Posts Tagged ‘Education Sector’

Senate hearing discusses limits of federal government involvement in local education

Posted on: November 8th, 2011 by Mikhail Zinshteyn 16 Comments

Screen Caption of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) during ESEA hearing on HELP Committee

Though expected by Senate watchers to be a sideshow and forum for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to voice his criticism of the nation’s top education bill, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing today instead crystallized key provisions of the legislation meant to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

That the hearing was held at all is unusual, since the bill up for discussion was voted out of committee  in October by a vote of 15-7. But an agreement was struck between Paul and committee chair Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to allow the Kentucky senator to learn more about the language of the bill under the condition he drop over 70 amendments proposed in an attempt to slow down its passage.

And while the co-writers of replacement bill, known as Harkin-Enzi, voted to push it out of committee in a bi-partisan fashion, both would like to see more added.

“This bill is not Mr. Enzi’s bill, and it ain’t mine either,” said Harkin. While Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) told the audience, “It is important to note that I do not support 100 percent of the bill we reported out.  I would have supported a much smaller federal role and far fewer federal programs.”

Witnesses were invited to participate in the round table discussion without prepared remarks, a more informal hearing than is typical of Senate meetings. Senators were also invited to ask questions, with much of the dialogue focusing on tracking teachers and their pay, improving student performance, and addressing high-needs pupils like those with disabilities and limited language skills.

Tom Luna, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the current bill “has kept the good parts of No Child Left Behind.” He likened the 2002 law to the film The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, – with the emphasis on data-collection showing the good, while the federal government prescribing benchmarks and end goals representing the ugly.

He stressed a state’s right to set up its own education accountability measures was a 10th Amendment issue, and in moving away from NCLB, Idaho is “more than willing and ready to hold ourselves to higher level of accountability.”

Still, with many state budgets squeezed, federal largesse helps programs targeting high-needs students stay afloat. But with that financial support comes expectations states will live up to standards articulated at the federal level. That reality prompted Charles Seaton, a teacher at Memphis City Schools in Tennessee, to tell the senators, “We need your money.”

Harkin-Enzi disavows most of the performance targets schools were forced to meet under NCLB mandates, known as Adequate Yearly Progress, or face consequences, and instead focuses on the worst five percent of schools per district.

Pam Geisselhardt, a gifted and talented coordinator at Adair County Schools in Kentucky, welcomes the increased state control of monitoring student output. “The term NCLB is demoralizing for us at this point…testing, testing, testing…we have no time to teach.”

But accessing a rich data set on student learning is important, the other panelists said. “Everyone says we assess too much,” quipped Amanda Danks, a lead teacher in Baltimore who works with special education students. “We assess ineffectively too much.”

Danks’ comment was reiterated by a few of the national thinkers on the panel.

Rick Hess, an education policy analyst at American Enterprise Institute, said, “It is not useful to try to prescribe models” unless they pertain to the lowest five percent of schools. And Luna, a critic of federal involvement in local education, said he would not oppose federally mandated teacher evaluations but would see a problem if the “federal government tries to define it or regulate it.”

Special education took up a significant portion of the two and a half hour hearing, but was limited to matters of assessment, as well, with some senators and panelists arguing allowing more students with disabilities to receive alternative assessments would demoralize the students.

Harkin-Enzi puts a cap on the number of students who could qualify for alternative assessments as one percent — a point of frustration for low-performing schools with many high-needs students whose test scores would factor into the school’s overall performance.

Perhaps the bill’s harshest critic on the panel is Wade Henderson, President and CEO of  The Leadership Conference. “We must look at our history: states have achieved what they have because of the federal role, not in spite of it,” he said. Countering Sen. Paul’s assessment of the hearing, Henderson argued federal involvement is not a philosophical question, but a “practical debate affecting real-live students.”

Groups as politically divided as The National Council of La Raza and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce side with Henderson. In a letter released today, nearly 30 organizations that seek greater accountability standards for students and teachers said they do not support Harkin-Enzi.

From the statement:

Federal funding must be attached to firm, ambitious and unequivocal demands for higher achievement, high school graduation rates and gap closing. We know that states, school districts, and schools needed a more modern and focused law. However, we respectfully believe that the bill goes too far in providing flexibility by marginalizing the focus on the achievement of disadvantaged students.

Last month, President Obama unveiled his plan to grant states waivers from No Child Left Behind, putting pressure on congress to come up with a reauthorization of the 2002 law, which has been due for overhaul since 2007. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the chair of the House education committee, has stated he prefers to augment the nation’s top K-12 law with smaller bills.

White House rolls out relief program for millions of college debt holders

Posted on: October 26th, 2011 by Mikhail Zinshteyn No Comments

A conference call with reporters today revealed more details about the Obama administration’s plan to roll out a program for student debt relief.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan Duncan, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes and Raj Date, Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP) told reporters today’s White House proposal is casting a wide net to help more debt holders.

