Governor Jerry Brown’s Online Community College Proposal for California Moving Forward!


Dear Commons Community,

In January 2018, Governor Jerry Brown proposed a new competency-based, online community college to serve the entire state of California.  The college’s main focus will be to develop quality new content, courses, and programs that provide students with an opportunity to learn skills that align with the needs of employers, industry sectors, and/or industry partners.  In June, the plan for the new online college began taking shape as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Jerry Brown was taking a victory lap.

The call went out to reporters early on a recent Monday morning: The governor would attend that day’s meeting of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. A few minutes after 11, tieless and relaxed, Brown slid into a seat on the dais. He was just in time — and not coincidentally — for a discussion of the state’s newest, and wholly online, community college.

The virtual college, the 115th institution in California’s two-year system, is Brown’s baby, its approval in June the capstone to his sunset year in office. The college is meant to serve a population too often left behind by higher education: under- or unemployed adults who need new skills to land a job, secure a raise, nab a promotion, just to maintain a toehold in a swiftly changing workplace. An online institution, its advocates say, will allow so-called stranded workers — there are 2.5 million Californians without a postsecondary degree or credential between the ages of 25 and 34 alone — to take short-term courses whenever, wherever.

Reaching those workers will be necessary for the world’s fifth-largest economy to continue to grow and thrive. And if the online college enrolls even a fraction of its target audience, it would become the largest provider of distance education, public or private, in the nation. The scale — and the potential for innovation — has people across the country looking West.

Given the floor at the Board of Governors meeting, Brown, a Democrat, couldn’t help crowing. “This is a no-brainer, it is obvious, it is inevitable, it is a juggernaut that cannot be stopped,” he said. “California is a leader, it will lead in this. And I say, hallelujah.”

There are still details to work out but the goal is to start admitting students by 2019 at the latest.  Faculty have to be hired, as well the president and top administrators. As a stand-alone entity, the college will also have to apply for accreditation.  It will also work closely with the Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative (OEI), that started five years ago as a virtual exchange that allows all community-college students to take courses from campuses across the state. Some 7,800 courses are now available through the OEI. It is also possible that much of the online services offered by the new college will be provided by a third party vendor.  All this will happen under the watchful eye of lawmakers as well as faculty members across the community-college system, who, while they have dropped their outright opposition, remain skeptical of the online institution. And it will be without its biggest booster, Brown, whose fourth term as governor will end in January.  It will be interesting to see how this evolves.


For Sale: Data on Millions of High School Students!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times this morning has an article on companies and services that are in the business of selling data on high school students.  The article covers the way companies such as MyCollegeOptions and Scholarships.Com collect and then offer the information to a variety of other companies and organizations looking to sell services and merchandize to the students.  Here is an excerpt:

“Three thousand high school students from across the United States recently trekked to a university sports arena here to attend an event with an impressive-sounding name: the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders. Many of their parents had spent $985 on tuition.

Months earlier, the teenagers had received letters, signed by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, congratulating them on being nominated for “a highly selective national program honoring academically superior high school students.”

The students all had good grades. But many of them were selected for the event because they had once filled out surveys that they believed would help them learn about colleges and college scholarships.

Through their schools, many students in the audience had taken a college-planning questionnaire, called MyCollegeOptions. Others had taken surveys that came with the SAT or the PSAT, tests administered by the College Board. In filling out those surveys, the teenagers ended up signing away personal details that were later sold and shared with the future scientists event.

“It wasn’t like I sought out filling in my information for the College Board to sell to other companies,” said Adriana Bay, 19, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University this fall who was solicited by the future scientists event when she was in high school. “You are giving them the liberty to profit off your information.”

Consumers’ personal details are collected in countless ways these days, from Instagram clicks, dating profiles and fitness apps. While many of those efforts are aimed at adults, the recruiting methods for some student recognition programs give a peek into the widespread and opaque world of data mining for millions of minors — and how students’ profiles may be used to target them for educational and noneducational offers. MyCollegeOptions, for instance, says it may give student loan services, test prep and other companies access to student data.

These marketing programs are generally legal, taking advantage of the fact that there is no federal law regulating consumer data brokers. They also face little oversight because federal education privacy laws make public schools, and not their vendors, directly responsible for controlling the spread of student data.

But the handling of student surveys is receiving heightened scrutiny, particularly in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling company that siphoned off the data of Facebook users who took a personality questionnaire.

In May, the Department of Education issued “significant guidance” that recommended that public schools make clearer to students and their parents that surveys with the SAT and the ACT, a separate college admissions exam, are optional. The notice emphasized that pretest surveys could provide opportunities for families to learn about college choices. But it also reminded schools that parents had the right to inspect all surveys in advance. Parents also have the right to opt their children out of any school-required surveys that touch on sensitive topics like religion, family income or politics.

The new federal guidance could give school districts and state education agencies “leverage to push the College Board and the ACT to either eliminate the voluntary survey when it’s being given in a school,” said Amelia Vance, director of education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-funded think tank, “or take out any questions that would be considered sensitive in a particular state.”

Over the last few years, several states have passed laws that might also limit the spread of some student profiles. The laws generally prohibit online educational vendors to schools from selling students’ personal data or using it for targeted advertising.

For high school students who want to receive materials from colleges and scholarship organizations, nonprofit college admissions testing services, like ACT and the College Board, offer optional surveys. Many colleges, universities and scholarship organizations buy such survey data to pinpoint prospective students.

More than three million students who graduated in 2018 took surveys with the ACT, the SAT or the PSAT, which is a college scholarship test given to high school juniors. The College Board charges educational institutions 43 cents per student name. Starting in September, the ACT will charge 45 cents per name.

As marketing materials on the ACT site put it: Purchasing the names of “racial and ethnic minorities is a great way to increase diversity at your campus.” Other survey services, however, sell students’ personal information far beyond colleges., for instance, asks students for their name, birth date, race, religion, home address and citizenship status and whether they have “impairments” like H.I.V., depression or a “relative w/Alzheimer’s.” also has a subsidiary, American Student Marketing, that describes itself as the “exclusive broker” of the student data collected by, offering it to marketers of student loans, credit cards and smartphones.

Tuition for the future scientists event, held in a university arena, was $985. Richard Rossi, whose company organized the event, said the company plans to become more transparent about its student selection process. People deserve to know “how did you get my name?” he said.CreditNational Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists did not respond to requests for comment.

“I find all of this really troubling,” said Marianne Stephens, the college counselor at Shorewood High School, a public school in Shoreline, Wash. After students there received mailings from a slew of leadership events, Ms. Stephens posted a “Sham Alert” on her school’s website describing many student recognition programs as “essentially well-packaged marketing schemes.” The alert also said students could opt out of college surveys that share their information.

“Students and families don’t realize that the data may come back to them as misleading marketing,” she said.

Richard Rossi, executive director of the National Leadership Academies, the company behind the future scientists event, said the program accurately described itself as selective because it accepted only students with at least a 3.5 grade point average.

“Does that make it less appropriate to tell them they are special?” Mr. Rossi asked. “In my mind, no.”

Some families find educational value in events that identify their children through surveys. Students at the three-day Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders heard motivational career talks by science luminaries like Sylvia Earle, the renowned oceanographer, and Shree Bose, a Google science fair winner.

“I felt excited to hear words from people who were successful in science to inspire me,” said Sebastian Gonzalez, a high school junior interested in engineering who came to the event with his parents from Northern California.

But critics say survey services may categorize students in ways that could expose them to predatory marketing or exclude them from important opportunities.

“The harm is that these children are being profiled, stereotyped, and their data profiles are being traded commercially for all sorts of uses — including attempts to manipulate them and their families,” said Joel Reidenberg, a professor at the Fordham University School of Law who was one of the authors of a recent research report on the student data market.”

The bottom line here is for students and parents to beware the data they offer others.  


Joe Bruni Previews New Book on Mike Pence:  We May Be Better Off with Trump!

Dear Commons Community,

In the past year, there have been several warnings about what would happen should Mike Pence assume the presidency.  The Atlantic had a good piece a few months ago and former Senator Al Franken also warned us about a Pence presidency.

In his New York Times column today, Frank Bruni previews a new book entitled, The Shadow President:  The Truth about Mike Pence, due out next month, written by journalists Michael D’Antoni and Peter Eisner.  Here is an excerpt from Bruni’s piece.

“There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

That’s the takeaway from a forthcoming book by the journalists Michael D’Antonio, who previously wrote “The Truth About Trump,” and Peter Eisner. It’s titled “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence,” it will be published on Aug. 28 and it’s the most thorough examination of the vice president’s background to date.

I got an advance look at it, along with a first interview about it with D’Antonio, and while it has a mostly measured tone, it presents an entirely damning portrait of Pence. You’ve seen his colors before, but not so vividly and in this detail.

The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors; the clumsiness and vanity of his one term as governor of Indiana, for which he did something that predecessors hadn’t and “ordered up a collection of custom-embroidered clothes — dress shirts, polo shirts, and vests and jackets — decorated with his name and the words Governor of Indiana”; the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

 “People don’t understand what Pence is,” D’Antonio told me. Which is? “A religious zealot.”

And D’Antonio said that Pence could end up in the White House sooner than you think. In addition to the prospect of Trump’s impeachment, there’s the chance that Trump just decides that he has had enough.

“I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

So it’s time to look harder at Pence. “The Shadow President” does. It lays out his disregard for science, evident in his onetime insistence that smoking doesn’t cause cancer and a belief that alarms about climate change were “a secret effort to increase government control over people’s lives for some unstated diabolical purpose,” according to the book.”

Bruni concluded his preview as follows:

I asked D’Antonio the nagging, obvious question: Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.” D’Antonio then pointed out that if Pence assumed the presidency in the second half of Trump’s first term, he’d be eligible to run in 2020 and 2024 and potentially occupy the White House for up to 10 years.

Heaven help us.


Bret Stephens:  Six Rules for Beating Donald Trump!

Dear Commons Community,

In his New York Times column today, Bret Stephens identifies six rules for beating Donald Trump.

1. Don’t argue with sunshine.

2. Stop predicting imminent disaster.

3. Stop obsessing about 2016.

4. Ignore Trump’s tweets.

5. Beware the poisoned chalice (of the midterm elections).

6. People want leaders. Not ideologues.

Stephens’ full column is below.



The Rules for Beating Donald Trump

 By Bret Stephens

July 27, 2018

Remember Jack Kemp? In the fall of 1996, Bob Dole’s vice-presidential candidate complained in his debate with Al Gore that economic growth of 2.5 percent just wasn’t good enough. The American people thought better of it, and Dole-Kemp went on to lose the race by more than eight million votes.

That’s a memory Donald Trump’s critics and prospective opponents might consider on the news that the U.S. economy grew at a robust annual rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter, the best quarter since 2014. No, the growth isn’t evenly distributed. It hasn’t shown up in wages. It shouldn’t excuse the president’s trade follies. It doesn’t mean the next quarter will be as good. And it never means that storm clouds aren’t brewing.

But if you’re serious about wanting to defeat Trump, you might want to start with Rule No. 1: Don’t argue with sunshine. Don’t acknowledge good news through gritted teeth, or chortle at the president’s boastful delivery, or content yourself with the thought that Barack Obama also had some strong quarters and deserves all the credit.

And don’t bet on bad news.

Why? Because it creates a toxic perception that Trump’s critics would rather see things go wrong, for the sake of their own vindication, than right, for the common good. That, in turn, reinforces the view that Trump’s critics are the sort of people whose jobs and bank accounts are sufficiently safe and padded that they can afford lousy economic numbers.

If working-class resentment was a factor in handing the White House to Trump, pooh-poohing of good economic news only feeds it.

While they’re at it, they might try to observe Rule No. 2: Stop predicting imminent disaster. The story of the Trump presidency so far isn’t catastrophe. It’s corrosion — of our political institutions, civic morals, global relationships and democratic values.

Democrats can make a successful run against the corrosion, just as George W. Bush did in a prosperous age with his promise to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House after the scandals of the Clinton years. But they’re not going to do it by repeatedly forecasting a stock market meltdown, worldwide depression, or global thermonuclear war — and then wondering why they aren’t believed.

Third rule: Stop obsessing about 2016.

Faulkner was wrong: The past really is past, at least when it comes to Trump. Obsessing over what was said at Trump Tower in 2016, or parsing the meaning of Trump’s tweets in 2017, will not lead to an indictment of the president, which Robert Mueller can’t bring anyway without rewriting Justice Department regulations. It will probably not lead to impeachment, unless Democrats retake the House. And it will never lead to a conviction in the Senate, barring a two-thirds Democratic majority.

Good luck.

The smart play is to defend the integrity of Mueller’s investigation and invest as little political capital as possible in predicting the result. If Mueller discovers a crime, that’s a gift to the president’s opponents. If he discovers nothing, it shouldn’t become a humiliating liability.

Fourth: Ignore Trump’s tweets. Yes, it’s unrealistic. But we would all be better off if the media reported them more rarely, reacted to them less strongly, and treated them with less alarm and more bemusement.

Tweets are the means by which the president wrests control of the political narrative from the news media (and even his own administration), whether by inspiring his followers, goading his opponents, changing the subject, or merely causing a ruckus. There’s no way to stop him, but there’s no reason to amplify him.

A corollary rule: Ignore the social-media screamers among the Trump haters, too. America is not Twitter. The people we need to hear from most are the ones who make themselves heard least — except, of course, on Election Day.

Fifth: Beware the poisoned chalice. We keep hearing that the 2018 midterms are the most important in all of history, or close to it. Why?

Democrats took control of the Senate in the 1986 midterms but George H.W. Bush easily defeated Mike Dukakis two years later. Republicans took Congress in 1994, only to become Bill Clinton’s ideal foil. Republicans took the House again in 2010 amid a wave of discontent with Barack Obama, and you know what happened. Get my drift?

Finally: People want leaders. Not ideologues. Not people whose life experiences have been so narrow that they’ve been able to maintain the purity of their youthful ideals. Not people whose principal contact with political life comes in the form of speeches and sound bites rather than decisions and responsibilities. Not people who think proving a point is tantamount to getting something done, or who mistake pragmatism and bipartisan compromise with selling out.

There’s a word for these sorts of people: governors. John Hickenlooper. Deval Patrick. Maggie Hassan. Andrew Cuomo. Want to defeat Trump? Look thataway.


Pew Survey: 61% of Americans Say Higher Education Is Heading in Wrong Direction, But Republicans and Democrats Disagree on Why!

Dear Commons Community,

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, 61% of Americans say the higher education system in the United States is going in the wrong direction, But Republicans and Democrats differ over why they think this is the case. As reported by Pew:

“About three-quarters (73%) of Republicans and those who lean to the Republican Party say higher education is headed in the wrong direction. Democrats and Democratic leaners are more evenly split – 52% say higher education is going in the wrong direction and 46% say it’s going in the right direction. Among Democrats, younger adults are the most likely to offer a negative opinion: For example, 61% of Democrats ages 18 to 34 say the higher education system is going in the wrong direction, compared with 48% of Democrats ages 50 to 64 and 40% of those 65 and older. Meanwhile, 54% of Democrats ages 35 to 49 say the same.

Partisan differences in attitudes about the direction of the higher education system are consistent with findings from 2017 Pew Research Center surveys, which found that Republicans feel colder toward college professors than Democrats do and that Republicans have grown increasingly negative about the impact of colleges and universities on the direction of the country.

Views on the state of the higher education system also differ by educational attainment. Those with a bachelor’s degree and no further education and those who attended but didn’t finish college are particularly likely to say higher education is going in the wrong direction (64% and 67%, respectively). Smaller shares of those with postgraduate degrees and those with a high school diploma or less say the same (56% in each group).
Among Americans who say the country’s higher education system is going in the wrong direction, 84% cite high tuition costs as a major reason why they think this is the case. About two-thirds (65%) say students not getting the skills they need in the workplace is a major reason, while roughly half cite colleges and universities being too concerned about protecting students from views they might find offensive (54%) or professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom (50%).
Republicans and Democrats are worlds apart when it comes to some of the reasons why they think higher education is going in the wrong direction. Among Republicans with this view, three-quarters or more cite professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom (79%) and too much concern about protecting students from views they might find offensive (75%) as major reasons. Relatively small shares of Democrats say the same (17% and 31%, respectively).

Majorities of Republicans and Democrats who say higher education is going in the wrong direction cite inadequate workforce preparation and tuition costs as major reasons why, but here, too, there are some partisan gaps. About three-quarters of Republicans (73%) say one major reason higher education is off track is that students are not getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace; this compares with 56% of Democrats. And Democrats are somewhat more likely to say high tuition is a major reason the system isn’t working (92%, compared with 77% of Republicans).

Many respondents also volunteered that there are other major reasons, besides the four offered in the survey. These include students not being taught to think for themselves, affirmative action and a lack of adequate funding.
While Republicans of all ages are about equally likely to say higher education is going in the wrong direction, younger Republicans who express this view are less likely than their older counterparts to cite professors bringing their social and political views into the classroom, colleges and universities being too concerned with protecting students from potentially offensive views, and students not getting the skills they need for workplace success as major reasons why. For example, practically all Republicans ages 65 and older who say higher education is on the wrong track (96%) say professors bringing their views into the classroom is a major reason why, compared with 85% of those ages 50 to 64, 73% of those 35 to 49 and 58% of those 18 to 34.

Younger and older Democrats who say higher education is going in the wrong direction generally give similar explanations for why they think this is the case, but Democrats 65 and older are more likely than their younger counterparts to cite professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom as a major reason. About a third of Democrats who are 65 and older (32%) say this, compared with 15% of those ages 50 to 64, 10% of those 35 to 49 and 18% of those 18 to 34.

