One of the many unscrupulous tactics for-profit colleges use to remain in compliance with federal regulations is to artificially lower their student loan default rates by pushing students into forbearance or deferment on their loans, even when it’s not in a student’s best interest. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) recently introduced the Proprietary Institution of Higher Education Accountability Act, which would encourage for-profits to help their students find employment, rather than pushing them toward repayment decisions that aren’t right for them.
Two educational shifts currently underway could change the game for students. The Common Core State Standards have the potential to get all schools to engage all students — not just a privileged few — in rich and rigorous content that will prepare them for success in college and careers. And more meaningful educator evaluations are poised to generate information that can drive teacher improvement and ensure that the students who need the most effective teachers get them. Effectively implementing both efforts is challenging, but essential to their success. Not only must their timelines be aligned in ways that they currently aren’t, but both must be coherently messaged and deliberately executed in ways that help educators see them as symbiotic. A new report outlines specific recommendations for how states and districts can ensure that these efforts are undertaken in ways that complement and support one another.
Federal accountability policy for K-12 school performance must be based on two key elements: ambitious but achievable expectations for raising achievement and closing gaps, and meaningful action when schools consistently fall short of those goals. Last week, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the Growth to Excellence Act, which makes big strides in that direction. Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced the companion bill in the Senate.
The interest rate for federally subsidized Stafford loans is set to double to 6.8 percent on July 1, unless Congress takes action. And legislators have put forth a number of proposals recently to address the issue. But not all of those plans are equal. Some, like one introduced last week by Senators Reed (D-R.I.), Harkin (D-Iowa), Reid (D-Nev.), and Murray (D-Wash.), are decidedly better for students than others.
Scores of teachers and school administrators cite the lack of parental engagement as a leading factor in low student achievement. But the key to sparking meaningful parental engagement has long eluded schools and districts. Just this year, one Tennessee lawmaker introduced legislation to require parents to attend school meetings or have their welfare benefits revoked. Contradicting the belief that it takes a miracle (or the threat of punishment) to inspire parental engagement, a new Public Agenda survey of Kansas City parents suggests that parents do want to make meaningful contributions to their children’s education.
States and districts are working hard to implement educator evaluation systems that can help differentiate the quality of teaching occurring across schools. Among other uses, data from these systems can help us discern whether all kids have equitable access to effective teachers. Hillsborough County Schools in Florida, a leading district in educator evaluation, took a big step forward recently by publicly sharing a preliminary analysis assessing whether students in its low-income schools have access to high-quality teaching on par with their more affluent peers. Their data suggest the answer is no.
Efforts to close the achievement gap have often focused solely on the lowest performing students, and results from national assessments suggest that American schools have made a lot of progress. But there hasn’t been nearly as much progress in moving low-income students and students of color to the highest level of achievement; gaps there have widened significantly in recent years. Certainly, efforts to bring the bottom students up must continue, but the nationwide effort to close long-standing gaps between groups will never succeed without a focus on students at all points on the achievement spectrum.
Despite objections and concerns raised by The Education Trust and seven other groups in the civil rights and disability communities, the U.S. Department of Education has allowed an ESEA waiver submitted by a group of California districts to undergo peer review. After California failed to submit an application that met the Department’s requirements, the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) applied for a waiver and the Department agreed to consider it, potentially setting a bad precedent that would allow multiple accountability systems within a state. Such a move would take us back to a time when it was widely acceptable to set lower expectations for disadvantaged students, and make it nearly impossible for parents, communities, and policymakers to discern the progress and success of their local schools.
Every teacher deserves to work in a school and district where they feel appreciated. But even more important, teachers deserve to work in schools and districts that take intentional steps to support their practice, create teaching and learning conditions that help them and their students be successful, and treat them as professionals. During National Teacher Appreciation Week, as we recognize the critical work teachers are doing to help students become knowledgeable, skillful, productive citizens, we must also focus on how we support them in doing that work. The U.S. Department of Education’s newly released “A Blueprint for R.E.S.P.E.C.T. ” outlines recommendations — drawn from educators — for what this could look like.
The Education Trust joined seven other groups in the civil rights and disability communities urging U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan not to approve waivers that would allow districts to bypass state accountability systems and create separate local systems. This letter warns that moving away from statewide accountability could set a bad precedent, resulting in multiple accountability systems within a state, thereby taking us back to a time when it was widely acceptable to set lower expectations for disadvantaged students, and making it nearly impossible for parents, communities, and policymakers to discern the progress and success of their local schools. These groups ask the secretary to “hold the line” for statewide commitment to common expectations for all students and equity.