Charter School Apologia

The frenzied promotion of illusions about charter schools by the rich reflects their growing fear of losing the power to impose their narrow interests on the public.

Mounting internal and external criticism of privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools rightly has charter school advocates and their wealthy supporters anxious. In this fractured context, it is not an accident that the discourse and agenda of charter school advocates is becoming more irrational, brazen, and destructive.

On July 26, 2019, the charter school–friendly New York Times carried another piece attempting to apologize for scandal-ridden charter schools: “How Did Charter Schools Lose Their Luster? Our Reporter Explains.” ((How Did Charter Schools Lose Their Luster? Our Reporter Explains, New York Times, July 26, 2019.))

The short article, which explains little, introduces a conversation around the troubled charter school sector between Eliza Shapiro, New York City education reporter now working at the New York Times, and Dodai Stewart, deputy editor of the Metro desk at the New York Times. A link to a 45-minute podcast featuring the entire conversation, with questions from Times readers, is provided at the end of the article.

Throughout the article and podcast Shapiro focuses mainly on the growing backlash against charter schools, especially against punitive “no-excuses” charter schools which siphon money from public schools and implement authoritarian student discipline practices to control low-income minority students. KIPP charter schools and Success Academy charter schools are just two of the most notorious for implementing harsh and punitive control methods over student behavior, thoughts, and appearance. Numerous disturbing reports of their Skinnerian practices are available online.

Shapiro’s main goal is to find a way to co-opt criticism of privately-operated charter schools so as to prettify and preserve them. Shapiro wants the public to believe that charter school advocates are finally admitting problems exist in charter schools and that they will be fixed.

Charter school promoters know the chickens are coming home to roost, so they are eager to liquidate people’s legitimate decades-old outrage against charter schools, especially boot-camp style “no-excuses” charter schools.

But charter schools have long been their own worst enemy and cannot be prettified or improved. Their track record proves that.

By design, privately-operated charter schools are segregated, deregulated, deunionized, marketized, privatized, performance-based contracts that differ dramatically from the nation’s 100,000 public schools that have been educating 90 percent of America’s youth for generations.

Charter schools also valorize curriculum-narrowing high-stakes standardized tests and annually siphon billions of public dollars from public schools, leaving those schools, which are usually under-funded to begin with, worse off. In addition, these contract schools regularly engage in discriminatory student enrollment practices, have high teacher turnover rates, ensure inflated administrator salaries, and are continually plagued by controversy, scandal, waste, fraud, and corruption, more so than perhaps any other sector or organization in the country.

To date, charter school owner-operators have not improved or solved anything. If anything, things are getting worse in the charter school sector.

The fact that privately-operated charter schools keep multiplying proves again that evidence, logic, and research do not matter today; it demonstrates that the public needs to deprive the rich of the power to control education and the affairs of society.

Elimination of charter schools would provide a much-needed boost to public schools, the economy, society, and the national interest.

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