"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Victory, Inc. Vote Delayed

On Friday, the SUNY Trustees postponed voting on renewing or closing the New Covenant Charter School, which is operated by the for-profit Victory Schools, Inc. Here's a clip from the Times Union:

Committee chairman Pedro Noguera said trustees will push off the decision until the board's February meeting. He said questions still remain about the school's financial solvency and that its improvement could not be ignored. In a tense meeting attended by a group of New Covenant parents, students and staff, it was revealed that the school owes $2.4 million more on its building than it is worth, or $15.8 million on a property estimated to be worth $13.4 million.

Noguera also questioned why New Covenant only had 20 special education students out of an enrollment of about 650 in kindergarten through sixth grade.

In a presentation to the board SUNY Charter Schools Institute Executive Director Jonas Chartock said the school's expenses exceed its revenues, that it had no cash reserves and that 31 percent of its teachers left last year.

Former Gov. George Pataki, who opened the school and hailed it as a model of education reform, called the committee this week to request that they keep New Covenant open. State Senate president Malcolm Smith, who has numerous ties to school manager Victory Schools Inc., also called on New Covenant's behalf.

The under-enrollment of special education students, questionable real estate deals, and financial mismanagement (along with significant turnover) represent the most negative aspects of the charter school movement - and the very things that must be regulated. Awful, too, is the increasing involvement of a for-profit company in the operation of a "public" school. And, to top off the whole package, we have politicians touting charters as some kind of magical cure.

Situations like these highlight 1) the major - and legitimate - concerns of the non-pro-charter crowd (not entirely anti-charter, but certainly anti-CMO/EMO/charter chains), and 2) the desperate need to really think carefully and critically about developing sound charter policies. At the end of the day, the decision will significantly impact the lives of children, families, and teachers at New Covenant; it will also, of course, impact the bottom line of the for-profit companies that have successfully elbowed their way into operating public schools.

With high teacher turnover, the exclusion of special education students, and financial mismanagement, is this public school really contributing to the public good? Or, is this possibly weakening the teaching profession, skimming the easiest students to teach, and using public funds to enrich private companies?

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