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A Third Argument FOR Charters

August 29, 2014

In a lengthy, well-researched, and thoughtful post yesterday, Diane Ravitch offers two broad arguments for-profit charter school advocates (aka “reformers) use to persuade the public that privatization is the answer to fixing our “failing public schools”:

Argument #1 is that charter schools serve the same students as public schools and manage to put public schools to shame by producing amazingly better results on standardized exams. Therefore, reformers claim, if only public schools did what charter schools do (or better yet, if all public schools were closed and charter schools took over), student learning would dramatically increase and America might even beat South Korea or Finland on international standardized tests…..

When called on the data that clearly show high-flying charters engage in creaming and in pruning, which can account for most of their “success,” they quickly switch to argument #2. Argument #2 claims that charter schools play a different role than public schools. What exactly their role is can vary from “serving high-potential low-income students [14]” to serving as laboratories of innovation.

After elaborating on the argument, Ravitch provides footnoted evidence that demonstrates their flaws. After reading this, I was struck by the fact that she omitted one of the fundamental arguments advanced by “reformers”: namely, that if a charter school fails, unlike a “government school”, it will be closed. This, as evidenced in earlier blogs, doesn’t happen quite as quickly as a poorly managed restaurant that serves bad food— and doesn’t have nearly the adverse consequences for children. The absence of this argument led me to offer this comment:

You forgot argument #3: when charter schools compete like businesses do the failing charters will close. The argument goes like this: “If a charter fails it will be closed but a failing government run public school remains open.” I’m sure you and/or your readers can blow holes in this one. The biggest consequence of this line of thinking is that like a business, charter schools should spend lots of money on advertising and lots of money pushing back if they sense their product is flawed.

Charter schools DO have a place in public education: they CAN serve as a non-traditional alternative to public schools. But profit has no place in schooling because it inevitably leads to a cheapening of the “product” in an effort to reward investors with no regard for the consumer.  If you don’t think that’s the case, ask a shop owner who’s been put out of business by Walmart, a book store who’s been put out of business by Amazon, or a small diner who’s been shuttered in favor of a fast food franchise.


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