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All that glitters is not gold: Why we need a charter moratorium

by Brandon Johnson on March 4, 2013

Chicagoans have been promised that charter expansion will add choice and higher quality selection to the mix of options that parents have for their children.

Unfortunately, it has not worked out that way. Amidst scandals from the two largest networks in our city and a mayor who wants to close scores of schools while replacing them with private charter operators, the false promise of corporate school reform has become painfully evident.

As a community, blacks must investigate this trendy idea of offering public education dollars to private entrepreneurs who have historical roots in white resistance to school desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education.

“Tens of thousands of students have been directly impacted by CPS School Actions since 2001,” according to a recent report, “The Black and White of Education in Chicago’s Public Schools.

Black communities have been hit the hardest, according to the report, as three out of every four of the affected schools were economically poor and intensely segregated black schools, also known as apartheid schools.

An ongoing expose has revealed that the Noble Network of Charter Schools fines and pushes out scores of students in order to boost its test scores and squeeze scant resources from low-income parents. This additional tax levied on poor people in order to access equal rights is a painful reminder of an ugly past that as Americans we dare not revisit.

Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times has revealed the United Neighborhood Organization network used millions of dollars from city and state grants to reward political friends and expand its non-profit empire at the expense of enhanced programs and quality instruction for students and educators in their buildings.

Not to mention that charters have not performed as well as their neighborhood counterparts on average.

Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools insists that it must close an unprecedented 129 schools because it’s broke, even though the district added $80 million to the $500 million that charter schools receive every year. Also, a number of charters that the Chicago Board of Education has allowed to expand recently have worsened the so-called “utilization crisis” despite plans to add 60 more schools.

Additionally, not a single charter is on the school closing list. It is obvious to Chicagoans that school policy is less about a moral commitment to our children and more about an ideological commitment to privatization and the quid pro quo relationships between the mayor’s office and his friends in high places.

In a city ravaged by senseless violence exacerbated by short-sighted policies like school closings and a city that has neglected our neighborhood schools for far too long, it is critical that we leverage our limited resources in a way that will strengthen our existing schools.

For nearly 10 years, charters have been given a free pass without the oversight, transparency and democratic local school governance that have characterized the rest of the district. We would do well to heed the advice of Nobel laureate and chief economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, and stop this charter experimentation, end the practice of using our children as test subjects for unproven school reform schemes and invest in the schools we already have.

Brandon Johnson is an Austin resident, parent and six-year CPS teacher. He’s taught at both Westinghouse College Prep. and Jenner Academy of the Arts. He is an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union and the head of the CTU Black Caucus.

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