Jeanne Allen Takes Politico To Task for Calling Florida Education Reforms “Risky”

Here’s an interesting critique of a recent Politico piece (“Bush’s Risky Education Vision”) related to Governor Jeb Bush’s education reform record from one of the leaders of education reform, Jeane Allen.  On her blog,  Ms. Allen takes Politico to task for everything from getting the history of education reform wrong, as well as the idea that Governor Jeb Bush’s reforms were risky:

As Governor, Jeb Bush took on an unwieldy system and returned power to parents and citizens who had lost faith in public schools and whose own individual preferences and needs had long been ignored.  Students with special needs who had fought for services for their children obtained the right to choose schools to meet those needs. Thousands more families would benefit from scholarships aimed at ensuring they have the same opportunities afforded those who find themselves with more advantages. . . . Today over 615 charter schools serve more than 230,000 Florida students for whom traditional schools were not working.  . . . When Bush entered office, in 1999, more than sixty per cent of minority and low-income fourth graders couldn’t read at a basic level, which doomed them to failure in future grades. Barely half of Florida’s high-school seniors were graduating.

After Bush’s programs were enacted, Florida’s gains in math and reading, according to the federally funded Nation’s Report Card, were larger than they were anywhere else in the country—save Washington, D.C.  Florida’s graduation rate has improved twenty-five per cent, and is at an all-time high. This reversal came about because Bush measured results, held schools accountable, and exposed them to competition. Even as adults vested in the system protested, student achievement accelerated.  On top of that, higher education has exploded, improving life and economic conditions for scores more individuals at all levels of life.

She raises some good points.  No matter your views on the presidential candidates, it is difficult to describe any of the reform efforts undertaken by Governor Jeb Bush as “risky.”  Indeed, given that in 1983 we learned we were a “Nation At Risk” due to its poor education system, the status quo may have been the riskiest move of all.

(Note, I am a board member of the Center for Education Reform, a group started by Ms. Allen).

Feeling Lost Given the Multitude of Ed Tech Conferences? This May Help.

If you are like me, you attend a number of education conferences each year.  I Think its important to keep up on what’s going on in the industry, what educators and edupreneurs are thinking, and where the policy debate needs to go as we fight for better outcomes for students in both lower (K-12) and higher education.  That said, if you are also like me, you get lost when it comes to figuring out where/when the conferences are and which ones to attend.  Although I hope our calendar feature on this blog will help, Betsy Cocoran of EdSurge.com developed a very handy chart of ed tech conferences.   She’s even labelled the conferences by the intended audience: educators; business of ed tech (funders and edupreneurs); and other specialty groups.

Department of Education Issues Reminder About State Authorization Rule

On June 19, the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) published a Dear Colleague Letter (“June 19 DCL”) to “remind[] postsecondary institutions of the requirement to have certain types of State oversight and approvals in place to participate in the Title IV” programs.   As part of the program integrity regulations, the Department published revisions to 34 CFR 600.9 that required, for Title IV compliance purposes, “an institution [ ] be legally authorized by a State to provide a postsecondary education program, and the State must have a process to review and act upon student complaints about that institution.”  to that end, the Department requires that states must (1) have some process of actively approving/licensing institutions within their jurisdiction and (2) have a process “to review and appropriately act on complaints” about institutions of higher education.

NOTE: This rule and the June 19 DCL applies to on-ground programs only — the Department published a rule related to online programs as part of the program integrity rule package which was overturned by a court decision and a subsequent attempt at rule making has not yet produced a published rule for online programs.   There are, however, certain disclosure requirements for online programs operating in a state (for example, providing notice of the office in that state to which student complaints may be directed).

Staring with the Preamble to the state authorization rule, and in repeated publications, the Department delayed enforcement of the rule until July 1, 2015.  The June 19 DCL makes clear that no new extensions will be granted, although it seems that the Department will be taking a light touch to enforcement of this rule, preferring to work with states that do not meet the requirements (thus putting the states in their jurisdiction at risk for loss of Title IV eligibility).  Indeed, the Department provides that “States and postsecondary institutions that have not yet done so [met to discuss compliance with this rule] should work together to ensure compliance with the regulatory requirements at 34 CFR 600.9(a) and (b).”  It seems the Department is unlikely to take significant action if a state has a non-complaint process for recognition or complaint review process, but the Department will rather focus on efforts to fix the situation with that particular state.

