Celebrity Charter Schools

Given our tendency towards celebrity worship, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that athletes and rappers are starting charter schools. Turns out your own charter school is the new status symbol.

Like Pitbull, who has started one in Miami. If you don’t know Pitbull is a rapper, you’re not keeping up.

Like Jalen Rose, who has one in Detroit. If you don’t know JRose was a part of the FabFive and played in the National Basketball Association, you’re not keeping up.

Like Dion Sanders, who has a charter school in Dallas. If you don’t know Neon Dion is a former professional baseball and football player, you’re not keeping up.

Like Andre Agassi, who has a charter school in Las Vegas. If you don’t know Agassi was once ranked #1 in the world in tennis, you’re not keeping up.

And in 2010, the celebrities celebrity, Oprah, gave $1m to six different charter schools. If you don’t know who Oprah is, call 9-1-1.

How are these schools doing? Well, Dion Sanders was strangled by an administrator at one of his school’s recent board meetings. And despite some fawning press reports, here’s a critique of JRose’s school:

Problems the Academy wrestled with in its first year were a classic mix of start-up mistakes and a focus on glitz over substance. They ran out of money because they set a 10-student class size limit. There were costly monthly field trips (including one to Olympic basketball camp in Las Vegas). No science labs (students left fetal pig detritus in restroom sinks), no locker rooms, showers or air-conditioning in summer heat. Fights, expulsions and a security guard who had to be fired. A teacher using his own media equipment for instruction took his technological tools and skills with him when he left mid-year. A heavily promoted on-line curriculum couldn’t be accessed, due to broken laptops. Test scores started and remained in the basement.

Here’s the most telling fact, however: there was 100% turnover in teaching staff–not a single teacher returned–and as the school’s second year opens, they’re on their third principal. Changes for fall include sending staff for workshops and training, mandated weekly student assessments, doubling class sizes, and returning to a more traditional curriculum and delivery. So much for new and different.

Despite the absurdities, celebrities like Agassi, who have been in the game for awhile and done their homework, deserve credit for wanting to “give back” and improve their communities. And for being so generous with their money. I suppose, IF celebrities hire the right teachers, administrators, and board members, and then get out of the way, their schools may not hasten the end-of-the-world.

But it’s worth pressing pause and thinking about what we’d do if celebrities decided to open dentists’ and doctors’ offices. Or hospitals. Or law firms. If being legally represented by someone from Lohan, Cyrus, and Swift, is a frightening prospect, why does anyone cheer celebrity charter schools?

[Correction: I got it exactly backwards. Dion Sanders allegedly grabbed the throat of an administrator at the charter school he co-founded.]

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