USF professor warns about business model of education

March 2, 2012 

BRADENTON -- As the trend of private management companies overseeing charter schools grows, a University of South Florida professor is warning against applying business principles to education.

“In schools, you’re not going to end the day with a profit,” said Terry Osborn, dean of the College of Education at USF. “If you do, that’s money that could have been spent in the classroom helping students learn.”

Osborn was among three panelists Thursday at a Tiger Bay Manatee meeting that focused on charter schools. Osborn said that while businesses can easily place a value on “widgets” and services, it’s impossible to “place a value on a child’s inspiration.” He also said that public schools are so heavily regulated, applying a traditional business model to them makes no sense.

“I would like any business leader to tell me, what business could survive the regulations that are placed upon these schools?” he said.

The Tiger Bay charter schools discussion is especially timely in Manatee County for two reasons. The district projects that 13 percent of its students will be enrolled in charter schools by 2013. And the county will welcome its 10th and 11th charter schools this fall, one of which is run by a national corporation that has charter schools nationwide.

Charter Schools USA will open an 1,100-student school in eastern Manatee County this fall. Like other private management companies that run charter schools, Charter Schools USA creates nonprofit foundations to run its individual schools.

While none of the panelists criticized the school in particular, and School Board Chair Harry Kinnan said he welcomed all charter schools into the “panorama of education,” another panelist said the trend of management companies overseeing charter schools raises some issues.

Bill Jones, founder and principal of Manatee School for the Arts, said companies like Charter Schools USA follow the practice of starting local foundations to administer their schools in order to comply with state requirements. He also said while he is not opposed to Charter Schools USA, he does think charter schools should offer something different that public schools. He said after the panel discussion that he’d “like to see more programs” at the new charter school.

“As a taxpayer and a local resident, I would hope we would open schools that would create new opportunities for students,” Jones said.

He also said the state Legislature needs to find a way to ensure that the resources of failed charter schools, which receive public school funds, are turned over to districts rather than to the corporations that manage the schools.

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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