U.S. Education Department Increases Spending in 2010 Budget, Some Unions are Concerned

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 14, 2009 by dew21

The FY 2010 budget increased financial resources for Education Department

President Barack Obama’s FY 2010 budget proposal increased the Department of Education’s total spending by 2.8 percent to $46.7 billion to encourage reform in schools and cut wasteful programs, but many educational leaders remain concerned.

“This budget makes tough decisions, investing in the programs that will deliver results in student learning while ending ones that aren’t working,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release from the Department of Education.

The proposed budget eliminates 12 programs that the Education Department deemed ineffective, including the $66 million Even Start Family Literacy Program designed to increase literacy in needy families and single parents.  The government saved $550 million by cutting these 12 programs.

“Some programs may have made sense in the past – but are no longer needed in the present,” Obama said in the Washington Post.

Education Week reported that despite increases in funds for Title I School Improvement Grants and Title I Early Childhood Gr3114158488_b018da9a22ants, the total amount of money given to districts in Title I grants decreased by 10.4 percent.

“The dollar amounts that districts build [their budgets] off of has been cut in the president’s budget,” Mary Kussler, assistant director of advocacy for American Associate of School Administrators, said.  “Districts will have to rethink their [stimulus] funds to potentially covering a short fall in Title I, lessening the potential impact of the [the stimulus].”

The MetroWest, based in Framingham, Mass., reported that education administrators of Massachusetts are concerned about the long-term needs of school districts.  “There are absolutely no guarantees what our situation will look like in fiscal year 2011,” Dick White, assistant superintendent of Pembroke Schools in Pembroke, Mass., said.

Tom Scott, the president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said that school administrators need to determine how much to spend and how much to save.

Administrators in Los Angeles sought answers to similar questions after the initial release of stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  State district officials wanted to spread the money between two years, while teacher unions wanted to use the funds immediately to save jobs.

2438839377_cd48b8d4c1The LA Times reported that Duncan said he agreed with state officials on this issue. “We want these investments to save hundreds of thousands of teachers’ jobs around the country, but also to drive real reform,” Duncan said.

The 2010 budget increased the Teacher Incentive Fund from $97.3 million to $517.3 million, in addition to the $200 million already provided by the ARRA for performance based pay.

“We would have gotten just as much change on school improvement under the stimulus if we had dropped 30 million $100 bills over the 50 states and said ‘do good things,’” Charles Barone, the director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, said.

In the Washington Post, lobbyist Marc Egan of the National Education Association (NEA) said the union preferred to use funds for the Improving Teacher Quality State Grant.

“It should be used to focus on the practice of teaching and rewarding national board certification,” Dennis Van Roekel, president of the NEA, said.

The Washington Post reported that unions are concerned despite President Obama’s promise to include teachers in the process of developing merit based pay programs.

“The administration is showing that it’s serious about paying teachers for performance,” Michael J. Petrilli, vice president of the educational think tank Thomas B. Fordham, said.  “Now the question is how ‘performance’ is defined.”

The budget proposed rewarding extra pay to teachers who increase classroom performance and to those who take on leadership roles, especially in areas of high poverty.  In the Washington Post, Duncan said that he hoped the money would encourage more teachers to work with struggling schools.

“We’re really trying to focus with laser-like focus on the lowest performing schools around the country,” Duncan said.

To show the importance of education, the United Way of America together with the American Human Development Project created the “Common Good Forecaster,” a website that shows how changing levels of education affect state social factors like income and health.

Education reform is among the top priorities of the Obama Administration, with the goal of raising high school graduation rates and making college more affordable.

“We are doing everything that we can to create jobs and get our economy moving while building a new foundation for lasting prosperity – a foundation that invests in quality education, lowers health care costs and develops new sources of energy powered by new jobs and industries,” Obama said.

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Economy Affects College Decisions

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 6, 2009 by dew21

High school seniors factored finances into selecting a college this year  more than ever when choosing a college by May 1st.

