The media research organization Project Censored has named a column on education by Jeff Bryant as one of the “top 25 most censored or underreported news stories of 2014.” The column first appeared at salon.com on January 10, 2014. Last week Bryant reprinted the piece in the newsletter of the Education Opportunity Network: Questioning the Charter School Hype. It is worth re-reading, because while Bryant’s piece is now almost a year old, the issues it raises remain urgently timely.
Bryant covers what he calls child abuse—the punitive classroom management techniques that shame students in the behaviorist charter chains like KIPP. He examines so-called blended learning at Rocketship, the charter chain that substitutes “personalized” computer instruction for real teachers for a good part of the school day. He examines corruption at the Gulen chain of charter schools. And he answers the question whether charter schools that receive public funds from states and local school districts are public or private institutions: according to an Arizona court they are private.
In recent months this blog has also covered many of these same issues in relation to charter schools: the abusive, behaviorist discipline methods—Are “No-Excuses” Charter Management Organizations the Descendants of Wackford Squeers?; the fraud and corruption—Reports Add Up to Show Charter Fraud, Charter Failure, and Incapacity to Realize What Was Promised; the inability of anyone to regulate a school choice marketplace out of control in Detroit—Charter School Promoters Discover School Choice Catastrophe in Detroit; and the extraordinary abuse of political power by the wealthy financial interests backing charters in New York City: The Power of Money in Public Education Policy.
Charter schools and their problems continue to fill the news. This week The Progressive published an entire issue on education. Ruth Conniff, the magazine’s editor, critiques Wisconsin’s Bradley Foundation that “has devoted more than $30 million to spread the message that public education is failing,” and condemns Rocketship, the rapidly expanding charter chain that “uses computer programs to teach children for a significant portion of the day, and eschews “extras” like school librarians, art, gym, and social studies, which further reduces staff costs. This combination of real teachers and online programs, dubbed ‘blended learning,’ is the fastest-growing sector of the burgeoning charter school industry.”
Problems with charters are also pivotal in New York state, where just last week Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham University law professor who opposed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in that state’s Democratic primary election, picked up the theme of the abuse of power by hedge fund, charter interests who continue to underwrite the movement to expand charter schools in New York City. In a white paper she released and a new piece published in the Albany Times-Union, Teachout challenges the power of Wall Street money spent during the November election cycle—particularly money from the hedge fund managers who support Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charters and who support Democrats for Education Reform—to buy support among members of New York’s general assembly for charter school operators: “There is big money to be made in charter schools, with tax breaks and the chance to be a supplier. There is big money to be made in union-busting, and one of the reasons they may be so pro-charter is that they are deeply anti-union. And there is big money to be made in the gradual dismantling of our great New York public education, as it leaves more money for tax breaks… Whatever the policy reason, the deeper goal is power. This takeover represents a new kind of power, where individuals presume to stand in for the public, and make decisions about what is best for all of us, without ever having to stand in the public eye and explain themselves.”
Teachout introduces her white paper about power and privilege in New York’s charter school politics with an epigraph from The Great Gatsby: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”