Do you think building and operating a really expensive mockup of a NASA space center and mission launch control in one of our schools is a great educational idea? Well, as the Courier-Journal reports today in “Challenger Learning Center ‘on hold’ by JCPS,” the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) did exactly that. Inevitably, this costly idea has now failed to successfully launch in what is a spectacular example of lousy bang-for-the-buck planning.
First, consider the “bang” part of the equation.
As far as the impact the center has had on students, the article says a grand total of only 10,000 kids have used the center since it opened in 2011. Considering that some of those kids probably came from outside of Jefferson County and that Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) enrolls about 100,000 students, there hasn’t been much student exposure to get any kind of significant benefit.
Furthermore, comments from JCPS Chief Financial Officer Cordelia Hardin that “we felt it would be used more, and not just from our schools, but also other industries around town that might want to put people through as tours” just reveal the obvious: the “bang” has been limited.
Was the learning center intended to be an attraction or a real learning tool?
Now, let’s talk about the “bucks.”
The article says the center has been in place for five years at an annual cost of $250,000; initially it cost more than $1.2 million to open the facility. That works out to a cost so far of $2.45 million minimum. That massive figure represents an awful lot of text books, digital-learning equipment (which could let kids take a virtual tour of the real NASA facilities) and maybe even some teacher pay raises that just didn’t happen.
Applying a bit of that higher order math thinking our kids are supposed to be getting from Common Core, so far the Challenger Learning Center has cost the taxpayer $245 for every student who has attended! I suspect that could pay for a pretty interesting field trip for those children to something even more educational.
Another bothersome occurrence came in the form of a comment locating the Challenger Learning Center in the chronically troubled Academy @ Shawnee district so parents would feel good about sending their kids there. I doubt a lot of parents really fell for that, but Jefferson County so far has spent a chunk of money on this, anyway. It would have been better to spend that money to improve the staff at The Academy @ Shawnee, but that didn’t happen, either.
One last question: What is a “Magnet Coordinator” and how does that staff position improve education for children?
When we are talking about the low-performing Academy @ Shawnee, I’d much rather be hearing about a math expert going into the school.
In any event, it looks like someone at JCPS has decided not to throw more good taxpayer money after bad. At least that is some progress.