Despite support from Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, and the corporate establishment, charter schools in New York City and everywhere else have yet to prove that they can solve the problem that is America’s education system. In the South Bronx, the Academic Leadership Charter School has been put on probation this week for not randomizing admissions—as charter schools are supposed to do—and possibly testing or interviewing applicants, which they are not, the Times reports.
For those snoozing during Davis Guggenheim’s misguided documentary Waiting for “Superman”, charter schools are publicly-funded private schools that many hail as the saviors of education, though empirical evidence and trenchant analysis reveals that, despite their built-in test-score advantage of not accepting every student, they don’t outperform public schools in any meaningful way. Relative successes like Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone—bankrolled by what the New York Times calls “a substantial largess, much of it from Wall Street”—are countered by abject failures.
But the spotty success-rate of charter schools has not deterred Democrats or Republicans who worship free-market ideology and desire a quick-fix, even when nothing is really fixed, from embracing them. And so the Department of Education has pushed to co-locate public and charter schools in the same buildings, while parents of children in public schools have fought back, fearing that their children will have access to even less classroom space and funding than they used to.
The quagmire in the South Bronx, first reported by Gotham Schools in May, reveals several of the problems inherent in the charter-school model. One is that a randomized lottery is supposed to determine who goes to a charter school. Since when did access to education become a game of chance? One might think that lotteries, at least, must be fair, but why should the educational futures of small children—who already hail from the economic underclass because wealthier areas tend to keep charters out of their school districts—now hang in the balance of one right or wrong selection from lottery box?
The public school system, tragically underfunded, was established to give every American, no matter their ability—charter schools have tried have to weed out physically or mentally disabled students—an opportunity to receive a free education. Instead of funneling much-needed resources into South Bronx high schools, the state builds another discriminatory charter school, which siphons money off a public system in dire need of funding.
Also, many charter schools are established with the explicit aim of making a profit for their investors. Profit motive and education, though linked, should never be—when making money is the goal, educating a child becomes secondary.