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John Oliver Says Charter Schools Are Failing Kids

John Oliver on HBO's "Last Week Tonight."John Oliver on HBO's "Last Week Tonight."
John Oliver on HBO's "Last Week Tonight."Courtesy of HBO

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver devoted much of his Sunday show to delving into the serious issue of publicly-funded and privately-run charter schools.

Describing these schools as “the things that politicians love to praise” –including clips of Trump, George W. Bush and Barack Obama doing exactly that–Oliver nonetheless makes the case that these schools deserve a failing grade.

While these types of schools have become popular over the past couple of decades (there are now 6,700 U.S. charter schools with nearly 3 million students, he said) Oliver spent much of the program outlining various problems with charter schools, noting that “critics argue charters overstate their successes, siphon off talented students, and divert precious resources within a school district.” Oliver also pointed to the high number of charter schools that are forced to close due to mismanagement or other issues, with schools sometimes being shuttered abruptly in the middle of a school year.

“Advocates [of charter schools] will argue all of these closings show accountability in action—just like in business, bad schools close,” Oliver said. But, he added, “there’s a f—ing problem there,” which is that the principles guiding business decisions don’t necessarily apply to the education system on which young children rely.

“The problem with letting the free market decide when it comes to kids is that kids change faster than the market,” Oliver said. “And, by the time it’s obvious a school is failing, futures may have been ruined. So, if we are going to treat charter schools like pizza shops, we should monitor them at least as well as we do pizzerias. It’s like the old saying: ‘Give a kid a sh—y pizza, you f— up their day. Treat a kid like a sh—y pizza, you could f— up their entire life.”