• December 22, 2014 10:48 AM Summer School Seems to Work Better for Math than for Reading

    Back in 2007 a team of Johns Hopkins researchers found that low-income children tended to improve in reading just as much as their wealthier peers did during the school year. The problem, at least for a group of Baltimore children these researchers studied for 18 years, was summertime. During those three idle months, the poorer children’s reading skills slipped a lot. The researchers found that two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap could be explained by summer learning loss during the elementary school years. Educators have been aware of the summer slide phenomenon since the academic school year was created. But this seminal study documented exactly how it disproportionately affects disadvantaged students.

    Now, what to do about it? One obvious idea is to send at-risk children to summer school. But does it work?

    Related: Will ‘creative’ and ‘hands on’ summer school foster a love of learning?

    This article also appeared here.

    This article also appeared here.

    The Wallace Foundation is trying to learn just that, with help from researchers at the RAND Corporation. Beginning in 2013, the foundation started financing a summer program that includes both academic classes, all taught by certified teachers, and fun activities, such as sailing or rock climbing, in five cities —  Boston, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Rochester, NY, and Jacksonville, FL. Low-income families with third grade children were invited to apply and attend free of charge. But the programs had spots for only about 3,200 of the 5,600 applicants.  That excess demand created an unusual opportunity to conduct a randomized controlled experiment — or at least as close to one as you can get in education.  The researchers could compare the outcomes of the summer program students to those who also applied, but weren’t selected.

    Results after the first summer were mixed, according to a preliminary report, released in December, 2014. 

    The summer-program students scored much higher on a 2013 fall math test than the control group did. Those higher math scores were equivalent to roughly a fifth of what kids this age typically learn in a school year.

    But there were no differences in the reading ability or social-emotional skills between the two groups of students.

    About 40 percent of the children who didn’t attend the Wallace summer programs disclosed on surveys that they had attended another summer camp or program. That could be muddying the results here, and understating the benefits of going to summer school.  But the researchers also compared control group students who attended another summer enrichment program with the majority of the control group kids, who did nothing, and found no difference in their academic outcomes. So those concerns were somewhat alleviated. (See page 38 of the study).

    Related: In Mississippi, summer vacation puts lower-income learners at risk

    Digging deeper into the data, RAND researcher Jennifer McCombs found that the kids who’d had higher quality summer reading instruction from an experienced third-grade or fourth-grade teacher did see higher scores on the fall reading assessment. McCombs explained that the reading curriculum was quite open-ended and not very scripted. So teachers who’d had prior experience teaching reading to children of this age knew how to teach it, keep the kids engaged and check for understanding.

    “It was a very short program, five to six weeks tops,” she said. “Teachers had to hit the ground running and those who had experience with this age had an advantage.” 

    By contrast, prior math teaching experience was less important with math. “The math curriculum was more scripted, if you wanted to fall back on the teacher’s  guide,” McCombs explained.

    The Wallace Foundation is using this information to improve the summer program. But already it shows that it’s not sufficient to hire inexperienced teachers to read books to kids, on the cheap. It may ultimately be quite costly to create effective summer programs that can reduce summer learning loss.

    RAND Researchers are following these children to see whether summer learning gains persist throughout the 2013-14 school year, and after a second summer of the learning program in 2014.

    Related: Are the lazy days of summer killing our nation’s academic progress?

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • December 22, 2014 10:37 AM Minnesota’s Suburban Districts Struggle to Close Discipline Gap

    ROBBINSDALE, Minn.— Last year, students at Robbinsdale Middle School caught fighting were automatically given an out-of-school suspension for five days. Now, they are sent to the PRIDE room, an in-school space opened this past fall for students being disciplined.

    Bouncy chairs, stress balls and an exercise bike are spread throughout the room for students with pent-up energy. A curtained-off area with bean bag chairs is available for those who need to be alone and calm down. At the top of every desk sits a reminder to students: “This is a working zone. You will be academically successful in PRIDE. Please regroup and remind yourself that opting out is not an option.”

    The room is part of Robbinsdale’s district-wide effort to reduce the overall number of suspensions and eradicate racial disparities in discipline rates. In the 2012-2013 school year, the most recent for which state data is available, black students, about 30 percent of Robbinsdale’s enrollment ,received 35 out-of-school suspensions or expulsions for every 100 students, compared to 6 for every 100 white students. Statewide in Minnesota, black students received these punishments at a rate seven times that of white students that year, according to state data.

    “Last year, looking at all the kids I had to suspend was just heartbreaking,” said Assistant Principal Shaunece Smith. “We’re sending kids home when they could be here with us.”

    A student watches a video in Robbinsdale Middle School’s PRIDE room, a space started this year for students being disciplined, who would have received out-of-school suspensions last year. (Photo: Kim Palmer)

    A student watches a video in Robbinsdale Middle School’s PRIDE room, a space started this year for students being disciplined, who would have received out-of-school suspensions last year. (Photo: Kim Palmer)

    The hope is that PRIDE, and other programs, will keep more kids in school and on track with their school work, ultimately reducing another big gap: the difference in black and white student achievement. Roughly a third of black students pass state reading and writing tests, while two-thirds of white students do, according to state data. While Robbinsdale and other districts focused on this issue are making progress, advocates for alternatives to suspension say schools must address both student and teacher behavior in order to correct racial disparities.

