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Jane S. Shaw

Michael Petrilli is absolutely right that many Pell grant recipients aren’t ready for college and would be better off doing something else. One sign of poor preparation is the need to take remedial classes in college, and Petrilli recommends that students enrolled in such courses not be given Pell money.

The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy (which I head) offers a somewhat different solution to the same problem. We believe that the federal government should inject an element of merit into the selection of Pell grantees. Thus, in a paper on Pell grants, Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston recommend that Pell-grant recipients have SAT scores of at least 850 (verbal and math) and a high school GPA of at least 2.5 (between a C and a B).

“Not only would this save taxpayer money, it would provide a positive incentive for students to do better in school,” they write. “Students with very low high school academic performance are unlikely to graduate from college regardless of financial aid.”

The two solutions are similar, of course. As we see it, the advantage of our proposal is that it’s an objective standard that would be easy to enforce. Under Petrilli’s proposal, I would worry (as he does) about colleges renaming remedial courses as “regular” courses, something that may already be happening.

The SAT score we recommend, 850, isn’t high. According to the College Board, in order to have a 65 percent chance of...

Philly’s Schools Phuture?

During the research for my book, one of the most interesting and depressing tidbits I uncovered was that the handful of high-performing, high-poverty traditional public schools described in No Excuses had not been grown by their districts. The central recommendation of my book is that the “four principles of chartering” should be applied across all three sectors; that includes growing great schools of all types (charter, private, and district). Charter growth has been happening via CMOs for more than a decade now, but the Philadelphia Schools Partnership has found a number of district schools to expand. Interesting development.

Addressing Non-urban Poverty

It appears that, slowly but surely, the education-reform community is paying more and more attention to the needs of low-income kids in rural areas (more on this from Bellwether soon). For years now, the primary focus has been on America’s cities. Maybe it should come as no surprise that Teach for America is stepping forward; TFA has long had a number of non-urban outposts. Its new program is designed to train TFA alum for school leadership positions in rural America. This is a tiny program, at least initially, but it’s a start.  Good luck, and well done.

Impervious to Competition?

Probably the bitterest pill I’ve had to swallow as a conservative ed reformer is that competition (from charters and choice programs) has had a positive but negligible influence on urban school districts. Ten years...

Pause, maybe, but no moratorium

Checker and Kathleen consider Randi Weingarten’s call to suspend testing, pre-K finance jitters, and the fate of the testing consortia. Amber worries about wayward sons.

Amber's Research Minute

Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education by David Autor and Melanie Wasserman (Washington, D.C.: Third Way)

Everyone from President Barack Obama to U.S. Representative Paul Ryan to Bill Gates seems to have a plan for improving the Federal Pell Grant Program for higher education.

A huge proportion Pell investment goes to unprepared students
Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years
Image by MyTudut.

Worthy though some of these efforts may be, none get to the crux of the problem: A huge proportion of this $40 billion annual federal investment is flowing to people who simply aren’t prepared to do college-level work. And this is perverting higher education’s mission, suppressing completion rates, and warping the country’s K–12 system.

About two-thirds of low-income community-college students—and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges—need remedial (a.k.a. “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of low-income students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of such students earn a four-year degree within six years.

What if the government decreed that, starting three years hence, students would only be eligible for Pell aid if enrolled in credit-bearing college courses, thus disqualifying remedial education for support?

One could foresee various possible outcomes. Let’s start with the positive. Ambitious, low-income high school...

Though few Americans have ever heard of the “Common Core,” it’s causing a ruckus in education circles and turmoil in the Republican Party. Prompted by tea-party activists, a couple of talk-radio hosts and bloggers, a handful of disgruntled academics, and several conservative think tanks, the Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution blasting the Common Core as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.” Several red states that previously adopted it for their schools are on the verge of backing out. Indiana is struggling over exit strategies.

Conservatives and the Common Core
Public education is indisputably the responsibility of states—but that doesn't mean states can't work together
Image by beX out loud.

What, you ask, is this all about?

Thirty years after a blue-ribbon panel declared the United States to be “a nation at risk” due to the weak performance and shoddy results of our public education system, one of the two great reforms to have enveloped that system is the setting of explicit academic standards in core subjects, standards that make clear what math youngsters should know by the end of fifth grade, what reading-and-writing skills they must acquire by tenth grade, and so on. (The other great reform: widespread...

