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  • April 1, 2015 10:03 AM Strapped Schools Turn to Online Fundraising Sites for Support

    This weekend I was reminded again of how much digital tools have changed fundraising for schools. The ping came to me on social media, so bonus points for a double-dose of technology.

    A school leader I met nearly five years ago, Principal Salome Thomas-EL, sent me a note on Twitter. The charter school he leads has an award-winning chess team. They also happen to be in a low-income neighborhood, so the school raises the money to send them to competitions. These days, they use a website to gather donations.

    Not that long ago, fundraising for school trips required paper checks, envelopes stuffed with cash and an army of parent volunteers.

    These days, a website can reach a wider audience more efficiently. These online tools for fund-raising have streamlined the process for soliciting private donations to pay for materials and activities that are not supported by many public school budgets.

    One of the most prominent examples of this innovation is DonorsChoose.org. Earlier this month, the founder of that website, Charles Best, spoke at SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. He mentioned another benefit: It allows companies to find a market for new products without enduring the byzantine process of securing a full-fledged contract to sell to the school. If you want to learn more about which projects earned funding through DonorsChoose.org, you’re in luck. They release data to the public, which allows people to track trends.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • March 31, 2015 03:05 PM New Data on Heightened Cash Monitoring and Accountability Policies

    Earlier this week, I wrote about the U.S. Department of Education’s pending release of a list of colleges that are currently subject to heightened cash monitoring requirements. On Tuesday morning, ED released the list of 556 colleges, thanks to dogged reporting by Michael Stratford at Inside Higher Ed (see his take on the release here).

    My interest lies in comparing the colleges facing heightened cash monitoring (HCM) to two other key accountability measures: the percentage of students who default on loans within three years (cohort default rates) and an additional measure of private colleges’ financial strength (financial responsibility scores). I have compiled a dataset with all of the domestic colleges known to be facing HCM, their cohort default rates, and their financial responsibility scores.

    That dataset is available for download on my site, and I hope it is useful for those interested in examining these new data on federal accountability policies. I will have a follow-up post with a detailed analysis, but at this point it is more important for me to get the data out in a convenient form to researchers, policymakers, and the public.

    DOWNLOAD the dataset here.

    [Cross-posted at Kelchen on Education]

  • March 31, 2015 10:36 AM Colleges, How in Good Conscience Can You Do This to Kids?

    The Science Leadership Academy is a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia. Photo: Nichole Dobo

    This year has been a fantastic year for Science Leadership Academy college acceptances. We’ve seen our kids get into some of the most well respected schools in record numbers - and many of our kids are the first SLA-ers to ever get accepted into these schools.

    Whether or not they are able to go to is another question.

    Today, I was sitting with one of our SLA seniors. She’s gotten into a wonderful college - her top choice. The school costs $54,000 a year. Her mother makes less than the federal deep poverty level. She only received the federal financial aid package with no aid from the school, which means that, should she go to this school, she would graduate with approximately $200,000 of debt.

    She would graduate with approximately $200,000 of debt - for a bachelor’s degree.

    Related: How much should you pay for a degree?

    Now, how in good conscience could a college do that? I’ve sat with kids as they’ve opened the emails from their top choice schools. Watching the excitement of getting into a dream school is one of the real joys of being a principal. It’s just the best feeling to see a student have that moment where a goal is reached.

    And as amazing as that moment is … that’s how horrible it is to sit with a student when they get the financial aid package and counsel them that the school just isn’t worth that much debt.

    I sat with my student today and pulled up a student loan calculator. I showed her that $200,000 of debt would mean payments of $1500 a month until she was 52 years old - and then we pulled up a budgeting tool so she saw how much she would have to make just to be able to barely get by.

    Then we looked at the state schools she’s gotten into, and we talked about what it would mean to be $60,000 in debt after four years, because Pennsylvania has had so much cut from higher education that Penn State is now $27,000 / year — in state, and we’ve noticed that their financial aid packages have dropped by quite a bit.

    Related: A promising way to help low-income students through college

    So we have to tell the kids to apply to the private schools because the aid packages the kids get from private colleges are sometimes significantly better than what the public schools are offering. Kids have to apply to a wide range of schools and hope. And then we sit down with kids and help them make sane choices, as the $60K a year schools send amazing brochures and promises of semesters abroad and pictures of brand new multi-million dollar campuses, all while promising that there are plenty of ways to finance their tuition.

    Dear colleges - you are doing this wrong.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. When I was a teacher in New York City even as recently as ten years ago, I felt that kids could go to amazing and affordable CUNY and SUNY schools if the private schools didn’t give the aid the kids needed. But Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of 50 in higher ed spending by state, and as a result, seven of the top 14 state colleges are in Pennsylvania.

    And as private colleges hit times of financial crisis and public colleges become more tuition dependent, students are being asked to take out more and more loans, which is putting a generation of working class and middle class students tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of dollars in debt to start their adult lives.

    And the thing is — I still powerfully agree with those who say that a college education is a worthwhile investment. And on the aggregate, it is true - especially because the union manufacturing jobs of the last century have been lost. But when we look at the individual child, and the choices that kids and families are being asked to make, we have to ask how we can ask kids to take that kind of risk and take on that kind of debt.

    And of course, all of this is exacerbated for kids from economically challenged families and for kids who are the first in their families to go to college. And if you are thinking about leaving a comment about kids getting jobs in college to help make it affordable, you show me the job market for college kids to make $30,000 a year while in school full-time. I must have missed those listings in the morning paper.

    A college education can — and should — be a pathway to the middle class.

    Colleges should have a moral responsibility to offer sane packages that don’t saddle students with unimaginable debt to start their adult lives.

    Work hard, go to college, live a meaningful life. That is what we hear promised to children all the time from President Obama to parents across America.

    Colleges and universities have to be honest and fair agents in that dream. Asking students to take out $30,000 and $40,000 of debt a year for access to that dream is a betrayal of the educational values so many of us hold dear.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • March 31, 2015 09:50 AM Does the Anti-Common Core Movement Have a Race Problem?

    While protests against the Common Core have sprung up in communities as diverse as New York City, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana and Portland, Oregon, a new poll suggests that the protestors themselves may be less diverse: White parents tend to dislike the standards, while the majority of black and Hispanic parents approve of Common Core.

    K. Butler, right of Benton, Miss., and Lynn Wagner of Hickory, second from right, speak to school children from Meridian as they are guided past their Opponents of Common Core table in the rotunda of the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The group is one of several statewide that are against a national standards Initiative that sets Math and English curriculum in every participating state at the same level. Various opposing groups lobby visiting school children, visitors and lawmakers into opposing the standards in Mississippi. Opponents have provided coffee, morning pastries and water several times during the session in an effort to promote a Senate bill that would repeal Common Core in Mississippi. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

    The NBC News State of Parenting Poll, which was sponsored by Pearson, a publisher of Common Core textbooks and tests, found that 50 percent of parents surveyed approved of the Common Core and 38 percent opposed the standards, which are grade level expectations in math and English in place in more than 40 states. But the plurality of white parents - 49 percent - opposed the standards, while 73 percent of Hispanic parents and 56 percent of black parents favored the Common Core.

    Rick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, thinks some of this can be explained by partisan politics.

    The Obama administration used some federal education funding to incentivize states to adopt college and career ready standards and tests. Since then many on the right have assailed the standards as an example of Obama administration overreach into areas usually left up to the states.

    “It has become highly politicized. It’s anathema on the right and we know that Tea Party conservatives are disproportionally white and we know that the Democratic coalition is heavily black and Hispanic,” said Hess. “So if responders are answering with an eye to their political radar and whom they tend to trust that might lead to big gaps like these.”

    Related: Common Core tests will widen achievement gap — at first

    The poll did indeed find big differences among Republicans and Democrats. While 61 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents supported the standards, only 26 percent of Republicans did.

    Hess says this interpretation, however, doesn’t fully explain the big racial differences.

    “If it was purely partisan, you would expect blacks to be more supportive than Latinos,” added Hess. ”And a lot of these white families are liberals that feel Common Core is too focused on reading and math and is pushing things like art and music out.”

    The high level of support among Hispanics doesn’t surprise Leticia de la Vara, senior strategist for civic engagement at the National Council of La Raza, a national Hispanic civil rights organization that supports Common Core.

    “Whether you are a recent immigrant or a sixth-generation American, education is important,” said de la Vara. “Very few things are monolithic about our community but education is one of them.”

