You’ve probably heard the expression that there are two things you don’t want to see being made: Sausages and laws.
As a longtime reporter, I’ve been surprised at how elected officials approve legislation or make critical decisions with very little information or with a complete disregard for the facts. I once attended a three-hour meeting of the House Judiciary Committee where 18 witnesses — including a national expert flown in by the committee — testified in opposition to the bill under discussion. The witnesses provided convincing and overwhelming evidence that the law would be a nightmare to enforce and would only worsen the problem it was supposed to solve. Not a single person spoke in favor it the law except the sponsors.
But the committee passed the bill anyway. And the state has been at the losing end of legal challenges ever since.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Atlanta school board’s debate over renewing the charter for Atlanta Preparatory Academy. Several of you commented on the lack of depth of that debate, including forensic accountant and APS watchdog Jarod Apperson.
While most of us went on our way after the blog discussion, Apperson went to work. He continued to delve into Atlanta Prep and its management company, Mosaica.
Here is what he found. This is an excerpt from his incredible Grading Atlanta blog.
Please take a look at his blog — a must-read for APS parents, superintendent Erroll Davis and the school board — as Apperson has more details and data on Mosaica. He also has a comparison of Atlanta Prep and other APS charter schools. Again, this is only an excerpt so please take the time to read his entire investigation. It is worth your time.
By Jarod Apperson
This for-profit charter management company was founded in 1997 by Sandy Springs resident Gene Eidelman and has since expanded to a network of 90 schools, generating more than $125M in annual revenue. For several years, Inc. Magazine has ranked Mosaica as one of the fastest growing companies in urban America.
Unfortunately, students attending schools managed by Mosaica have not seen their educational trajectories rise with the management company’s revenue. Instead, Mosaica’s students around the country consistently underperform their peers.
Mirroring the organization’s national record, Mosiaca’s local charter school, Atlanta Preparatory Academy (APA), is one of Georgia’s worst performing schools on annual exams, with students in all grades scoring in the bottom 20% statewide.
The school is currently up for charter renewal and has requested that the Atlanta Board of Education grant it a five-year charter extension.
During the December 2012 school board meeting, Mr. Allen Mueller, Executive Director of Innovation for Atlanta Public Schools (APS), recommended that the Board of Education decline to renew APA’s charter, citing low academic achievement and concerns about the school’s financial independence from Mosaica. District 1 Board of Education representative, Ms. Brenda Muhammad, quickly rebuffed this recommendation and advocated extending the school’s charter for an additional five years. The Board ultimately voted to delay any decisions until its January 2013 meeting.
A review of Mosaica and APA’s history, academic performance, and financial management raises serious questions about the prudence of granting the charter school an extension.
During Mosaica’s short tenure on the national stage, it has found itself immersed in a series of scandals across the country.
The Lafayette Academy Charter School opened in the fall of 2006, paying Mosaica $773,000 for the first year of a five-year management contract. Less than 10 days into the school year, the charter’s governing board started “noticing problems.” In a lawsuit filed against Mosaica, the governing board alleged that the management company failed to align its curriculum to Louisiana standards, failed to establish an after-school program for struggling students, and failed to properly organize transportation to and from the school. On September 14, 2007, an arbitrator awarded the governing board a $350,000 judgment against Mosaica and upheld the school’s termination of its management agreement.
Two years later, Mosaica’s Howard Road Academy in D.C. was embroiled in a cheating scandal when a student announced to her exam proctor that she knew all the answers to the DC-CAS standardized test because she had been given the test to practice the day before. The Washington Post later reported that Mosaica administrators distributed tests prior to exam day for “extra practice.”
In April 2012, Mosaica’s STEAM Academy of Winston-Salem, North Carolina faced revocation of its charter for financial problems and low academic performance. Just before annual exams were to be administered, The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Mosaica hired Susan Willis to run the school. Prior to landing this job, Ms. Willis was fired by her previous employer when an investigation found that she conspired to boost test scores as the principal of William Flemming High School in Roanoke, Virginia. Mosaica claimed to be “aware of a testing irregularity,” when hiring Ms. Willis, but “didn’t think it was anything significant.”
Last month, four of Mosaica’s Atlanta students were injured when a classmate mixed dry ice, vinegar and water together in a bottle. One student was burned. Another was hit in the head with the exploding bottle, and another got chemicals on his face. The injuries occurred when a substitute teacher “wasn’t looking.”
Just last week, the Detroit News reported that Mosaica’s newest school in Muskegon Heights, Michigan has struggled to maintain a stable staff during its first year of operations. The principal quit before classes started, and just three months into the school year, 25% of the teachers have also left the school. A student described his experience as follows: “It’s confusing because I go from this learning process to this learning process to that learning process and it’s just ridiculous how some teachers leave and we have to start all over and learn something new…It’s just, it’s crazy.”
