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The Ugly Truth about Charter Schools: Padded Cells, Corruption, Lousy Instruction and Worse Results

Charter schools are sold as an answer. With awful discipline and shocking scandals, many really cause new problems.
 
 
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Imagine your five-year old boy went to a school where he was occasionally thrown in a padded cell and detained alone for stretches as long as 20 minutes.

Or you sent your kid to an elementary school where the children are made to sit on a bare floor in the classroom for days before they can “earn” their desks.

Or your kid went to a school where she spent hours parked in a cubicle in front of a computer with a poorly trained teacher who has to monitor more than 100 other students.

Maybe you don’t have children or send them to private school? So how do you feel when you find out the local school that you pay for with your taxes is operating a scam that diverted millions of dollars through fake Medicaid billing?

Or the school used your tax dollars as “grants” to start up other profit-making enterprises ... or pay lavish salaries — $300,000, $400,000 or more — to its administrators ... or support a movement linked to a reclusive Turkish cleric being investigated for bribery and corruption.

Welcome to the world of charter schools.

Are there wonderful charter schools doing great things for kids? Probably. Are all these cumulative anecdotes an unfair representation of the value that charter schools can bring to some communities? Maybe.

But neither of those questions matters because of what the charter school movement has come to represent in the landscape of American education.

Charter schools have been relentlessly marketed to the American populace as a silver bullet for “failed” public schools, especially in poor urban communities of African-American and Latino/a students.

Politicians in both parties speak glowingly of these schools — which, by the way, their children seem never to attend.

Opening charter schools has become the latest fad for celebrities including athletes and rap stars.

Huge nationwide chains — called education management organizations (EMOs) — now run many of these charters. A recent study by the National Education Policy Center found, “Students across 35 states and the District of Columbia now attend schools managed by these non-government entities.” These for-profit and nonprofit EMOs — such as K12 Inc., National Heritage Academies, Charter Schools USA and KIPP — now account for nearly half of the students educated by charter schools.

Substantial, well-funded nationwide organizations have rapidly developed to lobby for these schools. One such organization, the Alliance for School Choice, recently received a $6 million gift from the Walton Foundation, of Wal-Mart fame.

Slick marketing campaigns have been rolled out in communities across the country to tout the coming of new charters.

The actual academic results of these schools seems to hardly anyone, despite report after report showing that these schools tend to do poorly on state and national tests and fail at providing equitable education to underserved students.

Yet lobbying for more of these schools continues unabated with more money funneled into the campaigns of politicians who support charters and more efforts to press state lawmakers to lift any provisions currently in place to regulate how these schools operate and are held accountable to the public.

As a result, charter schools now serve one in 20 students nationwide, despite “mixed results” at best.

Yet how much is really known about how most charter schools operate on a day-to-day basis? Most of the people who witness what these schools actually do are students, who have little voice outside the classroom; teachers, who need to hold onto their jobs; and charter administrators, who can’t always be depended on to blow the whistle on shenanigans.