Charter Schools Are Pushing Public Education to the Breaking Point

By Jeff Bryant, a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm. Produced by , a project of the Independent Media Institute

When striking Los Angeles teachers won their demand to call for a halt to charter school expansions in California, they set off a domino effect, and now teachers in other large urban districts are making the same demand.

Unchecked charter school growth is also bleeding into 2020 election campaigns. Recently, New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait berated Democratic Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren for having opposed a ballot initiative in her home state in 2016 that would have raised a cap on the number of charter schools. “There may be no state in America that can more clearly showcase the clear success of charter schools than [Massachusetts],” declared Chait.

But while Chait and other charter school fans claim Massachusetts as a charter school model, the deeper reality is that charters are driving Boston’s public education system to the financial brink.

As the Boston Globe recently reported, the city is experiencing an economic boom, but its schools resemble “an economically depressed industrial center.” The state’s unfair funding formula is part of the problem, but an ever-expanding charter school industry also imposes a huge financial drain.

Charter School Money Suck

“Two decades ago, state educational aid covered almost a third of Boston’s school expenses,” writes Globe reporter James Vaznis. Today, “city officials anticipate that in just a few years every penny from the state will instead go toward charter-school costs of Boston students. Boston is slated to receive $220 million in state education aid; about $167 million will cover charter-school tuition for 10,000 students, leaving a little more than $50 million for the 55,000 students in the city school system.”

As charter schools suck students and their per-pupil funding from the public system, the impact on Boston’s schools are glaring: “Decades-old buildings plagued by leaks. Drinking fountains shut because of lead pipe contamination. Persistent shortages of guidance counselors, nurses, psychologists, textbooks—even soap in the bathrooms. All the while, many Boston schools are under state pressure to increase their standardized test scores and graduation rates.”

As funds for Boston schools dwindle due to the drain from charter schools, the district’s alternatives are painful any way you look at it.

Closing schools is not a good alternative. First, it would have minimal impact on savings to the district. Also, school closures can significantly set back the academic achievement of students, particularly those students who transfer to new schools. The negative effects are most apt to be experienced in low-income communities and communities of color.

Attempts to raise local taxes for schools would likely be attacked by no-tax stalwarts and the business community as money-wastes for a “failing” school system.

So if Boston’s public schools are going broke because of charter schools, what does that say about Massachusetts as a model for charters?

‘A Matter of Priorities’

“Massachusetts’ funding approach for charter schools is not a model for other states to emulate,” writes University of Connecticut professor Preston Green in an email. Green is the author of numerous critical studies of charter school financials, including one in which he argues that financial abuse and fraud rife in the charter industry resembles the business practices of Enron, the mammoth energy corporation that collapsed under a weight of debt and scandal.

The first mistake Massachusetts makes, says Green, is to underfund the existing public school system. While Massachusetts is one of the biggest spenders on schools nationwide, it isn’t particularly fair about how it doles the money out. As in many states, Massachusetts tends to give less money to its highest poverty schools than it does to its lowest poverty schools. With Boston having the highest percentage of students living in poverty in the state, the uneven funding is especially crippling to that city’s schools. But the unfairness is worsened by the increasing presence of charters, as state money is redirected to those schools instead.

“This is a matter of priorities,” says Green. “States should first provide sufficient funding to traditional public schools in urban areas. Once states have systems of traditional public schools that meet the educational needs of these students, then they can assess how much funding and resources to devote to charter schools.”

‘It’s Just Inefficient’

But blaming the state alone misses some crucial truths of charter school financials.

“It’s really not a matter of whether it’s ‘state’ money or ‘locally raised’ money that’s being transferred,” writes Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker in an email. “It’s about the fact that kids are shifting to charters, and money for district schools is declining at a pace whereby the district cannot possibly immediately, efficiently adjust its budget and use of space.”

Indeed, the ebb and flow of charter schools make it near impossible for school districts to precisely predict enrollment, staffing, transportation, and facilities needs. And because public schools must, by law, accommodate all students, public school administrators are in the awkward position of having to anticipate the greatest need without knowing for sure the students will show up. And should students who transferred to charters at the beginning of the year come back mid-year, the per-pupil funding doesn’t come back with them.

Baker also finds fault in the inefficient way charter schools are configured with their own separate governing boards, separate administrative and teaching staffs, separate facilities, and separate transportation (if they happen to offer it).

“It’s just inefficient,” Baker contends. “Running two systems in a common space is just less efficient and more expensive than running one.”

Baker warns these inefficiencies are not easily fixed and don’t right themselves as public school districts acclimate to the presence of charters. “The ongoing inefficiency of charters is baked into having uncontrollable mobility between two independent systems operating in a common space,” he says.

This is not to say Massachusetts might be doing a better job of managing the charter industry than any other state. Charters in Massachusetts are more regulated than they are in most other states, and their numbers are capped—the very thing Chait rails at. But “an important point,” according to Baker, is that the inherent inefficiencies of charters “arise even in a state that has reasonably regulated the expansion of charter schooling.”

What about in states where they haven’t?

‘Part of a Growing Trend’

“Boston’s experience with charter schools is part of a growing trend,” says Green. “Researchers have documented the financial strain charter schools have placed on urban schools in California, Michigan, and Chicago. If charter schools are allowed to expand in urban districts without consideration of their impact on their public schools, we will see more instances of urban school systems pressed to the breaking point.”

The financial stress caused by charter schools is expanding beyond big city schools.

Recently, in a rural county in eastern North Carolina, the local public school district had to close two elementary schools due to the growth of charter schools in the district and surrounding counties. While the number of students in the district has remained “fairly stable,” reports the local newspaper, enrollment has dropped by almost 13 percent while attendance at charters has “grown almost six-fold.”

Since state lawmakers lifted a cap on the number of charters allowed in the state, the number of students attending charters has grown by more than 200 percent, and the number of charters has nearly doubled, notes NC Policy Watch, a progressive news outlet funded by the North Carolina Justice Center. When so many students leave the public system, there are fewer dollars to educate those who remain, the article explains, “especially those students with profound disabilities and other special needs.”

A recent survey of school district administrators in Pennsylvania found that local public education systems across the state are experiencing greater financial stress. School officials point to three major causes of the stress: employee pensions, the rising costs of special education services, and charter schools.

What If Public Schools Were No Longer There?

The costs imposed by charter schools are not only financially burdensome to local public schools; they’re also potentially calamitous to schoolchildren and families.

When charters are closed by the state, as often happens, or when charter operators decide to close on their own, which they have the flexibility to do, the students and their families at least have a public system they can fall back on. This is not something to take for granted.

In 2012, the nation’s largest-ever closure of brick-and-mortar charters occurred in St. Louis, when Missouri state officials suddenly closed a chain of six charter schools managed by Imagine, a nationwide charter management company, for persistently low academic performance and financial improprieties. The district quickly had to absorb more than 3,800 returning students from the charters and reopen three closed schools, which cost millions to upgrade nd outfit with new equipment.

What would have happened to those families if the public school system were no longer there?

In Baker’s recent study, “Exploring the Consequences of Charter School Expansion in U.S. Cities,” he writesthat school systems experiencing large expansions of charter schools “have faced substantial annual deficits.”

So far, many of these districts have adapted by lowering overhead and closing and consolidating schools. But there are far more severe financial thresholds school districts may eventually be forced to cross.

Because of charter expansions, “public districts are being left with legacy debts associated with capital plants and employee retirement systems,” Baker finds, “while also accumulating higher risk and more costly debt in the form of charter school revenue bonds.”

Baker urges charter authorizers to collaborate with public school districts before deciding where and when to open new charters, and he calls on policymakers to weigh the potentially negative impacts charter expansions have on introducing inequities and financial instabilities into the system.

To learn more about school privatization, check out Who Controls Our Schools? The Privatization of American Public Education, a free ebook published by the Independent Media Institute.

Click here to read a selectionof Who Controls Our Schools? published on AlterNet, or here to access the complete text.

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  1. Pavel

    So it seems —quelle surprise!— that there is widespread incompetence and grift in the for-profit, state-funded charter operations:

    In 2012, the nation’s largest-ever closure of brick-and-mortar charters occurred in St. Louis, when Missouri state officials suddenly closed a chain of six charter schools managed by Imagine, a nationwide charter management company, for persistently low academic performance and financial improprieties. The district quickly had to absorb more than 3,800 returning students from the charters and reopen three closed schools, which cost millions to upgrade nd outfit with new equipment.

