Beyond the ‘building boom’: charter school financing’s tough nut

For months, Star Tribune execs have told me to watch for a flood of impact investigations. It’s begun. Three weeks ago, the paper unleashed a three-parter on nursing home falls that may prompt tougher state oversight; a week ago Sunday, the Strib published “Out of Control,” on a charter school “building spree” where high financing costs and lax regulations pluck scarce dollars and can hurt classroom education.

Demonstrating enterprise and changing laws; these are exactly the sorts of stories readers — and media critics — want the Strib to do. Speaking to charter school advocates afterward, they too were angered by much of what Tony Kennedy reported, including high financing fees and a back-scratching deal that netted one school’s insiders $140,000. (The school, St. Croix Prep, published its response here.)

The Strib also documented how the building boom has led to bigger class sizes — not exactly an optimal educational outcome.

Legislators have already declared they’ll take another whack at charter-affiliated building corporations, which own facilities because the schools legally can’t. These nonprofits aren’t as transparent as public entities, acknowledges Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools. (According to Kennedy, one building corporation had been led by an embezzler and another by a convicted sex criminal.)

All in all, a pretty good demonstration of how big media can devote major time and deliver a solid public-policy punch. “People are willing to talk about the lease-aid issue,” says DFL State Sen. Kathy Saltzman, one of the piece’s heroes. “They were not willing to talk about this a week ago.”

The Strib shined an appropriately bright light on abuses, but may have also blinded readers to some complexities.

(I should note that even though my wife, the nonprofits lawyer, represents charter schools, she hasn’t worked with them or affiliated building corporations on bond deals. Also, Blois Olson, who writes for MinnPost, represents several of the charter schools in his p.r. practice and has had, shall we say, extensive back-and-forth with Kennedy.)

Using the Strib’s story as a jumping off point, here are a few additional thoughts on lease aid. 

It’s not the construction, it’s the enrollment
While absolutely not dismissing the problems the Strib unearthed, you can overstate the charter building boom’s direct impact on taxpayers. For example, consider this Strib chart, which didn’t feature the explanatory content in print:

Given the front-page headline (“Junk bonds fuel a building spree …”), readers could be forgiven for assuming that charter construction was the big factor behind lease aid soaring 3600 percent in 15 years.

But the building boom had little to do with the spending boom. Here’s what did:

“Charter lease aid sees fast rise in use” because charter enrollment is rising fast. Since 2004, lease aid has been capped at $1,200 per pupil unit. (The state weights pupils based on their grade level; kindergarteners lower, high schoolers higher.)

Though a few schools are grandfathered in at a higher amount, the $1,200 cap hasn’t budged since ‘04, and you can see the impact on average per-pupil aid:

Most schools are at or near the cap, meaning whether they built or not, they’re not getting more per pupil unit. For example, St. Croix Prep got $1,155 per pupil unit in 2008, before its new building opened; now it gets the $1,200 max. That’s a hike of $45 a kid, or 3.8 percent — without adjusting for inflation or a rent increase a landlord might charge.

Another school mentioned in the piece, Kaleidoscope, got $1,200 per kid before and after its new building.

As Doug Thomas, who led a charter-school building campaign in Henderson, Minn. quips, “How can they say spending is out of control when there’s a cap?”

Ultimately, complaints about lease aid are really complaints about families choosing charters.

Sure, bigger charter facilities create bigger enrollments, producing bigger lease aid payouts. From 2008 to 2009, St. Croix Prep’s enrollment grew from 485 pupil units to 785, boosting its total lease aid from $558,630 to $942,324.

But that’s a debate about charter enrollment in Minnesota — not whether schools pay an independent landlord or their affiliated building corporation.

It’s true bigger buildings mean more kids can leave public schools and weaken those systems. For some, that’s a feature, not a bug, though as a public school parent, I’m worried about that cannibalization.

Still, buildings (which, by the way, are more often bought than built) are just the tail wagging the dog. Parents were jerking their kids out of public schools well before the “junk-bond boom” — St. Croix Prep had a big waiting list, supporters note.

There’s no free interest-rate drop
Another graphic did score a direct hit. It compared finance costs for a public and a charter building project.

Each cost deal about $15 million. However, the charter paid five times the fees and interest of a comparable public-school project — $2.8 million more in fees and $26 million more in interest.

My eyes popped when I saw that gap. But it is the result of a deliberate policy choice.

Fundamentally, lawmakers decided years ago they didn’t want the risk of charters succeeding or failing. A pretty good cautionary tale was included in the Strib piece: the city of St. Paul lost hundreds of thousands on an ill-advised decision to help fund a charter building.

You want to pay a lower interest rate? Find someone with deep pockets to suck up the risk. Public schools know where to find those deep pockets: your pockets. Public school bond rates are low because they’re backed by the full faith and credit of taxpayers.

For now, charters are forced onto the private market, which naturally wants to get paid more for the higher risk. One expert in the Strib piece advocated that charters get “public bonds.” Yes, that would cut borrowing costs. But in return, do you want to be on the hook?

Chas Anderson, deputy director of the state education department, says her agency would “probably not support” a move to secure state bonding authority for charter buildings. And with the bonding bill already a scrum, do Minnesotans want charters crowding out something else?

By the way, liability is why voters don’t get to approve charter school building initiatives as they do public ones. Taxpayers aren’t on the hook for a default — private bondholders are. Yes, we do pay $1,200 per pupil unit in lease aid. But no one’s screaming for a vote every time a charter negotiates a lease with a landlord, and the public payout is identical.

This is also why, if a charter school fails, its building doesn’t go back to the public. You’re not on the hook for the failure; the bond buyers are, and the asset is how they get some of their money back. Yes, you’re contributing that $1,200 per kid, but again, no one is screaming about getting back identical payments to an independent landlord, and you’ll never see that money again, either.

Getting rid of building corporations no panacea
“Junk bonds” may seem a ripoff — though advocates note they are also used for nursing homes and other privately owned projects that get regular state funding. I heard various back-and-forth about whether lawyer John Cairns’ per-deal fees (low $40,000s to mid-$55,000s) were high or fair, but the Strib provided no evidence that other non-taxpayer methods (say, bank financing) are ultimately cheaper.

Facing “junk bond” rates — which, by the way, weren’t provided save for one deal — some schools decided not to expand, and that’s probably a good thing. A 2009 law change gave charter sponsors and the state education department more power to stop bad deals, taking a bit of air from the “out of control” meme.

As good an idea as getting rid of affiliated landlords may be, I worry the public will conflate “eliminate building corporations” with “lower interest rates.”

For example, Kennedy’s Wednesday follow-up mentioned “letting charter schools own property and eliminating the need for building companies and junk bond deals.”

How would replacing building companies with school ownership eliminate junk bond deals? Investors only care about risk. They don’t care if the payer is a building company or a school.

Anderson says schools with long performance records might get marginally lower rates than a newly formed building corporation, but she calls the impact “limited.”

Piccolo has mentioned state-paid mortgage insurance to buy down risk while keeping taxpayer liability at bay. The mortgage insurance cost could, perhaps, be deducted from lease aid. The concept has potential, but no one knows how high a price underwriters would place on such boutique policies. Would there be a net savings?

Saltzman has other options she’s exploring, but acknowledged no slam-dunk solution: “There are more questions than answers.”

That’s an important thing to remember as the debate moves off the front pages and into the nitty-gritty of policy-making.

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Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 12/07/2009 - 10:44 am.

    I have pointed out abuses in the charter school program since 2004, and the recent Strib investigation only amplifies what many people, including some public policy groups and a few legislators like Sen. Saltzman, have been pointing out for months and/or years without receiving adequate attention in the mainstream media:(I quoted Saltzman on charters in my column this past August:
    For anyone who has had eyes to see, it has been obvious for some time that the charter school movement has many successes but many failures, too, and needs to be reigned in, with a cap on overall numbers, a freeze on new charters, an effort to put stringent financial controls in place, a commitment to hold charters to the same financial and academic standards traditional public schools must meet, and a willingness by elected officials to risk making charter advocates angry by demanding that they live up to — or exceed — the standards met by the traditional schools that the charters said they would outperform. They haven’t outperformed the traditional schools. Instead, they have become just another special interest group demanding unlimited public funding without adequate oversight.

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/07/2009 - 11:37 am.

    Let us have real change and give families hope when it comes to education!

    How about funding kids instead of unions? Then maybe the children of American can have the same kind of education that Mr. Obama had and his children currently have.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/07/2009 - 12:14 pm.

    The charter school experiment is a failure for three reasons. First, it was supposed to be more cost efficient, it isn’t. You can argue about how inefficient it is and why, but the idea that the private sector was going to educate children more efficiently was clearly mistaken. Second, regardless of comparative costs, charters are by and large under performing compared to public schools, for their cost, whatever you decide that may be, they are not producing better performance. Finally, at a time when every dime counts in any district in the country, millions have been lost to failed schools that either didn’t get the enrollment or worse, turned out to be ponzi schemes or cash cows for entrepreneurs. That’s money we’ll never get back at a time when we cannot afford it. We’re diverting resources towards saving an education market rather than education children.

    Turns out there’s no substitute for good public policy. There’s no such thing as “magic” market or otherwise. And since no one ever bothered to ask how inefficient the public sector really is compared to the private, faith based polices have wasted considerable time and treasure. The US corporate model to problem solving for the last twenty years has been to turn them over to someone else(outsourcing). The corporate approach to education was bound to end like GM and Enron. Here’s an idea: if we have a problem with public education, instead of outsourcing education, why don’t just fix the problems? Isn’t that what Governors, school boards, parents, principals, and teachers are supposed to be doing? This isn’t the first time in history anyone’s tried to educate children ya know.

  4. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 12/07/2009 - 12:36 pm.

    I think the comments show the real problem with Charter Schools in politics – the overheated rhetoric one way or the other.

    As a parent with a child in a charter school, I made the choice because Saint Paul did not offer an option after 8th grade that fit the wonderful experience my daughter had at EXPO elementary. What they have are large institutional junior highs that are are a disaster for kids who do not fit into the “mainstream”.

    So we went elsewhere, to Great River. It’s a great school (the only Montessori and IB school in the state) that doesn’t let the kids get lost in the shuffle. They do it with the money the state gives them, too.

    I happen to think that’s what matters. People who go on and on about policy without considering the parents and students that are clearly opting for other experiences are completely missing the point. Might there be a need to re-evaluate policy? Sure, I think there always is.

    Kids first, please. Is that so much to ask?

  5. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 12/07/2009 - 02:07 pm.

    With due respect to Mr Hare: Public schools offer IB and many other challenging programs all over the Twin Cities. My older three children all went through IB in a traditional public high, and none of them “got lost.”
    If anything is over heated, it is the claims of Charter school advocates.

  6. Submitted by ellen wolfson on 12/07/2009 - 03:03 pm.

    The item that is rarely mentioned in relation to charter schools is that they are able to uninvite a troublemsome pupil and guess where that uninvited troublesome pupil ends up.

  7. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/07/2009 - 03:44 pm.

    Yes, Erik – KIDS FIRST! The largest studies of choice schools, here and around the country, show a 10 percent decrease in academic achievement compared to regular public schools. Just because one or another Charter seems to not be sailing off the tracks is not a vindication of the experiment, which is a failure.

  8. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/07/2009 - 03:51 pm.

    Hey David – maybe you can answer this – don’t Charter schools get the same per-pupil funding as other schools in its district? So the lease funding comes straight from the state as an add-on, i.e. regular public schools don’t get this funding?

  9. Submitted by David Brauer on 12/07/2009 - 04:15 pm.

    Rob –

    Yes, charters get same basic per-pupil (unit) education aid as public schools. So you can call lease aid an add-on.

    At the same time, charters argue they lack the taxing authority for building that public schools have. Lease aid was the 1998 compromise – basically, a payment in lieu of that taxing authority. Otherwise, charters would have to use the basic education aid for their building, while public schools wouldn’t.

    As I understand it, lease aid only goes for rent, not building maintenance.

  10. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/07/2009 - 04:22 pm.

    Thanks David. I see two things wrong with this: First, taxpayers are already paying for school buildings, ones that they in fact own. Why should they pay again? Especially since it is the Charters that are draining students from regular public schools, creating a surplus there. Second, the privateers end up owning the Charter building in the event of a fail. All that “lease aid” actually lined the pocket of some private party.

  11. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/07/2009 - 04:24 pm.

    BTW – you would think we could see the problem here. We already have a democratically responsible entity built up for all this rigmarole: It’s called your local school board.

  12. Submitted by David Brauer on 12/07/2009 - 05:19 pm.

    Rob –

    You’re right about the “added costs” of paying again … which is also a prob on a larger scale when people abandon cities with built infrastructures for exurbs without. (That also comes down to enabling choice, but the net subsidy is there. Dislocation is expensive!)

    To be fair, though, Charter School folks say they would be happy to rent from school boards and not build, if school board would rent to them. (Mpls had a policy for years of not renting to charters, which has since reversed.) It should be noted not every community has a building for a school, either.

    Also, keep in mind the affiliated building corps are nonprofit … no one owns them, technically. Any profit from owning or selling is vested in the building corp. They would have to disgorge $$ in legal way … not sure what strictures are on that. This doesn’t cover fees or salaries a building corp might pay to officers/contractors.

    I suppose a school could “fail” and the private bondholders get a building taxpayers have paid for. Again, though, that’s not dissimilar to the rent dynamic.

    Overall, charter folks would say the public system had a chance to reform and didn’t, necessitating something more dramatic. At the same time, cannibalization can go too far, as noted, albeit briefly, in my piece.

  13. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/07/2009 - 05:47 pm.

    //Overall, charter folks would say the public system had a chance to reform and didn’t, necessitating something more dramatic.

    Hmmm… call me skeptical. Charters, then, are an experiment. One that has, almost by necessity, failed. Weren’t they supposed to succeed by evading the “regulation” and such of regular public schools?

    It is that very regulation and control that prevents regular public schools from failing like Charters have, even in something so simple as what building the school will be in, or whether or not the school will be around in June when the school year ends. And that doesn’t even get into the question of whether Charters provide an inferior education.

  14. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 12/07/2009 - 05:48 pm.


    I agree that Saint Paul Public Schools does a great job, especially in K-6. But a strange thing happens after that – the number of options suddenly declines remarkably. They’ve said that they are working on this problem, but after about a decade I hope that something actually happens. Sadly, whatever comes wasn’t quick enough for me.

    I agree that Highland’s IB program is a great start. But there is still a difference between a graduating class of 500 and a class of 60, which is where Great River is now. And Great River is indeed the only school in Minnesota that is both IB and Montessori certified.

    But this is not an either-or proposition, which is my main point regarding “overheated rhetoric”. SPPS was an early supporter of charter schools, at one point sponsoring as many as 5. That has cooled considerably as the competition heated up, but the point remains that SPPS understood that in order to meet the needs of ALL students there had to be some room for experimentation. The resulting pressure on secondary enrollment may not be what they were hoping for, but it is helping to drive change at SPPS.

    But the district is not alone in its support for charters. Hamline, Augsburg, and many other colleges still sponsor many charter schools. There is a reason why so many academics see this as an important option.

    Is it easy to take this too far and proclaim charters the salvation of all ills? Of course it is – I say we should all beware anyone who pushes one Big Idea when it comes to schools. That is always my point. Both sides need to understand both the value of competition and cooperation when we look at options that best serve the millions of individuals that, collectively, are the future of Minnesota.

    I don’t doubt for a second that policy needs constant updating as we learn what works and doesn’t work. Charter schools are only about 15 years old, after all, and we’re still learning a lot about what works best. But let’s not be draconian about it. We have school districts and universities that supported the creation of what we have, and they did so for good reasons.

    I also want to thank Brauer for this excellent summary of all the challenges charters have. There is a lot to address here, and I think we all have a stake in making it work. What I like best about it is how level-headed and real he lays it out. I’d like to see a lot more written in this style on charter schools – it makes us all better.

  15. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/07/2009 - 06:21 pm.


    Thank you for an excellent report that adds much-needed perspective to the very one-sided Strib piece.

    Unneeded background: My Dad, two grandparents, two aunts, and my sister are/were teachers. I grew up being a strong public school supporter – LONG after I became a conservative, in fact. And then I had kids of my own. And over the course of seven or eight years, I became a serious detractor. It’s a long story – it’s right here, if you care, which you need not. Long story short; charter school saved my kids.

    What troubles me isn’t so much that the Strib is criticizing charter schools, but that so much of this criticism is straight from the pages of pro-public-education “think” tanks like MN2020. Reading through Mr. Kennedy’s report, I found an awful lot of the same exact context-free factoids that I reported on last summer (the series called “Charter Schools: The Hit Is Out”; scroll down).

    So, David, I suspect what we have here isn’t so much an “impact investigation” as an “impact gurgitation of think-tank hit-piece material”.

  16. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/07/2009 - 06:31 pm.

    Rob Levine writes: “The largest studies of choice schools, here and around the country, show a 10 percent decrease in academic achievement compared to regular public schools.”

    Well, no. Or at least, to the extent that it’s true, it’s due to a fairly important bit of context.

    Public schools all have the ability to get low-performing students “off the books” at their “Area Learning Centers”. If a student – or a class of kids – is dragging a school or district’s “No Child Left Behind” numbers down, they can be shunted to an ALC to buff up the curve until they either graduate or drop out.

    Charters don’t have ALCs. Indeed, many of them take kids who, as individuals (including both of my kids) and as groups, have been grossly failed by the public system, and need to be “rebuilt” into people who love learning and function in school.

    I took the numbers apart last summer on my blog, from the last NCLB reports. Inner-city charter schools have phenomenally high numbers of kids from poor families, and kids who don’t speak English at home – MUCH higher than the public systems in the same cities. I took the time to do something charter critics never have; compare apples to apples. When you do that, it’s amazing; inner-city charters with high numbers of poor, ESL students do as well as or better than their public counter parts (especially when you drop IB programs out of the mix); suburban charters beat their suburban counterparts. And the schools at the “Friends of Education” chain of public schools, run by Nick Coleman’s old pal Bill Cooper, which include tony suburban charters and gritty inner-city programs, pretty uniformly clobber their public competitors across *all* divides.

    Need I point out that Tariq Ibn Ziyad Academy has some of the best math and reading numbers anywhere in the state, with a student body that’s poorer and less-fluent in English than almost any other?

    No, Mr. Levine. When you compare apples and apples, charters ARE a resounding success. And you’ll get my kids out of a charter and back into the public system over my dead body.

  17. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 12/07/2009 - 07:03 pm.

    Erik: I’m glad your family is having a good experience in a charter school. As I said at the start, there are successes, and there are failures. My older children went to SOUTHWEST HIGH in Minneapolis (my younger three are in the St Paul system) and they received a great education in the IB program. My experience, of course, is just anecdotally of interest, as is yours. Looking at the overall situation, without regard to this school or that one, it still seems obvious that the charter school movement is badly in need of scrutiny and overhaul. Lastly, I would point out that in addition to Highland Park, St Paul Central also has a successful IB program and that Ramsey Junior High is now an official IB Middle Years Program school.

  18. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/07/2009 - 08:59 pm.

    Mr. Coleman,

    I’m glad you had such a great experience with your kids in the various IB programs. International Baccalaureate programs are often the things public school proponents point to to show the successes of public schools. And for some kids – the kids who learn well in that kind of traditional academic environment where “rigor” means “lots of reading and homework”, the kids who’re likely to grow up to be lawyers and professors and, yes, teachers – they’re a fantastic thing. I support ’em.

    But what if your kid doesn’t speak English? What if you don’t, and can’t help him/her with his/her homework? What if your kids got so soured on education that there’s just no way they’d thrive in that kind of environment? What if – as is the case with two of my three – they’re just not “learn by reading” types, and need to learn by doing?

    IB is a fine thing. Now – for the kids in the public system, but who don’t get into IB programs, or who aren’t wired that way?

    Both of my kids are scary-smart. Neither of them is (or was, at any rate) a “sit in your chair and learn what we tell you” type. Charter schools, being small and able to focus on kids with different styles of learning (something public schools are *just too big* to do, and always will be), saved my kids, academically.

    It’s true for an awful lot of us. It’s one of the reasons we charter parents are so fanatically loyal to our schools, and to charters in general.

  19. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/07/2009 - 09:02 pm.

    Mr. Levine,

    I almost missed this one:

    “The largest studies of choice schools, here and around the country, show a 10 percent decrease in academic achievement compared to regular public schools”

    Please provide a link to these “largest studies”. I follow this issue very, very closely, and write about it as much as or more than anyone in town, and I’m unaware of any such study that, after controlling for variables, yields any such result.

    I’d appreciate a cite. Thanks.

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/07/2009 - 09:24 pm.

    //To be fair, though, Charter School folks say they would be happy to rent from school boards and not build, if school board would rent to them.

    So we have this big explanation for the difficulties and complexities of charter school financing. Basically, charter schools are inherently less efficient than public schools because they’re financing is too complex, and they have trouble finding and securing locations. One begins to suspect that after a few thousand years of human experience we ended up with public schools for a reason. Maybe instead of acting like consumers we should have acted like responsible adults and put our resources into fixing the schools instead of outsourcing them.

  21. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/07/2009 - 09:29 pm.

    On a different note, I must agree that the Strib has caught my attention a few times with stories like this in the last few months. If this is the strategy, they may have a future in this town.

  22. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 12/08/2009 - 06:37 am.

    I think fixing the public schools is a great idea. I’ve had two kids in the Minneapolis Public Schools, and both of their schools very much needed, but didn’t get, fixing; I tried for years to get them the education that they needed there.

    So, I did the sensible thing; they both went outside the system — and my younger one is now in a charter school, right across the street from her former public school, and is doing great. If that didn’t happen, I’d have a pretty simple alternative — I could put her in another school. (When that didn’t happen in the public schools, my alternative was, for years, to deal with the MPS administration. Some really nice, dedicated folks there, and some placeholders.)

    Is it any wonder that I, like many other charter school kids’ parents, find the notion that charter schools have to pay more for financing to be a minor issue and not a scandal?

    For those folks who are advocates for the government schools: go ahead and fix them. That’d still be great, and real competition from outside the system isn’t a hindrance.

  23. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/08/2009 - 07:18 am.

    “Basically, charter schools are inherently less efficient than public schools because they’re financing is too complex, and they have trouble finding and securing locations”

    Well, no – charter schools are more efficient; they do a better job (comparing apples and apples). Charters in Saint Paul get around 10K per student, while the SPPS budget is at 17K per student.

    “One begins to suspect that after a few thousand years of human experience we ended up with public schools for a reason”

    Right. And if you read about the history of public education and the story of Horace Mann, those reasons were largely wrapped around counteracting the radical ideas immigrants were bringing to the country.

    Look – if you don’t like charter schools, fine – but let’s not build up a phony mythology around ’em.

  24. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/08/2009 - 08:32 am.

    Second Report Shows Charter School Students Not Performing as Well as Other Students

    Charter schools fail to match public schools on tests

    Charter Schools Fall Short in Public Schools Matchup

    Institute on Race and Poverty Report:
    Dismal Results For Charter Schools

    Public Schools Trounce Vouchers in Cleveland

  25. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/08/2009 - 08:43 am.

    Here are a few more:

    Study of Test Scores Finds Charter Schools Lagging

    Charter school owners found guilty of fraud

    Q: What Happens When You Run a [Charter] School Like a Business? A: You Go Broke.

    Audit Finds Charter School Misspent Millions

    Collapse of 60 Charter Schools Leaves Californians Scrambling

  26. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/08/2009 - 08:47 am.

    Here’s a good one:

    Ohio Goes After Charter Schools That Are Failing

    From the story:

    Ohio became a test tube for the nation’s charter school movement during a decade of Republican rule here, when a wide-open authorization system and plenty of government seed money led to the schools’ explosive proliferation.

    But their record has been spotty. This year, the state’s school report card gave more than half of Ohio’s 328 charter schools a D or an F.

  27. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/08/2009 - 09:17 am.


    I have read many of those reports, and blogged about most of them.

    Again – as I noted above – they don’t compare apples and apples. Broad comparisons that don’t account for income, geography, ESL numbers, immigrant status, where the kids came from, and the big kahuna – the ALC system – are too flawed to take seriously.

    You should take a walk through my son’s school. The place is thick with kids who you can tell got shredded in the public system, who don’t think there’s any reason to be IN school. The place saves some of ’em; it loses others. Either way, it’s a drag on the school’s numbers.

    Have you seen the minority numbers at Saint Paul’s charters? Black, H’mong and Latino students are a strong majority of the kids. Why? Because the public school graduation rates for their groups are so awful, and their parents know exactly why.

    For those of us whose kids are square pegs who just couldn’t get pounded into the round holes that the public system demands, there is no substitute.

    We don’t get a do-over with our kids. It’s a shame; I wish I could get back the years I wasted trying to work within the public system.

  28. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/08/2009 - 10:01 am.

    Mitch – I appreciate your experience with a Charter school, but your argument is anecdotal, while mine is evidence based and scientific. I’ll leave it to other readers to decide which is more reliable.

  29. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/08/2009 - 10:19 am.

    I’m not saying there are no good charter schools, or that no parents or children have had good experiences with charter schools. The point is that charter schools are not providing that quality and experience any more efficiently than public schools. The data is now clear that over-all charter school underperform, compared to public schools. You can make excuses for charter schools if you want, but all your doing is explaining why it’s less efficient to subsidize private entrepreneurs that it is to directly fund public schools. Universal k-12 education isn’t cheap, nor is it profitable, or didn’t you know?

    The story here is of a generation (mostly baby boomers) who decided that public policy was irrelevant, and a waste of time. They and their children were so gifted that they would succeed and thrive regardless of policy. The result is that for almost thirty years there has basically been no real policy. No coherent environmental, energy, economic, health care, transportation, foreign, or education policy. Everyone has been winging it for thirty years assuming that the magic markets would produce the best outcomes while we all pursued our dreams. The result: unemployment, wage deflation, recession, and a generation of kids who are graduating with great looking resumes and huge debt but no where to work.

    No one denies that there were and are problems with the public education system, but this idea that it couldn’t have been fixed was an article of faith, not a rational conclusion. The idea that entrepreneurs would produce better schools than professional educators was product of attitude not logic. The problem is we never approached education as a comprehensive policy issue. There are no national standards for instance, as Thomas Jefferson wanted to establish. The school system and it’s funding is fractured into a million parts run by independent school boards that may or may not know the difference between religion and biology. And no one wants to pay taxes anymore. We know how to educate people, we know what works. What we haven’t done is use that knowledge to develop a comprehensive nationwide education policy that provides necessary resources. Instead we have a hodgegpodge of unfunded mandates piled on top of a tangle of state and local control, and we’ve added yet another layer unnecessary complexity with charter schools, and vouchers. All I’m saying is if we stopped winging it we could figure this out.

  30. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/08/2009 - 11:04 am.

    Mr. Udstrand

    “I appreciate your experience with a Charter school, but your argument is anecdotal, while mine is evidence based and scientific”

    I’ll direct you to the several links to my blog I provided above. In many of them – especially in my responses to MN2020’s hatchet jobs – I compare hard (MN DoEd) numbers with hard numbers to prove my “anecdotal” case. My case is, indeed, based on evidence, while yours seems – with all due respect – to revolve around MFT and MN2020 talking points, themselves easily and factually refutable.

    It’d be worth a read, if I may suggest you do so.

  31. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/08/2009 - 12:38 pm.

    Mr. Berg,

    //Mr. Udstrand

    “I appreciate your experience with a Charter school, but your argument is anecdotal, while mine is evidence based and scientific”

    Although I agree with the observation that you’re speaking anecdotally you are misattributing this quote, I didn’t say this. I’m not going to read your blog, if you have some non-anecdotal information to share I’m sure you can do so here, at least give us a link directly to the blog in question. I just hope you have some training in statistical analysis, just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean it’s a hatchet job.

  32. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/08/2009 - 02:27 pm.

    Mr. Udstrand,

    ” I’m not going to read your blog, if you have some non-anecdotal information to share I’m sure you can do so here,”

    I’m sure there’s nothing that Brauer/Kramer would like more than me reprinting my blog in their comment section.

    ” at least give us a link directly to the blog in question. ”

    I left a good half a dozen in my first couple of posts. But I’m nothing if not all about customer service.

    Here’s are the links to my seven-part response MN2020’s hatchet job last June:

    I realize it may take a lot of effort to *click on those links*, much less confront some cognitive dissonance. But there you go.

    “I just hope you have some training in statistical analysis,”

    I have plenty of training and experience finding mangled context and selective omission. And you don’t need a degree in stats to know how to compare apples to apples. But to help you out with that, try this link:

    In which I do just that – compare schools with like schools to untangle the MFT/MN2020/Strib’s deeply misleading achievement numbers.

    Nothing anecdotal about it.

    ” just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean it’s a hatchet job.”

    No, but – as you’ll see in the series I wrote on MN2020 – selective omission, selective context and inflammatory rhetoric based on a misleading version of the facts most definitely do.

    Challenge your preconceptions, Mr. Udstrand. I sure did!

  33. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/08/2009 - 07:57 pm.

    Mr. Berg,

    I’ll look at your stuff now that I have a direct link. I have to tell you however that my opinions regarding charter schools have nothing at all to do with MN2020, I’ve never read the piece you refer to. I’ve read a number of other studies evaluating charter schools.

  34. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 12/08/2009 - 08:54 pm.

    Having 3 children who attended St. Paul Public Schools, k-12, I agree that (district) public schools serve some students well. However, charters in Minneapolis and Minnesota enroll a higher % of low income, a higher % of limited English speaking, and a higher % of students of color than district public schools. Some charters offer programs not available in district public schools. Moreover, charters are required to take the same statewide tests, and submit the same financial reports, as district public schools.

    We were able to help the Cincinnati Public (district) schools to increase overall high school graduation rates by more than 25 points, and eliminate the high school graduation gap between white and African American students. A key part of the strategy was learning and applying some of the best ideas of district and charter public schools.

    Fortunately the Minneapolis School Board is trying to do that – encouraging parents and educators to come forward with research based ideas from the most effective public schools.

  35. Submitted by Mitch Berg on 12/09/2009 - 10:52 am.

    Mr. Udstrand,

    I’ll welcome your feedback.

    I refer to the MN2020 report because it’s a “presenting symptom” of the MN education establishment’s desire to kill off charter schools – starting with systematic disinformation of the voting public.

    And I’m disturbed by the similarities in Kennedy’s piece and MN2020’s talking points.

  36. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/09/2009 - 08:10 pm.

    //Mr. Udstrand,

    I’ll welcome your feedback.

    I’m afraid I wasn’t very impressed although I appreciate all the work you clearly put the multi part series. Thanks for posting the links, maybe others will find your work more convincing.

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