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New Report Examines High Cost of School Discipline in Budget-Stressed Texas Districts

The Austin-based advocacy organization Texas Appleseed recently released a report examining the financial impact on several Texas school districts of using exclusionary discipline techniques, including expulsions, out-of-school suspensions and alternative education program referrals.

The findings in “Breaking Rules, Breaking Budgets: Cost of Exclusionary Discipline in 11 Texas School Districts” stem from an evaluation of about 25 percent of the state’s 4 million public school students. According to researchers, the total “cost of discipline” for the 11 school districts studied resulted in a combined $140 million in expenditures from 2010 to 2011. The combined cost includes a number of factors, including the cost of operating alternative education campuses, security and monitoring expenses and overall lost state funding due to out-of-school suspensions.

Researchers said that budgetary constrictions - including a recent $5.4 billion cut to the state’s public education budget - means Texas school districts will have to be more strategic in selecting effective, evidence-based programs to improve student outcomes.

The report suggests that school districts seek out alternatives to exclusionary discipline techniques, instead limiting out-of-school suspensions to only “the most egregious acts of misbehavior,” promoting training for teachers to better manage classrooms, and making better evaluations of school policing, monitoring and security services. The authors of the report also recommend a special emphasis on evidence-based programming.

“Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Social and Emotional Learning and Restorative Justice are evidence-based, cost effective approaches shown to improve student behavior and academic success,” the report reads. “Given the poor outcomes and high costs associated with exclusionary discipline, it is critical that school districts implement alternatives that result in better student outcomes.”

Photo from the “Breaking Rules, Breaking Budgets: Cost of Exclusionary Discipline in 11 Texas School Districts” report by Texas Appleseed

UPDATE: Contempt Charges Dropped Against Texas Honor Student Diane Tran

Honor student Diane Tran, 17, was arrested and sentenced to 24 hours in jail and $100 dollar fine. Photo: CNN
Honor student Diane Tran, 17, was arrested and sentenced to 24 hours in jail and $100 dollar fine by a Texs judge. Photo: CNN

UPDATE, MAY 31: Following an intense public backlash, Texas Judge Lanny Moriarty dismissed contempt charges Wednesday against Diane Tran - a 17-year-old high school student punished last week for truancy.

Tran, an 11th grade student at the Houston-area Willis High School, spent 24 hours in a Montgomery County jail last week and was ordered to pay a $100 fine for excessive truancy, Houston’s KHOU-11 reports. Under Texas law, students are allowed to miss no more than 10 class days during a six-month window; reportedly, Tran had missed 18 days for that school year.

Following her parents’ separation, Tran has been financially supporting her siblings, working full time at a dry cleaning operation and performing part-time work as a wedding planner. Considered a legal adult under state law, Tran was warned about her absences - considered a misdemeanor offense within the state - by a judge in April.

Shortly after the news broke, Tran’s case became an Internet phenomenon, with numerous sites and organizations starting fundraisers and circulating petitions in support of the 17-year-old, according to the Huffington Post. One petition, on the site Change.org, has amassed more than 250,000 signatures. The site HelpDianeTran.com, a project started by the Louisiana Children’s Education Alliance, raised more than $100,000 in little under a week for a trust account in Tran’s name.

By signing the order, Judge Moriarity drops all contempt charges against Tran, who now can have her record expunged following the completion of proper paperwork.

May 26: A 17-year-old honor student was sentenced to 24-hours in jail and a $100 fine by a Montgomery County, Texas judge for missing too many classes, CBS Atlanta reports.

Judge Lanny Moriarty told CBS Atlanta he wanted to make an example of Diane Tran, saying "If you let one run loose, what are you gonna' do with the rest of 'em?"

Tran works two jobs in addition to taking advanced-level classes in an effort support herself and her younger sister after her parents split and left the teens to, basically, fend for themselves, she told CBS.

The full report and video interview are available on CBSAtlanta.com.

 

Pell Grant Cuts Begin in Summer School

Financial Aid office, Kennesaw State University. Photo: Clay Duda/JJIE

It might make for a more leisurely summer, but Kennesaw State University student Steven Welch didn’t dump college courses to have more free time. He did it because he couldn’t afford the cost.

Welch, 24, had to make the move because he no longer qualified for a Pell Grant to cover the cost of summer tuition.

Restrictions on the grant program, long used to help low-income and some middle-class students stem the cost of higher education, were enacted by Congress last year -- but students are feeling the impact for the first time this summer as the changes are implemented across the country.

Before this summer, students could use more than the allotted $5,550 per year to help cover the cost of tuition and other school related expenses. Now, however, Congress has mandated that a student may not exceed a total of $5,550 per academic year, among other updates to the program.

The changes for many students come at a particularly harsh time, when student debt is at record levels and the number of students eligible for Pell assistance based on financial need is on the rise.

“I’m only taking two summer classes instead of four, and I’m paying out of pocket,” Welch said.

“Having the Pell Grant has been good,” he said, noting that it saved him from having to take out additional student loans to finance his college career. “Not everyone can pay out-of-pocket or don’t have good enough credit to get student loans, so it helps those in need.”

Amended from previous financial aid legislation and established in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, the federally ran Pell Grant program has long offered assistance to students pursuing an undergraduate degree at public and private colleges across the United States without the obligation of repayment after graduation.

The percentage of college-aged students receiving the grant has increased in recent years, up to 35 percent during the 2010-2011 school year compared with 20 percent a decade earlier, according to Education Department reports.

Kennesaw State University sophomore Dennys Rosales, 19, checks with the Financial Aid Office to see if his summer tuition will still be covered by the Pell Grant.
Kennesaw State University sophomore Dennys Rosales, 19, (left) checks with the Financial Aid Office to see if his summer tuition will still be covered by the Pell Grant.

The program has also faced a number of challenges in the past few years. Operating costs have more than more than doubled since the start of the recession – from a little more than $16 billion during the 2008-2009 academic year, to about $36 billion in 2011 – due in large part to an influx of qualified, lower-income students.

The maximum yearly award has also grown under President Barack Obama from $4,731 to $5,550, yet the skyrocketing costs of tuition has left the largest gap ever between the price of attending college and the amount covered by the Pell Grant. For the 2010-2011 academic year, the Pell covered an average of 32 percent of tuition costs, compared to 72 percent of costs in 1976.

“Even with the grant program [students] are still left with a bill that’s more than half their costs at a public university,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial aid and scholarship resource sites FinAid.org and FastWeb.com.

Students receiving 100 percent of their yearly Pell allocation during the fall and spring semesters, but who still want to attend summer courses, will be forced to find another way to fund those classes, drop summer classes and stay in school longer, or ration Pell money awarded earlier in the year.

“The other options are basically student loans,” said Timothy Opgenorth, Director of Financial Aid at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Even in Illinois the state grants are only good for the fall and spring terms.”

Opgenorth expects to see at least some decline in student enrollment this summer due to the new Pell restrictions, he said.

“Obviously, being in financial aid, we want to see all students be able to go to school,” said Opgenorth, pointing out that about 50 percent of undergraduate students at UIC received some level of Pell funding in the past year. “The less financial aid funding available - whether that’s grants or that’s loans - makes it tough for low income families [to afford the costs of college].”

The changes also cut the maximum amount of Pell grant money students can receive in their lifetime by a third, and exclude undergraduate students who receive a bachelor’s degree prior to hitting their lifetime maximum.

The new lifetime award for Pell recipients has been capped at 12 semesters, or 600 percent of the annual maximum pay out, whichever comes first. The lifetime limit is down from 18 semesters, or 900 percent, during the 2011-12 academic year.

And the effects are retro active, impacting students who may have received any Pell funding since the program was started in the early 1970s. For an estimated 2 million students that means they no longer qualify for Pell Grant money this fall, regardless of when they received their first slice of funding from the program.

The Pell Grant has always been dedicated to helping finance undergraduate degrees, but in years past students had the option to apply for Pell funding if they returned post-graduation to pursue another undergraduate degree or to take additional classes – but not graduate school.

For some, like 23-year-old KSU student Careese Stephens, that change means staying in school longer.

Stephens, a psychology major and medical school hopeful, postponed her own graduation in an effort to hold onto financial aid while taking required pre-med classes that were not part of her major.

The Department of Education, which tracks the Pell Grant process and student eligibility, began sending e-mail notifications in April to students who no longer qualified or are nearing their lifetime maximum for the grant.

“It’s frustrating,” Stephens said. “I had everything planned out, and then I got that e-mail. It’s forcing me to look at options I otherwise wouldn’t need to.”

 

Budget Battle

Back on Capitol Hill, the battle over financial aid funding continues to warm as both sides push budget proposals for 2013, and grapple with a national deficit now equal to the nation’s economy (or 100 percent of GDP).

“Right now, the Pell Grant program is still facing a budget shortfall,” said Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org. “We’re in a situation where more money for one form of financial aid may mean less money for another form of financial aid.”

Under President Obama’s proposed budget, yearly Pell Grant awards would increase to $5,635 next year to mirror inflation, but a $7 billion projected shortfall for the program still lingers for 2014.

As an alternative, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called Ryan budget, a proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), calling for additional cuts to student financial aid and other spending in an effort to help reel in a federal deficit expanding faster than the economy.

In a budget hearing last month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Ryan’s budget would have a “devastating impact on higher education.”

“It would cut almost $3 billion from Pell aid to students in 2013, eliminating almost 400,000 recipients, and reducing the awards of 9.3 million others,” Duncan said at the meeting. “It would also hurt borrowers and students at a time when average student loan debt for a graduating senior is already more than $25,000.”

The Ryan plan calls for a freeze on maximum Pell awards at $5,550, a yet-to-be-determined family income cap and the exclusion on many part-time students taking just one or two courses each year. It would also have Pell funding come up for annual review, leaving some funding advocates worried the program could face another round of cuts in the near future.

‘Drop Out Factories’ Decline, Nation Pushes for Graduation Benchmark

Drop out factories.

Since coined by a Johns Hopkins researcher working on high school dropout issues in 2004, that’s the name given to schools that lead our nation in dropout rates, graduating less than 60 percent of their students each year.

Around the country, half of the more than 1 million students that fail to graduate high school each year come from just 12 percent of the nation’s schools, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.

President Barack Obama, retired General Colin Powell and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among others, have taken notice.

Since 1980, dropout rates around the United States have decreased – and graduation rates are up – but nearly one in four public school students still leave high school without a diploma. Broken down demographically, the chances of graduation can be even slimmer.

“Right now, 25 percent of all of our youngsters and 40 percent of our minority youngsters are not finishing high school with their peers,” General Powell said in the introduction to an annual report aimed at tracking the progress and challenges of ending the so-called dropout epidemic.

“This lack of high-quality education has dramatic consequences for individuals, society, the economy, and even our national security,” he said. “We cannot afford excuses.”

It’s an issue that, in 2009, drove President Obama to announce the Civic Marshall Plan – an ambitious, sweeping education plan to increase the country’s graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and elevate America to be the world leader in college placement.

Named after former Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s massive effort to transform war-torn Europe after World War II, it is nothing short of a vision to transform our nation’s educational system. To reach the first lofty goal, the nation’s graduation rate needs to improve 1.5 percent every year for the next decade.

So far only Wisconsin has hit the 90 percent benchmark, with Vermont, and a handful of others, not far behind.

Nationally, graduation rates have improved in the past decade, but not in every state. Ten states have witnessed a decline in graduation rates since 2001, according to the updated Building a Grad Nation report Powell introduced. Others still lag far behind.

At least eight states, predominantly in the South, still have graduation rates below 70 percent and hold some of the highest concentrations of drop out factories, according to the most recent Department of Education data.

The number of these drop out factory schools and the students attending them has continued to decrease over the past decade, with suburban and communities in the South seeing the most significant reduction. In more recent years, some urban areas have shown accelerated rates of improvement, but to meet the goals set by the Civic Marshall Plan there’s still much to be done, the report said.

The majority of drop out factories are located in poor urban and rural communities, predominantly in northern and western cities and communities throughout the South, according to a 2004 John Hopkins report.

This week, Secretary Duncan joined the leaders of City Year -- a non-profit dedicated to working with students around the country most at-risk of dropping out -- to announce the launch of a 10-year strategy that, they hope, will leverage the energy of the nation’s youth and provide a road map to urban graduation improvements in some of the nation’s most struggling communities.

