John Oliver points out some pretty glaring problems with charter schools

John Oliver looks at charter schools
(Image credit: Last Week Tonight)

"It's back to school season, and for millions the school they'll be attending will be a charter school — the thing that politicians love to praise," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. Charter schools, taxpayer-funded public schools that are privately run, started 20 years ago, and now there are 6,700 of them in the U.S., educating nearly 3 million students, and some of them even have celebrity endorsers, Oliver explained. "And look, when Pittbull has a charter school, it seems like it might be worth taking a look at them."

"First, let me acknowledge that this is a controversial area," Oliver said, understatedly, with both strong defenders and strident critics. "Now for this piece — and I know this is going to make some people on both sides very angry — we're going to set aside whether charter schools are a good idea in principle, because whether they are or not, in 42 states and D.C., we're doing them. So instead, we're going to look at how they operate in practice." And the problem with how they operate in practice is that the quality of charter schools is really uneven, and oversight is often lax.

Oliver specifically looked at charters schools in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, noting the high failure rate — some fold after 6-7 weeks — lax approval process, and a shockingly high number of administrators arrested for theft or embezzlement. He spent a few minutes shaking his head over online charters, which serve 180,000 students, and ended with a look at the argument, like that put forward by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), that public schools should face competition, like "pizza shops." "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." Watch below for some truly terrible stories about charter schools, and sage advice from a Philly magazine: Google your charter school before you entrust it with your children. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.