Friday, May 29, 2009

Union has limited success at running NYC charter school

The United Federation of Teachers' own charter school is an oasis of learning in Brooklyn's East New York -- but its students still lag behind kids who attend charters run by other groups, a Post analysis has found.

Unlike other city charters, the UFT's 4-year-old experimental school -- simply called the UFT Charter School -- has a teaching staff that adheres to the same contract rules, with just a few amendments, as conventional schools. As charter schools continue to expand, the UFT and its sister organization, New York State Union Teachers, are trying to exert more control over them while arguing that successful charters and unionization are not mutually exclusive.

Last week, two union-friendly legislators introduced a bill in Albany that would have required all charter schools to have a unionized staff. The New York State Charter Schools Association called the legislation "crippling," and it was yanked from Assembly and Senate committees after The Post made inquiries.

Despite the unions' attempted power grab, city Department of Education data show the union's own charter school has test scores that are lower than nonunion charters. The UFT Charter -- separate elementary and junior-high schools in one building -- has 72.7 percent of its students meeting or exceeding math standards -- impressive, but still far behind the city charter-school average of 87.5 percent. Likewise, charter schools citywide have 81.7 percent of students meeting or exceeding English standards, while the UFT Charter School level was at 67.9 percent.

Still, the UFT Charter School, which has longer school days, is outperforming the surrounding conventional schools in the district. Its 72.7 percent of students meeting or exceeding math standards tops the 67.7 percent for students in the rest of the district. For English, the UFT Charter School's 67.9 percent of students meeting or exceeded standards is far ahead of the 57.6 percent for students in the rest of the district.

Plus, both schools at UFT Charter are improving each year. Combined test scores for sixth-graders last year show 62 percent meeting or exceeding standards. The same kids this year, now seventh-graders, showed 76 percent meeting or exceeding standards. "This is a great improvement and suggests that we are on the right track," said UFT spokesman Ron Davis.

By and large, the UFT Charter School adheres to the teachers' contract. One big difference is in the junior high, where teachers' work schedules are staggered to give students a longer school day. Teachers at the UFT Charter School can also use a 37-minute period for their own professional development or training. Conventional schools devote that time to small-group student instruction.


British school exclusions 'merry-go-round' shows that reforms are failing

Children are being thrown out of school repeatedly in a merry-go-round of exclusions, according to an investigation by The Times that shows that government reforms are not working. Ministers put pressure on schools to reduce the number of permanent expulsions and this figure has fallen by almost a half in the past decade.

However, schools are resorting increasingly to multiple short-term exclusions — frequently removing the same disruptive pupils, who may then be left alone at home or wandering the streets. An estimated 176,000 children were suspended more than once last year, according to a survey of local authorities by The Times. Thousands more were expelled.

Despite claims from ministers that they are doing more to help excluded children, schools and councils are struggling to comply with a new law that means they must provide full-time alternative education on the sixth day of exclusion, rather than the 16th day as required previously. Lack of funding and resources means that some pupil referral units are overwhelmed and can offer only a few hours a week to teenagers. At some units pupils turn up for only a couple of hours, once a week.

Two children in Macclesfield were given four hours’ schoolwork a week to complete at home. A five-year-old in South London was excluded and left without education for six weeks and then went back to the unit for three half-days a week.

New figures show an alarming link between exclusion and prison, and education experts say that expulsion very often leads to a criminal lifestyle. Two fifths of adult male prisoners had been excluded from school, according to figures published recently by the Prison Reform Trust. A Home Office report, released last month, showed that 86 per cent of under-18 male inmates in young offender institutions had been expelled from school. Carl Parsons, a professor of education and an author of books on exclusion, said: “These kids are very often in or on the edge of the criminal justice system before they are excluded. Exclusion will push them further.”

The extent of the problems faced by schools is revealed in our survey of local authorities, which found that many children were excluded for aggressive and even violent behaviour, as well as for being disruptive.

In Durham half of expelled children had assaulted or threatened a teacher or another pupil. Others were removed for theft, sexual misconduct, bullying, damage to property or incidents linked to drugs and alcohol. One local authority said: “Some emerging issues around exclusion include guns, gang issues, weapons and drugs.”

Teachers who have campaigned for greater protection say that such children should be removed from the classroom. John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: “People talk about the effect of exclusion on a child, but what they forget is the effect of that child on other children. They are the group of people who get more fed up than anyone with bad behaviour, and end up disrupted and demoralised.”

Nearly 15,000 children were excluded more than five times in 2006-07, according to government figures. The Times survey shows that more than a third of pupils excluded last year were removed from school more than once — a total of 7,023 children in 15 rural, urban and suburban local authorities. When extrapolated across all 375 authorities in England and Wales it equates to almost 176,000 children. In some areas 60 per cent of excluded children went through the experience repeatedly.

This use of numerous fixed-period exclusions reduces the number of permanent exclusions, giving the impression that the problem of disruptive behaviour is being tackled. Steve Turner, a director of UK Youth, which develops alternative provision, said: “There are pupils who go round and round the system. They get stuck in a cycle of attending and being excluded.”

The schools inspectorate Ofsted found recently that only half of the local authorities it surveyed were meeting the target of alternative provision for excluded pupils. It painted a picture of variable funding, poor communication and a lack of capacity in pupil referral units.

This was echoed by respondents to The Times survey. Derbyshire failed to place 11 pupils in alternative provision within six days, and Luton was unable to meet the deadline for two. A Luton Council spokesman said: “Sixth-day provision is an unrealistic expectation since appropriate provision needs to be selected with care.” Sunderland Council said: “An area of challenge continues to be finding a range of quality, appropriate, alternative provision for pupils for whom mainstream education is not appropriate.”

Martin Narey, the head of Barnardo’s and former director-general of the Prison Service, once said that on the day a child is excluded they might as well be given a date for prison. He told The Times: “I’d be astonished if this had changed significantly. We inevitably find that if you take someone out of a class of 30 children, they can prosper and do very well in a smaller class and have a good chance in life. Once a child has been excluded permanently, or repeatedly for a fixed term, it’s very difficult to arrest that.”

The Government says that the fall in permanent expulsions and increase in temporary exclusions is a success because it reflects “early intervention and a reduction in the most serious incidents of bad behaviour”.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, admitted last year that a significant minority of referral units were not performing to the required standard and ordered them to improve or close. His department has set up a dozen pilots of alternative provision, including a city farm equestrian centre, a football training school and an arts centre.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said yesterday: “Fixed-term exclusions and suspensions are an important tool for heads to use in tackling disruptive behaviour and safeguarding the learning of other children. At the same time, repeatedly suspending pupils doesn’t solve the problem. Excluded pupils need a good education and we expect local authorities to meet their legal obligations and ensure that every child is getting a suitable education.”


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