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In late 2015, the U.S. Department of Education set out on an experiment to give some students federal aid to participate in select non-traditional education programs, such as bootcamps and employer-based training. Independent entities were tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of these nontraditional programs. Now, three years after its inception, the experiment has yielded more challenges than successes: only one participant has received federal approval and most of the others have discontinued participation.

This memo provides an overview on the outlook for education policy based on the 2018 election results, including the likely impact on the 116th Congress and on the state level. Specifically, the memo takes a deeper look at how the 2018 elections have led to changes on the federal and state level that will have important implications for education policy. Some of these changes that will affect both the federal and state education landscape include: (1) Democrats have won control of the House for the 116th Congress starting January 2019; (2) in the Senate, Republicans will hold at least 51 seats in the 116th Congress, with three seats remaining undecided as of November 8; and (3) on the state level, there are 19 newly elected governors, based on current races that have been called, with one race undecided in Georgia. This memo is intended to inform thinking around the results of the 2018 elections and what this could mean for the education policy agenda on the federal and state level, as well as the ripple effects that we could see as new governors in many states appoint new state board of education members, new chief state school officers, and/or other early learning and higher education leaders.

This memo responds to the Trump Administration’s announcement of its intention to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over the next 6 months. That action, which is expected to be challenged in court, does not in any way undercut the clear legal rights of undocumented students to attend K-12 public schools free of impediment and harassment. This memo outlines the settled rights of students, regardless of immigration status, to equal access to public education.


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May 24, 2018

Secretary Riley reflects on successful strategies to transform schools in rural communities. Read more.


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In the 1940s, Russia developed a prototype of a new military advancement called the Antonov A-40. It was an ambitious, seemingly innovative leap forward that would provide battlefield support and overwhelming, agile deployment. It was also, quite literally, a flying tank. For reasons that seem obvious in retrospect—weight and inefficient transportation chief among them—it was not functional in practice and thankfully never produced at wide scale. However, the lessons learned regarding its design ultimately provided beneficial advances to future military developments.

Federal lawmakers would be wise to heed the lesson that all ideas—particularly those with billions of dollars at stake—should not be rushed into wide-scale production. Many of them seem eager to open the $130 billion per year of taxpayer funding to new ways of providing higher education instruction without any assurance that these programs provide quality outcomes to their students. It’s still too early to tell if these innovative models will turn out to be the Antonov A-40 or the (significantly more effective) Chinook helicopter of higher education, but it’s not hard to see the potential damage—for both taxpayers and students—of going into “mass production” at this early stage, without assuring that the quality, design, and outcomes of such innovative programs are well understood.

Because Congress and the Trump Administration have signaled enthusiasm to opening Federal student aid to shorter term and other nontraditional providers, it is critical to develop quality assurance models that can meet the needs of these new learning delivery methods. It isn’t clear that accreditors—the traditional arbiters of quality more focused on inputs such as course catalogs than on outcomes like employment, earnings, and aptitude—are the right fit for newer learning models that focus more on building a skill set for adults looking to gain an additional certification for their next job. The bad news is that currently, there is no consensus and little evidence for what such a quality assurance regime would look like. The good news is that a little-known Federal experiment known as EQUIP—Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships—is in the early stages of making Federal funding available to test whether such quality assurance providers could serve as a backstop for ensuring students are getting a superior education in exchange for their taxpayer-funded Federal grants and loans. The time is ripe to enable such innovation, to evaluate whether these quality assurance models can ensure that both taxpayer and student investments would be sufficiently protected.

I’ll never forget the first lessons I witnessed as a student teacher in a 4th grade classroom that, already in elementary school, embodied the notion of college and career ready preparation. The classroom had a mix of students of all abilities and backgrounds, including many students with disabilities and many who had just arrived in this country. These fourth graders were learning about geography, topography, and how to read maps – a set of lessons designed to help them master rigorous state and district standards. Desks were clustered in groups around the classroom — some at computers, some at art stations, some around maps, and some around writing materials – all different ways to engage with, learn, and apply geography concepts.

Helping each and every child master a college and career ready set of knowledge and skills like these should be the “North Star” in states, districts, and schools.As states (this year), and then districts (next year), develop, implement, and continuously improve over time their plans under ESSA, these 20 questions can help determine whether they are leveraging ESSA to the maximum extent possible towards college and career ready learning and equity.

Students who needed it received more individualized supports and instruction from the teacher, including in evidence-based peer interaction techniques and academic supports. As students learned the concepts, they also had to figure out how to collaborate, create, and write-up their projects together. There was no sitting at desks and memorizing geographic terms for a quiz – but, by the end of the unit, these students all demonstrated their deep knowledge of geography and map skills in a meaningful way. And that’s not all they knew. They had practiced working with each other, testing and communicating their ideas, peer editing, and problem-solving – doing the things people are expected to be able to do on the job and in life today.


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