Fuzzy Charter Math Always Adds Up***

***After a few drinks…

Dear EduShyster:

I run an emerging chain of charter schools with many innovative best practices™, highly effective teachers™ and students with excellent posture™ who excel at test taking™. Also, we believe that every student is a scholar with outstanding growth potential.™ All of our many innovations and best practices are reflected on our website and in glossy promotional materials, what we call our Prospectus for Excellentus,™ There is just one problem. Our student data is a little, well, meh, and many of our former scholars turned out to have less than excellent posture™ so were forced to leave us before they could recognize their outstanding growth potential™.  Could this jeopardize our ability to open new schools wherever we want and land lucrative state contracts?

Charterus Maximus
ps: Please don’t tell my boss that I sent this as it could very well get me fired
pps: I am the boss

Dear Charterus:
First, thanks very much for your outstanding letter. I could tell immediately that you were not a public school teacher as you have embraced innovative best practices™ and your letter contained no misspellings. Also, most of the teachers who write to me never finish their letters as they must take union-mandated breaks mid-way through. Anyway, onto your question. I am pleased to reassure you that your problem with “meh” data and poor-postured students will have NO effect on your ability to open schools willy nilly and score some serious state biz. I have it on the highest authority that state officials NEVER look at charter data, as it can be a real buzz kill. Just make sure that your glossy promotional materials have LOTS of pictures of scholars traversing the achievement gap. They love that!

EduShyster

First of all this is not a real letter. To date, no charter operator has trademarked the phrases “innovative best practices,” “outstanding growth potential” or “excellent posture”–at least not yet. But that brings us the central question raised by Charterus Maximus: do state edu-officials consider the performance of charter schools, including graduation rates and student attrition when approving charter expansion? 

Consider the Board of Education’s recent decision to approve a controversial, for-profit charter in Lowell, to be run by the global education management organization, SABIS®. Now one might think that with the Board on the cusp of approving an enormous school that will divert up to $25 million from the Lowell Public School, resulting in the layoff of hundreds of teachers, an obvious question might be: what kind of track record does SABIS® have educating the kinds of kids who attend Lowell schools? Even a cursory examination of the data ON THE DEPARTMENT’S OWN WEBSITE reveals that the other Massachusetts schools operated by SABIS® have a tiny percentage of English Language Learners–much lower than the districts they’re in. 

But what’s a little “meh” data between friends. Surely SABIS® was prepared to show off some of the new innovative best practices they planned to bring to Lowell’s huge population of ELL students, ¿sí? But if Board members were troubled by the fact that SABIS® had budgeted for a single ELL teacher in their application–in a district where more than 40% of students speak a first language other than English–they didn’t let on. Application approved!

To be fair, those Board meetings can get awfully long and reading all of those charter applications is thirsty work. Besides, all of the important stuff is on the charter school websites and in their glossy promotional materials. See: it says right here that SABIS® provides students with a top-quality education that prepares them to meet the challenges of a changing world. Next.

Now that’s just a run-of-the-mill charter approval, the kind Board members do in their sleep (shhhhh! Keep your voice down or you’ll wake the Commisioner). What about when the state is parceling off a public school district and handing it over to private operators turning around a district? Surely those decisions must be data driven, given the proud legacy of Massachusetts’ public schools, not to mention the enormous amounts of money involved?

Gentle reader, I invite you to accompany me on a little trip down the Spicket River to glorious Lawrence, Massachusetts where said parceling off  turn around is underway. Beginning this fall, educational management organizations will take over individual grades at several Lawrence schools as Commissioner Chester explains to a Lawrence Public School teacher here, and open an alternative high school. There’s just one little problem: the “proven partners,” as they’re called in edu-jargon, turn out to be brilliant at self promotion but not much else.

But what’s a little data between friends…

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