• April 17, 2014 01:33 PM Education Reform and “Teacher Haters”

    I’ve been writing publicly about politics for a few years now, so I’ve become accustomed to a pretty steady stream of hate mail. It appears to come with the territory. And nothing—nothing—lights up my inbox with insults like writing about education reform. It would be one thing if folks objected to the substance of what I write—but most of the time, the emails are pure ad hominem attacks. They impugn my motives or call me a “teacher hater” or any number of other similar epithets.

    I don’t mind disagreement, but I’m frustrated with being seen as disingenuous, so I wrote a column for Talking Points Memo today explaining why I care so deeply about education reform:

    I write about American public education for a living. As someone who cares profoundly about inequality and the state of social mobility in the United States, I’ve come to truly love my work. It’s time for me to confess: I am a teacher hater. I’m also bent on undermining public education in service of my corporate overlords. Or, at least, that’s what my inbox tells me every time I write something about charter schools, Teach For America, or education politics in general. And while unsolicited hostility is part and parcel of the politics writing game these days, this particular line of attack cuts particularly deep.

    Click here to find out why it bothers me so much.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • April 17, 2014 10:20 AM New York Kicks Off a New ELLs Conversation

    New Yorkers are famous for their narcissistic myopia. Talk to a long-time resident, and you’ll hear just as much parochialism as any small-town stalwart. New Yorkers take it for granted that they embody the cutting edge. If you make it in New York, sure, you can make it anywhere, but—once you’ve made it—why would you bother leaving?

    And while this is almost always bluster beyond any semblance of reality, when it comes to education policy, New York has been grabbing all the headlines of late. From New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (successful) universal pre-K battle with Governor Andrew Cuomo to rethinking the role of charter schools in public education to the state’s leadership on Common Core implementation, New York has been the site of some of the best education debates of the last year.

    And now there’s evidence that the state—and New York City—are preparing to lead on another element of education policy: English language learners. Last week, the New York State Education Department released a new “Blueprint for English Language Learners (ELLs) Success.”

    The new document should encourage advocates pushing for evidence-based language supports for New York ELLs. It covers some of their suggestions to Mayor de Blasio’s pre-K expansion plan. For instance, the Blueprint notes, “All teachers are teachers of English Language Learners.” Nearly every school enrolls ELLs, and these students’ success depends on all teachers taking responsibility for their success.

    Too often, students formally designated as ELLs are seen as special, especially challenging students outside the purview of mainstream classroom teachers. This is the sort of thinking that leads some to criticize charter schools that serve low percentages of ELLs—their core assumption is that these students are uniquely difficult to educate.

    The Blueprint takes a different view: it recommends that schools see “home languages as instructional assets” that teachers and students can use “in bridging prior knowledge to new knowledge.”

    Perhaps even more encouraging, the Blueprint “affirms that it is not permissible to assume that unsupported immersion of ELLs into an English-speaking environment will enable them to succeed academically.” While this should be obvious, many American schools use different reasoning. They believe that the most direct path to English acquisition is by wholesale immersion. There’s a certain logic to this: shouldn’t students who hear more English develop English proficiency more rapidly?

    Instructional models that support ELLs in their home language often lead to quicker English acquisition than English immersion programs.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • April 16, 2014 04:59 PM Using Better Metrics to Build Better Schools

    Envision runs a group of three charter high schools in the Bay Area. They champion, as many schools do these days, “deeper learning” and “21st century skills.” Envision enacts this philosophy through a “Know-Do-Reflect” process that uses projects, portfolios and presentations to integrate assessment with learning. They prompt students to turn the lens both inward and outward. The students are asked to self-assess their own progress, and through the portfolio exhibition and performance assessment process, they open up their work to outside evaluators as well.

