Charter Schools and Corporate Ed Reform

The following is an excerpt from Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake? co-authored by Michelle Fine and Michael Fabricant. The book traces the evolution of the charter school movement from its origins in community- and educator-based efforts to promote progressive change to their role today as instruments of privatization and radical disinvestment in public education. Many parts of the New Jersey story described will likely sound familiar, as will the issues raised below.

A noted scholar and activist, Michelle Fine is a longtime supporter and friend of Rethinking Schools.

-Stan Karp, Rethinking Schools editor

excerpt from Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake?

by Michelle Fine and Michael Fabricant

In this book we track the history of charters from social justice alternatives to a campaign to dismantle and decentralize public education, through to the contemporary movements for educational justice.  It is within this context that the following six questions animate our writing:

How did a social justice education movement, initiated by teachers and teachers’ union, evolve into a corporate campaign to dismantle existing structures of public education?

What is the relationship between the promise of charters and contemporary evidence of their impact?

Even if charters in the aggregate were academically more successful than local schools – and the evidence is dubious – what are the consequences of a deregulated charter movement for participatory democracy, racial equity and deep accountability to community and youth?

How does the twinning of corporate profit and Black/Latino/poor community pain resonant across the history of the U.S., manifest itself in the current rush to reshape public institutions toward private interests and ever more inequitable forms of (dis)investment?

Recognizing that charters are now here to stay on the public education landscape, what safeguards need to be put in place to assure that these schools remain public, democratic, accessible to all and deeply accountable?

Given the well documented and racialized/class based troubles of public education, and the dramatic impact of systematic, cumulative mis-education in low income communities of color, what are the elements of public innovation and strategic investment that can promote educational justice?

Anatomy of the Charter School Movement is written to explore these questions about contemporary conditions in public education through the lens of the charter school movement.  We frame the text by taking into account the commitment of a small group of exemplary charter schools dedicated to social justice, as well as the well funded private sector and federal campaign to sell charters as the market answer to public education, and the cumulative record of disappointment of public education in low income communities of color.

Importantly, this book is neither anti-charter nor an apology for the dismal aggregate state of public education in low income communities. Indeed we have great respect for those educators, parents, youth and community leaders who have struggled to create spaces where young people otherwise denied quality education can be respected, engaged and educated.  Both of us have written on the deep and scarring inequities that litter the landscape of public education. We are however, intensely suspect of the well funded charter campaign that sells the American public on the idea that “chartering” a very small slice of public education while cutting strategic investment in the larger whole project of education will make our schools more effective….

The charter movement has emerged at a moment in history when educational despair in community of color runs high, ideological calls for privatization have gained prominence, unions are under siege, accountability regimes have been mobilized to declare public schools a site of crisis and all that is public is being hotly contested. We, as educators and parents, understand why parents, especially those in under invested communities where so much of public education has failed their children for generations, would seek a voucher, enroll in a charter and yearn for an alternative to provide a better life for their children.  At the same time, as social analysts, we are witnessing the restructuring of public education, and therefore must ask a series of questions about the experience of charter reform. Who is being gentrified out of the charter revolution? Are charters indeed the source of innovation that the federal government declares? What is their record? Who’s making money?