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But But But The Profit Motive Is The Only Reason To Do ANYTHING!

Posted by Phoenix Woman on July 29, 2008

Even after years of Republican efforts to sabotage the public school system in Minnesota, it still outperforms the heavily-protected charter school experiment, as even one of its boosters is forced to admit (h/t Spotty):

The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) made news when it released a new report on charter schools in Minnesota. (The June 2008 report, simply titled “Charter Schools,” is available at www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/.)

The finding that got pundits and journalists talking is the conclusion that students in charter schools “generally did not perform as well on standardized academic measures as students in Minnesota district schools.”

As Spotty says:

Let’s be direct, boys and girls, people like John, Sticks and Davey Strom, perhaps the Snap, Crackle, and Pop over at the box of puffed cereal known as the Minnesota Free Market Institute, won’t be happy until they have entirely wrecked the institution of public education.

Minnesota’s not the only place where charter schools have been falling flat, financially as well as academically. Arizona’s charter schools have at best a checkered history, as most recently shown by three schools in Gilbert and Mesa nearly losing accreditation. (Of course, the main proponent for charter schools in Arizona, Lisa Graham Keegan, is also John McCain’s chief education advisor.)

The biggest disaster of all was the much-ballyhooed Edison School project of Chris Whittle, adopted and then dropped in places like New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. It would have gone belly-up in 2002, had it actually not been given serious political protection of the sort that a free-market enterprise is not supposed to need; it finally breathed its last just last week, having been on life support for several years before that:

With all the publicity Edison got at the time, it’s surprising that more people aren’t wondering what ever happened to that miracle that was supposed to be bringing private-sector efficiencies to public education. I really expected some high-profile collapse, and semi-joked that Whittle would fake his own death. But actually, Edison has just gradually faded, and has quietly shifted its focus toward providing supplemental services to schools, an area in which a for-profit business is perfectly unremarkable.

Now it has even more quietly officially died, though apparently its successor will continue managing however many schools are still left in Edison’s hands (again, Edison’s own information is fuzzy). That presumably includes the one in San Francisco, which for years now has been under the auspices of the California state Board of Education, no longer an SFUSD school. It’s a rent-paying tenant in an SFUSD property; little is known about it outside its own community.

Whittle has left the building (and though his vision may have died, he himself has made no apparent effort to disguise the fact that he’s still alive). Edison, under its current leadership, now has officially changed its name to edisonlearning and its focus to becoming “a player in education software, focusing on student tracking systems and other ‘achievement management solutions.’,” according to a blog post by Thomas Toch, a think-tanker who has long studied Edison.

Meanwhile, Whittle and his Edison colleague Benno Schmidt (a once-respected academic – in fact, former president of Yale) have moved on to a new scheme, according to New York Magazine: “an international chain of for-profit elite private schools.” Somehow the New York Mag headline seems like the final nail in Edison’s coffin: “After failing with for-profit public schools, Chris Whittle goes private.”

The scoring so far: Public Schools 1, Naked Capitalism 0 (even without having to actually face a margin call).

UPDATE: If Minnesota’s charter schools — the best charter schools in the nation, according to many observers — are allegedly 100% pure public schools, then what’s up with the “sponsoring” scam? Looks like a way to transfer taxpayer funds to the pockets of the “sponsors”, for things such as the sponsors’ church rebuilding programs.

Charter schools are also being used as union-busting tools. Gotta pay those teachers and custodial workers minimum wage and no more than that!

5 Responses to “But But But The Profit Motive Is The Only Reason To Do ANYTHING!”

  1. Michael said

    Sounds like McSchools, which is probably as good for education as McDonalds is for nutrition.

  2. keno said

    Um, Minnesota charter schools are public schools, funded by the state on the same basic per-pupil basis.

  3. Charles said

    Keno, to be perfectly correct, Phoenix Woman should have said “district schools.”

    However, the nomenclature is misleading, and probably deliberately so. To quote US Charter Schools, “Chartering allows schools to run independently of the traditional public school system…” The charter school, they say, “operates with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools.”

    In other words, it’s really a private school with limited state oversight but copious state/federal funding.

    Some are very good. Many are very not.

  4. If Minnesota’s charter schools are 100% pure public schools, then what’s up with the “sponsoring” scam? Looks like a way to transfer taxpayer funds to the pockets of the “sponsors”, for things such as the sponsors’ church rebuilding programs.

    Charter schools are also being used as union-busting tools. Gotta pay those teachers and custodial workers minimum wage and no more than that!

  5. Charles II said

    PW, the report you link in the thread headline states that charter schools are “public schools.” You know and I know that many of them are gaming the system. But Keno is technically correct.

    As for locating a school within a church, Protestant churches are some of the few places that are reliably vacant during the work week. Many are being used for secular purposes, in part because churches (like most of American civil society) are under financial strain and need the cash. One church I am familiar with does adult daycare of dementia patients. It has a perfectly secular approach.

    So, while locating a school inside a church could raise questions about church-state separation, so would refusing to rent space based on religious affiliation. Churches should compete with commercial real estate, and be awarded contracts on an equitable basis. I don’t see in the article you linked that Aspen Classical Academy has failed to do that.

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