National Poll Finds Bipartisan Suport for Serious Regulation of Charter Schools

Yves here. While this poll on charter schools reveals how widespread dissatisfaction with them is, it misses the point. “Disruptive” businesses break laws and social norms as a fundamental part of their business model because it’s more profitable not to be obligated to behave.

By Steven Rosenfeld, who covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008). Originally published at Alternet

According to a new, nationwide poll, Americans overwhelmingly want public charter schools to be more accountable, have less selective admissions policies, employ better-trained teachers, and refrain from harming traditional local schools by siphoning away precious taxpayer funds. Overall, the poll shows wide support for regulating many aspects of the school privatization movement.

“Americans embrace proposals to reform the way charter schools are authorized and managed,” said a report by GBA Strategies, which conducted the poll of 1,000 registered voters in January for two groups that have documented fiscal malfeasance by charter operators, In The Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy. “The public overwhelmingly supports initiatives to strengthen charter school accountability and transparency, improve teacher training and qualifications, prevent fraud, serve high-need students and ensure that neighborhood public schools are not adversely affected.”

In addition to the report’s findings, in which bipartisan majorities—including charter school supporters—called for greater transparency, oversight and a shift in academic priorities, the poll also reaffirmed the need for greater experimentation in traditional public schools, which was the initial concept for charter schools, but has rarely been borne out in today’s charter industry, which is dominated by privately run corporate education franchises.

“Voters particularly like the concept of community schools that would integrate a dynamic curriculum with after-school and summer enrichment programs,” the report said. “Other ideas for innovating public school options, such as specialty curricula, also generate significant support.”

The report began by noting that two-thirds of voters give traditional public schools and public school teachers high ratings, with almost twice as many voters saying the schools in their neighborhoods are getting better, rather than worse. Seventy-two percent had favorable views of public school teachers, compared to 9 percent with unfavorable views.

The poll also found majorities disliked the overemphasis on standardized testing—a key feature of many charter school curricula—and cuts to arts, music and sports programs in traditional public schools. The issue of school choice—another tenet of the privatized charter school movement—“ranks dead last on their list of concerns,” the report said.

Another feature of charter schools, the emphasis on computer-centered skills, ranked below five other concerns that were “most important for K-12 schools.” Those were, in descending order: having highly qualified teachers; parental involvement; smaller teacher-student ratios; more focus on learning than standardized testing; and good communication between teachers and parents.

The respondents overwhelming favored greater oversight of charter schools and want these privately run schools to be as transparent and accountable as traditional schools. Ninety-two percent backed open board meetings for the “companies and organizations that manage charter schools.” Ninety percent want charters to disclose “how they spend taxpayer money, including their annual budgets and contracts.” Eighty-eight percent backed regular audits to “detect fraud, waste or abuse of public funds.”

Eighty percent backed the notion that charters should return taxpayer money if students return to traditional public schools. Another 67 percent want to “prohibit charter board members and their immediate families from financially benefitting from their schools.”

Notably, when it comes to teacher training, 89 percent of the public overwhelmingly wanted “all teachers who work in taxpayer funded schools… to meet the same training and qualification requirements.” The charter industry often hires the least-experienced teachers as a cost-saving measure.

Eight-two percent also supported the “community schools concept”—schools that “serve as community hubs, providing health and social services, youth and community development, parental education, as well as academics for students.” These “community schools integrate high-quality dynamic curriculum with after-school and summer enrichment programs, ensuring that every student and their family gets the opportunity to succeed no matter what zip code they live in.”

The takeaway? There is overwhelming national support for reining in the least accountable and most harmful aspects of charter schools. The poll and its findings provides a solid basis to call on state legislatures to “hold these schools accountable to parents, communities and taxpayers.”

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  1. ambrit

    This is germane to Mississippi. The local politicos are making noises about introducing Charter Schools to this benighted State. The ‘usual suspects’ are all there, with their hands out.
    While all this is going on in Jackson, the State capitol, the Hattiesburg City School System has encountered a ‘mysterious’ hole in their finances. The old school chief, and his accountant promptly resigned. The State has been called in to do an audit.
    The first things to go, “..we must balance this budget..” are the elective humanities. Now all salaries have been cut back, and lower level employees, including teachers, let go.
    I fully expect the “Charter School Model” to be promoted as a ‘fix’ for what ails you. Corruption never sleeps.

    1. Oak

      This is all about globalization, and making sure that K12 education is not classified as a public service under the two line GATS Article I:3 (b) and c definition (which is reused in TiSA and TPP, and probably also TTIP)
      The following is what I am talking about.


      Article I:3 of the agreement states:

      “For the purposes of this Agreement…

      (b) ‘services’ includes any service in any sector except services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority;

      (c) ‘a service supplied in the exercise of governmental authority’ means any service which is supplied neither on a commercial basis, nor in competition with one or more service suppliers.”

      (emphases added)

      It sure will help having those millions of education, nursing, IT jobs “on the table” to increase our leverage in trade negotiations.

      It can be done by simply making sure there is at least one for-profit competitor for the public schools in every state. .

      In exchange for the (Mode Four -“movement of natural persons” ) access to to US market by foreign staffing and educational services firms, US muti-national firms will gain more leverage to get reciprocal rights under Mode Three, they would gain entry under the most favorable terms possible to open branches and factories – via national treatment and most favored nation status – in the still-growing developing nations.

      Which are expected to continue growing for a few more years even as automation causes a stagnation in the developed countries.

      Also, a strong endorsement for the Clinton era “progressive liberalisation” programme and its “extended” pending trade deals – needed to legitimate it- (and otherformer public services) by Americans will make the extremely controversial global commoditization and privatization of higher education more likely to be successful. The developing world is gearing up to help us solve our education and nursing and IT crises.


