Sunday's Columbus Dispatch features a must-read profile of charter school magnate David Brennan. The Dispatch having also profiled Rod Parsley, they seem intent on writing up all the denizen's of Pho's personal anxiety closet.
Unfortunately, the Dispatch's website is pay-only. For anyone who has a subscription, the profile is here, a sidebar on White Hat profits is here, and quickie graphic on the White Hat congolmerate is here.
For the rest of you, I will quote liberally. According to the CD, this is a rare interview. So, what do we learn about David Brennan?
David Brennan may not be completely evil.
Brennan speaks extensively about his empathy with the poor families who make up his customer base. He talks a good game so sincerely, he may actually believe it. From the beginning of the article:
David L. Brennan says there was a seminal moment in his life, an instant when it dawned on him that he had something in common with poor, black prostitutes plying their trade on Cleveland’s streets.
Hey, don't say that. That's not nice. The article continues:
there it was, a revelation that a "mother on welfare with four kids loves her kids as much as I love my four kids. I realized these people are my brothers and sisters, and their kids are my kids, just as much as mine are theirs."
Near as Brennan can recollect, the revelatory experience occured in 1996 when he roamed the hallways of the first voucher schools in Cleveland. There, he met destitute single mothers, even prostitutes, who came to fetch their kids and heard them cry out for help through their words and body language.
On the other hand, the article contains no mea culpa, nor any acknowledgement really, of the dismal academic success of White Hat schools.
Brennan has odd, and oddly selective ideas of success.
"Do you know what the Life Skills centers do? They teach dropouts. None of them were going to get a high-school diploma. The system has completely failed them. . . . We have taken a zero success rate with dropouts and gotten 20 percent to succeed. By God, that’s pretty damn good and better than anybody else has done yet."For anyone unfamiliar with Life Skills, the "alternative" involves dropouts sitting at a computer for three hours a day for self-guided instruction. For this, Brennan gets a per-student rate equal to the state foundation for any other K-12 student -- about $5200 per year. Imagine for a moment a liberal official suggesting that we spend $5200 per student to let young people who could not finish in a school where an actual teacher is telling them what they need to know study on their own by computer. Imagine that program succeeding only 20% of the time. Conservatives would go nuts. But since Brennan's is a private enterprise, he is a Great Man.
Meanwhile his "better than anyone else" line ignores the success of traditional GED programs.
Brennan said: "Parents do not move a child who’s having a good experience in the
public schools. . . . Think about one thing — I don’t know of an exception to
this — every single charter school that’s opened, kindergarten through eighth
grade, has a waiting list for kids to get in. How long do we turn our back on
However, there have been charter schools fail for lack of enrollment
and last year at least two in Columbus — Harte School and Crossroads Preparatory
Academy — struggled financially because of lower-than-expected enrollment.
Brennan needs some remedial math.
Brennan financially supports the TABOR effort which would limit growth in government spending to 3%. No one on either side denies that TABOR would require deep cuts in government services, primarily because the cost of Medicaid and other health care spending is outpacing inflation. Yet Brennan maintains that, notwithstanding TABOR, "he is confident that charter schools will merit even higher-priority funding in the future."
Brennan has no sense of irony.
Brennan's take on his prodigious campaign spending is that he is merely bankrolling politicians who believe in "school choice," just as he does. Except for Voinovich:
Brennan said Voinovich originally was "a hard sell . . . a tough convert" on school choice. But Brennan said a $25,000-per-person fundraiser in his back yard for Voinovich, headlined in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, opened the door, "So at least when he got into (the governor’s) office, I had his ear about choice."
Brennan knows when to change the subject.
Asked about his schools’ academic performance, Brennan said it’s "asinine" to gauge the Life Skills centers on the same scale as public high schools.OK, Dave. But is it asinine to judge the equally abyssmal Hope Academies by the same standards as traditional K-12 schools?
Brennan believes in accountability and is making money. But he won't be accountable about how much money he's making.
The entire sidebar explores how Brennan has kept the books of White Hat closed. For someone who believes in market solutions -- market solutions depending on freely available information to succeed -- this seems curious. Apparently, he will comply with a new law to detail his finances when he gets to it.
All in all, a better effort than the Parsley profile. The CD interviews usual suspects who freely launch criticisms, cite facts to correct the subjects mistatements and generally balance the reportage.
Meanwhile, I have to ask. Can a profile of Kevin Couglin be far behind?