Category Archives: Public Schools

Charter Schools Continue Seizing Enormous Sums of Public Funds During Pandemic

While private businesses like non-profit and for-profit charter schools have been seizing enormous sums of public money for decades,1 they continue to seize hundreds of millions of public dollars during the “COVID Pandemic”—a move that further undermines the nation’s public education system and economy.

The latest example of this massive transfer of public funds to segregated charter schools involves $200 million set aside a few weeks ago for large corporate charter school chains by billionaire Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education. This pay-the-rich scheme is taking place in the context of more brutal cuts to public school budgets around the country.

On top of this, in the current crisis, which is worse than the 2008 economic collapse engineered by Wall Street, charter school advocates are also taking virtue-signaling to new heights, casually and repeatedly lauding themselves as saviors and as “tried-and-true online experts,” even though many have ironically(?) turned away from notoriously poor-performing cyber charter schools in this disruptive transition to inefficient digital “communication” at all levels of education. Most people have simply not turned to online charter schools during this crisis. They recognize that online charter schools are subpar and not the way forward. Even well-funded organizations that support charter schools, like the neoliberal Center for Research on Education and Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, bemoan the persistently abysmal performance of cyber charter schools.

The conceited charter school sector believes, however, that this virtue-signaling will suddenly cause people to forget that charter schools are notorious for all sorts of corruption, fraud, and scandal. While the “COVID Pandemic” has overwhelmed many, people have not spontaneously forgotten the poor track record of cyber charter schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools.

The necessity today is for governments at all levels to cease funneling much-needed public funds to private business like charter schools and to direct these funds to public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s students. Public funds belong to public schools and charter schools are not public schools. There is no such thing as a public charter school, especially given the fact that charter schools are now openly claiming to be small private businesses so as to obtain public Small Business Administration money (from the CARES Act) that regular public schools, precisely because they are actually public, do not have access to.

The public never decided that public funds should go to privatized and marketized education arrangements. People want their public schools fully funded and under their direct control. They do not want education treated as a commodity. Parents should not be reduced to consumers who “shop” for schools that may or may not accept their kids.

The privatization of education undermines the public purpose and operation of public schools. It also damages the general interests of society. Privatization cannot be prettified. Privatization negates the public interest while enriching owners of capital. And to keep dogmatically arguing that running schools on the basis of the “free-market” is a sound, stable, and human-centered approach to education means less with each passing day, especially as we see in the current crisis that the so-called “free-market” disappeared long ago. The U.S. Federal Reserve, for example, printed more than six trillion dollars a few weeks ago to prop up the big banks and big business that laid the ground work for the current economic crisis many predicted for years—an enormous intervention in the so-called “free market.”2 The so-called  “free market” does not work, especially in education and healthcare.

  1. This does not include the billions of dollars unaccountable charter schools have received from venture philanthropists over the course of nearly 30 years. Nor does it include the numerous public facilities, assets, and services worth billions of dollars that charter schools have seized during the same period.
  2. Over the course of the past 12 years or so the U.S. Federal Reserve, a private entity, has printed possibly quadrillions, not trillions, of dollars to artificially prop up the top one percent of the top one percent while the majority suffer more.

Florida Supreme Court Ruling Anti-Public Education And Pro-Charter Schools

Advocates of privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools have never stopped working to funnel as much public money as possible from public schools into their own private pockets, even if this means undermining the education and future of students attending those public schools. This massive transfer of public funds from public schools to charter schools also undermines teachers’ working conditions and has a negative impact on society, the economy, and the national interest.

Much of this unprincipled transfer of large sums of public wealth to the private sector has been facilitated and enforced by the courts.

And the courts, for their part, have grown increasingly neoliberal in their outlook and rulings over the past few decades, meaning that facts, justice, and core principles and standards really do not matter much anymore; only power, wealth, and privilege count. In education, healthcare, the environment, and other spheres, courts are increasingly handing down antisocial rulings—decisions that favor rich private interests.

