The sponsors of charter schools persistently refer to them as public charter schools, but charter schools are public only in the sense that they receive public funding. They are virtually always privately managed and often privately owned. Oversight of charters is provided by appointed governing boards who are rarely required to meet in public or be accountable to the public. Although back in the early 1990s charters were conceived by school teachers as places they could innovate without as many constraints as traditional schools, today the charter movement has largely been taken over by large chains. Overall, charter schools have not out-performed traditional public schools, although such generalizations are deceiving because they mask the disparity in quality among charter schools.
Today federal policy is a prominent factor driving privatization through the establishment of charter schools. For the past ten years, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has been labeling a lot of schools failing; now we also have Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top and the new NCLB Waivers that attack teachers in a number of ways, and also require that the bottom scoring 5 percent of schools—so-called “failing” schools—be closed, reconstituted, or charterized and perhaps turned over to Charter Management Organizations or Educational Management Organizations. States had tried to be cautious in the experimentation with charter schools by setting caps on the number of new charters that could be authorized in any one year, but in 2009, to qualify for Race to the Top, a state’s legislature had to eliminate any caps the state had set on the authorization of new charters. Race to the Top opened the floodgates for privatization.
While in most places charter schools are required to admit students by lottery without admissions tests or criteria, there is evidence that charters (without economies of scale to offer special programs) serve far fewer of the most expensive children to educate, children who need special eduation services and English language learners. And many charters, while abiding by the letter of the law by avoiding admissions tests, require a complicated application process, an admissions interview or a parental contract. Charters also have enrollment caps, while traditional public schools are required to accept all children. It is important to ask whether charters are creating one set of schools for the most promising children while making the traditional public schools a system of last resort.
July 1, 2013: New York's City Limits reports New Charter High School Will Be Closed to Transfer Students. As Mayor Bloomberg leaves office, favored charter networks like Eva Moskowitz's Success Academies get prime locations in public school buildings for schools that are increasingly selective.
March 2013: Stan Karp, retired New Jersey public school teacher and now on staff at the Education Law Center reflects, in some depth, on Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education.
February 15, 2013: Here is a ground breaking expose from Reuters on use of selection screens in a number of charter schools in locations across the United States. A must read for those concerned that public school reform today seems aimed at those with high motivation or more advanced skills and fails to serve the most vulnerable children.
August 18, 2012: Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post writes on the big business of charter schools. She re-prints an inverview with David Brain, who manages movie theaters, retail centers, ski parks and charter schools and who promotes charter schools as a growth industry and an especially stable investment because "if you do business with states with solid treasuries, then it 's a very solid business."
May 29, 2012: Diane Ravitch explores Are Charter Schools Public Schools?
May 23, 2012: Perhaps school "reformers" are beginning to question the rhetoric on charter schools. Check out Thomas Toch blog, The Shifting Rhetoric of School Reform.
May 2012: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is undergoing school closures and privatization, both proposed as money-saving measures. Check out this article about ten years of school reform in Philadelphia, and Diane Ravitch's Bridging Differences blog from May 15.
June 2009: The Stanford CREDO study of charter school quality is the most respected research on this topic.
Here are important resources from the church:
An Alternative Vision for Public Education—A Pastoral Letter on Federal Policy in Public Education from the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and Literacy.
Public Education Justice—Where Do Charter Schools Fit In? from the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and Literacy.