21. Questioning the Charter School Hype

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Charter schools have been heralded as the antidote to “failed” public schools, especially in poor urban communities of African-American and Latino/a students. Politicians and celebrities alike now advocate charters schools and preside over their openings. However, as Salon, AlterNet, and other independent media outlets have reported, charter schools have come under fire for not fulfilling the roles or achieving the results that their proponents have claimed. Instead of providing positive teaching and preparing children for the future, recent news reports have indicated that charter schools are subjecting students to padded cells, public shaming and embarrassment, poor instruction, and the negative consequences of financial corruption.

In January 2014, Salon’s Jeff Bryant reported on a five-year-old New York charter school where a student was “occasionally thrown in a padded cell and detained alone for stretches as long as 20 minutes.” Bryant also described students who were made to “earn” their desks by sitting on their classroom floor. Similarly, AlterNet’s James Horn reported on the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which is the largest corporate public charter school program in the United States. “KIPP requires the poorest urban children, those who have received the least in life, to earn everything,” Horn reported. The harsh practices implemented by some charter school instructors result in negative repercussions for all children involved, obstructing their learning and undermining their sense of security in what is supposed to be a positive environment.

KIPP is just one example of the growing number of large, national chains of educational management organizations (or EMOs) that run many of the new charter schools. As Bryant reported, along with the development of EMOs themselves, “nationwide organizations have rapidly developed to lobby for these schools.” One such organization, the Alliance for School Choice, recently received a $6 million gift from the Walton Family Foundation, of Wal-Mart fame.

Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools wrote, “The charter school movement has changed dramatically in recent years in ways that have undermined its original intentions. . . . It’s time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.”


Jeff Bryant, “The Truth about Charter Schools: Padded Cells, Corruption, Lousy Instruction and Worse results,” Salon, January 10, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/01/10/the_truth_about_charter_schools_padded_cells_corruption_lousy_instruction_and_worse_results.

James Horn, “KIPP Forces 5th Graders to ‘Earn’ Desks by Sitting on the Floor for a Week,” AlterNet, Education blog, December 17, 2013, http://www.alternet.org/education/kipp-forces-5th-graders-earn-desks-sitting-floor-week.

Stan Karp, “How Charter Schools Are Undermining the Future of Public Education,” AlterNet, November 14, 2013, http://www.alternet.org/education/how-charter-schools-are-undermining-future-public-education.

Ben Chapman and Rachel Monahan, “Padded ‘Calm-Down’ Room at Charter School Drives Kids to Anxiety Attacks,” New York Daily News, December 11, 2013, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/padded-calm-down-room-causing-anxiety-kids-article-1.1543983.

Stan Karp, “Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education,” Rethinking Schools 28, no. 1 (Fall 2013), http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/28_01/28_01_karp.shtml.

Student Researchers: Jessie Lina De La O (Sonoma State University) and Jordan Monterosso (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluators: Lynn Lowery (Sonoma State University) and Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)