Thursday, December 16, 2004

Is accountability for Republican contributors, too?

Education Secretary Rod Paige visited several charter schools operated by White Hat Management in Ohio yesterday. He praised the innovative spirit of charters-- and rightfully so. I think charters hold a lot of promise.

But when I dug a little deeper, I wasn't quite as hopeful. White Hat Management runs a majority of Ohio's 225 charter schools and raked in $344 million in state revenue for their troubles. The company is run by an industrialist, David Brennan, who is one of the top contributors to Republican candidates -- nationally and in Ohio. (He personally contributed $155,000 in 1998 alone.)

Shouldn't there be some sort of law preventing people who receive government contracts from giving money to the very government officials who provide their livelihood? Is it just me, or is that shady?

But the shadiness doesn't end there. Charter schools in Ohio -- and elsewhere -- have generally performed abysmally; 71% of charter schools there were placed in "academic emergency" compared to 10% of public schools. And the state nearly put a moratorium on charters this year because they weren't even reporting basic information to the state Department of Education.

Secretary Paige clearly thought they should be rewarded with a visit full of gushing praise.

Now, I'm not often accused of being fair, but decency requires me to point out the nuances of this situation.

First, I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't point out that the 71% number means very little to me. Why? Because it's based on one test. Yes, I'm opposed, as nearly any thinking individual must be, to basing one's entire judgment of a thing as complex as a school on one test given on one day of the year. I'm opposed to it in all cases -- even if that opposition means that a company I don't like benefits from it. Principles aren't always convenient.

Further, many charter schools -- including many of those run by White Hat Management -- take students that have dropped out of public schools. Their task is difficult to say the least. Many public schools oh-so-subtly push kids out so that they don't drag down their test scores in this era of insanely high stakes tests. Charter schools often step in to fill the void for these teens who would otherwise have little hope of a high school degree. That their test scores aren't impressive shouldn't be a shock or even a cause for any real concern.

Still, most for-profit education companies are operating in the shadows. They come out into the light -- briefly -- when someone like Secretary Paige comes to town, but other than that, they avoid the scrutiny of the public whenever possible.

It's quite possible that these for-profit companies will have ever expanding roles in the education system; we need to understand them better in their day-to-day operations, and not just when a high ranking official shows up for photos.


Blogger Jenny D. said...

"Shouldn't there be some sort of law preventing people who receive government contracts from giving money to the very government officials who provide their livelihood? Is it just me, or is that shady?"

You mean, a law that would prevent defense companies like Boeing from giving money to members of the Senate Arms Committee? Or farmers from giving the Agriculture congressmen?

That's the American Way. Companies in all areas grease the palms of govt officials who pay them.

Then there's the trial lawyers, the teachers' union, the AARP etc. all who give money to pols who make their lives richer.

I'm not concerned about private companies running schools. We have a number of Heritage Academies--privately run charters--nearby and they seem to be better run than the "two teachers with a big idea" charter schools. Also get better results.

At many states, teachers' union compromises and allowed charter schools as a way to avoid a showdown over school voice. Charters act like stealth vouchers in a way. In Detroit, the school district has lost more than 1500 kids to charters, and the $9 million in state funding that went with them. But honestly, if I had a kid in a Detroit school, I'd probably look at charters too.

5:17 AM  

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