I have been a public school principal. It is like being buried neck deep in the sand, watching the tide roll in.
Many people think that as a principal, you run the show. You make the decisions. The truth is you don’t. You know what needs to be done. You know what you need to accomplish it. But, you’re helpless. The system has your arms and legs pinned, unable to act, unable to do. The proverbial government red tape is very real.
You see, the school system is not set up for free-thinkers who question why things are done the way they are. It’s not set up for those who do not accept the answer, “because it’s always been done this way.” Instead, the system rewards those who go along to get along.
Enter Meeting Street Schools. These schools are unique “public-private partnerships.” This means they are privately operated but receive public funds from the school district on a per-student basis. On top of these public funds, money is donated by businesses and individuals to provide students with additional resources and support they would not otherwise receive. Ben Navarro, the billionaire behind Meeting Street Schools, is pushing state legislators to amend a law that allows just one public-private partnership school in each school district. It’s tough to argue with him. The success of Meeting Street Schools is undeniable. Students there greatly outperform students in similar schools in the district and state.
The reason for Meeting Street Schools’ success is hardly a new concept. The extra support provided to students has been proven in numerous research studies to be successful. Things like lengthening the school day, extending the school year, and providing two teachers in each classroom are staples in this model.
Naturally, we ask: How do we replicate the success of Meeting Street Schools?
Traditional public schools are currently unable to provide the extra support that students need. Public education in South Carolina needs better funding. That’s a fact. Many argue, though, that simply throwing money at the system won’t fix it.
I don’t trust that extra funds will actually make it to the classroom. I don’t trust that it won’t be blown on a computer program or curriculum hailed as the newest silver bullet. I don’t trust that it won’t be spent to expand the massive sea of consultants and mid-level managers that have a stranglehold on our system.
Any teacher will tell you that there is an incredible amount of money wasted in the system. Money that does not go toward educating students. For instance, in May 2013, it was reported that Charleston County School District paid 30 employees $100,000 or more. Today, the district boasts more than four times that amount, with 133 salaries of more than $100,000 on the books.
The remedy for this alarming trend is surprisingly simple. Decentralization. The closer government gets to the people, the better it functions. We don’t need school districts with large district offices, mandates, and regulations to improve schools. We need school districts to embrace decentralization. To push resources and staffing away from the district office and into the schools. To push students instead of papers.
That is why Meeting Street Schools are successful. The money is spent in the classroom and teachers and school leaders are not handcuffed by layer upon layer of bureaucracy.
So, I say, amend state law to let Meeting Street Schools expand. Because until state legislators, school board members, and district officials truly understand what makes them more successful, educators will forever be buried, neck deep in the sand, watching the tide roll in.