Education

What ‘Sid the Science Kid’ Means for Adults

July 3, 2013
Publication Image

Last month I had the opportunity to write about one of my favorite preschool television shows, Sid the Science Kid.  The piece, “How Kids’ Television Inspires a Lifelong Love of Science,” is part of a special online report on Educating Americans for the 21st Century, published by Smithsonian magazine.*

If Congress Agrees the Era of Big Government is Over, Why Can’t We Get an ESEA Deal?

July 2, 2013

UPDATED 7/22: The side-by-side comparison of each proposal now reflects the final version of the Student Success Act, as amended during floor debate on July 18 and 19. For full coverage of the House debate and vote, read the Storify here.

Considering Congress hasn’t figured out how to compromise on student loan interest rates (despite the fact that President Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators proposed shockingly similar plans), it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) remains at a standstill. Sure, the Senate and House of Representatives marked up proposed legislation and moved it out of their respective education committees. But everyone – including Congress itself – knows these bills aren’t going anywhere. How else can you explain a Senate markup so sparsely attended that Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) threatened his fellow members’ subcommittee leadership? Or a House markup so speedy that you missed it if you took a long lunch?

Part of the problem is that there is absolutely no pressure to get a rewrite of ESEA (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind) done, and these days Congress needs a cliff or a crisis (or a rapidly expanding minority population to win over) in order to accomplish anything. The deadline built into NCLB – that 100 percent of students in every Title I school be proficient in reading and math by 2014 or face sanctions – won’t hit until next summer. But the U.S. Department of Education has already leveled this “proficiency cliff” by giving ESEA waivers to 39 states and Washington, D.C. (that number could balloon to 45 states and a handful of districts in California if all remaining requests are approved).

While states – via the National Governor’s Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, and other groups – claim they want a reauthorization, surely they’d prefer to stick with waivers if a new ESEA meant additional federal requirements or any significant changes to their Department-approved plans. This makes reauthorization more difficult than ever. Waivers are complicated, involve dozens of policy choices for states, and vary tremendously. Bellwether’s Andy Rotherham put it best: “It’s hard to overstate how completely incoherent federal policy on K-12 schools now is. States are all over the place on timelines, approaches, and so forth with little rhyme or reason.” Accordingly, any ESEA reauthorization proposal that seeks to win over state education officials or build off of existing waiver policies has to envision such a weak federal role that states can pretty much do whatever they want.

And that’s exactly what we got… and not just from the usual suspects (i.e. congressional Republicans). Even the Democrats’ proposals envision an incredibly limited federal role in education. You can see for yourself by downloading our complete cheat sheet here. The central ESEA reauthorization question today isn’t “what is the appropriate federal role?” but rather “how weak a federal role can we live with?”

Take Senator Harkin’s proposal. Yes, states must adopt college- and career ready standards, test students annually in reading and math, establish an accountability system with performance targets, identify at least 15 percent of schools for improvement, and implement performance-based evaluation system for teachers and principals. But all of the details (with the exception of federal reporting, where the requirements are quite specific) are left up to states. Waivers can remain in effect, and for nearly every provision there’s an option to design and get approval for states’ preferred policy choices.

The Ranking Member on the House education committee, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), would give states slightly less leeway. For example, Miller’s proposal defines what adequate student growth means, gives states fewer choices in setting performance targets, and requires states to get approval for their academic standards from institutions of higher education unless they are common to several states. Still, Miller wouldn’t require states to intervene in a certain number or percentage of schools (just particular categories of schools), and it gives states flexibility to design their own accountability systems and teacher evaluations.

What’s incredible is that the Republican proposals cede even more authority to states – significantly curbing the Secretary of Education’s authority, eliminating (or consolidating, depending on your point of view) funding and programs like those for English language learners, and dismantling nearly every federal guideline for standards and accountability. Their plans also eschew many of the lessons learned from NCLB, including bipartisan, commonsense ideas like uniform graduation rates and using a balance of proficiency and growth for accountability. Is it intrusive to ask states to set some kind of school performance goals? Is it so burdensome for states to also take student growth into account? And is it really that unreasonable to expect states to report school data in a comparable way?

None of the ESEA reauthorization proposals are perfect. But if you actually read them – and I have – it seems like there should be more room to compromise. Everyone envisions a limited federal role! (To be clear, I’m not arguing that this is the best policy choice, only that it should make the politics easier.)

