I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Newpoint and the Public School/Public Charter School Double Standard

There exists an undeniable double-standard between public charter schools and traditional public schools.  Both types of schools are Public schools, yet the way they are treated when they struggle is very different.

Why is this?

Because the very powerful, very well-funded and very committed bureaucracy that controls the public education agenda does not want competition.  They want all the money to feed their ever-growing bureaucracies, and these same guardians of the status quo are ambivalent about parents stuck in failing public schools for decades.  These “Educrats” (Agency captives, Big Labor, and Big Business/Crony Capitalists that grift off of the taxpayer funded educational trough) have two simple mandates:

1.        ---When a Charter school struggles—the hue and cry shall be “Shut them Down, Now!”

2.        ---When a traditional school struggles for decades, the mesage becomes “We just need more time and resources!”

How are our Traditional Schools Treated?

Generally speaking, a traditional public school like Carver-Century K-8 here in Escambia County is given time, resources, and ever more chances to fix issues along with tons of district support before any serious consideration is ever given to closing them down; such schools are nurtured, supported, and given increased levels of taxpayer cash and staff-time--- in an all-out, pull out all the stops effort to save them. 

In the case of Carver Century, it was only after the school’s own students had chosen to attend other schools--and attendance was down to about 30% of capacity -- that the school was recommended for closure.

And it was a close, 3-2 vote;

that school nearly remained open, despite anemic academic performance for years running and a rapidly declining population making it non-viable financially.  That school was nearly left open despite all the problems, though.

Another example--we have dumped $millions and $millions of dollars into Warrington Middle School over the last 6 years in a desperate attempt to improve that school’s performance—even as the percent of occupancy compared to capacity at Warrington slowly dwindles and now hovers just above 50%. 

And even though performance has been slow to improve, almost sluggish—no serious discussion of closing that school has or will ever take place.  It would be more likely that spontaneous fires would erupt on the Antarctic Ice at the South Pole than Warrington Middles School would ever be recommended for closure.

It will never happen no matter what. 

As a matter of fact, we just keep pumping more money in, and at some point when the amount of dollars and resources pumped in reaches a weird sort of equilibrium with the dwindling student population, with an additional requirement being met that the most disruptive of the disruptive students have all been removed---yeah at this point this (or any/every similar) school will improve

We are seeing signs of this phenomenon this year at Warrington Middle.  We spent nearly $500K last year on the consultant that wrote the book “The One Year School Turnaround.”  

This year we’re being lobbied to do another nearly $500K One-Year Turnaround for a second year.

 I have nothing against the consultant, and as a matter of fact I think they are doing good things at Warrington Middle School.  But why do we need to keep them there for year 2 of the 1 year turnaround?

How many consecutive years will we be told we must do another "One year school Turnaround?"

And is this sort of turn-around model sustainable or scalable?  
Perhaps it is if we want to starve other needy schools of resources unfairly-- or if we start printing money. 

How are Charters Treated?

Charter schools like Newpoint Five Flags, by stark contrast, are almost on a stopwatch if they start to struggle. 

The only solution we are being offered for Newpoint in general, Five-Flags in Particular, is the immediate vote today for a closure to happen in 90 days.

But as recently as three weeks ago, there was not even going to be a 90-day notice given to Newpoint.  That is a fact that can be verified!

But nope, not now.

Now we have to close them no matter what, in stark contrast to what we've done with our own traditional schools, no matter what the parents say.

With Newpoint it has to be a hair-trigger calculation.

I’m not saying I necessarily disagree with such an accelerated time-frame for demanding either performance or a closing/re-constituting.  But why must we treat them so drastically different? If Warrington gets time to fix their issues--why can't Newpoint?  Why must they close NOW!?

I’ve voted to close charter schools when they could not get their act together, and I'll do it again when necessary.

I'd just rather not do it before all the facts of the investigations are known.

This won't happen in this case, though. 

Because there is a crystal-clear double standard at play.

Why not put all schools on the same “improve or close/reconstitute” timeline?

I happen to think we would be a whole lot better as a public school system if we had the intestinal fortitude to more quickly shutter traditional schools that fail to perform, just like we are prepared to do to charter schools like Newpoint. 

I’d be all for it and I think the average taxpayer and parent would be as well—that is why we’re seeing parent-trigger laws pop up. 

Charter schools are public schools funded with public dollars. 

Charter school students are public school students and these students face the same accountability protocols that traditional schools face.  Their scores and their test outcomes affect our district’s letter grade.  And all schools, traditional and charter, are funded with public taxpayer dollars.

So can we please, for the love of God, at least stop treating them so differently, especially as they struggle and face closure?


Wendy Underhill said...

"Because the very powerful, very well-funded and very committed bureaucracy that controls the public education agenda does not want competition. They want all the money to feed their ever-growing bureaucracies"....exactly why the PATS Center is being starved into extinction. STILL!

