Charter School Advocates Are Hypocritical and Out-of-Touch

On Monday, October 21, 2019, democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren issued her plan for K-12 public education.

In it, she outlines her opposition to charter schools. A brief excerpt from a section of the plan titled, Combating the Privatization and Corruption of Our Public Schools, states:

To keep our traditional public school systems strong, we must resist efforts to divert public funds out of traditional public schools. Efforts to expand the footprint of charter schools, often without even ensuring that charters are subject to the same transparency requirements and safeguards as traditional public schools, strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind, primarily students of color. Further, inadequate funding and a growing education technology industry have opened the door to the privatization and corruption of our traditional public schools. More than half of the states allow public schools to be run by for-profit companies, and corporations are leveraging their market power and schools’ desire to keep pace with rapidly changing technology to extract profits at the expense of vulnerable students. 

Not surprisingly, this important statement generated great ire from supporters of privately-operated charter schools. For example, Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, recently told The 74, a pro-charter school publication funded by neoliberals and privatizers, that Warren:

seems out of touch with just regular Americans who struggle to find good public schools for their kids. We need more good public school options for American families, not fewer. Only someone who is extremely out of touch … would call for limiting their public school choices.

Putting aside the fact that charter schools are not public schools, not transparent, often perform poorly, and routinely cherry-pick students, Wilkins, like so many other short-sighted supporters of privately-operated charter schools, fails to realize the hypocrisy of her own views and statements.

In cities across America, the expansion of charter schools has lowered the quality of education for all students and reduced choices for students, teachers, and parents. In New Orleans, Louisiana, for instance, all so-called “public” schools are now privately-operated charter schools, which means that a student that wants to attend a regular public school, a teacher who wants to teach in a regular public school, or a parent who wants to send their child to a regular public school cannot do so. They have no options. Choice is not real for them. Their only hope is to find a privately-operated charter school that chooses them and is less unstable than the one down the road.

Charter school promoters have seized billions of dollars in public funds while limiting choices for parents, teachers, and students in other cities as well. This is especially true in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Chicago. The situation has become so absurd that beleaguered parents increasingly find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Parents are increasingly confronted with two bad choices: either enroll in a privately-operated charter school that is segregated, deunionized, and riddled with other serious problems highlighted daily by many newspapers, or enroll in a public school that the neoliberal state that created privately-operated charter schools has spent years deliberately starving, demonizing, over-testing, punishing, and privatizing.

The test-starve-punish-privatize agenda of the rich has made things worse for education, society, the economy, and the national interest. It is a direct attack on the dignity and personality of society and its members.

As segregated and deunionized charter schools with high teacher turnover rates multiply, choices will diminish for parents, teachers, and students. Conditions will also worsen for charter schools as they too become victims of the  competition and “free market” that they blindly and recklessly promote.

Now is the time to speak out more broadly and vigorously against the privatization of education. Education cannot be treated as a commodity, choice, or consumer good. It cannot be left in the hands of privatizers, neoliberals, and billionaires. Many harmful ideas, policies, and arrangements are being vigorously promoted by the rich and their political and media representatives. Throughout society things are becoming worse, more divisive, and more intolerable for people.

The privatization, corporatization, and profiteering in our nation’s schools is unacceptable. Speaking out and resisting the neoliberal antisocial offensive is key to the well-being of all. No one can afford to be passive or silent. The right to education cannot be affirmed without confronting this destructive agenda directly. Through collective struggle victories can be secured. Together we can defeat the privatization agenda of the rich and forge a bright future for all.

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