When asked about the trade-off between allowing free speech, however distasteful, on college campuses versus protecting students from views they may find offensive, the public comes down clearly on the side of free speech. A large majority of adults (87%) say it’s more important to allow people to speak their minds freely, even if some students find their views upsetting or offensive, than it is to ensure that students aren’t exposed to views they find upsetting or offensive, even if that limits what people are allowed to say (11% chose this response). Republicans and Democrats are largely in agreement on this issue – 91% of Republicans and 86% of Democrats say it’s more important to allow people to speak freely.”

Interesting findings. It seems everything in our country is coming down to political partisanship.


Betsy DeVos Proposes to Free For-Profit Colleges from “Gainful Employment” Requirements!

Dear Commons Community,

Following on the heels of her recent proposal to curtail Obama administration loan forgiveness rules for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, Betsy DeVos is developing a proposal (still in draft form) to eliminate regulations that forced for-profit colleges to prove that their programs lead to gainful employment. As reported by the New York Times:

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plans to eliminate regulations that forced for-profit colleges to prove that they provide gainful employment to the students they enroll, in what would be the most drastic in a series of moves that she has made to free the for-profit sector from safeguards put in effect during the Obama era.

The so-called gainful employment regulations put into force by the Obama administration cut off federally guaranteed student loans to colleges if their graduates did not earn enough money to pay them off. That sent many for-profit colleges and universities into an economic tailspin because so many of their alumni were failing to find decent jobs.

The Obama regulations — years in the making and the subject of a bitter fight that pulled in heavy hitters from both parties who backed the for-profit schools — also required such schools to advertise whether or not they met federal standards for job placement in promotional materials and to prospective students.

Now, a draft regulation, obtained by The New York Times, indicates that the Education Department plans to scuttle the regulations altogether, not simply modify them, as Ms. DeVos did Wednesday with new regulations that scaled back an Obama-era debt relief plan for student borrowers who felt duped by the unrealistic appeals of for-profit colleges.

The move would punctuate a series of decisions to freeze, modify and now eliminate safeguards put in place after hundreds of for-profit colleges were accused of widespread fraud and subsequently collapsed, leaving their enrolled students with huge debts and no degrees. The failure of two mammoth chains, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes, capped years of complaints that some career-training colleges took advantage of veterans and other nontraditional students, using deceptive marketing and illegal recruitment practices.

The draft “gainful employment” rule obtained by The Times is the most recent iteration of a proposal more than a year in the making from the Education Department, which as recently as last week had considered preserving at least some of the provisions in the Obama-era regulations, according to officials familiar with the department’s plans. A final rule could look different, and the department plans to solicit public comment on the proposal.

In the draft rule, the department proposes to hold institutions accountable by publishing information on a new federal database, or an existing government website called the College Scorecard. The sites would list student debt burdens, federal loan repayment rates, degree completion rates and the average post-college earnings of alumni, which the College Scorecard already does.

The existing database, created under the Obama administration, includes such data for more than 7,000 institutions, but it does not include program-by-program success rates for such certificates as nursing assistance, cosmetology or auto maintenance, nor does it contain the detailed employment statistics that the gainful employment regulations targeted.

The Education Department wrote in the draft rule that it planned to update the scorecard with information about specific programs for all colleges and universities that are eligible for federal financial aid, “thus improving transparency and providing information to students to inform their enrollment decisions through a market-based accountability system.”

But it would eliminate the powerful threat to withhold access to guaranteed student loans from colleges whose graduates cannot find the work to pay them back. Few higher-education institutions could survive without federal student aid.

“The gainful employment regulations were enacted to protect career college students from being trapped in programs where they incur mountains of debt for little or no benefit,” said Aaron Ament, the president of the National Student Legal Defense Network. “Any attempt to eliminate this common-sense rule is an enormous mistake that will cost students and American taxpayers dearly.”

It has taken almost two years but DeVos is now proving that she and her staff are deep in the backpockets of the for-profit college industry.



Betsy DeVos Proposes New Rules on Student Loan Forgiveness that Put Burden on Students to Show “Reckless Disregard” on the Part of Institutions!  

Dear Commons Community,

U.S.  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed yesterday to curtail Obama administration loan forgiveness rules for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, requiring that student borrowers show they have fallen into hopeless financial straits or prove that their colleges knowingly deceived them.  The proposed regulations, set to go in force a year from now, would replace Obama-era policies that sought to ease access to loan forgiveness for students who were left saddled with debt after attending two for-profit college chains, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.  The schools were found to have misled their students with false advertisements and misleading claims for years.   In arguably the biggest change, the new proposal would require students applying for borrower defense would need to prove that their college had knowingly misled them. Under the previous rules, borrowers were entitled to forgiveness regardless of the college’s intent. Experts said the shift could make it nearly impossible for students to succeed in a borrower-defense claim, particularly as the department rolls back efforts to investigate predatory behavior.

“The issue is that they’re simultaneously raising the bar and lowering their ability to collect evidence that would support that bar,” said Clare McCann, deputy director for federal higher-education policy at New America and a former policy adviser in the Education Department. “Borrowers are going to be asked to have some kind of evidence before they apply, and I think that just ultimately, if the department isn’t doing those investigations, it’s not clear to me how anyone would ever have evidence of intent.”  As reported in the New York Times:

“Now the Trump administration is proposing new rules that would require borrowers to prove that they have fallen into deep financial distress to file a claim for debt relief, or to prove that the higher education institutions they attended had intentionally misled them. The department would also require that relief applicants divulge personal information that could have impacted their job prospects beyond their college experiences, including drug test results, health concerns and performance evaluations.

The proposal would establish a federal standard for what constitutes “misrepresentation” on the part of institutions, requiring that claims show “reckless disregard” through false or deceptive claims. It would also impose penalties on institutions that show signs of poor financial health, such as a high number of loan defaults or court judgments.”

The new rules lay out “clear rules of the road for higher education institutions to follow” while “holding institutions, rather than hardworking taxpayers, accountable for making whole those students who were harmed by an institution’s practices,” Ms. DeVos said in a statement. “Our commitment and our focus has been and remains on protecting students from fraud.”

These changes will only help predatory colleges and not students.  Critics accused Ms. DeVos of stocking her department with former executives of for-profit colleges and universities to free the industry from oversight. DeVos advisers include her senior counselor, Robert S. Eitel, and Diane Auer Jones, a senior adviser on postsecondary education, both of whom worked for Career Education Corporation, a company that operates for-profit colleges, and reached a $10.25 million settlement with the New York attorney general over charges that it had inflated graduates’ job placement rates. The department’s general counsel, Carlos G. Muñiz, worked as a consultant for the company.

“With the stroke of a pen, Secretary DeVos and her team of former for-profit college executives have proposed giving fraudulent institutions de facto immunity while effectively stripping their victims of a realistic path to debt relief,” said Aaron Ament, the president of the National Student Legal Defense Network.


New Mexico Judge Orders State to Fix its Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

State Judge Sarah Singleton ruled Friday  that New Mexico has failed to provide its public schools with enough money to provide an adequate education and is a violation of the state’s constitution, which promises all students access to a sufficient and uniform education system. She also ruled that the state has 60 days to devise a plan that the court must approve that aims to help make all students ― including those in high-poverty areas ― ready for college and careers.  Judges is other states have made similar rulings to greater or lesser success.  Regardless, given the political climate in other states that have confronted the problems in their public education systems, Judge Singleton’s decision bears watching.  Below is a recap of this story courtesy of The Huffington Post.



New Mexico Schools Are Failing And It’s The State’s Fault, Judge Says

By Robecca Klein

More than half of New Mexico’s public high school juniors cannot read on grade-level. The state has the lowest high school graduation rate in the country. About half of the students who do graduate end up having to take remedial courses to catch up to their peers in college.

The statistics are especially bleak for low-income, Latino, Native American and so-called English language learner students, typically those for whom English is a second language.

For years, New Mexico has failed to provide its public schools with enough money to provide an adequate education, a state judge ruled Friday. This deficiency is a violation of the state’s constitution, which promises all students access to a sufficient and uniform education system.

Now, the state has 60 days to devise a plan that the court must approve that aims to help make all students ― including those in high-poverty areas ― ready for college and careers. And, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled, the state then has until April 15 to take steps to ensure that schools have sufficient resources to put the plan in place.

Advocates hail the decision as a “landmark” ruling that could have implications for underfunded education systems around the country.

The court has essentially told the state legislature: “I know it’s a tough job, but it’s your job, and you’ve got to do it,” said Gail Evans, legal director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty on a call with reporters.

The center helped bring the case on behalf of a group of local families, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The suit alleged that the state was violating the constitutional rights of marginalized students by deliberately maintaining a broken education system.

Advocates have urged state officials to resist an appeal of the Singleton’s ruling, saying the money and other resources that a continuing legal battle would consume should instead be channeled to helping improve the school system, which as of 2017 had an enrollment of close to 322,000 students.

“Rather than spending millions more dollars to fight, let’s roll up our sleeves and prioritize what needs to happen,” Evans said.

But the state plans to appeal the decision. New Mexico Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski criticized the ruling, saying the judge “missed the boat.”

Gov. Susana Martinez (R), who was first elected in 2010, and members of her administration have insisted that significant improvements to the school system have occurred under her tenure.

“New Mexico’s school turnaround efforts are now some of the strongest in the country; more students than ever are taking and passing [Advanced Placement] AP exams, and there is record-high student enrollment in early literacy programs,” Ruszkowski said in a statement. “Never before has New Mexico made this type of progress for kids in such a short period of time.”

But Singleton, in her ruling, offered a scathing assessment of the ways in which New Mexico has failed its children.

The state has failed to attract and maintain qualified educators, especially in remote or high-poverty areas, having a devastating impact on students there, she said. She took particular aim at the state’s punitive teacher evaluation system, which may “penalize teachers for working in high-need schools.”

Low teacher pay, the subject of protests in several other states this year, also contributes to the educational shortcomings, Singleton said.

There is “no doubt that the education being provided to at-risk children is resulting in dismal outcomes whether measured by test scores, graduation rates, or need for college-level remedial courses,” she wrote.

New Mexico’s younger generation is especially diverse. Slightly more than 60 percent of those under 19 years old are Hispanic, about 24 percent are non-Hispanic white, about 11 percent are Native American and 2 percent are black, according to the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, which focuses on improving the lives of under-advantaged families.

“Our children are not Republicans, they’re not Democrats, they’re all children who come to school full of hope,” said Veronica Garcia, the superintendent of Santa Fe public schools.  ”We cannot afford to lose a day, we have lost generations of children.”

State officials argued that New Mexico, which consistently ranks as one of the poorer states in median family income, lacks the tax money to fix the problems the judge outlined.  The judge responded that ”lack of funds is not a defense to providing constitutional rights.”

She also rebuffed the argument that socioeconomic factors outside of schools’ control were the reason for the low achievement levels of marginalized students.

Advocates say they hope the ruling reverberates throughout the country and that judges in subsequent cases cite the decision. Other judges have taken varying views as to what a state owes its children. In Michigan earlier this month, a judge ruled that students in failing schools were not constitutionally guaranteed access to literacy.


David Brooks on What Is/Will Be the Democratic Party’s Story in 2018?

Dear Commons Community,

David Brooks has an important question for the Democratic Party as it prepares for the 2018 midterm elections:  What is the Party’s story?  I don’t think we or the Democrats know the answer yet.  Below is his column from today’s New York Times



What Is the Democratic Story?

David Brooks

July 24, 2018

There’s a lot of discussion about how far left the Democratic Party should go these days. Is it destroying its electoral chances when its members call for a single-payer health plan or abolishing ICE?

That’s an important question, but the most important question is what story is the Democratic Party telling? As Alasdair MacIntyre argued many years ago, you can’t know what to do unless you know what story you are a part of. Story is more important than policies.

We post-Cold War Americans haven’t really settled on what story we are a part of. We’ll flock to anybody who can tell us a story that feels true.

The story Donald Trump tells is that we good-hearted, decent people of Middle America have been betrayed by stupid elites who screw us and been threatened by foreigners who are out to get us. That story resonated with many people. You can get a lot of facts wrong if you get your story right.

Back in the 1980s, the Democrats told two different stories. One was the compassion story associated with Mario Cuomo and Ted Kennedy: Too many Americans are poor, marginalized and left behind. We must care for our brothers and sisters because we are all one family.

The other was the brainpower/meritocracy story associated with Gary Hart and later the New Democrats: Americans are masters at innovation. We must use our best minds to come up with innovative plans to solve our problems and head into a new technological century.

I don’t hear those two stories much anymore. The Democrats are emphasizing fighting grit these days, not compassion or technocratic expertise.

Today’s Democrats tell two other stories. The first is the traditional socialist story associated with Bernie Sanders: America is rived by the class conflict. The bankers and the oligarchs are exploiting the middles. We need a fighter who will go out and battle concentrated economic power.

The second is the multicultural story: American history has been marked by systems of oppression. Those who have been oppressed — women, African-Americans, Latinos — need to stand together and fight for justice.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has risen to prominence blending these two languages into one: racial justice socialism. “I can’t name a single issue with roots in race that doesn’t have economic implications,” she declares, “and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn’t have racial implications. The idea that we have to separate them is a con.”

Racial justice socialism seems to be the story of the contemporary left. This story effectively paints Trump as the villain on all fronts, and Democrats do face the distinct problem of how to run against a bully like Trump. But is it good politics for the entire Democratic Party to embrace it?

Well, we should humbly admit we’re in virgin territory at a time when all the tectonic plates are shifting.

But we do know that no national Democrat has ever fully embraced this story successfully. In fact, Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama went to great lengths to assure people they were not embracing this story.

