In New Hampshire, we tend to see charters as locally grown alternative schools for a few students with special needs or special talents. Many of us have children or neighbors who may have benefitted from a charter school.
But if you stand back and look at the charter school movement in the United States, the picture is much different. Although overall charter school performance is essentially the same as that of traditional public schools, the opportunity to create a privately managed school with public funding has, with heavy promotion from the U.S. Department of Education, led to high growth in charter enrollments. There are now almost 3 million charter school students in the U.S., double the number in the 2007/8 school year. One third of the schools, with 44% of the students, are managed by multi-school management organizations. (Just over half of those are for-profit.).
The Philadelphia experience shows what’s going on:
“For the fifth year in a row, the Philadelphia School District is preparing to deliberately shrink itself, giving some of its most-troubled schools to charter operators for turnaround.
“Twenty district schools, educating about 15,000 students, have been turned over to charters since 2010….
“Enrollment in traditional public schools has been shrinking since charter schools began operating in 1997.
“This year, there are about 131,000 students in district schools, and a record 67,000 in charters.”
This is happening all over the country. Here are the percentages in some other cities, for example:
- 84% in New Orleans (out of 43 thousand students)
- 51% in Detroit (51 thousand out of 100 thousand students)
- 35% in Kansas City (out of 26 thousand students)
- 26% in San Antonio (out of 60 thousand students)
- 14% in Chicago (out of 400 thousand students)
Charter advocates have a detailed strategy of policy changes needed to promote charter growth in cities and in rural areas.
And in an 18 minute speech below, Netflix entrepreneur Reed Hastings – one of a long list of deep pocketed charter school funders that include Gates, Broad, Walton and the U.S. Education Department – puts all this in context. He says that charters must grow to make school boards irrelevant: “Now, if we go to the general public and we say, ‘Here’s an argument why you should get rid of school boards’ – of course no one’s going to go for that. School boards have been an iconic part of America for 200 years.” But charters must grow quickly and take over most of public education within 20 to 30 years, wiping out elected school boards. “We are going to do it …because we are relentless.”
New Hampshire has so far stayed outside the charter mainstream but now we’re at the knee of the curve. The state removed its cap on charter growth in order to compete (unsuccessfully) for a Race to the Top grant. Then, after some funding stumbles, charter enrollments have been increasing steeply.