Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do Charter Schools Pose a Risk to Public Education?

Should the public be worried about the expansion of charter schools? Until recently, I wasn't. I thought most of these schools were handling students who were not having success in the public school setting. However, I recently saw a PBS show (Moyers and Company) with a segment called "Public Schools for Sale." The guest, Diane Ravitch, was interviewed by Bill Moyers about charter schools. See: 

Ravitch addressed the issue of how public education monies are being targeted by those who see dollar signs in the privatization of America's public schools.
"As Rupert Murdoch put it after purchasing an education technology company, 'When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.”' Given Murdoch's  run-ins with the British government due to the predatory invasion of people's privacy by employees of his newspaper, News of the World, and given his vast wealth and media empire, he is not someone I like to see targeting education monies in the US.  Other wealthy businessmen are also looking at this emerging market and Bill Moyers described it as a gold rush [to privatize pubic schools].

I was taken aback when I learned that Netflix's CEO, Reed Hasting, had given a speech in which he stated that within the next 20-30 years he hoped charter schools would have 90% of American (K-12) students. See:

Education historian Diane Ravitch made some interesting points. She has written, "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools." 

  • Entrepreneurs are trying to profit from the public education "industry." (Ms. Ravitch said she does not look at education as an industry.)
  • Business interests want to takeover pubic schools.
  • She has changed her mind about charter schools because they started out as entities to help and work collaboratively with public schools to try different approaches with students who were not succeeding in public schools. Now she believes they have become competitors with a goal to take over.
  • Charters gained power when the federal government offered over $4 billion in competitive grants to the states. One proviso was that the states had to lift their caps on charter schools. (This drove the increase in the numbers of charter schools.)
  • Other drivers of the expansion of charter schools were the political forces of wealthy hedge fund managers who saw there was money to be made. In addition, charter money is going to political contributions so those elected  may view charter expansion in a positive light.
  • Ravitch said she believes the charter schools will take the successful students and leave public schools as a dumping ground for problem students.
  • While some claim charter schools are public schools, Ravitch pointed out that when they go to court they declare they are private corporations that have contracts with the government. In NYS, a recent court decision stated that charter schools could not be audited by the NYC Comptroller because charter schools are not a unit of the government. Thus, charter schools cannot be held accountable by the public. 
  • Charter schools are not doing a better job educating students.
  • Ravitch said education leaders should aim for equity and excellence will follow. In other words, all public schools should provide an equally strong education. 
  • The societal problems associated with poverty must be addressed in order for schools to prosper. 
  • Finally, Ravitch does not defend the status quo. She stated that there are many problems in public schools that must be addressed but said privatizing public schools will be a detriment to our democracy. She said "The public is not yet ready to relinquish its public schools to:
          ~ speculators
          ~ entrepreneurs
          ~ ideologues
          ~ snake oil salesmen
          ~ profit making businesses and
          ~ Wall Street hedge fund managers."

Maybe it's time for all of us to learn more about the potential impact of the growth of charter schools.

"Charter School Refugees," The New York Times

"Protections for Charter Schools Threaten DeBlasio's Education Goals," The New York Times

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