    Of course there are huge levels of incompetence and waste in the public school sector, plus bogus test score results and other scandals. One of the biggest problems has to be the administrative bloat, which soaks up so much money.

    Why do we get such poor results whilst spending day $15,000 per student per year? How much did they spend a century ago with equal or better results? (Cf those high school exams from ages ago that would stump college students today.)

    I read once someone asking: “The Finnish school system has the greatest results in the world, so why are we always trying to invent something new?” Of course there they don’t have the same social problems and issues of diversity and language.

    For better or worse, the family is probably the most important influence on a child’s education, regardless of socioeconomic status. I remember a Scientific American article from probably 25 years ago studying communities in LA. Vietnamese kids from post-Vietnam war immigrants did well in school simply because the parents stressed homework and siblings helped each other. This may be simplistic but it makes more intuitive sense to me than pissing away 50% of the budget on paperpushers.

    [Not to be that guy, Yvette, but there is a missing “t” in the title!]

    1. Robert Valiant

      Instructional costs in U.S. public schools – teacher salaries+benefits – make up somewhere around 60% to 70% of all public education spending, or something well over one half of one trillion dollars annually. A smart gal or fellow might imagine reducing the cost of instruction by 10% and capturing that for the capitalists, say through charter schools that pay less, or computer aided instruction that reduces the number of teachers, etc.

      All other schooling costs – administration, facilities, etc. each make up a small fraction of the remaining 30% to 40% of spending. There are too many administrators, and they areover paid, but they don’t present the monetary opportunity that teachers do, and they are generally quite useful in advancing the interests of those who would like to capture teacher dollars. Capturing dollars has always been what “education reform” is mostly about.

      As for “why we get such poor results” in the U.S., if one controls for SES (socio-economic status), we get about the same results as every other Western system in the world. This suggests to me that inputs are very significant, and that we may need to change how our society works before we can make great egalitarian strides in educational achievement.

      I am a former public school teacher, administrator and Oregon state education bureaucrat.

      1. anon y'mouse

        yep, SES is the independent variable in this equation. but nobody wants to simply make sure that People have economic security. they would rather tweak the mix of all of the dependent variables (since the SES also somewhat controls school funding in the area).

        i am surprised you didn’t also attack the culture and non-productiveness (intellectually speaking) of “testing” itself. that is a whole area that needs doing away with. big waste of teaching time, and money. but a private company gets paid every time, right (i am not impressed by “not for profit” status. they are run largely the same way)? at least, that is what i was led to believe. add in all of the other layers for pre-assembled “educational materials” to go along with the constant book sales by the propagandists running that industry, and you get where? more tweaking, but still graft that no one ever complains about like they do when you give them a raw stat like “60-70% of pub. ed. spending is on teachers”. that may be true, but it is cannon fodder for the enemies of actual education.

        even the “test” one takes to get out of going to school is administered by this company. i know. i took it, so many moons ago. so, is the government or the company “guaranteeing” that i meet the requirement of a HS grad? well, both. in concert with each other. the company administers, and the government certifies. i am imagining all levels of the system to be similar, from the unhealthy cafeteria factory franken food to the janitorial staff in some places. charter schools are simply the (hopefully) final step in this whole scam.

        1. Robert Valiant

          Testing… I’m happy to attack that! ;)

          When I said that money was mostly the motivator for education reform, I should have said it is the proximate motivator.

          Public education is a function of the state, and it exists to serve state interests. Our state is interested in a competitive and credulous citizenry. Constantly assigning children numerical scores helps them to understand where they fit, that listening uncritically to experts (teachers, officials, technocrats, politicians, celebrities, medical practitioners, etc.) is how they find their scores, and that working hard for the next score is a crucial task of life. There are other state interests, including a citizenry who is never content.

          It is simply true that the largest chunk of K-12 education money is spent on teachers, and well it should be; teachers are the only employees of our education system engaged in the actual “business” of education, namely instructing children. I often get flak when pointing out the how much money goes into instruction, but I do it to show why education reform has always largely been about teacher de-professionalization.

