Why Conventional School “Reforms” Have Failed
Charter Schools Are Not the Key to Improving Public Education

by Bill Honig

The reform movement has failed to produce results overall, and reputable evaluations have shown that individual reform measures also proved to be ineffective. Turnaround schools, charter schools, merit pay, or test-based school and teacher accountability have had either nonexistent or trivial effects. In his book Visible Learning, John Hattie writes that even when reforms produced small gains, they fall far below the improvements brought about by validated initiatives. In this article, I examine the failure of one of the major initiatives of the reform movement: the expansion of charter schools.

Charters Do Not Perform Better Than Their Public School Counterparts

Charter schools have not been the panacea that reformers have been promising the nation for decades. The lack of accountability for charters has allowed significant corruption, diversion of public funds, and a high tolerance for low performance. Charters educate about six percent of US students. Some are excellent such as the Aspire, Summit, and High-Tech High networks. Coupled with the best public schools, they are beacons of best practice for everyone. However, many charter schools are educational disasters. The worst are plagued by self-dealing, embezzlement, or undue political influence that allows them to engineer preferential sweetheart deals. Many exposés of charters have been written detailing hundreds of millions of dollars in waste, fraud, and mismanagement. Most states allow charters or charter organizations, whether they are nonprofit or profit making, to operate with minimal accountability and transparency.

According to the well-regarded Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) research group from Stanford, only about one-quarter of charter schools score better in reading and math than their public school counterparts. Of course, reading and math test results are not the be-all and end-all of school quality. Even so, one-quarter of charters score worse, and the remainders’ performance is no different from non-charter public schools. Specifically, the study 2 found virtually no difference in overall test scores between charters and public schools with comparable students. In another finding, about 31% of charter schools did statistically worse in math than their local public school counterparts; only 29% did better. The findings were even less impressive in reading: 19% of charters did worse; just 25% did better.

Other major evaluations identified similar outcomes—some of our best schools are charters; they are also some of our worst. Most perform similarly to their district’s non-charter public schools. Comparable findings were reported by strong charter advocates, and a report focusing on New York City schools found no difference between public schools and charters. In 2015, CREDO evaluated charter schools in Texas and found on the whole they did worse than the public schools with matched students. For an extensive review of the research on charter school performance, see Charter Schools in Perspective: A Guide to Research and Charter Schools: A Survey of Research on Their Characteristics and Effectiveness.

In 2015, CREDO published a follow-up to the national study. It found that charters in urban districts scored slightly higher than their non-charter public school cousins, but the effects sizes were tiny—0.05 of a standard deviation (SD) in reading and 0.04 in math—many multiples less than the alternative, more effective initiatives successful districts have undertaken. Nonetheless, CREDO did hype the results by reporting them as equivalent to 45 days of extra instruction in math and 28 days in reading and by labeling the results “significant,” which in statistical terms just means “not by chance.”

Comparable results were found in 2015 by University of California, Berkeley scholar Bruce Fuller and his team in a large sample of 66,000 Los Angeles District students from charter and traditional public schools. Essentially, there are two types of charters in LA—startups and conversions. Startups, or schools that started from scratch and are independent from the district, are found in more low-income areas. Conversions of neighborhood schools to semi-charter status, and their relief from some district rules, are found mostly in higher-scale neighborhoods. Conversion school students entered with higher scores and made somewhat more progress than their public school counterparts. After adjusting for entry scores and socioeconomics, the report found statistically insignificant or small advantages for elementary and high school. They did find moderate advantages for middle schools, especially among startups.

The report states: “The benefits of attending a charter middle school appear to be consistent across subgroups and moderate in magnitude, especially for students in startups. Most other charter advantages remain small in magnitude or statistically insignificant. We detected no achievement differences between pupils attending charter versus TPS high schools.”

Other studies have shown charters demonstrating no effect in suburban areas or producing lower scores. Writing in TheNew York Times, Susan Dynarski summarized the research: “This pattern—small but positive results in some low-income city neighborhoods, zero to negative results in relatively affluent suburbs—holds in lottery studies in Massachusetts as well as in a national study of charter schools funded by the Education Department.”

To put those findings in perspective, as I explained in the companion article Have High-Stakes Testing and Privatization Been Effective? a full standard deviation difference in test performance translates to one or two years of additional instruction, or many multiples of the charter advantage identified by CREDO. In his book Visible Learning for Teachers, John Hattie lists many strategies that actually produce that elevated effect size and generate improvements several times those found by CREDO and by Russ Whitehurst of the conservative Brookings Institute.

Many independent researchers claim that charter schools always benefit in performance comparisons with their public school counterparts due to “selective advantage” from more motivated parents and “better peer support” from students who receive support from those more motivated parents.

In addition, according to Stephanie Simon in an exposé in Reuters entitled “Special Report: Class Struggle—How Charter Schools Get Students They Want,” many charters driven by competition to produce high test scores adopt practices to screen out potentially low-performing students by assessing such measures as parental support, motivation, disciplinary history, and academic performance. Simon found charters using such strategies as:

  • Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.
  • Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.
  • Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.
  • Mandatory family interviews.
  • Assessment exams.
  • Academic prerequisites.
  • Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The US Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K–12 schools.

Many charters, backed by state law, specialize in serving low-income and minority children. Some of the best-known charter networks, such as KIPP, Yes Prep, Green Dot, and Success Academy, use simple application forms that ask little more than name, grade, and contact information, and actively seek out disadvantaged families. Most for-profit charter school chains also keep applications brief. But stand-alone charters, which account for more than half the total in the United States, make up their own admissions policies. Regulations are often vague, oversight is often laxand principals can get quite creative.

Confirmation of the Reuter’s report is provided by a North Carolina study that found the student population of the state’s charter schools was substantially less diverse than their public school cousins. Further, many charters put pressure on low performers to leave and never backfill the vacancies, resulting in an arbitrarily high-performing student body, addressed below. Thus, researchers argue that charters should be significantly outperforming their counterparts, and the fact that they do not demonstrates a major flaw in the charters as a “viable alternative” to public schools.

In response, a few researchers have compared the performance of students who are accepted in charter school lotteries to that of students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds who are not selected. But extrapolating the results to all charters is not warranted because only the most popular and, presumably, highest-performing schools have lotteries. Further, these studies still do not adjust for the difference in student bodies between charter schools that select their students and nonselective public schools that the rejected charter applicants attend.

A fascinating online debate about the pros and cons of charters took place between a hedge fund “reform” advocate, Dimitri Mehlhorn, and Mark Weber whose has a blog called Jersey Jazzman. Jazzman effectively dismissed many of Mehlhorn’s contentions, echoing the arguments I have been making in this article. However, one of Mehlhorn’s most vulnerable main points was not rebutted. He asserted that even though the results of charter evaluations have shown tiny effects, no one has produced better alternatives. He reasons, therefore, that small increases are better than the status quo and that these increases eventually will add up. Given Hattie’s and others’ research, that claim is patently erroneous. The Build-and-Support strategy is based on highly successful alternatives to charter school expansion. These alternatives will be fully explored in the series of companion articles How Top Performers Build-and-Support.

What the CREDO evaluation of urban schools found, which is very useful, is the existence of a significant number of high-performing charters in some urban districts and a comparable number doing terribly in other urban districts. Charters and non-charter public schools should look to the best charters and the best public schools along with their supportive structures. A charter approach should not be hyped as the only way to improve public education.

Similarly, on closer examination the much heralded success of widespread charter expansion in districts such as New Orleans and Washington, DC, turns out to be tenuous and accompanied by severe collateral damage, including resegregation and community disruption. On segregation, a 2016 National Education Policy Center report by William Mathis and Kevin Weiner, Do Choice Policies Segregate Schools? answers yes. For a full examination of the negative results of charters in these districts, see the companion article Have High-Stakes Testing and Privatization Been Effective? and the research cited there.

Charter School Stats

During the past 15 years, 2,500 charter schools have either failed or been closed —impacting 288,000 children. In 2015, there were about 6,500 operating charter schools so the number of failures represents a large amount of disruption when compared to the total number.

Richard Whitmire, a strong supporter of charter schools, estimates that about 1,200 of the existing 6,500 charter schools, or less than one-fifth, are high performers. For the health of the reform movement, Whitmire recommends that about 1,000 failed charters be shut down immediately. For facts and figures on the charter school movement in the United States documented by a pro-charter group, see The State of the Charter School Movement.

Dishonest Success Stories: The Refusal to Backfill

Many of the overhyped charter success stories turn out to be based on charter schools that enroll fewer English-language learners (ELLs) and fewer students with disabilities or learning differences than public schools. For example, in Arizona, the successful schools touted by reformers actually enroll much richer and easier-to-educate children.

This, of course, makes any comparison invalid. More telling are the many documented examples of charters that push low-performing students out and then do not backfill the openings when they leave. Their public school cousins must take all comers. Many charters claim they have the same attrition rates as public schools, but annual attrition rates are not the right metric. Even if charters and non-charters have the same annual attrition rate, if the public school must fill all the vacant slots, but the charter does not, the charters’ student body will be increasingly high performing.

The schools in these faux success stories start with, say, 100 students and then, owing mainly to academic pressure, a few grades later only have 30. At this point the schools claim high scores and elevated graduation rates or college attendance for the refined, smaller group. An opinion piece in TheWall Street Journal exposed this practice explaining that charters do it to keep test scores arbitrarily high. In a similar vein, critiques by Horace Meister on Diane Ravitch’s blog and Leo Casey on the highly respected Albert Shanker Institute blog provide ample evidence of this practice at the highly promoted Success Academy charter schools in New York City—demonstrating that claims of tremendous success are not borne out by the facts. As is the case with test-driven teacher evaluation schemes, more opinion leaders and politicians are speaking out against these questionable practices. Even charter school advocates, such as Dimitri Mehlhorn, propose requiring charter schools to backfill.

