The Education Blob Gets Revenge
Working around the public education system can sometimes have terrible consequences.
I wrote recently how teachers unions, parent-teacher associations and school bureaucrats form an education "Blob" that makes it hard to improve schools. They also take revenge on those who work around the Blob.
Here's one more sad example:
Ben Chavis, founder and principal of the American Indian Public Charter Schools, got permission to compete with the Blob in Oakland, Calif. Chavis vowed, "We'll outperform the other schools in five years." He did. Kids at the three schools he runs now have some of the highest test scores in California.
His schools excel even though the government spends less on them.
But Chavis paid his wife to do accounting work, rented property to his schools and didn't follow all of the Blob's rules. So last month, the Oakland School Board said it might close the schools.
Parents and students begged the Blob—pardon me, the school board—not to. One sobbing mother pleaded with the board: "As soon as (my son) goes to this school, he's a top student. … And now you guys want to take that away from me." Many students implored, "Please don't close down our school!"
The school board voted to close the schools anyway.
The students will now probably have to go to Oakland's government-run schools, which are not as good. We asked to talk to members of the Oakland School Board, but they refused.
Chavis, though, explained how working with his wife and renting space to the schools—regarded by the board as too incestuous—saved government money.
"Yes. Some of the money did go to me," he told me. "Someone had to step up and get space. We had 34 kids when I started. Today, we have 1,200."
And those kids got a better education for less tax money. Who cares if Chavis kept some?
The Blob cares. The school board will get about $10 million back if they are no longer obliged to send pupils to Chavis' schools.
They'll be hard-pressed to beat Chavis' academic results, though. U.S. News & World Report says his schools are No. 1 in Oakland. The Washington Post this month said American Indian is No. 1 on the list of most challenging high schools in America. Over the past three years, 100 percent of Chavis' high school seniors were accepted to four-year colleges.
By contrast, in New York City, where I live, a third of high school students don't even graduate in four years.
Chavis says that if the board thinks he stole money, they should arrest him instead of shutting down his schools.
"If I did steal anything … punish me. Don't punish the students."
And while options for kids in Oakland shrink, the Blob grows.
Over the past six decades, as the number of students in public schools doubled, the Friedman Foundation reports that the number of non-teaching staff got eight times as large. Non-teaching staff means assistant principles, associate principals, secretaries, social workers, etc. Twenty-one states now have more school administrators than teachers.
Despite all that new staff, test scores stayed flat.
At least there are a few signs of hope. Remember the union protests at the Wisconsin state capitol two years ago? The union there eventually lost its fight to stop Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from limiting collective bargaining. Now they can bargain over pay but little else. Contracts negotiations that used to take years are sometimes resolved in 15 minutes.
Union membership is no longer automatic but has to be renewed annually by individual members, voluntarily. The result: Teachers unions lost about a third of their members.
I expected that but had no idea that some of the savings in Wisconsin would come from ending the union's monopoly on health insurance. The union had demanded that its members buy insurance from a company the union created. Allowing other insurers to compete lowered insurance costs so much that Wisconsin has saved tens of millions of dollars.
Good for Scott Walker. Less money for the Blob means more money, and freedom, for the rest of us.