November 27, 2022

Shawgi Tell: Can A Charter School Not Be A Charter School?

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Posting at Dissident Voice, Shawgi Tell examines some questions about the very nature of the modern charter school, including their exemption from rules, regulations, and oversight. Charter schools, Tell points out, are created without oversight or accountability by design, leading to all manner of abuses and misbehavior.

Trying to regulate or oversee something that is by design not really meant to have meaningful supervision and regulation would mean radically changing the laws and practices surrounding charter schools. It would mean doing the opposite of what we have today. It would entail making charter schools something they are not.

This fits with a phenomenon we’ve often seen, where any attempt to increase accountability or transparency for charters is treated like an existential threat by charter supporters.

Charter schools differ profoundly from public schools by design, and these differences appear at many levels and in many forms.1 One of the original neoliberal justifications given for charter schools is that they could come into existence once public school districts, which have been around for more than 150 years, are deprived of what charter school advocate Ted Kolderie called their “exclusive franchise to own and operate public schools.” Once this historic pre-condition for privatization happened, Kolderie reasoned, a new and different “system” of schools—outsourced schools—owned and operated by unelected private persons and large corporations could come into being.

It is no accident that charter schools emerged firmly in the context of the neoliberal era that was launched at home and abroad in the late 1970s. Neoliberalism is at its core a major assault on the public interest and human rights. It further marginalizes the polity and ensures that the rich get richer even faster, thereby intensifying political and economic inequality.

Is it possible to change charter law so that charters are more accountable and transparent? Tell doesn’t think so.

It is wishful thinking to believe that a charter school can be something other than a charter school. Such an orientation blocks deeper thinking and deeper changes that are needed. The fact is that small or piecemeal changes to charter schools in different states have not slowed the expansion of charter schools and the myriad problems that accompany them. Problems continue to multiply in the charter school sector. The news is filled every day with reports of illegal and unethical activities in privately-operated charter schools. In this way, charter schools express the replacement of a government of laws with a government of police powers, which is a coercive non-democratic form of governance which rejects modern public standards, principles, laws, and rules. Police powers permeate U.S. political institutions and operate arbitrarily and with impunity.

As they have for the last 31 years, charter schools will continue to undermine public schools by siphoning billions of dollars a year from them. They will also continue to perform poorly, engage in outlaw activities, and close every week, leaving thousands of black and brown families feeling abandoned and angry. So much for a superior alternative to “dreadful” public schools—the same “dreadful” public schools that have been methodically set up to fail by neoliberals and privatizers for years.

Read the full piece here.



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