          1. anon y'mouse

            ahh, a fellow Freire reader (i am a novice. hopefully, you are an expert).

            glad to meet you.

            power relations of “me, expert” and “you, student” tie into the master-slave, employer-employee and nearly all of the other disparities in power and authority as well (me, legistlator. you, voter? hmm). teachers should be highly paid professionals with respect and (some) authority. but they should also be co-learners. the best teachers are both. i can count the ones i have had on less than one hand.

            btw, i know someone who is right now and has been for the last 10 years employed in the certification process for the administrator layer that basically keeps teachers hopping to the tune of the capitalist Ownership class. she teaches them the research and writing skills that justify their abuses. and she, a former public schoolteacher herself, that recognizes that almost none of her students is fit to head a classroom. some (most?) have some brief period treading the boards under their belt for the legitimacy it lends their further career, and nothing more (they actually run AWAY from teaching) yet they attempt to head teachers and “manage” them and all that they do! ahwell, she makes decent money doing it.

      2. Rosario

        Thank you for that comment.

        My mom (public school teacher) has found that the single best marker for how well a school performs by standard metrics is the number of students on free or reduced lunch.

        More students on free or reduced lunch, poorer performance. Though it isn’t the only metric for grading school performance that should be used it is absolutely the most universal and consistent, and its implications are well beyond anything the public education system can address on its own.

    2. Pavel

      LOL Yves, I mentioned a typo in the title and managed to misspell your name!!! My apologies. It was the damn iPad autocorrect coupled with early morning insomnia.

    3. NoPolitician

      One thing to remember is that a century ago, we had a high-quality workforce available at below-market wages, namely women, who had limited career opportunities. The same level of talent would be considerably higher than we pay today, as women are now doctors, scientists, CEOs, lawyers, etc.

      I don’t mean to say this to denigrate teachers one bit – it is just the reality of the situation that we have a different pool of talent today, and the teacher salaries are fighting with opportunities that pay quite a bit more.

  2. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    It won’t surprise you and the NC community that the scandal of charter school is mirrored across the pond, as per

    In my home county, Buckinghamshire, there is selection between primary / junior high and secondary / high school. The “grammar” schools that receive the children who passed the “11 / 12 plus” exam are all “academies”, the UK version of charter schools.

    The one in my home town that admits boys only has begun to attract boys from China for a year. It has no boarding facilities, but houses the boys with well to do parents of pupils. The host families are selected in a way to impress and attract Chinese parents. In essence, the school has becoming a boarding school by stealth.

    As the school made so much money from its inaugural year, it has expanded the programme in terms of pupil numbers and to span two academic years.

    In the meantime, the number of local pupils admitted has been scaled back to allow Chinese fee paying pupils.

    There have been complaints from some, but not all parents, that their charges barely spoke English, not what they had been led to believe, and how disruptive having the visitors has been in the classroom, not for bad behaviour, just the cultural and linguistic differences.

    The school does not care and presses on. It has good connections with the Tories who run Buckinghamshire, a Tory one party state since time immemorial and perhaps the most corrupt county in the British Isles. Until the school broke up for the summer holidays last year, it was raided every month for drug dealing and drug taking.

      1. Rosario

        Yep, the black (mis)leadership (particularly entrepreneur types like Sanders) are the most dangerous pushers for this kind of nonsense. They have the cultural capital and identity bona fides to get away with it without much (or any) critique. Ironically, they are horribly exploitative of the black youth they claim to want to “uplift”. Using them for the photo ops, uniforms on standing against the school mural backdrop. Never mind the stories of students pissing themselves because they can’t get their hall pass, getting kicked out at far worse rates than any public school, poorly qualified teachers, cooking their academic books, etc. All not cited, I know, no time and an emotional subject for me, but a quick search you’ll find these kind of conditions and worse at charters. Even in their best cases they are philosophically problematic. As in, can all children actually receive a quality charter school education? What body ensures this? On-and-on…

        The posturing and hypocrisy from charter pushers is disgusting.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Why is it that China seems to have such a hard time educating its own students lately?

      Perhaps the Chinese can renovate those unused, overbuilt buildings that I hear are sitting empty all over China and turn them into schools.

