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Posts Tagged ‘College and Career Readiness’

DeVos-Trump Budget Reneges on Loan Forgiveness, Balancing the Budget on the Backs of Public Sector Employees

May 26, 2017 Leave a comment

An element of the DeVos-Trump budget that has not gotten nearly enough coverage is the Department of Education is planning to propose ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. As described in last week’s CNN Money blog post by Kate Lobasco, these cuts would impact 400,000 graduates who paid their debts on time for ten years and work in public sector jobs as “…teachers, public defenders, Peace Corps workers, and law enforcement officers”.  As Ms. Lobasco indicates:

This October marks the 10th year of the program and the first time anyone will have made enough payments to get their debt wiped away. It’s unclear how much the program will cost the government when its starts to forgive those debts…

The program could cost the government more than originally expected, according to the Government Accountability Office. The Obama Administration had proposed capping the amount borrowers could have forgiven at $57,500, but that proposal was never approved and forgiveness remains unlimited.

The median borrower in the program has more than $60,000 in student debt and almost 30% of them have more than $100,000 in debt, according to a Brookings report.

The article describes the complications the USDOE ran into when they implemented the law, complications that led to confusion on the part of borrowers and lenders and contributes to the inability of anyone to determine what the cost impact would be. When that is the case, the path of least resistance is to spend nothing at all… to effectively renege on the offer made to many students who chose to attend college or graduate school to work in lower paying public sector jobs… or “government jobs” as they would be disparagingly referred to by at least one political party.

And the latest news out of Washington indicates that the USDOE is not going to be offering clear answers on the issuance of loans anytime soon. As reported in a Washington Post article earlier this week, James Runcie, who was appointed chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid in 2011 and reappointed in 2015, resigned from that post on Wednesday. According to the article “He had planned to retire by the end of the year, according to people who know him, but clashes with the new Trump administration forced his hand.” Those clashes were described in the article as follows:

Runcie said in the letter that the student aid office is contending with pressing projects. Among them: weighing a student-loan-servicing contract bid, shoring up cybersecurity, building out the expansion of the Pell Grant program, tending to loan forgiveness for defrauded borrowers and getting the tax-data-retreival tool in the financial aid application back online. He said his team has asked DeVos to hire staff for additional help but has yet to receive a response.

Instead, Runcie said, the Trump administration has been preoccupied with transferring all or a portion of the functions of FSA to the Treasury Department. Runcie said there have been discussions about creating cross-agency teams, holding numerous meetings and retreats to determine feasibility.

“This is just another example of a project that may provide some value but will certainly divert critical resources and increase operational risk in an increasingly challenging environment,” Runcie said of the Treasury collaboration.

He went on to thank his team but said he has been “encumbered from exercising my authorities to properly lead” and could no longer “in good conscience continue to be accountable as the chief operating officer given the risk associated with the current environment at the department.”

The foot-dragging on hiring, which has been a hallmark of the Trump administration in those departments that are not favored by the GOP, has real world consequences for students, who have been experiencing serious difficulties completing loan applications for the coming year, including the paperwork needed to determine the amount of funding they are eligible to borrow. But when a political party bases its platform on the fact that “government is the problem” it is not surprising that they fail to hire the staff needed tomato government succeed.

NYTimes College Rankings Measure What’s Important: Opportunities for Upward Mobility

May 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Hats off to NYTimes columnist David Leonardt for his effort to devise an publicize the College Access Index, a college ranking metric released in yesterdays’ Times article titled “The Assault on Colleges— and the American Dream”. Unlike the USNews and World Report‘s index, which relies heavily on test scores and endowments, the College Access Index measures each colleges commitment to economic diversity. It bases this commitment on a metric that factors in the percentage of graduates who received Pell Grants, which are issued to students who can least afford college, and the colleges’ net price. As the title of Leonardt’s article intimates, our country appears to be headed in the wrong direction when it comes to providing opportunities for advancement. He opens his article with these chilling paragraphs:

The country’s most powerful engine of upward mobility is under assault.

Public colleges have an unmatched record of lofting their students into the middle class and beyond. For decades, they have enrolled teenagers and adults from modest backgrounds, people who are often the first member of their family to attend college, and changed their trajectories.

Over the last several years, however, most states have cut their spending on higher education, some drastically. Many public universities have responded by enrolling fewer poor and middle-class students — and replacing them with affluent students who can afford the tuition.

The situation is particularly demoralizing because it’s happening even as politicians from both parties spend more time trumpeting their supposedly deep concern for the American dream. Yet government policy is hurting, not fostering, many people’s chance to earn the most reliable ticket to a good job and a better life.

Leonardt doesn’t say so explicitly, but it is evident that the “government policy” he refers to is the extreme aversion either political party has to raising taxes. Some politicians will disingenuously claim that if they raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans those individuals will lower their donations to post-secondary institutions and that will have a deleterious effect on the endowments of colleges. But as Mr. Leonardt’s accompanying heart illustrates, the endowments to public colleges and universities, the post secondary schools whose presumed commitment is to lifting students out of poverty, are substantially lower than those of private colleges and universities. Moreover, affluent donors tend to come from and donate to their alma maters, which more often than not are already well endowed. Finally, those donations are often earmarked for a particular facility or college that the donor identifies… and it could just as easily be new tennis courts, a new student union building, or a spiffy new football stadium that hosts a half-dozen games a year.

And here the “stunning” consequence of not raising taxes to fund state colleges as described in Mr. Leonardt’s column? “It’s as if our society were deliberately trying to restrict opportunities and worsen income inequality.” He offers a series of charts to show the state-by-state cuts to colleges and universities and then offers these insights:

Since 2008, states’ per-student spending on higher education has fallen 18 percent nationwide, according to inflation-adjusted numbers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The cuts have occurred in both blue and red states, with somewhat larger ones in Republican-run states. States made deep cuts after the financial crisis and have since failed to restore funding, choosing instead to cut taxes or spend money on health care, prisons or other areas.

“States are making it much more difficult for their residents to get high-quality higher education,” Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute said. “They are causing their institutions to charge more, to take more out of state students, to cut quality. It’s very shortsighted.” That’s exactly the right word, because spending on education often more than pays for itself in the long run.

The budget cuts affect every realm of higher education, with some of the biggest damage happening at community colleges and less selective four-year institutions. These campuses enroll the great majority of lower-income college students. Yet flagship public campuses — like those in Ann Arbor, Mich., Boulder, Colo., and Gainesville, Fla. — are important to upward mobility too, given the success of their graduates.

In the last few years, many flagships have begun to recruit more upper-income students from outside their state, including from overseas. Those students don’t qualify for in-state tuition or for much financial aid — and thus help bolster the colleges’ budgets.

Mr. Leonardt notes that college administrators do not describe their motives as being driven by budgets, though. Instead they talk about the need for more geographic diversity or, as he intimates, the need to “game” their standings in the US News and World Report rankings by going after students with the highest test scores possible.

At the very end of his column Mr. Leonardt suggests that the only ultimate fix is to spend more on public colleges, which, of course, requires more taxes… and it is easier to point the finger at “waste, fraud, and abuse”. He concludes with these paragraphs:

This country should also be investing more of its resources in education.

A century ago, it did precisely that, making high school universal and making possible the so-called American century. Today’s economy demands many more college graduates than the country currently has. Producing them won’t be free. But it will be worth it.

The alternative — which is the path we’re now on — is just about the worst economic-development strategy imaginable.

Is School Only About Vocational Preparation?

May 13, 2017 Leave a comment

In an article in The 74, writer Jeff Murray rebuts a blog posted by Lakota Local School District English teacher Ian Avery on Ohio Governor Kasich’s ill conceived idea that teachers be required to spend time shadowing someone working in the private sector. At the root of Mr. Murray’s rebuttal is the notion that everything in high school prepared him for work:

Everything about my high school and college experiences helped me to become a successful employee. Math teachers gave me the skills to measure work areas and assist in computing price quotes. History professors helped me understand why a developer was converting this former manufacturing plant into apartments. Communications instruction helped me hone marketing pitches to boost business. And, yes, I used every ounce of wordcraft I had studied and obsessed over in Brit Lit and Sonnet Seminar to write newsletters, clarify job specs, and interact with customers. It wasn’t Fitzgerald, but it was clear and direct and helpful to business. They didn’t know they needed an English major until they got one.

After reading Ian Avery’s lament about the implicit requirement that school be about careers and not “…about art and beauty, words and meaning — an abstract pursuit in opposition to career tech or vocational education”, Mr. Murray contends this opposition

…appears to embody the disconnect between teachers and the working world that Kasich was trying to address. The externship proposal may not be wholly practical as pitched, but there’s nothing wrong with the motivating sentiment.

But here’s are some questions Mr. Murray needs to ask himself— or if possible— ask the teachers who taught the courses that he ultimately found so valuable:

  • Would they have benefitted from an externship?
  • Did they never work outside of the classroom?
  • Did they lack the skills needed to succeed in the private sector, or did they choose a career that is devoted to helping others?
  • Did they view teaching as “career preparation” or did they aspire to passing along the “..art, beauty, words and meaning” of their subject area?

As I wrote in an earlier post, teachers would be unlikely to benefit from an externship, especially since there are unlikely to be enough externships to go around given the reality of the patterns of employment in Ohio. Moreover, most teachers had to work outside of education at some point in their lives. Indeed many work part time or over the summer to make ends meet. And most teachers could succeed in the marketplace but instead chose teaching out of a desire to help children succeed. Finally, most teachers know that their students want to pursue some kind of career when they graduate from high school… but they also know that during their time in school they should learn how to learn and gain a love of learning so that they can become like-long self-actualized learners as adults. I think even Mr. Murray would agree. Midway though his essay he wrote:

A great school, to me, is one in which every adult involved — the PTA, the cafeteria staff, the guidance counselors, everyone — shows up early and works to their fullest to teach young people (and to show them by example) how to reach their highest potential.

Mr. Murray’s ideal “great school” doesn’t do anything to help a child learn a vocation.

Neither Cuomo’s “Free Tuition” Excelsior Program Nor “Choice” Address Inequity… and Both Reinforce the Status Quo

April 30, 2017 Leave a comment

I read two different articles this morning on NYS Governor Cuomo’s vaunted Excelsior program which offers “Free Tuition” to State colleges. Both articles acknowledged one flaw in the program: it does nothing to help children raised in poverty.

Lisa Foderaro’s NYTimes article focuses on the impact of the recently passed legislation on students who are weighing their decision on which college to attend in the coming year and the impact on public college admissions administrators who are waiting to see if their 2017 Freshman classes are larger. In the body of the article, Ms. Foderaro offers this synopsis of the Excelsior program with my emphasis added:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made Excelsior the centerpiece of his middle-class agenda, saying it will “make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students” who might otherwise not be able to afford to attend. The program’s passage was hailed by Hillary Clinton, among others, for opening up college opportunities, but critics have complained that it does little to ease the college burden for the state’s poorest students. (By 2019, the income cap for the scholarship will rise to $125,000.)

Some have argued that the tens of millions of dollars allotted for the program this year should be used instead to help low-income students pay for room and board, which is generally not covered by existing state and federal financial-aid programs. Others faulted the scholarship’s stringent eligibility requirements, including full-time enrollment and the need to stay in the state after graduation. Still others worried that the program would siphon students from New York’s private colleges, putting their financial viability in jeopardy.

The Christiansen Institute’s Newsletter article featured an by Alana Dunagan critiquing the Excelsior program, which focussed on the impediment the program imposes on those, like the Christiansen Institute, who seek to change the current paradigm for college. In the body of her essay, Ms. Dunagan offers this scathing analysis of the impact of Excelsior on students raised in poverty:

The Excelsior Scholarship has been criticized for not doing enough to help students. It only covers tuition—not fees or living expenses, which together are estimated at $15,180 at SUNY and $14,135 at CUNY. It only covers full-time enrollment—not part-time enrollment, which excludes over a third of current CUNY students. Taken together, these two factors mean that most working adults will likely be shut out of the program, even though the Excelsior Scholarship has no official age requirements. The policy is also regressive: it is a last-dollar program which will direct funds to middle- and upper-middle-class families, rather than helping poor and working-class students defray more of the full cost of attendance. As free college advocate Sara Goldrick-Rab said, regarding Cuomo’s new initiative, “No other free college program is less about making college affordable.”

