Now television is in the charter fray. In this review of the series “Togetherness”, Joshua Leibner in Salon magazine describes its charter school subplot. Are neighborhood schools the “bogeyman for all of society’s ills?, he asks. He wonders if for white people of their education and class, all the education reform nonsense might feel right for minority kids–but just not for their children? The setting for the series is in Eagle Rock in Los Angeles. This is a real place where both Leibner and the show’s producers actually live. Is the show fact or fiction? Los Angeles schools are in turmoil. The headlines make you want to hide. Charter schools want to take over public school space. Why wouldn’t they; it would save them money. Then, the money behind statewide testing is tempting people to make really bad decisions. Privitizing schools also makes money available for the taking. With all that money being tossed around, the political scene is not pretty. Togetherness is accused of glossing over the issues. The problems in Los Angeles listed below do not make the script.
The IPads for testing scandal has forced the resignation of the district superintendent. The scandal is over a $1 billion contract with Apple and Pearson for laptops and software to administer statewide tests to students. There is now a federal investigation of fraud. The superintendent has resigned. Sweet heart deals are alleged.
Fraud, waste and corruption in charter schools has hit the news. This example is from schools alleged to be related to the Turkish Imam Gulen Foundation. Millions of dollars have been siphoned off. The schools provided visas for eleven teachers from Turkey. They remain open while the case is in court.
Charters and district schools are vying for the same space. As public school enrollment drops due to population shifts and increased enrollment in charters, charters want that empty space. Co-location of charters and district schools creates a competitive environment that divides schools and communities.
School board politics have gotten personal and nasty. Charter school support organizations have launched vitriolic attacks against school board members and fund races to unseat them.
We can turn our heads the other way, but the problems are showing up elsewhere. They are no longer big city, urban school district problems.
- Small school districts are now confronting under enrolled district schools that they either close or may have to share with privately operated schools. This may seem practical, but look again at the problems of co-location in Los Angeles. For an expanded view of the problems in New York City, see the Annenberg Foundation report.
- Many districts in Florida did not have the technological capacity to administer online tests mandated by the State. Legislatures are arguing about whether or not to count the scores.
- The largest for-profit charter school chain in Florida, Academica, is under federal investigation. There are 17 other charter management company federal investigations around the country.
- Some school board members favoring tax credit scholarships to private schools are forming their own school board association. Public school board members supporting private schools? Really?
Is any of this about doing a better job of educating children? Thus far, a few have benefitted at the expense of others. Even the U.S. Department of Education acknowledges that charters have civil rights violations. Most children are pawns in an experiment that has not proven to be successful. Some parents and communities are fighting back. If the children, all of them, are to prosper, we need to pool our resources and unite our communities. The money does not need to follow the children and end up in private pockets. Is this togetherness?