Saturday, August 4, 2012

A thought on the Pencader mess that will get me into trouble

I'm going to get into trouble here because I am tired of listening to excuses.

I've stayed around the fringes on the increasing flow of Pencader revelations, partly because I was doing other things, and partly because I don't have the sources to compete with the work Elizabeth Scheinberg, John Young, and Kilroy have all been doing.

But this comment by pandora over at Kilroy's has--several days after I first read it--forced me out of the closet:

Reading all the comments here, and at other sites, here is what I’ve heard:
1. Parents afraid to speak out because their children will be retaliated against.
2. Parents also being intimidated
3. Teachers being intimidated
4. An actual, and active, Team Lewis
5. School Board members dropping like flies
6. The claim that the board has been stacked in favor of Ms. Lewis
7. And of course, the PhD and pension drama
I honestly don’t know why anyone would willingly expose their child to this environment. If I were a Pencader parent I would pull my kid out of that school – to me, remaining open isn’t a victory.
Here's the thing:  my twins attend Charter School of Wilmington, as any regular reader knows, so my example will be drawn from real life.

When you decide to place your child in a charter school, you are knowingly taking part in an educational experiment.  All that "freedom" from stultifying government rules comes with a concurrent responsibility:  if you don't want government rules, you don't get the same level of government oversight.

Put another way:  charter schools are, by definition, experiments, and some experiments fail.  That is an intended part of the charter school model--that poorly designed, organized, or funded charter schools will fail.

When you send your child to a charter school, you'd better have a back-up plan in mind, and you'd better update it every year, because even if the school doesn't fail, it still has the legal ability to dump your child for pretty much any reason.

There's only one way to reduce the risk of this happening to you and your children:  parental oversight has to take the place of government control.  If parents do not "own" the school, from PTOs to curriculum committees to the school's board to simply keeping the principal and teachers on notice every single day that they have expectations, and that they're watching, then the parents deserve exactly what they get when poor leadership, poor financial management, or poor teaching cause a charter school to fail.

Unfortunately, the kid get to pay the price for parental neglect, which always seems to be the case.

It totally pisses me off to hear parents complain and cry for government rescue when a charter school is failing because it's hypocritical.

YOU opted out of the system of government oversight.  YOU either knew or should have known the risks you were taking with your child's education.  YOU had every opportunity to see the warning signs and either organize to raise holy hell or vote with your feet and get your child out of that school.

In the charter schools that everybody admits have a solid foundation (no matter how they might disagree about selection of students), this is universally true:  parents are involved in everything, and almost all parents are involved in something.  The schools know that they have to keep parents happy on a daily basis, and that while you can fool some of the parents all of the time, you can't fool all of the parents all of the time.

This is how it works at CSW, at DMA, and even at NCS (where I find some--not all by any means--of the parents obnoxious in their rhetoric, but cannot fault any of them for failing to be involved in their school).

This is obviously NOT how it has worked at Pencader, which apparently pursued a model of keeping parents at a distance, keeping them divided into cliques by school administrators, and keeping them away from the information they would need to be informed stakeholders.

But I don't blame the administrators, even though it is fairly obvious that several were at least morally bankrupt if not legally culpable.

I blame the parents for not self-organizing and putting a stop to this two years ago--or at least leading a mass exodus out of the school.

Yes, I know.  People will tell me I don't know about the climate, about the intimidation, or about how they thought the government was supposed to provide oversight.


Time to stand up and admit it, Pencader parents.

Ann Lewis, loss of tax-exempt status, a nonfunctional board, all the rest--you own it.

Now get in there and take it back, or get your kids the hell out.


pandora said...

Oh my, oh my. You're gonna be in trouble! :-)

All kidding aside... you are correct. One of the main principles of Charters is: "that poorly designed, organized, or funded charter schools will fail." Free Market, baby!

Perhaps there should be a law stating that when you enroll your child at a Charter school you will have to sign a statement acknowledging that:

1. Charter schools are an educational experiment

2. Charter schools do not have the same government oversight

3. If the Charter school closes after the Choice deadline your child will return to his/her feeder pattern school.

#3 is a biggie. On several sites I have read parents calling for Choice to be reopened should the school close.

