Wednesday, March 08, 2017

UK: Budget to pave way for return of grammars [charters]

The prime minister will forge ahead with a new generation of grammars, earmarking £320 million to fund 140 new free schools.

The extra cash — part of a £500 million pot for education reforms to be announced in tomorrow’s budget — will include provision for selective secondaries to be built and for poorer pupils to be taken by bus to their nearest grammar.

Thirty of the schools are to be built before 2020, with the remaining 110 due to open in the next parliament. These could include the first new state-funded selective secondary schools in a generation, government officials said.

School funding is moving up the political agenda as cuts start to bite and concerns mount over a proposed reform of how cash is distributed. A consultation on the national funding formula closes this month, with Conservative MPs warning that they will rebel unless it does more to close the gap between the best-funded schools — typically in inner cities — and those, often in rural areas, that lose out.

Instead of focusing on day-to-day funding, however, Theresa May will launch a drive to win public support for one of her key public service reforms. Help for poorer pupils to travel to grammars is designed to underline her argument that access to good state schools is too often determined by postcode and wealth. “For too many children a good school place remains out of reach, with their options determined by where they live or how much money their parents have,” the prime minister said last night.

Secondary pupils from families entitled to free school meals or tax credits will in future be allowed free travel for up to 15 miles if they win a place in a selective secondary school. About 70,000 new places will be available in the expansion of free schools, which could include the first wave of new grammars.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, will announce the additional £320 million and make a further £210 million available for the refurbishment of existing state schools. Some critics will say that the injection falls short of what is needed while others will question the decision to spend more on expanding the costly free-schools initiative.

The National Audit Office (NAO) reported last month that it would cost £6.7 billion to address a backlog of repairs at the 21,200 existing schools. So far 178 schools whose buildings were deemed to be in the worst condition have been replaced under the priority school buildings programme, with 359 scheduled to be rebuilt or repaired.

The spending watchdog said that the deteriorating condition of the school estate was “a significant risk to long-term value for money”. The NAO also warned that a lack of suitable land for new free schools was pushing up costs, noting that 24 plots had cost more than £10 million each.

The £6 million cost of transporting poorer children to grammars is likely to win attention. At present, local authorities must provide free transport for secondary pupils to travel to their “nearest suitable school” if it is more than three miles away. Under so-called extended rights, those from low-income backgrounds can claim free travel for up to 15 miles for a wider range of schools, including faith schools, but not — until now — grammars. The Treasury estimates that 1,500 pupils will benefit.

In a statement before the cash injection for education, Mrs May said that she had “much more to do” to build on reforms started under David Cameron and ensure a greater choice of schools. “As part of our commitment to creating a school system that works for everyone, we are confirming new investment to give parents a greater choice of a good school place for their child, and we will set out the next stage of our ambitions in the coming months,” she said.


For Boston charters, a record spike in applicants

Applications for Boston charter schools for the upcoming school year have more than doubled, shattering previous records, following the launch of a new online enrollment system allowing families to apply to multiple schools at once.

The 16 charter schools using the online application, including one school in Chelsea, collectively received 35,000 applications for about 2,100 available seats, according to the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, which launched the new system. By comparison, those schools received 13,000 applications the previous year, the association said.

The spike in applications, which could sharply raise the odds for admission, came months after voters statewide overwhelmingly rejected a ballot question that would have accelerated the opening of charter schools to meet pent-up demand in Boston and elsewhere. Charter schools are public institutions, most of which operate independently of local systems.

Most charter schools will be holding their admission lotteries Wednesday when they will be pulling names out of a hat, a spinning barrel, or some other kind of device.

Marc Kenen, the charter association’s executive director, attributed the increase in demand not only to the new online system but also to the publicity surrounding the referendum, which he said enabled charter supporters to educate more families about the benefits of charter schools.

“Coming out of the ballot question campaign and not seeing a decrease in interest is a good sign,” Kenen said. “What is clear: Demand is still robust for our schools.”

But it remains unclear whether more individual students are flocking to charter schools this year, as the numbers suggest at first blush; whether those applying are simply submitting applications to a broader number of schools; or some combination of both.

According to the charter association, about 9,200 individual students submitted applications for next fall, indicating that applicants on average were seeking out three or four charter schools.

It was not possible to compare that number with previous years because neither the charter association nor the state compiled that data.

But a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative suggests that students this year threw their names into the hat at more charter schools than in the past.

That study, which examined enrollment rates for Boston charters that served secondary-school students between 2009 and 2013, found that most students sought seats at just one or two charter schools, although the study noted a slight uptick in multiple applications during that time.

The apparent surge this year in students applying to a larger number of schools mirrors a trend that took place years earlier when many colleges moved to a common online application, making it easier for prospective students to apply to multiple schools at the same time.

Under Boston’s new online system, a drop box lists every charter school citywide that offers the grade level the applicant is seeking. Then, applicants check off as many of the schools as they want.

Previously, applicants would need to find out on their own what charter schools existed and fill out a separate paper application for each one.

Consequently, the odds of getting into a charter school for this fall are 16 to one, though that could vary greatly by grade level. By comparison, the MIT study previously found much lower odds: three or four applicants per seat.

“That is the hard part for me — the realization that the demand far outweighs the capacity. It’s extremely unfortunate,” said Mary Tamer, who oversaw the new online system as director of strategic projects for the association’s Boston Charter Alliance. “I truly feel for the families who will not gain access to schools they wanted for their children.”

Aisha Porcher said she is feeling confident about the upcoming lottery. She is seeking a kindergarten seat for her son and applied to four schools, including KIPP Academy Boston, which her daughter attends. The school gives preference to siblings and Porcher is hoping that will give her son an edge, but she doesn’t know how many other applicants have siblings.

“KIPP is very engaging,” Porcher said. “They pay attention to what my daughter needs to be successful in school, and I want the same for my son.”

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, which opposed the charter-school expansion measure, said he doesn’t put much stock in the new application numbers for the charter schools.

“They have inflated other numbers in the past,” Stutman said. “There is no reason to think this is a better and more accurate documentation.”

He was referring to the often-disputed accuracy of the state-generated wait list numbers for charter schools, which has 10,000 Boston students on it. The tally includes students who applied in previous years and students who could be enrolled at one charter school but are on a wait list for another.

And questions persist about whether there are duplicate names on the wait lists, even as the state has worked in recent years to weed out repetition.

Shannah Varon, executive director of Boston Collegiate Charter School in Dorchester, which saw applications double, defended the online system.

“I think it has been an overwhelming success,” said Varon, who also heads the Boston Charter Alliance. “I understand that voters have spoken, but we need to put our heads together and find a way to ensure all families have access to high-quality options.”


High Price of Israel's Segregated Educational System

On February 23, Israel's Education Ministry, Jerusalem District Police and Shin Bet security agency closed down a Hamas-operated school in east Jerusalem for teaching a violent, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli curriculum.

Which begs the question: How did a terrorist organization manage to infiltrate the Israeli school system?

Israel's balkanized public education was created almost 65 years ago, with the passage of the National Education Law that allowed Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, Religious Zionist and secular Jews to maintain separate school systems. The result has been a farcical testament to the folly of multiculturalism, which only encourages minority groups to adopt hyphenated identities, play grievance games and submit spurious victimhood claims.

With regards to the education of Arabs living in Jerusalem, multiculturalism morphed into straight out indoctrination in 1995, when the Oslo Agreement mandated that the educational system in east Jerusalem be run by the Palestinian Authority (P.A.). As a result, only eight of about 180 schools teach the Israeli curriculum and only two of those are public schools.

What's the danger of having the P.A. teach Palestinian kids? In 2015, an exhaustive report published by Palestinian Media Watch revealed that Israel's ostensible peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, is teaching its children to hate Israel and Israelis. The P.A.'s official educational system uses virulent anti-Semitic concepts and materials that are proving to be one of the greatest obstacles to peace.

And Israeli citizens are reaping the whirlwind of this strange exercise in segregated education. Most perpetrators of the 'knife Intifada,' a recent yearlong wave of Palestinian terror attacks, came from east Jerusalem.

Instead of teaching all Israeli students about the underpinnings of Israeli society-democracy, civil rights and national solidarity - Israeli education has veered into tribalism, ideological indoctrination and hatred of the "other." As a result, the alienation between students of these parallel educational systems is growing at an alarming rate.

Moreover, the segregated nature of Jerusalem's school system touches upon the festering issue of sovereignty. If Jerusalem is indeed the undivided capital of Israel, then there's can't be separate curricula for Jews and Arabs. More broadly, Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem means that "there are no separate laws for Israelis and for non-Israelis," as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin recently said.

If the goal of public schools is to develop well-rounded citizens who can think critically, process information, make good decisions, support themselves and serve the needs of society, what can Israel do to reform its divisive educational system?

One idea is to integrate public education in a manner that would both feature a morning core curriculum and include separate afternoon classes. Such a system would enable students from minority population groups to explore their distinct ideological values and religious teachings, while simultaneously obtaining a valuable all-around education.

Less grandiose but more realistic is the Education Ministry's plan to offer extra funding to east Jerusalem schools that switch from the Palestinian to Israeli curriculum.

Schools that either partially or completely adopt the Israeli educational plan will receive additional resources, for such things as counseling, music and art classes, teacher's continuing education and more.

Despite the incendiary rhetoric of autocratic, corrupt Palestinian leaders, most Arabs living in Israel quietly understand that the key to obtaining a higher education and entering the Israeli job market is to learn core subjects such as Hebrew, English, science and math.

But until an equal application of Israeli law is applied to all Jerusalem residents, regardless of national or religious background, the best bet for east Jerusalem schools is to choose real knowledge over incitement and accept the Education Ministry's offer.

As things stand, young Arab men and women going to schools in east Jerusalem today, instead of being prepared to win at the race of life, are all too often being brainwashed to take up arms and fulfill the Jihadist mandate to destroy Israel.


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