Great Hearts: Hey! The wealthy need segregated charters too!?

I noted neither a critical or opposing view in the first MYSA article, but David Safier, an Arizona blogger, has plenty of information on Great Hearts, a charter seeking to open schools in San Antonio. Is Great Hearts banking on segregation in their charters?

Thanks to Karen from Houston for sending along the info for this thread.

 Charter school operators hoping to open in S.A.

Great Hearts is one of three charter applicants seeking to open schools in San Antonio next year. The others are BASIS, also from Arizona, and the Eleanor Kolitz Academy, a private Jewish day school that wants to reconstitute as a public charter called Ben Yehuda Academy. The State Board of Education will vote on these and 11 other charter applications in November. Both BASIS and Great Hearts were lured to San Antonio by the George Brackenridge Foundation, which donated $1 million to each and is helping them leverage additional funding. The foundation has also supported KIPP-San Antonio and the recent expansion of IDEA Public Schools into San Antonio.

Nashville Schools’ principled stand against Great Hearts charters costs them $3.4 million

The strongly conservative Tennessee legislature wanted a charter school in Nashville run by Great Hearts, a conservative-led charter school chain in Phoenix. The Nashville school board said no. Until recently, Tennessee charter schools could only be for low income students, and the proposed Great Hearts charter would be set up in a ritzy area of town and function as a government subsidized private school for rich kids.

So the state is withholding $3.4 million from the district.

The roughly $3.4 million in non-classroom administrative funds that state officials plan to withhold is part of a pool that includes student transportation, utilities and maintenance for 5,000 classrooms and more than 80,000 students, according to the statement.

Great Hearts schools in Phoenix have a number of fees parents have to pay, and the schools strongly recommend parents contribute at least $1,200-$1,500 per year per child. I mentioned their Scottsdale and Mesa schools which have almost about 90% White and Asian students. I didn’t mention Teleos Prep in central Phoenix, which is 69% Black, 16% Hispanic and 12% White — 64% are on reduced lunch. Interestingly, the curriculum that seems to work so well in the high rent districts isn’t doing so well with a lower income student body. Scores on achievement tests are low.

Great Hearts believes in separate-but-unequal schools. When people in Nashville told Great Hearts board President Jay Heiler they wanted a diverse, heterogeneous student body, Heiler replied,

“We have schools that land all over the map [in Phoenix],” Heiler says. “Some would be serving very middle-class folks by and large, we have one inner-city school that serves ethnic minority kids, and we have another one that would open that would be similar to that. In Tennessee it seems like there was more of a focus of bringing diversity into each school, whereas here we try to serve a diversity of communities.” [boldface added for emphasis]

Great Hearts Charters: Our educational model costs more than we get from the state

Great Hearts Academy charter schools ask its parents to give between $1,200 and $1,500 per student per year. From the Scottsdale Preparatory Academy website:

The essential priorities of Scottsdale Prep’s educational model cost more per-student than what we receive from the state. Therefore, we ask our families to contribute to the annual Community Investment campaign and help make up that difference. . . . We ask each family to contribute $1,500 to cover the per-student gap between what we need for our academic model and what we receive from the state.

When you look at the school’s contribution form, it’s clear $1,500 per child is considered a minimum donation.

Charter school proponents like to talk about how lean and mean they can be financially without all those pesky unions and that burdensome district bureaucracy. It looks like Great Hearts Academies have a different model. They’re giving privileged kids a private school education on the taxpayer’s dime — plus $2,000 or more per student per family to make up the difference. And it’s schools like Scottsdale Prep and BASIS the “education reform” conservatives use as examples why charters provide superior education while they ignore the largely mediocre-to-poor charter schools filled with less privileged students.



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  • After touring a Great Hearts campus, these are the exact words I used to describe the school to my husband — “It’s almost like a private school for free.”

    Little did I know all the controversy that surrounded the school. Neither did I ever imagine my statement could be considered a bad thing. And, that was before I learned they weren’t really “free,” because they didn’t mention that part during the tour.

