Budget & Finance Opinion

2013 in Review Part 1: Charter Schools: Public, Private, or Parasitic?

By Anthony Cody — December 18, 2013 2 min read
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The year 2013 was when corporate reform truly unraveled. From John Merrow’s exposure of Michelle Rhee, to the revelations about Tony Bennett’s school grade-fixing scandal, to Pearson’s fine for illegal lobbying, a great many “conspiracy theories” were found to be true. I have been reviewing the past year of posts on this blog, and several themes emerge from the 176 posts I have published so far this year.

The biggest area of discussion continued to be corporate education reform, and the role of the Gates Foundation in advancing test-centered market-based reforms. A major emphasis was also the Common Core standards, which came into much sharper focus as a result of the tests that were rolled out in New York. I spent considerable time not only discussing the Common Core, but also looking at the problematic role our union leaders and professional organizations have been playing. The other major area of discussion was the challenge charter schools pose to the promise of public education, which is where I begin today:

Part 1: Charter Schools: Public, Private, or Parasitic?

The year began with Michael Petrilli declaring his admiration for charter schools which suspend or expel large numbers of students, since they create a special place for those he called the “strivers.” This framed a central concern about charter schools, which developed through the year. While many of these schools take pride in sending students to college, what happens to those that are screened out or pushed out?

As we saw in John Merrow’s flawed but important documentary, Rebirth, New Orleans, they are often pushed into an overcrowded, underfunded public school system.

This would be bad enough, but another huge problem with the charter school solution emerged. Even as these schools tend to select the students that are the least difficult and expensive to educate, they siphon off scarce public funding, leading scholar Bruce Baker to go so far as to call them parasitical.

Those seeking to preserve the reputation of charter schools stepped forward to recommend that they be subject to the same sort of draconian make or break accountability systems as public schools. Though it would be tempting to welcome this as an effort to level the public/charter playing field, churn for charters will not bring excellence any more than it has helped in regular public schools.

This was also the year that we ended the fiction that “charter schools are public schools, too!” And it was charter schools themselves who ended it. The California Charter Schools Association filed an amicus brief in October that asserted that charter schools are private entities, their teachers are not public employees, and their funds are not public funds (even when they come from the taxpayer).

My thinking has evolved regarding charter schools. While I recognize that good-hearted people have been attempting to use charter schools as an avenue to help students not served well by traditional schools, the situation faced by public schools has become dire. The diversion of public funding to charter and private schools now poses a real threat to the sustainability of public schools accessible to all.

See also:

2013 in Review Part 2: The Year Common Core Began to Unravel

2013 in Review Part 3: Gatesian Reforms Rejected.

2013 in Review Part 4: Teachers, Unions, and the Path Forward

What do you think? Has your thinking shifted regarding the role charter schools play in our communities?

Continue the dialogue with Anthony on Twitter.

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