Innovate_Investigate_Collaborate. | The Charter Explosion | Carnegie-Knight Initiative for Future of Journalism Education
These hybrid schools are blowing up the public education model

The Ones That Left

By Annie Hauser

In the short and storied history of the nation’s for-profit charter school companies, Mosaica stands out as one of the oldest and biggest. Founded in 1997, now with 33 schools nationwide and seven overseas, the company hopes to be renowned for its signature Paragon curriculum, a hands-on social studies program that crosses several disciplines.

Critics, however, say Mosaica is instead known as the company most often fired by its clients. Since it has been around since 1997, more schools have had more time to bail out.

But University of Western Michigan research scholar Gary Miron says it’s not just a matter of longevity. Schools pull out because of poor management and lackluster test scores. The company expanded too quickly in 2001, Miron says, by absorbing the much larger, for-profit Advantage Schools, a company that was overwhelmed and ill prepared to serve mostly low-income students.

Mosaica C.E.O. Michael Connelly agrees that acquiring the troubled Advantage posed some challenges for the company. The majority of its schools are now in some of the nation’s poorest city neighborhoods. But he does not agree that its test scores have suffered. The interdisciplinary approach to learning, Connelly insists, leads to better test scores.

The only study on Mosaica’s achievement scores, conducted five years ago by the American Federation of Teachers union, criticized the company’s self-evaluations saying they resulted in inflated student scores. The A.F.T. study looked at state testing data and found Mosaica schools usually ranked below average at all grade levels, with no clear evidence of improvement.

Mosaica co-founder Dawn Eidelman maintains that the company’s testing data is valid and shows clear evidence of student achievement. Moreover, she points to the many Mosaica schools where scores have improved.

One such school, Richfield Academy in Flint, Mich., has turned in a steady rise in test scores since opening in 2005. Richfield students scored nearly the same as Flint’s public-school students in most subjects last year. There were a few outliers — for example, fifth graders were 68 percent proficient in science at Richfield, compared to only 49 in the Flint school district. In English, Richfield fifth-graders lagged behind by 16 percent. Both Richfield and the Flint school district fell well below state averages. An outside analysis of the company as a whole is currently in the works.

Below is a quick look at the 11 schools that have left Mosaica in the last three years. Some broke contracts early, in some cases prompting Mosaica to countersue the schools. Some simply chose not to re-sign:

Denver Arts and Technology Academy, Denver, Colo.

The school board voted to permanently close the school at the end of the 2009 school year. The school was on probation for its last year of operation due to lagging test scores and declining enrollment.

Arts and Technology Academy, Washington D.C.

This school left Mosaica in 2008 after seven years in order to manage itself. A representative from the school refused to comment on the specifics of when and why the school left.

Business Entrepreneurship Science and Technology Public School, Highland Park, Mich.

The school’s five-year contract with Mosaica ended on June 30, 2009. Representatives from the school would not comment on why it chose not to renew its Mosaica contract. It is now managed by for-profit Choice Schools.

Kalamazoo Advantage Academy, Kalamazoo, Mich.

The school’s authorizer, Grand Valley State University, did not renew the school’s charter after the end of the 2008 school year due to low test scores and declining enrollment. The school tried and failed to find a new authorizer, and was forced to close in the summer of 2008.

Graystone Academy Charter School, Coatesville, Pa.

Graystone Academy left Mosaica at the end of the 2009 school year. It is now self-managed.

Academy of Dover, Dover, Del.

According to an audit by the state of Delaware in June 2006, the board members of the Academy of Dover were misled by Mosaica about their financial situation. After problems were not addressed, they terminated their contract and employed Innovative School Development Corp. for the 2006-2007 school year. Mosaica sought arbitration against the school for $2.7 million in unpaid fees, and at the time of the report, the school was planning to file counterclaims that Mosaica breached their original agreement.

Lafayette Academy of New Orleans, New Orleans

The Lafayette Academy school board said Mosaica mishandled their school from the onset of the academic year. According to an article in The New York Times on Oct. 17, 2007, the building was dirty, there were not enough school buses, and textbooks were never delivered. By the end of the year, more than half of the teachers had quit and only 36 of 98 fourth-graders passed the Louisiana state tests. After breaking a five-year contract with Mosaica after one year, the school is now closed. Connelly says these claims were false, and the lack of resources was due to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Center Academy, Flint, Mich.

According to former Center Academy parent liaison Frank McDowell, School Board President Wanda Brown spearheaded the decision to leave Mosaica at the end of the 2006-2007 school year. Brown could not be reached for comment, but McDowell says the school board wanted more African-American staff members working in the primarily African-American inner city school. McDowell, who is black, said he felt the board did not have the students’ best interest at heart and left Center to go to Richfield Academy, a nearby Mosaica school. Five other teachers and several students also transferred from Center to Richfield.

Bay Mills Objiwe Charter School, Brimley, Mich.

According to Dr. Patrick Shannon, the director of charter schools at the school’s authorizer at Bay Mills Community College, the school is now self-managed. With about 100 students, the Objiwe Charter School decided it would be more fiscally sound to leave Mosaica in 2004 than to continue paying 12 percent of its annual revenue to the company.

Our World Neighborhood Charter School, Astoria, N.Y.

Steve Zimmerman, president of the school board, says Our World Neighborhood Charter School chose to not renew its management contract at the end of the five year agreement. Zimmerman says Mosaica was a good start up partner. If there were problems with Mosaica, Zimmerman won’t say. The school officially ended its contract with Mosaica on July 1, 2006, and has been self-managed ever since.

Ronald H. Brown Academy - Elementary/Middle Schools, Harrisburg, Pa.

According to the Commercialism in Education Research Unit and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the school is now closed because it failed to comply with financial and performance standards required by Pennsylvania Charter School Law.

List of schools from: Commercialism in Education Research Unit, Arizona State University; Student Achievement in Schools Managed by Mosaica Education, Inc., F. Howard Nelson and Nancy Van Meter, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, 2003.

Filed Under: MichiganNew York CityPennsylvaniaUnchartered Territory


About the Author:

Comments (2)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. [...] The Ones That Left—News21: The Charter Explosion Lafayette Academy of New Orleans, New Orleans [...]

  2. [...] the actual performance of Mosaica schools has always been difficult since its portfolio of schools has been somewhat of a revolving door, with schools leaving the Mosaica fold and new ones entering on a regular [...]

Leave a Reply