Charter’s Don’t Do It Better or Cheaper

students, laptops, security, chaters
A student takes a test on a laptop in a New Orleans charter school. Photo by Dinah Rogers, | The Times-Picayune

The hard spin that investors put on their own charter corporations is that they do education better, and for cheaper than those bad public schools. But, with some years of experience behind us now, it is clear that charters do neither.  

The last eleven years of  my public high school teaching years were spent in a big high school that covered a part of the outer suburban ring of the Oklahoma City metro area.

Occasionally they needed me to teach a few sections of Advanced Placement U.S. History to the Juniors who wanted to tool up for college, but mostly I taught the regular U.S. History course for everyone else.

That “everyone else” category was a very mixed group of people who were special ed, those with medical disabilities, and those who were on their way to rehab. My students included the brilliant but angry, the drug/alcohol addicted, the diagnosed and undiagnosed emotionally disturbed, and the occasional athlete who just didn’t have enough time or energy to study enough for AP courses.

The Yearly Arrival of Private School Students

There was a private church-connected school in that city that proclaimed loudly each year what accomplishments their student body had shown. The general public of that city were impressed, but I wasn’t.

It’s because each year sometime around February the private school to public school sojourn would begin for those students who didn’t “fit in” at that private school and would get kicked out due to their earning enough demerits. The Juniors among them would land mostly in my classroom.

I never minded getting those students. For the most part they were pretty cool because they were glad to get out of that private school’s suffocating environment.

What I did mind was the continual bragging by the private school’s officials. I was in a unique position to see what they were doing. They collected tuition long enough to lock in the contracts that parents signed, then started kicking out those students who “didn’t work out.”

After the gleaning time, yes, they had a hand-picked group that would finish the year while my public school classroom picked up the pieces. It was ridiculously easy for them to compare and criticize the public schools for their environment while their policies actually contributed to that unstable environment.

Cherry-picking charters still don’t make the grade

My first-hand experiences with the cherry-picking of private schools has been a large contributing factor to my skepticism of investor-owned charters from the beginning. The game that investor charters are playing is an old one, finely honed by the private schools for decades.

The big difference is that investor-owned corporate charters are far more aggressive and have had huge foundations like those of Gates, and the Waltons, that buy good publicity by their largess that is actually not a gift, but a purchase of attention and viewpoint.

We now have 5-10 years of experience of those big charter organizations and know their results. They have bragged about how much better they can do than the public schools as they took tax money that has vanished into “black boxes” of private organizations.

On Diane Ravitch’s Blog, this post points to reports coming out of New Jersey that quantify this cherry-picking process. They clearly show that charters do not help the poor more than public schools do, which was a part of the original bait-and-switch of their pitch.

In most states that have bought in to the charter mythology, charters are protected by state legislation passed by obedient politicians who have been purchased with big campaign donations. Those same politicians who have loudly criticized public schools for not using taxpayer dollars wisely have turned over huge tax dollars to corporate charters.

The most amazing thing is that their achievements don’t measure up to public schools even when they are cherry-picking and taking the standardized tests that have been designed to make them look good.


The money spent on charter schools has not ended up with the students. Instead it has gone to huge administrator salaries and investor pay-outs.

For example, in New Orleans, one charter school organization has taken big tax dollars to coordinate and authorized the charters that actually do the educating. The millions that they receive goes to big, executive salaries of individuals who have little, if any, experience in the classroom. No one in the organization is directly involved in educating even one student. In other words, New Orleans has gone from one inefficient bureaucracy that was controlled by an elected school board to another inefficient bureaucracy controlled by a distant board of directors who care little about the future of the children of New Orleans.

Data has been handled carelessly by those corporations with little regard for the safety or security of the students as laptops were sold at auction with student names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers still on them.

I have pointed out the problems with how investor charter corporations have callously used the poor in the three large cities of New Orleans, Detroit, and Newark. The design is to use these poor communities as labs to develop a model for all-charter takeovers of other cities and even states across the U.S.

We are spending less money per student with these charters, but the whole of education money spent is the same, not less.

The myth is collapsing

The irony for investor-owned charters is that the carefully constructed and quite expensive mythology that they have created is collapsing due to the main tool that was designed to aid the process.

Standardized tests that matched up with the Common Core that were supposed to make public schools look bad and help charters standardize and look good are being held more and more suspect every day.

Organizations like United Opt Out and many more are organizing parents who are making quite serious decisions about their children not taking any more standardized tests that are only intended to give public schools a grade in the name of accountability while charters are given a pass.

As more people and organizations question the validity of tests even from a statistical viewpoint, the hustle of investor charters is being exposed. And the panic by bought-and-paid-for legislators would  be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.

Now is the time

Now is the time for people who actually care about educating every child in America to stand up for local control and complete inclusion of every student who lives in each community.

There are not some students who are more valuable than others. They are all valuable. Educators and many parents know and acknowledge that, even if the investors don’t.