Minggu, 14 Juni 2015

African countries have a STEM education problem, but are private partnerships the answer?

A science fair in Lagos, Nigeria (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)


Written by Lee Middleton
June 14, 2015 Quartz africa

African countries are struggling to find science and math teachers – like everywhere else. But unlike everywhere else, massive youth populations and already lean budgets pose big challenges to governments tackling the education system generally, and math and science education in particular. Enter the go-to solution invoked for every problem in Africa from transport networks to broadband access: public private partnerships or PPPs.

“We should think about how the private sector can enter schools, bring the lab at IBM to the classroom,” says Njideka Harry, CEO of the Youth for Technology Foundation. Sitting on the “Future of Technology” panel at this month’s World Economic Forum Africa Summit, Harry’s emphasis on PPPs was in keeping with the take-home message from a forum full of sessions like “Transforming Education” and “Harnessing Africa’s Biggest Resource.”

For cash-strapped governments facing a demographic reality where half the population is under 30, and a third are under 13, calling in the cavalry makes sense. But in handing education over to the private sector, is there not a risk of creating a 21st century version of the Victorian education model intended to churn out the labor that kept the factories of the Industrial Revolution humming? Perhaps. But on a continent where 60% of the unemployed are young people, there is an upside to an education that actually leads to employment.

“Education should be serving the needs of the private sector, because the private sector creates the jobs,” says Cyrille Nkontchou, founder of private equity firm Enko Capital, which is investing in a pan-African network of private schools aimed at the middle class. He points out that the average spend on education in Africa is about 5% of GDP, which is in line with what North America and much of Europe invest. But based on the numbers of young people coming into the system, it doesn’t take a genius to do the math.

“Sheer numbers limit capacity to do what’s needed. Unless private sector gets involved [in African education] you’ll have another lost generation,” explains Ian Shapiro, an academic from Yale University who looks at the role of business in solving African political problems.

Many argue that doing the math (and the science and engineering) is key to the future of young Africans and their continent. This belief is evidenced in things like the MasterCard Foundation partnering with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) to the tune of $25 million to train 3,000 high school teachers in mathematics education and to provide support to post-graduates. Speaking on the panel discussing the importance of such investments, South African Minister for Science and Technology Naledi Pandor stressed the importance of ensuring that “those who teach are absolutely competent in math and science.”

Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, WEF host-country and the continent’s number two economic powerhouse, South Africa scored last in the quality of math and science education, and 139th (out of 143) in education overall. Noting South Africa’s poor performance in math, Nkontchou explains that Enko schools take a pragmatic approach, offering extra Saturday sessions for students struggling with the subject. “Private education in Africa is booming,” Nkontchou confirms.
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American Indian schools get big boost with new education bill

In 2015, Minnesota is on track to spend roughly $8 million on programs and services designed to directly improve American Indian student achievement. The next two-year budget will more than double that investment.

In the past, district schools and charters have competed for a limited number of Success for the Future grants to craft academic supports and other programs for American Indian students. Funding was small, and only about 32 of the 138 district schools and charters that were eligible received money.

The grant program will be transformed into a dedicated funding stream. Schools with at least 20 American Indian students will receive a base of $20,000 in funding and $358 for each additional student.

Olson says that transition will be a "game-changer" for many schools, and he estimates the new programs districts create will reach up to 95 percent of the state's American Indian students.

A $5 million increase in aid to tribal schools will boost their per pupil funding cap from $1,500 to $3,230. That money will offset federal dollars the schools should be receiving, but the new state funding is only budgeted for the next two years.

Cassellius said using state funds to fill in that federal gap sends an important message to students across the state.

"It's a very proud moment for me personally, and for every other Minnesotan, to say every child matters. When we say all, we mean all," Cassellius said.

Minnesota lawmakers in St. Paul and in Washington, D.C. have long pushed for the Bureau of Indian Education to better fund schools here and across the nation. In a March letter, U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Burnsville, asked Congress to increase funding for Bureau of Indian Education Schools by $59 million.

