Category Archives: Public Schools

To Think or To Work? That Is the Question

On both sides of the political aisle, workforce-training reforms are being touted as the be-all, end-all of America’s public education system. Right-wing “school choice” proponents, such as President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, push corporate charter school programs with workforce-training curriculums. Left-wing “community schooling” advocates, such as Democratic Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Julián Castro, push “lifelong-learning” programs with school-to-work curriculums. Both “conservatives” and “liberals” concur: the purpose of public education is workforce development.

It’s nice to know that, in this divisive era of Trump outrage, America’s political representatives can still reach across the aisle to agree on something. Too bad this bipartisan movement will reduce the US schooling system to a corporate-government bureaucracy that deploys Big Data to train students to fill labor quotas prescribed by workforce-planning algorithms.

Career-Aptitude Pigeonholes:

In this new age of rapidly advancing technologies that are automating “low-skill” jobs, many parents are understandably concerned that their children’s schooling will fail to prepare them to survive in a hi-tech future where the economy is driven by computers. However, parents should be skeptical of hyped-up “career pathways” curriculums that train students in hi-tech skills prescribed for job placement in the fields of “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” (STEM). While this polytechnical training might offer quick shortcuts to hi-tech jobs, such vocational tech-training pigeonholes the student into a predetermined job with limited upward mobility.

Such “cradle-to-career” training is based on three of the “six basic functions” of schooling systematized by Harvard Professor of Education, Alexander Inglis, who believed that public schools are instruments of Statecraft and social engineering. In “Against School,” Inglis’s authoritarian “principles of education” are paraphrased by the renowned New York State Teacher of the Year (1991), John Taylor Gatto:

  1. The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role. . . .
  2. The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits—and not one step further. . . .
  3. The propaedeutic function. The social system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.

By pipelining students directly from the classroom to the job site, career-pathways curriculums diagnose each student’s social role by consigning him or her to a job caste that is directed by Big Business partnering with publicly funded school-to-work programs. Furthermore, to efficiently determine each student’s socioeconomic role, the cradle-to-career “conveyor belt” differentiates the student body into a hierarchy of managers and wage slaves who are trained with minimal job competences so that the chain of economic command is not destabilized by social ambitions.

Simply put, career-pathways do not teach students how to choose their own careers and social roles; rather, they teach students job-specific skills for limited employment openings which are predetermined by the market projections of the politically connected corporations that partner with government-funded schools.

Psychometric Learning Analytics for “Personalized” Job Training

Rather than applaud school-to-work curriculums that train students to keep up with the evolution of a hi-tech economy, perhaps school-boards should be disconcerted about the encroachment of the Big Tech economy on schools and learning. With growing popularity, Big Data is becoming an integral component of career-pathways training through “adaptive-learning” computers that literally reduce students to numbers. By data-mining a student’s responses to digital lessons, adaptive-learning software (such as Dreambox, Alta, and Brightspace Leap™) can tabulate student-learning algorithms which diagnose students as mentally “fit” or “unfit” for certain jobs. The result is a psychometrical “bell curve” system that pathologizes a student’s workforce “competences” based on his or her “cognitive-behavioral” algorithms.

Such data-mining of student psychometrics might be an efficient way to distribute job placement through workforce-schooling programs. Nonetheless, acclaimed education theorist Alfie Kohn documents that the psychological conditioning methods of schooling advocated by “economists and a diehard group of orthodox behaviorists (who have restyled themselves ‘behavior analysts’)” usually “backfire” and “undermine the very thing we’re trying to promote.” Indeed, workforce-schooling psychometrics are “undermined” when “personalized” student-learning profiles “backfire” by socially engineering the student body into a workforce caste hierarchy with limited job opportunities that restrict upward mobility.

A Post-Humanism?

If parents are worried that their children may get run over by the hi-speed, hi-tech automation economy on the horizons, their attempts to reform education so that students can “compete” with the new computerized economy may actually exacerbate the problem. Rather than encourage school-to-work curriculums that train students to “interface” with a techno-automated workforce, perhaps it is more important to teach the humanities of philosophy, history, and the arts so that the next generations can make humane decisions which ensure that technological evolution serves the inalienable rights of human dignity and conscience.

We are at a crossroads here: the “career pathways” to a technocratic economy, or the “classical way” to a moral economy based on the “categorical-imperative” values of human dignity and conscience. I am not saying that technological advancement cannot progress alongside the preservation of human values. But in a computer-automated economy driven by Big Data, algorithms must be programmed with certain values; and without the preservation of humane values in the minds of students, there will be nothing to ensure that human morality is programmed into the algorithms that plan the work forces of the future. If we amputate the arts and humanities from the “new education,” which worships the supposed infallibility of data, what will it profit our children to gain the world of hi-tech jobs only to lose their humanity?

The World Can End But Charter Schools Are Here To Stay Forever

This is another version of: it is easier for capitalists to imagine the end of the world than it is for them to imagine the end of capitalism.

Charter schools are pay-the-rich schemes that emerged in the midst of the neoliberal period that was launched at home and abroad in the late 1970s.

Charter schools are one of many mechanisms the rich have concocted since the 1980s and 1990s to counter the unavoidable law of the falling rate of profit under capitalism.

Mainstream economists often refer to this inescapable law as the law of diminishing returns. This is when the “return on investment” (ROI) is lower than the investment itself, especially over time. Diminishing returns are a built-in tendency of capitalism that affect the capitalist economy as a whole.

To avert the inevitable fall in the amount and rate of profit over time, capitalists necessarily concoct antisocial ways to increase their profits in the course of competing with other owners of capital. This can take the form of more aggressive advertising, changing expiration dates on products, charging people more fees and taxes for commodities and services, planned product obsolescence, going to war, lowering workers’ wages and benefits, cutting social programs, printing money, transferring public money to owners of capital, eliminating regulations and taxes for big corporations, and more.

Owners of capital are obsessed with maximizing profit as fast as possible, no matter the cost to society and the environment. Their drive is egocentric, narrow, and antisocial in character. Major owners of capital are not concerned about and cannot objectively see phenomena from a human-centered perspective. They are not interested in nation-building or a diversified self-reliant economy. They do not care about what happens to anyone or anything else as long as their self-serving interests are satisfied. Anything that obstructs their narrow interests is seen as a big problem, especially the striving of the people for their rights. The world we live in must privilege the narrow interests of owners of capital above all else.

This is why when California passed a “landmark law” (AB 1505) on October 3, 2019 changing charter school laws in the state, the president of the California Charter Schools Association, Myrna Castrejon, said: “The thing I love the most about the bill is that it affirms that charter schools are here to stay.” Castrejon also said that, while the new law in California “modifies the rules of the road for renewals and approvals of charter schools, we do believe this agreement does put to rest the idea of whether charter schools have a place in the landscape.” The website of the California Charter Schools Association had this to say about the first major overhaul of California’s charter school law in 27 years: “The announcement of a compromise deal on charter public school-focused legislation, AB 1505, affirms that charter schools are here to stay as a permanent and valued fixture of California’s education system” (emphasis added). Castrejon is pleased that there is no scenario that excludes pay-the-rich schemes like privately-operated charter schools.

Charter school promoters cannot imagine a world with no privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. They can picture public schools collapsing and disappearing, but they cannot conceive of a world free of privately-operated charter schools that increase their private wealth at the expense of kids.

Charter school advocates are not about to abdicate antisocial efforts to fleece as much funds and property as possible from public schools. The intense downward pressure on the rate of profit is too great for owners of capital to relinquish charter schools as pay-the-rich schemes. The rich desperately need charter schools as a mechanism to avert diminishing returns in a continually failing economy. It does not matter if charter schools are segregated, deregulated, unaccountable, deunionized, scandalous, rife with corruption, perform poorly, are run by unelected individuals, reject many students, have many uncertified teachers, overpay administrators, and undermine public schools. Last year, wealthy charter school promoters spent $23 million backing Antonio Villaraigosa (against Gavin Newsom) for Governor of California because of his strong support for crisis-prone charter schools.

There is a lot at stake for neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school “reformers.”

Charter school promoters are very pleased that charter schools were not wiped out in California, but they are still nervous to see such organized opposition to privatized education arrangements. They did not count on it.

The worn-out charter school narrative that relentlessly demonizes, humiliates, and scapegoats public schools is not gripping as many people as charter school supporters would like. Most people still love and value their public schools, even the so-called “failing” ones. This means the fight between human-centered forces and capital-centered forces is far from over. In all likelihood it will grow more intense and more people will see non-profit and for-profit charter schools for what they really are.

California passed its charter school law in 1992. With more than 1,300 charter schools, California has the most charter schools in the country. Most of the state’s charter schools are in Los Angeles County, San Diego County, and the nine counties in the Bay Area near San Francisco.

No Justification For The Existence Of Charter Schools

One of the main claims to fame of privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools is that they will deliver bigger and better results than public schools in exchange for greater flexibility and autonomy to operate than public schools.

Two recent reports, however, build on extensive previous research which shows that academic performance in privately operated charter schools, which have been around nearly 30 years, is weak or no better than academic performance in public schools.

Charter schools, which annually siphon billions of dollars from public schools and are often rife with corruption, have not delivered on the big promises they have made for decades.

First Report

New Mexico passed legislation enabling the creation of privately-operated charter schools more than 20 years ago. Currently, the state has about 25,000 students enrolled in approximately 100 charter schools.

In September 2019, the neoliberal pro-charter school Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University published a detailed report showing that academic performance in privately-operated charter schools in New Mexico is similar to academic performance in public schools.

Putting aside the punitive and unsound character of high-stakes standardized tests used in the U.S., CREDO states that:
The findings from our analyses show that in a year’s  time, the typical charter school  student  in New Mexico makes similar progress in both reading and math compared to the educational gains that the student would have made in a traditional public school. This result represents an improvement in the charter sector compared to earlier periods in which the performance of charter school students lagged behind that of their TPS  peers. Further probing reveals that the aggregate  results  are  strongly influenced by the performance of online charter school students. Enrollment in online charter schools is associated with substantially weaker learning gains in both reading and math and that the inferior performance of online charter schools offsets the positive impact of brick-and-mortar charter schools on student growth in reading. The learning   gains of charter school students in various subgroups are comparable to the gains of their TPS peers in the same subgroup. (p. 2, emphasis added)

In other words, charter schools in New Mexico have been performing worse than public schools for many years, and they are only now beginning to perform similarly. Further, cyber charter school performance remains abysmal.

From the perspective of a parent concerned about academic performance, it appears that charter schools may not be a better option than public schools, especially when considering that charter schools also have higher teacher turnover rates than public schools and tend to be more segregated and less accountable than public schools.

Second Report

A major 100-page report released this month by the National Center for Education Statistics, School Choice in the United States: 2019, found no measurable differences between the performance of charter schools and public schools on national reading and math assessments from 2017. This finding persists even when parents’ educational attainment were factored into the results. The report states:

Academic Performance: In 2017, at grades 4 and 8, no measurable differences in average reading and mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were observed between students in traditional public and public charter schools (Indicator 6). (p. ix)

It is worth recalling that back in 2009, 10 years earlier, CREDO found that most charter schools in the U.S. perform the same or worse than public schools. Today, across America, thousands of privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools perform poorly. They have never been the silver bullet charter school advocates have claimed they are.

While there is no justification for the existence of charter schools in New Mexico, there is really no justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of charter schools in the country as a whole. Why create and multiply charter schools when they perform about the same or, as is often the case, worse than public schools? This question is even more pertinent when considering that charter schools are more segregated, more corrupt, more deunionized, and less transparent than public schools.

Privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools have been great for owners of capital and their retinue, but bad for so many parents, students, teachers, and principals.

The challenge confronting the society as a whole is how to ensure that the country has fully-funded, publicly-governed, world-class, integrated public schools in every neighborhood. Treating education as a commodity and parents and students as consumers is not the way forward. A modern society based on mass industrial production cannot operate and develop well on such a basis. Closing all charter schools will help improve education, society, the economy, and the national interest in many ways.

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.

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.

 

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.

Charter School Advocates Reject Analysis

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:

  1. High student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.
  2. Widespread poor academic performance.
  3. Many charter school closures per year.
  4. High student suspension and expulsion rates.
  5. Unethical admissions practices.
  6. Extensive fraud, corruption, and racketeering.
  7. 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.

Will Mississippi Supreme Court Allow Privately-Operated Charter Schools to Keep Seizing Public Funds from Public Schools?

A high-level court case is currently underway in Mississippi to decide if privately-operated charter schools can keep siphoning local property taxes from public schools.

Presently, Mississippi’s charter school law unconstitutionally diverts millions of dollars in local property tax money (ad valorem taxes) away from local public school districts to privately-operated charter schools.

Defenders of public schools and the public interest rightly note that privately-operated charter schools are harming public schools by draining money away from them and that opening more charter schools will only make things worse. They say that if privately-run charter schools are going to operate in Mississippi, they should find another source of funding.

Charter schools are not public schools in the proper sense of the word, therefore they have no valid or legitimate claim to public funds. Privately-operated charter schools differ legally, philosophically, organizationally, and operationally from public schools. To treat both types of schools as public and entitled to public funds is erroneous, misleading, and dishonest.

In Mississippi and other states, only public schools under local control by publicly elected individuals can receive local tax dollars raised by residents of the district. Charter schools are run by unelected bodies that are not answerable to the community. Charter schools do not operate under a local school district and are not under the control of the residents of public school districts, which means residents have no say over the charter schools that are siphoning their money. It is a form of taxation without representation.

Putting aside the poor academic performance of thousands of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools across the country, why should the public tax dollars of residents go to charter schools that are privately-governed, do not follow many public laws, and are not accountable to the community? Why should local property tax dollars go to schools exempt from local supervision? Why should a school district be required to share its maintenance tax levy with other school districts, let alone privately-operated charter schools?

In Mississippi, privately-operated charter schools receive public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the state Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, and local boards of education. Low accountability and scant transparency have plagued the segregated and deunionized charter school sector for more than 27 years.

It is also important to stress that local public funds, as well as state and federal public funds, belong to schools, not students per se. The public funding of public schools is an issue that goes well beyond individual students. Public funds do not simply fund isolated free-floating individual students; they fund schools, their infrastructure, their employees, their programs, their future, the community, and more. Individual students are not the only ones benefiting from local property taxes.

Charter school advocates in Mississippi are trying desperately to arbitrarily change the meaning of many words to maintain their illegitimate ability to siphon millions of public dollars every year from public schools. They are eager to change the legal definition, identity, and relations that have long shaped and governed public schools in America. This may be one of the most under-reported and unexamined coups of the public by wealthy private interests in a while.

Mississippi passed its charter school law in 2013 and currently has only a handful of privately-operated charter schools.

Mississippi Supreme Court justices are expected to issue a ruling in the three-year-old case “in due course.” Given the current neoliberal context, more courts are abandoning the public interest and ruling on the basis of neoliberal ideology. Thus, there is a good chance that the Mississippi Supreme court will rule to allow millions of public dollars to keep flowing to privately-operated charter schools.

Household Income, or Higher Planes of Consciousness?*

We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909

The hubris, the lack of ground truthing, the faux academic natures, the overlord mentality, the star chamber blathering, and the oh so tight with capitalism persuasions of elites like Nick Hanauer, Founder of the public-policy incubator Civic Ventures, billionaire, Charter School aficionado, and one of those not-so-rare money grubbers who has so much to say about how we, the 80 percent, should live our lives in their strangling economic hell.

Allen, Gates, Bezos, Buffet, Walton, Nick, and on and on, the number of elites who are lecturing governors, policy makers, citizens, and business opportunists on what we, their poor trickled down subjects, should do to survive in their sacrifice zones of hellish capitalism.

Here’s Nick’s piece in that faux magazine, The Atlantic — Better Schools Won’t Fix America  — “Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first.”

Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

— Nick Hanauer

It goes downhill from there, which one would expect as the magazine gives this fellow broadsheet exposure as he lumbers along in an attempt to revamp his earlier theses about how education is the salvation for our society, our economy (sic) and in bringing people out of poverty.

You see, these billionaires play with words and ideas, and he comes off as all anti-trickle down, pro-bridging the gap in this New Gilded Age.

He sounds like a duck, quacks like a quack, though. No mention of taking capitalism down to its knees, at least. No mention of a decent single payer health care bill, no mention of a social security system paid for through the rich and not-so-rich paying above their $120,000 cap on wages that currently sets as the gold (rust) standard for taking out SS on wages. No discussion of ending the war economy, stopping rich entrepreneurs from moving technology from its current state of extinction event after extinction event into the isolation bunkers we put nuclear energy’s waste stream.

Like all good capitalists, Nick’s invested in making money from the “middle class” as it’s forced into a frantic hamster wheel services-goods-consumer-unnecessary-and-polluting-junk society which is a race to the bottom, for sure. Ramping up riderless cars, 200 mph exclusive trains, drone-delivered crap, and I am sure people-killing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning devices — that’s their MOS. Starbucks on Mars. Netflix on the Moon. That’s their wet dreams.

Here’s his many times repeated foundation tooted throughout his piece:

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

Whenever I talk with my wealthy friends about the dangers of rising economic inequality, those who don’t stare down at their shoes invariably push back with something about the woeful state of our public schools. This belief is so entrenched among the philanthropic elite that of America’s 50 largest family foundations—a clique that manages $144 billion in tax-exempt charitable assets—40 declare education as a key issue. Only one mentions anything about the plight of working people, economic inequality, or wages. And because the richest Americans are so politically powerful, the consequences of their beliefs go far beyond philanthropy.

A major theme in the educationist narrative involves the “skills gap”—the notion that decades of wage stagnation are largely a consequence of workers not having the education and skills to fill new high-wage jobs. If we improve our public schools, the thinking goes, and we increase the percentage of students attaining higher levels of education, particularly in the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—the skills gap will shrink, wages will rise, and income inequality will fall.

Oh, god, so all my decades teaching in so many venues, even now, PK12, are worthless since I am a journeyman, ground truther, not in some academic elite group of book writers, or in the know with these elites who are the rich and the famous and the leeches who will spin multi-billions of our hard-earned money to play with educational curriculum.

Fact is, the jobs are pure crap, the unemployment rate is higher than the economists and their followers say, the type of jobs we have in the USA are asinine and foolishly tied to hyper consumption and hyper eating and hyper entertaining and hyper disposable (not) income based.

Old Nick goes on and on about how we need to bring people out of poverty and to pay more for those Walmart and Burger King jobs. He talks about the big job growth in low-wage jobs (low wage because we do not value bedpan cleaners, home health care workers, people that pick up the trash, do the social work, aid the teachers, teach, and do the work of paving roads, building day care centers, staffing day care centers, and on and on).

Our infrastructure in the USA is D- from the civil and other engineering societies’ POVs. We have people paying 250K dollars to be a doctor or veterinarian. We have student loan debt in the $1.5 trillion category. We have students who are homeless, part-time faculty who sleep in their cars (houseless) and millions upon millions of people with degrees from college making squat. Nick thinks the schools are great, that we are turning out highly educated folk from the colleges yet, however, we have so many jobs now that demand zero college but can’t be filled to assist the billionaires making more billions.

You know, warehouse jobs, food processing, delivery, etc. A true capitalist like Nick would never ever say we need BETTER schools, PK12, where the youth get real history on the crimes of the wealthy, the crimes of capitalism, the crimes of their own country. Never give young people ways to monkey wrench the oppressive systems that capitalism naturally invents and props up and hires militaries for to keep workers down and the rich up.

Our schools are crap, and the Chromebooks and standardized curriculum and the flat earth people around the South who hold sway on what is taught and what is read, well, we are an embarrassment. The students are losing their IQs every five years, and what is done in schools is an assault of the senses, antithetical to learning, and contrary to what we need to be teaching and having youth embrace so they can have the tools and collective wisdom and force to take Mr. Nick’s billions and take his messed up ideas and put themselves in the driver’s seat.

This addictive screen society, and the meaningless content delivered on line, and the anorexic history, and the childish stuff even in college, all of that, and more, demonstrate a true skills gap.  We need a moratorium on student debt, a jubilee, and we need major moratoriums on the power of capital and their Gilded Age masters.

He’s shocked that over the past 40 years there has been such a huge gap in the wealth of middle class people and the rich. Hmm, nothing about millions in investments making exponentially more than what most Americans consider big bucks with a few thousand in the bank. Interest rates down in the toilet for the investor class. Fee after fine after levy after penalty after tax after toll after add-on after compounded interest rate, sure, try that on $50 k a year. The cost of insurance on the vehicles, all that money stolen buying a house with more scum scoopers in the Real Estate Mafia, all those municipal and county and state government agencies adding more and more onto fees to pay for the business of democracy.

Because guys like Nick sound like a liberal, sound like a benefactor of the middle class, well, they get play in the Mainstream Mass Suicide Media like a rag such as the Atlantic. But get under the skin of this guy’s article and we find a plastic world of not-very-original ideas that are so divorced from what it takes to be a teacher and a staff and a student and a parent and a citizen of the public school system.

