Interesting story about the Harmony charter schools, which are right up there with KIPP and YES Prep among the top charters. They seem to attract a fair amount of criticism, more than their peers, for how they do their business, which is explored in the story. Based on what is detailed, I have to agree with SBOE member David Bradley (much as it pains me to do so) that a lot of the criticism seems misguided. The one thing that struck me as odd was this:
From 2008 to 2010, the Labor Department certified 1,197 H-1B visa requests from the Cosmos Foundation — more than double the number of visas certified nationwide for Texas-based computer company Dell USA and about 70 percent as many as were certified for tech giant Apple Inc.
Those certifications were forwarded to the Homeland Security Department for final approval.
The visas are intended to attract foreign workers with skills that are in short supply among American workers.
Harmony has about 290 employees working on H-1B visas, or 16 percent of its workforce, according to Superintendent Soner Tarim. Most are Turkish, said Tarim, who is also from Turkey.
Few other Texas school districts hire significant numbers of workers on H-1B visas.
“Staffing Northside schools has never really been a problem,” said Pascual Gonzalez, spokesman for Bexar County’s largest school district with 97,000 students, where Labor Department records show no H-1B visa certifications in recent years. “In the past there have been thousands of people applying for hundreds of jobs.”
At Harmony, Tarim said the charter network finds a shortage of qualified teachers in math, science and English as a second language sometimes prompts them to hire foreign workers.
He noted that Harmony’s focus on science and math means particularly high recruiting standards in those areas.
“It’s unacceptable for us to raise our kids to say, ‘I cannot do math,’” he said.
Nearly a third of the H-1B certifications received by Cosmos actually were for jobs outside those fields, however.
Labor Department data includes visa certifications for legal counsel, accountants, assistant principals, public relations coordinators and teachers of art, English and history.
“They may be on an H-1B visa and they already worked in our system and they changed positions,” Tarim said, noting the number of certifications includes renewals and applications for individuals who change jobs or locations. “Remember, we always promote from within in our organization.”
With all due respect, I find that explanation weak. I have a hard time believing they are unable to find sufficiently qualified teachers, and I rather doubt that math and science teachers are moving on to take positions in accounting, legal, or PR in significant numbers. I strongly suspect they do what they do because it’s their preference. Which is all fine as long as they can get the visas approved, but I do understand this line of argument against them. Given the results they get, if that’s the worst that can be said, it’s not too shabby.