    Related: The painful backlash against school discipline

    Nationwide, black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students, according federal data. In Minnesota, despite making up just over 10 percent of the state’s enrollment, black students in the 2012-2013 school year received nearly 40 percent of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

    According to a Hechinger Report analysis of state data of all 77 districts that suspended at least five white and five black students that year (and therefore were required to report the exact numbers), districts disciplined black students at a higher rate than their white peers. Nearly two-thirds did so at triple the rate. Suspension and expulsion rates fell statewide from 2010-11 to 2012-13, but they dropped faster for white students in all 73 districts with available data.

    Those numbers aren’t improving fast enough for Rev. Paul Slack, the president of ISAIAH - a faith-based group working to close the discipline gap. Last spring, the group challenged all schools to immediately end suspensions for non-violent offenses, like being disruptive in class, but only two schools have done so: North View Junior High in the Osseo School District and the FAIR School. “As long as we say we have to phase things in, I doubt we’re going to get where we need to be,” Slack said.

    ISAIAH is working with the suburban Robbinsdale and Osseo districts, just outside of Minneapolis, but neither has made the commitment the group requested. Aldo Sicoli, Robbinsdale superintendent said the ultimate goal is to have no suspensions, but that it’s not a policy change that can be made immediately. “If you’ve been doing things a certain way, it takes time,” he said.

    In the PRIDE room it’s still mostly black students

    By mid-November, Robbinsdale had reduced suspension rates by nearly 80 percent compared to the same time in 2013, for both black and white students. But administrators said black students - two-fifths of the nearly 1,500 students at the middle school - are still over represented in the PRIDE room.

    Assistant Principal Jamil Payton has taken charge of the ban on suspensions for non-violent behavior, like talking back in class, at North View Junior High in the Osseo School District. (Photo: Kim Palmer)

    Assistant Principal Jamil Payton has taken charge of the ban on suspensions for non-violent behavior, like talking back in class, at North View Junior High in the Osseo School District. (Photo: Kim Palmer)

    To Slack, this raises concerns that alternative-to-suspension rooms could lead to in-school segregation. “Creating another room is not the answer,” he said, adding that staff must figure out “what was wrong in the first place from the kid’s perspective?”

    Related: A new round of segregation plays out in charter schools

    It’s a question PRIDE room teacher, Gretchen Enselein, tries to answer every day, as she works with an ever-changing group of students to guide them through the lessons they are missing in their regular classrooms.

    One day in October, all four students in the room were black. Two eighth-grade boys talked after wrapping up a lesson on sedimentary rocks. Another student had just completed an assignment on cell vocabulary, when the door opened and a new student came in, clearly upset. Enselein let her pick her desk - far away from the boys - and immediately brought the girl some noise-cancelling headphones, asking, “What else can I do to help you?”

    Academics are important; some students end up in the program only because they’re struggling in other classes. Students in PRIDE keep to a strict schedule to cover all subjects- and then some extras, like service learning. However, discussing and improving behavior is as crucial as academics for those who are sent to the room for being disobedient.

    Towanna Williams, who is African American, has a son in the seventh grade and a daughter who is a senior in high school. Her children were both suspended out of Robbinsdale schools three times last year, primarily for fighting. Williams says that the schools did not pay attention to the circumstances around the fights, like bullying and her children’s special needs.

    She added that her daughter is not given time and space to calm down - even when she asks for it - and her son still doesn’t grasp what the punishment means. As far as he knows, she said, a suspension means “I don’t get to shop at the school store.”

    Teacher training is critical

    Williams and Slack argue that the onus for behavioral change shouldn’t be just on students, but on staff as well. Many school administrators agree.

    School districts in Minnesota are using the Courageous Conversations about Race program. Based on a 2006 book of the same name, the nationwide program tries to battle systemic racism in education by training teachers to be more sensitive to cultural differences when deciding punishment and tries to force some tough conversations about race. However, critics elsewhere in the country have said use of Courageous Conversations has failed to result in improvements and makes white teachers feel guilty.

    “We can’t say we’re going to avoid the training because it might make us feel uncomfortable,” said Superintendent Sicoli of Robbinsdale.

    Robbinsdale Middle School’s PRIDE room, an alternative-to-suspension room for students being disciplined, is full of posters reminding students how to behave in class. (Photo: Kim Palmer)

    Robbinsdale Middle School’s PRIDE room, an alternative-to-suspension room for students being disciplined, is full of posters reminding students how to behave in class. (Photo: Kim Palmer)

    Nationwide, most suspensions for all students are based on subjective calls, like disrupting a class or talking back to a teacher. In Minnesota, for instance, nearly 40 percent of all suspensions and expulsions in 2012-2013 were for “disorderly/disruptive” behavior. Black students receive a disproportionate share of these types of punishments, leading many experts to argue that the country’s mostly white teaching force may respond differently to similar behavior from black and white students.

    Jamil Payton, assistant principal of Osseo North View Junior High, who has led the school’s ban on nonviolent suspensions, says that’s been true in his school and district. Ninety percent of teachers in Osseo are white, while half of students are minorities. At North View, black students make up 40 percent of the student body.

