God bless John Oliver for addressing serious issues with humor. His latest target is public charter schools and he doesn’t disappoint, highlighting poorly run and corrupt schools that close down mid-year, “non-profits” run by profit-driven management organizations, and virtual charter schools with dismal results.
Missing from the piece, however, is the fundamental dynamic driving the extraordinary growth in the charter school sector: parents—especially low-income parents of color—are demanding better options.
The parents of nearly three million children have chosen charter schools and a million more are on waiting lists. Meanwhile, nearly two million children today are home-schooled and the private school population hovers around five million. All told, the parents of roughly 10 million children have opted out of the traditional public school system.
A viewer unfamiliar with the facts around public education would have no idea why so many parents don’t want their children in public schools. It could be the fact that about 1 in 5 kids don’t even graduate high school; it could be that only about 1 in 3 earn a four-year college degree; and for many inner-city parents, it could be related to safety and lack of order in the classroom.
In any case, the parent voice was completely absent in the piece. As charter parent (and my Education Post colleague) Chris Stewart said:
When John Oliver becomes a poor black parent redlined into into schools others abandoned, I'll care what he thinks about charter schools.
— Citizen Stewart (@citizenstewart) August 22, 2016
Charter schools don’t have a monopoly on mismanagement any more than they have a monopoly on poor performance. The best of them are closing achievement gaps. The worst of them are simply replicas of the chronically under-performing traditional schools plaguing low-income communities all across America.
In today’s topsy-turvy media environment, the comedians are the real truth-tellers while some of the traditional news outlets are laughably irrelevant.
For all of their flaws, charter schools have changed the debate around what’s possible in American education and boosted outcomes for millions of children. But John Oliver doesn’t have to take my word for it. He can just ask the parents.