Education under Trump

Democrats worried about how the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would be with student debt given that she had invested in a company that collect defaulted loans. They were right to be worried:

The U.S. Education Department late Thursday rescinded an Obama-era rule that prohibited student loan guaranty agencies from collecting jumbo fees from defaulted borrowers who quickly resume paying.

Currently, guaranty agencies — the bodies that administer federal loans made before 2010 — aren’t allowed to collect fees from borrowers who respond within 60 days to a default notice and then enter into (and honor) a repayment agreement. Those rules were put in place in July 2015.

The Obama-era rule on collection fees was linked to a court case that started in 2013, in which a borrower sued United Student Aid Funds (USA Funds) for hitting her with a $4,500 charge from a 16% collection fee. She owed $18,000 at the time her loans went into default, but she responded to USA Funds and agreed to a repayment plans.

This isn’t the final decision (they also link to the actual letter):

The two-page “Dear colleague” letter from the Trump administration walks back the department’s previous stance on the grounds that there should have been public input on the issue.

“The department will not require compliance with the interpretations set forth” in the previous memo “without providing prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on the issues,” the letter said.

I have a feeling they’re not going to be asking for any public input in the near future. This doesn’t affect loans that have been taken out recently:

The rule only applies to debt from the Federal Family Education Loan (often called FFEL loans) Program, which was phased out during Obama’s first term. The department started lending directly to student borrowers in 2010, so the rule won’t affect anyone who’s taken out loans in the past several years.

but I have a feeling that these loans directly from the Education department aren’t going to be around for much longer.

It also appears that the President might be thinking about reopening Trump University:

Less than a month after Betsy DeVos was sworn in as its top official, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday evening that it would delay until July 1 an effort to crack down on career training programs that load students up with unpayable debt.

The biggest winners: the more than 800 higher educational programs that claim to lead to “gainful employment” but flunked the department’s January excessive debt test—mostly for-profit art and cosmetology schools. These programs can now continue to recruit applicants (at least until July 1) without having to warn them about alumni’s oppressively high debt loads. The schools can also take this extra time to seek data showing that their graduates’ student loan bills are actually below the official “excessive debt” cutoff. That means bills must be no more than 12% of the average student’s gross earnings, as reported to the Social Security Administration, and no more than 30% of their discretionary income.

and:

As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Robert S. Eitel spent the past 18 months as a top lawyer for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.

Today, Mr. Eitel — on an unpaid leave of absence — is working as a special assistant to the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose department is setting out to roll back regulations governing the for-profit college sector.

It appears that the only thing the Trump administration wants to teach you is: if you’re not rich we’re going to screw you.

Only Unions pressure anyone

It’s interesting how things work when people talk about issues where unions weigh in:

Perhaps she was honestly torn. As Michael Jonas pointed out in CommonWealth magazine, the Massachusetts senator is a longtime proponent of school choice. In her 2003 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” she endorsed a system of vouchers to support attendance at any public school.

But in a statement put out on Monday, Warren said that she will be voting no on Question 2. “Many charters schools are producing extraordinary results for our students and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools,’’ she said. But, after hearing from both sides, “I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

Warren can play an important role in this debate. I only hope her decision really is about equal opportunity for all and not about caving in to union pressure.

The writer, Joan Vennochi, says:

When it comes to Question 2, you can put me down as “conflicted.” This campaign pits suburbs against urban communities and unions against business groups that despise organized labor. All supposedly in the name of “the children.”

and yet nowhere does she seem to question anybody who is voting Yes on Question 2 even though its backers will be spending millions to push it. It’s interesting how that works.

Some good news

Given the dystopia that Donald Trump paints for the current state of the US, it’s good to look at actual statistics to see what’s really happening:

  • Violence is way down from its peak in the 1990’s (although there is some sign that it might have increased a bit in the last year or so):

From 1993 to 2014, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 20.1 per 1,000.

Since 1993, the rate of property crime declined from 351.8 to 118.1 victimizations per 1,000 households.

The number of murders in New York City really drives this home: there were 2262 murders in 1990 and 352 in 2015. That is an astonishing drop.

The national teen pregnancy rate has declined almost continuously over the last two decades. The teen pregnancy rate includes pregnancies that end in a live birth, as well as those that end in abortion or miscarriage (fetal loss).* Between 1990 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), the teen pregnancy rate declined by 51 percent—from 116.9 to 57.4 pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls.

For the fourth straight year, the U.S. high school graduation rate has improved — reaching an all-time high of 82 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, the Department of Education announced Tuesday.

  • The private sector has been adding jobs for the longest stretch ever:

The White House is right about the numbers. The “longest streak” claim was true in 2014, as the Washington Post’s Fact Checker found back then, and the streak has only grown. This was the 73rd straight recorded month of private sector job growth (barring revisions).

  • Drug use is down among teens (this is from June 2016):

This year’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of drug use and attitudes among American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders continues to show encouraging news, with decreasing use of alcohol, cigarettes, and many illicit drugs over the last 5 years—many to their lowest levels since this survey’s inception; no increase in use of marijuana among teens; decreasing use of synthetic drugs; and decreasing misuse of prescription drugs. However, the survey highlighted continuing concerns over the high rate of electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use and softening of attitudes around some types of drug use, particularly a continued decrease in perceived harm of marijuana use.

For many substances, past-year use has declined to the lowest levels since the MTF survey began. This includes heroin, synthetic cannabinoids, Vicodin®, methamphetamine, amphetamines, inhalants, Ecstasy, alcohol, and cigarettes, among all ages surveyed; hallucinogens, Ritalin®, OxyContin®, bath salts, and over-the-counter cough medicines among 8th and 10th graders; cocaine among 8th and 12th graders; and prescription pain relievers (narcotics other than heroin), sedatives, and crystal methamphetamine in 12th graders (the only grade sampled for these substances). Past-year use of illicit drugs was reported by 23.6 percent of 12th graders.

There are still large problems in the US, but, in many ways, the US is in better shape than ever.

Math and the American Heritage Education Foundation

Like everyone else, I get a lot of spam in my email boxes. Sometimes they can be fun. Case in point:

Dear Teachers and Citizens,
A unique Social Studies/U.S. History reference text book is now available!
The American Heritage Education Foundation (AHEF) announces a new resource/text that reveals the connection between America’s historical founding ideas and the Bible..
The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief
By Angela E. Kamrath, American Heritage Education Foundation
This would be the group that wrote a history book for Houston strongly based on a work by W. Cleon Skousen, a far right crazy in the mold of the John Birch Society (for example, he believed Eisenhower was a Communist dupe).
It seems their mailing list is about as accurate as their history: they send an email about a high school history book to a college math teacher. Hey, maybe I’ll use it for a probability course?

The University President as CEO

The University of Iowa selected a new President. Let’s see how this has gone:

Harreld, a former IBM executive with no experience in higher education administration, had “a clear lack of faculty support,” Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan told the Iowa Board of Regents in the Sept. 2 email. Choosing him over three other candidates who were warmly received would “destroy the goodwill” with faculty leaders and prompt calls for a no-confidence vote in the regents, she warned.

A day later, the regents voted unanimously to make Harreld the school’s 21st president and gave him a five-year contract, sparking protests from faculty and staff.

Board President Bruce Rastetter has said the regents considered Harreld the best leader for the university and received feedback from the “greater Iowa community” as well as from campus.

The clear lack of support is shown in this poll which shows that 89.3, 93.1 and 98.3% of faculty members thought the other 3 candidates were qualified while 2.5% thought Harreld was qualified (4.9% of non-faculty thought he was qualified).

Well, the faculty and students will get over it, right? Not so far:

Faculty members at the University of Iowa on Tuesday voted no confidence in the statewide Board of Regents, less than a week after the regents fanned a controversy at the state’s flagship university by unanimously appointing J. Bruce Harreld as its next president.

But that’s just the faculty, what about students? Oops:

Both the UI Student Government student senate and the UI Graduate and Professional Student Government passed votes of no confidence in the board Tuesday night.

“The voice of the undergraduate student body was not seriously considered in the final selection process,” according to the UISG resolution, which stressed that undergraduate students comprise 73 percent of the UI enrollment. “The undergraduate student body has overwhelmingly expressed their discontent and frustration over the regents’ dismissal of their concerns in the selection of the new president.”

The graduate student resolution revisits the board’s vow throughout the presidential search process to value feedback from the UI community.

“However, it is clear that this ‘open’ search was truly not transparent, and the collective voices of all the constituencies at UI were not taken into account and further, actively ignored,” according to the resolution. “It is unfortunate that the board took this action in the face of such fierce and vocal opposition from the UI community.”