In Florida, numerous public school districts have been fighting for years to stop privatizers and neoliberals from seizing public money that belongs to public school districts. Endless court battles have taken place, but well-funded charter school advocates have remained steadfast in their attempts to seize as much money as they can from public schools.

On April 7, 2020 the Florida Supreme Court, unanimously and with no explanation, rejected public school districts’ challenge to a 2017 charter school law (House Bill 7069) that violates the constitution and transfers public money from public schools to privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools. The court refused to take up the public school districts’ appeal of two lower courts’ rulings that the 2017 law was constitutional.

Like many other courts, the Florida Supreme Court essentially put narrow private interests before the public interest by eliminating “local control over local schools by local representatives answerable to local voters.”

This means many under-funded public school districts will lose even more money that belongs to them. They will have even less control of what rightfully belongs to them. More public money will go to more of Florida’s notoriously corrupt, low-performing, and segregated charter schools that open and close frequently, leaving many families abandoned and angry. Florida’s track record with charter schools is awful. The state has the nation’s second-highest charter school closure rate.1

Ignoring basic principles governing the public sphere and the public interest, the court affirmed that public schools no longer have a constitutional right to operate and fund their own schools and that they can be poached by privately-operated charter schools that over-pay administrators, regularly exclude many students, and have high teacher and student turnover rates, which is bad for teaching, learning, and community.

Public funds for privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools should be unconstitutional and prohibited. Charter schools are not public schools in any sense of the word, which means that they have no valid claim to public funds and public assets. Such claims are illegitimate.

Public funds and public assets belong only to public schools, not someone else. They cannot be arbitrarily and unilaterally transferred to private interests just because the rich and their political representatives have self-servingly decided that it is OK to do so.

An authority that self-servingly blurs the profound distinction between public and private is not an authority worthy of its name. Such an authority does not respect concrete conditions, requirements, and demands. It is unwilling and unable to uphold basic rights, including the right to education. Change that favors the people means depriving such an authority of its ability to deprive the public of its rights.

With the multifaceted toll that the “COVID Pandemic” is taking on public schools that have not even recovered from the 2008 economic collapse engineered by Wall Street, it is more critical than ever to make sure that private businesses like charter schools do not receive any pubic funds or assets. Privatization increases corruption, lowers quality, and always benefits the few at the expense of the many.

  1. Jennifer Titus & Lauren Powell. “Chartered: Florida is No. 2 in the country for charter school closures“, 10NEWS, February 2020.

Proposed Federal “Distance Learning” Rules Help Big Tech Shut Down Brick-and-Mortar Public Schools, Replace Human Teachers with AI

The DeVos Department of Education’s new “Proposed Rules” for federal regulations of “Distance Education and Innovation” (85 FR 18638) will effectively open the floodgates for online education corporations to put public brick-and-mortar schools out of business by streamlining “adaptive-learning and other artificial intelligence” technologies that replace “human instructors” with “competency-based education (CBE)” software which provide “direct assessment” through “subscription-based” courseware that data-mine students’ cognitive-behavioral algorithms to “personalize” digital lessons.

What Is Computerized CBE? No More Classrooms, No More “Credit Hours”

As I have documented in several articles, “CBE” is a euphemism for educational methods that deploy computer modules based on Harvard Psychologist B. F. Skinner’s “teaching machines,” which implement operant-conditioning methods to “shape” student learning into “competent” behaviors geared toward college or career readiness. The terms “competency-based education” and “CBE” are used 147 times in the new Proposed Rules for 85 FR 18638, which is a total of 64 pages long. Compare this to the 392-pages of federal legislation that cover the entire Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which only contains 6 references to “competency-based education.”

According to Skinnerian CBE advocates, competency-based computer learning at home is better than human instruction in a classroom because the one-to-one student/computer ratio enables each student to learn at his or her own pace. 85 FR 18638 states “CBE programs . . . measure student progress based on their demonstration of specific competencies rather than sitting in a seat or at a computer for a prescribed period of time. Many CBE programs are designed to permit students to learn at their own pace.” Stated differently, when a student enrolled in CBE courseware is ready to move on to the next lesson, he or she can click on the next learning module without having to wait for the teacher to deliver the next lecture. And if a CBE student is not ready to move on to the next virtual lesson, he or she can remediate by repeating the same digital learning module without being “left behind” when the teacher moves on to the next lecture.

“Subscription-Based” Distance Learning, Pay-as-You-Go

To facilitate “self-paced” CBE learning, online education corporations and other software companies are offering “subscription-based” e-learning services that enroll students on a pay-as-you-go basis. These self-paced CBE courses allow a student to “subscribe” for enrollment into virtual-learning modules which can be rolled over with monthly subscription fees for as long or as soon as it takes for the student to demonstrate “competency” in the course.

Now that basically every US school has converted to virtual “distance learning” through computers, 85 FR 18638 is attempting to loosen federal requirements for self-paced CBE courseware so that online education corporations can rake in federal funding for delivering more subscription-based “competency” lessons through digital platforms:

Current regulations require an institution to evaluate a student’s pace of completion by dividing completed credits over attempted credits. This calculation is difficult to apply in competency-based programs, including subscription-based programs, because there is often no set period of time during which a student “attempts” a competency in such programs; rather, the student works on a competency until he or she can demonstrate mastery of it. Given the limitations in this proposed definition on a student’s eligibility to receive additional disbursements [of federal funds], we believe it is unnecessary and needlessly burdensome for an institution’s SAP policy to include pace requirements for subscription-based programs.

In other words, these new (de)regulations will relax the legal requirements for online education corporations to receive federal funds, such as financial aid grants, as payments for students’ CBE subscription fees. It should be noted that “subscription-based” e-learning is referenced 112 times in these new Proposed Rules.

Adaptive Learning = Post-Human Artificial Intelligence

As I have documented in numerous articles, self-paced CBE subscriptions and “adaptive-learning” software basically go hand in hand. CBE “courseware” subscriptions “personalize” lessons for students through “adaptive-learning” computers, which are nothing less than modern digitalized versions of the “Skinner box,” or “teaching machine.” Adaptive-learning software revamps B. F. Skinner’s “programmed instruction” with “artificial intelligence” that automates “stimulus-response” methods of educational psychology to train students for academic and career “competences.”

Essentially, adaptive-learning courseware enables “self-paced” learning because the psychological-conditioning software “adapts” its lessons based on how the student “responds” to the virtual “stimuli,” such as multiple-choice or short-answer modules on digital windows. The faster the student responds with correct answers, the faster the learning stimuli will progress the student towards full “competence” at the end of the subscription-based course’s module sequence.

Incentivizing broader enrollment in subscription-based adaptive-learning courseware, 85 FR 18638 expands the definition of accreditable “academic engagement” as “participation by a student in . . . an online course with an opportunity for interaction or an interactive tutorial, webinar, or other interactive computer-assisted instruction.  . . . Such interaction could include the use of artificial intelligence or other adaptive learning tools.” Under this revised definition of “academic engagement,” schools will be given expanded flexibility to accredit a vast range of self-paced CBE curriculums delivered by online education companies through adaptive-learning AI that programs students with operant-conditioning algorithms.

Moreover, “academic engagement” is being further expanded to give adaptive CBE courseware the green light to phase out certain requirements for human instruction: “[a]ctive engagement . . . could include the use of artificial intelligence or other adaptive learning tools so that the student is receiving feedback from technology-mediated instruction. The interaction need not be exclusively with a human instructor.” Indeed, adaptive AI can deliver “feedback” on student learning through “direct assessment,” which is referenced 226 times in the new Proposed Rules.

Of course, in a bankrupt economy where people are locked down under emergency pandemic pretenses, such adaptive AI courseware will be more convenient since the software can be available for the student 24-hours a day (unlike a human teacher). In addition, the non-human AI bots will be much cheaper than human instructors who need to be fed and housed. So it looks like the proposed (de)regulations will set up incentives which will ensure that the virtual-learning industry is able to swallow up federal education funds while public brick-and-mortar schools and human teachers are starved out into obsolescence.

Sweeping Deregulation of Artificial Intelligence: AI Will Make Decisions for You

To be sure, AI adaptive-learning algorithms are evolving faster than legislators can deliberate on new regulations for such new “machine learning” innovations. Thus, to get out of the way of “progress,” 85 FR 18638 is basically writing a blank check for AI corporations to sell schools and students new e-learning products and ed-tech “updates” without preliminary regulatory permission from the federal government:

[t]he current regulations [which] do not address subscription-based programs or consider programs made possible through artificial intelligence-driven adaptive learning.  . . . Because of the time it takes to implement new regulations, it is unlikely that the Department will be able to keep pace with developing technologies and other innovations in real time. These proposed regulations attempt to remove barriers that institutions face when trying to create and implement new and innovative ways of providing education to students, and also provide sufficient flexibility to ensure that future innovations we cannot yet anticipate have an opportunity to move forward without undue risk of a negative program finding or other sanction on an institution.

To put it another way, AI-learning algorithms evolve faster than legislators can regulate, so these new federal rules will “remove barriers” to AI ed-tech progress by allowing educational institutions the “flexibility” to rubber stamp new AI courseware programs without prior regulatory approval from the US Department of Ed.

But if the federal government allows AI ed-tech to develop faster than Congress can regulate, then the Department of Ed will render itself into a mere ceremonial bureaucracy that has abdicated its authority to AI algorithms, which means artificial intelligence will be in the driver’s seat taking control of the future of education policy as virtual distance learning becomes the mainstream mode of schooling in a post-corona economy.

It should be noted that Edgar McCulloch, who is a Government Relations representative of the IBM Corporation, sat on the “Accreditation and Innovation negotiating committee” involved in the proposal of these new federal rules. This is worth noting because IBM develops AI ed-tech through its Watson artificial-intelligence program which partners with the globalist Pearson Education LLC: the “world’s largest education company,” which also runs online schooling companies including Connections Academy.

How much stimulus money will be vacuumed up by online education corporations and AI courseware companies under these new federal rules? Will brick-and-mortar schools be able to survive in a post-corona economy in which people are either heavily travel restricted or too poor to pay for school buildings and human employees? Will human teachers, or even human ethics, survive in a world in which the total deregulation of technocratic advancement exalts AI as the judge, jury, and executioner of human learning?

Charter Schools Are Part of Private Law, Not Public Law

Public law and private law are separate spheres of law that operate according to different standards and relationships.1

Private law governs relations between private citizens, whereas public law governs relations between individuals and the state. This distinction is critical. Private law does not concern society as a whole; public law does.

Private law includes tort law, contract law, commercial law, and property law. Public law encompasses constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law, tax law, and municipal law.

Public schools fall under public law and are considered to be government enterprises, i.e., agencies of the state, also known as political subdivisions of the state. Public schools serve a public purpose, have elected school boards, accept all students, do not charge tuition, and have taxing powers. Charter schools, on the other hand, are contract schools that fall under private law. They are not public schools in the proper sense of the word; they are private non-profit or for-profit organizations that do not accept all students and cannot levy taxes. Charter schools are not governmental entities or political subdivisions of the state. To call them public schools is incorrect.

A contract is a legally binding voluntary agreement — not just a promise — between two or more parties to do or not do something during a specified period of time, with associated rewards and punishments. Contracts are formed through mutual consent and rest on the ideologies of individualism, consumerism, voluntarism, choice, and the free market. Contracts are central to markets and commerce. Indeed, contracts make markets (buying and selling) possible. A typical example of a contract is when one voluntarily enters into an agreement with a carpenter to renovate their kitchen. For example, if I hire a contractor to remodel my kitchen, the contractor and I voluntarily sign a contract (an agreement) stipulating all the things that will be done, when they will be done, how much money will be exchanged, when it will be exchanged, and what damages must be paid when one party or another breaches a provision of the contract.