For institutions, you need to understand (if you haven’t already) how and why you are approved by your state and whether there is a complaint process that applies to your institution.  For example, while some institutions may  be exempted from State approval or licensure based on accreditation or years in operation, others institution types may not use this exemption.  Also, there needs to be a compliant process for handling complaints – and you should be directing your students (as part of your required consumer disclosures – 34 CFR 668.43) to the agency that receives such complaints..  If you have any questions, feel free to contact us to help you work through the process.

Recap of Day 1 of the Global Education Conference

Day one of the Global Education Conference 2015 was thought provoking and featured a number of interesting discussions – both on the dais and off. For me, i was looking forward to the first and last sessions, on Credentialing 2.0 (I did a recap of this session previously)and Edupreneurship respectively, and they did not disappoint.  One big take away is that I need to read Professor Bob Schwartz’s study on the Swiss system of vocational education.  Also, the lunch session, titled “A Conversation About Educational Access, Opportunity& Leadership” and the session on the Vergara case were also very interesting and thought provoking.

The conference this year  seems much heavier on the academic side than in years past, and that is a welcome evolution – I hope more conference will draw from the faculty expertise – on both theory and practice — in future ed tech and ed policy discussions.  Its a welcome view and creates a fun dynamic when paired with the “edupreneurs” typically featured at the conference.

There seems to be a bit of a consensus that the flipped classroom is what works best.  This was apparent during the lunch session.  For example, Edith Cooper (Global Head of Human Capital Management, Goldman Sachs), discussed how Goldman trains employees through online programs and offers experts in the topic to do 1-on-1 coaching and further instruction.  On the same panel, Jim Ryan (Dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education), offered that the best use of class time is not imparting information through the lectures, but rather applying the information learned previously through project-based learning.  Michael D. Smith (Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University) offered similar comments.

Surprisingly the same theme came up at the Edupreneurship panel.  Chip Paucek of 2U explained how the MBA program at UNC has a ground based element — that he did not originally support) – but which have proved very popular.  Even more interesting, Aaron Skonnard of Pluralsight talked about how users of the online program have physically gotten together with other users to form groups to study and work though problems.  Maybe flipped/hybrid learning is not not only supported by Goldman and the educators at Harvard, but people may intuitively be creating such environments.

The session on Vergara v. State of California was also a highlight. For those that don’t know, Vergara is a case that successfully challenged the tenure and teacher rights laws in California.  Suffice to say, the laws in California make firing a tenured teacher for performance based reasons extraordinarily difficult,  The lawyers involved in the case presented a summary of their arguments, and a panel of two of the expert witnesses involved in the case, together with former U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary James Shelton, discussed the implications of the case.  While I can’t say there were any resolutions of these issues, it was useful hearing the arguments – and we all should be watching the case as it winds its way through the appellate system

In all, its been a great start to the conference.

Recap of the HELP Committee Accreditation Hearing

The recent accreditation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (“HELP”) was fairly eventful. The panel featured:

Anne Neal provided some of the most provocative testimony, as her position seem to be, no matter the intrinsic value of accreditation, it should have no role in determining Title IV eligibility.

The hearing featured a number of the ideas that will likely feature as part of higher education act reauthroization proposals related to accreditation:  involving students in the accreditation process (as they are in European accreditation), using a “lighter touch” for certain schools that pose less risk, that accreditors should only focus on quality and not the other functions that Congress and other policy folks have thrust upon them, and  the creation of a pilot program that would create an alternative pathway for schools to access Title IV without going through accreditation.

Also notable, and as mentioned in press accounts, Corinthian featured fairly heavily in the hearing and the role of accreditors in finding (or failing to find) the various alleged frauds that took place at Corinthian schools.   Indeed, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy were particularly aggressive in questioning Albert Gray, the president and CEO of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, who was a main accreditor of Corinthian’s Everest Colleges.  As Dr. Gray summed up in his closing remarks:

“Some of the comments I heard this morning about about Corinthian show . . . say to me that there is a lot of misunderstanding about accreditation, in particular with respect to Corinthian, but accreditation in general with respect to its role in the sustainability of educational institutions.” (see the video, at 1:52:53)

This theme was taken up earlier by George A. Pruitt, the President of Thomas Edison State College:

“Part of the challenge is that there is a conflicted expectation for what accreditation is.  You [Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)] referred to it as a regulator.  We are charged to do certain compliance reviews.  We view our role as an assessor.  As assessor behaves differently than a regulator.  A regulator prescribes the behaviors of the institution.  Accreditation does not prescribe behaviors of the institution.  . . .  Regulators and banks tend to proscribe the things that bankers can do and can not do.  Accreditors tend not to prescribe what academics can do and can not do as long as the results are such that we can demonstrate that they add value to the people that support us and the students.”  (see the video at 1:40:57).

It may be that policy makers are asking accreditation to do things for which it was never intended.  Unfortunately, that questions – the very question prompting the hearing (what should accreditors do?) is still open.

Lastly,  HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) noted there will be a future hearing on innovation in higher education– which will likely address issues of accreditation again —  and that the Committee will look to have a bipartisan markup some time this September.

Rundown of Credentialing 2.0 Panel at Global Education Conference

The first panel of the Global Education Conference was titled “Credentialing 2.0. Is the degree the “currency of the realm” for employment and educational attainment purposed?  Is there an opening for micro-credentials and, if so, what is the opportunity?  Are there alternatives to accreditation as a means of validation?  The panel participants that attempted to answer that question were:

  • Anya Kamenetz(Author, DIY U)
  • David Levin(President &CEO,McGraw-Hill Education)
  • Bob Schwartz (Professor, Harvard)
  • Eric Waldo(Executive Director, Reach Higher, White House)
  • Moderator:Hunt Lambert (Dean,Harvard)

I’ve always found this topic interesting.  While I think every student that should get a four-year degree should do so, it clearly isn’t for everyone.  Vocational degrees have great value in the economy and I the skills gap (the gap between the educational attainment of students and the skill s actually needed in the workforce) in part exists – largely, I think – because society has so devalued technical certificates and similar credentials (and apprenticeships) that parents stop promoting them and students stop taking up such opportunities.

Thankfully, the panel addressed these and other topics.  In her main presentation, Ms. Kamenetz discussed a number of issues with micro-credentials and badges. In particular, she pointed out that the time for such innovations is already here and is being in use, although the “when if the future coming” crowd is having some difficulty in recognizing that the future is here.  She also made a good point about badges and other micro-credentials exiting largely in the context of specific communities.  This of course leads to the inevitable question of how do we get the badges to have value to people that aren’t members of the issuing community, or how to make the community bigger.  This leads us to accreditation and other forms of validation, which I will discuss in a later post at some point.

Professor Bob Schwartz had an interesting discussion about the value of vocational degree and discussed the Swiss system, which segregates kids (by choice, I believe) at age 16 into vocational tracks and academic tracks.  In addition, the system is strongly guided by employers who, after all, have so much to gain from an educated workforce.  He also discussed his study of the Swiss system, which sounds well worth reading.

Eric Waldo had a number of things to say about current administration initiatives in this area, but what resonated most with me is his telling of First Lady Michelle Obama’s difficulties as a first generation college student.  Having been in the same situation, I completely sympathize.  He discussed the First Lady’s ignorance of what classes to pick (she was a freshman in a senior seminar), what to bring and how to act.  Indeed, the social aspects of being at a college without a family history to guide you were, it seems for Mrs. Obama, more daunting than the class work.  We really do need to do more for students to get them comfortable with being in college.  I’m interested to see how her program – which Mr. Wald is running — will make high schools and colleges better able to address these concerns.

David Levin’s presentation was the most “blue sky” of the presentations.  Indeed, his emphasis on competency and other models being able to validate mastery of topics in a statistical way was very forward thinking.  I particularly liked how he used such ideas to divorce learning from seat time and how validation of learning could revolutionize the current transfer of credit models that too often inhibit students and extend time to degree.

Some Initial Thoughts at the Start of the Global Education Conference

I’m at Harvard University for the the Global Education Conference 2015 (follow on twitter #GlobalEdu2015) today and tomorrow.  I always enjoy this event – it has a wonderful mix of educators, technology providers and policy folks.  I’m particularly looking forward to the first panel today, Credentialing 2.0.  The panel features some great speakers, including Anya Kamenetz, the author of DIY U, and Eric Waldo, the Executive Director of Reach Higher, a current White House initiative, and with whom I worked in the Department of Education in the early days of the Duncan administration.

Overall, though, I’m interested to hear what so many smart people – speakers and attendees alike – are thinking and doing to combat the lack of education opportunity so many students in the US and globally have.

I will have more updates as the day goes on.

