The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Charter schools don’t deliver

Sep 18, 2006

In the middle of August, the Department of Education finally reported on test scores comparing public schools and charter schools. Comparing fourth graders in both reading and math, the charter schools had significantly lower scores than did the public schools.

The report was based on testing from 2003. But since Bush appointed his conservative friends to the top of the Department of Education, all of whom support charter schools, the report was delayed. Some claimed the data had not been properly analyzed to compare students by income and background. So the Department of Education looked at the testing again. Despite this, the results went against charter schools.

It’s not surprising that some parents in poorer neighborhoods send their children to charter schools. They want their children to have a decent education, an education they know the public schools are failing to deliver.

The public school system has been a disaster in both big cities and rural areas for some years: students graduating high school who could barely read or calculate; high rates of teenage drop-outs; large classes; a lack of text books or other resources; disciplinary problems.

But how could charter schools show better results? Two groups have stepped forward to create charter schools: for-profit educational companies and religious institutions.

In the case of for-profit companies, how could they possibly deliver as much as public schools? They are set up to allow an owner or a group of investors to make money from providing this service. The profits have to come from somewhere. So these schools must squeeze teachers’ salaries, use old books, pack many students into few classes, etc. in order to show a profit.

As for the religious institutions, how could they provide an adequate education? Their opposition to science goes back many years. A scientific education would challenge their superstitions and myths. A real education forces children to learn to observe and to reason.

Behind the attack on science is another issue: many Christian fundamentalist groups want to get rid of the public schools completely. Their opposition is well-known. A leader of this movement, Robert Thoburn, from the Fairfax Virginia Christian school, wrote The Children Trap. In it he says:

“Christians should run for the school board. This may sound like strange advice. After all, I have said that Christians should have nothing to do with the public schools. What I meant was that Christians should not allow their children to have anything to do with public schools. This does not mean that we should have nothing to do with them.... Our goal is not to make the schools better.... The goal is to hamper them, so they cannot grow.... Our goal as God-fearing uncompromised Christians is to shut down the public schools, not in some revolutionary way, but step by step, school by school, district by district.

Free public schooling was once the way forward for the entire working class. It was a gain that had to be fought for and won – first by the ex-slaves and poor whites during Reconstruction in the South, then by trade unions around the country. We shouldn’t let it be taken from us and our children.