Moi supports neighborhood schools which cater to the needs of the children and families in that neighborhood. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work in education. It is for this reason that moi supports charter schools which are regulated by strong charter school legislation with accountability. So, moi read with great interest Anna M. Phillip’s New York Times story about Tom Vander Ark who was the superintendent of the Federal Way Schools and former education head for the Seattle’s Gates Foundation. In Tom Vander Ark’s New York -Area Charter Schools Falter Phillips reports:
After years spent directing the distribution of more than $1 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation into hundreds of schools across the nation, Tom Vander Ark set his sights on the New York area, with a plan to create a network of charter schools of his own.
Mr. Vander Ark, the foundation’s former executive director of education and a national leader in the online learning movement, was granted charters in 2010 to open a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and two others in Newark. The New York school, Brooklyn City Prep, also got space in a public school building — a precious and controversial commodity — hired a principal, and welcomed applications from 150 eighth graders this spring.
But after spending more than $1.5 million of investors’ money on consultants and lawyers, Mr. Vander Ark, 52, has walked away from the project, and the schools will not open as planned this fall, leaving others involved stunned and frustrated.
“If we had plotted a worst-case scenario, no one could have constructed the current situation,” said Mr. Vander Ark, saying the weak economy and the difficulty of establishing charters in New York and New Jersey “led to less success than we had hoped for.”
In an e-mail to the board members he had recruited, Mr. Vander Ark added, “I have a lot more sympathy for nonprofit leaders now that I’m on this side of the table.”
Those he has been working with had a harsher assessment.
“He’s flying 30,000 feet on the air, but can’t do it on the ground,” said Joshua Morales, a former official with the New York City Education Department who was hired by Mr. Vander Ark to develop the schools.
James Wiley, an educational technology consultant who has been serving as chairman of Brooklyn City Prep’s board of directors, said: “I’m from the Bronx, so you can imagine what language I used when I found out he was having these problems and we didn’t know anything about it. We just assumed that he was ticking along and things were going O.K.”
Mr. Vander Ark said he had kept his colleagues informed….
A former businessman and superintendent of a Washington State school district, Mr. Vander Ark doled out more than $1.6 billion in Gates Foundation money from 1999 to 2006, much of it to create and support small high schools. In 2008, he founded City Prep Academies, a for-profit organization intended to create and operate charter schools that combined traditional classroom teaching and online learning. He said the group was financed by $1.5 million from Revolution Learning, a venture fund where he is a managing partner.
But City Prep Academies immediately ran into problems. Its first application for a New York charter, made in summer 2009 as a close copy of the NYC iSchool that opened in SoHo the year before, received a tepid response from the city’s Education Department. Like the iSchool, Brooklyn City Prep promised to blend traditional classroom teaching with online learning, but many who read the application found it lacking in details.
“There was definitely the sense that they were not immediately ready to open the school,” said Michael Duffy, who was the director of the city’s charter school office at the time.
Dirk Tillotson, a charter-school consultant who read the application, agreed. “It didn’t seem like there was enough of a ‘there’ there,” he said, adding, “You didn’t know what the school was going to look like.”
The city and state approved the charter the next year, on the condition that Brooklyn Prep take an extra year to ready itself, with the opening scheduled for September 2011. At the same time, the first of the Newark schools, Vailsburg Prep, had its opening postponed to 2011 from the requested 2010, and the second, Spirit Prep, applied in 2010 for a 2011 opening but was also delayed a year.
After the initial $1.5 million investment from his own venture fund, Mr. Vander Ark found himself unable to raise the money — up to $500,000 per school — that he said he needed to open them. He switched strategies and asked the Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit investment fund based in Colorado, to help him start a charter management organization, City Prep Academies Northeast. He also changed the name of his for-profit organization to Open Education Solutions….
“Now it’s all about finding a good Samaritan or a management organization that will get us to the next steps,” said Patrick Byrne, a former principal of a Newark parochial school, who worked for years on the Newark applications and is still trying to open the schools. “It doesn’t turn out like ‘The Music Man,’ where the uniforms and instruments appear at the end.”
The New Philanthropy Digest has an interview with Mr. Vander Ark
There are two questions which arise from this charter school fiasco:
Are for-profits capable of operating strong neighborhood schools?
Are for-profits that arise from the neighborhood and are not conglomerates capable of operating strong neighborhood schools?
Many critics put the emphasis on “for-profit” and will adamantly argue that any entity which is for-profit is inherently bad for education. Moi would put the emphasis on neighborhood choice and argue that entities without strong ties to the neighborhood they intend to operate in do not have the loyalty to succeeding in that particular neighborhood will probably not be successful. Let’s be honest, Mr. Vander Ark intended to generate a profit from his activities as his primary goal. The secondary goal was the education of children. Moi is skeptical that a for-profit entity really has the commitment to a neighborhood and thus to a neighborhood’s schools. Still, moi is not like some so called “anti-reform” types who foam at the mouth at the words charter and for-profit because moi knows that schools in neighborhoods in South Seattle must have the freedom to choose what works for their population of children. Simply trying to prop up the failing institution of Seattle Public Schools is not working for ALL children. In There Is No Magic Bullet Or Holy Grail In Education. Period. moi said:
Ross Douthat has written an opinion piece originally published in the New York Times which was reprinted in the Seattle Times. In Evaluating School Choice: Looking Beyond the Test Scores Douthat opines:
With that in mind, I have a modest proposal: copies of Frederick Hess’ recent National Affairs essay, “Does School Choice ‘Work’?” should be handed out at every “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” showing, as a sober-minded complement to Guggenheim’s cinematic call to arms.
An education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Hess supports just about every imaginable path to increasing competition in America’s education system: charter schools, merit pay for teachers, vouchers, even for-profit academies.
But he also recognizes that partisans of school choice tend to wildly overpromise — implying that their favored policies could swiftly Lake Wobegonize America, and make every school and student above average. (This is a trap, alas, that “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” falls into as well.)
Overpromising leads inevitably to disappointment. When it comes to raising test scores, the grail of most reformers, school choice’s record is still ambiguous. For every charter school success story like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the KIPP network — both touted in Guggenheim’s documentary — there’s a charter school where scores are worse than the public school status quo. The same is true for vouchers and merit pay: The jury is still out on whether either policy consistently raises academic performance.
This doesn’t mean that school choice doesn’t work, Hess argues. It just means that the benefits are often more modest and incremental than many reformers want to think. They can be measured in money saved (both charter and private schools usually spend much less per pupil than their public competitors), in improved graduation rates, and in higher parental and student satisfaction. But they don’t always show up in test scores.
This insight leads to Hess’ second argument — that if reformers want to see more than modest academic improvements, they need to set more ambitious goals. The theory of school choice is the theory of the free market: monopoly breeds mediocrity, and more competition should make all the competitors improve. But in practice, even the more ambitious school-choice experiments have protected the public school system from the rigors of real competition.
When poor-performing public schools lose students to charters or private-school competitors, Hess points out, there are rarely any consequences. In Milwaukee, for instance, where a high-profile voucher program has been in place since 1990, public school enrollment has dropped as families have taken vouchers and fled the public system. But spending on public schools has gone steadily upward, effectively rewarding bureaucrats for their failure to keep parents and students happy. As Hess writes, “This is choice without consequences — competition as soft political slogan rather than hard economic reality.”
A real marketplace in education, he suggests, probably wouldn’t fund schools directly at all. It would only fund students, tying a school’s budget to the number of children seeking to enroll. If there are 150 applicants for a charter school, they should all bring their funding with them — and take it away from the failing schools they’re trying to escape.
There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is only what works to produce academic achievement in each population of children. That is why school choice is so important.
Harlem Children’s Zone is one response to the needs of one neighborhood. We must look at what each neighborhood needs to prosper.
Harlem Children’s Zone, Inc. has experienced incredible growth – from the number of children we serve to the breadth of our services. But one thing has stayed the same: the agency’s “whatever it takes” attitude when it comes to helping children to succeed.
The organization began 1970 as Rheedlen, working with young children and their families as the city’s first truancy-prevention program.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the crack epidemic tore through Harlem; open-air drug markets flourished while families disintegrated. While many inside and outside Harlem gave up hope, HCZ’s staff believed that new approaches were necessary.
In 1991, the agency was among the first in the city to open a Beacon center. Our Countee Cullen Community Center turned a public school that used to shut its door at the end of the school day into a community center offering a range of services and activities on nights, weekends and summers.
In the 1990s, to help keep local schools safe, the Peacemakers program began placing AmeriCorps participants in classrooms. These young people were a welcome presence assisting teachers during the school day and then running programs after school.
The beginning of the Children’s Zone®
In the early 1990s, HCZ ran a pilot project that brought a range of support services to a single block. The idea was to address all the problems that poor families were facing: from crumbling apartments to failing schools, from violent crime to chronic health problems.
HCZ created a 10-year business plan, then to ensure its best-practice programs were operating as planned, HCZ was in the vanguard of nonprofits that began carefully evaluating and tracking the results of their work. Those evaluation results enabled staff to see if programs were achieving their objectives and to take corrective actions if they were not.
In 1997, the agency began a network of programs for a 24-block area: the Harlem Children’s Zone Project. In 2007, the Zone Project grew to almost 100 blocks. Today the Children’s Zone® serves more than 8,000 children and 6,000 adults. Overall, the organization serves more than 10,000 children and more than 7,400 adults. The FY 2010 budget for the agency overall is over $75 million.
A history of innovation
Over the years, the agency introduced several ground-breaking efforts: in 2000, The Baby College® parenting workshops; in 2001, the Harlem Gems® pre-school program; also in 2001, the HCZ Asthma Initiative, which teaches families to better manage the disease; in 2004, the Promise Academy, a high-quality public charter school; and in 2006, an obesity program to help children stay healthy.
Under the visionary leadership of its President and CEO, Geoffrey Canada, HCZ continues to offer innovative, efficiently run programs that are aimed at doing nothing less than breaking the cycle of generational poverty for the thousands of children and families it serves.
There is only what works for each population of children.
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