WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 30-February 5, 2012)

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Emanuel’s Appearance in Pro-Charter School Video Irks Teachers Union; An interview with Mayor Rahm Emanuel is featured in a new video from a Michigan-based education organization promoting charter schools and criticizing the Chicago Teachers Union.” By Hunter Clauss. Chicago News Cooperative (chicagonewscoop.org). January 31, 2012. As Chicago Public Schools begins what are certain to be contentious contract talks with the Chicago Teachers Union, Mayor Rahm Emanuel emerged as the star of a new online video promoting charter schools and ripping the union. An exclusive interview with Emanuel highlights the 35-minute video produced by the Michigan-based Education Action Group Foundation and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams. Williams narrates the video, saying the teachers union is “radically politicized” and is “repeatedly providing terrible examples for Chicago’s school children.” (Scroll down to see the video). A spokeswoman for Emanuel said Monday the mayor did not share those views of the union, but CTU officials were irked by Emanuel’s more-measured comments in an interview with Williams. The mayor discusses the opposition he faced from the CTU to some of his education proposals, such as extending the length of the school day this year.

Pennsylvania Schools’ Financing Fight Pits District Against ‘Charter on Steroids’.” By Sabrina Tavernise. New York Times. February 4, 2012. The Chester Upland School District is more than $20 million in debt, its bank account is almost empty and it cannot afford to pay teachers past the end of this month. To make matters worse, the local charter school, with which the district must divide its financing, is suing the district over unpaid bills. The district’s fiscal woes are the product of a toxic brew of budget cuts, mismanagement and the area’s poverty. Its problems are compounded by the Chester Community Charter School, a nonprofit institution that is managed by a for-profit company and that now educates nearly half of the district’s students. The district sees the charter as a vampire, sucking up more than its fair share of scarce resources. The state, it says, is giving the charter priority over the district. “It’s not competition, it’s just draining resources from the district,” said Catherine Smith, a principal at Columbus Elementary, a district school. “It’s a charter school on steroids.” The charter says that it is also part of the public school system and that the district, its primary source of financing, has not paid it anything since last spring. The state has taken over payments, but even those are late, it says. Chester may be a harbinger of fiscal decline. At least six other Pennsylvania school districts are bordering on insolvency, according to State Representative Joseph F. Markosek, the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

Tutor Network Scores To Grow.” By Sophia Hollander. Wall Street Journal. January 31, 2012. Aristotle Circle, a national network of admissions experts based in New York, has purchased one of the largest peer tutoring companies in the country and plans to double its size by the end of the year, company officials announced Monday. Peer2Peer currently operates in New Jersey, Connecticut and the Washington, D.C., area and has employed 5,000 high school students since it began in 2004, according to founder Erik Kimel. Through the merger, the companies plan to create an additional 5,000 student jobs this year, including 100 in New York City.Aristotle Circle began searching last year for ways to expand its tutoring services, said Suzanne Rheault, the company’s CEO and founder. Peer2Peer already had an infrastructure for screening applicants. The peer model also offers more financial flexibility: In New York City, where private tutoring session can cost several hundreds dollars an hour, peer tutors are a relative bargain at $40 to $60 an hour. “For a lot of people,” Ms. Rheault said, “this will be the first time ever they can actually afford to have a private tutor.” Both companies operate on unconventional models. Ms. Rheault, who was in finance before establishing Aristotle Circle, created an “expert network” model more commonly used in that industry. Parents use the service to connect with an array of experts versed in everything from polishing interview skills to decoding financial aid packages; they also offer quirkier specialties such as how to compile an opera singing portfolio. “What they’re doing is innovative, and clearly they’re growing,” said Sanford Bragg, the CEO of Integrity Research, a consulting firm that tracks expert networks.

HIGHER EDUCATION

New colleges may strain resources.” By Antonia Woodford. Yale Daily News. January 30, 2012. Though two new residential colleges are tentatively scheduled to open in 2015, it is not yet clear how the University will adjust its academic resources to accommodate the influx of students. The new colleges, which will house more than 800 additional undergraduates in total, will require Yale to find more classroom space, offer more courses, and hire more faculty members and teaching fellows, administrators said. But as the University’s endowment recovers from the recession and Yale struggles to raise funds for the colleges — originally set to open in 2013 — plans to meet the demands of a larger student body have stalled. Administrators and faculty first officially considered the likely effects of the new colleges in 2007, when University President Richard Levin appointed two committees to study the new colleges’ potential impact on Yale’s academic and student life. The result of their investigation, an 100-page report published in 2008, called attention to academic space “absolutely necessary” before the expansion and pointed to challenges in providing teaching fellows and advisers. It also identified five academic areas as already “under stress” — chemistry, English, economics, political science and the arts — and concluded that interdisciplinary programs would face particular difficulties as well. While student enrollments have remained fairly steady for the past decade, Yale’s faculty has grown by 15 percent since 1999 — roughly the same percentage by which the student population will increase once the new colleges are full. Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development, said strong endowment returns allowed for faculty growth and for the University to add faculty in new fields. Still, some departments will likely need to expand further to meet the new students’ needs, administrators said. For example, the University will need to add more resources to handle introductory English seminars, Provost Peter Salovey said. “Our goal is to not compromise the Yale College experience,” Salovey said. “That means to continue to emphasize small classes and more or less the faculty-student ratio Yalies have come to accept.”

Jesuit college’s leader is of a different cloth; David Burcham, president of Loyola Marymount University, isn’t a priest. He’s not even Catholic. But as the school enters its second century, it’s fallen on him — in suit and tie, not cloak and collar — to redefine the meaning of a Jesuit education.” By Rick Rojas. Los Angeles Times. January 29, 2012. David Burcham stood before the altar in Sacred Heart Chapel at Loyola Marymount University. The midday sun beamed through the stained-glass windows and a crucifix loomed over his shoulder as the university president offered a stirring defense of the school’s Roman Catholic legacy. The Jesuit mission, he said, “with its strong tradition of truth-seeking, is more relevant and important than ever because our world is in danger of drowning in disinformation.” He went on: “Jesuit and Marymount traditions of intellectual analysis, moral reflection and civic action are an antidote to superficiality. We train young people to think deeply about the critical issues as they cultivate wisdom, accountability and fair-mindedness.” Those who came before Burcham had been men of the cloth — Jesuit priests who would often say Mass from the place where he now stood. But on this day, rather than wear the cloak and collar of his predecessors, Burcham stood before the packed chapel in a suit and tie. He’s not a priest. He’s not even a Catholic. Yet it has fallen to him to redefine the meaning of a Jesuit education as the university enters its second century. Burcham, 60, may be the only Protestant in charge at one of the nation’s 28 Jesuit colleges and universities, but he’s certainly not alone as the first layman, or non-clergy. Since Georgetown University, arguably the most prestigious Jesuit school, named a layman as president in 2001, a number of schools have followed suit. Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., are among them.

Yale model back on track.” By Gavan Gideon. Yale Daily News. January 31, 2012. Yale’s investment performance exceeded the average endowment return at colleges and universities nationwide in fiscal year 2011 by almost 3 percent, according to the 2011 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments released today. Though the University’s endowment plunged by 24.6 percent when the recession hit in fiscal year 2009 — far worse than an average 18.7 percent lost by endowments that year ­— Yale’s nontraditional investment strategy has helped the endowment recover and maintain strong long-term growth. Yale returned 21.9 percent on its investments in the fiscal year that ended June 30, while the national average among 823 colleges and universities included in the study was a 19.2 percent return. Those institutions also maintained an average annual return on investments of 5.6 percent over the past decade, while Yale’s endowment returned an annual average of 10.1 percent during the same period. Provost Peter Salovey praised Yale’s performance in light of the financial difficulties the University has weathered in past years. “Although I am pleased Yale beat the average for 2011, it is much more thrilling to me to see that our 10-year return is so strong on both an absolute and comparative basis, especially given the bumpy ride in recent years,” Salovey said in an email. Topping that national average puts the University back on track after it lagged the 11.9 percent average in fiscal year 2010, when it posted the worst return on investments in the Ivy League at 8.9 percent. Despite the positive figures reported in the latest fiscal year, higher education endowments have not fully recovered from the effects of the recession, said William Jarvis ’77, managing director of the Wilton, Conn. investment firm the Commonfund Institute. The endowments of almost half of the 823 colleges and universities included in the study are still worth less than they were before the recession first hit. Yale’s endowment also remains below pre-recession levels: it reached a high water mark of roughly $23 billion in fiscal year 2008, but was valued at just $19.4 billion as of June 30.

Academic freedom is alive in Singapore.” By Joseph Daniels. Yale Daily News. January 30, 2012. Walker Vincoli’s argument (“No student freedom at NUS,” Jan. 26) that Singapore is a totalitarian state unreceptive to the values necessary for a liberal arts education is founded in a flawed ideology of American exceptionalism. It is founded in the idea that Americans have a right to demand changes of others when it suits us and that we should be the models for such change. Vincoli’s portrayal of Singapore and NUS relies on merely a surface reading of Singaporean state and society. Vincoli neglects to note that Singapore is a dynamic society. As a result of global economic changes, Singapore has recently seen a marked evolution in the very laws and regulations Vincoli noted. While Singaporean law prohibits male homosexual acts, this law is not enforced, and Singapore has a relatively large gay scene. “Let’s not go around like this moral police … barging into people’s rooms. That’s not our business,” former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in 2007. Though none of this belittles the flaws of the current restrictive laws, Vincoli denies Singapore’s societal evolution. The general election in May 2011 was perhaps the most dramatic election in Singapore’s history. One of the top ministers lost his seat, and the opposition won 39.86 percent of the vote — the most it had won since Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965. Considering the longtime dominance of the People’s Action Party, this indicates an emerging freedom of choice. Singaporean students I talked to when I studied at NUS never said they felt unduly restricted or pressured in their speech or votes. The May elections revealed some Singaporeans’ deep-seated dissatisfaction with growing inequality, the high cost of housing and general disconnect between the state and the people. Singapore’s ban on spontaneous or non-permitted protest is a legitimate problem, but just because there is an apparent limitation on freedom does not mean that it is a debilitating limit or that Singaporeans do not have other avenues to express their concerns. December train breakdowns that left thousands stranded combined with a general economic slowdown triggered an uproar of dissatisfaction that led to a major review of ministerial salaries at the insistence of the general public. Singapore, while by no means perfect, is not a country wholly without freedom. Freedom isn’t defined in a world of black and white but in a world of gray that lacks universal logics of societal comparison.
Related story:
No student freedom at NUS.” By Walker Vincoli. Yale Daily News. January 26, 2012.

After Mistake, a Mea Culpa From Vassar.” By Matt Flegenheimer. New York Times. January 30, 2012. After 76 applicants were mistakenly told they had been accepted to Vassar College, its president has apologized for the “considerable confusion and hurt” caused by the “terribly upsetting event,” and said the college would reimburse the students’ $65 application fees. “Vassar prides itself on providing a professional and personal relationship with everyone in our community,” Vassar’s president, Catharine Hill, wrote in an e-mail to the applicants on Sunday night. “Obviously we have failed dramatically to do so in this instance.” On Friday, around 4 p.m., 122 students who had applied for binding early admission to Vassar saw what the school later called a “test letter” congratulating them on their acceptance. Hours later, the students received a message saying the letter had been posted in error. Once the correct decisions were displayed, only 46 of the students were told they had been accepted. Some parents have called on Vassar to accept the rest of the students anyway, reasoning that because early decision applications are binding, the school should be held to its initial answer as well, even if it was delivered in error. One family in Connecticut said it was considering legal action. But reversing the admissions decisions would be unfair, Ms. Hill said.

Claremont McKenna College inflated freshman SAT scores, probe finds.”.” Los Angeles Times. January 30, 2012. (For story, go to Scandal).

Price Controls for Harvard? President Obama wants to unleash more lawyers and bureaucrats on higher education.” By Fay Vincent. Wall Street Journal. February 1, 2012. In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama said he wants the federal government to assert control over the rapidly rising cost of college tuition. His objective is to force all schools receiving federal aid—which is nearly all of them—to justify their tuition increases or lose the aid. Where to begin? The president could hardly have found a more intricate area in which to assert power. His supporters laud his effort for recognizing the burdens on young people emerging from college with mounting debts. Critics see political motivations, with the president appealing to young voters in an election year. And cynics may consider all this just another idea that will have come to life during a State of the Union only to die rapidly in the cold weather of careful analysis. Whatever the case, by treading into educational pricing, the president may find himself getting an education. Consider an analogy. If Harvard is a Ferrari, then Fairfield University, the small Jesuit school in Connecticut where I was a trustee for many years, is a Chevrolet. Yet in education, Ferraris cost about the same—often less—than Chevrolets. This year Harvard’s stated tuition is $36,300, while Fairfield’s is $39,900. Rich, prestigious schools like Harvard and Yale could charge much more for what they provide. They could also reduce tuition by increasing their reliance on their huge endowments. Less wealthy schools, by contrast, are dependent on tuition and have almost no pricing flexibility. Yet the sticker price for four years at Harvard is very close to the price at Fairfield, even though many would consider a Harvard education and diploma more valuable. The crucial defect in the president’s thinking is the assumption that four years of higher education is a commodity. Of course it’s not. Price can be deceptive. And the real cost of a Harvard education is about half the sticker price. Much of the complication in tuition pricing arises from schools’ policies on endowment-spending and financial aid. President Obama will find that at many schools only a relatively small percentage of students pay the full tuition sticker price, with the average net cost of the education well below that stated price. Financial aid provided to students accounts for the difference.

Fat Cats at Widener.” By Melissa J. Barber. Harvard Crimson. February 1, 2012. It is about time for the Harvard Corporation to finally stand up to the bloated, budget-busting tyranny of the Harvard University Library. Since John Harvard gave the university its first endowment of 400 books and a paltry 780 pounds to manage them, the library has been an odious drain on University finances. Current plans to restructure Harvard libraries and institute deep cuts to staff, services, and collections in the consecrated name of financially responsible austerity are the result of the Library Task Force Report. This report was commissioned in 2009 to plan the slaying of the dread budgetary Scylla of Harvard Yard, Widener Library. The Library Task Force Report represents a new vision for the library, arguing that Harvard is no longer in any position to try to “collect and maintain the entirety of the world’s scholarship”. After all, why might a university with a peerless endowment also be expected to maintain an equally unrivaled library? With an endowment of 32 billion dollars growing in 2011 at a meager 21.4%, Harvard simply can no longer afford to maintain the best and largest academic library collection in the world. The library’s $225 million operating budget, an outrageous 5.7% of the University’s annual budget, must be further cut to improve the financial profile of the University. Although cutting costs and improving efficiency and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive, the Library Task Force Report makes clear that the Harvard Corporation has its miserly heart in the right place. Why attempt to improve efficiency without laying off workers, or effectiveness without cutting resources?

Immigrant Worker Firings Unsettle a College Campus.” By Jennifer Medina. New York Times. February 1, 2012. The dining hall workers had been at Pomona College for years, some even decades. For a few, it was the only job they had held since moving to the United States. Then late last year, administrators at the college delivered letters to dozens of the longtime employees asking them to show proof of legal residency, saying that an internal review had turned up problems in their files. Seventeen workers could not produce documents showing that they were legally able to work in the United States. So on Dec. 2, they lost their jobs. Now, the campus is deep into a consuming debate over what it means to be a college with liberal ideals, with some students, faculty and alumni accusing the administration and the board of directors of betraying the college’s ideals. The renewed discussion over immigration and low-wage workers has animated class discussions, late-night dorm conversations and furious back and forth on alumni e-mail lists. Some alumni are now refusing to donate to the college, while some students are considering discouraging prospective freshmen from enrolling. For the last two years, many of the dining hall workers had been organizing to form a union, but the efforts stalled amid negotiations with the administration. Many on campus believe that the administration began looking into the employees’ work authorizations as a way to thwart the union effort, an accusation the college president, David W. Oxtoby, has repeatedly denied. But that has done little to quell questions and anger among the fired workers and many who support their efforts to unionize.

U.S. Department of Education Investigates Harvard Admissions.” By Hana N. Rouse and Justin C. Worland. Harvard Crimson. February 3, 2012. The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating Harvard’s undergraduate admissions process in response to a complaint that it discriminates against Asian Americans, according to Bloomberg News. In August, an undergraduate applicant filed a complaint against the University, alleging his rejection was based on race. The same individual also filed a complaint against Princeton University. In a statement, Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote that the University could not comment on the specifics of complaints currently under review. “Our review of every applicant’s file is highly individualized and holistic, as we give serious consideration to all of the information we receive and all of the ways in which the candidate might contribute to our vibrant educational environment and community,” Neal wrote. This case is not the first time that an Ivy League university has been investigated in response to allegations of discrimination against Asian Americans. Jian Li ’10 filed a complaint with the Department of Education in 2006 after being rejected by Princeton, according to a 2008 story in USA Today. That case later prompted a broader ongoing review of Princeton’s admissions practices. Harvard’s admissions office website says that “[t]here is no formula for gaining admission to Harvard” and that the “Admissions Committee does not use quotas of any kind.” This “holistic” approach—which the College has employed for decades—has been cited by the Supreme Court as an appropriate way to consider race in admissions. “In short, an admissions program operated in this way is flexible enough to consider all pertinent elements of diversity in light of the particular qualifications of each applicant,” wrote Justice Lewis F. Powell in the majority decision of the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case.

PRIVATE & PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS

Boston left with one all-girls Catholic high school; 2 struggling schools to merge.” By Bella English. Boston Globe. January 31, 2012. Mount Saint Joseph and Trinity Catholic, two Catholic high schools that date to the 19th century, will merge next fall, leaving just one Catholic girls’ high school in Boston.

2 education voucher bills could be headed for floor votes.” By Nancy Badertscher. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. January 31, 2012. Two voucher bills could be moving to the floor of the state Senate for a vote. Senate Bill 87 and House Bill 181 passed out of the Senate Education Committee late last week and are before the Senate Rules Committee for possible placement on the full Senate’s calendar. Both are opposed by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher organization. SB 87, the “Georgia Educational Freedom Act,” sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, is billed by PAGE as a major expansion of the state’s current school voucher law. HB 181, sponsored by Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, would eliminate the requirement that students with fragile medical conditions spend a year in a public school before being allowed to attend private school on a special needs scholarship. Both bills were introduced last year. HB 181 cleared the state House last year.

School Hits Sour Note; Friends Seminary Grapples With Musician’s Political Views.” By Sophia Hollander. Wall Street Journal. February 1, 2012. Most parents at Friends Seminary were unaware of the writings of Gilad Atzmon when they first saw the posters promoting his participation in a Martin Luther King Birthday concert on the school’s campus last month. But over the past two weeks, administrators and parents at the elite Quaker private school in Lower Manhattan have become quick studies after Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz publicly criticized Friends Seminary for inviting a musician he called a “notorious anti-Semite and Holocaust denier”—accusations that Mr. Atzmon, who was born Jewish, staunchly denies. The clash sparked days of discussion at a school that prides itself on tolerance and inclusion and launched debates on parenting sites such as UrbanBaby, where some posters vowed to pull their applications in protest. In a statement provided to The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, school officials expressed “regret” over any offense caused and announced they would be establishing new procedures governing guest speakers and performers.

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