Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chinese Outsourcing


The grim budget news for Amherst Regional Public Schools just got a whole lot grimmer with the surprising -- to me anyway -- news that Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Chester is recommending the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter  School be allowed to expand, at but only at the high school level.

PVCIC was founded in 2007, and briefly did business in South Amherst.   The charter school has already absorbed 52 Amherst elementary students, up from 35 in 2010, out of their current total enrollment of 280.

The Chinese Charter school petitioned the state to allow them to more than double in enrollment to 684: 240 High School students and 444 elementary. Commissioner Chester is approving the expansion to High School which will increase enrollment by 284 students to a total of 584.

Charter schools have a financial incentive to raid the public schools in the area with a higher funding, like Amherst, because they receives from the state the per student average cost of the sending district.

Thus it is far more lucrative to acquire a student from Amherst elementary system at $17,116 in profit than, say, Hadley at only $9,770, which is well below the state average of $13,361.

And now that PVCIC will also expand fully to a High School, how many of the 1,533 Amherst Regional High School students will they steal appropriate away at $17,916 per head?

Ironically the current Chinese charter school leadership, founders Principal Kathy Wang and Executive Director Rich Alcorn (who are married), originally offered the language program lock, stock and barrel to the Amherst public schools, but they were turned down. 


Dr. Ed said...

Larry -- you know education is my field and that I have contacts in Boston -- and I am totally surprised by this. I actually would have less expected this than (hypothetically) to learn that you had been arrested for hosting a wild drunken keg party for UMass students.

I am surprised.

First, Charter Schools tend to be approved in areas where the public schools are considered to be failing, and notwithstanding what some of us may think of Team Maria's Morass, on paper the ARHS is pretty good.

Second, the MTA/NEA has (or had) a great deal of influence with the Patrick administration, and not only does the MTA viscerally oppose charter schools in general (and they do), Amherst is a strong local where most/all the teachers are (at least publicly) strongly supportive of the union. A stable district where there isn't the turnover one sees in, say, Springfield.

With the declining enrollment that already is in the ARHS -- there are no young middle-class families in Amherst anymore because it is cheaper to buy in Belchertown than to rent in Amherst -- one can logically conclude that this is going to cost teachers' jobs and quite likely via layoffs and not just attrition.

I really am surprised that the Amherst teachers weren't able to get the MTA to pressure Mitchell Chester to approve one of the other applications other than this one.

Third, the Office of Whatever Deval Patrick is Calling DSS This Week -- the child protective people -- had, by their standards, a rather scathing letter relative to the situation where the child was locked into the closet for the day. Further, that's a finding against the principal, not a teacher -- the school leadership.

I don't claim to know the facts, either as to what actually happened or as to what is in the actual DSS file (nor do I intend to inquire) and I am saying this only in terms of generically -- a finding of putting a child at risk (etc.) is generally taken quite seriously because you don't know how many other children there are that you don't know about.

And the risk-adverse bureaucrat thinks "and when they do something more extreme and put a child in the hospital or morgue, or some kid commits suicide because of what they did, and I have the TV crews on my front doorstep......"

Fourth, SPED is a real issue with charter schools, and while I argue that the charter schools likely are meeting the need of SPED children within the regular classroom and with them thus never being identified, the DESE folk are driven by numbers.

Memory is that concerns about SPED were raised at this charter school.

Fifth -- and this is just a guess -- but if the percentage of Asian (i.e. Chinese) children exceeds that of the Amherst schools, as it logically well might although I don't know it does, that is considered "bad."

I know of one case where a charter expansion was denied in part because the ratio of Black to Hispanic children was a bit higher than that of the larger community -- even though both are considered "minorities", and even though this was only about a 10% difference, they were faulted for this.

Hence if the Chinese Language School has a disproportionately higher percentage of Asian children, even if multiracial and open to children regardless of race and occurring because of the self-selection of parents, I can't see why this wouldn't have been a negative against the expansion.

I am surprised by this.

Anonymous said...

Pretty simple. People are looking for an alternative to the public schools because they are unsatisifed with the public schools...Amherst in particular.

Tom Porter said...

Glad to hear this good news. PVCICS has a good product that people want, and that's the way the market works. They don't steal students; families from up and down the valley who are looking for alternatives seek them out - at PVPA, PVCICS, and elsewhere. Maybe there is a correlation between Amherst cutting back on language programs, and the appeal of an area school proffering language instruction. Anyway, it's not for everyone, but why shouldn't those who want it, have the option? Ed, you may be right that politics usually work against a new entrant whose success threatens an entrenched union - and there will continue to be opponents who favor protecting the local/regional monopoly. For my money - and as a parent of four I have every school in the valley on the payroll this year: UMass, Deerfield Academy, ARHS, and PVCICS - I think the Chinese Immersion School does an excellent job. And I wish them well with this expansion.

