Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them (Part 2)

In November 2018 I wrote a short piece titled Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them.

In that article I highlighted some of the forms of confusion promoted by neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers to block people from concluding that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are harmful and must be opposed.

The essence of these different forms of confusion typically takes the form of listing many damning and indicting problems with charter schools, while still managing to find a convoluted way to support them.

Here is the general formula:

  1. I know charter schools have 50 profound problems.
  2. I just spent hours researching and showing that charter schools have many problems.
  3. I know more people are rejecting charter schools and seeing them for what they really are.
  4. But I will stubbornly continue to support charter schools anyway and be comfortable with such a contradictory and incoherent position.

Refer to the 2018 article for more details and analysis.

In this article I address yet another form of confusion distorting consciousness and undermining public schools and the public interest. This form of disinformation is a slight, but significant, variation of an existing confusion. It goes something like this:

There are tons of serious problems with thousands of charter schools across the country, but some charter schools are “good” or “work,” and as long as it is “all about the kids” and “increasing test scores,” then  I don’t care if the school is a charter school, public school, or catholic school. I support any type of school as long as it is “a good fit for the kids.”

This is really nothing more than open support for privately-operated charter schools. It is dangerous and reveals a lack of analysis of charter schools. It is not deep or serious. It is another way of saying that funneling billions of public dollars a year to wealthy private interests is acceptable as long as the charter schools the wealthy elite benefit from are “a good fit for the children.” Such a view condones the parasitism, destruction, and decay of neoliberalism.

Obviously, it does matter who runs, governs, and decides education affairs in a society based on mass industrial production. It matters a lot.

Public and private mean the opposite of each other. Public and private are antonyms. Conceptual confusion flourishes and results in antisocial policies when these different categories are mixed up and used carelessly. This happens frequently.

Public refers to everyone, the whole society, the common good. Private means exclusive, not for everyone, not inclusive, not shared. The former focuses on we, while the latter focuses on me. For this and other reasons, the aims, preoccupations, outlook, drive, and agenda of public forces and private forces are not the same. Private wealthy interests and the common good are not identical; they actually contradict each other.

Charter schools are not public schools. They never have been. There is no such thing as a public charter school. Charter schools differ profoundly from public schools—legally, philosophically, organizationally, and operationally. Many courts have even ruled that charter schools are not public schools.

The key issue with privately-operated charter schools is not whether they are “a good fit for a student” or not. Nor is it about whether privately-operated charter schools raise test scores or not. High-stakes standardized tests come from the rich, not teachers, and are useless and harmful in many ways. The issue is that all charter schools—nonprofit and for-profit, virtual and brick-and-mortar—are privatized marketized education arrangements that have no legitimate and valid claim to public funds, assets, facilities, resources, or authority. Public wealth and property belong only to the public, not someone else.

In a society drowning in an overabundance of socially-produced wealth, no parent should have to roll the dice, shop for a school, cross their fingers, hope and pray the school chooses them, and then be violated and betrayed when the school performs poorly, over-punishes students, engages in fraud, and ends up closing, as so often happens in the unaccountable charter school sector.

Treating a fundamental social responsibility like education as a commodity, as a consumer good, as a free market exchange relation, is the opposite of what society and the economy need. Modern education cannot be run on the basis of consumerism, competition, social Darwinism, and Skinnerian ideology.

A fully-funded, world class, integrated, locally-controlled public school system available for free to every person in every neighborhood is a basic human right that government must provide with a guarantee in practice.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.