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Sallie Mae’s Version of "Reform"

February 18, 2010

Pity Sallie Mae, it is so misunderstood. The student loan giant says it has spent millions of dollars on high-priced lobbyists and showered lawmakers with hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions over the last year not to defeat President Obama’s proposal to overhaul the federal student loan system but to enhance it.

Responding to a tongue-lashing from Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday, the student loan giant set out to set the record straight. “Sallie Mae is not lobbying for subsidies or to prevent student loan reform,” the company wrote in a news release. “We have supported the Administration’s call for student loan reform since day one. The company advocates for reform that better serves students and saves private sector jobs.”

Sallie Mae is, of course, referring to the “Student Loan Community Proposal” that it has championed as an alternative to President Obama’s plan to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. However, as we have said before, this proposal, which would allow private lenders to continue to originate federal student loans and collect fees [or should we say “subsidies?"] for doing so, does not represent real reform. On the contrary, it aims to keep as much of the status quo in place as possible.

As the debate heats up once again in Washington, we thought that now would be a good time to revisit an earlier post, in which we laid out five reasons that Sallie Mae’s proposal doesn’t live up to its billing. Keep these in mind the next time the loan company tries to burnish its reputation as a reformer.

The Challenges of Measuring Teacher Effectiveness

February 16, 2010

Learning Point Associates and Public Agenda recently released a report titled “Retaining Teacher Talent: Convergence and Contradictions in Teachers’ Perceptions of Policy Reform Ideas” that focuses on how teachers define effectiveness in contrast to policy makers and researchers. The report concludes that teachers disagree with each other and with policy makers and researchers on good indicators of effectiveness. These findings are significant as Congress begins to consider Obama Administration proposals that seek to more clearly define teacher effectiveness under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and put in place programs that reward teachers based on those definitions.

Most interestingly, authors Jane Coggshall, Amber Ott, and Molly Lasagna find that 56 percent of surveyed teachers believe that student performance on standardized tests is a good or excellent indicator of teacher effectiveness. This finding initially seems surprising given that teachers’ unions typically oppose using test scores to measure effectiveness. However, far higher percentages of teachers prefer other indicators of effectiveness. For example, 92 percent of teachers said student engagement was a good or excellent indicator of teacher effectiveness and 72 percent said individual student learning compared to other students was a good or excellent indicator.

Similarly, the authors find that only 8 percent of surveyed teachers believe that linking teacher rewards, such as compensation, with student performance would significantly improve teacher effectiveness. In contrast, several research studies cited in the report concluded that performance-based pay is a promising way to improve teacher retention and perhaps even student achievement.

There is another surprising finding in the report. Common perception, including a previous survey conducted by the same authors, suggests that younger teachers are generally more receptive to efforts that link teacher pay with performance. Yet the authors of the new report find that 50 percent of teachers with less than five years of experience feel that standardized test scores are a fair or poor indicator of effectiveness, while only 32 percent of teachers with more than 20 years experience feel the same. If younger teachers favor merit pay, why are they so hesitant about using student achievement data to do so?[1]

This new study clarifies the deep divide between teachers – the most valuable and important resource in the classroom – and policymakers when it comes to measuring teacher effectiveness. This is particularly important as the Obama Administration proposes significant changes to federal programs that aim to improve teacher distribution, retention, and quality through programs like merit pay and recommends that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act require states to create and implement a definition of an “effective teacher.” Without teacher buy-in during this process, these significant policy changes will likely prove politically impossible.


[1] Admittedly, the distribution of teachers by years of experience in the survey sample differs somewhat from the national distribution according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In the survey sample, 29 percent of responding teachers had 10 or fewer years of experience, while nationally, 47 percent of teachers do. Similarly, 71 percent of responding teachers had 11 or more years of experience, while only 43 percent of teachers nationally do. This dramatic skew towards more experienced teachers may explain some of these patterns.


Five Higher Education Budget Questions for Obama

February 4, 2010

By Ed Policy

Higher Ed Watch has some questions for the Obama administration about the president's fiscal year 2011 budget request, which it released earlier this week. We hope these questions are helpful to policymakers, the news media, and the public in evaluating these proposals.

A Closer Look at the President’s Proposed K-12 Education Program Consolidations

February 4, 2010

In his fiscal year 2011 budget request released on Monday, President Obama proposed some major changes to programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The proposal would take 38 existing K-12 programs, many with very narrow focuses, and combine them into nine new programs. The new programs would direct more funding to states and local education agencies (LEAs) through competitive grants than the current structure, which operates mostly through formula grants. The Obama Administration believes this will give school districts greater flexibility in how they use the funds and make them more accountable for student achievement. But moving to competitive grants adds uncertainty and may create a number of unintended consequences.

The 38 existing programs would be consolidated into nine different programs under five headings: Excellent Instructional Teams, Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education, Expanding Educational Options, College Pathways and Accelerated Learning, and Supporting Student Success. Each of these reflects the priorities of the Obama Administration for education.

The president’s 2011 budget request includes $5.9 billion for the new programs, while the combined 2010 funding for the programs slated for consolidation is $5.3 billion, a difference of $568 million. A table of the funding levels for the existing programs to be consolidated and the proposed programs that would replace them can be downloaded here.

Excellent Instructional Teams
The president’s budget proposal would create three programs under the Excellent Instructional Teams umbrella: Effective Teachers and Leaders; Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund; and Teacher and Leader Pathways. Nine programs funded under current law would be folded into these new consolidated programs.

Two of the programs that would be folded into this area are the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants. Both of these programs aim to improve the quality of teachers in schools around the country. TIF uses competitive grants to help states, LEAs, and partnerships to develop and implement performance-based compensation systems for teachers and administrators in high-need areas. Improving Teacher Quality State Grants are formula driven grants that states and school districts can use to improve teacher effectiveness. Much of this money is used to help teachers pay for the education they need to become “highly qualified.”

The administration feels that a broader program enveloping all of the federal investments in improving teaching and learning would eliminate overlap and inefficiencies in existing programs. It is clear that programs like TIF and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants share similar goals; the major difference between them is the way money is distributed (competitive vs. formula grants). The president and his advisers believe that the goal of improving the quality of teachers and administrators, especially in high need subjects and schools, can be better carried out through this new structure where investments will be focused on what is found to work best, rather than what the law mandates.

In addition to TIF and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, existing programs that would be folded into the Excellent Instructional Teams proposal include: Ready to Teach, Advanced Credentialing, Transition to Teaching, Teacher Quality Enhancement, Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow, Teach for America, and School Leadership.

Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education
The Obama Administration proposes consolidating 15 existing programs under Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education. This proposal aims to improve the quality and rigor of academic standards and instruction in all schools in various subject areas. Federal efforts will fall into three competitive grant programs: Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy; Effective Teaching and Learning: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); and Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education.

Programs that would be consolidated under Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education include: Striving Readers, Even Start, Literacy through School Libraries, National Writing Project, Reading is Fundamental, Ready-to-Learn Television, Mathematics and Science Partnerships, Excellence in Economic Education, Teaching American History, Arts in Education, Foreign Language Assistance, Academies for American History and Civics, Close-Up Fellowships, Civic Education, and Educational Technology State Grants.

Expanding Educational Options
Under President Obama’s consolidation proposal, five existing programs would be wrapped into the Expanding Educational Options program. This program would aim to increase the number of high-quality educational options available to students in low-performing schools. It would invest in creating and expanding effective charter schools and other effective and accountable schools, and would implement comprehensive school choice programs.

The president’s proposal would consolidate five programs into the Expanding Educational Options program: Charter Schools Grants, Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities, Voluntary Public School Choice, Parental Assistance Information Centers, and Smaller Learning Communities.

College Pathways and Accelerated Learning
The College Pathways and Accelerated Learning program represents the Obama Administration’s investment in bringing high quality educational opportunities to students in all schools. It would provide accelerated courses and instruction in schools that enroll large concentrations of students from low-income families. This program would consolidate three existing programs: High School Graduation Initiative, Advanced Placement, and Javits Gifted and Talented.

Supporting Student Success
Finally, the Obama Administration’s proposal would create the Supporting Student Success program. This proposal centers around creating learning environments that are safe and drug-free. This would consolidate six existing programs into one new program, Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students. Funding for the existing Promise Neighborhoods and 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs would also fall under Supporting Student Services, but these existing programs would continue to be funded under their current names and purposes.

Existing programs that would be consolidated are: Safe and Drug Free Schools National Program Activities, Elementary and Secondary School Counseling, Physical Education, Foundations for Learning, Mental Health Integration in Schools, and Alcohol Abuse Reduction.

Eliminating overlapping or inefficient programs in favor of a streamlined approach to federal funding may achieve the Obama Administration’s goals – more accountability for federal money going to states and school districts, greater flexibility at the state and school district level, and more use of evidence in decision making.

But the proposal raises several interesting questions which Ed Money Watch will be monitoring: Without dedicated funding streams that require states and school districts to make certain investments, will some priorities embodied in the old programs fall by the wayside? Will states and school districts with limited administrative capacity be able to pull together applications for grants? Will the uncertainty of competitive grants make it impossible for states and school districts to plan ahead and spend money wisely?

Of course, all of these changes are just the president’s request; they need congressional action to become law. At Ed Money Watch, we’re curious to see if these proposed changes make it into law. We’ll be watching closely as Congress considers the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which optimistic forecasters believe could happen this year. Check back with us for updates as the process continues.

Summary and Analysis of President Obama's Education Budget Request - Fiscal Year 2011

February 3, 2010

Today, the Federal Education Budget Project released Summary and Analysis of President Obama's Education Budget Request - Fiscal Year 2011, an issue brief that provides a summary of the President's education budget request, released on Monday, February 1st.

This instant summary and analysis covers key parts of the president’s proposed education budget, including funding levels for K-12 programs, policy changes for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and details on higher education programs, such as student loans and Pell Grants. Additionally, the issue brief includes a table of major program level funding changes and proposed program cuts and eliminations.

The issue brief can be downloaded here.

Summary and Analysis of President Obama’s Education Budget Request

  • By Federal Education Budget Project
February 2, 2010

President Barack Obama submitted his second budget request to Congress on February 1st, 2010. The detailed budget request includes proposed funding levels for federal programs and agencies in aggregate for the upcoming five to ten fiscal years, and specific fiscal year 2011 funding levels for individual programs subject to appropriations. Congress will use the president's budget request to inform its consideration of tax and spending legislation later this year, including the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill that will set specific funding levels for federal education programs.

Key Questions on the Obama Administration's 2011 Education Budget Request

February 1, 2010

President Barack Obama submitted his second budget request to Congress on February 1st, 2010. The detailed budget request includes proposed funding levels for all federal programs and agencies in aggregate for the upcoming five to ten fiscal years, and specific fiscal year 2011 funding levels for programs subject to the annual appropriations process. It is important to remember that the president's 2011 budget request is a policy and budget proposal, but not legislation or law. Actual fiscal year 2011 funding levels for nearly all federal education programs will be determined through the Congressional appropriations process that Congress aims to complete by the start of the new fiscal year, which begins October 1st, 2010. Policy changes and funding levels that the president proposes for education programs not funded through the appropriations process (i.e. mandatory programs) are also subject to Congressional approval.

In an effort to heighten the quality of debate on federal education policy, the New America Foundation's Federal Education Budget Project has reviewed the president's proposals and generated a list of key questions policymakers, the media, stakeholder groups, and the public should ask about the proposals. A PDF of this document can be accessed here.

Early Education

1)     The president’s request includes $450 million for literacy programs under a new Effective Teaching and Learning program. The program would fold several current literacy programs – including Striving Readers and Reading is Fundamental – into one program. How will that pot of $450 million be divided among children’s ages and stages of development? Research shows that the birth-to-8 years provide the critical foundation for learning how to read. Will this new literacy program allocate funds to that age range in a proportion equal to its importance in reading and language development?

2)    The request expands Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation – two competitive grant programs to encourage innovation and reform in states and school districts that are currently funded with one-time economic stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Will the administration ensure that early education programs (including publicly funded pre-K) are explicitly included in these grant programs? Could the incentives within these programs be designed to support alignment and coordination with the Early Learning Challenge Fund, the birth-to-5 grant competition that is currently awaiting movement in Congress?

K-12 Education

3)     The president’s budget request states that the administration will seek an additional $1 billion in funding for Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) programs such as Title I Part A if Congress reauthorizes ESEA in keeping with the president’s request. If Congress includes the $1 billion increase in the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill without reauthorizing the legislation, will the administration oppose it?

4)    The president’s budget proposes renaming Title I “College- and Career-Ready Students” and would require states to adopt college and career ready standards and assessments. Will this align with the effort states are already undertaking through the current Common Core of Standards movement headed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA)? Additionally, it mentions that states will be required to link student achievement information to teachers and establish a definition of “effective teacher.” Has the administration identified potential methods of doing so? If not, will the administration provide guidance when states undertake this process?

5)     The president’s budget request includes a significant increase for School Improvement Grants, a program that funds restructuring and support for struggling schools, which would be renamed School Turnaround grants. In the past, such large increases have been accompanied by requirements that a certain amount of the funds be spent on improving or turning around failing high schools. Will the proposed legislation include any such requirements? Will failing high schools continue to be a significant focus for the administration?

6)    In fiscal year 2010 appropriations, Congress eliminated the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities State Grants program and rolled a portion of that funding into the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities National Activities program. This action was largely consistent with the president’s 2010 budget request. The president’s 2011 budget request now includes a proposed program called Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students to support state and local activities that appear similar to the state grant program eliminated just a few months ago. How will this new program be different from the previous Safe and Drug Free programs and what will happen to the National Activities programs?

7)     In the Program Terminations and Reductions document released with the 2011 budget request, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act consolidations are listed with a net change in cost of $0. However, when the new consolidated programs are added together, a net increase of $568 million is shown. What is the source of this discrepancy? Additionally, the majority of these new consolidated programs provide competitive grants to states and local education agencies, rather than formula grants. Has the administration considered whether this new focus on competitive grants will favor states and local education agencies that have the administrative capacity to complete several grant applications over those that do not?

Higher Education

8)    The campus-based aid programs—Federal Work Study, Perkins Loans, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)—are intended to assist low-income students with college expenses. The federal government provides campus-based aid funds to postsecondary institutions, which then award them to their students. However, the formula the government uses to distribute the aid overwhelmingly benefits elite public and private colleges and universities, even though these institutions serve a relatively small proportion of low-income students. The administration has criticized this formula and proposes changing it for the Perkins Loan program. However, the president's 2011 budget request would leave the formula unchanged for the SEOG and work study programs. Does the administration plan to address this discrepancy in the future?1

9)    The president’s 2011 budget request includes $64 million for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), a program that awards competitive grants to support innovative reform and improvements in higher education. As the Obama Administration knows, FIPSE is a favorite place for Members of Congress to fund earmarks for colleges and universities in their home states and districts. In fiscal year 2010, Congress included over $100 million in special projects under FIPSE. The president’s 2011 budget proposal does not include any funding for earmarks under FIPSE, and the president has generally taken a strong stand against Congressional earmarks. Will President Obama take any special action to ensure Congress honors his FIPSE budget request for 2011? Or is the FIPSE program an exception to the administration’s opposition to Congressional earmarks?