    Like many people interviewed for this story, de la Vera used the phrase “leveling the playing field,” to describe what black and Hispanic parents hoped for from the standards.

    “These standards are leveling the playing field so that our kids are not relegated to lesser instruction because of the zip code that they are born into,” said de la Vara. “This is a way to make sure that schools aren’t pre-determining the abilities of our children.”

    Andre Perry, dean of urban education at Davenport University and a columnist for The Hechinger Report, isn’t surprised by the poll either.

    “In poll after poll, we have seen that blacks and Latinos have always desired a higher education more than whites,” said Perry, who is black. “But they haven’t received the quality of education that would give them the access to higher education. So when things like the Common Core are proposed there is hope.”

    Related: Column How Common Core serves white folks a sliver of the black experience

    “Folks in the community might not know all the politics or the money attached to these things but they just want a better option and a better chance,” added Perry. “As long as black and brown people are receiving a substandard education, they are going to want the next, better thing.”

    Perry thinks that part of the difference in support between Hispanic and black parents can be explained by the fact that black parents may be more likely to be employed by the education system, and thus have more to lose.

    “Many African Americans are in positions in school districts so they have a different perspective,” said Perry. “While certainly that power is diminishing in terms of the number of teachers and school board members, I think the results of this poll reflect the difference between the level of engagement on an institutional level between black and brown people.”

    Perry thinks that the even lower support among white parents is because they have yet more at stake with the new Common Core-aligned tests.

    “When you see the animus among whites, it’s because a lot is at stake,” said Perry. “The one thing at stake for us is a quality education. But in some communities for the first time, jobs are at stake. Credibility is at stake. Someone is telling them what to do and they have never had that experience.”

    Related: How one Ohio mother is trying to take down the Common Core

    Dao Tran, the mother of a second grader at Castle Bridge School in Upper Manhattan, has mixed feelings about the standards themselves. While she thinks her daughter’s math has improved with the Common Core, she is concerned about the emphasis on non-fiction, especially in the earlier grades.

    Tran, who is Vietnamese-American, says that the opposition she sees is largely about the stakes attached to the tests aligned with the standards.

    “I get why low-income families and parents of children of color would support the Common Core. It holds a promise of fairness at a time when our schools are so unequal,” said Tran. “But the problem is the tests. If all the Common Core entailed was some excellent guidelines for what kids need to know and it wasn’t tied to the high stakes of whether your school would get shutdown or teachers would lose their jobs, it wouldn’t be this controversial.”

    Despite the fact that overall the poll found more parents supported the standards than opposed them, Hess says that supporters of the standards should take no solace in this poll.

    “The implication here is that most white Americans are skeptical and blacks are only marginally supportive,” said Hess. “If an election turned on this issue, in many states, that would be a problem for the Common Core supporters.”

    But he cautioned reading too much into any Common Core poll.

    “All of these polls need to be taken with several grains of salt,” cautioned Hess. “The question of Common Core is like abortion, you can change the framing of the questions and you will get very different answers.”

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • March 31, 2015 09:45 AM Principals of Public Schools Shouldn’t Decide Who Gets in Them

    It’s “March Madness,” and we still don’t compete for black children.

    A recent report out of the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans found that principals, compelled to compete in the highly decentralized environment of New Orleans, reacted to market pressures by curating their student bodies. In hopes of academic improvement, these principals recruited per pupil expenditures attached to students and/or “creamed” for children who maximized chances to meet numerical performance goals.

    “Creaming” generally describes the practice of enrolling higher achieving children or denying the lowest performing students or students with cited behavioral problems. Loading the deck can happen within any district or population. Academic growth can be had from things other than responding to the academic needs of students.

    Related: Young, inexperienced principal tries to turn New Orleans charter school around

    But let’s get real. The report isn’t a ‘told you so’ moment for antireform advocates. New Orleans may be the one admitting it, but the practice goes on nationwide.

    Creaming (or pushing out) black children in New Orleans didn’t start with the advent of the charter school movement. Likewise, reformers shouldn’t use the report to push yet another panacea - a centralized enrollment program is a presumed fix. Alas, political combatants strive to be right rather than compete for black, brown and poor children.

