It’s back to school time in the US and that means lots of posts and articles about school reform. Including, of course, the love of politicians everywhere, charter schools.
One of the better pieces on the subject was this extended analysis by John Oliver on his Last Week Tonight program. Most of the time was dedicated to the somewhat shady business practices of many companies running charters, with little about the actual education value of the schools. But it’s still the kind of reporting you wish real news organizations would do and worth 18 minutes of your time.
It seems that Oliver’s video actually did strike a nerve with someone. The Center for Education Reform, a charter school advocacy group, seems to be pretty pissed. $100,000 worth of upset. That’s the amount they’ve offered to one of their member school that produces the best response explaining to Oliver “why making fun of charter schools is no laughing matter”.
Specifically, “Let viewers know why students chose your school over all the others. Help them understand the opportunities charters offer (and which wouldn’t exist without charters).” But don’t make the production values too good.
The video must be “home made” on a phone or tablet – slick production values are not allowed because that would just point to the idea that charters are high-profit businesses rather than schools. It can’t look like it cost $100,000 to make, because that would draw attention to the fact that charter folks have that kind of money to drop on PR stunts.
One talking point of charter advocates that might show up in the entries of those enterprising video producers is that charters are still public schools using the same public money. Except that the National Labor Relations board ruled last week that charters are actually private corporations.
In its recent decisions, both issued Aug. 24, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Hyde Leadership Charter School in Brooklyn and the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School are – like other government contractors – private corporations that receive taxpayer dollars. In the New York case, for example, the board found that even though state law describes charter schools as existing “within the public school system,” the schools were not directly established by a government entity and the people who administer them are not accountable to public officials or to voters.
Of course, this ruling only applies to the relationship between workers and charter companies. It says nothing about the poor management of those firms, and the mediocre education provided by many of them.
Finally, we heard once again from Arne Duncan, former US Secretary of Education and one of those cheerleaders for charter schools who probably still believes they are “public”. In an article for The Atlantic, Duncan says that there are no such things as “miracle” schools but that the charters he has visited are “restless institutions, committed to continuous improvement”.
In their first quarter-century, charter schools dramatically expanded parental choice and educational options in many cities. What was once a boutique movement of outsiders now includes more than 6,700 charter schools in 43 states, educating nearly 3 million children. But the most impressive accomplishment of the charter-school movement is not its rapid growth. Nevertheless, what stands out for me is that high-performing charter schools have convincingly demonstrated that low-income children can and do achieve at high levels—and can do so at scale.
Except Duncan’s high praise is not supported by actual research. Multiple studies over the past fifteen years show that charter schools in the US, with few exceptions, provide lousy instruction and worse results than public schools, and are undermining public education.
But that’s par for the course when it comes to Duncans and others who advocate for privatizing American education. Cherry pick the few charter schools that work and ignore the rest.