Thursday, January 19, 2017
DeVos vows to be advocate for 'great' public schools
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Education secretary Betsy DeVos was in the hot seat Tuesday evening as Senate Democrats grilled the GOP megadonor about her positions on public education and potential conflicts of interest.
DeVos vowed during the three-and-a-half-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that she would be an advocate for public education while defending her support for school choice and charter schools.
"The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools," DeVos said. "If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools."
“But if a school is trouble, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high quality alternative," she said.
When Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked if she would privatize public education, DeVos declined to rule that out.
"I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students," DeVos responded.
"We acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them, and I'm hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them."
Democrats also pressed DeVos about any potential conflicts of interest, which DeVos insisted would not be an issue if confirmed.
“Where conflicts are identified, they will be resolved,” DeVos said. “I will not be conflicted, period.”
The billionaire GOP donor told the committee that she would cease making political donations.
DeVos’s past contributions have come under scrutiny since she donated to several of the GOP members on the committee, but allies of DeVos argue that she faces a double standard since teachers unions contributed to some Democratic lawmakers on the committee.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who called on DeVos prior to the hearing to repay a decades-old fine for her now-defunct political action committee, asked how much her family has donated to the Republican Party. While she couldn’t give a hard number, she didn’t dispute Sanders’s estimate of $200 million.
She also tried to clear up that she never believed in conversion therapy and believes all students should receive a good education regardless of sexual orientation.
The question arose due to her past donation to a group that believes in the therapy for those in the LGBT community, but DeVos pushed back that may be "confusing" it with a contribution from one of her family members.
“I fully embrace equality,” DeVos said. “Every student should attend any school and should be free of discrimination.”
DeVos’s shakiest moment of the hearing came when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked her about the debate within the education community about whether students’ success should be measured by proficiency or growth.
She hesitated several times when answering the question: “I think if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would also correlate it to competency and mastery so each student is measured according to the advancement they’re making in each subject area.”
Franken cut in to correct her, saying what she was explaining was growth and saying he was specifically asking her about the debate.
“It surprises me you don’t know this issue and Mr. Chairman I think this is a good reason for us to have more questions,” Franken said.
A chorus of Democrats during the hearing called for a second round of questioning, noting DeVos’s paperwork was still incomplete.
HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) denied Democrats’ pleas for more time, only granting it to himself and Murray, the committee's top Democrat.
But he said that DeVos must answer written questions by Thursday at 5 p.m. and that her paperwork will be completed by Friday so committee members can review it by Tuesday when the committee will meet in executive session to consider her nomination.
“I’m not going to change the rules in the middle of the game,” Alexander said in his opening remarks about remarks about Democrats' request for more questioning, adding that there was no precedent of that for President Obama's past Education nominees.
Murray, along with other Democratic senators, expressed disappointment for not receiving additional time and noted concerns about not having DeVos’s completed ethics review by the time of the hearing. She also repeatedly called on DeVos to release her tax returns, which is not required.
“I am extremely disappointed we’re moving forward with this hearing before receiving proper paperwork from Office of Government Ethics,” Murray said. “I don’t know what you’re trying to protect Ms. DeVos from,” she said later in the hearing.
Murray asked for a second hearing and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed that call Tuesday night. “It’s 8:15 at night they wouldn’t be sitting here if they didn’t have additional questions,” she said.
DeVos needs a simple majority of 50 votes to be confirmed as secretary of Education. While one Democratic senator has said she won’t support DeVos, no Republicans have so far expressed opposition.
DeVos was introduced by former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-Independent, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is a member on the HELP Committee.
Republican senators enthusiastically greeted DeVos and glided through their five minutes each of questioning. Unlike other hearings for some of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, no protesters interrupted the hearing and the packed room was largely silent as she took questions.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) knocked Democrats repeated requests, arguing that they wasted time to ask DeVos more questions.
“I cannot help but think that if my friends on the other side of the aisle had used their time to ask questions rather than complaining about the lack of a second round, they each would have been able to get a second question,” Collins quipped.
Black college raises $600K for Trump inauguration appearance
Donations on a GoFundMe page to pay for a trip to President-elect Donald Trump's inaugural parade for the marching band of the oldest private black college in the country eclipsed $600,000 on Tuesday.
More than $330,000 in donations poured in last Friday alone after Talladega College President Billy Hawkins appeared on' "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News last Thursday night.
In a Friday news conference, Hawkins said the response was "probably the single greatest fundraising effort" for the 150-year-old school.
"It's been phenomenal," Hawkins said. "And we've had several other individuals before this who were ready to make out a check." Hawkins said he hopes to engage those people in conversations about other fundraising efforts beyond the band trip.
The 225-member band originally applied to take part in the parade before the election, but experienced a major backlash on social media from those arguing a performance at the parade would be a tacit endorsement of Trump.
Hawkins told O'Reilly during his Thursday Fox appearance that he and his family have received death threats as a result of making the decision to allow the band to go to Washington to perform.
“We owe Bill O’Reilly a great thank you. The GoFundMe account has skyrocketed,” Mr. Hawkins said. “The closer we get to Friday, the more excited I become. I’m so proud of our young people.”
For the first time in five presidential inaugurations, no Washington, D.C., marching band will perform in the presidential inauguration. “I think everybody knows why and no one wants to say and lose their job,” Howard University band director John Newson told NBC-4 Washington.
High university dropout rate in Australia
This may be a good thing. It may mean that more students are waking up to the uselessness of their dumbed down and politicized education
MORE Australians are making the wrong decisions about their future when it comes to education.
University student completion data, released by the federal government, has revealed the university dropout rate is worsening with around one in three students failing to complete their studies within six years of enrolment.
The worrying figures have prompted the government to encourage thousands of prospective students to think long and hard about enrolling when they receive their course offers this week, and have also raised the question, who’s to blame?
Putting responsibility on universities, the data has also prompted the government to reveal for the first time the worst offending institutions.
The universities with the worst dropout rates have been exposed, with some well below the already concerning average.
The Northern Territory’s Charles Darwin University boasted the most shameful completion rate with only 41.8 per cent of students who enrolled in 2009 wrapping up their studies by 2014.
The bottom five universities, including Western Australia’s Murdoch University, The University of New England in NSW and two regional universities in Queensland — the University of Southern Queensland and Central Queensland University — all saw less than half of the cohort graduate.
The top performers saw up to 88 per cent of students complete their studies within the measured period, but high completion rates were found to be rare. Only seven out of Australia’s 43 universities boasted completion rates above 75 per cent.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham suggested a lack of transparency from universities was to blame, and said it was time our institutions were straight with prospective students.
“We’ve heard too many stories about students who have changed courses, dropped out because they made the wrong choices about what to study, student who didn’t realise there were other entry path ways or who started a course with next to no idea of what they were signing themselves up for,” he said.
“Students should be looking for feedback on the reputation of the university they want to attend, how well-known they are for particular courses, how satisfied current students are with the resources and teachers on offer and the employment outcomes of graduates from those universities and courses.”
Mr Birmingham said the government was committed to lowering dropout rates, and announced he had asked the Higher Education Standards panel to review attrition and completion rates and “consider what further reforms are required to help improve student success”.
“While there will always be a number of students who don’t complete university for a variety of reasons, our ambition to protect both students and taxpayers from a waste of time and money is to keep this number as low as practical,” he said.
The government is pressuring universities to present information that is easily understood to prospective students to help kids the best choices for them, rather than simply boost enrolment numbers.
Better defined ATAR thresholds and clearer data on student experiences, outcomes and employment prospects are also on the way.
But universities may not be solely to blame.
Commentators regularly cite a culture in high schools and among parents pressuring school leavers into enrolling in university courses, as well as a disconnection between what kids are learning at university and other institutions and the “real world”.
Speaking with news.com.au, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s education and employment director said the key to boosting completion rates was a better informed market, and greater focus on jobs.
“There needs to be more effort by the government to promote that information about where the jobs are likely to be,” she said.
“When people start their university degree they may have an over-inflated expectation that everyone out of university gets a job.”
Employment outcomes for university graduates are falling, and while it’s too early to tell whether that’s a fixed change or if it’s just the labour market adjusting to the numbers of university graduates coming through, Ms Lambert said, it’s something students and prospective students need to be aware of.
“Students should be looking at certain courses, certain universities that might be above and below the average for employment outcomes, and all that data is available through student surveys, it’s just about better informing the market.”
Ms Lambert said it was also important that parents and schools were better informed as well as wannabe university students. She said there was also reasons outside of the institutions’ control that people failed to complete their degrees.
In a previous interview with news.com.au, Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the biggest factors for students who consider leaving university are often related to issues beyond university.
“Research suggests attrition rates are higher for mature age and part-time students — and if you think about it, they’re the ones who may often be juggling university study with jobs, children and caring for elderly parents,” she said.
“Students battling disadvantage — including those who are first in their family to attend university — area also more likely to have thoughts about leaving.”
The Education Department’s report found students older than 25 were three times more likely to drop out in their first year of study than school-leavers under 19.
Completion rates were also affected by students’ admission scores as well as their locations — if they were from remote locations or low socio-economic areas, and whether they were indigenous.
Increasingly popular online courses were also found to be a contributor to the growing dropout rate with one in five students who studied externally dropping out in their first year, compared to fewer than one in 10 who were based on campus.
Posted by jonjayray at 1:59 AM