WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (September 13-19, 2010)

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Battle Over Class Room; As a $578 Million City School Opens in Los Angeles, Charters Press For More Space.” By Tamara Audi. Wall Street Journal. September 14, 2010. The scruffy rooftop basketball court of the Larchmont School, a small charter school packed into one floor of an 83-year-old building, offers a breathtaking view of the city’s priciest new gem: the $578 million Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” said Larchmont’s executive director Brian Johnson, gazing at the gleaming green rectangular structure surrounded by pristine athletic fields and rows of stately palm trees. The new public-school complex has drawn criticism for its cost at a time when Los Angeles city schools have laid off thousands of teachers to help plug its $640 million budget gap. But advocates for charter schools say the six-school campus is not just an ill-timed expense: They see it as a symbol of their frustrating quest to secure classroom space for charter-school students in Los Angeles. “When charter schools see projects of this kind being finished for certain kids, they see there is a system of haves and have-nots that is really being created,” said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, of the complex, which opened its doors on Monday to 4,200 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Cheating Charter Schools; Some teachers are apparently more deserving than others.” No by-line. Wall Street Journal. September 15, 2010. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have made charter schools a big part of their reform agenda, but the pushback from unions has been fierce. Perhaps that explains why the new $10 billion federal teacher bailout will be dispensed in a way that discriminates against charters. The Administration’s initial guidance excluded many charter school teachers, even though charters are public schools. The Department of Education said money from the Education Jobs Fund could go only to teachers and others employed by a local education agency or school district. “A charter school,” says the department, “may not use Ed Jobs funds to pay for the compensation and benefits of employees of a charter management organization or an educational management organization who provide school-level educational and related services in the charter school.” Many charter school teachers are employees of management firms rather than the school district, so the guidelines would have excluded more than 1,000 charters nationwide (serving around 400,000 students) from the cash. Following complaints, the Administration issued updated guidelines that it said will allow charter schools with employees not hired by school districts to get the federal funds. Big problem: This workaround still interferes with the autonomy of these schools, upends their hiring models, and undermines state laws that allow charters to contract with education management organizations. Charters that don’t do their own hiring will have to devote time and resources to compiling tax ID numbers and satisfying OSHA mandates and other rules they’d rather let outside partners handle. Administration officials say their hands are tied because the legislation stipulates that the money go to the school districts. In fact, the law is silent on contracting with outside management organizations and even the Education Department doesn’t have a problem with one school district contracting services with another school district. The education dollars in President Obama’s first stimulus flowed to charters schools based on need, regardless of how the school paid its teachers. Many charter operators suspect that the real problem here is that most charter school teachers aren’t unionized. The $10 billion bailout was designed as a pre-election reward for unions, which will plow the greater union dues into campaign funds to help Democratic candidates. Alas for charter school teachers, all they do is teach children.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

California Online School Seeks Students, Tax Dollars.” By Ben Adler. All Things Considered/
National Pubic Radio. September 14, 2010. A school district near Sacramento, Calif., is looking outside the box for new revenue sources in these harsh budget times. Elk Grove Unified has opened up its own Virtual Academy offering complete online curricula for grades kindergarten through 12. Officials hope to attract home-school students and children from other districts, plus the state tax dollars that come with them. But this kind of online education is also raising some red flags. TJ has a teacher with the school district with whom he’ll meet regularly. And he’s considered an Elk Grove Unified student, meaning the district gets paid by the state as though TJ physically went to school each day. That’s different from the charter school model, where the district loses each student’s funds entirely. “Charter schools have been the primary venue for the provision of online learning for virtual schooling,” says Anne Zeman, who works for Elk Grove Unified. “Why can’t public schools offer the same?” California sends school districts roughly $5,000 per student this year. For Elk Grove Virtual Academy students, about half that money stays with the district. The rest goes to a private company called K12. With 70,000 kids in 25 states and Washington, D.C., the company calls itself the nation’s largest provider of online education for kindergarten through 12th grade. Still, the Elk Grove Unified model — where the district manages the virtual academy and splits the funds with K12 — is relatively new for the company.

For-Profit Schools Donate to Lawmakers Opposing New Financial Aid Rules.” By Sharona Coutts. ProPublica.org. September 17, 2010. Between 2005 and the beginning of this year, Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., received $6,000 in campaign contributions from sources related to for-profit colleges. This year, he received more than $20,000 from the schools and their lobby groups, according to campaign finance records. What changed? For one, the colleges have upped their lobbying efforts [1] considerably in the face of proposed regulations that the industry says could shutter many of its schools. For another, Payne co-signed three letters [2] to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in which as many as 18 members of Congress pleaded with the secretary to put the brakes on that proposed regulation. Collectively, members who signed the letters received nearly $94,000 from the for-profit college sector between the beginning of 2010 and late July, according to the most recent available campaign finance data reviewed by ProPublica. Most of the donations flowed after March 22 — the date the first letter was written to Duncan. Other co-signers who received campaign cash from the industry include Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.; and Jason Altmire, D-Pa. Payne and Altmire sit on the House committee that oversees education, as do several other members who signed the letters and received donations. Payne did not reply to our requests for comment, but longtime campaign finance watchdog Fred Wertheimer, president of the group Democracy 21 [4], which seeks to “eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics,” said the money given to Payne created a troubling impression.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Employers Favor State Schools for Hires.” By Jennifer Merritt. Wall Street Journal. September 13, 2010. U.S. companies largely favor graduates of big state universities over Ivy League and other elite liberal-arts schools when hiring to fill entry-level jobs, a Wall Street Journal study found. In the study—which surveyed 479 of the largest public and private companies, nonprofits and government agencies—Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ranked as top picks for graduates best prepared and most able to succeed. Of the top 25 schools as rated by these employers, 19 were public, one was Ivy League (Cornell University) and the rest were private, including Carnegie Mellon and University of Notre Dame. The Journal research represents a systematic effort to assess colleges by surveying employers’ recruiters
—who decide where to seek out new hires—instead of relying primarily on measures such as student test scores, college admission rates or graduates’ starting salaries. As a group, the survey participants hired more than 43,000 new graduates in the past year.

Harvard Real Estate Deal with Chinese Fund Collapses.” By Elias J. Groll and William N. White. Harvard Crimson. September 13, 2010. Harvard University will not sell a portion of its real estate holdings to China’s sovereign wealth fund after efforts to broker a deal collapsed, according to a person familiar with the situation. Media reports estimated that the deal would have been worth several hundred million dollars. Harvard Management Company, which manages the University’s endowment, had been seeking to unload a portion of its real estate portfolio since February or before in order to improve liquidity, and the China Investment Corporation had been rumored as a potential buyer. The $300 billion state-owned fund has made several moves into the U.S. real estate market. The University has declined to discuss the deal. During the recent financial crisis, the endowment suffered losses of more than 50 percent on real estate in fiscal year 2009. That portion of the portfolio became difficult to convert to cash as many market players sought the security of more liquid investments. But, with liquidity concerns largely addressed, Harvard endowment managers are now taking a second look at the sector and keeping holdings they once looked to sell.

Yale Plans to Create a College in Singapore.” By Lisa W. Foderaro. New York Times. September 13, 2010. Yale University announced on Monday that it was planning to create a liberal arts college in Singapore that would be financed entirely by the government there and could, in time, establish a new model for higher education in Asia. While Yale has many international programs, it has not put its name on an overseas project the way it envisions doing at the National University of Singapore. The new institution, to be called Yale-N.U.S. College, would seek to import Yale’s signature residential college concept — in which students live, study and take classes in an intimate setting — as well as a curriculum that encourages critical thinking and inquiry in the humanities and sciences. But the diplomas would lack the cachet of a full Yale degree; they would be issued by the National University of Singapore. By contrast, New York University’s ambitious new college in Abu Dhabi, also underwritten by the government there, awards N.Y.U. diplomas. Still, Yale would be largely responsible for hiring 100 professors to teach about 1,000 students at the college, which is scheduled to open in 2013. If Yale decides to move forward with a full partnership with the Singapore university, it would control half of the seats on the college’s governing board and would jointly plan the curriculum and admissions strategy. The college is envisioned as a highly elite school within an already prestigious, yet huge and career-focused, university. Yale officials said it would draw top students from across Asia, where liberal arts programs are rare, and attract even more qualified Asian applicants to the New Haven campus of Yale by raising the university’s profile.
Related story:
Yale Plans New Campus—In Singapore.” New Haven Independent. September 13, 2010.
Alum discusses Yale-China Association.Yale Daily News. September 15, 2010.

After whetting city’s appetite, Harvard delivers a McDonald’s.” Editorial. Boston Globe. September 14, 2010. Har Promised a vibravardnt, multistory neighborhood in North Brighton, but a one-floor fast-food joint hardly makes good on that vision. The university is moving ahead on building plans for a freestanding McDonald’s restaurant on land it owns along Western Avenue — an idea more evocative of a roadside strip mall than a comeback urban neighborhood. Meanwhile, the long-proposed $1 billion science complex is on hold, along with hopes for many new homes, stores, and offices. For more than five years, Harvard and the BRA have filled meeting rooms with grand visions of a revitalized Allston/Brighton neighborhood. What they’re delivering, in this case, is burgers.

