Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Boston still vexed by school busing

That they are still doing it at all is the wonder: It destroyed its own reason for existence when it forced most white families out

More than three decades after a federal court order forced Boston to desegregate schools by busing black students to white neighborhoods and whites to black areas, the birthplace of public education is still fighting the battle. But the lines no longer pit race against race, with 87 percent of the student body now minorities.

Now the city is wrestling with school-choice issues and an antiquated busing system that can send a lone student on a bus ride across the city. And the more the Boston Public Schools system assigns students to neighborhood schools, rather than bus them across town, the more likely it is that children in the poorest neighborhoods will go to the worst-performing schools.

Boston schools still let parents pick schools, but only within three enormous and controversial geographical zones. Buses carting only one student often crisscross the city - contributing to next year's nearly $80 million transportation budget at a time when the district faces a projected $100 million budget shortfall.

Proposals to replace the 20-year-old school-assignment zones with five smaller ones fizzled twice this decade, most recently in June. And while the city secured federal funding this month to take another stab at overhauling its busing system, the issue remains a political hot potato that is not among the talking points of either mayoral candidate. "And they won't talk about it because it's very divisive," said Myriam Ortiz, executive director of Boston Parent Organizing Network, which successfully argued that Boston Public Schools' recent proposal to return to neighborhood schools drastically decreased access to quality schools for the city's poorest students, "because communities where better schools are located could care less about the communities where the underperforming schools are located."

"I know this for a fact. A few months ago, we heard parents testifying that their schools should not receive budget cuts because their schools perform better. They said, 'The schools that are not performing, budget cuts should be their punishment.' "

At a recent debate, Mayor Thomas M. Menino had his performance on education graded by his opponent - City Council member Michael F. Flaherty Jr., who gave him an "F" - and by himself. He said he'd grade himself "maybe a B-plus, no, a B. I'll be generous."

The two men sparred over the mayor's record: "We boast of having the best colleges and universities in the world, yet children who actually do graduate from Boston Public Schools will never get an opportunity to compete," the mayor's 40-year-old challenger said. Each man slung around statistics on dropouts, but neither addressed the educational elephant in the auditorium at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum: busing.

Mr. Menino, who called for the abolition of busing in his 2008 State of the City Address, could not be reached for comment for this report.

During a phone interview, Mr. Flaherty, a proponent of neighborhood schools who said he recently realized the need to focus initially on improving school quality, did address busing frankly. "The city has a long history with the subject; at the same time, things have changed tremendously," said Mr. Flaherty, who was born five years before the 1974 forced-busing ruling. "We need to be sensitive to the issue and recognize the past. I've seen Boston at its best and at its very worst. To dismiss and discount the past is shortsighted. We need to put all the issues on the table. "The discussion around school assignment can be polarizing already. With that said, maybe we do need to have a frank discussion about race in Boston, where we came from and where we are now before we embark on this particular issue."

While Boston's third attempt to rewrite its school-assignment plan since 2004 has gone untouched this political season, Washington has taken notice. On Oct. 1, 35 years after the now-deceased federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ruled that Boston Public Schools practiced de facto segregation, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Boston a $241,680 grant.

The Technical Assistance for Student Assignment Plans grant is designed to help school districts reconcile long-term effects of busing by studying the practices of cities nationwide. The 11 districts awarded the grant have 12 to 24 months to use the funds and cast wide nets in reaching out to school-assignment experts and civil rights activists.

For the Boston Public Schools system - which has 72 percent of its students eligible for subsidized free and reduced-price meals - the challenge is deflating a bloated transportation budget without impeding access to the city's best schools. Superintendent Carol Johnson shelved her five-zone plan in June after it was revealed that the majority of the district's underperforming schools were concentrated in the two zones populated by the city's poorest residents. Parents in those two zones were irate after learning they wouldn't have equal access to bilingual and special education.

"We are pleased about the grant; it will help propel us further and faster," Ms. Johnson said by phone. "But even if we had not gotten the grant, we are committed to making changes to improve the quality of schools in Boston."

More here

British parents cheating to get kids into good schools

Britain has so many bad and dangerous government schools, these days

Tougher action should be taken against the thousands of parents who lie to get their children into popular schools, England's school places watchdog says. Schools Adjudicator Ian Craig said an estimated 3,500 parents lied on school application forms each year.

Local authorities should use all means open to them to deter parents from cheating the admissions system. This includes removing places from the guilty and pursuing them through the courts, possibly using the Perjury Act. In his government-commissioned report Dr Craig said currently people had "nothing to lose" if they lied to get a place, but he stopped short of calling for school place fraud to be made a crime.

He said he was not persuaded that the courts would use short-term prison sentences in such cases. He added that fines would not be effective against parents who could afford to rent a second property close to a popular school. However, he described lying to get a place at a good school as a "theft" because it deprived another child of that place. He called on the media to send a message to parents that this was wrong.

The detail of how parents could be deterred, and any sanctions to be taken against those that make misleading or false applications, are to form part of a second report ordered by the Secretary of State, Ed Balls. In the meantime he urged councils to make use of their ability to remove school places from children whose parents had been found cheating.

This first report on "fraudulent or misleading applications" was commissioned by the government following the case of a mother accused of using a false home address to get her child into a popular school in London. The case was denied and later dropped.

Dr Craig asked the 150 English education authorities to provide information on the scale of fraudulent or misleading applications their area. Two-fifths of the 123 councils that responded to Dr Craig's inquiry said the problem was a growing one, with some authorities reporting as many as 100 cases. In total 1,100 incidents where local authorities had taken action were reported by these 123 councils. Dr Craig said if this was extrapolated across the remaining councils the number would be more like 1,300 cases. Officers then said they believed they were only catching about half the number of school place cheats.

Dr Craig said: "The majority of parents are honest. If we put this in the context of the 800,000 reception class entries and about 800,000 children transferring to secondary school. "That's 3,500 out of about one to two million school place applications." He blamed parents and not the schools admissions system for the problem, saying: "This is about the parents bending the rules and not telling the truth."

But he said there needed to be consistency between local authorities about what, for example, could be deemed a "permanent address". Ways of cheating included using relatives' addresses and renting a property for the duration of the application. Parents also faked marriage breakdowns and used vacant properties

Mr Balls said he was reassured that the vast majority of applications were honest, but he was concerned some places were being obtained by deception. "I take this issue very seriously and it is vital that it is also taken seriously by schools, admission authorities, and parents. "The small minority of parents who break the rules must understand that obtaining a place by deception is not fair to everyone else."

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said he did not condone parents making fraudulent claims but that the government was dealing with the symptoms rather than the causes of parental dissatisfaction.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws claimed the government was in a complete muddle over the issue and considering a media campaign to highlight this issue. "It is wrong for parents to cheat the system. However, the problem is more likely to be solved by creating more good school places than a daft media campaign."


British University 'crisis' as applications soar

The idiotic British Leftist government has been pushing to get more kids into university but has failed to fund the extra places that are required for that

Labour has been accused of “sleepwalking” into a fresh university admissions crisis as figures show record applications to degree courses. The number of people applying to UK universities next autumn is already up by 11.6 per cent, it was disclosed. Data published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) showed almost 71,900 people had applied by mid-October, compared with 64,500 at the same time last year. It follows controversy this summer when the recession and a shortage of jobs is believed to have fuelled a record rise in applications – leaving thousands without places.

On Monday, the Conservatives warned of a repeat unless ministers sanctioned an expansion of higher education. David Willetts, shadow universities secretary, said: “Ministers are sleepwalking into another university entrance crisis. This year, far more potential students than usual have been left without a place and we can now see the problems are set to be even worse next year. Ministers failed to tackle the issue in 2009 and are now repeating their mistakes for 2010.”

Figures from Ucas showed applications for medicine were up 13.7 per cent, dentistry increased by 12.6 per cent and veterinary medicine was up 14 per cent. Applications from outside the UK increased by 16.6 per cent, it was revealed. This included a 26.8 per cent rise among Chinese students. Oxford University, which shuts its admissions earlier than other universities, along with Cambridge, reported a 12 per cent rise in applications.

The National Union of Students called for an urgent expansion of university places. Wes Streeting, NUS president, said: "We now have a clear indication that competition for university places will be fierce again during the next admissions round. Given that tens of thousands of people lost out this year, the Government must look immediately at an expansion of places.”

Ministers capped the number of additional places this year, so that only an extra 13,000 were on offer. Some 10,000 of these were for students studying maths or science based subjects. Students faced an intense scramble for places and some 139,520 missed out, although this included those who did not get the right grades or applied late. The Government has also imposed a cap on places for next year, so that only an extra 10,000 will be available.

David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, said: “This year there will be more students than ever before going to university. It is still early in the application cycle for next year, but it is encouraging to see that overall application numbers in England to some of the most selective courses and institutions are up on this time last year. "We have encouraged people from all backgrounds to aspire to university, and our initiatives have seen the percentage of young entrants to first time degrees from state schools, lower social groups and low participation backgrounds all increase over the last decade.”

Oxford University announced it had received more than 17,000 applications this year for around 3,000 undergraduate places - an increase of 12 per cent. Most of the 1,808 additional applications came from state schools. Mike Nicholson, director of admissions, said: "This is great news. We have worked hard to ensure that all students with the potential to succeed at Oxford apply, regardless of their background. I believe we can now say that this work is beginning to bear fruit.”

Virginia Isaac, Ucas acting chief executive, said: “While it is pleasing to see the continued rise in applications, it is too early in the cycle to tell whether this significant increase will be sustained throughout 2010 entry. “It does indicate, however, that in certain areas, once again, prospective students will be facing strong competition for places."


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