A fact sheet provided to reporters indicates the White House expects college loan holders to save “hundreds” of dollars per month through this relief package. During the call, Duncan said a nurse earning $45,000 a year with $60,000 in loans can expect a $451 reduction in monthly payments.

A summary of the college payment relief programs:

· Starting in January of next year, allow individuals to consolidate their Federal Direct loans with subsidized loans. The White House says this move can tack off half a percentage point in the interest debtors pay. Barnes told reporters submitting payments to two different loan services increases the risk of default.

· Expanding the IBR program through a pay as you earn service that caps the discretionary income considered to 10 percent that will also go into effect January of next year. While the president had Congress approve a similar IBR measure that lowers the percentage of income considered, that rule won’t go into effect until 2014. White House numbers project the move will help 1.6 million student borrowers. Today’s proposal also excuses all unpaid debt after 20 years of successful minimum payments, rather than the 25 years originally legislated. Discretionary income is calculated by subtracting150 percent of the poverty line from a person’s adjusted gross income–that dollar figure at the end of one’s tax return.

· The CFBP, less than 100 days old an a product of last year’s big bank regulation law known as Dodd-Frank, is in the finishing stages of a simple Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, which would de-jargon the language on college award letter and scholarship documents. “The form would also make the total costs — and risks — of the student loans clear before they enroll by outlining their total estimated student loan debt, monthly loan payments after graduation and additional costs not covered by federal aid,” indicates a White House press release.

Tackling student debt is part of the administration’s larger effort to circumvent policy changes that need Congressional approval. “We simply can’t wait for Congressional Republicans to act,” said Duncan.

While Congress in 2009 approved a measure called Income Based Repayment, which went into effect last year, only 450,000 college loan holders have signed on out of the over 30 million Americans juggling higher education debt. That program caps the amount college debt holders pay on federally-backed loans to 15 percent of their discretionary income.

Perhaps coincidentally, College Board released a report today showing college tuition and fees rose this year by more than 8 percent from last year for public four- and two-year colleges. Still, more students are entering college, the report noted, as an additional 2.8 million students enrolled in school between 2007 and 2010.

Higher education has been under a microscope as job prospects are low for many and additional education is sought after. The swell of new students is forcing campuses to find new revenue streams to keep up with services, often resulting in seeking out students who pay higher tuition. The trend is most visible at public universities that have set their sights on out-of-state candidates who pay considerably more than local students — at times three times as much.

Taking into account a student’s ability to weather the financial burden of higher education is an increasingly ethical dilemma. Student default rates, as determined by the two-year cohort rate calculated by the U.S. Department of Education, is at a 12-year high, with 8.8 percent of graduates not paying their college loans for 270 days or more. Using a more comprehensive metric, a report issued (PDF) by the New America Foundation found that 15 percent of graduates defaulted, while 21 percent were delinquent on their payments.

But despite the costs and risks of falling behind in payments, arguments college is still worth it abound.

Individuals possessing a college-equivalent degree can expect to earn 80 percent more than a person with a high school degree. In an earlier study from researchers at Georgetown University, a college degree holder can expect to make $1.4 million more than one witha high school degree. And owning a college degree goes a long way to having a job: while the unemployment rate in this country is 9.1 percent, only 4.3 percent of college degree holders are jobless.

Senate committee votes in bipartisan fashion to approve No Child Left Behind replacement

Posted on: October 21st, 2011 by Mikhail Zinshteyn No Comments

After a marathon two-day markup session that vacillated wildly between partisan hostility and bipartisan comity, the education bill to overhaul No Child Left Behind is out of committee following a 15-7 vote, with three Republicans joining Democrats in a yes vote. (more…)

Senate education bill would add more fairness to poorer school funding

Posted on: October 19th, 2011 by Mikhail Zinshteyn No Comments

Today during the markup process to overhaul the main education law of the land, No Child Left Behind, senators on the HELP Committee managed to discuss a little-known but crucial tweak to how poor and rich school districts share education funding. (more…)

Georgetown study says college degree still worth the front-end costs

Posted on: August 10th, 2011 by Mikhail Zinshteyn No Comments

Despite the soaring costs of college (rising at 3 percent above inflation for over a decade), a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workplace argues the lifetime financial benefits are still worth the five-digit amounts of debt graduates endure. (more…)

New report shows assumed value in a college degree can be deceiving

Posted on: August 5th, 2011 by Mikhail Zinshteyn No Comments

A new index from a leading education policy group allows parents and students to assess a college’s “borrowing-to-credential ratio,” combining newly available U.S. Department of Education data that considers a school’s graduation rate and the debt its students accrue throughout the matriculation period. (more…)

Business school thinking can help in tough classrooms, education expert says

Posted on: August 3rd, 2011 by Mikhail Zinshteyn No Comments

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke Tuesday to educators and school administrators charged with running ‘turnaround schools’ at the University of Virginia. The employees are enrolled in the school’s Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE) “School Turnaround Specialist Program,” a collaborative effort between the business and education programs of the university that help experienced teachers and principals manage the fault lines of the school turnaround process. (more…)

Atlanta and New Orleans schools show the many ways administrators cut corners

Posted on: July 6th, 2011 by Mikhail Zinshteyn No Comments

“When high stakes are attached to tests, people often act in ways that compromise educational values. High-stakes testing incentivizes narrowing of the curriculum, gaming the system, teaching to bad tests and cheating.”

