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Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What's at Stake?

reviewed by Nicole Mittenfelner Carl - June 01, 2012

coverTitle: Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What's at Stake?
Author(s): Michael Fabricant & Michelle Fine
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807752851, Pages: 176, Year: 2012
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Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine’s (2012) book Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake? analyzes the state of public education by examining the charter school movement and determining how its record compares with its promises. Fabricant and Fine, as contributors to the larger body of literature concerning public education and educational policy, are both well positioned to understand the complexity and importance of the current charter school movement and its effects on public education. The book is well written and succinctly organized; the authors discuss an important and relevant issue facing public education: They posit that the current trend toward privatizing education manifested in the charter school movement is shortsighted and is not supported by compelling evidence. Fabricant and Fine offer a thorough examination of the charter school movement, the competing interests of involved parties, and the effects on students, parents, and communities.

The book consists of six chapters. The introductory chapter provides an overview of the rise of the contemporary charter school movement as a whole, which the authors differentiate from individual charter schools. In this introduction, Fabricant and Fine acknowledge that public education has not lived up to its potential; however, the authors believe that the charter school movement, which includes the deregulation and privatization of public education, not only threatens many of the United States’ democratic values but also does not solve all the problems facing public education.

In the second chapter, Fabricant and Fine provide a detailed description of the history of the charter school movement by describing how charter schools evolved from an innovative experiment run by local educators committed to social justice to a well-funded movement, which charter advocates promise to be a policy solution to public education. The authors describe this movement: “Birthed at the precarious intersection of deep frustration in communities of color, high national anxiety, and ideological attacks on the public sphere, charters are the newest face of reform in the long U. S. history of public education” (p. 14). Fabricant and Fine distinguish exemplar charter schools from the aggregate of charter schools and lament that local and national policies are largely informed by the limited experiences of the exemplars rather than the aggregate.  

Chapter 3 stands out as a key chapter in the book; it clearly examines the evidence and then describes how charter schools perform in regard to each specific promise: “improve test scores, enhance equity, and promote innovation” (p. 37). Fabricant and Fine state, “Over the past few years, a number of national and city-specific studies demonstrate that on the basis of standardized testing results, charter performance is, on the aggregate, no better than that of public schools and often worse” (p. 37). Additionally, the chapter provides a detailed discussion of empirical evidence in regard to the consequences of charter schools on students, parents, educators, and local democratic participation. The authors assert that the evidence has not influenced the policies, which largely support the continued growth of the charter school movement.

In Chapter 4, Fabricant and Fine offer an important discussion of how the deregulation and privatization of public education are supported and funded by philanthropic foundations that promote market values as a solution to the challenges facing public education. The authors detail the amount of money at stake for both non- and for-profit charters as a result of these charter initiatives: “The nexus between economic gain—be it administrative salary or profit making—and the proportion of public dollars that reach the classroom is largely ignored” (p. 78).

Fabricant and Fine also examine how the current charter movement has exploited the crises of public education as a way to privatize public functions. Especially important is the authors’ explanation as to how this privatization primarily occurs in low-income communities. This chapter examines New Orleans, Chicago, and New York City as examples of the reorganization of public education as a result of charter school policies. Fabricant and Fine acknowledge that there are real crises in public education; however, they state,

Closing [traditional public schools] and reopening the schools as charters or traditional schools with selective admissions or private, contracted schools for populations outside the neighborhoods affected by the school closure policy, however, fails to address the persistent and deepening crisis for the very poorest students of color attending the schools being shut down. While individual charters may serve some children well, charters as national policy are exploited today as a decoy for disinvestment and the profound and intensifying neglect of the poorest students of color. (p. 107)

In addition to acknowledging that there are significant problems with the current state of public education in the United States, Fabricant and Fine posit that strategic investment in public education is an essential aspect of educational reform. Instead of solely critiquing the charter school movement, the authors end the book by providing alternative recommendations for improving public education.

This book is an important read for educators, policy makers, and concerned citizens. As more school districts across the nation struggle with budget deficits and are influenced by the promise that charters can help reform education “at little if any additional cost” (p. 13), it is important for policies to be informed by evidence. Recently, the School District of Philadelphia, facing budget deficits and influenced by the current charter movement, announced that as a result of a new reorganization, the district plans to close 64 schools (Mezzacappa, 2012). Forty percent of the district’s students are expected to attend schools managed by charter management organizations by 2017 (Mezzacappa, 2012). As Fabricant and Fine clearly articulate, these decisions affect students, parents, and communities and should be informed by empirical evidence. This topic is incredibly important and relevant to the future of public education, and Fabricant and Fine succeed in evaluating the evidence and describing the consequences of this movement.  


Mezzacappa, D. (2012). Radical district reorganization, 64 school closings planned. Philadelphia Public School Notebook. Retrieved from http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/124746/radical-district-reorganization-64-school-closings-planned

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 01, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16784, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 9:17:17 PM

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About the Author
  • Nicole Carl
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    NICOLE MITTENFELNER CARL is a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She is also a research associate for the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives and is a mentor to first-year teachers in Philadelphia. Nicole’s current research interests include urban education, educational equity, teacher education, and school reform. She taught middle school language arts in West Philadelphia for five years prior to studying at GSE.
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