National Public Education

Why Teachers Dislike Charter Schools


As the media never tire of pointing out, the people who are in charter schools all love them, and the only ones who are against them, it seems, are those teachers and their Union, no doubt because they want the “extra pay and less work” a Union job supplies.  We seldom hear from the teachers themselves, though.  (In fact, almost every quote in the media seems to come from someone who is already benefiting from a charter school.  Where are the comments from the average man on the street?)  To help remedy this unbalanced coverage, I, a sometime teacher, would like to offer the following comments.

To me it seems that teachers are against charters because they, almost alone, can see how traditional schools do help kids grow into successful adults and provide a public benefit to us all.  They know the kids; they see them grow and change in front of their eyes, so they have direct evidence that the schools, even in their current somewhat dis-functional state, do provide some part of what we want from a public program.  They do work, though not as well as we would like.  They are helping the kids mature into the kind of adults we want in our society.

Teachers, like everyone else who works with young people, don’t just want them to do better on tests, competitions, and awards; they want them to do better in life.  You can see this when a child comes back to visit after they have graduated.  The biggest smile on a teacher’s face is not when his or her student wins some award or, Lord knows, does well on a standardized test; it’s when they come back ten years later with a good job, a nice boyfriend, and plans to change the world.  That’s what matters; that is what we are all paying for in this public program.

The problem is that teachers are virtually alone in this knowledge of the public benefit from public education.  There is no data on the adult success of the graduates of the schools.  The only ones who can see this are the kids themselves, their parents, and the teachers who have worked with them.  No one else has any idea that it actually happens.  No public schools, in this country, keep track of their graduates.  The public has no way to telling whether getting a kid to pass algebra actually helps him get a decent job and so keeps him off the streets and out of trouble.  We all have a hunch that this does probably happen, but there is no direct evidence of it from the schools we are supporting.  Only the child’s family and his teachers know.

Charter schools turn away from this public benefit.  The whole reason they exist is that it seems that these long-term public benefits do not really occur in the public schools (since there is no direct evidence of them), so we need to focus just on the immediate private needs of the children and families involved.  They purposely break the ties with the overall public system, the bureaucratic apparatus that tries to produce a public benefit from the schools, and pull back to just making the classrooms work better.  Privatization, in general, is repudiation of the notion that the public programs provide a public benefit.  It’s an argument that the public part of the program is not working, so we need to make it private.

But teachers know better.  They can see that the kids do grow up and so benefit us all.  They know the kids.  That’s why they are against charter schools.  They don’t want to abandon the effort to make good, happy and beneficial adults, which would mean focusing just on the grades, awards and test scores of the students.  They want to make a better society, not just a better school.

Peter Dodington

November 6, 2016