Fact: Too many career-training programs lead to low wages, high debt

One common reason students go to college, or to some other form of education after high school, is to get training that will lead to a job. A good job—one that makes the training they got worth whatever money and time they spent and worth whatever debt they had to take on.

That motivation is especially behind students’ enrollment in what are known as gainful employment programs. Found at two-year and four-year colleges and universities, public and private, nonprofit and for-profit, brick-and-mortar and online, these programs exist with the explicit mission of training students for work in a recognized occupation, and it is on that condition that the students who attend gainful employment programs are eligible for federal grants and loans.

Some of these programs empower students to succeed by providing high-quality education and career training. But too many of these programs, particularly those at for-profit colleges, are failing to do so—at taxpayers’ expense and at the cost of students’ futures.

Students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. In the most recent data, about 22 percent of student borrowers at for-profit colleges defaulted on their loans within three years, compared to 13 percent of borrowers at public colleges.

For-profit colleges can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from taxpayer dollars, with the additional revenue frequently coming from veterans’ benefits and private student loans. Because they want to turn a profit, they tend to focus on enrolling as many students as possible in their programs, which has led in some cases to well-documented evidence of misleading and aggressive marketing practices.

In March 2014, the Obama Administration announced new steps to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt by requiring career colleges to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment—or risk losing access to federal student aid.

In announcing proposed regulations of career training programs, the U.S. Department of Education illustrated our concern using an alarming statistic about for-profit programs: 72 percent of the programs we analyzed produce graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.

That figure drew the attention of a Washington Post feature called “The Fact Checker,” which challenged the Department’s methodology. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that already. What you may not know is some pretty important information that the Post ignored—information that supports the Department’s statistic and further explains why consumers and taxpayers should be concerned about some career training programs that seek to make a profit. Please take the time to read what’s below and decide for yourself.

The regulations that the administration has proposed will help to strengthen students’ options for higher education by giving all career training programs an opportunity to improve, while stopping the flow of federal funding to the lowest-performing ones that fail to do so. That’s an important balance. It recognizes that career training programs offer millions of Americans an opportunity to further their education so that they can pursue their dreams of gaining a well-paying job, owning a home, and providing for their family. These values are the cornerstone of our nation’s economy and the gateway to the middle class.

There’s no question that “going to college” pays off over the course of a graduate’s career. But data on earnings and debt shows that’s not true for every college program. If you or someone you care about is looking for career training, make sure it’s in an affordable program that has a good chance of delivering on its promise of a good job.

Exploring the Claims of the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker”

Fact Checker: Could attending a for-profit institution actually result in a three out of four chance of earning less than a high school dropout? The claim seems to overturn the widely-held assertion that college-level education will boost earnings.

  • The Fact Checker appears to be misreading a statistic. The datapoint is offered simply to make an observation about the earnings level of graduates, not the boost in earnings they received by attending the program. We know that postsecondary education does in fact boost earnings. Page 16535 of the NPRM includes a discussion, citing independent research confirming this.
  • There likely is an earnings gain in the vast majority of the programs that we evaluated. It just may be the case that a student may be making something less than a high school dropout before they enroll in a program, and three years after they graduated they are still making something less than a high school dropout.

For-profit education institutions are now one of the fast-growing areas in higher education and have a different business model than private universities, which generally don’t pay taxes, and community colleges, which receive state subsidies.

  • The Fact Checker makes an accurate point – unlike public and non-profit institutions, for-profit colleges aim to make money and often have shareholders to consider. Because they want to turn a profit, they tend to focus on enrolling as many students as possible in their programs, which has led in some cases to well-documented evidence of misleading and aggressive marketing practices. Too many consumers do not understand clearly on the front end exactly what their chances are of higher earnings on the back end.
  • The Fact Checker was not very clear in stating that most of the revenue for most for-profits, up to 90% of revenue and beyond, comes from taxpayer dollars.  In a statement about business models, that is an essential piece of information. Their entire business model is based on collecting taxpayer funds.

Labor Department officials said the Education Department’s math is actually an incorrect method for using the weekly wage data. “We wouldn’t report it that way,” one BLS official said. “We don’t know if the workers worked year around.”

  • We don’t know with whom the Fact Checker spoke at BLS, but they in fact do use a 52-week earnings year in at least one of their methodologies, as demonstrated by footnote 2 to the data presented on this page: http://www.bls.gov/OES/current/oes_nat.htm. In other data sets, BLS uses 50.5 weeks, which would not reduce our result of $24,492 by very much.
  • Regardless, we feel that 52 weeks is a fair and reasonable assumption for the work-year of workers who are high school dropouts—of those who work, 87% work 52 weeks a year. (Source: Analysis of 2013 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group data, http://ceprdata.org/cps-uniform-data-extracts/cps-outgoing-rotation-group/cps-org-data/ ).
  • Additionally, we wanted our comparison point of annual earnings to be easily understandable by the public. The simplest formulation of “annual” is, of course, 52 weeks.

