As if it should come as any surprise in a state widely known for its charter friendliness, Florida’s business community has chosen Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, as it’s Floridian of 2012.
Hage’s profile matches that of any regular guy. The article states that he partied his way out of school and into the Army, where he became a Green Beret before returning to civilian life. Although many young men are still trying to find themselves in their 20s, the military offered Hage a sense of purpose and discipline that college would not have done at that age. When he finally returned to private life, he went back to school, graduated, went to work at a think-tank in DC, then went back home to his native Florida to help one of the Bush brothers draft school choice legislation. That was in the mid-90s, when the biggest thing Florida did was split up consecutive Nebraska football championships. This was before the Education Revolution, before Recounts, and before Hage even found his true calling.
Once the school choice legislation went through, Hage started an education consulting group, which was his springboard into starting CSUSA. Hage found his calling, and the rest is history.
Charter Schools USA has developed into one of the premier education management organizations in the country. Just ask anyone in the charter community and they’ll tell you that there are only a few management organizations out there that maintain a standard as high as CSUSA. One example is the National Heritage Academies network, which has been operated from their headquarters in Michigan since 1995. Both CSUSA and NHA are for-profit operators, but their track records highlight a product that beats the average every time.
No joke. According to the article: ”Among the 23 schools operated by Charter Schools USA that received grades from the state last year, 16 were given “A,” six were “B” and one was a “C.”
Among the 23 schools operated by Charter Schools USA that received grades from the state last year, 16 were given “A,” six were “B” and one was a “C.”
That is simply astounding, especially considering that Charter Schools USA doesn’t shy away from areas with the highest need. CSUSA has schools in urban Miami, outside of Jacksonville (Duval County has been struggling lately), and in underserved parts surrounding major business centers like Orlando, Tampa, and their newest gem, Governor’s Charter Academy in Tallahassee.
Read the article for yourself, but GCA is the future of education. Innovative, highly technical, and tour-friendly, Governor’s Charter Academy is a blend of the maligned virtual model that so many other managers abuse and the brick-and-mortar model that so many students are bored with. Students at GCA carry iPads and teachers use a variety of technological gadgets to integrate the lesson plan and taper it to the students’ learning style. No expense was spared on the $11.4 million facility, which just goes to show you how handy it is to be able to hold onto millions of dollars in capital, something that non-profit managers cannot do.
Something the article could not tackle is how CSUSA fits in with the movement as a whole. As charter managers go, CSUSA and similar companies represent the cream of the school choice crop, but they are battling with other managers who do not take the education model as seriously as they do their profit margins. That’s the trouble with a for-profit status in the charter industry: if tax dollars are going to pay a company to run a school, we better see results.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Imagine Schools and White Hat Management are two examples of for-profit management companies that somehow manage to fail at the very thing they were hired to do. Test scores are persistently low in their networks, and their school grades suffer because of it. Network failures like this significantly drag the charter performance average down, making the case for charters over conventional schools even harder to argue. Indeed, charter performance is on a reverse bell curve, with a lot of high-performing schools and a lot of very bad ones, while traditional public school performance is more spread out, occupying more of the center than charters.
Of course, failing charter schools are still operated on a lower budget than a failing conventional public school, so in the end at least we’re saving money, right? Ok, so that is said more out of optimism than relief, but the bottom line is this: we can’t continue allowing bad companies to manage our charter schools. We have to get those schools turned over to good managers like Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies.
This goes for conventional schools as well. Don’t let your local teachers union bully you by keeping burned out teachers in the classroom. Go to your administrators and demand engaging and passionate teachers. And don’t let a cocky administrator break your concentration on this matter. Take it as far as you can.
Bad charter operators used to be good charter operators, and they manage failing schools now because they became complacent. This is exactly what has happened to American public education over the past few decades. Wake up, America. The Education Revolution is upon you.