That passage, taken from a July 1 letter education historian Diane Ravitch wrote to the New York Times disputing columnist David Brooks’ characterization of her public policy views, can easily be superimposed onto the current national education portrait.

Ever since Congress and President George W. Bush reauthorized the Early and Secondary Education Act in 2002 to become No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools have been under the gun to up state-mandated student test scores or face financial and structural consequences. Results from those exams are notoriously inflated or teased with public relations precision, not out of the malfeasance of school administrators but as a function of what happens when students are taught to a series of exams that determine a great portion of the state’s education funding.

“The central premise of NCLB was that states would be free to set their own version of what would constitute proficiency,” says Kristen Amundson, a former Virginia state legislator and school board member who now heads communications at Education Sector. “In a serious effort to not create a federal system of education, that legislation allowed states carte blanche.”

The result, she says, is “an institutional bias in states and local districts to believe that things are better than they really are.”

This week, 44 of the just over 100 schools in the Atlanta school district were implicated in a cheating scandal that calls into question years of high gains on the state’s annual Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT). The investigation ordered by a former governor of Georgia was triggered in part due to a set of reports published by the Atlantic Journal Constitution. The American Independent has reported on comparisons between the state’s high scores on the CRCT to the much more dour results on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), putting the limelight on how federal education policy compels schools to cook their statistics to demonstrate adequate yearly gains.

Even without outright cheating, school systems are eager to fend off the punitive sting of state and federal stipulations for school progress with ethically dubious procedures. In New Orleans’ Recovery School District, administrators invited charter schools to cauterize the low-score bleeding of their districts; some improvements followed but critics allege serious collateral damage as mostly high-needs children are still being shipped around schools that are either underfunded or unwilling to tend to their needs.

The trouble, critics allege, began with decisions made in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina.

In November 2005, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 35 that put most of New Orleans’ schools in the hands of RSD, a school system introduced in 2003 by a separate piece of legislation that manages troubled institutions. Prior to the passage of Act 35, RSD operated five city schools. The new law increased the minimum performance threshold schools had to meet, deeming many in the city as failing.

As a result, between 107 and 115 schools were shuffled from the city’s original district — The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) — into either RSD or Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) control. As of March 2011, there were five school classifications totaling 88 schools within the city headed by three public authorities. Only 29 are not charters. This map illustrates the extent to which the city’s schools are balkanized (PDF).

Raynard Sanders, a former professor of education who monitors the RSD, told TAI the district was given large sums of money following Hurricane Katrina, but not enough of it went to students.

“When they opened up the direct-run schools, they hired Teach for America, cheaper teachers but with very little experience,” he begins. “They didn’t put in a lot of social workers … but in the first year’s budget (2006-2007), $2,100 was spent per child on security.”

Before Katrina, Orleans Parish spent $46 on security per child, according to Ralph Adamo, author of “NOLA’s Failed Education Experiment.” For the 2008-2009 school year, RSD was spending $690 per student. And it is difficult to underplay the role of race and class: 89 percent of students in RSD and Orleans Parish, which make up the bulk of the city’s student population, are (PDF) black, and 91 percent of RSD students receive free or reduced-price lunch, a leading indicator of low income.

A 2010 study assembled(PDF) by the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) examined the harsh disciplinary action RSD uses against its students. It found the rate of expulsion among RSD students in 2008 to be ten times the national average. Suspensions were also extremely high, with 29 percent of RSD students losing at least one instructional day — over four times the national average. The report quoted Thena Robinson, an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explaining that:

In most cases expulsions are a way to hide a school’s failure to address the educational needs of students. Our current education system is flawed by design as it focuses far too much on high stakes testing to measure academic success. As a result, schools are compelled to expel and push out “problem” students in an effort to meet state-wide performance standards.

The behavioral issues did not emerge from a vacuum:

In 2006, 42% of the students displaced by Hurricane Katrina had respiratory problems that might be linked to formaldehyde in FEMA trailers, and more than half had mental-health problems. In a 2009 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers found that 9.3% children in hurricane- affected areas have a “serious emotional disturbance … that is directly attributable” to the storm.