    My child went to BASIS their opening year here in San Antonio. I can tell you Great Hearts is a different place. I can certainly see how their rigorous curriculum would be more attractive to affluent families. The few students I personally know that attend Great Hearts came from private school. The tour I attended had several private school families.
    A school located in a mansion of a church, in million-dollar Monte Vista, for free — what a deal!

    But truth be told, the real attraction for parents is the classical education — latin, advanced math, immersion spanish in the lower grades, philosophy. I think parents have a real thirst for education to return to those aspirations of truth and beauty. The respect and learning happing in classrooms is something to see. I can’t imagine any parent not wanting that for their child. That explains the 1200 people on their waiting list.

    Sure, their location might have attracted their initial students but with the reputation they’ve built for themselves, I’m pretty sure they could open up a school tomorrow in the worst neighborhood and it would instantly fill up, because that type of education isn’t available anywhere else in San Antonio, at least not for less than 10 grand a year and at least not as a standard to the entire student body.


  • As a current parent of a child at a Great Heart school I will tell you the good and the bad that we have experienced. The good is that if you have a student that fits their model (good student, no trouble, etc) then they might do just fine. If you have a student that isn’t in the top percent academically or has a disability (ADHD, etc) then they will not be welcome in their school. They are not equipped to deal with these kids NOR do they want to. They are looking for kids that will improve their test scores and present no extra work for their staff. This is something I have seen and heard from multiple people that were leaving the school. The other main reason I’ve heard for people leaving is that the administration is neither flexible nor honest when dealing with families all the time. Others on this board might make the argument that it’s the parents that make the difference and parent involvement is important. I believe that is true as well, however if the school is only looking for certain kids they can do that and it’s not easy to hold them accountable. They can basically do whatever they want and force these other families out. They can do all of this AND still get taxpayer money. That is the great injustice here. If the parents that pay the “voluntary” contribution want this for their kids that’s fine but the taxpayers should not be paying their share. This whole company is truly a private school posing as a charter school to get public dollars.


      • Sad parent, I am a parent of a BASIS student and the same holds true there, almost to the tee. It’s so sad and frustrating. And Monica, please understand that not all parents are uninvolved. Some parents like myself are deliberately turned away from participating in their children’s education under the guise of, “we are just trying to make your children responsible for their own educations”, even as 5th graders. Parents are not even allowed in the school premises and we are herded thru car pickup and drop off lanes to prevent anyone, especially parents, from sneaking in. We can’t help carry projects in, we can’t talk to them in cases of emergencies, we can’t get meetings, conferences, or email responses, we get deliberately dis included in the school newsletter emails even after repeated requests to be added to the distribution lists, the school doesn’t even provide lunches for the kids! All the school cares about is the money and the test scores. Forget about equality, forget about bullying, forget about drugs or sex ed, and forget about education at all. No time is taken to teach study skills. Either your child has to get a tutor to help fill in the gaps, or they just don’t make it, perpetuating the ever money motivated cycle of the education “business”.


    • Angry, that may be a huge difference between Basis and Great Hearts. I know Great Hearts truly values parental involvement. But I can also understand the reasoning behind the rules Basis has. When my kids first attended Great Hearts they were coming from being homeschooled so I chose not to be in the classroom at all. Since I had spent many years as their primary teacher, I didn’t want them to come to me for instruction or clarification, I also don’t help too much with the homework. Instead I encourage them to be as independent as possible to find solutions.

      Back to the not all schools are a fit for all children, I have one child at Great Hearts, but my gifted child decided to go back to homeschooling where she an work at a more advanced pace than she could at Great Hearts.

      I keep reading and hearing parents saying that Great Hearts is all about the grades, but that is not at all my experience. In each and every discussion and evaluation with my daughter’s teachers, the focus is and always has been on encouraging the child to develop a love for learning. The more my daughter embraces learning the better she does academically.

      We are not able to contribute financially to the school. And it has never been a big deal. we get the standard boiler plate letters that I assume they send to everybody, but we give our tax dollars (as in what we pay in regular state taxes and property taxes) and that is it. I do not receive harassing phone calls or emails or letters (except the ones that are generate on occasion during fundraising season).

