No Justification For The Existence of Any Kind of Charter School

Charter school promoters are skilled at promoting disinformation about charter schools and public schools; they have decades of experience.

One of the most worn-out forms of disinformation deployed repeatedly by charter school promoters is to pressure people into thinking that the problem is not that privately-operated charter schools run by unelected individuals and funded by the public exist, but that some charter schools are “high-quality” while others are “low quality,” and that the real issue is purging “low-quality” privately-operated charter schools while increasing the number of “high-quality” privately-operated charter schools.

In other words, not only is the public supposed to automatically accept the legitimacy of the existence of charter schools, everyone is also supposed to spontaneously and permanently forget that all charter schools are privatized contract-based performance arrangements that have no valid claim to public wealth. This is all the more significant given that, according to the Network for Public Education, for years billions of public dollars have been funneled to privately-operated charter schools that never even opened0.1

This is accompanied by intense pressure to also ignore the fact that charter schools are actually deregulated, segregated, union-free, unaccountable, crisis-prone, pay-the-rich neoliberal schemes constantly mired in controversy. Charter schools cannot seem to escape scandal.

We are also pressured to forget that thousands of privately-operated charter schools perform poorly and hundreds close ever year, leaving many families feeling abandoned, dislocated, and angry. Never mind a deluge of news articles regularly exposing corruption in the charter school sector, as well as more studies showing the persistence of high student and employee turnover rates in charter schools.

Charter school advocates desperately want people to avoid investigation and just impulsively believe that charter schools are generally awesome, that charter schools are “here to stay,” that nothing should be done to rid society of them, and that the real issue is eradicating “low-quality” charter schools and ensuring that we have only “high-quality” charter schools.

Charter school hype has always been relentless and deafening. But with steadily growing resistance to charter schools, charter school promoters are naturally becoming more concerned about the rising visibility of the long-standing chasm between the hype and reality of charter schools.

To be sure, charter school problems are being exposed with greater depth and frequency, and the optics, as they say, don’t look good. Charter school disinformation is wearing thin. Fewer people are falling victim to it. Diversionary slogans like “My Kid, My Choice” are not enough to convince people that treating education as a commodity and parents and students as consumers is the way forward. It is going to take more than a few self-serving mantras to persuade people to abandon the role and purpose of public education in a modern society based on mass industrial production.

Whether charter schools exist or not, the key issue is that public funds, public wealth, public property, and public authority must not be transferred to private hands. The purpose of the public sphere and the purpose of the private sector are very different. In most cases, they are contradictory and irreconcilable. Most dictionaries actually clarify that “public” and “private” are antonyms, which means that it is a mistake to confound these categories in any way. This is why, for example, so-called “Public-Private-Partnerships” (PPPs) are nothing more than parasitic capital-centered arrangements, rather than laudable examples of the public and private sectors “working together” in “innovative” ways to “serve all” in a “win-win” situation. The public always loses under PPPs.

Whether we are talking about cyber charter schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools, for-profit or non-profit charter schools, “good” charter schools or “bad” charter schools, “high-performing” versus “low-performing” charter schools, independent charter schools or charter schools run directly by big business,2 the fact remains that the different forms and types of charter schools cannot conceal their core essence as privatized arrangements that annually funnel billions of public dollars to narrow private interests.

Charter schools continue to damage education, society, the economy, and the national interest.

Education is a right, not a privilege, commodity, opportunity, or choice. Government must take up its social responsibility to guarantee a world-class, integrated, locally-controlled, fully-funded public school system available to all for free in every neighborhood. Rights cannot be forfeited, exchanged, or bargained away. Nor are they based on competition, consumerism, and individualism.

  1. Numerous detailed reports on charter school fraud, waste, and mismanagement can be found at the Network for Public Education. []
  2. These are usually known as CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) and EMOs (Education Management Organizations). []
Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.