Cases Against Charters

Re: “The Case for Charter Schools,” May 7

As a teacher in a private school, my conversations with colleagues teaching in public schools usually involve a little bit of jealousy at my small class size and freedom from micromanagement. (I do have standards to meet, but I’m not monitored minute-by-minute.) If we could just give those two things to every teacher in public schools, you would see education turn around pretty quickly.

Private Teacher

Waukegan residents were not allowed to attend LCU’s charter school planning sessions unless they happened to be a member of LCU. The public “informational” meetings they did allow the commoners to attend were nothing more than LCU pep rallies, with no real questions being answered and no real information. I have nothing against charter schools. I had a problem with THIS charter school proposal and the tactics used by the group pushing for it.


“Why can’t we just have quality neighborhood schools?” We have tried this method. That’s what Local School Councils were trying to do. Their foundation was bankrupt though. They were trying to build value on top of Marxism. Thugs will always be thugs. It doesn’t matter if they’re capitalists or marxists. When they bully their way around they will lose in the long run.

“This is why there are good schools in the suburbs (high property tax revenue) and struggling schools in the city (low property tax revenue).” This is a myth. What exists in the suburbs is competitive markets. Property ownership is what empowers parents. People move all the time in the suburbs, but most stay put because they are actual stakeholders in the educational market. If you want to break the back of this system you can fire the first and best shot: School Choice through vouchers.


As an Education professor who has written and edited eight books on public school privatization I found Emily Krone’s article to be a stunning case of mildly disguised right-wing pro-privatization propaganda. She paints a misleadingly favorable picture of the charter school movement by cherrypicking from studies. In fact, both nationally and in Chicago there is no evidence that charter schools have improved student performance traditionally defined.

For those unfamiliar with the cast of characters and organizations who Krone quotes throughout the article such as Finn, Hoxby, and Fordham these are familiar names to educational policy scholars because these folks are part of an extremely well-financed network of conservative think-tanks and fellows who aim to transform public schooling in Chicago and across the U.S. into a market. Part of the problem is what Krone does not tell us about how nationally about a quarter to a third of charter schools are lucrative for profit businesses that drain public tax money away from educational resources like teacher pay and textbooks to generate vast profit for owners of educational management companies (EMOs) like the largest The Edison Schools.

By state law the charters in Chicago must be non-profits but they get around this by subcontracting operations to for profits in many cases.

Krone’s celebration of C.I.C.S. somehow failed to mention the current union battle now going on at C.I.C.S.’s Civitas campus. Civitas is a for profit company that is wholly owned by non-profit CICS. Despite the fact that more than 70% of the teachers at Civitas want a union to protect working conditions, job security, academic freedom, etc. C.I.C.S. is invoking the private status of Civitas to try to delay unionization. This hurts not only teachers but students as well as these poor work conditions result in unhappy teachers and higher turnover rates. In fact none of the charters opened in Chicago under Renaissance 2010 are unionized. The profits at stake for Civitas by defying unionization can be kept secret because it is a private company. Where is the accountability to the public in what are by law supposed to be public schools? Krone and privatization advocates aim to describe public schooling as a private service despite the fact that the mission of public education is not or should not be about the accumulation of profit. The people bankrolling Krone think otherwise.

Krone, we learn at the end of the article is a fellow of the Phillips Foundation. What we are not told is that the founder and Chairman, Thomas Phillips is the Chairman of conservative Eagle Publishing and that the board of directors of Phillips Foundation is composed of Reaganites and people from the powerful Heritage Foundation which along with Fordham, AEI, Hoover, Manhattan and other right-wing foundations is making a concerted effort to achieve widescale public school privatization through political lobbying, funding other pro-charter school funding organizations, creating phoney grassroots “astroturf” movements to support the cause, and funding pro-privatization scholarship and journalism like this article. This is not a conspiracy but rather a highly organized political movement driven by an ideology of market fundamentalism.

Lastly, we do not learn from Krone’s article who created and wrote Chicago’s charter-happy Renaissance 2010 plan for Mayor Daley. It was commissioned by the Commercial Club of Chicago to corporate consultant A.T. Kearney that wrote on its website that it was taking a “private sector approach” to school reform. The funding arm of Ren2010, the Renaissance Schools Fund, operates out of the Commercial Club. The point is that the charter movement despite starting out as a progressive and grassroots movement for alternative school models and innovation has been thoroughly hijacked by business. And while there is presently no good evidence for charters and plenty of problems, a lot of investors with a lot of capital stand to make a lot of money by undermining public schooling, busting teachers unions, and destroying democratically elected local school councils.

By suggesting that we think of public schooling as a market, students as consumers, and schools like businesses that would benefit from a “healthy dose of deregulation” by injecting competition and choice, we forget the limitations of unfettered deregulation and privatization that has produced the current economic crisis. The problem with charters and other privatization schemes is not just financial. It is also cultural. We lose sight of the public values of civic participation that have historically animated public schooling such as the fostering of democratic cultures and dispositions in students and the role of schools in making a society of individuals who can collectively engage with public problems not simply imagine themselves as workers and consumers.

Dr. Kenneth J. Saltman

Associate Professor

Educational Policy Studies and Research

DePaul University

Emily Krone replies:

The Phillips Foundation is a nonprofit organization that offers full-time and part-time fellowships to several young journalists each year. The Foundation’s mission is “to advance constitutional principles, a democratic society, and a vibrant free enterprise system.” Past fellows have written on American government, business, public morality, and free speech and civil liberties under repressive regimes. They include Shai Oster, now of the Wall Street Journal, and Damien Cave, former Baghdad correspondent and now Miami bureau chief for the New York Times. I proposed a project on school reform after four years reporting on education issues for a daily newspaper with a circulation of 150,000. The Phillips Foundation gave me a grant to spend a year researching and writing on charter schools. It did not receive a copy of this article before publication or attempt to exert any control over the finished product.

Tasers Don’t Hurt People . . .

Cecil Adams does a fair job of evaluating competing claims about the danger—or safety—of police use of tasers on civilians, but uncharacteristically misses a few beats in this story (Straight Dope, May 7). Mr. Adams wouldn’t be surprised at how rarely medical examiners thought custodial deaths were “directly attributable” to taser use if he appreciated how deferential medical examiners have historically been regarding police use of force, and how aggressive Taser International has been towards them when they stray from the script…. Police departments routinely use the claim of “excited delirium” to explain away custodial deaths following resulting from taser use (see Mother Jones, March/April 2009, “Taser’s Delirium Defense” for more on this bullshit).... But the incidence of drug-addled, alcoholic, or mentally ill suspects doesn’t absolve police—or taser manufacturers—from responsibility in taser-related fatalities. This is exactly where good training and restraint are needed to protect the public.... Tasers first were touted as safer alternative to the lethal force of firearms, but quickly have become mere compliance tools in the hands of officers who use them as a first resort when civilians are insufficiently obedient, or simply confused.... It’s not unheard of to use them on handcuffed subjects, or where five cops are pinning a victim to the ground.

For every instance of tasering the question should be asked: would shooting the subject be justified? If the answer is no, we must then consider: can we trust the police to use field electrocution responsibly? Just last week, correctional officers were reprimanded for tasering children at a take your kids to work day. I think we can safely answer no to both questions.

Howard Wait