      Its the same issue..

  2. jnleareth

    So… make them resemble public schools. At least what public schools are supposed to be if they had enough funding.

    1. ambrit

      What I fear is that the opposite will happen. As the ‘Public’ sector approaches the standards of the ‘Private’ sector, criminality, as expressed by the above comment regarding the Hattiesburg School District, will become the accepted norm. Public schools are dedicated first to the welfare of the students, all of them. Private schools are dedicated first to the health and welfare of the school itself. Second comes the students, who do not bear any significant resemblance to the overall population.
      A well educated Populace is one of the legs upon which Democracy stands.

  3. RUKidding

    I duly note that private and/or charter schools are becoming much more the norm these days, at least around where I live. I’m always a bit surprised at who is sending their kids and paying the high prices bc these are often people who don’t make a lot of money. I’m not all that convinced that the public schools are so much worse, frankly. I think it’s a lot of hype and sometimes also racism in the mix.

    I have had friends who’ve had rude awakenings when the private school they thought was so great (and maybe it was educationally good) is purchased by someone clearly wanting to get rich quick by raising the rates to the skies all while promising rainbows and more.

    I guess some people are starting to awaken to the hype and to the fact that, yes often charter/private schools do better but it’s because they can be very strict about what students they’ll take in. Anyone with a special needs kid knows fully well that the only place they can go is the public school system. Perish the thought that precious snowflake should have to encounter someone with special needs (and some do feel that way, believe me).

  4. Jim Young

    Watch Michael Moore’s movie, “Where to Invade Next” for some real eye openers on how far backwards our schools are going compared to the rest of the world.

    Then go to as many other sites as you want to find out how they can do so much more with so much less. I looked for a business perspective so I started with

    My interest was sparked by a former high school exchange student from Germany, whom I believe now works in, or is retired from, the Finnish school system

  5. Benedict@Large

    Charter schools are about getting the cash flow for school funding to first pass through investors’ hands so they can take their clip from it. This is what happens when there aren’t any more suitable investment opportunities available (due to lack of demand). These cash flows are turned into bond-like investments (low risk, steady cash flow), which are then eaten up by Wall Street investors hungry for safe investments paying some sort of credible interest rates.

    Note: This strategy of attacking tax-backed cash flows undergrids all privatization efforts.

  6. Donald Cohen


    We completely agree with your intro. The business model is the keystone – they are focused on not just disrupting but destroying public ed system by creating a competing privatized system.

  7. Christopher Kirk

    Let me preface my remarks by saying that I generally support Ms. Simon’s work and agree with her on financial corruption in the main.

    I work as a teacher at a charter high school in Texas. While I am not opposed to some of these oversight measures in principle, I disagree with the implied premise that public schools represent some kind of standard of accountability that charters necessarily fall short of. Neither charter nor public schools are all one thing or the other; it depends on which school you’re talking about. I’ve had my own children at both types of school, and it’s a mixed bag no matter where you go. At the school I teach, we do not emphasize standardized testing or over-hyped technological pedagogy, though many of the local public schools do, and that with “professional” educators’ blessing. Personally I have no idea how the parent corporation at my school makes a profit, but I know that the quality of our instruction is not diminished thereby. To go by the tone of this post, one would think that all of our public schools are paragons of enlightenment that only nasty, nasty charter school profiteers are trying to ruin. If that had been the case, there would have been no market for these schools and thus no profits to skim. It’s parents that made these decisions, after all.

    I do have an issue with the notion that public school teachers are necessarily more “qualified” or competent than those who do not have an M.Ed. I have two master’s degrees in my subjects of instruction and have taught at the college level. I like to think I’m at least as good a teacher as someone whose maximum level of training in that subject was an undergraduate major (if that). However, without the M.Ed. I would not be allowed to teach at a public high school, at least not without going back to graduate school. Is it a tragedy that I’m allowed to teach where I do, and if so, why?

    Finally, the idea that charter schools should “return the money” if a student returns to a public school is confusing. Should public schools “return the money” if a student is removed and placed in a charter or a private school? And what about home-schooled students, whose parents pay taxes for public schools that they do not use? Should they be reimbursed?

    Accountability for charter schools is all to the good, as it would be for the public schools that, nevertheless, have proven resistant to the same.

    1. ilporcupine

      A few points, if I may. Most places I have been, public schools are accountable, and subject to regulation by local elected bodies.

      I can agree about creeping credentialism, and not just in education.

      As far as taxation, public education is a public good, paid by taxation and available to all. Even if they cannot afford it. Myself, I have been paying for it for 40 years or so, and have NO children, am I due a refund of all those taxes, now? To assume so would be folly.

    2. fs

      My how the time goes by and the young don’t recognize how much things have deteriorated. The local TX school, which was always subpar to the N E. systems, has been forced to spend their tax money and spend their school instruction days teaching to the test to enrich the same carpet baggers as the charter people. It’s all organic and related to the highest echelon and its financier corruption.
      Saying that, teaching is either a profession or a casual, at-will job. It doesn’t translate to other work.

  8. ilporcupine

    A little further:
    Public education should be paid for by the public, and subject to public scrutiny.
    Private education is available only to those who can afford it.

    So many private and/or charter schools seem to be conceived and implemented solely to keep someones children away from “those black gangstas” or “damn immigrants” at public schools.

    Everyone, please stop pretending that private concerns can do every job, (Any?) better than the public function it replaces. It has not worked for water, electric, sewers, trash pickup and all such services in our local govenrnment, They are all exponentially more expensive, and WAY inferior now.

  9. Maci

    Charter schools are part of the long line of businesses redirecting tax flows to private profits. Pre k push appears to be the next effort at doing this. I’d be curious to know who the players are in that space.

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