WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (April 4-10, 2011)

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Peninsula faithful work weekend to give East Palo Alto charter school a radiant makeover.” By Karen de Sá. San Jose Mercury-News. April 4, 2011. With chain saws, shovels and rollers thick with colorful coats of paint, hundreds of Peninsula volunteers transformed a rundown charter school in East Palo Alto this weekend, an effort they described as a community-based mission from God. More than 1,200 workers of varied ages and skill levels surrounded the K-8 Aspire charter school all day Saturday and Sunday, replacing asbestos-laden flooring, building planter boxes and laying new electrical wire. Next Monday, when students return from spring break, their school — which hugs the dead end of Runnymede Street — will be almost unrecognizable. The main building will be trimmed in lavender and feature an outdoor amphitheater and soccer field where patchy grass once lay. The floors in the kitchen and women’s bathroom will no longer flood. Teachers will be able to turn on the microwave without shorting out fuses. And when it rains, kids won’t be traipsing across wooden planks. By day’s end Sunday, the crew — made up mostly of volunteers — had built a new teacher’s lounge and copy room complete with new cabinets, counters and appliances. “We’re built to serve God, so it’s really great to see that work through this weekend,” said Stanford University senior Natasha Barthel, directing a crew of soccer players swabbing primer. Organized by the faith-based 2nd Mile nonprofit, the remaking of the charter school attracted volunteers from up and down the Peninsula. David Foley, 2nd Mile’s 28-year-old executive director, said it’s hard to describe his group’s massive undertaking without relying on “religious jargon.” In recent years, the group has renovated nearly all the Ravenswood City School District’s schools with volunteer labor and private donations.

Could bad charters avoid closure?” No by-line. Indianapolis Star. April 4, 2011. Education experts agree that if Indiana’s proposed expansion of charter schools is going to succeed, much will depend on how well the state addresses two issues of accountability: Identifying and closing poor-performing charter schools; Screening applications to prevent bad charter schools from ever opening. Those supporting House Bill 1002, now being debated in the state Senate, insist that the proposal to expand charter schools — a key provision would allow more entities to authorize schools — increases accountability that would protect Hoosier schoolchildren. But as state school officials and lawmakers continue that debate, they might want to consider the cautionary tale of two charter school organizations already operating in Indianapolis. Fountain Square Academy could become the first charter school in Indiana history to be closed for academic reasons. Then, again, maybe not. Charter schools are supposed to be subject to the toughest accountability there is. Unlike a traditional public school, they can be forced to close if they don’t perform. At least, in theory. Fountain Square Academy, with 285 students in Grades 7-12, received its approval to be a charter school like most in Indianapolis. It was approved by the mayor, who is among the few people in Indiana who have the authority to grant charters. But after six years, current Mayor Greg Ballard determined that Fountain Square has not lived up to academic expectations. So he announced March 19 that he would not renew the school’s charter after it expires next school year. Within hours of that announcement, the school’s governing board considered its options. One of those options: Forget Ballard and ask someone else to sponsor it, namely Ball State University, which also has the power to grant charters. If Ball State approves and the school makes the switch, Ballard would be powerless to stop Fountain Square from staying open. “The board of any school is free to apply to any sponsors they so choose,” said Karega Rausch, director of Ballard’s charter school office. “We will not get in the way if that is what the board and the school want to do.”

Unions Move In at Chicago Charter Schools, and Resistance Is Swift.” By Rebecca Vevea. New York Times. April 7, 2011. In a trend that worries charter school operators, teachers at 12 of Chicago’s charters have formed unions over the past two years, and the Chicago Teachers Union is seeking to organize all 85 of the schools. Union leaders say the growing charter movement is changing the landscape of public education and, with its disdain for unions, could leave teachers without a strong voice on issues like working conditions, teacher evaluations and curriculum. Administrators and operators are battling back, arguing that unionization could undermine the basic premise of the charter school model: that they are more effective because they are free from the regulations and bureaucracies that govern traditional public schools. Unionization of charter schools is a major step for the Chicago Teachers Union. Though charter teachers in other cities have formed unions, Chicago is one of the first where the public school system’s major union has directed the effort, according to the American Federation of Teachers. The unions at the 12 charter schools are affiliated with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which is a joint program of the C.T.U., the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. At eight of the schools, teachers have contracts, at two they are in negotiation and at two they are fighting to be recognized by their school administrations. “At some point, we would like all the charter schools to be part of C.T.U.,” said Jackson Potter, the union’s staff coordinator. There were no charter school unions in 2008, when the Chicago Teachers Union formed its Charter Outreach Committee to knock on doors and help charter teachers organize. Nationally, 604 charter schools, roughly 12 percent, have collective-bargaining agreements. But 388 of those schools are in states where the law dictates that charters be included in existing collective-bargaining agreements with local districts, according to data collected by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Illinois law does not require charter schools to be part of local collective-bargaining units.

School board considers charter.” By Daniel Sisgoreo. Yale Daily News. April 7, 2011. New Haven Public Schools is considering hiring a for-profit charter company to run one of its lowest performing schools. The school, Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy, may have its management taken over by the charter as early as next school year, Christopher Hoffman, NHPS director of communications, said. He added that regardless of the outcome of negotiations with the charter company, the school’s principal and much of its teaching staff will be replaced. “There are many different ways to solve a problem,” Hoffman said. “One of the characteristics of school reform is that we try everything.” Hoffman said that Roberto Clemente, which the district has deemed in need of drastic reform, may benefit from the approach of the charter organization, which he declined to name. He added that the school will face “significant changes” even if its management is not taken over, listing possible measures like lengthening the school day and increasing classroom preparation time for teachers. David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said he was supportive of the change. He added that the union has agreed to give the district flexibility when it comes to deciding how to manage New Haven’s low-performing schools. But Cicarella said that the teachers he works with are not all supportive of the possibility of hiring a charter company. Cicarella added that any new teaching staff that will be brought in as part of the reform process will become union members, if they are not so already.

A City School’s Uphill Fight Over Sharing Space With a Charter.” By Michael Winerip. New York Times. April 10, 2011. In a city where so many public schools are segregated by race and wealth, Public School 9 in Brooklyn is an exception. It has a substantial number of poor children, with about 75 percent receiving subsidized lunches. And because it is in a gentrifying neighborhood, Prospect Heights, the school also has a sizable number of yuppie children. The co-presidents of the parent-teacher organization are Nelly Heredia, a single mother with two children who is out of work, and Penelope Mahot, a married mother with two children who owns a product design company and a gift store. The mothers like the same things about P.S. 9: the principal, Sandra D’Avilar, makes herself available to parents; the school is full of experienced teachers; the parents’ groups are thriving; the children are learning; there are classes in art, music, theater and dance. The parents also share a concern: P.S. 9 ends at fifth grade, and the district’s middle schools are weak. “The middle school my older daughter goes to is nothing like this,” Ms. Heredia said. There is a middle school in the P.S. 9 building, M.S. 571, but it is low-performing, and on Dec. 6, the Department of Education announced plans to phase it out. That got P.S. 9 parents thinking. Why not use the soon-to-be-vacant space in their building to expand to eighth grade? “I talked to several people about the idea,” said Christina LaBrie, a lawyer who has two children at P.S. 9. But on Dec. 20, city officials unveiled a holiday surprise. The department said it planned to move a middle-grade charter school — Brooklyn East Collegiate, a member of the Uncommon Schools charter chain — into the space opening up at P.S. 9. In the four months since, P.S. 9 parents have fought City Hall, scoring a few upset victories. But they have also learned a hard lesson: once the mayor’s people set their sights on a location, the chances of successfully challenging a charter are slim. Supporters of district schools fear that once a charter moves in, it will take over the building. They resent being compared academically, when on average, charters in New York City have fewer poor, immigrant and special-education students.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

