Streams

Private School Parents Targeted for Giving

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 08:16 AM

Parents of public school students in the city are responding to a SchoolBook survey by reporting expenses of up to thousands of dollars to support their child's school or school-related activities. But that apparently is nothing compared with what is being asked of parents of private school students.

Jenny Anderson reports in The New York Times on Tuesday that private school parents are becoming victims of relentless fund-raising by their children's schools -- this on top of tuition of tens of thousands of dollars.

Schools are mining online data for details about parents’ homes, luxury cars, private planes, stock holdings and donations to other charities. So-called development offices, once the domain of part-time administrators and school volunteers, have been elevated along with the titles of those running them, who are now known as chief advancement officers, directors of philanthropy and heads of strategic initiatives. Heads of school report spending much of their time in search of money, according to surveys.

Of course, a group of these parents can well afford it.

Driving the effort is an increasing stratification of wealth, even in the private school population. In recent years, fund-raisers and school heads say, more revenue is coming from a smaller group of parents and what used to be the “80/20 rule” — 20 percent of the parents give 80 percent of the money — has become the 90/10 rule, or even the 95/5 rule.

And it is paying off.

In New York City, the median amount of annual giving raised per school increased 268 percent over the last decade, to $1.7 million from $462,341, according to data provided by the National Association of Independent Schools. The national median, by comparison, has increased 63 percent, to $895,614 from $548,651 (the New York sample included 20 schools; the national one, 246).

Some parents are sanguine about being tapped.

One father whose children attend the Horace Mann School said he wrote his first check two months after receiving an acceptance letter. “I would have given the school the money beforehand,” he said. (Schools do not formally ask until a child has been admitted, though parents are often eager to offer up that they plan to be very generous.) “So there’s no reason I shouldn’t give once they are in.”

On the other end of the educational spectrum, it's hard not to be moved to tears by Michael Powell's report in The New York Times about the changed lives of the students at Bushwick Community High School.

Bushwick is a transfer high school, which means it is full of teenagers and young adults who had been educational failures when they entered this last-chance refuge of learning. Students, some in tears themselves, report changed lives and brighter futures as a result of their education at Bushwick.

But now the school is among those slated to be a "turnaround" -- meaning the school will be shut down, half the staff will be replaced, the administration might change and the school will reopen by fall with a new name. The concept is an attempt to roil the culture at failing schools, and give them a fresh start with the least disruption to students' lives. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has slated 33 schools for such treatment this year, over the objections of the teachers' union and those schools' communities.

As Mr. Powell writes in his Gotham column, "failure" is a relative term.

Public education across the nation has sunk deep into a bog of metrics. We presume to measure teaching and achievement as a chemist does a proper mixture of chemicals. To this conceit, you can add the draconian demands of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which offers millions of dollars in help for poor urban schools only if city officials adhere to the same unyielding metrics.

This is a particular problem for a transfer high school, whose faculty takes children bruised by years of neglect. Bushwick Community is run, in part, by its faculty members, who offer the usual collection of the smart, the eccentric and the deeply committed found in most schools that work.

To sit with a dozen of the students at a community center not far from the high school was to watch as one girl nursed a baby and another spoke of living with her child in a shelter. Two had been tossed out of their family homes. Another lived with her grandmother on Coney Island — she commutes one and a half hours each way to this high school in Bushwick.

These are nonlinear kids with nonlinear lives.

Read it. And try not to weep.

NBC New York reported Monday night that parents at two Brooklyn schools are worried that mold found in their children's school building is affecting their health.

Parents at a Brooklyn school building demanded answers from education officials at a meeting Monday evening about construction conditions they say are creating health problems for their children.

About 500 students, parents and teachers met with Department of Education officials inside the building that houses P.S. 17 and M.S. 577 in Williamsburg, which is undergoing a massive construction. Parents said that construction, mixed with water damage, has made the environment unbearable.

"In the classrooms and in my dance room, she has the tiles falling out," said student Shaliya Parris. "And you see the black stuff all the way going down. And they tell us not to open up the windows. They have air cleaners, purifiers in most of the classrooms."

The building is undergoing a $10 million renovation and is swathed in scaffolding, so teachers can't open windows. Still, the report says, "It's not clear how dangerous the mold is, if at all. The school ordered testing be done on the building, and of 21 random samples taken on March 22, only one sample came back with an unacceptable result, according to the testing report."

Parents have been told to come back on Tuesday morning for further discussion with school officials.

And we have some doubts about the validity of this report, but the education world is buzzing about it, so we will just mention it: Reporters and researchers at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have analyzed data related to test scores and turned up suspicious patterns in a number of districts -- among them New York City.

Atlanta was rocked last summer by a major cheating scandal, and the team looked at data from 15,000 school districts nationally to see if there was a broader pattern. According to Gotham Schools, they supposedly found evidence here.

In Brooklyn’s District 16, for example, 7.95 to 12.82 percent of classes between 2009 and 2011 showed suspicious test score swings. Between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of classes flagged in Manhattan’s District 2, which includes many middle-class students, ranged from 7.41 to 12.5 — significantly higher than in neighboring districts.

We liked the response of Eric Gordon, who heads Cleveland's schools, to the team's suggestions of cheating in the Ohio district.

“In all candor, if I thought we had a widespread cheating problem in the district, I would expect our achievement to look quite a bit better than it does,” Gordon told the Dayton Daily News.

Here are some of the events happening in the education world in New York City on Tuesday:

At 10 a.m., the City Council's Education Committee holds a hearing on the city's proposed education budget, at 250 Broadway, Committee Room, 16th floor. Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott will testify. If you want to brush up in advance, budget projections can be found here.

From 5 to 7:30 p.m., a panel, "Making New York City’s Public Schools Broader, Bolder and More Equitable: A Joint CEE/BBA Education Policy Event," takes place at the Salome Urena de Henriquez Campus, a New York City Department of Education-Children’s Aid Society Community School, 4600 Broadway (at 196th Street), Washington Heights, Manhattan.

The panelists include Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew professor of education, Steinhart School of Education, Culture, and Human Development, New York University; Michael Rebell, the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity and a professor of law and educational practice, Teachers College, Columbia University; Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, and Shael Suransky-Polakow, the deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. You can RSVP here.

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