Charter Schools Corporate Reformers

Jeff Bryant: Public Opinion Is Beginning to Shift Against Charter Schools

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Jeff Bryant writes that charter schools have enjoyed an elevated status as a “sure cure” for low-performing students because most Americans know so little about them.


He cites a number of polls showing that the appeal of charter schools wears thin when people realize that they draw resources away from the local public schools. As one person quoted in the article says, charters have a “negative fiscal impact” on local public schools.


Furthermore, the local press in many cities–especially in Florida and Ohio–has reported frequently on charter frauds and scandals, on money flowing to politically connected charter operators, on legislators with conflicts of interest, on charters that push out unwanted children and avoid students with disabilities, and on charters whose “CEO” is paid over half a million. As more such articles appear, the public begins to see that the absence of regulation leads to systemic abuse, not just a one-time anomaly.


Citing John Merrow, Bryant writes:


The simple reality is that as charters expand into new communities, and residents see that their neighborhood school loses a percentage of students in a particular grade level or across grade levels to charters, the school can’t simply proportionally cut fixed costs for things like transportation and physical plant. It also can’t cut the costs of grade-level teaching staff proportionally. That would increase class sizes and leave the remaining students underserved. So instead, the school cuts a support service – a reading specialist, a special education teacher, a librarian, an art or music teacher – to offset the loss of funding. Say goodbye to your kids’ favorite art teacher or your school’s Mandarin program.


What Charters Have Become


“I have been observing what is called the ‘charter school movement’ from Day One,” Merrow recalls, “a historic meeting at the headwaters of the Mississippi River in 1988 that I moderated. Back then, the dream was that every district would open at least one ‘chartered school,’ where enrollment and employment would be voluntary and where new ideas could be field-tested. Successes and failures would be shared, and the entire education system would benefit.”


Merrow now finds those early aspirations for charter schools “naïve,” given what characterizes the charter school industry today.


Early charter school promoters may indeed have been naïve, but the American public is increasingly getting wise, and the “charter school brand,” as Merrow phrases it, is likely turning from Teflon to tarnished.


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