How John Oliver’s Segment On Charter Schools Speaks to North Carolina

If you have any interest in why the charter school industry has been under the spotlight in this election year in North Carolina, you might want to check out a segment from the August 22, 2016 episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. If you have HBO GO then you can watch all the episodes of a great show, but if you are a hard-line Trump supporter, you will not agree with a lot of things that Oliver says. Well, not anything he says.

But I do agree with what Oliver says about charter schools. Actually, I agree with a lot of what he says.

He devoted over 18 minutes to the charter school industry in this episode and you can tell that there was so much more to talk about. And yes, it is HBO, so there is a lot of vulgarity, but it’s not gratuitous to me and if your ears are too sensitive to listen to any “f-bomb” being dropped, then don’t view it.

In fact, if Oliver’s language is offending to you, don’t walk down the hall of a large public school. I’ve walked down the halls of small, private Christian schools and heard language that would put hair on your chest. Teenagers cuss. And some do it well. As an educator who teaches rhetoric and argumentation, I have heard some beautifully phrased lude comments come from our nation’s youth. Would I want my daughter saying that? No.

But man, there was no further explanation needed.

I will write about the use of vulgarity later.

But back to Oliver. Here’s the segment. And watch the whole thing –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I .

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Interestingly, the segment begins with a lot of presidential hopefuls (mostly GOP) praising charter schools. Obama sings their praises. Even Trump is quoted as saying, “Charter schools work and they work very well.”

In 42 states as well as the District of Columbia over 6700 charter schools are educating over 3 million students. They get to use taxpayer money, but can operate under less transparency like a private school.

And I liked that Oliver did not argue whether the concept of charter schools is bad or not. He agreed that they are good in principle. There are fantastic charter schools here in North Carolina. Many times I have referred to the Arts Based Schools here in Winston-Salem as an example. But they do something that public schools do not. That is using innovative practices to educate students. Their students typically go into traditional public schools for high school.

What Oliver was exploring was the way that many charter schools operate and handle money. And in eighteen minutes he could not begin to dissect all states. He focused mostly on Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Does that lessen what has happened in charter schools here in North Carolina? No. In fact, it really highlights what is happening here in the Old North State.

Remember the DPI report that Lt. Dan Forest wanted redone to shed a more positive light on charter schools here in North Carolina when there were glaring negatives? The report talked about lack of diversity. But it also showed how eager some in Raleigh were in giving charter schools so much freedom to use tax money to proffer a narrative that public schools were failures. I wrote Lt. Forest an open letter about his “championing of charter schools” last January – http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2016/01/12/open-letter-from-teacher-takes-dan-forest-to-task-on-charter-schools/. I received no response.

I have also written other prominent lawmakers on their actions to allow charter schools to privatize a constitutionally protected social service with tax money. None have garnered a response to this public school teacher, parent of public school children, and voter.

Here is one to Sen. Jerry Tillman, the godfather of charter schools. Sen. Tillman was instrumental in removing obstacles for charter schools to get up and running without much oversight https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/10/my-one-sided-pen-pal-relationship-with-sen-jerry-tillman-or-why-i-am-are-sending-an-old-letter-with-more-love/ .

Here is one to both Rep. Rob Bryan and Sen. Chad Barefoot on their rush to fund an ASD district here in NC while ignoring the horrible effects that ASD’s have had in other states. My own school system, Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools may be involved in this without any local community members having input. Financial improprieties are now hovering over the ASD in Tennessee. North Carolina’s version is not any different   https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/29/outsourcing-our-kids-for-profit-rep-rob-bryan-and-sen-chad-barefoot-will-have-much-to-answer-for-in-the-future/ .

And here is one to Sen. David Curtis. He has been very buddy-buddy with a charter school chain that is a for-profit entity   https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/28/hes-back-open-letter-to-sen-david-curtis-why-do-you-not-support-public-schools/.

Here in NC, the charter school industry seems to be championed by people who live in more rural areas. Opening a charter school in a rural area can have incredible effects on the traditional public schools there. If enough students are pulled from the public schools, then those public schools have a harder time petitioning for money to actually have resources for their students.

Oliver’s segment also touched on virtual academies, which is under scrutiny here in NC for its attendance problems. In fact, Oliver’s segment could have easily been done on North Carolina’s situation alone, but our charter school industry sometimes gets overshadowed with all of the talk of HB2, Voter ID bills, coal ash spills, and Opportunity Grants.

But there is one common theme or thread that runs through all of those issues related to North Carolina, especially ill-conceived charter schools – everybody pays a price so a few can profit.

Having John Oliver explore this topic on the eve of school starting when so much else is happening in the country and the world should be an indication that something has gone very awry. And it’s costing us.

However, with the State Board of Education having denied the Charter School Advisory Board’s recommendation for almost twenty applications, there might be a little of a change in the air as to how we spend money for schools.

Maybe that is the beginning of restoring sanity in the stewardship of the public’s money for education.

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