Charter School Battle in Massachusetts, etc.

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Charter School Battle in Massachusetts, etc.

Battle over charter schools heats up in Massachusetts

While there is no doubt in Massachusetts that Hillary Clinton will take the state in November, a referendum question on the same ballot to lift the cap on the state's charter schools is hotly contested. The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 limited the number of the state's charter schools to 120. Of the state's 1,854 publicly funded schools today, 78 are charter schools. This portion of 4 percent falls short of the national average of 7 percent. Governor Charlie Baker and charter advocates want this gap closed. After the Senate and House failed to arrive at a solution this summer, legislative leaders sent the issue to the people in the form of a referendum question. As Question 2 on the November ballot, the proposal calls for permitting up to 12 new charter schools per year. According to a recent poll by WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio affiliate, 48 percent of likely voters said they would vote against the proposal, 41 percent said they would vote for it, and the remaining 11 percent said they were unsure. Winning over the undecided has led to an intense battle and the influx of big money from out of state. According to The Boston Globe, $12 million has come from charter advocates to buy ads and commercials. Of that sum, Families for Excellent Schools, a national advocacy group based in New York, sent $5.5 million; Jim Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, gave $1.1 million; and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $240,000. The most controversial donation to the pro-charter cause, however, has come from a Bay State resident: Paul Sagan, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and a venture capitalist, who gave $100,000. Critics contend Sagan's generous support conflicts with his responsibility to be impartial. Opponents have meanwhile raised $6.8 million. The biggest contributor is the Massachusetts Teachers Association, providing $4.2 million. From out of state, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association gave $700,00 and $1.9 million, respectively. 

ITT Educational Services shuts down

The decision by the Department of Education on August 25 to deny ITT Educational Services federal funding foreshadowed an imminent shutdown by the for-profit college operator. ITT executives announced the expected on September 6, reported The New York Times, closing all of the company's 137 campuses but one that operates under a different name, Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire. This means approximately 35,000 students across the country must make new plans for their studies and roughly 8,000 employees must look elsewhere for work. In its August decision, the DOE barred ITT "from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid" and ordered the company "to pay $153 million to the department within 30 days to cover student refunds if its schools close down." The first measure alone amounted to a death blow, as nearly 70 percent of the company's revenue of $850 million last year came in the form of federal aid. "The company has been under increased scrutiny by the Education Department since 2014," noted the Times in August, "and has been accused by both federal and state regulators of misleading students about the quality of its programs and their employment potential upon graduation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against ITT two years ago, accusing the college chain of predatory student lending." With its closure, ITT joins Corinthian Colleges as the second major U.S. for-profit tertiary institution in two years to cave under the pressure of tighter DOE oversight. 

Movement for Black Lives joins NAACP in calling for charter moratorium

Soon after delegates at the annual convention of the NAACP in Cincinnati in August called for a moratorium on charter school growth, the Movement for Black Lives, a consortium including the Black Lives Matter organization, echoed the demand. Both groups, reported Education Week, articulated the same rationale: "Black families and communities are losing control of their public schools." To become official policy, the NAACP resolution must be endorsed at the next meeting of the organization's national board, which takes place in October. In the opinion of delegates who framed the resolution, charter schools have operated without sufficient transparency; intensified segregation; employed psychologically harmful disciplinary policies; and deprived neighborhood public schools of necessary space and resources through co-location in district buildings. 

DOE rejects request by for-profit college operator to shift status to nonprofit

The Department of Education rejected an appeal in August from a Utah-based for-profit college operator to gain nonprofit status, reported The Wall Street Journal. The attraction of nonprofit status is patent: for-profit college companies cannot collect more than 90 percent of tuition in the form of federal student grants and loans; in addition, they must abide by new stringent requirements stipulating that graduates find employment in their field. The college in question is the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, with 12,000 students on campuses across four states (Arizona, California, Colorado, and Utah). In a blunt press release, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said, "This should send a clear message to anyone who thinks converting to nonprofit status is a way to avoid oversight while hanging onto the financial benefits: Don't waste your time." 

Facebook teams up with charter network to develop online curriculum

Facebook has teamed up with Summit Public Schools, a charter network with 11 schools in California and Washington, to develop a student-directed online curriculum, reported The New York Times. Called the Summit Personalized Learning Platform, the new approach will be introduced this fall in 120 schools. "The software gives students a full view of their academic responsibilities for the year in each class and breaks them down into customizable lesson modules they can tackle at their own pace," according to the Times. "A student working on a science assignment, for example, may choose to create a project using video, text or audio files. Students may also work asynchronously, tackling different sections of the year's work at the same time." While certainly iconoclastic, this methodology is far from original, something the newspaper failed to acknowledge. Kunskapsskolan, a school management company in Sweden running 36 schools, implemented a similar student-directed online curriculum in 2000. The New York City Department of Education introduced its own variation on this model in 2009 with School of One, now known as Teach to One, which operates six schools across the district.

DOE to qualify coding academies for federal student loans and grants

The Department of Education is set to launch a pilot program to permit students to use federal grants and loans to pay for courses at for-profit coding academies like the Flatiron School in New York, reported The Wall Street Journal. Flatiron charges $15,000 for a 12-week course in coding tailored to the demands of companies like Apple, Google, and Ticketmaster. With this pilot, the DOE is sidestepping conventional practice of requiring that institutions first gain accreditation from regional authorities.

Coming soon: A working paper on school choice in England by Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske.



Published Friday, Sep. 16, 2016