by Christopher Paslay
Here’s the plan: I’m going to start a charter school in Philadelphia and make a million dollars. Not just any charter, mind you, a cybercharter. I’m thinking about naming it after myself and calling it Chris’s Cyber Charter. Either that, or Lee Iacocca Cyber Charter. Anybody want in?
Currently, the Philadelphia School District pays nearly $9,000 per student for cybercharters. How much of that money is actually spent on the students is unclear. But when you take into consideration that officials in western Pennsylvania’s North Hills School District have estimated that cybercharters spend less than $1,000 per year on each of their students, there’s a lot of room for profit in the Philadelphia cybercharter industry.
I figure I can clear about $8,000 per student on my new business venture. This means that if I can recruit a meager 10 students to enroll in Chris’s Cyber Charter, I’ll equal my current salary teaching. If I can sign up 20 students, I’ll double my pay. If I can talk 120 students into coming on board, I’ll make my first million before the age of 40. Anybody want in?
Opening a charter school is not as daunting a task as one may think. The website “US Charter Schools” explains that there are four basic steps to starting a charter: exploration, application, pre-operations, and operations.
The exploration phase first involves investigating state laws and reviewing chartering agency policies. Most of this, incredibly, can be done online. Next, an organizing committee must be formed to plan the charter. The team assembled to launch Chris’s Cyber Charter will incorporate the expertise of none other than me, myself and I.
I will draft the school’s mission statement, which will be to make as much money as humanly possible. But I of course won’t write it like that. Instead, to remain reputable in the public eye and to help recruit students, the mission statement will be something like, Chris’s Cyber Charter is dedicated to the success of students who have not had their needs met in a traditional public school setting. CCC is dedicated to providing the educational programs and services necessary for all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, and learning style, to become productive, responsible members of society.
I will also design the instructional program (it will be flexible and allow students to select their own path and work at their own pace), outline the school’s administrative structure (Joe, a colleague and good friend of mine who has a current PA principal’s certificate, will run my school), write the staffing plan (a team of five core subject teachers, one of which will be dually certified in special education and another in physical education, will be the instructors), write a statement of facilities needs (we will need laptops, wireless internet, and a full time I.T. person to set-up and maintain the school’s website), and outline a rough budget (CCC will need approximately $1 million in annual funds to effectively educate its eventual student body of 120 students).
Phase two of opening a charter involves the application process—drafting, presenting, and getting the charter approved. A strong charter application includes things like a statement of why the school is needed, a description of the education program to be used, learning objectives for students, methods for student assessment, a financial plan and a 3-5 year budget projection, etc. I plan on talking to Dwight Evans about how to bully the Philadelphia School Reform Commission into accepting my charter application, and how to drive out competitors like a “bulldog on a bone.”
Phase three is pre-operations, which includes recruiting staff and students, developing a formal operating agreement with the sponsoring district, and most importantly, securing funding. CCC plans on securing $1 million in annual funds from the Philadelphia School District. Likewise, CCC also plans on receiving an additional $250,000 for start-up costs from the PSD and the city’s taxpayers for the first year only. In the 2010-11 school year, the PSD spent $310 million on its 74 charter schools (which comes to $4.1 million per school), so $1.25 million is really just a drop in the bucket.
Finally, we get to phase four—opening the charter school doors. Because CCC is a cybercharter, there are no actual doors to be opened. All learning takes place on computers in cyberspace from each student’s home, so there are no brick-and-mortar buildings to maintain or pay for; there is no rent, utilities, or upkeep of any kind. Teachers also do their teaching, using special state of the art software programs, from the comfort of their own homes as well.
CCC students will take the PSSA tests to measure their academic gains. Even if students crap-out and fail the state tests, it doesn’t matter. It’s common knowledge that cybercharters in Pennsylvania are the pits. The report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes shows that cybercharters are performing far worse than traditional neighborhood public schools. As Elmer Smith noted in his June 21st Daily News column, “In reading and math, cybercharters performed below average in comparison with district schools at every grade level tested. That was without exception.”
But this minor blemish doesn’t matter. Progressives will still love CCC because the school is right on board with the three biggest educational trends of the 21st century: learning is “student-centered” without all that useless drilling from teachers; the curriculum allows children to select their own instructional paths and work at their own pace; and CCC uses state of the art technology.
So let me repeat my plan: I’m going to open a cybercharter in Philadelphia and make a million dollars. Anybody want in?