For-Profit Schools: Charter Schools Outsource Education to Management Firms, With Mixed Results.” By Sharona Coutts. ProPublica. April 6, 2011. Since 2008, an Ohio-based company, White Hat Management, has collected around $230 million to run charter schools in that state. The company has grown into a national chain and reports that it has about 20,000 students across the country. But now 10 of its own schools and the state of Ohio are suing, complaining that many White Hat students are failing, and that the company has refused to account for how it has spent the money. The dispute between White Hat and Ohio, which is unfolding in state court in Franklin County, provides a glimpse at a larger trend: the growing role of private management companies in publicly funded charter schools. Contrary to the idea of charters as small, locally run schools, approximately a third of them now rely on management companies — which can be either for-profit or non-profit — to perform many of the most fundamental school services, such as hiring and firing staff, developing curricula and disciplining students. But while the shortcomings of traditional public schools have received much attention in recent years, a look at the private sector’s efforts to run schools in Ohio, Florida and New York shows that turning things over to a company has created its own set of problems for public schools. Government data suggest that schools with for-profit managers have somewhat worse academic results than charters without management companies, and a number of boards have clashed with managers over a lack of transparency in how they are using public funds. White Hat has achieved particularly poor results, with only 2 percent of its students making the progress expected under federal education law. The company declined comment on the performance of its schools. White Hat was established in 1998 by a prominent Akron businessman, David L. Brennan, who was a key advocate for introducing charter schools into Ohio. Like most charter schools, White Hat’s Hope Academies and LifeSkills Centers are primarily funded by the state based on the number of pupils they enroll. The contracts between White Hat and the schools now suing allow the company to collect virtually all funds and use them to run the schools.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Sexual misconduct investigated at Yale.” No by-line. USA Today. April 4, 2011. Federal civil rights officials are investigating complaints by Yale University students that the Ivy League university has a sexually hostile environment and has failed to adequately respond to sexual harassment concerns. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights confirmed Friday that it has begun an investigation at Yale. The office gets about 7,000 complaints per year and investigates about one-third of them. The complaint, sent March 15, alleges that the university failed to respond promptly or effectively to incidents of harassment, resulting in the denial of equal opportunity, the office said. The students cite incidents in which fraternities held up a sign “We love Yale sluts” outside a women’s center and chanted “no means yes” on campus last fall. They also say incoming female freshmen were ranked on attractiveness. The complaints also include allegations that Yale failed to adequately respond to reports of sexual assault or attempted assault and stalking, said Alexandra Brodsky, a Yale junior who is one of the 16 complainants. She would not disclose the number of complaints or the documentation the students filed.
Related story:
Students, admins react to Title IX complaint.” Yale Daily News. April 4, 2011.
Can Title IX complaint go public?Yale Daily News. April 5, 2011.
Fed gov’t reinforces Title IX.” Yale Daily News. April 5, 2011.
Positive Title IX effects hoped for.” Yale Daily News. April 7, 2011.
Yale comments on Title IX.Yale Daily News. April 8, 2011.
At Yale, Sharper Look at Treatment of Women.” New York Times. April 7, 2011.
Title IX Resonates Beyond Yale’s Walls.” The Nation/Yale Daily News. April 11, 2011.

Admissions promotes Yale abroad.” By Emily Wanger. Yale Daily News. April 8, 2011. International students considering Yale face a unique range obstacles in applying, but University admissions representatives said they are having increasing success in portraying it as a tangible option. Admissions officer said they travel to every corner of the globe to encourage top students to think of Yale as a possibility, and to tell them about the social, intellectual and creative opportunities available. Though American universities cost much more than those in many other countries — not including financial aid — and the liberal arts model is unfamiliar to international students who have grown up in professionally-oriented systems, admissions officers said their efforts are beginning to pay off. “Even countries that used to have the reputation for not being interested in studying abroad have really opened up recently,” said Jean Lee, co-director of international admissions. “It shifts and changes. Culturally the idea of staying home is stronger in some countries than others.” Rebekah Westphal, co-director of international admissions, said international students get excited about applying to Yale when admissions officers spread the message that Yale is about much more than an education in the classroom. “Yale can offer so much beyond just your academic education,” she said. “The kind of community that exists here doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world.” Lee said international students often do not want to apply to Yale, or any college in the United States, because in their home countries, students have to begin career training at the undergraduate level in order to become a professional. Because the idea of a liberal arts education is unfamiliar, diverging from traditional paths can seem daunting to these students, she added.

Businessman opens up Ivy League to poorer British pupils; Charity boss sets up summer school to help less well-off British students get places at top American universities.” Times of London. April 10, 2011. [For story, go to International/UK].

Singapore campus takes shape; The Yale-NUS campus design aims to integrate elements of Yale’s collegiate style and traditional Singaporean features.” By Alison Griswold and Drew Henderson. Yale Daily News. April 12, 2011. The design of the new Yale-NUS College will incorporate some traditional “Yale” elements and other tropical Singaporean styles in its design. Plans for the physical plant of Yale-NUS College, the liberal arts college that the University will operate jointly with the National University of Singapore, were unveiled at a Monday morning press conference in Singapore. The campus — designed largely by Yale administrators and architects — combines Singaporean architecture with Yale structures such as the residential college for a hybrid look that is distinctly Yale-NUS. “The programming imports all of the key elements of Yale, but the aesthetics and appearance are contextualized to Singapore,” University President Richard Levin told the News from Singapore, where he traveled to launch the college. “It’s a interesting hybrid of Singaporean and Ivy League notions.” Blair Kamin ARC ’84, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, said that the designs for Yale-NUS show an effort to take the traditional elements of Yale architecture and translate them to a warmer climate and denser city. “At first blush, it looks like they’re trying to mix traditional Yale quadrangles with a high-rise type that’s comfortable in Singapore,” Kamin, who has never traveled to Singapore, said Monday. “Whether that’s an appropriate marriage is hard to tell, but they are striving to marry these two types.” The Yale-NUS campus will be located to the north of NUS’s existing facilities. Photos released Monday on the new college’s website show three residential colleges centered around the school’s core facilities. Like Yale’s colleges in New Haven, each of the three residential hubs at Yale-NUS will feature dining halls and classrooms, grouped around an individual quad. The other main facilities include a library, administrative offices and performing arts spaces such as a performance hall, black box theater and arts studios.
Related story:
Yale-NUS must uphold “brand” standards.” Yale Daily News. April 5, 2011.

As Corporation Expands, University Looks for New Members With Specialized Skills.” By Zoe A. Y. Weinberg. Harvard Crimson. April 11, 2011. The search for new members of the Harvard Corporation is likely to yield candidates with more specialized areas of expertise, according to senior fellow of the Corporation Robert D. Reischauer ’63. Historically, individuals selected to serve on the Corporation—the University’s highest governing body—have been generalists with a broad spectrum of knowledge and skills, as the size of the Corporation has been limited to seven members—six fellows and the University president. In December, the Corporation announced a significant overhaul of its governance structure, which will expand the group to 13 members. The increased size will allow for more specialization in areas important to the University, according to Reischauer. The Corporation has made a list of 10 or 12 important skills, and is currently looking “for people that fill two or three of them,” Reischauer said. “We’ve sat down and had many conversations about what are the attributes and dimensions of potential members that we think would most strengthen the capacity of the Corporation,” he said. The Corporation has solicited advice and suggestions of possible candidates from alumni and other members of the Harvard community. Over 300 names of individuals have been submitted, according Reischauer.

PUBLIC SCHOOL PHILANTHROPY

Newark school woes transcend money.” By Martha T. Moore. USA Today. April 4, 2011. Six months after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah to give $100 million to improve Newark’s strapped and struggling schools, $99 million is still sitting in the bank. Newark Mayor Cory Booker quickly raised $43 million in matching donations. But what’s followed has been less rosy: •The superintendent left in February after being fired by Republican Gov. Chris Christie; a new leader hasn’t been named; The state has controlled Newark’s schools since 1995; A plan to close some schools and to let charter schools share space with public schools infuriated parents — especially after it was revealed the plan was written by a consulting firm founded by New Jersey’s acting education commissioner; Booker has been criticized for not revealing enough about the sources of the $43 million and for spending $1 million on a survey of parents’ thoughts on school reform. “It’s like they have somebody trying to figure out how they can screw this up the most,” says Richard Cammarieri, a former school advisory board member. “Everything they’ve done is totally tone deaf.”

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