A charter school contract is essentially a performance-based contract between those who create the school (private actors) and an entity empowered by a state legislature to review, approve, and revoke charter school contracts.2 Performance is usually based on punitive high-stakes standardized tests produced by major corporations fixated on maximizing profit as fast possible. The contract stipulates how the school will be funded, how “achievement” will be “measured,” how teachers will be recruited, which grades will be offered, how facilities will be secured, how many students will be enrolled, what happens if goals are not met, and many other things that go into creating and running a school. In most states, contracts for non-profit and for-profit charter schools are five years long. Charter school legislation exists in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam.

The antisocial restructuring of public education is part of the neoliberal wrecking that has wreaked havoc at home and abroad since the late 1970s. The outsourcing of public services and functions performed by public actors to the private sector is a main form of privatization. Contract schools represent the outsourcing of education to the private sector, which is subject to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the free market. Non-profit and for-profit charter schools are part of the ethos of the “survival of the fittest” and reinforce neoliberal ideas and practices. This is a main reason why charter schools open and close frequently, thereby increasing instability in education, society, and the economy. It is also a main reason why charter schools exclude many students, are run by unelected individuals, and are exempt from dozens, even hundreds, of laws, rules, and regulations that apply to public schools. Some courts have even ruled that charter schools are not public schools, while others have ruled that charter schools do not have to do certain things public schools must do. Charter schools are able to act the way they act because they are not subject to the standards and relations of public law. Charter schools operate outside the purview of public authority.

Just a few short years ago, some people still believed charter school advocates when they repeated ad nauseum that non-profit and for-profit charter schools are public schools. Today, however, the privatized and marketized nature of non-profit and for-profit charter schools is clear to more people than ever before. Few people today blindly assume that charter schools are public schools. And given the explosion in the number of articles and books exposing the many problems caused by charter schools, we are now seeing more diverse forms of opposition to charter schools. Thus, for example, several dozen superintendents from school districts in the greater Philadelphia area recently joined forces to oppose charter schools and the damage they are causing to public schools and the public interest.3

Charter school disinformation is losing its grip on more people with each passing day. Blind acceptance of charter schools is a thing of the past. People do not want public schools privatized. They do not want schools to become pay-the-rich schemes.

  1. Public and private, it should be noted, are antonyms.
  2. Such entities are usually not public in any meaningful sense of the word.
  3. See: Ravina, R.  “LEARN coalition calls for charter school reform across region“, The Reporter, January 28, 2020.

Charter Schools Have No Valid Claim to Public Property

Public facilities and infrastructure are produced by the working class and people and belong to the public. They exist in order to serve the common good and to contribute to the extended reproduction of society.

This collectively-produced wealth must not be handed over to competing owners of capital who are only concerned with maximizing profit as fast as possible, regardless of the damage caused to society and the environment. Socially-produced wealth must be off limits to narrow private interests. The aims and purposes of the private sector and public sector are not the same.

Non-profit and for-profit charter schools are not public entities. It does not matter how often they are called public, the fact remains that they are inherently privatized arrangements owned-operated by unelected individuals and companies. Yet they siphon billions of dollars a year from public schools and seize billions more in public facilities and assets. Most state charter school laws are deliberately set up to facilitate this massive transfer of pubic wealth to narrow private interests. Charter schools have long functioned as pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as “schools” that “benefit kids.”

Charter school owners-operators have never stopped piously demanding that public school facilities worth millions of dollars be freely and automatically handed over to them. They righteously declare that they have an inherent right to public facilities produced by the working class. The consequences, of course, are disastrous for public schools and the public interest. For example, a new report shows that in 2018 more than $100 million was spent by New York City alone on charter school facilities.1 This is wealth and property that no longer belongs to the public that produced it; it is now in private hands, essentially for free.2 Even worse, existing institutions and arrangements provide the public with no recourse for effective redress.

