Higher Education Issues: 15 for ’15

forbes educationForbes Education recently released their list of 15 key higher education issues for 2015. Many of these will be prominent this year as the Obama Administration nears the end of its eight year run. You can expect this blog to discuss these issues over the coming year:

The arrival of a new year brings with it the opportunity to reflect on that which occurred over the past twelve months and to look ahead at what awaits. For us in higher education, here is a list of issues that will be with us in 2015. Some are new. Others carryover from 2014. Each will likely require our time and attention.

  • Reauthorization of the Higher Ed Act. Will incoming Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R) dismantle what Senator Harkin (D) built and “start all over,” as promised? Many hope yes. (See Andrew Kelly’s excellent piece.)
  • Competency-Based Education (CBE). Unlike MOOCS, CBE – which leverages and builds on what an individual already knows – will not quickly fade. Still many questions to be resolved: What is it, who wants it, and who benefits? While CBE holds incredible promise, higher ed and employers must come together on common standards. The Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) has made a start but much remains to be done.
  • Skills Gap. Is there one? The New York Times says “no,” but how do we explain five million unfilled jobs with so many still looking for work? Could it be that some technologies are changing so fast that higher education can’t keep up?
  • Gainful Employment. A topic that refuses to go away. As written, the policy applies more broadly than most think (not just to for-profits), and as the American Association of Community Colleges notes, requires disclosures that are “absurdly complicated and extensive.” Who, we ask, benefits from this regulation?
  • Unions. The organization of adjunct faculty unions will continue pushing already fragile institutions toward the brink and driving up the cost of education for all. Yet, who can criticize? Higher education has paid too little for too long.
  • New Business Models. Does every institution need its own library, general counsel, human resources and finance office? Has the time come to consolidate services for multiple campuses as was done with hospitals decades ago? When will faculties and facilities be used year-round and teaching provided on a three semester basis? The usual eight semesters could be delivered in less than three years. Imagine the cost savings.
  • The President’s New Rating System. Its late 2014 unveiling left many questions unanswered. The framework appears weighted toward admitting more low income students, charging them as little as possible, while graduating them on time and ready for high demand, high pay jobs. While laudable goals, this is sure to draw debate. Much distrust of the Administration’s ability to “rate” with precision exists. Could be collateral damage. Perhaps we should recall what happened the last time this was tried – in 1911!
  • Jobs for Vets. With a 50 percent increase in the number of military leaving active duty (300K in 2015 vs 200K in a “normal” year) is higher education ready to help with job training and workforce readiness? Tuition costs won’t be a problem, thanks to the GI Bill, but post-graduation placement will be.
  • The Relevancy of Degrees. Returning veterans say they don’t have time to earn a degree, at least not upon discharge. What they need, they tell us, is a credential that will get them a job. As noted above, increasing numbers of jobs require skills and knowledge that change more quickly than higher education institutions can provide. Thus, many employers are now accepting alternative forms of qualification in these quickly changing fields.
  • Technology. Any list of predictions must include at least one on technology. For 2015, expect to see the long-rumored Apple wristwatch/telephone/PDA. It will take “mobile” and the portability of information to new levels.
  • Outcomes. Learning outcomes, competency outcomes – this will be a year when educators and employers alike will focus on what the academy is producing, and deciding whether it measures up. Don’t expect agreement. Even MOOC providers may benefit by finally subjecting their “course” completers to valid assessments of learning outcomes.
  • Completion. Secretary Duncan has talked much about Education’s “Completion Agenda.” As access has become nearly universal, thanks to Open Education Resources (OER) (not MOOCs), and other free sources of instruction, attention has shifted to getting larger numbers to complete. Reasons for stopping short will be subject to scrutiny. Reasons go beyond cost and time. Expect to see poor quality classroom instruction as a factor.
  • Cost. Another topic that refuses to die. While increases in tuition have slowed, connections between greater regulation and cost, and the shift of tax dollars away from public education are too often ignored. Government continues to be a major reason for the high cost of learning.
  • State Protectionism. Under pressure from the Federal government, greater regulation of higher education can be expected at the state level. While this new oversight will come in the name of protecting federal aid dollars, or consumer protection, some will actually be intended to protect in-state institutions. All will add to cost.
  • Internationalism. As more institutions find themselves looking at enrollment shortfalls and a dwindling pool of traditional age students (high school numbers are already declining), attention is likely to shift abroad. With half the world’s population under the age of 25, the demand for U.S. education can be expected to grow. Benefits will flow in both directions.

For more information, please visit: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnebersole/2015/01/06/higher-education-issues-15-for-15/



Resources on the Social Side of Education Reform

shankerblogThe folks over at Shanker Blog have been writing recently about how education reform cannot happen in a vacuum. Schools and the people in them are inherently social, so approaching education reform through a social lens makes sense. Here is a piece from one of their recent blogs:

For the past few months, we have been insisting, through this blog series, on the idea that education reform has a social dimension or level that often is overlooked in mainstream debate and policy. Under this broad theme, we’ve covered diverse issues ranging from how teachers’ social capital can increase their human capital to how personnel churn can undermine reform efforts, or how too much individual talent can impede a team’s overall performance.

This collection of issues may prompt a number of important questions: What exactly is the “social side?” What are its key ideas? I would like to offer a few initial thoughts and share some resources that I’ve compiled.

The social side is primarily a lens that brings into focus a critical oversight in the public debate on educational reform and its policies: The idea that teaching and learning are not solo but rather social endeavors that are achieved in the context of the school organization, and within the districts where schools are embedded, through relationships and teamwork, rather than competition and a focus on individual prowess.

This social side perspective does a few things:

  • Shifts the focus from the individual attributes of stakeholders (e.g., teachers, principals) to the supports and constraints afforded by the school organization and the broader social context in which individuals operate;
  • Highlights the importance of interdependencies (formal and informal) at all levels of the system – e.g., among teachers within a school, leaders across a district, schools and the community etc. – and the idea that a complex system is more than the sum of its parts;
  • Recognizes that valuable resources (e.g., information, advice, support) are exchanged through relationships within and across the overlapping networks of schools and districts, and that monitoring and strengthening this infrastructure is crucial for educational improvement.

For more, including numerous links to resources on the social side, see http://shankerblog.org/?p=11108


Three new videos from AEI Vision Talks

AEIThe American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank that covers education issues, has a new series of videos out addressing the course of education reform in the United States.

Following is an excerpt from their description of the series:

Our schools are failing the most vulnerable kids.

Everyone’s heard the scary statistics. But the dollars we spend per child and the national trends in test scores are not what’s most important.

Here’s what matters: We are failing in our moral duty to provide every American boy and girl the education they need to build a meaningful and satisfying life.

Three of four talks have been released:

Are American Schools Designed to Succeed? by Rick Hess, AEI’s Director of Education Policy

Institutions don’t last forever. As the world changes, they adapt or die. But U.S. education still uses a 200-year-old philosophy. Hess explains why it is time to rethink the real purpose of American schools.

Making the Case for Education Reform by Arthur Brooks, AEI President

Education reformers have the ideas to fix America’s failing schools. So why aren’t people listening? Brooks explains why we have failed to capture hearts and minds — and how we can win the debate.

Has Education Reform Gone Wrong? by Kaya Henderson, DCPS Chancellor

Is education really about test scores and economic forecasts? Or is it about the aspirations of children and families? Henderson explains what we should really be measuring when we measure our schools.

To view the videos, please visit:


Education Week Annual Report on US Schools, updated version

Education Week American Education News Site of RecordRecently, Education Week released the 19th edition of its annual Quality Counts report. This year’s installment explores the complex landscape that defines early-childhood services and programs across the country. To complement the report’s journalism, the Education Week Research Center also conducted an original analysis of participation in early-education programs, poverty-based gaps in enrollment, and trends over time. The center’s Early Education Index grades the states based on federal data across eight critical indicators.

After a one-year hiatus, Quality Counts resumes its long-standing tradition of grading the nation and states on their overall education performance. For Quality Counts 2015, those grades return in a newer, leaner form that focuses on outcomes rather than on policy and processes. States are ranked on a range of key education indicators, and of awarding summative letter grades and scores for the states for three mainstay elements of Quality Counts: the Chance for Success Index, the K-12 Achievement Index, and school finance.

The nation receives an overall grade of C on its 2015 report card, with a score of 74.3 out of a possible 100 points. This marks a decline from a C-plus in 2013, when summative grades were last issued under the report’s previous grading framework. Massachusetts finishes first this year with a grade of B and a score of 86.2. Also earning grades of B this year are New Jersey, 2013 front-runner Maryland, and Vermont. At the other end of the grading scale, Mississippi earns a D and ranks last, with New Mexico and Nevada also posting grades of D.

The complete contents of Quality Counts 2015 plus special online-only features are now available at www.edweek.org/go/qc15.

State and National Highlights Reports

These downloadable reports help you quickly assess where your state stands in the national rankings and on dozens of key indicators. The highlights reports are available at: www.edweek.org/go/qc15shr.

State Report Cards Map [Interactive]

This interactive map offers a quick way to examine state-by-state grades and summary data.


Despite Reports to the Contrary, New Teachers Are Staying in Their Jobs Longer

BeginningTeachers-webfigAnyone following education policy over the past several years has most likely read a headline along the lines of this: “Disgruntled New Teachers Leave the Profession in Droves.” Despite such recent education policy stories, the picture since 2007 has been decidedly rosier: Fully 70 percent of beginning teachers stay in the profession for at least five years. The Center for American Progress calculated this much-higher statistic of new-teacher retention using several national surveys from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The findings suggest that far more beginning teachers stay in teaching than has been reported elsewhere, and this is a promising development. Of course, some attrition is good, as some teachers might find they are not a good fit for the profession. But overall, more teachers staying in the profession is clearly good for teachers, schools, and students.

Perhaps most encouragingly, teachers in high-poverty schools are staying at very statistically similar rates as all teachers.

For more information, please visit:



A New Majority: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools

Home - Southern Education FoundationLow income students are now a majority of the schoolchildren attending the nation’s public schools, according to a research bulletin issued today by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF). The latest data collected from the states by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show that 51 percent of the students across the nation’s public schools were low income in 2013.

In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.

Most of the states with a majority of low income students are found in the South and the West. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.

Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate: ­71 percent, almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi, were low-income. The nation’s second highest rate was found in New Mexico, where 68 percent of all public school students were low income in 2013.

This defining moment in America’s public education has been developing over several decades, and SEF has documented the trends and implications in two prior reports. In its 2013 report, SEF Vice President Steve Suitts wrote:  “No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness…  Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline…”

Of course, this is an equity issue as well, because in those southern and western states, many of the students who make up those low-income students are African-American or Latino.

To read the full report go to: www.southerneducation.org


Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning




As employers and postsecondary institutions increasingly demand students and workers equipped with high-level skills, many states are exploring performance assessments as part of their K-12 education strategies. Unlike multiple-choice tests, these assessments require students to construct answers, produce products, or perform activities; they allow educators to assess student performance meaningfully and foster deeper learning.

In Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning, Stanford University Professor and SCOPE Faculty Director Linda Darling-Hammond and NASBE Deeper Learning Project Director Ace Parsi argue that focusing on assessments is essential for facilitating meaningful learning that leads to  state educational agency success and helps policymakers address some of the thorniest issues around them: purpose, sustainability, reliability, accountability, policy alignment, equity, professional practice, and implementation. The paper includes key considerations for state policymakers as they assess whether their states are getting the maximum benefits from the adoption of performance assessment strategies.

“Transforming a state assessment and accountability strategy to support and advance the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are essential to students’ college, career, and civic success is not an easy task for any state,” says Darling-Hammond.

“New strategies will require a commitment to funding new systems, training educators, and collecting and analyzing the information that performance assessments provide to continuously improve state education systems,” adds Parsi. “While this commitment will require funding, the costs are dwarfed by the substantial costs of inaction: poorly trained educators, continued and persistent opportunity gaps, and most important, a system that is misaligned to the goal of enabling all students to seize opportunities the 21st century provides. Luckily, many states have already begun to engage in this important task.”

Read and share Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning at: http://www.nasbe.org/wp-content/uploads/Parsi-LDH-Performance-Assessment_Jan2015.pdf


Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12

edclogo2In a new report, Skills for Success: Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12, Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund highlight trends and raise important considerations for schools supporting and assessing a more comprehensive set of student “skills for success” and explore how assessments of these skills could be used to inform school improvement and accountability strategies.

Skills for Success include grit, self-discipline, and critical thinking, which are often directly encouraged in early education, but then abandoned in later years of school. While schools and teachers certainly recognize the importance of these skills, they may not be equipped to integrate them into daily instruction in a meaningful fashion. Tooley and Bornfreund believe this is crucial because research shows that children learn and refine these skills into adolescence.

One of the key ways that Tooley and Bornfreund recommend that changes can be effected is to increase accountability for skills for success:

Some of our recommendations focus on increasing the visibility of school policies and practices that can influence students’ skills for success and holding schools and educators accountable for improving areas that are lacking. To date, the evidence from K–12 SFS implementation indicates that if SFS and the practices that promote them are not monitored by outside stakeholders in some way, educators push them to the side to focus on those areas that accountability systems are based on.

You can find the full report here: edcentr.al/skillsforsuccess


January Issue Brief: Teacher Compensation

In Case You Missed It!Education reformers are working diligently to design new teacher performance-based compensation systems and career pathways that reward high-quality teaching and offer opportunities for advancement without leaving the classroom. In this month’s issue brief, we explore various resources, research reports, and ideas related to teacher compensation to provide food for thought about this important topic.

How can teacher compensation plans be designed to promote and reward excellence in teaching? Which teacher compensation initiatives are most effective for promoting desired outcomes? Please respond to our call for commentary. We’d love to hear from you!

To check out this month’s newsletter and access resources on this month’s topic, please follow this link: http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a4ae2b1b129b9f8a29d50b80f&id=13927ec679&e=6922d4304c

To ensure you do not miss future issues, we encourage you to subscribe to the monthly newsletter by following this link: http://tinyurl.com/byje6b9


ASCD’s newest Policy Points on Teacher Leadership

ascd_header_logoASCD has a new bulletin out about teacher leadership that is an excellent jumping off point for anyone looking to both advance the role of teachers and improve student achievement.

It first explores the teacher leadership landscape by featuring recent data on the primary characteristics of teacher leaders, identifying states that offer formal teacher leader certifications, and offering recommendations on how states can best support teachers in leadership roles. In other words, it takes context into account, helping education leaders find the best way to become more involved.

The graphic-based issue then highlights the benefits of teacher leadership including improved teacher retention, increased teacher capacity, school staffing innovations, and, ultimately, a stronger teaching profession.

This Policy Points bulletin makes it clear that involving teachers more in rewarding leadership positions offers a promising initiative to advance American education overall.

For more information, please visit: