June 18, 2023

Shawgi Tell: Charter Schools Are Quintessentially and Irreversibly Private Schools by Design

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As the argument goes on about whether charter schools are public or private, Shawgi Tell offers an argument for their private nature.

Unlike public schools, charter schools are governed by unelected private persons, cannot levy taxes, frequently cherry-pick students, are mostly union-free, spend millions on advertising, and regularly hire uncertified teachers.2 Currently, charter school laws in some states and the District of Columbia explicitly permit charter schools to not require any of their teachers to be certified, while other states allow charter schools extensive wiggle room in this regard. Charter school teachers, moreover, are treated as “at will” employees, meaning that they can be fired at any time for any reason. Likewise, charter school teachers are generally not considered public employees, which is why they do not have the same constitutional protections as their public school counterparts. Charter school teachers also generally work longer days and longer years for less money than public school teachers. Many charter school teachers also lack the retirement plans and benefits available to public school teachers. For these and other reasons, the turnover rate of charter school teachers (and students and principals) remains very high, thereby undermining collegiality, stability, and continuity, which in turn damages education.

Another important difference between public schools and charter schools is that charter schools are often owned-operated by large private corporations. Such businesses are notorious for gaming the legal system to maximize profit as fast as possible (e.g., through shady real estate deals and self-serving business contracts). Conflicts of interest are pervasive.

Importantly, as deregulated schools, charter schools are exempt from most laws, rules, statutes, policies, and regulations upheld by public schools. This is why they are considered “independent” or “autonomous” schools. Charter schools are not beholden to the authority of the public school district they are located in. They are typically authorized by charter school authorizers comprised of unelected private persons and they have to pay these entities large sums of money every year.

In addition, non-profit and for-profit charter schools often dodge open-meeting laws, evade audits, and do not provide the range of services and programs offered in public schools. Many charter schools across the country, for example, do not provide meals or transportation. Charter schools typically have fewer nurses than public schools as well. And when it comes to students, charter schools frequently rely on discredited behaviorist (Skinnerian) practices. Such reward-and-punishment behavioral conditioning practices extend beyond infamous “no excuses” charter schools that have come under fire for years. These practices are directed mainly at low-income minority students.

All of this is possible because charter school promoters openly embrace the ideologies of the “free market,” competition, individualism, and consumerism. They routinely and casually refer to parents and students as customers and consumers, not humans or citizens that have rights that belong to them by virtue of being humans and citizens. This survival-of-the-fittest setup compels parents and students to fend for themselves in their quest for a good education. Subjecting parents and youth to the law of the jungle is seen as a healthy thing.

Read the full essay here. 

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