Thus, some charter advocates argue that since charters function as ostensible public schools they should be required to backfill; others argue that schools such as science magnet schools should be allowed to be selective. But, in any case, there should be no false advertising about educational outcomes. Charters that do not backfill should not be allowed to proclaim their effectiveness in raising test scores. If they want to compare test results, their students’ performance should be measured against a similar rarified group in the public schools—if the original charter cohort is only 50% of its original numbers, then those students should be compared to the top 50% of its public school counterparts. Since many charters at present do no better than public schools, the results would not be impressive. As an example, magnet schools in Los Angeles, which also benefit from parental choice and involvement and draw from the entire district, significantly outperform charter schools—even after gifted magnets are removed.

The Problematic “No Excuses” Approach

There are also many examples of charter schools trumpeting the results of a “no excuses” approach, which delivers narrow, test-driven instruction at the expense of deeper learning. Many students subjected to this harsh, boot camp regime flounder as they move on to other educational settings. See “Are @KIPP Charter Schools Pathological?,” Julian Vasquez Heilig’s critique of the much ballyhooed KIPP schools (some of which are excellent but most mediocre). Vasquez’s comments appear in a review of Jim Horn’s 2016 book about KIPP, Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through “No Excuses” Teaching.

Jamaal Bowman, principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx (New York City), laments:

Consider KIPP’s first graduating class. Ranked fifth in NYC in mathematics in the 8th grade, but only 21% graduated college. Why? Because KIPP test prepped the kids to death and the kids never built their character or learned to manage their own freedom. KIPP and many charters standardize and try to control everything from how kids walk through the halls to how they ask to go to the bathroom. But teaching and learning is organic; it is human. When are we going to ask ourselves why must poor communities of color be treated like this, whereas middle class and upper class parents would NEVER go for this treatment!

On the other hand, see KIPP’s research on the performance of their first cohorts of eighth- grade KIPP graduates. Their research found a 44% four-year college graduation rate (compared to the 29% national average) and an additional 5% who graduated from two-year institutions. This is a commendable record. Whether these statistics hold after the large scale-up of KIPP schools remains to be seen.

Jacqueline Ancess is a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, whose research focuses on urban school reform, performance assessment, small schools, and accountability. In a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog, she describes the supposed success of some of the highly flogged charter schools:

Some charters are continually referred to as “successful” without any identification of criteria for a successful school or a successful charter school. Some charters may produce standardized test scores that are higher than “peer” schools, but when examined are not scores that indicate that students are strong readers. Success Academy Charters are regularly referred to as successful, yet their 2014 8th grade graduation rate was 44 percent! What is successful about a 44 percent graduation rate? Despite claims of high scores on NY State tests, not one Success Academy Charter school student has made the cut score for admission to NYC’s specialized high schools.

Approximately 80 percent of KIPP students who go to college do NOT graduate. What is successful about that? These test scores are Pyrrhic victories. Furthermore, let’s drop the erroneous idea the charters were supposed to be centers of innovative practice which would be adopted by other schools–there was plenty of innovation before charters and no excuses discipline policies and kindergarten suspension practices are hardly innovative or the kinds of policies and practices we want to scale up in traditional schools!

Recently, Success Academy has been the subject of media attention for its abusive teaching practices. On Diane Ravitch’s blog, a former Success Academy teacher describes why she resigned in the post “A Success Academy Teacher Quits and Explains Why.” An article in The New York Times describes how an “honored” teacher tore up a first grader’s paper in front of the class and berated the student as not being good enough. The sickening incident was captured in a short video posted online with the article. Stories about the incident generated calls for Success Academy schools to be shut down. Eva Moscowitz, the outspoken leader of Success Academy (and shamefully many of her supporters), attempted to dismiss the occurrence as a one-time lapse by the teacher. Yet even stalwart advocates of conventional school reform disagreed with this defense and pointed out that the practice was encouraged by Success Academy schools.

Another critic of the “no excuses” approach is the ex-dean of students of a New Orleans charter school. He found it extremely degrading to students. Another disgusted teacher writes two posts about a “no excuses” charter school: Part 1 and Part 2. For a distressing description of a school day in a “no excuses” Brooklyn charter, see Emily Talmadge’s essay. As a further example, see the comments posted by Emily Kaplan on the Curmudgucation blog. Kaplan was a teacher in a highly touted charter school in Boston. She resigned due to the school’s authoritarian, test-prep culture. After describing the dehumanizing and test-prep orientation of instruction, Emily Kaplan asserts:

The school is one of several Boston area “no excuses” charters that receive major accolades (and many hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and prizes) for their high scores on state standardized tests. Supporters and leaders of these schools claim that the high scores extracted using these methods prove that the schools are “closing the achievement gap.” Look, they say, pointing to the score reports: poor black kids in Boston are outperforming rich white kids in Newton and Brookline and Wellesley.

And, indeed, this data is compelling. Its very existence teaches a powerful lesson that this country needs to hear: children of color from low-income homes can outperform wealthy white children on standardized tests, which are the metrics that we as a society have decided mean …well, something.

The problem is that standardized test scores mean very little. On the only tests that do mean a tremendous amount for these students—the SSATs—students at the school I taught at perform abysmally. Subsequently, these same middle schoolers who often dramatically outperform their wealthy white peers on these tests are not accepted in large numbers to the most selective high schools (and most of those who do struggle socially and emotionally when thrust into student bodies that aren’t upwards of 98 percent students of color); struggle to succeed academically in high school (81 percent earn high school grade-point averages below 3.0 in the first semester); and certainly do not thrive after high school, graduating from college at very low rates and, among those who don’t go to college, failing in large numbers to secure full-time employment.

For a student’s perspective on the deficiencies of “no excuses” schools, see “Control Experiment.”

Beyond the Viral Video: Inside Educators’ Emotional Debate about “No Excuses” Discipline is a very thoughtful paper by Elizabeth Green. In it, she discusses the pros and cons and underlying philosophy of the no-excuse movement. Green explains the genesis of the approach, including supporters’ belief in the primary importance of student behavior in creating classroom effectiveness. This led to intolerance for even the most minor infractions.

Green also delineates three major arguments against the approach—the establishment of order at the expense of deeper learning, the psychological harm done to students even if they test well, and the problem of strict discipline as a form of racist control. Those favoring no-excuse approaches counter that it is antiracist to insist on strict behavior if that is what it takes to provide low-income and minority children a good education, that negative consequences for breaking even minor behavioral norms actually help students, and that the best no-excuse charter schools are adapting to embed strict discipline in an overall warm, supportive atmosphere.

Green sides with those arguing against harsher version of “no excuses”:

Ultimately, I think that critics inside “no excuses” schools are right that the “no excuses” approach to teaching needs radical overhaul. The behavior first, learning second formula prescribed by broken-windows theory—and for that matter, by most American schools—can successfully build compliant, attentive students, at least in the short term. But it cannot produce students who think creatively, reason independently, and analyze critically.

She also believes it is possible for no-excuse charters to change for the better. Responding to the problematic nature of the approach, many charter schools are rethinking their commitment. These schools are attempting to embed strict discipline in a loving and supportive atmosphere and avoid privileging control over deeper learning—discipline yes, abuse no.

The theory behind the no-excuse philosophy is also forcefully challenged by Paul Tough in his 2016 book, Helping Students Succeed: What Works and Why and his article in the Atlantic “How Kids Learn Resilience.” Tough asserts that frequent punishment doesn’t work in helping the most severely traumatized students, but engagement in a welcoming atmosphere does.

Finally, Sarah Garland reports on a charter school network in North Philadelphia, Mastery Charter Schools, which is abandoning the no-excuse approach. According to Garland’s interview with Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Charter Schools:

Gordon worried that Mastery was in danger of confirming what many critics often charge about charter schools: That while many of them may do a good job of preparing kids to do well on standardized tests and get into college, their students founder once they arrive on campus. That the mostly white leaders of urban charter networks are, at best, out of touch with the mostly black and Hispanic communities they serve, or, at worst, guilty of a paternalistic racism that undermines their mission of uplift.

My own experience teaching in inner-city schools supports the idea that classroom control is important but should never become abusive, a barrier to deep learning, or an excuse for a non-nurturing classroom.

Undoubtedly, there are parents and teachers who are satisfied with their charter school, but we must examine the outlandish marketing and political claims that continue to describe charters as the best way to improve public education.

Debunking the Theory: Public Schools Are Not Inherently Unproductive

Originally, charters were seen as a positive alternative to public schools. They enabled energetic and like-minded teachers, parents, and educators to organize around common goals and run their own school. These schools would draw students from a broad geographic area thereby combating some of the ills of housing segregation. This was in keeping with the very successful magnet schools that operated in most urban school districts and offered parents more choices. The original idea was for charter schools to cooperate with the best non-charter public schools in order to become high-performing models for others to emulate. This had broad support. Regrettably, a more negative philosophy began to take hold and drive the charter school movement—the belief that most public schools cannot perform and should be replaced by charters or even for-profit franchisers.

This negative view has its foundation in an ideology that is hostile to government institutions. Charter school advocates view those institutions, including public schools, as inherently unproductive and resistant to change. They believe that only private-like entities such as charter schools, freed from bureaucratic constraints and responding to market forces, will produce high performance. They pursued reform under the banner of “charters, choice, and competition.”

The theory was so seductive that large numbers of academics, opinion leaders, wealthy businesspeople, foundations, and politicians became its passionate defenders. These folks believe that untouched by market forces, public institutions become paralyzed—captured by interest groups, unions, and bureaucrats who are all resistant to improvement. Thus, low-performing public schools had to be replaced by private, market-driven entities under the guise of choice and competition. In their view, only charters had the autonomy and freedom from regulations to become world-class schools. For many “reformers,” trying to improve low-performing schools was not possible or was too difficult; it was much easier to just close a low performer and replace it with a charter school.

A half century ago, Milton Friedman advocated public choice in education. His ideas were subsequently popularized by Terry Moe and John Chubb. Their work has become the intellectual argument for charter school expansion embraced by a small group of extremely wealthy businesspeople and accepted as fact by Republicans and Democrats alike. As a result, in many states Republican and Democratic governors are starving or closing public schools and increasing funds for charters.

