At present, anyone hoping to be involved in any substantive way with the latest intellectual currents in educational reform must learn two words above all — charter schools.
Despite their youth, charter schools have become the panacea for the troubles with education. Endorsed by everyone from Arne Duncan to the CEOs, chancellors or commissioners of education in various major American cities, charter schools are touted as the solution to low test scores, problems with teacher incompetence, administrative issues, state involvement in education finance and income disparities between students. The first charter schools were encouraged by Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, who saw them as a way to direct specialized resources and manpower to educating needier students — ensuring that they received the preparation they needed. Of course, as with most noble efforts in American history, the moment people in business  smelled profit, the original idea of the project went out the window — charter schools have become the province of for-profit organizations looking to make a buck off of the students they admitted.
Almost two decades later, this coalition has gotten its business model down to a science — a combination of guaranteed cash flow in state and federal aid, free-market test-based education, non-unionized employment, minimal curricular, governmental oversight and dependency upon charitable fundraising combined with profits. These profits come from  association with various financial institutions, such as hedge funds and real estate firms, with vested interests in avoiding transparency.
The corporate model of charter schooling is essentially an attempt to skirt everything that the state does to ensure that students receive a quality education. The role of local, state and federal government in overseeing the curriculum and policies at charter schools is severely reduced.
That has allowed many of them, especially the new chain charter schools run by corporate entities to be new avenues for profit. As this movement has widened and entrenched itself in educational culture, it has swept reformists like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and Arne Duncan into positions of power and authority over school systems badly in need of repair.
The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. The older, pre-corporate idea of charter schools was crafted to help those students who most needed it and to incorporate teachers and career educators into its basic model. It is only in the few years, as political and profit motives have multiplied, that charter schools have begun to revolve around the new axis of money, shut out educators and hide their less savory aspects by clothing themselves in the insidious raiment of “reform.”



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