Some of America’s greatest “school reformers” today (and by that I mean arrogant *&%$# like Bill Gates) insist that if we turn over the schools to corporations everything will turn out just great.
Color me skeptical, I guess.
As I see it, “corporate” is to “education” as “cigarette manufacturer” is to “public health and well-being.”
Think that sounds harsh? Do a bit of digging and see what evidence you find. The latest comes from the June 15 edition of the Columbus Dispatch. Administrators at General Chappie James Leadership Academy, a pile-up-the-bucks charter school in Dayton, Ohio, are under investigation for inflating student attendance numbers to suck up taxpayers’ dollars.
State Auditor Dave Yost decided last spring that it might be wiseto check attendance numbers for charter schools and see what he could find.
Chappie James was reporting an enrollment of 459 students. So investigators started checking the details. One mother said her child couldn’t have been in attendance because said child had been incarcerated for the last two years.
Okay: only 458 students to go.
Another family said, no, our girl hasn’t been attending Chappie James, either. We’ve been living in Georgia for several years.
(Feel free to start singing: “Four hundred, fifty-seven students enrolled in a charter, four hundred fifty-seven enrolled….”)
Yost kept prying up rocks and looking underneath—and it turned out half of purported students had no enrollment documentation at all. Daily attendance at General Chappie James Leadership Academy averaged…um….well …roughly 30.
(Okay, that song went unexpectedly fast: “Thirty students actually, physically enrolled in a charter, thirty students enrolled….”)
In any case, the state auditor’s office did a little adding and subtracting and determined that Kecia Williams, former director of the school, probably owed the State of Ohio a cool $1.2 million.
In the wake of the auditor’s investigation the Department of Education moved to ban “Kids Count of Dayton,” the most ironically named corporate entity one could imagine—which sponsored the offending school—from opening up new facilities anywhere in Ohio.
It would be bad enough if this was an aberration. Sadly, it was not. Typically, charter schools receive $6,000 per pupil from the State of Ohio annually.
So, the more students you say you enroll, the more money you end up stuffing in your ample corporate pockets.
The Dispatch explains:
Last fall, an investigation by Yost’s office found significantly lower attendance in half [emphasis added] of the 30 schools where auditors conducted unannounced head counts than enrollment data the schools had reported to the state…Yost also has complained about a number of charter schools with such poorly-kept records that they cannot be audited.
In other words, with stunning regularity, corporate education boiled down to one simple word. And that word was: Greed.
Why is anyone really surprised?
Many of us have written, for example, about the giant cesspool that is the for-profit college industry. It’s a great gig, after all, when five top executives of Corinthian College can pull down $22 million in salary over a two-year stretch—at the same time saddling students with high-interest loans—providing low-quality course offerings—and finally going bankrupt this spring.
HoHowHow about the five top executives at K-12, Inc., a for-profit chain of elementary and secondary online schools? They divvied up a cool $35.4 million in salaries and bonuses in 2013 and 2014.
For fun, put that in kid-centric terms.
Those five individuals took home enough cash to hire 354 teachers (at $50,000 each), for two years to actually work with kids in grades K-12.
Greed is good, isn’t that right?
We know that Pearson spent $8 million between 2009 and 2014 to lobby politicians, mainly to ensure that the company might keep selling billions of dollars’ worth of standardized tests every year.
We know, here in Ohio, that David Brennan, operator of White Hat Schools, donated $3.8 million dollars to politicians over the course of eight years—know, in turn, that Brennan rakes in tens of millions of dollars in state aid yearly for his for-profit K-12 chain.
We don’t know how much money sticks to Brennan’s hands, however, because White Hat Schools are a privately held corporation and salaries need not be disclosed.
We do know that many White Hat Schools have attendance rates less than half reported enrollment.
Don’t believe greed serves as foundation in the corporate education world? Google “charter school operator indicted” for fun.
You get Steven Ingersoll, an optometrist, who ran a chain of Michigan charter schools. His federal indictment says he “diverted $934,000…through several channels into his personal bank account.”
You get the Los Angeles charter operator indicted on more than two dozen felony charges. On expense accounts, he managed to bill his school for the $995 cost of a seminar on “how to limit your personal tax bill,” and another $12.99 for a Speedo swimsuit. Not to mention the fact he and his wife took out a ten-year lease on a building to house the school ($18,000 monthly) and then turned around and sublet the property to the charter for…$44,000 a month.
So much cash to grab!
So little time!
You had the Chicago charter outfit charged with securities fraud.
You had the guilty plea involving a Cleveland, Ohio charter operation, involving $1.8 million in fraud, including $331,000 paid by the school for services rendered to a Dayton, Ohio bar owner.
And then you have my favorite story for now, which carries the headline: F.B.I Tracks Charter Schools.
Go ahead, Google away yourself. You’ll find endless examples to tickle your fancy. But let’s end with perhaps the biggest scam of all. Let’s hear it for the University of Phoenix, a money-making juggernaut, a company so successful at piling up $$$$ it was able to pay the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL $154.5 million for naming rights to their stadium! Good advertising? Sure! Too bad the school had to pay a fine of $67.5 million, plus $11 million in legal fees, for defrauding students!
Too bad a U. S. Senate investigation showed the school spent a mere $892 per pupil each year to actually educate students.
Hey, not to worry! Company founder John G. Sperling raked in $263.5 million in a little less than a decade in salary, bonuses and stock sales. And his son, Peter, did better still: $574.3 million.
We already know how corporate education is meant to work. We know, in the end, it boils down to greed.
If you liked this post, you might like my book about teaching, Two Legs Suffice, now available on Amazon.
Or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can probably send you a copy direct for a little bit cheaper. My book is meant to be a defense of all good teachers and a clear explanation of what good teachers can do, and what they cannot do.
Two Legs Suffice is also about what students, parents and others involved in education must do if we want to truly enhance learning.