Archives for category: Higher Education

The speaker of the State Assembly in Wisconsin said the first thing on his agenda when the Legislature reconvenes will be a teacher accountability bill.


Tim Slekar, dean of Edgewood College, has a better idea: Why not start with a “legislator accountability bill”?


The speaker, Robin Vos, now wants reports on professors’ workload. Slekar says, Let’s check out your daily workload first. Let taxpayers know when and where you are actually working for us.



The following letter was sent to Secretary Arne Duncan by Dean Lisa Vollendorf of the College of Humanities and the Arts at San Jose State University, in response to Duncan’s plan to rate colleges of education by the test scores of students taught by their graduates. Comments on this proposal will be accepted until January 2, 2015. Please send your to:



Dear Secretary Duncan:



As a committed educator who has devoted her life to public higher
education, I am dismayed by the onerous requirements put forth by this
proposal. At San Jose State University, which is part of the 23-campus
California State University system, we will find it fiscally impossible to
comply with so many requirements. In particular, it will cost us much more
than we can afford to track our graduates. Moreover, we are deeply troubled
by the connection between accreditation for teacher credentialing programs
and the test scores of those teachers’ students. The CSU is the largest
four-year public higher education system in the nation, and we are
committed to affordability and access. That commitment translates into
recruiting and training students who are in turn committed to working
throughout the community, including in low-income and under-served areas of
our K-12 system. By tying the test scores of those children to our
accreditation standing, the federal government is sending the message that
the only students we should be serving are those who are lucky enough to
live in privileged areas with a strong tradition of good schools. I am
proud to educate diverse students from all walks of life, and proud when
they go out into the diverse communities from which they hail to give back
and make society better. These new regulations will disincentive programs
and teachers from serving those communities. Please reconsider this overall
plan and think again about the adverse effects on those who most need
improved schools and those who prepare teachers to work in those
under-served communities. Public institutions will be so hard hit by these
regulations that we are concerned that we will no longer be able to afford
credentialing programs.



Lisa Vollendorf, PhD
Dean, College of Humanities and the Arts
San José State University

Jonathan Lovell, who has contributed several posts to this blog, has written to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about his intention to grade colleges of education by the test scores of the students of their graduates. The deadline for submitting comments is January 2. Send comments to:



Lovell writes:





Dear Mr Duncan,
As a teacher educator for the past 35 years in the field of English Education–having spent the past 27 of those years in my present institution of San Jose State University–and as someone who has observed upwards of over 2500 middle and high school English classes over the course of my career, I can say without qualification that the proposed new regulations for assessing the quality of teacher preparation programs would be an unmitigated disaster.
Others on this site have spoken eloquently about the extremely serious effects, especially to public institutions like ours, of the costs of implementing these regulations, as well as the wrong-headedness of linking the assessment of teacher preparation programs to a VAM-like measure of student performance in the classes of recent graduates.
I’d like to address a related issue, but one that has been strangely left out of the public discussion to date. It’s the effect of these new regulations on what might be called the “climate” in which teaching as a profession is perceived.
As I’m sure you are aware, there has already been a 50% decline over the past five years in the number of applicants to teacher education programs in the state of California. While we’ve countered this trend in the English Education program here at San Jose State, we’ve only been able to do so by focusing relentlessly of what helps beginning teachers improve not only their instructional practices, but their sense of personal agency in their chosen profession. The major player in this effort has been the San Jose Area Writing Project, which routinely selects exemplary K-12 teachers for an intensive four and one half week summer institute, then positions these teachers in significant roles in the preparation of new teachers.
Your proposed new regulations will be perceived as yet another iteration of all-too-familiar Bush-Obama refrain that “the whipping will continue until morale improves.” I believe it’s high time to turn from this thoroughly discredited approach to the improvement of teaching and teacher training, and to start looking more sensibly and honestly at practices that work.
The practices of the National Writing Project would be an excellent place to start.

Yours truly,

Jonathan Lovell
Professor of English and Director of the San Jose Area Writing Project
San Jose State University

Senator Tom Harkins of Iowa, who is retiring this year, has long been known as a liberal and a champion of students in higher education. However, he recently proposed to cut the Pell grant program for low-income students while increasing payments to loan contractors. This is bizarre, to say the lease.


Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate education committee and the appropriations subcommittee in charge of federal education expenditures, has proposed taking $303 million from the Pell grant program to increase revenues for some of the nation’s biggest student loan specialists, according to a July 24 version of a 2015 fiscal year spending bill now being negotiated by congressional leaders.


