Money Speaks, But Does It Think All The Way Through The Problem

In the upcoming Philadelphia mayoral race, big money is making its presence felt. What is surprising is that the big money (from three investors in Susquehanna Investors) expect something in return. What, how can that be?

The three investors are not reticent to acknowledge they expect the potential Mayor to be sympathetic to their cause – more charter schools in the impoverished section of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, like other large cities, has a huge problem with K-12 education, especially in the 9-12 grades. By this age, the poverty condition from which many of the students come, has subverted the high school’s educational mission into simply survival from gang-like dysfunctional behavior. How can students who want to learn attain an education in this type of environment?

The answer, these investors have said is to syphon the brighter, willing to study students from public schools and put them into charter schools. For parents who fear for their children, this is a very appealing alternative.

The growth of charter schools in other large cities has already answered similar needs for parents so the idea is not novel. The political battle pitting teacher’s unions, school administrators, educational experts, and local residents, however, has settled on a certain number of charters. These investors want to target the poorest sections of Philadelphia and increase the number of charters in these districts. What’s wrong with this?

The Philadelphia situation is close to desperate with graduation rates hovering around 50% and institutional poverty only getting worse as so many young men and women enter the work force with no degree and no skills. Worse, Pennsylvania State legislature has no interest in sending more money for Philadelphia school and the Philadelphia City Counsel is reluctant to raise taxes to close school budget gaps. The conditions of schools in the poorest districts are just getting worse. So again, what’s wrong with charters?

The short answer is charters lead to the increasing the concentration of disciplinary and special needs students in the already dysfunctional schools. More charter schools is equivalent to throwing less fit people out of the life boat so that those more educationally competitive can survive. Hmmm.

If charter schools were required to accept the same population as the public school it replaced, and the non-union, the highly motivated teachers and administrators were put to the task of out performing the current union teachers and legacy administrators, this experiment would soon determine whether “selectivity” or “charter/public was the route to better schools.

Regrettably, more charters shed no light upon what to do with those students who are not taken into a charter school. Maybe these investors “money” has some ideas about that too.

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6 Comments on “Money Speaks, But Does It Think All The Way Through The Problem”

  1. Kavalkade Says:

    You are describing dysfunction, locked into dysfunction, and you have no solution for the dysfunction, but oppose an attempt to stop the hemorrhage and propose no solution yourself.

    How can you force PRIVATELY funded schools to accept whichever students you send over?

    You have not thought the problem through yourself, I’m afraid.

    With public/private cooperation being bigger and bigger, it appears Charters are here to stay, in a broad sense.

    Philadelphia may defeat them. But that simply proves the point of those that support Charters.

    Failing school districts care more about thier funding than they do the kids.

    As they lock the kids in the cycle of failure.

    And I do know that taking the cream out and educating them can produce extraordinary results.

    That’s why magnet schools exist.


    • Andy, thanks you for taking time to comment. You clearly feel strongly about charters and education in general…

      Let’s begin with your point that I offered no solution. You are correct and this is an important point. Poverty and its poisons that infect large cities (or where ever) is a key problem we all face today. When poverty is confined to relative small groups, separation can work. When poverty becomes systemic, it sucks the economy dry. Ignoring it leads to armed violence…

      But to the larger point, charters in Philadelphia are publicly funded!!!. So every dollar they take, there is a dollar less for public schools. Public schools must mainline all students, even those health or mentally challenged. Charter schools can turn away or dismiss any student for any reason, so those unruly students simply are expelled and left for the public schools to pick up.

      Magnet schools, which Philadelphia also has, are merit based. One must test well to get in. No problem with those.

      The point of my post is that these investors simply have not gone far enough. Their desire for more charter schools is based upon selectivity and should help those admitted. What is their idea about those not taken?

      Public discourse around charters has gone astray and usually ends up a discussion of teacher’s unions versus non-union schools. The problems of violence, high drop out, and lack of learning in public schools (at least in Philadelphia) is not about the teachers, it is about the parents and the high poverty of their surroundings. If we want to fix schools, we must eliminate this unruly element and I am not sure how to do that… I would like to see these big money interests try…

      • Kavalkade Says:

        I’m in CA. I assumed a mix of public/private funding in your charter system, otherwise Im unsure what the investors gain, except that they advocate for what they hope will help students purely.

        If the funding is purely public (I assume vouchers), and charters purely public, I have no problem with merit testing to get into a charter school. Same as a magnet school.

        Unless they are pushing religion in those charters, then i have a problem.

        Full disclosure, I attended the first 2 magnet schools in Fresno, the same schools that produced Audra MacDonald, Sharon Leal and other highly successful people.

        Right next door to FUSD (the district I was in) is the highly successful CUSD school system, which has kept teaching in a bit more of a conservative fashion. CUSD is a top 10 district in CA. The schools rank highly.

        In CUSD there are some schools that are more integrated, but it’s definitely not an inner city school system.

        I would hope that the lessening of the population at the regular, non charter schools would allow more time in individual instruction with those schools.

        However, if your schools are paid by attendance, lessening the schools populations may lessen their funding…

        Obviously it’s a total effort. But how much responsibility does the school district bear if the kids don’t want to learn, and parents don’t stress education?

        Charters at least allow those interested in education an avenue to pursue it in an environment that is designed to further their success.

        As in everything in life, there’s no guarantee of their success, but I think they have a better chance.

      • Kavalkade Says:

        Perhaps the state needs to take over and run the district?

  2. List of X Says:

    If these charter schools are so great, why don’t they take the worst students and try to make something out of them. Because sure, what school wouldn’t want just the well-performing students who actually want to study (more or less) and less likely to disrupt the classes?


  3. K and X, from my observations, and at the risk of over simplifying, improving education in the US can be divided into two problems. (1) Low standards and urgency to excel, and (2) schools impacted by children from poor to poverty level homes. Inner cities have mostly # 2 while most of the rest of the US (including other parts of Pennsylvania, experience #1.

    In Philadelphia, charters are privately run and funded by the Public School district. The owners make money by efficient operations and frankly paying non-union teachers less than the unionized Public schools. Results are mixed but charters are not a slam dunk winner.

    I have seen reports of charters (learning academies) in NYC where spirited leadership seemed to be taking poverty children and producing positive results but that has not yet happened in Philadelphia. Part of the reason is that the Philly charters target the best of the students and not the ones most challenged.

    My impression of schools not hampered by the poor is simply that life is good and normal kids would rather play than study. Schools have morphed in being “politically correct” rather than intellectually (or skill) challenging.


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