An Insider Hits the Nakedness of the Charter School Empire

Education Rebuild New Orleans

New Orleans   Everywhere around the country, charter schools and their operators are poking through the concrete of school yards like weeds.  Billionaires and beleaguered Mayors and school superintendents often herald their potential as a way out of their own gnarled path of over grown capacity and underfunded programs.  Huge fights in Philadelphia and now Chicago are closing hundreds of urban schools, making a smaller charter movement still educating less than 1% of the total public school population nationally seem like a viable alternative, all of which forces all of us who care about public schools to continue to examine the situation in New Orleans that since Hurricane Katrina remains the largest urban charter school experiment in America.

A new voice, Professor Brian Beabout of the University of New Orleans, won the 2013 Emerging Scholar Award from the American Educational Research Association, for a careful, but not dispassionate study of the charter system having spent 4 years in the New Orleans system as a Teach for America instructor before making the transition to academia.  His analysis, reported in Baton Rouge’s The Advocate should be a sober warning to the charter cheerleaders.

First, he pops the bubble that the New Orleans charter changes were “wiping the slate clean,” especially because a “series of inequities” were foundation in the new school regimes including some charters not providing busing, others with enrollment ceilings, selective admissions, and perplexing lottery entry procedures.  In cost saving charters he scores the reliance on green, inexperienced and cheap teachers like he was in his first four years as a teacher and notes that contrary to the charter public relations, many of the old teachers were categorically the “best teachers he has ever come across,” though some 7500 school employees were fired after Katrina.

He notes as well that contrary to the decentralization mantra of the charter movement in New Orleans increasingly some of these functions have had to be centralized, especially those that were benefiting the charters by discriminating like the expulsion policies and the application process.  Professor Beabout astutely notes that as charter operators add more schools to their brand, they “resemble districts” which he called “antithetical to the charter movement.”  Additionally, putting a lie to the claims that charter schools bring diversity, he notes that most of the larger operators look increasingly the same.  Although Beabout did not use this metaphor, they seem like Ford and Chevy competing against each other rather than a race between a tractor and a race car.   Beabout is also clear the talk of charters returning “power to the community” is nothing more than rhetoric, given the unrepresentative nature of charter boards and the continued usurpation of the citizens’ right to vote for school boards overseeing all of the schools.

Beabout’s recommendations were also fascinating.  He argued for the following:

  • A $1000 penalty in reduction of state aid as a fine to charter schools using selective admissions.
  • A better relationships between charters and the community.  The Future is Now Oprah fiasco couldn’t be a better example of this need.
  • The need for transparency around the construction on new facilities which he currently compared to “3-year-olds at a Christmas party” as well as transparency on teacher assignments.

Beabout was clear, as I have been in writing about this in the past, that the current charter movement in New Orleans is completely unsustainable currently and propped up by outside, ideologically motivated money and interests trying to pump up test scores to claim a coup against unions and other public school advocates, none of which can be handled with current tax revenues in an unaccountable and undemocratic system.   As Beabout states clearly, “If the outside dollars go away, it will come to a crashing halt.”

The charter movement in New Orleans is currently a hustle built on a house of cards, not a model of reform or something other schools could or should duplicate.

Please click  Charter Schools on the Radio.