Monday, June 15, 2015

White Hat Sale Proves Ohio Charter Regime Failing


Now we know what White Hat Management is all about. There was always a pretty strong indication that White Hat was about making money, not educating children.

After all, when you get exactly 1 A on a state report card and have 72 opportunities to get an A, you're probably not in the game for the same reasons most educators are.

When you've collected more than $1 billion in taxpayer money without having to make a single appearance before a legislative committee, as White Hat founder David Brennan has been able to do, you're probably not in the game for the same reasons most educators are.

When you contribute more than $4 million to politicians, you're probably not in the game for the same reasons most educators are.

But then we got the news last week that Brennan's White Hat Management was going to sell off their least profitable, "highest performing", and most at-risk for closure schools to a group run by K12, Inc.'s founder Ron Packard. That's right, the same guy who gave us the Ohio Virtual Academy and all its "success."

But White Hat will keep its cash cow online school, OHDELA, which has the worst performance index score of any statewide E-School -- and that's saying something, given how abjectly horrible Ohio's statewide E-Schools perform. Its performance index score actually dropped more than 4% from four years ago, the only statewide E-School to see such a precipitous drop. Again, that's saying something.

It will also keep its other bloated carcass -- Life Skills -- which proudly graduated 2 out of 155 students in one of its locations last year. But don't worry, the state won't ever be able to close these schools because Brennan had the legislature essentially create an exemption for his atrociously performing schools.

So White Hat is now able to sit back and rake in the money from its online operation (the state pays OHDELA enough that the school could provide 15:1 student-teacher ratios, $2,000 laptops to every child every year and still clear 34.5%), while continuously milk Ohio taxpayers through the perpetually operating Life Skills schools, which will never be able to be closed even though no one in their right mind would possibly think that graduating 2 out of 155 children is, in any way, serving our communities' most at-risk children.

Why am I cynical about this sale? Well, look at the reasons White Hat has had schools close. The only ones to ever close because of the state's closure law were the Hope Academies (now called simply the Academies). Five of those schools have closed overall (then re-opened under different names). Only one Life Skills has ever closed, and that was for slipping enrollment, which means the school wasn't hitting their profit margin. This relative instability in the Academies led to this sale, not any other reason.

What's so ironic is the Academies are White Hat's best performing schools. Again, a little perspective is helpful. When your other schools don't get As or Bs on the state report card and graduate as few as 2 out of 155 students, that's not a very high bar. But the 1 A and 5 Bs White Hat schools earned on the state report card last year came out of the Academies. So the company is dumping its "highest performing schools" so it can keep their worst performing schools because they don't really have to worry about closing.

Is there a greater indictment of the state's charter school regime, by the way, then saying it makes business sense to keep your worst schools because at least they'll stay open?

Obviously, the greatest danger to White Hat's bottom line is a strong state school closure law. Even this state's pretty weak one (only 24 of the 571 schools that have opened in Ohio have ever been closed under that statute) has nailed a few White Hat schools.

So this sale will minimize any instability in the White Hat portfolio. They will just sit on their remaining, horrible educational options, collect their millions from us taxpayers, and enjoy their lives.

If only the children they refuse to serve could too.

I know it was automatically generated, but I found meaning in the fact that the link to the Cleveland Plain Dealer story about the White Hat sale ended in "opera" (short for operation) because that's exactly what the Ohio White Hat story has been -- a Wagnerian, tragic, endless tale of cursed gold, hopelessly flawed, even evil gods, and fallen heroes. Only this isn't an opera. It's kids lives -- lives that have been sacrificed so one man's epic quest for gold can continue.

Where is our kids' Brunnhilde? We need her to brave the flames. Now.