An Open Letter to College Leaders

Ed. Note: The following open letter was posted earlier today on usatoday.com

To college presidents, athletic directors, and coaches:

The deeply disturbing Penn State and Syracuse child sex abuse allegations are more than a cautionary note for college athletics–they are an urgent wake-up call. As President Obama has said, these allegations are cause for “soul-searching” in higher education.

As a starting point for that soul-searching, campus leaders should rigorously take stock of all their programs to ensure they first serve their core mission to foster a college education and meet the elemental obligation to protect students and children from abuse. The guiding principle here ought to be simple: No double standards. Players, coaches, and college administrators should be held to the same fundamental standards of sexual conduct as other students and faculty members.

I write not as a critic of college sports but as a great believer in their value. Few postsecondary pursuits likely do more to cultivate leadership and the character skills important to succeeding in the 21st century, including the ability to persist, defer gratification, take responsibility, and work in teams. Few activities do more to build a sense of community on campus. And when athletic programs have their priorities in order, there are few better vehicles for teaching invaluable life lessons than the playing field or court. Great coaches, just like great teachers, transform the lives of their students.

I recognize, too, that most college sports programs have their priorities in order, and that the scourge of child sex abuse is in no way unique to college sports. Yet the recent sex abuse allegations cannot be dismissed as lonely exceptions without a larger meaning.

Colleges and universities should systematically ensure that all student athletes—indeed, all students—are educated about the dangers and warning signs of sex abuse. Student-athletes, coaches, college administrators, and law enforcement officials should be familiar with procedures for reporting abuse. And the university should have clear standards in place for thoroughly investigating allegations of sex abuse, including the reporting of any sexual assault allegation to law enforcement authorities. Some precautionary measures, like restricting travel for under-aged ball boys, seem like little more than common sense.

Most importantly, all athletic programs and coaches—no matter how renowned—should be held to the same standards as other parts of the university. Every institution should commit to shaping an environment that deters abuse and leads to swift action when it is reported.

Counseling and support should be available to victims–not a gauntlet of interrogation and impugning of their motives. No university should make a student or child feel stigmatized or ashamed, nor should it impede the reporting of sex abuse. It’s time to end the code of silence that so often can hover over instances of child abuse.

The Clery Act, a federal law, requires all colleges and universities that receive federal aid to keep a public log of all crimes on and around campus, specifying the nature of the crime, the date, place, and time. Postsecondary institutions must also post their procedures for investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes.

The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into Penn State’s compliance with the Clery Act. I do not know what that investigation will conclude. But I do know that complying with federal law should be the bare minimum for which universities and college sports programs should strive. In the aftermath of these tragic allegations, university presidents, athletic directors, coaches, and other campus leaders should first return to their roots–to educate and protect.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education. 

In America, Education Is Still the Great Equalizer

“In America, education is still the great equalizer,” Secretary Duncan told a group of graduates at Fayetteville State University’s Winter Commencement on Saturday. Duncan described the importance of education in today’s economy, and that education is, in the long run, one of the best investments one can make for the future.

On average, Americans who have earned a bachelor degree will earn roughly one million dollars more over their lifetime than students with only a high school diploma, Duncan explained.

Secretary Duncan noted that the Obama Administration is taking big steps to keep student debt manageable through the recently introduced Pay As You Earn proposal. For those who qualify, the proposal would cap monthly student loan payments to what people can afford. “In practical terms,” Duncan explained, “1.6 million Americans could literally see their loan payments go down by hundreds of dollars a month.”

“We want people to be able to follow their heart and passion—and not just chase a big paycheck because they have to pay back loans. America can’t afford to lose that talent,” Duncan said.

Click here to read more about the Pay As You Earn proposal.

Additional Resources:

  • Find the right college for you with the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator.
  • Click here to visit ED’s College Affordability and Transparency Center for information about tuition and net prices at postsecondary institutions.

Arne on Thanking Teachers and College Debt

Arne sat down last week to answer a couple of questions and comments he received on his Facebook page. Ginger and Adriana wrote about thanking great teachers, and Arne encouraged others to take time and thank their teachers. “Whether you graduated last year, whether you are still in school, or whether you are 50 years out of high school,” he said, “it is never too late to go back and say thank you.”

Jamie left a comment for Arne that described the stress associated with having significant college debt. Duncan noted that on the front end the Obama administration has taken big steps in increasing Pell Grants, including doubling funding for Pell Grants within the last couple of years. For those in repayment, the Administration recently announced a pay-as-you-earn program, which could reduce loan payments by hundreds per month for those who qualify. Duncan explained that college can’t be for the wealthy only, and that while the Obama administration has made tremendous progress, “there is a lot of hard work ahead of us.”


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

New “School Days” Video Highlights First Group of States Seeking Waivers from NCLB

The latest edition of ED’s “School Days” video journal looks back at the month of November, and the lead story features the first states to seek waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for broad reforms.  Other news includes Secretary Arne Duncan’s visits to Ohio, Kentucky, and Rhode Island; new grants for innovations in education; a just-published report showing that schools with low-income students aren’t getting their fair share of state and local funds; and much more.

Watch the November 2011 School Days:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Duncan Sees Combined Federal Campaign in Action

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

As the National Honorary Chair of the federal government’s Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), Secretary Duncan stopped by N Street Village in D.C., this week to meet with staff and volunteers and to learn how the organization is helping the local community. N Street Village is a local community aimed at helping homeless and low-income women both in the short and long term. It is also one organization that federal employees can donate to through the CFC. The CFC is a federal charity campaign organized by the federal government to support eligible non-profit organizations that provide health and human service benefits throughout the world.

Evelyn Green said she was “helpless, homeless and hopeless,” before coming to N Street Village over 20 years ago. Green has used multiple services offered by N Street Village, including therapy, housing, addiction recovery, and job training programs. She has been clean and sober for 20 years now, and works for N Street Village as the manager of the day center, where she welcomes new clients and provides counseling to working to overcome addiction. In 2010, Evelyn was awarded a Linowes Leadership Award for unsung community heroes by The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.

CFC is the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity program, and without the donations from federal employees, programs such as N Street Village won’t be as successful in helping people like Evelyn Green. If you are a federal employee, click here to learn more about how you can donate through the CFC.

Our Students Deserve No Less

(Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

“My chief message today is a sobering one,” said Secretary Duncan yesterday at the annual Federal Student Aid conference in Las Vegas, Nev. “I want to ask you, and the entire higher education community, to look ahead and start thinking more creatively—and with much greater urgency—about how to contain the spiraling costs of college and reduce the burden of student debt on our nation’s students.”

Duncan called for a national conversation on the issue, and noted that containing the cost of college and student debt will always be some of the most controversial and thankless work in all of higher education. He went on to explain that:

With higher productivity and better accountability, institutions of higher education can boost both quality and access and constrain costs, all at the same time. In the era of the knowledge economy, the urgency of controlling college costs is not at odds with the urgency of increasing college attainment. Both goals are necessary if society is to do all it can to help more Americans succeed and thrive in the global job market.

Duncan acknowledged that for too many students and families that the cost of college is a serious and growing problem. He pointed out the Obama Administration’s unprecedented commitment to helping students pay off their student debt, including the recently announced Pay As You Earn proposal to help make student loan debt more manageable. “All told, federal support for increased college access has expanded more in the last three years than at any period since the years following the passage of the GI bill,” the Secretary said.

To those in attendance at the conference, Secretary Duncan called for creativity and a commitment to help contain the growth of college costs and student debt. “Our students deserve no less,” he said.

Click here to read the entire speech.

Town Hall: 140 Characters at a Time

Twitter Town Hall

Secretary Duncan and John Merrow during the #AskArne Twitter Town Hall (Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

“I love my job,” Secretary Duncan said at the close of yesterday’s second #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, moderated by education journalist John Merrow.

Merrow covered a wide-range of education topics including teacher pay, early learning, and how to get more young people excited about teaching. Here are several of the topics Arne addressed:

Respecting Teachers:

Merrow pointed to a couple of Twitter questions about respecting teachers, and asked Arne if he believes that teachers have been subject to “teacher bashing.” Duncan agreed:

@usedgov: Arne: “No question” teacher bashing is happening. We need to elevate, not demean, the profession. #askarne

“Whether it’s teachers or the teaching profession,” Duncan explained, “we’re trying to do everything we can to elevate it, to strengthen it. To make sure we celebrate excellence, and to make sure that collective bargaining rights are maintained.

Charter Schools:

@tbfurman: Has the charter school movement begun to “police itself” – as you asked them to do last July? #AskArne

Arne replied:

@usedgov: Arne on charters: I see bad charters being phased out & closed down. There’s more work to be done. #AskArne

@usedgov: Arne: Need a high bar for charter schools. The chance to educate children is a sacred obligation. #AskArne

Later the topic of charters reemerged and Duncan explained:

@usedgov: Duncan: Where charter schools are high-performing, we want to support them. Where they aren’t, they’re part of the problem. #AskArne

Choice:

@SteveGrose: Mich lawmakers are on a path to increase school choice without requiring improved quality. Is choice a reform model? #askarne

Arne explained:

@usedgov: Arne: For choice to work, it has to be choices between quality. #AskArne

@usedgov: Arne: It’s really important to empower parents. If parents are not empowered, I’d have a problem with that. #AskArne

Testing:

@usedgov: Re: testing, we need to be evaluating students’ knowledge, but drilling on fill-in-bubble tests isn’t best way to do that #AskArne

Student Loan Debt:

@EDSuccess: #AskArne what policies are @usedgov considering to address student loan debt at public and non-profit schools?

Duncan replied:

@usedgov: Very proud of Obama admin’s progress on student aid, esp direct lending to cut out middlemen banks and put $40B into Pell Grants #AskArne

@usedgov: Find out more about lowering your student loan payments at http://studentaid.ed.gov

Early Education:

Stacy Casson: #AskArne When will this country make a serious investment in early childhood education for all children. Proven ROI as seen in Head Start.

Duncan noted the Obama Administration’s commitment to early learning programs through programs such as the recently announced Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge:

@usedgov: Re: early learning, it’s the best investment we can make. And @USEDgov is investing $500M into states for access to quality. #AskArne

To see all the tweets from the event, follow @usedgov on Twitter, and you can watch the archived video here. To keep up to date with ED on Twitter follow @ArneDuncan, @usedgov@ED_Outreach@EDPressSec or click here to see all of ED’s social media accounts.

Teacher Pay Study Asks the Wrong Question, Ignores Facts, Insults Teachers

As millions of Americans search for work, and millions more scrape by to make ends meet, researchers affiliated with two Washington think tanks — the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation — have recently announced a “finding” that defies common-sense: America’s teachers are overpaid by more than 50 percent.

The new paper from Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs fails on several levels.  First, it asks the wrong question.  Second, it ignores facts that conflict with its conclusions.  Lastly, it insults teachers and demeans the profession.

Instead of asking whether teachers are overpaid, Richwine and Biggs should have asked what it would take to recruit and retain highly effective teachers for all students.  Surveys show that many talented and committed young people are reluctant to enter teaching for the long haul because they think the profession is low-paying and not prestigious enough.

McKinsey & Co. did a study (PDF) last year comparing the U.S. to other countries and found that America’s average current teacher salaries — starting around $35,000 and topping out at an average of $65,000 — were set far too low to attract and retain top talent.

The McKinsey report found that starting teacher salaries have not kept pace with other fields. In 1970, beginning New York City lawyers earned $2,000 more than first-year teachers. Today, a starting lawyer there can earn three or four times as much as a beginning teacher.

Money is not the reason that people enter teaching. But it is a reason why some talented people avoid teaching–or quit the profession when starting a family or buying a home.  Other high-performing nations recruit teachers from the top third of college graduates.  That must be our goal as well, and compensation is one critical factor.  To encourage more top-caliber students to choose teaching, teachers should be paid a lot more, with starting salaries more in the range of $60,000 and potential earnings of as much as $150,000.

Great teachers stand at the summit of one of the hardest, most challenging, and most consequential professions for our children and the country’s future economic prosperity.  They deserve our respect and should be well-remunerated.  Nevertheless, through tortured analysis, and in some instances a disregard of their own data, the authors of this new study reach a predictably contrary conclusion.

Traditionally, economists have analyzed teacher pay the same way they analyze pay in other professions–they have compared the pay of teachers to workers with similar education and work experience. Like many before them, Richwine and Biggs found that teachers did indeed receive lower pay than similarly educated workers — almost 20 percent lower.

I agree that educational credentials are not the best measures of teacher effectiveness — but the researchers go on to assert that teachers should not be compared to workers with similar educational credentials because teachers do not score as well on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test.  Setting aside the fact that the AFQT does not measure teacher effectiveness, it is insulting and demeaning to argue that teachers are not smart enough to receive market compensation comparable to their peers based on the results of a test that most of them took as teenagers.

The researchers also ignored a chart in their own paper showing that teachers have similar overall benefit packages to private employees. Unhappy with those findings, they then exaggerated the value of teacher compensation by comparing the retirement benefits of the small minority of teachers who stay in the classroom for 30 years, rather than comparing the pension benefits for the typical teacher to their peers in other professions.

Finally, they appeared to create out of thin air an 8.6 percent “job security” salary premium for teachers — despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of education jobs were lost in the recession and teachers continue to face layoffs.

By the end of this decade, more than half of America’s 3.2 million teachers are expected to retire. That demographic shift presents a stiff challenge and a special opportunity.  States, districts, and schools have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to modernize the teaching profession and expand the talent pool. But doing so will require dramatic change in the way we recruit, train, support, evaluate, and compensate teachers.

I agree with Richwine and Biggs on one point.  If teachers are to be recognized and compensated as professionals, states and school districts must shift away from a blue-collar assembly line model of compensation–and do more to reward effectiveness and performance in the classroom.  A performance-based compensation model will enable great teachers to earn more, justify higher salaries, and raise the stature of the profession.

Americans need and deserve an honest, open debate about the teaching profession, framed by evidence, not ideologically-tilted studies like this one.  The debate in Washington today should be about how to judiciously invest in education.  How can we best modernize schools with crumbling infrastructure so they can teach 21st century skills? How can we keep teachers in classrooms, instead of on unemployment lines? And yes–even when budgets are tight–how can we make teaching a more attractive career and elevate the profession?

The answer to these questions cannot be to cut teacher pay and put tens of thousands of teachers out of work. Even in a time of fiscal austerity, education is more than just an expense.  It’s an investment in the future.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

This post was updated on November 10, to more accurately reflect the authors of the study.

We Can’t Wait to Help America’s Graduates

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

In this globally competitive, knowledge-based economy, higher education has never been more important. Simply put, America cannot lead in the 21st century without the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world. Nations that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, which is why some form of higher education is an absolute must.

We also know that college costs have never been higher — or more difficult to manage. The Administration has already provided aid to millions of students with historic investments in programs like Pell Grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. But we realize that many borrowers are struggling to both pay off their loans and make ends meet every month. And fear of being saddled with debt in the long run may deter many potential students from enrolling in college. They need help now.

That’s why today, President Obama announced new efforts to make college more affordable by helping millions of borrowers better manage their federal student loan debt. We’re taking executive action with two measures that will bring relief to borrowers by lowering their monthly loan payments — at no cost to taxpayers.

First, for some students we are proposing to cap student loan repayment at 10 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income, starting next year. For many who worry about managing their debt while working in lower-paying fields — including teachers, nurses, public defenders, and social workers — this could reduce their payments by hundreds each month.

We also want to provide immediate relief to borrowers already repaying their loans. While the pay-as-you-earn proposal would only apply to some current students and recent graduates, millions more borrowers may already be eligible for our current income-based repayment plan, which caps payments at 15 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income. We know there are folks who are struggling in repayment now — and for them the current Income Based Repayment (IBR) plan may be a great option. To learn more about this plan to see if it makes sense for you, visit www.studentaid.ed.gov/ibr.

Second, beginning in January we will offer 6 million borrowers the chance to consolidate their loans and reduce their interest rates. Currently, these borrowers are repaying loans from two different programs, requiring them to submit separate payments and adding red tape that makes them more likely to default. Our special consolidation plan will allow these borrowers to make a single payment each month, with incentives to encourage on-time repayment. Borrowers who take advantage of this option will be eligible to receive a reduction in the interest rate on some of their loans by up to 0.5 percent, lowering their monthly payments and saving hundreds in interest. We will start reaching out to eligible borrowers in early 2012 to introduce them to this program.

In addition to these steps, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education have teamed up to launch a new Know Before You Owe project, and today they are releasing a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet — a draft model financial aid disclosure form. This form is a tool that colleges can use to help students better understand the type and amount of aid they qualify for, and will allow potential students to easily compare aid packages offered by different institutions.

The form will also make the total costs — and risks — of a student’s loans clear before enrollment, by outlining what a student’s monthly loan payment would be and providing an estimate of their total loan debt. Ultimately, this provides students and their families with useful information that can help them make a more informed decision about where to attend college and better understand the debt burden they may be left with.

These are changes that will make a big difference in the lives of college students and recent graduates entering one of the toughest job markets in recent memory. We’re helping provide them with key information on the front end, and we have a way to help them save money by consolidating their debt and capping their loan payments. And all of this will be done at no cost to taxpayers. This is not just a no-brainer – it’s the right thing to do.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education and Melody Barnes is the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council 

Secretary Duncan’s Straight Talk Is Music to Puerto Ricans’ Ears

Secretary Duncan speaks in Puerto Rico

Secretary Duncan speaks at the Puerto Rico Education Summit. (Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

On the island of Puerto Rico, home to the third-largest school district in the United States, Secretary Duncan on Monday brought a tough, but optimistic message to the “Investing in Our Future” Education Summit.

Puerto Rico, Duncan said to the more than 300 attendees, must choose “the path of embracing innovation, academic rigor, accountability, and effective strategies for accelerating learning for all students.”

In the first official visit by a U.S. Secretary of Education to Puerto Rico in 18 years, Secretary Duncan delivered opening and closing remarks at the 7-hour summit.

Duncan’s message was summarized Tuesday in the front-page headline of Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, which read; “U.S. Education Secretary Sings the Truth.”

Convened at the recommendation of the President’s Task Force Report on Puerto Rico’s Status, the summit brought together local elected officials, teacher unions, nonprofits, Puerto Rico Department of Education stakeholders, mainland education experts, as well as the business community.

Participants in the summit included Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño; resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi; San Juan mayor Jorge Santini; Vadim Nikitine, founder of the Flamboyan Foundation, and Nelson Colon, President of the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico.

Summit panels included System Wide Education Reform; Labor Management Collaboration as Key to Student Success; Beating the Odds in Traditionally Failing Environments; and a Business and Philanthropy in Education roundtable.

Student achievement has floundered in Puerto Rico, and 63 schools have been identified as persistently low-achieving.

Duncan acknowledged the challenges, but pressed summit attendees to meet those challenges, including poverty, with a spirit of collaboration and optimism.

“I know that poverty is not destiny,” Duncan said.  “We have all seen lives change because of opportunity, support, and guidance from great teachers and mentors.”

The summit’s panel on labor-management collaboration was the subject of particular attention, and Dr. Linda Lane, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, and Nina Esposito-Visgitis, President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, shared with the audience how they forged a strong working relationship.

“It all began when they asked me to participate in a teacher evaluation discussion, and I realized they were listening to me,” Vigisitis said.  “That really is where things began.”

The Department of Education, along with the Task Force, will continue to follow-up on the recommendations and lessons learned from the Summit.

During his visit, Secretary Duncan also conducted a town hall with parents and teachers at a school in Bayamon, as well as a small meeting with high school seniors at a school in San Juan.

Arne on Dumbing Down Standards and the Next Generation of Assessments

Secretary Duncan sits down several times a month to answer questions he receives via his Facebook page. This past week, Arne answered questions that had been received on Facebook’s Facebook in Education page.

In the video, Arne responds to a question asking why we as a country allowed standards in schools to be “dummied down.” Secretary Duncan explains that dumbed-down standards are an unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but that over the last two and a half years, 44 states have raised standards and are working to level the playing field for students.

Arne also responds to a question about the need for a new generation of assessments. Duncan notes ED is helping fund two consortia of states that are providing leadership and working together to develop new assessments that will go beyond today’s fill-in-the-bubble tests that only measure basic skills. These new assessments will support good teaching by measuring crticial thinking skills and complex student learning.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Join the conversation on Arne’s Facebook page or leave a comment below.

Join Arne for a Virtual Town Hall on Hispanic Education

To kick off the Administration’s focus on Hispanic education as a part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Secretary Duncan will engage with the Latino community through a virtual town hall at 2:30 p.m. ET today. The town hall will be moderated by Juan Sepúlveda, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Duncan and Sepúlveda will discuss how Hispanic success in education is important to America’s economy and respond to questions submitted on Twitter.

The town hall will be streamed live at ED’s ustream channel. Twitter users can ask questions in advance and during the forum using the hashtag #HispanicED.