The problem of athletic academies that push sports and ignore academics is not a new one.
One recent growth industry has been the post-grad prep school, schools set up so that athletes who failed to make the necessary scores to qualify for NCAA play can take another year to make their numbers while still maintaining their sports edge. That tightening in standards grows out of repeated "discovery" by NCAA schools of athletes who can barely read. But private sports academies that gave students full days of practice with scant language or math studies were around long before the current growth in the charter school biz.
There has been an allure for decades in the prospect of finding fame and fortune on the court or the field. Add a famous name to the mix, and you have marketing gold for a rising charter enterprise.
Prime Prep Academy was just such an enterprise, launched to cash in on the charter movement and the star power of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. In the New York Times, reporter Michael Powell lays out the crashing and burning of that Texas enterprise. You should read the story-- it's a great piece of reporting.
The goal of a powerhouse sports giant that would rank nationally-- that they achieved. Academics, not so much. Instead, athletes receive the grades they need to stay eligible, and the staff and faculty who stay work in an atmosphere-- well, the former executive director is quoted in the article "I would say there was not a culture of safety at that school.”
The lesson here is twofold. One lesson we already know-- turning the charter school business into a handy way to get rich without having to actually prove that you know what you're doing is not healthy for schools. And really-- there's nothing else like it going on in any other sector. No state has said, "Sure, pretty much anybody can set up a law practice or a hospital." In state after state (I'm looking at you, Ohio) we are seeing charter authorizers who are less vigilant than my dog (who would greet a burglar with invitations to play with his chew toys and share slobber). "Hey, this guy is famous" is not much of a charter school plan. And yet as the article makes clear, that was the plan.
The second lesson is for free market school choice fans. One of the articles of faith in the choice crowd is the notion that the market, once freed from its government-forged chains, would rise up and demand educational excellence. What we find again and again is that a fair-sized portion of the market rises up and demands things like a school where students can play sports all day and don't have to worry about ever being challenged in academic classes. And the we get scholastic train wrecks like the Prime Prep Academy.