Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Stop Acting Surprised Over Higher Education Budget Cuts from Tea-Party Associated Governors, It is What They Do

Recently, the media and internet has been blowing up over the higher education [HE] budget cuts proposed by Tea-Party associated governors:  Scott Walker (WI), Bobby Jindal (LA), Doug Ducey (AZ), and Bruce Rauner (IL).  However, these cuts should not be surprising to anyone as these governors ran on platforms clearly indicating they would be balancing budgets without generating additional revenue through increased taxes.  Obviously, sans raising taxes the only action to balance budgets is to cut spending.  Generally, HE is an easy to slash because costs will shift to students who have access to student loans.  Together these governors’ solutions are indicating that public HE is not a social priority.  This blog surveys the four governors and explains why people must stop being “surprised” when a Tea Party governor eviscerates HE revenue.

First, Walker  and Jindal are discussed together because of the perceived motive for their budget cuts, a desire for a 2016 presidential run.  Both have proposed $300 million dollar budget cuts to their respective HE systems.  Walker’s cuts equal to 13% of the Wisconsin system and is dispersed over the course of two years.  In comparison, Jindal’s are far more drastic cutting one-third of LSU system’s revenue in a single year.   Jindal’s attack on Louisiana’s HE system is long standing; since 2008, his policies have resulted in the reduction of $700 million to public HE.  Showing little care or understanding for how his actions affect LSU, when asked about the cost of tuition to attend LSU he stated, “It’s certainly well under $10,000 when you look at fees and housing.”   Actually, it is double.   Jindal’s proposed $300 million cuts are so extreme that even Republicans in his state are standing against him.  Although Jindal is not making friends at home, he does not need them. Like Walker, to fulfill his goals he now needs friends in Iowa.   Unlike Jindal, we do not have a long standing trend to examine the effects of Walker’s proposals.  However, before showing interest in a presidential bid Wisconsin’s system has held national average tuition.   Presumably, Wisconsin should expect this trend to change due to Walker’s newly adopted “Go Big and Go Bold” attitude; which was unveiled during a trip to Iowa.  

While not as extreme as the previous two, Ducey is looking to remove $75 million (10%) from HE in 2016.  Similarly to Louisiana, Arizona has experienced continued decreases in appropriations.  His predecessor Governor Jan Brewer , a Tea Party associate cut HE budgets just as harsh as Louisiana until her exit when she proposed a no-growth budget.  Although new to the governorship, Ducey came out strong as his proposed cuts for 2016 will be one of the largest single cuts for the AZ system.  With another Tea Party governor in office, the public institutions in Arizona should brace for continued declines.

Unlike the other governors in this list, Rauner’s net worth puts him near the billionaire class; therefore, he was less reliant on external funds to create the pathway towards governorship. Of the $65.3 million spent on his campaign 42% ($27.6 million) was self-injected money.   While Rauner may not “owe” external financiers, increased reports are suggesting that Rauner holds deep financial and ideological links to groups associated with the Tea Party, which may not align with the “moderate” platform touted during the election.  Aligning more closely with Tea Party ideology and trends, Rauner recently unleashed a budget proposal that introduces a massive 31% ($387m) cut in HE.  While universities were expecting double digit cuts, 30% was surprising even to university presidents - ISU’s Deitz, “Frankly, I’m in a bit of shock… [A 31% cut] was never talked about anywhere.”    However, in November 2014 it was reported that Rauner was eyeing a 30% cut to higher education; unfortunately people were not paying attention. 

These policies leave higher education vulnerable, so we should expect: (1) higher tuition and fees, (2) students across all SES to take out more student loans, (3) more parent plus loans, and (4) more out-of-state and international student enrollments, and (5) expect more cuts.  Additionally, we must stop acting surprised when Tea Party associated governors enact policies that gut HE as there is evidence that this is their mode of operation. 

Undoubtedly, there is a Tea Party agenda against publicly supported HE.  Knowing the Tea Party agenda to defund most governmental processes associated to the social good, let us not act shocked when the shell game hits HE. It should be expected and institutions need to stop wasting time being “shocked.”  Learn to fight or prepare to be state-based, not state-supported, institutions.   

