Charter schools: the IRB Unapproved Government Paid for Experiment

The infamous Stanford prison experiment which was conducted in 1971 to gain insight into the psychology of prison life would never be approved by IRB (Institutional Review Board) today. Nor would electric shock treatments to cure schizophrenia. . The IRB exists to apply research ethics to ongoing research whether it is for a vaccine or a psychology experiment.

Charter schools are one giant experiment on our most valuable resource: our children (i.e. our future). Furthermore, they are government sanctioned and funded experiments. Charter schools are public schools without the same rules as public schools. Charter schools, unlike public schools, can be run as for-profit institutions. Teachers may or may not be part of a union. Teachers are required to be credentialed, but those credentials can be emergency credentials. They can be in person or online. According to the California Department of Education website, in California approximately twenty-six percent of charter schools are non-classroom based (i.e. online or independent study). The founders of charter schools may or may not be necessarily trained professionals in education. For example, the for-profit charter school chain Basis was founded by two economists. They can be founded by parents, educators, or businessmen. They are approved by school boards which often consist of community members who again may or may not have a background in education. In some states state boards can override decisions by local school boards to approve a charter school. Even at the national level, outgoing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos approved $1.2 million for a professional soccer club to run a charter school. Some charter schools outperform traditional neighborhood public schools; some do not.

The purpose of charter schools in their original form in part was to free schools from some of the constraints of traditional public schools to try out innovation in teaching methods, improve student learning, increase learning opportunities and expand learning experiences, particularly for students identified as low achieving. Furthermore, they were meant to be lab schools which would learn how to improve student outcomes. These lessons were meant to be translated into public schools.

This is a reality that has not happened. The ongoing war between public and charter schools has spread nationwide. The Network for Public Education widely reports on this battle. The central problem with charter schools is that they are not delivering what they were set up to do and as a result they take away from students’ opportunities. The curriculum is not necessarily based on research or knowledge of what works and doesn’t work. In other words, we as a nation are allowing 3.1 million children to be experimented on every year. Make no mistake about it, these are not the children of the wealthy. Most charter school students are from low-income households: “Sixty-one percent of charter schools serve a student population where over 60 percent qualify for the federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program.” So, we as a society have said we don’t know how to improve student outcomes for low-income students, so let’s just let anyone try. Those individuals may or may not be qualified. And they may see charter schools as an opportunity grift money. The Network for Public Education has an entire page on its website devoted to Charter scandals which tell the tales of embezzlement and poor performance. There are countless stories from charter school teachers of the deplorable running of charter schools and abusive practices (see here and here and here).

The evidence is clear that many charter schools are state sanctioned experiments on our children. These experiments could be successful but are often unregulated and harmful. The charter movement would not meet IRB approval.

2 thoughts on “Charter schools: the IRB Unapproved Government Paid for Experiment

  1. I think you are not being quite fair to charter schools here. I was in North Carolina a few years ago doing a kind of educational research tour. I was stunned by the number of people who chose to home educate and did some interviews with people who ran support organizations. It seems to me that there is gradient from home educating on your own through parents’ collectives, to small schools and on into charter schools. You might find the thinking of some of the people obnoxious, but if they are meeting minimum standards of curriculum and childcare that should not be grounds for shutting them down. When you say “We as a society…” you are assuming that there is such a thing. A lot of people just don’t buy into the idea that the government, its curriculum authorities and its trained teachers are the best way to educate their children. Are they allowed to think like that? If not, why not?

    I am not criticizing your writing. It was interesting and thought-provoking. I am genuinely interested in these issues

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I fully support thoughtful debate on issues. Homeschooling is a completely separate issue. I won’t go into it here except to say that according to the US Department of Education about 3% of students homeschool in the United States while approximately 6% of students are attending charter schools and that number is growing. Homeschool is a different debate, in my opinion. The problem with charter schools is that they defund public schools. When we divide our resources, then we undermine improving public education. Furthermore, many charter operators are defrauding taxpayers. Education is one of our most valuable tools. It is unacceptable that we allow experimentation on students, because we are affecting their future. And yes, while currently it is easy to argue that “we as a society” does not exist, sometimes it’s of value to think of the long-term goal and then work towards it.

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