WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (May 16-22, 2011)

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

State Supreme Court disbands charter commission, rules schools unconstitutional.” By D. Aileen Dodd. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. May 16, 2011. Cherokee Charter Academy was finally set to open this fall after nearly three years of work by parents and two denials by the local school board. Monday, the school was denied again, this time by Georgia’s Supreme Court. Cherokee Charter and 15 Georgia charters schools like it were approved by a process that is unconstitutional, the state’s highest court said in a 4-3 ruling. It means Cherokee County parents who gathered Saturday for a chance to fill one of the school’s 995 seats are left scrambling to make alternate plans for their children if the school is unable to open. The parents of 15,000 Georgia students, who either enrolled in or registered for the schools affected, face similar uncertainty. The high court ruled local school boards have the sole authority to fund and open public charter schools. Georgia has 170 charter schools — with 65,000 students enrolled — that are mostly unaffected by the ruling because they opened with local school board approval. Cherokee Charter is among 16 charter schools not approved by local school boards. Instead, they were approved by the state-appointed Georgia Charter Schools Commission.
Related story:
Charter School Authorizer At State Level Deemed Unconstitutional In Georgia School.” Huffington Post. May 16, 2011.
In Georgia, Court Ruling Could Close Some Charter Schools.” New York Times. May 16, 2011.
The 16 commission charters: Can these schools be saved?Atlanta Journal-Constitution. May 19, 2011.

Charter Founder Is Named Education Commissioner.” By Sharon Otterman. New York Times. May 16, 2011. John B. King Jr., who credits teachers for helping him surmount an isolated childhood as an orphan in Brooklyn and who ran celebrated charter schools in New York and Massachusetts, was named Monday as the state’s next education commissioner, with a unanimous vote of the Board of Regents. At 36, Dr. King, who previously served as deputy commissioner, will be among the nation’s youngest educational leaders, though he had been the clear front-runner since the current commissioner, David M. Steiner, announced in April that he would resign. After losing both of his parents to illness by age 12, Dr. King earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a law degree from Yale and a doctorate in education from Columbia. In between, he co-founded Roxbury Prep, a top charter middle school in Massachusetts; led Uncommon Schools, a network of charters based in New York; and married and had two daughters. His drive, he said in an interview on Sunday, comes from a sense of urgency to create for other children the refuge he found as a fourth grader at Public School 276 in Canarsie, the year his mother died of heart failure. His teacher that year, Mr. Osterweil, was dynamic and creative, encouraging him to read Shakespeare and memorize the leaders and capital of every country in the world. Later, Celestine DeSaussure, a social studies teacher whom the children called Miss D, made him the sportscaster in a fake Aztec newscast. Dr. King, who will be New York’s first African-American and first Puerto Rican education commissioner, was part of a circle of idealistic charter-school founders in Boston who experimented with longer school days, strict rules to guide student behavior and ways to hold teachers accountable for student performance. They raised expectations for poor students, and sought to form close relationships with children while reshaping teaching into a more quantifiable science.

Upset Over Community Roots Charter School’s Expansion.” By Geoffrey Decker. New York Times. May 18, 2011. As a parent of a student who started in the inaugural first-grade class at Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn in 2006, Chris Thompson has watched his son grow up in an elementary school that has transformed itself from an experiment in progressive education to one of District 13’s most popular destinations for young families. When Mr. Thompson learned last year that the school planned to add middle school grades, and that his son, now a fifth grader, was guaranteed a seat in the sixth-grade class, the decision to stay on was easy. As the expansion plan moved ahead early this year, he said, most fifth-grade parents “took the foot off the gas in terms of looking at other places.” But last month, well after the deadline for families to submit lists of preferred middle schools for the fall, Community Roots announced that it had halted its expansion because there was strong opposition in the community and it would not have enough space or enough time to properly staff the school. The Education Department now will turn to secondary choices for schools submitted by the parents. In a district that has few high-quality middle schools and a growing population of young children, the expansion plan was initially welcomed. But that changed when it became clear that it would mean taking space away from two other schools in the same building, at 51 St. Edwards Street. Similar battles over shared space for charter schools and traditional public schools have been waged elsewhere in the city, and on Wednesday the United Federation of Teachers joined the dispute by filing a lawsuit challenging the way the Education Department assigns space in existing schools. The suit also objects to the way the department closes schools for poor performance.

