Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trump's Education Cuts Aren't 'Devastating,' They're Smart

It’s the end of the world as we know it—at least that’s what some people would have us believe about President Trump’s education budget.

It’s “a devastating blow to the country’s public education system,” according to National School Boards Assn. CEO Thomas Gentzel. More like a “wrecking ball,” says Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Assn. teachers’ union. No, it’s a veritable “assault on the American Dream,” insists John B. King Jr., former Obama administration secretary of education.

Such hyperbole is reminiscent of the early 1980s, when President Reagan’s opponents battled his administration’s education cuts, and it’s about as inaccurate today as it was back then.

Trump wants to reduce the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary budget by $9.2 billion, from $68.3 billion to $59.1 billion. Close to two-thirds of that reduction (63%) comes from eliminating programs that are duplicative or just don’t work.

The administration is proposing a 10% cut in TRIO programs and a cut of almost a third in GEAR UP programs. GEAR UP and TRIO (which despite the name consists of nine programs) are supposed to help at-risk students who hope to go to college, but who might not make it.

At the behest of the Education Department, the Mathematica Policy Research Group studied a TRIO program and found weaknesses, which it first reported in 2004. The final report found “no detectable effects” on college-related outcomes, including enrollment and completion of bachelor’s or associate’s degrees. In a striking acknowledgement that these programs don’t hold up under scrutiny, lobbyists for the programs got Congress to ban the Education Department from setting up control-group evaluations of TRIO and GEAR UP.

Another sign of dysfunction is that—despite a demonstrable lack of success—grants to run TRIO and GEAR UP programs almost always get renewed. For example, in California, 82% of those who had grants in 2006 to manage this “no detectable effects” TRIO program still had those grants a decade later.

The K-12 programs proposed for elimination in the Trump budget are similarly ineffective.

In 1994, the Clinton administration started the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which promised to provide disadvantaged children with after-school enrichment to improve their academic performance. Nearly $18 billion spent over two decades later, there’s scant evidence of success. “It’s a $1.2 billion after-school program that doesn’t work,” according to Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution. He should know.

Dynarski worked at the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration and directed the 21st Century Community Learning Centers’ national evaluation while he was a researcher at Mathematica Policy Research. The three evaluations published between 2003 and 2005 concluded that the achievement of participating students was virtually the same, but their behavior was worse, compared with their peers who weren’t in the program.

Another program deservedly put on the chopping block is the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Enacted in 2001 as part of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, this program gave poorly performing schools fistfuls of cash to turn themselves around and raise student achievement. Turned out the SIG program was more buck than bang—lots more.

Total SIG program funding under the Bush administration was less than $126 million. Regular annual appropriations skyrocketed during Obama’s presidency, starting at $526 million. They remained near or north of a half billion dollars throughout his administration, totaling more than $7 billion to date—including a one-time infusion of $3 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.

The Obama administration publicly revealed the SIG program’s colossal failure on Jan. 18, 2017, just hours before President Obama’s appointees departed. According to the final evaluation by the American Institutes for Research and Mathematica Policy Research for the Education Department, SIG had “no significant impacts” on math achievement, reading achievement, high school graduation, or college enrollment across school and student subgroups.

Commenting on the evaluation, Andrew R. Smarick, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education, called SIG “the greatest failure in the history of the U.S. Department of Education.” Seven billion dollars in taxpayer money was spent, and the results were the same, as Smarick put it, “as if this program had never existed.”

Cutting costly, ineffective government programs isn’t the end of the world. It’s part of “[our] moral duty... to make our government leaner and more accountable,” as Trump stated during a budget meeting in February. His budgetary effort to cut waste includes the Education Department for good reason.


UK: Changing the Conservative Party to attract the youth vote

“Yeah I did; he was gonna write off my student loan. Come on!”

These were the words of a 25-year-old voter who text me early this morning, who had always voted Conservative and, up until the campaign began 5 weeks ago, was anti-Corbyn.