  3. Another Scott

    I agree with the points made about charter schools taking money from public ones, but I really wish that Boston wasn’t used the the example in Massachusetts, it’s one of the wealthiest cities in the state, and funding the schools, despite the poorer status of students than the population at large, isn’t as big a problem as it is in poorer places, whether cities like Lawrence or small towns in the western part of the state. The city itself has experienced significant increases in wealth and new development, which increase the tax base, poorer places haven’t experienced it. The decline in state contribution as a percent of the budget is the result of the increased wealth of the city.

    Massachusetts has a very complex school funding formula. The major program is called Chapter 70, which is supposed to fill in the gap between what the tax base can provide and the projected cost per student, which is higher in districts with poorer students (like Lynn or Boston) than richer ones. In addition to that, mentioned in the Globe article, the state sets a minimum percentage that is spent by the state, this means that as cities increase their spending, the state contribution goes up. The end result of this is wealthy suburbs like Newton get additional aid at the expense of working class ones like Saugus, which has traditionally had a higher residential tax rate than Boston. Schools in rural areas have been closing because of the decline in population and even in some middle class suburbs, where charters are likely a contributing factor, there are fewer schools than there were 20 years ago.

    1. JohnnyGL

      I think there’s a case to be made that says:

      “If one of the richest cities in a state with one the best public education systems of almost any state in the country, and the tightest, best regulations on Charter Schools can’t make this work….then the whole dang thing is a giant, failed project and should be phased out with the least disruption possible”

      No more listening to moronic billionaires with bad ideas.

  4. Web Line

    In 2011, a purely partisan 5-4 Supreme Court opinion determined that money may flow around the Bill of Rights, exempt from the First Amendment Establishment of religion clause, to fund religious schools, creating a form of loophole.

    They said that people can’t sue for violations of the Establishment Clause for tax credits, basically because the government never touches the money. If the government pays for religious schools, there may be a case. But if the government credits the money to taxes, there cannot be a case.

    The 5-4 case was written by Anthony Kennedy, with a dissent by Elena Kagan. Here from her dissent:

    For almost half a century, litigants like the Plaintiffs have obtained judicial review of claims that the govern-ment has used its taxing and spending power in violation of the Establishment Clause…

    Today, the Court breaks from this precedent by refusing to hear taxpayers’ claims that the government has unconstitutionally subsidized religion through its tax system. These litigants lack standing, the majority holds, because the funding of religion they challenge comes from a tax credit, rather than an appropriation. A tax credit, the Court asserts, does not injure objecting taxpayers, because it “does not extract and spend [their] funds in service of an establishment.”

    This novel distinction in standing law between appropriations and tax expenditures has as little basis in principle as it has in our precedent…

  5. DJG

    I just want to clarify the headnote: In Chicago, the expansion of charter schools, and the corruption of the owners of the chains, has been an issue for years. My dubious state senator, Heather Steans, shepherded the enabling legislation through the compliant / Democratic controlled legislature. My neighborhood, though, came out in opposition to the expansion of a local charter school about five years back, and their expansion into a high school was not approved. (They remain K – 8.)

    The CPS strike here brought up charter schools as a fiscal lamprey sucking away funds required for the citywide school system.

    We have also had a strike by charter-school teachers, which the teacher’s union and the public supported.

  6. Luke

    If the charter schools are doing a better job teaching kids than the traditional public school model (and I think the evidence supports that), then the trad pub schools dying off would be cause for celebration, not grieving, let alone screeching to reverse this trend. Education of children is what’s important, not any particular institution.

    That said, some proposals on how to REALLY fix government schools…

    1) Any holder of any Education college degree and/or (current or past) NEA/AFT union member MUST be barred from setting foot on any school property, along with anything they have ever spoken or written, saving only in the capacity of a parent to their own children. (Tenure and union membership for teachers has to end, obviously; people elsewhere have to keep demonstrating they’re good enough to stay in their jobs, so should teachers.) Yes, I support shutting down all Colleges of Education, for the same reason that aromatherapists and “crystal power” believers don’t serve as M.D.s in trauma centers, e.g., being utterly incompetent in their field to the point a reasonably bright layman would likely do much better.

    2) Require teachers above ~5th grade to have bachelor’s degrees where they majored in the subject they teach. (Teachers also need to have Stanford-Binet IQs north of 115, no matter the disparate impacts, and to have different fields pay differently, i.e., the Chemistry & Computer teachers should make >2x what the History and P.E. teachers do.)

    3) As suggested by Chester Finn in the book “We Must Take Charge”, restrict subjects taught in high schools during core hours to Science (NOT “how do you feel about science”), History, Mathematics (same way as Science), Literature, and Writing.

    4) End social promotion — if you’re not at grade level in Math and Reading, you don’t advance. (ESL and lax/different rules, esp. discipline, for varsity athletes and LD/lower-IQs have to go, too.)

    5) Lower the voluntary school leaving age to 14, accelerating what’s taught before then. Rationale: the kids who don’t want to be there learn basically zip post-age-14, but waste money and distract the kids who do. REAL vocational/trade schooling (welder, electrician, millwright, etc.) would of course reduce dropout rates.

    6) Instead of what we have now, instead give parents vouchers that are a proportional share of the taxes paid per kid to take their kids to better schools, which may be distant public schools, or private (many religious). If the pub schools die but the kids are getting way better educated, so be it, without any regrets.

    7) Use John Taylor Gatto’s and Jaime Escalante’s subject-revisiting techniques for important subjects (e.g., math, reading, science).

    8) Common Core (including its shadowy imitations) and non-phonics reading instruction, along with all its advocates and anything they’ve ever written, recorded, etc., have to be legally barred from the schools.

    9) Where possible (Math, most History, English, nearly all Literature, much basic Science, etc.) use textbooks written pre-1965, before the decline in standards really hit.

    10) Unceremoniously fire anyone in the school system that has a problem with any of the above.

    Related: how public schools apparently cause over 1,000 suicides per YEAR in the U.S.:

    1. nycTerrierist

      Luke writes:
      “If the charter schools are doing a better job teaching kids than the traditional public school model (and I think the evidence supports that),…”

      link please to evidence?

      1. Arizona Slim

        Ummm, nycTerrierist, I don’t think that citation is forthcoming. To me, the above comment has a strong aroma of “post and run.”

        But, speaking as the neighbor of someone who left school around the age of 14, I don’t think that lowering the departure age is a good idea. My neighbor turned into a hanger-around-the house and all-night-partier who got pregnant at age 19, had the baby out of wedlock, and lost interest in the child after about three years. I don’t know where that child is now.

        Had my neighbor stayed in school and gotten into our local JTED (Joint Technical Education program) and studied cosmetology (one of JTED’s most popular courses of study), her life would be very different now.

        1. anon y'mouse

          the problems your “neighbor” had were likely all caused by the same reason they left school in the first place. mental health issues, family environment issues. perhaps they would have been successful if they had studied cosmetology, but there was some factor in their life making sure they did not succeed, academically or personally or professionally. so, it wasn’t the lack of schooling that did that person in, but what made them not go. perhaps if they had lived their life as you think they should have, they would have been a licensed cosmetologist, and still had children they couldn’t afford to take care of, or perhaps did drugs or drank on the side, around their job, creating problems in their life and the lives of all who care about them. but hey, at least they would be a taxpayer, right?

          a full analysis requires full knowledge. perhaps that person got sexually or otherwise assaulted at school, or as a direct result of school attendance? anything could have happened. where were the parents, and what were they doing? they just let their kid walk out and not actually try to live a real life, and said nothing? speaks volumes to me. have you actually ever experienced what it is like to be raised by people who don’t give a shit whether you do anything worthwhile with your life or not? it results in you not giving a shit about yourself, either. which probably would have created problems in this person’s life somewhere. just a different set, if they had done what you think they should have done with their life–been “productive” in a financially rewarding sense.

    2. JohnnyGL

      That comment was a lovely combinatinon of bad, completely disproven, and/or evidence-free ideas.

      We’re all dumber for having read it.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Aw, JohnnyGL, I was trying to be polite.

        But you said what I was thinking. And I thank you for that.

      2. Kilgore Trout

        +1 As a retired teacher who put in more than 25 years in the classroom, I agree. Evidence is slim to none that charters do a better job, and there is much evidence they do worse over time–with little to no accountability. As for other reforms that have been “done to” public education: the emphasis on testing was intended to make public schools appear to fail. Under “No Child Left Behind”, the “cut score” at which a school was deemed to be “In need of improvement” was raised every 3 years. Inevitably, this meant that more and more schools were labeled as needing improvement, or worse. Under CC, the tests have been made harder still, and “Proficient”–equivalent to a B+/A- has become the benchmark by which to judge many schools.

        CC standards are detailed, and may be well-intentioned, but are not often realistic or developmentally appropriate. There were no experts in early childhood development providing input when the K-2 standards were developed, and the standard there are at least a year too advanced. Finland begins teaching reading at age 7, while CC expects K to be “writing” stories. If one were writing standards designed to make public education look like a failure, CC would be a good way to go about it. Boys especially may be harmed by the emphasis placed on early literacy and numeracy: IMO, it takes away what remained of the play, and older emphasis on fine and gross motor activities (coloring, cutting and pasting, music and dance) in the early grades.

    3. Joe Well

      Last week I posted a link to a 2009 Stanford study that gathered data from schools across the country and found that charters were noticeably underperforming public schools.

      There are also many anecdotal reports of utterly collapsing charter schools with issues of corruption, mismanagement, etc far in excess of the public system.

      That despite the advantages charters have in terms of not having to serve all students even if it means disrupting a class to add a child in November or March.

      Im not reposting the links. If you cant be bothered to do 2 minutes of Googling to find the data even once, I cant be bothered to do it for you a second time. Ugh.

  7. Rosario

    Thanks NC for the relentless coverage of the dire situation of public education. My mother is a public school teacher so public education is a frequent centerpiece of our conversations.

    I’d like to run the following by the NC crowd to see what they think about the idea. My mom and I often discuss the intersection of identity issues with class and we both have a hypothesis that the single most effective tool for undermining racism in the US has been integrated public education and busing. I am assuming that people believe progress has been made, which I think is the case unequivocally for my and younger generations (i.e. those who most benefited from integrated education).

    We think this is the case because public education is the only place where children can escape the prejudices of their home life for long enough to interact with other people not like themselves. JCPS here in KY has been a national model for integrated education in the US, naturally the charters have been attacking JCPS hard. We think the strategy is to take down the best and the rest will follow, this similar to the Koch bros. Scott Walker coup in union strong Wisconsin.

    What is the forum’s take on this? Of course the civil rights act, AA, etc. have beneficial legal implications for minority adults, but I can think of no better way to undermine racism than to start by educating children in a strong integrated public education system.

    To our dismay, we are hearing stories of prominent black (mis)leadership in our city wanting to re-segregate education with black-only schools. Of course, they will be charters, and you can guess who would be running the charter… Rather than addressing the steady decline in funding for public education over 40 years the discussion consistently centers around BS like “uplift” and “restorative justice”. Ironically, the means to practice things like “restorative justice” do not exist in public education because there are not the resources to actually do it (few counselors, etc.). I could go on and on here, but I’ll leave it with the above.

    I think raising this issue when charter pushers (particularly the black mis-leadership types who have the most cultural capital) can really undermine the charter initiative from an identity politics position. Effectively bury their strongest card early in the game.

    Anyway, a bit of a ramble, and I need to get back to work. I’d really appreciate your take on this.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Rosario.

      I am in England, so can’t comment about Kentucky, but reckon you are correct.

      The black misleadership class is to be found in England and even Mauritius.

    2. jrs

      I disagree, I don’t think it worked out that way, I think the reverse, busing helped destroy support for public schools. Please understand I’m not making a moral argument for or against it, I’m describing what I think happened some 40 odd years ago or so and where I think we are now.

      Because busing -> middle class whites going to private schools (white flight) -> reduced support for funding public education as those with more power in society and thus in setting policy don’t go to it -> poorer education and underfunded schools -> even more reduced to support of public education -> charter school alternative (because private education was becoming pretty unaffordable afterall).

      And I’m not sure studies show that integrated schools lead to more tolerance of other races, I think they only show they do if the kids are of the same social CLASS (although different races). That’s not really what busing lead to as neighborhoods were (and of course are ever more so, but I’m talking history here) economically (and not just racially) segregated.

  8. GreatLakes

    “Dire straits of public education…”

    Haven’t we been reading or listening to that trope for well over fifty plus now? Here’s something that is a bit more accurate: grifters just always have to keep grifting. It’s not about black or white, brown or yellow…it’s only about green! As long as the money is being funneled to the right people…

    1. flora

      Grifters gotta’ grift.
      In the late 1980s some of the best grift was in the then savings and loan industry. One Mr. Neil Bush, pres. HWBush’s son, was a director of the Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan Association. He was sued by the F.D.I.C. (we used to regulate financial institutions) for violating conflict-of-interest regulations and failing to act to stop the institution from making improper loans, and in some cases illegal loans

      And wouldn’t you know it, after being banned from banking the same Neil Bush got into the private education grift. Ignite! : an educational software and hardware company. All those required tests are a goldmine for some grifters.

      “After Neil Bush was banned from banking activities for his role in the Savings and Loan scandal in the late 1980s, he decided to bank on education and founded Ignite Incorporated. Ignite sells software to help students prepare to take comprehensive tests required under the No Child Left Behind act that was pushed through by Neil’s older brother–President Bush. ”

  9. Stephanie

    Since the last post on charter schools, I’ve been thinking a lot about education as a universal material benefit and how it seems to be well on the way of turning into the same kind of market-based mess as health insurance in the U.S. I’ve also been thinking about how long, and how bad (and for whom), things had to get before Medicare For All could be taken seriously enough to be seen as a threat.

    I’m thinking about this because it has been 26 years since the first charter opened in St. Paul – there’s been an entire generation here raised on the idea of school choice. I’m not sure they’re ready for it to be taken away, and certainly not by people who don’t know their kids and their kids’ extremely specialized, individual needs. My step-sons’ mother decided to send both the boys to charter schools and if anyone ever decides to tell her to her face that was a bad idea, please let me grab some popcorn first so I don’t miss any of the show.

    I’m not arguing for charters by saying this, just that I’m not clever enough to think of a way to sell getting rid of them, and I don’t a big enough segment of the population is at a big enough crisis-point that “This is hurting everyone, it needs to stop” will be effective.

    1. Stephanie

      Talking to myself here: John Michael Greer has talked a lot about the civic Religion of Progress in the U.S. and how it is in many ways a secularized version of Christianity. I might argue that considered as a secularized low-church, Protestant Christianity, then charter schools are it’s natural fruit. Don’t like what the institutional authorities from the Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 are preaching and you’re tired of fighting? Split off and form the Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912. The same with charters: if you don’t like the way the public school system is teaching science or treats your ethnic group or fails to teach art and you’re tired of fighting the school board? Start a charter. If that one smothers your kid or develops discipline problems or loses its amazing principal, find another. The same issues of identity and control and purity all come into play and center on our kids (aka our afterlife), and that makes it all just a little bit visceral.

      Changing that mentality I think may need to involve a collective spiritual crisis like that of the Civil Rights movement. Maybe – I’m speculating here. Or if we get other things in place – Medicare for All, instituting more progressive taxation, stronger worker’s rights, if there’s less sense of “Holy sh*t, I gotta do for this baby I made because this world is a vicious, unholy, neoliberal hell” that everyone can feel but few can articulate, then maybe that cultural tide will shift.

  10. The Rev Kev

    Is it too late to say that if billionaires and corporations are so besotted with Charter Schools, then why don’t they fund it out of their own pockets? Why do they always have their hand out for public money to finance something in the private sector where they keep all the profits but fob off the costs onto the public? If they want it so bad, then let them pay for it.

    1. Pat

      Why should destroying the public school system be any different than every other aspect of the public good they have raped and pillaged?
      Frankly that schools and the Post Office have managed to survive this assault for so long is amazing. I do sometimes wonder how they have. Mind you I can see the states actually turning on the charter school system and finally demanding they meet all the requirements of the public school system if they do manage to destroy it. Largely because parents are not going to go ‘no schools, guess the kid stays ignorant’. Don’t think the billionaires and corporations are quite ready for that, despite thinking they are.

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