Posts tagged ‘Westchester County’

November 14, 2014

Homeschooling grows in NYC suburbs

by Grace

Concerned about peer pressure, testing and the Common Core, more parents explore home-schooling.

A Journal News analysis of state data found that Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties had a 31 percent increase of home-schooled students from 2005 (the earliest the state could provide data for) to 2013. Statewide, more than 20,000 students receive their primary instruction at home.

Westchester County, the one closest to New York City, experienced a 25% growth in homeschoolers.

Concern about Common Core Standards

Sylvia Diaz, coordinator of Tri-State Homeschoolers Association, which caters to home-schoolers in the New York metropolitan area, said she had seen an uptick in inquiries this year from parents concerned about the implementation of the Common Core education standards.

“It has wreaked havoc with a lot of parents, and they say their children are confused and anxious,” said the LaGrangeville resident.

Westchester County homeschoolers
Westchester County, one of the wealthiest and most highly taxed in the country,  is home to many highly regarded public schools.  Most Westchester homeschooling families live in those districts that report lower academic achievement levels.  Many older homeschooled students participate in the abundant selection of classes and activities offered in neighboring New York City.  Yonkers, which borders NYC, is particularly convenient for this purpose.

 

WESTCHESTER COUNTY HOMESCHOOLED STUDENTS, 2012-2013 SCHOOL YEAR

(Click graph to enlarge.)

201411.WestchesterHomeschooled3

 

Numbers for homeschooled students in more New York counties are available at this link.

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Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, “Opting out of the classroom: Parents explore home-schooling”, lohud.com, November 10, 2014.

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September 18, 2013

Going to all-digital textbooks saves money for private high school students

by Grace

A move to replace paper textbooks with digital versions will save some New York private high school students hundreds of dollars each year.

Stepinac has become one of the first high schools in the country to drop all textbooks like dead weight and replace them with a “digital library.” When students started classes Monday, they were zipping to an app or website on their tablet or laptop and had instant access to all 40 texts in the Stepinac curriculum, not to mention all sorts of note-taking, highlighting and interactive features….

In the past, students’ families had to spend up to $700 a year on textbooks. This year — after the one-time purchase of a tablet or laptop — families have to pay $150 for access to the digital library.

The high school worked out a unique deal with Pearson.

Stepinac officials worked for a year with Pearson, the giant education company that has long dominated the textbook world, to design and create a unique digital library that is bound to be studied by other private and public schools.

The transition will inevitably come with some problems.

The first few weeks may bring some challenges.

Stepinac officials expect to encounter some parental discomfort over dropping books with spines. They recognize there may be technical glitches at first. And they will have to encourage students to leave space-eating photos and music off their tablets — and to keep their devices charged.

I wonder if many students will miss the illustrations and images from their old math and history books.  Even if they do, I suspect it won’t take too long to get used to the new digital format.

Although this exact model wouldn’t work for most colleges, I foresee a similar transition for higher education.

Related:  Save money on college textbooks by using Kindle (Cost of College)

May 8, 2013

Quick Links – Public pension problems round-up

by Grace

IN NEW YORK, PENSION COSTS ARE OVERPOWERING THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS’ ABILITY TO MAINTAIN STUDENT SERVICES.

Our local public schools must cut student services to pay soaring pension costs.

The budget numbers tell the story:

  • Total school costs will increase 3.3% over last year.
  • Cost of teacher pensions alone will increase 42%.
  • Pension costs account for at least 75% of the total budget increase.*
  • To pay for the 42% increase in teacher pension costs, the school will cut teaching staff and increase class sizes.

Public schools throughout the state are in a similar situation.   “Retirement and insurance costs continue their relentless climb”, causing a nearby district to cut 30 jobs.  Another local school administrator explains their pension costs:

Almost 80 percent of the hike comes from a $3.5 million rise in state-mandated retirement expenses, Purvis said.

* Total employee benefits costs account for 96% of the total budget increase.

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A SPECIAL EXEMPTION ALLOWS TAX INCREASES THAT EXCEED TAX CAP LIMITS AS LONG AS THOSE PAYMENTS ARE USED TO PAY FOR PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PENSIONS.