The teachers do not cross pollinate, and to be honest, so teachers never co-teach or cover a variety of subjects as a team. I’d say 70 percent of the people I teach with should not be teachers, though that might be hard to ferret out since I believe all PK12 education should be hands on, experiential, tied to community projects, with tons of book reading, outdoor gardening, real science in the fields and heavens, raising animals, doing arts and crafts that sell to the community, building, thinking entering the community as parachutists for day care, elderly care, animal care, park care.

School should be the end all for a community, and with national health care, a decent chance at some income at 62, with safety nets built in for illness, accident, mental health breakdown, and with housing that is built by the community, and affordable beyond affordable, tied to public transportation, tied to community farms, community civics, community art and music and democracy schools, all wrapped up in a big fat bow of retooling people to think like a tribe but act like a 21st century survivor of climate catastrophe.

Imagine taking all the additives and chemicals and toxins out of food, water, air and activities of daily living for our youth, from inception to college, and we’d be saving trillions on health care and worker depression and crime and suicide.

Yes, taking technology away, sending it to the dustbin of the waste storage facilities of the nuclear age, the chemical age, the bio-toxin age.

Nick can never ever criticize the War Machine, the Fossil Energy Machine, the Pharma Machine, the AI Machine, the Legal Machine, the Real Estate Machine, the Retail Machine, the Prison Machine, the Health Care Machine, and the other Machines that keep capitalism going strong like those gas chambers we have so much read about tied to WWII.

The Age of Dumb has morphed into the Age of Stupid, into the Age of Distraction and morphed further into the Age of Passionless Existence . . .  and then into the Age of Screen . . . and then further into the Age of I Wanna Be a You Tuber Star to this juncture,  into the Age of Fascism.

Old Nick, I am sure, loves them all — Boeing, Whole Foods, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and a thousand other enterprises of the sick and famous.

Yes, we have a huge skills gap. The skills necessary to defend a community from toxins and Air B & B’s. A skills set to stop the cops murdering, and stop the school to prison pipeline. We lack the Pk12 skills to teach youth to question ALL authority, question ALL big businesses, question ALL governments, question ALL of the so-called Nicks of the world.

The entire systems created by the cancer of capitalism need to be scrapped, or chemo-therapied out of existence.

Here, John Steppling:

But…Mark Morford, a columnist for the S.F. Gate, talked to a high school teacher friend of his in Oakland….

But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens’ decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words “agriculture,” or even “democracy.” Not a single student could do it. It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he’s taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph.

Mark Morford, S.F. Gate, 2018

So this is not about measuring intelligence. IQ tests are, as I say, biased in dozens of ways. But I don’t think you can find a high school or university teacher who would not agree with the general decline in reading and writing skills. And I have noted, personally, a horrifying decline in curiosity. I rarely ever have found students curious enough to go look things up for themselves. The reasons for this are complex and beyond the scope of this article. (I have written about the evolution of visual processing and the creation of an ideal observer, on my blog. Jonathan Crary and Jonathan Beller both have profound books out on subjects inextricably linked to media and cognitive development, or lack thereof). The point here is that this loss of curiosity and literacy is not the result of a single simple thing. Nor is it a moral argument about values or some shit that Bill Bennett might have come up with. It is about a system of hegemonic control that has encouraged a surplus populace to a life spent on screens, distracted and stupified. And how this is tied into western capital and its insistence on social control and domination.

Yes, John brings in the “heavyweights” with their tomes and bibliographies and data-driven theses about media and cognitive slippage; however, again, the ground truthers have it, know it, say it, but we never are brought to the table to illuminate the elite and the powerhouse writers and thinkers to give them a real sense of the problem and the causation and the deeper issues tied to mental health slippage, physical deterioration, learning disabilities increasing, lower and lower bars for ethics, family ties, mentoring, love and respectfulness.

The bottom line is too few people have too much money, too much power, too much authority, too much control, too much say, too much ability to shape and reshape our communities. And just because everyone is doing it — oh, damn, that could be one of a thousand things consumer citizens and consumer workers and consumer neighbors are doing, but the bottom line is that many would be doing things so differently if we had agency and no overlords dictating every waking, sleeping, working, recreating, fornicating, eating, shitting, dying second — doesn’t mean it’s right or even what we want.

If Nick could just walk away from the Atlantic. If the Atlantic would just begin real journalism and real ground truthers writing vigorously and profanely and profoundly, each and every issue.

