Friday, December 27, 2013

NY charter schools worry about mayor-elect's plans

Operators of New York City's publicly financed, privately run charter schools are bracing for changes promised by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio — including the possibility of having to pay rent — that they worry could reverse 12 years of growth enjoyed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

De Blasio has pledged to charge rent to "well-resourced" charter schools and has called for a moratorium on allowing new charters to share buildings with traditional schools, taking aim at a Bloomberg policy that helped the schools grow from 17 to 183 during his time in office. The policy has also led to complaints that the charters draw an unfair amount of resources.

"It is insult to injury to give them free rent," de Blasio said last summer, while campaigning for the Democratic nomination.

Charter school backers around the country are watching to see what happens in New York — which they consider an incubator for the charter school movement — while de Blasio supporters hope that the changes help fulfill his campaign promise to improve educational access for all children. De Blasio takes office on Jan. 1.

"The nation as a whole has always looked to New York City in this area," said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "The climate in New York City is a healthy one because of the co-location arrangements."

A majority of the nation's charter schools either pay rent or are paying off a loan or bond issue for their buildings, according to Rees' group, but New York City real estate pressures make that a challenge. She said that many charter schools wouldn't have been able to open if they had to find their own building and start from scratch.

It's unclear how much New York's charters would pay. De Blasio has said he would use a sliding scale, with deep-pocketed charter operators forced to pay more, while some schools would continue to pay nothing. A spokeswoman said that de Blasio would work out the plan with his schools chancellor.

The city's Independent Budget Office estimates that facility costs for the 40,000 charter school students in co-located buildings average $2,320 per pupil and that the city could raise $92 million if it charged rent. There are 114 charter schools co-located within traditional schools.

Critics note that more than a dozen New York City charter school executives are paid more than current New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott's $212,614. Harlem Village Academies chief Deborah Kenny earns $499,146. Eva Moskowitz, a former City Council member and founder of Success Academies, earns $475,244.

Moskowitz has grown Success from one Harlem school in 2006 to 20 schools in several neighborhoods, with six more slated to open next fall. Its 6,700 pupils make it the city's largest charter operator.

"We can't afford it, and it would be taking dollars away from children and from their education to pay rent on a public school," said Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for Success.

Moskowitz — who helped stage a march of more than 10,0000 people across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio's plans in October — has been singled out by de Blasio for criticism.

"There's no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK? " de Blasio said at a forum in June. He told a United Federation of Teachers meeting last May that Moskowitz's schools have "a destructive impact on the schools they're going into."

Schools that share space typically use separate entrances and have separate floors. Charter school detractors have complained that charter students get the best of everything, from playground equipment to bathrooms.

Ellen Darensbourg, a teacher at Public School 241, which shares a Harlem building with Harlem Success Academy 4 and another charter school, said that her school has been forced to move around the building numerous times over the last six years to give the charters more space.

Darensbourg said P.S. 241's physical and occupational therapists have to work with special-needs kids in the hallway and the art teacher moves from room to room with a cart because the school no longer has a classroom — though the Success Academy school has an art classroom.

"It's OK for their kids to have an art studio but it wasn't necessary for our kids," she said.

Lyon said that Success Academy generally enjoys a "pretty positive relationships with the schools that we share space with."

Charter schools are run by private entities and have more freedom than traditional public schools to set their own hours and curriculum and pupils are chosen by lottery. Supporters say they give families an alternative to substandard public schools, while opponents point to studies that show mixed results.

New York City's 70,000 charter school pupils represent about 6 percent of the city's 1.1 million public school students.

Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, said that charging rent and halting co-locations would slow the growth of charters to a trickle and deprive families of an option they want.

"These are public school kids," Phillips said. "It is perfectly appropriate for them to be in public school space."


British universities making 'unconditional offers' in race for top  students

Top universities are preparing to award places to students irrespective of their final A-level grades amid a scramble to recruit Britain’s brightest school leavers, The Telegraph has learnt.

A string of leading institutions such as Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Queen Mary, University of London, are reviving the practice of “unconditional offers” for large numbers of students starting degrees next year.

In most cases, admissions tutors will make places available to candidates who are predicted by their teachers to gain straight As in their final exams.

Universities insist the move is intended to reward students with potential while taking the pressure off teenagers in the final year of the sixth-form.

But the policy underlines the scale of the competition between universities for the brightest students following the relaxing of tight controls on recruitment by the Coalition.

At least 30 universities – notably those ranked outside the traditional elite – are also offering cash scholarships worth up to £10,000 in an attempt to sign up students with good A-levels.

But the move towards unconditional offers has been attacked by some rival universities amid claims it undermines the exams system and risks being manipulated by pupils.

A senior official at one leading Russell Group university told the Telegraph: “I am concerned at the attempt to downgrade the importance of A-levels – that is the effect that these changes will have.

“These universities are saying, ‘If you make us your firm choice we’ll make you an unconditional offer’. That’s not in the applicant’s best interest.

“Students are pretty smart – if you look at online forums you can see that they have an understanding of what’s going on.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said it was understandable that some institutions were now moving towards unconditional offers, but added: “The continuing shambles over student numbers and the misguided efforts to force a market into higher education has created all sorts of confusion.”

