Charter School’s Two Dads – How a Hatred for Public School Gave Us School Privatization

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If bad ideas can be said to have fathers, then charter schools have two.


And I’m not talking about greed and racism.


No, I mean two flesh and blood men who did more than any others to give this terrible idea life – Minnesota ideologues Ted Kolderie, 89, and Joe Nathan, 71.


In my article “Charter Schools Were Never a Good Idea. They Were a Corporate Plot All Along,” I wrote about Kolderie’s role but neglected to mention Nathan’s.


And of the two men, Nathan has actually commented on this blog.


He flamed on your humble narrator when I dared to say that charter schools and voucher schools are virtually identical.


I guess he didn’t like me connecting “liberal” charters with “conservative” vouchers. And in the years since, with Trump’s universally hated Billionaire Education Secretary Betsy Devos assuming the face of both regressive policies, he was right to fear the public relations nightmare for his brainchild, the charter school.


It’s kind of amazing that these two white men tried to convince scores of minorities that giving up self-governance of their children’s schools is in their own best interests, that children of color don’t need the same services white kids routinely get at their neighborhood public schools and that letting appointed bureaucrats decide whether your child actually gets to enroll in their school is somehow school choice!



But now that Nathan and Kolderie’s progeny policy initiative is waning in popularity, the NAACP and Black Lives Matter are calling for moratoriums on new charters and even progressive politicians are calling for legislative oversight, it’s important that people know exactly who is responsible for this monster.


And more than anyone else, that’s Kolderie and Nathan.


Over the last three decades, Nathan has made a career of sabotaging authentic public schools while pushing for school privatization.


He is director of the Center for School Change, a Minneapolis charter school cheerleading organization, that’s received at least $1,317,813 in grants to undermine neighborhood schools and replace them with fly-by-night privatized monstrosities.


He’s written extensively in newspapers around the country and nationwide magazines and Websites like the Huffington Post.


But it all started for Nathan back in 1987 when he happened to see an advertisement on TV, according to Ember Reichgott, the former Minnesota State Senator who originally proposed the first charter school bill.


The ad was called “Ah, Those Marvelous Minnesota Schools,” writes Reichgott.



It dared to dispute the Reagan administration’s propaganda hit piece “A Nation at Risk” which painted public schools as failures that needed to be disrupted and replaced.



Well Nathan wasn’t about to take it.


According to Reichgott’s book, “Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story”, Nathan:


“…talked with the Minneapolis Foundation, among others, about what they might do. ‘The Minneapolis Foundation decided it was time to introduce into Minnesota some pretty radical ideas,’ said Nathan. So plans got underway for the Itasca Seminar, with a focus on public education.”


This seminar was instrumental in turning the tide in Minnesota that ultimately birthed the most infectious school privatization virus on an unwitting nation.


Nathan had always been a fan of transferring public services to private control. In fact, he had just finished lobbying for privatization in the National Governors Association. Now back in Minnesota, he joined together with Kolderie, a former journalist and self professed “policy entrepreneur” who had been pushing for the same thing since at least the 1970s.


Their ideology – expounded by southern segregationists and people like the divisive economist Milton Friedman – was extremely unpopular, but they were about to get a break.


In 1988, Albert Shanker, the union hero President of the American Federation of Teachers, had just given an infamous speech to the National Press Club praising the idea of a new concept called “charter schools.”


However, he wasn’t talking about the modern idea of a charter school. Shanker was building off an idea originally proposed by Ray Budde, a little-known professor of education from upstate New York.


It was Budde who actually coined the term “charter school.” He thought school boards could offer “charters” directly to teachers allowing them to create new programs or departments.


Shanker liked this idea because of his own teaching experience in East Harlem where administrators constantly got in the way of educators. “One of the things that discourages people from bringing about change in schools is the experience of having that effort stopped for no good reason,” he said.


Nathan saw in this an opportunity and invited Shanker to speak at the Itasca Seminar. His goal was to hide his side’s privatization aims under the shadow of progressive unionism.



And it worked. In fact, if you look up the history of charter schools, you’ll STILL find people who insist they were invented by Shanker.



With this cover, the Citizen’s League, which was underwritten by the Minneapolis Foundation, was able to pass a bill requiring mandatory statewide standardized testing. The bill, authored by the Minnesota Business Partnership put forth the evaluation system necessary to demonize the public schools and prepare the way for the ultimate goal – privatization.



In 1991, the same forces passed the nation’s first charter school bill.



But let’s be clear on this – the charter schools created in this bill and the “charter schools” talked about by Shanker and Budde are very different concepts.



Nathan and Kolderie wrote the majority of the bill and they stripped out almost everything any educator had ever proposed.



According to Budde’s conception, charters would be authorized by school districts and run by teachers. Central office administrators would step out of the way, but charter schools would still operate within collective bargaining arrangements negotiated between districts and unions.



Instead, Nathan and Kolderie proposed that schools be authorized by statewide agencies that were separate from local districts. The state had the power, not communities or their elected representatives. That meant charters could be run not just by teachers but also by entrepreneurs. And that’s almost always who has been in charge of them ever since – corporations and business interests.



This was the goal Friedman and the deregulators had been fighting for since the 1950s finally realized – almost the same goal, it should be noted, as that behind school vouchers.



From the start, this was a business initiative. Competition between charters and authentic public schools was encouraged. And that included union busting. Thus charters were free of all the constraints of collective bargaining that districts had negotiated with their unions. The needs of workers and students were secondary to those of big business and the profit principle.



Shanker eventually realized this and repudiated what charter schools had become. But by then the damage was done.



Shanker hadn’t created charter schools. He had suggested something very different. And that suggestion was used to help usher in a concept that has haunted our public school system ever since.



Kolderie had been working on it for two decades, and with Nathan’s help it became a reality.



With the backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the two men went on to push a version of this same bill from legislature to legislature. Kolderie even boasts of helping 25 other states enact charter school legislation.



Today 43 states are afflicted with charter schools enrolling about 6% of the students in the country. An additional 4% go to private and parochial schools some of which are funded with school vouchers.



This distinction between charter and voucher schools is important to political pundits, but it’s really just hair splitting.  It’s like saying vanilla chocolate swirl ice cream is nothing like chocolate vanilla swirl.



Consider: charter schools are privatized schools paid for with taxes. Voucher schools are private schools paid for with money diverted from taxes.



False distinctions like these are another way of managing public perception just like the pettifogging contrast between for-profit and non-profit charter schools. Again they’re pretty much the same thing. They can each cut services to students and pocket the left overs – the only difference is which loopholes they have to jump through and how they designate their tax status.



They are both the flowering of the deregulationist dream of destroying public education and replacing it with business-operated schools. They are attempts to destabilize, defame and destroy public education.



And though the plan has worked for decades, here’s hoping that the current political pause represents the beginning of a change of course.



Kolderie and Nathan’s monster has devoured too many schools and with them too many children’s hopes of an excellent education.



It’s time to pin the monster down with facts and shove a stake through its heart.



Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!


69 thoughts on “Charter School’s Two Dads – How a Hatred for Public School Gave Us School Privatization

  1. Then I place a curse on the souls, if they haven’t already sold their souls, of Ted Kolderie and Joe Nathan. When they leave this coil, may their souls be torn out of the bodies and rot in hell forever.

    But what Circle of Dante’s hell will their souls rot in 5, 6, or 8?

    Liked by 1 person

      • Steven,

        It seems to me you left out a few things. While I do not know Joe Nathen, I have read a bit about his and his families background. He did teach in inner city public schools for a decade, and his wife recently retired after 35 years of teaching in inner city public schools. His children have been teachers in inner city public schools.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TE, your information is wrong about Nathan. According to his own resume, he was a teachers aide from 1970-71. Then he taught at an evening high school from ‘71-‘74. After that he was an administrator from’74-‘81. Not exactly a long, illustrious career as a classroom teacher. I can’t comment on his family. I never saw any info about them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My knowledge is based on various posts on Dr. Ravitch’s blogs. An internet search did find a link about his spouse being a retired public school teacher. (see She taught for 33 years in public schools.

        Unfortunately WordPress has made site searches in comments difficult. I will do my best to find the posts I recall about his children, but I may not be successful.


      • TE, I really don’t want to post about his wife and children. It makes me very uncomfortable. The history of school privatization is littered with people with every reason to love and support public schools but who act to destroy them. We don’t need to psychoanalyze the man further. Let his actions in creating the monstrosity of charter schools speak for itself.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Note that Shawgi Tell, author of Charter School Report Card, was really the first charter school researcher to expose the nefarious role of Shanker and Minnesota ideologues and school privatizers in promoting charter schools. Rachel Cohen borrowed his work. Tell even produced a podcast on this several years ago:


  3. A few things left out: our 3 children attended and graduated from SPPS, I was a SPPS teacher anda administrator for 13 years, PTA president at the SPPS elementary school two of our children, site council member at Highland Park Middle School and Saturn (both SPPS district schools; and have written proposals that brought more than $3 million to SPPS.

    Those proposals helped support creation of dual credit courses at the following SPPS schools: Open World, Creative Arts, and Gordon Parks, service learning programs at several schools, small learning communities at Johnson, Harding, and Highland Park (and each SPPS high school could have participated.

    SPPS board members have asked me to be on the SPPS citizens budget committee for the last 2 years. The St Paul Federation of Teacher and Supt asked me to help create a district policy allowing district teachers to propose and help create new district public schools (as has happened in Boston with the Pilot Schools. And I helped create and co-chairing a district/charter/community task force to reduce youth and family homelessness.

    And, along with this, yes, I have helped create the chartering public school idea. That goes back to civil righs hero Kenneth Clark. But that’s another post.


    • Hey Joe. Thanks for commenting. You seem to have quite an affection for your public school. It’s too bad your charter school idea is so destructive to so many others. You’re certainly right to invoke civil rights in their creation but I think you’re on the wrong side of that divide. Honestly though do you have any regrets? Did charter schools turn out the way you imagined they would? Is there anything you would change if you could go back and do it again?

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is wonderful that you have been a long time supporter of public education in St. Paul. The school reform sold by Bill Clinton and George Bush has been a spectacular failure. Testing was used to prove that public schools were failing; they weren’t. Some state and local governments failed public schools and the neighborhoods their students lived in; the schools weren’t the problem. Like Diane Ravitch, you must have bought into standards, testing and accountability theory which has done a lot of damage. I hope like Diane you can fess up to your errors and help us end this billionaire financed drive to privatize public education. It is the great foundation of democracy.

      Nation at Risk was a polemic fraud indicating that businessmen new better about how to run public education and it justified school privatization. Vouchers are being used to end the separation of church and state, while achieving diminished academic results. Charter schools are sucking money out of public schools while exacerbating segregation. Taxpayer money is going into charter school management pockets and ever shrinking amounts of it are making it to the classroom.

      Please join the fight to stop Betsy DeVos, the Walton family, Charles Koch and other like minded billionaires who really don’t want to pay tax money to educate “other people’s children.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom, you wrote in part, “Like Diane Ravitch, you must have bought into standards, testing and accountability theory which has done a lot of damage. ”
        There are lots of differences between Diane Ravitch and me. For example:

        1. Our kids went to urban district public schools. Hers went to private schools

        2. I worked for almost 15 years as an aide inner city public school teacher and administrator.

        3. I helped create and worked for 7 years at an urban K-12 district option. The US Dept of Education, using multiple measures, concluded that the school was a “carefully evaluated, proven innovation worth of national replication. The school continues to operate, grades 6-12 using many of the same principles, that it used in 1971. Sadly, despite many requests to replicate the school, the local district has not asked educators to create a second school similar to it.

        4. For 49 years, I’ve promoted use of multiple measures including applied performance measures. Our Center has published a report about the value of multiple measures. We cited examples from district and chartered public schools. The president of the American Education Research Association helped produce this report.

        5. I worked with teacher unions in Minnesota to convince the legislature to approve $500,000 to help DISTRICT educators create new district options.

        6. For more than 20 years, I’ve written columns encouraging learning from the most effective public schools – district and charter. I’ve written repeatedly that it’s a waste of time to argue which is better – because there are outstanding examples of both.

        7. Over the last 20 years, Center for School Change that I founded and direct has carried out a variety of programs where district and charter educators have worked with and learned from each other. These programs have been founded on the belief that both district & charter educators have things to learn and things to share.

        8. Since 1989, a number of Mn newspapers regularly have carried columns I’ve written.

        9 In the late 1990’s I helped create a national district/charter coalition that successfully challenged the NCAA. The NCAA told every public school in the country which courses were and were not acceptable for college preparation. That story is told here:

        10. I was a PTA president at the urban public (district) elementary school that all 3 of our children attended. I also served on site councils of two urban district middle schools. I also served on the state PTA board, which later made me an honorary life member.

        11. I’ve spent more than 40 years actively working at the school, community, state and national policy levels to empower public school educators to create the kinds of schools they think make sense – and to help families – especially low income families – have public school choices.

        12. The National Governors Association in 1984, asked me to coordinate a project about what Governors should do to improve public schools. Among other things, our 1985 final report encouraged: 1) Dramatic expansion of early childhood programs; 3) expansion of school/community shared facilities – now called “community schools”, expansion of public school choice programs, 4) expansion of programs allowing high school student to earn free college credits.


      • Joe, you wrote so much horn blowing, but what is your point here? Diane Ravitch is bad and you’re good? You helped create a policy that has devastated the educational outcomes of millions of children. You enabled unscrupulous villains to steal boat loads of taxpayer money. You made the beast championed by self-serving billionaires like Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. You created this monster. Maybe it’s time to face up to the blood on your hands.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Joe, I see some similarities between you and Diane. You were both politically connected operators whose connections gave them a media platform. You both worked to advance different aspects of the privatization of public education. One substantive difference is that she realized she was wrong and that the policies she was promoting were harmful. She has spent the last decade working to right that wrong. You on the other hand seem blind to how destructive the “school choice” and charter school policies you advanced have been. You still seem to embrace them. I feel even your concept of using multiple measures to hold schools accountable is a mistake. A superior path would have been using multiple measures and feed back to help schools improve.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom, you suggested that various assessments should be used as “feedback to help schools improve.” Agreed. The second “vital feature” proposed in the “What Should we Do” report is “Assessment is part of an integrated system of instruction, professional development and refinement of a schools’
        operations. Assessment is not used only for ranking or sorting. Schools use assessment results to modify instruction and help plan inservice.”


  4. Actually, I’ve spent 49 years working with, learning from, and empowering terrific public school teachers all over the country. That includes, for example helping the CIncinnati district, in cooperation with the Cincy Federation of Teachers, eliminate the high school graduation gap between white and African American students. This was discussed in Education Week.

    In this Education Week blog, I described some of the thing that encourage, and frustrate me about chartering:

    …here are a few of the things that concern me:

    1. Failure to skillfully, successfully monitor how some charters operate. You’re familiar with scandals involving charters. Some people have exploited opportunities. This happens in some traditional schools and teacher unions too. But it is infuriating, wherever it happens. We are learning more about how to monitor schools. But there have been scandals and unacceptable exploitation of opportunities that chartering provides.

    2. Abuse of freedom to sometimes make huge profits and pay unseemly salaries.

    3. Some over-reliance on traditional standardized measures. You and I have agreed on the importance of multiple measures. Some involved with chartering agree. Others promote their schools primarily on the basis of test scores and/or graduation rates.

    4. Unwillingness in some cases to work creatively with students with special needs. Again, I see this in the district sector as well, with creation of district or regional magnet schools with admissions tests that exclude many youngsters with special needs. Public schools, district or chartered, should be open to all.

    5. Unwillingness, sometimes, to learn from some district school successes, and previous efforts to improve schools. There are some great district schools and educators. We all need to respect and learn from them. So a big “shout out” to Educators for Excellence-Minnesota. They regularly convene district and charter educators to learn from eachother.

    6. Unwillingness by some charters to share information about public funds are spent. Most state laws requre yearly financial audits, made available to the public. But some schools resist providing information about how they are spending public funds.

    These are not my only concerns. But any fair assessment of chartering ought to acknowledge strengths and shortcomings.

    My apologies, as I’ve gone on too long. But you asked important questions. So I wanted to try to give comprehensive answers.

    On balance, I think chartering is a lot like America. Freedom provides great opportunities for creativity, innovation and progress. However, among our biggest challenges are to maximize constructive use of freedom, and minimize abuse.


    • Joe, I’m sorry I had to edit that comment down a bit. I didn’t change any of your words though.

      It sounds like you think there are some ways the charter concept has been misused but you don’t appear to have any real regrets. There’s nothing you’d change if you had it to do all over again? For instance, should charters have to abide by the same regulations as authentic public schools? Should they at least have to provide the same special education services? Should they be able to have selective enrollment? Should they be able to have unelected boards? Should they be able to cut services and make a profit? Should they be held as accountable as authentic public schools? Isn’t it unfair to the taxpayers that their money is spent at charters without their input at open meetings? I’d like to hear answers to some of these questions and not just canned answers from charter-friiendly publications.


      • Steve…

        …here are a few questions for you and Phil:

        1) Are you ok with a number of district “magnet” schools that use admissions tests to screen out students with low test scores or students with special needs? I’m not. I’ve worked with the late US Senator Paul Wellstone to add new regulations to magnet grants, discouraging use of such tests. But there are many that continue to do so. Are you ok with that? I’m not. I think public schools, district & chartered should be open to anyone. No admissions tests.

        Have some chartered schools done this too? Yes. I think that’s wrong and have made it clear in columns and speeches all over the country that I oppose this. I’ve also helped write charter legislation that makes this illegal. Are you in favor of state legislation prohibiting use of admissions tests for all public schools? I am.

        2. Are you ok with suburban districts that won’t permit inner city, low income kids to attend, even if they have room? I’m not. I helped write cross district public school choice legislation that permits students to transfer from one district to another if the receiving district has room.

        3. Are you in favor of giving educators the opportunity to create new district options? I am, and have written grants involving millions of dollars to help district educators do that.

        4. Do you agree that there is no single kind of school philosophy or program that is best for all students? Do you agree that it’s a bad idea to require students to attend a Montessori, or a project based, or a Core Knowledge or a school with whatever?

        5. Do you agree that teachers should be allowed to help create and or select among public schools or schools within schools with varying philosophies?

        6. Do you agree that it can be a great idea to have several schools in the same building – such as the extremely successful Julia Richman, a NYC district building Do you agree this can be very well, or very badly?

        7. Do you agree that the shared facilities/ aka community school idea is terrific and should be widely promoted? Our Center has promoted this idea for more than 25 years. As you may know, a number of teacher unions have endorsed and promoted it. (Examples of district & chartered shared facilities found here:

        8. Do you agree that states should put substantially more $ into the education of students from low income families than affluent students – since wealthy, exclusive suburban districts will find ways to get lots of $ into their schools? My answer is yes.

        9 Are you ok with exclusive suburbs that are 90% or more white, and have virtually no low income students?


      • My goodness, Joe, you do write a lot of nonsense without addressing the point. Divert from the point again and again.

        But okay. I’ll bite.

        1) Magnet schools have their pros and cons. If you have a school that focuses on the performing arts, for example, I can understand why there might be prerequisites to get in. Can that system be gamed? Certainly. But as part of an authentic public school system it is way more accountable and transparent than charter schools. Magnet schools are run by elected school boards, which have open meetings and transparency. Charter schools can circumvent all of that and thus are much more inequitable.

        2) You don’t seem to understand the way things work at authentic public schools today. Anyone who lives in a district may attend – they don’t even need to live there! We serve homeless and transient students. I have seen this myself. You’re talking about transferring from district to district. This is a bad idea. Make every district great. Don’t destabilize districts with this tomfoolery.

        3) Educators should have opportunities to innovate and create new programs but we don’t need to privatize to do this. And in fact teacher-led programs hardly ever happens at charter or voucher schools. A celebrity chef may come into McDonalds one day and make the burgers and fries but almost always they are made by your standard fry chefs. Stop pretending charter schools are something they aren’t.

        4) There are many different educational philosophies at work in your neighborhood public school. Having a school board and accountability doesn’t prevent this. You mentioned magnet schools, for instance. Did you forget about them?

        5) I’m not even sure what you mean here. Are you saying teachers should be able to transfer between districts?

        6) No, I do not think having separate schools in the same building is a good idea. It can work if they’re both part of the same district. Where I teach, the middle and high school are in the same building. However, when you have schools from different districts or charter and authentic public schools in the same building, you have problems. They compete for space and have conflicting policies and uses.

        7) No.

        8) Yes, the state and federal government should increase education funding for all students but especially poor and minority children. This is one of the reasons I think we need to get rid of charter schools. They are wasteful to offer a duplication of services. When you don’t have two schools competing for the funding, there’s more to go around. Charter schools make this problem worse not better.

        9) I am in favor of integrating our public schools. I think the only way to overcome racism and prejudice is for all of our children to be educated together. However, charter schools make segregation worse. Yes, I know we have a problem at authentic public schools, but charters make it much, much worse. In my own district, there is a charter school with almost 100% minority children. It’s like pre-Brown V. Board. If you truly want to integrate schools, you need to get rid of charters that strive to be “separate but equal.” It’s a terrible ideal.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Steven, you do know that Joe is not going to stop. He will keep coming back to wear you down until you quit. Then because you quit, he will think and/or claim he made his point.

        Honestly, I don’t care a hoot about all the experience he listed because he is the one tooting his own horn.

        Liked by 1 person

      • A few years ago, I also had patience to stick with the ignorant and/or greedy charterites and worshipers of high stakes rank and punish tests. But over the years, my patience had worn thin. I have reached the point where my time is too valuable to keep repeating the same arguments with “fools” that never budge.


      • But you offer nothing you would change to stop them. They are just acceptable consequence of the peachy keen charter concept. That’s not good enough. If I punch you in the face and say I regret it but would do it again, it’s not a regret. It’s gaslighting.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Joe.
    I too am interested to hear your thoughts and regrets about charter schools.
    I just attended a Nevada State Public Charter Authority Meeting last week. The majority of the meeting was spent discussing problems – receivership, financing issues, litigation, and amendments to enrollment caps due to “mistaken” over enrollment (in violation of the law) and lack of subpopulation enrollment. The NV SPCA had also recently appointed a new member, Don Soifer, a DC transplant and founder of the Lexington Institute and Aspen-Pahara Institute fellow.
    Joe, how do you feel about far-right think tanks driving charter school leadership? Also, how do you feel about the abundance of financial issues and scandals in the charter world?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Phil – I’m glad that the Nevada State Public Charter Authority spent time discussing problems. Sometime local boards and other governing organizations ignore or gloss over problems. Did you feel that the discussion in Nevada was constructive and will lead to improvements?

      As I’ve explained several time, I am concerned, as are many working in public education, with financial issues and scandals – in both district and chartered public schools. Many of us have taken action to modify rules, regulations and laws that have made this more difficult. But in many places, there is still work to do – which is why I said so in the Ed Week Blog and in a speech this summer at the national charter conference this summer (and in an article that will be coming out this coming week.). In that speech I insisted,

      “Sixth, we need to call out, challenge and urge action be taken against those within chartering who misuse public funds, and violate the public trust. Laws in some state have been revised to provide more transparency and accountability – but more work is needed on this. ”
      The speech is found here:

      Finally, about “think tanks.” Whether it’s a district or a chartered public school, most educators have little to no contact with these people. The real leadership in schools is just that – in schools.


      • Joe, this is just lip service. It’s a way to appear to be concerned to shut up your critics. If you really thought there was a problem with charter school scandals and oversight, you’d support the NAACP and Black Lives Matter in their proposed moratorium. Imagine if one of the fathers of charter schools took that kind of stand. You could do a lot of good if you backed up your words with action. Will you do it, Joe? I can get you in touch with people at those organizations if you want. It would upset your backers at the Center for School Change. The Waltons who gave you tons of donations would not be happy, but what do you say?

        Liked by 1 person

      • “The real leadership in schools is just that – in schools.”

        That is an interesting, but wrong thought. From my thirty years of experience as a teacher, the real leadership in education was with the person with the most money like Bill Gates who hands out money at the federal or state level, at the top, so they would tell the next level down what to tell the teachers.

        Then those administrators at the district level would do what the school board told them to do and pass on the orders to us teachers in the classrooms. You will use this material and teach that this way.

        Only once early in my teaching career did I work at a school where the teachers were in charge and that ended in the early 1970s when that middle school principal had a stroke and retired early. Those few years were the best of the thirty. When the teachers are in charge, we see real progress just like what has been happening in Finland for the last several decades.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joe,
        You said, “Finally, about “think tanks.” Whether it’s a district or a chartered public school, most educators have little to no contact with these people. The real leadership in schools is just that – in schools.”
        This doesn’t answer my question. Are you or are you not OK with right-wing think tanks such as the Lexington Institute driving decision making at local or state levels? Don Soifer was one of the most vocal board members in the meeting I attended last week. His comments were instrumental in allowing charter schools to take away students and their accompanying funding from the traditional public schools through the approval of charter contract amendments. This is an example of a think tank founder directly affecting the students and teachers at both charter and traditional public schools at the same time.
        Previously you have taken issue with vouchers which you view as conservative policy being grouped together with charters which you view as liberal policy. If you believe charters are liberal policy manifestations, I will ask again, how do you feel about charters being directed by right-wing think tanks?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Steve
    I want to express my appreciation for engaging with one of the creators, promoters, and defenders of charter schools, Joe Nathan. With the sharp interventions of Tom and Phil, you provided an invaluable insight on the ideologically driven dogmatism of the charter schools advocates.
    The exchanges made clear that:
    Charter schools were allegedly created to provide choice or alternatives to failing public schools. In reality, evidence shows that that selling point was just the excuse to enter the sphere of public schools in order to start an inside job of dismantling public school systems.
    The original charter school policy, far from being an adequate option that could be evaluated and improved over time, came with a myriad of problems –logistic, financial, legal, and social—that far from being acknowledged, corrected, or avoided, have continued to the benefit to the charter schools’ benefit to this day. This intentional lack of regulation of the charter school establishment indeed exposes the charter schools advocates’ anti-public schools and the opportunistic agendas.
    During the exchange, it was interesting how there was never a definite answer to the important and relevant questions posed to Mr. Nathan. I expected that Mr. Nathan would stick to the neoliberal stance. I was not disappointed. No mentioned of common good, improvement, fairness, or justice, only a list of the positions held.
    I do not know if you agree with me, but I consider that the participants in this thread provided a more important perspective on the issue of charter schools than your well-designed piece. Your content was excellent, but the exchange was exceptional. By reading Mr. Nathan’s irrelevant and diverting comments, I validated my opposition to charter schools. If one of the original architects cannot come up with valid points for charter schools, then the case is closed.
    I thank you and those who asked relevant questions and expressed valid opinions. In particular, I agree with Lloyd Lofthouse’s view in considering hopeless to expect an honest debate with ideologues. After all, it is practically impossible to expect an opponents to reconsider their positions, when those positions come with profits.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for commenting, Wrench. You’re right about how the federal government destabilizes and otherwise interferes with authentic public schools. In many states that has included pushing to increase charter schools. I appreciate your input in Minneapolis. My article was never meant to focus there but paint a broader picture.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Correct me if I’m wrong, … but when federal government agencies get involved in anything like education, it was legislation through Congress and/or a Presidential Executive Order that survived court challenges that becomes the driving force for what each federal agency does. Sometimes, maybe often, the legislation is murky due to legal language in the legislation and then the federal agency has to interpret what they are mandated to do.

        The departments of the federal government exist because Congress created them to carry out specific jobs due to legislation, and the White Houe administration (for any president) is supposed to make sure those agencies to the job Congressional legislation dictates they do.

        Congress and/or the President are the management. The federal agencies are the workers that do what the managment tells them to do.


  7. Charter schools, from the original concept, were public schools, run by the district, staffed by certified teachers just like all teachers in the district, but given the freedom to serve a smaller section of the overall student body. The schools were separate buildings with their own staff. The schools were meant to be administered by the teachers in the building and were afforded a degree of pedagogical freedom.

    I know. I have been teaching in one for 19 years. We call ourselves an alternative high school, but we started with a charter. My school has been serving the local community since 1977. Somehow we have survived the last two decades of school reform, mostly because of the support from the local community and the history we have of serving failing students who become high school graduates and healthy members of the community.

    The original charter school concept has been abandoned and corrupted and now shamefully hurts, segregates, and miseducated thousands of students. The schools were never meant to control and manipulate students. They were meant to free and empower students.

    The idea of having smaller stand alone schools is a good one. There is nothing else in the current charter school reality that is good. These schools need to be turned over to local public school districts and run as individual learning communities, much like the original schools like mine.

    I am more than happy to support you, Steven, and Diane in exposing the truth, the misunderstandings, and the way to fix this before even more children and teachers are destroyed.


    • Poetic Justice, thanks for commenting. The school where you teach seems to be more like what Budde was proposing originally. But this is NOT what Nathan and Kolderie wrote up in the first charter school law in 1991. Nor is it what has spread through the nation with their help, the Waltons and ALEC. As you say, we can probably reconcile your kind of alternative school with authentic public schools if we keep an elected school board, open meetings, transparency, and accountability. You may call your school a “charter” but that would be a misnomer. We need to get rid of school privatization in all its forms.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. As a blogger with a predominantly white audience instead of citing NAACP general policies maybe you/we could/should listen to the voices of black leaders, teachers & parents when it comes to their thoughts on charter schools.


    • Oh my God, Peter! You are hilarious! So I should not listen to what the NAACP and Black Lives Matter says but I should listen to that one black charter school president who wrote an article you posted!? Listen to yourself. Listening to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter IS listening to black people. Now obviously there are black people who disagree. Like any other group of people, they are not a monolith. But these organizations represent the majority. You would do well to take your own advice. When you claim that black people don’t deserve elected school boards or schools that can’t make a profit off of their children, you show the school privatization movement for how ridiculous it is.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Steven, I’m curious why you don’t include the links I shared? Afraid to have your readers exposed to other points of view?


    • Why don’t I post your link to an article by a black charter school president saying he speaks for all black people? Because it’s bull crap propaganda. There’s plenty of that out there paid for by billionaires like the Walton’s, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Betsy DeVos and her family, etc. I try not to let that crap into my blog. It’s one space I have control over. Keep it to yourself. You aren’t making a dime off of this space. Stick to the facts. Not propaganda.


      • Steve gives Ted and me way too much credit.
        In the 1960’s, we called the kind of thing we’ve worked on “power to the people.” The “power to the people” theme is part of what led Kenneth Clark to insist that in 1968 that “It will be necessary” that new public schools should be created outside the control of local school boards. He recommended that unions, social service agencies and others be allowed to do this.

        As to polls about how African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and whites, feel, there are a variety of results. [NATHAN INCLUDED TWO POLLS CONDUCTED BY THE BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION AND DEMOCRATS FOR EDUCATION REFORM. I REMOVED THE LINKS – STEVE] …the Gates Foundation and DFER favor chartering. We can toss polls back and forth.

        When people began working for African American and Hispanic voting and housing rights or began working for equal pay for women and men, the majority of Americans probably were not in favor. But these expansions of opportunity, within limits were, imho, great ideas. The same is true in public education.


      • Joe, you’re right that Kenneth Clark wrote about alternative schools before you got involved. I wrote about this in my article, “Charter Schools Were Never a Good Idea. They Were a Corporate Plot All Along” :

        “In the late 1960s after helping provide justification for school desegregation, sociologist Kenneth Clark advocated for alternative school systems that could be run by groups as diverse as universities to the Department of Defense.”


        However, what you and Kolderie actually wrote into law in 1991 has next to nothing in common with Clark. You’re too modest. You two deserve the credit for the modern charter school – institutions that can do without elected school boards, that can run for profit, that can have selective enrollment, etc.

        As to your polls, you’ll see I included your statement but removed the propaganda. When someone holds a poll paying big money to get a certain result AND THEY GET IT, that’s not a poll. It’s disinformation.

        At the end of your comment, you seem to be conceding the point. So if the majority is against charter schools, that puts it in the company of other good ideas that the majority was against back in the day. True but it doesn’t mean charters are a good idea. It’s shocking that you would equate taking away elected school boards for black people to voting and housing rights. That you would equate corporations cutting services for children of color and pocketing the profit to civil rights – for the corporations!

        What happened to those “regrets” you mentioned above? What happened to doing something to make charter schools more accountable and less open to fraud? My offer still stands to get you on the right side of history. You can still do so much good by endorsing the NAACP and Black Lives Matter’s moratorium on charter schools. I know it’s hard to admit you were wrong, but you have time. You can still help millions of children and their families by saving them from the monster you and Kolderie created.


      • Sorry you chose to dis-enfranchise thousands of African American, Hispanic and Asian Americans as well as whites who were polled.

        For decades thousands of progressive educators have created new public school options within and since 1992, both inside and outside district public schools. They’ve held meetings and conferences all over the country. The #1 challenge they cite are other educators who do not want options.

        The arguments here were presented by traditional educators going back decades – don’t offer option – invest in neighborhood schools instead (It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be both)

        By refusing to share info about the polls, you help illustrate why millions of low income and people of color are sending their children to alternative district and chartered public schools.

        In many cases they don’t feel heard or respected.


      • Joe, the polls you posted are already everywhere. You think a poll conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can’t get seen by the public unless it’s posted on my rinky dink blog? You think Democrats for Education Reform can’t get the word out without help from a blog by a public school teacher writing on the weekends and in his spare time?

        And when it comes to disenfranchisement, let’s look at these polls you think so highly of. I’m saying they are inherently biased. They disenfranchised large numbers of people of color by selecting which ones to include and which to ignore.

        The polls you mention are like a poll by the American Pear Lovers Society saying that 99% of people hate apples. It’s nonsense. It doesn’t add anything to the conversation.

        Finally, if even you admit we can provide options WITHIN the authentic public school system (and I agree) then we don’t need charter or voucher schools. There’s a better way. Let’s do that instead of doing away with democratic rule, transparency and accountability.


      • “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” (attributed to Voltaire)

        …But this is your blog so you get to make the rules.

        We agree about the value of options within districts. But many progressive educators have experienced exactly what Shanker described in the late 1980’s: People trying to create new district option are treated like “Traitors or outlaws for daring to move outside the lockstep. If they somehow succeed, they are treated like traitors or outlaws for daring to move outside the lockstep.” This has happened all over the country.

        Shanker opposed the idea of new schools outside district/union control. He was, of course, a teacher union leader. No surprise that he did not want new schools outside the control of local boards and unions.

        Also for decades there have been programs like Running Start in Washington State and Post Secondary Options in Minnesota. These are state laws permitting high school students to take free courses on college campuses (and in Mn’s case, free college courses via the internet).

        The colleges/universities are not run by local boards, and local boards don’t get to tell students whether they can or cannot participate…


      • Joe, it’s nice to find at least one area where we can agree. We differ on the solution.