The New York property tax cap introduced two years ago includes a carve-out created to allow tax increases that pay for teacher pensions to be exempted from the cap.  As it turns out, this exemption has been the main reason for the average tax increase more than doubling above the 2% statutory base cap up to 4.6% .

The additional increase is driven entirely by a provision of the 2011 tax cap law that excludes a portion of increased employee pension costs from the limit on tax levy increases. Without the pension-related increase, the 2013-14 levy limit statewide would average 2.7 percent, including all other district-specific exclusions and allowances for voter-approved capital expenses and physical additions to the local tax base, along with factors such as growth in the tax base and net changes in the value of payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) agreements.

The pension exclusion hurts poor school districts the most because the calculation method especially affects communities with lower property values.

… the pension exclusion in the tax cap law effectively makes it easier for school districts to raise taxes on property owners who can least afford it.

… The pension provision—added at the insistence of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver—diminishes the protection the law was supposed to provide for some of the state’s poorest taxpayers.

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NEW YORK’S ‘STOPGAP’ SOLUTION TO PENSION CRISIS CARRIES ‘LONG-TERM RISKS’.

A “pension-smoothing” provision was recently introduced in New York, allowing school districts to postpone full funding of pension liabilities.

Moody’s does not look favorably on this plan to kick the can down the road.

Moody’s Investors Services warned Monday that the state’s new pension-smoothing plan is “a stopgap with long-term risks” that could endanger the state’s pension fund and the credit of local governments.

The plan, part of the state budget approved last month, allows for local governments and schools to essentially pay a flat rate for pension costs over 12 years, avoiding the steep cost increases that the municipalities have faced.

Opening the door to future underfunding of pension liabilities

Moody’s says that the concern is the flat-rate payments could underfund the state’s roughly $150 billion pension fund, which provides benefits to 1 million retirees and current local and state workers. That could lead to higher costs for municipalities and schools in future years, the credit agency said.

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PUBLIC PENSION HORROR STORIES FROM ILLINOIS AND FROM CALIFORNIA CONJURE UP TROUBLING IMAGES.

 20130505.COCPython1

 In Illinois, public pensions already gobbling up education funding

… Education funding is being strangled by the same python that is strangling the rest of state government’s finances: pension obligations….


20130505.COCPacman1

 “The pension costs really are the Pacman that’s eating our budget,” Shirey said.

February 13, 2013

Quick Links – High schools teach retail management; what colleges really want; property tax break for condos

by Grace

◊◊◊  Shopping center partners with Yonkers high schools to teach retail management skills

YONKERS — Lots of high school students get jobs at the mall. But 26 Yonkers students are about to learn the whole operation — which could lead to better jobs down the road.

The students are getting an inside look at the Ridge Hill shopping center, thanks to a new partnership between Forest City Ratner Companies, the center’s developer, and Yonkers Partners in Education, a private group working to better prepare Yonkers students for college and careers.

Over 10 weeks, the students will learn about multiple sides of retail management, from restaurant operations to security to marketing. They’ll meet with Ridge Hill managers and officials from Lord & Taylor, Whole Foods, the Cheesecake Factory, National Amusements Showcase and the Westmed Medical Group.

The project, called Ridge Hill Academy, comes with a three-year $100,000 grant from Forest City Ratner.

One aim is for students to be mentored by store employees.  During the first session, the importance of public relations was part of the lesson.  One of the students spoke at the press conference, and the group posed for pictures with Mayor Mike Spano and other officials.  Some of the students attend a vocational high school, and from the photos it appears most participating students are black or Hispanic.

‘Ridge Hill Academy’ to introduce Yonkers students to retail management (lohud.com)


◊◊◊  “AP Courses and Other Myths about What Colleges Really Want” – video sponsored by Massachusetts high school features panel of admissions administrators

I haven’t viewed the entire video,and it received mixed reviews from the comments on a CollegeConfidential thread .  We have a similar panel discussion each year at our local high school, but typically with representatives of lower ranked schools.  The emphasis is on trying to reduce the mystery and stress of the college admissions process.

