Higher Education News
A survey documents employers’ lack of confidence in recent graduates, raising questions about what colleges can do to close the gap.
Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the choices our country faces in replacing the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA), and also known as No Child Left Behind. Interested in getting ESEA updates in your inbox? Sign up for email updates.
On consecutive days this week, the United States was introduced to two very different visions for its most important education law. Quite soon, Congress will choose between them, and while the legislation could move fast enough to escape wide public notice, its consequences will be profound.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) stands as a statement that a high-quality education for every single child is a national interest and a civil right. The law has boosted funding for schools in low-income neighborhoods, put books in libraries and helped ensure that minorities, students with disabilities, those learning English, those living in poverty and others who have struggled would not slip through the cracks.
Since then, and especially over the past 15 years, amid bipartisan agreement to focus strongly on students’ learning, progress has been significant. Since 2000, high school graduation rates, once stagnant, rose almost 10 percentage points, to an all-time high. A young Hispanic person is now half as likely to drop out of high school compared with 15 years ago and twice as likely to be in college. A million more black and Hispanic students are in college than were in 2008.
These are meaningful steps toward the day when every child in this country — whether he or she lives in a homeless shelter, migrant laborers’ camp or leafy suburb — has access to a solid education.
Yet, as Congress considers revamping ESEA, these trends are in question. This week, Republicans in Congress released a discussion draft of the bill that should worry anyone who believes the entire nation has an interest in the quality of children’s education.
Few would question that No Child Left Behind — the most recent version of ESEA — needs to be replaced. No Child Left Behind brought valuable attention to the needs of vulnerable student groups, but its prescriptive and punitive interventions have left it reviled by educators. It’s time for a new law.
On Monday, I laid out core ideas for a law that would ensure real opportunity, one that must expand support and funding for schools and teachers. It must expand access to quality preschool. It must help to modernize teaching, through improved supports and preparation. And it must continue to enable parents, educators and communities to know how much progress students are making — and ensure that where students are falling behind, and where schools fail students year after year, action will be taken.
To measure student progress in a useful way, states need an annual statewide assessment. But the tests — and test preparation — must not take excessive time away from classroom instruction. Great teaching, not test prep, is what engages students and leads to higher achievement.
In many places, too many tests take up too much time, leaving many educators, families and students feeling frustrated. That’s why we want to work with Congress to urge states and school districts to review the tests they give and eliminate redundant and unnecessary ones. We’ll urge Congress to have states set limits on the amount of time spent on state- and districtwide standardized testing and notify parents if they exceed these limits.
Everyone can learn from what’s happening in places such as New York, which has capped standardized testing at 2 percent of instructional time, and North Carolina, Maryland, New Mexico and Rhode Island, where leaders and educators are carefully reviewing their tests to make sure students have time to learn and teachers have time to teach. To help states and districts make these changes, the president will request funding in his budget to aid in improving and streamlining the tests.
These steps would help accelerate the progress America’s students are making, strengthen opportunity for all students and ensure greater economic security for our young people.
Unfortunately, the Republican discussion draft goes in a different direction. While there are some areas where we agree, the Republican plan would make optional too many things we should be able to promise to our young people.
After years of progress, do we need statewide indicators of what progress all students are making each year, as the nation’s chief state school officers and a dozen-plus civil rights organizations have asked? The Republican plan says, “It’s optional.”
Should funds intended for the highest-poverty schools actually go to those schools? The Republican plan says, “It’s optional.”
Should we do more to ensure that all families have access to quality preschool? The Republican plan says, “It’s optional.”
We cannot afford to replace “the fierce urgency of now” with the soft bigotry of “it’s optional.”
I respect my Republican colleagues deeply, and their care for this country’s children is real. So I am optimistic about reaching bipartisan agreement on a bill that holds true to the promise of real opportunity.
In making choices for our children’s future, we will decide who we are as a nation. For the sake of our children, our communities and our country, let’s make the right choice.
Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education
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What They’re Saying About Secretary Duncan’s Vision for a New Elementary and Secondary Education Act
On Monday – which marked the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – Secretary Duncan laid out a bold vision for the nation’s education law that protects all students, ensures high-quality preschool, and supports state and local innovation.
Duncan’s vision for a reauthorized ESEA delivers on the promise of equity and opportunity for every child, including minority students, students with disabilities, low-income students, and English learners. In a speech at a Washington, D.C., elementary school, he called for greater resources for schools and educators, modernizing and supporting the teaching profession, and new efforts to reduce testing where it has become excessive.
Duncan said as the country moves away from No Child Left Behind—the latest version of ESEA—Congress faces a choice of whether to take a path that moves toward the promise of equity of opportunity, or a path that walks away from it. The nation can move forward, building on the progress students and educators have worked hard to achieve, or we can revert to a time of low expectations, wider achievement gaps, and uncertainty about the progress of our students—particularly the most vulnerable.
Here’s what people are saying about the need for a strong ESEA:
“I am very glad that Secretary Duncan is so focused on reforming this broken law in a way that works for our students and makes sure no child falls through the cracks, and I am looking forward to working with him, Chairman Alexander and all our colleagues on a truly bipartisan bill to get this done.”
“Public education is a cornerstone of our democracy. Getting a quality education is a civil right for each and every child in America. I’m glad that Secretary Duncan is proposing these bold steps to help us reach the goal of a quality education for each and every child. I look forward to working with him and fighting in Congress to see this program become a reality.”
“Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson laid out his vision of robust federal investment in public education as a central component of the War on Poverty, marking the beginning of the successful effort to pass the bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Every child in America deserves a quality education that opens doors to opportunity and a career. The ESEA’s premise has always been that a pathway to a secure place in America’s middle class begins in a safe and nurturing classroom. Over the past five decades, Congress has reauthorized this law and made it stronger by coming together in a bipartisan way to put our children’s future first.”
“Education Secretary Arne Duncan strikes the right balance between more resources, reform, flexibility and accountability. As a country, we must remain deeply committed to the promise of equity in public education as a civil rights issue, a moral issue and an economic issue. We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to update the law so that it provides all children with the education they need to succeed.”
“Business Roundtable member CEOs know firsthand the importance of benchmarking and measuring performance in building their own workforces. Gauging employee success helps shape changes or adjustments needed to ensure efficient company operations. This approach holds true for schools as well; we believe the U.S. education system can be made better and more efficient when student performance is regularly and consistently measured.
“Annual testing is a must-do for ESEA reauthorization. Assessments should be internationally benchmarked, aligned to the state’s standards and conducted statewide.
“Supporting effective teachers and school leaders goes hand-in-hand with testing – without proper instruction, students cannot be expected to live up to high expectations – and support for these education professionals is also a priority for Business Roundtable CEOs.”
“The First Five Years Fund greatly appreciates the swift progress being made to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This critical piece of legislation is essential to ensuring that our students are college and career ready and fully prepared for later success in life. But, we can’t achieve this goal as a nation if our children don’t begin school with a strong foundation built early in life.”
“Every child deserves a strong start to life, and we can ensure all American kids have an equal opportunity to succeed by expanding access to high-quality preschool. Save the Children Action Network applauds Secretary Duncan for reinforcing the administration’s commitment to early childhood education by making early learning a top priority in education reform. Broad bipartisan public support for expanding access to high-quality preschool has existed for years, but our leaders have thus far failed to invest in kids. Secretary Duncan’s call today to prioritize early childhood education should prompt legislators in both parties to take action. Save the Children Action Network remains committed to working in a bipartisan fashion at the federal, state and local levels to finding the funding mechanisms that can make expanded access to high-quality preschool a reality.”
“Since 2007, families, students and educators have called on Congress to act on comprehensive reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB. National PTA advocates for specific improvements to the law that prioritize family engagement and address the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children. The association believes bipartisan legislative action is critical to provide support and resources to states and schools to improve family engagement, student achievement and school performance. Reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB has long been a key public policy priority of National PTA. The association urges Congress to take swift action to address needed changes to the law to improve education for all students and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.”
“A high-performing public school system is essential for our future economic competitiveness and the foundation of our nation as a place of opportunity for all. Today, Secretary Duncan laid out a vision for a federal education policy that will move all students, particularly those with the greatest needs, toward college and career readiness by providing the investments in interventions that are proven to work: early childhood education, more money for low-income schools, access to effective teachers, and rigorous academic coursework. While current annual assessments provide critically needed information on student and subgroup academic progress, Secretary Duncan also rightfully called for addressing legitimate concerns about an overemphasis on testing in schools. An overhaul of No Child Left Behind is overdue, but any rewrite must retain a core focus on equity and school improvement in order to address the pressing needs we face.”