Well, the board will certainly be feeling meek now. Umm:

Board of Regents president Bruce Rastetter described the faculty’s vote as a sign that professors were resisting changes needed to make the school’s business practices sustainable.

“We are disappointed that some of those stakeholders have decided to embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

That would be this Rastetter:

Bruce Rastetter, an agribusiness mogul who’s made a fortune in pork, ethanol and farm real estate, has long worked behind the scenes to help bankroll conservatives across the country, but Saturday is a public coming out party of sorts for Rastetter as he hosts the first-ever Iowa Agriculture Summit. It’s an event designed to promote farm policy in a state where pigs outnumber voters 10 to one, but it’s also a bold display of the political power Rastetter has amassed — and a reminder to candidates that his endorsement would be a big get ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

I worry very much about what such a person means by “opportunities for the future” and it seems most of the students and faculty at the University of Iowa agree.

Teacher shortages

Hmm, it seems there’s a shortage of teachers:

Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.

I wonder why?

But educators say that during the recession and its aftermath prospective teachers became wary of accumulating debt or training for jobs that might not exist. As the economy has recovered, college graduates have more employment options with better pay and a more glamorous image, like in a rebounding technology sector.

And perhaps sentiment like this which is seen to some degree in all the Republican candidates for president?

Anybody who has followed the career of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knows that he has an anger management issue when it comes to teachers and their unions. The antipathy was evident on Sunday, when he was asked by CNN host Jake Tapper who deserves to be punched in the face. Christie responded, “Oh, the national teachers union, who has already endorsed Hillary Clinton 16, 17 months before the election.”

The linked article has an article by a long-time teacher who notes (bold added):

No doubt Christie’s spin doctors will be out today declaring that he has no animus toward teachers, just teachers unions. Christie, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo and others seem to forget that a teachers union is made up of teachers and that while individual teachers may not agree with every action of their unions, those unions represent the desires and aspirations of millions of hard-working teachers across the country — imperfectly perhaps, but emphatically for the better of teachers and children and public education overall.

Kansas, with its gung-ho Republican governor, is the nation in microcosm:

Teachers can’t hotfoot it out of Kansas fast enough, creating a substantial shortage expected only to get much worse. Why?

Well, there’s the low pay. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average teaching salary in 2012-2013 (the latest year for which data were available, in constant 2012-2013 dollars), was $47,464, lower than the pay in all but seven states (Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and West Virginia), though not by much in most of them.

Last year, job protections were cut by state lawmakers, who have also sought to reduce collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

Then there’s the severe underfunding for public education by the administration of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, so much of a problem that some school districts closed early this past school year because they didn’t have the cash to keep operating. This story by Huffington Post, quoted Tim Hallacy, superintendent of Silver Lake Schools, as saying:

“I find it increasingly difficult to convince young people that education is a profession worth considering, and I have some veterans who think about leaving. In the next three years I think we’ll have maybe the worst teacher shortage in the country — I think most of that is self-inflicted.”

Gee, if you continually insult teachers and don’t pay them enough, people are less likely to want to become teachers. How could anyone have predicted?

We don’t like the details, so there are none

This is an interesting statement:

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is calling for zero tuition at public colleges. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley says he will fight to erase debt for college graduates. Hillary Rodham Clinton, at a recent campaign event in Iowa, endorsed the goal of slashing such debt.

Promises to reduce, or even eliminate, the financial burdens of higher education represent the newest frontier in Democrats’ call for taxpayer-sponsored social programs. The anxiety-inducing $1.3 trillion in student debt has quickly become a focus of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary contest.

But while the concept is attracting attention from financially challenged middle-class families, details are scarce on how government should pay for potentially the costliest initiatives since President Obama’s health care overhaul.

it’s interesting because here’s the very next paragraph:

The one concrete source of funding comes from Sanders, who proposes a new tax on Wall Street transactions. While that idea draws cheers from his populist fan base, it would be a political long shot for passage in today’s Washington.

Sanders also has produced the only guess at the huge costs: three quarters of a trillion dollars over the first decade.

So, details for paying for it and its cost are scarce … except for the main person advocating for it. We also get this:

“This is a politically popular idea, but the solutions are hard and expensive,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a nonpartisan policy and lobbying group in Washington for colleges and universities. “How you pay for it very quickly becomes a seriously complicating issue.”

This is national healthcare all over again: we can’t figure out how to do what other countries do:

That’s right, Germany will allow US citizens to go to college tuition free, but there’s no way the US can afford to do it.

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