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The Forum on the Future of Public Education draws on a network of premier scholars at the University of Illinois and beyond to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions in educational policy. The Forum pursues original research projects and facilitates collaboration between researchers and policymakers to examine the pressing issues shaping the future of public education.
Education Policy in the News is edited by Forum associates Collin Ruud, Jason Taylor, and Matthew Linick. If you have any questions or comments about the newsletter, email Dr. Debra Bragg at email@example.com
Bridge Programs Evident in Most States
Bridge programs are designed to help students transition between educational levels or from education into employment. Two- and four-year postsecondary institutions implement bridge programs for various reasons that relate to the quality of students’ previous preparation or the length of time elapsed since students were in a formal educational settings. The Office of Community College Research and Leadership’s (OCCRL) fall 2010 newsletter examines such bridge programs, and describes multiple programs that illustrate some of the variations in bridge programs that operate in Illinois and throughout the United States.
A recent national survey by the Workforce Strategy Center (WSC) reveals over 500 existing bridge programs in 47 states and Washington, D.C. Many of the bridge programs in the WSC study are intended to help adult students prepare for college and the workforce, and the programs vary by structure and goals. While bridge programs are often lauded as a vehicle to promote upward mobility for students, responses from experts on a National Journal Blog raise questions about the narrow focus of bridge programs and their position in the larger educational system. One blogger questions the value of bridge programs and suggests that the development of bridges, which are likened to a new educational system, might come at the detriment of the existing educational systems.
Historically, many bridge programs are developed at and supported by educational institutions, but recent state initiatives suggest that bridge programs are being embraced at the state level. In states such as Illinois, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, to name a few, bridge programs are being customized for different student populations. If bridge programs continue to be designed and marketed for diverse students and these programs produce positive learning outcomes, future bridge program development and implementation at both institutional and state levels is likely.
Teacher Unions May Have Busy 2012
TEACHER TENURE UP FOR DISCUSSION
In a rush to complete legislation before the end of the legislative session, a quickly-formed committee of the Illinois House of Representatives met on December 16 and 17 for a hearing that focused on issues such as teacher’s contracts and tenure reform The Catalyst reports that topics were ’Streamlining Teacher Dismissal,’ ‘Reforming Teacher Tenure,’ ‘Linking Layoffs to Performance,’ ‘Mutual Consent in Teacher Placement,’ ‘Strike Reform’ and ‘Enhanced School Report Card,’ all issues that could have a dramatic effect on Chicago Public Schools’ teacher’s union as they prepare to renegotiate their contract in 2012. Some of the proposed changes include requiring four years of experience before granting tenure (which is already enforced in most districts) and is linked to the “Performance Evaluation Act” (which has already passed). The reforms proposed also look to handicap a teacher union’s ability to strike and will remove seniority-based job security. This debate is expected to heat up greatly in coming weeks. Although the meeting did not result in final decisions being made, it did highlight the issues dividing the legislature and the teachers’ union. The union agreed that teacher evaluation and tenure need to be reformed; however, the disagreement centered around the committee members’ insistence that legislation needs to be passed within the next two weeks.
GATES STUDY ON VALUE-ADDED TEACHER EVALUATIONS SPURS DEBATE
A study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and released December 10, focused on the use of value-added teacher evaluations. This study earned immediate attention from the media, with some news outlets (The LA Times) claiming it shows that “teachers' effectiveness can be reliably estimated by gauging their students' progress on standardized tests.” However, there is much debate over the benefits and consequences of the reform of teacher evaluation systems: In a recent edition of Education Week, Steven Glazerman, Dan Goldhaber, Susanna Loeb, Douglas Staiger, Stephen Raudenbush, and Grover Whitehurst, a group of education and social researchers, contended that value-added teacher evaluations are not perfect, but make sense. This group argued that the benefits of a value-added evaluation system outweigh the consequences. However, in this same issue Rachael Gabriel and Jessica Lester, who recently conducted an analysis of the discourse that surrounds this debate, countered that the divisive effect of such a system may be more harmful than helpful: “Though teacher effectiveness seems like a rallying cry the country can unite behind, the shape of the conversations about its measurement threatens to divide us.”
DREAM Act Issue Reemerges but Fails in Senate
On December 8, 2010 in a vote of 216-198, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, was passed by the House of Representatives, but the law failed to make it to a vote in the Senate, with only 55 of the necessary 60 votes being cast to prevent filibuster. This legislation is designed to create a pathway toward citizenship for individuals who had illegally entered the United States while under the age of 16, granting citizenship upon completion of a degree or two years of military service.
Although the bill has been touted as bipartisan, and to its credit, received support in December by eight Republican Representatives, it has been considered a highly divisive issue since its re-introduction to the House in 2009 (it was originally introduced to the Senate in 2001 but never gained traction then). One dissenter of the legislation was Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who entered into a lively debate via Twitter with a number of other users over the implications of the legislation. Many of the opinions found regarding the DREAM Act, however, show the legislation in a positive light; The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has shown its support for the legislation, as have other religious leaders, the United Farm Workers union, and Hispanic groups.
For educators, the DREAM Act would have far-reaching implications. According to Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, passage of the Act could significantly increase the number of college graduates the U.S. generates, improving the nation’s economic competitiveness and getting us closer to reaching Obama’s goal of having the U.S. become the nation with the highest proportion of college-educated individuals. However, with current concerns regarding overcrowding in today’s colleges and universities (examples abound in states like California and Colorado), admitting even more individuals, particularly those who entered the country illegally, can perceivably be understood as a threat to fairness, especially if American citizens are turned away in favor of DREAM Act-assisted students.
The DREAM Act is likely to be on the forefront of issues in the 2012 election cycle. Many supporters of the bill believe that those who voted against the legislation’s passage will have a tough political battle ahead of them. Some experts believe that the failure of the DREAM Act to pass represents a “failed strategy” of Democratic leaders to find middle ground with Republicans regarding immigration reform. Since the legislation was never formally defeated in a final vote by the Senate, there is potential that it will reemerge should the political climate around immigration change.
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