Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thousands of Boston students don’t graduate on time. And it’s a problem

Elephant detected!  How many were blacks?

Nearly one in five students in Boston’s public high schools are two or more years behind academically, jeopardizing their chances of earning a diploma, according to a report released Wednesday.

Only about a third of the 3,300 students who have fallen behind will end up earning diplomas within six years of entering high school, according to the report, which was prepared by consulting firm EY-Parthenon Education with funding from the Barr Foundation.

The report calls for sweeping changes to the Boston Public Schools, from primary grades through high school. The overhaul is needed because about two-thirds of the off-track students enter high school with serious deficiencies in their schooling.

But equally concerning is that hundreds of students who enroll in high school with solid academic records eventually fall behind, an indication of potential shortcomings in many high school programs, the report found.

“This research has uncovered some sobering truths: There are thousands of BPS high school students who fall off track during their time in BPS, and this challenge is a systemic and long-standing one,” the report stated. “Many of BPS’ high schools are not meeting the high needs of many of their students, and a variety of policies within BPS exacerbate the challenge of helping students succeed.”

Superintendent Tommy Chang, who commissioned the report, said the school system needs to do a better job of keeping students on track and intervening more aggressively when students fall behind.

“I see this report as a call to action and a further refocusing of the work we are already doing,” he said.

The report recommends expanding or replicating high-quality schools that students are clamoring to attend, overhauling alternative education, providing high school faculty with data about which entering freshmen are off-track academically, revamping the central office’s oversight of high schools, and changing high school admission policies so more students with a variety of needs have access to more schools.

The last recommendation is a response to a longstanding practice of allowing many high schools to set admission standards, which can include passing an entrance exam or writing an essay. The school system also funnels students with disabilities or limited English fluency to certain schools.

School officials said some of the recommendations dovetail with efforts already underway. The school system is restructuring its school management team and redesigning alternative education so each school focuses on a specific group of students.

In another big move, school officials said they will stop the practice of assigning high schools to students who don’t apply to any and instead will develop ways that ensure all students are making a choice.

School officials acknowledged that change could lead to school closures. That’s because the school system has been filling seats at under-chosen schools with students who failed to apply to any schools.

The report, titled “Excellence and Equity for All,” was produced at the urging of the Barr Foundation, a Boston nonprofit that works on education issues. The Barr put up $1.25 million for the research.

James Canales, Barr’s president, said the report reveals “urgent and challenging truths.”

The report is a follow up to one Parthenon conducted in 2007, which found that 20 percent of Boston high school students were at risk of not graduating because they had fallen significantly behind — a challenge similar to what the school system faces today.

The initial finding galvanized the school system into action a decade ago with newly arrived Superintendent Carol Johnson making the high school dropout problem a top issue.

High school graduation rates subsequently rose from below 60 percent to 73 percent last year, a historic high.

A signature initiative under the effort was creating a “re-engagement center,” which tracks down dropouts and persuades them to return. The center expanded its reach by connecting with students who were chronically skipping school.

But momentum has stalled, due to a variety of factors, according to the new report.

One factor is inadequate funding for schools that educate a high population of students with significant needs. That’s because the way the school system doles out per-student funding fails to reflect how much it actually costs to serve these students.

The report also highlighted a disturbing practice of the school system that allows schools to restrict the timing of when students can enroll during the course of a school year, leaving students — including, for instance, former dropouts — in limbo.

To keep these students engaged while they wait for a seat, the report recommended adding online courses at the re-engagement center so students can start catching up.

The re-engagement center used to offer online courses, but stopped a few years ago due to budget cuts, said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, a nonprofit that helps run the center. Sullivan welcomed a return of the online programming.

Sullivan said he agreed with 98 percent of the report’s findings on alternative education, but didn’t think it gave enough credit to those schools for the success they are having. The report actually faulted the schools for high dropout rates.

“They are doing heroic work,” he said. “They are saving one out of two students and from a social standing point of view that’s a huge success. A high school diploma does matter out there in the economy and helps to break the school-to-prison pipeline.”

In some cases, students who try to take greater control over their education and switch to a school that they perceive as a better fit ultimately graduate at lower rates than similar students who stick with their schools, the report found.

Burke, English, and East Boston high schools are having success with challenging student populations, boosting graduation rates by the double digits, according to the report.

Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said the report validated concerns over inadequate school funding provided by the city, state, and federal governments.

“This should serve as yet another clarion call for the governor and for state lawmakers to take action by fixing and modernizing the state’s school funding formula in ways that address the critical needs of Boston students – students who are disproportionately receiving less funding due to an outdated state formula,” Tang said in a statement.

