A Follow-Up to “Taking Heed from the Front Lines”

The greatest irony in the increasing privatization of public education is that the deficiencies that the “reformers” typically claim to be trying to correct are often exacerbated by the very “reforms” that they are advocating.

There is now a tremendous amount of statistical evidence that, on average, students in charter schools perform worse–and often much worse–than students in public schools. Moreover, if one focuses just on the for-profit charter schools, which do not provide the “public face” of charter schools but do now constitute the majority of such schools, their students’ performance is often simply abysmal.

This grim irony of a supposed solution’s actually compounding the problem is given a further ironic turn when one realizes that the measures for gauging those levels of performance have been designed by the same people who have advocated most strongly for charter schools. So, their students are failing the very tests that they themselves designed supposedly to hold public schools to greater account.

In this arena, rhetoric has simply overwhelmed reality.

The advocates of the privatization of public education have learned Frank Luntz’ lessons on how to change an argument with word choice–even if most of their students would not be able to explain, or even to understand, the connections between individual word choices and their cumulative impact on the effectiveness of an argument.

This is the for-profit higher education “bubble” repeating itself in K-12. But in this case, the consequence is not a pile of debt for a degree of questionable value–or no degree at all. In this case, the consequence is a lifetime of ignorance that is the direct effect of treating education as if it were a business. I would say that such ignorance–such wasted potential–is a “cost” of doing business, except that there is no real cost to these businesses for their students’ being so poorly educated.

Public schools are held to account by state and federal agencies, public-interest oversight groups, local school boards, politicians, and taxpayers. What constitutes comparable oversight of for-profit charter schools?

The assertion that, like all businesses, they are held to account by their customers is very obviously a colossal joke.

Like most businesses that profit from the privatization of public institutions, the for-profit charter schools are businesses that operate essentially without risk. They are insulated from loss by public–that is, taxpayer–subsidies. An even further irony is that the taxpayers who so closely scrutinize public education for any evidence of waste and corruption seem basically to have ignored the even more conspicuous excesses among the for-profit charter schools. The salaries and benefits of administrators at the for-profit charter schools are often 2.5 to 3 times those of public-school administrators, which most taxpayers will tell you are already very bloated. Students with physical and mental disabilities are often actively recruited to these schools simply because the subsidy that the states provide for them is higher.

But none of the teachers are unionized–or paid what unionized teachers are paid. So, one is forced to assume that they must be more effective and more conscientious.

And if that argument makes sense to you, you may very well have graduated from one of those schools.

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