    Education these days is falling into a data gap. There is wide agreement that reading and math test scores alone reflect, at best, a small subset of what we want students to know and be able to do. But concepts like deeper learning, critical thinking, collaboration, and the like are inherently subjective and qualitative. In today’s high-stakes, bad-faith atmosphere, and in a global context, the subjective judgment of teachers, students and school leaders on “is our children learning?” is not trusted as a standalone measure of student progress. For better or for worse, politicians and the public want to see hard data.

    One emerging consensus on how to bridge this divide: use outcomes instead of test scores. The idea is that by looking at trends in high school graduation, college entrance, college persistence and college completion, schools can fairly compare themselves by transparent measures that really matter. (Race to the Top provided significant funding to states to create the kinds of databases that make these outcome measures possible). In 2011 KIPP, the charter school chain, released a much discussed report looking at the outcomes of its own students. They found that one in three students who completed a KIPP middle school had graduated from a four-year college at least a decade later.

    These were good results. Coming from a population that was 95% African-American and Latino, and 85% free or reduced lunch, KIPP students graduated at quadruple the rates of similar populations. But KIPP publicly declared that they weren’t good enough. They want to create schools where at least 75% of students beat the odds, and have the tools to succeed long after the intensive atmosphere and extra resources of the school are just a fading memory.

    The change in metrics has influenced a change in strategy, at KIPP and across the charter school world. To graduate from college, students need to be self-directed, highly motivated, and confident. Bob Lenz, the founder of Envision, believes that those qualities are best cultivated by the performance assessment model integrating learning and assessment. But when it comes to convincing outside observers of the effectiveness of this measure, graduation rates and college persistence are paramount. In a recent case study of two of Envision’s three schools by Stanford University, students demonstrated college persistence far above the norm. At Impact Academy of Arts and Technology in Hayward, CA, founded in 2007, 81% of the first graduating class that started there as freshmen enrolled immediately in college. Of those, 66% made it to their second year. At City Arts and Technology High School, for the class of 2009, nearly 85% of graduates who enrolled in a college stuck with it for at least 4 years.

    Tracking outcomes is more complex than reporting test scores. It’s also more relevant.

    [Cross-posted at Hechinger Report]

  • April 16, 2014 08:41 AM CBO Finds Third Consecutive Year of Good News on Pell Costs

    Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office announced some more good news for members of Congress: For the third consecutive year, the Pell Grant funding cliff is smaller and further away than we thought. After a few shaky years of funding during the recession, the updated CBO baseline will surely come as welcome news to lawmakers facing midterm elections and a tight budget. But should Congress start celebrating just yet?

    Not quite. The new CBO estimates prove Congress has bought some time, but long-term estimates still suggest the program’s unfunded costs are lying in wait. And because the Pell Grant program runs like an entitlement program, in that all eligible applicants receive an award, lawmakers will have no choice but to deal with the shortfall eventually.

    To date, Congress hasn’t provided a regular appropriation for the Pell Grant program larger than $22.8 billion, with another $5.5 billion kicked in for fiscal year 2014 awards through mandatory (entitlement) spending for the program. It’s filled in the rest, year after year, with short-term, emergency funding from a variety of sources, including the 2009 stimulus bill, student loan savings in the 2010 healthcare law, the Budget Control Act of 2011, and a series of eligibility changes to the program that reduced costs.

    Starting with the 2013 CBO estimate, there was some surprising news: The program actually cost less than expected.

    Then, starting with the 2013 CBO estimate, there was some surprising news: The program actually cost less than expected. As the rate of growth in the program flat-lined, the expected costs started to drop. Underestimating the numbers for fiscal year 2013 meant Congress could draw on an accumulated surplus in the program. Those funds–which actually come from funding provided in past years but never spent–are large enough that Congress can spread the surplus across fiscal years 2014 through 2017, added to a flat appropriation for the program. Based on a separate funding formula, the maximum grant also increases with inflation.

    Here’s where it starts to get tricky. In fiscal year 2017, all that will be left of the surplus is $0.4 billion. And at the same time, the costs of the program are projected to increase as more students become eligible for Pell awards and the size of the maximum award increases from $5,730 this year (including the mandatory portion of the award) to $6,100. That will require a $25.0 billion regular appropriation, rather than the usual $22.8 billion. So in 2017, lawmakers are back where they’ve started, trying to patch together funding to keep the program going. And while the funding cliff is only $2.3 billion that year, CBO estimates it will grow every year thereafter, costing lawmakers more than $38 billion from fiscal year 2017 to 2024.


    That means members of Congress aren’t off the hook in ensuring the Pell Grant program–the cornerstone of federal financial aid for low-income students–is financially stable. The CBO report is good news for the immediate future, but it’s not a cure. Lawmakers have bought themselves a few years to figure out the long-term future of Pell Grant appropriations. If they don’t, the Pell Grant funding cliff will come knocking again.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central and co-authored by Jason Delisle]

  • April 15, 2014 05:14 PM CCDBG Reauthorization a Must for House Republicans

    At least in recent years, Congress is usually where educational improvements go to die. But last month, the Senate passed a reauthorization bill for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Senators sent the bill over to the House, where Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) held a hearing. But what happens next remains to be seen.

    This week, I published an op-ed in The Hill urging House Republicans to give the bill a second look. I listed four reasons the members might find the child care law among the most compelling education bills that will cross their desks, and urged them to work with the Senate to pass the law’s first reauthorization in nearly two decades. The first reason members of the House should pay attention?

    Working Parents Need Child Care: Child care is unaffordable for most everyone–but it’s prohibitively expensive for the low-income parents who need access to care to be able to work. It can cost more than a year of tuition and fees at a public four-year college, according to a 2013 report from Child Care Aware® of America. CCDBG is designed to get parents back in the workplace. It was re-established as part of the welfare reform package Congress passed in 1996, based on work, not welfare, status. And its focus hasn’t changed: Fully 93 percent of families using child care subsidies today do so because they are either in education and training programs or employed. Without the support of CCDBG vouchers, the economic productivity of the nearly 904,000 families served by the program would be lost.

    Click over to The Hill to check out the full piece.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • April 15, 2014 02:19 PM California Among the Worst in Awarding Degrees to Hispanics

    With a population more than twice as Hispanic as the national average, California has a lower-than-average proportion of Hispanics with college or university educations, and no institution among the top five for awarding them degrees, according to a new study.

    The state is 38 percent Hispanic, compared to the national average of 17 percent. But only 16 percent of adults aged 25 or older have degrees, compared to the national average for Hispanics of 20 percent, the study, by the advocacy organization Excelencia in Education, finds.

    “Why does California, the state with the largest Latino population in the nation, not have a single college break into the top five nationally for awarding degrees to Latinos?” asked Deborah Santiago, Excelencia in Education’s chief operating officer and vice president for policy.

    It’s an increasingly important question as more Hispanics head to college. Nearly a quarter of students from kindergarten through Grade 12 are Hispanic nationwide, and more than half in California and New Mexico and nearly half in Texas.

    The study finds that the gap in graduation rates between Hispanics and whites nationally is shrinking. Forty-one percent of Hispanics got two-year-associate’s degrees within three years or four-year bachelor’s degrees within six, compared to 50 percent of whites. That’s a difference of 9 percentage points, down from 14 percentage points two years go.

    But the study says Hispanics will need to earn another 5.5 million degrees above current levels for the United States to regain its place as the nation with the greatest college attainment. Today, it’s fallen to 14th in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a higher education, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    [Cross-posted at Hechinger Report]

  • April 15, 2014 08:55 AM Challenges and Best Practices for Scaling Home Visiting Programs

    Strum the American heartstrings, and you’ll hear a familiar triad of affections: baseball, apple pie, and parenthood. Americans are eager parents—our birth rates, while falling, remain well above many other developed countries.

    We so revere the practice of parenting, however, that we generally accept that it must necessarily be sacred to the point of magic. “You can’t legislate morality,” goes the truism; most legislators put “parenting” in that same category. In education debates, it’s common to hear folks resign themselves to the standard of American parenting. They assume that nothing can be done to improve ineffective parents’ approach to childrearing. If policymakers are uncomfortable reforming local education practices, they’re almost always unwilling to touch parents’ sphere of influence—the home.

    Notwithstanding this general current, some have suggested that home visiting programs targeted at improving American parenting could make a big difference in children’s lives. There is some evidence that these programs can, among other things, lower kids’ chances of becoming teen parents and/or dropping out of school. As so often is the case, however, this research often detects results for programs with limited scope and projects their potential effects for the entire country—assuming that the program could be expanded without diluting its quality.

    It’s easy to care about parenting—and to want to make it better. But it’s somewhat more difficult to build and scale effective home visiting programs that can change American parents’ practice for the better.

    A recent Mathematica study digs into the challenges of faithfully implementing, scaling up, and sustaining home visiting programs. It investigated the effects of the Supporting Evidence-Based Home Visiting to Prevent Child Maltreatment initiative. The program funded organizations to design and implement programs by selecting from a set of five evidence-based home visiting models (Healthy Families America, the Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers, SafeCare, and Triple P).

    The study found that grantees successfully met a number of “fidelity standards.” They were usually successful at “hiring and training appropriate staff, obtaining appropriate referrals, delivering most of the planned visits, and covering the planned content during the home visits.” However, many struggled to maintain consistent contact with family partners at the level of intensity required by the various home visiting models. In technical terms, grantees sometimes struggled to maintain the requisite “intensity” of the home visiting model(s) they had chosen and to retain families participating in the program.

    Fortunately, the study discovered ways that some programs were able to respond to these challenges. Above all, grantees that built an “infrastructure” for planning, collecting data, and ensuring sustainability were somewhat more likely to guarantee that expanding programs were implemented faithfully and effectively. They found some evidence that effective gathering and transparent use of data helped programs to think carefully about the state of their implementation work.

    With federal home visiting programs under scrutiny—and facing elimination without congressional action—this research is particularly timely (click here for more from CLASP). It echoes what we usually find when considering public investments in early education: new initiatives need to be both well-funded and supported by systems to collect effectiveness data. It’s easy to care about parenting—and to want to make it better. But it’s somewhat more difficult to build and scale effective home visiting programs that can change American parents’ practice for the better. Fortunately, this study shows that “somewhat more difficult” does not mean “impossible.”

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • April 14, 2014 05:52 PM Whoa! Do 45 Federal Programs Really Fund Early Care and Education?

    Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a bill that would help expand state pre-K programs. While there is support among Senate Democrats for the bill, there is less among Senate Republicans. Instead, Senate Republicans want to streamline existing programs and give states much more flexibility in their provision of birth-to-5 early education programs.

    Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), ranking member of the HELP Committee, called the Committee’s attention to a February report from the Government Accountability Office that was discussed during a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on early care and education programs. The report cites 45 programs that allow funds to be used to support services for children birth-to-5. During the hearing, Alexander argued that, “Total federal government spending today [on early childhood programs] is more than $22 billion a year—about the same amount that the U.S. Department of Education spends on K-12 education through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” He went on to say he believes there are better ways to spend this money and that we don’t need one more program with the Strong Start Act.

    Not so fast. The 45 programs listed include ones such as Transitional Housing Assistance for Victims of Domestic Violence and the National Farmworker Jobs Program. Many of the programs cited have a number of varying purposes and missions, touching many more policy areas than just early care and education. The National School Lunch Program, for example, provides meals to low-income children–and while being hungry can be a huge impediment to learning, it can hardly be said that that program’s dollars are being spent in the same way as the Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies program, which funds classroom resources and teachers for low-income PreK-12 students.

