For-profits offer flexibility — at a price

For-profit colleges charge $35,000 on average for an associate degree, on average, more than four times the cost at the average community college. Why does anyone choose a for-profit college? Students cite flexibility and convenience. Most use federal student aid to pay the bills.

Flexibility, low pay for online adjuncts

Job satisfaction is high for online adjunct instructors at Arizona’s Rio Salado College, despite low pay and no benefits, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Flexible work hours and effective training in online teaching are the key.

Online courses provided the flexibility Richard Bradbury needed to complete the first two years of college while working in Afghanistan as a contractor. Once he was “seven or eight questions” in to a timed test in macroeconomics when a rocket attack began. He grabbed his computer, ran to the bunker and finished the test.

Accountability light and lighter

Sen. Tom Harkin and the Democrats have proposed a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind). So have Sen. Lamar Alexander the the Republicans. Both “move away from the strong federal accountability system at the center of the much-maligned NCLB law, but to different degrees,” reports Ed Week.

The Harkin bill would require states to create accountability systems that essentially build on the administration’s waivers (which are in place in 37 states plus D.C. so far), meaning that states would have to set goals for student achievement and come up with some sort of system to help turn around the schools that are struggling the most. The Alexander bill, on the other hand, would continue to require states to test in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but the senator is counting on transparency to be the main lever for school improvement. And under the Harkin bill, schools would be on the hook for helping the bottom five percent turn around—plus fixing another 10 percent of schools with big achievement gaps. There’s nothing like that in the Alexander bill . . .

Harkin wants teachers to be evaluated based on student achievement with the results used to ensure that low-performing schools get an “equitable” share of high-quality teachers. The Alexander bill eliminates the provision on “highly qualified” teachers and leaves teacher evaluation to the states.

The House Republicans don’t agree: Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education committee, wants to mandate teacher evaluation. He introduced his ESEA reauthorization bill today.

Alexander also would let “federal Title I dollars follow a child to any public school they want, but not to a private school or for outside options like tutoring,” writes Klein. And the Alexander bill specifically forbids the U.S. Secretary of Education from requiring districts to adopt certain tests, standards, or accountability systems.

Harkin claims to be ending federal “micromanaging” of schools and offering states “flexibility.”

That’s laughable, writes Mike Petrilli on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.  He lists 40 policy questions that Harkin’s bill decides, ranging from “equitable distribution of quality teachers” to collaboration time for teachers in low-performing schools.

School report cards must include  (“detailed data on the number of pregnant or parenting students and their outcomes,” data on “school violence, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, in-school student suspensions, out-of-school student suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests, disciplinary transfers (including placements in alternative schools), and student detentions” for each subgroup, etc.)

Fordham favors “reform realism” about the limits of federal power. On Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle calls that “mushy.” He thinks both bills are “lackluster.” But, at least, Harkin is trying to hold schools accountable.

States would still have to provide data on how districts and schools are helping poor and minority children, keeping one of the most successful aspects of No Child’s accountability provisions. States would also have to provide families with an “equity report card” complete with data on how well districts are doing in providing comprehensive college preparatory courses – including Advanced Placement classes – to all kids; this would make data easily accessible to families so they can make smarter decisions and be lead decision-makers in education.

But Harkin repeats the Obama administration’s error of focusing on the worst-performing schools and letting the rest off the hook, Biddle writes.

Neither bill will pass, nor will there be “anything even resembling a compromise, anytime ever until there are new folks in Congress (and maybe a new president),” writes Alyson Klein. That means rule by waivers will continue.

Grit is good, but academics come first

Stressing character traits such as “perseverance, self-monitoring, and flexibility”  over cognition is a mistake, writes Mike Rose, a UCLA professor. Many so-called “non-cognitive” traits require thinking skills.

Some colleges and universities are trying to measure non-cognitive traits to find “diamonds in the rough,” but so far high school grades, backed by test scores, are the most accurate predictors of college success.

Dan Willingham writes on the challenge of measuring non-cognitive skills.

Flexibility, respect cuts teacher turnover

Rachel Spector quit teaching in low-performing, all-minority East Palo Alto (California) after four years, “squashed” by pressure to teach in a prescribed way to raise test scores.  “I didn’t feel respected.”

After a year teaching in San Francisco, which was even worse, she returned to teach seventh-grade English and social studies at Costaño School in East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood district. Principal Gina Sudaria promised, “As long as you’re teaching the standards and you’re teaching at a rigorous level, you can teach however you want to.”

“More and more, I’m the instructional leader of my classroom,” Spector says. 

Long plagued by high teacher turnover, Ravenswood is trying to keep good teachers by giving them more flexibility and input, reports the Peninsula Press.

Ravenswood teachers cope with big challenges — 77 percent of students aren’t proficient in English — for less pay than teachers in nearby affluent districts. Teachers start at $42,460, almost 20 percent lower than neighboring Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

 At Costaño, a K-8 school, Principal Sudaria uses peer coaches to help teachers learn from each other. She also stresses collaborative decision-making.

“Teachers are the ones who are doing the groundwork every single day, so their input and their knowledge needs to be highly valued,” she said.

The staff is divided into five committees that meet weekly on topics involving curriculum, safety and parent outreach. Sudaria said that allowing them to be involved beyond their teaching or support role gets everyone more invested in the school.

