The McDump Empire: Public Education as Gated Community

As a I noted briefly yesterday, in their schooling, my kids have attended some combination of charter (including a McKeel school), regular, magnet/special, and homeschooling. I attended a private college. I have nothing, in principle, against any type of school. I’m not a traditional school monopolist. I am a raging educational pragmatist, who thinks many of the endless reform debates are pointlessly abstract.

School Desk Steelcase Node Business Review's Innovation Michigan July 28, 20101But the McKeel empire, now that I understand it, is a uniquely pernicious concept, which has found a loophole allowing it to turn mediocrity into a selling point.

Here’s the key paragraph from Harold Maready’s confirmation today of everything Frank O’Reilly said and I wrote (except the Catholic school recruiting which he more or less denied, with some wiggle room).

“We are not equipped to serve all kids,” Maready said. “Do you keep a child who is failing in your school when you’ve tried remediation? You look at that and you try to do what’s best for the kids. We have limited resources.”

Oh, and here I thought you had managed your money so well that you could spend $70K on condo-hopping, errr, professional investment, at the beach for your staff. How much more “remediation” could $70K have bought?

What happened to all that the meritocratic cockiness? Remember this?

“We’ve got to be doing something right,” he said. “If you look at the traditional public schools, that’s not us. We like to do things differently.”

Now listen to the excuses and the whining about resources. If a principal at Carlton Palmore or Griffin said that, Maready and crew would be the first to tut tut and say buck up, little campers, it’s not about resources. What happened to doing things differently? Personal responsibility? Leadership?

Actually, the first thing Harold Maready should do is thank the teachers and administrators at regular Polk schools because they are the key to the business model that makes him, as I understand it, the highest paid principal in the county. His school depends on those regular schools to clean up its messes. Somehow I doubt that thanks will be forthcoming.

Here’s the bottom line: If you, as an instructional institution that calls yourself elite, fail to reach 12.5 percent of your student body so completely that you must dump them on someone else, you are not a good instructional institution. You’re a lazy one that doesn’t take personal responsibility.

And yes, I’m including voluntary withdrawals in talking about this. Anyone who’s ever been in a workplace, which I understand McKeel models itself after, knows that when management wants to get rid of someone, it tends to apply the screws in ways that lead to voluntary withdrawal.

And what’s telling is that even with a giant stated advantage that no other teaching and administration staff has, (the ability to set a standardized program and not worry if a kid doesn’t fit in because they can aggressively jettison students they don’t want) McKeel’s actual scoreboard performance is kind of meh.

It’s good, but not spectacular. Not to be all braggy about it, because I don’t think these scores mean much, and I hadn’t looked at them until just now, but Lakeland Montessori blew McKeel away — and I mean blew away, go look — last year. I’ll be the first to admit there are many reasons for that, not the least of which is how small LM is compared to McKeel and other schools, and its own self-selecting enrollment, but still.

If you’re the highest paid principal in Polk County, at a school system that aggressively weeds out kids, that has a free and reduced lunch population of between 15.5 and 21.9 percent, and that spends $70K on a beach retreat, you better be number 1 across the board. Nobody better blow you away, least of all a bunch of undisciplined leftist hippies. (I say that with an affectionate wink, Josie, teachers, et, al.)

No, what McKeel is selling isn’t education, but status. It is selling precisely its promise to weed out the kids who don’t fit, who might be problems, so that your kid won’t have to deal with them. It is the gated community of schools.

I fully understand why that model appeals to people. Listen to commenter Tim from my previous post, who very politely and honestly explains the McKeel appeal:

I appreciate the thoughtful op-ed, Billy, but I disagree entirely. McKeel is how school ought to be run. It’s a great school which stresses achievement, good behavior, and hard work. What’s wrong with that? I have all 3 of my kids on the McKeel waiting list because I can’t afford to send them to LCS (my first choice). My wife is also a public educator. Too much responsibility is placed on teachers and not enough on parents.

But we already have a name for that model: private schools.

If you want exclusivity, go pay for it yourself. Stop draining resources from the rest of the riff-raff. After all, as Harold Maready says, resources are limited. And knowing that, you might try for a little humility.

Creative Commons License photo credit: stevendepolo

4 thoughts on “The McDump Empire: Public Education as Gated Community

  1. Good for you, Billy. Great job exposing the sham of the McDump Academies. Beyond all their brainwashing, fabrication and gloating, get a load of these hard facts published in The Ledger in August regarding SAT scores. Despite McKeel picking their own students, they are among the worst Polk schools in the numbers that count and the only numbers colleges care about. The students taking the SATs are also products of the 1-12 McKeel system. These are sad but true numbers.

    Reading – Polk, 491, McKeel- 473, ranked 14 of 20 schools

    Math – Polk, 487, McKeel – 491, big whup, McKeel still trails the state average by 7 points and the national average by a whopping 25 points. And this is school of technology supposedly? McKeel is middle of the pack for Polk, in eighth place out of 20 schools

    Writing – Polk, 471, McKeel,450, ranked a pitiful 15 out of 20

  2. What you fail to realize is that the Polk County School Board has the same setup in it’s magnet and choice schools. This is not unique to charter schools. EVERY magnet and choice school kicks kids out that fail the FCAT, are retained, or that are discipline problems. Mr. ReIlly didn’t mention that fact in his little temper tantrum though. So why is it ok for the PCSB do have this policy and not McKeel?

    Each individual public school, whether charter or district run, is not intended to serve the needs of every type of student. The District is required to provide services for every type of student, but that doesn’t mean that every school has to. This is why some schools have special ESE units and some don’t. It is ridiculous to think that every single school has to offer programs for every type of situation.

    McKeel has done nothing wrong. If you think that every charter school should have to serve all types of students because they receive public funds, then you should feel the same way about state funded colleges. Why shouldn’t they take any and every student that wants to attend? Why should they be allowed to pick and choose students?

  3. What you fail to realize is that the Polk County School Board has the same setup in it’s magnet and choice schools. This is not unique to charter schools. EVERY magnet and choice school kicks kids out that fail the FCAT, are retained, or that are discipline problems. Mr. ReIlly didn’t mention that fact in his little temper tantrum though. So why is it ok for the PCSB do have this policy and not McKeel?

    Each individual public school, whether charter or district run, is not intended to serve the needs of every type of student. The District is required to provide services for every type of student, but that doesn’t mean that every school has to. This is why some schools have special ESE units and some don’t. It is ridiculous to think that every single school has to offer programs for every type of situation.

    McKeel has done nothing wrong. If you think that every charter school should have to serve all types of students because they receive public funds, then you should feel the same way about state funded colleges. Why shouldn’t they take any and every student that wants to attend? Why should they be allowed to pick and choose students?

  4. We as the USA want to be competative and we always compare ourselves to China….Go check out their school system and why they are successful… they have gated community schools almost from the day they are born, go to school less hours then americans, and are producing more productive students… As a country they invest their “money” in the ones that produce. instead if investing in the “programs”. we as a country need to do something different to get different results… not saying that it is right, but “change” can be both good and bad.

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