Nancy Flanagan, retired NBCT teacher and current blogger, explains in a comment what has happened in Michigan, where she lives:


I live in Michigan, where the charter movement was an outgrowth of Betsy DeVos’s inability to get a voucher law through, resulting in her turning to charter schools (DeVos family paid–twice!–to put failed voucher initiatives on the ballot). Initially, 25 years ago, the goal was conversion charters–making Christian (not Catholic) education free for white parents in western Michigan, by putting up a new sign and moving Bible Study classes to the end of the day, as an “elective.” A few education progressives took advantage of the law to start high-tech schools (very sexy, at the time), including one in Henry Ford Museum. Charters were all about serving the privileged kids and the promising kids, with new, out-of-the-box thinking.


It wasn’t until the DFER Democrats came along, promoting charters as a “civil rights” initiative (just about the time the admin turned over), that charters could also be positioned as a cheap and promising strategy for “saving” kids in troubled urban districts. Connecting charters to the civil rights movement was a brilliant (although utterly failed) strategy, because the charter model produced nothing of consequence in urban education, except financial malfeasance.


People who live in states where charters are very limited and relatively new immediately perceive–because we have plenty of evidence now– all the things that are wrong with the charter movement. You have to go to a state where the policy has been in place for 25 years–like Michigan, which has 300+ charter schools–to see what advanced-stage charter syndrome looks like.


Jay Mathews is just stuck in the past, following an old (but seductive) narrative. And he has plenty of company–witness the terrible, deceptive coverage of education (and the policies of major candidates) in the 2016 election.