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The Art of Teaching Science: Charter Schools: In Whose Interest?

Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It kind of like a philosopher’s stone, or a 19th century elixir, to serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools.

Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schools have not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.

Some of the charter bills that have been passed will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in these states. Firms will come in a buy land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA. Boston worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.

And in this election year, politicians use their place on charter schools to influence voters, and to partner with corporations who hope tp peddle their wares in the politician’s state or county. Just go an ask Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia.


In this inquiry, we’ll explore the underlying rationale for charter schools (the rationale has moved from one of true curriculum development by teachers, to a cash cow for charter management companies).  When you look carefully at charter schools, they do not offer the kind of choice they claim in press releases and other public statements.  For example, EmpowerED Georgia, an education advocate group, has identified  8 myths about charter schools. If you follow this link, you will find more details about the myths identified by Empowered Georgia. Here we’ve only identified the myth, and one fact that repudiates or questions charters.

Myths about Georgia’s Charter Amendment

Research on Charter Schools

One of the images that has always impressed is the graph showing the relationship between poverty concentration and SAT/ACT scores for charter schools in Texas (the red dots) and “regular” Texas public schools.  It is clear that nearly all the charter schools (except for just a few) fall at the bottom of the graph, irrespective of poverty concentration.

Charter schools, in general, have consistently underperformed when compared to similar public schools.  And when you see data as shown in Figure 1, you begin to realize that supporters of charter schools simply ignore such research, or have other purposes in mind for the establishment of charter schools.

Figure 1. This graph might be disappointing to advocates of charter schools. The graph shows the percentage of high school graduates meeting SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted against the concentration of poverty. Each disc is a high school; the red dots are charter schools, the grey are public schools. In general, charter schools simply to do not compare favorably to public schools, regardless of poverty concentration.  Graph by Dr. Michael Marder, University of Texas, used with permission.  For more data like this.


The Inquiry

What Should Parents Know About Charter Schools?

Following are some questions that might be considered in this inquiry.  Is there evidence that charter schools don’t do as well as most public schools, and if so, why are so many politicians working so hard to turn so-called “failing public schools” over to charter school management companies?

Here are some questions to consider in this inquiry:

  1. What should every Georgia parent know about charter schools?
  2. Charter Schools are unleashed with false claims and lots of money.  True? or False?
  3. Did some in the Georgia legislature shout, “Give us charter schools, or we’ll amend the Georgia Constitution?”
  4. Is there any credibility to the claim that charter schools are education’s 21st century philosopher’s stone?
  5. Are Charter Schools in Georgia the Corporate Reformer’s Magic Bullet?
  6. If Charter Schools are not the answer, then what’s the question? (by P.L Thomas)
  7. Do some charter and Title I schools use a pedagogy of indoctrination?
  8. What is the charter school formula for financial success by educational failure?
  9. Is the term charter school an euphemism for school choice?
  10. Why do states ignore the research on charter school performance?

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Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordina...