A Charter School Travesty: When For-Profit Companies Do Not Work in Non-Profit Charter Schools

What if your child attended a charter school for a full semester and yet did not earn one credit towards graduation? What we share with you is a saga that makes the administrators, teachers, students and parents of the charter school want to weep for the loss of education for their students over the last school year.

Advanced Academic Inc. (AAI) is a for-profit online academic program company. They are a division of DeVry University. They made an offer to assist a financially struggling charter last summer. This offer of money was made with the provision that we use the AAI online academic program. At first, this offer truly sounded like a dream situation, an answer for educators everywhere. Instead it was a nightmare.

What administrators and teachers soon found out was that AAI's online academic program is difficult for the urban population. From AAI's own company report, there were approximately 382 students enrolled in the school the first semester, with students taking more than 1,500 classes. Staff was aghast when we learned that there were only 70 classes completed or passed!

We are the staff of the Academy of Recording Arts Charter School in Hawthorne, California. We wanted to let you know the travesty that ensued since AAI online program came into the school. With AAI's new online academic program students were taking all of their classes via the computer, whether they were on-site or home-based students schooled virtually from their homes. Staff was told by AAI to interact with students only from computer to computer. Teachers were told by AAI to have no face-to-face interaction with students, unless dealing with behavior issues. If students asked for any assistance, teachers were to be told to tell the students to go to their computer and ask their question online via chat rooms, phone calls and emails. This was the delivery model, even when students were seated only 10 feet away from a fully credentialed teacher.

Once our staff received the AAI report indicating massive student failure, ARA staff discussed, negotiated and pleaded with AAI to make changes in the delivery of their program and how it was used with the urban student. AAI refused, making their online academics program and delivery model sacrosanct. They did not care if the students passed classes or not. They did not care whether these students would later need to attend school for a few more years in order to earn a diploma. AAI online company gave a virtual shrug and sent our school a clear message: You must keep the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) monies coming regardless. At this point the school director and the teaching staff had had enough.

Second semester the staff formed the onsite students into small groups and held classes to disseminate, face-to-face, the AAI course information in ways that students could actually understand. Teaching in small groups with the urban population is working much better. However, AAI did not approve, and told us to stop teaching the students in a personal way. We refused. Their newest line is to say if we had just followed their hands-off-the-students approach, their model would have worked. Staff saw day to day how their students continued to fail without face-to-face understandable delivery from the staff.

Due to AAI's educational online program, Hawthorne USD has refused to renew the charter for ARA Charter School. There are several schools in LA County and San Diego County enduring similar problems. AAI will tell you that it was years of problems with the charters -- yet actual teachers, parents and students can tell you tell you that AAI's program and delivery model is not tenable for the urban population.

Now this AAI has managed to wrest financial control from the ARA Board and School through a slickly written addendum to their contract with the school. Even the ARA Board was hoodwinked by AAI threatening to withhold funds if the Board did not vote for the addendum. The addendum allowed AAI to fire half the offending teaching staff, cut the salaries of remaining staff by one third, and increase class size to 45 to 1. This was done because of those of us who dared to teach in ways that the students could learn. Sadly, firings and salary reductions took place last Thursday. The fact that this would put the school well over the mandated minimum class size does not seem to bother AAI. They have virtually taken over the school and board in all financial and academic decisions. This is happening in Hawthorne and other LA charters. It has already happened in San Diego. We ask that you help us end this nightmare of for-profit companies wresting away control of non-profit charters.