"The Truth About Charter Schools"

Highlights from GEM’s brochure on charter schools, which is being distributed at many demonstrations, forums, and other ed events this month. (Downloadable PDF here.)

MYTH: Charter schools are public schools.

TRUTH: If something is public, it means it is open to all members of a community. Charter schools conduct lotteries to select their students; they do not aim to serve all. Charter schools educate 2% of our city’s children, yet they receive superior attention and power from the mayor and chancellor. Charter school families are given access to transportation opportunities that public schools cannot offer. Additionally there are estimates that charter schools receive as much as twice the amount per student as public schools. The DOE refuses to release important financial information to the public effectively evading the question of funding. True reforms aim to educate and provide for all children.

TRUTH: According to the NY State Charter School Act of 1998, a charter school is defined, not as a public entity, but as an “education corporation.” Furthermore, the law states, “a charter school shall be exempt from all other state and local laws, rules, regulations or policies governing public or private schools, boards of education and school districts…” Do we really want to outsource the education of our children to private corporations who are free from regulation and oversight?

TRUTH: Charter schools are not governed democratically and often limit the input and voice of parents, students and teachers. If our children are to grow up to be functional members of our democracy, they need to be witnesses to and participants in democratic process. Private corporations place the survival of the corporation above the needs of their consumers. Public entities are the opposite—they place the needs of those they serve as their priority.

MYTH: Charter schools serve the same student populations as public schools.

TRUTH: Charter schools serve far fewer English language learners, students with special needs, and students who qualify for free lunch than their public school counterparts:

Data for 2007-2008 School Year

English Language Learners

Citywide Charter School Average 4%
Citywide Public School Average 14%

Students with Special Needs

Citywide Charter School Average 5%
Citywide Public School Average 15%

Students Receiving Free Lunch

Citywide Charter School Average 57%
Citywide Public School Average 65%

TRUTH: The Free Lunch “gap becomes even more glaring when you realize that charter schools are concentrated in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Harlem, the South Bronx and central Brooklyn, where even higher numbers of students qualify for free lunch.” In West Harlem alone, 80% of students receive free lunch.

TRUTH: New York City will have 100 charter schools open this fall, the majority of which are concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods. This is not coincidence. Our mayor and chancellor are shirking their responsibilities to run a publicly controlled educational system. They are instead outsourcing the public education of black and Latino students to unregulated, private corporations. In doing so, they have shown us that they do not want and do not know how to educate our black and Latino children. New York City desperately needs leaders who are experienced educators—they are the best equipped to understand and address the needs of all our city’s children.

MYTH: Charter schools produce better outcomes for their students.

TRUTH: “Looking at 2,403 charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia, researchers at Stanford University found that students in more than 80 percent of charter schools either performed the same as or worse than students in traditional public schools… ‘If this study shows anything, it shows that we’ve got a two-to-one margin of bad charters to good charters,’ said Margaret E. Raymond, the director of the center and the study’s lead author. ‘That’s a red flag.’”

TRUTH: We need to consider how we measure the quality of education in our country. President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are pushing an agenda that equates student performance with a test score. Our children are more than just numbers—they are individuals with varied learning styles, strengths and needs. Focusing ourselves, and our children, on these tests dangerously oversimplifies the process of learning and does not allow us to foster the true and unique potential of our youth.

MYTH: Charter schools hire better teachers and administrators.

TRUTH: Examining 2003-04 federal data, researchers from Vanderbilt University found surprising turnover rates for teachers in charter schools. They left at a rate of 25%; public schools had a turnover rate of 14%. Higher turnover rates create destabilized and chaotic school environments.

TRUTH: Many charter school employees are overworked, underpaid, and denied the right to be part of a union. In a recent New York Times article, a few charter school employees spoke about these issues: “We were really proud of the scores, and still are…but the workload…it wasn’t sustainable. You can’t put out the kind of energy we were putting out for our kids year after year.”

TRUTH: Many charter school administrators and principals are new and inexperienced. Take for example Harlem Success Academy, a network of 4 charter schools in Harlem that serves about 800 students. This chain is run by former city-council member Eva Moskowitz, a woman with no background in teaching who pays herself $370,000 a year. Overpaid CEO’s have contributed to the recent downfall of our economy—do we really expect a different result if we take this approach with education?

MYTH: Charter schools act as lab sites for innovative educational ideas and practices.

TRUTH: While the charter school movement was initially intended to be innovative, the schools sprouting up in New York City are anything but. Many are run by the same few charter corporations (Green Dot and Uncommon Schools) and push students through a scripted and test-driven curriculum.

TRUTH: Few charter schools aim to share information or best practices with their public school counterparts. The notion that these schools will pave the way to school reform is ill founded. We must empower public schools to experiment and innovate.

TRUTH: Charter schools are in the process of invading and privatizing public space. Around the city charter schools are taking over public school buildings and pushing public school children out. In many cases the charter schools remain in public spaces long after they have agreed to vacate. Why are we allowing our public schools to be replaced and privatized?

MYTH: Competition between schools will improve the educational system.

TRUTH: Any system based on competition will have winners and losers. In the case of our educational system, the winners and losers are our children. We need to create a system in which everyone, especially our most needy, can excel. In a competitive system, one school’s success is only possible when another fails. Education is not a game—it is a right.


Our vision for public school reform does not include privatization. We support quality public neighborhood schools with smaller class sizes, equitable funding, union protections, local school councils, and neighborhood enrollment that protects and includes all children. We support a moratorium on charters, turnarounds, consolidations, phase-outs, school closings and any other form of school privatization.

Educators should be empowered to work with communities to develop curriculum that is grounded in the lives of the young people they teach. Each school’s curriculum should reflect the culture, needs and lived experience of its students, critically support student identities, embrace and recognize the value of students’ home languages, and invite students to engage in solving societal problems.

The Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) believes in a bottom-up, participatory and highly democratic process to engage schools and communities in school improvement.


One thought on “"The Truth About Charter Schools"

  1. We are the Lighthouse Movement, in Los Angeles. We are a grassroots movement of Los Angeles teachers. We are spreading the word, as we are under attack, also. We are trying to start an “America For Teachers” campaign. We would like to begin by sending money to the Detroit Public Schools, they need it worse than most. We would like people to note “America For Teachers” on their check to show their support. We suggest you send it c/o The Detroit Free Press. Will you join the campaign?

    Posted by Anonymous | January 9, 2010, 4:17 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Upcoming Events

Fix Schools

Support the work of GEM


%d bloggers like this: