Several people asked on Facebook, so here’s a brief summary of what the problem is with many charter schools:
a) public schools in your area have x amount of money, and are not doing as well as people would like
b) a charter school is formed, costing y money of public funds (now the public school has x-y amount of money, so they’re almost certainly going to do worse than before)
c) the charter school is much less regulated than the public school, and among other things, has an ‘application process’ where they get to turn away kids that the public school has to take — all the disabled kids, for example, the ones with behavioral challenges, the poor kids, etc. and so on (they can also get rid of those kids after acceptance, through ‘weeding’)
d) a year later, the charter school is able to show great scores, because they’ve cherry-picked the kids that will bring them those scores
e) the charter school has also drawn those kids out of the public school system, along with their often wealthier parents (who generally have more time available to be involved with supplemental enrichment at the school — after-school arts and language and sports programs and the like), so that’s another hit to the public school, dragging their overall scores even lower
f) public school now declared to be ‘failing’
Charter schools are paid for with public funds (which is what differentiates them from private schools). Add in that a great number of the charter schools are functionally religious, with complications you can imagine. (Separation of church and state, anyone?) And a great many are run by for-profit operators – a back door to funnel public money into private hands.
Charter schools don’t *have* to abuse the system this way — if, for example, they accept all the kids (by lottery, if they need to limit numbers) the way the public school does (and support them all to the same standards for disability, etc. as the public schools), if they don’t mandate religious education, and if they use their charter to experiment with new ways of teaching (forest classrooms, Montessori-type styles, etc.), then charter schools could actually be used as innovation incubators, and the lessons learned there brought back to benefit the rest of the public schools in the district. That would be ideal.
I can’t remember offhand, but I think it’s Minnesota where the charter schools have been largely successful? And a friend tells me that in Louisiana there is a single application and they cannot cherry pick; they also have a central all-schools expulsion system for hearings etc. to prevent weeding. But overall, so far, they tend to be discriminatory and abusive.
And note: once the public schools are closed or downsized, there’s no capacity for the system to reverse course when the charter operators go out of business because they don’t make enough profit.
Some good pieces with more information: