Friday, May 07, 2010

"For profit" college does well

American Public Education Inc.'s (APEI) first-quarter profit rose by nearly half as enrollment continued to soar, and the company raised the high end of its full-year earnings forecast.

The for-profit college now expects earnings to grow by 36% to 39%, up from its previous view of 36% to 37%. American Public still anticipates revenue growth of 36% to 39%.

American Public, like other colleges, has benefited from the economic downturn as more adults return to school to beef up their resumes. The company, parent of online-only American Military University and American Public University, has also grown from word-of-mouth referrals within tight-knit military circles, to which it appeals with course offerings like intelligence and homeland security. More than half of the company's revenue in the most recent period was derived from students who received Department of Defense tuition assistance.

For the most recent quarter, American Public reported a profit of $7.65 million, or 40 cents a share, up from $5.24 million, or 28 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue jumped 43% to $47.3 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected per-share earnings of 38 cents and revenue of $46 million. Operating margin edged up to 27.8% from 26.3%.

Net course registrations climbed 39% from a year earlier to 64,900, with new student registrations up 26%. Enrollment rose 42% to 70,600 as of March 31.

American Public expects net course registrations to increase 35% to 38% for the full year. The company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it expects seasonal fluctuations to become more pronounced as overall growth begins to decline, which could affect overall operational results.

American Public has been a darling of many on Wall Street as its low tuition allows students to attend school without needing to secure additional, high-interest private loans. American Public, which for years has catered to military-affiliated students and their families, has in the past couple of years targeted a more general learning public with its business, history and criminal justice courses. In the most recent period, one-fifth of revenue came from non-military Title IV federal student loans, up from 16% a year earlier.


N.J. education chief plans 'merit pay' evaluations for teachers

Promising to make New Jersey’s public education system "the best in America," state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler yesterday said he plans to introduce a package of reforms next week that will include merit pay for teachers.

"Student achievement will be part of the evaluation process for teachers," Schundler said after giving the keynote address at a in Princeton on urban schools.

During his address, Schundler spoke of the need to "focus on accountability" with "the learning of children ... becoming the yardstick.

Schundler said that in New Jersey, the job of providing a thorough and efficient education is the Legislature’s responsibility and promised to release reforms to reflect that. "You’ll see a proposal very shortly," he said. "The governor and I will support reforms that will make the (state’s) public education system the best in America,"

The commissioner’s list of reforms also includes giving parents more school choice and closing failing schools. He also alluded to possibly tenure reform, saying the state should have a system where ineffective teachers can be more easily replaced.

The measures, he said, will be part of the state’s new application for Race to the Top, a competitive grant program that could award New Jersey up to $350 million for education reform. Schundler said he hoped a merit pay bill could pass the Legislature by June 1, when the grant application is due. "If we do, it will make our (application) extremely competitive," Schundler said at Princeton University, after a conference on urban school reform.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has long opposed merit pay and tenure reform. The union refused to sign on to the state’s last Race to the Top application, which did not win funding.

NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said the union has requested a meeting with Schundler to discuss Race to the Top, and plans to meet with him this afternoon. He declined to discuss whether NJEA will soften its positions on teacher evaluations and other issues. "Hopefully, that’s the beginning of a dialogue," Wollmer said. "We are going to bring some new approaches in. We also have some new ideas we want to share."

Since taking office in January, Gov. Chris Christie and the NJEA have battled almost daily. The governor, who regularly attacks the union as "greedy," has dramatically cut state aid to schools, reined in pensions for new hires and supported tax breaks to companies that sponsor poor children going to private schools.

The NJEA says he is lying about most of the issues.

Merit pay proposals generally use data system to support instruction, tying student performance on test scores to teacher evaluations and compensation. Both Delaware and Tennessee, earlier Race to the Top winners, included such measures.

Delaware’s new law on teacher/principal effectiveness, for example, says no educators can be rated as "effective" unless their students demonstrate satisfactory levels of growth; teachers rated "ineffective" for 2 to 3 years can be removed from the classroom, even if they have tenure.

Schundler’s call for changes in teacher pay and tenure policies came on the same day the New Jersey School Boards Association called for new laws to eliminate rules it says give unions the upper hand. The association wants lawmakers to streamline the tenure system, enact an anti-strike law and overhaul seniority and bumping rights so districts making layoffs can retain employees that school leaders see as most qualified, rather then being forced to keep those with the most longevity.

Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the association, said his group is scheduled to meet with the commissioner today to discusss merit pay and other proposed reforms. Belluscio said the association "always thought there is a lot of potential with merit pay," and favors tenure reform. "If he is going to take on the ‘T’ word, we’re all for it," Belluscio said.


More freedom for British schools, no matter who wins in election aftermath

Schools will be given more power to control their affairs under one of the biggest overhauls of state education in a generation. All three main parties have pledged to bring in private companies, charities and parents’ groups to run schools in England in a move designed to promote competition and cut red tape.

In a sign of consensus between the parties, local councils are expected to lose a significant amount of direct control over schools as power over admissions, staff pay, buildings and the curriculum is increasingly devolved to head teachers.

Labour is committed to expanding the number of academies – independent secondary schools sponsored and run by private organisations – beyond the 200 opened in the past decade. It also wants to accredit organisations to run “chains” of primary and secondary schools.

The Liberal Democrats want all schools to have the “freedom to innovate”, although academies will be replaced by “sponsor managed schools”, giving councils the power to appoint organisations to run them.

Conservative plans have attracted the most controversy. They go significantly further than the two other main parties by giving all high-performing primary and secondary schools the power to become academies – removing local authorities’ right of veto. In a hugely contentious move, the Tories would also allow parents, teachers and other organisations to set up and run their own “free schools” at taxpayers’ expense. The plans, which are modelled on programmes in Sweden and the United States, could dramatically expand the number of providers stepping in to run state education.

But while debate over school structures has dominated the election campaign, the future of qualifications, the curriculum and league tables have also been key battlegrounds. Next week, thousands of primary school head teachers in England will boycott Sats tests for 11-year-olds amid claims that they promote a culture of “teaching to the test” and ruin children’s education.

The Lib Dems have pledged to scrap Sats, but they will be retained in the short-term by both Labour and the Conservatives, putting the parties on a post-election collision course with heads.

Qualifications for teenagers will also be overhauled, irrespective of the election outcome. Labour will expand the number of diplomas, which combine practical training with traditional classroom tuition, while the Lib Dems will create a general, overarching diploma, swallowing up all vocational and academic qualifications under one heading.

In a further nod towards school freedom, the Conservatives will allow heads to offer any qualification, including the International GCSE, which is currently favoured in private schools but banned in the state sector. The National Curriculum is also likely to face a significant restructure.

The Tories have pledged to redraft it completely, outlining the core content with a particular focus on the basics of English, maths and science.

The Lib Dems want to introduce a slimmed down “minimum curriculum entitlement”, while Labour will enforce a new primary curriculum, stripping away traditional subjects to allow schools to focus on six broad “areas of learning”.


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