Topic: “AP Courses and Other Myths about What Colleges Really Want” A Panel Discussion with Community Question & Answer Period

Admissions officers from five Massachusetts universities will tackle the stress over getting into college and talk about what they’re really seeking in a panel discussion for the Lexington community.

Getting into college is an obsession for many Lexington students and their parents – an obsession that starts as early as elementary school. For too many, it is assumed that college admissions offices admit students with the “most” – the most AP classes, the most extracurricular activities, the most summer internships and the like. The result is a lot of stressed out students and parents. But are they right – is this what college admissions directors are looking for?…

Panelists: Lee Coffin, Tufts University dean of undergraduate admissions; William Fitzsimmons, Harvard College dean of admissions; Kevin Kelly, UMass-Amherst’s director of admissions; John McEachern, Boston University’s director of admissions, and Stuart Schmill, MIT’s director of admissions.

The event is co-sponsored by the LHS PTSA, Diamond PTA, Clarke PTA, Lexington School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), Youth Services Council/Lexington Human Services Department and the Collaborative to Reduce Student Stress.


◊◊◊  In most New York municipalities, condo owners pay about one-third of the property taxes that single-family homeowners pay.

This special tax break rankles many homeowners who feel condo owners are not paying their fair share.

The property-tax system is based on the proposition that one’s real estate holdings get taxed equally, based on a percentage of the value of the real estate. According to New York law, however, condos are assessed for property-tax purposes as if they were rental units….

Single-family homes, meanwhile, are taxed on their fair market value — what they’d fetch in the open market. They pay taxes on the full value of their homes and end up subsidizing the condo owners who get the break.

Defenders of the tax break argue that condo owners are paying a fair percentage based on the smaller amount of land they occupy, while critics say that their use of government services is equivalent to those of single-family occupants.

Co-op owners receive a similar property tax break.  I live in a town with a relatively high percentage of co-op residents, so I see first-hand how this inequity increases taxes for some residents.

Tax Watch: Condos catch property-tax break (lohud.com)

January 30, 2013

Quick Links – Union membership keeps falling; 4.4% increase in proposed spending for education in New York; our educational mess

by Grace

◊◊◊  ‘Union membership falls to 70-year low’ (The Detroit News)

Washington — The nation’s unions lost 400,000 members in 2012 as the percentage of U.S. workers represented by a labor union fell to 11.3 percent, its lowest level since the 1930s – declining by 0.5 percent over the last year.

Michigan accounted for about 10 percent of the nation’s loss of unionized workers as the Wolverine State fell to the seventh most-unionized state, from fifth in 2011.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the biggest hit was in public sector unions, where many states and cities have cut back on their unionized workforce.

Sharp difference between higher rate of union membership in the public sector and lower rate among private workers

Among public sector workers, 35.9 percent are in a union – down from 37.0 percent in 2011, as the public sector shed nearly 250,000 union workers.

The public sector union rate is more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers. In the private sector, 6.6 percent are unionized, down from 6.9 percent in 2011.


◊◊◊  New York State proposed budget increases funding for most local public schools

All Westchester County school districts except for three will received increased state funding under Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2013-14 budget.  Increases range from 17.5% (Hendrick Hudson) to 0.3% (Scarsdale).  Our local district will see its state funding increase by 5.8%.

The statewide average increase in proposed education aid is 4.4%, with “no broad-based tax increases”.


◊◊◊  David Solway schools us on the Educational Mess We’re In

David Solway describes the content-free, guide-on-the-side culture of today’s classroom using language that had me reaching for a dictionary a few times.  In the comments, he’s criticized for stringing “ten dollar words into sentences one has to read twice to understand”.  I would have to agree, but it was fun to read this twice!

This paradigm is instantly recognizable by the contents and procedures that dominate our public school classrooms: films galore, computer simulations, audio-visual devices, “testable competencies,” PowerPoint presentations, concept maps, information transfer, virtual whiteboards, expurgated texts, true-or-false exams demanding little in the way of written formulation of ideas, and so on. Teachers are trained to emphasize method, to prepare “instructional designs,” to focus on “techniques” of transmission, to valorize process instead of matter, to generate “lesson plans” rather than lessons — “That’s the reason they’re called lessons,” remarked the Gryphon in Alice in Wonderland, “because they lessen from day to day.” Meanwhile, since they are expected to be communicators rather than preceptors, teachers are regularly shunted around the curriculum and required to teach outside their disciplines — which, be it said, they have often failed to master owing to the institutional stress placed on tactics and delivery rather than on grist and corpus. Thus the poor geography teacher becomes a worse gym instructor.

Doubtlessly, the penchant for instrumental modes of teaching has been with us since time immemorial, but in the current climate it has been exalted into a hypothetically remedial ideology and institutionalized as a pervasive method of committee-backed instruction. It is high time we became aware, then, that despite all the media hype and the inundation of formulaic pamphlets, primers, and manuals which experts, specialists, and many public school teachers have unfathomably welcomed, and the misguided policy to hire 100,000 more ill-equipped teachers, the techniques that have become so popular these days do not work. As I wrote in Education Lost: Reflections on Contemporary Pedagogical Practice, “the fundamental premise at the bottom of modern educational theory, namely that teaching is a science whose operative concepts are those of storage, dissemination and skill-replication…is faltering badly, especially in those disciplines which are not data-based.”

At the very least, I learned a new synonym for “teacher”:  preceptor.  I wonder how long it’ll be before I figure out how to slip that word into my writing.

November 21, 2012

Quick links – SUNY tuition increases, GWU gets unranked, teachers’ union makes concessions

by Grace

——  ‘SUNY to ask state for $1.97 billion, a 13% increase’ (lohud.com)

  • Governor Cuomo asked New York State agencies to “estimate zero growth in their budget proposals”.
  • SUNY is asking for a 13% budget increase from the state.
  • In-state undergraduate tuition will increase by about 5%

SUNY’s proposed budget asks for increases of $134 million for university hospitals, $53 million for the system’s four-year colleges and administration, and $37.3 million for community colleges.

According to the board resolution, the system needs increased funding so it can “meet the ongoing costs of current operations, preserve gains in academic quality, achieve excellence and serve the State of New York to the greatest degree possible.”

Politi-speak:

“Generally speaking, people ask for a little more than they think they are going to get,” said Assembly Higher Education Committee chairwoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan. “That doesn’t mean that they are not asking for exactly what they need. You don’t always get what you need.”


——  ‘U.S. News Strips George Washington of its Ranking Due to Cheating’ (TaxProf Blog)

From #51 to unranked

George Washington University is now unranked by U.S. News and World Report, following a disclosure earlier this month that it had misreported statistics about the academic achievement of its incoming freshmen.

On the basis of the incorrect data, GWU was No. 51 in the publication’s latest vaunted list of best colleges in the nation, which was published in September. That ranking was higher than the university deserved, U.S. News chief ranker Bob Morse wrote on his blog on Wednesday.

Students are understandably unhappy.

”Students are very, very worried about this,” said Scheckter, 21. ”They are worried about graduating, applying to graduate school having a degree from a university that is now ranked the same as the University of Phoenix, which, no offense to them, is not the same institution. A lot of people pay a hell of a lot of money to come here, thinking they will get a degree from a top 50 university.”

Ranking is based on many factors that can be manipulated and may have no bearing on the quality of a school, but most of us still pay attention to the lists.  I think rankings offer a short-hand way of looking at college quality, albeit in a general and sometimes superficial way.  And some of the data compiled as part of the ranking is useful information in evaluating colleges.


——  Baby steps – teachers’ union in Westchester County agrees to wage freeze and increased health premium contribution

After 16 months of negotiations, the Mamaroneck school board and the teachers’ union have reached an agreement that reduces salary increases for teachers — including a two-year wage freeze — while raising their health premium contributions and eliminating a contractual retirement-recognition payment.

The new agreement, which covers five academic years from 2011-16, contains a freeze on wages from 2012-14, as well as increased instructional time for students.

Under its terms, base pay increases will be held at 2 percent for years 2014 through 2016. The contribution to health-insurance payments will go from 7 percent to 8 percent in the 2015-16 year.

In the private sector, the average percent of health premium paid by employees is 16% for individual coverage and 27% for family coverage. 

