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The Charter School Industry’s Dishonest Attack on Bernie Sanders

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During the Reagan era, ultraconservative columnist James Kilpatrick, a notorious segregationist since the southern Massive Resistance campaign against the 1954 Brown decision, took up the right-wing attack on Social Security from a novel angle. He opposed the program as discriminatory against African Americans because black men were statistically less likely than whites to live long enough to receive the old-age benefits. That was likely the only time in his public life Kilpatrick expressed anything that might seem like sympathy for black Americans.

A decade or so later, many advocates of the welfare “reform” that ended the federal government’s sixty-year commitment to provide income support for the indigent similarly couched their efforts in feigned concern to help poor black people break a supposedly distinctive “cycle of poverty.” Similar disingenuous tears have accompanied the federal government’s retreat since the 1990s from direct provision of affordable housing for the poor. Thus, a racist premise that there’s a special sort of black poverty became a way to spin cutting public benefits for poor people as a supposedly anti-racist, anti-poverty strategy.

Now, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, the charter school industry and its advocates also make such claims, asserting that charters offer unique opportunities for poor African American children. On those grounds, for example, the Washington Post recently attacked the Bernie Sanders campaign’s Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education, which, among other features, supports the NAACP’s call for a “moratorium on public funds for charter school expansion until a national audit has been conducted to determine the impact of charter growth in each state.” In a May 27 masthead editorial, the Washington Post described charterization as a civil rights issue, claiming that charter schools can remedy the “most enduring – and unforgivable – civil rights offense in our country today [which] is the consigning of so many poor, often minority children to failing schools.” To justify that claim the editorial cites research indicating that black students in charter schools “gained an additional 59 days of learning in math and 44 days in reading per year compared with traditional school counterparts.”

But that says nothing about how charter schools actually perform or what their impacts are on students, communities, and public school systems. Here are some facts:

A 2008 analysis of 47 studies conducted from 1999 to that year found that “on the whole, charters perform similarly to traditional public schools.” A 2009 sixteen-state study found that only 17 percent of charters outperformed traditional schools in math, while 46 percent showed no significant difference, and 37 percent actually underperformed public schools. A 2013 follow-up twenty-seven state study found improved results for charters, but that study has been sharply criticized on technical and substantive grounds. And that is despite the fact that charter schools can “cream” enrollments in ways that traditional public schools cannot—for example, by imposing restrictive admission criteria, steering away less desirable students, and pushing out poorly performing ones.

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Thanks !

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