U.S. DOE “Gainful Employment” Rule Survives Court Challenge by For-Profit Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Education Department’s gainful-employment rule is now a step closer to becoming reality when a federal judge yesterday rejected a serious legal challenge, brought by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. The lobbying group’s lawsuit was the highest hurdle remaining for the proposed rule, which will judge career-oriented programs on their graduates’ ability to repay their student loans. The rule is slated to take effect on July 1. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The department originally introduced the rule in 2011. The effort was dealt a major setback a year later, when a section of the rule was thrown out as a result of an earlier court challenge by the association, the main lobbying group for for-profit colleges. The group’s second challenge, to a revised rule, used many of the same arguments, asserting that the department had exceeded its authority in issuing the rule and that the rule was capricious and arbitrary.

In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed those claims, saying the association “throws a host of arbitrary-or-capricious arguments against the wall in hope of a different outcome. None of them stick.”

Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, said in a written statement that the ruling was “a win for America’s students and taxpayers.” He added that every student “who enrolls in college of any kind deserves a fair shot at a degree or credential that equips them for success,” and said the department would “continue to fight until that’s a reality.”

Several for-profit-college companies said they had already taken steps in anticipation of the regulation, in some cases eliminating high-priced programs. Some, like ITT Educational Services, said they had also increased their spending on scholarships, which has reduced debt levels for students.

Despite the concerns of some student and consumer advocates over potential weaknesses in the regulation, Kevin Kinser, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Albany who studies for-profit colleges, said the revised rule was a step forward.

“There are very few ways to hold institutions accountable for the financial aid they are given,” Mr. Kinser wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “So now the Department of Education has another one. It’s the ‘skin in the game’ that Arne Duncan keeps talking about.”

“That said,” he added, “it’s pretty weak tea as far as immediate impact. But it’s a model for other kinds of accountability measures that could transform financial-aid policy from being only about access to something that actually cares about outcomes as well. That is something that all of higher education — not just the for-profits — should watch for.”

I think this is a step in the right direction. While no one wants more regulation, the unscrupulousness of some college recruitment and financial aid operations demanded it.



Grading the Common Core: No Teaching Experience Necessary OR If It is Good Enough For McDonalds – It is Good enough for Our Children!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article today describing the individuals and process for scoring the Common Core assessment tests. It is a bit of a scary situation but one being defended by Pearson, the contractor for scoring the exam. Here is an excerpt:

“The new academic standards known as the Common Core emphasize critical thinking, complex problem-solving and writing skills, and put less stock in rote learning and memorization. So the standardized tests given in most states this year required fewer multiple choice questions and far more writing on topics like this one posed to elementary school students: Read a passage from a novel written in the first person, and a poem written in the third person, and describe how the poem might change if it were written in the first person.

But the results are not necessarily judged by teachers.

On Friday, in an unobtrusive office park northeast of downtown here [San Antonio] , about 100 temporary employees of the testing giant Pearson worked in diligent silence scoring thousands of short essays written by third- and fifth-grade students from across the country.

There was a onetime wedding planner, a retired medical technologist and a former Pearson saleswoman with a master’s degree in marital counseling. To get the job, like other scorers nationwide, they needed a four-year college degree with relevant coursework, but no teaching experience. They earned $12 to $14 an hour, with the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.

Officials from Pearson and Parcc, a nonprofit consortium that has coordinated development of new Common Core tests, say strict training and scoring protocols are intended to ensure consistency, no matter who is marking the tests.

At times, the scoring process can evoke the way a restaurant chain monitors the work of its employees and the quality of its products.

“From the standpoint of comparing us to a Starbucks or McDonald’s, where you go into those places you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Bob Sanders, vice president of content and scoring management at Pearson North America, when asked whether such an analogy was apt.

“McDonald’s has a process in place to make sure they put two patties on that Big Mac,” he continued. “We do that exact same thing. We have processes to oversee our processes, and to make sure they are being followed.”

About 12 million students nationwide from third grade through high school took the new tests this year. Parcc, formally known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, another test development group, along with contractors like Pearson, worked with current classroom teachers and state education officials to develop the questions and set detailed criteria for grading student responses. Some states, including New York, separately developed Common Core tests without either consortium’s involvement.

Pearson, which operates 21 scoring centers around the country, hired 14,500 temporary scorers throughout the scoring season, which began in April and will continue through July. About three-quarters of the scorers work from home. Pearson recruited them through its own website, personal referrals, job fairs, Internet job search engines, local newspaper classified ads and even Craigslist and Facebook. About half of those who go through training do not ultimately get the job.

Parcc said that more than three-quarters of the scorers have at least one year of teaching experience, but that it does not have data on how many are currently working as classroom teachers. Some are retired teachers with extensive classroom experience, but one scorer in San Antonio, for example, had one year of teaching experience, 45 years ago.”

Why in heaven’s name have we come to this point where we subject our children to such a flawed process in the name of accountability. Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education were the perpetrators of this travesty on our public education system with its strong-arm negotiations with state education officials during Race To The Top funding negotiations.  The deal:  Common Core or No Funds!



Article: Should Academic Capitalism Shape Teaching and Research?

Dear Commons Community,

Patrick Brindle, has a provocative and well-researched article entitled, Should Academic Capitalism Shape Teaching and Research, in yesterday’s edition of Business and Universities. Brindle is an historian turned social scientist turned writer, and was a publisher for research methods at SAGE Publications until late 2014. He presently is a visiting lecturer at City University, London. Brindle raises important questions regarding the relationships between private industry and universities. He concludes that these relationships will only increase in the years to come with uncertain implications for higher education. Below is the executive summary. The actual article requires a subscription to SAGE Publications.

Well worth the read!



ISSUE: Business and Universities June 22, 2015

Business and Universities

By Patrick Brindle 

Should academic capitalism shape teaching and research?

Executive Summary

Policymakers increasingly see universities as engines of economic growth and as “incubators of innovation.” They argue that academic capitalism—an umbrella term for a variety of market-driven university ventures—is an innovative way to fund teaching, research and campus expansion in an era of tight budgets and rising tuition. They also say it benefits businesses, especially start-ups, by giving them access to campus research and facilities. Schools, the community and the economy all benefit. But critics say the close relationship between universities and the business world raises numerous ethical questions and warn that corporate funding can harm the ability of faculty to teach and research freely, two activities essential to good science and a healthy democratic society. Both sides agree that academic capitalism is here to stay and that financial realities will make it even more important to universities in the decades to come.


Governor Nikki Haley Calls for Confederate Flag to Come Down!

Confederate flag

Dear Commons Community,

South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley has ordered the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol. The flag has been used by hate groups as a symbol for their bigotry and racism. As reported in the Associated Press:

“The announcement came after state lawmakers met urgently with each other and the governor. The head of the Republican National Committee has also called for its removal.

State House Speaker Jay Lucas said in a statement that last week’s “terrorizing act of violence shook the very core of every South Carolinian.”

“Moving South Carolina forward from this terrible tragedy requires a swift resolution of this issue,” he said earlier in the day.

A growing number of religious and political leaders said they would push for the flag’s removal Tuesday during a rally in the capitol. The White House said President Barack Obama respects the state of South Carolina’s authority to decide the issue, but believes the flag belongs in a museum.

“The flag got appropriated by hate groups. We can’t put it in a public place where it can give any oxygen to hate-filled people,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., a Democrat.

But the conservative politicians who have led South Carolina for a quarter-century have rebuffed many previous calls to remove the flag.

The last governor to take this political risk, Republican David Beasley, was hounded out of office in 1998 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and they made sure his political career was over thereafter. Their influence doomed Beasley’s front-runner campaign for U.S. Senate, a seat later won by Republican Jim DeMint.

The group announced Monday that it will vigorously fight any effort to remove the flag now.”

A good move on the part of Governor Haley to help South Carolina heal!



Summer Reading: The Visitors by Sally Beauman!

The Visitors

Dear Commons Community,

Summer officially began yesterday and it is time to do a bit more pleasure reading. Yesterday, I finished The Visitors (Harper-Collins, 2014) by Sally Beauman. In this historical novel, Ms. Beauman combines real life and fictional characters to weave the story of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. It is quite an adventure and if you have ever had the pleasure of visiting the Nile areas where the novel takes place, Beauman’s descriptions will re-awaken all of your memories. Here is an excerpt from a book review in the New York Journal of Books by Lisa Wingate

“The sights, sounds, and tastes of Egypt as well as Lucy’s coming of age are palatable, compelling, and alluring as the history of an age becomes the history of a woman.”

In The Visitors, New York Times bestselling author Sally Beauman provides a slight but engaging departure from the thriller-like twists of Dark Angel (2013), offering up a sweeping tale of coming-of-age amid the swelter, glitter, and sun-soaked hues of colonial Egypt.

Blending period ambiance and weaving in social mores and historical detail of 1920s and 30s, Beauman’s latest weaves a plot in interlaced time frames as Lucy Payne recounts her life story to a young American documentary filmmaker who’s gathering the gritty details of the search for King Tutenkhamun’s tomb.

The era of discovery in Egypt is in Lucy’s mind the most memorable time of her life; she obliges, albeit reluctantly, in opening her scrapbooks and unfolding her memories, perhaps for the benefit of history or perhaps as a way of reliving, once again, the time and place that has both marked and defined her.

No event that would come later in Lucy’s life seems quite so significant as this one. Eleven years old on arriving in Egypt, afflicted with the after-effects of typhoid, suffering from poor health, a broken spirit, and a “foggy mind,” Lucy seems at first an unlikely narrator for one of the greatest historical discoveries of the age: the unearthing of the much sought-after tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon.”

Surely to be read on the sand at a beach!



Maureen Dowd: It is Hard for Hillary Clinton to Be Elizabeth Warren!

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd comments today in her column on the waffling Hillary Clinton is doing on key issues like President Obama’s trade deal. Dowd sees Hillary’s positions as hurting her image among the progressives in the Demcratic Party who prefer an Elizabeth Warren type to lead them. In her candid style, Dowd writes:

“IT’S hard being Elizabeth Warren.

Especially when you’re not Elizabeth Warren.

Hillary Clinton had an awkward collision last week juggling her past role as President Obama’s secretary of state, her current role as Democratic front-runner and her coveted future role as president.

As secretary of state, she helped Obama push the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is at the center of the current trade fight. In Australia in 2012, she was effusive, saying that the trade pact “sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

Now Hillary says she is unsure about the pact and would likely oppose giving President Obama the special authority to negotiate trade deals for an up-or-down vote in Congress. As a future president, of course, she would want the same authority to negotiate trade deals that Obama is seeking in the messy Capitol Hill donnybrook.

But as a candidate pressured by progressives like Warren and Bernie Sanders and by labor unions, she turned to Jell-O, shimmying around an issue she had once owned and offering an unpleasant reminder of why “Clintonian” became a synonym for skirting the truth…”

Aside from the fact that Hillary should be able to take a deep breath and stick with something she’s already argued for, it plays into voters’ doubts about her trustworthiness.

If you want to be president and you shape your principles to suit the shifting winds — as Hillary did when she voted to authorize W.’s Iraq invasion — then how can people on either side of an issue trust you?

Since she hasn’t sparked much passion herself yet, she may be frightened by the passionate acolytes of Warren and Sanders — whose uncombed authenticity is buoying him in New Hampshire.

And, given her own unseemly money grabs, she may not be willing to push back on primal forces swirling around the trade issue about unbridled corporatism in an era of stagnant wages.

But the greater danger for her is in looking disingenuous.

At the end of the day, leaders have to sometimes step up on some issues that are not 80 percent issues. Unfortunately for her, Hillary is not as artful a dodger as her husband.”



Charleston: Racial Hatred and Guns!

Charleston Mourns II

Dear Commons Community,

In the aftermath of the killings of nine black church parishioners in Charleston, racial hatred is what drove the disturbed killer, Dylann Roof, to commit this heinous act.  “This was not merely a mass shooting, not merely a matter of gun violence, this was a racial hate crime and must be confronted as such,” said Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP.

“I grew up when racism was just a way of life,” said Mary Meynardie, 90, who is white, as she stopped by the police tape that still surrounded the church known as “Mother Emanuel.” “I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was somebody 60, 70 years old who had that much hate, but where does this hate come from?”

The gun Roof used was his birthday present when he turned 21.  As state Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat who represents Charleston, said: “The elephant in the room is guns.  “How many times do we need to come together? How many times do we need to unite?”


Charleston Mourns!

Charleston Mourns

Dear Commons Community,

Andre McPherson was one of hundreds from Charleston and nearby towns who filed by the church doors on Thursday, paying respects to the nine who died after being shot inside the previous night. The suspected gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, had apparently been welcomed as a stranger to the church’s regular Wednesday evening Bible study session, spending an hour with the group before opening fire. One woman reportedly said he told her he was letting her go so she could tell the story of what happened.

Roof, who is white, was arrested Thursday in Shelby, North Carolina, and was returned to Charleston to face murder and hate-crime charges. His first court appearance was scheduled for Friday.

Members of the church stood out on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston on Thursday, gazing up at its facade, bewildered by the massacre.

The whole country is bewildered by the massacre of innocent parishioners in a house of worship.


The Chronicle: Will the U.S. Dept. of Education Loan-Forgiveness Plan Lead to Greater Scrutiny and Oversight!

Dear Commons Community,

Last week’s U.S. Department of Education’s loan-forgiveness plan for students who attended Corinthian Colleges’ closed campuses will very likely have ramifications that extend to all of higher education. The U.S. Department of Education’s actions are unprecedented in scope, opening the door to the possibility that thousands of defrauded students could see their federal loan debts wiped away in one fell swoop, at a potential cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. By many accounts, the move could also change how accreditors, states, and the federal government handle quality assurance of college programs. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

“If we are going to be discharging a significant amount of debt, it means we have to pay much more attention” says David A. Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who long served as an Education Department official.

Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, says the move represents a shift in responsibility, making the government, not just the students, financially liable for loans used at colleges that defraud their students.

“The stakes to the students have been very clear for a very long time,” says Ms. Abernathy. Now the Education Department, state regulators, and accreditors will face pressure “to all act much sooner” to prevent abuses that could justify a loan discharge, she adds…

In some cases, the parties might not believe they are even justified to act.

That was made visible on Wednesday, during a testy face-off at a Capitol Hill hearing that left several Democratic senators exasperated by the stance of one of the accredition-agency leaders invited to testify.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in particular, grilled the president of the Corinthian campuses’ accreditor for leaving their accreditations intact “right up to the minute they closed.” She also questioned why his agency continued to accredit the campuses of another for-profit-college company, ITT Educational Services, despite the accusations it faces from state attorneys general, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“How many federal and state agencies need to file lawsuits” before the accreditor takes action? asked Ms. Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “The accrediting agency continued to look the other way, and now students and taxpayers are stuck with the bill.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I believe that the states and accreditation agencies will indeed have to be more scrupulous in their assessments of financial aid procedures as well as program completion and quality.