“City Year proves that poverty is not destiny,” Secretary Duncan said at the announcement of the program in Washington. “Their work with children in struggling communities is providing the support needed to encourage and help students stay in school and be successful.”

They’re calling it the Urban Graduation Pipeline and, with the support of a $10 million pledge from long-time City Year supporters Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine, will begin to expand their work to more than 1,000 urban schools and 900,000 students at-risk of dropping out.

“We know if you move students to the 10th grade on time and on track they’re four times more likely to graduate high school on time,” said Shaun Adamec, vice president of communications with City Year. “So our strategy is to move students toward that benchmark so they can contribute to that 90 percent goal.”

The goal is a “continuum of support” for students in grades three through nine to keep them on track for graduation. City Year hopes to bring graduation rates in targeted schools up to more than 80 percent in the coming decade, graduating double the number of students in some schools.

At-risk students will get multiple years of intervention and support in school from City Year AmeriCorps staffers to improve attendance rates, develop positive social and emotional behaviors, and elevate academic performance.

“We are launching a Long-Term Impact strategy, which harnesses the talent and energy of City Year’s young leaders as a breakthrough solution for struggling urban schools,” City Year President Jim Balfanz said in an e-mail announcing the project. “Inspired by a vanguard of high-performing, high-poverty schools that have demonstrated success is possible, we believe national service is a new human capital strategy to advance proven reform strategies and directly support the students who need it most.”

City Year AmeriCorps members, college graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 who commit to a year of full-time service, work hand-in-hand with school administrators and teachers to identify the most at-risk students, place them on focus lists to track progress and dedicate time during the school day to work with the students one-on-one and in small groups.

“What makes it so unique is that they’re near-peer,” Adamec said. “The Corps members – simply because of their age, their energy and their idealism – can form a bond with the students in the school that others may not be able to.

“Because they’re able to get to the central reason of why students are getting in trouble, they are able to refer it up the chain of command and help that student out,” he said.

The announcement comes at a time when City Year has seen a groundswell of support from idealistic young professionals stepping forward to serve. Last year, the organization received half a million applications for just 80,000 positions, according to the Corporation for National Community Service.

Already operating in 23 cities around the United States, the Urban Graduation Pipeline expansion will soon place the organization in cities that account for two-thirds of the nation’s dropouts.

Ultimately, City Year is one of more than two dozen groups and non-profits committed to helping make the Civic Marshall Plan a reality.

Photo by Clay Duda | JJIE.org

Higher Education Must Be Kept Affordable, Biden Says

Vice President BidenFollowing the defeat by Senate Republicans of a bill that would have prevented student loan interest rates from doubling July 1,  Vice President Biden addressed students and representatives from higher education and youth-service organizations about the importance of keeping college affordable and accessible. His remarks were preceded by a panel discussion with policy experts from the Domestic Policy Council, the Department of Education and the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

Update:

This morning, Biden talked about how it is a “gigantic priority” for the President and his administration to make higher education affordable and to prevent interest loans from doubling on July 1 of this year.

He began by expressing how much he and the President appreciate people for participating in “this critical debate.” He called making higher education affordable his passion and his hobbyhorse, saying that the first bill he ever introduced helped more people qualify for Stafford loans.

He then talked about his “typical middle class life” growing up and how his dad was so ashamed when he couldn’t get a loan to send his son to college.

“Millions of your moms and dads—millions of people you know—have had their pride stripped from them,” Biden said.

A few accomplishments under the Obama administration related to higher education include increasing the numbers of people eligible for Pell Grants from six million to nine million kids in two years and helping families by providing a tax credit for every kid in school. He said they are fighting to extend the tax credit, and they want to double the number of work-study jobs available to students.

There is no higher priority than us becoming the best-educated country in the world, he said, after expressing bafflement that people couldn’t agree on this.

“This is about restoring the dream of the middle class for which the whole country benefits,” he said. “With your help, I’m confident we’re going to be able to keep interest rates from doubling. We need you very badly.”

To help, he asked people to make a commitment to redouble their efforts, to call or email members of Congress, to tweet with the hashtag #DontDoubleMyRate and to not give up until Congress sends the President a bill that doesn’t double interest rates and cost students over $1,000 more per year.

“You’re an incredible generation,” he said. “The most incredible group we’ve ever produced.”

