Why Not Simply Call For the Closing of All Charter Schools Now?

It is refreshing to finally see so many national organizations (e.g., National Education Association, Network for Public Education, National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People, and Black Lives Matter) finally speak out more publicly and vocally against charter schools and the endless problems surrounding them. It is also uplifting to see the demands being made by these same organizations for improved education for all youth.

While one or more of these national organizations have called for an end to for-profit charter schools, no organization has yet issued the simple demand to shut down all charter schools—for-profit and nonprofit, “good” and “bad”—now.  This is separate from the issue of how to close all charter schools or the timeline needed to do so.

There is no justification whatsoever for the existence of charter schools in the United States. Charter schools are fundamentally pay-the-rich schemes that emerged in the neoliberal period and overall they have made everything worse. They are riddled with many serious problems and their performance on curriculum-narrowing high-stakes standardized tests produced by for-profit corporations is unimpressive. When it comes to charter schools, now in their third decade, the bang for the buck is less than zero.

The demand to close all charter schools now is a legitimate and valid demand. No one should tolerate for one more day any of the terrible consequences incurred by charter schools. The more than 7,000 charter schools that currently operate in the United States will continue to wreak havoc in many ways; they will solve nothing.

Part of the reason for not demanding that all charter schools be closed right away has to do with the liberalism, incrementalism, and reformism—all intertwined—that has long influenced policy, politics, and institutional change in America. Certain demands are seen as unrealistic or impractical, even if they are principled, desirable, and necessary. It is deemed more pragmatic to start with small “reasonable” demands now and “hope” for the desired end result later.

But in the absence of a demand to close all charter schools now, many charter school promoters will only feel irked, not seriously threatened, by the positions of these national organizations. Charter schools will continue to multiply and expand by 250-350 a year, even as more than a hundred close every year for fraud or poor performance, ensuring chaos, anarchy, and violence for years to come. Is there a compelling argument that this is a good thing?

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.