Information Released on “State Law Cause of Action” Student Loan Discharge

On June 9, 2015, as reported by Insider Higher Ed and the The Chronicle of Higher Education, the US Department of Education (“Department”) released information related to the loan discharge options of students at schools formerly owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc. (“CCI”). The fact sheet released by the Department (and a related blog post by Department Undersecretary Ted Mitchell, and the transcript of a call with the press) describes a number of efforts to discharge loans owed by students at CCI’s Heald College, WyoTech and Everest College.  In addition, on June 10, the Department published a notice in the Federal Register seeking comment on a proposed “emergency collection” that would “facilitate the collection of information for borrowers who believe they have cause to invoke the borrower defenses against repayment of a loan.”  (It does not look like there is a comment period specified). [JUNE 23, 2015 UPDATE: The Department published a Federal Register notice providing a 60-day comment period]

The fact sheet describes how students of Heald College — which the Department fined nearly $30 million for alleged misrepresentations made related to job placement statistics — “who relied on misrepresentations found in published job placement rates for many Heald programs qualify to have their federal direct student loans discharged.”  While students at other CCI schools may be eligible for discharge due to state law violations, Heald College students can rely on the Department’s finding as a finding that the Heald committed an “act or omission” “that would give rise to a cause of action against the school” which, in turn, serves as a defense to the repayment of the student loan pursuant to 34 C.F.R. § 685.206(c)(1).  The Department will also appoint a Special Master to review the claims.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of student loan discharge under 34 C.F.R. § 685.206(c)(1), you are not alone.  This defense to repayment of a student loan has only been used five times in over a twenty years.  Specifically, the regulation provides:

In any proceeding to collect on a Direct Loan, the borrower may assert as a defense against repayment, any act or omission of the school attended by the student that would give rise to a cause of action against the school under applicable State law.

Importantly, the Special Master appointed by the Department “will help develop a broader system that will support students at other institutions who believe they have a defense to repayment.”  Given the Department can seek recoupment of any discharged loan funds from an institution, this is a very serious development that could impact every institution of higher education. Continue reading “Information Released on “State Law Cause of Action” Student Loan Discharge”

HELP Committee to Hold Hearing on Accreditation on June 17

On June 17, 2015, at 10:00 am, the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (“HELP”) will hold a hearing on accreditation as part of their work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. The hearing will be held in room 430 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, and will be live streamed on the hearing website.  As of yet, no witnesses have been announced.  HELP Committee Chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has issued a white paper on the subject of accreditation.

Administrative Penalty for Violating the Incentive Compensation Ban is Repayment of All Title IV Funds

As reported in Insider Higher Education, the Department of Education released a new memorandum providing that violators of the incentive compensation ban (see (b)(22)) face repaying all Title IV funds received.  This move comes on the heels of a highly critical report from Department’s Office of the Inspector General on the Department’s handling of incentive compensation matters.  The memorandum rescinds the so-called 2002 “Hansen Memo” that set forth that violations of the incentive compensation prohibition should result in fines being assessed against violators rather than seeking repayment of Title IV funds paid to the violating institution.  The reason for this is that “a violation of the incentive compensation prohibition [does] not result[] in monetary loss to the Department.”  The 2002 memo explains this is because the students being recruited are still eligible to receive Title IV funds at the institution in question.

The new memo reverses course on this point entirely, finding that the Department, in fact, suffers damage because an institution that violates the incentive compensation ban is itself ineligible for receive funds:

[T]he Department, in fact, incurs monetary loss upon a violation of section 487(a)(20), and the appropriate response is to recover that loss, as provided for in the Department’s original policy. When acting as the Department’s fiduciary, an institution may receive funds only in accord with the representations it makes in order to become eligible for those funds. When an institution makes an incentive payment based upon the number of students enrolled, the institution breaches those representations. It thus violates a condition of its Title IV program eligibility and is not entitled to receive those Title IV funds. In this situation, an institution is liable to the Department for the cost of the funds it received.

As a result, in addition to any fines, or any actions to limit, suspend, or terminate the violating institution, the Department:

should calculate the amount of the institutional liability based on the cost to the Department of the Title IV funds improperly received by the institution. This would include the cost to the Department of all of the Title IV funds received by the institution over a particular time period if those funds were obtained through implementation of a policy or practice in which students were recruited in violation of the incentive compensation prohibition.

Its notable how this approach will that this approach differs from the approach used in U.S. ex rel. Christianson v. Everglades College, Inc., No. 12-60185-CIV (S.D. Fla.).  There, in granting a decision for relators in a false claims act case based on improper payment of incentive compensation, the court determined it “should calculate damages by first determining the amount the government paid because of a defendant’s false claims and then subtracting the value the government nonetheless received from the defendant.”  Interesting though, the court relied on the belief that the Department would not withhold payments to an institution that violates the incentive compensation ban.  Given this new memo, that view seems much more difficult to maintain.