Are Charter Schools An “Innovation”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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