The Games Charter Schools Play

Judging by the claims made by charters, one would think it but child's play to make good on their boast of having higher test scores than their public-school cousins.

Charters' ability to deliver on their promise of achieving higher scores is, after all, their sole reason for existing and the only justification for their annually diverting billions of dollars from public schools.

However, before reviewing the evidence that refutes their claims, let us first consider how charters go about "gaming the system" to their own advantage.

With few exceptions, charters cherry-pick their students, admitting only those students who do well on tests.

Rarely, do they accept students with learning disabilities, emotional disorders, autism, ADHD, speech or language impairment, behavioral problems, or immigrant children still learning English, since these students tend to test poorly and would lower a charter's overall average.

Public schools, conversely, are legally required to accept every student who walks through their doors.

Such a discriminatory admissions policy hardly makes for an honest playing field.

However, sometimes, a few students who do test poorly are accepted, and only later then asked to leave after a charter has received the public-school money that comes with these students.

The problem is that when these students return to their schools, the money that came with them stays with the charters, causing hardship to those public schools, which must unfairly absorb the loss.

Despite this practice of charters' "creaming off" the better test-takers and rejecting the rest, a Stanford University study last year showed that 19/31 percent of children in charters still get lower scores in reading and math than those in public schools; 56/40 percent receive roughly the same scores; and only 25/29 percent achieve higher scores.

Hardly a bravura performance for charters, especially when they've weakened public schools by billions annually!

Please note that this 25/29 percent with higher scores embodies the unfair tactic of charters' admitting only those who test well, whereas public schools must accept every student, without exception.

This 25/29 percent is hardly then the result of charters'providing a superior program, as it is of their unfairly gaming the system, and it is upon such dubious legal, not to mention moral, grounds that charters divert billions from public schools to themselves.

More to the point, it is hard to see how this discriminatory admissions policy is legally justified when charters accept taxpayer dollars, which require them to accept everyone.

Charters play a second game. They seem to have a curious split-personality whenever it suits them. In one breath, they claim to be public schools entitled to taxpayer money, while, in the next, they claim they are not, being private schools exempt from public-school accountability.

This seems a bizarre self-contradiction. Charters claim that they're private schools in being able to admit only certain students, yet when they do accept taxpayer money, they're legally bound to accept everyone! But when they, in fact, accept only certain students, they are not entitled to taxpayer money! Is this legal or logical?

One would think that in the absence of evidence supporting charters' claims of having higher scores that this would be an end of it.

It's clear that they have no legal case for existing, and that the majority of charters should be forced to close down!

Yet they don't, for the laws of logic are suspended in the World of Charters in Wonderland!

Thirdly, because charters are "private" schools, their books are not audited. Nor must they comply with state requirements for competitive bids - a quagmire of potential conflicts of interest; nor with state labor laws, whereby they can force their non-unionized teachers to work longer hours at far less pay than public-school teachers.

For-profit charters, whose tax records aren't made public, have a vested interest in spending as little as possible on students in order to maximize shareholder dividends.

This is a practice foreign to public schools, which invest as much as possible in students by hiring additional teachers to insure smaller classes to maximize student learning.

This is now impossible with classes up to 40 students, thanks to charters diverting billions to themselves and their private investors!

Hurting children to help investors! What have we become as a nation!

Charters boast a superior product, yet refuse to hire highly-qualified, credentialed, experienced teachers, but only poorly trained, poorly paid temps, who leave quickly from burnout.

How does this foster a superior education for students, when it's all about cheap labor, cost-cutting and fat dividends?

It is a rare charter CEO, board member, or shareholder who sends his or her child or grandchild to these "superior" charters. Why might that be?

Some concluding reflections

Is it possible that the creation of charters was never really about their having higher test scores at all, but was simply an elaborate shell game for bilking taxpayers of billions no matter what scores they received?

It wasn't that higher scores would justify their continued existence, but that the accomplished fact of their existence would justify whatever scores they got.

And that, more importantly, charters were here to stay with no need of any legal justification whatsoever because, in the end, Big Money talks!

And what politician would have the courage to argue with that?

Although a statesman or stateswoman most certainly would!

Was all of this a cunningly devised smokescreen to so financially weaken public schools that they'd be declared "failures" to advance a right-wing agenda of certain governors, legislatures, and the school privatization industry?

First bleed the public schools white over years to discredit them with the public, whereupon those "failed" public schools would then become charters?

In addition, you would have billions of taxpayer dollars with no accountability, as well as vast amounts of investment capital and dark money gushing into charter school coffers as quid pro quo payoffs to politicians who made it all happen?

Welcome to the World of Charter Chutzpah! Charters as business windfall, with kids coming in a distant second, except as stage extras when charters march for even more money.

Cool Cal was right: "The business of America is business!"

Perhaps it's time for congressional hearings.