The Spark

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

L.A. schools:
Festering problems and charter schools

Jun 16, 2008

In early May, a lunchtime fight at Locke High School in South Los Angeles made the national news. As intolerable as they are, school fights are common in L.A.’s deteriorating high schools. But what’s different about Locke is that it is scheduled to be turned into a charter school on July 1.

Publicizing the incident widely, the media called Locke’s conversion into a charter school a “hope.”

Locke sure has problems: it has a graduation rate well below 50%, and its test scores are low. The school has practically no extracurricular activities left besides sports teams. With daily truancy sweeps and “boot camps” for cutting class, the campus resembles a prison rather than a school. And Locke is not alone – this is what most of L.A.’s inner-city schools are like.

But the question is: How will turning public schools into charter schools – that is, handing them over to private companies funded with taxpayer money – solve the problems?

In fact, there is every evidence it won’t – and this despite all the extra help charter schools get from authorities to make them look good. Charter schools are allowed to select their students and refuse to take those they don’t want. They face less scrutiny than public schools in terms of mandatory student testing. And yet, to this day, charter schools have not shown better test results than public schools overall, and in many cases, they are worse.

How could it be otherwise? Since the company that takes over a school takes a slice of money off the top for itself, either for profit or its own institutional interests. So there is less money to meet the needs of students.

Parents have every right to demand a good education for their children, and they already pay taxes for it. But workers have to watch out. As bad as public schools are, the working class as a whole has always suffered when large numbers of the schools have been put into private hands. The right to public schools was won by struggles of working people. Throwing away that right is to turn back the pages of history, to a time when workers’ children had no schools.