Aurora Academies and its US mastersPosted: May 21, 2013
The Aurora Academies Trust runs four primary schools in East Sussex. It has the status of “lead sponsor” with the DfE which means that it is in a good position to expand its portfolio of schools. The Trust has hit the headlines with the discovery that it is paying £100,000 a year to its American parent company, Mosaica Education Inc. in order to make use of its patented curriculum known as Paragon.
This raises a lot of issues. First, there is a tradition on English education of collaboration and a free exchange of ideas between schools. Yet here we have something described as a “patented” curriculum which schools have to pay to have access to. This seems to fly in the face of all the rhetoric from government about schools supporting one another. This isn’t the first occasion that the notion of commercial confidentiality over learning resources and approaches to school improvement has raised its head. If allowed to continue, it will present a real challenge to the tradition of a free exchange of ideas and resources.
Next there is the fact that the schools are required to buy this material by their academies trust which is responsible to its US parent company. At first sight it’s far from clear that the material is particularly suitable – Ofsted has commented that it “lacks a distinctively local element”. But the principle is perhaps more important. The heads and staff have no control over this fundamental aspect of their schools. There is no sign of an open tendering process and no attempt by the schools concerned to compare this approach with any other. It’s a completely closed arrangement.
But much more important than this is the actual record of Mosaica Education in the USA. Like many charter school chains they can list a number of awards and commendations. But dig below the surface and the picture changes. Its schools have consistently underachieved and the chain has been embroiled in a range of scandals. A detailed description of the issues concerning Mosaica in the USA can be found at http://gradingatlanta.tumblr.com/post/37756846391/charter-founder-profits-students-struggle.
The record of Mosaica schools seems to be dismal. Of the first 36 charter schools they took on, 27 have either been closed or have left the organisation. The approach is described as being “willing to accept a certain level of school closures, focusing instead on a strategy of opening new schools. During the time Mosaica watched 27 of its first 36 schools close, it was able to open more than 75 new schools. As long as Mosaica opens more schools than it sees closed each year, its revenue can continue to grow.”
Another feature of Mosaica is that schools end up owing substantial sums to the parent company which charges very substantial management fees. In one case a Mosaica school in Atlanta spent over $900000 of public money on a site which has never been used. The school is now paying interest to Mosaica at 7.25% on a half million dollar loan.
Amongst other alleged little gems are:
– The school in Louisiana closed because its curriculum did not comply with state requirements;
– The school in North Carolina which, when faced with criticism of its poor test scores, hired a principal previously sacked for manipulating test scores;
– The school in Washington DC which gave students test papers to practice with the day before an exam.
As one Atlanta commentator says “perhaps the thing most consistent about Mosaica’s schools is their failure”. The fact that this organisation has been accepted as a sponsor of schools in England is a very clear warning of where the system will be heading if we open the door fully to profit making schools. There can be little doubt that Mosaica see their current academies as a foot in the door ready for the chance to make serious money which will come from a new Tory government.