    Related: How college ed programs try, fail to recruit teachers of color

    Superintendent Kate Maguire says that talking about race and confronting the harsh discrepancies in Osseo is necessary. “The alternative is we can do the same thing we’ve always done,” she said. “We’re trying to help people to understand what is the systemic nature of racism that might exist in schools.”

    Such conversations have helped at North View, Payton says - as have new systems. Teachers are now required to try three interventions in the classroom for behavior problems, like having a conference with parents or even just talking to the student about the problem. If these don’t work, the school then has a place similar to a PRIDE room to send students.

    “It ultimately is about re-teaching and giving kids chances,” Payton said. “No kid comes to school wanting to get in trouble.”

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • December 19, 2014 05:40 PM Education Department Unveils College Rating Plan

    The Education Department Friday released its much-anticipated plan to rate colleges. Starting next school year, the Department will rate more than 5,000 colleges and universities as high-, low- or middle-performing schools.

    The Education Department wants to measure and then rank schools based on how much it actually costs to attend the school, how many students graduate and find jobs in their field, and whether colleges are admitting enough low and middle-income students. The measures will not include graduates’ salaries or the average debt load students graduate with.

    Paul Glastris is editor of the The Washington Monthly. You can listen to his full explanation of the college ratings, and politics surrounding them, here:

    Related: A New Kind of College Ranking

    The Department says the ratings will help families make better college choices and protect taxpayers’ $150 billion dollar investment in federal student aid. Ultimately, the Department would like to tie federal money to colleges’ performances in the rankings, but that would take action by Congress. Currently the government doles out federal funds to schools regardless of performance.

    As NPR reports on their education blog:

    The White House previously announced that the plan would tie federal financial aid to colleges’ performance as judged by these ratings. This step, which requires Congressional approval, is not set to occur until 2018.

    The draft plan is now open for feedback. The official ratings are expected before the 2015 school year.

    Read The Washington Monthly’s take on the new ratings here.

    Interview transcript

    GLASTRIS: The ratings, which are still a little bit indistinct — this was a draft it wasn’t the actual ratings — They’re going for three things. They want to measure access: are these colleges letting students of low and middle income in? They want to measure performance or outcomes: how are these students doing when they leave? And they want to measure affordability: what is the cost of these colleges?

    CARAPEZZA: So those are the three things they’re honing in on. How are they planning to measure them?

    GLASTRIS: On the access part, they’re going to be looking at the percentage of students who are on Pell Grants, those are grants for lower and middle income students. On the affordability front, they are looking at something called net price of attendance. That’s essentially the actual price you pay including tuition fees, books, etc - without all the grants and scholarships. So this is not the sticker price, it’s the actual price. And on outcomes they’re looking at things like graduation rates, transfer rates. But really all of these things are clearly a step forward.

    CARAPEZZA: What do you think is missing?

    GLASTRIS: I do think one of the most important outcome measures is careers. It doesn’t have to be salary exactly, but you do want to see which colleges and which departments are in fact working. Most people go to college to get a good job and right now they have no idea if the college where they go will allow them to get a good job.

    CARAPEZZA: It’s taken about 18 months to get to just this point. We’re at a draft frame-work. This is pretty ambitious, right?

    GLASTRIS: It is ambitious. And it’s also highly contentious. There are plenty of colleges that are going to look quite bad. Most of the public colleges and community colleges are on board with this thing. But they’re getting a lot of blow back from the privates and from the for-profits.

    CARAPEZZA: So what’s the next step?

    GLASTRIS: What the administration would like to to do is tie federal funding to these ratings. The federal government spends $175 billion a year on higher education in the form of grants, subsidized loans, research, tax breaks - for which they require nothing. There is no requirement for accountability, for performance. This is the first step towards changing that. But the next step would be tying funding to the ratings, and that’s going to take an act of Congress, and I don’t think there’s much chance of this Congress agreeing to that.

    [Cross-posted at On Campus: The WGBH Higher Education Blog]

  • December 19, 2014 03:00 PM Jeb Bush’s Education Reform Ideas Are Just a Big Corporate Giveaway

    With Jeb Bush’s announcement early this week that he too was interested in moving into the ancestral estate on Pennsylvania, much of America appeared to just sort of shrug. The latest Bush isn’t really that exciting, but at least he has the advantage of not being W. And he didn’t do that bad with Florida, right?

    One of the appeals of the erstwhile governor of that state is that he has a reputation as an education reformer. He made fixing the state’s public schools a top priority. He promoted standards and accountability. The state’s forth-grade reading scores improved under his administration. He was a big proponent of charter schools and vouchers. And he made all of these reforms without raising taxes.