Oregon charter school debates lead to little progress.” By Kimberly Melton. The Oregonian. May 21, 2011. With public schools closing, school years shortening and teachers being laid off, money is the No. 1 education issue on state lawmakers’ agenda. But there’s another education topic gobbling up just as much time in Salem — charter schools. Charter schools, which are semi-independent public schools, serve only 3 percent of Oregon’s public school students. But the debate over them has eaten time, stirred ideological rancor and stalled other education issues, not just for this year’s Legislature but for the past several years. This session, lawmakers have held nearly two dozen hearings and work sessions, with only one charter school bill successfully moved through a legislative chamber. Over the past five years, legislators have proposed more than 40 bills that focus on charter schools, debated them in more than 60 meetings, and passed only five laws, three of which had little impact on the way schools operate. Supporters say charters are a key avenue of education reform and need room and resources to grow. Skeptics say charters destabilize traditional schools and don’t yield better student achievement. But both supporters and critics are frustrated with the Legislature’s record and say state leaders have let the issue be overrun by political wrangling.

L.A. teachers union seeks to halt school district initiatives; Union opposes testing of a new teacher evaluation system and wants to thwart plans to hand over South Los Angeles campuses to a charter organization.” By Howard Blume. Los Angeles Times. May 21, 2011. The Los Angeles teachers union is seeking a court order to halt key initiatives favored by the new L.A. schools superintendent, the Board of Education and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. If successful, the legal action would suspend pilot testing of a new evaluation system that would use students’ scores on standardized tests as one measure of teacher effectiveness. The legal action also would thwart plans to hand over all or part of two long-struggling South Los Angeles campuses to a charter school organization. Los Angeles Unified School District officials want Green Dot Public Schools to take over all of Clay Middle School and about half of Jordan High School. Charters are independently managed and can hire teachers and other employees from outside the school system. The restaffing of Jordan is under way. The attempt to halt the proposals took the form of a filing Friday by United Teachers Los Angeles with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. The union wants the employment board to file a court injunction on its behalf. If successful, the district-favored reforms would be placed on hold while the employment board weighs their legality, a process likely to stretch over months. That action could delay the district strategies for at least a year. The injunction is needed, said union attorney Jesus Quinonez, because otherwise it would be difficult, if not impossible, to undo actions that he said are illegal. The union’s underlying claim is that L.A. Unified has violated collective bargaining laws. The district has not followed through with negotiations over new teachers’ evaluations, the union says, and has attempted to make illegal side deals with individual teachers by offering incentives for them to try out a new evaluation approach.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

Mass. investigating top for-profit college; AG demands University of Phoenix data on recruiting, finances.” By Todd Wallack. Boston Globe. May 17, 2011. The state’s growing investigation into the for-profit college industry now includes the country’s biggest player, the University of Phoenix. The chain’s parent corporation, Apollo Group, which is based in Phoenix, yesterday said it has received a demand for information about its recruiting and financing practices from Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. She recently sent similar requests to Kaplan Career Institute in Boston, owned by The Washington Post Co., and the Everest Institute campuses in Brighton and Chelsea, which are owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc. The University of Phoenix is the largest for-profit college in the country, serving more than 400,000 students at more than 200 US campuses, including three schools in Massachusetts. Last fiscal year, it reported $4.5 billion in revenue, mostly from federal student grants and loans. In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Apollo said Coakley’s office is looking into whether for-profit educational institutions used unfair or deceptive practices in the recruitment of students and the financing of their educations. The company was asked to provide nine years’ worth of detailed information about its Massachusetts operations. In a statement, the school said it was reviewing the letter but is proud of the education it provides.

New York Attorney General Is Investigating Trump’s For-Profit School.” By Michael Barabaro. New York Times. May 19, 2011. The New York State attorney general’s office is investigating whether a for-profit school founded by Donald J. Trump, which charges students up to $35,000 a course, has engaged in illegal business practices, according to people briefed on the inquiry. The investigation was prompted by about a dozen complaints concerning the Trump school that the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has found to be “credible” and “serious,” these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was not yet public. The inquiry is part of a broader examination of the for-profit education industry by Mr. Schneiderman’s office, which is opening investigations into at least five education companies that operate or have students in the state, according to the people speaking on the condition of anonymity. The investigation is the latest problem for a six-year-old company, known until last year as Trump University, that already faces a string of consumer complaints, reprimands from state regulators and a lawsuit from dissatisfied former students. Mr. Schneiderman is looking into whether the schools and their recruiters misrepresent their ability to find students jobs, the quality of instruction, the cost of attending, and their programs accreditation, among other things. Such activities could constitute deceptive trade practices or fraud. The four other companies are the Career Education Corporation, which runs the Sanford-Brown Institute, Briarcliffe College and American InterContintental University; Corinthian Colleges, the parent company of Everest Institute, WyoTech and Heald Colleges; Lincoln Educational Services, the owner of Lincoln Technical and Lincoln Colleges Online; and Bridgepoint Education, the operator of Ashford University.

