Critiques of Charter Schools

Difficulties with accountability
The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for greater accountability. They are meant to be held accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups, including the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them. Charter schools can theoretically be closed for failing to meet the terms set forth in their charter, but in practice, this can be difficult, divisive, and controversial. One example was the 2003 revocation of the charter for a school called Urban Pioneer in the San Francisco Unified School District, which first came under scrutiny when two students died on a school wilderness outing. An auditor's report found that the school was in financial disarray and posted the lowest test scores of any school in the district except those serving entirely non-English-speakers. It was also accused of academic fraud, graduating students with far fewer than the required credits. There is also the case of California Charter Academy, where a publicly funded but privately run chain of 60 charter schools became insolvent in August 2004, despite a budget of $100 million, which left thousands of children without a school to attend.

In March 2009, the Center for Education Reform released its latest data on charter school closures. At that time they found that 657 of the more than 5250 charter schools that have ever opened had closed, for reasons ranging from district consolidation to failure to attract students. The study found that "41 percent of the nation's charter closures resulted from financial deficiencies caused by either low student enrollment or inequitable funding," while 14% had closed due to poor academic performance. The report also found that the absence of achievement data "correlates directly with the weakness of a state's charter school law. For example, states like Iowa, Mississippi, Virginia and Wyoming have laws ranked either "D" or "F". Progress among these schools has not been tracked objectively or clearly." A 2005 paper found that in Connecticut, which it characterized as having been highly selective in approving charter applications, a relatively large proportion of poorly performing charter schools have closed. Under Connecticut's relatively weak charter law, only 21 charter schools have opened in all, and of those, five have closed. Of those, 3 closed for financial reasons. Charter school students in Connecticut are funded on average $4,278 less than regular public school students.

In a September 2007 public policy report, education experts Andrew Rotherham and Sara Mead of Education Sector offered a series of recommendations to improve charter school quality through increased accountability. Some of their recommendations urged policymakers to: (i) provide more public oversight of charter school authorizers, including the removal of poor-quality authorizers, (ii) improve the quality of student performance data with more longitudinal student-linked data and multiple measures of school performance, and (iii) clarify state laws related to charter school closure, especially the treatment of displaced students.

Exploitation by for-profit entities
Critics have accused for-profit entities (Educational Management Organizations or EMOs) and private foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation of funding Charter school initiatives to undermine public education and turn education into a "Business Model" which can make a profit. According to activist Jonathan Kozol, education is seen as one of the biggest market opportunities in America or "the big enchilada".

Shift from progressive to conservative movement
Charters were originally a progressive movement (called the “small schools” movement) started by University of Massachusetts professor Ray Budde and conservative American Federation of Teachers leader, Al Shanker to explore best practices for education without bureaucracy. However, the Charter movement is said to have shifted into an effort to privatize education and attack teachers' unions. Education historian Diane Ravitch has estimated, as a "safe guess," that 95% of charters in the United States are non-union and has said that charters follow an unsustainable practice of requiring teachers to work unusually long hours.

Lower student test scores and teacher issues
According to a study done by Vanderbilt University, teachers in charter schools are 132% more likely to leave teaching than a public school teacher. Another 2004 study done by the Department of Education found that charter schools "are less likely than traditional public schools to employ teachers meeting state certification standards." A national evaluation by Stanford University found that 83% of charter schools perform the same or worse than public schools (see earlier in this article).

It is as yet unclear whether charters' lackluster test results will affect the enacting of future legislation. A Pennsylvania legislator who voted to create charter schools, State Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said that "Charter schools offer increased flexibility to parents and administrators, but at a cost of reduced job security to school personnel. The evidence to date shows that the higher turnover of staff undermines school performance more than it enhances it, and that the problems of urban education are far too great for enhanced managerial authority to solve in the absence of far greater resources of staff, technology, and state of the art buildings."

Lottery for admissions disappoints some
When admission depends on a random lottery, some hopeful applicants may be disappointed. A film about the admission lottery at the Harlem Success Academy, New York City, has been shown as The Lottery. It was inspired by a 2008 lottery. Waiting for "Superman" is another film examining this issue.

Collective bargaining
Concern has also been raised about the exemption of charter school teachers from states' collective bargaining laws, especially because "charter school teachers are even more likely than traditional public school teachers to be beset by the burn-out caused by working long hours, in poor facilities." It has recently been noted that "an increasing number of teachers at charter schools" are now attempting to restore collective bargaining rights. Steven Brill, in his book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools (2011), changed his position on charter schools and unions. He said that after two years of researching school reform, he understood the complexities. He reversed his view of union leader Randi Weingarten and suggested she run the school system for a city.

Racial segregation
One study states that charter schools increase racial segregation. A UCLA report points out that most charter schools are located in African-American neighborhoods. Here are the demographics for Colorado charter schools: 57.7% are white (not Hispanic), 28.6% are Hispanic, 6.7% are Black (not Hispanic), 3.6% are Asian or Pacific Islander, 0.8% are Native American, and  2.6% are two or more ethnicities. Here are the demographics for traditional public schools in Colorado: 56.8% are white (not Hispanic), 31.8% are Hispanic, 4.6% are Black (not Hispanic), 3.1% are Asian or Pacific Islander, 0.9% are Native American, and 2.8% are two or more ethnicities. In this state, charter and public schools have almost identical demographics.

Too much power for teachers and parents
Professor Frank Smith, of Teachers College, Columbia University, sees the charter-school movement as a chance to involve entire communities in redesigning all schools and converting them to "client-centered, learning cultures" (1997). He favors the Advocacy Center Design process used by state-appointed Superintendent Laval Wilson to transform four failing New Jersey schools. Building stronger communities via newly designed institutions may prove more productive than charters' typical "free-the-teacher-and-parent" approach.