    While I appreciate the report’s analysis on how competition plays itself out in a choice district, there isn’t enough discussion on devalued black lives. Market pressures should primarily come from black families, but what pressure can come from consumers who valued by how much it will cost the school to educate them?

    Related: Is the future of education teacher robots bumping into walls?

    The report’s author, Huriya Jabbar, assistant professor at The University of Texas at Austin, examines principal behavior in the caldron of competition. The findings reveal some not so noble realities of education.

    I always cringe when I see and hear leaders define students as commodities. But when Jabbar asked “if their school competed with other schools for students,” leaders replied with “Yes, Lord!” and “Every kid is money.”

    A child should never be objectified. Let’s hope New Orleans leaders see children’s worth beyond the $13,000 we spend on each child.

    Money follows the child in Louisiana as in many states. But, the drive to get butts in seats can’t come at the expense of quality. Well, it shouldn’t. But the most disturbing findings came from principals who admitted to tailoring their student bodies to achieve success.

    Related: Why New Orleans school officials closed a struggling charter school while keeping a failing one open

    One principal stated, “We’ve done invite-only open houses, where we target specific types of parents, and we say, ‘Hey, we really love you as a parent and we want you to bring another parent who’s like you.’ ….So I got a couple of parents that way.”

    I guess it is possible to turn around a school in a year by turning it over.

    In reaction, The Times-Picayune editorial board says, the “[p]rincipals’ confessions to manipulating enrollment prove importance of OneApp.” OneApp is the computerized enrollment system that takes the selection of students out the hands of people.

    While I do believe in the these systems, particularly in the New Orleans context, I also know that if a leader or teacher doesn’t want a child or his or her family, then it’s unlikely that child will persist. There’s nothing worse than a school that doesn’t want you.

    An aside - We often talk about enrollment, but who leaves (gets pushed out) and why is also important. Irresponsible suspensions and expulsions can often be sniffed out. Hostile and nefarious environments that cause early departures often go undetected because they’re cloaked in things like school culture.

    Related: A taste of victory, finally, for a struggling Newark school

    There are just too many negative ways to reach an honorable goal.

    But traditionalists can’t look to this report as Exhibit A. Again, creaming, push-out and treating students as dollars occurred in the prior system without a report, OneApp system (I would actually like to see more enrollment management systems in traditional districts) or an alternative. Magnet and test-in schools of the past and present just made creaming legal.

    The report essentially shows the New Orleans charter district as being more responsive to families than the previous centralized system. But the nature of the responses is in question. Competition isn’t always healthy. Many individual schools and charter management organizations within the “portfolio district” are gaming the system and cheating families.

    Gaming is a consequence of not understanding we’re all in this together. Educating “my kind of people” in New Orleans is as traditional as parochial school. Passing the buck, which some think of as a student, certainly won’t get us to that deeper understanding. It didn’t in the past, and it doesn’t now.

    Leaders cheat themselves when they don’t demonstrate they can educate all children.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • March 30, 2015 02:52 PM I Would Send My Daughter To The University of Everywhere

    Teacher, education writer, and fellow SUNY alum Robert Pondiscio has written a generous critique of my book, The End of College. Of my arguments that modern colleges and universities are “operating on a deeply flawed and increasingly unsupportable model,” he grants that “I’m sure this is true, and worse.”

    Yet now that his daughter has reached college age, he is “following a well-worn path trod by countless other parents and high school juniors touring prospective colleges up and down the East Coast.” Why? Because he wants her to experience “the relationship with an institution; the enduring friendships and alumni connections; the intellectual, cultural and social serendipity, even the messy bits, that are part of college life”–all things that he missed out on as a successful non-traditional student. He is skeptical that “any other than truly marginal colleges will be replaced by Udacity, massive open online courses and open badges.” First-generation college goers from low-income families, he notes, “seem to do best at colleges that work closely with them and cohorts of similar students to keep them attached and persisting.”

    I actually agree with all of this. So much so that I wrote it about in my book.

