Category Archives: Education

things about education; youth education; educational resources

Higher Education Loan Defaults Point at For-Profit Colleges

A college degree is the primary mechanism for upward social mobility, or so suggests conventional wisdom. For thousands of American college students, however, that wisdom is challenged. According to the Labor Department, the cost of a 4-year college degree has risen 1120% over the past 35 years. To pay for education, more students are turning to federal financial aid and taking out loans than ever before. According to The College Board, the organization responsible for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), one of the more recognized college entrance exams, student loan debt quadrupled in the 15 years between 1992 and 2007, leaving an increasing number of graduates straddled with debt.

As tuition rises and incomes shrink, students are forced to make difficult life decisions. Tom Harken, D-Iowa, and chairman of the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said in an email to Bloomberg that as higher education becomes less affordable, the American dream is being postponed or outpacing the ability of millions of young people to achieve it. The path of higher education used to afford an educated individual a degree, the security of a job, the means to begin a family and purchase a home, resources to invest in retirement, and discretionary income to reinvest in the economy. Now instead, for an increasing number of American college and university students, that path to higher education looks like the accumulation of debt, uncertain degree completion, difficulty finding gainful employment, cohabitation with parents, postponement of family creation, non-qualification for mortgages, and lack of discretionary income that helps drive the economy. Students leaving school with debt are slower to make decisions to start families and purchase big-ticket items like homes and cars, purchases which contribute to economic growth.

With the rise of online education programs has come an increase in the number of privately owned and publicly traded institutions of higher education offering degrees for course completion. Names like The University of Phoenix, ITT, and Kaplan are among the more universally recognized organizations offering for-profit higher education. For-profit colleges and universities appeal to students because their selection process is less rigorous than state and private colleges and their programs generally include scheduling and geographic flexibility. In the best of situations, for-profit learning institutions provide flexible schedules and tactical job skills, making them ideal options for working professionals who are hoping to develop their marketability.

It is these for-profit institutions of higher education and specifically the preponderance of student loan default that originates from their attendees, however, that keep policymakers, lawmakers, higher education and economic leaders around the nation awake at night. A number of factors contribute to the higher rate of default on federal students loans from students at for-profit universities. First, the cost of for-profit programs outpace tuition at state and some private schools so that loan amounts are higher. Nationally, for example, the cost of a 2-year associates degree from a for-profit program outpaces the same degree at a community college by a multiplier of 4.2. Second, statistics also suggest that students who sign up for for-profit programs are less likely to complete their courses of study. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) shows that the open enrollment policy of for-profit institutions is no friend to students, the majority of whom do not finish their courses. On the other hand, students who enter higher education programs whose acceptance rates are competitive are far more likely to complete their studies.

In addition to the higher costs and attrition endemic to for-profit schools, students who attend for-profit program are more dependent upon financial federal aid than are students who attend community colleges and private or state universities. In 2014, 91% of students attending for-profit institutions receive federal financial aid in the form of grants and student loans.

Students receiving grants are not required to repay them. Grants are only awarded, however, to undergraduate students. Undergraduate students who do not quality for grants and students seeking graduate study or professional certificates are required to take out federal or private loans if they require assistance for school. Students are required to repay funds borrowed whether or not they complete their courses of instruction. With high attrition rates, the majority of students at for-profit schools have not completed degrees that would increase their marketability and lead to higher salary positions. Students without skills to secure these higher paying jobs find it difficult to repay their student loans.

With costs being higher, drop out rates being significantly higher, and the practicality of being able to repay large debt without a completed degree, default rates for students attending for-profit institutions are, perhaps, not surprising. Policymakers and lawmakers are considering modifications to federal financial aid programs to ensure that students who need assistance to attend institutes of higher education will be able to qualify. Among options that are being considered is the Obama administration’s “gainful employment” rule which would require for-profit colleges to demonstrate that programs offered will prepare students for professions that will provide enough income to cover the cost of loan repayment. Another method already in place requires that colleges keep their student attrition rates below a threshold, assuring that the majority of students entering a program are able to complete it.


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Future Entrepreneurs Travel to Atlanta to Compete at International Business Competition

Local students from Longview, Kelso, and Castle Rock will travel to Atlanta Georgia to compete with students from Canada, Spain, Puerto Rico, and China at the International Career Development Conference. For R. A. Long High School in Longview, Washington, this will be the first year in many that students have made it to the international DECA conference. DECA, or Distributive Clubs of America is a business centric organization committed to providing “a remarkable experience in the preparation of emerging leaders and entrepreneurs.”

Sue Edmunson teaches CTE at R. A. Long in Longview, Washington. While other schools in the southwest Washington area have classes dedicated to preparing students for entrepreneurial competitions, Edmunson’s students have to study on their own time, after school.

Preparation includes intensive study of course materials in business management and administration, marketing, finance, and hospitality and tourism, and business administration management. Judges for the competition come from business and industry and volunteer to help students prepare to become future business leaders. For students to be able to compete in a local area, they must pass 100 questions tests with high scores At the competition, students have to take the test and then perform impromptu scenarios that are given to them by the judges.

Winners advance to state, national, and then the international competition which will be held in Atlanta from May 2-6, this year.

Edmunson’s students will be competing in “Buying and Merchandising Team Decision Making.”

Edmunson is a vocal advocate of career and technical education. In a phone interview, she voiced respect and pride for the 24 students who entered the competition. “The most impressive thing about being involved in a program like this is that I have never had a kid get this far into the competition without realizing that they need to continue investing in themselves to continue to develop,” she said.

Edmunson notes that students in her program realize that they have achieved this success on their own, outside of the classroom. They see the business leaders seek out their skills. They build camaraderie with other students. “When they succeed at this level, they just want to grow more,” she said.

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Arne Duncan Backs Away from Common Core

Brought to my attention via this tweet:

Major Common Core Supporter Now Running From It


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#CommonCore Not Uniformly Accepted; Classroom Voices on Implementation

The Backstory

Common Core” is the label of the national set of standards that will apply to K-12 public school students in the United States for the subjects of English language arts and math. The initiative to create a rigorous national set of standards is part of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top (“RttT”).

In exchange for adherence to the Common Core State Standards, adopting states received federal money. Of the 45 states that originally signed on to adopt Common Core, however, 20 are in various stages of reconsidering full, on-time deployment. In Connecticut, for example, public criticism is strong enough that the state department of education is seeking a PR firm to create a pro-Common Core media campaign. Budget for the project is $1 million.

States’ current adoption progress

In exchange for RttT funding, states need to adopt the standards, be subject to standardized testing based on the standards, create teacher evaluation tools that are tied to the standards, and create digital data mechanisms for test-taking and information gathering on America’s students.

While the United States’ Department of Education, corporate leaders, the national PTA (Parent Teacher Association), and the National Governor’s Association support the standards, not everyone is so quick to do so. Educational reformer and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, is a vocal critic of standardized assessments; she is also critical of tying teacher evaluations to student performance.

Diane Ravitch’s latest tweet disputing the benefit of standardized test scores.


Political conservatives are concerned about federal infringement on states’ rights and they are concerned that the Tenth Amendment is being violated with the federal influence of the RttT money. Equally alarming to them is what they feel to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment in the collection of data on students that used to be protected by HIPPA and FERPA.

Personalizing Common Core

For my capstone project, I wanted to find hear from teachers who are currently in the process of implementing Common Core; and I wanted to find out what angles my readers would be interested in having me investigate for my Master’s thesis. The political battle rages, but how is the process going for teachers who are tasked with having the system operational by the 2014-15 school year?

The Teachers

I queried two boards on Reddit on their thoughts about Common core. (/r/education and /r/teachers).  The responses from classroom teachers were thoughtful and articulate.

Reddit user /u/cest-bon noted the following: “Common Core has not been field tested. No longitudinal studies have been conducted to demonstrate a case for long-term success. The standards were created by corporate interests and governmental agencies without adequate input from teachers and parents. Teacher preparation has been inadequate. The costs associated with acquiring the technology to be compliant with the standardized testing is going to place additional cost burdens on districts and supply a boon of purchases to companies like Microsoft.”

Speaking of developmental appropriateness in math specifically, /u/arouson says Common Core, “…forces (students) to think too deeply when they need to be mastering fundamentals.” This user is concerned that the rules are chaning mid-game for students at the higher end of the K-12 spectrum.

New teacher /u/metroid6B12 shares stories heard from veteran teachers who have lived through other sweeping curriculum changes, and recommends I follow that line of inquiry. The user sees the value and supports the idea of rigorous standards but voices concern over the emphasis on standardized tests.

“I think this is an ineffective way to evaluate and only one small component of the broader educational experience. It is also subject to far too many variables. I can have a student demonstrate a problem to me perfectly one day, then give an assessment the next day and he bombs it. No rhyme or reason, the kid just didn’t get it that day.”

What my readers want

To find out what elements my readers want to see, I created a survey, but got few actionable results. The primary question of the survey was to ask which elements people would like to see. If you, Dear Reader, would be so kind as to visit the survey and let me know what would be of interest to you, it would help me to focus my efforts on the angles that are of interest to you!

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Common Core Implementation in Washington State: Marilyn Melville-Irvine

When Marilyn Melville Irvine retired in 2003 from a 25-year teaching career in Longview, Washington, she didn’t simply sit around reading Barbara Kingsolver novels. Irvine stepped right back into the classroom, this time as a consultant with the Kelso and Longview School Districts in Washington state, teaching staff development classes, classroom management skills, and differentiation. That’s where teachers modify content to make it available to students of different learning abilities.

A teacher will present Homer’s Odyssey differently to a class of special education students for a classroom filled with high academic achievers, for example.

That is Irvine’s day job: providing support in English language classrooms for teachers in Longview and Kelso. But for this busy grandmother of 14, one job wasn’t enough. Irvine was visiting the offices of Education Service District 112 (ESD 112) one day when someone mentioned that the ESD’s literacy specialist position had opened up. Irvine applied for and got the job.

Under normal circumstances, acting as ESD 112’s literary specialist would have extended geographically the scope of the support services she was already providing to the Longview and Kelso school districts, but this is not a normal time for schools in Washington – or anywhere in the nation.

The 2009 passing of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (The Stimulus Package), announced President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) educational reform initiative.

According to Irvine, RTTT aims to provide solution for:

  • declining ACT / SAT college entrance test scores;
  • falling comparative international scores;
  • elevated rates of college students needing (and having to shoulder the costs of) remediation; and
  • feedback from the business community that students graduating from high schools were not equipped with job readiness skills,

With support by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers collaborated on development of a national set of educational standards called the Common Core State Standards (“Common Core” or “CCSS”). The stated aim of Common Core is to equip American students for college and career readiness upon graduation from high school.

The group chose to first create English and math objectives, with other topics scheduled to be rolled out. The objectives affect the entire K-12 scope of public education.

As a veteran English language instructor and ESD literacy specialist, Irvine is in position to the ESD’s 30 districts get the new Common Core standards implemented so that the region’s schools will be on schedule to be in full deployment in the 2014-15 school year.

In her position, Irvine is part of Washington state’s Literacy and Leadership Cadre, a group of representatives from the state’s nine Educational Service Districts and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The group meets monthly to design staff development modules that will be used across the state.

Common Core is not without vocal and influential critics. Arguments are both philosophical to political. Educators who are not in support feel a national rewrite of educational curriculum cannot meet the best needs of students when teachers, parents, and developmental psychologists are not involved in its creation. They don’t buy into the idea that the function of public schools is to create consumables for the business community.

Political opponents don’t get past the concept of a national rewrite. Public education belongs in the hands of the states and not in the hands of the federal government, they believe, citing the Tenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights. They raise concerns about a socialist agenda in the Common Core’s standards.

Irvine, though, feels optimistic that Common Core is a “fabulous” solution. “This is exactly what the public school system needs to help students become career or college ready,” Irvine stated in a phone interview this week. With the majority of states adopting it, Irvine looks forward to being able to share ideas and curriculum resources which teachers across the nation. Teachers are now able to do an Internet search and find resources. (Forty-five states originally adopted Common Core though 17 of those are slowing down their implementation.)

Speaking of the benefits of Common Core to mobile students, Irvine said, ““Kids can transfer from Longview to Oklahoma City and they will meet the same standards.” The Department of Defense recognizes this advantage for its military families and has embraced the standards.

To detractors, Irvine says, “To anyone who criticizes the standards, I ask, ‘Have you ever read them?’”

English Language Arts Common Core Standards

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