He then reiterated the importance of college affordability to becoming a better nation.

Performance-Based Scholarships May Improve Academic Progress of College Students

MDRCA new policy brief states that performance-based scholarships – financial aid incentives allotted to students based upon one’s ability to achieve certain academic benchmarks – may serve as a catalyst for both improved grades and greater odds of finishing college, especially for low-income students.

The brief, Performance-Based Scholarships: Emerging Findings from a National Demonstration issued by the Manpower Demonstration Research Center (MDRC) was published earlier this month. The policy brief examines the effects of performance-based scholarships on students in select colleges in, among other states, New York, California and Florida, with the authors saying that their findings seem to indicate a slight, yet positive impact on the academic progress of students enrolled in such financial assistance programs.

In 2009, an MDRC report on Louisiana’s Opening Doors program exhibited improved grades, higher credit accumulation levels and greater likelihoods of retention for several college students that were enrolled in the performance-based scholarship program. A year earlier, MDRC began a six-state study, the Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration, to gauge the overall effectiveness of scholarship programs contingent upon ongoing student academic progress.

Although the authors say that the preliminary findings for the six states surveyed for the brief were not as pronounced as the Louisiana data, they still noted that performance-based scholarship programs resulted in several statistically-significant influences for students, including an increase in credits earned and an increase in students’ abilities to meet end-of-term benchmarks during program terms.

MDRC research on the impact of performance-based scholarships will continue until December 2014. The organization plans on releasing several studies, including a full implementation report, once the project officially concludes.

Want Fries with That? Only if it’s Regulated

school vending machine

Care for a fizzy soda pop with that lunch room meal? How about a thick slice of pizza to add to that loaded-up cafeteria tray? Want a bag of chips or fries with that?

Chances are, many public school kids would say yes to any of the above. It might not be a healthy choice, but rest assured, these foods are served widely in school cafeterias. Unlike other food served in public schools, these goodies – soda, pizza, fries, salty snacks, the items you might find in the a la carte line or in vending machines -- are not subject to the same nutritional regulations.

That is set to change with the introduction of updated federal standards that could be in place by next year.

It is a move that, according to one poll at least, has broad support among the public.

The poll, part of a project called the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project – a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – found that some 80 percent of those polled want standards regulating the calorie, fat and sodium content in these foods served to kids at school.

In the coming months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to introduce updated nutritional standards for these foods that are not part of the federal school meal programs.

“Today many children get more than half their calories during the school day,” said Jessica Donze Black, registered dietitian and Project Director at the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project. “What these new standards will do is set a baseline for nutrition in school so that parents can feel confident that when they send their children to school the options available to them there are as healthy as foods available to them in other environments.”

Such items are often called “competitive foods” because they compete for student spending against more heavily regulated federal school meal programs. In January 2012, the USDA issued new nutritional standards for school meals, but the standards that govern the nutritional value of “competitive foods” are more than three decades old.

Despite national attention on the issue of childhood obesity, student’s access to snack food and beverages has increased over the past decade. The availability of vending machines in middle schools, for example, has more than doubled since the 1990s, the USDA reported.

On a typical school day, about 40 percent of students consume snack food or beverages available on campus, according to the USDA. Such foods were often unhealthy due to high levels of fat, sodium and calories, data from Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found.

Interestingly, the call for increased nutritional standards is largely bipartisan with 89 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans agreeing on the issue.

The USDA will accept public comments on the proposed regulations for 90 days following their release, with the final standards for snack foods and beverages expected to go into effect in the fall of 2013.

Clay Duda and John Fleming contributed to this article. Stock photo credit: Clay Duda/JJIE

Nationwide Funding for State Pre-K Programs Lowest in a Decade, Report Finds

For decades, study after study have shown that children who attend pre-kindergarten programs are better prepared for the rest of their education, beginning in kindergarten and lasting all the way to college. They perform better on tests, repeat grades less often and need less special education than kids who did not attend pre-k regardless of socioeconomic status, according to research by The Pew Center on the States.

But funding for pre-k programs across the country is steadily declining. In fact, a new report released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Brunswick, N.J. campus of Rutgers University, finds most states aren’t even giving their pre-k programs enough cash to maintain quality standards and calling the “overall picture” of pre-k education “dim.”