Many charter proponents want to go further. They want to close all or a significant number of public schools and replace them with charters. This would be accomplished either through direct closure or indirectly by diverting substantial funds from public to charter schools. This occurred in New Orleans, Newark, and Washington, DC. See the companion article Have High-Stakes Testing and Privatization Been Effective? for a description of the meager results of such efforts.

Billionaire Eli Broad’s foundation is advocating converting one-half of Los Angeles schools to charters, and Broad himself is raising $500 million for the project, although he has since backed off his original plan and now wants to spend those funds on expansion of charters, magnet schools, and high-performing public schools. For a trenchant critique of Broad’s proposal, see John Thompson’s analysis “Dare Anyone Say No to Eli Broad?”

Across the country, some mayors of large cities have aggressively pushed for charter school expansion. Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 53 schools in Chicago—mostly in low-income minority neighborhoods. Although this was ostensibly done for financial reasons (while providing over $100 million to a private university to build a football stadium supported by his wealthy donors), he called for 60 additional charters with many using the same buildings as the schools targeted for closure. Emanuel was following the strategy of New York mayor Bloomberg and superintendent Klein who supported charter expansion while closing non-charter public schools. Many of these actions were promoted by billionaire hedge fund managers, business acolytes, and the charter school industry, which wielded enormous influence through political donations and PR campaigns.

The current mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, is under incessant attack by these same groups for daring to attempt to use scarce funds to improve the regular public schools. They want him to use the funds to support charter expansion. To compound de Blasio’s troubles, New York governor Andrew Cuomo is supporting major charter school expansion and cutting funds for regular schools, refusing to provide New York City with court-ordered funding.For an excellent account of these events, see Alan Singer’s article “Despite Big Problems Charters Attract Hedge Fund Support and Presidential Candidates Hungry for Dollars.” Democratic governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut also has been heavily influenced by charter school advocates to the detriment of public schools.

There is only one problem with the “public sphere can’t deliver” creed—the theory that privatization increases performance does not hold up. In the broader context, the same ideas brought us financial deregulation and the resulting financial meltdown, brutal private prisons, and widespread corporate pollution. It also ignores examples of stellar public performance. Consider the remarkable contributions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local fire departments, or DARPA, the defense department think tank that has one of the most incredible records of innovation in human history. DARPA developed the Internet, nanotechnology, cloud computing, the research behind Siri, digital libraries, and autonomous vehicles. The Entrepreneurial State by Marianna Mazzucato extols the value of government entrepreneurship.

In their recent article “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools,” Christopher and Sarah Lubienski debunk the “public choice theory” that has been used to justify dismantling public schools and replacing them with charters. The Lubienskis reviewed vast student databases and found, to their own surprise, that public schools outperformed private schools and charters when comparable students were matched. Of course, this was contrary to received opinion and what was predicted by public choice theory. These findings are consistent with the research I have cited above.

The Lubienskis offered several reasons why this was so. Certain societal enterprise is of a public nature and better performed by a public institution that is staffed by dedicated professionals committed to broader social purposes, and subject to democratic control. Market forces and parental choice actually constrain instructional innovation because of charters’ need to attract students based on average test scores and the resulting narrowing of the curriculum and inordinate time devoted to test prep. Many charter schools overspent on marketing and high-priced CEOs, and the idea that public schools could not innovate without competitive external pressure turned out to be false. Paul Horton also wrote a perceptive essay on why market-driven reform does not produce improved educational outcomes as did Kern Alexander, who stressed the lack of useful information parents receive before they choose a school and debunked “efficient market” theories used to justify charters and vouchers. Andy Rotherham, a major supporter of reform initiatives, wrote an article arguing that market forces often cause detrimental choices. Diane Ravitch summarized findings from extensive research that show private firms taking over public functions often cause harm by putting profits above service. Moreover, widespread charter expansion often results in considerable resegregation.

Finally, one of the main justifications for charters has been that they are responding to market forces and parental choices. This turns out to be largely fallacious. It is not free market forces that are in effect, but government policies that favor privately managed charters over publicly run schools by closing neighborhood schools and replacing them with a charter. It is not even true that charters relieved of government regulation will be more efficient and spend less on administration. According to a summary of the research by Gary Miron, one the leading scholars on charter schools, they spend more. Nor do charters give more bang for the buck. A study in New Mexico found that the state spends more on charters without the charters outperforming their public school counterparts.

Further, what choice do parents really have if their local school is closed or neglected? Even if they are satisfied with their local school or would prefer its revitalization rather than applying to a charter, the only real choice parents are given is the uncertain chance to enroll their child in a charter school.

Minimal Accountability for Fraud, Mismanagement, or Low Performance

Despite the fact that most for-profit charters perform abysmally, for-profit charter operators who made substantial political contributions have enjoyed political support in many states. One example is Ohio, where for many years charter owners successfully lobbied the legislature and Governor Kasich against any effective financial transparency and performance accountability. As a result, a shocking amount of fraud, mismanagement, and self-dealing has taken place. William Phillis, a retired deputy commissioner of education in Ohio, offered his critique on Diane Ravitch’s blog. To turn things around, others have proposed 10 ideas for correcting the rampant corruption of Ohio’s Wild West era.

In late 2015, a reasonable accountability measure supported by the governor was finally passed, but closure of the large numbers of existing low-performing charters still remained problematic. An article in the mainstream Columbus Dispatch castigated charter lobbyist’s attempts to water down the accountability provisions.

In a telling postscript to the disastrous performance by Ohio charter schools, just before he resigned as US secretary of education Arne Duncan awarded charters in Ohio a whopping $71 million. So much for rewarding schools for high performance.

Florida’s experience with charters did not fare better. According to one report:

One person who has paid close attention to the spread of charter schools in Florida is Sue Legg. As a public school teacher, college professor and an administrator of state school assessment contracts at the University of Florida for over 30 years, Legg has had a ringside seat to the Florida charter school circus. In a series of reports produced for the Florida chapter of the League of Women Voters, Legg revealed the many ways charter schools in Florida spread political corruption and financial opportunism while doing little to improve the academic performance of their students.

Her year-long 2014 study, conducted in 28 Florida counties, found a 20 percent closure rate for charters due to financial problems or poor academic performance—a closure rate that has now increased to over 40 percent. The charter schools studied generally did not perform better than public schools, and tended to be more racially segregated. A significant number of these charters operated for-profit and operated in church related facilities.

The failure of Florida’s charter schools has been well documented. The Sun Sentinel published an excellent exposé, and an investigation by the Miami Herald found that the state lost $70 million on charters that were forced to close. The lost capital came from public education funds. John Romano wrote a devastating article in the Tampa Bay Times about the double-dealing in the legislature related to many Florida charter schools.

In 2014, a comparable yearlong investigation of Michigan’s charter schools by the Detroit Free Press decried the charters’ failure to be transparent, accountable, or demonstrably better than Michigan’s public schools. Reporters concluded that Michigan charters, of which 80% were for-profit, got worse results than traditional public schools, drained $1 billion a year from their public counterparts, and were never held accountable for waste, fraud, abuse, or poor outcomes. The Chicago Sun-Times reported similar results for charter schools in Illinois. Finally, The Salt Lake Tribune castigated charter school fraud and low performance by some well-connected charter operators. The editorial begins:

A handful of private companies have banked more than $68 million from Utah taxpayers over the past three years. The money is delivered through no-bid contracts by people who don’t work for government, but the companies are often connected to political officials.

Another ploy used by a growing number of charter schools and franchises is to acquire multiple sponsors to avoid any real accountability or to hop to another authorizer to avoid closure or strong accountability.

There is the instructive example of stalwart “reformer” Kevin Huffman. He was commissioner of education in Tennessee from 2011 to 2015. To his credit, Huffman tried to close the worst school in the state—a virtual school operated by K–12, Inc., a for-profit company working nationwide. Through political donations and extensive lobbying, K–12, Inc., was able to fend off any attempts to hold it accountable. Sadly, most virtual schools, including K–12, Inc., have been nothing short of an educational disaster. In California, the San Jose Mercury News also exposed the disastrous record of K–12 virtual schools in the state and how they exploited California’s charter and charitable laws.

In 2015, the Center for Media and Democracy issued a report castigating the federal government for a lack of oversight and financial accountability. The report claimed that millions of dollars in expenditures went to ghost schools that never opened. State accountability boards had been captured by the charter industry, which refused to collect performance and financial probity data under the guise of “flexibility.”

Finally, at the local level, although charters claim they are public institutions, many resist transparency and complaint procedures leaving disgruntled parents with nowhere to go to register problems.

Many charter advocates have understood that fraud, low performance, and lack of effective accountability could kill the charter school movement and have supported corrective action. Some states, such as California, have enacted a much more rigorous charter accountability system. In addition, under the leadership of Jed Wallace the California Charter School Association has been advocating for stricter accountability for low-performing charters and for questionable financial practices. It has also sponsored legislation to restrict for-profit charters in the state.

However, the California Charter School Association and other charter advocates have been extremely aggressive in promoting charter expansion, limiting the ability of local boards of education to deny charter formations when deemed harmful, and supporting pro-charter legislators and board members. For a discussion of the problematical charter situation in California, see “Failing the Test,” a series of articles on Capital & Main, and a blog post about the frustrations a local district encountered in opposing the creation of a franchise-sponsored charter.

Charters Drain Funds from Non-Charter Public Schools

Many charters, even if performing adequately, drain substantial resources from neighborhood public schools or serve as a vehicle for massive privatization schemes. The end result has been a two-tiered and more racially segregated educational system. This was the experience in Newark and some of the other heavily privatized districts such as Denver, Milwaukee, Washington, DC, and New Orleans. In these districts, performance gaps between low-income and minority students and their more privileged peers increased sharply.

Charters drain funds from public school districts in several important ways. First, at the state and national levels funds for public schools have been reduced while funds for charters have been increased. For example, in Indiana from 2009 to 2013, public school funding was cut by over $3 billion, charter funding was increased by $539 million, vouchers by $248 million, and virtual schools by $143 million. Students who attend public schools account for about 94% of Indiana students, yet they took a huge hit, while the other seven percent gained over $900 million.