    All of this could look promising to education reformers, in both parties. But the record really isn’t so good, according to a piece over at Mother Jones by (Monthly alumna) Stephanie Mencimer. His reforms mostly just look like a big corporate giveaway:

    Over the past year, he’s emerged as one of the nation’s most prominent boosters of virtual schools, touring the country to promote technology as an instrument of creative destruction against the public school system.
    Bush has couched his initiative in the bipartisan language of reform, claiming it will strengthen public education by making it more efficient, affordable, and accountable. It’s the kind of “21st-century thinking” that had Republicans begging him to run for president earlier this year—and if it helps position him for national office and connect him with potential corporate donors, so much the better. But beneath the rhetoric, the online-education push is also part of a larger agenda that closely aligns with the GOP’s national strategy: It siphons money from public institutions into for-profit companies (including those that are supporting Bush’s initiative). And it undercuts public employees, their unions, and the Democratic base. In the guise of a technocratic policy initiative, it delivers a political trifecta—and a big windfall for Bush’s corporate backers.

    He recently helped launch something called Digital Learning Now, which exists to “tear down the legal barriers to public funding for virtual classrooms.”

    All of this might be OK if it actually worked. There’s something pretty unpleasant to progressives about gutting public schools and giving the money to for-profit businesses, but if the kids learn better it’s still a successful reform.

    One electronic school system where Bush gave the keynote graduation speech, however, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) actually doesn’t do very well at all. With 10,000 students it’s a real big school district (or “school district”) but only about half of its third-graders are proficient in reading and math. Its graduation rate is lower than 40 percent. During its first year of operations it “enrolled” 2,000 students, but only seven of them had ever logged on to ECOT’s computer system.

    ECOT looks typical. Limited demonstration of success is a common problem with online schools, which, when ranked against real schools in various states where they educate students, usually rank among the worst.

    None of this is stopping Bush, however.

    After leaving the governor’s office in 2007, Bush started a foundation devoted to education reform. In 2010, it raised $5.9 million, $1.7 million of which went to a two-day conference for legislators. The confab was partially bankrolled by corporations that would benefit from the policies Bush was advocating.

    Bush’s digital-learning initiatives have also drawn support from companies hoping to cash in on the virtual-education boom, including charter school operators, online-curriculum providers, and tech firms like Apple, Dell, Google, Intel, and Microsoft.
    Perhaps not surprisingly, the Digital Learn¬ing Now report reads like an industry wish list. It calls for jettisoning caps on virtual-school enrollment and removing some teacher licensing rules; allowing students to take unlimited virtual classes from for-profit providers; and expanding use of digital textbooks and online testing.

    These are not exactly the strategies people devoted to teaching and learning highlight as important to helping students make progress.

    Obviously this was an article, not a full research study of the impact of these education reform ideas. There are, no doubt, some education technology companies doing a good job, in Florida an elsewhere. Jeb Bush’s corporate-based reform organization doesn’t mean that technology-based education privatization can’t work, but the record isn’t very good.

    Certainly Bush hasn’t demonstrated any ability to pick good companies to improve education performance.

  • December 19, 2014 02:42 PM Obama Ratings Would Divide Colleges into High and Low Performing

    The Obama administration is considering putting four-year undergraduate and graduate institutions and two-year institutions into such categories as high performing, low performing, and those in the middle based on measures including completion rates and job placement.

    As unsurprising as it was long awaited, the broad outline of the Obama ratings plan is now available for public comment through February, and officials say that it will be in place next fall.

    “It is a daunting task to develop a fair and meaningful approach” for all 7,500 U.S. postsecondary institutions. -Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

    The department says it is after a ratings system “that is clear, fair, and focused on a few key critical measures of institutional performance” while “accounting for the diversity and complexity” of the higher-education system.

    Though they say they’re all for openness, university and college associations, which get about $150 billion a year in federal financial aid, have generally argued that’s not possible.

    “It is a daunting task to develop a fair and meaningful approach” for all 7,500 U.S. postsecondary institutions, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities says, for instance.

    Among the challenges, the associations cite the broad diversity of students and institutions, the time-consuming and potentially expensive complexity of providing the appropriate information, the fast-changing makeup of the typical student, and the risk that universities will reject promising students out of fear of harming their completion rates, or lower standards to make it easier to graduate.

    Other categories proposed by the department include the proportion of an institution’s enrollment that is low income, based on the percentage of students who receive federal Pell grants, and students’ expected family contribution. Both could affect colleges and universities that have been raising their net prices—the amount they charge after discounts and financial aid are taken into account—much faster for poor students than wealthier ones.

    The ratings would also report the net price, by income; the proportion of students whose parents did not themselves go to college; transfer rates, which should help ease the fears of some institutions—particularly community colleges—that students who transfer are not included in their graduation rates; graduate school attendance; and loan default rates.

    Here is Hechinger coverage of issues relating to the ratings:

    Can universities be embarrassed into raising graduation rates?

    Colleges that pledged to help poor families have been doing the opposite

    College-rating proposal shines spotlight on powerful lobby

    Poorer families are bearing the brunt of college price hikes, data show

    So how are college graduates really doing? A few schools are willing to tell us

    Universities look for new ways to rank themselves

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • December 19, 2014 09:55 AM Comments on Federal College Rating Metrics

    The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a document containing draft metrics for the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS) today (link via Inside Higher Ed), with a request for comments from stakeholders and the general public by February. Although the release of the metrics was delayed several months (and we were initially expecting ratings this fall instead of just some potential metrics), the potential metrics and the explanations provided by ED provide insights about what the ratings will look like if (and when) they are finalized. Below are some of the key pieces of the released metrics, along with my comments.

    Which colleges will be rated, and how will they be grouped? ED is planning to rate degree-granting and certificate-granting two-year colleges separately from four-year colleges. They are still considering whether to have finer gradations among four year colleges. Given the substantial differences in mission and completion rates between associate’s degree-granting and certificate-granting two-year colleges, I strongly recommend separating the two groups. Four-year colleges can all be rated together if input adjustments are used, or they can be put into much smaller peer groups (the latter seems to be what colleges prefer).

    Leaving non-degree-granting colleges out of PIRS sounds trivial, but it leaves out a fair number of small for-profit colleges. I think many of the colleges not subject to PIRS will be subject to gainful employment, should that survive its latest legal challenge. Given that gainful employment has financial consequences while PIRS does not at this point, the colleges left out of PIRS are subject to more stringent accountability than many of those in PIRS.

    What will the ratings categories and scoring system look like? I’m glad to see ED considering three rating categories: high-performing, in the middle, and low-performing. That’s about all the fine gradation the data can support, in my view, and it is far more politically feasible to have fewer ratings categories. No information was provided about how individual metrics will be weighted or scored, which likely indicates that ED is still in the preliminary stage on PIRS.

    What metrics are being considered? And which ones do we already have data on? The metrics fall into three main categories: access, affordability, and student outcomes.

    Access: Percent Pell, distribution of expected family contributions (EFC), enrollment by family income quintile, percent first-generation. Percent Pell and enrollment by family income quintile are already collected by the Department of Education, although these measures have gaps because not all students from low-income families file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The EFC distribution measure is intriguing, but it’s not currently collected. Perhaps considering the percentage of students with zero EFC (who have the least ability to pay) would make sense. The FAFSA asks students about parental education, so first-generation status could be made available in a few years. There is a question of how to define first-generation status, as it could include a student whose parents have some college but no degree or be limited to those with no college experience.

    Affordability: Net price of attendance (overall and by income quintile). The net price reflects the total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, books/supplies, and living costs) less all grant or scholarship aid received. It’s a good measure to include, even if it can be gamed by institutions that cut their living allowances to absurdly low levels or use income from the FAFSA instead of the CSS PROFILE (where more sources are counted). I’m surprised not to see a measure for debt burdens or student borrowing here as a measure of affordability.

    Outcomes: Graduation and transfer rates, short-term employment, longer-term earnings, graduate school attendance, and “loan performance outcomes.” As of right now, the only measures available are graduation/transfer rates (for first-time, full-time students) and student loan repayment. ED is working to improve the graduation and transfer metrics by 2017, which is welcome. I’m intrigued by how loan performance was described:

    “Relatively simple metrics like the percentage of students repaying their loans on time might be important as consumers weigh whether or not they will be able to handle their financial obligations after attending a specific school.”

    This is different from the standard cohort default rate measure, which measures whether a student defaults by not making a payment in the last 270 days. Measuring the percentage in current repayment would show a lower percentage of students having a successful outcome, but it better reflects former students’ performance than a cohort default rate. Kudos for ED for making this suggestion.

    I see employment, earnings, and graduate enrollment outcomes as being good things to consider, but they won’t be ready to include in PIRS for several years. The ban on student unit record data makes tracking employment and earnings difficult unless ED relies on colleges to self-report data from their former students. It’s worth emphasizing the importance of including dropouts as well as graduates in these metrics. Graduate enrollment could in theory be done with the National Student Clearinghouse, but colleges may not want to participate in the voluntary system if it is used for accountability.

    Any other surprises? I was pleasantly surprised to see ED include a section on considering how to reward colleges for improving their outcomes over time. This might be a way to get around the question of how to adjust for student inputs and institutional resources, or it could be a piece designed to bring more colleges to the discussion table.

    What does all of this mean? It appears that PIRS is very much in its infancy at this point, given the broadness of the suggested metrics and the difficulty in getting data on some of them in the next year or two. Putting college ratings together is methodologically quite easy to do, but politically very difficult. The delay in the timeline and the call for additional feedback by February highlight the political difficulty of PIRS. Given the GOP takeover of Congress, I think it’s safe to say that even if a full set of ratings comes out next week, the likelihood of ratings being tied to aid by 2018 (as the President has proposed) is basically nil. (For more on why I think PIRS is a difficult political sell, read my new piece in Politico Magazine.) But even getting draft ratings ready for the start of the 2015-16 academic year will be very difficult. ED has a lot of work to do before then.

    But PIRS does have the potential to substantially improve data availability and transparency on a number of important student outcomes, even without becoming a high-stakes accountability system. I expect that college access organizations, higher education publications, guidance counselors, and even those of us in the rankings business will work to get any new data sources out to students and their families in a consumer-friendly format. That may be the lasting legacy of PIRS.

    [Cross-posted at Kelchen on Education]

  • December 19, 2014 07:00 AM Nobody Wants to Go to Law School Anymore

    We are basically witnessing the end of demand for law school.

    When the real estate market collapsed in 2007 the whole economy came down with it. Seven years later large portions of the country have recovered. Times are not exactly flush, and far too many Americans still don’t have jobs, but real estate has finally recovered and the country on the whole is in a relatively safe financial position.

    But not everything has come back. One of those things still suffering is the American law school. Back before the recession there was a fairly high demand for a legal education. The financial wizardry of the early years of this century meant a need for vast armies of lawyers to manage all of those transactions. And companies had the money to pay for it.

    Now that’s over. And so no one wants to go to law school. This graph explains the whole thing:


    This is, apparently, the smallest law school class in 40 years. Law schools admitted only 39,675 first-year students last year. That’s a 30 percent decline from just four years ago. But 40 years ago America also had 53 fewer law schools. Now if only some more law schools could just close up shop, this whole supply and demand thing might work itself out.

    But then, as Hamilton Nolan puts it at Gawker, it can probably go down a whole hell of a lot more. The whole reason most people want to go to law school is because of dreams of great success in corporate law. They just write that they want to work in “public interest” for the essay section of the application. “If about 1% of the people who go to law school saying ‘I want to go into public interest law and really help people’ actually end up with public interest law jobs that actually help people,” Nolan writes, “law school enrollment can fall by another 99% with no harm to the general public.”

    Here’s hoping.

  • December 18, 2014 04:28 PM The 2014 “Not Top Ten” List in Higher Education

    Earlier this week, I unveiled my list of the top ten higher education policy issues of 2014, with the fascinating saga of Corinthian Colleges getting top billing this year. Now it’s time to turn to the “not top ten list,” highlighting some of the less-than-wonderful happenings of the year. Last year’s “winner,” Georgetown Law’s plan to stick taxpayers with the entire cost of legal education, gets a stern finger wagging again this year along with a one-year reprieve from the list.

    10. Colleges spend millions to buy out the contracts of their football coaches. I wish I could be as financially successful as Charlie Weis, who is currently drawing enormous paychecks from Notre Dame and Kansas not to be their football coach. He is due a total of $4.6 million from the two colleges in 2015, and will get nearly $25 million to do absolutely nothing. This month, Nebraska, Florida, and Michigan all fired their coaches at the cost of over $17 million in buyouts. The (awesome) parody Twitter account of former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini (who just became the newest coach of the Youngstown State Penguins) is happy:

    But Don Heller, dean of the education school at Michigan State, sees a better use for the money:

    9. New Jersey teenagers sue their parents for financial support for college. I live in New Jersey, but I’m not sure what is in the water in the Garden State that has resulted in two teenagers suing their parents for financial support for college. In March, 18-year-old Rachel Canning made news by moving out of her parents’ house and suing for her private high school and college tuition. After a great deal of national scrutiny, she decided to drop her lawsuit and is now enrolled at Western New England University in Massachusetts.

    In November, 21-year-old Caitlyn Ricci successfully sued her divorced parents for her $16,000 per year out-of-state tuition at Temple University in Philadelphia. Given that she has been completely estranged from her parents for two years, she might be able to qualify as independent for financial aid purposes. But New Jersey legal precedent actually requires divorced parents to chip in for their adult child’s educational expenses. Legislation has been introduced to effectively overturn past Supreme Court decisions.

    8. It’s surprisingly hard to figure out how many students are having trouble repaying their loans. Putting aside concerns with how student loan default rates are calculated (which made my “top ten” list), the Department of Education doesn’t consider a student to be in default unless they have not made a monthly payment in the last 270 days. And their measure of loan delinquency rates actually exclude students in default, with the assumption that the loans will never be repaid. I got into a great discussion with Shahien Nasiripour of the Huffington Post about what percentage of students are actually having difficulties repaying loans. He wrote a piece claiming that about half of all students are not repaying, while my preferred estimate is about 30% and the federal government reports about 17%. Without better data from the feds, it’s hard to tell.

    7. The “sexy PhD costume” available on Amazon for Halloween is just sad. For Halloween, PhD holders can finally put away that tweed jacket and attempt to shimmy into the “Delicious Women’s PhD Sexy Costume” before undergoing the peer review process. (Sadly, there is no men’s version, so your humble correspondent stayed home and handed out candy to local children while wearing appropriate attire.) Needless to say, women (and men) with actual doctorates were not amused by the costume, both in the way it denigrated women and did not comport with actual doctoral robes. I shared some of the Amazon reviewer comments via Twitter, and one of those tweets ended up being my most-viewed tweet of the year:

    6. Some colleges report net price figures using PROFILE data instead of the FAFSA, possibly making themselves look better. Colleges are required to report net prices (the total cost of attendance less all grant aid received) for five household income brackets each year. These net prices are often used in media coverage of higher education, and they also play an important part in the Washington Monthly ranking of best bang-for-the-buck colleges.

    I had always assumed the net prices were based on income reported on the FAFSA, which excludes income from noncustodial parents and business enterprises in certain cases. But this excellent (if graphic-heavy) piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education found that some colleges instead use the CSS PROFILE definition of income, which typically results in fewer students being in the bottom income categories. In addition to making comparisons across colleges difficult (since we don’t know which colleges report PROFILE income versus FAFSA income), students have to fill out the PROFILE in addition to the FAFSA.

