Politicians and celebrities often celebrate charter schools for providing high-quality, competitive education. "Charter schools unite both sides of the aisle more quickly than when a wedding DJ throws on [Outkast's] 'Hey Ya,'" John Oliver cracked on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. But the host also exposed some disturbing flaws in the way many of these schools are operated and regulated.
"Charters are basically public schools that are taxpayer-funded but privately run," Oliver explained. "The first ones emerged 25 years ago as places to experiment with new educational approaches." Today, over 6,700 charter schools educate nearly 3 million students. But many of these institutions fail at an alarming rate: In 2014, Naples Daily News found that, since 2008, 119 charter schools had closed in Florida – 14 of which didn't finish their first year.
Oliver focused much of his attention on Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, three states with especially depressing charter track records – including negligence in the approval process and school executives embezzling funds.
Online charter schools suffer from unique challenges – including lax attendance-taking methods. "You're basically giving kids a box that contains video games, pornography and long division and claiming 100 percent of them chose the right one," Oliver said. "One major study found that compared to students in traditional schools, students in online charters lost the equivalent of about 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math during the course of a 180-day school year. And 180 minus 180 is, as those kids might put it, three."
Oliver closed the segment by referencing Ohio Governor John Kasich's strange analogy comparing the healthy competition of charter schools to "pizza shops" – a term that irritated the comedian.
"The problem with letting the free market decide when it comes to kids is that kids change faster than the market," the comedian said. "And by the time it's obvious that a school is failing, futures may have been ruined. So if we are going to treat charter schools like 'pizza shops,' we should monitor them at least as well as we do pizzerias. It's like the old saying, 'Give a kid a shitty pizza, you fuck up their day; treat a kid like a shitty pizza, you could fuck up their entire life."
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