Um, NO. I say this because there are plenty of parents who submitted a Choice application during the scheduled time and didn't receive their choice. It simply isn't fair for parents of a closed charter school to butt in line.

While there are many benefits to Charter schools, there are also risks. When you enroll your child into a Charter you sign up for both.

transparentchristina said...

Steve, agree almost 100%.

The parents do have a right to some basic, garden variety, common sense, if-the-school-is-burning-down-in-front-of-everyone-the-state-might-should-step-in type of oversight.

Why? Taxpayer funds are in play. They owe it to all of us.

We are there, the SBE and DOE and the Governor, ha all failed these kids.

Steve Newton said...


I did not say "no" government oversight, I said "not the same level" of government oversight.

Big difference.

Anonymous said...

Steve- you're right but parents of students in charter schools need to understand, beyond the educational experiment they are participating in, that they did go through the choice system. They chose to place their kids into that school so if they move them out of pencader (and I believe they should) then he feeder school is their only option till choice opens the next year. Charter school parents seem to carry an entitlement when it comes to their kids. Thy seem amazed when they give control over to individuals whom they know very little about. Hell even DOE didn't vet them well. And board members admitted they didn't know what was going on there.

Pencadermom said...

Today you said this: "It totally pisses me off to hear parents complain and cry for government rescue when a charter school is failing because it's hypocritical.

YOU opted out of the system of government oversight. YOU either knew or should have known the risks you were taking with your child's education. YOU had every opportunity to see the warning signs and either organize to raise holy hell or vote with your feet and get your child out of that school."

In April(or around then)you said this: "these poor parents who didn't attend the open houses and fill out applications are suspect because . . . well, why exactly?
I recall reading Mr. Meece sayng that NCS only advertises its lottery in the newspapers (and presumably online). That, plus word-of-mouth, gets him his pool of applicants.
In case nobody noticed, poor people have far lower newspaper subscription rates, far less internet access, and in general poor parents will be less well prepared to even find out about this opportunity."

So, although you agree that poor people might not be prepared to or know how to navigate finding a charter school and filling out an application, you are pissed at them (theres a very high rate of 'poor' people at Pencader ya know) for not knowing the charter school laws? And that the government doesn't oversee them? Really?
Or are you not 'pissed' at the poor families, but all others. The ones who should have known better maybe? You would still have to assume that parents would even think to ask some of the questions that many of us would now know to ask. "you don't know what you don't know"

Anon. "charter school parents seem to carry an entitlement when it comes to their kids". F you.

@Pandora, I agree, more information should be out there, and right on the application, for parents to learn about charters. (remember the mom at the NCS who said "this isn't about politics") Parents just are uniformed, and trusting!!
And about choice, my thoughts on that have changed, just in the last few days.. about a month ago I was told (either by Newark, or the choice office, I don't remember right now) that there were seats open but that choice was closed. That felt unfair- at the time.
It actually makes sense to me now. After reading a comment on Kilroy, where someone said CSD could get flooded with students after the school year starts. When I read that it hit me, they need to keep seats available for Newarks feeder kids, just in case. I get that, and agree with it.

As for your comment above to John, you might not have said ''no'' government oversight, but you said 'opted out of a system with government oversight'.
What's the difference?
Just curious, who'd you think you were gonna get in trouble with? :)

Anonymous said...

Pencadermom - why defensive? You realize the school is falling apart, where you chose for your kids to go, and when it doesn't work out you want the district to give you what you want.

Pencadermom said...

Defensive? Are you talking about my comments to Steve? In those comments I never said anything about the district giving me what I want. I actually said the opposite, those seats belong to kids in the feeder first.

If you are talking about my comment to you, yes, I am defensive. I am defensive because I pay taxes. So yes I do feel entitled. I feel my kids are entitled to a solid, and safe, education.

Pencadermom said...

It feels so wrong to me. The way charter school parents are always getting bashed for their choice of trying to do what is best for their child and get them the best education they can.
OMG I am not a freaking robot but I can't read these roller coaster letters

pandora said...

"It feels so wrong to me. The way charter school parents are always getting bashed for their choice of trying to do what is best for their child and get them the best education they can."

You do realize that these sentences could be written like this...

"It feels so wrong to me. The way traditional public school parents are always getting bashed for their choice of trying to do what is best for their child and get them the best education they can."

The bashing goes both ways. In fact, I'd say the bashing against trad. public schools has been more intense since one of charters main advertising/PR tactics is to tell parents to flee public schools and run to the safer, educationally superior charters.

The bashing on both sides should stop. There's good and bad in all schools.

And I HATE the robot code thingy, too. Come on, Steve! Ditch that craziness.

Steve Newton said...


I can't ditch it right now. I turned it off a couple of weeks ago and ended up having to manually delete almost four hundred spam messages in two days.

Even with it on I get about 15 spam messages that try to slip through per day.

pencadermom said...

There is a difference between bashing a system and bashing parents. Steve and Anon were talking about parents, as do so many others calling us racist and elitist, and 'how dare we ask for a good education'

Steve Newton said...

Let's be clear about what I said:

I have no problem with parents seeking the best possible education for their kids.

I never said, "How dare you ask for a good education."

I said that if you wanted your children to be enrolled in a charter school, then you were exchanging the security of close government control for the freedom to experiment. There's a trade-off involved there--a risk.

As a libertarian, as a parent, I have a problem with parents who make that choice without having assessed the risks, and then complain about the government not being there like it would be in a traditional school.

I also said I have a problem with parents not realizing that the absence of government oversight has to be compensated for by their active involvement in the school at all levels.

And, yes, based on everything I have read or viewed on the videos that have been posts, too many Pencader parents put their heads down and hoped for the best rather than marching into the school to demand the problems be fixed, and that they intended to oversee the solution.

If public education is a spectator sport for parents, it's almost always going to be a losing game.

tom said...

A quick note on the notion that paying taxes entitles your children to an education:

For anyone who is middle class or poor -- out of the taxes you pay during your entire adult life, the portion allocated to education is less than the cost of sending a single student to public school for 13 years (K-12).

And ironically, thanks to the per-child deduction, parents of school-age children contribute less to public education than people with similar incomes & property values who do not have children.

Andrew Groff said...

The success of any school, public, charter, or private is highly dependent on the participation of the parents and local community. Nothing else is as powerful or needed as involved parents. Schools fail because administrators find a way to intimidate parents and teachers. I had an experience with a private school "medicating" 33% of their elementary students with amphetamines. After refusing to participate with my child in this abomination I voted with my feet and left the school. I then informed every teacher and parent of my experience. The new school was everything we could hope for. It was a public, magnet school with excellent teachers and good administration.

Anonymous said...

Steve thanks for joining the Pencader conversation. Parents do hold the power however, there is an obligation of the governor who high-jacked public school reform and DE DOE who is "responsible" for the oversight of Pencader to "protect" public interest and to insure charter schools (Pencader) operate with in certain ethics and morals. However, I think DE DOE is giving Pencader all the rope thye need to hang themselves. This way people / parents won't point the finger of blame at Markell or DE DOE. After-all. DE DOE did save Pencader from closing last year and made condition re: probation.

What is odd is , DE DOE hasn't called for a charter school review meeting to address new concerns not realted to last year's issues. But I have a hunch by November something will be before the state board. In all fairness to parents but more importantly students, if Pencader is going down we need to know before the close of school choice which appears to be in January.

Anonymous said...

"I never said, "How dare you ask for a good education.""--
I never said you said that. :)
I was talking about what people have said about charter parents. I think I said racist too, you never said that either, I hope.

Pencadermom said...

oh that was me, obviously. Forgot to type my lovely name

KilroysDelaware said...

re: Steve thanks for joining the Pencader conversation.

was made by KilroysDelaware

Anonymous said...

Pencadermom - we all pay taxes so why should you be entitled more then the person down the street whose kids went to traditional feeder schools? You CHOSE pencader. If it fails it partly the parents fault for not being more active, pro active and reactive. You've asked on kilroys site how to get parents more involved. If you don't know then you havent made enough connections with the parents at the school.

Pencadermom said...

Where did I say I am more entitled than other parents?

Anonymous said...

Read your post from 9:19 last night.

Pencadermom said...

The part where I said feeder kids deserve any seats available?????

Or the part where I said I pay taxes so my kids deserve a safe and sound education????

Which part would mean MORE entitled???

Coolspringer said...

Late and wish I had time to say more but at the moment, I don't - GREAT POST, Steve!