The finances of this deal are straight-forward so this is not a financial exposure story (at this stage) but the disclosure of other details were intriguing.
Although I haven’t looked all that hard, I’ve long suspected that the profit seekers and homeschool parents could make certain internal compromises and design a charter school program to fit their particular needs. So now I’ve stumbled on such a program because the State of California Charter School Finance Authority in its wisdom approved tax-exempt bonds to let one such school buy/build a part-time school facility to be called Coastal Academy. The present Coastal Academy in 2011 had about 927 students in K-8 in a unique setting.
Coastal Academy is one school inside a three school chain going by the name “Classical Academies” even though there is no legal entity serving as the charter management organization. “Classical Academies” are so active in promoting charters in the state that the Walton Family Foundation’s California Charter School Association gave its founder Cameron Curry (a former Escondido, CA city planning official) an award in 2011.
The bond’s Official Statement [link here opens large PDF] laid out the schools program and even hinted at some of the more spiritually-minded aspects of the program too.
First, the “Classical Academies” educational program (p. A-1)
“The borrower offers two award winning and state recognized educational models of independent study. Although both of these two distinct models combine elements of classroom-based and nonclassroom-based instruction, for purposes of ADA calculations (due to the regulatory definition of nonclassroom-based ADA) as explained more fully below both models are considered to be nonclassroom-based programs.
Track A and Track B. The first option for students is mix of in-seat time combined with an at-home component. In this option, students attend class on campus two days per week in a traditional classroom setting. Within this option there are two tracks of students. Students on Track A attend classes called “workshops” on Tuesday and Thursday and students on Track B attend “workshops” on Wednesday and Friday. This program doubles the enrollment possible in a facility by having two sets of students using classrooms on alternative days. [dwelker note: also potentially doubling revenue, brilliant!]
Workshops are led by a State credentialed teacher in a traditional classroom setting with a class ratio of 20 students to 1 teacher. Workshop days cover core academics: reading, writing, mathematics, history and science and offering enrichment in computer literacy and music. This is done to maximize group projects, discussions and activities.
Track C. The second option, known as Track C, allows even more flexibility with a student’s choice of curriculum, enrichment labs and personalized learning. Students on Track C complete the majority of their education in an independent study environment off campus under the supervision of the parent. Each family has their own credentialed student, who we refer to in the program as an “Educational Specialist.” Educational Specialists become advocates and personal guides in assisting students and families in curriculum, course selection and lesson planning.
The Educational Specialist, working in partnership with the parent, assigns academic work to be completed by the students. The Educational Specialist monitors and evaluates what the student has completed, where they are excelling, and where they are struggling to ensure that assigned work is modified to meet the specific academic needs of the student in his or her care.
Students on Track C also have the opportunity to participate in weekly on-campus “C’Lectives” classes and labs as well as optional field trips and specially selected programming for these students.
For both Track A/Track B and Track C programs, parents or guardians are the primary educators on non-workshop days and work collaboratively in partnership with the classroom teacher to ensure that individual student needs are addressed. This relationship of student, parent, and teacher creates a winning formula directly tied to the student’s academic success.
Sure, what could possibly go wrong.
Within this “Track” program, overall school enrollment has grown dramatically. In 2007-08, there were 360 students combined in Track A/B and 207 students in Track C; by 2012-13, there were 440 students combined in Track A/B and 487 students in Track C. The school projects enrollment in its newly constructed facility to be 720 combined in Track A/B and 399 in Track C. [dwelker note: this suggests a low-ball figure perhaps so as to not freak out the authorizer, the Oceanside Unified School District.]
As for the other “enrichment” opportunities, this is where the questions arise for possible other motivations of the school’s operators.
Leadership. Leadership courses are designed for middle school students and teach the value of becoming self-motivated leaders with integrity and purpose. The core curriculum has been adapted from the Situational Self Leadership program by The Ken Blanchard Companies, and through employees of the Blanchard Companies who are parents in our program. There are three years of leadership training available, beginning in 6th Grade. Leadership is an optional class that meets weekly and has a homework and community service requirement. Students are encouraged to initiate opportunities to serve their family, school and community through the school year. (p. A-6)
Ken Blanchard is a prolific writer of management self-help books including one big seller titled Lead Like Jesus. This web site states its beliefs clearly: “We believe that the Bible is God’s verbally inspired, complete written revelation to mankind.” Blanchard is the “Chief Spiritual Officer” at The Ken Blanchard Companies. There is a Ken Blanchard College of Business at Grand Canyon University, a publicly listed [NASDAQ:LOPE] “private, accredited, Christian university located in Phoenix, AZ.” ProPublica’s Sharona Coutts focused on GCU in its series on for-profit universities in 2009 - 2011.
Character Education. Coastal Academy incorporates character education into daily lessons, emphasizing the 8 Keys of Excellence through specialized lessons, assemblies, workshops, speakers, community service and field trips. The 8 Keys of Excellence were developed by the Quantum Learning Network. (p. A-6)
I hesitate to re-post anything I found - either pro or con - on Quantum Learning Network, its program called SuperCamp or its founder Bobbi DePorter. At a minimum, positive reviews on SuperCamp are easily found on the California Homeschooling Today web site. The reader will have to draw her own conclusions.
In the end, the promotional details in this bond’s Official Statement seem to re-state what appears to be an open secret in San Diego County. The Voice of San Diego in 2008 did a story on the homeschool/charter school issue and even had a quote from a parent at the Classical Academy, sister-school of Coastal Academy:
“My concern was, am I qualified to give my kids a quality education?” asked Lyn Burnes, whose two sons attend the Classical Academy, an Escondido charter school for homeschooled children. Burnes decided to quit the public school system because her son, a fast learner, felt lost in a large classroom. A self-described Christian, Burnes was also unnerved by the public schools’ take on U.S. history and evolution. “I wanted the oversight of an established institution,” Burnes said, “and I wanted to reinforce that with my own values, at home.”
The Voice of San Diego is presently running a series on the insider dealings of public school systems and the bond industry players who donate to bond campaigns. The old adage Follow the Money is keeping a lot of people busy. In the case of Coastal Academy, the money leads to a school model that raises what I’d classify as church and state issues.
But from a profiteers perspective, one can see the perverse logic in an investment in a facility that doubles its revenue generating business (if it fulfills the ADA definitions etc) by alternating days it services its full paying “customers.”