Larry Kelley said...

Back when I was running a service business we used the term "steal" for picking up a customer from a competing operation. Something we dearly loved to do.

As you know, I'm actually a BIG fan of competition. And I applaud the state for introducing competition within the sacred field of education.

But I'm also a big believer in "fair" competition. The funding formula for Charter Schools needs overhauling.

Tom Porter said...

Larry, I've got questions about the formula and fair competition in this case.

The first question is, does a charter school receive the same amount of $$ per student regardless of home district, or do home districts that overspend (Amherst by 2:1 over Hadley, in your example) represent twice the real revenue to a charter school?

Second question: doesn't the formula also provide for the sending district - the one that no longer will educate the student who has moved to a charter - to continue receiving state funding allotment as though the student had stayed put? I recall hearing that Amherst, for instance, receives 100% of state funding for the empty "phantom" desk the first year, then 75% in year 2, then 50%, then 50% again, and finally in year five would stop receiving a stipend. The district that lost the customer was still paid for customers it had stopped serving years ago.

Observation: it's a shame that when Hampshire Athletic Club lost a customer to AAC, state taxpayers didn't step up to soften the blow for HAC and pay them for another four years. Where were Stan Rosenberg and Ellen Story? :-)

Larry Kelley said...

Glorious Sunday Morn Tom,

It may have changed a bit since I was heavily involved but I believe the formula for the sending district is 100/60/40% reimbursement.

So yes the impact is zero in the first year, or even less-than-zero, but then quickly peters out to a big impact.

Especially now since PVCICS could, umm, "acquire" an ARPS student at the First Grande level and now keep them until High School graduation.

Yes, a Charter School gets more in revenue for a student from a school, like Amherst, that OVERSPENDS.

What's interesting is Amherst also looses a bunch of kids (anyone see a pattern here?) to "School Choice", like Pelham for instance.

Only difference being a family has chosen another "tradition" public school in a surrounding town. But that only costs the sending district $5,000 annually.

So if Amherst lost a child to Hadley Elementary it costs only $5,000 but if that same child attends PVCICS it costs over $17,000 (although reimbursed for a few years at the 100/60/40 formula).

Anonymous said...

IF a student leaves, the cost is state aid not received. If students leave, the material costs at the 'home' school should decrease due to fewer resources being used. Why is it not a wash?

Larry Kelley said...

If the sending "home" school was a perfectly efficient operation then yes, a loss of customers would result in lower operation costs.

Maybe not "a wash" because of economies of scale.

But then if a sending district were "perfectly efficient" they probably would not be losing students to Charter Schools and School Choice.

Anonymous said...

isn't the ultimate goal of state spending is to fund the excellent education of students? Not fund a particular school district.

Anonymous said...

It is ironic that a few years ago, when a group of parents want the Amherst schools to pursue excellence and challenge every students to his/her inner ability. These people are mocked upon. Someone wrote article in Amherst Bulletin and saying these parents are selfish. In Amherst, it was political correct to tailor the school to the lowest denominator student level. A parent with children in school was on cross hair if the parent spoke up the fact that the school didn't academically challenge the children enough. The Amherst school administrator has this attitude, we are the best in Western MA public school. We know what we do, because we are educators. If you want choice, go to a private school. Otherwise, shut up.
It turns out. Amherst schools may not be the best in Western Mass. People wake up to the facts. Wealthy parents already vote with their wallet and move their kids to private schools. Most parents cannot afford that options. They are stuck. They have no choice. Public charter schools level the playing ground and give the choices to hands of parents of average income families. It gives them hope that there is another school out there their children can go to to purse the excellence their children's eduction and better lives afterwards.
Competition is good. School choice really put school administrator on their feet and really think how they can provide value and real good eduction for the children in the town and run it efficiently. Why Hadley can do it, but Amherst cannot do it, when we are neighboring towns? I talked to Hadley parents. They think Hopkins Academy is a better school and Amherst school system has a lot of hype. Of course, the opinion is subject to debate.
From what I know, Amherst school system has waked up to the fact that they don't have monopoly over children in this town, nor parents & children in this town are prisoner of its school systems. Private citizen will walk if Amherst school cannot live up to its name.

Dr. Ed said...

Part 1 of 2

School choice in Amherst needs to also be viewed in the context of both shrinking enrollments and the costs associated with increasing poverty. First, the enrollment issue:

The Baby Boomers graduated high school in 1979 and all through the 1980s the letters RIF plagued the K-12 profession -- "Reduction In Force." Anyone over the age of 50 in the education profession remembers those three hated letters...

Four elementary schools once weren't enough for Amherst, which is why the portable classrooms were purchased -- now the town functions quite well with just three. A middle/high school complex built for 6 grades (7-12) now has enough space for people to consider putting the 6th grade there -- an 18% increase if I am doing the math in my head right.

Amherst has a major demographic gap -- there are very few people between the age of 22 and 58, the age at which people have children in K-12.

UMass imploded along with Dukakis when the Cold War ended and the DoD research/development funding for all the high-tech stuff along Route 128 ended as well. There were the layoffs - of junior (young) employees circa 1989-93, along with a lot more young people not getting hired "at the U." Then in their mid-20s and single, these are the people who now are in their 40s-50s, married & with children, but not living in Amherst.

Concurrent with this, and the Cherry Hill Moneypit -- built for the sole purpose of stopping a housing development, is a good example -- was the effort to stop the development of what I refer to as "unaffordable affordable housing" -- housing for young families not on public assistance. Modest "starter homes" stopped being built in favor of the "McMansions." Rent control ended, the market consolidated, the Section 8 program expanded (because all the UM students, including those living in the dorms, were considered "low income Amherst residents), and mortgages became quite easy to obtain during the "housing bubble." --

Today, virtually everyone renting on the open market in Amherst (i.e. not from a friend or relative) is either a UM student or has a Section 8 subsidy. Remember too that, in Amherst, HUD pays 120% of what they consider to be the "fair market" rent to be, a clear indication of how much rents are above actual value (e.g. local wages).

And one other factor -- fewer babies. Not only are women having fewer children, but 20% are now ending their fertile years without ever having given birth -- in earlier generations it was 10%.

So we have fewer now-middle-aged folks with jobs in Amherst, they have fewer children, and for the past 20 years it has been cheaper for them to be paying a mortgage in Belchertown or South Hadley than rent in Amherst -- they can get better housing for less money and also build equity.

So if UM has layoffs, and more families have to leave the area in search of employment elsewhere, you can see where the K-12 enrollment will go...

Dr. Ed said...

Part 2:

By refusing to house UM students, the Amherst Housing Authority has created another problem for the district -- it has brought in a large number of non-working single mothers from not only Springfield/Holyoke but Boston.

Remember that 80% of the Section 8 Vouchers must go to people whose family income is less than 20% of the poverty level. In other words, an income less than one-fifth of the poverty level figure.

So at the same time the overall enrollment is decreasing, the number of really-really poor children is increasing.

And the relevant issue here is the home environment that this cadre of children often come from -- it's not supportive of education.

Dr. Ed said...

In Amherst, it was political correct to tailor the school to the lowest denominator student level.

It's not just Amherst -- this is nationwide and being championed by Obama's so-called "race to the top."

This is coming out of socialist theory and needs to be understood in that context. The belief is that the child who has mastered the material ought to be held back and forced to tutor the other children because it wouldn't be "fair" for one child to have more education than the rest.

I ask why the child shouldn't be on the payroll. Teachers are paid, exactly what aspect of forcing the child to perform teaching duties without compensation isn't a form of slavery. Even if it is the child given the Faustian choice between sheer utter boredom and uncompensated tutoring, what part of the 13th Amendment isn't being violated here?

We didn't eliminate "tracking" - we just eliminated all the upper tracks and forced EVERYONE to be on the bottom one, to learn at the pace of the slowest learner.

Needless to say, my views aren't popular....

Anonymous said...

Uh, your views arent even factual Ed.

Dr. Ed said...

Uh, your views arent even factual Ed

I'm not going to waste my time citing my references -- which are numerous and quite well respected.

Home Schooling is going to do to the Educarats what the Baptists did to the antidisestablishmentarian movement.

Anonymous said...

This is great news for the valley. The school provides challenging academic work who believe they do not receive it from the surrouding communities. Also, many of the students have been bullied or picked on at their old schools and go to PVCICS to feel welcome and be part of a positive community atmosphere.

Larry, A parent at the school told me the charges against Kathy and the teacher were dropped and the Department of Child Services acturally reveresed their decision.

The only concerns I have with the school is what does their expansion look like and how can that space and surrounding land support an expected major building renovation without impacting the traffic and environment.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ed,
How about just references for these...
"there are no young middle-class families in Amherst anymore" (Who recently bought those 4 houses in my neighborhood?)
"Amherst has a major demographic gap -- there are very few people between the age of 22 and 58, the age at which people have children in K-12." (Gosh, I seem to hang out with tons of them)
"Today, virtually everyone renting on the open market in Amherst (i.e. not from a friend or relative) is either a UM student or has a Section 8 subsidy." Uhhhh, what?
Facts matter Ed :-)

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, A parent at the school told me the charges against Kathy and the teacher were dropped and the Department of Child Services acturally reveresed their decision.

There would be a DF&CS letter to that effect, wouldn't there be, much as there was the initial one of finding?

Anyone seen it?