There are multiple, powerful forces behind the push for charter schools. Some of them like to avoid the spotlight. In no particular order, the four major forces behind the charter school movement are the following:
Those who are looking to make a profit by tapping into the funding for public education, which is a good chunk of money, approximately $600 billion annually in local, state, and federal spending. There are profit opportunities in developing, administering, and grading tests; developing and selling curriculum materials and textbooks; and ultimately in the privatization of schools themselves, i.e., charter schools.
Those who, for ideological reasons, want to shrink government and the public sector, including public education. Privatization is a core strategy for them. So private charter schools that receive public funding are the goal.
Those who want to weaken the bargaining power of workers and unions in our economy. They also want to weaken the political power of workers and that power is most effectively exercised through unions. They want to shift power to employers, especially large corporations. They have been quite successful in doing this in the private sector and have now set their sights on weakening public sector unions, and teachers’ unions are some of the strongest and most vocal of the public sector unions. Therefore, criticizing teachers and teachers’ unions, while advocating for non-union charter schools, is aligned with their goals.
Those who sincerely want to improve education and student outcomes. They are a small force among those that are truly driving the charter school movement. Many members of the staffs of charter schools and parents who support charter schools do have this as their goal, but they tend to be blind to the larger forces and interests at work behind the scenes.
The forces behind the charter school push have been pitching a narrative forcefully and effectively for 30 years or so now that states that US public schools are failing and that teachers and teachers’ unions are to blame. And that the solution is charter schools, preferably private, non-union ones, but that are funded with public tax dollars. Some charter schools are for-profit and many of them have links to for-profit corporations.
The first three of the four forces listed above have coalesced into a powerful, unified voice pushing this narrative and the implementation of their solution. They use the rationale of innovation to improve education and student outcomes to hide their real motives. They very effectively persuade the public and parents that not only do they have altruistic motives but that parents and the public should support their charter school movement.
Everyone believes that every child should receive high quality educational experiences that lead to success in school and a trajectory of progress and success throughout his or her years in school, as well as in life beyond school. However, those who believe public schools are the best vehicle to realize this vision, have not developed, let alone promoted, an alternative narrative to that of the charter school proponents. They have not mounted an effective, coherent rebuttal of the charter advocates’ statement of the problem or their solution. Without a counter narrative, public school supporters are confused and torn about whether to oppose or support charter schools – and even about how to talk about them.
My next post on our education system will identify the real problems with our public schools. A subsequent post will present some solutions.