September 16, 2012

Charter Schools and Real Estate Plays

What with the Chicago teacher's strike, "charter schools" are in the news again. It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference among charter schools that gets overlooked.

For example, I knew the fine principal and some of the best teachers at my son's public middle school. I was impressed that they went on to start a charter high school about six years ago. They are a high quality group of educators, but they've since struggled to find an adequate permanent home for their high school. I believe they are currently renting a couple of acres from a Korean church in Van Nuys, after an opportunity to acquire a more impressive space fell through. Real estate in the San Fernando Valley is expensive. 

You can see this even in the successful old private schools in the area that typically must deal with constricted grounds. My guess is that most of the better-known private schools would like to add either sports facilities or more students if they could find the room. Crespi, south of Ventura Boulevard in pricey Encino, concentrates on being a football powerhouse in part because they don't have room for a baseball field. Flintridge Prep is slowly buying up adjoining million dollar houses in La Canada to knock down in order to lengthen its 80 yard football field. Even ultra-rich Harvard-Westlake in Coldwater Canyon is a little claustrophobic. They've got buildings galore, but not close to enough land for all the monuments to themselves that rich people would like to build on the campus. The thriving Jewish schools founded after busing came to the Valley in the late 1970s appear to be especially cramped for room because they got a late start in the real estate game.

On the other hand, many of the old public schools of the San Fernando Valley were carved out of farmland to serve a future huge population with ease. For example, Birmingham H.S. in Lake Balboa has 72 acres of easily freeway-accessible campus. Its spacious grounds are used routinely as a filming location by the entertainment industry. Birmingham went charter several years ago in a dispute over whether its lucrative stream of TV and Movie money should go to the school district as a whole or just to Birmingham. 

How much would 72 acres of land with a full set of facilities in the middle of the San Fernando Valley cost to rent? A half million dollars per month? A million?

And, for me, that raises a fundamental distinction between types of charters schools. Entrepreneurial educators who leave an established campus to hustle together a new charter school against the odds seem admirable. In contrast, educational power players who win control for themselves over giant real estate holdings under the guise of charter school reform might be equally admirable, but they should be viewed more skeptically than the adventurers setting out on their own. I'm not saying that all charter schools that take over elaborate facilities are a scam, just that if you gave me control of a place that might rent for a million dollars per month, there are, let's just say, opportunities.

42 comments:

Mitch said...

Did you see that talk Karen Lewis gave last November? It's on youtube; it's the one where she made fun of Arne Duncan's list. Anyway, what caught my attention was her opening, in which she said that the entire district plan was about real estate. It read like a real estate development plan, she said, not an education plan.

She was saying this about a year ago, and it struck me because I'd never heard anyone mention that aspect before. (I'd wondered about it as well.) So it sounded very genuine.

Seth said...

This speaks to one of the problems of the "small schools" movement, which admittedly has lost some steam.

A small school just means less space for gyms, audiitoriums, music rooms, athletic fields, art studios, etc.

Class size is arguably a better measure and predictor of student success, but that is only because teachers have to spend so much time restraining the half dozen maniacs that diverse classrooms entail.

Whiskey said...

What about e-schooling and web-based schools Steve?

I'd agree for kindergarten through say maybe 6th grade they are non-starters, but for kids from grades 7 through 12, why not? Why do kids have to be with a bunch of other kids, many of whom are disruptive, when you can educate them on the basics and more through the internet?

As you've noted, drill and skill is really suited for computers. The Khan Academy KHANNNN!!!!!! allows kids to view lectures over and over and over to get stuff they missed. You don't have to just shrug if you missed the point, just rewind!

Just like Amazon is killing retail (with hordes of people maybe who make you uncomfortable, why not stay home and order online in the great roaring withdrawal diversity makes from public space) ... why not online education?

Why not a Charter E-school?

Yes, no free lunches. But also, no bad peer behavior. If someone else from the family is home to provide supervision (your point about Mothers-in-Law being worth their weight in gold is well taken) ... well why not?

Let athletics and music be outside school. I already see this with kids in dance and martial arts and all sorts of things in OC. Where the Mexodus is hitting frankly like a tidal wave. Cram a bunch of kids from Michoacan into your local public HS, and withdrawal from HS and Middle School sports into private dance and martial arts (itself a reflection of "diversity" think upon it) is something I see every day.

Why can't a school be a laptop and set of drills, lectures, and then Skype set upon appointment with teachers?

I also wonder how much life will migrate online onto self-segregation as a response to "diversity." You might not live in Portland. But you can have the same experience online.

guest007 said...

Seth,

The small school movement was all about creating more administrator positions.

Take a 2,000 student high school and create four 500 student schools under the same roof. now there are four principals, instead of one. Of course, all students are still inside the same large building with the same bullying, the same buses, and the same diversity.

The more people looked at small schools, the less there was to see.

I doubt that charters are really about real estate since no charter could afford $1 million a month in rent. However, the school districts that want to consolidate schools are probably looking at real estate deals.

However, the idea of closing schools and selling them off make little sense since neighborhoods that are filled with empty nesters today will not be the same in 20 years.

pat said...

I've never taught high school or elementary school but I'm willing to bet that I could teach a class of - let's say Koreans kids - and do better than any experienced teacher with a typical class of mostly black and Hispanic kids. Let's also say the class is algebra.

I find myself sympathetic to the Chicago striking teachers. They don't want to be evaluated based on the performance of minority kids.

Didn't you have an article recently the relative performance of various ethnic groups based on PISA scores?

It seems to me that the Chicago teachers have a legitimate complaint. Ethnic composition of the students seems to me to be more important than whether the school is a charter school or has a big expensive athletic field.

I've never taught high school but I was once a guard at a children's prison. I'm sympathetic with the Chicago teachers.

Albertosaurus

JustAClown said...

speaking of schools, steve, some years ago the GOP pols and pundits and talking heads etc were making lots of noise about school vouchers. They said 'elect us and we will give you vouchers.'

Well, they got into power with bush and they had the congress, too. Vouchers were never mentioned by them after that.

Wonder why?

How come you never talk about that?

The fact is that standardized school curriculum is the primary tool used by the upper class to mold american culture. And the GOP are even more in the pocket of the rich than the Dems are.

Anonymous said...

"What about e-schooling and web-based schools Steve?"

A great idea. I'm sure a lot of concerned parents would love to homeschool but don't have the time, energy or intellect to pull it off. I think the chance to re-view lectures would help reticent mediocre students the most.

I'm sure you could make software to verify that the students are viewing their coursework or at least flipping through the pages.

I don't know how many applicants you'll get to The Whisky School.

Anonymous said...

Reminder: Chicago public schools are < 9% white. Source: http://www.cps.edu/about_cps/at-a-glance/pages/stats_and_facts.aspx ; ctrl+f "student racial breakdown" [!!]

Asians are around 6% of the city population, but in the public schools, only 3%. Whites are 30%/9%. Obviously most whites and Asians are childless or choose private school.

-bbtp

David Davenport said...

I was once a guard at a children's prison.

A children's prison? Please tell us more about that.

hyperhystorian said...

I was driving through the desert the other day and noticed almost empty casinos. Now, wouldn't they be fine boarding schools for deliquents?

And, think of the old indoor shopping centers. All those stores could be classrooms. Nice big hall in the middle.

Forget sports.

Anonymous said...

I find myself sympathetic to the Chicago striking teachers. They don't want to be evaluated based on the performance of minority kids.

"School: Teacher Helps Students Cheat Because She Says They’re ‘Dumb As Hell’"

http://atlanta.cbslocal.com/2012/08/28/school-teacher-helps-students-cheat-because-she-says-theyre-dumb-as-hell/

Anonymous said...

I was once a guard at a children's prison.

You mean juvi?

Anonymous said...

I was once a guard at a children's prison.

Did you get to flog them? That would have been immensely satisfying.

Anonymous said...

I find myself sympathetic to the Chicago striking teachers. They don't want to be evaluated based on the performance of minority kids.

Teaching effort is probably U-curved. Teaching dumb kids is probably very exasperating, and teaching really smart kids probably takes a lot of effort and prep so you don't look stupid.

Mr. Anon said...

"David Davenport said...

""I was once a guard at a children's prison.""

A children's prison? Please tell us more about that."

That was the gig that Pat held in between being Fidel Castro's tennis instructor and working for USAID, teaching semaphore to Montagnard guerillas in Vietnam.

Mitch said...

Teaching dumb kids is probably very exasperating, and teaching really smart kids probably takes a lot of effort and prep so you don't look stupid.

No. It's a power law graph. The lower the ability, the harder to teach. Low ability kids are harder to teach than mid-ability, who are harder to teach than high-ability.

Anonymous said...

You are right.
For example the 'demutualizations' of Britain's building societies (a policy of the Thatcher government), greatly enriched the directors of the building societies, but ultimately was a disaster - none of the demutualized building societies exist today.

Bill said...

No. It's a power law graph. The lower the ability, the harder to teach. Low ability kids are harder to teach than mid-ability, who are harder to teach than high-ability.

Not true.

