WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (June 4-10, 2012)

EDUCATION

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Charter Advocates Face Gap in Mayor Race.” By Lisa Fleisher. Wall Street Journal. June 5, 2012. For more than a decade, New York’s charter-school advocates and other supporters of education reform have had a powerful ally in Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But that is likely to change after next year. None of the presumed mayoral candidates fully support Mr. Bloomberg’s policies, which have been at the forefront of a national movement to promote school competition, accommodate charter schools and use test scores to judge schools and teachers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks with students involved in the ‘Penny Harvest for the 9/11 Memorial’ campaign on Tuesday at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. As the months edge closer to the 2013 campaign, charter-school backers and others are gearing up to champion their agenda as they confront the possibility that the teachers union may soon have more sway with City Hall than it has had in a dozen years. “There’s tremendous concern,” said Whitney Tilson, a board member of Democrats for Education Reform and managing partner of T2 Partners LLC. “We might lose the progress that we’ve made under Mayor Bloomberg, [which] could be rolled back substantially under a mayor that’s beholden to the teachers unions.” On Wednesday, a group of charter-school parents will hold a rally in front of City Hall in what organizers say is their opening salvo in the mayoral race. On their list of priorities: enough high-quality charter schools to clear out waiting lists and free space for charter schools in public buildings—a Bloomberg-era policy that has touched off rancorous debates throughout the city. The group said it expects thousands of people representing about 80 schools. There are 136 charter schools in New York City, with the number set to climb to 160 next year, according to the New York City Charter School Center. Their efforts come against the backdrop of what is expected to be a bruising Democratic primary in which the endorsement of the United Federation of Teachers will play a significant role. Along with its imprimatur, the UFT brings a sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation.

Audits for 3 Georgia Schools Tied to Turkish Movement.” By Stephanie Gaul. New York Times. June 5, 2012. A group of three publicly financed charter schools in Georgia run by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Turkish imam, have come under scrutiny after they defaulted on bonds and an audit found that the schools improperly granted hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to businesses and groups, many of them with ties to the Gulen movement. The audit released Tuesday by the Fulton County Schools near Atlanta found the schools made purchases like T-shirts, teacher training and video production services from organizations with connections to school officials or Gulen followers. Those included more than $500,000 in contracts since January 2010 with the Grace Institute, a foundation whose board has included school leaders. In some cases the awards skirted bidding requirements, the audit said. “I would just question how those vendors were selected when price in many instances wasn’t part of the decision making,” said the Fulton County superintendent, Robert Avossa, who criticized the schools for conflicts of interest. “And those are public dollars.” Gulen followers run more than 120 charter schools nationwide, making the loosely affiliated network one of the nation’s largest public charter school operators. Despite clear connections, the schools generally deny any affiliation with the Gulen movement, a powerful religious and political force in Turkey whose leader, Mr. Gulen, views establishing schools as part of his mission. While some of the charter schools have been praised for their academic performance, their business practices have raised questions.

Fulton Science Academy officials deny audit claims.” By Daarel Burnette. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. June 6, 2012. Fulton Science Academy Middle School officials say school system administrators are throwing “baseless” and “malignant” accusations at them because of their Turkish roots. In response to a blistering audit released Tuesday by Fulton County school Superintendent Robert Avossa that questioned management and financial decisions by the academy, FSA board member Angela Lassetter said Wednesday the charter school has never misappropriated tax dollars. The audit said the school imports workers from Turkey, but Lassetter said the award-winning charter school hires the best teachers, regardless of their background. Lassetter said the school’s staff is disproportionately Turkish because officials can’t find qualified American math and science teachers who will accept their low salary. “I don’t care if they are an alien with purple polka dots and red antennas,” she said. “I would give a visa to any teacher who can produce good results.” Further, she said, FSA has no ties to a charter school movement that school district officials said inappropriately funnels money to Turkish businesses. About 120 charter schools nationwide are said to be run by followers of M. Fetullah Gulen, a prominent Turkish imam, making the loosely affiliated network one of the nation’s largest public school operators.
Related stories:
Turkish charter schools tied to Gulen movement.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution. June 6, 2012.
Get Schooled; Fulton controversy: Shedding light on the Gulen network of charter schools.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution. June 6, 2012.
Audit reveals ‘egregious’ conduct by charter school.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution. June 5, 2012.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

For-Profit College Students Most Likely To End Up In Debt With No Diploma.” By Chris Kirkham. Huffington Post. June 4, 2012. A larger share of college students are borrowing to pay for their education, and more of those borrowers are dropping out, according to a recent study by Education Sector, a non-profit policy group that analyzed changes in student debt trends over the last decade. The trend is far more pronounced at for-profit colleges, a sector of higher education that has expanded rapidly over the last decade by marketing to low-income students who qualify for federal loans and grants. The study tracked two groups of college students for six years: one that enrolled in the mid-1990s, and another that entered school in the mid-2000s. Over that time period, for-profit institutions the highest jumps in both the percentage of students who borrowed to pay for education, and the number of those borrowers who eventually dropped out of school. Students who borrow to pay for a four-year for-profit college are more than twice as likely to drop out than student borrowers at four-year public institutions, according to the report. The dropout statistics at for-profit colleges were up significantly from a decade before, reflecting the industry’s rapid-fire growth. From 2000 to 2009, the number of students enrolled at for-profit colleges more than tripled, increasing from fewer than 500,000 students to more than 1.8 million. About 10 percent of college students nationwide are enrolled at for-profit colleges, yet the sector takes in more than a quarter of federal student aid dollars and is responsible for nearly half of student loan defaults. The for-profit college sector encompasses a wide range of institutions, from trade schools such as ITT Technical Institute to larger, mostly online colleges such as Capella University.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Changing the Economics of Education; John Hennessy and Salman Khan on how technology can make the college numbers add up.Wall Street Journal. June 4, 2012. We all probably have an opinion on the state of education, but a few in the trenches are coping with its problems and actually trying to fix them. Stanford University President John Hennessy and Salman Khan are two of those people. Is there anything to be done about the rising price of higher education? That was the question posed to John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, and Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, a nonprofit online-learning organization. They sat down with The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg to discuss how technology might be part of the solution.

UCLA faculty to vote on ending state funding of MBA program; The Anderson School of Management’s flagship program would rely on tuition and donations instead under the controversial plan.” By Larry Gordon. Los Angeles Times. June 7, 2012. UCLA faculty leaders are scheduled to decide Thursday whether the Anderson School of Management should end all reliance on state funding for its flagship master’s degree program and instead rely on tuition and donations. Supporters of the much-debated proposal for the full-time MBA program say it is a necessary reaction to declining state revenues. They contend that it will give administrators more flexibility, encourage more private donations and redirect about $8 million a year mostly in state funds to other campus divisions that are less able to gain financial independence. Critics, however, allege that it is a dangerous move toward making UCLA operate more like a private college. “There are strongly held feelings on both sides,” said Andrew Leuchter, a psychiatry professor who is chairman of the UCLA faculty Senate. He said he could not predict the outcome of the closed-door vote by the Senate’s140-member Legislative Assembly. In March, a UCLA faculty panel that controls graduate education voted against the proposal and some Anderson faculty then appealed the matter to the Assembly. If that governing body votes against it, the plan is likely to die, officials said. If the UCLA faculty supports it, the plan will need approval by the UC systemwide faculty Senate and UC President Mark G. Yudof. The controversial proposal has narrowed in scope since it was unveiled in fall 2010. Originally, the entire Anderson graduate school would have stopped taking any state funds and its administrators would have gained significant freedom in setting tuition and salaries. The current plan involves just the full-time master’s program, which enrolls about 720 students. Advocates say Anderson still would abide by all UC governance and rules. About 40 programs in the UC system, including some at Anderson, already are self-supporting, although those tend to be for nontraditional or part-time students, such as weekend executive MBA programs, officials said.

PRIVATE & PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS

For Bronx Private School, All the City’s a Classroom in an Experiential Course.” By Jenny Anderson. New York Times. June 3, 2012. On a drizzly Tuesday morning, Shiloh Shabazz, a wiry and excitable 71-year-old, was talking about sleeping on subways, on and under park benches, and generally about being an addict and a nomad. “Crack was big. Base was big,” he said of the time when he was using drugs. The shelters, he said, were rough. It was a fair question, considering his audience was 16- to 18-year-old students from the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. The private school, in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, is not far from Honeywell Apartments, the low-income housing complex where Mr. Shabazz was speaking. But he may have sensed it was a long way away. If the students were not aware of shelters and affordable housing before the trip, they were getting a crash course now. That same morning, a Fieldston parent, Adam Weinstein, who happens to be chief executive of the nonprofit organization that developed Honeywell, led a discussion about the evolution of public housing from tenements to towers. The students had also visited Lambert Houses, another low-income complex, and would set off for Via Verde, a new subsidized, sustainable development. The trip was one of many making up Fieldston’s City Semester, an experiential, project-based class that integrates history, English, ethics, languages and science. “The idea is to use place as a primary source,” said Andrew Meyers, chairman of City Semester and one of the eight teachers leading the class. Students have explored the Bronx and beyond.

Vouchers Breathe New Life Into Shrinking Catholic Schools.” By Stephanie Banchero and Jennifer Levitz. Wall Street Journal. June 8, 2012. t had been years since Principal Kathleen Lowry pulled extra desks from the dusty attic of St. Stanislaus, the only Catholic school left in this port city. But after Indiana began offering parents vouchers in the spring of 2011 to pay for private tuition, she had to bring down 30 spare desks and hire three teachers’ aides. Thanks to vouchers, St. Stanislaus, which was $140,000 in debt to the Catholic Diocese of Gary at the end of 2010, picked up 72 new students, boosting enrollment by 38%. “God has been good to us,” says Ms. Lowry. “Growth is a good problem to have.” For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life. Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic Catholics and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from closures and declining enrollment. Chicago Catholic elementary schools saw enrollment increase 3% this year and 1% last year—the first two-year growth spurt since 1965. Greater Boston elementary schools had a 2% bump—the first in 20 years. And Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Bridgeport, Conn., also added desks for the first time in years. Nationally since 2000, U.S. Catholic school enrollment has plummeted by 23%, and 1,900 schools have closed, driven by demographic changes and fallout from priest sexual-abuse scandals. Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia have announced plans to close even more Catholic schools.

PRIVATIZATION

Louisiana Makes Bold Bid To Privatize Public Education.” By Stephanie Simon. Huffington Post. June 3, 2012. Louisiana is embarking on the nation’s boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children. Starting this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class kids will get vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools across Louisiana, including small, Bible-based church schools. The following year, students of any income will be eligible for mini-vouchers that they can use to pay a range of private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money can go to industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, among others. Every time a student receives a voucher of either type, his local public school will lose a chunk of state funding. “We are changing the way we deliver education,” said Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who muscled the plan through the legislature this spring over fierce objections from Democrats and teachers unions. “We are letting parents decide what’s best for their children, not government.”

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