Armando Christian Pérez is opening a charter school in Miami. This, in and of itself, is not an amazing fact considering that since the first charter school opened in 1992, there have been more than 5,000 charter schools created, which now serve more than 1.7 million students. It is, however, interesting to say the least when you consider that Armando Christian Pérez is better known as Mr. 305, Mr. Worldwide, or Pitbull.
Now, I’m not an avid Pitbull fan like some of my students are, but I enjoy a good Pitbull song every now and again, especially when one comes on in the middle of my Zumba class. I can even overlook the sexist, mysoginistic lyrics on occasion in favor of a good beat and a feel-good chorus. But opening a school? Is he really qualified to do this?
Pitbull himself would say that, yes, he is qualified. At this year’s National Charter School Conference in Washington, D.C., he talked about his new school — called the Sports Leadership and Management Academy, or SLAM for short — and he informed his audience that he is ”not just a charter school advocate. … I’m a charter school parent.” However, does sending your kids to a charter school make you an expert in school management? Well, if we could follow that logic, sending your car to a mechanic would make you qualified to open an auto shop, or eating at a restaurant would make you qualified to open one.
I’m not the only one who thinks so; former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and renowned charter school opponent Diane Ravitch slammed SLAM for its for-profit status: “[I]t is not that Mr. Pitbull has a heart overflowing with love of children or love of learning. He is making a lot of money.”
Many, many people are shocked that a rapper with such a bad reputation, with lyrics that are too vulgar to be repeated on the radio or in this blog post, could even dream of opening a school and have it supported by the public. Raquel Regalado, a member of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ school board, told NPR: “[I] don’t know if it’s going to provide something useful at the end of the day… I guess you can expect Pitbull to show up every now and then, and that’s cool if you’re a Pitbull fan … [but] how does that translate into academic achievement? That’s the difficult part of this that parents don’t understand. … I think it’s a marketing ploy, honestly.”
Celebrities are no strangers to this type of marketing ploy. Famous benefactors from Meryl Streep to Sandra Bullock to Oprah have opened charter schools or made significant donations to them around the world. There are numerous problems with this, not least of which is the obvious attempt to look charitable in the face of a scrutinizing public by throwing money around.
First and foremost is the fact that, despite a few appearances in the school’s (no doubt state-of-the-art) auditorium, these celebs cannot be counted on to be active participants in the education of the students that attend there. When these celebrities open schools and walk away, there’s no telling what might happen, like the scandal Oprah faced at her Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg just a few years ago.
While things that extreme may not be happening in U.S. charter schools, the model simply isn’t sustainable. The teacher turnover rate at charter schools is so incredibly high that most teachers don’t have more than a few years experience. It’s been proven that teachers with five or more years are the most effective, so charter schools are not getting the most effective teachers. According to Mother Jones, this high turnover is a direct result of the fact that charter school teachers are not afforded the same contracts as public school teachers and, therefore, work incredibly long hours. This is great when they are young and idealistic, but it is not a sustainable job choice for anyone who wants a life outside of work.
I suppose only time will tell, but I, for one, am not convinced that SLAM will be a slam dunk. For the kids’ sake, I hope it is, but we will have to wait and see.
Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi
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