    Most of The End of College takes place in the past and present, telling the story of how American colleges became what they are and how advances in information technology are creating the possibility for them to become something new. In the last two chapters, I try to give some sense of what that something new might be. I do believe there’s great potential for learning online, particularly as the nature of human-computer interaction improves to the point where “online” will mean something very different than it does today. As Pondiscio himself notes, most students today are non-traditional, which is why many already learn this way. However, the book also says:

    The future of higher education is not one in which everyone sits by herself in her pajamas, pallid and goggle-eyed, being taught by a machine. Indeed, many people–particularly those we now think of as “college-age”–will live and learn together under the auspices of organizations specifically and solely dedicated to their learning

    …the University of Everywhere will include tens of thousands of new higher-education organizations–they won’t be colleges in the traditional definitions of the term–that are physically located in places but have few attributes in common with the traditional hybrid university.

    Everyone lives somewhere, and most people live near many other people. Certain kinds of master/student and peer relationships form most naturally and strongly in physical proximity. Most parents will still want to kick their children out of the house when they’re grown, and most children will gladly go. So there will always be organizations dedicated to higher learning where people live and learn together. But those organizations will not look much like colleges and universities as we know them today.

    …When all the books in the world and a wide array of digital learning environments can be accessed at very low cost from anywhere, people will be free to organize higher-education institutions in ways that much more sense in terms of cost, size, and the focus of human activity. Great colleges won’t have to be scarce and expensive anymore. They will be everywhere.

    Imagine a small group of buildings or spaces run by people with a particular educational philosophy and open to anyone who’s interested in learning. The educators there are focused on mentoring students and helping them form relationships with one another. There are places for people to work person-to-person, or to engage electronically with peers in other cities, states, and countries. Some of the students live nearby and spend hours there every day, learning full-time. Other come in from their families and homes.

    …a typical student might be taking one course along with a half million other people around the world and another with three peers and a mentor in the local community. Because it doesn’t cost very much money to start such a place, there are dozens of similar organizations nearby. Some may specialize in a particular subject area, offering a few extended educational programs. Others may be organized around different ideas, faiths, occupations, and philosophies of learning.

    … Private businesses might create these new learning organizations, or governments, or philanthropists. Andrew Carnegie had the right idea a century ago when he built thousands of local libraries around the world. The Carnegie libraries made sense given the state of the art in educational information technology back then: the printed book. Local communities were obligated to invest in the buildings in the form of land and ongoing operating support from public sources. They were also required to make them free for anyone to use.

    The world needs the twenty-first century equivalent of Carnegie libraries–beautiful, peaceful places where knowledge lives and grows and spreads. Places supported and beloved by local communities, open to everyone, that offer people all of the educational opportunities technology will make possible.”

    There’s a reason that Pondiscio and I use similar language about relationships with institutions: they’re tremendously important. I don’t believe in a DIY approach to education. And the idea of small, new, low-cost, highly-effective learning institutions isn’t fantastical. I cite one in the book, the University of Minnesota-Rochester, the subject of a longer profile you can read here. The radical innovation of UM-R’s pedagogy and organizational cost structure is hidden by its place within a traditional university system, but it is no less real. If UM-R was possible with late 2000’s technology, imagine what the late 2020’s will bring. Parents won’t have to simply accept everything that’s bad about traditional colleges, and worse. They won’t have to pay through the nose for an unsustainable cost structure in order give their kids friendships and connections.

    Anyone should be alarmed by the prospect of relegating under-prepared and disadvantaged students to a thin gruel of low-cost MOOCs. That’s why my book presents a very different vision of the future.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • March 30, 2015 02:51 PM Early Assessment of Common Core Standards Shows Small Gains

    In a very early assessment of how Common Core standards may be influencing how much students learn, a new Brookings report finds small math and reading test score gains for students who live in states that embraced the new standards early.

    The researcher, Tom Loveless, looked at how fourth-grade reading scores changed between 2009 and 2013 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a trusted national test taken by students across the United States every two years. He found that test scores of students in states that were strong, early adopters of Common Core standards rose between 1 and 1.5 points more than those of students who lived in states that didn’t adopt the standards.  This echoes his finding from last year, when he found that eighth-grade NAEP math scores also increased by a similar 1- to 1.5-point amount in states that were enthusiastic, early adopters of Common Core.

    “For any trend, we want to see it over a long time,” said Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy within the  Brookings Institution. “This is a early stage report. Right now the effects look small.”

    “It could be that states need more time, but innovations can also produce their biggest pop earlier in implementation rather than later,” Loveless added. “It’s possible that we’ve seen the biggest effects … a one and a half point NAEP gain might be as good as it gets.”

