PR on Steriods and Pleasing the Market, Not Parents

Posted on June 1, 2011

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One of the characteristics of charter schools (Harmony, KIPP, and YES) and some ed reform organizations (TFA in particular) that I find terribly repugnant (1–see why below) is the incessant public relations effort surrounding these efforts and the lies, omissions, and obfuscations that often come along with press releases.

Schools Matter has an excellent blog post up about some KIPP PR. This can be accessed at

http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2011/06/tennesseeans-undergo-propaganda-barrage.html
Note that the KIPP CEO never actually lies, but leaves out information or defines things in a way that are beneficial to KIPP.

Harmony schools often operate in the same way. On TexasISD.com (the website I read most often), there is a press release from Harmony Schools that can be found at:

http://www.texasisd.com/article_113128.shtml

The Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Soner Tarim, states:

For the past decade, HPS has provided students living in underserved communities
the opportunity to excel in their studies in a small classroom environment. With
a college acceptance rate for Harmony graduates of 100 percent, HPS has earned a
reputation for providing a distinct, high-quality education, as well as other
skills needed to succeed in life. To date, 14 Harmony schools are designated
T-STEM (Texas Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) academies.

One thing the Superintendent of Schools forgot to mention (even though he has emailed me about the issue) is that students leave Harmony school in droves. Three middle schools had over two-thirds of the students leave from 6th grade to 8th grade. What happens at the high school (and the same is true for KIPP and YES) is that a substantial number of students leave the school before the 12th grade year. But they don’t count the substantial number of leavers in their calculation of the percentage of students who go to college. They also don’t mention that the leavers are almost uni formerly the lower performing students who just might not make it to college.

Hey–I’ll make Dr. Tarim a bet: I can increase the percentage of students going to college to 100% for ANY high school in Texas if I can operate the school under the same rules used by Harmony, KIPP, or YES. All you have to do is make life miserable for the lowest performing kids and get them to quit before the 12th grade. What a great trick–but only if you don;t care about ALL kids.

And now for the REAL reasons for the existence of charter schools. Dr. Tarim states:

“At Harmony Public Schools excellence is our standard, as evidenced by the fact that we have more than 21,000 students on our waiting list. Today’s bond issue was extraordinary and we believe it is a demonstration of the confidence the markets have in the Harmony Public Schools’ business model, and our ability to continue serving even more Texas students.” (emphasis added)

So, the truth comes out” The real purpose of this movement is to make education a business where people can make a profit while serving only a select group of students and pushing out the kids who struggle. Parents of students in Harmony schools certainly don’t have the same amount of confidence as the markets because, as I show in this previous post, families flee Harmony schools as if their kids will catch the plague by attending.

See http://fullerlook.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/harmony-charters/ for details.

In my vision of schooling, those working in schools and supervising them are in it to benefit kids–NOT TO IMPRESS THE MARKET AND FUNDERS. I think most people would agree with me, but a growing crowd of wealthy elites is convincing the average family that a market-driven education system would be better for them. Yeah–just like the market-driven economy and housing market that left the Wall Street crooks with huge bonuses and the average person without a house and bad credit forever.

1–Why I find this trend repugnant:

I find this hyped up PR repugnant because PR increases the incentive to only focus on the positives and ignore the negatives. The public should have access to all of the strengths and weaknesses of such organizations–especially when funded by taxpayer money or when an organization receives tax breaks. Unfortunately, this trend of PR on steroids is now spreading to school districts, universities, and other education organizations. Consequently, there is a battle royale between competing organizations to have the best PR–and the truth be damned. This is NOT how we will improve organizations or our education system. All organizations should present their strengths and weaknesses, not just fluff about how great their organization is.

I also find it repugnant because there are many, many neighborhood schools that meet or exceed the performance of Harmony, KIPP, YES, etc. Yet, the educators toil on in obscurity because their focus is on helping the students and meeting the needs if families instead of trying to raise capital. ANd in my mind, that is how education should be!!

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