Charter Schools

In 1988, Assistant Professor and Dr. Ray Budde authored Education by Charter: Restructuring School Districts, putting forward an ideal that “educators could create a charter school directly through their local school board” (Budde 518), essentially eliminating administrative oversight at the school level. At the time, Albert Shanker President of the American Federation of Teachers, also believed that because students were not reaching education goals, charter schools could provide the autonomy teachers needed to practice innovative pedagogy. However, having witnessed the corporate takeover of charter schools by corporations, and the establishment of new education businesses that became possible through privatization, by 1993, Albert Shanker was no longer a believer of charter schools” (Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System 123) as his original idea of autonomy for educators became truncated by deregulation and privatization. Marketed as the answer to failing public schools, charter schools appealed to many frustrated and concerned minority parents who believe their children will be exposed to qualitative experiences that are not available at under-resourced, traditional schools where educators may not be credentialed. Parents mistakenly believe that education by private school will turn their child into a high achiever, not realizing that “score differences arise because higher-performing students select into private schools” (Dynarski 3), as the demand for charter education increases even though achievement levels do not justify the demand. According to David W. Hornbeck, who served as Philadelphia School Superintendent from 1976 to 1988 whose initial interest in charter schools was motivated by the promise of “educational opportunity for 215,000 students, charter schools represent a change of governance” (Hornbeck 1). Hornbeck reassessed his initial support based on their “mixed academic results and evidence that they perform no better than public schools” (Hornbeck 1). Yet the autonomy enjoyed at charter schools extends to their utilization of non-credentialed teachers, as they are deregulated. In Take Your Money and Run, author and educator Emily Kaplan describes a reality that minority students still experience through inequitable practices, drawing a contrast to suburban charters that are accountable to the parents so that their active engagement creates a valued partnership with charter administrators and educators. Kaplan describes the influence of suburban parents over charters such that “suburban charter entities must win the approval of parents” (Kaplan), in devising how their children are educated, differentiating the suburban and urban charter school experiences. Notions of autonomy that support high caliber learning in urban charter schools have been debunked, although charter operators are granted autonomy in exchange for meeting goals of student achievement, autonomous practices in urban minority communities do not produce value between parents, students and educators as zero tolerance policies dictate how administrators and educators yield power over students and parents, particularly through “parent contracts that require parental participation” (Buckley and Schneider 270). These contracts construct a power relationship where parental involvement at some charter schools is often “as unidirectional as it is punitive such that if students and parents do not comply with strict disciplines the relationship ends” (Kaplan). The demands for autonomy during the strikes of 1968 opposed racist practices that are a concrete reality in urban school landscapes such that student behaviors and parental responses are constrained through fear tactics. In The Insufficiency of Policy Reform: New Research, New Reforms, Same Old Problems, Professor of Law, Derek W. Black, describes the responses of white educators who see “multiple behavior infractions as patterns that would lead to troubled futures, so that African Americans are 18% of the national preschool enrollment with 42% experiencing suspension once a year and 48% experience suspension multiple times in a year” (Black 80–81). These practices have been visited on children as young as five years old such that “California issued a prohibition on suspending students in the third grade” (Black 86), effectively laying the framework in which children are introduced to notions of low expectations and inferiority that can lead to criminalization.

Charter entities have real opportunities for creating gold standards in learning because they are well funded, and autonomous, yet many of these rapidly growing entities reify policies that weed out students who fail to meet criteria suitable for boot camp training through “no excuse drilling” (Cobham) methodologies. The issue at heart is the fact that parents and many leaders in black communities want the same opportunities evidenced through extra resources and autonomy that charter schools offer suburban parents, but racist paradigms construct segregated charter entities that not only “draw money out of traditional public schools” (Frankenberg and Siegel-Hawley 130) through the use of vouchers and subsequent loss of Title I dollars, but also work against parental desires of equity for their children, through punitive practices including expulsion. Under these practices, traditional public schools will essentially house those students whom charter entities deem are undesirable, including English language learners who do not meet achievement requirements. In fact, according to Moody’s Investors Service, charter entities pose an economic threat to public schools because their “credit ratings are affected particularly when they are in economically distressed communities” (Hornbeck 1). These practices will eventually pave the wave for the dismantling of traditional public schools as illustrated in a speech by Educator John Kuhn to the Association of Texas Professional Educators where he made plain that “we have a social inequality problem that politicians and privatizers dress up as an educational problem that has one goal: to justify the need for vouchers and the dismantling of public education as a state responsibility” (Kuhn), which will support self-interests articulated by the actions of neoliberals and privatizers, that will restructure education to fit ideals that are based on monetary greed. Yet charter schools do not predominantly outperform traditional public schools, but “a study of the voucher program in Louisiana found very negative results in both reading and math so that children who started the voucher program at the 50th percentile in math dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year and a comparable study in Indiana, showed no improvement in reading” (Kuhn). The push toward choice is appealing to parents’ “hot cognition and motivated reasoning that are entrenched opinions” (Buckley and Schneider 274), in this case, related to notions of charter school superiority, that is undeliverable hype because charter schools and their benefactors practice false ideologies of how best to educate minority students. Charter schools are often organized as non-profit organizations that hold assets, receive grants and earn revenue. Currently, there are seven charter schools located in District 23. Brooklyn Ascend and Central Brooklyn Ascend are part of the same charter school network and are co-located. Likewise, Ocean Hill Collegiate a middle school hosting grades 5-10, shares facilities, staff and resources with Leadership Prep Bedford Stuyvesant and high school students of Brooklyn East Collegiate which are affiliates of the Uncommon Preparatory Charter network. Charter schools in District 23 are entitled to receive Title I funds because they are essentially comprised of low-income students. In addition to this funding stream, it was expected that “Achievement First Inc, a Connecticut entity, and Success Academy Charter Schools Inc., a New York entity received federal grants in the amount of $3,226,599 and $3,794,396, respectively to assist in their replication and expansion plans” (U.S. Department of Education Contributes to an Improving Charter Schools Sector | U.S. Department of Education). In addition to these income streams, charter schools also receive contributions from private sources as indicated in their financial statements.

The ideal of charter schools has become highly appealing such that their student achievement rates have not been subject to the level of public scrutiny that has been leveled at public schools. A recent study of California charters found that they “often under-perform traditional public schools in areas that were home to public schools who were performing better, causing an overabundance of class rooms, while enjoying the purchase of assets with public funds to the tune of $2.5 billion” (In the Public Interest 4). Although not all charter schools have their focus on profit centered activities, their proliferation and accumulation of assets can be troubling. The report discussed the practice in Detroit of enticing students with gifts to join charter schools as “a fight for limited public dollars, such that policymakers are being asked to determine how much charter growth is too much” (In the Public Interest 19). The greed factor is not limited to California or Detroit, as it can be found in cities across the country. Closer to home, “a New York audit found one charter school had leased its building in a way that netted millions of dollars for a New Jersey company with ties to Turkey” (McGahan). There are many examples that similarly describe greed under the umbrella of deregulated charter schools, such that this is a critical juncture in which pedagogy in K-12 learning must become the focus if the objective is to educate children. Scrutiny of student achievement must be centered at charter entities if they are to become the model in which literacy and education equity are certain to be achieved.

Achievement scores between District 2 and District 23 are contrasted within the geospatial map revealing consistent levels of disappointing results in District 23 and elsewhere throughout the City. Only one charter school in the district, Leadership Prep Ocean Hill, had increasing numbers of students scoring at the Level 4 category from 2013 through 2016 in the Math portion of the Common Core test. The school underperformed on the ELA exam with a proficiency rate of 56.4% in 2013 and has since declined in this area. Typically formed as non-profit organizations, charter schools are granted budgetary autonomy in exchange for consistent high achievement results. Many studies lack information about charter schools, as “the autonomy they are granted shields their organizational practices from scrutiny such that the conditions within some of these schools remain a black box” (Berends et al. 304, 305) which is most likely to affect student learning”. Most District 23 charter schools have fewer students who score at level 4 in Math or ELA, and most these students do not exceed level 3 so that these charters cannot claim they are producing proficiency. Curiously, although charter schools enjoy the ability to operate similarly to private schools, their safety nets in terms of funding are unavailable to traditional public schools who do not accumulate assets.