Thursday, December 19, 2013

College Presidents Question Obama's Higher Ed Plan

College and university presidents (who overwhelmingly supported the Obama campaign in 2012) are more skeptical than expected about the President's effort to reform federal financial aid, according to a recent poll. The most controversial part of the reform proposal is instituting a national system of ratings and tying federal funding to highly-rated schools.

The plan itself is not recent news, but the reaction of higher education leaders is. Inside Higher Ed provides some background:

    "Obama administration officials have said that the colleges would be compared to institutions with similar missions. But details on how the system would work have yet to be fully developed or released.

    The skepticism of the plan among presidents is striking given how many of them say that they appreciate the way Obama has repeatedly stressed the importance of higher education. Indeed, in a 2012 survey of presidents, Inside Higher Ed found that nearly two-thirds of them planned to vote for the president's re-election -- and that percentage would have been even higher except for strong opposition from presidents of for-profit institutions."

The results of the Gallup/Inside Higher Ed poll, which included responses from 675 college and university presidents, reveal broad pessimism.

In response to the general question "How effective will President Obama's plan to make college more affordable be?" only 2% answered "Very Effective" while 17% answered "Not Effective At All." A plurality of those surveyed, 42%, said it will be "Not Too Effective."

When it came to the question of "In your opinion, will President Obama's plan to make college more affordable have a positive effect on your institution?" only 19% said "Yes" but 50% said "No."

Other highlights of the poll include:

    Do you agree or disagree that students will use the new information provided by the Department of Education to make informed decisions in selecting higher education institutions?
    Strongly agree: 2 percent
    Agree: 11 percent
    In the middle: 27 percent
    Disagree: 34 percent
    Strongly disagree: 22 percent

    Do you agree or disagree that the president's strategy to link federal financial aid to an institution's performance on the new rating system is a good idea?
    Strongly agree: 3 percent
    Agree: 13 percent
    In the middle: 30 percent
    Disagree: 30 percent
    Strongly disagree: 35 percent

The respondents also expressed skepticism about the proposed criteria for the ratings system: 52% agree or strongly agree that President Obama's ratings system will favor the wealthiest institutions despite the fact that the White House has emphasized its purpose as a measure to benefit the middle class.

Reforming higher education, improving college affordability, and restructuring federal financial aid are popular among politicians, academics, and American citizens alike. Regardless, President Obama's plan is doomed to fail unless the leaders of the institutions to be reformed are brought on board as well.


Study: Best Teachers Should Have the Largest Classes

Contrary to the practice of school districts nationwide, assigning more students to the best teachers, and less students to the lowest-performing instructors, would significantly boost student test scores, according to a recent study that concludes that the “magnitude of differences" between the best and worst teachers “swamps the expected effect of smaller classes.”

“One simple change—giving effective teachers a handful more students—could mean a big boost to student achievement,” labor economist Michael Hansen concluded in the study, entitled “Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teachers,” he conducted for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. (See class size.pdf)

Although educators have mixed views on the importance of class size, the conventional wisdom is that smaller is better. Hansen disagrees.

“Instead of trying to keep class sizes small, we should be leveraging our existing teacher talent by enlarging the classes taught by our best instructors – and compensating these excellent teachers for the extra work involved,” he says.

“Part of the appeal of this strategy is that it is a way of paying outstanding teachers more— under the cover of giving them more students,” he added.

Hansen, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), used actual classroom data from North Carolina, a state in which only “25 percent of students are taught by the top 25 percent of teachers,”  to simulate what would have happened if top-performing teachers had been assigned more students.

State laws, district policies, and bargaining agreements prevent most school districts from following this approach. However, after analyzing three years of fifth and eighth grade test scores, Hansen’s simulation found that assigning an additional 12 students to the best fifth grade teachers -  up to a maximum of 32 students in the classroom - made little difference, adding the equivalent benefit of just two extra school days.

However, test scores in eighth grade jumped when the most effective teachers were assigned 12 more students, producing gains “equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school.”

Just shifting six students would also make a significant difference, Hansen noted, adding that “no district to my knowledge has purposefully allocated students in this manner.”

“The simulated gains in eighth-grade math and science achieved by shifting just six additional students to effective teachers are equivalent to the expected effect of removing the lowest 5 percent of teachers in these subjects—and these gains can be achieved without actually removing them!”

Students remaining in the lower-performing teachers’ classes would also benefit, the study found.

“The ‘shifted’ students benefit from being reassigned to a better teacher, and their gain exceeds the ‘penalty’ imposed on other pupils already in that classroom who now have a slightly larger class. What’s more, the remaining students in the less-effective teacher’s class receive a ‘benefit’ because their class becomes smaller.”

Although Hansen acknowledges that small classes are “wildly popular,” and that “there is some evidence they boost student achievement,” he points out that “it would take an increase of at least ten to twenty additional students in a good teacher’s class to dilute his productivity to that of an average teacher.”

Therefore, he concludes, “universally shrinking class sizes may be counterproductive in terms of pupil achievement.”

He also cited a 2012 survey by the Farkas Duffett Research (FDR) Group that found that 73 percent of parents would pick a class with 27 students taught by one of the best teachers in the school district for their child over a smaller class of 22 students taught by a “randomly chosen teacher.”

However, he warns that moving students to different teachers within the same school would have little effect on the minority achievement gap because “the pool of available teachers in high-poverty schools does not change under this strategy.”


NC Superintendent: Vouchers May Fund ‘Schools of Terror’

There’s nothing like a little fear mongering to go with a heaping helping of government school protectionism.

That’s the modus operandi of North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson. She recently spoke to WTEC and offered a real doozy: private school vouchers may fund “schools of terror.” That’s right – the taxpayers of North Carolina may be funding the next Osama bin Laden if they have school choice.

Watch the interview she gave with WTEC here.

What an absurd claim. If the government is funded a so-called “school of terror” – whatever that actually is – Atkinson wouldn’t be doing her job. With vouchers comes government regulation. That’s the cost of a private school accepting a voucher.

Atkinson knows that but is acting otherwise. She’s either lying or saying she wouldn’t be able to regulate such a school. Neither is good for North Carolina school children.

If Atkinson really wants to root out any sympathizers of terror, perhaps she should look into the University of North Carolina School of Education and specifically Professor Lynda Stone.

In 2008, Stone came to the defense of one William Ayers, a real flesh-and-blood domestic terrorist who was a part of an organization – the Weather Underground – that bombed the Pentagon and New York City police headquarters in the 1960s.

Stone signed a statement saying she opposed “the demonization of Professor William Ayers.” In fact, her website lists an interview she gave on Ayers as a “public service.”

Before Atkinson throws out wild theories in her determination to keep kids trapped in failing schools, perhaps she should root out the enemy within.


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