At Indianapolis' Carpe Diem Charter School, You Can Seize the $100

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A story about an Indiana charter school doesn't sound relevant here in Arizona, except that the school is a branch of a Yuma charter much loved by conservative "education reform" advocates and much touted by our previous Ed Supe John Huppenthal.

Carpe Diem charter in Indianapolis wanted to increase its enrollment mid year, before the deadline to determine the school's attendance, which determines the school's per-student state funding. So it decided to give a $100 gift card to anyone who refers a student who enrolls.
You've already given your child(ren) the best gift possible - a quality education. Now please join us in recruiting students like yours who can also start 2015 out great. . . . For each new student you refer that enrolls at Carpe Diem Meridian, we'll give you a $100 Marsh gift card!
It seems the school's strategy of handing out fliers to parents at day care centers, TV and radio appearances and two open houses wasn't enough to do the trick.

Paying for references to charters is legal in Indiana
. I'm not sure how the law goes in Arizona, but I'm guessing it's OK here too. Ann-Eve Pedersen, my cohost on the cable access show, Education: The Rest of the Story, did a story in 2013 about a $100 charter school bribe advertised in a flier given out to students as they walked out of her son's school at the end of the day.

Carpe Diem is a "blended learning" school which began in Yuma and has been opening branches in other states. Here's why the reformers/privatizers love the "blended learning" model so much. It has students parked in front of computers in little cubicles half the day working on computerized lessons, and they spend the rest of the day with teachers. The average student-to-teacher ratio is twice that of most schools: about 50-to-1. That means less money spent on teachers — no way businesses can make serious money on teacher salaries — and more money spent on computers and online curriculum — Ka-Ching! The Indianapolis school lists five teachers for its 240 students.

The proponents of the "blended learning" model point out that students at the Yuma school made tremendous gains in their math and reading scores. And they did, one year. The problem is, there was reason to believe the tests might have been altered by a staff member or two. Excess erasures — a wrong answer erased and a right answer bubbled in — are a sign of possible cheating, and some student tests at the school had about seven times the state average of wrong-to-right erasures. After that was pointed out,  student scores dropped significantly over the next few years.

My understanding is, good charters are supposed to attract students because of their quality as the invisible hand of the marketplace separates the good schools from the bad. If a school needs to resort to a very visible hand offering a $100 referral reward, you've got to wonder if it's really offering the kind of education parents are looking for.

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