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Comic John Oliver pokes holes in charter school oversight. Proponents poke back.

Comic and social commentator John Oliver's rift on charter schools this weekend earned him a lot of social media accolades and some criticism.

Oliver acknowledged charter successes such as the KIPP schools, which operate in Georgia. But he concentrates on weaknesses in the charter school approval process and the problem with financial mismanagement and outright theft. (See Atlanta Latin Academy.)

He blasts the lack of oversight that enabled an elementary charter school in Philadelphia to operate as a nightclub at night. He is withering about the performance of online charters, citing some of the recent research that we discussed here this week.

Be forewarned, Oliver has a fair amount of comments punctuated by an emphatic obscenity.

Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, did not like the routine and wrote an open letter to charter schools today. The center describes itself as "a longtime charter school advocacy organization."

She wrote:

This weekend the late night British comedian John Oliver parodied charter schools, poking fun at politicians and celebrities who support them, serving up misstatements and lies about their success & drawing from anti-charter sentiment that is all too prevalent today. Highly credible researchers and organizations have dismissed his poor taste as just the rantings of a comedian, as satire, which is “his job.” But tens of thousands that find their employment in the organizations you challenge gloated, tweeted and sent their combined millions of members to view and further promote.

The problem is, it’s no joke what you do every day, and it’s no laughing matter that people who have never experienced bad education think it’s funny to mock those who need it and want it. The response from the teachers union and others who are currently engaged in a WAR on charter schools is nothing short of coronation for John Oliver. In Massachusetts, hundreds of anti-charter forces working to prevent the more than 32,000 students on waiting lists to achieve their dreams cackled over social media all night and day about the parody, trying to intimidate voters who might otherwise want to vote to life their charter cap.

You know what it’s like to be in your community and be criticized for doing the hard work it takes to demonstrate results year after year under a microscope, with higher standards and fewer resources than other public schools. You know what it’s like to teach children who come into your school having been failed for years prior.

Here is the clip causing so much commotion:


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.