The Business of Teaching Art.” by Daniel Grant. Wall Street Journal. May 19, 2011. [For story, go to Arts & Culture].

HIGHER EDUCATION

$60 Million Gift to Bolster Bard College’s Global Work.” By Lisa W. Foderaro. New York Times. May 16, 2011. Bard College, a small liberal arts institution in the Hudson Valley, has received a $60 million gift from the Open Society Foundations in recognition of its global involvement, which includes programs in New Orleans, Nicaragua and Russia, officials are to announce on Tuesday. The gift from Open Society, which George Soros created in the 1980s to foster democracies around the world, will help the college bring its disparate programs under a new umbrella, the Bard College Center for Civic Engagement, and assure their continuing operation and growth. “We decided to create an institutional culture of serious, thoughtful and nonpartisan engagement in the world,” said Leon Botstein, Bard’s longtime president. “Bard has really taken seriously all of the John Dewey arguments about the relationship between education and democracy. It can’t be done merely through the curriculum.” The $60 million grant is enormous for Bard, which has a relatively small endowment of $200 million. It requires the college to raise an additional $120 million from other donors, though the Soros money will begin to flow before that goal is met. Dr. Botstein has had a close relationship with Mr. Soros for years, serving on boards of the Open Society Foundations and as chairman of the Central European University in Budapest, which Mr. Soros established. “As a general rule I do not support higher education in the United States,” Mr. Soros said in a statement. “This grant represents a departure that will help Bard in its efforts to transform liberal education and bolster critical thinking worldwide.”

Donation will allow Claremont School of Theology to train rabbis, imams; Gift from David and Joan Lincoln will add training programs for Muslim and Jewish clergy at the Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary.” By Larry Gordon. Los Angeles Times. May 16, 2011. Leaders of the Claremont School of Theology will announce Monday the gift of $40 million from an Arizona couple to help expand the Christian divinity institution into a university that will include training for Jewish and Muslim clergy. The donation from David Lincoln, a Claremont trustee, and his wife, Joan, is the largest ever to the 126-year-old theology school, which enrolls about 240 students in master’s and doctorate programs in religion and counseling. The couple also gave $10 million to the school last year. The contributions will help the school transform itself into an unusual multifaith institution, to be named the Claremont Lincoln University in the couple’s honor, with enrollment expected to grow to about 600 over the next decade, officials said. The new university will offer interfaith degree programs and serve as an umbrella for three units: the existing Claremont School of Theology, which will continue to train students from its United Methodist base and other Christian denominations, and new divisions that will train rabbis and imams. Those new units will be affiliated, respectively, with the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, a non-denominational rabbinical school based in Westwood, and the Islamic Center of Southern California, a mosque in Koreatown. Jerry Campbell, Claremont School of Theology president, said the three divisions will control their own religious educations while collaborating in other areas. The Lincoln funds will help hire faculty, provide scholarships, improve the home campus in Claremont and develop online teaching tools linking the schools and allowing students to take classes from around the nation and the world, said Campbell, who is a United Methodist minister.

Yale Restricts a Fraternity for Five Years.” By Lisa W. Foderaro. New York Times. May 17, 2011. A Yale fraternity whose alumni include both President Bushes has been banned from conducting any activities on campus for five years, including recruiting, as punishment for an episode last October in which members led pledges in chants offensive to women, the university announced on Tuesday. Yale’s publicizing of its disciplinary actions is highly unusual, but officials said their move followed a remarkably public and far-reaching episode. After the chanting in a residential quadrangle by members of the fraternity chapter, Delta Kappa Epsilon, 16 students and alumnae filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights accusing the university of failing to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus. The department confirmed last month that it had started an investigation. In a letter to students and faculty members on Tuesday, Mary Miller, dean of Yale College, said the Executive Committee, the college’s disciplinary board, had imposed sanctions on the chapter, which is not an official student organization. The fraternity will no longer be able to communicate with students via the Yale bulletin board or Yale e-mail, and its use of the university name will be severely limited. As for the students who took part in the sexually explicit chanting — which included “No means yes!” — Dr. Miller said federal privacy laws prevented the college from releasing details about individual punishments. But she said the Executive Committee issued penalties after finding that “several fraternity members” had violated undergraduate regulations. “After a full hearing, the committee found that the D.K.E. chapter, as an organization, one comprised of Yale students, had threatened and intimidated others, in violation of the Undergraduate Regulations of Yale College as they pertain to ‘harassment, coercion or intimidation’ and ‘imperiling the integrity and values of the university community,’ ” Dr. Miller wrote. The letter said Yale had formally asked the national organization to suspend the chapter for five years.
Related stories:
Miller announces DKE suspension.” Yale Daily News. May 17, 2011.
Yale suspends embattled frat for sexist chants.” USA Today. May 18, 2011.