Mid ability are the hardest to teach. With low ability you know what to expect -- not much. With high ability it's a breeze.

Mid ability requires more technique and skill, because they've got more potential than low, but it's a lot harder to draw out than with high.

Try it some day. It really isn't that easy.

sunbeam said...

I'm kind of struck by something.

Perhaps it is a mistaken perception by me, but in an earlier day it seemed like philanthropists would have come out of the woodworks to donate property to a school.

Circa 1900 in New England, these guys wouldn't have had many problems eventually finding someone to donate 100 acres or something in a trust to the school.

Or do I have a mistaken view of history? And honestly you kind of have to wonder about the motivations of some of the guys starting charter schools. I'm sure some of these guys are who they say they are, and some are running a speculative and probably legal real estate scam themselves.

I also have to wonder about the kids "no one wants." What is the long run situation with them? No speculation on the actual percentages, but some of the students from an inner city district would do just fine if put in another environment. A lot wouldn't.

What happens to the kids that cannot or totally do not want to be educated in the long run?

If you say they need to get jobs, at what exactly? I've sat around trying to do math about how to make a living on minimum wage jobs, and it isn't easy.

To be blunt, you probably will do anything possible not to hire these guys even for minimum wage jobs.

peterike said...

Seth sez: A small school just means less space for gyms, audiitoriums, music rooms, athletic fields, art studios, etc.

None of those things has the slightest thing to do with someone getting a good education. They are mostly pointless, cost-raising nonsense driven by the education establishment for the benefit of the education establishment.

poolside said...

In Texas, it's common to find charter schools housed in old supermarkets or strip malls that have gone bust.

In Houston, old-line Catholic schools St. Agnes (for girls) and Strake Jesuit (for boys) both just completed real estate deals to expand their land-locked campuses for sports. St. Agnes bought land that used to house an old car dealership that had gone belly-up; Strake bought a neighboring apartment complex (likely home to lots of illegal immigrants considering the neighborhood) and is tearing it down.

Anonymous said...

Re "the thriving Jewish schools...after bussing" reminds me of not one,but two seperate stories,one in each paper here in Chicago,about Jews,er,leaving the West Side Austin area. Both said that the post-war Jews got tired of living in apartments and wanted to live in houses,and since there were no houses in Austin,they were forced to leave.They didnt want to go--they had to. (Kind of like a disaspora.I dont know if they had a dream of housing going up in Austin,so they could do an aliyah someday? At Passover did they ever recite,"Next year in Austin"?).It had nothing to do with the,uhm,you know. One story bragged of a Jewsih temple being sold to an African-American outfit,all nice and friendly.("Come on Leroy,just sign the paper.My car is running!") Jews didnt have trouble with the,you know,unlike the Austin goyim!!

josh said...

BTW I am sure it has been noted here that Steve Jobs had his own experience with a culturally vibrant school.His message to his beloved parents:"Get me the hell OUT of here!NOW!"

Anonymous said...


"None of those things has the slightest thing to do with someone getting a good education. They are mostly pointless, cost-raising nonsense driven by the education establishment for the benefit of the education establishment."


C'mon man. Life can't just be living. Some of it has to be worth living. Who the hell wants to just grind away with no beauty in life? Intelligent youth want nothing more than just grinding away? Unlikely.

pat said...

David Davenport said:

A children's prison? Please tell us more about that.

The institution was the San Francisco Youth Guidance Center and my job title was Youth Guidance Counselor. Those terms of course were euphemisms. It was and is still today a children's prison.

It located at:
375 Woodside Avenue, San Francisco, CA
You can reach them at:(415)753-7800 ‎

There were two sets of "cottages" for boys and girls, And two sets for what I called the good kids and the bad kids. They were also divided by age groups.

When a woman with a minor child was sent to prison her kid was also sent to prison. If she were sent away for a long time they would try to place the little kid in a foster home but a lot of female felons objected to that and the kids were sent to the Youth Guidance Center for the length of her term. They had a special "cottage" for infants but I never saw inside it. Only female "counselors" worked with the really little ones.

These kids were not guilty of anyhing except having bad parents. These were the "good little kids". But there were also the the "bad big kids". Most of these were black teenage gang members. Some Hispanic.

I was hired for three reasons - I had a psychology degree (I'd just graduated), I was big (6'4") and I had competed in college judo. Every other "counselor" was also big and athletic. All the questions at my job interview were about sports.

I worked only on call while I was there. I pulled a lot of midnight to 8 shifts. I had to pass the civil service test first to work full time. The test item that separated out the candidates was the dumbell lift. Twelve reps with a 50 lb dumbell, each arm.

