Charter schools must be regulated adequately, before it’s too late
The rise of conservative charter schools is a worrying sign for the future of public education
By Zakareya Hamed
Charter schools are taxpayer funded schools that operate independently of the public school system. They have the ability to set their own curricula and teaching methods with limited oversight, transparency, and accountability. As an organization, we’ve taken a position against school privatization and charter schools due to the disparities that privatization has led to.
Recently though, a new field of entities have sought to enter the charter schooling space. Religious institutions. Hillsdale College, a private, conservative Christian college in Michigan has been at the forefront of this movement. Hillsdale has a long history of promoting a conservative Christian worldview. The college operates a number of charter schools across the country, known for their emphasis on so-called traditional values and classical education.
Hillsdale’s curriculum implicitly opposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The College has said that racism “should not” be discussed in schools. It openly calls for and implements conservative curriculum in fully government funded schools. With no accountability to local school boards and affected communities, these schools can easily prosper.
The classical education model is based on the idea that students should study the great works of Western civilization in order to understand the foundations of Western culture. This model is often associated with conservative political and religious views, as it emphasizes a traditional approach to education and a focus on European classics, widely removing global perspectives, literature, history, and culture from discussion. As a model, it has succeeded in bridging the gap between Church and State, with the model expanding significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of you pastors who have church buildings should be working on starting a [charter] school,” Hillsdale President Larry Arn told a crowd at the Turning Point USA Pastors Summit earlier this year.
While charter schools have the ability to set their own curricula and teaching methods, they are still publicly funded and have some oversight. However, the oversight of charter schools is often more limited than that of traditional public schools, which has led to concerns about the potential for charter schools to promote a religious conservative agenda.
Hillsdale’s ‘1776 curriculum,’ an unapproved private teaching structure under the American Classical Education model, which is used in dozens of Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools, was prompted directly at the call of former president Donald Trump. While new Charter School Program (CSP) regulations introduced by Joe Biden may play a part in helping mitigate the expansion of such schools in the future, he still has not ended federal funding for for-profit charter schools as previously promised.
Charter schools of such natures have played a massive role as a political tool as well, with Tennessee’s governor recently inviting Hillsdale to establish between 50 and 100 charter schools entirely paid for by taxpayer funds from the local, state, and federal government. Local communities pushed back, as schools would no longer be accountable to the populations they serve through local school boards, rather pushing most powers to the Governor and state’s DoE’s unelected officials.
In a rare victory in October, American Classical Education temporarily pulled out of its plans in Tennessee fearing rejection — a much needed show of citizens’ democratic power-hold on an increasingly corporatized education sector.
While some argue charter schools offer opportunities, the limited oversight of these schools has raised concerns about the potential for them to be used as a tool for promoting a religious conservative agenda. Such opportunities can, and in wealthy communities, are available for all students. In urban communities, the emergence of charter schools has largely defunded public schools to make way for agenda-based schools and Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) with no local relationships or understanding of the communities they operate in.
It is imperative that charter schools are strictly regulated and are subject to oversight. As a student education advocate living in Virginia, I know my state can easily be next. Having known and been in New Orleans’ notoriously failing all-charter system, I know what it is like to be a student in a corporatized, non student-centered education system. Now more than ever, as more interest groups begin to manipulate the versatility of the charter school model, it is time to strengthen American public education.