A new report by the Network for Public Education challenges the talking points for the charter school movement and details ways they can be damaging to children and real public schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded quasi-private schools, typically operated by opaque private corporations whose foundational records are not open to public inspection. They aren’t accountable to voters. States have a spotty record of holding them accountable. Arkansas, for example, has often forgiven shortcomings, most recently in forgiving a raft of accounting problems by a “virtual” charter school. Meanwhile, the state refuses to give up control of the Little Rock School District for low test scores at a couple of its 48 schools. It’s a district buffeted by leaching of higher achieving students to proliferating charter schools established where no demonstrable need existed.


As Diane Ravitch writes in heralding the new report:

The first law authorizing charter schools was authorized by Minnesota in 1991, and the first charter school opened in St. Paul in 1992. The original idea of charters was that they would enroll students with high-needs, would try new approaches, and would share what they learned with the public schools. They were not intended to be competitors with public schools, but to be akin to research and development centers, abetting the work of the public schools.

Now, 25 years later, the charter sector has burgeoned into nearly 7,000 schools enrolling some three million students. Some charters are corporate chains. Some are religious in character. Some operate for profit. Some are owned and run by non-educators.

Instead of collaborating with public schools, most compete for students and resources. Instead of serving the neediest students, many choose the students who are likeliest to succeed.

It is time for a thorough inquiry into the status and condition of charter schools today, and that is what Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, has done in this report.

An experienced high school principal, Burris has traveled the country, visiting charter schools and talking to parents, teachers, students, and administrators.

Not only has she examined many charters, she reviews the marketing of charters and their fiscal impact on traditional public schools. Policy makers have not expanded the funding at the state or local level to pay for new charters. Instead, they have cut funding for the public schools that typically enroll 85-90% of students. Thus, most students will have larger classes and fewer curriculum choices because of the funding taken away for charter schools. Burris also analyzes the report on charters by the NAACP and the response to it by charter advocates.

This is neither fair nor just nor wise.

Here’s the full report.


And, as the blogger Curmudgucation notes, this report isn’t a policy statement, though he acknowledges that NPE has a negative point of view on the charter movement. It is compilation of 11 specific investigations over the course of a year. The findings range from dubious schools to financial shenanigans and the enduring problem of a lack of equal accountability for the same outlay of dollars that public schools receive from states.