Charter School Fatigue

Charter schools have always attracted criticism due to the serious problems inherent to them, but it is no secret that in recent months charter schools have been taking it on the chin a little more than usual.

This is not unexpected.

More detailed reports, articles, and investigations are exposing with greater regularity the multi-faceted corruption and endless Jerry Springer-style scandals long plaguing nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, especially so-called “no-excuses” charter schools, virtual charter schools, and “miracle” charter schools.

Bizarre student enrollment management practices, coupled with poor transparency, shady real estate deals, inflated administrator pay, inaccurate waiting lists, high teacher turnover rates, almost no teacher unions, frequent arrests, numerous investigations, sloppy charter school applications, the siphoning of billions of dollars from public schools, the colonizing of physical facilities that rightfully belong to public schools, a severe obsession with unsound tests, and a refusal to analyze real conditions in education and society, all feel like a bit much.

People do not want any more deregulated, segregated, non-transparent “schools” that cherry-pick students, close regularly, and drain public money from over-tested, under-funded, and constantly-shamed public schools that accept all students all the time.

Just as “innovation” fatigue has started to settle in, so too has charter school fatigue. It is perhaps not ironic that charter schools have long been heralded as an “innovation.” But wherever it was applied, “innovation” ended up solving no problems; it just created new ones, namely embroiling people in more neoliberal schemes, policies, strategies, and initiatives that destroy the natural and social environment. “Innovation,” like so many other neoliberal buzzwords, proved to not serve the public interest. “Innovation” was always anti-evidence and an ideological device to block people from seeing what the rich are getting away with in the context of a continually failing economy and discredited political system.

The visible intensification in the desperation and irrationality of charter school supporters and promoters is the product of predictable steadily-growing opposition to charter schools. Just as social consciousness of the ills of high-stakes standardized testing was bound to grow over time, so too was social consciousness of the problems plaguing charter schools. People are growing increasingly fed up with these pay-the-rich schemes that have nothing to do with improving schools.

In this fractured and troubled context, charter school supporters and promoters are becoming more hidebound in their attempts to defend the indefensible. They still believe they can prettify charter schools and deprive people of a human-centered outlook and the ability to think. But they may just be digging a deeper hole for themselves as they become increasingly dogmatic and out of touch in the context of growing awareness of problems with charter schools. To date, none of the serious charter school problems highlighted by both charter school critics and charter school supporters have been overcome. The same problems persist. In fact, they are getting worse.

A point of no return may have been reached though. The unsurprising decision by charter school advocates to keep wrecking public education and multiplying charter schools in the midst of growing social consciousness of their ills is unlikely to take major owners of capital to their desired destination. The public is applying greater pressure on the brakes.

There is no question that having millions of dollars on your side and many politicians, nonprofit organizations, and astro-turf groups in your pocket will carry an agenda, no matter how destructive, quite far. But it is also the case that social consciousness and the human factor often trump big money, irrationality, arrogance, and tyranny over time. The powers that be are not invincible. They have been dealt many setbacks and defeats over the years. The rich and their conscious and anti-conscious representatives have never had logic, reason, analysis, and principle on their side, just worn-out platitudes, grandstanding, corporate discourse, instrumentalist logic, and Skinnerian ideology.

For the foreseeable future the carnage caused by the charter school sector will continue, no matter the cost to education, society, the economy, and the national interest. Pay-the-rich schemes have effectively enriched too many charter school owners-operators to be relinquished just yet. Major owners of capital are not going to give up their pound of flesh without a bitter fight to keep assaulting public education. Fortunately, defenders of public education are even more determined to usher in a human-centered and pro-social education system and society—one that is governed by the people and free of the influence of the rich and their retinue.

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