We have been told that charter schools are needed as an alternative to our public schools because our public schools are failing to prepare our children for meaningful immediate employment or for higher education.
Of course, despite massive taxpayer subsidies, selective enrollment policies, and the misreporting of the results of standardized tests and other assessments, the majority of the corporate-operated charter schools are performing no better than the most poorly performing public schools. In Ohio, which has been one of the most aggressive states in transferring tax revenues from our public schools to corporate-operated charter schools, seventy-five percent of those charter schools are performing at the same level as the lowest performing quartile of the public schools.
It is a misappropriation of public resources and a betrayal of the public trust equivalent to, if not exceeding, what we have already seen with the online for-profit colleges and universities.
But more than all of that, it demonstrates the incoherence of the political ideology driving privatization as an alternative to public education.
For, even in Ohio, the charter schools still educate a relatively small (if rapidly increasing) percentage of the total students in K-12. And the same politicians who have rushed to transfer state support from our public schools to the corporate-operated charter schools have also been cutting funding to our public colleges and universities. And, operating from the premise that those public colleges and universities are not producing graduates in a timely enough manner or at a high enough rate, those politicians have been promoting dual-enrollment programs, recently reconstituted and expanded in Ohio as the College Credit Plus programs. These programs will allow more high school and even middle-school students to earn college credits (largely to complete core or general-education requirements) while attending high school—and will allow most of those students to do so while never setting foot on the campus of the college or university overseeing the delivery of those courses.
There are, of course, all sorts of very legitimate causes for concern about such a program—from issues about the credentials and credentialing of the teachers offering the courses, to the difficulty in maintaining consistent standards across these courses, to the undermining of the financial stability of colleges of arts and sciences, which have already been facing major challenges, even at flagship universities such as Ohio State, due to the institution of RCM budgeting.
But the largest issue—and one that has received almost no public attention—is how our public schools, which have been deemed terribly deficient in preparing our children for college courses are, at the same time, being deemed capable of delivering college courses.
Regardless of your political affiliation, you have to admit that the two things cannot both be true: our public schools cannot both be dens of self-interested incompetence and places where students can not only prepared for college but can also complete a fairly large number of college courses.
The reality is, of course, that neither the demonization of our public schools nor the delusion that streamlining postsecondary education will not compromise the quality of that education has much basis in reality. Both ideas say more about a certain brand of political expediency than they reflect any actual understanding of educational realities.