Don’t Blame Trump, DeVos, or Unions for Growing Opposition to Charter Schools

While billionaires Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos can take some of the “blame” for an uptick in broad opposition to the nation’s 7,000 non-profit and for-profit charter schools, resistance to privately-operated charter schools has been building for nearly three decades.

Opposition to segregated, test-obsessed, and unaccountable charter schools that fleece the public treasury is not new. Many defenders of public education and the public interest have been consistently exposing and criticizing charter schools for a long time.

If anything, billionaires Trump and DeVos have served mainly as catalysts for simmering resistance to deregulated charter schools that transfer public wealth to private interests. It was just a matter of time before this opposition took hold and became more visible and powerful.

Neoliberals and privatizers are unable and unwilling to comprehend all of this because, objectively, they can only see phenomena from a narrow capital-centered view. Looking at phenomena from the perspective of the public interest does not make sense to them.

In short, stiff and more discernable resistance to charter schools was inevitable, with or without Trump and DeVos.

Mounting opposition to charter schools stems mainly from the stubborn fact that charter schools are plagued by and cause many endless problems that are profound and impossible to cover up. No amount of disinformation, lies, worn-out platitudes, and propaganda can bury this reality. As a result, the public has become much more conscious and much less tolerant of these privatized education arrangements. That is why we are seeing what we are seeing. In many ways, charter schools have long been their own worst enemy.

Further, as more parents—especially poor and low-income minority parents—are betrayed, abandoned, and mistreated by virtual and brick-and-mortar charter schools, we will see more opposition from them as well, mainly in the form of not enrolling their kids in charter schools as readily as before, and in the form of telling other parents about their negative experiences in charter schools. This too is inevitable.

Teachers who have worked in charter schools will also further shift the discussion and momentum against charter schools even more. There is a reason why teacher turnover is exceptionally high in the nontransparent charter school sector.1 Already, there are quite a few whistleblower teachers out there blogging about the problems they witnessed while working in a charter school. Their stories depict problems that are even worse than the many problems carefully documented by official research on charter schools. Many leave a charter school within the first few weeks of employment because what they see is so problematic and troubling.

For their part, teachers’ unions have mainly provided a strong and valuable expression of inevitable mounting rejection of charter schools. So many people are relieved that opposition to charter schools is being led by teacher unions, and they are excited about building on this irreversible momentum. Public school teachers see first-hand the damage caused to their schools and communities by charter schools. This kind of opposition is long overdue and unlikely to go away. Charter school promoters have every reason to worry.

Endless news reports of fraud, scandal, waste, high teacher turnover rates, excessive student suspensions, inflated administrator pay, poor academic performance, and low transparency in the charter school sector, which is tiny compared to the public school system in America, will keep appearing with great frequency. Such reports are likely to increase in the months and years ahead.

Defenders of public education can and must build on the momentum against the privatization of education. They have history, facts, justice, logic, and large numbers of people on their side. Neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers, on the other hand, are only preparing more tragedies for the people.

  1. See Buhl, L. Churn & burn: Charter teachers challenged by working conditions, lower pay, CityWatch, June 6, 2019. []
Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.