If you want to understand why the youth vote surged for Corbyn, I want you to read that line and look at the offer the Conservatives have made to the youth of Britain from our own manifesto. From this 25-year old’s own words, “the Conservatives have done nothing to reach out to those under-35”.

Now while most us would agree that the promises of wiping out debts and free university education by Labour were dangerous, unaffordable policies, we need to remember that the youth of the UK have been lumped with endless debts, rising costs in homes and education, and lower potential of earnings.

Much like in the US election, where voters turned out for Trump’s pro-employment message, youth voters in the UK turned out for a party which actually addressed their concerns.

Youth voters have finally figured out that if they turn out and vote, they can impact a national election. We ignore them at our peril. Below are three recommendations to address their concerns and in the process plan for the Conservatives to retake our majority.

* Brexit and immigration: The tone of hard Brexit has not gone down well with young people (and, I’d argue, with people generally). The assumption that all those who voted leave are all strong Brexiteers has been shown to be a poor assumption. Young people voted overwhelmingly for remain and aren’t likely to change their mind. Corbyn’s ability to dodge the question on his view on Brexit and the result he truly desires, means he’s snapped up the remain vote.

The negative and hostile language to the EU and the upcoming negotiations needs to be changed, and our views on freedom of movement and single market should be softened.

* Cost of higher education: The UK has the highest average tuition fees in the world, second only to the USA (which is at around £5300 a year compared to £6,000 in the UK). We cannot lump all this debt on to young people. Education in general needs more investment and should be protected at all costs.

We also need to change people’s views on apprenticeships, making it a more attractive option. We need to promote technical routes of education, rather than sending young people to pointless, wasteful degrees for simply a piece of paper. This could mean the UK no longer funds lower quality universities, or funds only degrees which are of economic value.

* Taxation and property: We’ve done a brilliant job in reducing the amount of tax the lowest earners pay, but the system simply does not address the unfairness of wealth being hoarded by older people, or both those in the finance sector who get paid by bonuses only.

It’s unfair for those on £100,000 a year (and more) to be able to use clever techniques to avoid tax. Similarly, the ability for many, many older people to people huge numbers of investment properties with sky high rents, generates anger in Britain’s youth. Addressing youth access to affordable starter homes is a critical issue.

I’ve said many a time that one day, the youth of Britain are going to realise the power in their vote when they turn out in large numbers. They’re just beginning now to figure it out, and now they’ll be seeing that they have the ability to strip the older generation of the many benefits they have enjoyed at the cost of Britain’s youth.

In order to build a fairer society for young and old, the Conservatives need to address the concerns of the under-35s, or forever be out of the reach of a majority.


More evidence-based education policy is needed in Australia

Blaise Joseph

If you asked any of the key players clamouring for more money in the Gonski 2.0 rumpus at the moment for (a) evidence that more funding will improve student outcomes, or (b) evidence-based policies the extra money should be spent on, you would likely receive a blank sheet of paper in reply.

While the federal government, the opposition, the Greens, the states, and the Catholic system will all admit funding isn't the only important education issue and more money by itself will not improve student outcomes, this is certainly not reflected in the way they are approaching the Gonski 2.0 debate.

This is an endemic problem in Australia's education system: investments are not necessarily informed by evidence and teaching practices are not subjected to rigorous evaluation.

A recent report from the Productivity Commission details the current issues with the education evidence base. The report identified a number of gaps in existing education data, most notably a lack of evaluation of school policies and programs. This particular gap means less accountability, making it difficult to identify best practice and subsequently turn this into common practice.

It is important the federal and state governments carefully read and respond to the report. It behoves Australia's school system to invest in evidence-based practices that are cost-effective in boosting results -- for the sake of both student achievement and fiscal responsibility.

The Gonski 2.0 plan risks getting the process back to front: the government committed to spending an additional $18.6 billion over the next 10 years and commissioned David Gonski to look at how the money can best be spent. In other words, they decided how much to spend before thinking about what it should be spent on.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby said: "Government policy has nothing to do with common sense."


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