The untold dangers of charter schools

The Rochester City School District has been authorized to lease building space to the True North Preparatory Charter School. In a unanimous vote, the Rochester school board gave Superintendent Bolgen Vargas permission to lease a few floors of the District’s Parent Information Center. A seemingly innocuous way for a struggling school district to get extra funding is, in reality, an assault via privatization on the quality of education in the Rochester area.

Charter schools are privately operated, but publicly funded. Yet, the Rochester City Newspaper misleadingly describes them as “public schools, [but] they do not operate under the same type of governance and oversight as their host’s public school districts.”

This is quite the understatement. In reality, charter schools are operated by corporations and funded partially by taxpayer dollars. This means that they are not subject to any substantial democratic control.

Moreover, the not-for-profit charter schools are operated by charities funded largely by rich donors with their own educational – and political – agendas.

A glance at the Uncommon Schools Board – which governs the Rochester-based True North Prep as well as other charter schools in Troy, N.Y., Newark, N.J. and Boston – reveals a veritable who’s who of “philanthropists.”

According to Uncommon Schools’ website, board member David Cooper is a partner at Bain & Co. Consulting. Yes, the same Bain & Co. that gave us the plutocrat that is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and not to mention, bankruptcies and job losses galore.

Gaurav Kapadia co-founded Soroban Capital, a "$3.5 billion investment firm based in New York.” Also making an appearance are chairman and CEO of Audible Inc. Donald R. Katz and James A. Peyser, Romney’s former education advisor.

This collection of vulture capitalists is hardly worth trusting as advocates for students. Indeed, they have created schools that focus on “college prep” at the expense of students’ enjoyment of education.

According to reviews on, Rochester Prep “believe[s] in instilling fear” in students while “focus[ing] on teaching to the test.” There were glowing reviews as well, but these probably reflect the dismal quality of education in the municipally governed schools rather than the actual quality of education at their charter alternatives.

Students as young as five years old are being trained to focus on college as the ultimate, if not only, goal of education.

This is antithetical to what social reformer and philosopher John Dewey knew education should stand for.

As Dewey, the father of modern American public education said, “Education is not preparation for life: education is life itself.”

Instead of viewing education as an inherently worthwhile activity, something students should relish in and receive actual social gains from, Rochester Prep views education as merely a steppingstone to college. From college, students presumably go on to stifling careers without having enjoyed their formative years.

Arguments that charter schools “break public districts’ monopoly” are ludicrous. First, it makes sense to have monopolies in some areas; public utilities such as water and electricity are obvious examples.

Second, charter schools undermine district-overseen public education. They divert students and funding from already struggling school districts. Bereft of funding, these districts decline until they are shells of functioning educational institutions.

When this happens, districts are left with a privatized education system. Taxpayers still pay into these systems, controlled by billionaires, on a per-pupil basis.

This is a ruinous process. Plutocrats have no right dictating education policies.