Saturday, October 09, 2010

For-profit colleges criticize community colleges

As community colleges take center stage today at a White House summit, a group representing for-profit colleges is taking aim at community colleges.

In a report released Monday, a marketing firm working for the Coalition for Educational Success, an advocacy group for several privately held for-profit companies, argues that community colleges engage in "unsavory recruitment practices" and offer students "poorer-than-expected academic quality, course availability, class scheduling, job placement and personal attention."

The report crystallizes arguments from the for-profit sector that community colleges — perceived as the Obama administration's preferred set of institutions to offer work force training — are ill-equipped to serve the students they already enroll and would struggle in taking on larger enrollments. The document's release just ahead of today's summit is intended to tarnish the event's luster and the praise for community colleges that will come from President Obama and others, and it emerges amid the for-profit sector's aggressive lobbying, advertising and rallying against the U.S. Department of Education's proposed regulations on "gainful employment" and a Senate panel's investigation of the sector.

"Community colleges play a vital role in the American economy," said Jean Norris, managing partner of Norton Norris, the firm that produced the report. "However, they are not the only choice. Community colleges have some systemic issues that really need to be addressed and the singular focus on the problems of the career colleges is a waste of time and money and forgets the institutions that serve a much larger number of students."

For one part of the report, Norton Norris sent "secret shoppers" to meet with admissions officers at 15 community colleges and found that none would provide graduation rates, even when asked. In the report, these findings are likened to those identified by the Government Accountability Office on undercover visits to for-profit colleges, where investigators were told they didn't have to repay loans and encouraged to lie on financial aid forms. The firm also surveyed current for-profit college students who had been enrolled at community colleges, asking them to compare their satisfaction levels at the two different kinds of institution. In all but one category — price — the for-profit colleges came out on top.

David S. Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research at the American Association of Community College, characterized the report as "garbage" and said it was yet another attempt by the for-profit sector to fight scrutiny from the Obama administration and those on Capitol Hill. "It probably makes sense as a sort of PR strategy to try to run us down and sort of boost themselves," he said.

Norris insisted that it was not her aim to attack community colleges, but rather to "highlight issues beyond the career college sector that are the same ones the career college sector is being attacked for."

At last week's Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing questioning for-profit colleges' student outcomes and student debt, Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.) accused the committee's chair, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), of examining the sector without looking at how it fits into the broader landscape of U.S. colleges and universities. "I agree there is clearly a problem in higher education — now you'll notice I didn't limit that comment to for-profit schools," Enzi said. "It's naïve to think these problems are limited to just the for-profit sector. We've been looking at this in a vacuum."

While researchers said that some of the report's findings could be accurate, the study itself is of questionable value.

"We can't call this research," said Sara Goldrick-Rab, an assistant professor of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "The for-profits are under attack and this report is being paid for by for-profits. We need to be asking many of these questions, but a report like this one isn't providing meaningful answers."

In the report's introduction, Norton Norris concedes a string of flaws with the report. The sample surveyed for the study "was one of convenience and may not represent all student experiences," the report said. The students given a chance to respond to the survey were ones who withdrew or graduated from a nonprofit college before enrolling at a for-profit, admittedly meaning that "bias may be present" among respondents. The response rate was 10%. And the survey was "custom-designed and thereby not previously proven valid and reliable."

Thomas R. Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, said he saw the report as "a tactic" for for-profit institutions in their battle against greater regulation. "Certainly from [for-profit colleges'] perspective it would be reasonable to try to put out an argument that says there are many problems with community colleges."

Nonetheless, Bailey said, some of its findings are true. "Community colleges have low resources, the counselor-to-student ratio is extremely low. It's not surprising that students are not very well-informed about their options at community colleges. But, again, I don't think we can look at this as a reliable document."


Deputy head who dared attack the British government school system is sent home from school

A teacher who laid bare the chaos in the state education system has been ordered out of the classroom by her school. Katharine Birbalsingh is facing disciplinary action for daring to speak out at the Conservative Party conference this week about the shambles in state secondaries.

The Daily Mail understands that Miss Birbalsingh, 37, was made to work from home after other senior staff at her London academy feared her speech on Tuesday created too much negative publicity. Miss Birbalsingh said she was ‘devastated’ at being kept out of the classroom while she waits to hear if she is formally suspended or sacked.

The former Marxist – who was state-educated before going to Oxford University – voted Tory for the first time in this year’s general election.

A French teacher and deputy head at St Michael and All Angels Church of England Academy in Camberwell, South London, she was the surprise star at the Tory conference. She revealed how bad behaviour and lack of discipline in schools ‘blinded by Leftist ideology’ stopped staff from teaching children.

Her intervention against a ‘broken’ system which ‘keeps poor children poor’ earned her a standing ovation. She took up her latest job a month ago and said last night that her criticisms were not aimed at her new school. But staff felt that she had damaged the school’s reputation – an accusation that she denies.

Miss Birbalsingh said yesterday: ‘I’m devastated by this. ‘My whole life is about helping children fulfil their potential, particularly those in less privileged areas, and I love my school. ‘All I wanted to do was to highlight the barriers that stand in the way of improving education in Britain. ‘I just want this issue to be resolved and to get back to teaching again.’

However, Miss Birbalsingh did not blame the school for over-reacting. ‘It is not the school or the head’s fault,’ she added. ‘They are shackled by the system which bans teachers from having freedom of speech.

‘In my conference speech, I was not attacking my school directly – I have only been there for a few weeks. ‘I was emphasising my ten years plus of experience in classrooms.’ She added: ‘I feel awful. I have been forced to choose between keeping my school happy on the one hand and my principles on the other. ‘I shouldn’t be torn in that kind of way.’

Miss Birbalsingh was asked to ‘work from home’ for the rest of the week when she arrived at school on her return from the conference in Birmingham.

Her fate will be decided by executive head Irene Bishop and the school’s board of governors and sponsors. Last night no one from the school could be reached for comment. As an academy, the school is free from local authority or government control. But Miss Birbalsingh has the backing of education secretary, Michael Gove, who asked her to speak at the conference.

A source close to Mr Gove said: ‘Katharine gave an inspiring speech which was one of the highlights of the conference. She’s clearly passionate about raising standards for all, committed to her school and just wants to do the best by the children. ‘Let’s hope the situation will be resolved as soon as possible.’

In her rousing speech, Miss Birbalsingh said many of the changes necessary to improve schools required ‘Right-wing thinking’.


One in six pupils are behind in three Rs when they leave British grade schools

One in six children are effectively going backwards at primary school, new figures revealed today. Almost 100,000 youngsters achieved worse results in the three Rs at 11 than in comparable tests at age seven.

The figures suggest many pupils are simply left ‘coasting’ in large numbers of primary schools. Boys are more likely to fall behind in English and girls in maths.

Today's Department of Education statistics are, however, an improvement on last year's figures.

However ministers admitted it was a ‘very real concern’ that one in six youngsters was failing to make the expected progress in the basics between the ages of seven and 11.
Nick Gibb

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: 'We need to ensure that those who are doing well when they are seven are stretched to their full potential'

They said six-year-olds would sit a short reading test to identify problems earlier under Coalition plans to boost English standards.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘Thousands of children are condemned to struggle at secondary school and beyond unless they get the fundamentals of reading, writing and maths right at an early age. ‘We also need to ensure that those who are doing well when they are seven are stretched to their full potential.’

The figures chart the progress made by tens of thousands of pupils after sitting SATs tests in English and maths at age seven. Youngsters who achieve ‘level two’ at age seven are considered to have made satisfactory progress at primary school if they go on to gain a ‘level four’ grade in SATs at 11. ‘Level four’ signifies that by the time they start secondary school, they can grasp the point of a story, write extended sentences using commas and add, subtract, multiply and divide in their heads.

Today’s figures show that 16 per cent of youngsters failed to make the expected two levels of progress in English and 17 per cent in maths. This was an improvement on last year’s 18 per cent in English and 19 per cent in maths. But the stats suggest that nearly 100,000 youngsters are still failing to fulfil the potential they showed at seven.

Usually nearly 600,000 youngsters take SATs but this year just 385,000 did so because two teaching unions boycotted the tests in May.

In English, 18 per cent of boys failed to progress at the rate expected, against 14 per cent of girls. Last year the gender gap was just three percentage points. Meanwhile, 18 per cent of girls failed to fulfil the potential they showed at seven in maths, against 17 per cent of boys. However girls, who were two points behind last year, appear to be catching up.

Coalition measures aimed at boosting attainment include greater prominence in the curriculum for synthetic phonics, the back-to-basics reading scheme that first involves learning the letter sounds of the alphabet and then blending them together.

Mr Gibb added: ‘Getting the basics right at the start of primary school is vital which is why we are putting synthetic phonics at the heart of teaching children to read. ‘We are introducing a short reading test for six-year-olds and we are committed to driving up standards of numeracy at primary school, and doubling the number of highly skilled graduate teachers in our schools, including in primary schools for the first time.’

But Vernon Coaker, shadow schools minister, said: ‘I cannot understand why the government is trying to spin these figures by doing down the achievements of children and the hard work of their teachers.’


No comments: