WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (November 15-21, 2010)

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Charter schools passing test of time; Acceptance rises, enrollments swell as parents search for new options, different models.” By Steven Rosenberg. Boston Globe. November 18, 2010. With an increased emphasis on academic achievement, SAT and MCAS scores, and college acceptance rates, charter schools — which are publicly funded but operated independently of municipalities and school districts — are gaining favor among parents searching for rigorous academic workloads and curriculums tailored for the individual, which many traditional school districts can’t provide. Those who are skeptical of charter schools — which adhere to state educational frameworks but have the flexibility to create theme-oriented curriculums, such as art or technology — say they drain state funding that would otherwise bolster traditional schools. The latest numbers released by the state reveal a trend of mostly urban families embracing charter schools. Across the Commonwealth, charter school enrollment more than doubled in the last decade, rising from 12,518 to 27,484 this year. During the last 10 years, seven of the top 10 enrollment percentage increases have been in charter schools. During that time, six new charter schools have been established, bringing their total to 17 in the region.

Studies That Grade Charter Schools Rely on Imperfect Math.” By Carl Bialik. Wall Street Journal. November 20, 2010. Charter schools are getting very confusing report cards. Researchers have assessed the thousands of charter schools that have opened around the U.S. in the last two decades. The results from those studies are starting to flood in. But policy makers hoping to learn whether these scholastic experiments have been successful will be disappointed: Some studies say charter schools are outperforming their traditional counterparts. Other studies put charter and conventional schools on par, or even show charters trailing their peers. The chief explanation for the lack of consensus is that the prominent studies on charter schools rely on different methodologies—all of which have flaws. Education researchers face a big challenge: how to separate the results of charter schools’ educational techniques from the quality and motivation of the students themselves. So far, scholars have been only partially successful at making this distinction, other education experts say.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Donations pick up in 1st quarter.” By Alison Griswold and Drew Henderson. Yale Daily News. November 15, 2010. With less than eight months until the end of the comprehensive “Yale Tomorrow” development campaign, donations have almost doubled those brought in over the same period last year. Yale raised $159 million between July and October 2010 — the first quarter of fiscal year 2011 — compared with $89 million during the same period last year. The improvement results from national economic recovery and a final wave of giving from donors in the last year of the five-year campaign, said Inge Reichenbach, vice president for development. Yale had raised nearly $3.2 billion as of the beginning of November, she said, keeping Yale ahead of schedule to reach its goal of $3.5 billion. Vice president for development Inge Reichenbach has overseen a surge in donations. “Everybody had two difficult years with the recession and the global financial crisis,” Reichenbach said. “As of May we have seen a totally different level of activity.”

Million-dollar college presidents on the rise.” By Daniel de Vise. Washington Post. November 15, 2010. George Washington University President Steven Knapp earned $985,353 in pay and benefits in 2008, making him the best-paid chief executive of any private college in the Washington area, according to an annual survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Nationwide, 30 chief executives of private colleges earned more than $1 million in total pay and benefits in 2008, according to the report released Sunday and based on a survey of tax documents for 448 colleges. The million-dollar college president is a recent phenomenon. No president earned that much in 2004. Last year’s Chronicle survey found 23 seven-figure presidents. Industry leaders note that the vast majority of presidents earn far less; million-dollar pay is often the result of a lower salary padded with a large, one-time payment. “It’s X number of presidents out of 4,500 institutions. It’s half of 1 percent,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, representing presidents and provosts. “About half the people on that list have a very good reason why they earned that money.”
Related stories:
More Get $1 Million to Lead Colleges.” Wall Street Journal. November 15, 2010.
College chiefs’ salaries increase; More entering million-dollar ranks, survey says.” Boston Globe. November 15, 2010.

Harvard Expands Stock Investments.” By Elias J. Groll and Zoe A. Y. Weinberg. Harvard Crimson. November 15, 2010. Harvard University added to its directly held U.S. traded securities last quarter—helping fuel a 7-percent increase in the value of those assets to $1.54 billion—and the University made sizable new investments in its already large emerging markets portfolio. The University’s holdings were reported last Friday in a mandatory quarterly Securities and Exchange Commission filing disclosing Harvard’s direct holdings of U.S.-listed securities. Harvard manages a portion of its endowment directly and contracts with outside money managers for the remainder. The University increased its investments in exchange-trade funds that track the performance of the Brazilian, Mexican, South Korean, and other emerging economies. Investments in emerging market ETFs represent about 67 percent of the investments reported in last week’s filing. After its domestically traded securities portfolio declined in value earlier this year, the University broadly expanded its stock market investments last quarter with a variety of stock purchases in U.S. corporations. Like the broader market, the University endowment suffered heavy losses during the financial crisis beginning in 2008 but has recently begun to recover, posting an 11 percent gain in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, which brought the endowment’s value to $27.4 billion.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS

Nuns and NCAA Hoops; How Catholic schools do a better job graduating student-athletes.” By Mark Yost. Wall Street Journal. November 19, 2010. I’ve written much on these pages about the often problematic nexus of collegiate academics and athletics. Over the years, I’ve pilloried Kentucky and Memphis and their 30% graduation rates. By contrast, I’ve held up Catholic colleges like Notre Dame—one of the few schools where athletes have a higher graduation rate than the general student body—as examples of schools that refuse to accept academically unqualified students simply because they have good jump shots. My faith was shaken earlier this year when the New York Times interviewed Sister Rose Ann Fleming. She’s the feisty 5- foot-4-inch, 78-year-old nun who makes sure that the basketball players at Xavier University, a Jesuit Catholic college in Cincinnati, spend as much time in class as they do in the gym. Terrell Holloway, a sophomore guard at Xavier, praised Sister Rose in the Times article for keeping on him when he fell behind in a reading class during summer school. It forced me to ask myself: Are the Catholic schools, after all, the same as Michigan or Temple when it comes to what kind of athletes they admit? The short answer seems to be yes. The critical difference is that schools like Xavier are making sure that their players receive diplomas.

Board Floats Voucher Plan; In Wealthy Denver Suburbs, Trustees Debate Private-School Reimbursements.” By Stephanie Simon. Wall Street Journal. November 20, 2010. The school board in a wealthy suburban county south of Denver is considering letting parents use public funds to send their children to private schools—or take classes with private teachers—in a bid to rethink public education. The proposals on the table in Douglas County constitute a bold step toward outsourcing a segment of public education, and also raise questions about whether the district can afford to lose any public funds to private educators. Already hit hard by state cutbacks, the local board has cut $90 million from the budget over three years, leaving some principals pleading for family donations to buy math workbooks and copy paper. “This is novel and interesting—and bound to be controversial,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, educational think tank in Washington, D.C. Vouchers for private and parochial schools have been used in a handful of states to aid students who are poor, disabled or trapped in failing urban schools, but according to school-choice experts, they have never been tried in affluent suburban districts noted for high-performing public schools.

PUBLIC SCHOOL PHILANTHROPY

New Haven Promise not likely to send more New Havenites to Yale.” By David Burt and Emily Wanger. Yale Daily News. November 15, 2010. The redevelopment of struggling St. Vincent’s Hospital into a world-class health-care facility surrounded by luxury housing was to have been William Rudin’s deepest mark yet on his family’s real-estate dynasty, one of the New York City’s largest. But salvaging the project, the family’s most ambitious since the death of patriarch Lew Rudin, could prove one of the greatest challenges of its skyscraper-studded history. The project was thrown into turmoil last spring when St. Vincent’s, unable to withstand its financial burdens, sought bankruptcy protection. Now Mr. Rudin is quietly negotiating with the St. Vincent’s estate and its creditors, including GE Capital, to purchase the campus and partially resurrect the project. One big issue on the table: a price cut. Under the original 2007 deal, the family business, Rudin Management Co. would have paid $300 million for St. Vincent’s campus, converting four hospital buildings and demolishing four others, replacing them with town houses and apartment buildings. A lot has changed since then. There’s no longer a functioning hospital with which to negotiate, and the city’s residential market has come down to earth. Now Mr. Rudin wants to cut the price, according to people familiar with the matter, though they wouldn’t say what his new offer is.

Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls.” By Sam Dillon. New York Times. November 19, 2010. Bill Gates, the founder and former chairman of Microsoft, has made education-related philanthropy a major focus since stepping down from his day-to-day role in the company in 2008. His new area of interest: helping solve schools’ money problems. In a speech prepared for delivery Friday, Mr. Gates — who is gaining considerable clout in education circles — plans to urge the 50 state superintendents of education to take difficult steps to restructure the nation’s public education budgets, which have come under severe pressure in the economic downturn. He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools. “Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive” — but restructure them anyway, Mr. Gates plans to tell the superintendents in his talk to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which opens a convention in Louisville on Friday. “Rebuild the budget based on excellence,” Mr. Gates says.

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