One of the most recent surges in antisocial demands from charter school promoters for more public property comes from Washington D.C. where charter schools have a long record of serious problems. Charter school promoters in D.C. have launched an intense effort in recent months to lay claim to “vacant” or “unused” public school facilities worth millions of dollars. They have even cynically claimed that efforts to block them from seizing public facilities that belong to the public is tantamount to denying parents “school choice” and undermining “opportunity.”

But whether public school facilities are vacant or not, whether they are being used or not, they still belong to the public, not private sector actors who own-operate segregated and de-unionized contract schools plagued by racketeering, poor performance, low accountability, discriminatory enrollment practices, high employee turnover rates, inflated administrator pay, large advertising budgets, and frequent closures. How does any of this benefit the public?

It is worth noting that, similar to trends in some other states, charter school enrollment in Washington D.C. has declined for the first time since 1996, while public school enrollment has increased. Despite claims of “long waiting lists” for charter schools, fewer parents are considering charter schools. And it does not help that many D.C charter schools “did not significantly outperform public schools or even match them on the last two years of PARCC testing.”3

In the final analysis, public facilities and assets belong to the public and no one else. They must remain under full public control at all times and be put only in the service of the public interest.

Private sector claims on public wealth and assets are alien claims that must be vigorously rejected and blocked. Instead of trying to prop up contract schools owned-operated by narrow private interests, all levels of government and all leaders should step up efforts to ensure that all public schools are fully-funded, free of high-stakes standardized tests, devoid of Skinnerian practices, and filled with teachers who have real decision-making power.

Education is not a commodity or a business. It cannot be treated as a consumer good, a privilege, an “opportunity,” or reduced to “parental choice,” especially in a modern society based on mass industrial production. Governments at all levels must take up their social responsibility to provide the right to education with a guarantee in practice. If charter schools wish to exist, they can do so on their own dime.

  1. There are more than 200 charter schools in New York City.
  2. New report reveals over $100 million spent last year by NYC on charter facilities (2019). Class Size Matters.
  3. Ultican, T. (2019). DC charter school performance “almost” matches public schoolsTultican.

No Justification For The Existence of Any Kind of Charter School

Charter school promoters are skilled at promoting disinformation about charter schools and public schools; they have decades of experience.

One of the most worn-out forms of disinformation deployed repeatedly by charter school promoters is to pressure people into thinking that the problem is not that privately-operated charter schools run by unelected individuals and funded by the public exist, but that some charter schools are “high-quality” while others are “low quality,” and that the real issue is purging “low-quality” privately-operated charter schools while increasing the number of “high-quality” privately-operated charter schools.

In other words, not only is the public supposed to automatically accept the legitimacy of the existence of charter schools, everyone is also supposed to spontaneously and permanently forget that all charter schools are privatized contract-based performance arrangements that have no valid claim to public wealth. This is all the more significant given that, according to the Network for Public Education, for years billions of public dollars have been funneled to privately-operated charter schools that never even opened0.1

This is accompanied by intense pressure to also ignore the fact that charter schools are actually deregulated, segregated, union-free, unaccountable, crisis-prone, pay-the-rich neoliberal schemes constantly mired in controversy. Charter schools cannot seem to escape scandal.

We are also pressured to forget that thousands of privately-operated charter schools perform poorly and hundreds close ever year, leaving many families feeling abandoned, dislocated, and angry. Never mind a deluge of news articles regularly exposing corruption in the charter school sector, as well as more studies showing the persistence of high student and employee turnover rates in charter schools.

Charter school advocates desperately want people to avoid investigation and just impulsively believe that charter schools are generally awesome, that charter schools are “here to stay,” that nothing should be done to rid society of them, and that the real issue is eradicating “low-quality” charter schools and ensuring that we have only “high-quality” charter schools.

Charter school hype has always been relentless and deafening. But with steadily growing resistance to charter schools, charter school promoters are naturally becoming more concerned about the rising visibility of the long-standing chasm between the hype and reality of charter schools.

