Thursday, June 08, 2006

Oregon Education Association Worried about Profit Motive in Education

The Oregonian reported yesterday on a charter school that is internet-based and home school-oriented. The school, Connections Academy, currently has 700 students, and lots of others wanting in to the program.

Connections Academy receives about $4,500 in public funding for each child who attends–which was $2.9 million this year. It is operated by a private company that got $350,000 for running it (about 12% of the public funding).

What’s interesting, but not surprising, is that the Oregon Education Association, is concerned about the profit motive in education. Laurie Wimmer Whelan, a government relations specialist (lobbyist?), who works with the OEA is quoted as saying:

"I am concerned about educational decisions being influenced by the profit motive, particularly when students may wind up on the short end of those decisions."

One hopes that this short quote doesn’t do her justice.

Actually, “for profit” prep schools are at the top of the list for anyone eager to get a child into a top university. If the schools don’t do their job, they soon have fewer and fewer clients. The child is not stuck there whether the education is good or not. Unfortunately, this is not the case for public schools. Children whose parents do not have good financial resources or the ability to spend hours a day on their education, do not have an alternative–outside of the limited charter school system.

The criticism is even more ludicrous when one thinks of who is sending their children to the school. These are parents who are gung-ho on their children’s education.

Jim Thomas, Connections Academy principal, agrees that his school isn't for everybody. It requires an adult who can spend hours each day with the student, particularly younger students who need direction and encouragement. Parents must sign a contract saying they act as the learning coach. Attendance is taken daily, and the curriculum is rigorous.

"You have to be motivated," Thomas said.

How likely is it that these parents would not notice or care about their child winding up on the short end of educational decisions?

In Oregon in 2003 public schools needed $7,491 in operational expenses (not including building construction) for each child in the system. Profit-based Connections Academy got about 40% less than that figure.

State testing is still to be done to determine the success of this charter school. But, it will be surprising if these parents and children do worse than the public school average. And with 40% less in cost per student, maybe that surplus (which will grow with each student who enrolls in a Connections Academy-type program) can be used to hire tutors in the public schools who mirror what these parents are doing in giving each student significant individual attention.

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