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Peter Greene: Democracy Prep Has a Lot to Learn…from Public Schools

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Peter Greene found an insightful article at The 74 about the serial failures of the Democracy Prep Charter Chain.

Betsy DeVos gave the chain $21.8 million to expand but it is having trouble growing beyond its New York City home base.

It was invited to take over the massive disaster that was Andre Agassi’s charter school (which had principal churn, teacher churn, abysmal academics, etc.), and Democracy Prep is struggling to hold on to teachers and students. (Andre Agassi, of course, has abandoned the role of charter founder to become a builder of charter schools in partnership with a venture capitalist. More money, fewer headaches.)

Democracy Prep was asked to take over a failing charter in D.C., where it too failed.

Greene notes:

“The DC school was in trouble from the start. The Executive Director was Sean Reidy who graduated from Loyola with a BS in business administration, did two years with TFA, taught another two years at Harlem DP, went on to get his MBA from Georgetown, and then took over the DC school. (DP, like many charters, likes its TFA recruits, but Mahnken doesn’t really address that, though I’d argue that the culture of edu-amateurs is part of the root of DP’s problems.)”

Greene concludes:

Educational amateurism combined with Big Apple hubris leads to people who don’t think they have to learn anything about the culture where they want to set up shop. This is not unique to DP, or even charters, or even education– it’s just extra-ironic because DP is supposed to be all about being informed effective citizens. Of course, public schools that are owned and operated by the people in the community (and not run from an office thousands of miles away), aren’t so prone to this problem.

No excuses schools are a lousy idea. I know there are students here and there who thrive in them, but they’re still a lousy idea. No wealthy white parents would put their kids in a No Excuses school.

One size does not fit all. Charter folks insist that charters are the solution to OSFA [Editor’s Note: “One Size Fits All”], but their insistence on having everything under one roof be a tightly united philosophical whole has the opposite effect. Public schools have room for many cultures and many philosophies under one roof, which means that students can find a corner of the school that “fits” without having to start over at a whole new school. There’s no reason that charters can’t operate the same way.

Solve problems; don’t walk away from them. This article just gives a peek at the world where charter after charter after charter is taken over, turned around, handed off to some other business. DP moves in, tries their one thing, waits, makes some tiny tweaks, and if it fails, they walk away. Public schools may not always live up to the promise of their commitment, but they don’t just walk out the door saying, “Good luck, kid. Hope somebody happens by to help you out.”

Education concerns and business concerns don’t fit together. Again– business concerns are not evil or wrong, but they don’t match the considerations of education. Good business decisions are not good education decisions.

One of the selling points of charters has always been that they will figure out great new things that the rest of the education world can then pick up and run with. But most of what Democracy Prep needed to know they could have learned from a public school teacher.

 

 

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