Turnover is down and the school’s Academic Performance Index score has increased from 612 to 783 in the past four years, nearing the state’s goal of 800.

Special ed needs waivers too

“Flexibility is education’s new buzzword” – except for special education, writes Miriam Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, in EdSource Today.

. . . more than 6 million students with disabilities, their parents, 13,809 school districts, 98,706 public schools, and 5,453 charter schools all have to meet the same rigid legal and regulatory requirements, regardless of the local situation or unique needs of the child or community. In 2002, studies found some 814 federal monitoring requirements for compliance by state and local agencies for programs for students with disabilities.

Parents should be able to “opt out of requirements that they don’t need or want, especially when children are doing well,” argues Freedman, who blogs at School Law Pro.

Flexibility? Not so much

Despite promises of flexibility on No Child Left Behind, the Education Department is micromanaging waivers, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

He cites Education Department letters to the states reported by AP, which show federal nitpicking.  Even “Massachusetts —the first-place finisher in the Race to the Top, the state with the highest achievement in the land, the one that has seen dramatic gains across all subgroups of students, a strong supporter (for better or worse) of the Common Core standards” gets no respect from the feds.

Petrilli predicts most of the 11 waiver-seeking states will be approved.

Upon closer inspection, observers will notice that the amount of flexibility granted on accountability is tiny. Approved plans will amount to minor changes away from the AYP system we’ve got today.

The number of states planning to apply for waivers by February 21 will drop precipitously, as they realize that it’s just not worth the effort.

This will raise congressional enthusiasm for rewriting No Child Left Behind, but “nothing will come of it this year.”

Obama waives No Child Left Behind

President Obama will waive the key requirements of No Child Left Behind, he said today.  States won’t have to show students are achieving proficiency in reading and math by 2014.

States will set their own achievement goals and “design their own interventions for failing schools,” reports Ed Week.

In exchange for this flexibility, the administration will require states to adopt college- and career-ready standards, focus on 15 percent of their most-troubled schools, and create guidelines for teacher evaluations based in part on student performance.

In the 2012-13 school year, rules requiring low-performing schools to offer free tutoring and school choice will be waived.

In addition to intervening to change the lowest 5 percent of schools, state will be required “to identify another 10 percent of schools that struggle with particularly low graduation rates, low performance for specific subgroups of students (such as those with disabilities), or high achievement gaps.”

Schools that aren’t in the bottom 15 percent don’t need to make changes.

The plan is a “responsible framework” that gives states the flexibility, they’ve requested, notes Education Trust. States claimed they could do it better. Now “it’s time for them to stand and deliver.”

GOP on NCLB: Rollback or reform?

States would have more say in school reform under a No Child Left Behind rewrite proposed by key Republican senators, led by Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former U.S. secretary of education. The GOP leaders are introducing five bills to reauthorize NCLB, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

It’s a “stunning retreat on two decades of education reform,” blasted Democrats for Education Reform.

Senate Republicans to poor and minority children: Fuggedaboutit, headlines Dropout Nation.

Don’t “roll back hard-won progress in student achievement,” responded Education Trust.  “When left to their own devices, states have a long, well-documented history of aiming far too low and shortchanging the schools that serve our most vulnerable children.”

It’s a rollback of NCLB’s excesses that preserves education reform, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

The reform package . . . would eliminate “adequate yearly progress,” hand “accountability” back to the states, and undo the law’s “highly qualified teachers” mandate. But it doesn’t abdicate Uncle Sam’s interest in reform, or in the country’s neediest students. States would still be required to take dramatic action to turn around their very worst schools. Title I funding would continue to flow to the highest-need schools and districts. Students would continue to be tested in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and the results would continue to be reported widely and by subgroup. The approach is tight-loose, incentives over mandates, transparency over accountability. It’s “reform realism” through and through.

The bills require states to adopt college-and-career standards, but don’t push Common Core Standards.

One bill is modeled on the pro-charter school bill that passed the House this week.

Republicans are winning the education debate, writes Joan Richardson in Phi Delta Kappan. In the PDK/Gallup Poll numbers, “Americans favor charter schools (70%), favor allowing parents to choose a child’s school (74%), believe unionization is bad for public school education (47%), and that natural talent is more important than college training (70%). Any way you slice it, those ideas have been part of the Republican reform agenda.”

Less money, more flexibility

California’s very belated budget gives less money to schools but more flexibility in how to spend the money, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Summer school. Art and music. Classes for gifted children.

Buying textbooks. Training math and English teachers. Tutoring students for the high school exit exam.

. . . In the budget deal crafted last week, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger combined many of the pots of money known as “categoricals.” The result is that for the next five years, principals and district administrators will have more spending flexibility than they’ve had in recent history.

One third of state education funding has been restricted by the Legislature, which feared school boards would sacrifice special programs to boost teacher salaries.

Money for buying new technology couldn’t be used to buy books for a library. Money for checking kids’ teeth couldn’t be spent on counseling. Money for training principals couldn’t be used to train a teacher.

Reformers have called for combining the categoricals for 20 years now. It took a crisis to make it happen. And, due to heavy pressure by the teachers’ union, class-size reduction wasn’t included.  A principal can’t choose to save the reading intervention program by increasing second-grade and third-grade classes to 25 students.