Indeed, an arm of the Education Department, using the same CPS data set, puts the median high school dropout’s annual wage at $22,860 in 2011.

  • The Fact Checker cites a median annual earnings figure of $22,680 from the Current Population Survey conducted by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.  But that figure is from 2011. The most current version of these figures, from 2012, shows the median annual earnings of a high school dropout as $25,876 for those who dropped out between 9th through 12th grade and $22,618 for those who dropped out prior to 9th grade.  (Source: https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032013/perinc/pinc03_1_1_1_1.xls) Combining those groups would give a figure somewhere in between those two calculations, and very close to our estimate of $24,492 

The most recent published Census Bureau average annual wage (from 2009) is $20,241.

  • The Fact Checker cites another annual earnings figure of $20,241, also from the Current Population Survey. But that figure is five years old, from 2009. Further, it is not directly comparable. This statistic is based on mean earnings, while our $24,492 figure is based on median earnings.  Also, this statistic is for people 18 years old and older with any earnings, while ours is for people 25 and over who worked full-time. As the Fact Checker noted, many of those at gainful employment programs come from a range of backgrounds and are likely to be older, so a metric that focuses on 25 and over is more appropriate.

A different Labor Department measure, using information from employers, puts the median annual wage as low as $18,580 for high school dropouts with no training.

  • The third figure cited by the Fact Checker, $18,580, is from a wholly different dataset, the Occupational Employment Statistics program of the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. We chose to use the Current Population Survey data, as it is the more commonly referenced data set when examining earnings figures such as this. The CPS directly asks respondents about their earnings during the week. The OES asks employers how many workers they employ in each of a number of coarse wage bins (for example, under $7.50 an hour, $7.50-$9.50, etc.) and then applies a statistical model to estimate average hourly wages. That procedure is imperfect due to the coarseness of the underlying data, so labor economists prefer the CPS. Incidentally, the OES data cited by the Fact Checker uses a 52-week earnings year just as the Department did.  (Source: http://www.bls.gov/OES/current/oes_nat.htm — the annual mean wage is the mean hourly wage multiplied by 40 hours per week and 52 weeks per year.)
  • Further, in the OES data set, $18,580 is the median earnings for a high school dropout with no training. Using this datapoint would imply that students in gainful employment programs have no training prior to their completing their programs. There is simply no basis upon which to make this assumption. The students who attend career-training programs often are older than the typical student and have been previously in the workforce. It is likely they would, in fact, have some prior training. But, rather than make assumptions on this point, we chose to look at all high school dropouts, regardless of training.

Education Department officials defend their method as reasonable but, as it happens, it turned out they used the highest number available.

  • That’s not true. We could have used the 2012 CPS figure for the median annual earnings of a high school dropout, $25,876, for those who dropped out between 9th through 12th grade, but we did not. Instead, we tried to make this statistic as simple as possible to help the public understand, in general terms, that earnings outcomes are often low at many for-profit programs.
  • We could have also used other, higher reference points, such as the median annual earnings of a high school graduate: $33,582 using our methodology ($651 x 52 http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm, which would also have been reasonable). But we did not.

The $18,580 figure, by contrast, would improve the results for for-profit institutions to about 49 percent, down from 72 percent.

  • It would also have improved the results for other sectors – community colleges would have dropped to only 20%. The Fact Checker did not make that adjustment.

That still seems high, right? But here’s the strange thing: the numbers are bad for all educational institutions. Buried in the regulation — and not advertised by the Department — is that graduates of 32 percent of community college programs earn less than high school dropouts. “We were surprised by that,” one Education official acknowledged.

  • We never said we were surprised. That is just what the data shows.
  • A key fact that the Fact Checker overlooks is that students in for-profit programs tend to take on far more debt than those in community colleges, where many students do not borrow at all. Of the programs that we evaluated with annual earnings below our comparison point of $24,492, the average median annual loan payment of a for-profit graduate is $1,221, in comparison to just $115 for a community college program—10 times higher.  Further, 75% of the public programs with average earnings below $24,492 have a median loan debt of $0. In comparison, only 8% of the for-profit programs have this result. So, while it is true that a not insignificant percentage of community college programs have earnings below our comparison point of $24,492, the debt of their graduates is far lower.
  • While our proposed rule applies to all gainful employment programs, of the students who are in the lowest-performing programs under our proposed metrics, 98% of them happen to be in programs at for-profit institutions. That is why we stress the generally poor outcomes at for-profits.

Officials also confirmed that graduates of 57 percent of private institutions — a list that includes Harvard’s Dental School but also child care training programs — earn less than high school dropouts.

  • The list includes two post-baccalaureate certificate programs at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine – not all programs at the school. Further, since the Fact Checker’s statement is misleading, we should clarify that we do not have earnings data for these two programs.

Second, on wages, the Department is comparing apples and oranges. The Social Security earnings data obtained by the department includes people who are not working, which would bring down the average wages for programs. But the wage data for high school dropouts only counts people who are working — and it includes all high school dropouts, even people who left school decades earlier.

  • Students enroll in these programs for the purpose of finding gainful employment in a recognized occupation. The Higher Education Act dictates this is the reason these programs can receive federal student aid. The problem is too many of these programs are not leading to jobs with earnings sufficient to allow students to manage their debt – or to jobs at all. We want the bar to be set at full-time work, and that is why we used this dataset as our comparison point. Students don’t go to school to not get a job or to be limited to a part-time occupation. These students – three years after graduating – should be able to earn a full-time wage. Right now, our data shows they do not.  We should not lower the bar just because some programs have not prepared their students to find employment.

As an example of how this might work, imagine taking the same approach to evaluate different departments at an elite college. Three years after graduation, how would the philosophy department fare, on average? Suppose you had five philosophy majors, and one was unemployed, one made $20,000 a year, two made $30,000 a year and one made $40,000. “On average,” the wage is in the program is $24,000 — just enough for the philosophy department at Ivy League U to be labeled as producing graduates earning less than high school dropouts under the department’s metric.

  • The Department’s metrics in the proposed rule do not set any sort of earnings threshold. The Department has chosen to define gainful employment based on whether programs meet the standards of two measures: how much debt former students have relative to their income, and how often they are defaulting. Neither one of those measures uses the earnings of high school dropouts as a benchmark. That comparison was used instead to highlight the Department’s concern that the outcomes for many of these programs should be better.
  • Further, this regulation only applies to gainful employment programs, not other types of programs at an “elite college” or any other college. Implicit in the idea of preparing students for gainful employment is, first, that the program leads to employment and, second, that the employment is gainful – producing wages that allow the graduates to pay their student loan debt. And so, we believe that the standards we have set forth are appropriate.

It’s possible a large percentage of for-profit programs are not serving students well — and that students are emerging from those programs with heavy debts. But this statistic is too fishy to make that case. In straining for a striking factoid, the Education Department went too far. Officials calculated a relatively high figure for the earnings of high school dropouts, compared to other available data. Then they compared it to average wages that likely were adversely affected by recent graduates unable to find employment.

  • Looking at the earnings of individuals who are employed full-time is appropriate as a benchmark, since a program that exists to prepare students for gainful employment should produce graduates who are able to find full-time jobs. The point we are making with the 72% statistic is that too many gainful employment programs, particularly in the for-profit sector, are failing to do so. The inability of graduates of many gainful employment programs to find full-time jobs, or any jobs, is among the issues that concern us and that we seek to address through this rulemaking. To adjust the calculation of our comparison point to account for those that are unemployed would defeat the purpose of making the comparison. We want to see the students who graduate these programs find full-time employment and have earnings that allow them to manage their debt.
  • The average earnings for the graduates of these programs were measured about three years after graduation, which the Fact Checker describes as recent. We believe this is a reasonable point at which to measure earnings as it provides sufficient time for graduates to find jobs and increase earnings.  The most recent BLS data indicates the average (mean) length of unemployment has been about 36 weeks. It is hard to imagine that if a program had in fact prepared a student for gainful employment, the student would, because of other factors, have stayed unemployed for three years – 156 weeks – more than four times as long as the average amount of time an unemployed worker remains unemployed.

Not only were these two datapoints apples and oranges, but the entire comparison to high school dropouts is fairly bogus. There’s a reason academic researchers have not tried to compare the earnings of graduates for-profit colleges to the earnings of high school dropouts — it also would be considered an apples and oranges comparison unworthy of research.

  • Again, we have not set the metrics or their thresholds of the proposed rule based on any earnings threshold. We highlighted this datapoint simply as an easily understandable reference point so that the public can better understand the poor outcomes of some gainful employment programs.  Americans can understand the concept of a high school dropout – they don’t want themselves or their loved ones to be one, and they likely perceive that dropouts have low earnings. What they may not realize is that many for-profit career-training programs do not lead to earnings much above that benchmark. Attending such a program may help them make more money, but maybe not enough to pay off the debt they took on.
  • There may very well be earnings gains in the vast majority of these programs. A student may be making much less than a high school dropout before they enroll in a program, and three years after they graduated they are still making slightly less than a high school dropout. That’s a problem if you have accumulated debt that requires a couple of thousand dollars a year in loan payments. In short, an individual in that situation has gone from worse off to bad off. Too many for-profit programs have this combination of low earnings and high debt—far more than in non-profit career programs, public or private.

You can find more information on the Department of Education’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Gainful Employment, including instructions on how to comment on the proposed regulation, at ED.gov. The Department’s March 14, 2014, news release summarizes the proposal and explains how the rule is designed to protect Americans from predatory, poor-performing career colleges.

Community College Students Talk Transitions with Secretary Duncan

When someone says, “I want to go to college,” a traditional four-year college or university often comes to mind.

Many don’t think of community colleges as an option, even though they are the single largest sector of the U.S. higher education system, enrolling nearly half of all undergraduates each year.

Community colleges provide opportunity and access to millions of students, helping them prepare for a degree at a four-year institution, obtain an associate’s degree, or retrain and retool for the 21st century global economy.

On March 18, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with student leaders from the American Student Association of Community Colleges to discuss the importance of community colleges. The student leaders were in Wastington for their annual national Student Advocacy Conference.

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El Departamento de Educación publica el Proyecto para la Participación de los Padres y la Comunidad

El cuarto trimestre del año escolar es generalmente un tiempo de preparación en las escuelas y distritos, ya que se planifican los presupuestos, los horarios escolares, y el desarrollo profesional para el próximo año. En este período de preparación, es importante que las escuelas y distritos discutan cómo apoyar a los padres y a la comunidad para que puedan contribuir al éxito estudiantil.

Para ayudar en esta labor, el Departamento de Educación de EE.UU. se enorgullece en presentar su proyecto para que las escuelas y las comunidades puedan promover la participación de los padres y la comunidad. fce-frameworkEn nuestro país, menos del 25 por ciento de los residentes son menores de 18 años[1], y todos tenemos la responsabilidad de ayudar a que las escuelas tengan éxito. El proyecto de Capacidad Dual es un proceso que muestra a las escuelas y al personal de los distritos cómo promover de manera eficaz la participación de los padres en las escuelas para aumentar el rendimiento estudiantil, y también proporciona un modelo que las escuelas y los distritos pueden utilizar para fomentar la participación de la comunidad, y para que las escuelas sean el centro de nuestras comunidades.

En mi ciudad natal de Baltimore hay un buen ejemplo de cómo los elementos del proyecto pueden conducir a mejorar la participación. Las Escuelas Públicas de la Ciudad de Baltimore dio apoyo a 12,000 hogares con niños en kindergarten y preescolar para involucrar a las familias en las prácticas de alfabetización en el hogar. Cada semana los estudiantes recibieron una bolsa con diferentes libros infantiles galardonados. Así, los niños leyeron aproximadamente 100 libros durante el año. Además de la repartición de libros, también se dio información de capacitación a los padres y cómo compartir los libros para promover la alfabetización en la primera infancia y fomentar el amor por el aprendizaje. Con el programa, las familias también se conectan con las bibliotecas públicas y escolares. Al concluir el programa, los niños reciben su propia bolsa para guardar sus libros y continuar la práctica de préstamo de libros y el hábito de la lectura.

Para obtener más información sobre el Proyecto de Capacidad Dual, y un video presentado por el secretario de Educación, Arne Duncan, por favor revise detenidamente nuestro sitio web, http://www.ed.gov/family-and-community-engagement. En los próximos meses, proporcionaremos recursos e información adicional para que las escuelas, distritos, comunidades y padres puedan aprender más sobre cómo participar en la educación, y cómo compartir la maravillosa labor que desarrolla la capacidad de los padres, escuelas y la comunidad en el apoyo a todos los estudiantes.

Jonathan Brice, subsecretario, Oficina de Educación Primaria y Secundaria, Departamento de Educación de EE.UU.


[1] http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=PEP_2012_PEPAGESEX&prodType=table

Youth CareerConnect: Equipping Students for the Future

President Obama stopped by Bladensburg High School in Maryland on Monday to announce the winners of the inaugural Youth CareerConnect program. The school, along with two other high schools in Prince George’s County, is being awarded $7 million as part of the program. Overall, 24 Youth CareerConnect awards across the country will provide $107 million to high schools and their partners as they redesign the teaching and learning experience for students to more fully prepare them for a successful future.

The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, will help prepare 2,500 graduates at Bladensburg and other schools to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in high-demand fields such as information technology and health care.

“I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” Obama said during his 2013 State of the Union address. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.”

The Youth CareerConnect program encourages America’s school districts, institutions of higher education, the workforce investment system, and their partners to scale up evidence-based high school models that will transform the high school experience for America’s youth. Participating schools will strengthen America’s talent pipeline through:

  • Integrated Academic and Career-Focused Learning
  • Work-Based Learning and Exposure to the World of Work
  • Robust Employer Engagement
  • Individualized Career and Academic Counseling
  • Integration of Post-secondary Education and Training

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently met with a school community in Massachusetts that shares the same approach as the Youth CareerConnect program. Worchester Technical High School, which earned the U.S. Education Department’s recognition as a Blue Ribbon School in 2013 thanks to students’ high performance, meaningfully engages students in relevant experiences that provide a link to future college and career pathways. The school went from being one of the worst in the district to one of the best in the nation with a 95 percent graduation rate and a 1.3 percent dropout rate.

During his visit, Duncan participated in a town hall discussion on career and technical education with high school teachers, community college officials and business leaders.  The school’s strong leadership and willingness to embrace the community left an unforgettable impression on Duncan.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a school that is more open, whether it’s higher ed partnerships, whether it’s business partnerships, whether it’s literally inviting the community into your school every single day … this school is an extraordinary community asset,” he told the audience.

Today’s announcement of the Youth Career Connect program recognizes that many local districts and school leaders, as well as many of their national and local workforce partners, have been working together to provide these workplace relevant opportunities for students for quite some time, and it builds off of the collective experiences of these local partnerships. Ultimately, this program complements additional proposals in the President’s 2015 budget, and supports the President’s broader agenda to strengthen education to more effectively prepare young people for college and careers.

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Department of Education Releases New Parent and Community Engagement Framework

The fourth quarter of the school year is generally a time of preparation for schools and districts as they finalize next year’s budget, student and teacher schedules, and professional development for the upcoming school year. During this time of preparation, it is important that schools and districts discuss ways that they can support parents and the community in helping students to achieve success.

fce-framework graphicTo help in this work, the U.S. Department of Education is proud to release a framework for schools and the broader communities they serve to build parent and community engagement. Across the country, less than a quarter of residents are 18 years old or younger, and all of us have a responsibility for helping our schools succeed. The Dual Capacity framework, a process used to teach school and district staff to effectively engage parents and for parents to work successfully with the schools to increase student achievement, provides a model that schools and districts can use to build the type of effective community engagement that will make schools the center of our communities.

An example of how the elements of the framework can lead to improved engagement is exhibited in my hometown of Baltimore. Baltimore City Public Schools worked to support 12,000 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten homes, and to engage families in home-based literacy practices. Each week students received a different bag filled with award-winning children’s books, exposing children, on average, to more than 100 books per year. The book rotation also includes parent training and information on how to share books effectively to promote children’s early literacy skills and nurture a love of learning. Through the program, families are also connected with their local public and school libraries. At the culmination of the program, children receive a permanent bag to keep and continue the practice of borrowing books and building a lifelong habit of reading.

For more information on the Dual Capacity Framework, as well as an introductory video from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, please take some time and review our website at www.ed.gov/family-and-community-engagement. In the coming months, we will provided additional resources and information, so that schools, districts, communities, and parents can learn more about family and community engagement, as well as, share the wonderful work they are doing to build parent, school, and community capacity that supports all students.

Read a Spanish version of this post.

Jonathan Brice is deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

Rethinking High School: President Obama Announces New Youth CareerConnect Grants

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

“How do we start making high school … more interesting, more exciting, more relevant to young people?”

That’s the idea behind the Youth CareerConnect grant program, which President Obama discussed this morning during his visit to Bladensburg High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In his remarks, the President announced that Bladensburg High was part of a three-school team in Prince George’s County that won a $7 million Youth CareerConnect grant.

The grant will give students at Bladensburg High access to individualized college and career counseling, as well as paid work experiences with employer partners such as Lockheed Martin. What’s more, students concentrating in health professions will be able to earn industry-recognized certifications in nursing and pharmacy, and biomedical students will be able to earn college credit from the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

040714_bladensburg_lab

President Barack Obama meets with students working in a biomedical sciences classroom at Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland, April 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

All told, the grant will help prepare 2,500 students at Bladensburg High and other Prince George’s County schools to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in the high-demand fields of information technology and health care.

Youth CareerConnect is a national competition, backed by the Departments of Education and Labor, to start redesigning America’s high schools for the 21st century economy. The program is offering $107 million in new grants — ranging from $2.2 million to $7 million — to local partnerships of local education agencies, workforce investment boards, institutions of higher education, and employer partners.

We challenged America’s high schools to … say what can you do to make sure your students learn the skills that businesses are looking for in high-demand fields. And we asked high schools to develop partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on real-life applications for the fields of the future — fields like science and technology and engineering and math.

040714_bladensburg_remarks

President Barack Obama shakes hands with the students on stage following remarks and announcing the winners of the Youth CareerConnect Competition, at Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland, April 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

As President Obama explained, these grants will help ensure that more of America’s youth receive a world-class education, which will prepare them “with the skills they need for college, for a career, and for a lifetime of citizenship.”

“From preschool for every 4-year-old in America, to higher education for everybody who wants to go, every young person deserves a fair shot,” said the President. “And I’m going to keep on doing everything I can to make sure you get that shot and to keep America a place where you can make it if you try.”

To learn more about the Youth CareerConnect program, click here.

David Hudson is associate director of content for the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy

Ask Arne: Procuring Privacy

When I think of privacy a few images pop into my head:  a “do not disturb” sign, the settings on my social media accounts, or me locking the bathroom door so that my kids can’t come barging in after me.

But the term “privacy” has taken on new meaning in the digital age, and is now accompanied by terms like big data, devices, and the cloud.

As I lead from the classroom, I struggle with one question, “How do I create and innovate while protecting my students’ privacy?”

And I am not the only one asking this question.

Throughout the past few months, I have had the privilege of attending several educational technology events in my capacity as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education and I have heard this question on repeat, along with a few others. What data is collected from students? Who has access to it? How is it used? I recently sat down with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ask him about student data privacy. Watch the video below:

Personally, I love technology and I love data. I use data every day in my classroom as a method of measuring my effectiveness and my students’ progress. On a typical day, within the first seven minutes of my class, students will enter my room, grab their iPads, sign into our class website, and take a diagnostic survey or poll that builds upon prior knowledge, as well as introduces new concepts for that day’s lesson. These types of formative checks occur roughly five times within one block period and provide real-time data, real-time feedback, and allow me to personalize lessons based on students’ individual needs.  Consequently, the data collected from one class period serves as the foundation for the next class period.

According to the Fordham Institute, 95 percent of districts rely on cloud services for several purposes, such as monitoring student performance, supporting instruction, student guidance, as well as special services such as cafeteria payments and transportation.  While cloud storage is a common practice of school districts, the present concern is that districts are taking appropriate measures for safeguarding this data.

Currently, three keystone federal laws protect student privacy: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  More recently, the Department of Education announced the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to help educators interpret laws and gain access to best practices around student data and privacy. Furthermore, groups like Common Sense Media launched the School Privacy Zone Campaign in an attempt to support connected classrooms that protect and safeguard student privacy.

Today, I feel an even greater pressure to utilize data in rigorous ways that ensure my students are college-and-career-ready. The one way that I know how to meet the diverse needs of every student is to use technology. While I believe in the power of technology and its ability to transform learning, I also know that my students’ safety comes first. My hope is that schools, districts, states, and the federal government will continue working to create the right policies to support the needs of educators so that they may create and innovate in their classrooms, and protect their students.

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Supporting Educators to Innovate Through Technology

OpportunityTechnology offers extraordinary opportunities and capacities to teachers. The breadth and depth of educational materials and information available on the Internet can break boundaries, making any subject accessible anywhere, and providing students with access to experts from across town or across the globe. New technologies also give teachers tools and flexibility to engage students, personalize the learning experience, and share resources or best practices with colleagues.

President Obama’s ConnectED initiative aims to provide high-speed Internet to every school in America, and make affordable computers, tablets, software, and other digital resources widely available to educators. Yet innovative technologies offer their greatest benefits only when teachers and principals have the skills and supports to leverage them. The ConnectEDucators plan will help educators to grow those skills. Watch this video to learn more:

Tiffany Taber is senior communications manager in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Duncan to Talk Family Engagement During #PTchat

It’s no secret that parents have the power to transform educational opportunity in our country. Which is why their voice is so vital.

On April 8, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be taking to Twitter to gain additional feedback from parents and educators on community and parent engagement best practices during the weekly #PTchat. The chat will coincide with the National Family Engagement Conference in Cincinnati, which aims to bring together educators and community activists to raise awareness of community involvement in schools.

Duncan will moderate the Twitter chat and share information about recently released family and community engagement resources from the Department of Education.

  • What: #PTchat with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
  • When: 9pm EDT, Tuesday, April 8.

Your voice is important, and even if you can’t make the Twitter chat, please don’t hesitate to leave feedback in the comments below and sign up for our Engaging Families email updates.

Seeing Success in Hawaii: Duncan’s 50th State as Secretary

Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao

Students at the Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School perform the hula for U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan during his visit on March 31, 2014, in Nanakuli, Hawaii. Photo By Eugene Tanner.

Andrea, a senior at Hawaii’s Waipahu High School, came to the U.S. just four years ago after emigrating from the Philippines, but now she’s a proud Waipahu Marauder. From her first day in the classroom, she found the “opportunity to explore” and became interested in cancer research and science.

This fall, thanks to her dedication and the teachers she has at Waipahu, she’ll attend Columbia University on a full-ride scholarship.

Andrea was one of many students Secretary Duncan met during a visit to Oahu earlier this week, which also included stops at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a discussion with military families and a visit to Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School.  During Duncan’s visit to Waipahu, Andrea presented her AP Biology project – “Synthesizing a STAT3 Dimerization Inhibitor Molecule via Retrosynthetic Analysis” – and explained the partnership with the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Center that helped her to pursue her research. “What I’ve learned here is if you want to do something, you can find a way to do it,” she said.

Waipahu High School, located about 20 minutes outside of Honolulu, provides a number of educational programs, with each incoming student picking a “College and Career Theme” to explore. Students at Waipahu High School learn through pathways, which are smaller learning communities that encourage students to identify their career interests and take relevant courses while in high school. They have the opportunity to take classes in programs like creative media, culinary arts, engineering, finance, law and justice administration, and teacher education. Waipahu also offers tuition-free early college courses.

Michael, also a senior at Waipahu, has seen a growth in his abilities since he started as freshman. Despite starting on the school’s business track “not knowing anything,” Michael has been able to excel. “I was able to make connections with what I was learning … and I saw a change in my grades,” he said. A recent project allowed him to combine his budding business knowledge with his passion for woodwork by designing a business where he could sell the skateboards he creates using natural wood and varnish. The school has enabled him to able to explore art in other areas, too. Michael was able to help paint words like “courage,” “ambition,” “honor” and “integrity” – which he says are “words that encompass who we are” – onto the steps of Waipahu High School.

A focus on relevant, hands-on experiences is a theme among programs at Waipahu. During a tour of the school, students led Secretary Duncan through their research and studies of fish as part of an aquaponics system in the Natural Resources Academy Pathway. Teacher Jeff Garvey, who Secretary Duncan called the “mastermind” behind the aquaponics system, used his private-sector background to build the open-air center and create the chance for students to study aquaponics, which combines fish and plants in a symbiotic, sustainable environment.  The program is rapidly expanding as interest grows, including from nearby eighth graders who want enroll at Waipahu. And despite worries that the system would be hard to maintain, Garvey points to students’ leadership with the center. “Give them ownership, and they take care of it,” he said.

Waipahu serves mostly minority students, and most are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite those challenges, from 2011-2013, proficiency scores on state tests have risen, as have college-going rates. In that same time, the number of suspensions was nearly cut in half.

Waipahu’s growing success story is one of many throughout the state of Hawaii. The 2013 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) results indicated that Hawaii was one of the top 5 fastest improving states in the country, with an 8-point increase in math for fourth and eighth grade, a 4-point increase in reading in fourth grade, and a 5-point increase in reading in eighth grade, when compared to 2009 NAEP results.

To accelerate its reform efforts and better support the state’s educators, Hawaii applied for and received a $75 million grant through Race to the Top in 2010. The grant has empowered the state’s leaders to collaborate in new ways and create plans tailored to their needs to prepare students to be ready for college and careers. Through these funds, the state has developed tools, like a classroom data dashboard and teacher-focused reports, to support teachers and school leaders to use timely and actionable data to improve instruction. Hawaii has also created tools to transition to higher standards and training to develop STEM expertise, and the state and community has supported schools that fall within the Zones of School Innovation to provide students with extended learning time, after-school and summer programs, and comprehensive wraparound services.

And the work is just beginning. State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi credited the “catalytic nature of Race to the Top” in enabling the state to try new ideas and create new systems – “an opportunity we’ve taken with both hands” – and acknowledged this is just the start. Gov. Neil Abercrombie echoed that sentiment. “I ask anybody in the state, before you make a judgment about the public schools, see what’s been accomplished in the last three years. By any outside observation, Hawaii public schools are rising, and we’re going to keep on rising,” Abercrombie said.

Hawaii’s progress is thanks to leadership from state and administrative officials, teachers and principals, who have encouraged their students and provided new learning opportunities, even when there have been challenges and tough transitions. “These are profiles in courage,” Secretary Duncan said. “So much of what is going on here can be a model for the nation.”

Watch a short video about Waipahu High School.

Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education

Celebrating a Disability Rights Pioneer

Ed Roberts is one of the most important pioneers of the disability rights movement. Roberts was a talented athlete with dreams of playing professional baseball when he was disabled by polio in 1953 at the age of 14. Having a disability taught him many things, not the least of which was the importance of a good education. He could only move a couple of fingers and a couple of toes, yet he attended three years of high school by phone while lying in his iron lung at home.

After a senior year back in the school building, Roberts still had to fight to be allowed to graduate, but eventually he received his diploma with his mom Zona by his side. When he went to college and graduate school, he had to find a place to live on campus that could accommodate the iron lung he slept in every night.

Roberts also started using a power wheelchair while he was in graduate school. If you’ve ever used a curb cut to help you cross a street with a stroller, a rolling suitcase or a wheelchair, you can thank Ed Roberts and his allies with disabilities. His iron lung and his power wheelchair are now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution here in Washington, D.C.

Besides his advocacy for educational rights, Roberts was a founder of the Independent Living (IL) movement and director of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) in California. Both IL and VR have been part of the Department of Education since it began, and the programs operate in all 50 states and DC. Later in his life, Roberts took time to speak to hundreds of young adults with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities across the US. That’s where I met him, when my son Charlie was only seven years old. Roberts taught what nobody else did: that people with disabilities belong everywhere; that a student with the most profound disabilities has a lot to offer in any classroom; and that my job as a parent was to ensure that my son could make his own choices, and make his own voice heard, even if he couldn’t speak. Ed showed every day that charisma is not limited to able-bodied people, and that just being present is a form of advocacy. No wonder he won a MacArthur fellowship “genius” award: he helped us all understand that learning to thrive with disability was about expectations, education, employment, and empowerment above all else.

In January, the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services invited current and emerging leaders of the civil rights movement of people with disabilities to celebrate Roberts’s life. Guests discussed their own experiences in the civil rights movements of people with disabilities, the impact Ed Roberts had on their lives, and the importance of sharing his story with future generations of students.

Many students and families still don’t know about the civil rights movement of people with disabilities. Empowerment comes with knowledge. Learning about Ed Roberts is a great place to start.

To learn more about Ed Roberts and the civil rights movement of people with disabilities the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities website.

Sue Swenson is deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Four New Civil Rights Data Collection Snapshots

Last week, the Department of Education released the latest data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The CRDC is a vital resource that provides the public an opportunity to understand how our nation and individual states, districts, and schools serve all students, including our students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities. The troubling disparities revealed in this comprehensive, searchable database serve as a reminder of the importance of ensuring all students have equal access to educational opportunities.

Holder at Wilson Elementary

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with a student following the announcement of the latest CRDC collection at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in more than a decade, the CRDC contains information on approximately 16,500 school districts, 97,000 schools, and 49 million students. The data shines a spotlight on educational equity in areas such as discipline, access to preschool, teacher equity, and access to college- and career-ready courses.

To coincide with the most recent data release, the Office for Civil Rights has created four new snapshots to help understand the data:

Data Snapshot: Early Childhood Education

Examples:

  • Public preschool access not yet a reality for much of the nation: About 40 percent of school districts do not offer preschool programs.
  • Black children make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children suspended more than once. Boys receive more than three out of four out-of-school preschool suspensions.

Data Snapshot: School Discipline, Restraint, & Seclusion Highlights

Examples:

  • Disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color: Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of white students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of black students. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1 percent of the student population but 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions.
  • Disproportionate suspensions of girls of color: While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys; American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls (7 percent) are suspended at higher rates than white boys (6 percent) or girls (2 percent).

Data Snapshot: College and Career Readiness

Examples:

  • Limited access to high-level math and science courses: Nationwide, only 50 percent of high schools offer calculus, and only 63 percent offer physics.
  • Significant lack of access to other core courses: Nationwide, between 10-25 percent of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in the typical sequence of high school math and science education — such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry.

Data Snapshot: Teacher and Counselor Equity

Examples:

  • Teacher salary disparities: Nearly one in four districts with two or more high schools reports a teacher salary gap of more than $5,000 between high schools with the highest and the lowest black and Latino student enrollments.
  • Access to school counselors: Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.

Learn more about the 2011-12 CRDC collection at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education