Second, charters and their more pernicious cousin, vouchers, attract many students who were previously attending private schools paid for by their parents. Public school budgets must then be charged for these additional students.

Third, local districts can reach a tipping point if too many charters are created in their boundaries since districts have fixed costs and at some point must make drastic cuts in services to adjust. This is precisely what happened in Detroit. Schools are akin to a public utility, and it has long been recognized that it is extremely inefficient to create competing organizations to deliver services such as electricity or public transportation.

Moreover, too often public school funds get diverted from instruction to pay for dubious expenses ranging from a charter’s high-priced CEO to extensive marketing, real estate manipulations, and a significant amount of fraud and embezzlement in the absence of effective accountability.

Finally, there are numerous examples of highly successful public schools jeopardized or forced to close by the unnecessary creation or co-location of a charter. For example, a stellar school in North Carolina was closed for lack of financial support after a charter was created to compete with it.

In Massachusetts, a local board succumbed to pressure and created a charter high school to compete with Brockton High School, one of the most successful turnaround high schools in the country. The recently elected Republican governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, has proposed a hefty expansion of charter schools that will require diverting funds from public schools. His proposals created a severe backlash in Boston. Why anyone would jeopardize the fantastic success of education in Massachusetts, one of world’s top performers, by dismantling the Build-and-Support strategy is beyond comprehension—a triumph of a discredited ideology over reality.

Charters and Crony Capitalism Create Sweetheart Deals

Finally, the combined lobbying power of corporations and charters leads to questionable sweetheart deals—bonds for real estate where the public picks up the tab for land acquisition and construction that are ultimately owned by the charter’s sponsor, not the public. The taxpayers also pay for high-priced fees and the interest on these bonds. The accumulated debt owed by public funds is substantial. According to Bruce Baker:

Charter school operators use public tax dollars to buy land and facilities that were originally purchased with other public dollars … and at the end of it all, the assets are in private hands! Even more ludicrous is that the second purchase incurred numerous fees and administrative expenses, and the debt associated with that second purchase likely came with a relatively high interest rate because—well—revenue bonds paid for by charter school lease payments are risky. Or so the rating agencies say.

In a major 2015 report by Bruce Baker and Gary Miron, The Business of Charter Schooling: Understanding the Policies That Charter Operators Use for Financial Benefit,the authors chronicle the multiple ways charter organizations siphon taxpayer funds without any benefit to students or the public. A summary of the report lists four major conclusions:

  1. A substantial share of public expenditure intended for the delivery of direct educational services to children is being extracted inadvertently or intentionally for personal or business financial gain, creating substantial inefficiencies;
  2. Public assets are being unnecessarily transferred to private hands, at public expense, risking the future provision of “public” education;
  3. Charter school operators are growing highly endogenous, self-serving private entities built on funds derived from lucrative management fees and rent extraction, which further compromise the future provision of “public” education; and
  4. Current disclosure requirements make it unlikely that any related legal violations, ethical concerns, or merely bad policies and practices are not realized until clever investigative reporting, whistleblowers, or litigation brings them to light.

As Jeff Bryant, one reviewer of the report, commented:

In one of the more bizarre schemes the authors examine, charter operators will use third-party corporations to purchase buildings and land from the public school district itself, so taxpayer dollars are used to purchase property from the public. Thus, the public ends up paying twice for the school, and the property becomes an asset of a private corporation. In other examples, charter operators will set up leasing agreements and lucrative management fees between multiple entities that end up extracting resources, which might otherwise be dedicated to direct services for children.

Another example of questionable practice is the phony formula Texas uses to reimburse charters. Through legislative manipulation, the state now pays large charters and charter chains about $1,000 more per child than comparable public schools due to the way it classifies the charters. An article by John Savage in the Texas Observer states: “If school districts ‘were funded like charters,’ public schools would cost the state more than $4.7 billion a year extra.” Finally, there is the obvious point that the vast sums being spent on charters could have been devoted to helping the 94% of students attending public schools.

Charter Schools Should Be Nonprofit, Accountable, and Fully Transparent

The horrible record of for-profit virtual schools shows what happens when we allow profit making to drive an educational institution. These schools ignored quality to increase the bottom line and were an educational disaster for the students they pledged to serve. For this reason, some states and nations allow only nonprofit charters. If this became standard practice, many questionable financial and political dealings would be avoided. Unfortunately, the number of for-profit management charter organizations and fronts for business interests is growing, with an increasing impact in some states. Clearly, charters are no longer grassroots, mom-and-pop organizations. Ominously, the for-profit charter school sector has run into major problems, and failures are occurring across the nation. For a list of such disasters, see “These Charter Schools Tried to Turn Public Education Into Big Business. They Failed.”

In any case, given the large amount of fraud and their lack of success, charters should be required to share the facts about their operation. Charter advocates like to say they are “public schools,” but many then resist transparency and accountability provisions. And finally, we need to stop the “crony capitalism” that allows huge profits for private entities underwritten by the public purse such as social impact bonds and real estate purchases for charters funded by public dollars.

Is Replacing Neighborhood Schools with Charters Worth the Risk?

The question of charter expansion becomes critical when a neighborhood school is slated for closure to be replaced by a charter. The trade-off should be framed as follows: based on the evidence, closing a public school for a charter will improve performance about one-fourth of the time and will make it worse about one-fourth of the time. Thus, the one-in-four chance of an improved school must be weighed against the massive dislocations local school closures cause families, students (e.g., long bus rides or walking through alien turf), and communities. In addition, the very real chance of worsening school performance one-quarter of the time must be factored in. Further, widespread charter expansion can reach a financial tipping point crippling the school district’s ability to improve the remaining open public schools. One underreported consequence of charter expansion is that the remaining schools must rely increasingly on late placements and substitutes, which substantially harms student performance. So even if some students are able to attend a successful charter school, many more are stranded in the remaining starved public ones. The experience in Newark exemplifies this tragedy:

What parent would agree to a policy that benefits one of her children but seriously damages one or two of her other kids? The Prize [a recently published book about Newark] does an invaluable service in helping to explain how true believers in top-down reform may or may not have benefitted many of the 30 percent of students headed for charters. They did so, however, by harming the schools serving the majority of poor children. They created even more intense concentrations of children from extreme poverty and trauma; they took failing schools and made them worse.

Stated that way, the widely advocated policy prescription of replacing low-performing schools with charters looks horribly off the mark. Of course, if there are stringent controls to assure that only the better performing charters (determined by legitimate measures and practices) can replace a low-performing public school, then the odds of increased student achievement improve. Whether the increased benefit to the individual student who qualifies for a high-performing charter justifies the larger number of students who are left behind and neglected is a tough question each community must address.

An Unsustainable Business Model

A last point. Many charters rely on younger teachers with no union protections, work them extremely hard, impose stultifying working conditions, and as a consequence suffer from large turnover and burnout. Many reformers falsely believe that most veteran teachers are incompetent or over the hill and can profitably be replaced by energetic neophytes. Even if it were true, which it is not, the odds of long-term success are questionable for replacement strategies that rely on low-cost neophytes with high turnover. In an insightful article, Andy Hargreaves argues that England has followed this questionable model (which he defines as a “business capital model”) to its detriment; to its benefit, Scotland has followed a longer-term Build-and-Support model.

Summing Up the Many Problems with Charter Schools

An exhaustive summary of the research supporting these many criticisms of charters is found in a report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) that eviscerates the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2014 document Separating Fact & Fiction: What You Need to Know About Charter Schools. This NEPC document attempted to rebut what the Charter School Alliance labeled as 21 myths underlying objections to charter schools, but as delineated in the NEPC report the alliance document’s arguments could not stand scrutiny and were invalidated by the vast majority of research studies. NEPC awarded the document its annual Bunkum Award for shoddy research.

On his blog Cloaking Inequity, Julian Vasquez Heilig also has compiled an extensive list of the most powerful research that identifies the perils of charter schools and summarizes the findings.

The public is becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about the problems with charter schools. To quote from a 2016 survey:

Voters overwhelmingly favor charter school reform proposals. Large majorities of voters back proposals to strengthen transparency and accountability, teacher training and qualifications, implement anti-fraud measures, ensure high-need students are served and making sure neighborhood public schools are not adversely affected.

Charters, contrary to reform promises, are not destined to become the holy grail of school improvement. They should return to their original useful mission of working in partnership with public schools to become community lighthouse schools. As an example, see the article about Uncommon Schools by Richard Whitmire. The best charters have pioneered innovations such as videotaping teacher lessons for purposes of discussion, strong principal instructional leadership, and greater school site flexibility. But we must reject for-profit chains siphoning off substantial public funds for high-priced CEOs and charters serving as fronts for lucrative real estate deals. We must also reject ideological charters that are used as stalking horses to replace public education, and we must insist that charter school leaders eschew their role in wholesale privatization plans. This is the main argument of A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education, an insightful book written by Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter. See also Charters: The Illusion of Change, an informative 13-minute film in the same vein, and Arthur Camins’s eloquent plea, warning policymakers to be wary of “choice” arguments.

Recent Developments

10/15/2016 Sky-high attrition rates for Boston’s charter high-schools. https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/why-massachusetts-voters-should-think-twice-about-charter-expansion/

10/15/2016 From Diane Ravitch’s blog. Parent Group: A Charter School is Ruining Our Neighborhood School. https://dianeravitch.net/2016/09/21/new-jersey-parent-a-charter-school-is-ruining-our-neighborhood-public-school/

9/14/2016 A compilation of articles demonstrating the problems with charter schools. http://www.scoop.it/t/charter-choice-closer-look

9/14/2016 The sad story of how one wealthy family made massive political donations to block charter accountability in Michigan https://dianeravitch.net/2016/09/06/outrage-how-the-devos-family-paid-the-michigan-gop-to-block-charter-accountability/

9/14/2016 KIPP charter schools found that large numbers of their graduates were not doing well in college and too many were failing to graduate. KIPP made significant changes to improve subsequent college performance which bore fruit–better tracking from eighth grade, transparency about college graduation rates, support mechanisms in college, and changes in curriculum and instruction. http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2016/09/12/how-kipp-learned-the-truth-about-its-students-college-completion-and-inspired-others-to-do-the-same/#.V9b2lYWcFPZ

9/1/2016 Private prisons have been a disaster–cutting costs causes shoddy management and hardship to prisoners. https://dianeravitch.net/2016/08/19/the-failure-of-prison-privatization/

9/1/2016  Another example of financial irregularities closing a charter school causing disruption–this time in Livermore, California. http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/08/22/east-bay-hundreds-flee-charter-schools-district-braces-for-influx/ and the Pennsylvania auditor questioning suspect charter school lease payments. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2016/08/03/Charter-school-payments-draw-scrutiny-from-Pennsylvania-auditor-general-Eugene-DePasquale/stories/201608030189 For a comprehensive view of the problems caused by regulatory gaps in California, see the article by Carol Burris, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/09/09/how-messed-up-is-californias-charter-school-sector-you-wont-believe-how-much/ which is the first of four articles about charter problems in California.