“Duncan sketched out a sensible vision for how the law can continue to advance educational equity on many different fronts. In this vision, ESEA would encourage states to move forward with higher academic standards, and it would continue to require annual testing that provides a picture of how much students are actually learning every year.
“But Duncan believes the law could also do more than ever to help schools get the results we all want for our kids while responding to the concerns from both sides of the aisle. For example, Duncan recommended using the reauthorization to expand access to pre-kindergarten, provide greater funding to schools, and help ensure that teachers get the feedback and support they need to do their best work. He argued for better equity in arts education, noting that subjects like music and art shouldn’t be considered luxuries. His plan would also help curb over-testing by setting limits on the time schools spent on standardized tests.”
“As Secretary Duncan said in his speech today, tackling persistent achievement gaps requires deep understanding of student performance. Annual assessments are an important indicator that empowers families to make informed decisions on behalf of their child. At the same time, our educational system must prioritize quality assessments over quantity while still providing parents with a yearly update on their child’s academic performance.”
“Some districts may test too often or teach too much to the test. There is room to fix problems and, as we said, improve the law. But any member of Congress should be embarrassed to even contemplate returning to an era when the absence of annual measurement allowed failure to be swept under the rug. Educational opportunity is, as Mr. Duncan said Monday, ‘a civil right, a moral imperative.’ The country needs to ensure that no one is being denied that right.”
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the first step in accessing the more than $150 billion available in federal student aid. Since the 2015-16 FAFSA launched, the Digital Engagement Team at Federal Student Aid has responded to hundreds of FAFSA questions via Federal Student Aid’s social media accounts. (Yes, believe it or not, we do actually read what you tweet at us or write on our wall and do our best to respond to as much as we can!) In doing this, we’ve found that there are a few FAFSA questions that are asked a lot. We want to help clear up any confusion, so let’s go through them:
Why do I have to pay to complete the FAFSA?
You don’t! You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA. After all, the first “F” in FAFSA stands for FREE! There are companies that will charge you a fee to file your FAFSA, but you can always complete the FAFSA for free on the official government website: fafsa.gov. (Notice the .GOV!) If you need help with the application, we have resources available for free.
How can I complete the FAFSA if my parents or I haven’t filed my 2014 taxes yet?
When filling out the 2015-16 FAFSA, you’ll want to use financial information from the 2014 tax year. At this point in the year, many people haven’t received their Form W-2, let alone completed their 2014 taxes. But that shouldn’t stop you from completing the FAFSA! If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.
If your 2014 income is similar to your 2013 income, use your 2013 tax return to provide estimates for questions about your income. If your income is not similar, use the Income Estimator for assistance estimating your adjusted gross income, and answer the remaining questions about your income to the best of your ability.
Note: Once you complete your 2014 taxes, you’ll need to update your FAFSA. When you do so, you may be eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA, and transfer the data directly into your FAFSA from the IRS website.
When is the FAFSA deadline?
States, schools, and the federal government each have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. It is important that you research all of these deadlines and complete the FAFSA by your earliest deadline. That being said, because some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.
Do I have to complete the FAFSA every year?
Yes, you need to fill out the FAFSA each school year because your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college. If you filled out a FAFSA last year and want to renew it, go to fafsa.gov, click “Login”, and be sure to select “FAFSA Renewal” once given the option. That way, many of the (nonfinancial) questions will be pre-filled for you. Just be sure to update any information that has changed since last year.
Which FAFSA should I complete?
When you log into www.fafsa.gov, you will be given two different options: “Start a 2014-15 FAFSA” and “Start a 2015-16 FAFSA.” Which should you choose?
If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, select “Start a 2014-15 FAFSA.”
If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, select “Start a 2015-16 FAFSA.”
Remember, you must complete the FAFSA each school year, so if you’ll be attending college during both periods of time, you should fill out both applications.
TIP: If you need to fill out both applications, complete the 2014-15 FAFSA first. That way, when you complete the 2015-16 FAFSA, a lot of your info will automatically roll over.
If you are applying for a summer session, or just don’t know which application to complete, check with the college you are planning to attend.
We hope that helps answer some of your questions. If you have additional questions about the FAFSA, you can send us your questions via Facebook and Twitter. For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa.
Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.
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