Charter Schools: The Issue is Not Student Scores on High-Stakes Standardized Tests Produced by Big Business

Charter school supporters and promoters have long been severely obsessed with comparing charter school and public school students’ scores on expensive curriculum-narrowing high-stakes standardized tests produced by big corporations. They fetishize test scores and believe such scores are useful and meaningful in some way, despite what extensive evidence has shown for decades.

One reason charter school supporters and promoters dogmatically fixate on pedagogically meaningless test scores is because they do not want to draw any attention to the real underlying problem with charter schools, which is that they are privatized, marketized, corporatized, deregulated, deunionized, non-transparent, pro-competition, political-economic arrangements that siphon billions of public dollars from public schools every year and make rich people even richer while drowning in fraud, corruption, waste, arrests, scandal, and racketeering.

Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are contract schools that operate outside the public sphere and benefit mainly major owners of capital, even though they are portrayed as a way to “empower parents.” Test scores do not change this. Whether students’ scores on unsound tests produced by for-profit companies are high or low, it does not make the looting of billions of dollars in public funds by charter schools from public schools acceptable. Test scores cannot cover up this large-scale theft and destruction. Scores on tests not produced by educators and lacking a human-centered perspective necessarily serve retrogression.

Even if every student in every charter school in the country scored well on tests produced by big business, there is still no justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of charter schools and the massive looting by the rich of public funds and facilities from the public.

Charter schools have no right to public funds because they are not public schools; they are privatized deregulated arrangements based on the outmoded ideologies of competition, individualism, and consumerism. This is why charter schools differ fundamentally from public schools and should not even be compared to public schools.

Another reason for charter school promoters obsessing over useless test data that research shows has nothing to do with learning, is because this promotes the illusion of objectivity and seriousness, while also hiding the stubborn fact that most charter schools cherry pick their students and manipulate enrollment patterns in ways that are unethical and designed to portray the charter schools in the best test-performance light possible. Charter school supporters and promoters truly believe that test scores give them validation. They believe that data, metrics, and numbers imposed on society by big business tell us what we need to know about learning, growth, and complex human beings. For them, if something cannot be misquantified, it does not exist or matter.

No one should think for one second that test scores cannot be manipulated or have anything to do with learning. It is well-known that test scores can be raised in many ways without improving learning. Test scores tell us very little about what is really going on in a school, other than the socio-economic profile of students and how much test-drilling takes place. One can become a good performer without becoming a good learner. Great test takers are not the same as great learners. Many students earn A’s on exams but are not really ready to undertake rigorous learning and education. Quite a bit of research easily obtained online actually shows that reliance on the top-down testing regime imposed on the nation’s schools for generations actually lowers the level of education, thereby harming the economy and national interest as well.

Charter school supporters’ obsession with test scores is a ruse. It is designed to fool the gullible. People should recognize that public schools, funds, facilities, resources, assets, and authority belong only to the public and that wealthy private interests behind charter schools have no legitimate claim to them no matter how well or poorly charter school students—usually chosen by the school, not the other way around—score on widely-rejected corporate tests.

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