Education

How to Fix the Federal Student Aid System

The New America Foundation takes a crack.

Flickr/Bearseye
A landmark report came out last week from the New America Foundation featuring a novel plan to fix the federal student aid program. What makes it so new? It helps more Americans finish college—the end game of federal student aid—without burdening them with debt. The report has 30 specific recommendations for everything from the Pell grant to the student loan program. And here's the kicker—according to their accounting, the changes are revenue-neutral over the next ten years. The idea is to simplify programs—for example, by having only one student loan program with one repayment plan—so families don't borrow as much up front, colleges don't have as much freedom to raise prices, and students have the support they need to stick with an education program. It’s the sign of a truly broken system that there is so much low-hanging fruit to be found: it would actually be quite possible to save money and help more of the neediest all at the same time. But implementing the whole plan would...

Pushing Arne Duncan to Fast-Forward

Activists demand that the Department of Education address discriminatory policies.

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
At a March 15, 2011, sit-down at the Children’s Defense Fund, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent an unequivocal message to black community and faith leaders. “What we’re desperately missing in this country is parents who will demand better for their children,” he said. “I wish to God I had parents knocking on my door every single day saying, go faster, you’re not moving fast enough.” On Tuesday, community activists from across the country did exactly that. Some 400 students and parents from as far as California descended on Department of Education headquarters to testify on the racialized impact of school closings, turnarounds, and other measures stipulated by federal education funding mandates. Statistically, actions like these tend to affect students of color more than their white counterparts in the same districts. Students displaced by school turnover are forced to cross myriad social boundaries, including gang lines , with little to no precedent of greater academic success...

In the Schools of Philadelphia

Flickr/It's Our City The Philadelphia School District headquarters in downtown Philadelphia O n December 13, a large group of parents, students, teachers, and activists gathered in front of the headquarters of the School District of Philadelphia—a drab, low-slung building on Broad Street, one of the city’s major arteries. In the numbing cold, the crowd’s mood was bitter: The district had recently announced the 37 schools slated to be closed next fall. Around 17,000 kids will be relocated, mostly to institutions with academic records no better than those they currently attend. Chants of “The Mayor don’t care!” rippled through the crowd as attendees carried gravestone-shaped signs reading “R.I.P Philly Schools.” The protesters—among them Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT)—were there to demand a moratorium on school closings, which many fear will further urban blight as school building are vacated and lead to violence as different neighborhood...

A Standardized Testing Revolt

Flickr/albertogp123
Over the past year, there's been a steady and ongoing revolt in Texas. Not about secession or guns or the many other fringe topics that the state is usually associated with. This battle has been waged primarily by parents and teachers, and the demand is relatively simple—cut back on testing our kids. There's been similar sentiments simmering in states across the country, but in Texas a new set of tests, put in place last year, sparked the outcry. Now, the push that began in school board and PTA meetings has finally reached the halls of power. When the biennial state legislature gaveled in on Tuesday, it didn't take long for newly re-elected Speaker of the House Joe Straus to mention testing. "By now, every member of this house has heard from constituents at the grocery store or the Little League fields about the burdens of an increasingly cumbersome testing system in our schools," he said. "Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization...

Fighting Education Shock Therapy

With tools from 1964, community activists are pushing the White House to turn federal education policy around.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast Sixty-five-year-old John Washington pick up his great grandson, Rayshaun Cates, at Samuel Morse Elementary School, a Chicago school closed in 2006. T he watchword of austerity, “there is no alternative,” connotes painful cuts and layoffs adopted by fiscally shot local governments. In practice, though, this is a contradiction in terms: the politics of austerity are also a politics of imaginative restructuring, in which fiscal crisis is a cover for what Clintonites called “reinventing government” or, as partisans of Naomi Klein might prefer, “shock therapy.” The lie is starkest in the realm of education policy, where the Obama administration prescribes a slate of options for impoverished communities receiving federal School Improvement Grants. These range from “turnarounds,” which replace the principal and at least half of school staff, to charterization or outright closure. The catch with turnarounds and closings? Urban schools affected by them house more...

We Can't All Be Royals

AP Photo
Ap Photo Kate Middleton and Prince William on their wedding day I know you can hardly stand the excitement: Princess Kate is preggers! Finally, the QEII can step out of service, passing off the baton—er, scepter—in a way that skips right past her reprobate son. Finally, she has a new generation in line that understands the royal job: Get married, reproduce, and stay honorably married. Which, as you may have noticed over the weekend, is just what The New York Times 's Ross Douthat wants us reprobate Americans to start doing. In what began as an almost sensible column, Douthat noted that public policy can help encourage working people to have families. But then Douthat ran right off the rails, chiding us for our lack of character, our selfish decadence, our end-of-empire exhaustion, and for preferring the comforts of—oh, I don’t know, maybe paying the mortgage?—to the sacrifices of raising more children. Herewith: The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-...

Pre-K on the Range

Rural, conservative, impoverished Oklahoma has built the nation’s brightest model for early education.

(Flickr/Howard County Library System)
F our-year-old John Kaykay is a serious and quiet boy—“my thoughtful one,” his dad calls him. When the official greeters at the front door of the McClure early-childhood center in Tulsa welcome him with their clipboards and electric cheer—“Good morning, John! How are you today?”—he just slowly nods his small chin in their direction. When he gets to Christie Housley’s large, sunny classroom, he focuses intensely on signing in, writing the four letters of his name with a crayon as his dad crouches behind him. When he’s asked the question of the day—“Do you like music?”—he pauses for a minute before putting his magnetic nameplate in the “no” section. John’s third day of pre-kindergarten will be filled with more questions. Since yesterday was the 20th and tomorrow is the 22nd, what day is today? Can he pick out the card with the number 21 written on it? If the colors go pink, blue, pink, blue, what comes next in the pattern? How many of his friends are in school today? Can he think of a...

Schools in the Crosshairs

(Flickr/Arsisa7)
When her dyslexic second-grader landed in a failing public elementary school in Pittsburgh, single mother Jamie Fitzpatrick spotted trouble right away. Her daughter’s teacher spent class time shopping online for clothes while the kids bullied one another. Though other teachers wanted to do right by the kids, their union wouldn’t allow it; teachers were forbidden to offer any extra help to the students outside of class, and because their pay was based on seniority, some of the worst made the most. So despite working two jobs, Fitzpatrick somehow found the time to persuade other parents to sign a petition to turn the school into a nonunion charter. Most teachers joined the effort, perfectly content to give up their union protections. At the new charter school, magic happened. The kids began to get a proper education. Fitzpatrick’s daughter learned to read almost immediately. It’s an inspiring tale. It’s also fiction—the plot of Won’t Back Down , a film released this fall starring Maggie...

Anti-Testing: Unlikely Common Ground?

(Flick/ cliff1066â„¢)
At first glance, the 2012 elections didn’t seem to have much bearing on education policies. After all, the fundamental debates around schools—whether to increase the role of testing, merit pay, charter schools, and school choice—are, for the most part, outside the realm of partisan politics. Among both Democratic and Republican leadership, there’s a fair amount of consensus in the self-proclaimed reform agenda, which seeks to make schools more like a marketplace and relies on testing to offer metrics for success. It’s the one area where the parties seem to agree. Heck, Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, is delivering a keynote speech at Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education summit at the end of the month. But while the politicians might agree, this year’s election turned out to offer a surprising message: Many still support the idea of charter schools, but a whole lot of teachers and parents aren’t so pleased with the elevation of testing, the new regimented days with little...

Progressives: The Biggest Winners of State Ballot Measures

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Liberals had a lot to celebrate on election night, from the outcome of the presidential race to a number of major Senate wins. But less noticed on the whole was the stunning display of progressive power in ballot measures across the country. From gay marriage to marijuana legalization, from teachers unions to school funding, voters on the whole supported a progressive agenda in the 2012 election. State policy not only carries major implications for the lives of state residents, it also helps set the stage for national debates on issues . In a number of states, voters were deciding the direction of public education; in others, the fate of union power. Election night brought some big victories for liberals, albeit with a few defeats. Here are the most notable winners and losers. WINNERS Teachers Over the cries of teachers' groups, legislatures around the country have passed a number of reform laws, expanding the role of testing and decreasing educators' contract protections. But on...

Unions Fighting Two-Front War on California Ballots

Flickr/quinn.anya
This is the eighth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year. It’s been a bad year for California unions. Republicans have never been fans of the labor movement , and now state Democratic support is waning. In September, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a pension reform plan that will force union members to work longer for fewer benefits, and vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights , an AFL-CIO-backed bill that would have given labor rights to domestic workers. And earlier this month, Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed child care workers to unionize . In cities like San Jose and Los Angeles—both Democrat-leaning cities with Democratic mayors—unions are fighting more losing battles against pension reform. In this election, state unions were forced to open a new front—at the ballot box. California ballot Proposition 32 puts labor in even deeper trouble, and could leave the movement effectively silenced. And even if labor kills the...

Teach for America’s Deep Bench

The education nonprofit is also training the next generation of politicians, who have very specific ideas on school reform.

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
“Is this our Egypt moment? Will we seize the moment?” Former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein spoke those words at Teach for America’s 20th anniversary summit last summer. Coming from Klein , who is now a divisional leader at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, incitements to political uprising might raise some eyebrows. But at the summit for the nonprofit, which recruits college graduates to be teachers in poor school districts around the country, Klein was onto something that Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman have ignored in their eight pro-TFA columns: behind the veil of well-funded , debate-worthy idealism, TFA is coordinating a political revolution. Since its founding, TFA has amassed some 28,000 alumni. Two have made Time ’s “Most Influential” list: its Chief Executive Officer and founder, Wendy Kopp, and former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor and StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee. Others have gained prominence as the leaders of massive charter operations, like KIPP...

Georgia's Bitter Charter Battle

(Flickr/hpeguk)
The fourth in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November. In March, the Georgia Department of Education released an in-depth report showing that students in the state's charter schools perform worse than those in traditional schools. You might have thought such a conclusion would prompt lawmakers to at least pause on a constitutional amendment creating a new state agency specifically to create new charters. Instead, a week later, the Georgia Senate passed it with the required two-thirds majority . Voters will determine the amendment's fate this November, deciding whether charter schools should be drastically expanded at the expense of the traditional districts. The amendment fight was heated from the get-go. Georgia has cut around $4 billion in funding for public schools over the last four years. The new agency would cost $430 million—money traditional school advocates say should be going to ease those budget cuts. The state would also have to...

Teaching for a New China

The challenges of higher education in a censorship state

In a rare alignment of the political stars, next month the world’s two largest economies both face changes in leadership. On November 6, the U.S. will hold presidential and congressional elections, and on November 8, the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will begin a once-a-decade passing of the reigns of power in the world’s most populous country. Americans are used to a full-throated debate over our political institutions: From op-eds that decry the influence of money in politics to civics lessons on the electoral college, political discussion is nearly impossible to avoid. What might be more surprising is that in China—a country known in the West for tight limits on political speech—there are places you can go to find active debates that look remarkably similar to those in the U.S., as long as you’re a university student. China’s censorship regime is alive and well, but some citizens find a way to talk politics nonetheless. One such person is Liu Yu, a young professor at...

Will the Munger Kids Kill California's Schools?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) Proposition 38 supporters from left: Marco Regil, television host for MundoFox, Molly Munger, civil rights attorney and the primary advocate behind Prop 38, Melissa Revuelta, bilingual high school teacher, and actor James Olmos, during a news conference in Los Angeles on September 26, 2012. Proposition 38, a State Income Tax Increase to Support Public Education, is on the November 6, 2012 ballot in California. This is the second in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November. A merica has the Koch brothers, and now California has the Munger kids. Unlike the right-wing Kochs, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Jr. entered politics from opposite directions—she’s a liberal Democrat and a champion of inner-city schools; he’s an economic conservative, a social moderate, and a Republican activist. But thanks to the vicissitudes of California politics and the self-absorption that wealth can bring (their father is Charles...

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