Charter schools and the shock doctrine

 If a charter school consisted of teachers and parents who had an idea for better educating children, I would be in favor of letting them try.  And I favor supporting genuine educational reformers such as Geoffrey Canada.

Goodness knows there is room for improvement in American public schools, and I can recall when there was considerable support among poor people in American big cities for charter schools.

karp-1But this is not what the charter school movement is about today.   By and large the charter school movement consists of (1) ideological opponents of public services in general and public education in particular and (2) vulture capitalists who see charter schools as a way to make a quick dollar by acquiring public facilities cheap.

Naomi Klein wrote a book, The Shock Doctrine, about how radical privatizers take advantage of emergencies to impose their ideas on an unwilling public.   I don’t think it is coincidence that the two most extensive examples of charter schools are New Orleans and Detroit, where parents and voters lost their voice in public education.

Almost all the public schools in New Orleans were replaced by charter schools following Hurricane Katrina, and about half the schools in Detroit have been made into charter schools by the unelected emergency government.

Charter schools are considered great investment opportunities because they can operate at minimum cost, often using public facilities acquired cheap, without accountability as to the quality of the product.  Privatizing public schools is part of the same movement that seeks to privatize the postal service, privatize public roads and privatize public housing.

A friend of mine who teaches at a community college in Texas told me that one of his freshman students has a day job as a teacher in a charter school.   That’s a lot more cost-effective than paying a trained and experienced teacher—that is, from an investor’s point of view, not a parent’s.


 “No excuses” in New Orleans by Beth Sandel and Joseph L. Boslovic for Jacobin.

The Charter School Profiteers by Allie Gross for Jacobin.

Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education by Stan Karp for Rethinking Schools.


I don’t think all charter schools are bad, but the best of them depend on having a charismatic leader backed by lots of foundation money, and on being able to pick and choose students or to throw rejects back into the public school system.  Having a charismatic leader backed by foundation money also helps.

If, however, the school systems of New Orleans and Detroit over the next 10 years out-perform their schools in the pre-charter era, I’ll happily eat my words.


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2 Responses to “Charter schools and the shock doctrine”

  1. Notes To Ponder Says:

    I wrote this a while ago,


  2. whungerford Says:

    My main concern is that in NYS funding for charter schools is taken from the local school district, but the local elected school board has no say in the operation of the charter school. This is unfair.


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