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More Charter Schools Equals More Problems

Shawgi Tell, PhD

About a week ago Minority Reporter published an article by charter school supporter Sebrone O. Johnson. In it, he called for more privately-operated charter schools in Rochester.


Although Johnson says he does “not purport to believe that the charter system is the sole solution to the educational woes of Rochester,” he nonetheless promotes extensive disinformation about privately-operated charter schools to justify more school privatization in Rochester. This includes omitting research that has long documented serious problems in the charter school sector.


There is only space here to highlight some of the problems plaguing the charter school sector.


First, privately-operated charter schools that siphon large sums of public funds from public schools have long been touted by school privatizers as being superior to public schools that have been defunded, scapegoated, and demonized by neoliberals for 40 years.


Such de-funding is inherently unprincipled and harms many urban schools attended by minority students. Equally important, charter schools are privatized education arrangements, not public schools proper, which means that they have no legitimate claim to any public funds that belong to public schools. Charter schools have a poor academic record as well (see below)


No less worrisome is the fact that privately-operated charter schools are run by unelected individuals, intensify segregation (see here, here, and here), and routinely cherry-pick students. They are notorious for excluding many English Language learners, special needs students, homeless students, “poor test-takers,” “misbehaved” students, and others. They do not accept and keep everyone.


Privately-operated charter schools also have more inexperienced teachers and fewer nurses than public schools. Many charter school teachers are not even certified to teach (see here, here, and here).


Moreover, privately-operated charter schools often lack meals, transportation, sports programs, and libraries. And even when such programs and services are available, they tend to be smaller or more limited than those found in public schools.


Another fact is that hundreds of privately-operated charter schools suspend and expel minority students at a high rate (see here and here) and have high teacher and principal turnover rates as well (see here and here), thereby undermining collegiality, continuity, stability, and learning.


Academically, most privately-operated charter schools fare worse than many chronically-underfunded public schools (see here, here, and here). Low reading and math proficiency scores are widespread in charter schools.


Across the country, 2,315 privately-operated charter schools failed and closed in an 11-year period—almost one-third of all charter schools in existence today. Privately-operated charter schools regularly desert and violate thousands of parents, students, teachers, education support staff, and principals every year.


Last but not least, news articles are filled every week with reports of widespread corruption, fraud, and arrests in charter schools.


Privately-operated charter schools have long been over-promising and under-delivering. Their track record is unimpressive and they rest on outdated ideologies. Charter schools have not closed the achievement gap, reduced poverty, or lessened segregation since their inception more than 30 years ago.


The public should reject disinformation about privately-operated charter schools, investigate matters independently, demand full funding for public schools, and oppose all forms of school privatization.


~ Shawgi Tell, PhD is Professor of Education in the School of Education at Nazareth University. His main areas of research include charter schools, education reform, education policy, and neoliberal education policy in particular. He is author of the book "Charter School Report Card" (2016) and many other publications. Tell has been at Nazareth College since 1998, teaching in-service and pre-service teachers. He received his Ph.D. in Social Foundations of Education from the University at Buffalo in 1997. His classes combine lively lectures and presentations with small-group and large-group discussions where all are free to express their views and learn and grow together. Tell can be reached at

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