As you read on, keep these facts in mind:
- The 2015 Kids Count report found that children living in poverty jumped from 18% to 22% between 2008 and 2013.
- According to the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau, the child poverty rate among African-Americans was 39%.
- In 2103, 48% of African-American children and 37% of Latino children had no parent working a full-time, year-round job.
- The Economic Policy Institute finds that, by age of 14, 25% of African-American children have had a parent—typically a dad—imprisoned; on any given day, 10% of them have had a parent in jail or prison, and that’s 4 times more than in 1980.
By the 1960s and 70s, innovative schools were opening in such cities as Philadelphia and Chicago. Then in 1988, Albert Shanker, as president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke about the meager 20% of students benefiting from a traditional public education. His solution: charter schools, “where teachers would be given the opportunity to draw upon their expertise to create high-performing educational laboratories from which the traditional public schools could learn.”
That was the intent, the promise, and, in 1992, the first true charter school, City Academy High School, opened its doors in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In the following years, charter schools found advocates in both Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush, but it took Obama to make it a federal school reform priority and included it as an application incentive in his $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant program.
Now, Donald Trump is at the helm, and his controversial Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a vocal charter school champion.
Indeed, her resume includes serving as chairman of the American Federation for Children (AFC). Describing itself as “the nation’s leading school choice advocacy group,” it boasts that it’s “a national leader in the fight to boldly reform America’s broken education system.”
Nevertheless and as an aside, a 2016 Gallup survey found that 76% of parents are “broadly satisfied with the education their oldest child receives;” 36% are “completely satisfied.”
Meanwhile, the AFC site further states, “The American Federation for Children is breaking down barriers to educational choice by creating an education revolution that empowers parents to choose the best educational environment for their children, so all children, especially low-income children, have access to a quality education.”
And that, say charter advocates, is the whole point—the ability to offer parents alternative school settings for their children, ones that are innovative, competitive, and accountable. Moreover, unlike traditional public schools, if performance standards are not met, the charter is revoked, said school is shut down.
What’s not to like? It all sounds so good, so promising, and yet there are opponents aplenty.
Their numbers include countless public school educators and administrators, and the likes of highly-esteemed education historian Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education Foundation.
Another is columnist and Education Law Center senior attorney Wendy Lecker, who writes that, “When charters replace public schools, parents lose their voice in education. Charter boards are not democratically elected. There is no requirement that board members live in the community or answer to parents. Often, corporate members are corporate executives with no children in charter schools.”
She goes on to explain: “In reality, choice in the form of charters increases segregation and devastates community public schools in our most distressed cities. As charters have proliferated in predominantly minority cities, children and parents of color bear the brunt of this destruction.”
Wherein lies the truth?
- Today, charter schools operate in 43 states and educate some 3.1 million children.
- Between the school years 2003-04 and 2013-14, public charter schools grew from 3.1% to 6.6%.
- Between those same years, the total number of such schools increased from 3,000 to 6,900; 15% are for-profit.
- Charters are tuition-free public schools; they do not offer any religious instruction.
- Charters, for the most part, are funded by federal, state, and local taxpayer dollars.
- These schools are open to all children, including English language learners and those with disabilities.
- While open to all, when few seats are available, students are chosen by lottery—the luck of the draw, in other words.
- In school year 2013-14, California boasted 513,400 charter school students, more than any other state and amounting to 8% of all its public school students. D.C. followed with 33,200 such students.
- The number of Hispanic children in charters has increased from 21% to 30%; the number of white students has decreased from 42% to 35%, and for blacks, enrollment is down from 32% to 27%.
- More than 50% of charter students are black and Latino and hail predominantly from urban centers.
- As said, unlike traditional public schools which operate via a central office and a school board, charters do not.
- Authorizers can be non-profits, such as universities, but more often are local school boards that, after evaluating a proposal, gives a charter the go-ahead—or not.
- Charter authorizers cannot be for-profit companies, but can be managed by for-profit companies.
- Once approved, authorizers monitor a charter’s performance and, after several years, determines if a school deserves to remain open.
- A school’s charter is typically reviewed every 3 to 5 years—and revoked if curriculum, achievement standards, and managerial guidelines are not met.
- Teachers can open charter schools.
- Charters are not subject to the same regulations as traditional public schools.
- Charters design their own curriculum and decide which companies to do business with in terms of food and paper suppliers, and the like.
- According to the Stanford University’s 2015 Online Charter School Study, 70% of those online students are falling behind their traditional public school peers, losing the equivalent of 72 days in reading in a typical school year and 180 days in math.
And now comes a Greg Toppo USA Today top-of-the fold, front page headline: “Few charter school grads earn degrees: High school success often fails students when they reach the college level.”
So much for all the charter school hype, right? Actually, that headline may be misleading.
Read down to the article’s sixth paragraph and find this: “Statistics for charter schools are hard to come by, but the best estimate puts charters’ college persistence rate at about 23%. To be fair, the rate overall for low-income students—the kind of students typically served by charters—is even worse: just 9%. For low-income, high-minority urban public schools, most comparable to charters, the rate is 15%.”
To be fair, indeed. The bottom line question re, and given those poverty and incarceration rates introduced initially, can any school, charter or otherwise, produce consistently top-notch performance results?