Friday, May 01, 2015

Give Every Child in Baltimore a $17,329 School-Choice Voucher

"The education system has failed them."

That is part of the explanation that Billy Murphy, a lawyer representing the family of Freddie Gray — who died after his spine was severed while in police custody — gave CNN's Wolf Blitzer for why some young men in Baltimore rioted on Monday afternoon after Gray's funeral.

"These kids have had bad experiences in school," Murphy said.

"They are frequently harassed by the police," he said. "They are unemployed because there's no summer jobs, and so this is what you would expect in a tense time like this. That's not a justification, though, because what they're doing is wrong, and we need to stop them. And those of us who are more mature in Baltimore, black and white together, we need to have a demonstration that shows them the right way to do it, rather than permitting them to go without leadership, the way that they're going now."

He is right.

And one way to start moving things back in the right direction is to give every parent in Baltimore a voucher worth $17,329 that they can redeem at any school — public, private or religious — to which they choose to send their child.

Why $17,329?

Actually, it probably should be a bit more than that. But, according to the U.S. Department of Education, $17,329 is the total expenditure that the Baltimore City Public Schools made per student in the 2010-2011 school year, the latest year for which the Department of Education has reported this data. ($17,329 in 2011 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, equals about $18,083 in 2015 dollars.)

What did parents and taxpayers get in return for that $17,329 when it was spent by the public schools?

Well, judging by National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, most of the students did not get a good education.

In 2013, according to the Department of Education, only 16 percent of the eighth graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools scored at or above grade-level proficient in the NAEP reading test. That same year, only 13 percent of the eighth graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools scored at or above grade-level proficient in math.

According to the Department of Education, eighth graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools had average NAEP math and reading scores that were lower than the national public school averages, lower than the Maryland averages, and lower than the averages for the nation's large cities.

The Baltimore City Public Schools are not failing for lack of money or personnel.

In the 2012-2013 school year, according to the Department of Education, the city's schools enrolled 84,747 students. But they also employed approximately 5,380 classroom teachers — meaning they had a student-to-teacher ratio of 15.75 students per teacher.

In addition to the 5,380 classroom teachers, the Baltimore City Public Schools also employed 1,690 "instructional aides," 422 "school administrators," 482 "district administrators," approximately 508 "school administrative support" personnel, approximately 628 "student support services" personnel, approximately 116 "guidance counselors," approximately 86 "librarians" and "media specialists," 75 "instructional coordinators and supervisors," and approximately 1,150 workers providing "other support services."

In total, the Baltimore City Public Schools had about 10,165 teachers and other staff on the payroll in the 2012-2013 school year — or about 1 for every 8.3 students enrolled in the schools.

In the 2010-2011 school year, according to the Department of Education, the Baltimore City Public Schools had $1,441,019,000 in revenue — with 62 percent coming from the state government, 19 percent coming from the federal government and 19 percent coming from local government.

The schools turned around and spent a total of $1,452,189,000.

Despite this, the kids in the Baltimore public schools got a bad deal. They deserve better.

Give them a choice. Give every parent or guardian of every student eligible to attend the Baltimore City Public Schools a voucher worth the same amount those schools spend per student. Let them redeem it at any school anywhere, public, private or religious.

If that means churches and other private organizations — and groups of parents — in and around Baltimore begin starting up their own schools to educate local children according to their own values, then that may mean not only schools that produce better test scores but schools that produce better citizens.


UK: Migrant baby boom has cost 80,000 children the school places they wanted and led to pupils being sent miles away from their homes

For Joel, Harri and Olli Whitehouse, September couldn’t come quickly enough. Because it was then that their four-year-old sister Alice would be joining them at their primary school in Rochdale, Lancashire.

‘Last year, Alice was diagnosed with diabetes,’ explains their mother Joanne, 44. ‘Obviously, it worried us all, but the boys were particularly upset. They want to look after her and couldn’t wait for her to join them at school so they could be big brothers to her.’

But now that won’t happen. For last week, Mrs Whitehouse was told by her local council which school her daughter would be joining in the autumn — and it isn’t the same one as her siblings.

The boys, aged nine, seven and six, attend St John Fisher Roman Catholic Primary. But because it was massively oversubscribed — 82 pupils (or rather their parents) had applied for 30 places — there was no place for Alice.

This is because applicants living more locally had priority — despite the presence of her three brothers and the fact that the family lives little more than a mile away from the school.

Instead, Alice has been allocated a place at a Church of England school, something that ignores not just the family’s faith but the practicalities of parenthood as well. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ said Mrs Whitehouse. ‘I can’t split myself in half and be at both schools at the same time.

‘And it’s already affecting the children. Alice is worried she’s going to have to go to school on her own, and her brothers are upset that she won’t be with them.

‘I had no problem getting them into the school, but I suppose there must be more people applying for places this year. But why should we suffer? It’s just not fair.’

And Mrs Whitehouse is far from the only parent to voice such a lament.

Across the country it is estimated that the parents of some 80,000 pupils learned last week that they had not got their first choice of school, while the parents of around 20,000 pupils will have had all their preferences — up to six in some in cases — totally ignored.

The reason is a shortage of places caused by a booming birth rate, the main driver of which was the decade of open-door immigration overseen by New Labour.

As the Prime Minister warned in an electrifying intervention in the election campaign this week, if a Labour government is voted into power again, it will allow ‘a return to uncontrolled immigration’, which will serve only to put an even greater strain on an already groaning education system.

The impact of Labour’s policy under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was felt first by maternity services and then, inevitably, by schools.

Government statisticians warned what was about to happen — predicting that the 3.9 million pupils at state primaries in 2009 would grow to 4.6 million by 2018.

And yet, as every year passes, more evidence emerges of the lack of adequate provision within the school system.

Not only are four-year-olds being sent to school miles from where they live, others find themselves crammed into classes of 30-plus, or attending so-called super-size primaries where the school roll exceeds 1,000 and classrooms are built on stilts to preserve playground space below.

And what seems increasingly clear is that as this demographic bulge makes its way up the system, the secondary school system will also struggle to cope.

The first signs are already worrying. In this year’s round of admissions, almost half the children in some areas were denied their preferred secondary school owing to pressure on places.

Meanwhile, projections by the Department for Education show that by 2023 the secondary school population will have grown by 17 per cent to 3.2 million, an increase equivalent to 500 new secondaries.

‘For a while, numbers have been going up in primary education and down in secondary education but, like a wave in the sea, it is now passing through the system,’ says Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University.

‘In theory, the secondary schools have had more time to prepare. But the education system always tends to be a bit behind demography. It shouldn’t be, but it always seems to be caught by surprise.’

Of course, for parents whose children were born during this boom, the only question they want answered is why they should suffer?

Take the case of Joanne Booth, 34, and her 38-year-old husband Marc, an operations director, who live near Kings Langley, Hertfordshire with their children Emmie, three, and one-year-old Abigail.

When applying for a primary place earlier this year for their eldest daughter, they put down four choices. The nearest school on their list was half a mile away, the furthest 1.8 miles.

After months of nervous anticipation, last Thursday they received an email informing them of the council’s allocation.

‘I am sorry to inform you that it has not been possible to offer Emmie a reception place at any of your preferred schools,’ it read. ‘It is also currently not possible to offer a reception place at this time.’

The reason? Because there has been a 3.5 per cent increase in the number of applications for reception places across the county this year.

A second email explained that Emmie’s name would now be placed on the ‘Continuing Interest’ list and that a school would be allocated in mid-May. It listed a dozen establishments across the county that would be taking in extra children — a number of which are an hour’s drive away.

The news came as a hammer blow to the couple. ‘I was with a fellow mother from the nursery when it came through and she hadn’t been given a place either,’ said Mrs Booth.

‘I couldn’t believe it. Every night I had gone to bed imagining what it would be like at one of the four schools I had put down. But to be told I had not got anything at all is ridiculous.

‘I have been very upset. We started this process in November and now we have been told we have to wait until May to find out which school we are going to end up at — and it could be one miles away from us.’

Mrs Booth believes the reason she did not get into a local school is due to a newly-built development of 400 houses nearby.

‘There are clearly too many children for however many spaces there are,’ she said. ‘They build these houses, but don’t think of the infrastructure to deal with the families living in them. I don’t understand why they can’t predict demand better.’

The number of births in England and Wales increased by 22 per cent. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) - the number of children born per woman - also increased, from 1.63 in 2001 to 2.0 in 2010    +8
The number of births in England and Wales increased by 22 per cent. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) - the number of children born per woman - also increased, from 1.63 in 2001 to 2.0 in 2010

It is a good question, particularly as the trends in Hertfordshire with regards to school-age children reflect the picture across the country.

Between 2000 and 2010, the numbers attending English state nursery and primary schools actually fell — from 4.3 million to 3.9 million a year. During this time 1,000 primary schools were closed. But at the same time, government statistics clearly indicated that the decline in numbers would soon be dramatically reversed.

Over the course of that decade, the number of births in England and Wales increased by 22 per cent. This was reflected in a measurement known as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) — the number of children born per woman. It increased from 1.63 in 2001 to 2.0 in 2010.

What was behind this? In part, it was down to women who had delayed having children in their 20s and 30s coming late to motherhood. But it also reflects the growing number of children born to foreign-born mothers.

In 1991, 12 per cent of births were to mothers born outside the UK. This increased to 16 per cent in 2001 and 25 per cent in 2011. This was owing to the fact that the number of foreign-born women living here increased over this time and also because they were more likely to be aged 25 to 34, when fertility is at its highest.

Research by the Office for National Statistics has revealed that in 2011 the TFR was 1.9 for UK-born women and 2.29 for women born outside the UK.

And so the demographic bulge — which would soon hit schools — was born. A paper published by the Department for Education six months ago shows the impact.

It predicts that primary pupil numbers will rise dramatically from 3.9 million in 2009 to 4.57 million in 2018 and 4.66 million five years later.

A rise in secondary school pupils is expected to result in a 17 per cent increase in numbers by 2023 to 3.2 million. Last year — 2014 — saw a 4.3 per cent increase in applications to secondary schools, the first increase since 2008.

