Posts tagged ‘Arne Duncan’

November 21, 2013

The Obamacare debacle is not helping the Common Core roll-out

by Grace

Implementation challenges have made the Common Core look more and more like Obamacare.

… States that raced to adopt the standards in 2010, including Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, have expressed second thoughts on participating. In New York, Common Core critics have called for the resignation of education commissioner John King after he threatened to cancel a series of town halls on the topic. At a convening hosted by the Education Writers Association earlier this week, the president of the American Federation of Teachers declared that the implementation of the Common Core is “far worse” than the troubled launch of Obamacare.

Glenn Reynolds finds it interesting “that the opposition comes from a broad political spectrum”.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan probably regrets injecting race into the debate with this clumsy declaration.

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,”

He later “apologized” by basically slapping “himself on the wrist for calling out one group instead of everybody who objects to top-down standardization”.

The reality is that education standards have fallen.

As a “suburban mom”, I agree with Duncan in feeling frustrated at “the educational reality” of low standards that falsely show our children are achieving at high levels.  At the same time, I sympathize with the opponents of the top-down, heavy-handed design and implementation of Common Core.

Its similarities to Obamacare leave Common Core more open to criticism.

In his blog post about problems with Common Core implementation, Andy Smarick writes about the federal government’s promise that “If you like your federal education policy, you can keep it!”  At one point the Department of Education found itself “offering states a waiver from their waivers“.


July 17, 2013

Quick Links — New York average college debt; black families denied student loans; summer intern fails big

by Grace

The average New York state college student debt load for a 2011 graduate is about $26,400.

That compares to a 2011 nationwide average student debt of $27,200, which includes loans for both state and private colleges.  The New York average seems high since their state schools are considered among the nation’s best values in public colleges.

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… the Obama administration has begun denying student loans to disproportionately large numbers of black parents because of blemished credit histories.

 United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax calls  this a “a nasty surprise”.

In the past year, for historically black colleges and universities (HCBU), the Obama administration’s policies have led to a 36 percent drop in the volume of parent loans. That translated into an annual cut of more than $150 million. The reason, according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is to prevent parents from taking on too much debt — which is as patronizing as it is hypocritical. In April, Obama announced that he was pushing to make more home loans available to people with weak credit.

…  from Howard University in the District to Morehouse and Spelman colleges in Atlanta, enrollment at HBCUs is declining as the realities of Obama’s revamped loan policies make a mockery of his high-flung rhetoric.

“It is particularly ironic that at a time when this administration has set a goal to increase the nation’s college graduation rate to 60 percent by 2020, this policy shift occurs that will make reaching the goal impossible,” said Cheryl Smith, senior vice president for public policy and government at the United Negro College Fund. “The tougher credit criteria are having a disparate impact on underrepresented minority students, the very ones that stand to benefit the most from a college education.”

Stricter underwriting standards were added for Parent Plus loans in October 2011, but federal loans continue to have easier qualification requirements than private loans do.

According to Education Department standards, prospective borrowers can’t have any current accounts more than 90 days delinquent, or any foreclosures, bankruptcies, tax liens, wage garnishments or defaults within the past five years. But the department doesn’t look at prospective borrowers’ incomes or their current debt load, meaning that poor borrowers with little or no credit history can be approved.

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NTSB summer intern blamed for racist names

A NTSB summer intern “erroneously” confirmed bogus names of the pilots manning the Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco last week.  The names, which included “Captain Sum Ting Wong”, were read on the air by a local news anchor.

I’m waiting to see if this intern’s name is released, and if he goes on to get his 15 minutes of “fame”.

One of the fake names provided was “Ho Lee Fuk”, which reminded me of the time my husband worked with a client whose name included Fuk.  Unsurprisingly, it caused a few laughs around the office.

May 10, 2013

‘teaching is not yet a profession’

by Grace

Teaching in American K-12 public schools is different from many other professions.  Linda Darling Hammond argues that “teaching is not yet a profession”, with one reason being that teachers lack mastery “of a common knowledge base”.

At the heart of the issue are schools of education, according to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

Arne Duncan, the Obama administration secretary of education:

 … “By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom,” and “America’s university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change, not evolutionary thinking.”

Much criticism targets specific problems that afflict schools of education.

… lack of selectivity, an imbalance between content and pedagogy, or the lack of value delivered.

Actually, ed schools do not “train” teachers; they “prepare” them to travel “on a lifelong path of learning, distinct from knowing, as actual knowledge is perceived as too fluid”.

Though those two terms—train and prepare—appear to be interchangeable, they are not….

It is because training a teacher is viewed (if the AERA volume is accurate in its summation) as “an oversimplification of teaching and learning, ignoring its dynamic, social and moral aspects.”…

Harking back perhaps to teacher education’s 19th-century ecclesiastical origins, its mission has shifted away from the medical model of training doctors to professional formation. The function of teacher education is to launch the candidate on a lifelong path of learning, distinct from knowing, as actual knowledge is perceived as too fluid to be achievable. In the course of a teacher’s preparation, prejudices and errant assumptions must be confronted and expunged, with particular emphasis on those related to race, class, language, and culture. This improbable feat . . . is accomplished as candidates reveal their feelings and attitudes through abundant in-class dialogue and by keeping a journal. From these activities is born each teacher’s unique philosophy of teaching and learning.

Not many other professions, medicine for example, follow this model.  (Thank goodness.)

Social justice activism is often considered more important than academic instruction.

There is also a strong social-justice component to teacher education, with teachers cast as “activists committed to diminishing the inequities of American society.” That vision of a teacher is seen by a considerable fraction of teacher educators (although not all) as more important than preparing a teacher to be an effective instructor. This view of a teacher’s role as transformational is not wrong, as teachers often serve as the means by which children overcome challenges inherent in their backgrounds. But it is one that is often taken to absurd extremes in practice. For example, a textbook used in a math course for elementary school teachers is entitled Social Justice through Mathematics, which explains why the view is so often disparaged.

