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John Oliver is wrong to say charter schools are bad

by Sam Alton
Daily Titan
September 20, 2016

On Aug. 21, John Oliver, host of HBO’s satire news program “Last Week Tonight,” unleashed a biased attack against charter schools in the United States. The attack, which was unfair at best, undermined and glazed over the many successes that charter schools have had in helping the communities they serve in favor of bashing them for their failures.

After the segment aired, it came as no surprise that the Center for Education Reform (CER), a pro-charter organization, did not take kindly to the outlandish attacks on charter schools. CER redid their entire homepage to fight this attack. The center expresses their anger by saying, “(Oliver) leveled a very unfair, unfortunate, unbalanced, unwarranted and generally unhinged tirade against charter schools,” according to the CER’s website.

In response to the segment, the CER launched a video contest titled “Hey John Oliver, back off my Charter School!”

The center is currently offering a $100,000 prize to the winner’s chosen charter school so it can set the record straight, and show how much charter schools can help their communities instead of the negative stigma Oliver’s argument could spread.

The clip of the segment has since reached almost 6 million views on YouTube, and sparked a serious outcry against Oliver’s claim that charter schools are generally a bad system, taking away funding from traditional schools. However, the positive statistics that Oliver so kindly left out, show the opposite on a larger scale.

Charter schools are usually very community-based. They create “safer, stronger communities,” and can be credited to making “an inner-city ghetto into a bustling and safer neighborhood or bringing families in rural America together,” according to the CER.

During the 18-minute segment of the show, Oliver focused on only the worst and most specific examples of charter schools across the United States. The show portrayed charter schools as unequipped to provide high quality education, and as untrustworthy institutions that are not deserving of government funding. In fact, it is these very institutions that need and deserve the most support.

A 2014 survey of charter schools across the United States found that when compared to more traditional public schools, charters tended to receive significantly less revenue per student (roughly 36 percent less), and that the general demographics of the students they serve tended to be from lower-income and minority groups.

These schools are not only helping students who are minorities and who come from families near or below the poverty line, but they are helping students who struggle to learn in a typical classroom environment. This is done by giving them a different approach to quality education–something Oliver doesn’t seem to recognize.

Going even further, a study conducted in 2016 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that more than 400 new charter schools have opened this year. Adding to the 6,800 charter schools that serve over 2.9 million students across the country, parental interest in these high-quality forms of education is growing, so diluting them to be untrustworthy isn’t helping anyone.

Oliver’s general argument came down to the idea that since some charter schools have been mismanaged, all charter schools are bad. Not only were his examples highly irregular cases, but most of his sources were old. Dating from 2012 or earlier, some of the clips he aired featured people whose clothes and hair have been out of style for decades.

By focusing only on the negative statistics, Oliver missed out on the chance to highlight the positive effects that charter schools have on the students and communities they serve. Oliver complains that the private funding and running of charter schools leads to a corrupt administration. While there have been cases where this is true, the majority of charter schools benefit from this type of oversight. Mainly because it allows for schools to run without the red tape of government policies that tend to stifle any kind of innovation and progress that administrators and teachers try to enact. This just proves that one cannot judge the whole by the shortcomings of a few.

Only time will tell if the attack by Oliver, who has been compared to Oprah by the New York Post in his ability to influence a wide reaching audience, will have any lasting damage on the integrity of America’s charter school system. Hopefully Olivers’s words won’t be heeded by the nation’s public since charter schools are a great experiment for American education.

While no one has yet to win the contest, hopefully the prize money donated and the pro-charter content in the videos will be able to reach as many people as Oliver shouldn’t have.