Residential college budgets to be equalized; Three wealthiest colleges will be hardest hit.” By Greta Stetson and Vivian Yee. Yale Daily News. September 14, 2010. The notion of inequalities among the residential colleges has long been a point of contention for students. Now, while they may still argue about which college has the prettiest courtyard or the nicest gym, as far as money goes, the debate is being settled. In the second year of a University-wide financial overhaul, members of the Provost’s Office, along with other administrators, have redistributed funds and alumni gifts in order to equalize the budgets of the 12 residential colleges. Three of the wealthiest colleges’ budgets have been reduced to match the others’, while the rest will receive funding that equals or exceeds their past budgets. “We did what students have been clamoring for for years,” University President Richard Levin said. “We made funding more equitable.” All of the colleges have given up some of their discretionary funds — money that comes from donations and endowments — to pay for their students’ financial aid and other general expenses, rather than study breaks and social events. Though administrators said students would largely not notice the effects of the recent financial “reshaping,” the changes are part of a larger administrative movement to control the Yale College budget more closely. Council of Masters Chair Jonathan Holloway said the rapid growth of Yale’s endowment in the past decade magnified previously insignificant differences among the colleges’ finances, as large, college-specific alumni gifts appreciated exponentially. “Things became so exaggerated during a decade of incredible endowment growth,” he said. “That was leading to a difference in opportunities for students.” The new era of tighter budgets and more centralized control marks a shift from the historical model of residential colleges with their own distinct personnel, personalities and, sometimes, finances. Though the colleges’ funding is becoming more uniform, administrators say the colleges will retain the distinctive characters that are central to the undergraduate experience.

A College Closes for Good as Rescue Plan Is Rejected.” By Lauren Etter. Wall Street Journal. September 15, 2010. As colleges open for the fall semester, the Lutheran school on a grassy hill overlooking town will sit empty for the first time in 126 years. Dana College closed abruptly in June after a long financial struggle. The fate of the private, 600-student liberal-arts school mirrors that of many small colleges whose challenges became more pronounced during the recession. But some officials at Dana think the school was also an innocent victim of a crackdown on for-profit colleges. Investors proposed to buy Dana and turn it into a profitable operation. But an accrediting agency effectively pulled the lifeline away by denying the college’s application to change ownership. Such accrediting agencies were facing pressure from federal education officials, who accused some of being too lenient in certifying for-profit schools with lax standards. Officials said such schools often pushed students to take on heavy debt loads without preparing them for careers. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, which accredits many Midwestern colleges, said it denied Dana’s application because the prospective buyers lacked experience and sufficient funds to keep the school open. A commission official said the for-profit controversy had nothing to do with the decision. Companies that operate for-profit schools have become saviors for many troubled small colleges. Over the past five years, at least 11 nonprofit colleges have been bought by for-profit entities, said Kevin Kinser, associate professor of educational administration and policy studies at the State University of New York at Albany. In the past year, some for-profit colleges have come under fire from government agencies. The Department of Education has proposed a policy change aimed at reducing outsized loan-default rates among students at such schools. Some operators have acknowledged problems and said they would work to eliminate them.

Yale’s endowment return might mirror Harvard’s; Endowment will likely avoid further losses, provost says.” By Vivian Yee. Yale Daily News. September 15, 2010. The Harvard-Yale rivalry has come to New Haven early this year, and it’s not about football. It’s about money: Since Harvard University announced last week that its $27.4 billion endowment made solid gains in the last fiscal year, partly erasing the massive losses of the year before, all eyes are on Yale investment chief David Swensen’s office. Harvard’s 11 percent return has set investment analysts and higher education observers buzzing about what returns might look like for all other massive endowments, but especially Yale’s, which — though historically always second to Harvard’s in size — produced bigger investment returns than its Cambridge rival for the last several years before the 2008 financial crisis. Provost Peter Salovey said he is confident the endowment’s return will be between zero and 10 percent, avoiding a loss.

FAS Awaits Windfall from Harvard Endowment.” By Noah S. Rayman and Elyssa A. L. Spitzer. Harvard Crimson. September 17, 2010. A week has passed since the University announced a surge in its endowment, but the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has not asserted plans for responding to Harvard’s new-found wealth after two years of rigorous cost-cutting. The University announced last Thursday that its endowment grew to $27.4 billion in the fiscal year ending in June 2010, an 11-percent investment return that marked a positive turnaround in the midst of the financial crisis.

PUBLIC SCHOOL PHILANTHROPY

Met School Grant.” By Erica Orden. Wall Street Journal. September 16, 2010. Four Brooklyn public schools will be able to hit high notes thanks to $1 million grant awarded to the Metropolitan Opera Guild for the expansion of its opera-based curriculum development program. Awarded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts-in-Education Model Development and Dissemination Program, the grant is the largest education grant ever received by the guild. The curriculum-development program, known as the Comprehensive Opera-Based Arts Learning and Teaching, or COBALT, advises teachers on how to create original musical-dramatic works related to their classroom curriculum. “We’re working with the language teachers, history teachers, visual arts teachers, and we’re giving this curriculum that will promote a multidisciplinary approach to learning,” guild president Richard J. Miller, Jr. said. For example, Mr. Miller said, “if a second-grade class is learning about New York City in their social studies unit, they could create a musical-dramatic work based on an episode from New York City history.” The guild provides additional support in the form of teachers’ assistants called Artist Resource Consultants, who work on-site to help guide the creative process.

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