Kline cited "health and safety hazards" at tribal schools nationwide, including the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Kline visited the "Bug" school in April with U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, to bring attention to what Kline called "deplorable" conditions at many tribal schools.

"The federal government has made a commitment to American Indian students and families to provide educational opportunities in a manner that preserves their culture, language and traditions," Kline wrote. "Unfortunately, we are failing to meet that commitment."

Minnesota lawmakers and educators are investing new money to help American Indian students because they've long struggled to keep pace academically with their peers.

The percentage of American Indian students scoring proficient in math, reading and science trails state averages by more than 20 percentage points, test data shows. American Indian students are almost half as likely as white students to score proficient on state accountability assessments.

Last year, 81 percent of all Minnesota seniors graduated high school on time. But 50 percent of American Indian students earned diplomas in four years, state data shows.

Olson says new state funding will be used to develop academic supports, staff training and initiatives to better connect students and their families to school.

Much of that new work will build on the successes of small programs throughout the state. Data shows targeted programs have helped improve graduation rates by 8 percentage points over the past three years.

Much of that gain came in schools receiving Success for the Future state grants. Olson hopes providing similar funding to more districts will amplify those efforts.

"Now they will be able to serve students from early childhood to 12th grade and beyond," Olson said.

For new initiatives to be successful, MartinRogers says school leaders will have to carefully consider the cultural and historical backgrounds of their American Indian students. She believes much of what's driving their achievement gap is a disconnect from both school curriculum and culture.

She added that students will perform better academically when they feel the school system is accepting of their beliefs and backgrounds. School leaders must also reach out to students' families in ways that are culturally relevant.

Finally, MartinRogers hopes district leaders can work with tribal leaders to develop successful programing.

"They are going to have to find a good balance between their recommendations and the sovereignty of tribes," MartinRogers said. "On the flip side, there should be some attention giving tribes technical guidance and support."

Olson acknowledged that developing new supports for American Indian students will take time and careful planning. As the new money begins to flow to districts, Olson says his department and others will be there to help.

Olson has high hopes for the work ahead.

"Minnesota (will be) one of the leading states in providing resources for American Indian students and their academic needs," he said. "We will be looked at as the gold standard when it comes to how American Indian students are educated."

Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at

20,000: Number of American Indian students in Minnesota, with one-third attending schools in the Twin Cities metro area

$18 MILLION: Additional spending in the reworked education spending bill geared to improving American Indian schools

50: Percentage of American Indian students who graduated in four years in 2014
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Charter Schools 101: The basics behind a hot education topic

Journal Sentinel files
Rocketship Southside Community Prep, an independent charter school overseen by the City of Milwaukee, entered the local charter school scene in 2013. Measures in the state Legislature are likely to open doors for more independent charter schools in Milwaukee and some cities statewide.

Aldermen stall proposed charter school moratorium

Amid the many education issues now in flux, the future of charter schools seems to attract a high degree of heat and, frequently, misunderstanding. So I thought it might be good to offer a Charter Schools 101 primer.

Q.Just what is a charter school?

A. Launched in Minnesota about 25 years ago, the idea was to offer kids independent, publicly funded schools with creative, different programs. The movement grew rapidly. More than 2.5 million students nationwide were in charter schools in 2013-'14.

Q.Why are they called "charter" schools?

A. Let's say you and I have an idea for a school. We go to a government body (usually a school board, but, around here, a few other bodies, such as Milwaukee city government), and say, hey, give us permission to open this school, give us money and we'll give you something different with good results. (At least, that's the ideal.) Down the road — usually after five years — you can either give us a green light to continue or you can cut off our money, based on our record. If the government body says OK, then we formalize an agreement that is called our charter.

Generally, I'm describing what we'll call an independent charter. There are quite a few charters created within school districts as alternatives to their traditional programs. Most of the charter schools in Wisconsin fit this description.