As one who sees the need to provide access to post-secondary education those who need it most, it is evident that the Excelsior program is NOT the way forward. Like the “choice” plans offered by reformers and especially the reform plan offered by Betsy DeVos, Excelsior directs relatively scarce public funds to institutions that middle class parents are already voluntarily funding out of their pockets instead of directing those funds to children who’s parents do not have the wherewithal to fund the first dollar for post-secondary schools or “schools of choice”.

And as Ms. Dunagan emphasizes in her essay, the Excelsior program keeps a failing model for college on life-support, thereby crowding out opportunities for innovative approaches to schooling to emerge.

But what the Excelsior Scholarship program does do, and does well, is distract students, parents, and taxpayers from the broken business model of the state’s higher education system. “Free college” is in this case a shell game. Although it may reduce the cost of college for middle-class families, it by no means makes it free—and the costs of the program are likely to be shouldered by the same middle-class taxpayers who it benefits. But the underlying issue still remains: it’s not just tuition that is unaffordable, it is the cost—ever rising—of college itself. As we’ve written before, “free college” may score votes, but it doesn’t solve problems

Cuomo may have papered over the state’s higher education problems for the moment, but in doing so, he is likely to make them worse in the long run. The program will undoubtedly force some of the state’s private schools to close, but it is no boon for public schools either. Subsidizing more students attending a system that is bleeding money will have costs far higher than the Excelsior Scholarship’s $163 million price tag. Over the long term, higher education policy needs to move away from subsidy programs that let more students afford college. The key is redesigning college to be affordable.

I do not agree with all of the approaches the Christiansen Institution advocates (i.e. their overselling of on-line learning), but I do agree that we are wasting millions on post-secondary education that could be better spent on funding community service “gap years” and/or job training programs for careers that are vital but do not require a formal degree. Excelsior reinforces a bad model of post-secondary education in the same way that standardized testing reinforces the factory model of schooling that is imprinted in our minds…. and like the “choice” model it subverts the need for change.  

Frank Bruni Writes Another Heartwarming Story that Subtly Undercuts Public Education and Promotes Charters

April 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Today’s op ed column by NYTimes writer Frank Bruni profiles a successful partnership between University of Southern California and one public school and three charter schools they developed to help students raised in poverty succeed in college. The article profiles several first generation college students who have succeeded at USC despite their lack of support at home as a result of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative or NAI. The article opens with heartwarming descriptions of USC students who succeeded because they attended Forshay Learning Center, a public school that partnered with USC. But, as is inevitably the case in a Frank Bruni article, there is a slap at public education and an emphasis on how charters are the best way to help students succeed in the face of adversity. In the middle of the article, Mr. Bruni offers this “insight” from USC’s president:

“We’re not doing a good job in K-12 schools,” C. L. Max Nikias, the president of U.S.C., said to me recently. “The pipeline is not there. I feel that puts more responsibility on our shoulders to improve the raw material for us.”

And how does USC do that? Not by expanding partnerships with public education but by operating its own parallel system of charter schools that unapologetically siphon the best and brightest students from the public school system.

And what I find especially sad is that Mr. Bruni and USC college president believe they’ve “discovered” something amazingly new: a partnership between post-secondary schools and high schools! These kinds of partnerships have existed for decades between community colleges and public high schools long before NAI was on the map. And many elite colleges and universities have offered programs like NAI for decades. Dartmouth College, for example, has offered programs to help economically disadvantaged public high school students prepare for college since the mid 1960s!

I am glad Mr. Bruni and C.L. Max Nikias “discovered” the importance of identifying prospective college students early and providing them support throughout their middle and high school years. The shame is that they didn’t work hand-in-hand with public schools who are willing, able, and eager to help their best and brightest succeed in school.

David Brooks’ Profile of Jane Addams Offers Rationale for Opting Out of Tests

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Dvid Brooks’ column in today’s NYTimes is a paean to Jane Addams approach toward help raise people out of poverty. Having just read Diane Ravitch’s posts on the rationale for opting out of standardized tests and several articles from regional newspapers boasting of their local schools’ rankings in the US News and World Report annual report, I was moved to offer this comment:

In this time of year when state tests are being administered and US News and World Report is issuing its rankings of schools based on the results of those tests and other “hard data”, this is a timely column. Our obsession with the practical results of an education— college and career readiness— leaves little time for “classes in acting, weaving, carpentry” let alone the especially important courses Addams valued in “…art history, philosophy, and music.” Standardized tests cannot measure a child’s desire and aptitude to create beauty and or a child’s thirst for knowledge… and the emphasis on “practical” knowledge and the need to score high on tests leaves little time for students to fulfill their “…longing to serve some high ideal.”

Mr. Brooks note that Jane Addams “…believed in character before intellect, that spiritual support is as important as material support.” Given those convictions I believe that if Ms. Addams were alive today she would be encouraging poor children to opt out schools that focus on attaining high scores on tests, for such an emphasis clearly places the souls of children under siege.

Because of our obsession with tests, we do not surround children with “copies of Rembrandts” or encourage them to attend presentations of Greek tragedies and classical concerts. Instead we place them in front of screens with YouTube tutorials and on-line tests…. and then we wonder why they are disengaged from one another.

I ran out of characters or I would have added a comment on the last paragraph of Mr. Brooks’ column, which read:

Tough, Addams believed that we only make our way in the world through discipline and self-control. Tender, she created an institution that was a lived-out version of humanist philosophy.

In reading that last sentence, it dawned on me that I always believed that public schools should be “…a lived-out version of humanist philosophy”. It also dawned on me that the competitive environment and comparisons made between children batched in age cohorts undercuts this vision. We need to change the dominant paradigm of schools if we hope to change the results we are getting.

Union District in Oklahoma Exemplifies Network School Model

April 3, 2017 Leave a comment

David Kirp’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes, “Who Needs Charters When You Have Schools Like These?” describes the success experienced in the Union Public Schools district in the eastern part of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like most districts in Oklahoma, Union is woefully underfunded. But despite the shortage of money, it is doing an amazing job of educating its largely Latino and poverty stricken population. How? By accepting full responsibility for the well-being of the children who attend and by offering all the children in the school a challenging STEM curriculum…. But I believe the acceptance of responsibility for well being and the caring for each and every student that goes with it are the primary factor.

“Our motto is: ‘We are here for all the kids,’ ” Cathy Burden, who retired in 2013 after 19 years as superintendent, told me. That’s not just a feel-good slogan. “About a decade ago I called a special principals’ meeting — the schools were closed that day because of an ice storm — and ran down the list of student dropouts, name by name,” she said. “No one knew the story of any kid on that list. It was humiliating — we hadn’t done our job.” It was also a wake-up call. “Since then,” she adds, “we tell the students, ‘We’re going to be the parent who shows you how you can go to college.’ ”

Last summer, Kirt Hartzler, the current superintendent, tracked down 64 seniors who had been on track to graduate but dropped out. He persuaded almost all of them to complete their coursework. “Too many educators give up on kids,” he told me. “They think that if an 18-year-old doesn’t have a diploma, he’s got to figure things out for himself. I hate that mind-set.”

The school operates like an institution that is the parent who can show the way and a one-stop community service center:

The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.

This integration of social services is a universal key component to every high performing public school, as is are the extended hours for child care and/or extra-curricular activities. And while the services offered in the “neighborhood hub” model don’t add a dime to the school budget, they DO require the school to re-format itself, to adopt a new algorithm for success apart from preparing students for the next standardized testing cycle.

Mr. Kirp concludes his article with a paragraph consisting of two questions:

Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?

I trust he knows the answer… and I sense he shakes his head in dismay as he poses the questions.