The report, “The State of Preschool 2011 Yearbook,” ranks the states on their funding of pre-k programs and their availability to children using 10 benchmarks of quality pre-k standards. Only five state programs met all of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks. The rest are struggling to find balance as significant cuts in funding, coupled with continuing growth in enrollment are preventing them from providing high-quality pre-k education. Nationwide, NIEER found, spending for state pre-k programs has dropped more than $700 per child over the last 10 years. In the 2010-2011 school year alone, per child spending plummeted $145. The national average spent per child was $4,151, with some states spending as much as $8,000 per child and others as little as $2,000.

“Parents would be outraged if we had such low expectations for the first grade or kindergarten,” said Steve Barnett, director of NIEER, in a press release. “As economic conditions improve, states need to provide more adequate funding, step up quality, and make pre-k available to all children.”

During the 2010-2011 school year, more than 1.3 million children attended pre-k, most between the ages of 3 and 4, according to the report. Twenty eight percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded pre-k program.

A September 2011 Pew report titled “Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future” noted “dramatic” results for school districts that have integrated pre-k into the public education system. Nine years after adding a pre-k program, one Kentucky school district was forced to increase standards for children graduating from kindergarten because many former pre-k students were satisfying first-grade entry requirements halfway through kindergarten, the report said.

Originally thought of as a childcare solution for working parents, the Pew report says, pre-k has evolved over the last decade into a valuable education experience for children aged 3 to 4. And pre-k’s educational success may be due to a focus that includes not only traditional academic studies such as literacy and math, but also so-called soft skills.

“These [soft skills],” the report says, “include social-emotional abilities (e.g., working well with peers and in group settings and negotiating conflicts), approaches to learning (e.g., persisting through challenges and directing one’s own learning) and executive functions (e.g., focusing on tasks and controlling one’s own feelings, behaviors and thoughts).”

While soft skills represent important social skills for children, Pew says they also provide a strong foundation for early reading and math aptitude, are an important predictor of later academic achievement and are associated with adult wellbeing.

The report by NIEER grading states’ pre-k programs included some good news for advocates of early learning, as some states met nine or more NIEER benchmarks during the 2010-2011 school year, despite the national trend defunding pre-k. In total, 11 states met nine benchmarks and five met all 10, a record for the annually produced study.

Alabama is one of the states meeting all of NIEER’s quality benchmarks, outperforming the state’s K-12 public education system that routinely falls near the bottom of many national rankings of math, science and reading education. The pre-k program, known as First Class, is maintaining high quality standards despite receiving funding cuts in recent years.

The difference between pre-k and K-12 is the size of the program, says Jan Hume, the director of Alabama’s Office of School Readiness, the department administering the state-funded pre-k program. First Class is smaller and able to stretch its funding further.

“With a smaller population we can focus on quality,” Hume said.

Limited resources have slowed the program’s growth. But Hume wants to see the program become available for all 4-year-olds in Alabama.

“We’re excited about quality,” she said, “but the question becomes, how do we touch more children and maintain the same quality with the resources we have?”

The remaining states meeting all 10 benchmarks were Alaska, Georgia, North Carolina and Rhode Island.

At the bottom of the list, however, was Ohio, a state meeting only two of the benchmarks, followed closely by California and Florida, both of which met three. Texas and Vermont each met four.

Arizona became the first state with no pre-k program after recession-fueled budget shortfalls lead to the program’s defunding.

In order to regain much of the quality lost from defunding pre-k nationwide, NIEER recommends states consider the programs long-term priorities rather than year-to-year funding decisions, allowing lawmakers to “plan for it just as they do for other long-term priorities such as major infrastructure projects.”

Photo by Pam Brophy

A Look Inside Atlanta Public Schools [INFOGRAPHIC]

INFOGRAPHIC: a look inside Atlanta Public Schools. --CLICK TO VIEW--When the U.S. Department of Education released the latest installment of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), statistics covering the 2009-10 academic school year, last week it made headlines around the country.

The CRDC represents a wealth of information from just about every corner of our country’s educational landscape. The report also shined some light on a number of gaps in educational opportunity and discipline on a national scale. Every state, school, district and county with a public school system is in there with detailed numbers attached.

