninsured, and uneducated. Indeed, one can only be human when their need for food, shelter, clothing, education, work, and healthcare is satisfied in a way that is commensurate with the level of development of society. You may be able to choose what kind of breakfast cereal you subjectively prefer, but you cannot avoid food because it is a human need.

The right to fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code would mean that parents would not have to be consumers who shop for a school, cross their fingers, and hope it all works out. Modern education should not be a lottery or a gamble.

Modern society based on large-scale industrial production cannot leave education to chance and personal choice. A society based on fending for yourself, “survival of the fittest,” “might makes right,” “rugged individualism,” consumerism, and behaviorism needs to be replaced by a society fit for all—one that provides dignity, prosperity, peace, stability, and security for all. Society can move forward only if the accumulated knowledge of humanity is passed on to the next generation in a conscious, organized, and humane manner.

Conclusion

The choice today is not between privatized, marketized, and corporatized charter schools that operate on the basis of the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market,” verses under-funded, over-tested, constantly-demonized public schools deliberately mandated to fail by the neoliberal state. These are false and harmful choices. Neither serve education and society well.

It is no secret what is needed to ensure world-class schools in every community. Thousands exist already. Given the level of development of society and its productive forces, it is more than possible for a government truly accountable to the people to guarantee fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code. Our society does not lack the resources to ensure this. Scarcity is one of many self-serving and harmful capitalist myths that go unexamined every day.

Fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code would mean that parents would not have to shop for a school. Why should humans have to do this in 2018? It is absurd. The havoc wreaked on education and society by the so-called “free market” and charter schools can be avoided altogether and a big measure of security, reliability, and quality can be attained. It is far from impossible.

Progress cannot happen, however, by remaining silent, being passive, conciliating with the neoliberal agenda, relying on wishful thinking, resorting to careerism, being an opportunist, or hoping “someone else” will figure it out. These are not solutions. They just prolong and exacerbate the pain for everyone. Everyone must become activated in these increasingly dangerous times and play their role at their level. Reality is making itself felt more forcefully. Combating charter school disinformation and raising social consciousness is part of affirming the modern human personality and creating new arrangements that favor the people.

Where to begin? An important starting point for bringing about change that favors the people is by actively implementing the following conclusion: understanding requires an act of conscious participation by the individual, an act of finding out. The prevailing culture blocks serious disciplined investigation in endless ways and rejects scientific theory. Actively resisting this pressure and investigating the world is indispensable at this time. By simply resolving to start everything by investigating, by taking nothing for granted, by rejecting conditioned thinking, and by avoiding facile answers we can all take a big step forward together. This is not small potatoes. Such a disposition is priceless and requires continual cultivation. It is key to unleashing the human factor. The overwhelming disinformation, dogmatism, lies, illusions, and retrogression of the rich and their outdated system only increase anticonsciousness and block the path of progress to society.

Charter Schools: Backpack Full of Cash

QUESTION: If a school is educating a child, whether it’s a private school or a charter school, doesn’t it deserve public dollars?

RESPONSE: Public and private mean the opposite of each other. Public and private are antonyms.

Public refers to the common good, everyone, the whole society. Public means inclusive and for all; non-rivalrous. Public also means not narrow or sectarian. Synonyms for public include: open and transparent. Private, on the other hand, refers to some, a few. Private means exclusive, not for everyone, not inclusive, not shared. Synonyms for private include: restrictive, secret, closed, not transparent.

Public and private are not synonymous in any way. Mixing them up produces conceptual confusion and harmful policies, practices, and arrangements all the time. There is a reason that public schools and private schools operate differently and have different profiles and features.

Charter by definition means contract. Charter schools are contract schools. Contract is the quintessential market category. Contracts make markets possible. Significantly, contract law is private law, which deals with relations between private citizens, whereas public law deals with relations between the state and individuals. These points cannot be overstated. It is because of these legal realities that charter schools are inherently privatized, marketized, corporatized arrangements. It is precisely why charter schools lack most of the public features of public schools and the public sphere. It is for this reason that a charter school cannot be something other than a charter school, regardless of whether it is if for-profit or nonprofit, “good” verses “bad,” operated by “mom-and-pop” or a corporation. There is a reason that charter schools are deregulated, deunionized, practice selective enrollment, have high teacher and student turnover rates, are plagued by corruption, lack accountability, and enrich a handful of individuals. If an individual with “good intentions” thinks they are going to make “their” charter school great and different from all the other rotten ones—think again. Such an idea is based on no thinking and no analysis. It is based on wishful thinking alone.

Public funds, assets, buildings, facilities, resources, and authority belong only to the public and no one else. They are produced by the public and must be controlled by the public at all times, not someone else. This is why the fate of public funds, assets, and buildings must be decided upon by the public alone and are to be used strictly for public purposes. Public funds for public schools must not go to private interests.

Private and sectarian interests have no claim to public funds, assets, and buildings. Public wealth must never be handed over to the private sector, let alone in the name of “efficiency,” “choice,” “competition,” “innovation,” “accountability,” or “results.” These buzzwords have provided cover for much of the neoliberal destruction that has unfolded over the past 40 years. Privatization in its many forms ultimately harms the economy and the national interest.