Forum Research Topics
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
“Research” Continuously Cited by Politicians
In recent months the media (and politicians) have turned their focus to the debate over school choice; “Waiting for ‘Superman’”, “Race to the Top”, and the Rhee, Klein Manifesto all support the expansion of charter schools throughout the United States. As media outlets continue coverage of this issue, school choice has become a hotter topic amongst politicians. Included in the political discourse about charter schools is the accuracy of references to empirical evidence, and one claim that keeps surfacing is that teacher quality is the most important factor in determining a student’s success. A few examples include:
Michelle Rhee (Former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools): “As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents' income -- it is the quality of their teacher.”
Gary Chico (Chicago Mayoral Candidate): “Research shows that the most important influence on a student’s achievement is a high-quality teacher.”
Mitch Daniels (Indiana Governor): “Teacher quality has been found to be twenty times more important than any other factor, including poverty, in determining which kids succeed. Class size, by comparison, is virtually meaningless…. Put a great teacher in front of a large class, and you can expect good results. Put a poor teacher in front of a small class, do not expect the kids to learn.”
One must ask: what research?
According to Kevin G. Welner, professor of education policy and program evaluation in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and director of the National Education Policy Center, research does not support this claim. He states: “While no researcher could offer precise numbers, regression models tend to attribute a far greater role to out-of-school factors such as parental educational level and family income.”
Valerie Strauss, education reporter for the Washington Post, echoes this sentiment by calling such quotes “Wrong. Research actually shows that the home life of students is the single biggest determinant of school achievement. School chiefs can ignore it all they want, but that doesn’t change the facts.”
Many of those making the claim that teacher quality as the most influential factor cite President Obama as making this statement, but why would the President make such a far-reaching claim?
In fact, he didn’t. The oft misconstrued quote from the President’s July 29th, 2010 speech actually indicates that teacher quality is the most important factor after the student enters the school. While speaking about the “Race to the Top” competition, the President stated: “The whole premise of Race to the Top is that teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s education from the moment they step into the classroom. And I know firsthand that the vast majority of teachers are working tirelessly, are passionate about their students, are often digging into their own pockets for basic supplies, are going above and beyond the call of duty.”
Research on this topic stretches back to 1966 with the release of the “Equality of Educational Opportunity Study,” also known as “the Coleman Report,” which discussed the importance of non-school factors in academic achievement. However, teacher quality is not the only subject on the educational reform agenda. Evidence-based decision making has been the center of many campaign promises, but reforms and research must be put into the proper context (just like quotations).
The Charter School Experiment Symposium
The Forum on the Future of Public Education is sponsoring a symposium on The Charter School Experiment: Expectations, Evidence, and Implications, Harvard Education Press, 2010, edited by Christopher Lubienski, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Peter Weitzel, University of Illinois at Springfield. The symposium features a presentation of the book’s main themes and conclusions by the editors as well as presentations of select chapters by contributing authors Gary Miron, Western Michigan University, and Janelle Scott, University of California, Berkeley. Following author presentations, panelists will respond offering alternative perspectives on charter schools. Panelists are Pauline Lipman, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Greg Richmond, National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Adequate time will remain at the conclusion of the symposium for a Q&A session with the audience.
The symposium is on March 15, 2011 from 1:00pm-3:00pm at the Illini Center in Chicago, IL (200 S. Wacker Drive). The event will begin with a box lunch at 12:00pm, and Dean Mary Kalantzis of the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will introduce the speakers and panelists at 1:00pm. The symposium will be moderated by Debra Bragg, Professor and Director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education.
“Gainful Employment” Debate Continues for For-Profit Colleges
On June 18, 2010, the Department of Education released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding for-profit and proprietary colleges. Specifically, the NPRM laid out guidelines surrounding federal aid to postsecondary institutions based on the debt that graduates accrue and their achievement of “gainful employment,” a term that is getting much scrutiny from supporters of for-profit education and others.
See the full proposed regulations here.
Among the regulations proposed by the NPRM are the so-called gainful employment regulations:
- Academic programs will be sorted into eligible, restricted, and ineligible based on both the debts graduates have accrued and their repayment rates on the debts. According to a chart at the Department website, programs will be ineligible for federal funding if the debt burden of students exceeds 12% of total income and 30% of discretionary income, and graduates cannot repay more than 35% of the accrued principal annually.
- Programs marked as restricted or ineligible will be required to disclose warnings to prospective students regarding the high debt-to-earnings ratio their graduates have experienced, in order to allow prospective students to make an informed decision.
- Restricted programs will have clearly-set limits on enrollment growth in order to maintain federal funding.
The regulations are set to take effect on July 2, 2012. According to a New York Times story, the proposed changes would effectively shut down five percent of the nation’s for-profit institutions.
For-profit institutions are, expectedly, fighting back. In a Chronicle of Higher Education article from September 2010, for-profit colleges reportedly have spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress and federal agencies, nearly doubling their lobbying expenditures over the past year. In January 2011, a group supportive of the regulations fired back with a 30-second advertisement spot on Fox News and MSNBC. Some of the lobbying against proposed regulations seems to be working. The political shifts from the 2010 elections has bettered the chances of for-profit institutions to see a “showdown” regarding what regulations should look like for for-profit institutions. The for-profit institutions have also started a legal blitz, filing suit against several rules which went into effect in December. For-profits have promised legal action if the gainful employment regulations are put into effect. Perhaps the one thing that can be expected is that the issue surrounding “gainful employment” will not be going away anytime soon
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