Critics of charter schools have noted that they undermine neighborhood public schools and decimate communities. By offering a slot to a small proportion of students in the neighborhood, they break up any sense of community spirit centered on the community school and they simultaneously promote the free-market fetishizing of consumer choice. Add to the charter movement the effects of NCLB: labeling a school with low scores as a “failing school,” which causes families to abandon it and demoralizes teachers; and the effects of Race to the Top, which encourages school closings as a remedy for low scores. All of this is a great avoidance strategy, a way of not facing up to the most consistent predictor of low test scores: poverty. Yes, poor kids can learn, and yes, it is possible to create a high-test score school composed of poor kids, but neither of those facts contradicts the consistent correlation between poverty and low academic achievement. Corporate reformers like to pretend that poverty doesn’t matter, because they know of 1 or 20 schools where poor kids got high test scores. But that is a non sequitur. There is no district in the nation, even those run by the most ardent reformers, that has closed the achievement gaps of race and income. Certainly not DC or NYC.

A reader reflects on this scenario:

One of the less-developed discussions about charter schools is their role in destroying the neighborhood school – now effectively accomplished among NYC high schools, for example – and how that is integral to the class and racial reconfiguration of the neighborhoods in which they are being placed.

As Mark Naison perceptively wrote weeks ago, throughout the grim Reagan, Bush I and post-NAFTA years of deindustrialization that hollowed out so many communities, the one place that remained was the neighborhood public school, which often employed neighborhood residents and provided an island of stability. Now, as developers have their eyes on some of those communities, they have allied with charter school operators. It’s no coincidence, for example, that one of the most active real estate developers in rapidly gentrifying Harlem (Gideon Stein) is on the Board of Eva Moskowitz’s aggressively metastasizing Harlem Success Academies.

It’s a vicious irony that, hyped as a panacea for poor Black and Latino urban children, charter schools in many cities and neighborhoods are in fact a vehicle for ultimately displacing them. After all, as census data has been showing for a while, the slums of the future are forming in the suburbs (charter operators take note: a rapidly developing market!), and the urban core is becoming whiter and more affluent.

Charters, whether brick-and-mortar schools or virtual sweatshops started by ex-felons (as is the case with K-12 and its founder, Michael Mlken) are not just about busting the unions and monetizing every last data point generated in the school building, but are also a real estate play, eliminating what is often one of the last public, universally accessible institution in these neighborhoods, and making way for more desirable consumers who don’t rely upon or care about the ongoing destruction of the public realm.