A significant difference between school district charters and independent charters is whether the teachers are employees of the district or whether they are hired (and potentially fired) by the individual school. Almost all of the controversy around charter schools involves independent schools.

Q.What's the difference between a charter school and a voucher school?

A. Around here, a simple answer is: Voucher schools can be (and almost all are) religious. Charter schools cannot be religious. Overall, both involve public funding of schools outside of the traditional system.

Q.Are independent charter schools intended only for poor kids?

A. No, but that's pretty much what's developed, both in Wisconsin and nationwide. There's a bunch of reasons why — a subject for another time. Charters have emerged as one of the most prominent (and controversial) strategies for trying to improve education outcomes in high-needs urban areas. Large charter operators have arisen, some running dozens of schools, most of them offering programs with high expectations, step-on-the-gas styles of education, a lot of structure, strong emphasis on behavior, and longer school days and years.

Q.Are kids ever assigned to go to charter schools?

A. No.

Q.Do charters charge tuition?

A. No.

Q.How much money do they get?

A. The current public payment in Wisconsin is about $8,000 per student per year. That's less than public schools get. Most high-quality charters also benefit from quite a bit of private donations.

Q.Do charter schools enroll any student or do they attract better students?

A. A controversial question. Charters aren't allowed to be choosy about who gets admitted. And good ones work hard to help any child. But, as reality plays out, there is some truth to saying that a lot of kids who don't fit into the program don't stay. Charter critics say one outcome is that charters overall have fewer students with special-education needs and big behavior issues than conventional schools.

Q.Are charter schools getting better results?

A. Yes, no and maybe so. Frankly, your answer often depends on your politics. Setting that aside as best as I can, I'd say some of the best schools in Milwaukee, both in results and school culture, are charters. There is data to back up saying that, although critics disagree. Overall, locally and nationwide, charters aren't a panacea and the outcomes aren't that much different than traditional public schools.

In Milwaukee, there were — and still are — charter schools with bad results and bad operating practices. Some of those are gone, which is how the system is supposed to work. Some are improving.

I watched a Milwaukee Common Council committee wrestle on Thursday with what to do about King's Academy, a northwest side charter with a poor record but evidence of improvement. The discussion focused on data, serious talk about how to improve, and what's best for kids. The committee backed a two-year extension of the school's charter, rather than the five years the school wanted. The school will remain under pressure to show further improvement. It struck me as a good example of how the idea is supposed to work.

Q.Is the charter movement going to expand in Wisconsin?

A. In the last four years, while voucher school advocates were scoring big victories in the state Capitol, charter advocates got pretty much nowhere. But as the new state budget is shaping up, charter people have scored some victories.

It's a mess to describe, but it seems likely there will be at least a few more charter schools in Milwaukee in the next several years. There might be independent charters for the first time in Madison, Waukesha County and possibly some other places. But there will be no green light for independent charters statewide, while private school vouchers are getting a green light.

Opposition to charters is strong. In short, the more kids who go to schools outside of the traditional system, the more problems there are for the system. This applies to Milwaukee, but it also applies out state, where opposition to independent charters has succeeded in stopping independent charters. The vast majority of Wisconsin kids will continue to be educated through public school systems.

My guess overall is that with funding capped around $8,000 per kid, and with an atmosphere that is so contentious, there won't be a big surge of new charters. I'd go with a forecast of some growth, with reason to hope it will generally be connected to an upward movement in the quality of the schools involved.

Alan J. Borsuk is senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School. Reach him at

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Opinion: An education idea for every presidential platform

Randi Weingarten 11:06 p.m. CDT June 14, 2015

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(Photo: Register file)

It's clear that our economy — even as we bounce back from the recession — isn't working for everyone. Too many Americans are struggling to get by. Too many have seen their jobs shipped overseas. Too many are unemployed and underemployed. Too many graduate from college with crippling debt or avoid college altogether because of rising costs.

