Jack Schneider, a historian of education who often collaborates with Jennifer Berkshire, analyzes the fading allure of charter schools. After years of claims that they would “save” public schools and poor children, the public has given up on them. Why? They have not delivered, and the public gets it.

For most of the past thirty years, charters seemed unstoppable, especially because their expansion was backed by billions from people like the Waltons, Gates, and Broad, as well as the federal government. But they have not kept their promises.

Today, however, the grand promises of the charter movement remain unfulfilled, and so the costs of charters are being evaluated in a new light.

After three decades, charters enroll six percent of students. Despite bold predictions by their advocates that this number will grow fivefold, charters are increasingly in disrepute.

First, the promise of innovation was not met. Iron discipline is not exactly innovative.

Second, the promise that charters would be significantly better than public schools did not happen. In large part, that is because the introduction of charters simply creates an opportunity for choice; it does not ensure the quality of schools. Rigorous research, from groups like Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University, has found that average charter performance is roughly equivalent to that of traditional public schools. A recent study in Ohio, for instance, concluded that some of the state’s charters perform worse than the state’s public schools, some perform better, and roughly half do not significantly differ.

Finally, charters have not produced the systemic improvement promised by their boosters.

Competition did not lift all boats. In fact, competition has weakened the public schools that enroll most students at the same time that charters do not necessarily provide a better alternative.

Schneider does not mention one other important reason for the diminishing reputation of charters: scandals, frauds, embezzlement, and other scams that appear daily in local and state media. A significant number of charters are launched and operated by non-educators and by entrepreneurs, which amplifies the reasons for charter instability and failure.