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Charter schools have turned our children into the products of businesspeople. Enough. (Photo:

New Layers of Dirt on Charter Schools

Paul Buchheit

An earlier review identified the "Three Big Sins of Charter Schools": Fraud, a Lack of Transparency, and the Exclusion of Unwanted Students. The evidence against charters continues to grow. Yet except for its reporting on a few egregious examples of charter malfeasance and failure, the mainstream media continues to echo the sentiments of privatization-loving billionaires who believe their wealth somehow equates to educational wisdom.

The Wall Street Journal, in its misinformed way, says that the turnaround of public schools requires "increasing options for parents, from magnet to charter schools." Wrong. As the NAACP affirms, our nation needs "free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children." For ALL children, not just a select few.

The NAACP has called for a moratorium on charter schools. And Diane Ravitch makes a crucial point: "Would [corporate reformers] still be able to call themselves leaders of the civil rights issue of our time if the NAACP disagreed with their aggressive efforts to privatize public schools?"

Here are the 4 Big Sins of Charter Schools, updated by a surge of new evidence:

1. Starve the Beast

Corporate-controlled spokesgroups ALEC, US Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity are drooling over school privatization and automated classrooms, with a formula described by The Nation: "Use standardized tests to declare dozens of poor schools 'persistently failing'; put these under the control of a special unelected authority; and then have that authority replace the public schools with charters." But as aptly expressed by Jeff Bryant, "As a public school loses a percentage of its students to charters, the school can’t simply cut fixed costs for things like transportation and physical plant proportionally...So instead, the school cuts a program or support service."

It's an insidious and ongoing process, aided and abetted by business-friendly mainstream media outlets, to convince Americans that "every family for itself" is better than the mutual support and cooperation of a public school system.


2. Cream and Segregate and Discard

Urban charter schools primarily enroll low-income minority students. That seems admirable upon first reflection, but selective admissions of the best students from ANY community will make an individual school look good, leading to the belief that the concept will work on a larger scale. Success is much harder to achieve if a school accommodates special needs and English-learner students.

Numerous sources reveal the high degree of segregation in charter schools -- white or black, and by income and special need.

As expressed in the report "Failing the Test," "School choice is just that — except that charter schools are doing the choosing instead of communities."

It gets worse. Prominent New York charter network Success Academy has been accused of "counseling out" students who are low-performing or disruptive or otherwise difficult to teach. Even worse are charters that shut down, stranding hundreds of students, while their business operators can just move on to their next project. Nearly 2,500 charter schools closed their doors from 2001 to 2013, leaving over a quarter of a million kids temporarily without a school.

3. Scream 'Public' to Get Tax Money, Plead 'Private' to Hide Salary Data

Charter schools are increasingly run by private companies, or by private trusts. The National Labor Relations Board affirms that charters are private, not public.

As private entities, they are unregulated and lacking in transparency, and, as concluded by the Center for Media and Democracy, they have become a "black hole" into which the federal government has dumped an outrageous $3.7 billion over two decades with little accountability to the public.

4. Engage in "Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Mismanagement"

That's how the Center for Popular Democracy describes charter performance in 2015, during which the schools wasted an estimated $1.4 billion of taxpayer money. The fraud is far-reaching, with examples from around the country:

The Department of Education audited 33 charter schools and concluded: "We determined that charter school relationships with CMOs (charter management organizations) posed a significant risk to Department program objectives."

In California, charter performance is so poor that even the National Association of Charter Authorizers is calling on the state to better control the authorization of such schools. At present, there are almost no restrictions on opening a charter school, and existing schools are restrictive in their enrollment policies.

Because of charters, Michigan cities have lost nearly half (46.5%) of their revenue over the past 10 years. Detroit, which is surpassed only by New Orleans in the number of charter students, half of the charter schools perform only as well as, or worse than, traditional public schools. A federal study found an "unreasonably high" number of charters among the lowest-rated public schools in the state.

In Louisiana, according to the Center for Popular Democracy, "charter schools have experienced millions in known losses from fraud and financial mismanagement so far, which is likely just the tip of the iceberg."

According to PR Watch, Florida "has one of the worst records in the nation when it comes to fraud and lack of charter school oversight." Texas has an unknown number of charters housed in churches. Nine charters in Washington remain open despite being declared unconstitutional by the state's Supreme Court.

Ohio might be worst of all. Since the 2006-07 school year, 37 percent of the state's charter schools receiving federal grants have either closed or never opened. An Ohio newspaper reported, "No sector – not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals – misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio."

The Big Picture

Despite student selection advantages, charter schools generally perform no better than public schools, according to the most recent CREDO study and as summarized by the nonpartisan Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda: "There is very little evidence that charter and traditional public schools differ meaningfully in their average impact on students' standardized test performance." As for technology-based schools, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools admits that "The well-documented, disturbingly low performance by too many full-time virtual charter public schools should serve as a call to action to state leaders and authorizers across the country."

Charter schools have turned our children into the products of businesspeople. Americans need to know how important it is to get the profit motive out of education, and to provide ALL our children the same educational opportunities.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at)

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