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The Truth About Charter Schools, One of the Greatest Threats to Public Education

A Q&A with David Stovall

The Overpass Light Brigade in Milwaukee, WI, protesting against voucher programs and charter schools
The Overpass Light Brigade in Milwaukee, WI, protesting against voucher programs and charter schools. Photo credit: Joe Brusky

Charter schools promised to provide high-quality education for students whose needs were not met in district-run schools. But as prominent educators Raynard Sanders, David Stovall, and Terrenda White show in their book Twenty-First-Century Jim Crow Schools: The Impact of Charters on Public Education, that promise is a ruse. Market-driven education reforms have boldly reestablished a tiered public-school system that segregates students by race and class. And with current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advocating for charters and vouchers, the fight for publicly-funded public education continues to be an uphill struggle. This is especially true for poor, working-class, and Black and Latinx families. Beacon Broadside editor Christian Coleman caught up with David Stovall to ask him about their book and the truth about charters.

Christian Coleman: What was the inspiration for writing this book?  

David Stovall: When Raynard contacted us as potential authors, I agreed with him that we needed to be explicit around the severity of the situation with charter schools across the country.

CC: Tell us about your background and how it shaped your stance on the impact of charters on public education. 

DS: I’m born and raised in Chicago, and have witnessed the charter phenomenon emerge from a community-based approach to a corporate conglomerate model that is grounded in theories of deficit surrounding Black and Latino youth. From discipline policies to curriculum, it sickens me to see schools that think Black and Latino youth are to be “fixed” by aspiring to what is perceived as White, middle-class values.

CC: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos promotes charter schools and vouchers because they offer a “better” education. But parents have had to face misleading data and advertising about these schools. What are some examples? 

DS: Some charters raffle off iPads, televisions, and other trinkets to attract families to apply, while the data demonstrates consistently that charters don’t do better than neighborhood public schools.

CC: You write that many charter schools are intent with replacing community culture with “grit.” Tell us a little about what’s wrong with the idea of “grit,” especially when it comes to Black and Latinx communities. 

DS: Grit becomes a pathology. If students don’t demonstrate whatever it is construed to mean, then they are considered weak, or in the worst cases, permanently deviant. Ignored in this is support for students instead of expecting them to “tough it out.” This is never asked of White students in affluent suburban schools.

CC: Why do we need to be vigilant of charter schools during the current administration? 

DS: We are witnessing a moment where the current administration is arguing for the end of public education as we know it. Critical in this juncture is the idea that charters represent a “choice” when we find in many cases that it’s nothing more than a choice to decide on how you will be dehumanized and belittled.

CC: What are some ways that parents, teachers, and community members are fighting back against charter schools? 

DS: In some cities, we find parents pushing for moratoria on charters and developing critical questions for families when approached by charters.

CC: In the foreword, President of Chicago Teachers Union Karen Lewis writes, “After reading this book, I hope that real conversations start happening not only in New Orleans, Chicago, and New York, but across the entire country.” What would you like readers to take away from your book? 

DS: That the current charter phenomenon is complex, layered, and deserves explicit attention.


About David Stovall 

David StovallDavid Stovall is Professor of Educational Policy Studies and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.