Charter schools have become incredibly popular in the United States since the first school opened its doors in Minnesota back in 1992. The “school choice” movement and advocacy for allocating government funds to support these quasi-public institutions has gained considerable traction under the current administration.
Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, has essentially waged a war on public education by throwing all of her support to the charter school industry. If we are not vigilant, public education could soon disappear and be replaced by charter schools.
What are Charter Schools?
Charter schools are advertised as being “public, tuition-free schools that are open to all students” that are established by “teachers, parents, or community groups.” In truth, however, most charter schools are publicly-funded private institutions that are established and run by large corporations.
Unlike public institutions, which exist to provide all students access to a free, high-quality education, charter schools exist to line the pockets of the wealthy and undermine efforts to create an informed and educated society.
Purpose of Education
Public education is an essential tool of a democratic society. Democracy requires the informed input of involved citizens. Our public schools are the perfect outlet for providing each young generation with not only knowledge but the skills and analytical tools that are crucial for success in life. Democracy is threatened when students do not receive the foundation that is necessary to be a contributing member of society.
Democracy is threatened by the rise of charter schools. Why? Charter schools are a great way to (1) sidestep the purpose of public education and (2) deprive students of a learning environment that fosters free expression and critical thinking.
Sidestepping the Purpose of Education
Public education has long been a way for parents, local lawmakers, and the community at-large to have a say in how their students are taught. While curricula are, to a large degree, set at the state and/or federal level, the local community still has the ability to influence what students learn and how they are taught. Using the community to teach students helps to create individuals who understand the basic tenets of democracy and the importance of civic participation.
Charter schools are often run by large corporations that have no other ties to the community. Instead of valuing the quality of the education that its students receive, concern lies with the bottom line. Charter schools are simply a mechanism of a capitalist society to generate revenue for the rich. Since a true democracy and an educated society threatens this system, charter schools are actually used to combat both of these things.
This is not to say that charter school students do not receive an education. They certainly have the tools to learn how to read, write, and perform simple math. However, these students are often not being challenged to think beyond the test and hone important critical thinking skills. Students today learn to accept what they are taught without question, rather than analyzing an issue and coming to a conclusion on their own.
Depriving Students of a Diverse Learning Environment
Public schools are particularly effective because they allow students to learn in a diverse academic setting. Student enrollment is increasingly diverse. In fact, minority students will soon account for more than half of all public school students. Exposure to diverse backgrounds, races, ideas, and orientations – of peers and teachers, alike – has proven to be a benefit to all students. Learning to embrace the simple idea of “other” helps individuals to integrate into an increasingly diverse world.
While charter schools like to say that they’re open to everyone, enrollment often tells a different story. Schools often lack diversity thanks, in part, to admission procedures. The schools craft procedures that help them secure the student body they want, not the student body that accurately represents the community in which it is located. As a result, students are deprived of the ability to learn in a diverse setting. When these students graduate and enter the workforce, they lack the interpersonal skills and understanding that are necessary to thrive. Instead of embracing and trying to understand those who are different, we are increasingly embracing fear and rejection of “other.”
Fostering this sense and fear of “other” is doing incredible damage to society. If you take a look at society today, there are so many ways in which we are divided. We are all human, yet we find ways to differentiate ourselves. These differences are not embraced or celebrated, but rather used to oppress and harm. While charter schools are not the sole offender, they are playing a very large role in the destruction of our democratic society.
The Rise in Charter Schools is Killing Public Education
Charter schools and “school choice” are not only becoming more popular with the general public, but with the government, as well. Unfortunately, the rise in charter schools is killing public education. Parents, fearful of government overreach and inadequate education in public schools, are sending their children across the street to quasi-public institutions As a result, funding that is essential to the operation of our public schools is being gutted and sent directly to charter schools. Many public schools have had to close in recent years because they simply do not have the funds to continue operations.
We need to protect public education. It is vital to our democratic society. Charter schools pose a serious threat to the institution of public education, which has been valued by our society since the day it was born. We must continue to support policy initiatives and funding operations that support public education and quality civics education. Without advocacy efforts, public education will soon be a thing that student may learn about in history books.