More than 765 Charter Schools Closed in Three Years

Currently, about 3.2 million students are enrolled in roughly 7,000 privately-operated charter schools across the country. This represents less than 7% of all students and 7% of all schools in the country.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 765 charter schools closed between 2014-15 and 2016-2017,1 leaving thousands of families stressed, abandoned, dislocated, and angry. This figure represents more than one out of ten charter schools in the country by today’s numbers. The real closure figure is likely higher. To be sure, more than 3,000 charter schools have closed in under three decades.

The top three reasons privately-operated charter schools close are financial malfeasance, poor academic performance, and low enrollment.

With regard to academic performance, for example, the Washington Post (November 1, 2019) reminds us that:

When you take all charters and all public schools into consideration, students at charters do worse than those at public schools. According to the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, public school students in fourth, eighth and 12th grades outperform charter school students in math, reading and science.

It is also worth recalling that the vast majority of high-performing nations do not have charter schools.

Today, nearly 60% of charter schools are in urban settings where schools tend to be under-funded, over-tested, constantly-shamed, and attended mostly by poor and low-income minority students. Charter school advocates prefer to target urban schools because this is where they can make the most profit given economies of scale and other factors.

While “choice” has worked out well for major owners of capital, what good is “choice” when it cannot deliver stable, reliable, high-quality education free of corruption, segregation, and overpaid administrators? How does funneling billions of dollars annually from public schools to unstable privately-operated charter schools that frequently perform poorly help the economy, education, or society? Do pay-the-rich schemes like charter schools advance the national interest?

There is no justification for the existence of privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools. They do not provide a net public benefit. Endless news reports show that charter schools are always mired in scandal and controversy. It is time to stop bashing public education, reject the hype surrounding charter schools, fully fund all public schools, and vest real decision-making power in the hands of the public. The rich must be deprived of their ability to privatize public education with impunity. The content, purpose, and direction of education must not be in the hands of privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school reformers.

  1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey,” 1995-96 through 2016-17. (This table was prepared April 2019.). []
Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.