* The Six Planes of Higher Consciousness

1. Transcendence
2. Serene Knowledge
3. Universal Abundance
4. Your Vast Self
5. Integration
6. Creative Mind

Your journey through the stages of the heart, as it grows from the dark state to the clean, has been described in Stages of Mental/Emotional Awakening. It’s very important to keep these stages of mental/emotional awakening in mind as reliable guideposts of your voyage. However, it’s also very important to know the following levels of awareness which you will likely experience as you come home to your higher consciousness and become enabled to live in it as a new person.

Signing off with John Taylor Gatto:

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don’t let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a preteen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there’s no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

Joe Biden Supports Privately-Operated Charter Schools

Joe Biden is one of about two dozen 2020 democratic candidates running for President of the United States. This is not his first presidential campaign.

Biden served under President Barack Obama as Vice President for eight years. Obama became well-known for many antisocial policies in many spheres, especially education, including the aggressive promotion of privately-operated charter schools that siphon enormous sums of money from over-tested, under-funded, and constantly-demonized public schools. Obama also supported the widely-rejected Race to the Top law, the much-hated Common Core, and the heavily-loathed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In 2015, Obama replaced NCLB with a worse law: the Every Student Succeeds Act. The education record of Obama and Biden is terrible.

During a recent two-day swing through Texas, Biden said the following at an event with teachers: “I do not support any federal money … for for-profit charter schools — period. The bottom line is it siphons off money from public schools, which are already in enough trouble.”1

But with the exception of millionaires, billionaires, and their retinue, who isn’t opposed to for-profit K-12 schools? Such “schools” have always been poor quality, corrupt, and immoral; they were established mainly to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of young people.

It should be noted that for-profit charter schools actually make up a larger portion of the unstable and unaccountable charter school sector than many are reporting.

It is also important to appreciate that Biden, like Presidential democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, is not addressing the fact that nonprofit charter schools are just as destructive, if not more harmful, than for-profit charter schools. The “for-profit/nonprofit” dichotomy is largely a distinction without a difference. It does not mean that much. In various ways nonprofit charter schools often get away with more than for-profit schools. Nonprofit charter schools are engaged in many ways with for-profit entities and organizations. Wealthy private interests have had no trouble using the nonprofit status to enrich themselves.

Biden’s conscious refusal to oppose charter schools is most evident in his simple statement that, “There are some charter schools that work.”2

Clearly, Biden thinks there is a place in society for privately-operated charter schools.

This is all charter school promoters need to hear. This is music to the ears of charter school boosters. Charter school advocates can now rest easy knowing that Biden, like Obama and the vast majority of 2020 democratic presidential hopefuls, is no threat to charter schools.

Biden’s assertion that “There are some charter schools that work” is nothing more than another expression of the erroneous and confused idea that, somehow, charter schools really are, or can be, valid, legitimate, responsible, productive, and much-needed arrangements in society.

In reality, pay-the-rich schemes like privately-operated contract schools that parasitically drain socially-produced wealth from schools and society are the opposite of what society needs. Pay-the-rich schemes undermine the economy and the national interest as well.

Interestingly, Biden conveniently fails to mention charter schools on his official campaign website; he sidesteps the issue, thereby revealing again his implicit support for such deunionized and segregated schools rife with fraud and racketeering. At least Bernie Sanders’ official education platform mentions charter schools openly and frequently.

It is also worth pointing out that Joe Biden’s brother, Frank Biden, has been heavily involved in the charter school sector for years.3

At the end of the day, it does not matter that much if charter schools are for-profit or nonprofit: they are still privately-operated, deregulated, segregated, poorly-supervised, deunionized, low-transparency, scandal-ridden contract schools that drain much-needed funds from demonized public schools. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools also engage in extensive fraud, have high employee turnover rates, frequently perform poorly, and typically over-pay administrators.

Society can do well without charter schools.

  1. Svitek, P. Biden makes first Texas trip as a 2020 presidential candidate, pitching new education plan, 2019, May 28, The Texas Tribune.
  2. Klein, R.  Joe Biden criticizes charter schools for taking money from other public schools, May 29, 2019,  HuffPost.
  3. Mercedes Schneider’s Blog, “Frank Biden, his for-profit charter chain, Mavericks in education, and more“, April 28, 2019.