    Alexander noted that the report identifies a dozen federal programs as being explicitly focused on early education or child care. All told, the programs cost the federal government $14.2 billion in fiscal year 2012. But even in citing that narrower list of programs, both Alexander and the GAO are conflating very different programs–with very different missions.

    Seven of those 12 programs are housed in the Department of Education; three in the Department of Health and Human Services; and one each are in the Department of the Interior and the General Services Administration. The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which was designed as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus bill), was an emergency appropriation meant to prevent states from laying off teachers–and now that the money’s run out, it’s not affecting education at all anymore. The Child Care and Development Fund provides vouchers for child care to low-income families, while the GSA’s much smaller version simply funds workplace child care for federal employees. Head Start is a pre-K program for low-income 4-year-olds; Child Care Access Means Parents in School is a higher education program designed to smooth postsecondary studies by financing subsidized child care.

    GAO: Key Federal Early Childhood Programs

    Cost (FY 2012 — $ in millions)
    EducationChild Care Access Means Parents in School$16
    EducationIndian Education-Grants to Local Educational Agencies$106
    EducationRace to the Top-Early Learning Challenge$133
    EducationSpecial Education-Grants for Infants and Families$364
    EducationSpecial Education-Preschool Grants$373
    EducationState Fiscal Stabilization Fund-Education State Grants, Recovery ActN/A
    EducationStriving Readers Comprehensive Literacy$160
    Health and Human ServicesChild Care and Development Block Grant$2,268
    Health and Human ServicesChild Care Mandatory and Matching Funds of the Child Care and Development Fund$2,917
    Health and Human ServicesHead Start$7,968
    InteriorIndian Child and Family Education (FACE)$15*
    General Services AdministrationThe General Services Administration’s Child Care Program$2**
    *Fiscal year 2010 number reported as $15.4 million; FY 2012 number not reported.
    ** Estimate from GSA: $1.6 million in FY 2012 Sources: GAO Report; chart by New America

    The GAO’s list of 45 programs is at once too broad (Donation of Federal Surplus Personal Property?) and too narrow (where are early educational data systems and home visiting?). In our effort to understand trends in funding for early education programs during the recession, we charted our own take on early educational spending from 2008 to 2013 in Subprime Learning: Early Education in America Since the Great Recession. In particular, we tried to note in our report all of the key programs that touch early education.

    There’s a lot of overlap between our list and the GAO report–special education preschool grants and grants for infants and families, Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge, Head Start, and the Child Care and Development Fund, to name the big ones. But we also included many of the PreK-12 programs that are used, in many cases, for young children–especially now that about 60 percent of school districts offer pre-K programs. Those programs include special education state grants, Race to the Top–Assessment, kindergarten entry assessments, Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, Investing in Innovation, 21st-Century Community Learning Centers, Social Innovation Fund, and Home Visiting, plus the portion of child care spending reapportioned by states from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. We adjusted spending for each to account for the birth-to-5 and birth-to-8 portions of the program. Using those figures, we estimated that Congress appropriated a total of $18.0 billion towards programs for children age 5 and under in fiscal year 2012, and $21.8 billion on programs for children ages 0-8.

    Chart by New America from “Subprime Learning” report. Shows federal spending on birth-to-8 programs.

    Chart by New America from “Subprime Learning” report. Shows federal spending on birth-to-8 programs.

    Alexander intends to propose new legislation that would streamline federal early care and education programs, giving states more flexibility in how to spend federal dollars and offering parents more choice. He suggests the Child Care and Development Block Grant reauthorization bill that passed the Senate last month is one example of what would work better. The bill expands some safety and quality requirements for providers who choose to accept the subsidies. (For more on CCDBG, read this post about the recent legislation.)

    We agree with Alexander’s basic argument: There are a number of federal programs that have a hand in providing services to children, birth-to-5, and their families. In most cases, these programs are not coordinated in any way and in some cases they may be duplicative. There is definitely room for improvement. But he’s missing an important point: there’s a difference between care and learning. And most of the federal investment right now is in the care of young children, not in their learning and development. It is important for parents to have access to child care, as well as other supports for their families, so they are able to work or get additional education. The Strong Start Act is different. It focuses on learning, as well as on improving low- and moderate-income children’s access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.

