Monday, May 02, 2016

Boston public school closings are tough but necessary

As students flee poorly-run classes for charters and the suburbs.  But the guy below sounds as if he is pissing into the wind, advocating for a lost cause

WITH ENROLLMENT at Boston Public Schools (BPS) falling, the school committee voted to close 22 schools as the first step in a modernization plan to reduce facilities costs and maximize the resources going directly into classrooms.

Sound familiar?  The catch: The year was 1952, which proves there’s some truth to the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Late last year, an independent audit found that BPS buildings have a huge amount of excess capacity, not a surprise, given that enrollment has shrunk by nearly half since the early 1970s. Depending on whom you ask, right-sizing the district would save between $20 million and $90 million annually. From a policy perspective, then, school consolidation is a no-brainer. But the politics are a different story.

Boston’s 1952 effort was spearheaded by the New Boston Committee, a good-government group that sprang up after James Michael Curley was finally dispatched once and for all in the 1949 mayoral election. Two years later, most of the winners of city council and school committee elections were NBC endorsees. The group and its founder – Jerry Rappaport, who went on to become the developer for Boston’s controversial West End project – were on top of the world.

But that all unraveled with their embrace of school closings. By 1953 the plan was dead, done in by opposition from affected parents, as well as from teachers and other school personnel who would have faced layoffs. A headline from the now-defunct Boston Post correctly declared that the NBC was "finished as an effective force in Boston politics."

Boston isn’t the only place where closing and consolidating schools is hard. Between 2007 and 2008, former Washington D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee shuttered 23 schools in response to plummeting enrollment. The 2010 city election became a referendum on her tenure. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who appointed Rhee and staunchly supported her, was defeated in the Democratic primary.

Declining enrollment took such a toll in Philadelphia that one city school with a capacity of 1,071 students was operating with only 193. Add to that a budget crisis so severe that schools nearly failed to open on time in both 2013 and 2014. But even then, a plan to close 37 schools was ultimately whittled down to 23.

Recent demonstrations against proposed cuts at BPS have made headlines, but a new report from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau finds that the city’s school budget has increased by more than 20 percent over the last five years and in excess of 40 percent over the last decade.

An additional $20 million to $90 million per year would go a long way to alleviate future school funding crunches. Such consolidation should also improve educational quality. By reducing facilities-related expenses, a right-sized BPS could free up more money for what matters most: classroom instruction.

In politics, passionate minorities routinely overpower less motivated majorities. Parents whose children’s schools would close and school personnel facing layoffs would certainly be the loudest voices in the right-sizing debate.

But elected officials have a greater responsibility — and it’s to the thousands of other, largely voiceless, Boston students who would benefit from consolidation.


Department of Education Policing Universities with Student Aid Enforcement Unit

The expanding education bureaucracy inflates tuition costs

The Department of Education, in its latest move to enlarge the ever-expanding education bureaucracy, has announced plans to create a Student Aid Enforcement Unit to better respond to “predatory institutional activity.” The Student Aid Enforcement Unit was established following an investigation of prohibited tactics in student recruiting. It will apply to any school receiving federal aid.

The unit, which will be led by former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) official Robert Kaye and housed under Federal Student Aid (FSA), will consist of four sub-units focused on investigations, borrower defense claims, administrative actions and appeals, and the disclosure of campus crime statistics. The initial unit will include more than 50 employees.

The vague, open-ended language of Department of Education Regulations allows for an exponential increase in smaller regulations. For example, current regulation requires an institution to administer federal aid “with adequate checks and balances in its system of internal controls.”

However, for some, this already-overreaching regulation is not enough. Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report, “Looking in All the Wrong Places: How the Monitoring of Colleges Misses What Matters Most,” calling for further regulation in higher education. CAP’s suggestions include measures such as devoting greater staff time and training to reviews and establishing special teams that monitor advertising and recruitment.

Critics of the Student Aid Enforcement unit have questioned the underlying motives of the Department of Education and have vocalized concerns over the Obama Administration’s unfair targeting of the for-profit institution industry. One higher education policy analyst, denouncing the new unit as a publicity move, asked:

“Does the department really need a new initiative to deal with problematic institutions, or is this a public relations move to try to convince the public the department really, really cares about students?” – Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute Center for Educational Freedom

McClusky’s assertion that the Department of Education is in need of a good public relations move is not unfounded. In addition to the recent negative media attention surrounding the Common Core opt-out movement, the department is engulfed in scandals regarding its highest officials.

A mere few days before the department’s announcement of the unit, USDOE Chief Information Officer Danny Harris testified before the Congressional Oversight and Reform Committee regarding allegations of impropriety. In the hearing, Harris admitted to the Inspector General his failure to report to the IRS income relating to two side businesses. Internal corruption in the Department of Education is particularly alarming now that the agency is now asking Congress for $13.6 million in funding for the Student Aid Enforcement Unit in 2017.

This expensive request indicates that the Department of Education is not only sticking their noses in matters of higher education, but also wasting millions of tax dollars in the process.

In creating the Student Aid Enforcement Unit, the Department of Education once again demonstrates that it is blind to the long-term effects of overreach. The department, while trying to solve the problem of skyrocketing tuition, fails to see the expensive, vast bureaucracy it has created surrounding higher education.

If anyone is “looking in all the wrong places” it is the Department of Education. The problem seems to be hiding in plain sight.


Greenies trying to worm their way into Australian grade school classes
A new program is being launched to Primary Schools during Term Two by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) Australia. The Future Generations program focuses on bringing the cross curriculum priority of sustainability into every subject – from the Arts to Humanities and English.

Through consultation with Primary School teachers across the country, FSC Australia found that incorporating sustainability into subjects other than science was sometimes difficult and resources were limited or hard to find. “We are a five star sustainable school and sustainability is core to our values, but we still struggle to integrate sustainability into lessons. And it’s so important for the children to take an active interest in sustainability and the future of our world,” said Stephen Rothwell, Principal, Chatham Primary School.

Working closely with Deakin University and with the support of Tork® Professional Hygiene, FSC Australia has developed a series of lesson plans and activity sheets. These free lesson plans are available for primary levels from one up to six and are inline with AusVELS curriculum. The lesson plans and activities are creative and thought-provoking and cover topics including deforestation, ecology and the food chain.

The role of FSC is to help take care of forests, their wildlife and the people who live and work within and around them. Forests provide material for so many things in our lives such as books, tissues, furniture, buildings and more. As Adam Beaumont, CEO of FSC Australia puts it, “By ensuring these resources are managed responsibly, we at FSC seek to strike a balance between the needs of society and the needs of the forest. The Future Generations program aims to increase awareness of FSC and its role within the next generation.”

The Future Generations Lesson Plans and Activity Sheets are available and free to download through the FSC Australia website.

Press release from FSC

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