February 26, 2023

Shawgi Tell: Low Enrollment Plagues Many Charter Schools

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In this post, Shawgi Tell, author of Charter School Report Card, addresses the myth that charter schools are so popular that families are lined up around the block to get in.

The mainstream media has long made it seem like parents from coast to coast are frantically clamoring to get their kids into a “limited” number of charter schools. And because there is supposedly not enough space in these charter schools, students are put on a waiting list to get into the school.

This neoliberal disinformation is meant to reinforce the prejudice that public schools are “dreadful,” that they must be escaped at all costs, that only charter schools can save the day, and that the number of charter schools in the country should increase immediately to accommodate more kids.

The neoliberal “waiting list” disinformation also pressures parents and others to ignore the fact that charter schools close every week, are mired in scandal every day, and have fewer experienced teachers and fewer nurses than public schools. Many charter schools, moreover, do not provide transportation for students or offer the range of programs found in most public schools. It is no surprise that these schools governed by unelected private persons have high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates (see here and here).

The National Center for Education Policy has produced work showing that national waitlist numbers at charter schools are greatly exaggerated, unreliable, and self-serving. Additional factual information about inflated waitlists and problematic enrollment practices in charter schools can be found at the Diane Ravitch Blog, which is visited millions of times a year.

The fact is that many charter schools struggle to meet their enrollment goals, exposing the long-standing chasm between reality and media disinformation about the popularity of these outsourced schools. Many charter schools have no waiting lists at all.

Some examples:

WWLP News in Massachusetts reported on January 19, 2023 that The Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Chicopee, Massachusetts will be closing in summer 2023 due to low enrollment and poor financial conditions.

On January 12, 2023, the Denver Post reported that, “The Denver school board hasn’t voted to close a charter school since 2011, though more than a dozen [charter schools] have surrendered their charters voluntarily over the past decade, often because of low enrollment.”

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