    5. I feel sorry for negotiated rulemaking panels. Negotiated rulemaking panels are used whenever the Department of Education (or other federal agencies) wish to promulgate new rules. The goal is to build consensus around a set of rules, but what most often happens is that the panel (consisting of representatives from various affected parties) cannot reach a consensus. In this case, the federal agency can go ahead and issue its own rules. Two of the most famous negotiated rulemaking panels this year were for redefining “adverse credit” for PLUS loans and regarding gainful employment. Although the panels do have value (such as the first-ever release of PLUS loan default rates), the members still need a big hug.

    4. Some colleges use where students send the FAFSA to shape financial aid packages. While completing the FAFSA, students list up to ten colleges where they would like to send their information. But what most students don’t know is that the listing is shared with other colleges—and that some enrollment management offices base part of a student’s financial aid award on where their college is listed. (Other colleges, such as DePaul, use the data to predict the size of an incoming class, which is benign. I highly recommend Jon Boeckenstedt’s take on the topic.)

    3. Nicholas Kristof pokes the bear on #engagedacademics. One of the best ways to upset the academic community is to say that we don’t engage the public and instead stay cloistered in the ivory tower. But Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times said exactly that in a February opinion piece. While there is some truth to the statement, the academic community wasn’t too happy. Chuck Pearson of Tennessee Tech University started an #engagedacademics hashtag on Twitter that got lots of great responses, and this Chronicle piece summarizes the response from the academic community, including my blog post on the topic. But I think this is the best counterexample that academics can point to:

    2. Congress raids future Pell Grant funding to pay the bills today. The continuing resolution/omnibus spending bill (or cromnibus, in DC-speak) for the federal government took just over $300 million from future surpluses to the federal Pell Grant program to pay student loan servicers in 2015 for their services performed. Some people are really upset that the money is going to companies like Nelnet and Navient, but in my view, those companies were going to get paid anyway. Congress has a long and rather sordid history of kicking the fiscal can down the road, and this is just another example. If the Pell program is running a shortfall in 2017 or 2018, this shortsighted (bipartisan) action by Congress will partially be to blame.

    1. Kean University spent $219,000 on a conference table…and vigorously defended the purchase. Kean, a relatively unknown public university in New Jersey, has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks—and not of the good time. (In-state peer NJIT, on the other hand, got great publicity for its vagabond men’s basketball team upending Michigan.) Kean spent a remarkable $219,000 on a 22-foot-long oak conference table with global communication capabilities that was imported from China, where Kean has academic partners. (I’ve heard of endowed chairs in academia, but a table that needs to be endowed? My goodness!)

    When the inevitable criticism of the university sprouted up on social media, Kean doubled down on the need for such an expensive table. Kean claimed in a letter that the table “means added value to your Kean degree.” One can only hope that the claim is empirically validated.

    Also receiving votes: Rating colleges “like blenders,” conspiracy theories involving higher education foundations, celebrating a touchdown one yard too early, referring to the Department of Education as “DOE” (Energy) instead of “ED,” Pell Grant recipient graduation rate data being delayed yet again, people who make annual “top ten” and “not top ten” lists.

    [Cross-posted at Kelchen on Education]

  • December 18, 2014 02:00 PM Johns Hopkins Screws up the Admissions Process, Again

    It happened again. In continuance of a depressing annual tradition, Johns Hopkins sent out acceptance letters to 294 students, by mistake.

    According to an article in the Washington Post:

    Sam Stephenson was steeling himself for another round of college applications after his first choice, Johns Hopkins University, turned him down. Then the 17-year-old from Culpeper County in Virginia received an e-mail from Hopkins on Sunday afternoon that suggested he might still have reason to hope.
    “Embrace the YES!” it said in the subject line.

    It was an acceptance letter, informing the confused Stephenson that he had been admitted. He should “start using #JHU2019 on Twitter, to stop by an online store to buy Hopkins gear.”

    Let’s hope he didn’t do any of that too quickly, however.

    Like 293 others who had been turned down or deferred in their bid for early admission to the prestigious private university in Baltimore, Sam had received a welcome-to-Hopkins e-mail by mistake. The university, tipped off to the error by another rejected student, sent an apology Sunday evening to those affected by the head-spinning goof. Sam got the word at 5:28 p.m.: There was no reversal of his denial.

    Hopkins later said that the mistake was because of “human error.” Some contractor the university hired put in the wrong email addresses in a database.

    I beg to differ, Johns Hopkins. That sounds to me like an institutional error that comes as a result of how you choose to run your admissions department.

    By sending acceptance and rejection letters electronically, and by farming out crucial parts of this really important and complicated task to indifferent or incompetent contractors, you make horrible errors like this more likely to occur.

    The school did send out an apology, but this really seems insufficient. If colleges make mistakes like this they should have to pay a steeper price than just issuing an awkward email from the admissions dean; they should just admit the students. I bet they’ll quickly figure out a better way to run admissions the next year.

    This wasn’t, however, quite as bad as the time University of California, San Diego sent acceptance letters to all 46,000 students who applied in 2009.

  • December 17, 2014 10:19 AM Why Did Mississippi Lose out on Preschool Funding — Again?

    Mississippi’s flawed application and underdeveloped plans to provide preschool for all children is partly to blame for why the state’s youngest learners were bypassed once again for federal funds that could have provided a boost to early education, a review found.

    Last week, Mississippi was passed over for a preschool grant that would have tripled the number of children enrolled in early education classes in four years, increased the number of highly qualified preschool teachers and boosted salaries, according to the state’s application.

    This year marks the third time that Mississippi’s application, which asked for $60 million in federal preschool funding over the course of four years, has been rejected. The state scored seventh out of nine applicants for a specific preschool development grant, and is one of the only states in the South to lose out.

    Jennifer Calvert, director of the ABC Pre-School & Nursery Inc. in Aberdeen, Miss., helps a student build a pattern during a morning activity earlier this year. Educators say early education is critical to fix Mississippi’s education deficiencies. (Photo: Jackie Mader)

    Jennifer Calvert, director of the ABC Pre-School & Nursery Inc. in Aberdeen, Miss., helps a student build a pattern during a morning activity earlier this year. Educators say early education is critical to fix Mississippi’s education deficiencies. (Photo: Jackie Mader)

    Eighteen states received a federal preschool grant ranging from about $2 million to nearly $25 million to establish or expand existing programs as part of a nationwide push to expand access for early childhood education. Just 6 percent of 4-year-olds in Mississippi attend a state-funded program, which has received $3 million each year for two years.

    Related: Mississippi, let parents have information about child care centers

    A growing body of research has found that high-quality pre-K programs can teach children important classroom skills like how to raise their hands and pay attention, as well as boost reading and math skills. Data released earlier this year found that two-thirds of Mississippi’s students start kindergarten unprepared and are less likely to be proficient readers by third grade. For years, Mississippi’s students of all ages have scored at or near the bottom on national standardized reading and math tests.

    Many educators say that, to improve later outcomes, Mississippi must first improve early education. Nationwide, about 28 percent of 4-year-olds attend state-funded preschool programs according to the National Institute for Early Education Research, although access and quality vary greatly. As of 2013, 10 states did not offer preschool, while states like Oklahoma and Florida provided pre-K to more than 74 percent of their 4-year-olds. Some states have high-quality programs as evidenced by such traits as ensuring teachers hold bachelor’s degrees and enforcing small class sizes. Other states meet few of these high-quality guidelines.

    Officials who reviewed Mississippi’s application noted many deficiencies, including vague statements and an overall lack of evidence and details. The reviewers frequently mentioned that the state did not provide plans to ensure that all students, including English-language learners and those with disabilities, would receive a high-quality preschool experience.

    The state was also criticized for its lack of commitment to children in poverty. One reviewer noted that only 2 percent of children in poverty were served by the state-funded preschool program in 2014, and only 5 percent will be served in 2015. Unlike in states such as Tennessee, low-income children are not prioritized in Mississippi’s program, although some funding from the grant would have targeted low-income children.

    Related: Opportunity gap narrows in Mississippi

    On Thursday, Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, responded to the critiques in a statement. “We are very disappointed that Mississippi was not awarded the federal Preschool Development Grant but will use the feedback from our proposal to help strengthen our early childhood education system,” Wright said. “Mississippi is still in the early stages of offering publicly funded, high-quality early childhood education programming. We remain fully committed to expanding access to these programs for all children.”

    Children at a child care center in Mississippi. (Photo by Kim Palmer)

    Children at a child care center in Mississippi. (Photo by Kim Palmer)

    Governor Phil Bryant also issued a statement last week in which he called the loss of funds “unfortunate” and lauded the work of current preschool groups in Mississippi, which he said “are already showing positive student outcomes in the state.”

    The reviewers noted that if Mississippi wants federal funds for preschool, it must first develop the “necessary infrastructure and capacity for scaling up a sustainable preK program.” Reviewers also detailed deficiencies in Mississippi’s training and preparation for preschool teachers. Although the state proposed a plan to increase education requirements for preschool teachers, reviewers noted that the plan “appeared to emphasize the quickness of acquiring credentialed individuals” rather than “the quality of the individuals’ preparation for their jobs.”

    The officials argued that while the state’s small preschool program, which launched in 2013, is promising, “there has been no additional legislation passed in Mississippi in recent years to better support access and /or improve the quality of preschool programs for young children.” One reviewer emphasized that Mississippi’s lack of mandatory kindergarten “could be a hindrance” to sustaining “the educational and developmental gains of Eligible Children.”

    Related: Mississippi kindergartners start the year behind, new test finds

    In Mississippi, where schools are not required to offer full-day kindergarten programs and attendance is voluntary, a Hechinger Report analysis of data found that kindergarteners have the lowest average daily attendance rate of any K-8 grade.

    Danny Spreitler, a member of the state’s Board of Education and executive director of a foundation focused on early childhood, said that before the state applies for more grants, it needs to improve collaboration between state agencies and preschool programs. “I honestly don’t think this is the time for us to be out here trying to figure out money, until we get our ducks in a row,” he said.

    Spreitler added that he was troubled by the harsh comments from reviewers, which didn’t seem to acknowledge that Mississippi is at a different stage in its program than other states. “We need to take this next year, 2015, and rather than look at massive expansion, we’ve got to get more reliable data on the programs that are working and sit down … look at what’s working,” and then “figure out how to take it statewide.”

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

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