It seems that there is hardly a Board meeting that does not include a STEM update. Last night's meeting was no exception.
The superintendent is pushing very hard for this, but the harder she pushes the more we see the faults in the proposal.
Here is the latest on STEM.
Like a plane that can't get off the ground, they are starting to toss stuff out the door to lighten the load. To cut costs, they are dropping cargo. They have tossed out the extended day. It will no longer be for all STEM students, but only for those who are "struggling". They have also dumped the Summer Tech Academy, claiming that it was a marketing effort rather than an educational one.
Without the extended day, I don't think that STEM is quite the program that it was advertised to be.
Here's a basic principle for everything. Whatever you want, you can have it cheap, fast, or good - pick any two. If you want something good and fast, then it isn't going to be cheap. They want STEM to be good and fast, so they have to buy an off-the-shelf packaged product and they have to pay full retail for it. They could have it good and cheap, but then it wouldn't be fast and it wouldn't be ready by the fall. They could have it fast and cheap but then it wouldn't be any good. I understand this principle and I accept it. I think that we had the option, however, of deferring STEM until 2011 and saving ourselves a ton of money.
I am a little troubled that in the course of their "due diligence" they didn't see that the wonderful outcomes from some NTN schools is false. But these people have never been known for their ability to critically analyze data. I perform due diligence for a living and the misrepresentations in the data are obvious to me.
I continue to have trouble with the idea that there are NO costs associated with maintaining the NTN software license.
The budget continues to have costs for which no funding sources have been found. The budget still does not have anything like the kind of private source support that we were promised.
The staff has applied their skills with shifting capital budgets to the LAP dollars for STEM. Now, through their financial tricks, they are claiming that the extra LAP dollars for the startup costs and first year of STEM will not come from any other schools. For years two and three they say the LAP fund sources "are dependent on several variables (i.e. carry forward funds, school demographics and student performance)" In other words, they now claim that it is too far out to project and we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. They package ambiguity with some vaporware about the possibility of private money that might come later.
I find it hilarious that the expense they haven't been able to fund yet is the very expense that they are asking the Board to approve - the cost of the NTN software.
The next STEM update will come with the Open House on Saturday, followed by a Board Work Session on the 27th, and then the Board vote on the NTN contract on February 3. That's four STEM updates in two weeks. That's a full court press. The superintendent really wants this but she just doesn't have what she needs to make it happen. It could all be fixed if she could find a donor with about $800,000 for it. Supposedly she's been looking and hasn't found anyone yet.
Why not? I think because philanthropic organizations know that the STEM school won't be Cleveland anymore. STEM will not serve the school's historic population. It will serve a completely different population imported to take advantage of the opportunity. The new group of students who will enroll at STEM would have had strong academic performance with or without STEM. STEM won't improve outcomes for many students, so the whole proposition is questionable from the start. Philanthropic organizations are interested in improving outcomes for students who are under-performing and they can see that STEM won't do that.
I haven't heard anyone else talk about it yet, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned about the potential for STEM to create a "brain drain" at Rainier Beach and, to a lesser extent, at Franklin. Any student living south of I-90 who is performing well academically, concerned about having a safe school, or wants a motivated peer group, might choose STEM over their attendance area school. In fact, there is a risk that EVERY student meeting that criteria would choose STEM. That would leave Rainier Beach and, to a lesser extent, Franklin, without those students in their population. This is already a big contributor to Rainier Beach's problems, and with 1,000 open STEM seats practically in the neighborhood, things would only get worse. Let's remember that right now there is room at Cleveland for about 60% of the students at Rainier Beach. Consider a potential outcome that would essentially look like a swap of 500 low performing students moving from Cleveland to Rainier Beach and about 100 high performing students moving from Rainier Beach to STEM. That would both increase the number and concentration of under-performing students at Rainier Beach while simultaneously reducing the number and concentration of students performing at grade-level and better. That, my friends, is an ugly picture.
Schools need students of all types to maintain balance and good function. Rainier Beach is already seriously un-balanced with too many students who arrive working below grade level and too few working at or beyond grade level. That situation could be made much worse by the appearance of STEM. If I'm a member of the Rainier Beach community, I would be very, very concerned about the impact that STEM will have on the mix of students at Rainier Beach.