Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools
By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org 11-21-13
President Obama, fresh from the disaster that is Obamacare, is pumping new funding into Federal education programs. He is not in the least discouraged that previous programs like Race to the Top have been colossal expensive flops. No, Obama has nationalized Common Core and upped the ante with two additional whoppers. One idea is so bad that Bob Kerry a former Democratic Governor of Nebraska calls it “A Federal Anti-Education Plan.” I suppose that even Democrats are awake to the idea that the Federal Government is often the problem not the solution.
The first program described in the Wall Street Journal as a “New $100 Million Initiative Would Award up to 40 Grants to Programs That Give Students Industry-Relevant Skills.”
President Barack Obama will unveil a $100 million competition Tuesday aimed at finding new ways to better prepare high-school students for the global high-tech economy, a senior administration official said.
The program, Youth CareerConnect, would award 25 to 40 grants next year for high schools to team up with higher-education institutions and employers, creating innovative programs that give students industry-relevant education and job skills. Grants would range from $2 million to $7 million and applicants would be required to pony up matching funds of at least 25%.
The new competition is modeled after the $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative, which prodded dozens of states to link teacher evaluations to student test scores and adopt the Common Core math and reading standards. White House officials hope the high-school redesign efforts will prompt a wave of local overhauls.”
By all accounts, Race to the Top is a bust, but why nitpick. Obama meant well didn’t he?
“Critics have said competitive programs are unfair because they play favorites and reward local schools for adopting policies favored by the administration.”
The president’s program envisions a more direct link between high school and the job market, and calls on schools to develop programs that give teenagers more opportunities to gain work experience, job-shadow, and earn college credits or industry-recognized credentials.
The U.S. high-school graduation rate was 78.2% in 2010, according to the Department of Education, the highest rate since 1975, the furthest back it has solid numbers. More students are also taking Advanced Placement courses. Still, the nation’s high schools have come under withering attack for failing to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Scores on national high-school math and reading exams have been basically flat for decades, and the U.S. ranks in the middle of the pack among industrialized nations on some international science and math exams.
Administration officials noted that many teenagers find high school boring and some drop out because they don’t see the connection between a diploma and future job prospects. “We want to find ways to engage students more meaningfully in learning and better prepare them for future opportunities in careers and college,” said a senior administration official.”
The second initiative is bigger and scarier because it entails vast new regulation and bad design. Former Nebraska Governor Bob Kerry (D) and Jeffrey Leeds describe in the Wall Street Journal a new U.S. Department of Education initiative that is supposed to make college more affordable and supportive of workforce employment upon graduation.
“In his desire to make college more affordable, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this month proposed 73 pages of so-called Gainful Employment rules that no doubt will sound good when applause lines are written. The regulations basically propose to cut off federal student aid to certain colleges whose former students don’t enjoy “gainful employment,” as determined by the department and measured by factors such as their loan-repayment rate. In fact, the regulations are a terrible idea.
This is the department’s second attempt in this area. In 2011, it promulgated a first set of gainful employment regulations, which were struck down in 2012 as arbitrary and capricious by a federal judge in Washington, D.C.
The secretary’s latest proposal is more onerous, and in our view, even more arbitrary and capricious. Moreover, rather like the promises made with ObamaCare, the bad design and unintended consequences of the new proposed regs will overwhelm the stated policy objectives. And as with ObamaCare, the federal government is insisting it knows better, will do better, and gets to make not only the rules, but the decisions previously made by individuals with their families. The gainful employment rules will, in fact, make it harder rather than easier for low-income families to send their kids to college.
The rules are poorly designed. To give just one example, the proposed regulation will cap graduates’ annual debt payments to 8% of their third- and fourth-year postgraduation earnings. If they are any greater, the school program from which the student graduated will lose its ability to accept federal aid—even if each and every graduate pays back his or her loans fully, and on time. As one liberal Democratic senator who almost always supports the administration recently told us, it’s just absurd to penalize college programs with successful debt-repayment histories.
Another problem: Institutions are likely to admit fewer poor students who have to finance their education. The more a student borrows, the less well the program is assessed by the feds. Under the rule, a program scores well under the proposed Education Department regulations if it admits wealthy students who can pay their own way. The exact same program may fail simply by admitting students who need to borrow. Other factors that reflect a school’s success in helping its students—graduation rates, job-placement rates, debt-repayment rates—don’t count.
Moreover, and equally strangely, the rules only look at the income of the graduate, even though family income determines a student’s eligibility for financial assistance under the department’s existing lending rules. Family members often help make the decision to take on debt and often help pay off the loans. It takes a family to put a kid through school—as everyone other than the Education Department seems to know.
The rules also will work against those who need aid in order to pursue important jobs that aren’t that lucrative. Think of aspiring teachers, nurses, ministers, social workers and skilled laborers, for example. If they’re unlikely to earn enough money relative to their debt, they may struggle to find a program willing to accept them.
The Department of Education singles out ”for-profit” schools for special attack. Apparently Mr. Duncan believes that graduates of educational institutions that receive property-tax and income-tax subsidies—the “publics” and “non-profits”—don’t have a gainful employment problem.
We all want affordable, accessible and accountable higher education. But Mr. Duncan’s proposed solution is a cure worse than the disease. It will limit the horizons of low-income children and it won’t rein in costs for anybody at any school anywhere in the country.”