WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (September 12-18, 2011)

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

With Bipartisan Support, Law on Expansion of Charter Schools Passes the House.” By Sam Dillon. New York Times. September 13, 2011. In a rare display of bipartisanship, the House approved a bill on Tuesday supporting the expansion of charter schools, the first part of a legislative package planned by Republicans to carry out a piecemeal rewrite of the main federal law on public education, No Child Left Behind. The bill, passed Tuesday by a vote of 365 to 54, tweaks an existing federal grant program that provides start-up money for new charter schools — currently about $250 million— and adds some quality control provisions. It had the support of charter operators as well as civil rights and school improvement groups. If passed by the Senate, it would replace the charter school provisions of No Child Left Behind, the sprawling school accountability law that President George W. Bush signed in 2002. Earlier, Republicans and Democrats joined to beat back an amendment proposed by Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, that would have exempted charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently operated, from the law’s requirement that schools break out scores in reading and math for minority and disabled students and show progress in each group. Congress has tried unsuccessfully several times in recent years to update No Child Left Behind, and the Obama administration has urged Congress repeatedly to act this year, threatening that it will give states waivers from the law’s most onerous requirements if it is not rewritten. But no bill representing a full rewrite has been introduced yet in either the Senate or the House. Many experts believe that with Congress deeply divided along partisan lines, reaching consensus on a thorough overhaul is out of the question.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

For-Profit Lawsuits; The government enlists the plaintiffs bar against for-profit colleges.” Wall Street Journal. September 12, 2011. [For story, go to Law & Public Policty].

HIGHER EDUCATION

One year later, Yale-NUS ready to hire.” By Alison Griswold and Drew Henderson. Yale Daily News. September 13, 2011. One year after Yale announced that it would partner with the National University of Singapore to open a liberal arts college in Asia, the schools are taking their first steps toward building an entire faculty for their project. Since University President Richard Levin announced the plan on Sept. 12, 2010, both universities have moved ahead with the project and are preparing for the institution’s fall 2013 opening. With two years to go until Yale-NUS welcomes its first class of students, administrators have already worked out general design plans for the facility and outlines of course offerings. Now, they are searching for the first crop of professors who will help mold the curriculum. The two universities have set up three committees to oversee recruitment efforts in the humanities, social sciences and sciences. They will advertise job openings in major education media such as the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, said Charles Bailyn, the inaugural dean of the faculty for Yale-NUS. The search will launch globally in the next few weeks, he said, and will aim to recruit a well-rounded group of academics. The search is unusual in its breadth, Bailyn said. “Usually when you’re hiring a faculty member here, you’re hiring for a specific disciplinary area,” he said. “We’re interested in hiring in every field.” Administrators hope to have 35 professors on staff when the school welcomes its initial class of 250 students at the start of the 2013-’14 academic year, and Bailyn said he hopes that Yale-NUS will hire at least a dozen of those teachers in this first wave.

“Spending Inequity in Colleges Has Risen.” By Tamar Lewin. New York Times. September 14, 2011. As income inequality has increased in the United States over the last decade, so too has the gap between rich and poor colleges and universities. Between 1999 and 2009, private research universities that enroll about 1.1 million students increased their education-related spending per student by about $7,500, to almost $36,000. But in that same period, education-related spending stayed nearly flat, at slightly more than $10,000 per student, at the public community colleges that enroll 6.7 million students, according to a report, “Trends in College Spending,” being released Wednesday. “The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots has become much more exaggerated over the last 10 years,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability, the Washington, research group issuing the report. While tuition has risen at public and private institutions alike, the inequality between the two sectors has grown, as the public colleges’ increased tuition revenues have not been nearly enough to make up for their loss of state and local appropriations. Just from 2008 to 2009, the latest year for which data is available, community colleges’ net tuition increased $113, but their per-student spending declined by $254, mostly because of shrinking state and local financing. In that year, appropriations to community colleges nationwide fell an average $488 per student. At public research universities, which enroll 4.1 million students, net tuition increased by $369 — but appropriations declined by $751 per student, and spending per student increased only $92. “If you’re trying to explain to a parent where the money’s going, it’s going into a big hole,” Ms. Wellman said. “Tuition increases are making up for less than half, on average, of what institutions lost in state funds.” At private institutions, from 2008 to 2009, both tuition and spending have been rising. Private research universities’ per-student spending increased by $907, and private liberal arts colleges’ $298, while their net tuition increased $293 and $381, respectively. Experts in higher education say it is difficult to imagine the nation’s returning to its former position of having the best-educated work force as long as the community colleges that educate the largest share of the population are the worst-financed sector. “While it’s always been that way, in the last decade, like everything else, it’s been pushed to extremes,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. “Higher education is more stratified than it’s ever been.”

PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Middle-Class Schools Miss the Mark.” By Stephanie Banchero. Wall Street Journal. September 12, 2011. Middle-class public schools educate the majority of U.S. students but pay lower teacher salaries, have larger class sizes and spend less per pupil than low-income and wealthy schools, according to a report to be issued Monday. The report, “Incomplete: How Middle-Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade,” also found middle-class schools are underachieving. It pointed to their national and international test scores and noted that 28% of their graduates earn a college degree by age 26, compared to 17% for lower-income students and 47% for upper-income students. Third Way, a Democratic think tank that claims to “advocate for private sector economic growth,” based its report on data from the Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Education, and national and international testing programs. The report doesn’t include parochial or private-school students. Over the next decade, nearly two-thirds of job openings will require some post-secondary education, the report says, arguing that middle-class schools need to help better prepare their students to graduate from college. “Middle-class schools produce students who are the backbone of the U.S. economy, and they are not performing as well as parents, policy makers and taxpayers think they are,” said Tess Stovall, deputy director of Third Way’s economic program and co-author of the report. “We need a second phase of education reform to ensure these schools get the attention they deserve.” During the past few decades, most prominent U.S. education reforms—charter schools, vouchers, school closures and the federal No Child Left Behind law—have been aimed in large part at low-income schools. But middle-class schools, defined as those where between 26% and 75% of students are poor enough to receive free or reduced-price federal lunch, have received less research and attention, the report says.

SCHOOL REFORM

School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade“: review of Steven Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools (Simon & Schuster) and As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx (Empire State Editions)by Janet Grossbach Mayer. By Diane Ravitch. New York Review of Books. September 29, 2011. It is a well-known fact that American education is in crisis. Black and Hispanic children have lower test scores than white and Asian children. The performance of American students on international tests is mediocre. Less well known are contrary facts. The black–white achievement gap, as a recent report put it, “is as old as the nation itself.” It was cut in half in the 1970s and 1980s, probably by desegregation, increased economic opportunities for black families, federal investment in early childhood education, and reductions in class size. Another little-known fact is that American students have never performed well on international tests. When the first such tests were given in the mid-1960s, our students usually scored at or below the median, and sometimes at the bottom of the pack. This mediocre performance is nothing to boast about, but it is not an indicator of future economic decline. Despite our students’ mediocre test scores, the nation’s economy has been robust for most of the past half-century. And the news is not all terrible. On the latest international test, the Program for International Student Assessment, American schools in which fewer than 10 percent of the students were poor outperformed the schools of Finland, Japan, and Korea. Even when as many as 25 percent of the students were poor, American schools performed as well as the top-scoring nations. As the proportion of poor students rises, the scores of US schools drop. To put the current “crisis” into perspective, it is well to recall that American education was in crisis a century ago, when urban schools were overcrowded, swamped with students from Eastern and Southern Europe who didn’t speak English. The popular press at that time warned that the nation was being overrun by a human tide from inferior cultures, and the very survival of our nation was supposedly at risk.

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