They did because Americans trust business more than the state, so socialism has never played well. They did it because if you throw race into your economic arguments you end up turning off potential allies in swing states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania. They did it because if you throw economics into your race arguments you end up dividing your coalitions on those issues.

In brief, Democrats have stayed away from this narrative because the long hoped-for alliance between oppressed racial minorities and the oppressed white working class has never materialized, and it looks very far from materializing now.

Maybe this year is different, but for 100 years, Democrats have tended to win with youthful optimism and not anger and indignation. The Democrats who have won nationally almost all ran on generational change — on tired old America versus the possibilities of new America: F.D.R.’s New Deal, J.F.K.’s New Frontier, Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century and Obama’s hope and change.

If I had to advise on a Democratic narrative I’d start with three premises: First, by 2020 everybody will be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility. Second, the core long-term fear is American decline; are we losing our mojo? Third, communities and nations don’t come together when they talk about their problems; they come together when they do something on behalf of their children.

Maybe the right narrative could be rebuilding social mobility for the young: America is failing its future. We need to rally around each other to build the families, communities, schools, training systems and other structures to make sure the next generation surpasses this one. People are doing this at the local level, and we need a series of unifying projects to make national progress.

This story pushes people toward reconciliation. It is future-oriented. It points to a task that we urgently need to undertake. But who knows what will work. We’re walking into the unprecedented.

David Leonhardt on Charter Schools Again!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times Op-Ed columnist, David Leonhardt comments on charter schools this morning calling on a national discussion on their strengths and weaknesses.  This is a follow-up to his column from last week.  He summarizes the two sides of the debate as follows:

“There are two high-profile camps on education reform. Staunch defenders — who tend to be conservative — support not only charter schools but virtually all school choice, including vouchers for private schools. They see market competition as a cure-all. On the other side, the harshest critics of reform — who are largely progressive — oppose nearly any alternative to traditional schools. They view charters as a nefarious project of billionaires, and they think the academic progress is statistical hooey.

Which side should you believe? Neither. I realize that the political left has a closer connection to reality than the right on many current issues, including climate change, voting rights, health care, Russian cyberattacks and Barack Obama’s birthplace. But education reform is different. On it, the much-mocked cliché that both sides are to blame happens to be true.

The most extreme reformers — like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — have willfully ignored the fact that unregulated, anything-goes school choice keeps failing. Without oversight of schools, parents struggle to distinguish between the good and the bad, and kids suffer.

The harshest critics of reform, meanwhile, do their own fact-twisting. They wave away reams of rigorous research on the academic gains in New Orleans, Boston, Washington, New York, Chicago and other cities, in favor of one or two cherry-picked discouraging statistics. It’s classic whataboutism.

Here’s what the evidence shows: Initially, charters’ overall results were no better than average. But they are now. The main reason, notes Margaret Raymond of Stanford University, is that regulators have shut or overhauled many of the worst-performing charters (which rarely happens with ineffective traditional schools). One form of charter has particularly impressive results — highly structured urban charters with high academic standards. 

These schools have their downsides, however. The disciplinary policies can be severe… The schools also rely on hard-working, moderately paid young teachers, many of whom can’t make a career of the work. And charter schools sometimes focus so much on academics that they overlook extracurriculars, as well a school’s role as a community center.

I find the New Orleans story encouraging because of both the academic progress and the willingness to grapple with these shortcomings. Parents here know the progress is real, because their children have benefited from it. But they also know that the charter schools aren’t a magic bullet.

This month, a locally elected board assumed control of all schools, ending the state’s post-Katrina control. It is a time for New Orleans to think about how it might keep the positives of reform while addressing the negatives. “What’s so exciting right now,” says Jonathan Wilson, a community leader who has at times been skeptical of reform, is that “we have a unique opportunity — that is, to create a different district.”

Leaders here, for instance, are thinking about how to expand school accountability beyond test scores to include social and emotional skills. “We have to diversify our metrics,” Ben Kleban, a charter-school founder who’s now on the city school board, told me. Some schools have also changed their disciplinary policies — including Carver. Administrators and students there came to a compromise that loosened some rules, like the one on hallway walking, and kept others. Last year, the suspension rate fell to 12 percent.

I left New Orleans wishing that the national debate could be more like the debate here. It is full of strong opinions and disagreement, of course. But it also revolves more around facts than fixed beliefs. And isn’t that precisely how teachers tell students to approach a hard problem?”

Leonhardt provides good insights into the charter school debate, however, the temperament with a Trump appointee at the U.S. Department of Education makes a serious national discussion impossible.  Local school districts particularly those in large urban centers could and should try to move beyond the partisanship and examine the issues.