Medical Schools Plug Holes in Conflict-of-Interest Policies.” By Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber. ProPublica.org. May 19, 2011. Stanford University has taken disciplinary action against five faculty members at its medical school after determining they violated school policy by giving paid promotional speeches for drug companies, a spokesman said. The move followed a ProPublica investigation in December that found Stanford and other teaching hospitals weren’t enforcing their own conflict-of-interest rules. At Stanford, which has one of the nation’s toughest policies, ProPublica identified more than a dozen faculty members—including medical staff leaders—who were paid speakers. Paul Costello, a Stanford spokesman, declined to identify the disciplined faculty members or discuss their penalties. But in a written statement he said the “actions are significant” and have affected or could affect the doctors’ compensation or positions. Stanford is one of several medical schools that took action against faculty members, overhauled conflict-of-interest policies or provided additional education to staff members following ProPublica’s report. Conflict-of-interest policies have become increasingly common at medical schools and teaching hospitals, reflecting concerns that promotional talks undermine the credibility of both the physicians giving them and the institutions they represent. Yet when it comes to enforcing the policies, ProPublica found, the schools largely have relied on the honor system, allowing physicians to interpret the rules as they see fit.

Many called, few chosen by top universities; Mailings lure teens but don’t improve odds.” By Janet Lorin. Boston Globe/Bloomberg News. May 22, 2011. Critics say the deluge of correspondence from even the most selective colleges is raising false expectations among thousands of students, bringing in application fees as high as $90 apiece, and making colleges seem more selective by soliciting many more applicants than they can accept. College applications are soaring even as the number of high school graduates fell 2.2 percent this year from a peak in 2007-2008, according to the US Department of Education. Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, advises students to view mailings skeptically, especially from Harvard, the most selective college in the country. “The overwhelming majority of students receiving these mailings will not be admitted in the end, and Harvard knows this well,’’ said Reider, a former admissions officer at Stanford University. Harvard, which accepted a record-low 6.2 percent of applicants this year, markets to students because it wants to find the most talented class, said William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. The school informs students “it’s a highly competitive process,’’ he said. “There are so many students out there in the world who might not automatically think about Harvard as a place to go,’’ said Fitzsimmons, who declined to say how many students the university contacts. Harvard received almost 35,000 applications this year, a record. “The odds of reaching the top of anything are not good, but is that a reason not to try?’’ said Fitzsimmons. Yale University and MIT are scaling back their marketing, saying they do not want to encourage students who probably will not be accepted. Consumer groups said the nonprofit College Board, which owns the SAT college admission test, and its nonprofit rival, ACT Inc., are making money by selling personal details about teenagers. The companies collect information on millions of test-takers and sell students’ names and information to colleges at 33 cents apiece. Colleges reap both prestige and money from the soaring stacks of applications.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS

Schools Fight Gets Heated.” By Sumathi Reddy. Wall Street Journal. May 16, 2011. The large Orthodox Jewish community here sends most of its children to private schools but took control of the public school district six years ago. Now, there’s a heated school board election pitting three Orthodox Jewish candidates against so-called “public school candidates,” who have or had children in the school system. Critics say the current school board has favored private schools, closing two public schools and arranging for them to be used by yeshivas, or private Jewish schools. Members of the Orthodox Jewish community say the board is acting appropriately and trying to make sure that the needs of children attending private school aren’t ignored. At a Parent Teacher Association candidate’s forum last week, the only candidates that showed up were public school candidates. None of their opponents made an appearance. It was the same story at an NAACP candidate’s forum earlier this month. The Orthodox candidates complain they never received an invitation. “There has been a lot of division, unfortunately,” said Kim Foskew, president of the Parent Teacher Association Council. “I wish there weren’t. People are getting angry. It’s just the culmination of everything and it has built up a lot of animosity.” Similar power struggles have taken place in communities with large Orthodox populations, such as Lawrence, Long Island, and Lakewood, N.J. But in the East Ramapo district, residents say the conflict has reached the breaking point.
Related story:
Orthodox Candidates Win School Vote.” Wall Street Journal. May 19, 2011.

PRIVATE PHILANTHROPY FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates.” By Sam Dillon. New York Times. May 21, 2011. A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star. They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations. “We’ve learned that school-level investments aren’t enough to drive systemic changes,” said Allan C. Golston, the president of the foundation’s United States program. “The importance of advocacy has gotten clearer and clearer.” The foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009, the latest year for which its tax returns are available, and devoted $78 million to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years, Mr. Golston said, the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy.

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