Chang said the school system is reexamining how it divvies up funding for schools.

Michael Loconto, chairman of the Boston School Committee, said the board will ask Chang to put together a plan by this fall to help off-track students. “We don’t want this to be a report that goes into a drawer,” he said. “We need solutions to solve these problems.”


Female student detained, searched by cops after she talked about her concealed carry permit

A junior at Kent State University said she was pulled out of class and searched by cops after she was overheard talking about her concealed carry permit.

What did she do?

According to Campus Reform, the incident involving student Leandra Westbrook took place in late April.

Westbrook said that she was speaking with a friend on the phone while on campus and during the conversation mentioned that she’d like to be able to carry her firearm on campus, since she possesses a concealed carry permit.

“[I]t is a shame that I cannot carry a gun on campus, considering I have my carry license,” Westbrook reportedly told her friend.

Unbeknownst to Westbrook, some student cadet officers overheard her remark, which apparently caused them enough alarm to contact campus police.

Westbrook went on her way to class, and that was when police stepped in.

What did police do?

According to a police report obtained by Campus Reform, officers entered Westbrook’s classroom and told the professor that Westbrook would be needed for questioning as a result of the report.

A portion of the police report read, “[A cadet] said several cadets overheard a female … speaking about having a gun and getting into trouble if it was discovered.”

“None of the cadets saw a firearm, but believed she may have been armed with one,” the report continued.

The report noted that police searched Westbrook and her possessions, but no firearm was found.

Westbrook did admit to having a concealed carry permit but did not have a firearm with her because guns are prohibited on campus, the report said.

Westbrook told the outlet that the encounter with police left her “too shaken up and disturbed” to return to class.

Anything else?

Westbrook told Campus Reform that while she believed that officers were simply “doing their jobs,” she feels the student cadets jumped the gun in making a call to campus police and targeted her for “being pro-Second Amendment” instead.

“I do not believe they genuinely thought I was a threat, because I specifically said I had a license to carry,” Westbrook said, according to Campus Reform. “In the conversation I had, there was no way to misinterpret what I said, or to even suggest that I had a gun with me.”

Westbrook explained that she’s received threats in the past over her well-known conservative beliefs and revealed that she brought this latest incident to the school’s dean.

According to Westbrook, the dean said that there was nothing to be done about the incident.

Westbrook saod she plans to report the “people who harassed me to the police,” including the student cadets who called in the initial report that Westbrook had a gun “for falsifying a report.”

“My main concern is that people are not being held accountable for their actions,” she told the outlet. “Their words don’t bother me, but if I was to say something like that to them, my guess is it wouldn’t be tolerated by the university.”

Westbrook also hopes to start a concealed carry club at the school.

“My hopes are to teach people about gun safety and the gun control laws we already have in place, because a lot of people who speak on the subject are very uneducated [about gun laws],” Westbrook noted.


University degrees costing up to $100,000 may get you NOWHERE

Young Australians are often told that the path to success is paved by a tertiary education.

But a new study by Ernst & Young may have debunked that apparent myth, with almost half of Australian university degrees now at serious risk of becoming obsolete in the next decade.

The company has called on universities to future-proof themselves given the current model leaves graduates with more debt and poor job prospects, the report said on Tuesday.

More than 50 university leaders and policymakers were interviewed and more than 3000 students and employers were surveyed.

Around 42 per cent of current and past graduates felt their degree needed to be overhauled.

Only 36 per cent of those studying humanities, culture and social sciences and just 41 per cent of science and mathematics students thought their degree was relevant to their job.

'Australian universities are under threat from changing learner preferences, new competitive models and international competition,' Ernest & Young Oceania Education Leader Catherine Friday said.

'They need to move now to ensure they meet the needs of a changing society and changing economy. To succeed, they will need to deconstruct the higher-education value chain, offering new formats such as unbundled degree programs, continuous subscription-based learning and just-in-time learning options.'

The report urges universities to collaborate more closely with industry in creating course content to produce more work-ready graduates after 50 per cent of employers claimed that management and commerce degrees are not worthwhile.

'Australian universities are ranked last in the OECD ranking for the ability to collaborate with business on innovation,' Ms Friday said.

'Fixing that has become an urgent priority - 51 percent of international students believe their degree needs to be transformed and the university leaders we spoke to estimate that 40 per cent of existing degrees will soon be obsolete. Those institutions that can crack the new, flexible teaching learning models required will reap the benefits, as they outpace competitors that persist in delivering three to four-year degree programs that employers simply do not value.'  


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