10)    Legislation is pending in Congress to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan program and move all new federal student loans to the Direct Loan program. Under the House-passed proposal (H.R. 3221), the savings from this change would be spent on a number of new and existing education programs, including Pell Grants, school construction, and community college reform grants. The president’s 2011 budget states that the administration “supports mandatory funding for priority education programs that are included in this legislation.” Which education programs in the pending bill does the administration consider a “priority”? Given that the House-passed bill creates $77.4 billion in new education spending over ten years, but the president’s 2011 budget request shows that changes to student loan programs in the bill will save only $45.6 billion over that time, are there any programs in H.R. 3221 that the administration would oppose? Or does the administration support the additional deficit spending that would occur under H.R. 3221 according to its own estimates?

11)      Last year, the president’s 2010 budget request proposed to use all savings from eliminating the Federal Family Education Loan program to make the Pell Grant program an entitlement, removing it from the annual appropriations process. The 2011 request includes this proposal again. However, legislation pending in Congress would use only some of the savings to increase Pell Grant funding without making it an entitlement, and would spend the remaining savings on school construction funding and other programs. The president’s 2011 budget states that the administration supports the pending bill (H.R. 3221). Can the administration support both the House-passed legislation and a Pell Grant entitlement?



1 This question was included in last year’s “Key Questions on the Obama Administration’s 2010 Education Budget” publication.

Key Questions on the Obama Administration's 2011 Education Budget

February 1, 2010

President Barack Obama submitted his second budget request to Congress on February 1st, 2010. The detailed budget request includes proposed funding levels for all federal programs and agencies in aggregate for the upcoming five to ten fiscal years, and specific fiscal year 2011 funding levels for programs subject to the annual appropriations process. It is important to remember that the president's 2011 budget request is a policy and budget proposal, but not legislation or law.

Update: What's Behind New CBO Direct Loan Savings Estimate

January 31, 2010

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has made more details available to Congressional staff about how updates to its baseline estimates for federal program costs will affect a student aid proposal pending in Congress. Higher Ed Watch first highlighted this issue several weeks ago, noting that the proposal, which has passed the House but not the Senate, could be subject to a new set of budget estimates when the Senate debates the bill later this year. We learned last Thursday that student loans savings from moving all federal student loans to direct lending were unaffected by the update, but that a new Pell Grant entitlement would cost considerably more. Until now few details were available about the CBO findings, especially concerning the student loan estimates.

According to the CBO correspondence, eliminating subsidies to private lenders in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program and moving to 100 percent direct lending will save $87 billion over the 2010-2019 period, the same as the estimate under the March 2009 baseline and the estimate for the bill that passed the House last fall, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3221). Savings for the five-year period, however, are $39.7 billion, about $2 billion less than the March 2009 estimates.

Obama Administration Annouces Program Consolidations and Eliminations

January 27, 2010

Today, the Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration will request an additional $4 billion in funding for the Department of Education in fiscal year 2011. The increase will include an additional $1.35 billion for Race to the Top - a new competitive grant program for states, and $1 billion for the overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This would bring the 2011 Department of Education budget up to $67.72 billion from $63.72 billion in 2010. Given the previous announcement that the administration will seek a spending freeze on all domestic programs, this suggests that the Department of Education will come out a winner in the upcoming budget process while other agencies may loose funding.

But the article also reveals that the president’s budget request will propose the consolidation of 38 smaller Department of Education programs into 11 larger programs and the elimination of 6 additional programs. It does not clarify, however, whether this consolidation will include lower overall spending levels for the 11 programs.

At Ed Money Watch, we have our money on consolidations in high school intervention programs like TRIO and GEAR UP and various special interest education programs like the Historic Whaling and Trading Partners, Excellence in Economic Education, and Thurgood Marshall Legal Opportunity programs. Check out our handy table of previously proposed program eliminations here.

Any other suggestions for program consolidations or eliminations? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Ed Money Watch will continue to follow the President’s budget request process. Check back for more coverage in the coming weeks.

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