The nation’s most admired charter networks (e.g. KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, Success Academies, etc.) have all followed a familiar pattern of expansion. First, they started with a single school in a single city, worked to perfect that school, and then replicated the successful model. As they expand, the networks strive to ensure their new schools consistently implement the approaches which proved successful in their flagship location.
Unlike these organizations, high standards do not seem to be a priority at Mosaica. Perhaps the thing most consistent about Mosaica’s schools is their failure.
A comprehensive analysis conducted by Arizona State University lists the first 36 schools founded by Mosaica since it began operating in 1997. Twenty seven of those schools have since been shut down by local authorizers or have extricated themselves from Mosaica’s management.
Of the nine which survived, eight can be classified as categorical failures. They have consistently scraped along the bottom of the barrel in their states as measured by performance on annual exams. Here are those schools’ most recent statewide percentile rankings on exams as compiled by SchoolDigger:
- Arts and Technology Academy of Pontiac (MI) – 10th Percentile
- Bay County Public School Academy (MI) – 15th Percentile
- Columbus Arts & Technology Academy (OH) – 11th Percentile
- Columbus Humanities Arts and Technology Academy (OH) – 8th Percentile
- Grand Blanc Academy (MI) – 16th Percentile
- Howard Road Academy (DC) – 14th Percentile
- Phoenix Advantage Charter School (AZ) – 34th Percentile
The only possible beacon of success among Mosaica’s first 36 education attempts is the Columbus Preparatory Academy. Founded in 2004, until recently, the school has struggled, its test scores falling in the 6th percentile in 2008. After the Columbus Dispatch ran a story including the school on a list of charters facing closure, the Columbus Preparatory Academy saw its performance undergo a meteoric rise to the 81st percentile on the state’s 2011 tests.
Even if this single-year increase is an accurate reflection of lasting student growth at Columbus Prepartory Academy, Mosaica has demonstrated no capacity to duplicate the success elsewhere. Instead, the organization seems willing to accept a certain level of school closures, focusing instead on a strategy of opening new schools. During the time the network watched 27 of its first 36 schools close, it was able to open more than 75 new schools. As long as Mosaica opens more schools than it sees closed each year, its revenue can continue to grow.
By the time local or state authorities step in to shut schools down, Mosaica has already earned several years of profits and can move on to the next opportunity.
In December 2006, Mosaica’s President Gene Eidelman filed a charter petition to open the Atlanta Preparatory Academy (APA). The charter application indicates that non-profit APA intended to contract with for-profit Mosaica to provide all services.
Unlike Grant Park’s community-based Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, APA was not founded by a group of local parents seeking better options for their kids. Instead, Gene Eidelman was joined by a team of three outsiders, none of whom live in the community where APA planned to operate its school and none of whom send children to the school. The charter lists its inaugural board as follows:
- Gene Eidelman – President
- Neil Shorthouse
- Ann Davis Jones
- Falomi Prescott-Adams
The application acknowledged a conflict of interest as APA’s President was also the founder, owner, and President of Mosaica.
Undeterred by this conflict, the APS Board of Education approved the application, paving the way for APA to open in the fall of 2008. The school was not prepared to receive students in 2008 and ultimately delayed its start to August 2009.
Since the Board of Education approved the school’s charter five years ago, APA has been a revolving door for board members who join then leave the organization. Founders Ann Davis Jones and Falomi Prescott-Adams have both severed ties to APA. According to filings with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, each of the past four years the school has had a different Chief Financial Officer (CFO). None of the individuals who have served as CFO appear to have earned a degree in finance or accounting.
- 2009 CFO Gene Eidelman did not graduate from college.
- 2010 CFO Neil Shorthouse earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh.
- 2011 CFO Colin Colvin’s background is unclear
- 2012 CFO Dekisha Drayton is an MD who studied Biology as an undergraduate.
This instability and lack of financial experience stands in stark contrast to the consistent financial leadership seen at Atlanta’s successful charters. One of the city’s most highly regarded charters is the Charles R. Drew Charter School. Its CFO, Brian P. Williams, has served in that role for at least six years. He also has a financial background and worked for 10 years as a CPA with PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Much like Mosaica’s other schools, APA’s students rank among the bottom of the pack on Georgia exams. For the 2012 CRCT, the school didn’t see students in any grade exceed the 20th percentile statewide. In three of five grades, students ranked in the 10th percentile or lower. Importantly, the school’s highest performing students are 7th graders who received their K-4 educations elsewhere, prior to APA opening. APA’s sub-par performance is even more disappointing when one considers that, with a low-income percentage of 61%, fewer of its students may face the challenges faced by students in most other APS charters.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog