Monthly Archives: January 2015

A New Study Reveals Much About How Parents Really Choose Schools.

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A painted map of the U.S. seen from inside a classroom at Homer A. Plessy Community School, a charter school in New Orleans. Eric Westervelt/NPR

The charter school movement is built on the premise that increased competition among schools will sort the wheat from the chaff.

It seems self-evident that parents, empowered by choice, will vote with their feet for academically stronger schools. As the argument goes, the overall effect should be to improve equity as well: Lower-income parents won’t have to send their kids to an under-resourced and underperforming school just because it is the closest one to them geographically.

But an intriguing new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleanssuggests that parent choice doesn’t always work that way. Parents, especially low-income parents, actually show strong preferences for other qualities like location and extracurriculars — preferences that can outweigh academics.

New Orleans offers a unique opportunity to study parent choice. As we’ve reported earlier, more than 9 out of 10 New Orleans children attend charter schools. Choice, in other words, is hardly optional there.

By analyzing student enrollment records going back before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the authors of this study were able to look at parents’ “revealed preferences.” That is, not what they say they are looking for in a school when interviewed by researchers, but the schools they actually pick. Here’s what the research found:

  • Parents care about academics, but not as much as they say they do. “The role of academics seemed somewhat lower [than in other studies],” says Douglas Harris, lead author on the report. And because of the nature of the study, which shows where families actually enroll, “we’re actually able to quantify that in ways that other studies couldn’t.”
  • Distance matters. A lot. Schools in New Orleans are ranked by letter grades, depending mostly on their scores on state tests. What the researchers found was that three-quarters of a mile in distance was equal to a letter grade in terms of family preferences. In other words, a C-grade school across the street was slightly preferable to a B-grade school just a mile away.
  • Extended hours matter. Parents of younger children preferred extended school hours and after-school programs.
  • Extracurriculars matter. Especially for high school students — and perhaps even more so in this city famous for its music and its love of the NFL’s Saints. A C-grade school with a well-known football and band program could beat out a B-grade school without them. (Of note: In traditional public school systems, most high schools offer these extracurriculars; New Orleans has many smaller specialized schools that don’t.)
  • Poorer families care more about other factors — and less about academics. The study split families up into thirds based on the median income in their census tract. What they found was that the lowest-income New Orleans families were even more likely to pick schools that were close by, that offered extended days, and that had football and band in high school — and, conversely, they had a weaker preference for schools based on test scores.

This last point is crucial because it suggests that a choice-based system all by itself won’t necessarily increase equity. The most economically disadvantaged students may have parents who are making decisions differently from other families. These parents appear to be more interested in factors other than academic quality as the state defines it. Maybe they have access to different, or less, information. If this is true, choice could actually increase, rather than diminish, achievement gaps within a city.

>>> Read more NPR

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Here’s One Way to Get Early Admission to College: Be Rich

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Top colleges are filling more of their classes in early-admissions programs that favor affluent families, placing another barrier before poorer students hoping to better themselves through higher education.

Families that need financial aid often wait for the regular round, which starts this month, so they can compare aid offers. Because early-decision programs require a binding commitment to one school in November and boost admissions chances, many slots are taken before lower-income students even apply.

At Northwestern and Duke, about half the spots for this fall’s freshman class are already spoken for. Ten years ago, the universities each took about a quarter through early admissions. Vanderbilt expects its class to be as much as 44 percent full by next month, compared with a third a decade ago.

“The scale is definitely tipped to the kids who have more behind them financially,” said Bruce Poch, former dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont, California. The trend of colleges filling up early “has gotten more extreme in recent years.”

Such programs aren’t helping Jackson Le, a high school senior from Quincy, Massachusetts. His single mother, who emigrated from Vietnam, has a job as a manicurist in a nail salon.

Senior Envy

Le has his sights on Boston University. Since he needs to shop around for the best financial aid possible, he didn’t apply there for early decision in the fall. The percentage of places filled early at Boston University has doubled to 20 percent over the past seven years. He envies wealthier classmates who are already broadcasting their acceptance letters on Twitter.

“It makes me sad because I wish I had that opportunity to apply early,” said Le, 18, an honors student who works as much as 20 hours a week at Starbucks to help pay for college.

The College Board counted 460 schools last year offering early admissions. That’s up from about 100 in the 1990s, according to a 2010 study by Christopher Avery, a public policy professor at Harvard University, and Jonathan Levin, an economist at Stanford University. Colleges say scholarships are available to those who apply early, and they are increasing such aid so more low-income students can attend.

Still, their early applicants are far more likely to be from wealthy, white families who hire private college counselors to steer them to such programs, according to a 2011 report by the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Such advisers can cost families thousands of dollars. The early plans “perpetuate social privilege,” the researchers said.

>>> Read more bloomberg >>> See video

iJ1NSRWw7cD8Photographer: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

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The school system spent $716,917.25 defending the cases

…between July 2012 and December 2014…

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Thatcher Law Firm since 2009 or earlier  has siphoned millions within the county at the expense of the Prince George’s county citizenry.

…Between the jury award and legal expenses, the cases have cost the county schools more than $1 million. The school system spent $716,917.25 defending the cases between July 2012 and December 2014, according to information obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request.
Late last summer, a jury awarded $350,000 to a former English teacher, who accused the school system of discriminating against him because he is white. Jon Everhart said he was forced out of his job by Simpson-Marcus, who is black, because of his race. Months later, the school system settled a second case, filed by a former employee, a black secretary, who sued because she said she was retaliated against for reporting Simpson-Marcus to supervisors…

>>> Read more Washington Post 

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Black Lives Matter—at School, Too

black_lives_matter_protest_ss_img_0“Black lives matter! The EAA is killing me!” On December 5, students at Eastern Michigan University staged a die-in at their school’s Board of Regents meeting, after the board voted to continue its partnership with the Education Achievement Authority, the controversial state-run district which has taken over fifteen Detroit public schools since its inception in 2012. Almost two weeks later, on December 17, when Baltimore’s school board voted to shut down the first of five schools, high school students also staged a die-in, chanting, “Black lives matter!” and “The school board has failed us!” The board soon fled. Without missing a beat, the students took the commissioners’ chairs and held a community forum on the closures. The next day in an uncoordinated action in Philadelphia, public school student organizers staged a die-in in front of their district building, mourning the 2013 loss of 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, who died from an asthma attack after being sent home from a school with no nurse on duty.

Like most majority black school districts in America, the school districts of Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia regularly suffer school closures, high teacher attrition, understaffed schools and increasingly crowded classrooms. But while these deprivations are often written off as the inevitable result of urban white flight and depreciating tax bases, the reality is not so simple. In the neoliberal era, urban school districts’ financial woes have been aggravated by state takeovers, gratuitous budget cuts and wasteful privatization efforts. As black student activists nationwide have made clear in these recent demonstrations, public school austerity, like police brutality, is another form of racist state violence. Public school austerity, driven in part by the much-celebrated school reform movement, assaults these students’ central community institutions, crams them into over-policed schools, and reduces their education to preparation for the low wage workforce rather than democratic self-determination.

>>> Read more 

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Paul Simon – Under African Skies

(Live from The African Concert, 1987 in Zimbabwe) What an amazing and legendary concert with a powerful message this one was.  Very inspiring to see a mixed race audience all enjoying this music together in those terrible times of Apartheid.

Apartheid an Afrikaans word meaning “the state of being apart”, literally “apart-hood” was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party (NP) governments, the ruling party from 1948 to 1994, under which the rights, associations, and movements of the majority black inhabitants were curtailed and Afrikaner minority rule was maintained.

Paul Simon, Miriam Makeba and the other musicians braved a lot to give that concert in Africa, to a multi-racial audience. And by doing so showed South Africa and the world we can be one, and that music has the power to unite us all.

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A shattered foundation.

African Americans who bought homes in Prince George’s have watched their wealth vanish

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African Americans for decades flocked to Prince George’s County to be part of a phenomenon that has been rare in American history: a community that grew more upscale as it became more black.

The county became a national symbol of the American Dream with a black twist. Families moved into expansive new homes, with rolling lawns, nearby golf courses and, most of all, neighbors who looked like them. In the early 2000s, home prices soared — some well beyond $1 million — allowing many African Americans to build the kind of wealth their elders could only imagine.

DASHED DREAMS: This is the first part in a series looking at the plight of the black middle class, particularly in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, the nation’s highest-income majority-black county.

Part 2: Half of the loans on newly constructed homes in one Prince George’s County subdivision during the housing boom in 2006 and 2007 wound up in foreclosure.

Part 3: The plight of the Boateng family, who face more than $1 million in debt, shows how some of the people swallowed up by the easy credit era have yet to reemerge.

But today, the nation’s highest-income majority-black county stands out for a different reason — its residents have lost far more wealth than families in neighboring, majority-white suburbs. And while every one of these surrounding counties is enjoying a strong rebound in housing prices and their economies, Prince George’s is lagging far behind, and local economists say a full recovery appears unlikely anytime soon.

The same reversal of fortune is playing out across the country as black families who worked painstakingly to climb into the middle class are seeing their financial foundation for future generations collapse. Although African Americans have made once-unthinkable political and social gains since the civil rights era, the severe and continuing damage wrought by the downturn — an entire generation of wealth was wiped out — has raised a vexing question: Why don’t black middle-class families enjoy the same level of economic security as their white counterparts?

The impact of the financial devastation of the past several years is hardly visible along the quiet, well-tended streets of many Prince George’s neighborhoods. The county has the highest foreclosure rate in the District region, yet few houses appear to be abandoned.

Instead, the slow-motion crisis operates mostly in private, limiting people’s options, constricting their vision and forcing a seemingly endless series of hard choices. Having your wealth vanish means making pivotal life decisions — about where to send your children to school, saving for college, making home improvements and setting aside something for retirement — knowing you have no financial leeway.

“This big gorilla on your back, it changes you,” said Fred Bryant, 40, who lives with his wife and two daughters in a brick-front Colonial featuring a one-acre lot, high ceilings, an impressive two-story foyer and a mortgage far higher than the house is worth. “Sometimes you find yourself boiling mad when you shouldn’t be.”

PRINCE-largerushern-baker-head-111010wMr. Rushern Baker III – Current Prince George’s  county Executive

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PGCPS Board Considering Revisions…

….To Reimbursement Policies

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UPPER MARLBORO – A Prince George’s County Board of Education committee meeting Thursday night to consider changes to policies regarding credit card usage and expense reimbursements turned into a conversation about how expense accounts should be used.

The board’s Policy, Legal and Legislative Committee’s consideration of policy changes comes after The Sentinel reported board members spent thousands on local meals and a retreat at a hotel in National Harbor. According to credit card receipts and expense reports, the board’s vice chair, Carolyn Boston, and school board member Verjeana Jacobs used their credit cards for the most meals of any board members between January 2013 and May 2014. Boston purchased 114 meals totaling more than $5,500 and Jacobs purchased 87 meals totaling more than $6,200.

The retreat cost taxpayers more than $5,000 plus additional costs for room service and overnight valet parking.

The proposed policy changes define allowable expenses and unallowable expenses.

According to a draft of the new policy, “Board members must use prudence and exercise due care in incurring expenses.”
Unallowable expenses include:
• Payment for hire or salary of an individual
• Any personal bills or expenses not related to the BOE
• Cash or cash advances except use on non-local travel
• Alcohol beverages and tobacco products
• Non-business (BOE) related meals
• Expenses related to family members and spouse travel
• Relocation expenses
• Entertainment
• Recreation
• In-flight internet
• In-room movies
• Hotel mini bars
• Laundry services
• Valet services
• Airline membership fees
• Incremental costs over standard-size room rates and upgrades
• Cancellation fees where reasonable prudent actions could have been taken to avoid such charges
• First class airline, train or other travel tickets or upgrades
• Rental cars for local travel
• Parking tickets and traffic violations
• Clothing/personal items
• Contributions to support religious or political activities
• Board member compensation in any form from expense account

The new policy also defines local meals as “meals taken within 30 miles or less” from the board’s office building in Upper Marlboro. The policy restricts board members to two local meals weekly and requires meals with more than three people to be pre-approved.

To obtain reimbursement for meals, board members must limit themselves to $17 for breakfast, $20 for lunch and $39 for dinner – a total of $76 per day.

>>> Read more The Sentinel 


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Federal Judge Orders Imagine Schools to Pay $1 Million for “Self-Dealing”

…Case Spotlights Need for Sweeping Charter School Reform

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COLUMBUS – A federal judge in Missouri blistered Imagine Schools, saying the lease it forced on a local school it managed constituted “self-dealing.” The judge ordered Imagine to pay the school more than $1 million.

School board members at the now-closed Missouri school sued Imagine, insisting that it acted in its own best interest, not the best interest of the school.

The facts of the case mirror arrangements in Ohio and other states where Imagine schools pay exorbitant rent to an Imagine subsidiary, SchoolHouse Finance. The high lease payments leave little money for classroom instruction and help explain the poor academic records of Imagine schools in both states.

“This self-dealing is out of control and has to end,’’ said ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis. “Legislators who are working on charter school reforms should make prevention of these types of abuses a top priority.’’

Theis announced a package of Imagine-specific reforms. They include:

  • Place a reasonable cap on the percentage of state money that can be used for rent.
  • Improve accountability by requiring the State Board of Education to sign off on the leases.
  • Improve transparency by requiring schools to make leases readily available to the public.
  • Render leases null and void if Imagine fails to disclose specific financial ties between Imagine,  SchoolHouse Finance or any future entity receiving rent for school buildings.
  • Require charter school boards to have an independent attorney and financial officer. 
  • Any capital money for buildings must be accompanied by reforms on transparency and accountability, and must be allocated using a formula similar to the one used for traditional public schools.

Gary Miron, a professor from Western Michigan University and an expert witness in the Missouri case, said, “This ruling will hopefully empower charter school boards to take back control and responsibility for their school from their for-profit education management organizations (EMOs).  There are a lot of charter schools operated by Imagine and other for profit EMOs that are having public revenues intended for students siphoned off into corporate coffers.  I hope the Missouri ruling will be a signal to these organizations to halt such practices. “

Last year alone, Imagine and SchoolHouse Finance, collected at least $14.4 million in public money for their Ohio schools, according to records from the schools and state auditor. More than half — $8.9 million – covered rent for long-term leases to SchoolHouse Finance. The $5.5 million balance went to pay “indirect costs’’ to Imagine to provide certain management services.

>>> Read more 

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Rich Kids In Low-Income Countries Get Most Of The Public Education Money: UN

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A worker sets up logos of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the congress center in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos Jan. 20, 2015. Reuters/Ruben Sprich

DAVOS, Switzerland — A new United Nations report finds that almost half of public education resources spent in low-income countries of the developing world goes to benefit just 10 percent of the best-educated students, who tend to come from affluent families. The report from the United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as Unicef, was released Thursday at a press conference with former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Unicef allies at the World Economic Forum.

“We need to radically revise current practices by providing more resources and allocating them more equitably,” Yoka Brandt, Unicef deputy executive director, said.

The trend documented by the report shows poor, developing-world countries mimicking a trend in the United States, which stands out as one of the only industrialized countries that devotes less public money to educating students from low-income families than on educating students from high-income families.

According to a recent analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it is one of the few economically developed nations that tends to spend more public resources to educate wealthy students than to educate low-income students. A 2011 U.S. Department of Education report found that in the United States “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding, leaving students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.”

On the question of solutions, Unicef is calling on wealthy countries and corporations to devote more international aid to education initiatives that will more fairly distribute resources. Addressing the assembled audience of wealthy corporate executives in Davos, musician Angelique Kidjo said of the Unicef report: “If the CEOs of this world want to continue being rich, want to save capitalism from chaos, they have to invest in education (and) they have to help every organization and lobby with us with the government” for more education funding that is more equitably distributed.

>>> Read more International Business Times

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