Charter Schools Choose Parents and Students, Not the Other Way Around

Charter school supporters never tire of promoting the consumerist free market notion of “choice.” They have always seen society as a dog-eat-dog world in which parents and students are consumers who fend-for-themselves as they shop for a school that may or may not accept them. In this antisocial view, schools are considered commodities, just like any other commodity in the “free market.” Education is not viewed as a basic, socially-organized human responsibility and right.

Charter school advocates claim that one of the reasons charter schools are great is because parents are “free” to “choose” a charter school for their child, implying that there is some sort of voluntary action being taken by very well-informed individuals to enroll their child in a charter school. According to this narrative, charter schools play no role in determining who gets into a charter school, who stays, and who gets “pushed out.”

It is well-known, however, that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, which are usually poorly supervised, consistently and deliberately under-enroll students with disabilities, English Language Learners, homeless students, and many other students. Charter schools routinely cherry-pick their students and practice a range of ways to remove “undesirable” students from school.

In this connection, charter schools also often require parents to sign a contract to: (1) volunteer to undertake some kind of work the school will not hire someone for, (2) control the “behavior” of their child based on a “rewards-and-punishments” mentality, and/or (3) make some sort of financial contribution to support the “tuition-free” school.

Another way charter school supporters routinely disinform the public about “choice” and student enrollment is by pointing to charter school laws that may sound lofty, ethical, and good on paper but are not really upheld by charter schools in practice. This “plausible deniability” is meant to fool the gullible. For example, laws may require charter schools to be diverse and accept all students but charter schools more often than not increase segregation by ability, race, language, and socio-economic status. For example, in Minnesota, where the nation’s first charter school law was passed in 1991, “charter schools are at the forefront of school segregation. Of the 50 most racially concentrated Twin Cities schools, 45 are charters” (Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, 2017, p. 2, emphasis added).1 These charter schools also under-perform public schools.

Charter school supporters’ much-vaunted claim that parents (and students) have the “freedom to choose” a charter school and that charter schools automatically accept and keep all students means little given the well-documented selective enrollment practices plaguing many nonprofit and for-profit charter schools.

  1. Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. The Minnesota school choice project: Part I: Segregation and performance. 2017. []
Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.