Best practices?  There is minimal agreement on best methods for instruction, and education schools want future teachers to find ‘the “how to” on your own and  own your teaching style’.  According to AERA, an education methods course in college is not actually meant to teach the best methods.

… “A methods course is seldom defined as a class that transmits information about methods of instruction and ends with a final exam. [They] are seen as complex sites in which instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.”

One of the most harmful examples of this do-your-own-thing approach is in reading instruction, where the NCTQ found the most common recommendation among ed schools is that the teaching “candidate should develop her own approach to teaching reading, based on exposure to various philosophies and approaches, none more valid than any other”.

One step in addressing the ed school problem:  The NCTQ plans to introduce an objective measure of quality and performance.

The NCTQ Teacher Prep Review, slated for initial release in June 2013,  is rating teacher-preparation programs across the country. By examining the fundamental requirements of each program—admissions standards, course requirements, coverage of essential content, preparation in the CCSS, how the student teaching program operates, instruction in classroom management and lesson planning, and how teacher candidates are judged ready for the classroom—the Review will capture the information that any consumer of these programs would want to see, including aspiring teachers and school districts looking to hire the best teachers….

Good teachers often have to fight the system   I’ve been fortunate to know many excellent teachers, but I suspect many have had to work against barriers imposed by poor training and mediocre curriculum.  Perhaps this NCTQ review of education schools will be one step on the way to Duncan’s “revolutionary change”, but I’m not holding my breath that change will happen quickly.


March 4, 2013

Sequester will cut thousands of college work study jobs

by Grace

Pell Grants won’t be affected, but other types of federal student aid and research funding will be cut as the result of the sequestration that took effect on March 1.

The impending federal budget cuts known as the sequester, which will go into effect on Friday without action by Congress, are poised to have a significantly negative effect on both public and private universities nationwide. Some forms of federal student aid and funding for a variety of research programs are likely to find themselves on the chopping block, according to the White House and university administrators.

Several critical revenue streams for universities are at risk: The National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Humanities are all subject to cuts that fall within both the 7.6 percent cut to mandatory spending and the 8.2 percent cut to discretionary spending.

Students’ tuition rates won’t go up, and Pell Grants are protected; but the federal work-study program and other scholarship sources, like the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, would be subject to the 8.2 percent cut.

Some examples of how that breaks down, according to the White House: 4,720 low-income students in Texas would lose federal financial aid; an estimated 2,370 college students in Iowa will lose federal college aid; 4,520 low-income college students in New York would lose money; 6,250 Florida low-income students and 9,600 in California would get hit.

On campuses, uncertainty reigns.

The ambiguity of how the sequester will affect student aid, jobs, and research is adding to a gloomy atmosphere for colleges and universities.  Estimates on the dollar amounts and number of students affected differ significantly depending on the source.

Some estimated numbers

It’s hard to pin down accurate numbers.

Arne Duncan:

“That ($86 million cut) would mean for the fall as many as 70,000 students would lose access to grants and to work-study opportunities,” Duncan said during the briefing….

Chronicle of Higher Education:

… programs like the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and Federal Work-Study would be cut by millions of dollars, eliminating more than 100,000 students from participation.

Meanwhile, here in New York we learned how the cuts will affect K-12 education.

The School Boards Association has detailed district-by-district predictions of how the $102 million in federal cuts would be spread out.

Federal grants make up roughly 8 percent of statewide education expenditures. Most school money comes from the state budget and local revenues, including property taxes.

My local school district is slated to lose $50,141 in federal aid.

January 4, 2013

College debt levels higher than all other types of consumer loans

by Grace

The Wall Street Journal picked its top ten economic charts of 2012, including one published in November showing that outstanding student loan debt now “outpaces all other nonhousing consumer debt”.  (Bear in mind the chart does not include unreported student loan “shadow debt” that could increase these figures by one-third or more.)


U.S. student-loan debt rose by $42 billion, or 4.6%, to $956 billion in the third quarter, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday. Overall household borrowing fell during that period.

Payments on 11% of student-loan balances were 90 or more days behind at the end of September, up from 8.9% at the end of June, a rate that now exceeds that for credit cards. Delinquency rates for all other consumer-debt categories fell or were flat.

By design federal student loans are easy for almost anyone to get.

Nearly all student loans—93% of them last year—are made directly by the government, which asks little or nothing about borrowers’ ability to repay, or about what sort of education they intend to pursue.

President Barack Obama championed easy-to-get loans during the campaign, calling higher education “an economic imperative in the 21st century.” A spokesman for Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the goal is “to make student loans available to as many people as possible,” and requiring minimum credit scores would block many Americans from going to college….

… the government demands no collateral and has no underwriting requirements….

… “The way the system works now…put money on the stump, people come and get it,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “Can’t blame them. It’s sitting out there in plain view. It’s easy to get.”

Jackson Toby, a retired Rutgers professor and adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recommends reforms that would make student loan lending standards similar to those of other consumer debt.  This change would exclude many lower-income students.

He proposes that students undergo a comprehensive assessment of credit-worthiness, including how much debt they currently have, their academic history and their expected income upon graduation, given their major, before getting federal student loans.

Imposing tougher standards would exclude some potential borrowers. “You would have loans only going to upper-income students at the best colleges,” said Mark Kantrowitz, who publishes, a student-aid website.

Other charts among the WSJ’s top picks cover the changes in categories of consumer spending over the last century, how unemployment benefits differ among the different states, and how deficit spending has become the norm in recent years.

Related:  Did the student loan bubble just burst? (

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