The Most Disingenuous Argument Against Mayoral Academies

Suppose you have two schools. Both are funded with public money. Each is run by a principal, with both principals reporting to a superintendent, who reports to a school committee. (This is a small-scale model of what opponents of structural education reform, in Rhode Island and elsewhere, believe is the primary way — if not the only way — that public education should be delivered).
Now consider a different system. There are still two schools, again both funded with public money. In this system, one school is run by principal who reports to a superintendent, while the other is run by principal who reports to a Board of Directors headed by a Mayor.
In both systems, the same amount of money is spent per-pupil in each school.
Opponents of structural education reform will argue that the second school in the second system has taken money away the first school, even when the same amount of public money is spent in both systems to educate the same number of students. It makes no sense, unless complaints of charter schools and mayoral academies taking money away are understood to mean that money is being taken away from the control of a school committee, which has nothing to do with either the educational function or the public status of the schools being considered.
Scale the numbers of schools, students, and personnel to a more realistic level, and the argument is equally as nonsensical. Suppose there are 20 schools in a system. Each school has a principal, who reports to a superintendent, who reports to a school committee. Next postulate a system with 18 schools, each with a principal, who reports to the superintendent, who reports to a school committee — plus 2 more schools, each with a principal, who reports to a Board of Directors headed by the Mayor. Again, opponents of structural education reform will (seriously) argue that, in the second case, the 2-school subsystem has taken money away from the other 18 schools, even 1) if the total amount spent across the 20 schools in both systems is the same and 2) the same amount per-student is spent in each of the district schools in both systems.
Those advancing a rationale that money that is part of a system that they don’t control automatically must be money that has been taken away from them cannot be counted on to get anything correct about the rational management of public finance, or of public education.

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Ron
Ron
9 years ago

There is an important (and IMHO) very obvious flaw with your argument. What you’re saying is only true if you are applying the reform to schools that all ready exist in the system. That is reform. Charter school proponents instead want to add to the existing system, thereby creating the drain. If you want to apply the charter school goverance model to existing institutions, I got no problem. If you want to simply allow new entities to spring up along side existing schools, of course it’s a drain.

Bucket Chick
Bucket Chick
9 years ago

Ron, I don’t understand what you mean. Wouldn’t it only be a drain if the money was being taken away from the (traditional) public schools and given to the new school, but the first school kept all of the children? If the schools are allotted funds based on X number of dollars per student, then both schools get the funds for the number of students they each have, no?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

If the total number of students is the same, and the total public expenditure is the same, then of course there is no “drain.”
What is missing from the discussion is the all-important “U” word, and the competitive effects that mayoral academies and charter schools would have on them.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

I was listening to the eulogies for for Boston Mayour Kevin White. Probably one of the most corrrupt politicians of his era, converted, by death, to a “statesman”. I believe he was driven from office sometime in the 80’s.
Discussion centered on the famous “busing crisis”. The point was made that the schools were headed by a, separately elected, school commitee. Therefore, he had little control. I wondered if he found that convenient. They mentioned that the schools have since been put under the control of the mayor. It is not my impression that they have shone.

Douglas Farnum
Douglas Farnum
9 years ago

My son is thriving at a Charter school. The teachers there are energetic, enthusiastic and love what they’re doing – and it all rubs off on the students. In traditional public schools, many of the teachers are trained by the unions to give it no more than half, complain all the time and be miserable. No wonder the kids are bored!

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

In both systems, the same amount of money is spent per-pupil in each school.
Opponents of structural education reform will argue that the second school in the second system has taken money away the first scool, even when the same amount of public money is spent in both systems to educate the same number of students.

Ah, but you’re missing something that’s maybe not apparent to folks in the suburbs. Let’s take the elementary school in my neighborhood, built in the 1890s and crumbling. You think a shiny new mayoral academy isn’t taking money away that could be used to repair or replace that building? You think those kids have it the same as kids in a modern building? Come on, Andrew. That’s been my question all along. What about fixing the crumbling schools we have?
When every kid in Providence has a safe, modern (or updated) building with adequate and adequate outdoor areas to play, then talk to me about spending those extra dollars on corporate reform. I’ll be listening. Now? Forget about it.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Russ – That is the most bogus rationale for opposing charter schools and mayoral academies that I have ever heard. You do realize that it can easily cost more to renovate an entire building than to build a new one?

Michael
Michael
9 years ago

Respectfully, it’s just insane to suggest that operating more school buildings, hiring more administrators, etc… is going to cost the same.
It’s also absurd to suggest that school funding can scale up and down in a linear fashion. If one student leaves a traditional public school for a charter school, what expenses has the traditional school saved? The roof still needs to be replaced, you may not be able to layoff any teachers… It just doesn’t scale… So the school department is left with less revenue and the same expenses, or maybe slightly less, but not equal to the loss.
What happened to consolidating RI school districts in an effort to save money and improve resources to students. Yes, I happen to be in the camp that says, fix the schools you have…don’t tell me it’t can’t be done.
We’re spreading our resources too thin…just my humble opinion. 🙂

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“…it can easily cost more to renovate an entire building than to build a new one?”
Yes, in fact the DeJong study recommended replacing that school vs. renovating.
http://www.redorbit.com/news/education/805440/rebuilding_providence_schools__a_792million_proposal/

The challenge facing Providence is enormous. Many school buildings are at least 60 years old. Nearly 80 percent are in poor condition. Roofs leak. Bathrooms are Dickensian. Heating systems break down. Hallways are dark and cavernous. Some schools aren’t handicapped accessible. And most are not designed for high-speed Internet connections.
While the buildings are structurally sound, they were built for a different era, when schools were organized to resemble factories with children sitting in rows facing an adult. They are simply too big to meet today’s smaller, more collaborative educational model. In many cases, DeJONG said, the cost of renovating these monoliths far exceeds the cost of new construction.

Why experiment with new corporate models when what we need in these neighborhoods are quality facilities, ones you’d expect as a matter of course in a suburban neighborhood?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“Why experiment with new corporate models when what we need in these neighborhoods are quality facilities, ones you’d expect as a matter of course in a suburban neighborhood?”
Yes, why experiment with new models when we can keep using the same 1940’s industrial labor union model for education and getting the same atrocious results. If all the unionists want is a stipulation that charter schools must come in below the cost per student of existing public schools, then I’m sure that could be arranged. But we all know that isn’t the real issue here, evidenced by these lame excuses against competition and innovation.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Yes, why experiment with new models when we can keep using the same 1940’s industrial labor union model for education and getting the same atrocious results.”
That, of course, is not what progressives would suggest. Don’t make me start quoting Alfie Kohn again.
“{If all the unionists want is a stipulation that charter schools must come in below the cost per student of existing public schools, then I’m sure that could be arranged.”
And with all kinds of deleterious and unforeseen consequences (part of the problem with picking the wrong metrics… read Deming).

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“That, of course, is not what progressives would suggest. Don’t make me start quoting Alfie Kohn again.”
Without competition and with the same unions in place with the same amount of power, nothing will ever improve in public schools and you know it, Russ. That’s the real reason why you oppose all forms of competition to the existing failed model. The idea that we can just introduce some new progressive methodology in the classroom and everything will improve is ridiculous.
“And with all kinds of deleterious and unforeseen consequences (part of the problem with picking the wrong metrics… read Deming).”
First you complain that it will be too expensive and take money from existing schools. Now you complain about the “unforeseen consequences” of adding some simple cost provisions to address your concern, that most charter schools would have no trouble meeting in the first place. Like Progressives have ever been concerned about “unforeseen consequences” of government interventions into the market! These pitiful excuses against reform are just proof positive that this is all about preventing competition and protecting the RI Democrat-union school model and its students insulated from change.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Not following you there.
Building upkeep isn’t included in the educational expense, so the cost/student numbers you’re mentioning aren’t relevant. Those expenses fall under the Providence Public Building Authority, which issues bonds to finance repairs, replacements, and upgrades to city and school buildings.
You’re claiming spending money opening a new school (new or in a renovated older building) won’t result in less money for making repairs to existing our existing schools? Must be that new math!

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“That’s alright, Russ. I understand that rational finance is a challenge for you.”
Ah, yes. Out come the ad hominem attacks. Must be tough being so much smarter than everyone else. It’s good we poor city folks have suburban guys like you to tell them how to run our schools.
Ever been to a Providence school? Any of them? Didn’t think so.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Operating costs at charters are as low or lower than at district schools. Check.”
False. Charter Schools are self-selecting. Local public schools don’t have that option.
http://www.rifuture.org/achievement-first-secret-4-nothing-says-21st-century-education-like-segregation.html
And since these new/renovated buildings don’t cost taxpayers anything, let’s just build new ones in every neighborhood. So glad you explained rational finance to me… free schools!
As a Providence parent and taxpayer let me say, we don’t want more charters (we already have several) or unproven corporate models. We want safe, updated facilities for the neighborhood schools we already have.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“I’ve moderated discussions where you’ve defended the idea that government can create revenues by loaning money to itself.”
Miscategorize that argument if you like. What I said was T-bills are assets and that every bank in the world would be insolvent by your definition.
Whatever else you might say, I know that if AF gets a shiny new school my neighborhood gets what we’ve gotten for the past 120 years or so… nothing. Another plan to solve the wrong problem, and a plan likely to make the local school even worse as a few more of the best students go somewhere else.
Would that you folks cared half as much about the schools we have in Providence as you do about busting the teachers’ unions.

SteveH
SteveH
9 years ago

This isn’t just about money. It’s about choice and opportunity. Huge amounts of money are spent on public education with little to show for it. More money won’t help much. Even in my affluent community, I had to work with my son on the basics of math after school to make sure he was ready for pre-algebra in 7th grade. People wonder why there is an academic gap. Just ask the parents of the best students what they do at home. We don’t just turn off the TV. Nobody will know that I used Singapore Math at home while kids circled around the same material year after year with Everyday Math at school. That won’t stop them from pointing to my son as a success story. As a taxpayer, I’m more than happy to spend a lot of money on education – if it works. That’s the rub. Regular public schools like to think that it’s good for parents to contribute, but what they want is parent support for their own ideas. I was selected to be on a Citizen’s Curriculum Committee years ago, but it never held a single meeting. Schools don’t want anyone to interfere on their turf. They even went so far as to lobby for a law to prevent “our” kids from going to existing charter schools because our state NECAP test scores were so high. If you look at the actual questions and the raw percent correct scores, it’s far from impressive, especially considering all of the help and reteaching kids get at home. Our town has approximately 20-25% of its kids going to private schools. Of course, they are called elitist, but the parents know better. They know that their kids will get higher standards (well, not always). With full inclusion and tracking by… Read more »

eenicker
eenicker
9 years ago

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