I teach in a public high school in Los Angeles and every time I hear someone extol the virtues of charter schools and vouchers, I cringe. For 13 years, I taught at a charter school near the ocean in a part of town where the median price of a home is more than $3 million. The school’s charter was granted in 1993 for one reason: without it, the school would have closed due to a lack of students – the neighborhood was aging and the kids who did live there were being sent to private schools. In order to save the school, students from more than 100 zip codes were bussed in. When I arrived, the school’s demographics were approximately 30% white, 30% Hispanic, 30% African-American and 10% Asian.
The graduation rate was astronomically high, and its graduates were accepted into the best universities all across America. And then in 2007, this charter school decided to leave the school district which had built it in the1960s for $6,000,000. It became an independent charter school, a one-school school district.
Among its first orders of business was to begin to charge for bussing.
Within a few years, the school became a majority white school for the first time in decades. The students from poor and working class families who had been bussed in to save the school became the the very population that could no longer afford to attend.
I know there are all sorts of reasons to establish charter schools, but mostly I’ve seen charters sprout up across the affluent, liberal Westside of LA and they share the same always unspoken mission: segregation.
Charter schools advertise themselves as independently managed as public schools, but they are in fact more like private schools funded by taxpayer dollars. After all, they recruit the students they like and they keep out students they don’t want to deal with – just like private schools have always done.
In most high schools, the English Department is the largest department because English is the only subject students must take all four years. But in the non-charter Westside LA public school where I currently teach, the Special Education Department is our largest department because the neighborhood charter high schools have turned away most students with special needs. They claim they don’t have the means to properly teach them, but we all know that’s only an excuse to keep children with disabilities off their campuses.
Some of these charter schools also may and do keep out most ESL students as well as those students who have had academic or behavior problems in the past.
There are close to 7,000 charter schools in America, serving almost 3,000,000 students and as Diane Ravitch has so eloquently pointed out, most have not proven themselves to be any better than public schools at educating our youth. (http://www.alternet.org/education/diane-ravitch-charter-schools-are-colossal-mistake-heres-why).
You name it, and there’s a charter school for it.
In addition to brick-and-mortar charters, there are virtual charter schools where students stay home and learn on-line, free of such nuisances as teachers. And there are for-profit charter schools.
There are arts-based charters. All-boy charter schools. All-girl charter schools. Charter schools for environmental studies. There are school-to-work charter schools. There are charter schools for homeschooled students. There are last-chance charter schools for students who have been expelled from traditional schools.
But with Betsy DeVos running the Federal Department of Education, we can count on an explosion of charter schools and the further erosion of integration and public education. One of the perks of charter schools is that they are less regulated than are non-charters. As long as their students’ test scores go up, charters are pretty much free to do their thing.
So, I’m guessing we can expect people of all faiths and political persuasions to get in on the action, writing mission statements that disguise and euphemize the true missions of their schools.
With DeVos at the helm, no one’s going to call out a Southern Baptist-oriented charter school that teaches that slavery was good because it gave African-Americans work? No one’s going to blink at a Jewish-oriented charter school that quietly preaches that Palestinians do not belong in the Holy Land.
No one’s going to complain about a Catholic-oriented charter school, that, oops, hired a pedophile priest.
And no one’s going to blow the whistle on a Mormon-oriented charter school that tacitly approves of men having multiple wives.
So, tell me this?
Who’s going to know when an Islamist-oriented charter school whose mission is to teach culture, history, and Arabic, also teaches that America is an evil empire that must be destroyed by any means necessary?
That is what Betsy DeVos is bringing your way.
Photo Credit: Getty Images