To be sure, charter school problems are being exposed with greater depth and frequency, and the optics, as they say, don’t look good. Charter school disinformation is wearing thin. Fewer people are falling victim to it. Diversionary slogans like “My Kid, My Choice” are not enough to convince people that treating education as a commodity and parents and students as consumers is the way forward. It is going to take more than a few self-serving mantras to persuade people to abandon the role and purpose of public education in a modern society based on mass industrial production.

Whether charter schools exist or not, the key issue is that public funds, public wealth, public property, and public authority must not be transferred to private hands. The purpose of the public sphere and the purpose of the private sector are very different. In most cases, they are contradictory and irreconcilable. Most dictionaries actually clarify that “public” and “private” are antonyms, which means that it is a mistake to confound these categories in any way. This is why, for example, so-called “Public-Private-Partnerships” (PPPs) are nothing more than parasitic capital-centered arrangements, rather than laudable examples of the public and private sectors “working together” in “innovative” ways to “serve all” in a “win-win” situation. The public always loses under PPPs.

Whether we are talking about cyber charter schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools, for-profit or non-profit charter schools, “good” charter schools or “bad” charter schools, “high-performing” versus “low-performing” charter schools, independent charter schools or charter schools run directly by big business,2 the fact remains that the different forms and types of charter schools cannot conceal their core essence as privatized arrangements that annually funnel billions of public dollars to narrow private interests.

Charter schools continue to damage education, society, the economy, and the national interest.

Education is a right, not a privilege, commodity, opportunity, or choice. Government must take up its social responsibility to guarantee a world-class, integrated, locally-controlled, fully-funded public school system available to all for free in every neighborhood. Rights cannot be forfeited, exchanged, or bargained away. Nor are they based on competition, consumerism, and individualism.

  1. Numerous detailed reports on charter school fraud, waste, and mismanagement can be found at the Network for Public Education.
  2. These are usually known as CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) and EMOs (Education Management Organizations).

Irresponsible Charter School Promoters Blocked from Further Lowering Teaching and Learning Standards

Despite the vehement objections of thousands of teachers, parents, college professors, public school advocates, state officials, and teachers’ unions, in late 2017 the State University of New York (SUNY) Board of Trustee’s charter school committee voted 4 to 1 to unilaterally and illegally lower training and preparation standards for teachers employed at privately-operated charter schools approved by SUNY (about 165 across the state). State officials called SUNY’s irresponsible decision to put more unqualified teachers in classrooms “an insult to the teaching profession.”

The anti-democratic SUNY decision meant that many privately-operated charter schools across New York would be able to certify their own teachers. Even worse, teachers in these schools could be hired without meeting many of the requirements fulfilled by thousands enrolled in traditional teacher preparation programs. For example, prospective charter school teachers would only have to sit for the equivalent of a month of classroom instruction and practice teaching for 40 hours before becoming certified. And unlike teachers on a traditional certification path in New York, they will not be required to earn a master’s degree or take all of the state’s teacher-certification exams. Standards were lowered in other ways as well.

SUNY “argues” that lowering teaching and learning standards is necessary because it is hard to find, attract, and keep good teachers. SUNY ignored the extensive literature that shows that the teacher turnover rate in charter schools across the nation is extremely high because working conditions in charter schools are inferior to working conditions in public schools. More than 90% of charter school teachers are not unionized and many leave their position in under three years. Student and principal turnover rates are also exceptionally high in charter schools across the country. Instability and upheaval have defined much of the market-oriented charter school sector for more than 27 years.

To be clear, charter school teachers, on average, are paid less, have fewer benefits, and typically work longer days and years than their peers in public schools. They also tend to have less experience and fewer credentials than public school teachers. And, as in the corporate world where workers are usually voiceless and devalued, charter school teachers are considered “at-will” employees, which means that they can be fired at any time, for almost any reason, and without any recourse for redress. Due process has never been big in non-profit and for-profit charter schools.

