Charter School Fictions and Grandstanding

It is no secret that charter school advocates become disingenuous and belligerent when endless problems in the scandal-ridden charter school sector are exposed, criticized, and opposed with greater depth, sophistication, and regularity.

For nearly 30 years charter school promoters have been reluctant to admit, let alone come to terms with, profound problems with privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, seems to be the modus operandi among most charter school advocates. Anticonsciousness and incoherence pervade the unaccountable charter school sector.

Charter school promoters have never wanted the public to know the true nature and essence of charter schools. They do not want any charter school problems known or acknowledged in any way. There is too much neoliberal pillaging at stake for charter school advocates to abandon the veneer of high ideals. Denying wrong-doing and prettifying charter schools is a full-time job for increasingly defensive charter school advocates.

But the gap between charter school hype and charter school realities remains as wide as ever, and charter school problems keep multiplying, not decreasing.

A main tactic used often by charter school advocates to divert attention from long-standing problems with charter schools is to fetishize form, abstractions, and appearance, while ignoring essence, content, and substance.

Some examples:

  1. Charter school advocates never tire of repeating the worn-out assertion that, “charter schools are public schools because the law says they are public schools.”

In other words, even though charter schools are governed by unelected individuals, cannot levy taxes, spend large sums of money on advertising, selectively enroll students, do not follow most rules followed by public schools, almost never have unions, have been deemed private by many courts, and differ in many other ways from public schools, the public is supposed to reflexively believe that just because the law calls charter schools public schools then charter schools are automatically public schools.

There is apparently no difference between charter schools on paper and charter schools in real life.

Charter school advocates believe that simply calling something public automatically makes it public and that the law is always correct and unassailable. The public is supposed to automatically believe any assertion made by charter school advocates and analyze nothing.

People are supposed to nonchalantly ignore the fact that, in practice, every day, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools operate like private businesses and are plagued by fraud, waste, and corruption.

To be sure, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have been privately-operated, deregulated, segregated, unaccountable, and mired in controversy for decades. Charter schools lack transparency, frequently perform poorly, close often, have high teacher turnover rates, avoid certain students, over-pay administrators, outsource many services, and further enrich wealthy private interests who self-servingly claim to “care about the kids.”

Charter schools are a major top-down neoliberal project in the education sphere. The rich relentlessly defend and promote charter schools no matter the damage to education, society, the economy, and the national interest.

  1. Charter school advocates also magnify and idolize hollow laws and policies when they claim that, “charter schools are accountable because charter school authorizers oversee them and because charter schools are audited and supervised by various entities.”

It is well-known that the 2008 economic collapse that continues to shake world economies years later took place despite the existence of many oversight and regulatory bodies. Today, all kinds of problems exist in different sectors and institutions that are ostensibly regulated and overseen by various entities. Regulation means little in the neoliberal period. Chaos, anarchy, and violence are the norm. An extremely dangerous situation confronts the people in all spheres.

If charter schools were regulated, supervised, or audited in any meaningful or serious way, there would not be hundreds of news articles every year, year after year, reporting on widespread crime, fraud, waste, scandal, and corruption in the charter school sector, which barely makes up seven percent of schools in the country. Further, thousands of charter schools would not perform poorly every year if they were high-quality, well-supervised, well-run, and accountable. Charter school advocates have even launched legal battles to block attempts to audit them. Charter schools do not want to be transparent and accountable, even though they are ostensibly “public” and drain billions of dollars from public schools every year.

Crisis-prone charter schools want to be called public and be seen as public, while acting like private businesses.

Charter schools have always been accountable mainly to major owners of capital. They are not pro-social arrangements. This is one of many reasons why fewer than three percent of all charter schools are owned, operated, or started by teachers and why about 90 percent of charter schools are deunionized.

  1. Charter school advocates also like to mislead the public by claiming that, “charter schools give parents choices and allow them to escape ‘failing’ public schools.”

Putting aside the fact that charter schools choose parents and students, not the other way around, charter school promoters, along with corporate school reformers, privatizers, and neoliberals never want to talk about how they themselves actively and deliberately organized policies and arrangements to steadily starve, test, demonize, punish, and privatize public schools over time—the perfect setup for the destructive neoliberal agenda and narrative.

For decades, charter school promoters, corporate school reformers, privatizers, and neoliberals have been cramming the “failing public schools” narrative down the throats of Americans to convince them that public schools are automatically and inherently rotten, and that parents should enroll their children in privately-operated, test-obsessed, segregated charter schools riddled with scandals and serious unresolved problems.

The illusions surrounding charter schools are slowly but surely melting. It has taken some time, but social consciousness about charter schools, school privatization, and neoliberal education policies and arrangements has grown significantly in recent years. This precious social consciousness cannot be destroyed.

More people are questioning charter schools. Fewer people blindly embrace charter schools. More public school boards, teacher unions, parents, teachers, researchers, public interest groups, and others are exposing profound problems in the charter school with greater frequency.

Resistance to neoliberal wrecking of education is not going away any time soon for the simple reason that charter schools are their own worst enemy and cannot escape serious problems and scandals. People do not want to stand by and passively watch public schools get destroyed by wealthy private interests who operate with impunity.

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