Charter Schools and the Domino Effect

Two items caught my eye this week.  The first was a news item about proposed legislation in Wisconsin that would require traditional public schools with low test scores to be closed and converted into charter schools.  The second was a posting by Gene V. Glass entitled “Cream Rises to the Top in Charters?”

School choice and the charter school movement is a failed experiment on our nation’s school children.  Enough time has elapsed now and enough data has been gathered to demonstrate that this is a failed experiment in the quality of education in the U.S.  However, it has been a huge success for corporate free market education reformers.  So, while our nation’s children and local communities are the ultimate losers in this grand venture, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs are the ultimate winners.

As Gene Glass explains, “Charter schools have long been known for their filtering out at the admissions stage of students who might require special services or who might lower their test score average.”  In short, “choice” and charter schools are not so much about children and families choosing schools, but about charter schools choosing the students who can bolster their bottom line, increasing their capital in the form of higher test scores that will add to their brand and keep them in business — with a steady stream of income from the tax dollars citizens pay for public education.

The impact of Wisconsin’s proposed legislation would be extremely beneficial for the free market of education.    In essence, this legislation will have a domino effect on public schools and hasten their demise and the unity of the local communities these public schools serve.  If passed, the legislation would require that “persistently low-performing public schools would be turned into charter schools.”  In other words, low performing public schools would disappear, never to be improved and never to return to the democratic public sector.  There is no indication that low performing charter schools would be converted back into traditional public schools.  Rather, they would most likely merely be turned over to another charter school operator.

The impact could be devastating for public education because inevitably and by design, once opened, each charter school would begin the process of weeding out low performing and special needs students.  And where would they go? To the remaining traditional public school.  Of course, then, the student population of the public schools would shift as they accommodate more and more of the poorer performing students and students who require more services in order to be successful.  Their test scores are likely to go down — not because they are not good schools and not because their teachers are ineffective, but because they are doing what all public schools should be doing — trying to meet the needs of all students.  But, eventually, these remaining public schools run the risk of being deemed failures as their test scores decline.  And then, of course, according to the proposed law, they will be turned into a charter school — which will again further weed out the low performing and special needs students.  This is the domino effect.  One by one, public schools will fall.  A fait accompli for the private sector.

And what about standardized testing in this brave new world of privatized education?  Will student achievement rise across the nation?  Will our students’ scores top the list on PISA tests?  Of course not.  But, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs aren’t so much concerned about that in spite of their catch phrases, advertising slogans, and cliches.  They just want more charter schools full of students that bring with them a hefty sum of tax dollars.  I have a feeling that once charter schools dominate in the education sector, standardized test scores will become less consequential.  The Republican legislature is already hinting at a move to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing.  That only makes sense when you think about it.  Standardized testing is not demonstrating the superiority of charter schools over public schools.  So, standardized tests are less appealing than they were in the years leading up to NCLB, when choice proponents were convinced that public schools would be shamed into closing when they had to compete with charter schools.

6 thoughts on “Charter Schools and the Domino Effect

  1. There is nothing free market about tax-supported corporations and it’s way past time to stop calling them that. Just because corporate raiders of public education choose to warp the meaning of language is no reason to go along with that.


    • Using the term “free market” is a way to unpack the activities of the corporate raiders on public education. Having read almost the complete works of Milton Friedman and his economic ideas and now delving into the works of Joseph Stiglitz (who uses the term free market), it seems essential to use this term as one delves into economic policies that have dominated the political economy in the U.S. since the Reagan era. I use the term “free market” circumspectly as an interpretive lens.

      I appreciate your comment. However, I contend that corporate raiders on pubic education have been emboldened and privileged by the predominance of free market ideology in the U.S. And corporations care not if their profit is generated from government tax dollars or from consumers of products.


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