Naturally, with the support of the public, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), which represents more than 600,000 workers across the state, sued SUNY for its reckless decision. And, on October 17, 2019, Courthouse News Service reported that, “New York’s largest teachers union scored a victory in the war over charter schools Thursday with an appeals court ruling that state policymakers [SUNY] overstepped by diluting certification requirements for charter school educators.”1 The court made it clear that only the state education commissioner has the power to establish teacher-certification rules. SUNY has been rebuffed. SUNY cannot set its own standards for certifying teachers. Michael Mulgrew, president of United Federation of Teachers, said, “The state’s Appellate Court made it clear that SUNY charter schools can’t dumb-down teacher certification standards.”

Charter school advocates have been watering down standards for teaching and learning for years. SUNY is self-serving and pragmatic. It is incapable of understanding that becoming a good teacher takes extensive preparation, reflection, experience, assessments, practice, and more. It is not a form of work you can wing with minimal or superficial training and preparation, especially when we are talking about the future of youth, society, and the economy.

This court decision represents a victory for public education and democracy. It shows that antidemocratic and antisocial decisions by the rich and their allies are recognized by many as being illegitimate and harmful. More importantly, it shows that when the weight of the public is put behind a pro-social agenda, the public can prevail and the rich can be defeated—often quite easily.

Power has always rested with the public. It just has to be harnessed effectively in the complicated present to bring about major changes favoring society, including an economy that has as its aim ensuring the well-being of all. An outdated economic system that reduces everything to “cost considerations” and guarantees the rich become even richer and more powerful and violent each year is detrimental to the natural and social environment. It is dangerous and must be consciously rejected and combatted, individually and collectively.

Many more battles lie ahead. Neoliberals and corporate school reformers are constantly plotting new ways to destroy the public interest under the veneer of high ideals. At the same time, the public increasingly recognizes that the rich and their representatives in various spheres serve only to negate the public interest. The public cannot afford to not analyze and act collectively in its own interest.

  1. Russell, J., “Court nixes watered-down standards for Charter School Teachers“, Courthouse News Service, October 17, 2019.

Charter School Advocates Demand That Everyone Fend for Themselves

Promoters of privately-operated charter schools that intensify segregation and siphon money from public schools idolize the law of the jungle where the “strongest survive.”

This backward view assumes that everyone is nothing more than a consumer and that education is mainly a commodity. Such a discredited outlook is a direct assault on the modern principle that education is a basic human right and that schools must be fully-funded, publicly controlled, high quality, integrated, and available to all for free in every community. No one should have to worry about which school to send their child to. Government must take up its social responsibility to provide the right to education with a guarantee in practice. There is no reason not to have a great school with many programs in every neighborhood in America.

The “free market” consumerist approach to education was recently on full display at the 2020 “School Choice Fair” in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina. Not surprisingly, the “Fair” overwhelmed and confused many parents trying to figure out how to “choose” the “best” school for their child.

Some direct quotes from a brief October 30, 2019 news report on the “School Choice Fair” reveal the absurdity of “school choice” consumerism:

“As options expand and competition intensifies, parents can find the scene a bit overwhelming.”

“It’s just confusing to navigate what happens with the lottery, trying to get them into a program … and if we don’t get them into a program where do we go from there?” said [parent] John Mielke of Huntersville.

“I think the hardest thing is making up your mind,” [parent] Niraj Bhatt said. “It’s like walking into a store and figuring out what you want to order.”

The “shopping mall” approach to education is inconsistent with the requirements of a complex society based on mass industrial production. The extended reproduction of society cannot be based on the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” Telling parents that they need to go out there on their own, compete with others, and figure out how to get a “good” education for their kid is riddled with problems and not the way forward.

Unless parents have spent weeks investigating everything thoroughly, usually on their own, their children may end up in a “bad” school, which might then cause parents to feel anger or remorse.

In this context, parents naturally feel like there is no guarantee of getting their child into a high quality school. More importantly, parents and the public at large are being socialized to think that competition and consumerism in education are normal and healthy, and that a modern conception of education as a right guaranteed by government is somehow bizarre and something no one should expect or demand. In this way, people are being deprived of the outlook needed to advance their interests.

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.