Student advocates and congressional aides largely missed Harkin’s move last summer — partly because the full text of the spending bill wasn’t publicly released until six weeks after Harkin’s subcommittee approved it. They only noticed it in recent days as congressional negotiators work off his bill in the rush to finalize discussions on the federal government’s 2015 spending plans….


Student advocates said they’re outraged.


“I am appalled that Senator Harkin would put servicers — who profit by hundreds of millions of dollars a year — over the needs of low-income students,” said Alexandra Flores-Quilty, vice president of the United States Student Association. “Taking funding out of Pell and using it to pay private student loan servicers goes directly against the interests of students.”


Harkin has also floated the possibility of taking $2 billion out of the Pell program to use for other federal programs, according to Democratic and Republican congressional aides. Harkin reportedly dismissed concerns that such a move would affect students, according to Politico.


It was unclear Friday whether congressional negotiators were still discussing the $2 billion cut. Student advocates warned that if it were to occur, the Pell program would face a $3.6 billion deficit in the fiscal year beginning next October and the likelihood of deep cuts.


For Harkin, a longtime liberal who retires from Congress in January after a 30-year Senate career, the move risks damaging his reputation as an advocate for college students struggling to afford rising tuition.


“Senator Harkin has built a legacy on being a champion for students trying to afford college. We’d be deeply disappointed to see his subcommittee abandon its support for the Pell grant and jeopardize the aspirations of millions of low-income young people,” said Jennifer Wang, policy director at Young Invincibles, an advocacy organization that represents 18 to 34 year-olds.





Sarah Blaine, a lawyer who wrote the earlier post explaining the absurdity of Arne Duncan’s plan to grade colleges of education in relation to the test scores of the students taught by their graduates, here responds to a question about the possibility of litigation. By the way, if you want to comment on Arne’s plan, here is where you write:



Sarah Blaine writes:


There’s a lot to be said for impact litigation, and if someone offered me the opportunity for employment working on meaningful anti-reform education-related impact litigation, I’d be the first to say yes. Education Law Center in NJ, for instance, has done great work over the years, but they’re one tiny organization (and they haven’t offered me a job). And funding is a huge issue here — impact litigation isn’t cheap, and while I do my blogging for free, I do need to earn a living from my day job.


The reality is that there are doctrines — for a reason — that prevent the judiciary from overstepping its role in our balance of powers system. Lawsuits are typically blunt instruments, and they can certainly have unintended consequences. It’s a lot easier (and less costly) to stop a specific proposed regulation or law, such as this one, from becoming the law of the land than it is to challenge that regulation or law once it’s been passed. If you don’t like the proposed regulation, take action to stop it now by calling public attention to it and filing a comment opposed to it. You’ve got 56 days for public comment (although there is a petition going around, for whatever it’s worth, seeking to extend that time).


I don’t think the sort of “umbrella” lawsuit you envision is viable or practical. Rather, lawsuits need to be brought by particular plaintiffs who have standing to sue, against particular defendants who have caused particularized and specifically stated harm. If plaintiffs don’t have standing, the suit will be thrown out on a motion to dismiss, and perhaps some problematic caselaw will be made as a result. So impact litigation needs to be carefully planned and targeted at where it will do the most good. An umbrella lawsuit that takes on standardized testing, charter schools, funding injustice, value-added measurement, and whatever else we’re so frustrated by is not something that’s realistic, regardless of whatever a lawyer-show on TV might have implied.


The proper venue for taking on the “big picture” of corporate reform is not a courthouse (although courthouses are powerful possibilities for dealing with concrete and targeted issues); rather, it’s a grassroots movement, covered by the media, that seeks to influence legislators and executive branch members to roll back the tide of their harmful policies. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t come with the possibility of a judge’s stamp of approval saying that we’re right, but it’s how we get things done in a democracy that hopefully will refuse, despite the odds allied against it, to be beholden to big money, big business, and big philanthropy.

This post was written by a lawyer who also earned an MAT in secondary education. Writing as a lawyer, informed by her Ed school experience, she says that Arne’s plan to punish education colleges if the students of their graduates don’t get high test scores is “asinine.”


She explains:


“Now, please bear with me. Out here in lawyer-land, there’s a slippery concept that every first year law student must wrap her head around: it’s the idea of distinguishing between actual (or “but for”) causation and proximate (or “legal”) causation. Actual causation is any one of a vast link in the chain of events from the world was created to Harold injured me by hitting me, that, at some level, whether direct or attenuated, “caused” my injury. For instance, Harold couldn’t have hit me if the world hadn’t been created, because if the world hadn’t been created, Harold wouldn’t exist (nor would I), and therefore I never would have been hit by Harold. So, if actual or “but for” causation was legally sufficient to hold someone responsible for an injury, I could try suing “the Creator,” as if the Creator is somehow at fault for Harold’s decision to hit me.


Well, that’s preposterous, even by lawyer standards, right?


The law agrees with you: the Creator is too far removed from the injury, and therefore cannot be held legally responsible for it.


So to commit a tort (legal wrong) against someone else, it isn’t sufficient that the wrong allegedly committed actually — at some attenuated level — caused the injured’s injury (i.e., that the injury would not have happened “but for” some cause). Instead, the wrong must also be proximally related to that injury: that is, there must be a close enough tie between the allegedly negligent or otherwise wrongful act and the injury that results. So while it would be silly to hold “the Creator” legally responsible for Harold hitting me, it would not be similarly silly to hold Harold responsible for hitting me. Harold’s act was not only an actual or “but for” cause of my injury, it was also an act closely enough related to my injury to confer legally liability onto Harold. This is what we lawyers call proximate (or legal) causation: that is, proximate causation is an act that is a close enough cause of the injury that it’s fair — at a basic, fundamental level — to hold the person who committed that injurious act legally responsible (i.e., liable to pay damages or otherwise make reparations) for his act. [As an aside to my aside, if this sort of reasoning makes your head explode, law school probably isn’t a great option for you.]


Well, it appears that Arne Duncan would have failed his torts class. You see, Arne didn’t get the memo regarding the distinction between actual causation and proximate causation. Instead, what Arne proposes is to hold teacher prep programs responsible for the performance of their alumni’s K-12 students (and to punish them if their alumni’s students don’t measure up). Never mind the myriad chains in the causation link between the program’s coursework and the performance of its graduates’ students (presumably on standardized tests). Arne Duncan somehow thinks that he can proximally — fairly — link these kids’ performance not just to their teachers (a dicey proposition on its own), but to their teachers’ prep programs. Apparently Arne can magically tease out all other factors, such as where an alumna teaches, what her students’ home lives are like, how her students’ socio-economic status affects their academic performance, the level of her students’ intrinsic motivation, as well as any issues in the new alumna’s personal life that might affect her performance in the classroom, and, of course, the level of support provided to the new alumna as a new teacher by her department and administration, and so forth. As any first year law student can tell you, Arne’s proposal is asinine, as the alumna’s student’s test results will be so far removed from her teaching program’s performance that ascribing proximate causation from the program to the children’s performance offends a reasonable person’s sense of justice. [Not to mention the perverse incentives this would create for teaching programs’ career advising centers — what teaching program would ever encourage a new teacher to take on a challenging teaching assignment?]”


But that isn’t all. She compares her experience in her education school to her experience in law school and says that the education courses were far more practical than the law school and did a better job preparing her for the real world.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan can’t get over his obsession with the idea that the only reason children don’t have higher test scores is because they have “bad teachers” with low expectations. He has consistently said that teachers’ colleges bear the blame for those “bad teachers.” Never having taught, he has strong opinions about how to fix teaching. He loves charter schools, especially those without unions; he loves Teach for America, because they are elite. He loves evaluating teachers, principals, schools, even teachers’ colleges, by student test scores.


David Berliner, one of our nation’s most eminent researchers, does not agree with Duncan. He has different ideas. He tells Duncan, as he once told his dean, how to solve the problems of teacher education.


Berliner writes:



“Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration want to improve teacher education. Me too. I always have. So I went to the president of the university I was then working at and showed him university data that I had collected. I informed him that a) we were running the cheapest program on campus, even cheaper to run than the English Literature and the History programs; and b) that some of our most expensive programs to run, computer science and various engineering programs, produced well-trained graduates that left the state. But teachers stayed in the state. I told my president he was wasting the states resources and investing unwisely.


“I told him that with the same amount of money as we spend on the students that leave the state I could design one year clinical programs so every teacher does clinical rotations in the classrooms of schools with different kinds of students, rotations modeled on medical education.”


Berliner has many other good ideas. Read them here. Arne should invite him to meet and hear his ideas on how to improve teacher education.

One of the nation’s largest for-profit providers of college degrees has been sold, according to Inside Higher Ed, to a debt-collection agency.


The ECMC Group, a nonprofit organization that runs one of the largest student-loan guaranty agencies, announced Thursday that it will purchase 56 campuses from Corinthian Colleges, a crumbling, controversial for-profit chain.
ECMC will create a nonprofit subsidiary, called the Zenith Education Group, to run the campuses, which enroll more than 39,000 students. The sale price is $24 million, according to a corporate filing from Corinthian. After having absorbed more than half of Corinthian’s enrollment and assets, Zenith will operate the nation’s largest chain of nonprofit career-oriented campuses.
Corinthian’s Everest, Heald and Wyotech chains include 107 campuses, which in July enrolled 72,000 students and employed 12,000. The company has been attempting to sell 85 U.S. and 10 Canadian locations, while gradually closing 12 campuses.
The sale announced Thursday includes 53 Everest College and three WyoTech campuses (click here for list).
Corinthian had been teetering even before a 21-day freeze on federal aid payments pushed it over the edge earlier this year. The company, which is one of the sector’s largest, had been hit hard by slumping enrollment and revenue, as well as investigations, lawsuits and bad publicity.


The for-profit higher education industry has long been under investigation for defrauding students, but it survives nonetheless because it hires the top lobbyists in both parties to protect it against regulation. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (who just retired) issued a scathing report on the industry in 2012 that unfortunately went nowhere. This story appeared in the New York Times:


“According to the [Harkin] report, which was posted online in advance, taxpayers spent $32 billion in the most recent year on companies that operate for-profit colleges, but the majority of students they enroll leave without a degree, half of those within four months.


“In this report, you will find overwhelming documentation of exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation,” Mr. Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement on Sunday. “These practices are not the exception — they are the norm. They are systemic throughout the industry, with very few individual exceptions….


Over the last 15 years, enrollment and profits have skyrocketed in the industry. Until the 1990s, the sector was made up of small independent schools offering training in fields like air-conditioning repair and cosmetology. But from 1998 to 2008, enrollment more than tripled, to about 2.4 million students. Three-quarters are at colleges owned by huge publicly traded companies — and, more recently, private equity firms — offering a wide variety of programs.


Enrolling students, and getting their federal financial aid, is the heart of the business, and in 2010, the report found, the colleges studied had a total of 32,496 recruiters, compared with 3,512 career-services staff members.


Among the 30 companies, an average of 22.4 percent of revenue went to marketing and recruiting, 19.4 percent to profits and 17.7 percent to instruction.


Their chief executive officers were paid an average of $7.3 million, although Robert S. Silberman, the chief executive of Strayer Education, made $41 million in 2009, including stock options.


With the Department of Education seeking new regulations to ensure that for-profit programs provide training for “gainful employment,” the companies examined spent $8 million on lobbying in 2010, and another $8 million in the first nine months of 2011.


The bulk of the for-profit colleges’ revenue, more than 80 percent in most cases, comes from taxpayers. The report found that many for-profit colleges are working desperately to find new strategies to comply with the federal regulation that at least 10 percent of revenue must come from sources other than the Department of Education. Because veterans’ benefits count toward that 10 percent even though they come from the federal government, aggressive recruiting of students from the military has become the norm.


The amount of available federal student aid is large and growing. The Apollo Group, which operates the University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit college, got $1.2 billion in Pell grants in 2010-11, up from $24 million a decade earlier. Apollo got $210 million more in benefits under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. And yet two-thirds of Apollo’s associate-degree students leave before earning their degree….


On average, the Harkin report found, associate-degree and certificate programs at for-profit colleges cost about four times as much as those at community colleges and public universities.


And tuition decisions seem to be driven more by profit-seeking than instructional costs. An internal memo from the finance director of a Kaplan nursing program in Sacramento, for example, recommended an 8 percent increase in fees, saying that “with the new pricing, we can lose two students and still make the same profit.” Similarly, the chief financial officer at National American University wrote in an e-mail to executives that the university had not met its profit expectation for the summer quarter, so “as a result” it would need a midyear tuition increase.


Advocates for the for-profit higher education industry complained that their institutions were under attack solely for partisan reasons.