If Congress seriously wanted to make a deal, perhaps Republicans could get on board with a few more state requirements – performance targets or interventions in some number of schools, a measure of student growth, graduation rate accountability, and performance-based teacher evaluations that guide professional development – as long as states still had flexibility to make their own choices. Democrats could appease Republicans by streamlining reporting requirements, eliminating some of the required actions for schools in improvement, allowing teacher evaluations to be used only for professional development, or working on language to clarify the Secretary’s authority to grant waivers or encourage Common Core participation.

Yes, there would still be big differences to iron out (maintenance of effort, funding comparability, etc.), but the two parties aren’t nearly as far apart on policy as the political rhetoric might suggest. Unfortunately, with midterm elections fast approaching, lawmakers appear more concerned with scoring political points and toeing the party line than with the give and take of writing complicated policy. And waivers enable the administration to enact its preferred policies, at least temporarily, while simultaneously blaming Congress for inaction. In short, gridlock is a win-win. Despite two markups, four proposals, and thousands of pages of legislation, nobody in Washington benefits from making a deal. So get ready for those waiver renewals because ESEA isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

It’s Official: Interest Rates on Subsidized Stafford Loans Double

July 1, 2013

Interest rates on a subset of federal student loans officially doubled today from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. The rates apply only to newly issued Subsidized Stafford loans, affecting about 7.4 million students next year. But the increase in interest rates could have been prevented – and many members of Congress tried.

The scheduled increase has been circled on many stakeholders’ and policymakers’ calendars since Congress granted a one-year reprieve last summer. Unlike last year, though, Congress debated a host of reform proposals, many of them market-based (tied to the rate on the 10-year Treasury note), rather than just a simple one-year extension. The latest plan, a bipartisan proposal from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), was immediately rejected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Though the House and Senate haven’t yet managed to agree on a plan, it is still possible that Congress could vote to retroactively reset the rates before students start school in the fall. Working with Slate, we developed a calculator that explores several of the proposals on the table: the bipartisan Senate plan, a similar proposal from President Obama, a temporary extension of the 3.4 percent rate, and the now-effective 6.8 percent rate. Enter your loan amount for next year, and see what your interest rates and monthly payments could be under each of the plans:

Promising Trends, but Discouraging Numbers, in Early Childhood Education Workforce

July 1, 2013

An oft-repeated lament in the early childhood world is that child care workers are so low-paid that, on average, they earn less than parking lot attendants. A new analysis supported by the Institute of Education Sciences and published in Education Finance and Policy finds this old adage is correct – but the authors say there is some promising news, too.

The study, “The Early Childhood Care and Education Workforce from 1990 through 2010: Changing Dynamics and Persistent Concerns,” examines Census data from the Current Population Survey for early childhood employees in schools, centers and home-based care. It looks at four characteristics: educational attainment of child care workers, pay of those workers, the “brain drain” of early childhood workers from the industry and the prestige of the workforce, as measured by the education level and compensation of people new to the field.

Child Care, Preschool, and American Families

June 28, 2013
Publication Image

The last few news cycles have confirmed what researchers already knew: American families, conceptions of marriage, and views on gender are changing fast. In 1975, nearly half of American households followed the traditional “dad-at-work, mom-at-home” model. Less than one-third of families use that model today. Twice as many dads stay home with their children now as did a decade ago. And today, over 40 percent of mothers are the “sole or primary providers” in their households today.

Bipartisan Student Loan Interest Rate Reform Bill Released in the Senate

June 27, 2013

Would Senate Democrats walk away from a chance to cut interest rates and payments on student loans below where they would be if Congress enacted a one-year extension of current policy – a 3.4 percent interest rate for Subsidized Stafford loans and a 6.8 percent rate for Unsubsidized Stafford loans? Would they turn down a bipartisan plan to spend an estimated additional $30 billion over the next five years to lower rates for millions of borrowers? We will soon find out.

Today, a bipartisan group of senators officially introduced legislation, the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, that would lower rates and payments on student loans below an extension of the current 3.4 percent rate on Subsidized Stafford loans. The bill, led by Sens. Manchin (D-WV), Burr (R-NC), Coburn (R-OK), Alexander (R-TN), and King (I-ME), would tie fixed interest rates on newly issued student loans to the 10-year Treasury note rate – 1.81 percent for the 2013-14 school year – plus a markup of 1.85 percent on undergraduate Stafford loans, 3.4 percent on graduate Stafford loans, and 4.4 percent on PLUS loans.

The rates on the loan would be fixed for the life of the loan, but each year of loans would carry a new rate. The bill would maintain the existing cap on consolidation loans of 8.25 percent, a provision included (albeit not explicitly) in an earlier proposal from Sens. Coburn and Burr.

We’ve written a lot over the past few weeks about this bipartisan Senate proposal and in a recent analysis compare it to other plans. The benefits under the bipartisan plan exceed those of others proposals because it lowers rates on both types of loans undergraduates receive, Unsubsidized and Subsidized Staffords. And because Unsubsidized Stafford loans accrue interest while a student is in school, lowering rates on those loans reduces the amount of debt borrowers have when they leave school, cutting monthly and total payments, too.

BipartisanProposal.png

Why is the Democratic leadership in the Senate actively trying to defeat this bipartisan bill? And why are student and advocacy groups egging them on? Because they are worried that interest rates might, sometime in the future, on average, end up higher under the proposal than under current law (i.e. 6.8 percent). In that case, 6.8 percent would be a better deal they argue.

Senate Democrats and advocacy groups, in other words, have put their money on a big move up in long-term interest rates. Sure, they could be right, although the 10-year Treasury note would have to return to its 2007 pre-recession level for the rate under the bipartisan plan to exceed 6.8 percent. But what if they are wrong about future interest rates? What if rates stay lower for longer?

Take a look at Congress’ track record on picking interest rates for student loans. The rates are currently fixed at 6.8 percent because back in 2001 legislators picked that number based on Congressional Budget Office interest rate projections.

That should be reason enough to get Congress out of the business of setting student loan interest rates. But armed with another Congressional Budget Office interest rate projection (which simply extrapolates average interest rates from the past into the future), Democrats and advocacy groups are busy making tables and charts showing exactly where interest rates are headed, all to make the case that 6.8 percent is a good rate.

According to Sen. Durbin (D-IL), student groups have told Democratic lawmakers to let the rate on Subsidized Stafford loans double to 6.8 percent rather than consider any of the alternatives currently being floated. When Congress picked the 6.8 percent rate in the early 2000s, student groups rejoiced. They were sure it was a great deal for students. They even took out full page newspaper advertisements thanking Congress for "lowering rates." Later, as everyone knows, Democratic lawmakers and student advocates cried foul when rates plunged but the 6.8 percent rate remained. Could they be wrong again? 

Check back with Ed Money Watch for more details in the coming week.

New CREDO Charter School Study Provides Talking Points for Both Sides

June 27, 2013

A new report on charter school performance from Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes is—like CREDO’s last major report, in 2009—inspiring a host of talking points. With 95 pages of findings to sift through, there is something for charter school friends and foes alike—which is why it is a mistake to use this, or any CREDO study, as an empirical justification for or argument against the charter school sector in general.

The report indicates that charter schools serve roughly double the percentage of African-American students, a higher percentage of Hispanic students, and a higher percentage of students in poverty than traditional public schools. But CREDO also found that charters serve fewer English language learners and special education students than both traditional public schools as a whole and charter school “feeders”—demographically similar schools that students may attend before enrolling in charters.

The study found that charter school students are, on average, making bigger reading gains than their traditional public school peers, amounting to about eight days of additional learning time. In math, charter school students are making learning gains equivalent to their traditional school peers. In both areas, the charter school sector has improved its performance since 2009.

CREDO’s school-level achievement numbers are particularly amenable to ideological massaging. On one hand, they clearly show that a majority of charter schools perform the same or worse than traditional public schools in math (40 percent the same + 31 percent worse) and reading (56 percent the same + 19 percent worse). Hence the Washington Post’s headline about the study: “Charters not outperforming traditional public schools, report says.” It’s settled: charter schools are a disaster!

But wait! The data also clearly show that a majority of charter schools perform the same or better than traditional public schools in math (40 percent same + 29 percent better) and reading (56 percent same + 25 percent better). Hence the AP’s more encouraging headline, which references “general gains” at charters. It’s settled: charter schools are a triumph!

What’s that old line about lies, damned lies, and statistics?

The real lesson from the new CREDO study is less dramatic, and thus gets less attention. The national aggregate data on charters mask wide variance in school quality; charters in Washington, D.C. are good and getting better, for example, while Nevada charters are weak. In other words, “charter schools” alone aren’t the solution to our educational ills, though high-quality charters can make a big difference in students’ lives.

The CREDO study shows that the rules states set for their charter school sectors affect the quality of their schools. Indeed, the paper states, “The rise in average student growth across the continuing schools is due in no small part to the closure of low-performing schools, which amounted to about 8 percent of the 2009 sample of schools.” This ought to be intuitive. Charter schools work better in states (and the District of Columbia) with laws that maintain strict school accountability standards. The study found that “the use of the option to close schools represents the strongest available tool to improve overall sector quality for the time being.” (For a more comprehensive look at the promise and challenges of closing charter schools, see this report from the Progressive Policy Institute.)

To repeat the analogy I offered on Twitter yesterday: “Charter schools don’t solve U.S. education’s quality problem any more than oatmeal solves the problem of eating a quality breakfast.” Like oatmeal, charter schools are just one, potentially beneficial option—but by no means a guarantee of educational quality.

Building Early Literacy Through Libraries and Museums

June 25, 2013
Publication Image
Public libraries may seem like an easy place to trim some fat off local budgets. Indeed, according to the American Library Association, 40 percent of states cut library funding in 2011. But that approach may be undermining parallel efforts to boost investment in early childhood education.

Harkin Interest Rate Proposal Costs Students More than Bipartisan Bill

June 25, 2013

Less than a week before interest rates are scheduled to double on some federal student loans, yet another proposal has surfaced in the Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is reported to be circulating a proposal similar to one Sens. Manchin, King, Coburn, and Burr released last week, only his plan includes lower rates on Subsidized Stafford loans (but higher rates on Unsubsidized) than the bipartisan Senate proposal and Senator Harkin adds a cap on rates.

Harkin’s plan ties rates to the 10-year Treasury-note rate, plus a 1.5 percent markup for Subsidized Stafford loans; a 3.4 percent markup on Unsubsidized loans; and a 4.5 percent markup on PLUS loans. Stafford loans would be capped at 8.25 percent, and PLUS loans would be capped at 9.25 percent. (Consolidation loans, currently capped at 8.25 percent, would no longer have a cap.) The Manchin-King plan, on the other hand, would start with the same 10-year Treasury rate with a 1.95 percent markup on undergraduate Stafford loans; a 3.4 percent markup on graduate Stafford loans; and a 4.4 percent markup on PLUS loans.

Yesterday, we compared monthly payments for a hypothetical student taking out the maximum in Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford loans for four years of school, under several of the existing proposals. (We used the current Treasury rate as a basis for our estimates.) Today, we’re adding the Harkin proposal to those estimates. Readers should note that the bipartisan proposal is still a better deal for undergraduates than the Harkin proposal. And because the bipartisan bill reduces the interest rate for both Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, more students will  get a better deal.

The bipartisan Senate proposal achieves lower loan balances and overall interest rates for undergraduates than the Harkin plan because it charges graduate students more than undergraduates on Unsubsidized Stafford loans. We think charging graduate students higher rates to provide undergraduates lower ones is smart policy. It’s also progressive. Student loan borrowers with graduate degrees are hardly an economically oppressed class. Meanwhile, too many Americans struggle to obtain an undergraduate degree.

Maybe progressives could learn a thing or two from Sens. Manchin (D-WV), King (I-ME), Coburn (R-OK), and Burr (R-NC). The bipartisan proposal is a better deal for students, and it’s a better solution to the problem.  

Harkin.png

New Research Shows Social Skills and Mixed-Language Play Help ELLs Learn English

June 24, 2013

A new study provides evidence of the direct link between social and academic skill building during early childhood. The article, “Understanding Influences of Play on Second Language Learning,” is by Ruth Piker of California State University – Long Beach, and was published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Early Childhood Research. Piker uses developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s “concept of play as rule driven” to analyze how non-native English speakers develop skills in English through structured play with both native speakers and other dual-language learners.

Syndicate content