The more experienced counsellors advised me on the technique of "wall to wall" therapy. Bouncing a kid off the walls in a closed cell doesn't leave marks as it adjusts thier attitude.

Some of the bad kids were in for armed robbery or murder. The creepiest case I remember was a ten year old who burned up stray cats. We know that this is the pattern for young serial killers.

OTOH you couldn't help but feel sympathetic for a lot of the good little kids. They were locked up every day in what looked like a concrete bunker.

I don't think the SF facility is in any way special. I imagine there are similar facilities in most major US cities. When the cops bust a prostitute at three in the morning they have to do something with her minor child. And when a 15 year old gang banger is awaiting his murder trial he can't be left in the city jail with the adults.

Albertosaurus

NJTrainRider said...

JustaClown said: “Well, they got into power with bush and they had the congress, too. Vouchers were never mentioned by them after that. Wonder why? How come you never talk about that?”

He has written about it. By “you never talk about” you really meant “I’ve never read any of your columns on education”. It’s been a few years but Steve commented fairly extensively on the New Jersey GOP gubernatorial candidate who ran on a voucher and school choice platform. Not only did he lose, he lost the more affluent districts you’d expect a Republican to win. It turns out people who ride the train for 90 minutes each way to/from work so their kids miss the all the vibrancy and diversity were against the idea of buses and trains full of diversity and vibrancy showing up at their kid’s schools. As far as why the GOP doesn’t follow through on it? The same reason they never follow on immigration or cutting spending or anything else. They’re politicians.

Nasty, Brutish, and Short said...

Sunbeam asked “What happens to the kids that cannot or totally do not want to be educated in the long run? If you say they need to get jobs, at what exactly? I've sat around trying to do math about how to make a living on minimum wage jobs, and it isn't easy. To be blunt, you probably will do anything possible not to hire these guys even for minimum wage jobs.”

This is a good question and should be on the frontal lobe for anyone contemplating what the eventual collapse of the welfare state may look like. It is unlikely that hordes of underclass will think “well that was a nice run while it lasted, time to get a job”. What jobs do you give people that are unemployable? There is no wage low enough to entice a business owner to hire an illiterate sociopath. What service could they possibly provide that would offset the risk of them stealing or violently attacking the owner or his/her customers? Thus much of our current transfer payment schemes are money well spent: these people can’t be employed; thus paying them to sit there and (mostly) keep their crime to themselves is about all you can hope for. However we really should start to discourage them from breeding. Encouraging them to breed means we’re making an implicit promise we will always look after them. At some point we won’t have the money to, and thus their lives will become brutal and likely quite short .

Anonymous said...

Small vs large schools have their pros and cons. Small schools create administrator positions. Large schools are better jock farms, to the benefit of such "educational" organizations as the NFL and NBA.

Anonymous said...

@Whiskey:
"What about e-schooling and web-based schools Steve?" - correspondence courses didn't break universities, so internet based correspondence courses likely won't either. attending a prestigious university grants a certain amount of status and you of all people should know the value of that.

Mitch said...

Try it some day. It really isn't that easy.

I don't just try it. I do it. Not some day, but every day.

Anonymous said...

correspondence courses didn't break universities, so internet based correspondence courses likely won't either. attending a prestigious university grants a certain amount of status and you of all people should know the value of that.

And what about socialization, though that is more a grade school issue than a college one? I'm surprised that educrats aren't screaming about webucation the same way they do about homeschooling turning kids into nuuuuuuurds.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Whiskey, e-schooling is the answer for inner city Whites, Asians and even studious NAMS. Unlike correspondence courses, e-learning is not exclusively asynchronous. There is a difference in kind between a letter or essay of 30 years ago and the computer correspondence of today. It might not be ideal, but it certainly beats sitting in class anticipating an assault from your classmates, or yawning through a class while other kids keep asking in ghetto-speak, "why we got to learn all this stuff?"

William Boot said...

I'm shocked by those prices. I can see paying pretty good money to be along the coast, enjoying the beautiful people and the best weather on earth.

Who the hell would pay that sort of money to live in the Valley, with the horrific heat and the lousy architecture and the dodgy looking people?

I'd much rather live in suburban Dallas for $100 a square foot, in a brand new house, in a great school district, with no state or city income tax.

peterike said...

C'mon man. Life can't just be living. Some of it has to be worth living. Who the hell wants to just grind away with no beauty in life? Intelligent youth want nothing more than just grinding away? Unlikely.

It is not the job of schools to provide "beauty in life" beyond an introduction to the great literature and art of the world. That IS their job. The rest is up to the person. Any "intelligent youth" who relies on the school system for "beauty" is, ipso facto, not an "intelligent youth."

I have nothing against the teaching of art -- that is, art appreciation and history. In fact it is an essential element in education. But "art classes" are 98% witless daubings and time wasting. As is so much of the rest of it.

Students need content, content, content and facts, facts, facts. Without a rigorous grounding in facts -- scientific, historical, mathematical, literary -- you will NEVER know beauty because you will not have the necessary equipment to grasp it.

David Davenport said...

However we really should start to discourage them from breeding. Encouraging them to breed means we’re making an implicit promise we will always look after them. At some point we won’t have the money to, and thus their lives will become brutal and likely quite short .

Explain that to anti-abortion people, such as out host, Mr. Steve.

Small vs large schools have their pros and cons. Small schools create administrator positions. Large schools are better jock farms, to the benefit of such "educational" organizations as the NFL and NBA.

Large high schools are a pretext for busing teenagers to the other side of town.

Anonymous said...

Large high schools are a pretext for busing teenagers to the other side of town.

That too.

Anonymous said...

Support for Whiskey from Wikipedia:


The worldwide e-learning industry is estimated to be worth over $48 billion according to conservative estimates.[2] Developments in internet and multimedia technologies are the basic enabler of e-learning, with consulting, content, technologies, services and support being identified as the five key sectors of the e-learning industry.[3]

And:

E-learning is increasingly being utilized by students who may not want to go to traditional brick and mortar schools due to severe allergies or other medical issues, fear of school violence and school bullying and students whose parents would like to homeschool but do not feel qualified.[9] Cyber schools create a safe haven for students to receive a quality education while almost completely avoiding these common problems. Cyber charter schools also often are not limited by location, income level or class size in the way brick and mortar charter schools are.[10]

Anonymous said...

"Explain that to anti-abortion people, such as out host, Mr. Steve."

They must have made him read A Modest Proposal at an impressionable age.

Nasty, Brutish, and Short said...

David Davenport said ""However we really should start to discourage them from breeding...""

"Explain that to anti-abortion people, such as out host, Mr. Steve."

I'm anti-abortion as well. There are other methods of reducing birthrates than abortion. How about birth control? How about not giving them raises for each kid they push out? Given the extremely high time preferences of the underclass, I suspect you'd get a fairly high acceptance rate of cash in exchange for getting spayed? Yeah the last one would create a lot of howling from the Perpetually Offended industry but it would be far more humane than any alternative I can think of.

Anonyia said...

E-learning schools will never catch on for one simple reason: it is way too easy to cheat.

My (large, state) university offers a few lower-level courses in online format to reduce crowding in lecture halls. Cheating on the tests and quizzes is widespread. There is just no guard against it. People look up answers online while taking tests, or take the tests in groups. All exams/quizzes would have to be strictly proctored in order to make online courses not a joke.

Also e-learning for high school level students would create a whole generation of socially awkward people. High school is where most people learn to socialize, interact with the opposite sex, and participate in group dynamics. This has been the case since the early 20th century so it is deeply ingrained into our culture.

At some point white people will have to stop the "flight" and stand up for themselves.

Anonymous said...

"At some point white people will have to stop the "flight" and stand up for themselves."

I know of one example where a working class white neighborhood was preserved by standing up; it involved a lot of criminal behavior and a lot of arrests of white youth. It worked. Is that the plan? An arrest record doesn't look so good on a college application- not that many of the preservationists went on to college.

My friend's nephew was going to school in an all black neighborhood and he was a nervous, introverted basket case. When the family moved back to the grandparents' house in a white town, he went to a good school, came out of his shell and eventually became a normal person, got a job, met a girl and got married.

Majority minority schools are no place to be educated or socialized. When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose. I don't see a future where white kids get bused to white schools, so e-learning is a viable, if not perfect alternative.


"The purpose of a college education is to give you the correct view of minorities, and the means to live as far away from them as possible."
Joe Sobran

Anonymous said...

Also e-learning for high school level students would create a whole generation of socially awkward people. High school is where most people learn to socialize, interact with the opposite sex, and participate in group dynamics. This has been the case since the early 20th century so it is deeply ingrained into our culture.

No, it isn't. Most people learn to socialize long before high school or even elementary school. There is also family, friends (as opposed to "peers"), churches, clubs, hobbies, interest groups, and the like. It can be argued that adolescence is the age where one needs to spend some time by one's self, to discover one's own true self apart from artificial tribal gangs. Public schooling teaches mostly "negative socialization", benefitting mostly the bullies and psychopaths in peer leadership positions.