    Giving states strings-free money and leaving it to them to figure out how to meet families early care and education needs won’t work. There’s ample research signaling what works in early education and the federal government has an important role in helping to leverage states’ efforts to provide high-quality opportunities. So while, yes, the federal government should design better connections and stronger coordination among the many programs with which it helps support early childhood, it should also recognize and expand its role in helping states improve  access for all families to high-quality early educational opportunities.

    Republicans in the House and Senate are also rethinking the federal government’s Head Start program. Last month, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Head Start Improvement Act and earlier this week Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) introduced a companion bill. We’ll have more analysis on this proposed legislation in the coming weeks.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • April 11, 2014 05:59 PM Should There Be Gainful Employment for College Athletes?

    College athletics, particularly the big-revenue sports of NCAA Division I football and basketball, have been in the news lately for less-than-athletic reasons. The recent push by the Northwestern football team to unionize has led to further discussion of whether college athletes* should be compensated beyond their athletic scholarships. And the University of Connecticut’s national championship team in men’s basketball comes a year after they were banned from the tournament due to woeful academic performance and an eight percent graduation rate. (Big congrats to the UConn women’s team, who won another national championship while graduating 92% of students!)

    Now things may not be quite as bad as they look. The NCAA’s preferred measure of academic progress is the Academic Progress Rate (APR), which is scored from 0 to 1000 based on retention and eligibility of athletes. Colleges aren’t penalized for athletes who leave without a degree, as long as they stay eligible while competing. This measure is likely more reasonable for athletes who leave for the professional ranks, but this excludes students who exhaust their eligibility and do not become professionals. The APR doesn’t take graduation into account—a significant limitation in this case.

    I can’t help think of what could happen if the general principles of gainful employment—a hot political topic in the vocational portions of higher education—would apply to students with athletic scholarships. While the primary metrics of the current gainful employment proposal (debt to income ratios) may not apply to students with full scholarships, some sort of earning and employment measure could be used to track the future success of former athletes. If former players on college teams were unable to obtain professional athletic or academic major-related employment, the team could be subject to sanctions.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on gainful employment for college athletes in the comment section. I’m not taking an actual stand in favor or against this idea, but it’s something potentially worth additional discussion.

    * I’m sure the NCAA would rather that I call them “student-athletes,” but I use “athletes” and “students” where appropriate.

    [Cross-posted at Kelchen on Education]

  • April 11, 2014 02:02 PM How’s that Cooper Union Tuition Plan Working Out? Not So Well.

    Recently Cooper Union, the New York City college that didn’t charge tuition, decided after a series of bad financial and real estate decisions over the last decade or so (and constructing flashy buildings like that thing, below), to give up and start charging kids to learn.

    Founder Peter Cooper said the school should be as “free as air and water” when he helped create the institution back in 1859.


    Charging tuition is, of course, what almost all colleges in America do, but it represented a dramatic change for the historically alternative school. What happened? Well, to no one’s surprise, applications are way down.

    According to the school:

    The Cooper Union has admitted 373 first year students to the class that will enter in the fall. These include 69 students in art, 28 in architecture, and 276 in engineering. The number of applications overall dropped this year, as had been anticipated. The 2,537 received represents a drop of 20.5 percent from last year’s 3,193.

    For the first year, the school plans to charge students approximately $20,000 to attend the school.

    The college, anticipating a yield (the percent of admitted students who enroll) drop from 50 to 45 percent, admitted more students this year than it did in prior admissions cycles. According to the school “the admitted cohort appears fully comparable in its talents and accomplishments to earlier classes.”

    Will this decline in admissions continue, however? How long can the school maintain “fully comparable in its talents and accomplishments,” now that the school is a lot less attractive to attend? We shall see.

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