Universities traditionally make offers of places that are conditional on teenagers scoring certain grades when A-level results are published in August.

In the past, Oxford and Cambridge made a number of unconditional offers dependent on students scoring highly in their own entrance exams but the system has since been phased out.

Some universities are now resurrecting the process by making offers to students based on teachers’ predictions of A-level performance – irrespective of final grades.

In most cases, students have to name the university as their “firm choice” on UCAS application forms to qualify for an offer.

Last year, Birmingham became the first institution to use the practice en masse by making 1,000 offers across 12 courses – eventually recruiting 300 students.

In 2014, the scheme will be dramatically expanded to cover 33 disciplines, including English, history, geography, drama, chemistry and theology.

For the first time this year, Nottingham will also make unconditional offers to a “small number of students who have demonstrated an exceptional academic record and personal statement” across a limited selection of courses on a trial basis.

Queen Mary – a member of the elite Russell Group alongside Nottingham and Birmingham – said it was making 500 unconditional offers in biomedical sciences, languages and history often to candidates judged as “exceptional” following an interview.

Leicester is making unconditional offers in most subjects to students predicted to gain at least three As in their A-levels on top of good GCSE and AS-level grades. It insisted students would not have to make Leicester their firm choice to accept an offer.

“In an increasing competitive market we are looking for the top performing students to come to the university and are using past and predicted academic performance as one approach to identify such people,” a spokesman said.

Birmingham City University is also adopting the policy for courses in business, education, English, drama, marketing and PR, law, criminology, psychology. sociology, technology, engineering and the environment.

Experts said many more universities were looking closely at unconditional offers without publicising the move.

Under the Coalition, universities have complete freedom to recruit unlimited numbers of British students with good A-levels – an A and two Bs or better – while places remain tightly capped for other candidates.

The unconditional offer system represents a risk to universities because if students eventually fail to gain top A-levels they will count towards the number of capped places awarded to each institution. Universities can currently be fined for recruiting beyond number controls.

Roderick Smith, director of admissions at Birmingham University, said: “When we decided to make unconditional offers last year we knew that we were taking a leap of faith… But we were pleased to see that those who received an unconditional offer performed to their potential, with examination results above the average for their subject.”

In addition to unconditional offers, a number of universities are tempting students with scholarships, which are distributed irrespective of household income. This includes Anglia Ruskin, Bradford, Bournemouth, Gloucestershire, Salford and Worcester.

Newman University, Birmingham, is offering £10,000 over three years for all students who name the institution as their number one choice for 2014 and gain the equivalent of three Bs in their A-levels.


British schools 'facing shortage of teachers after recruitment failure

Schools could face a crisis in teacher numbers as the Government misses its minimum target for occupied teaching training places for the second year in a row, experts have warned.

Labour claim that schools will face a shortage of trainee teachers because of the failure of Government recruitment reforms.

The shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said official figures showed 6,430 of 38,900 available places for teaching training were currently empty and that David Cameron was failing in his “basic responsibility” to provide good teachers.

That would mean the Department for Education’s has missed its own minimum target for the number of new teachers required by 2,000.

However a spokesman for the department said that it was “nonsense” to suggest there would be a shortage of teachers and said that 99% of post-graduate places had been filled.

This year Michael Gove, the education secretary, decided to switch almost half of the country's 25,000 training places into schools and away from universities.

However critics say that this system, known as “School Direct”, is failing to recruit the number of graduates needed and prospective students are “voting with their feet” and favouring the remaining university courses meaning that the government is failing to recruit in crucial subject areas.

Professor John Howson, the managing director of and a leading expert in the teaching labour market, said that the Government had failed to hit “most” of their schools direct targets with subjects that will be key to the economic recovery often most affected.

He said: “If you look at the school direct subject like physics – there were 318 school direct training places and they have filled 60 of them.

“Over all we have probably only filled about half of the places of design of technology across the board – when you considering that is a subject that will get people interested in careers in catering, fashion, electronics in general manufacturing – it is crucial to the economy.

“And if the Government is seriously under-recruiting in that are in it could have a detrimental affect the next generation of people who are going to work in those areas.”

He added that if the trend of under-recruitment continued the country could face a serious teacher shortage.

He said: “I have been warning for some time that the combination of circumstances like this and the growing private economy - which are likely to put us in situation where they would run into a teacher shortage.This is only the start because things will get worse – pay in the public being held down whereas pay in the private sector in a rapidly recovering market is not subject to any hold on wages.

“Over all we have probably only filled about half of the places of design of technology across the board – when you considering that is a subject that will get people interested in careers in catering, fashion, electronics in general manufacturing – it is crucial to the economy.

“And if the Government is seriously under-recruiting in that are in it could have a detrimental affect the next generation of people who are going to work in those areas.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "It is nonsense to suggest there is going to be a shortage of teachers - 99% of our target for postgraduate teacher trainees has already been met.

"We always allocate more places than we need, so it is totally misleading to suggest not filling every place will lead to a shortage.

"School Direct is a response to what schools have said they want - a greater role in selecting and recruiting trainees with the potential to be outstanding teachers. The programme is only in its second full year of operating and is already proving very popular."


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