Charter schools are another one of those policy ideas that sound great on paper, but end up being more destructive than constructive. The original idea was to allow schools within the public school system to innovate and more closely tailor curriculum and instruction techniques to student needs. But somewhere along the way, the mission and intent behind charters changed, to the detriment of public schools.
There are many factors that make charters an unsustainable strategy for improving public education. Unlike most charter schools, traditional public schools accept all children, including much larger numbers of high-needs students. In most states, charters do not face the same public accountability and transparency requirements as public schools, which has led to serious problems of mismanagement, corruption, and profiteering.
Invariably, beneath accounts of spectacular charter success lie demographics that reveal fewer special-needs children, fewer English language learners, and fewer children from the poorest families. This hasn't stopped the cheerleading coming from some quarters, but it does undermine the credibility of charter schools as a strategy for improving public schools overall.
Profiteering and discrimination in our public schools. Who could have guessed?
The bottom line here is simple enough. Until charter schools can be reformed right alongside public education, growth should slow down.
Our country has already had more than enough experience with separate and unequal school systems. The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new “civil rights movement,” addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country. At the level of state and federal education policy, charters are providing a reform cover for eroding the public school system and an investment opportunity for those who see education as a business rather than a fundamental institution of democratic civic life. It's time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.