If our nation is going to get ahead and stay ahead, we need to create many paths to good jobs in this 21st-century economy. Career and technical education programs in high schools are promising pathways, giving young people marketable skills and training for well-paying, middle-class jobs.

Today's career and technical education programs are not at all like last century's vocational education programs that offered traditional woodshop or auto mechanics, as important as they were. Our 21st-century economy requires 21st-century-skills building and training.

Career and technical education, or CTE, programs provide routes to high school graduation, higher education (community college or four-year colleges) and meaningful middle-class jobs in skilled trades, applied sciences and technology. They're motivators for students to do well in school and learn how to apply knowledge, think critically, collaborate and problem-solve with other students — all necessary for success in life. School-business partnerships provide students with internships, apprenticeships and employment opportunities during high school and after graduation.

While in this test-and-punish era we've seen too many so-called education reforms flounder, CTE is a great example of what works.

Investing in career and technical education programs in public schools should be a part of every presidential candidate's platform. As partisanship continues in Washington, D.C., and our state capitals, CTE is something that can cross political divides.

You only have to ask graduates of CTE programs to see their potential. Take Lily Mohamed. Immediately after graduating from Connecticut's Platt Technical High School, she was hired by a high-tech company, earning $70,000 a year. She's also attending college part time to earn a bachelor's degree in aeronautics. Her employer is paying the tuition.

No wonder these promising pathways to success have garnered a broad spectrum of support. Snap-on Tools Chairman and CEO Nicholas Pinchuk calls CTE "the single best weapon" companies have in today's global competition for jobs. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to expand the number of CTE programs in New York because of their proven success. Vice President Joe Biden says school-employer partnerships provide a path to middle-class life.
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton smiles after speaking with Kirkwood Community College student Andrew Lorimer Tuesday, April 14, 2015 during a campaign roundtable in the Auto Tech Lab of the college's satellite campus in Monticello. (Photo: Michael Zamora/The Register)

Iowa understands the power of CTE programs, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton's recent visit to Kirkwood Community College. There, she met Andrew Lorimer, a senior in high school who has been taking classes at Kirkwood for several years and is on his way to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Andrew said that what he is learning at Kirkwood prepares him for the kind of engineering he'll do in Annapolis.

With a CTE program, a student who might otherwise have questioned the value of schooling can become excited by a particular field of study. CTE can provide a direct connection between high school, obtaining a marketable skill, graduating, and getting a good job or going to college. The 2015 Building a Grad Nation report on the nation's dropout rate shows great improvement — a record 81.4 percent high school graduation rate — but it can and should be even higher.

A recent American Federation of Teachers survey of 570 teachers found that teachers uniformly believe in CTE as a way to create opportunity for students. But they also said they need the equipment and resources to make the work real, and need more partners in businesses and the community to step up.

CTE is a good and productive investment for our kids and our economy, but it takes partnerships and real collaboration among schools, educators, businesses and colleges. For our part, the AFT is seeding CTE programs in four cities: Peoria, Ill.; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; and Miami.

As the presidential season begins and key campaign issues are announced and debated, I hope we can agree that career and technical education programs are an educational and economic strategy that works. CTE is the right investment for our students.

RANDI WEINGARTEN is president of the American Federation of Teachers. Contact:
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Education reforms spur N.Y. lobbying 'arms race'

Education reforms spur N.Y. lobbying 'arms race'
Jon Campbell, Gannett Albany Bureau 6:27 p.m. EDT June 14, 2015

(Photo: Ingram Publishing, Getty Images/Ingram Publishing)

ALBANY, N.Y. — Education policy is big business for lobbyists in New York state.

Various education interests have spent at least $124 million trying to influence lawmakers, officials and the general public at the state and local level since the start of 2006, including a record of at least $16 million last year, according to a review of state records by Gannett's Albany Bureau.

That's in addition to $45.3 million in lobbying expenses reported by the New York State United Teachers union and its New York City affiliate over the past nine years. They are tallied as labor organizations, not education groups, by the state's lobbying regulator.

Add in political spending and the numbers are starker: Education interests and teachers unions have spent more than a quarter-billion dollars — $285.5 million — on lobbying, campaign contributions and independent political expenditures over the past decade, according to a report by Common Cause/NY, which the good-government group is set to release Monday.


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The spending surge has come amid a growing battle at the state Capitol over teacher evaluations, state aid for schools, standardized testing, charter schools and education tax breaks. And it has led to an "arms race," as a spokesman for NYSUT put it, between the powerful union and organizations backed by Wall Street activists who are championing more charter schools, a tax credit for donors to schools and more accountability.

The end result has the potential to impact every school, teacher and student in New York — a state that has become a key battleground over education policy nationally.

"Now that you have two heavily funded sides going toe-to-toe, the question in New York is: Is the money going to cancel each other out? Or is one side going to gain an advantage over the other?" said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY. "What should emerge are thoughtful, objective proposals. Unfortunately, that's not the way the game is played in New York."


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Excluding direct union spending, education lobbying has increased annually in each of the past nine years, leading to a nearly 57% increase from the $10.3 million spent in 2006, state records show. And with education issues dominating much of the state Legislature's 2015 session and seemingly ubiquitous school-related advertisements on the airwaves and in voters' mailboxes, that trend appears destined to continue.

The lobbying boost has been fueled in part by the rise of reform-minded groups — some of which are backed by former investment bankers and hedge fund managers — that have pushed for more charter schools, tougher teacher tenure and evaluations, and a tax credit for individual donors to schools, including private and parochial institutions. Those issues are opposed by the teachers union, a perennial top spender.

The playing field

When factoring in lobbying and political expenses, NYSUT and its allies have traditionally spent more than those pushing for charter schools and the proposed tax credit. That changed in 2014, when the union and union-backed groups were outspent for the first time by their opponents, $21 million to $16.5 million, according to Common Cause/NY's report.

Robert Bellafiore, a spokesman for the Coalition for Opportunity in Education, said the education debate had been dominated "for years and years and years" by unions and the "standard, district-run education system." His group and other like-minded organizations are spending to even the playing field, Bellafiore said.


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The coalition was founded by the late Peter Flanigan, an investment banker, and is pushing for a tax break to donors to schools, including private and parochial institutions. It has spent a total of $2.8 million on lobbying — including various mailers and advertisements — from the start of 2013 through April 2015.

The legislative session at the Capitol ends Wednesday.

"That side has always been near the top of lobbying spending," Bellafiore said. "In the last handful of years, as a movement has grown to expand parental choices in schools, everyone has had to generate money to play at that level. You can't fight something with nothing."

Carl Korn, a spokesman for NYSUT, views it differently.

"The billionaire hedge funders who are trying to buy their version of education reform have triggered an arms race in spending," Korn said.

Money for success

In recent years, reform groups have spent more to push their agenda in Albany and New York City, with some degree of success. Union lobbying, meanwhile, has hit peaks and valleys over the past decade, with NYSUT spending a record $6 million on lobbying in 2011 — a year in which the state passed a new teacher evaluation law and a property-tax cap, two measures of concern to the union.

The two sides also spent heavily on state elections in recent years, with Senate Republicans being the biggest beneficiary over the past decade, receiving $5 million in contributions from groups and individuals backing charter schools and other like-minded efforts, according to the Common Cause report. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's re-election campaign received about $3 million from those backers, the report found.

Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, second from left, celebrates with his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, right, and his mother, Matilda, left, after defeating Republican challenger Rob Astorino, at Democratic election headquarters in New York on Nov. 4, 2014. (Photo: Kathy Willens, AP)

NYSUT, its affiliates and its allies, meanwhile, contributed about $1 million to the Assembly Democrats' campaign efforts, as well as $772,000 to the Senate Republicans' campaign committee over the past decade, according to the report.

Both sides of the debate have been spending heavily on lobbying so far in 2015 — a non-election year for state posts — in large part because school-related issues have largely dominated the discussion during the state Legislature's annual session.

Cuomo proposed a series of controversial education reforms as part of his budget proposal in January, a version of which were included in the budget approved by lawmakers on March 31 and April 1. Cuomo's proposal triggered a wave of advertisements, rallies and billboards in the early part of the year, with NYSUT reporting $2.5 million in lobbying expenses from January through April.

StudentsFirstNY, a group backed by several former hedge fund managers, aired a $500,000 advertising campaign supporting Cuomo, who pushed the reforms opposed by the union.

Capitol spending battle

Three groups — the Coalition for Opportunity in Education, StudentsFirstNY and Families for Excellent Schools — have funded heavy-rotation television advertisements and direct-to-home mailers in recent weeks pushing the state Assembly to support a much-debated tax break proposal.

NYSUT, which has a team of paid lobbyists on staff, has countered with billboards, print and radio advertisements knocking the proposal. The groups and the union aren't required to disclose how much they spent on the advertisements until July.

The plan would allow donors to schools — including private and parochial schools — to write off 75% of their donation, as well as create a $500 credit for parents of private-school children.

The bill has been championed by Cuomo, Senate Republicans and Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who say it can help boost struggling private schools and give parents more options for their children. Its fate remains up in the air as the legislative session draws to a close, but it has drawn opposition from some Assembly Democrats, who control a wide majority in the chamber and have traditionally been allied with NYSUT.

Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, said the tax break would allow "unknown interests" to have a hand in where the state directs funding for education, rather than elected lawmakers.

"From a policy standpoint, we cannot support this piece of legislation," Bronson said.


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Last year, the state's top 10 lobbying entities — which includes non-education interests — spent $25 million, according to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which produces an annual report on lobbying spending in New York. Of those groups, education interests spent $15.6 million — including $9.6 million spent by Families for Excellent Schools, the tops in the state.

The New York City-based group spent exclusively on advertisements and rallies last year, including one featuring several thousand charter school students who were bused to the state Capitol. The spending came as charter school supporters were in a pitched battle with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, which ultimately ended with Cuomo and the state Legislature approving a bill making it easier for the schools to find space to locate.

“For years, families had no voice in the Capitol to protest the crisis of failing schools in New York. Today, legislators are fighting over how best to serve the students in these struggling schools. That's change we're proud of, and our parents won't rest until every child has access to a good school.”Jeremiah Kittredge, executive director, Families for Excellent Schools

"The 2014 top-spending lobbying entity, Families for Excellent Schools, reported $9.6 million, entirely within advertising and event-related expenses — which alone accounts for much of the aggregate increase in state and local lobbying spending from 2013 to 2014," according to the JCOPE report. "The next highest 2014 spending total for a single lobbying entity was $3.2 million by the New York State United Teachers."

Families for Excellent Schools, which has largely shielded its donors from public view,held a similar rally in March of this year advocating for an increase in the state's cap on charter schools. It won't be required to disclose the costs associated with the event — which included a performance by pop singer Ashanti — until July.

"For years, families had no voice in the Capitol to protest the crisis of failing schools in New York," said Jeremiah Kittredge, the group's executive director. "Today, legislators are fighting over how best to serve the students in these struggling schools. That's change we're proud of, and our parents won't rest until every child has access to a good school."

Korn, the teachers union spokesman, said comparing spending by the union and its opponents doesn't tell the whole story.

The union, Korn said, has 600,000 dues-paying members across the state — numbers that can't be matched by the reform groups. That increases the union's political might, he said.

"To look only at the dollars misses the point," Korn said. "Our power comes from having highly knowledgeable, energized members in every ZIP code of the state." 9 CONNECT 61 TWEETLINKEDIN 1 COMMENTEMAIL

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