A contractual retirement-recognition payment, amounting to 25 percent of each retiring teacher’s salary, has been eliminated beginning in 2013-14 for all new hires. It cost the district more than $1.5 million in the last three years, Pierson said.

The new contract also calls for an increase in student instructional time, with Hommocks Middle School getting up to 20 minutes more per day and the high school up to 15 minutes more per day. At the elementary level, time with students will be increased by 30 minutes per week.

Schools, union reach agreement (lohud.com)

September 13, 2012

New York school district gets ‘creative’ by tracking students for reading instruction

by Grace

Everything old is new again.  A Westchester County school district is trying a “new approach” of tracking students for reading instruction.

PORT CHESTER — After cutting a staff of reading specialists from the budget, the schools are starting a new approach for children who need extra help in literacy.

All four elementary schools will dedicate one period a day to specialized literacy instruction, based on students’ needs. That replaces a practice of pulling particular children out of classes for reading assistance.

“It’s pretty creative,” said Carlos Sanchez, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the district. Those with the greatest needs will be grouped accordingly, and those performing above grade level will take part in enrichment programs.

Tracking, or separating students into instructional groups based on their proficiency levels, begin to fall out of favor in the 1960s because it was considered inconsistent with “equality of opportunity”.  I remember hearing one local school administrator tell parents that grouping students by ability before 8th grade would permanently scar them.  But since it’s now portrayed as a “creative” method of “specialized literacy instruction”, it may have found new acceptance by the PC police.

The fact is that meta-analysis supports ability grouping.

The academic benefits are clearest for those in the higher ability groups, but students in the lower groups are not harmed academically by grouping and they gain academic ground in some grouping programs.

Today’s proponents of ability grouping stress that it should be based on proficiency levels and should offer flexibility so students can move between groups when appropriate.  Instead of “tracking”, a more descriptive term is “flexible proficiency grouping”.

Pull-outs and differentiated instruction are problematic

To replace grouping, schools have tried pulling students out of class for additional services and offering differentiated instruction within the classroom.  But there are problems with these alternatives.

“In a pullout program, kids miss something to get something,” Sanchez said.

“In this type of set-up, everybody gets what they need. Nobody’s falling behind because they miss a half-hour of curriculum,” Sanchez said.

Differentiation places an unreasonable demand on teachers, with a recent survey finding that 83% of them find differentiation difficult to implement in practice.  No surprise there, with many classrooms including students three or more grades levels apart in academic skills.

Lumping all students together is not the best option, and could be a factor in the growing achievement gap.

This approach stunts later achievement levels for many students of varying ability levels.  But it’s the students on the lower end of the distribution curve who probably suffer the most, with fewer resources to make up for an inadequate educational process.

Cutting costs while improving student achievement
The Port Chester schools turned to proficiency grouping after budget cuts forced staff reductions.  A silver lining to the new era of controlling public education costs may be that more schools begin to try new “creative” approaches.  Over the years, heterogeneous grouping fueled the need for smaller class sizes and bigger staffs, so an unexpected outcome of “new” instructional methods could be improved academic outcomes at lower costs.

Related:

February 7, 2012

High school graduation goals do not include getting students ready for college

by Grace

Sadly, I was not surprised to learn that our local high school does not include “college or career ready” as part of its goals for graduates.

The district has adopted graduation goals. A graduate of the Eastchester Schools will be:

  • A respectful individual
  • A life-long learner
  • An effective communicator
  • A complex thinker and problem solver
  • A competent and responsible user of technology

Words have consequences.

At our local school only 59% of high school graduates are  “college or career ready” *.  This at an annual  cost of about $23,389 per pupil.

I prefer the Obama administration’s articulation of goals – much more specific, concrete, and measurable.

The goal for America’s educational system is clear: Every student should graduate from high school ready for college or a career.


Different school, similar problem
At a nearby school district, some parents are advocating that college preparation has to be front and center as goalsinstead of  other squishy priorities like global awareness, global responsibility, and 21st century skills.

* UPDATE:  I changed “college ready” to “college or career ready” to accurately reflect what was measured.  In other words, 59% were not prepared for “post-secondary” success as determined by New York’s Aspirational Performance Measure (APM).

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