9/1/2016 Julian Heilig comments on the resolutions against widespread charter expansion passed by the national NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives, a group of 50 advocacy organizations, and provides ten important comments about the charter school debate, all consistent with the above article. http://www.progressive.org/pss/10-things-know-about-charter-school-debate

9/1/2016 Los Angeles Unified magnet schools (non-charter choice public schools) continue to outscore charters in the latest 2016 state test results. (Some of the magnets are gifted schools but even when they are removed magnets still significantly out-perform charters) http://laschoolreport.com/lausd-magnets-outscore-charters-on-state-tests/?utm_content=bufferac9c0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

9/1/2016 National Labor Relations Board finds that charter schools are not public schools. https://dianeravitch.net/2016/08/30/its-official-nlbr-says-charter-schools-are-not-public-schools/

8/4/2016 A California report finds that at least one out of five charter schools in the state actively exclude low-performing students. https://edsource.org/2016/report-charges-many-charter-schools-exclude-children-in-violation-of-the-law/567622

8/4/2016 Texas study finds no effect on test scores and earnings of charter school students lower than their public school counterparts. http://kevanharris.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/wdobbie/files/texas_charters.pdf

7/30/2016 Another study, this time from Michigan, showing that proliferation of charter schools has harmed the remaining public schools. http://www.metrotimes.com/Blogs/archives/2016/07/18/study-the-proliferation-of-charter-schools-in-michigan-hurt-traditional-districts; http://www.education.msu.edu/epc/library/papers/documents/WP51-Which-Districts-Get-Into-Financial-Trouble-Arsen.pdf and an interview Jeff Bryant with an author: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/07/15/how-charter-schools-in-michigan-have-hurt-traditional-public-schools-new-research-finds/

Bryant’s quote from the interview: “We saw very significant and large impacts of charter penetration on district fund balances for different thresholds, whether there were 15, 20 or 25 percent of the students going to charter schools. That was really striking. At every one of those thresholds, the higher the charter penetration, the higher the adverse impact on district finances. They’re big jumps, and they’re all very significant statistically. What’s clear is that when the percentage gets up to the neighborhood of 20 percent or so, these are sizeable adverse impacts on district finances.”

7/30/2016 Further evidence of the disastrous performance of virtual schools, this time from Georgia. http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-education/massive-online-school-serves-students-inexpensivel/nr3t3/

7/30/2016 Some more articles about the lower performance of charter schools compared to the public school counterparts. Duval County, Florida http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/charter-school-test-scores-show-many-scored-below-duval-district-schools/257140953; Georgia https://scsc.georgia.gov/sites/scsc.georgia.gov/files/related_files/site_page/GOSA%20SCSC%20Report%20FINAL-%202016%20R.pdf; Detroit http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/29/us/for-detroits-children-more-school-choice-but-not-better-schools.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0; and Denver http://www.alternet.org/education/new-education-reform-model-should-be-warning-sign

7/30/2016 Jeff Bryant refers to a New York Times article about dire results when public services such as prisons are contracted out to private equity firms and lists similar problems with equity supported charter schools. A recent article in the New York Times looked at the “dire effects” when private equity firms gain some control over public services like emergency care and firefighting. The reporter should have added education to the list. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/are-public-schools-and-private-equity-a-bad-mix/

7/30/2016 William Mathis and Tina Trujillo have edited a massive compilation of the research demonstrating the severe problems with market-based reforms, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms; Lessons for ESSA (2016) The book has twenty-eight chapters in five sections.

  • The Foundations of Market-Based Reforms;
  • Test-Based Sanctions: What the Evidence Says
  • False Promises
  • Effective and Equitable Reforms
  • Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act

The research and examples in the book are further support for many of the claims and research provided in this website.

7/30/2016 Mercedes Schneider’s book on the failures of the schools choice movement is now available in paperback. School Choice; The End of Public Education (2016)

To quote from an announcement of the book: Proponents of market-driven education reform view vouchers and charters as superior to local-board-run, community-based public schools. However, the author of this timely volume argues that there is no clear research supporting this view. In fact, she claims there is increasing evidence of charter mismanagement–with public funding all-too-often being squandered while public schools are being closed or consolidated. Tracing the origins of vouchers and charters in the United States, this book examines the push to ”globally compete” with education systems in countries such as China and Finland. It documents issues important to the school choice debate, including the impoverishment of public schools to support privatized schools, the abandonment of long-held principles of public education, questionable disciplinary practices, and community disruption. School Choice: The End of Public Education? is essential reading for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the past and future of public education in America.https://www.amazon.com/School-Choice-End-Public-Education/dp/080775725X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468030602&sr=1-1 This book makes a similar case for the problems of schools choice as my article above.

7/30/2016. Further support for the failure of for-profit educational efforts has just been thoroughly documented in Samuel Abrams 2016 book, Education and the Commercial Mindset. He tells the instructive story of Edison, founded on the belief that public schools were so inefficient that applying the best business practices would save enough money to allow both high profits and high performance if private companies managed them. Chris Whittle, the super-salesman of ChannelOne fame (in return for TV’s schools agreed to have their students watch a slickly produced news show with commercials–Channel One eventually went belly-up due to negative evaluations and educator resistance), convinced foundations and the investment community to sink hundreds of millions of dollars in such a private management scheme. In the 1990’s the company took off with a bang, hired high-profile executives, and secured contracts to manage schools in such places as Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Contrary to promises the company produced no better and, in many cases, worse results than comparable public schools, alienated the communities they were in, narrowed the curriculum for test preparation, and couldn’t even keep order in many of their schools. Losses forced the company  to keep borrowing to stay alive. This did not stop Edison from providing top salaries and perks for its executives and spending large amounts on advertising and marketing. Edison eventually lost all but a few of its management contracts. By 2013 after being taken private, the remnant which had been reduced to a shell was sold for a pittance. Investors along the way lost most of their investment. The book also describes a similar fate for other Educational Management Organizations (EMOs) especially the on-line virtual academies referred to above in the Article. He also gives chapter and verse on the rise and fall of for-profit schools in Sweden as mentioned above.

Abrams argues that such a demise was inevitable. He quotes economic researchers who claim that  privatizing some services are easily monitored such as school busing or constructing buildings. Other services, however, where there is a mismatch of information or clout, run into difficulty in assuring quality service. Clients or contracting government entities in privatized prisons, elderly homes, or especially schools don’t have the power of correction or expertise to tell if the private company is cutting corners to increase returns or executive pay or if the service such as education students are receiving is worthwhile.

Abrams also provides a chapter on the non-profit Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) especially KIPP schools. As stated above, he finds that some are very good and others are spotty. He contends that even the best cannot be scaled because they rely on large foundation support, teachers who are unsustainably over-worked (and leave at much higher rates than the public school counterparts), and students and parents who are willing to endure a harsh “no excuses” management style. He also confirms the point I raised that CMOs can control who they accept,  many don’t backfill when underperforming students drop-out leaving a smaller, higher achieving remnant, benefit from a more committed student body and their parents which makes comparisons difficult, and since they live or die by test-scores narrow the curriculum and spend inordinate amounts of time on test-preparation which harms children later in high-school and college.

Finally, he shows how Finland took a different path. They raised teacher pay, improved teacher training and autonomy, used sampling strategies for test assessment instead of wide-spread testing, and provided a broad liberal arts education. Unlike Sweden, whose PISA results declined substantially after adopting privatization measures, Finland improved from mediocre results to become one of the top countries in the PISA assessments.

7/30/2016 In the culmination of the shoddy story of the on-line, for-profit virtual school K-12’s fraudulent behavior exposed by the San Jose Mercury, Kamela Harris, California’s Attorney General, cracked down on the outfit for multiple frauds including falsified records and overstating student performance and secured a $168.5 million settlement with the beleaguered company. http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_30105819/california-attorney-general-probe-leads-168-5-million

10/15/2016 More evidence of problems with Ohio’s charter schools. http://www.realcleareducation.com/articles/2016/09/19/ohio_charter_schools_terrible_horrible_1308.html

7/30/2016 Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio weighed in on Ohio’s failure to police its charter school sector. https://greatschoolwars.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/sherrod-letter.pdf

7/30/2016 Finally, after being completely shut out of qualifying for New York’s elite high schools for two years, a few Success Academy graduates (of a rarified cohort due to high attrition rates) get accepted. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/success-charter-kids-nab-elite-nyc-high-school-slots-article-1.2677005

BBS Companion Articles

The Big Picture
Have High-Stakes Testing and Privatization Been Effective?
How Top Performers Build-and-Support
Ground Efforts in Unassailable Research
Provide Engaging Broad-Based Liberal Arts Curriculum
Provide High-Quality Instruction
Build Teams and Focus on Continuous Improvement
Provide Adequate School Funding
Lessons Learned from Successful Districts
Exemplary Models of Build-and-Support

Reference Notes

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. London: Routledge.