    It might be premature to start calculating how well the new Common Core educational standards, currently in place in roughly 40 states, are working out. After all, most states didn’t adopt the new standards until 2011. Most students won’t be tested in the new standards for the first time until this Spring 2015.  Some states don’t plan to fully implement the new standards in the classroom until 2016.

    “All the defenders [of Common Core] say I shouldn’t be doing this, it’s too early,” said Loveless. “I don’t think it’s too early. Kentucky is five years into this. Most of the other states are four years in.”

    The data analysis is located within Part II of an annual Brown center report on American education, titled, “Measuring Effects of Common Core.” Loveless began with a 2011 U.S. Department of Education survey that asked states how much they were spending on teacher training, new curriculum, installing computer systems and doing other things necessary to implement Common Core. Loveless categorized 19 states as strong adopters, and found that their students had higher test score gains than the four states that didn’t adopt Common Core standards. In those four states — Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia — test scores declined during the 2009-13 period, on average. Loveless also looked at a 2013 survey, asking states when they planned to implement Common Core standards in their classrooms. Twelve states said they planned full implementation by the 2012-13 school year and, again, their students’  test scores rose more than in the four states that didn’t adopt Common Core standards.

    But not all Common Core states saw higher scores. One of the strongest and earliest Common Core adopters, Kentucky, actually saw its fourth grade reading scores decline during both the 2009-2011 and the 2011-2013 periods.  So the positive results for the Common Core states are driven by other states, led by Georgia and Minnesota.

    Loveless said he wanted to conduct this early analysis in light of the controversies that followed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reforms of the George W. Bush administration. Some argued that NAEP scores rose after those reforms, which became law in 2002 and required the annual testing of students. Others calculated that NAEP scores were disappointing. In this report, Loveless explains that both sides were right. It depends on when you decide to begin measuring. Those who selected an earlier start date of 2000 for measuring NCLB results saw greater student gains than those who selected 2003 as a start date. That’s because some of the largest gains in NAEP history happened between 2000 and 2003. And reasonable people can make good arguments either for starting in 2000, when some states were already getting a jumpstart on the new reforms, or for waiting until 2003, when they were fully implemented.

    Inevitably, a similar controversy will surround when to start measuring student gains related to the Common Core — in 2011, when states began adopting it, or in 2016 after full implementation. Loveless says data watchers should keep a sharp eye on the next NAEP scores, in 2015. If they go up, Common Core supporters will want to use an early start date.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • March 30, 2015 02:42 PM Why is it So Difficult to Sanction Colleges for Poor Performance?

    The U.S. Department of Education has the ability to sanction colleges for poor performance in several ways. A few weeks ago, I wrote about ED’s most recent release of financial responsibility scores, which require colleges deemed financially unstable to post a bond with the federal government before receiving financial aid dollars. ED can also strip a college’s federal financial aid eligibility if too high of a percentage of students default on their federal loans, if data are not provided on key measures such as graduation rates, or if laws such as Title IX (prohibiting discrimination based on sex) are not followed.

    The Department of Education can also sanction colleges by placing them on Heightened Cash Monitoring (HCM), requiring additional documentation and a hold on funds before student financial aid dollars are released. Corinthian Colleges, which partially collapsed last summer, blames suddenly imposed HCM requirements for its collapse as they were left short on cash. Notably, ED has the authority to determine which colleges should face HCM without relying upon a fixed and transparent formula.

    In spite of the power of the HCM designation, ED has previously refused to release a list of which colleges are subject to HCM. The outstanding Michael Stratford at Inside Higher Ed tried to get the list for nearly a year through a Freedom of Information Act request (which was mainly denied due to concerns about hurting colleges’ market positions), finally making this dispute public in an article last week. This sunlight proved to be a powerful disinfectant, as ED relinquished late Friday and will publish a list of the names this week.

    The concerns about releasing HCM scores is but one of many difficulties the Department of Education has had in sanctioning colleges for poor performance across different dimensions. Last fall, the cohort default rate measures were tweaked at the last minute, which had the effect of allowing more colleges to pass and retain access to federal aid. Financial responsibility scores have been challenged over concerns that ED’s calculations are incorrect. Gainful employment metrics are still tied up in court, and tying any federal aid dollars to college ratings appears to have no chance of passing Congress at this point. Notably, these sanctions are rarely due to direct concerns about academics, as academic matters are left to accreditors.

