by Nicole Green, UIC senior
With the expansion of the business landscape in the United States, numerous markets have become less controlled and monitored by government, by handing over power to businesses and a corporate-like structure. One of the clearest examples of this transformation is the education system and its movement toward corporatization in Chicago.
The National Education Association defines charter schools as “publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter” (NEA, 2017). In plain terms, charter schools are publically funded, but privately ran. This makes them out of control from government or public regulation, yet gaining these resources from the very groups who have no say in operations.
The quality and consequences of charter schools are a major concern to many. Charter schools drain the resources of public schools, by reallocating those students and the money they contribute to the system (NEA, 2017). They are also unstable, and create unneeded competition in the market (NEA, 2017). Often, these charter schools operate by making a profit, and can hand select students based on the types of results they are hoping to boast (Reuters, 2013). Charters will screen their applicants based on their academic achievements, behavioral history, family support, and national citizenship, breaching state and federal law (Reuters, 2013). Despite these downsides, charter school enrollment is increasing.
Enrollment in Chicago charter schools has increased tenfold from 2000 to 2014. (Lindemulder, 2017) However, when reviewed for educational differences, it has been found that charter schools are behind traditional schools in math and reading. (Lindemulder, 2017). How is it that charter school growth has happened so quickly, if they are not directly supporting and improving student’s educations?
One of the biggest supporters of this movement in the education space was Arne Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago Public School system. He operated under the belief that mayors should have control of these systems, not school boards or parents or local communities. He also promoted this idea nationally during his time later as the Secretary of Education. Was he following the suggestions of Chicago’s influential corporate elite? Most likely so, as this move also shut out teachers’ unions and disbanded democracy forces such as elections, local control and collective bargaining (Kroll, 2009).
Mayor Daley and Duncan rolled out a program to reorganize school systems, called Renaissance 2010 (Kroll, 2009). This program closes underperforming schools and replaces them with new and smaller charter or “contract” schools. These schools are run by independent organizations which most often eliminate teachers unions and outsource management to a for-profit education management organization (Kroll, 2009).
This plan was not their own creation, however. The Commercial Club in Chicago had found an interest in Chicago’s school systems long before 2010. A series of policy changes in the 1990s reformed the structure of decision-makers involved in public schools and placed education systems on the social and corporate agenda (Shipps, 1997). This “System Wide Reconstructing” continued, and by 1995 of the 47 largest education systems stated that for funding, business was the most helpful source, over the government, over colleges, or advocacy groups or elected officials (Shipps, 1997). This pipeline of funding for schooling supported by businesses led to the power and decision making that took place afterwards.
CPS was suffering during this time, with declining enrollment, increasing minority populations, crumbling buildings, low performance and high dropout rates. Minority populations were increasing, which policy makers indicated to be a problem (Shipps, 1997). The graphs below indicate the transforming racial composition of Chicago Public Schools, or CPS schools:
Charter schools are often highly segregated, as well. A UCLA study found that 7 out of 10 Black students attending charter schools are enrolled in schools that have 90% or more minority population (Anderson, 2010).
Another concern of charter schools is the inequality in funds given to charter schools versus public schools. With less funding coming in for public education, schools are now even more underserving in staffing capacity, physical upkeep and program offerings (NEA, 2017). Lack of funding undoubtedly influences the quality of education received. It is common in low funded schools for teachers without a background or degree in the subject, be a designated teacher in that subject:
The truth lies in the numbers. According to the CPS budget, charter schools received $483 million of funding in 2013. (CPS, 2013). In the meantime, CPS unionized teachers went on strike, demanding pay for their longer workdays as well as relief from the under resourced environment they are working in: including classes of 30-40 students, the threat of standardized testing, and job security (Lydersen, 2012). Rahm Emanuel called this a “strike of choice”, ignoring any injustices present in the current system (Lydersen, 2012).
Betsy DeVos, our current Secretary of Education selected by Donald Trump has pushed for charter schools and their adoption across the nation. Her argument is based on the idea that charter schools provide choices for students, and that current traditional systems are failing students, especially in cities with high minority populations (Strauss, 2017). Trump has also called out public schools, calling them “American Carnage” and wants to promote this type of change throughout the country (Strauss, 2017).
We need to remember that charter schools still leave gaps in education, since they can select and regulate who is let into their doors. They also advocate for low regulation and accountability, like many other corporate entities. In fact, it has been proven that this system is already being mismanaged. The Akron Beacon Journal published in 2015 that Ohio charter schools misspent public money nearly 4 times more than other publicly funded organizations (Strauss, 2017). Corporations and politicians would like to believe that growth of education marketplaces is an indicator of economic wellbeing (Shipps, 1997). However, charter schools simply redirect power and resources in a way that benefits should-be outsiders in the education system. Where is the emphasis on educational development in all of these matters? Why split a broken system and corporatize it, instead of repairing an all-serving public offering? Must we treat education as a commodity, with students as the consumers? It’s essential to ask these questions and face the facts when it comes to taking another public commodity and corporatizing it.
Anderson, N. (2010). Study: Charter School Growth Accompanied by Racial Imbalance. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 1, 2018 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/02/03/AR2010020303959.html
Chicago Public Schools Fiscal Year 2013 Amended Budget. (2013). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://www.cps.edu/fy13budget/Pages/Schoolsandnetworks.aspx
Kroll, A. (2009, April 15). The Corporatization of Public Education. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/83572-the-corporatization-of-public-education
Lindemulder, M. D. (2017, January 30). CALCULATING SUCCESS: UNDERSTANDING DATA IN CHICAGO’S CHARTER SCHOOLS. Child & Family, Research in Brief. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from http://chicagopolicyreview.org/2017/01/30/calculating-success-understanding-data-in-chicagos-charter-schools/
Lydersen, K. (2012). Chicago Teachers vs. Rahm Emanuel and Corporatized Education. The Progressive. Retrieved April 28, 2018, from http://progressive.org/dispatches/chicago-teachers-vs.-rahm-emanuel-corporatized-education/
Shipps, D. (1997). The Invisible Hand: Big Business and Chicago School Reform. Teachers College Record. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
Simon, S. (2013). Special Report: Class Struggle – How charter schools get students they want (Publication). Reuters. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-charters-admissions/special-report-class-struggle-how-charter-schools-get-students-they-want-idUSBRE91E0HF20130216.
Strauss, V. (2017). What School Choice Means in the Era of Trump and DeVos. The Washington Post. Retreieved May 1, 2018 from
The National Education Association: Charter Schools. (2017). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://www.nea.org/home/16332.htm