The MySpace Strategy

my space

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission just approved five new charters. It received 39 applications.

All new charters were granted to existing operators.*

I don’t know enough about Philadelphia to weigh in on the optimal political strategy for increasing high-quality charters. Perhaps this was all that was politically feasible at the moment.

More worrisome is the implicit strategy of these approvals: only expand what already exists.

In other words: don’t allow Twitter to form; keep Facebook from going live; squash Tumblr before it begins; reject LinkedIn; no need for Instagram.

Why take risks on new organizations when you have MySpace?

*Note: nothing in this post is meant to diminish the great work of existing operators such as Mastery. Their accomplishments are irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make.

4 thoughts on “The MySpace Strategy

  1. Joe Connor

    As a former Philly resident and teacher, I can say that most people were confused by the approvals. It wasn’t as simple as existing high performing operators being approved. Mastery was approved for one school with conditions (pushing back start date, lowering enrollment), but applied for two. KIPP was approved for one school with conditions (similar to above, but can open in the Fall), but applied for three. Both Mastery and KIPP’s applications were identical (I should know I read them), but if they only approved one each it seems confusing what the criteria was since the SRC claimed to being voting only on the merits of the school. Additionally, other veteran and high performing operators like Boy’s Latin were denied. The SRC seemed to take into consideration the district finances (something they said they wouldn’t) and then tried to thread a needle between the charter school advocates and the public school advocates, but ended up making everyone angry. Read everyone complain about the decision here: http://goo.gl/BxpVd4.

    Interesting to note about KIPP’s proposal is that it might not add any net students since they were already operating above their legally approved enrollment. The approval might just serve to legitimize their over-enrolled (according to the SRC) schools.

    This decision also makes all the schools denied approval eligible to appeal to the Pennsylvania Charter Appeals Board. This is a recent change that came about because of an amendment in last year’s cigarette tax bill. In the past month, the Board has become more active and ruled against two districts that denied charter applicants in Pittsburgh and McKeesport. It’s important to note that the board on appeal can only consider two things:

    1. the legality of the charter application and
    2. the quality of the proposed school.

    The board cannot factor in financial situations of districts. This makes it seem more likely that on appeal the charters can be approved. Especially since the majority of the seven member Board is made up of former Governor Corbett appointees.

    Final Word: This is not the last we’ve heard from these charter applicants.

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  2. Lauren

    There has been some confusion as to whether the SRC is legally obligated to approve charters that meet the criteria for approval regardless of district finances; or whether the assessment of financial health for any given charter includes consideration of the externalities with which the school, if opened, would eventually have to contend. The 5 approvals with enrollment modifications are essentially cost neutral to the district over the next 2 years, making this something of a sweet spot for SRC in terms of appeasing (or enraging) both sides equally.

    But I do want to reiterate that these concerns are orthogonal to Neerav’s point, which is one I’ve made myself over the years: whether one supports or condemns market models in education, we can’t claim the reforms have obtained if the “market” is wholly undiversified. “Choice” when operating among a set of options that all look the same is not the lever for quality to which a market-based reform aspires.

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  3. Mike G

    Neerav, has anyone ever tried to invent a “Parent” authorizing board? Would be interesting to ponder, no?

    The usual thought has been “Let parents choose” – among the schools that get authorized by the people wearing suits. Not that parents get to choose which schools get authorized.

    And that it’s impossible to get a representative group of parents, that they’re not capable of a technocratic sort of deliberation, etc etc.

    But I wonder if “A Parent Authorizing Board” set up correctly would be both a useful process tool and a political tool….

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