    Why is it so difficult to sanction poorly-performing colleges, and why is the Department of Education so hesitant to release performance data? I suggest three reasons below, and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

    (1) The first reason is the classic political science axiom of concentrated benefits (to colleges) and diffuse costs (to students and the general public). Since there is a college in every Congressional district (Andrew Kelly at AEI shows the median district had 11 colleges in 2011-12), colleges and their professional associations can put forth a fight whenever they feel threatened.

    (2) Some of these accountability measures are either all-or-nothing in nature (such as default rates) or incredibly costly for financially struggling colleges (HCM or posting a letter of credit for a low financial responsibility score). More nuanced systems with a sliding scale might make some sanctions possible, and this is a possible reform under Higher Education Act reauthorization.

    (3) The complex relationship between accrediting bodies and the Department of Education leaves ED unable to directly sanction colleges for poor academic performance. A 2014 GAO report suggested accrediting bodies also focus more on finances than academics and called for a greater federal role in accreditation, something that will not sit well with colleges.

    I look forward to seeing the list of colleges facing Heightened Cash Monitoring be released later this week (please, not Friday afternoon!) and will share my thoughts on the list in a future piece.

    [Cross-posted at Kelchen on Education]

  • March 30, 2015 02:40 PM How to Measure English Learners’ Development More Accurately

    The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously posited that it is impossible to step into the same river twice. That is, by the time you go back for the second dip, the water you touched the first time is long downstream. This makes it challenging to get clear understanding of the river: is it full of fish? What’s its temperature? Etc. Each splash into the water is simply one slice of time. To get more complete knowledge, you’d need to measure it over a longer period of time.

    This is as good an analogy as any for illustrating the challenges of responsibly assessing language learners. Each assessment is a limited time slice, and since these students’ abilities will show up differently on assessments—whether they are measuring English language proficiency or content knowledge—as their English language skills develop. This is why we usually measure these students’ linguistic and academic growth, rather than focusing only on their proficiency. We want to monitor how they’re performing over time, even when they fall short of mastery. But there are other problems with how we use assessments to define these students’ success.

    Like any good diagnosis of a problem, we need to start by outlining the status quo. In our current system, we check the English language abilities of all students and then classify those with “limited English proficiency” as “English Learners” (though different states use different terms for this classification). Students who fall into this group must, pursuant to No Child Left Behind, receive research-based language support services. These continue until their English skills develop to a point when they’re able to access instructional content in English, participate in mainstream academic classes (taught in English), and demonstrate their academic knowledge on the state’s math and literacy assessments. When students reach that point, they are reclassified as “former English Learners” and cease to be language learners as far as the state is concerned. At that point, No Child Left Behind requires that states monitor the academic performance of former ELs for two years after they are reclassified. Here’s a diagram of the process from my 2014 paper, Chaos for Dual Language Learners:

    DLL Processes 880x609 How to Measure English Learners Development More Accurately

    There’s a basic level of systemic coherence to the approach: screen students to assess their linguistic strengths and needs, offer supports, measure their academic progress, check their English development, and end language services when they are no longer necessary.

    But it has a data problem related to the river analogy I used above. We often hear about achievement gaps between students classified as English Learners (ELs) and students who are not classified. But there’s a problem with that framing. As Working Group for ELL Policy researchers Megan Hopkins, Karen D. Thompson, Robert Linquanti, Kenji Hakuta, and Diane August put it in an article several years ago, current policies create “a ‘revolving door’ effect, as more [English] proficient students exit and less [English] proficient students enter the EL subgroup.” That is,

    Under current policy, the more successful schools are in reclassifying their ELs, the more poorly their EL subgroup performance looks…This poses a problem for accountability because it provides faulty information about the performance of the EL subgroup on long-term outcomes.

    In other words, once an EL student develops his or her English language skills to a point where he or she begins to perform well on math and literacy assessments, he or she leaves the EL group. As a result, the EL group isn’t a static pool of students. Each time educators dip into that “river” with an assessment, they’re surveying a meaningfully different group of students.

    Not only does this contribute to an unfair and inaccurate narrative about language learners—that, as a group, they are supposedly a drag on schools’ academic performance—but it makes accountability systems problematic. As Hopkins and her co-authors put it, “as former ELs are systematically removed from the subgroup, it becomes impossible to determine which schools and practices are successful for these students.”

    And without information about how various instructional practices support English acquisition, it’s hard to set appropriately rigorous expectations for students, teachers, schools, or districts or to build comprehensive policy systems that support ELs. As I chronicled in Chaos for Dual Language Learners, states define ELs in a wide variety of ways—but most of federal law treats these students as a constant, commonly-defined subgroup. But if one state uses a low English proficiency bar and reclassifies many ELs after just a year or two of language services, it’s hard to compare their approach (let alone their results) with a state that uses a different approach and generally takes longer to reclassify ELs.

    Those differences in policies mean that each state’s EL subgroup can vary in important ways from other states’ EL populations. It’s impossible to set the right reclassification policies without considering states’ approaches to ELs’ language supports, assessment, and more. To do that, we’d need better data on how ELs—and former ELs—develop and perform over a much longer time frame.

    Fortunately, there’s a straightforward fix to this problem. Congress could simply require that districts monitor former ELs beyond the current two years—all the way until graduation. Hopkins and her co-authors suggest doing this by creating a “Total English Learners” (TELs) subgroup. This new grouping would make it possible for states to disaggregate the achievement data of all current and former ELs, which would make it possible to see how different states’ approaches to educating ELs work across a longer time horizon.

    In addition, this change would dramatically change how the education system views—and treats—language learning students. When I discussed the TEL proposal with a colleague who works with DLLs on a daily basis, she was excited enough to reanalyze her students’ math achievement data in that way. The results were amazing: she found that the TEL group started slightly behind native English speakers at the beginning of this year, but outgrew—and outperformed—the native English speakers by the mid-year interim assessment. She agreed that this provided a more accurate reflection of these students’ knowledge than the current system.

    So: whenever it gets serious about rewriting No Child Left Behind, Congress really should consider making this (relatively easy) fix. Let’s hope that day comes soon (though I wouldn’t hold my breath).

    (For more reform ideas from the Working Group on ELL Policy, click here.)


    Note: This post is part of New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group. Click here for more information on this team’s work.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • March 27, 2015 02:00 PM Did Jeb Bush’s Education Reforms Work in Florida?

    One of the positive points of a potential Jeb Bush presidential candidacy is that he has some claim to success as governor of Florida, particularly with regard to education.

    Some of his education reforms (support for school privatization and more accountability) are unpopular among liberals. Some (particularly Common Core) are unpopular with conservatives. But at least he can claim to be actually moderate.

    What’s more, according to this article at Newsweek his reforms don’t seem so bad:

    While Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, the state “made dramatic improvements in the academic outcomes of all its students,” a report from The Heritage Foundation concluded in 2010.
    It said Florida also made “significant progress” in narrowing the nationwide achievement gap in grades K-12 between white students and minorities, particularly blacks and Hispanics.

    Being able to boost an achievement record like this is objectively impressive. Jeb Bush is right to highlight his success.

    And the state’s students went on to make the strongest gains in the nation on a test known as NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, since 2003, the first year that all 50 states used the exam.

    JebWhatever

    But one of the problems here, as far as education for the nation as a whole goes, is that we don’t really know why the governor was so successful.

    The Heritage report cited above “credited parental choice, higher standards, and both accountability and flexibility” as the reasons for the higher achievement, but that’s not really clear. Florida, for instance, also got a lot richer during the same period. Nor is it clear which of those reform strategies (the total package was called the A + Plan) mattered most.

    Critics argue he presents the whole package as part of a necessary reform strategies for all states because there just isn’t evidence of success for any particular strategy. His plan is pitched through his nonprofit, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is curiously connected to various companies that make a lot of money through education reform.

    But the evidence isn’t bad. There’s nothing to indicate that anything got worse while he was governor. There’s reason to question how much his reforms mattered and what might be most effective for the country, but the state posted gains beyond those of other states. And that’s a valid standard to use when evaluating a candidate.

    Let’s keep this in mind as he proceeds along the path to the nomination. He’s going to have critics poking holes in his education record, as is entirely appropriate. But he was governor of Florida some 8 years ago. If any of the success he touts was a lie we would probably know about it by now.

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