Charters Do Not Perform Better Than Their Public School Counterparts
ProPublica. (2014). Evaluating Charter Schools. http://www.propublica.org/series/evaluating-charter-schools See also Center for Popular Democracy. (2015, Apr). The Tip of the Iceberg: Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.https://populardemocracy.org/news/tip-iceberg-charter-school-vulnerabilities-waste-fraud-and-abuse

Center for Research on Education Outcomes. (2015). National Charter School Study. Stanford University. http://urbancharters.stanford.edu/summary.php

Miron, G., Mathis, W. J., & Welner, K. G. (2015, Feb 23). Separating Fact & Fiction: What You Need to Know About Charter Schools. http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-separating-fact-and-fiction See also Maul, A. (2015, Apr 27). Urban Charter School Study 2015. http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-urban-charter-school

Finn, C. E., Jr., & Manno, B. V. (2015, Summer). A Progress Report on Charter Schools. National Affairs, 24. Hertog Foundation. http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/a-progress-report-on-charter-schools

Rubinstein, G. (2015, Oct 5). Do Charter Schools Outperform Public Schools in New York City? https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/do-charter-schools-outperform-public-schools-in-new-york-city/

Center for Research on Educational Outcomes. (2015, Jul 22). Charter School Performance in Texas. https://credo.stanford.edu/

In Perspective. Charter Schools in Perspective: A Guide to Research. http://www.in-perspective.org/pages/a-guide-to-research

Epple, M., Romano, R., & Zimmer, R. (2015, Jun). Charter Schools: A Survey of Research on Their Characteristics and Effectiveness. National Bureau of Economic Research. http://www.nber.org/papers/w21256

Center for Research on Education Outcomes. (2015). National Charter School Study. Stanford University. http://urbancharters.stanford.edu/summary.php

Jeong Shin, H., Fuller, B., & Dauter, L. (2015, Dec 2). Differing Effects from Diverse Charter Schools: Uneven Student Selection and Achievement Growth in Los Angeles. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2650330-FINAL-Berkeley-L-a-Charter-Report-December-2015-2.html See also a review of the report by Blume, H. (2015, Dec 21). Students at Charters Start Off Higher Academically by Some Also Learn Faster, Study Finds. Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-charter-students-start-off-higher-20151221-story.html

Dynarski, S. (2015, Nov 20). Urban Charter Schools Often Succeed. Suburban Ones Often Don’t. The New York Times.http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/upshot/a-suburban-urban-divide-in-charter-school-success-rates.html?rref=upshot

Hattie, J. (2011). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. London: Routledge

Whitehurst, G. J. (2009, Oct.). Don’t Forget Curriculum. Brookings. http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2009/10/14-curriculum-whitehurst

Simon, S. (2013, Feb 15). Special Report: Class Struggle: How Charter Schools Get Students They Want. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-charters-admissions-idUSBRE91E0HF20130216

Forest, D. (2016, Jan 6). Charter Schools in NC Less Diverse Than Traditional Schools, Report Shows. The News & Observer. http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article53438435.html

Ravitch, D. (2015, Dec 3). John Thompson: The Failed Claims for Market-Driven Reforms. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/03/john-thompson-the-failed-claims-for-market-driven-reforms/

Weber, M. (2015, Nov 11). Charter Schools, An Exchange: Part VI (Final). http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/11/charter-schools-exchange-part-vi-final.html

National Education Policy Center. (2016, Mar 31). Do Choice Policies Segregate Schools? http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2016/03/choice-segregation

Charter School Stats
Persson, J. (2015, Sep 22). CMD Publishes Full List of Closed Charter Schools (with Interactive Map). PR Watch: The Center for Media and Democracy. http://www.prwatch.org/news/2015/09/12936/cmd-publishes-full-list-2500-closed-charter-schools

Whitmire, R. (2015, Oct 2). 5 Ways to Stop Bad Charters from Derailing Education Reform. https://www.the74million.org/article/whitmire-5-ways-to-stop-bad-charters-from-derailing-education-reform

Mead, S., Mitchel, A. L., & Rotherham, A. J. (2015, Sep 10). The State of the Charter School Movement. Bellwether Education Partners. http://bellwethereducation.org/publication/state-charter-school-movement

Dishonest Success Stories: The Refusal to Backfill
Glass, G. V. (2016, Feb 17). They Recruit, They Skim, They Flunk Out the Weak … They Are Arizona’s Top Charter Schools. http://ed2worlds.blogspot.com/2016/02/they-recruit-they-skim-they-flunk-out.html

Lyles, P., & Clark, D. (2015, Feb 2). Keeping Precious Charter-School Seats Filled. The Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/articles/princess-lyles-and-dan-clark-keeping-precious-charter-school-seats-filled-1422923960 See also Brown, E. (2015, Apr 10). New York City Charters Leave Thousands of Seats Unfilled Despite Exploding Demand, Study Finds. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/04/10/new-york-city-charters-leave-thousands-of-seats-unfilled-despite-exploding-demand-study-finds/

Meister, H. (2015, Dec 17). The Myth of Charter School “Success”: Hillary Was Right. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/17/horace-meister-the-myth-of-charter-school-success-hillary-was-right/

Casey, L. (2016, Feb 18). Student Attrition and ”Backfilling” at Success Academy Charter Schools: What Student Enrollment Patterns Tell Us. http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/student-attrition-and-backfilling-success-academy-charter-schools-what-student-enrollment

Strauss, V. (2015, Nov 8). Hillary Clinton: Most Charter Schools “Don’t Take the Hardest-to-Teach Kids, or, If They Do, They Don’t Keep Them.” The Washington Post.https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/08/hillary-clinton-most-charter-schools-dont-take-the-hardest-to-teach-kids-or-if-they-do-they-dont-keep-them/

Weber, M. (2015, Nov 11). Charter Schools, An Exchange: Part VI (Final). http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/11/charter-schools-exchange-part-vi-final.html

Warhaftig, A. (2015, Oct 12). Why Is It So Hard to Believe Good News About Public Schools? http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_california/2015/10/why_is_it_so_hard_to_believe_good_news_about_public_schools.html.

The Problematic “No Excuses” Approach
Vasquez Heilig, J. (2015, Nov 3). Review of Journeys: Are @KIPP Charter Schools Pathological? http://cloakinginequity.com/2015/11/03/review-of-journeys-are-kipp-charter-schools-pathological/?utm_content=buffer2e8c7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer See also Rubinstein, G (2016, Jan 22). Whatever Happened to KIPP? https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/whatever-happened-to-kipp/

Horn, J. (2016). Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through “No Excuses” Teaching. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Naison, M. (2015, Feb 24). Bronx Principal Jamaal Bowman Debunks Common Charter School Myths. http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2015/02/bronx-principal-jamaal-bowman-debunks.html

KIPP. (2013). The Promise of College Completion: 2013 Alumni Data Update. http://www.kipp.org/results/college-completion-report/2013-alumni-data-update

Ravitch, D. (2015, Dec 3). Jacqueline Ancess: What Counts as “Success” for a Charter School? http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/03/jacqueline-access-what-counts-as-success-for-a-charter-school/

Ravitch, D. (2016, Jan 19). A Success Academy Teacher Quits and Explains Why. http://dianeravitch.net/2016/01/19/a-success-academy-teacher-quits-and-explains-why/

Taylor, K. (2016, Feb 12). At Success Academy School, a Stumble in Math and a Teacher’s Anger on Video. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/13/nyregion/success-academy-teacher-rips-up-student-paper.html?emc=eta1&_r=1,

Singer, A. (2016, Feb 15). Success Academy’s War Against Children. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/success-academys-war-agai_b_9235556.html

Biddle, R. (2016, Feb 16). Success Academy Merits No Defense. http://dropoutnation.net/2016/02/16/success-academy-merits-no-defense/

griff519. (2014, Mar 24). Colonizing the Black Natives: Reflections from a Former NOLA Charter School Dean of Students. http://cloakinginequity.com/2014/03/24/colonizing-the-black-natives-reflections-from-a-former-nola-charter-school-dean-of-students/

Vasquez Heilig, J. (2016, Jan 26). Horror Inside: A No Excuses Charter School #SCW. http://cloakinginequity.com/2016/01/26/horror-inside-a-no-excuses-charter-school/

Vasquez Heilig, J. (2016, Jan 7). Horror Inside Pt. 2: Charter Teacher Turns Whistleblower #SCW. http://cloakinginequity.com/2016/01/27/horror-inside-pt-2-charter-teacher-turns-whistleblower-scw/

Talmage, E (2015, Sep 28). Teach Like a Champion … Or Like a Robot? http://emilytalmage.com/2015/09/28/teach-like-a-champion-or-like-a-robot/

Kaplan, E. (2015, Nov 15). No Excuse: An Argument Against Deceptive Metrics and School Success. http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2015/11/guest-post-no-excuse.html

Berkshire, J. (2015, Dec 7). Control Experiment.http://edushyster.com/control-experiment/

Disare, M. (2016, Mar 7). “No Excuses” No More? Charter Schools Rethink Discipline After Focus on Tough Consequences. http://ny.chalkbeat.org/2016/03/07/no-excuses-no-more-charter-schools-rethink-discipline-after-focus-on-tough-consequences/?utm_source=Master+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=416104ca63-Rise_Shine_Amid_3_7_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_23e3b96952-416104ca63-75668293#.Vt2iTY-cFPZ

Tough, P. (2016). Helping Students Succeed: What Works and Why. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Tough, P. (2016, Jun). How Kids Learn Resilience. The Atlantic.http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

Garland, S. (2016, Mar 27). The End of “No Excuses” Education Reform? A Philadelphia Charter School CEO Leads the Way as More Schools Question the Get-Tough School Model. http://hechingerreport.org/the-end-of-no-excuses-education-reform/

Debunking the Theory: Public Schools Are Not Inherently Unproductive
Greene, P. (2015, Oct 11). The Social Justice Argument. http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-social-justice-argument.html?m=1

Blume, H. (2015, Sep 21). Backers Want Half of LAUSD Students in Charter Schools in Eight Years, Report Says. Los Angeles Times.http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-broad-draft-charter-expansion-plan-20150921-story.html

Ravitch, D. (2015, Oct 9). John Thompson: Dare Anyone Say No to Eli Broad? http://dianeravitch.net/2015/10/09/john-thompson-can-anyone-say-no-to-eli-broad/

Bryant, J. (2015, Oct 2). Education “Reformers” Wage a Misdirected War on Mayor De Blasio. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/education-reformers-wage-a-misdirected-war-on-mayor-de-blasio/

Singer, A. (2015, Oct 1). Despite Big Problems Charters Attract Hedge Fund Support and Presidential Candidates Hungry for Dollars. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/despite-big-problems-char_b_8225840.html

Ravitch, D. (2016, Feb 24). Connecticut: Gov. Malloy Appoints Charter Operator to State Board of Education. http://dianeravitch.net/2016/02/24/connecticut-gov-malloy-appoints-charter-operator-to-state-board-of-education/

Mazzucato, M. (2015). The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths. New York: PublicAffairs|Perseus Group. http://marianamazzucato.com/the-entrepreneurial-state/

Lubienski, C. A., & Lubienski, S. T. (2013, Dec 9). The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools. Stanford School Innovation Review. http://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_public_school_advantage_why_public_schools_outperform_private_schools

Horton, P. (2015). The Irrationality of the Market “Reform” of Education. http://www.livingindialogue.com/the-irrationality-of-the-market-reform-of-education/

Alexander, K. (2012, Fall). Asymmetric Information Parental Choice, Vouchers, Charter Schools and Stigliz. http://horacemannleague.blogspot.com/2013/01/asymmetric-information-parental-choice.html

Rotherham, A. J. (2015, Oct 6). Public Goals, Private Ownership. U.S. News & World Report. http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/10/08/amplify-and-the-cost-of-going-public-for-private-education-companies

Ravitch, D. (2016, Jan 29). The Perils of Privatization. http://dianeravitch.net/2016/01/29/the-perils-of-privatization-2/

Siegel-Hawley, G., & Frankenberg, E. (2016, Jan). Review of The Integration Anomaly: Comparing the Effect of K-12 Education Delivery Models on Segregation in Schools. http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-integration

Baker, B. D. (2015, Nov 10). Pondering Chartering: False Markets & Liberty as Substitutes for Equity? https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/pondering-charters-false-markets-liberty-as-substitute-for-equity/

Ravitch, D. (2016, Jan 21). Miron: Charter Schools’ Administrative Costs More than Public Schools. http://dianeravitch.net/2016/01/21/miron-charter-schools-administrative-costs-more-than-public-schools/

Lee, M. (2016, Jan 18). Report: New Mexico Charter Schools Cost More, Perform Same. Albuquerque Journal.http://www.abqjournal.com/707820/news-around-the-region/report-new-mexico-charter-schools-cost-more-perform-same.html

Minimal Accountability for Fraud, Mismanagement, or Low Performance
Ravitch, D. (2015, Jul 6). Ohio: The One Reform That Is Forbidden. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/07/06/ohio-the-one-reform-that-is-forbidden/ See also Gross, A. (2015, Aug 24). Under John Kasich, Ohio’s Charter Schools Became a “National Joke.” Mother Jones. http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2015/08/ohio-charter-schools-john-kasich-imagine

Smith, D. (2015, Nov 9). Takata and Volkswagen. Hmm, What If Charters Were Also Subject to Recalls? http://www.plunderbund.com/2015/11/09/takata-and-volkswagen-hmm-what-if-charters-were-also-subject-to-recalls/ For a perceptive article questioning the rationale underpinning choice, see Bryant, J. (2016, Jan 28). The School Choice We Have vs. The Choice We Want. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/the-school-choice-we-have-vs-the-choice-we-want/

Ravitch, D. (2015, Dec 11). Ohio: Charters Are a “Parasitic Industry.” http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/11/ohio-charters-are-a-parasitic-industry/

Smith, D. (2015, Aug 17). Dollars, Details, and the Devil: Top 10 Needed Charter School Reforms. http://www.plunderbund.com/2015/08/17/dollars-details-and-the-devil-top-10-needed-charter-school-reforms/

Dyer, S. (2015, Oct 9). A Great Day for Ohio’s Kids. http://www.10thperiod.com/2015/10/a-great-day-for-ohios-kids.html

Editorial: Charter Schools’ Purpose Forgotten. (2016, May 26). The Columbus Dispatch.http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/editorials/2016/05/26/1-charter-schools-purpose-forgotten.html?utm_content=buffere8a62&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Bryant, J. (2015, Oct 11). The Ugly Charter School Scandal Arne Duncan is Leaving Behind. http://www.salon.com/2015/10/11/the_ugly_charter_school_scandal_arne_duncan_is_leaving_behind_partner/ See also objections to the grant in Dyer, S. (2015, Dec 8). Charters Fixing Youngstown? Data Say “Not So Fast.” http://www.10thperiod.com/2015/12/charters-fixing-youngstown-data-say-not.html

Bryant, J. (2015, Aug 9). The Big Jeb Bush Charter School Lie: Why His Florida Education Miracle Is Hogwash. http://www.alternet.org/education/big-jeb-bush-charter-school-lie-why-his-florida-education-miracle-hogwash

Yi, K., & Shipley, A. (2014, Jun). Florida’s Charter Schools Unsupervised: Taxpayers, Students Lose When School Operators Exploit Weak Laws. SunSentinel. http://interactive.sun-sentinel.com/charter-schools-unsupervised/investigation.html and http://interactive.sun-sentinel.com/charter-schools-unsupervised/map.html See also Guerrieri, C. (2015, Sep 3). Florida Hits a Milestone, Over Three Hundred Charter Schools Have Failed. http://jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com/2015/09/florida-hits-milestone-over-three.html?m=1 and Schneider, M. (2015, Oct 7). Paramount Charter School: A Chaotic “Free for All” That Cannot Be Immediately Shut Down. https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/paramount-charter-school-a-chaotic-free-for-all-that-cannot-be-immediately-shut-down/?blogsub=confirming#blog_subscription-2

Fineout, G., Spencer, T., & Veiga, C. (2015, Dec 13). Florida Gave About $70 Million to Charter Schools That Later Closed; State Recouped Little. Miami Herald. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article49565370.html See also Editorial: Taxpayers Assume Risk, Little Gain for Charter Schools. (2015, Dec 24). Tampa Bay Times.http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-taxpayers-assume-risk-little-gain-for-charter-schools/2258977

Romano, J. (2016, Feb 13). The Topsy-Turvy Tale of Charter Schools and Whom They Really Serve. Tampa Bay Times. http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/romano-the-topsy-turvy-tale-of-charter-schools-and-whom-they-really-serve/2265292

Ravitch, D. (2014, Jun 23). Detroit Free Press Investigation: Michigan Charters Get Poor Results, Have No Accountability. http://dianeravitch.net/2014/06/23/detroit-free-press-investigation-michigan-charters-get-poor-results-have-no-accountability/

Mihalapoulos, D. (2015, Dec 16). The Watchdogs: Charter Firm Suspected of Cheating Federal Grant Program. Chicago Sun-Times. http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/the-watchdogs-charter-firm-suspected-of-cheating-federal-grant-program/

Editorial: Charter School Profiteers. (2016, May 25). The Salt Lake Tribune.http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/3923608-155/editorial-charter-school-profiteers

Doyle, D. (2014, Oct 15). Authorizer Hopping: Motivations, Causes, and Ways to Stop It. National Association of Charter School Authorizers. http://publicimpact.com/authorizer-hopping-motivations-causes-and-ways-to-stop-it/

Huffman, K. (2015, Dec 6). An Ed Commissioner’s Confession: How I Tried (and Failed) to Close the Worst School in Tennessee. https://www.the74million.org/article/an-ed-commissioners-confession-how-i-tried-and-failed-to-close-the-worst-school-in-tennessee

Strauss, V. (2015, Oct 31). Study on Online Charter Schools: “It is Literally as If the Kid Did Not Go to School for an Entire Year.” The Washington Post.https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/10/31/study-on-online-charter-schools-it-is-literally-as-if-the-kid-did-not-go-to-school-for-an-entire-year/

Calefati, J. (2016, Apr 17). California Virtual Academies: Is Online Charter School Network Cashing in on Failure? The Mercury News. http://www.mercurynews.com/educat, ion/ci_29777973/is-california-online-school-cashing-failure?source=pkg

Bryant, J. (2015, Oct 21). New Report: Federal Funds for Charter Schools Go into a “Black Hole.” http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/new-report-federal-funds-for-charter-schools-go-into-a-black-hole/ For the original report, see also PRWatch. (2015, Oct 21). Charter School Black Hole: CMD Special Investigation Reveals Huge Info Gap on Charter Spending. http://www.prwatch.org/charter-school-black-hole

Cohen, D. (2016, Feb 29). Are Publicly Funded Charter Schools Accountable to Parents and Taxpayers? Apparently Not. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donald-cohen/are-publicly-funded-chart_b_9342100.html

California Charter Schools Association. Accountability. http://www.ccsa.org/advocacy/accountability/

Capital & Main. (2016, Jun). Failing the Test: Charter Schools, Privatization, and the Future of Public Education in Los Angeles and California. http://capitalandmain.com/failingthetest/

Ravitch, D. (2016, May 30). California: The Charter Game Is Rigged. https://dianeravitch.net/2016/05/30/california-the-charter-game-is-rigged/

Charters Drain Funds from Non-Charter Public Schools
DeArmond, M., Denice, P., Gross, B., Hernandez, J., Jochim, A., & Lake, R. (2015, Oct). Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities. http://www.crpe.org/publications/measuring-educational-improvement-and-opportunity-50-cities See also Strauss, V. (2015, Oct 19). What Are Bill and Melinda Gates Talking About? The Washington Post.https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/10/19/what-are-bill-and-melinda-gates-talking-about/

Ravitch, D. (2015, Oct 20). Indiana: Less Money, More Chaos. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/10/20/indiana-less-money-more-chaos/

Schneider, M. (2016, Mar 17). Charter Co-location: Where Parasite Is Meant to Kill its Host. https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/charter-co-location-where-parasite-is-meant-to-kill-its-host/

Fitzsimon, C. (2016, Feb 17). The Canary in the School Privatization Coal Mine. http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/02/17/the-canary-in-the-school-privatization-coal-mine/

Dillon, S. (2010, Sep 27). 4,100 Students Prove “Small Is Better” Rule Wrong. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/education/28school.html See also Edushyster2012. (2016, Feb 24). What’s the Point? http://edushyster.com/whats-the-point/

Gurley, G. (2016, Apr 7). The Great Diversion: Charter Schools May or May Not Improve Student Outcomes–But They Divert Funds from Other Public Schools. http://prospect.org/article/great-diversion-0

Charters and Crony Capitalism Create Sweetheart Deals
Baker, B. D. (2015, Dec 10). Picture Post Week: Subprime Chartering. https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2015/12/10/picture-post-week-subprime-chartering/ See also In the Public Interest. (2015, Dec 9). A Guide to Evaluating Pay for Success Programs and Social Impact Bonds. http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/a-guide-to-evaluating-pay-for-success-programs-and-social-impact-bonds/

Baker, B. D., & Miron, G. (2015, Dec 10). The Business of Charter Schooling: Understanding the Policies That Charter Operators Use for Financial Benefit. National Education Policy Center. http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/charter-revenue

Bryant, J. (2015, Dec 10). New Report Shines a Light Into the Charter School Black Box. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/new-report-shines-a-light-into-the-charter-school-black-box/

Savage, J. (2015, Dec 7). New Report Challenges Claim Charters Do More with Less. The Texas Observer. http://www.texasobserver.org/charter-schools-report-taxpayer-dollars/

Sasso, G. M. (2016, Jan 7). To the 1 Percent Pouring Millions Into Charter Schools: How About Improving the Schools That the Vast Majority of Students Actually Attend? http://www.salon.com/2016/01/07/to_the_1_percent_pouring_millions_into_charter_schools_how_about_improving_the_schools_that_the_vast_majority_of_students_actually_attend/

Charter Schools Should Be Nonprofit, Accountable, and Fully Transparent
Strauss, V. (2015, Oct 31). Study on Online Charter Schools: It is Literally as if the Kid Did Not Go to School for an Entire Year. The Washington Post.https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/10/31/study-on-online-charter-schools-it-is-literally-as-if-the-kid-did-not-go-to-school-for-an-entire-year/

Baker, B. D. (2015, Dec 7). Picture Post Week: Follow up On Who’s Running America’s Charter Schools. https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/picture-post-week-follow-up-on-whos-running-americas-charter-schools/ See also Baker, B. D. (2015, Jul 22). Pondering Chartering: Who’s Actually Running America’s Charter Schools? https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/whos-actually-running-americas-charter-schools/

Huseman, J. (2015, Dec 17). These Charter Schools Tried to Turn Public Education Into Big Business. They Failed. http://www.slate.com/blogs/schooled/2015/12/17/for_profit_charter_schools_are_failing_and_fading_here_s_why.html

Is Replacing Neighborhood Schools with Charters Worth the Risk?
Vasquez Heilig, J. (2015, Dec 14). Ghastly Impact of Closing Schools on Students and Communities. http://cloakinginequity.com/2015/12/14/ghastly-impact-of-closing-schools-on-students-and-communities/ See also Cohen, R. M. (2016, Apr 11). School Closures: A Blunt Instrument: Shuttering “Failed Schools” Can Have Painful Consequences for Children and Neighborhoods. http://prospect.org/article/school-closures-blunt-instrument-0

Thompson, J. (2015, Oct 10). Will Reformers Learn a Lesson From Newark?: Dale Russakoff’s “The Prize” Could Help. http://www.livingindialogue.com/will-reformers-learn-a-lesson-from-newark/

An Unsustainable Business Model
Torres, A. C. (2015, Oct 20). How Teacher Turnover, Burnout Can Impact “No-Excuses” Charter Schools. Journalist’s Resource. http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/education/teacher-turnover-burnout-charter-schools

Mehta, J. (2014, July 16). Five Inconvenient Truths for Reformers. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_deeply/2014/07/five_inconvenient_truths_for_reformers.html

Hargreaves, A. (2016, Feb 20). Why England is in the “Guard’s Van” of School Reform. https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/why-england-guards-van-school-reform

Miron, G., Mathis, W. J., & Welner, K. G. (2015, Feb 23). Review of Separating Fact & Fiction. http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-separating-fact-and-fiction

Vasquez Heilig, J. (2015, Nov 20). Charters and Access: Here Is Evidence. http://cloakinginequity.com/2015/11/20/drinking-charter-kool-aid-here-is-evidence/

ü62.1 Education Opportunity Network. (2016, Mar 3). The Positive Aura of Charter Schools is Wearing Thin. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/the-positive-aura-of-charter-schools-is-wearing-thin/

Summing Up the Many Problems with Charter Schools
GBA Strategies. (2015, Feb 18). Charter School Reform Poll Memo. http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/charter-school-reform-poll-memo/

Whitmire, R. (2016, Feb 28). Richard Whitmire: Dogs and Cats, Working Together. New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/richard-whitmire-dogs-cats-working-article-1.2545397

Kahlenberg, R. D., & Potter, H. (2014). A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education. New York: Teacher’s College Press. http://www.tcf.org/bookstore/detail/a-smarter-charter See also The Century Foundation. Richard D. Kahlenberg. http://www.tcf.org/experts/detail/richard-d.-kahlenberg and The Century Foundation. Halley Potter. http://www.tcf.org/experts/detail/halley-potter

Teachers Democracy Project. Charters: The Illusion of Change. https://vimeo.com/133868233

Camins, A. (2015, Jun 24). Democrats: There Are Better Choices Than School Choice to Improve Education. http://www.arthurcamins.com/?p=342

5 thoughts on “Why Conventional School “Reforms” Have Failed: Charter Schools Are Not the Key to Improving Public Education

  1. Joanna Greenshields

    While I agree with many of your statements, I think it is important to separate the wheat from the chaff.
    I am a founding member of a K-8 charter school in Monterey, California.
    Our highly dysfunctional school district, decided to close one of its highest performing neighborhood schools. The rationale being that the enrollment was too low and it was costing the district too much money to keep open. An audit of the district finances proved that statement to be riddled with errors and our enrollment was at full capacity for the site.
    We petitioned the superintendent and the board of trustees and asked them to reconsider, they refused. We requested they adopt us as a district charter school. This too was denied. So we worked extremely hard to develop a parent led community charter school.
    We are a non profit K-8 charter school in Monterey, California moving in to the sixth year of operation.
    We don’t cherry pick students. We don’t interview families prior to lottery acceptance and our application process can be done on line or at the office with the help of bi-lingual staff.
    We reflect the diversity of our district in every demographic.
    It has been extremely difficult at times dealing with internal and external politics.
    It has been financially draining but even more so, emotionally and physically draining.
    We out perform our local school district in every area.
    Our local school district is now under a new, energetic, ethical leadership. The new superintendent is transforming the district and our school will need to keep pace with the district or it will cease to exist. Evolve or die.
    If 1 in 4 charter schools are failing, then what number of public schools in the State are also considered to be failing?
    As a parent of three children, two of whom went to the local district schools, I don’t have much time or sympathy for the wait and see approach.
    Three years ago, 50% of the school age children in the City of Monterey did not attend a school in the district. The vast majority of those children attended private school, with a growing number going to charter schools and joining home school groups.
    The children living in poverty of all ethnicities are the ones that the public school system in California is struggling to serve. Poverty is the core of the problem and I don’t see any meaningful nor long term solutions currently being debated that will address this issue.

    1. BillHonig Post author

      Joanna, thank you for your thoughtful comment and you deserve praise for your energetic efforts. I would not quarrel with what you have accomplished. I was careful to say in the article on charter schools http://www.buildingbetterschools.com/charter-schools-are-not-the-key-to-improving-public-education/ that there are some very good charters around (and some very bad ones). Yours sounds like one of the better ones. My main points were that to prevent abuses charters should be subject to the same transparency and performance/financial accountability as their non-charter public school counterparts; that when too many charters are formed in a district it can cause financial distress to the district and the remaining students and that should be taken into consideration when extensive charter expansion is proposed; and that charters should not be viewed as the main answer to low-performing schools but the best charters should be in a partnership with the best non-charter public schools as lighthouses of quality education in a joint effort to improve all schools. This seems to be occurring or has the potential of occurring in your district. Bill

  2. Joanna Greenshields

    Dear Bill, (I feel I should call you Mr Honig out of respect).
    I did read all of your blog posts and I have signed up for future notifications.
    In regards to transparency and accountability, I always assumed that we would be held to a higher level of accountability, both from our authoriser and from our parents. I would never argue that charters should be held up to the same scrutiny as a district school. I would even advocate for a higher level of scrutiny in many cases but that’s just my personal opinion.
    We were authorized by The Monterey County of Education when our school district denied our petition.
    Therefore when charter schools are failing, surely some of the responsibility for the failure lies with the authoriser?
    I agree that a proliferation of charter schools, especially in a smaller district, can have devastating effects on the district, with millions of dollars lost in ADA every year and demographic shifts in the student populations. which create less diversity and cause more inequity..
    If we hadn’t formed the charter school, I would have put our youngest daughter in to a private school and applied for a place at one of the other two charter schools in our area. because the choices the district were giving us were not viable options.. The curriculum and the lack of leadership at that time was not conducive to learning in any environment.
    I have since learnt how school systems work, and in many cases, do not work and despite the good intentions of many in the profession, we just aren’t making much progress. A great public school in California is often, but not always, determined by your zip code or a street address within that zip code.
    The new funding formula was supposed to address some of the current inequities.. I was so hopeful that the LCFF was going to be transformational, especially in the lowest performing school districts.
    Based on the many conversations I have had and the number of LCAP’s I have read, I’m not convinced that’s going to be the case.

  3. Marcell Glickman

    You need to make this article public in all major newspapers, Facebook and any venue possible. It looks like the nightmare is about to begin if deep pockets for profit Devoes unleashes her bag of tricks under this Administration.

    1. BillHonig Post author

      Marcy, I am trying to let people know about this website. We are starting to get more commentators supporting a “build and support” approach over the charter, choice, test and punish mantra. Thanks for you comment.


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