January project update

Here’s a brief rundown of what we’re working on this month:

1. Newsletter for the National Dropout Prevention Center

We’re putting the finishing touches on an upcoming newsletter for the NDPC which we were asked to guest-edit. The topic is ‘urban issues in education/dropout,’ so we’ve come up with a selection of pieces related to the fact that education is inextricable from issues like poverty, housing, and immigration. Stay tuned for the link!

2. Veteran Needs Assessment

Our effort to survey Veterans in the SouthCoast continues, with the goal of providing New Bedford’s Veteran’s Transition House with original data on services and supports needed by Vets in our community.

3. SouthCoast health dashboard

Site development continues as we wrap up efforts to add content to what will eventually be a web-based resource for anyone looking to learn more about public health in our region and to use data to inform decision-making. Next, we’ll ask some of this project’s key investors/stakeholders to review and provide feedback on content before we regroup with our web developer to add tools to enhance functionality and user-friendliness.

4. LifeWork evaluation

We’ve just finished building out the Salesforce database for this project, and as we wait for data on students’ academic outcomes from the fall semester, we’ll be undergoing a round of training to learn how to use Salesforce for reporting.

5. National League of Cities/New Bedford Health Department

The City of New Bedford Health Department was recently awarded a grant from the National League of Cities to design a campaign to improve health insurance rates among children in New Bedford. The Urban Initiative/Center for Policy Analysis is serving as the evaluator for this project, and we’ve recently begun working with Health Department staff to brainstorm approaches to measure an important issue that is sometimes hard to document.


Dogs in New Bedford, Then and Now

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

This is Guapo. His name is the Spanish word for “handsome.” He is my dog, raised from a puppy and about to turn eight years old. Yesterday I went to the City Clerk’s office in New Bedford and bought Guapo’s dog license for 2014.


Guapo is part Lab and part Golden Retriever; perhaps some other breeds are represented as well. He is no purebred but, as far as I am concerned, Guapo is the best dog in New Bedford.

One hundred-and-forty years ago, the best dog in New Bedford was Adonis, a purebred black, tan, and white English setter owned by George Delgado, whose company made whale spermaceti candles. When the first formal “stud book” of dog-breeding records, The American Kennel and Sporting Field, was published in 1876, Adonis was ranked at the very top of the list. In 1878 Adonis, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was honored as the very first dog to be registered in the United States by the American Kennel Club, which in February 2014 will host the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Many show dogs came from New Bedford in the late nineteenth century. This is not surprising, as New Bedford was one of the richest cities in the world, and it was fashionable among the elites to own purebred dogs. The City licensed dogs, just as it does today, but the purposes and the costs of licensure seem to have been very different. Take a look at this “Memorandum of Dogs licensed in the City of New Bedford to June 1, 1887,” written by Daniel B. Leonard, City Clerk (click to enlarge):


Notice that the cost of a license was different for male and female dogs. It cost two dollars to buy a male’s license, and five dollars for a female’s license. That’s a big difference! 555 males were licensed in the year ending June 1 of 1887, but only 51 females, or less than nine percent of the total population of licensed dogs. In 2014, the City of New Bedford doesn’t care whether your dog is male or female, but the City very much cares whether your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate is up to date. There has been a big shift in policy concerns over the years. Whether those concerns have been addressed effectively by the chosen policies is another question altogether.

I don’t know why the cost for female licensure was so high in 1887. What could have been the reason for this public policy? Were higher costs for females an indirect attempt to control the city’s dog population in an age before spaying and neutering? That theory doesn’t seem to fit with the fact that many of the licensed animals were prize show dogs whose breeding was carefully controlled and tracked. Did higher costs perhaps reflect a quaint Victorian idea that females (canine as well as human) required more protection? Maybe the City promised to specially care for and return any lost dog with an identification tag, rather than send it to the dog pound. If so, most owners of female dogs took their chances rather than pay the additional three dollars.

One thing I’m quite sure of, though, is that all the owners who licensed their dogs were very wealthy men like George Delgado. Because of inflation, one dollar spent in 1887 would be worth about $25 today. You could therefore consider the 1887 dog license fee as having a value of $50 today for a male. The female fee would cost $250 today. You can license an ordinary dog like Guapo for only five dollars today, if you show proof that he has attended a canine obedience class. Today’s low cost probably reflects a city policy to ensure that as many dogs as possible are vaccinated for rabies, regardless of the owner’s socioeconomic status. But how many dog owners in the city comply with this law? Does the law really make a difference? How would you proactively enforce the law? Would license fees provide sufficient funding for enforcement?

In 1887 the City of New Bedford collected $1365 in dog license fees (about $34,125  in 2014 dollars). Notice that the City only kept $121.20 of this sum (less than nine percent), taking only twenty cents in revenue per dog, whether male or female. The City turned over $1243.80 to the treasurer of Bristol County. This shows how powerful and important county government was at the time. The City did all of the work of collecting the fees, but the County pocketed more than 91% of the funds. What did the City do with its twenty cents per dog licensed? What did the County do with the much larger cut that it took? What benefits accrued to dog owners and to the general populace? Then, as now, answers to policy questions are not always obvious.

Charter Schools Debate in New Bedford and Fall River

Katya Starostina, Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

On Decemeber 18th, the class of LeadershipSouthCoast met with Meg Mayo Brown, Superintendent of Fall River School District, as well as several staff of Doran Elementary School, and Dr. Steve Furtado, the Executive Director, and a few other staff of the Global Leadership Public Charter School in New Bedford. Some of the content below was discussed on that day.

The debate about the success of charter schools and their impact on traditional public schools has persisted for quite some time. Charter schools originated as innovative centers of learning that explored best practices in order to help the neediest students and serve as models for other public schools. Now, some argue that this is no longer the case. Because of the lottery opt-in enrollment, which requires parents to fill out an application, and stricter policies on academic achievement, the anti-charter movement blames charter schools for selective bias and eliminating the most challenged population as a means to achieving success.

However, charter schools are known for raising the standard and achieving significantly better results than traditional public schools, which may mean refusing to practice social promotion and holding students responsible for their academic performance. According to a 2013 study on charter school performance in Massachusetts by the Center of Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), on average students in charter schools make larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics than those in traditional schools. In addition, students in Boston charter schools have significantly larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics, having the largest average growth rate in math and reading CREDO has seen in any city or state thus far.

Most of all, this debate has produced a sizable conflict between tradition and charter school districts. On one side, traditional schools claim that charter schools take away funds from the already tight budgets – money that is needed to administer a district even when those students are not there. However, traditional schools get refunded the full amount for first year and 25 percent for the next five years. Charter schools also receive a smaller tuition amount per pupil and are not allowed to dip into state grants for their facilities. The school choice movement argues that introducing charter schools creates competition that would cause low-performing districts to improve their performance.

Nonetheless, an article by EducationNext has found that while in the past, most traditional school districts have responded with indifference or even hostility, now there is a broadening of responses and even partnerships forming with school choice providers. In Fall River, for example, Principal Maria Pontes flew to NYC to learn best practices from a Harlem Children’s Zone charter schools, which she implemented at the Doran Elementary School. Subsequently, under Maria’s leadership, the school progressed from Level 4 to Level 2.

On the national level, the Obama administration has put pressure to relax limits on charter school expansion. In 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that “States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to the Top Fund.” Soon after, Governor Patrick introduced the Readiness legislation (H. 4163), which rose the state’s charter cap from 9 percent to 18 percent in the lowest 10 percent of districts, as measured by combined Composite Performance Index scores on the English and math MCAS exams. Charter cap refers to the maximum percentage that the charter tuition can comprise of the net school spending (NSS) of a school district, thereby limiting the number of students that charter schools can enroll. According to an article by MassInc, the new legislation expands the charter cap in 23 districts, including most of the Gateway Cities, which serve 25 percent of all Massachusetts public school students and the neediest student populations of the state.

Below is a comparison of seven major Gateway Cities in FY10, when the charter cap was nine percent, with FY14, after charter cap was raised. The bar graph shows the growth of charter tuition as a percentage of net school spending in these cities. It can be seen that Fall River and New Bedford have been lagging behind the rest of the cities in establishing charter schools.

charter schools blog

(Click the graph to enlarge)

City Administration of New Bedford has been critical of charter schools, as the previous and current Mayor have advised against approval of charter school proposals submitted to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Global Learning Charter Pubic School of New Bedford has had a significant decrease in enrollment in high school grades. Executive Director Steve Furtado explains that their students are not allowed to participate in New Bedford High athletic program and some choose to attend there instead. A social worker from Global Learning stated that while their students should have access to play sports at New Bedford High, the high school has not agreed to allow that to happen. Still, the school is currently at capacity of 500 students and has had to turn away already-enrolled students from continuing on to the high school. Hence, it is seeking to lift their enrollment cap to be able to expand. With a new charter school City on a Hill opening in FY15, New Bedford will increase its charter tuition but will still be under nine percent of NSS, far from the new 18 percent cap.

In Fall River, Superintendent Meg Mayo Brown supports charter schools but says she is a minority among her colleagues. She stated that teachers from Durfee High have pressured school committee to shut down proposals for a second high school. As such, numerous proposals have been rejected. One of the examples is Argosy Collegiate Charter School, which submitted another proposal for FY15. Argosy, along with New Heights Charter School, which also submitted a proposal to open in FY15, is waiting for the decision on the proposal to come in February. Atlantis Charter School, the only charter school in Fall River, is seeking an expansion of their enrollment from 795 to 1,400.

Nationally and across the state, there has been a movement to plant more charter schools in the lowest performing cities as a way to offer additional school choice to low-income and minority students and present alternative education models in troubled school districts. However, it seems that in New Bedford and Fall River, two chronically underperforming districts, opposition to charter schools is quite high. Both cities have limited options for parent who are seeking an alternative to traditional public schools for their children. A parent of a student enrolled in the Atlantis Charter School commented that the acceptance rate of the school in 2007 was lower than that of Harvard University that year. This example demonstrates how limiting those options truly are for parents and children in Fall River, and likely in New Bedford.