      One of the reasons, Angry, that I never considered Basis is my perception that the school is a no nonsense, academically focused (obsessed?) system, I have, in the years that my daughter has been at Great Hearts, found that their focus is on much more than education. They have a strong desire to encourage students to think for themselves. The students study music and art and philosophy and history. The students are encouraged to question the teachers. The students opinions are valued and appreciated. I think this goes a very long way in developing the self-esteem of the student that the adults that are teaching them value their input and opinion. I know my daughter finds tremendous validation when she comes across a new piece of information, goes out and does additional research, and brings back questions above and beyond what was taught in the classroom, and the teachers respond always in a positive and encouraging manner.

      I would highly recommend, Angry, that you do more investigation into the Great Hearts schools. At least the one that my daughter is at is great for encouraging students to develop a real love for learning.

      Of course, since we have experience with only one Great Hearts campus, I can’t really speak to those campuses, but I find that what goes on at our campus is directly in line with the stated objectives of the Great Hearts organization.


    • Wow. I literally could have written your post. I am a parent at GH Northern Oaks here in San Antonio. I’ve been approached by several parents who have children that are 504. These parent overwhelmingly feel “unfairly treated”. It was an observation from afar and until recently didn’t believe I shared their same grievance. However, what is absolutely true is your statement “..the administration is neither flexible nor honest when dealing with families…”, This is FACT. I’m very torn. I feel hostage to the quality education I want to give my child but feel terrible for cowering to the obvious injustice of myself and others.


  • You have some interesting points. However, one of the most interesting that is neglected is parental involvement within the school and their support of students outside of the school. One of the greatest complaints that parents have of the Great Hearts schools that are in disadvantaged areas is that they don’t buy in to the curriculum and don’t see the curriculum as being relevant to their lives. When parents don’t support the school, the students are going to pick up on that. If the parents don’t see why students are studying Latin and what the benefits are long-term to the study of Latin, they don’t support their students in those studies. And the students performance is going to suffer as a result. Rather than seeing what the long-term benefits are of the more classical approach to education, these parents want to know why their kids aren’t being taught skills that are immediately marketable – like auto shop or other skilled labor courses.

    Without parental involvement, the students are going to suffer. And the parents need to understand and buy into the fact that education, in and of itself, has value. Until education has value to the parents, the student is going to suffer.

    These Great Hearts schools that are in more affluent areas, have large numbers of students that are coming in from outside that school’s immediate area. I know parents that drive their kids 25 to 30 miles to take them to Great Hearts schools. These parents place a high value on their kids education and are very supportive of every aspect of Great Hearts, including the rigorous academic standards and the higher level of homework.

    It isn’t curriculum that fails students. It is the adults in their lives that are failing them. Kids need to want to learn in order to be open to learning and to buy-in to the work that needs to go into a great education. If the adults aren’t showing that education is valuable, how are the kids expected to view it as anything other than complete and total drudgery that is forced upon them against their will with no understanding or concept of how this can and will benefit them if they will open themselves up to learning?

    If parents value education and share that belief with their kids, the kids will have a much higher level of success. If parents are telling their kids that school is a waste of time, but that they have to do it because it is the law and then ranting on about how much they hated school, the kids aren’t going to do well. What’s the point? Their parents don’t care, why should they?

    To have true equality in education, we have to have parents supporting the belief that education is important and worthy of pursuing. Because no matter how good the school is, an apathetic student is going to do poorly.


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  • Until we have true equality in education we will not have excellence. Thanks for posting this!


    • Bill, kids are not equally educated when they show up on the first day of class in Kindergarten.

      There is a bell curve of natural ability (from learning disabled to profoundly gifted) overlaid with another bell curve of learning received at home (from almost zero positive interaction to lots of educational attention, trips to museums, etc.)

      So how do you propose creating true equality in education in this environment?

      I would go so far as to say that I think the exact opposite of your statement is true: when there is true equality in education, there will be no excellence.


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