Is College Worth It? by William J. Bennett and David WilezolThis readable, provocative, and exceptionally timely book by former U.S. education secretary Bill Bennett (and his young but astute coauthor) will rock the complacent aspiration of “college for all.” Intended more for students and parents than for policymakers and propeller heads (and equipped with a short, well-chosen list of “colleges worth attending” and a dozen “hypothetical scenarios” by which to make decisions about college enrollment), its fundamental argument is that much of contemporary U.S. higher education is a waste of time and money, that many people emerge from the campus with more in debts than in rewards, that there are plenty of viable and rewarding alternatives (especially to the classic “four-year bachelor’s degree”), and that big changes are afoot in the postsecondary realm—technology above all—that many who inhabit that realm seem all but blind to. He rebuts the contemporary dogma that “returns on higher education are higher than ever” by showing that, for many students (and of course millions of taxpayers), the costs outweigh the benefits. Right on, Mr. Secretary!

SOURCE: William J. Bennett and David Wilezol, Is College Worth It? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, April 2013)....

Philanthropy, Spring 2013 from Philanthropy RoundtableThe Philanthropy Roundtable publishes a fine magazine for its members, addressing many aspects of philanthropy and often paying special attention to education, a major realm of interest and activity for the organization, as well as (obviously) for U.S. philanthropists. Never, however, in my long relationship with the Roundtable, has this been done more thoroughly and imaginatively than in the Spring 2013 issue of Philanthropy, commencing with a superb lead article by Christopher Levenick on how those who are serious about policy reform in education need to go beyond traditional “C-3” work. Also of value are Naomi Schaeffer Riley on citizenship education, Liam Julian on the philanthropic backdrop of the Common Core, Andy Smarick on badly needed governance changes, Laura Vanderkam on the potential of blended learning, and a swell interview with Betsy Devos. Check it out—and, if by any remote chance you happen to be a philanthropist who doesn’t already belong to the Roundtable, consider joining, too!

SOURCE: Philanthropy Roundtable, Philanthropy, Spring 2013 (Washington, D.C.: Philanthropy Roundtable, Spring 2013).

Bill Bennett on the state of American education
Dr. Bennett recently spoke at the Fordham Institute on the state of American education.
Photo by Gage Skidmore

William J. Bennett, former U.S. education secretary (and former NEH chairman, drug czar, widely published author, radio host, and political commentator) recently spoke at the Fordham Institute on the state of American education.

On the thirtieth anniversary of A Nation at Risk (watch our video retrospective on the paper here), Dr. Bennett talked about where we’ve come with NAEP scores and other indicators—with real gains in fourth grade, modest improvement in eighth, and none whatsoever in twelfth. (That’s true of other high school indicators, too.)

Bennett noted, too, that school choice has made great strides, technology is playing a promising (but as yet unfulfilled) role in education, and Americans now know the difference between teachers and teachers unions. Mostly good news—but not all. Our worst subject, he made clear, is history (U.S. history in particular), as well as civics—and offered the excellent work of E.D. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge Foundation as at least a partial solution to this acute problem.

When moderator Chester Finn asked whether the Common Core standards are good for the country (despite some federal entanglement), Bennett answered in the affirmative: “If the standards are good,...

Education Next

Michelle Rhee is, without a doubt, America’s best known education reformer. Her new autobiography, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, chronicles her upbringing as the daughter of Korean immigrants, her career trajectory from Teach For America corps member to Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and now as founder and CEO of the political advocacy group Students First.

In this installment of the Education Next book club, host Mike Petrilli talks with Michelle Rhee about becoming Michelle Rhee, what she’s learned over these last tumultuous years, and what she thinks the future holds for education reform in America.

Additional installments of the Ed Next Book Club podcast can be heard here.

This post originally appeared on the Education Next blog.

A Nation At Risk: 30 Years Later

A Nation At Risk: 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results.

Due in large part to this report, we now judge a school by whether its students are learning rather than how much money is going into it, what its programs look like, or its earnest intentions. Education reform today is serious about standards, quality, assessment, accountability and benchmarking—by school, district, state and nation. This is new since 1983 and it’s very important.

Yet we still have many miles to traverse before we sleep. Our students still need to learn far more and our schools need to become far more effective.

To recall the impact of A Nation at Risk these past three decades and to reflect on what lies ahead, watch this short retrospective developed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute: A Nation at Risk: Thirty Years Later.

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