Steven Rosenfeld, writing at Salon, notes that both the Washington Post and the New York Times warned the NAACP not to pass the resolution to halt the expansion of charter schools. Both editorials were condescending and misinformed. Fortunately, the NAACP ignored them and did what was best was kids and American education.
The New York Times called the NAACP’s proposal “misguided,” while The Washington Post snidely declared, “Maybe it should do its homework.”
But both newspapers are misguided and uninformed about what the charter school industry is doing to America’s public schools. Their attempt to influence the NAACP board’s vote this weekend reveals that they don’t understand or care to understand how the industry is dominated by corporate franchises with interstate ambitions to privatize K-12 schools.
What do the drafters of the NAACP resolution understand that these editorial boards do not? They know that the charter industry was the creation of some of the wealthiest billionaires in America, from the Walton family heirs of the Walmart fortune, to Microsoft’s Bill Gates, to Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Reed Hastings, Mark Zuckerberg and others, including hedge fund investors. These billionaires have pumped billions into creating a new privatized school system where those running schools can profit and evade government oversight. These very rich Americans aren’t trying to fix traditional public schools, but create a parallel, privately run system that’s operating in a separate and unequal world inside local school districts.
How separate and unequal is the charter world? Their most antidemocratic accomplishment may be destroying the tradition of local control over schools by allowing private charter school boards to replace locally elected and appointed officials. These boards do not have to be composed of district residents, don’t have to hold open meetings, don’t have to bid or disclose contracts, and do not have to publicly reveal much of anything about their operations. As a result, privatizers have been able to tap into more than $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies in recent years, of which at least $200 million has been misspent or vanished in a spectrum of self-dealing scandals documented by public interest groups and investigative reporters in every state where charter schools exist.
The Times, at least, admits that there have been problems with poorly functioning charters. Trying to sound reasonable, the editorial cites a respected Stanford University study saying better charters have had good academic results, even though the opposite has happened in cities like Detroit, where half the students attend “significantly worse” charters. They cite demand from parents as evidence that the schools must be working, not mentioning the industry’s marketing routinely trashes traditional K-12 schools. And they say it’s disingenuous for the NAACP to claim charters have reintroduced segregation, because many inner cities are predominately non-white….
The Times and The Post fail to see the charter school industry for what it is — a privatization juggernaut. It receives massive funding from the richest Americans, who incorrectly blame traditional schools for not solving poverty. It benefits from seductive marketing that goes unquestioned, with major media often acting as its propaganda wing. In too many communities, charters present a false hope, as many local activists and parent groups have found. Scarce funds are redirected from traditional schools, students are cherry-picked as communities are roiled and divided, and better educational outcomes are not guaranteed.
Why are the Times and the Post both indifferent to the dangers of privatizing our nation’s public schools? Why do they think it is naive and unreasonable to insist on charter school accountability?
I was in the U.S. Department of Education when the idea of charter schools was first floated. The idea, at the time, was that they would gain autonomy in exchange for accountability. Now they get autonomy with no accountability. The NAACP thinks that is wrong. Public money should be accompanied by public accountability, not by freedom from any accountability at all.