The overall growth in pupil numbers in the decade from 2013 will mean that the education system will have to cope with a million more pupils in total.

While the primary system has struggled to cope with this increased demand, there are fears that secondaries could fare even worse. This is because the provision of places has to some degree been taken out of the hands of local councils.

There is now a presumption that new schools will be free schools or academies, which are outside local authorities’ sphere of influence.

It means local authorities do not have as much control over the creation of new schools and places as they once did, although they can invite bids for free schools and academies in their areas.

‘As children move through primary school, securing new secondary places will become a significant issue,’ warns David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board.

‘The challenge for councils is making sure places are delivered on time and in the right places, in a context where some of the decision making about new school places is now in the hands of the Government.’

(As for the Government, it has insisted that it has done all it can to tackle the problem — spending £5 billion to create more than 445,000 new school places since 2010.)

But the concern is that because the pressures will exhibit themselves unevenly across the country, supply may not match local demand. This is already the case with primary schools, resulting in children having to go to schools outside their local area.

It is a situation that residents of a street in Lewisham, South London, are trying to battle.

Cafe owner Jamie Mockridge put down six local schools when applying for a place for his three-year-old son, Arlo, for September. The nearest was 757 metres away, the furthest 1,916 metres.

He got none of them. Instead, Arlo is being offered a place at a school that could be reached only by driving three miles on the South Circular, one of London’s busiest roads.

Anna Baptiste, his near neighbour on the street, also failed to get any of her six choices. Instead, her four-year-old daughter, Isla, has been offered a place at a school three miles away in the opposite direction.

Both Mr Mockridge, 40, and 38-year-old Mrs Baptiste, a marketing manager, say that getting their children to and from school would be logistically impossible if they and their partners are to continue to work.

They have learned that a total of 274 families in the borough were allocated a school outside of their six preferences and that, like them, 29 families were offered a school more than two miles away.

W orking together, they have formed a pressure group called Parents 4 Primary Places and are demanding that a truly local school takes on an extra form of pupils this September.

‘Everyone has a right to an education and I feel my daughter has become a victim of a massive systemic failing,’ said Mrs Baptiste, whose husband, Daniel, is an NHS dietitian.

‘We work hard, and I have been paying taxes for 20 years. It doesn’t seem too much to ask for my child to go to school locally. Someone mentioned to me that because the school they are offering is more than two miles away, the local authority is obliged to pay for transport, which could be a taxi.

‘The thought of putting my little girl in a taxi with some random driver and waving her off is just unbearable. It is preposterous.’

Mr Mockridge adds: ‘Our children should be allowed to go to school in our community. We always had this idea that we would be able to pick up Arlo from school, stop off at my cafe for a piece of cake, then go to the park before heading home.

‘That might sound a bit Enid Blyton, but what is wrong with that? After all, they’re just kids.’

More to the point, they are kids who didn’t just appear overnight but who, because of poor planning, are expected to make do with second best (or in some cases, seventh best) at primary school and beyond.


Scottish National Party bad for Scottish education

The SNP has been accused of letting down Scotland’s children after official figures revealed that standards of literacy have fallen in primary and secondary schools.  A report from Scotland’s chief statistician shows the performance of pupils in primary four, primary seven and second year has dropped between 2012 and 2014.

Opposition parties said the figures proved the SNP had “taken its eye of the ball” while trying to break-up the United Kingdom.
The figures emerged in the wake of the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, which was intended to improve standards.

The 2014 Scottish Survey of Literacy found the overall proportion of pupils performing well, or very well, in reading had dropped from 83 to 78 per cent in P4, from 90 to 88 per cent in P7, and from 84 per cent to 80 per cent in S2.

• One in 15 poor Scottish children get exam grades for university

• Scottish education system geared to only half of children

• Jim Murphy: I'll use City of London tax to pay for Scottish students

The equivalent level of performance in writing remained the same in P4, but fell by four points from 72 per cent in P7, and by nine points in S2, down from 64 per cent to 55 per cent.

The survey also revealed that less than half of S2 boys (47 per cent) were doing well, very well or performing beyond the level they were being assessed for in writing, down from 58 per cent in 2012.

The proportion of S2 girls whose writing was of the same standard also fell, from 70 per cent to 63 per cent.

In the most-deprived communities, just two-fifths (41 per cent) of S2 pupils were said to be performing well or very well in writing, a drop of 11 points.

The confirmation that the most deprived pupils are lagging behind makes difficult reading for Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, in an election campaign in which she claims to represent the party of social justice, and is seeking more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative spokesman for young people, said the statistics showed the SNP was failing Scotland’s schools and failing to close the attainment gap.  She added: “The SNP’s obsession with trying to break up the United Kingdom has meant that it has completely taken its eye of the ball when it comes to education and helping those from the most deprived backgrounds to succeed. “The statistics also tell us that the number of young people doing well and very well in reading has declined. That is something which parents will find totally unacceptable.”

Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said SNP ministers had pulled Scotland out of international literacy studies because they “did not like the results”, but could not hide from their own figures. He added: “The decline in literacy levels is compounded by last year’s survey which showed a similar drop in numeracy levels.


No comments: