Too little education is a costly thing

School Competition: The end of the beginning

As 2011 ends, Ptown, Monomoy and Nauset raise stakes

"In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards."This year, 2011, will be remembered as the year that forever changed public education on Cape Cod. 

From a scandal at the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School to dropping, shifting school enrollments we’ve seen a lot. 

We have watched the Sandwich public schools squander their school choice attraction in a pair of public relations disasters (teacher contract and football beat-down). It was Mark Twain who first told us, "In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards."

"He who opens a school door, 
            closes a prison
."
This month we have seen the groundbreaking for new campuses for our two charter schools and a skirt-raising negotiation over where Provincetown’s high school students will attend school in the future. Carolyn Cragin and Paul Niles should hang Victor Hugo's admonition on their office walls, "He who opens a school door, closes a prison."

Lastly, we enjoyed a misguided op-ed in the old media by a young woman who thinks that football championships should determine the greatness of a school. At least she could have had the wit to quote Vince Lombardi, "A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall."

The bottom line is that the ground has shifted under the Cape’s public education system and the landscape will never be the same.

Challenging Numbers

Cape students drop 18%, some schools close, others merge.Faced with a Cape-wide drop in enrollment of almost 18% in the past decade, some school districts are dissolving (Provincetown) and others were forced to merge (Harwich/Chatham).  Cape Cod’s public schools now enroll 6,478 fewer students than they did in 2001.  When a business loses 18% of its customers drastic changes are required.

Meanwhile – if declining enrollment isn’t sufficiently challenging - a district like Dennis-Yarmouth finds itself losing over 300 students to other districts under school choice – and paying $1.9 million in school choice money to those other districts in the process.

Evolve or Die

Chatham’s schools maintained their independence for almost a generation by embracing school choice.  Indeed, Chatham learned how to package themselves as a “destination district” for school choice students.  Similarly, Nauset Regional High School has been able to expand course offerings and athletic opportunities with 23% of the 1,000 students attending under school choice, bringing $1.3 million in funding to NRHS. 

On the other side of the coin, we see elementary school districts like Orleans that has lost over 22% of its enrollment or Brewster that lost 28% both stubbornly refusing the open for inbound school choice.  In the case of Orleans Elementary School, the decline in enrollment is perilously close to a point where 50% of the faculty could be laid off – yet the Orleans Elementary School Committee refuses to evolve.  In Brewster they are held prisoner to a surplus school building that they cannot abandon due to state funding requirements – yet the school board won’t evolve into school choice.

Charter Schools Expand

Will the third Sturgis Charter School replace Sandwich H.S.? With Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School moving to a new facility in East Harwich in September 2012, the charter middle school becomes a more attractive destination to children in the mid-Cape area.  Similarly, Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis is opening a second campus to accommodate their overflowing wait list.

Charter schools are not a panacea but they are attractive to many parents and students.  Certainly a reader of this news site is no stranger to the academic and compliance problems that surfaced with Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School this year.  As far as Sturgis is concerned, we hear rumors of “unsuitable” kids being banished from the school, much to the ire of school administrators in neighboring districts. 

No matter either school’s internal issues, Sturgis remains ranked as one of the best high schools in the nation and CCLCS has shown a commitment to ameliorating their problems.

The Provincetown Wild Card

Last weekend we learned that Provincetown is negotiating with the Monomoy Regional School District about a possible tuition agreement for their high school students who currently attend Nauset.  It was also revealed that discussions are pending on a possible joining to either Nauset or Monomoy’s district by Provincetown.  While the jury is still out on this undertaking, many people believe this is an elaborate ploy by Provincetown Superintendent Dr. Beth Singer to drive a hard bargain with Nauset, where tuition rose by $2,014 per student in one year.

Looking Ahead - What Cape Cod school districts will look like in the near future

Public education on the Cape will never be the same.  Competition between districts will escalate as the student population continues to drop.  We expect the next three years to be an exercise in Education Darwinism here on the Cape, perhaps most visible on the Lower Cape but encompassing the Upper Cape by 2015.

If we were venture a prediction on the Cape’s K-12 education landscape in 2021 we think it might look like this:

District....................................................................Towns

“Upper Cape Regional”...............................................Sandwich, Falmouth, Mashpee

“Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal School”........................Native American tribal school

“Barnstable-Yarmouth Regional”...............................Barnstable, Yarmouth

Monomoy Regional School District............................Chatham, Harwich, Dennis

Nauset Regional School District  (A K-12 district).......Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet,  Truro and Provincetown

Upper Cape Regional Tech & Cape Cod Tech...............Merged at the former D-Y High School        

Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School..........................Second campus in mid-Cape area

Sturgis Charter Public School.....................................Third campus at former Sandwich H.S.

As Winston Churchill said in 1942, “This is not the end.  It is not evening the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

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