Anonymous said...

Your argument is so bad, I am really frightened that you are allowed on a military base ever!! A for profit charter school, basically taking public money, commits some of the most atrocious acts I've ever seen. Wow. You are defending it, because you have pulled a page from the Jeb Bush playbook. Congrats sir, you have shown your true colors. People like yourself, while trying pretend to be a friend of the American student, are really a friend of big business and that is a shame. I do understand you are in office just because no one in your district will run. So I guess, I can say, at least you participate in the process. Oh, but if your going to be there, at least learn procedure rules. Might not look as poorly.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous, my "NO" vote to the closure of all of the Newpoint schools was by no means a defense of Newpoint's contract violations or an affirmation of the way Newpoint ran their schools. It was a "NO" to the start-stop, on again, off again approach that the district has utilized here-the spiritless, feckless, almost craven way in which Newpoint was not investigated in May of 2014 for the multiple issues that were known at that time . It was a "NO" because there are unresolved allegations not yet fully known to all that staff was hindered from doing this investigation in a more timely fashion and telling the board. It was a "NO" vote expressing my significant angst with the sloppy way the Superintendent failed to keep the school board appraised of the issues at Newpoint. (I guess I'm the only one who thought that was a legitimate beef, but I won't accept being treated like a mushroom.) It was a "NO" because I know there were allegations from a year ago that were not followed-up on that could have led to a plan to correct these issues at all the Newpoint schools, but nobody did anything. Most importantly-- had action been taken when it should have, In May/June of 2014, student safety could have been bolstered over this past year, instead of being compromised multiple times. So my "NO" vote was over this whole sloppy, choppy, and frankly deficient process utilized to make a "problem" go away and disappear for what I believe to be political expediency. The process matters, and everyone--even those EVIL Charter School Operators--- who is facing closure deserves a full accounting of ALL allegations to be known before the governing board takes a vote. Otherwise we are subverting due process for expediency. That's what Third-World Banana Republics do, I don't want America, Florida, or Escambia County to be like them....

Anonymous said...

1. Shouldn't the quality of education (in Newpoint's case meaning lack thereof) have been a more important consideration than technicalities when you cast your vote?
2. I remember for-profit charter schools were sold on the idea that they would be *more* accountable. Now you want them to be no more accountable than public schools? Then what's the point? Why not put the public money going into profits to work for the public schools instead?
3. Numerous studies have shown for-profit charters to be, by and large, a failed experiment. Rather than defend them, work towards removing them and putting that money to work on improving the public schools.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous, the quality of Newpoint's education, or lack thereof, was never brought to the board as a serious issue of concern by anybody for the year prior to March 25th--that is until an anonymous whistle-blower busted upon the flood-gates on March 25th. Until that point, the board was kept blissfully unaware of any grade tampering, test administration anomalies, or significant student safety issues. Problem is, all of these problems had been alleged via numerous calls and email to our Superintendent's office for a year straight---beginning in May of 2014!. So as you put it, my apparent fascination with the "technicalities" had nothing at all to do with Newpoint; I wanted, and I continue await, all of the facts surrounding why this charter was able to violate our contract and state law (allegedly) for over a year, collect performance money from the Governor just two months ago, all the while with all of the allegations in the periphery and the elected board being kept in the dark purposely. Yes, those technicalities I'm extremely interested in :) . As an aside---the day after I received all of this information, on March 26th, I predicted these nefarious actions would end careers. I was right, so far at least two individuals have resigned and left the area. I think they are still being investigated by the state attorney, but we will all see how that shakes out in the months to come. I believe we have not heard the end of all of this, and the swift, about-face "We must close them now" stance by our superintendent after I started asking questions and making noise, is somewhat interesting. It sure does make a problem go away fast, which eliminates all those pesky news stories asking questions about timelines, etc. Smells like political expediency, smells like a rush to judgment. I want all the facts to be on the table before I issue the equivalent of a death penalty sentence for a few contract violations that were apparently quite acceptable until I started blogging about it, generating a lot of pesky news stories. Others were compliant and malleable, voting to accept that recommendation and the rest is history I guess.

...Except for the investigations that continue into how and why this charter was able to continue operating despite all kinds of problems....

With respect to your other points, I'm certain all the research you mention, fully funded by the NEA, would paint ALL for-profit CHARTERS in a bad light. Why don't you cite your source? Are they really ALL bad? I know that there are Sage, Green-Dot, KIPP, Charter Schools USA, and many others that do great work. With all the FAILING public schools, could the public not use the very same argument you use against "those lousy public schools?" We have to be careful about using broad-brushes to demonize charter school operators. I'm for all choice options, charters, tax-credit scholarships, traditional, virtual, etc. I want what is best for students and parents, not the educational bureaucracy.