JACKSON — Mississippi is on the brink of passing legislation to permit privately-managed charter schools to open. This is a bad idea. Charter schools have been in existence for twenty years, and grand claims are made for them, but don’t believe the hype.
I live in New York City, where our mayor has opened over 100 charter schools. As they expand, they cause fragmentation in communities, as charters and public schools squabble over space and resources. Instead of people working together around common goals, they are jousting over students, resources, and facilities. Critics say that charters get preferential treatment, because of their wealthy backers. Some charter operators are expanding aggressively into neighborhoods where there is intense community opposition.
When charters close, either because of financial mismanagement or awful academic results, the students are left stranded. We see that now in New Orleans, where the closure of the Sojourner Truth Charter school has left students without teachers and without a meaningful education. In some ways, it’s like when Walmart comes to a region and the mom-and-pop stores; if Walmart decides to close because they aren’t making enough money, the community is left without a Main Street.
Private management of public money opens the door to all kinds of problems and abuses. The nation’s largest charter chain produces high test scores, but it is run mostly by the Gulen movement, a small, little known Turkish organization. For more on Gulen and on the problems of charters, check out this website: Charterschoolscandals, created by a parent activist in California.
Study after study shows that charters don’t get better results on average than regular public schools. The best known national study in 2009 found that 17% got better test scores than neighborhood public schools, 36% got worse scores, and 46% were no different. In other words, five out of six new charters don’t outperform the public schools. In most cities and states, charters don’t do any better or worse than the public schools.
Some charters get high test scores by skimming the best students and enrolling disproportionately small numbers of students with disabilities and English language learners. The more the charters attract the best students and the ones who are easiest to educate, the more the regular public schools are weakened. That’s bad for the majority of students and the whole community.