Mixed feelings about Charter Schools

I have mixed feelings about charter schools.

On the positive side:

  • they provide another road to graduation for children who may need an alternative choice.
  • Some children may want and need a vocational training that they cannot receive at their traditional neighborhood school.
  • They tend to serve minority communities where schools may be low performing.
  • They have enormous flexibility.
  • They educate six percent of the student population but are 1/3 of US New and World Reports top 100 schools.
  • They have been supported by both Republican and Democrat presidents including George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump

On the negative side:

  • They take students and funds from traditional schools.
  • In some states, there has been limited or no oversight.
  • Some of them have closed in the middle of the school year, leaving students and parents scrambling to find other schools. In 2014, the Naples Florida Daily News reported that 14 charter schools had closed before finishing the first year.
  • Teachers have limited security because many of them are hired for one year.
  • There isn’t any union protection because there aren’t any unions.
  • Teachers and administrators are leaving more quickly than traditional educators.
  • Minority teachers are leaving more quickly than traditional educators.
  • Many of them are operated by for-profit businesses generating large profits for their owner by using computers in place of live teachers therefore limiting student interaction or the ability to question.

Charter schools are taxpayer financed schools run under a contract or charter issued by the local community or the state. Some are run by public school districts; others are run by private, for-profit businesses. Using National Center for Educational Statistics, (NCES) there were 6,900 charter schools in 45 states and Washington DC. They are free to experiment with different techniques. As originally envisioned, these schools would serve as “learning laboratories” where best practices could then be replicated by other schools. By and large, this has not been true.

I do support alternative education having worked in a non-traditional career and technical school. But for-profit schools should profit students, parents and society and not business people who wish to profit on the backs of children. Charter school operators include real estate investors who buy or rent existing properties such as empty supermarkets and then rent them to charter schools at a profit. In Ohio, which has a large number of charter schools, the largest one (ECOT- Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) with 12,000 online students was shut down after reporting suspicious attendance figures. Ohio spent nearly $10.4 billion in state taxpayer money including lottery money between mid-2016 and mid 2017. (Cincinnati Enquirer, May 19, 2018, Jessie Blamert) About $929 million of that, about 9 percent went to charter schools. ECOT received $104.3 million of that amount. An audit of the 2015-2016 school year found that ECOT was receiving money for 9,000 students without proof that those students existed or were learning anything. According to the article in the Enquirer, large donations had been made to politicians in Ohio by ECOT officials. White Hat Management, another charter school operation, had the thirty-two of the lowest performing schools in Ohio.

Not all charter schools are low performing. The KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) and Success Academy Charter Schools are outstanding examples of charter schools’ success. There are 224 KIPP schools in 29 states plus Washington DC. It is the largest charter network with almost 100,000 students. Eighty-two percent of KIPP graduates go onto college.  The Success Academy Charter Schools operate in the New York area with 47 schools. In Albuquerque NM, the Robert F. Kennedy Charter Schools under the guidance and direction of Principal Robert Baade is a Title1 charter school.

I do not have a problem with the concept of charter schools. I do have a problem when there is a limited or lack of oversight by the state or local school agencies.

When schools experiment; some will fail. Betsy DeVos, US Secretary of Education who is a proponent and operator of charter schools in the state of Michigan. (More in a subsequent article.)