Around 50 students, faculty and members of the Galesburg community crammed into the Trustees Room last Wednesday evening to listen to professor Nathaniel Williams’ presentation: “Untold Truths of Education Reform: How Charter Schools and Teach for America (TFA) Support White Supremacy.”
An Assistant Professor in Educational Studies, Williams holds three degrees in education from Indiana University. His talk focused on the trend of racial segregation resulting from the proliferation of charter schools throughout the country.
TFA, a non-profit organization at the forefront of the charter school movement, served as his primary example of how public funding meant for improving education has actually harmed low-income communities while enriching a select few.
“If you leave with skepticism,” Williams said of TFA and charter schools in general, “I’ve done my job.”
Though charter schools operate with less regulations than traditional public schools, they are not private institutions. Supporters of charter schools aim to use less public funds while improving outcomes. However, as Williams went on to show, there is no evidence that charter schools have outperformed traditional public schools.
“Charter schools don’t work,” Williams said. “They send the least trained teachers to the most desperate areas without caring about the outcome.”
By the end of his hour and a half presentation, Williams had led the audience through the history of the charter school movement as an economic enterprise. He emphasized the importance of language, explaining how words like choice and innovation are used to deceive parents into supporting a system they might not fully understand.
“Most people would agree with these things,” Williams said about the key phrases used by charter school advocates.
Williams explained that rather than provide more opportunities for students, charter schools have proven to be more concerned with making a profit off them. Vouchers that allow parents to use public funds to pay for some or all of a charter school education are often sought after so that those funds can be diverted to investors. Charter schools are more likely to affect the poorer, minority neighborhoods where vouchers are in demand.
“Black children never came off the Auction Block,” Williams’ powerpoint said. “[Vouchers] turn a child into a dollar sign. The money follows the kids.”
Because charter schools are profitable, a major initiative by rich investors has spread throughout the country. Williams laid out a formula where these investors buy politicians, implant managerial organizations such as TFA and push a narrative to win the support of the community towards charter schools.
When asked about a potential solution to the problem, Williams admitted that he did not have a comprehensive answer. He made sure to mention that he feels traditional public education also carries many problems and always has.
“Public education is a sorting system for the working class,” Williams said.
Whatever the solution may be, Williams believes that it must involve parents and students rather than investors who have little motivation to actually improve the communities their schools pop up in.
Senior Jessica Langsted went to the talk because her professor, Assistant Professor of Antropology Teresa Gonzales, encouraged her to go. Langsted recently applied to work as a student mentor for City Year after she graduates, and decided it would be worth seeing what Williams had to say about similar programs. Though she doesn’t plan on becoming a teacher as a career, she left with a greater awareness of her role as a potential student mentor.
“I haven’t heard back from City Year, but [Williams’ presentation] does make me think about what kind of impact me as a mentor will have within the school I might be placed with,” Langsted said. “Professor Nate doesn’t care about intentions, and I think that’s really important, too. Intentions don’t mean that good things are going to happen, or that you’re even doing the right things with the intentions that you have.”