The Office of Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Education, has been collecting CRDC information since 1968 to help identify gaps, disparities and trends in educational achievement and opportunities. The work was suspended briefly in 2006 under then President George W. Bush, but was reinstated and expanded by President Obama last year — collecting data for the first time on things such as law enforcement referrals for students.

“For the first time we have an incredible new source of data that tells us where opportunity gaps are in ways we’ve never seen before as a country,” Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, said in a telephone briefing with reporters last week following the release of the first installment of the new CRDC data. “In recent years we have more data than ever before on identifying the achievement gap and where it exists.”

The New York Times and other media outlets have done some great and extensive reporting on national trends in discipline and opportunity gaps that surfaced from the data. Among the findings:

  • Black students were more than three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
  • More than 70 percent of students in school-related arrests were black or Hispanic.
  • Black and Hispanic students account for 44 percent of the students covered in the survey, but only account for 26 percent of students enrolled in gifted or talented programs.
  • On average, teachers at high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less annually than their colleagues in other schools.

But one of the biggest benefits of this collection is the ability to drill down to any level, for any district, for any school, anywhere in the nation. Since the JJIE is located in metro Atlanta, we decided to take a look at the Atlanta Public School (APS) system.

Examining the data for the City of Atlanta, a number of the national trends seem to hold true. The percentage of black students suspended or expelled was high compared to the number in the school system, and black enrollment in gifted or talented programs was disproportionately low.

At first glance a handfull of findings from the self-reported data stick out. For example, the average teacher salary of $94,000 seems strikingly high. A look at six counties surrounding the APS district shows a wide range in average salaries:

  • Atlanta - $94,058.90
  • Cobb – $48,372.50
  • DeKalb – $82,488.50
  • Fulton (non-APS) – $38,759.80
  • Gwinnett – $45, 680.30
  • Clayton – $81,138.60
  • Douglas – $125,846.00

But looking at the salary averages across districts can be misleading if you fail to dig into the reporting behind it, Department of Education spokesperson David Thomas said.

"Many comparisons are possible with the CRDC school-level expenditure data, particularly within-district comparisons," Thomas said in an e-mail. "However, data users must analyze the data between states and districts with caution due to variations in the district-selected inclusions and exclusions."

These inclusions and exclusions account  for the wide range of reported average salaries in the Atlanta area.  Here's a breakdown Thomas provided to help clarify:

Breakdown of average teacher reporting inclusions and exclusions for 2009 CRDC data, metro Atlanta.

The new database has only been live for about a week and a number of features – including the ability to easily track trends over the years of available data – are still in the works. If you want to see how your own school or district measures up, visit http://ocrdata.ed.gov/

Here’s a round up of Atlanta Public School statistics from the CRDC 2009:

 

INFOGRAPHIC: a look inside Atlanta Public Schools. CRDC data, 2009.

 

This infographic was originally published on ClayDuda.com.

Student Advocates Raise Concerns over Pending Student Loan Interest Rate Increase

Past due student loan balance by age. Q3, 2011. Student advocates worry that a pending interest rate increase on federally-administered student loans will further burden borrowers, potentially adding thousands of dollars to the cost of financing a college degree. Student loan interest rates are set to increase from the current rate of 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent for loans made after June 30.

Rates have been at an artificially low 3.4 percent since Congress pasted the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, a plan to improve educational access by incrementally reducing rates over a four-year period. The rates will jump back to 6.8 percent July 1 if Congress fails to extend the bill, the New York Times reported.

Students rallied at the nation’s Capitol last week to protest the increase in subsidized loans, generally made to low- and medium- income undergraduate students through the federal Stafford program, the Associated Press reported.

To add to concerns, a recent study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed 27 percent of the 37 million student loan borrowers in the United States had past-due balances of 30 days or more. Of borrowers under the age of 30, roughly 40 percent had outstanding loans, with an average debt of slightly more than $23,000.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FInaid.org, told New York Times in an e-mail that the rate increase was actually “the lesser of two evils,” citing cuts to the federal Pell Grant program. The government actually looses money offering interest rates of 3.4 percent, he said.

Even if the interest rate is increased, it’s unclear whether or not additional funding would be made available for the Pell Grant program.