Given this background, one might expect that the U.S. Department of Education would vigorously oppose these for-profit institutions that cost so much and deliver so little to students. But, no, when Corinthian Colleges teetered close to bankruptcy, the U.S. DOE gave it a bridge loan to help the chain stay in business until a buyer for the distressed corporation emerged. More than half of the Corinthian chain of for-profit colleges has been purchased at a bargain basement price of $24 million by a debt-collection agency called ECMC (the Educational Credit Management Corporation). Corinthian was once valued at $3.4 billion. The negotiations were handled by Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell, who previously was CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund (which funds charter schools, charter chains, and education technology startups). Consumer advocates were upset that ECMC was taking over a chain of colleges, in light of the fact that it has no experience running educational institutions:


“A chorus of consumer and student advocacy groups said they had serious concerns about the sale. They expressed concern that the campuses would be run by an organization that has not previously managed academic institutions.
“ECMC has no experience running a college, let alone one of this scale, and is instead known for ruthless and abusive student loan operations,” the Institute for College Access and Success, known as TICAS, said in a statement. “With so many other colleges offering lower price, higher quality career education programs, it’s unclear why this agreement is in the interests of either students or taxpayers.”
Higher Ed Not Debt, a coalition of progressive organizations and unions that focuses on student loan issues, similarly took issue with ECMC’s “storied history of harshly preventing the discharge of students’ loans in bankruptcy.”
“While bailing out 56 schools, the sale treats the more than 30,000 students like financial assets,” Maggie Thompson, the group’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “All students should have the opportunity to opt-out of the sale and receive full refunds including full loan discharges of both federal and private loans.”
Durbin, the top-ranking Democratic Senator, has relentlessly criticized Corinthian in recent months. He did not directly praise or criticize Thursday’s agreement, saying only that the sale of the campuses “should focus on sparing the students who have been victimized and the taxpayers who continue to be on the hook.” 


This was an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Education to close down some of the lowest-performing colleges in the nation. This was an opportunity to take a stand against the entire for-profit sector. But the Department of Education structured a deal to save what should have been closed. A lost opportunity. But it does refute those critics from the for-profit sector who claim that their online institutions are unfairly targeted by Democrats.

As reported in today’s New York Times, Arne Duncan wants to set the standards for teachers’ colleges and use the power of the federal purse to evaluate them. It seems there is nothing that Arne Duncan is not competent to judge, other than the success or failure of his own initiatives. He has used Race to the Top funding to push test-based teacher evaluations (VAM), which have worked nowhere. He has used RTTT to impose Common Core standards, which are designed to align with tests that will fail most students. He has used RTTT to encourage states to privatize more public schools. Many districts now, spurred on by Duncan’ s rhetoric, are thinking of adopting the New Orleans model of an all-charter district, even though the Recovery School District rates 65th of 68 districts in Louisiana and most of the charter schools are graded as D or F schools by the state.


Duncan is a force for disruption and chaos in American education. Yes, of course, teachers’ colleges need higher admission standards, but judging them by the test scores of students taught by their graduates will discourage colleges from sending their graduates to distressed districts and serve as a warning to avoid special education and English language learners. As James E. Ryan, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education sagely warns, “It’s all too easy to create perverse incentives.”



According to, the U.S. Department of Education will cut federal funding to education schools whose graduates have students who get low scores. This could incentivize education schools to direct their students away from urban districts with high poverty, or from teaching children with disabilities and English-language learners. Researchers have repeatedly warned about the danger of over reliance on test scores for high-stakes decisions. It is always wise to think about unintended consequences.


TEACHER PREP IS – FINALLY – HERE: The long-delayed rules, released by the Education Department on Tuesday, would punish low-performing programs by cutting students’ access to federal TEACH grants they could use to pay for school. And it would compel every state to collect more information and evaluate their programs by several key metrics, including how many graduates lock in jobs, how many stay in the profession and whether teachers are boosting student learning. The timeline for the proposed rule [ ] extends to 2021 and it would cost states and providers about $42 million over 10 years or less. I have the story here:

- Democrats for Education Reform Policy Director Charles Barone said the rule is a crucial first step for overhauling the way teachers are prepared and raising the bar for the teaching profession. “The U.S. Department of Education is stepping in here because unlike other fields, education has repeatedly abdicated its responsibility to set and enforce its own high standards for the teaching profession,” he said. “Once states set benchmarks that draw on newly available data we should give schools appropriate time to meet them. But instead of condoning wasteful practices indefinitely, as in the past, those responsible for overseeing federal funds must issue an ultimatum: shape up or lose subsidies.”


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