When Charter Schools Are for Profit, Not for Students

Posted on: Thu, 02/08/2018 - 09:00 By: lisa.newcomer

We spend about $620 billion every year on education by federal and state governments. But accountability for the hundreds of millions that go to charter schools is minimal in most states. This has led to many scandals, frequent poor performance for students, and few changes in laws or regulations. Why?

I recently read Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education by John Merrow. Mr. Merrow spent four decades as a journalist who focused on education. His book offers a candid, and sometimes painful, examination of public education in our country. He warns that the chapter entitled Calculate the Cost of Reform “may raise your blood pressure.” The facts I am sharing about charter schools come from Mr. Merrow’s book.

  • The Charter High School of San Diego had 756 students who were supposed to graduate in 2015. Only 32% graduated. The Diego Valley Charter School had a 2015 cohort graduation rate of 10.8% and a dropout rate of 45%. The San Diego School District’s graduation rate was 8%.
  • Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) examined virtual charter school performance. With 200,000 children enrolled in 200 schools across 26 states, virtual charters together would be the 9th largest school district in the country and one of the worst-performing. The CREDO study found that over the course of a school year, students in virtual charter schools learned the equivalent of 180 fewer days in math and 72 fewer days in reading than peers in traditional charter schools. The CREDO study concluded that most online charters have a negative impact on student achievement.
  • Executive pay comparisons between public school systems and charter school networks is striking. The Chancellor of the New York City school system with 1.1 million students earns about 40 cents per student. The CEO of Success Academies, which enrolls about 11,000 students, earns $51.35 per student—that’s about 128 times more per student!
  • The highest paid CEO of a charter school network in New York earns about $525,000 per year, and the network enrolls 1,400 students. That equates to $375 per student. The Harlem Village Academies has a poor performance record. In addition to losing a lot of students (for example, one school enrolled 119 kindergarten students but only 33 high school seniors), the academic performance of students is abysmal. In one school, the students who scored proficient in English language arts was 8% in 5th grade, 12% in 6th grade, 11% in 7th grade, and 28% in 8th grade. This poor performance is consistent across schools and content areas.

These examples as well as many others from Mr. Merrow’s book did raise my blood pressure. While our three public charter schools in Frederick County are successful and accountable to our elected Board of Education, laws, policies and practices elsewhere in the United States are not about students first! The public funds being wasted are disgraceful; but more importantly, the valuable time students have lost and the poor academic performance is shameful. American students deserve the best education in the world. Shouldn’t we demand more?

What factors would you use to hold charter schools accountable? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And whether you agreed with this post or not, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.