The idea of charter schools was once supported by liberals. They thought that creating a few laboratory schools, freed from the regulations governing ordinary schools, might be able to experiment and discover valid new ways to teach our public school children.
At the same time as the idea of “charters” was being floated, there was still widespread disenchantment within the very well-to-do regarding the fact that they still had to pay taxes to pay for the public schools when they were sending their children to private schools. They were paying double, they said, and it just wasn’t fair. There were any number of efforts to turn private school tuition into tax credits but all of these failed.
So the well-to-do came up with a new strategy. They would create private schools and get the government to pay for them, instead of having to pay for them out of pocket. This, then, became the new model for a charter school and charter schools became the darlings of conservatives.
Think about it. There are private schools in abundance; many of the elementary schools called “Something Something Day School” or “Something Something Country Day School” to harken back to a distinction between private schools at which students took up residence and schools to which students commuted (“day schools”). These schools would have had to purchase land, built or bought buildings and maintained them, and had to hire staff and train them, and in many cases would have had to make a profit. The tuition at such schools ranged from a few thousand dollars a year up to much more. The Chicago Day School was sited right next to the building I first lived in when I moved here and they charge something like $17,000 for a year of kindergarten up to $23,000 for a year of middle school.
What the rich wanted was that kind of education for their children but without having to pay for it and those pesky regulations that said that schools had to enroll disabled students, mentally challenged students, emotionally disturbed students, and black and brown students without prejudice were in the way. So, they needed freedom from the state regulations covering such things and union contracts covering salaries and fringe benefits, so the vehicle of charter schools was perfect for the task and so it got high jacked. From a noble experiment to a sleazy grab for money in one fell swoop. And all it took was some propaganda (“Charter schools are better than traditional public schools,” they cried.) and some sympathetic lawmakers (meaning “well bribed”) and voila, it was so.
From around the country, the reports are flowing in. Not only do charter schools not perform better than traditional public schools, many of them perform quite a bit worse (as admitted by an Ohio-based conservative think tank, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, regarding the charter schools in Ohio). And, then we find out that many of the students foisted upon the public schools by those pesky and abhorrent regulation (you know, the disabled students, mentally challenged students, emotionally disturbed students, and black and brown students) aren’t present in the kinds of numbers they are in the traditional schools. Since many of these students tend to perform worse on standardized tests, this seems to be the strategy to demonstrate that “charter schools are better” (you know, only send the “A Team” to the testing room strategy) but even that is not working. But in any case resegregating the schools is a good thing, no?
You would think that these charter school administrators, earning very lavish salaries indeed, could come up with a better strategy to bolster their propaganda, so maybe it is just a generally distaste for students of that ilk that they tend to be excluded.
I do not want to paint all charter schools with a broad brush and say that they are all like this, but a great many are, especially those created in the latest wave. They have been created by a ideologically-driven concerted effort to get the public coffers to pay for private schools for the children of their well-to-do sponsors.
And the effort has failed, which is why the expansion of charter schools is continuing and even accelerating. What? You see, facts aren’t really important, and the kids, well, they’ll end up going to good colleges any way; Mummy and Daddy will see to that. And those data are in, too. The rich have a hugely better track record in education than do the middle class or the poor. Being poor is a handicap to getting a good education greater than any other. More so now that charter schools have been high jacked to serve the interests of the well-to-do, either through making profits from the public sector money used to pay for these schools, or in teachers union-busting (very few charters have unionized teachers and those union members are all Democrats any way), or through getting someone else to pay for a private school-like education for their kids.