School Choice & Charters

Comedian John Oliver Blasts Poor Oversight of Charter Schools

By Arianna Prothero — August 22, 2016 2 min read
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It’s been a rough couple of weeks for charter school PR.

First the NAACP and a coalition of African-American advocacy groups, including Black Lives Matter, both called for moratoriums on charter school expansion.

Then last night, comedian John Oliver dug into some of the most cringe-worthy cases of fraud and academic failure in charter schools across the country on his program Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Oliver starts the show out by highlighting the bipartisan support charters have garnered from major political party leaders, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as several celebrities, such as rapper Puff Daddy.

(To see where the 2016 presidential candidates stand on charter schools, check out the Politics K-12 blog. For my unofficial list of celebrities that have launched charter schools, check out this story here.)

The show then dives into several major issues dogging the charter sector, including sudden school closures, self-dealing among school founders, financial mismanagement, and inflating enrollment numbers for financial gain. Oliver highlights cases in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Oliver does point out that charter schools are overseen by groups called authorizers, and that authorizing rules vary greatly from state-to-state, a wonky but important detail.

In response to the segment, the National Association for Charter School Authorizers said it was glad that Oliver highlighted the need for greater accountability in the charter school sector.

“But we are frustrated that critics, including Oliver, continue go back years to cherry pick stale anecdotes while ignoring the real progress in charter accountability happening now,” said NACSA CEO and president Greg Richmond in a statement. “In fact, among states with charter schools, nearly half have taken steps to strengthen charter oversight in the last four years.”

If you’re interested in reading more about the research from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which Oliver references several times in his piece, check out these stories:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.