“We just don’t have the money,” Michael Parra a junior at Wakefield High School said in an article in the Washington Post.

Students like Parra weighed the pros and cons of their top choices, but the biggest determinant is which college offers the largest financial package.

“It’s increased my awareness of money and finances and what that all means.  I’m going to be carrying this with me for however many years,” Mary Claire Erksine a senior at Albert Einstein High School said.

What students and parents often forget is that financial aid packages are made up of mostly loans, and not scholarships.

According to the NY Times, the private student loan program totals $20 billion dollars, one third the size of federal lending programs.  Today, interest rates can range anywhere from seven to 12 percent.  Private loans average at 11 percent, while federal Stafford loan sit just below seven percent.

In 2008, Sallie Mae distributed $6.3 billion in private loans.  Sallie Mae is one of the top three leaders in the private loan industry, next to Chase and Citibank.

“Although we could narrow our range of private loan interest rates and also narrow our lending, we feel strongly that we should serve as many students as we can,” Martha Holler a spokeswoman for Sallie Mae said.

The Project on Student Loans said that the average college graduate leaves college with at least $21,900 in loans.

“The difference of rates between secured and unsecured loans is higher than I’ve ever seen.  This is one further impediment to access to post-secondary education for all but the well-to-do,” Scott White the director of counseling services at Westfield High School said in the NY Times.

College funds across the nation were hit hard after the 40 percent stock market drop affected retirement funds and property values.  The NY Times reported that many parents are dealing with these changes by taking on second jobs or decreasing restaurant and medical visits.

To see how student loan lenders rank check out the ratings of top lenders created by the founder of Student Lending Analytics, Tim Ranzetta.

Money...What Money?

National Test Scores Released as Duncan Calls for National Standards

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 28, 2009 by dew21

National Test Shows Progress for Younger Students

The National Assessment of Educational Progress released on Tuesday showed that children ages nine and 13 scored higher in math and reading than in the past three decades.

The “Nation’s Report Card” revealed little improvement in 17-year old high school students.

“We’ll take any good news, but I think we have to moderate any celebrations.  My hope is this is the beginning of a trend, and we’ll see four years from now that even the 17-year olds do better,” David Driscoll, a member of the National Assessment Government Board, said.

The national assessment compares testing performance from examinations given every four years.  Since 2004, both math and reading scores have increased.
The Never Ending Math Problem
Education Week reported that the improvements in math scores could be a result of an increase in the number of students taking advanced classes at a younger age.  The number of 13-year olds taking algebra rose from 13 percent to 30 percent between 1986 and 2008.

The 2008 national assessment showed a decrease in racial performance gaps, as both Black and Hispanic students scored higher.

“Our focus on raising standards, increasing academic rigor and improving teacher quality are all steps in the right direction,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an article in the Washington Post.

Both Duncan and President Obama encourage radical education reform, like introducing national standards for math and English Language Arts (ELA), and hope to toughen academic standards.

“Obama’s fundamental strategy is the same as George Bush’s: standardized tests, number crunching; it’s the NCLB [No Child Left Behind] approach with lots of money attached,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian, said.

Representatives from 41 states met on April 17th to discuss the idea of implementing national standards that will increase graduation rates and prepare students for college and future careers.

“I think this is a milestone; we have never seen the states come together to commit to doing national standards,” Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said in Education Week.

Under current legislation like NCLB every state is responsible for enforcing its own education standards.

“We have 50 different versions of what standards are,” Dane Linn, director of the National Governors Association’s (NGA) education division, said.

The NY Times reported that Congress plans to rewrite the NCLB law without completely eliminating testing requirements.

For a look at the NCLB law, watch this video by CBS News and Time Magazine.

Lawmakers Strengthen Charter School System

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 22, 2009 by dew21

State education officials call for more charter schools

Leaders in education and teacher unions agreed to try and improve the structure of the U.S. charter school system to meet new national standards and increase the  high school graduation rate in the U.S.

“Our research shows that high-quality charter schools consistently demonstrate high levels of achievement and college and career success for their students, regardless of race or family income,” John Thomasian, the director of the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices, said.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that charter schools offer choice and competition for children of low-income families.

According to the NGA Center for Best Practices, 1.2 million students attend one of 4,300 public charter schools in the U.S.  Fifty percent of those students are from low-income households, and 60 percent are colored students.

Last week, the NGA released guidelines for state lawmakers to help local charter schools achieve the same success as existing high-quality charter schools.

“You need to give those charter operators great autonomy – to really free them from the education bureaucracy.  You have to couple that with very strong accountability,” Duncan said in a Time Magazine article.

The NY Times reported that teacher unions are increasing their efforts to target charter school teachers.

Although the charter school system is known for its “freedom to innovate,” teachers have complained of restrictions of their rights.  Kashi Nelson, a seventh- and eighth- grade teacher from Brooklyn, said she attended staff development meeting during which she was not allowed to ask questions.

Yet, even Nelson does not want the help of teacher unions.

“I saw early on that the union was not, in my opinion, looking to have amicable conversations with the administration.  We were being encouraged to be even more miserable, and if I can avoid misery, I want to do that,” Nelson said.

Randi Weingarten, president of both the New York Union, the United Federation of Teachers, and the American Federation of Teachers, said that a union could help teachers create a better school.

“Most of the time individuals do not have power, but through collective action that is legally allowed, it creates group power,” Weingarten said.

Protest March - Organized by the Unions

Priced Out of Admission

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 15, 2009 by dew21

The federal government reviews proposals to make college more affordable as low-income students face financial disadvantages for admission.

By 2020, the Obama Administration expects the U.S. to have the highest high school graduation rate in the world, but experts see a growing divide between wealthy and poor students that prevents the underprivileged from advancing on to college.

Students are given equal opportunity to study advanced curriculums at the high school level, but college tuition and standardized testing bar the entrance for many.

“It is nothing even remotely like a level playing field,” William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard University said.

Some argue that standardized tests like the SAT and ACT reflect economic status and not academic aptitude because children of high-income households can afford test and college prep services.

The Washington Post reported that there is a link between household income and academic success.  Students who take SAT prep classes typically score 20 to 30 points higher on the test, which can make all the difference during the selection process.

Bob Schaeffer, co-founder of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said that children of a household earning $200,000 typically score a 1676 on the SAT, where as a child from a lower income household of $20,000 typically earns a 1320 out of 2400.

“Our biggest concern about the SAT is that the SAT, rather than a gateway to opportunity, reinforces the factors that hold kids back from access to college,” Schaeffer said.

Children of low-income housing are also at a disadvantage in regards to test and application fees.  Fees limit the number of times a student can take the test, and the number of applications they can afford to send.

Friday... Test...

The Obama administration said it aims to make college more accessible and more affordable.  In late February, President Obama proposed replacing the Federal Family Education Loan program with a program directly funded by the government.

The New York Times reported the government anticipates saving $94 billion over the next decade by eliminating middlemen like private lender Sallie Mae.

Private lenders and members of Congress oppose this reform, because it will mean huge losses in profits and power.

“The president’s proposal could be detrimental to thousands of employees who serve in the current student loan industry throughout the country…” Rep. Allen Boyd (D) of Florida said.

Maybe Sallie Mae should have considered the underprivileged children in the U.S. when the corporation awarded $13.2 million to its vice chairman, $4.6 million to the chief executive and $600,000 bonuses to other executives in the company  and still expect a handout this year.

Duncan Established Guidelines in Letter to State Governors

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 9, 2009 by dew21

States must meet government requirements to receive money for education reform.

States are now required to provide performance data in order to receive aid from the $100 billion at the disposal of the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“The first step toward real and long lasting reform that will ensure our students’ competitiveness begins with absolute transparency and accountability in how we invest our dollars, educate our children, evaluate our teachers, and measure our success,” Duncan said in a recent press release.

The U.S. education system will not be reformed unless the states completely cooperate with the federal government.  In an interview with the Washington Post, Duncan said that the government would be monitoring the states very closely.  Watch the full Washington Post interview with Arne Duncan.

The government has already seen opposition from the states.  South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican, said that he would only accept the $577 million to decrease state debt, not for educational purposes.  South Carolina has one of the nation’s worst high school graduation rates.

“Every dollar we spend must advance reforms and improve learning,” Duncan said.

States qualify for the second round of financial aid, a total of $16 billion, by how well they collect data and their efforts to meet the new college and career ready standards.  Reports will include student scores from local and national assessments, improvements in achievement from low-performance and failing schools and high school graduation rates.

“President Obama and Secretary Duncan have put a bold education reform plan in place that will invest in our schools, our students and our teachers.  But each state must play their part to show how these dollars will be spent to move forward on a path to progress in our schools,” Martin O’Malley, Maryland governor, said.

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The New York Times reported that the data might only reinforce the weaknesses of the U.S. education system.  “We are putting real money on the line to challenge every state to push harder and do more for its children,” Duncan said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that where school districts  continue to fall behind, Duncan said city mayors should step in.  This suggestion raises problems with teacher unions, known for being strong supporters of Democrats.

Duncan’s desire to hold states accountable inspired a monthly television show called Education News Parents Can Use. The show will air from 8 to 9 pm(EST) on the Dish Network and PBS, and also webcast live from www.connectlive.com/events/ednews. The next show airs on April 21, and will cover how the stimulus package is working.

Private School Enrollment Hurt in Bad Economy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 2, 2009 by dew21

How Private Schools are Preparing for Economic Hardship

While public school officials battle state and local budgets, private schools expect significant decreases in enrollment as more unemployed parents chose between costs of living and costs of education.

Large decreases in enrollment could lead to a greater strain on state and federal economic burdens.

“We’ve priced ourselves out of an independent education for some parents,” Barney Hester said.  Hester is the headmaster of Tattnall Square Academy, a 40-year-old private Christian school located in Macon, Ga.

Private schools like Tattnall Square are losing students by the hundreds as parents chose cheaper alternatives in education such as public or home schooling.

“…All things being equal, if we have a good school in our neighborhood that doesn’t cost $15,000 a year, that’s what we will opt for,” Glen West, a father of two, said.

The archbishop of Baltimore, Edwin O’Brien, warned pubic and private school leaders in a meeting on March 22 that a mass exodus from Catholic to public schools would cost the state $400 million to cover.  Watch a video on Archbishop O’Brien and Baltimore Catholic schools.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported that nearly six million elementary and secondary students in the U.S. attend a private institution.  Imagine if the federal government had to provide resources for six million more students.

In order to keep doors open, private schools are cutting costs by eliminating bottled water dispensers in school buildings, offering sibling discounts, putting off renovation projects, and laying off non-teaching staff.  Sam Pace, the principle of Valley Christian School in Burton, Mich. recently fired himself in order to save on one more salary.

Despite the costs, some parents remain faithful to the private school system.

“I want to give my kids the opportunity to learn about their faith,” parent, Michael Bisanz, said. “It’s more important to us, I guess, than a new car or vacations.”

Still, even some of the faithful need aid in order to give their children the priority education.  Many schools across the nation are seeing increases in financial aid requests.

“I’m hearing a lot that a spouse has lost their job, they’ll have to live on one income for a while.  I’m seeing more of that than in the last 10 years,” Sister Linda Taber, the tuition assistant at St Pius X Catholic School, said.

Students and school officials alike are looking to God, and wealthy donors, to provide.

Cowled Prayer