More Than 1,650 Charter Schools Closed in Seven Years

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1,654 charter schools closed between 2010-2011 and 2016-2017.  That is an average of 236 charter school closures per year, which is a big bite out of the total number of charter schools in a short period of time. Today there exist roughly 7,300 charter schools, which is less than 7% of all schools in the U.S. Given the endless problems with transparency and open accurate reporting in the charter school sector it is not unreasonable to assume that the number of charter schools that have closed in this time period is actually larger than what the U.S. Department of Education reports.

Privately-operated charter schools are notorious for over-promising and under-delivering on many commitments and assurances. The chasm between charter school rhetoric and charter schools reality has always been large. The massive onslaught of disinformation about privately-operated charter schools has created a situation where facts like the closure of thousands of charter schools over the years have been drowned out by never-ending happy news about charter schools. The pressure to not engage in a conscious act of finding out what is really transpiring in the unstable charter school sector has left many at a disadvantage that harms everyone. Only systematic research and analysis can arm a person to see and appreciate this persistent gap between charter school words and charter school deeds.

For decades the public has been told by charter school promoters and their allies that public schools are lousy and incapable of “saving” students, particularly minority students. The public has been repeatedly told that charter schools are a silver bullet that will deliver a bigger bang for the buck and be more accountable than public schools.

Instead, corruption, fraud, arrests, poor performance, school closures, shady real estate deals, scandalous headlines, and more have increased alongside the surge in charter schools. More segregated charter schools run by unelected individuals has meant more problems for everyone, including charter schools themselves.

To be sure, charter schools have failed thousands of minority families, distorted the economy, undermined nation-building, and increased many inequalities. No amount of hullabaloo or hype can conceal these realities.

Privately-operated charter schools have not reduced poverty, inequality, or structural racism. They have not closed the “achievement gap” or stopped the school-to-prison pipeline. They have siphoned money from public schools and intensified segregation, controversy, de-unionization, secrecy, and competition. Cyber charter schools in particular have taken fraud and scandal to levels not seen in even the most irresponsible large corporations.

If high scores on punitive, time-consuming, expensive, educationally unsound high-stakes standardized tests produced by big for-profit corporations is the measure of a “good education,” then thousands of charters schools have failed to provide a “good education.” More than 3,000 privately-operated charter schools have closed since 1992.

No doubt, many more charter schools will fail and close in the coming years, leaving even more minority families abandoned and angry. It does not matter much if the reason for closure is financial malfeasance, mismanagement, or poor academic performance, the result is still the same: the public deprived of billions of dollars and thousands of minority families betrayed and left out in the cold. The same worn-out “failure narrative” used by neoliberals and privatizers to justify a private takeover of America’s public schools applies to charter schools themselves.

Neoliberal school reform has proven time and again to be a major block to progress in education and, by extension, society, the economy, and the nation.

Charter schools must be prohibited from accessing any public school funds, resources, and buildings. These belong to the 100,000 public schools that serve the nation, economy, society, and public interest. This precious wealth produced by workers must not find its way into the hands of the non-profit and for-profit corporations that run charter schools.

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