Episode 01 : The Charter School Scam

including show notes!

Welcome to Episode 1 of the new media criticism podcast, Citations Needed.

The show is hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts with years of experience calling bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Episode 1 features a discussion about charter schools and, basically, why they’re awful. We look into the agenda behind the pro-charter film Waiting for Superman, the ongoing demonization of teachers and their unions, the fudging, inflation and wholesale manufacturing of test scores that demonstrate “success”, and also try to find some silver linings among the dark clouds. For instance, the fact that everyone hates Betsy DeVos is helping.

We are joined by the incomparable Jennifer Berkshire, journalist, podcaster, and education editor at Alternet.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

Jennifer Berkshire’s writing and interviews regularly gain national attention and have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Baffler, Salon, Alternet, Jacobin, The Progressive, Huffington Post and plenty of other places.

Check out her own podcast, Have You Heard.


Show Notes

Here’s some stuff mentioned or referenced during the show, or related to the topic in general. You know, in case you wanted to dig deeper.

During her interview, Jennifer Berkshire referred to Gordon Lafer’s new book, The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.


Charter Schools’ Katrina Memory Hole

Adam H. Johnson | May 24, 2014 | Citations Needed

Pre-Katrina New Orleans graduation numbers are charter school advocates’ exhibit A for reform. One problem: the U.S. and Louisiana Departments of Education say they don’t exist. [READ MORE]

The Myth of Charter Schools

Diana Ravitch | November 1, 2010 | New York Review of Books

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting For Superman is rife with selective and distorted information, dubious conclusions, and outright propaganda. [READ MORE]

How Charter Schools Are Undermining the Future of Public Education

Stan Karp | November 14, 2013 | Alternet

In too many places, charters function more like deregulated “enterprise zones” than models of reform, providing subsidized spaces for a few at the expense of the many. [READ MORE]

Vote ‘No’ on Charter Schools

Jonathan Kozol | October 27, 2016 | Boston Globe

It’s not easy to compete with buckets of money pouring into Massachusetts to convince the public to lift the cap on charter schools but, as a former teacher who has worked for more than 50 years with children in the nation’s schools, here’s my entry into the debate. [READ MORE]

Turnover, a charter school plague

Alyssa Katz | June 26, 2017 | New York Daily News

Among New York charter school teachers, 41% changed jobs last year — compared to just 18% of district school teachers. The retention gap between district and charter schools is not new, but it has been widening over time.

The big reason for charters’ turnover plague is plain as day: District school teachers are universally represented by teachers unions, and enjoy contracts whose ample benefits include generous pension plans, non-negotiable business hours and tenure. [READ MORE]

Charter High School for Law and Social Justice Axes 11 Teachers for Trying to Unionize

Ginger Adams Otis | June 28, 2017 | New York Daily News

A Bronx charter school dedicated to educating students about social justice and the law fired 11 of its 15 teachers with no notice last month — including eight who were trying to bargain a union contract with management. [READ MORE]

Inside The NAACP’s Fight To Stop Betsy DeVos From Expanding Charter Schools

Rebecca Klein | June 28, 2017 | Huffington Post

In October 2016, the NAACP voted on a controversial resolution calling for a moratorium on the growth of charter schools, which exist in 43 states. Over six decades after the organization fought to eliminate school segregation through the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, leaders said charter schools were perpetuating the very same segregation they fought so hard to stop. Not only that, but charter schools also divert resources away from traditional public school systems. [READ MORE]

I Was a Charter School Teacher

Julia Stein | March 10, 2010 | Counterpunch

Charter schools are proposed as fixes to poorly running public school but they don’t work out that way. I briefly taught in a charter school. Though I met lively, likable students, the big problem was the administrators who set up the school’s curriculum were ignorant of what they’re doing and set the students up for failure. [READ MORE]

Glen Ford: Corporate Assault on Public Education

In the space of less than 20 years, the public school privatization movement has emerged from the narrow, right-wing fringes to dominate both major political parties. From vouchers to school choice to charter schools, the issue has divided even Black Americans, who were once public education’s most fervent supporters.

Veteran journalist Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, explains how this came about by wealthy individuals buying black politicians and promoting their careers, particularly Cory Booker.


The Participant Foundation was created for the sole purpose of funding the charter school propaganda doc, Waiting for Superman. Check out its four donors, billionaires Eli Broad, Donald Fisher, Dave Einhorn, and the Walton family [PDF].

Also, the Gates Foundation — another huge billionaire charter backer—contributed $2 million to the film’s production.

As we discuss during the episode, billionaires and hedge fund managers also fill the Boards of Charter School across the country. For instance, here’s a look at the original Board of Directors for the Harlem Children Zone.


Who’s Talking?

Adam H. Johnson is a media analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His writing has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Alternet and elsewhere.

Nima Shirazi is an editor for Muftah, a digital foreign affairs magazine. His political analysis has appeared in Salon, Truthout, Mic, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting and Al Jazeera English, among other outlets.