I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Charter Schools: The New NCAA Farm System?

To me, one of the more interesting aspects of the charter school "movement" is how professional athletes have become involved. Tennis great Andre Agassi jumped in with little apparent regard for the educational outcomes of charters - he's all about the financials.

Football star Deion Sanders's Prime Prep Academy has been in the news with accusations about the school's safety and academic records. Prime Prep was also cited for recruiting violations for its football and basketball teams: the school withdrew from its league this past fall after public school coaches accused Prime Prep of recruiting away their star athletes.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that recruiting for high school athletes happens all the time - but largely among private high schools. For the record, I have huge problems with that; I think high school athletic associations are essentially sanctioning the professionalization of sports for minors when they allow private schools to exist that are really nothing more than basketball or football factories. Your mileage may vary.

But Prime Prep is yet another matter, because, as a charter, it operates on public funds. Since when have we decided that it's OK to use public monies to turn some of our schools into a farm system for the NCAA?

And this is not an isolated phenomenon:
An N.C. Policy Watch investigation found two-thirds of the players on Quality Education Academy’s basketball rosters from 2008 to present came from other states and nations to attend the K-12 school. Their educations were subsidized by taxpayers who sent $13.2 million in state, federal and local funding to the school for the same time period, according to state education estimates and budgets provided by the school.
The investigation also found that the N.C. Department of Public Instruction failed to follow up on its own 2011 probe into funding and enrollment issues at the charter school.
Questions about Quality Education Academy’s basketball program highlight criticisms and challenges DPI faces in overseeing charter schools, the privately-run and publicly-funded schools poised to grow rapidly with strong backing from the Republican-led state legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. [emphasis mine]
Cornell School District’s Bill Sacco and other area athletic directors accused Lincoln Park of recruiting players for non-academic reasons. They are questioning how a charter school for the performing arts could become a basketball powerhouse in such a short time.
Well you can only conjecture that some of them aren’t down there just to dance. That’s for sure,” Sacco said.
Hey, come on coach - haven't you seen High School Musical?

In five years, 27 boys basketball players have transferred from their home school districts to Lincoln Park, including star player Antonio Kellem from the Freedom School District.
“We said, ‘You’re recruiting. You wouldn’t have talked to this person if you didn’t see how he played basketball for us and you wanted him on your basketball team first,’” Ron Sofo from the Freedom Area School District said. [emphasis mine]

Greenville County high school basketball coaches are crying foul over 
what they called "unethical" recruiting of their players by Legacy 
Charter School, a fledgling elementary through high school program that 
targets disadvantaged students for a physical fitness-oriented, 
college-prep curriculum.

Four boys basketball coaches called for the school district to 
establish recruitment guidelines that include an early June deadline 
for enrollment and a requirement that coaches be contacted before any 
attempt is made to lure a current player away.

"I worked all spring and summer with my players at Greenville High 
School and carefully planned each and every practice, camp, game, etc., 
based on our personnel and how we want to do things next season," 
Greenville High coach Mike Anderson told the school board, reading from 
a letter he said he sent to Legacy.

"Now I kind of have to kind of go back to the drawing board and redo 
everything that I worked to do during the spring and summer." [emphasis mine]

And... go back a few years, and you'll find our friends at LEAP Academy in Camden - the school that just lost its non-profit status and apparently has little oversight from the NJDOE - were involved in a recruting scandal as well:
It’s bad enough that administrators at Camden’s Leadership, Education and Partnership Academy University Charter School (LEAP) routinely violated state collective bargaining law by refusing to recognize the union rights of the LEAP Academy Teachers Association.

Now it turns out they illegally recruited and transferred athletes for their basketball team, according to an investigation conducted by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).


Propelled by the discovery that LEAP and other schools in New Jersey illegally transferred star athletes into their schools in order to develop winning sports teams, NJSIAA looked to find ways to avoid the impending clash between traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools. “Indeed (the LEAP case) was one factor that spurred the Committee’s decision to change the rule,” stated Baly. [emphasis mine]
Bruce Baker recently posted about the different levels of accountability and transparency between public schools and charters. I'd put forward this growing trend of athlete recruitment at charters as Exhibit A that he has a point. As charters move away from public school standards for oversight, they are beginning to engage in behaviors - including some of the worst behaviors - like those of private schools.

Again, we can disagree about whether private schools should be recruiting athletes. But there's simply no way that schools that run on public funds should be allowed to convert into showcases for potential D-I college stars.

I am the father of two high school athletes. Neither will play in college, but both are varsity letter winners who have made friends, learned valuable life lessons, developed their characters, and stayed in shape because of high school sports. It is in the interest of our society that the opportunity to play a wide variety of sports at an appropriate level of competition be available to as many students as possible; recruiting at the high school level undermines that goal.

Charter schools are either public schools, or they're not. State athletic associations have an obligation to clamp down hard on charters that attempt to go the route of private schools in athlete recruitment.

But I'd go even further: charters that are found to recruit athletes should be shut down. We don't need more schools engaging in these questionable types of behaviors - especially on the taxpayers' dime.

Two of America's most esteemed educators...


cmooretech said...

I might be missing something here but who is paying to bus these children to their sports activities? In fact who is paying to bus them to these charter schools? We don't have them here in my town yet, not that they haven't tried but I know buses, bus upkeep, gas and drivers all cost money, where is this money coming from, the public school's bottom line or the charter school's?

Bertin Lefkovic said...

I find it ironic to say the least that there is an advertisement for a charter school network, "Success Academy Charter Schools" on this site. I get that you need to sell ads to pay for the site, but I would think that you could be more selective with regards to whom you sell your ad space.

That said, this seems like much ado about nothing. I think that it is fine that there are sports in our public schools, but in far too many schools, they have become an outsized element in the larger culture of these learning environments, which produces a significant amount of the bullying.

It is great that sports have had such a positive impact on the lives of your sons, JJ, but I am willing to bet that it was you, far more than sports and they would have been as good if not even better if they had joined the chess, drama, or glee clubs at their school. If anything, it was probably your model that prevented sports from having the negative influence that they have on so many lives.

Part of me wonders if sports might be less of a problem in our traditional schools if the best athletes were recruited into charter schools for dumb jocks, which would hopefully downsize their presence within traditional schools, reducing their power within a school's culture.

Rutgers used to have a much more rigorous academic environment before it became a football powerhouse. Colleges with strong athletic programs usually have more omnipresent fraternity and sorority systems, which tend to make the social environment much more exclusive rather than inclusive. For the same reasons that basketball and football should be fed by professional minor leagues instead of the NCAA, which has turned far too many schools into athletic rather than academic incubators, competitive sports should play less rather than more of a role in our public schools and if charter schools can play a role in getting rid of the best athletes/biggest bullies, then more power to them.