Survey by Charter School Supporters Shows Broad Public Opposition to Charter Schools

A May 2019 report of a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 Presidential voters conducted late spring of last year shows that broad public opposition to charter schools persists. ((Barone, C., Laurens, D., & Munyan-Penney, N. (2019, May). A democratic guide to public charter schools: Public opinion.)) About half of all those polled are Democratic primary voters.

The survey was commissioned by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), an astroturf group ((Astroturf  groups are fake grass-roots organizations whose main aim is to trick the public into supporting ideas, policies, and arrangements that are harmful to their interests. See Sharyl Attkisson’s TEDx Talk on astroturf groups, propaganda, and disinformation here)) created by Wall Street in 2007 to privatize public schools to further enrich millionaires.

DFER wanted the survey to show that charter schools are great, popular, have no problems, and should keep multiplying. The survey did not mention anything about widespread fraud and racketeering in the test-obsessed charter school sector, or how nonprofit and for-profit charter schools increase segregation, are run by non-elected officials, often perform poorly, oppose teacher unions, selectively enroll students, and have high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.

The survey distorts reality and results in other ways as well, including by: (1) pitting minorities and white people against each other and dividing the polity in unprincipled ways, (2) reducing matters of broad public interest to a matter of voting and “voters,” and (3) failing to understand the identity of education in a modern society while putting forward a rendering of charter schools that favors the outlook and narrow agenda of neoliberals and privatizers. For example, the DFER erroneously and repeatedly refers to privately-operated charter schools that fail and close regularly as “public charter schools.” It also uses oxymorons like “progressive charter advocates” and cynically confounds “choice” with “school choice” to create the illusion that there is broader support for charter schools than there really is. While all surveys have some limitations, the DFER survey is unsound in many other ways as well.

Notwithstanding these serious limitations, the survey is unable to hide the fact that strong opposition to charter schools persists. Many people have a negative view of charter schools despite decades of intense corporate disinformation that charter schools are positive and great.

A key finding from the survey shows that:

Among all Democratic primary voters, a slight majority held an unfavorable view of public charter schools while slightly more than one-third had a favorable view. Democratic voters were more aware than Presidential voters overall of public charter schools as only about one in 10 Democrats say they were  unfamiliar with charter schools. (2019, p. 2, emphasis added)

About one-third of Black democratic voters and one-third of Hispanic democratic voters had an unfavorable view of charter schools. As more poor, low-income, and vulnerable urban families are betrayed by hundreds of charter schools that close each year and thousands of other charter schools that “push out” kids they do not want, it is likely that these numbers will increase.

It is important to recall that about 60% of charter schools in the country are located in urban settings. Charter school promoters have long targeted urban school systems and poor, low-income, and vulnerable minority families whose own public schools were starved, demonized, and are now being privatized by the same wealthy elite behind charter schools. Vilified and beleaguered large urban school systems mandated to fail by the neoliberal state represent the biggest bang for the buck from the perspective of Wall Street and charter school promoters.

Survey results also show that only 50% of all Presidential voters have a favorable view of charter schools (which have been around for more than 25 years). Nearly one third of all Presidential voters polled had an unfavorable view of these privately-operated schools.

The fact that so many voters, even when not necessarily super-informed about charter schools, and even when taking a survey that spins charter schools in a positive light, voice some sort of opposition to charter schools, is a sign that many others in the broader public also oppose charter schools—something that has been borne out in other surveys as well.

The real number of charter school opponents nationwide is higher than DFER and their survey would have us believe. It is revealing and telling that the average person who may not know much about charter schools quickly concludes that charter schools are undesirable just after hearing a 15-minute cogent and concise presentation of some well-researched and well-documented basic facts and trends in the charter school sector. Most are shocked at what they hear and cannot believe charter schools are allowed to exist, let alone expand. They find it appalling. Consciousness free of neoliberal disinformation, corporate school reform ideology, and prejudice reaches warranted conclusions effortlessly. Support for charter schools remains tenuous.

At the end of the day, the results of this or that survey may not be that critical or decisive. The fact is that thousands of teachers, thousands of their supporters, so many parents and education advocates, and more and more experts, scholars, researchers, journalists, blogs, government reports, and think tank reports exposing charter schools spells bad news for the rich and their charter schools. In many ways, charter schools are their own worst enemy. The road ahead is likely to get more rocky for these privately-operated deregulated schools.

Supplemental Note: “Voters” And “The Public” Are Not Identical

One of the many ways the ruling elite routinely undermines the public interest and the rights of the people is by constantly reducing major matters of public concern to “voters” and “voting.” Another way is by reducing everyone to “investors” or “consumers.” Both approaches are extremely narrow and based on an anachronistic outlook of society and the polity. Neither approach opens the path of progress to society or captures the identity of the modern human personality.

“Voters” are only a subcategory of the public. “Voters” is not synonymous with the public. In many places and most elections voters are not even the majority of the people. The DFER survey does not address this.

The public is a much larger category than “voters,” and it is the public interest that matters more when it comes to the broadest concerns of the people and what is needed for the extended reproduction of society. From this perspective, the main issue is not “voter turnout” or “what voters think,” but what serves the public interest first and foremost.

The content, direction, and results of education matter to everyone, whether they vote or not. It is not just the views and opinions of voters that counts, it is the views of all and the objective needs of society that must come first.

There is no reason to believe that public rejection of charter schools will diminish in the months and years ahead. Based on what has been unfolding in the sphere of education over the past year, it looks like resistance to charter schools will continue to steadily and surely increase. Charter school supporters and promoters are rightly worried.

The nation is ready for more individual and collective actions against charter schools and in defense of public education and public right. An opening has presented itself to further expose and oppose charter schools, and to recognize the necessity for fighting for a pro-social human-centered alternative free of the burden and demands of capital.

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