        Colleges are a different subject. They are organized and governed much differently than public schools.


      • Steve, Also I apologize for not beginning the discussion a day or so ago by thanking you for being a public school teacher.

        As noted earlier, I’ve been an urban district public school teacher, my wife was one for 33 years, and on our 3 youngsters has been one for more than 15 years. Very important job, often very challenging

        My point re Running Start and PSEO is that those are examples of state laws/programs where $ follow students to institutions not controlled by local school boards.

        Furthermore, a number of states have statewide schools not controlled by local boards. Many states have schools serving students who are blind or have some form of hearing disability. Some states have schools serving students especially interested in the arts, or math or science, that are not controlled by locally elected boards.

        There’s a lot more to public education than what’s offered by local boards.


      • Joe, thanks for the recognition. Being a teacher is a hard job, but I love it. had a string of other jobs including professional journalist before becoming an educator. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve done but also the most rewarding.

        That’s why I am so passionate about fighting charter schools. The policy you helped create has hurt my profession, my community, my daughter and my students. Our funding was already imperiled by the state and having to rely on local taxes in a community that doesn’t have the local wealth to provide everything children need. But charter parasites gobble up even more with a sweetheart funding formula and provide little to no value to students. I can’t tell you how many times a student has left my district to try it at the local charter only to return a short time later with huge academic and social deficits. This is a personal struggle to me and I am committed to ending the charter school experiment.

        When it comes to Alternative programs in the public school system, you are misrepresenting them. Yes, there are industrial schools and performing arts schools, and schools for people with disabilities. But to be part of the authentic public system, they are run by consortiums made up of members of the local school boards where their students come from. In short, they ARE run by elected officials from the districts they represent. The public has a voice in how they are governed. Certainly there are schools that don’t do this that are run by appointed bureaucrats, but they are charter schools.

        I think it is fundamentally unfair to run a school with public money and deny the public a say in its operation. That’s a founding principle of our nation and I will fight for it.


      • Joe Nathan revealed his bias and his deliberate blind ignorance with this comment here: “When people began working for African American and Hispanic voting and housing rights or began working for equal pay for women and men, the majority of Americans probably were not in favor.”

        From Gallup:

        “Nearly four in 10 Americans say equal pay is the top issue facing working women in the United States today, a sentiment shared by roughly the same proportions of men, women, and working women. About twice as many Americans mention equal pay as cite the second-ranked issue — equal opportunity for advancement. No other issue is cited by more than 10% of Americans.”

        I think that the ratio of Trump’s supporters will probably match or come close to matching the number of Americans that think women are 2nd class citizens that do not think women should earn the same income men earn for the same job, and minorities should not be allowed to buy housing in a white community.

        Then we come to Joe Nathan using flawed logic to compare this sentiment to

        “But these expansions of opportunity, within limits were, imho, great ideas. The same is true in public education.”

        “But what about” is one of the most popular extreme right talking points to divert the attention away from a debate you are losing.

        This is an ill-founded generalization based on insufficient evidence.

        Failed try, Joe Nathan.


    • “Afraid to have your readers exposed to other points of view?”

      Peter, that bait above that you left here is pure BS!

      Peter, if you shared the link or links you refer to in one of your comments that was published in this blog thread and your comment/s are still here, then those links are “shared”.

      Since you already posted the links, why are you bating Steven to post them again, repeating what you already shared? If the links you refer to are still here, that, I think, is a sign of typical Troll bating behavior.

      But if Steven decided to block and/or delete them because they led to propaganda sites, that is his prerogative since this is his Blog. Why held a corrupt vampire spread his propaganda.

      However, if you want to hop over to my “Crazy Normal” blog and post a comment under “ABOUT” with those links, I will check them out, and if I suspect what they are, I will share them with all my 19,517 readers for that one blog.


  10. The most recent exchange reaffirms the notion that it is imperative to educate public school teachers about neoliberalism and its dogmatic impositions. Despite acknowledging the problems and abuses of charter school providers, there are no regrets. The unwarranted value of “option” or “choice” is brought up to “defend” an already indefensible point. In short, a man who started the charter school movement cannot come with valid arguments to defend them. Instead, chooses to engage in incidental topics in an attempt to create an image of popular support. At no moment one reads anything related to common good, improvement, or correction. Teachers associations should educate teachers so they start a real opposition, capable of distinguish the arguments from the fallacies. Debate was over long ago. Right now, we have a charter school industry that is dedicated to dismantle public education.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “12. The National Governors Association in 1984, asked me to coordinate a project about what Governors should do to improve public schools. Among other things, our 1985 final report encouraged: 1) Dramatic expansion of early childhood programs; 3) expansion of school/community shared facilities – now called “community schools”, expansion of public school choice programs, 4) expansion of programs allowing high school student to earn free college credits.”

    ^^^ And that, folks, is Ed Reform 2.0 human capital impact investing. It all goes back to Mr. Rolnick (and Mr. Rothschild).

    Charters are really just the tip of the iceberg. Wait until they usher in digital identity, learning ecosystems, and digital vouchers.


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