Daniel A. Collier is a PhD student at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in the Education Organization and Leadership program. Daniel specializes in Higher Education research where through an evaluative research specialization he focuses on how policies and politics affect higher education.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Schools Are Racing to Adopt Digital Tools Without Solid Evidence that they Boost Student Achievement

At all levels from kindergarten to twelfth grade, American schools are making huge investments in digital education – with proponents often touting digital tools as a way to close achievement gaps and improve learning opportunities for economically and academically disadvantaged students. Digital instruction – using computers, netbooks, or handheld devices – is rapidly spreading in classrooms and supplemental areas of instruction. Big money is in play: One estimate values the U.S. school market for education software and digital content at nearly $8 billion. Advances in technology allow digital tools to offer the promise of broad access at low cost, competing with face-to-face methods of instruction for shrinking funds. But with schools inundated with new digital tools, little attention has been paid to whether teachers, parents, and students are putting them to effective use.

Who Decides?
Schools themselves often are not the ones who decide to purchase digital devices and software. In Texas, for example, the Texas Education Agency typically makes decisions about technology purchases and also determines the level of funding available for making effective use of the new purchases. In Los Angeles Unified School District, a contract to facilitate the largest-ever distribution of computing devices to public school students was beset by problems, including an incomplete curriculum software package purchased at considerable expense. As was the case in Los Angeles, school-level staff members are seldom consulted about the technologies they really need or are prepared to use, yet principals and teachers are left to grapple with the practical challenges. Often with little support, they have to figure out how to get the right digital tools to appropriate groups of students, how to integrate electronic formats into the regular curriculum, and how to use tools and programs effectively to improve the performance of students who are lagging in academic achievement. Needless to say, the problems are not always readily resolved.

Research on the Impact of Digital Tools
Digital educational tools used well can be an important asset for American schools, but the modest research accomplished to date suggests that the deployment of digital tools can exacerbate achievement gaps and create a new kind of digital divide in which inadequately resourced schools serving students from lower-income families cannot take full advantage of the new technological potential. Some studies of digital instruction have found no significant effects on student learning, while others suggest positive effects when these tools are deployed in favorable circumstances. Relevant favorable factors include regular interaction between teachers and students, real-time data feedback for teachers, and consistent access to the new technology by all students.
Our recent work and the limited evidence accumulated by various scholars show that there is enormous variability in how digital instructional programs are rolled out, accessed, and supported both during and outside of the regular school day. The quality of educational programming using these tools depends on a lot more than the technologies and software purchased by a state or local educational agency. But, unfortunately, initial purchases are often not followed up by the gathering of transparent, accountable evidence about how the new platforms are used and to what effect. Educators are expending substantial resources and instructional time on the deployment of digital educational tools, and we need to know much more about the supports and training needed to get good academic results.

We have studied tutoring programs in large urban school districts that are conducted outside of regular school hours. Our research examined differences in both implementation and impact between providers of supplemental educational services using digital tools and those not relying on digital tools at all. Using a standardized observation instrument, we were able to examine the quality of instruction in both non-digital and digital tutorial settings. For instance, digital sessions were relatively lacking in – and did little to improve – intellectual rigor and advanced thinking skills. Often the questions presented to students were simply “digitized worksheets” that did not require students to actually use technology to apply, evaluate, or create concepts. In general, our analyses found that digital tools do not regularly add value to instruction, even when the technology is readily accessible and working well (which often is not the case). In addition, drawing upon large samples of student test score data, we also estimated impact of these tutoring services on student achievement.

Human Instructors are Crucial
From our own and others’ research, we know that the role of the instructor is vital for quality education. Tellingly, when the supplemental educational service providers we studied combined face-to-face tutoring with the use of online software, tutors were able to reword problems for particular students. Students who got such face-to-face digitally supported instruction realized significantly larger gains in math compared to those tutored entirely using only software.

In our study, English language learners and students with disabilities were significantly less likely than other students to benefit from the optimal combination of personal interaction and online programs. These students face major educational challenges, yet they were subjected to less effective forms of online tutoring.
More generally, our field research illuminates the challenges involved in making new digital educational tools work well for all students. As digital programming continues to expand in classrooms and associated school services, we urgently need rigorous, independent evaluations to better inform federal, state and local decisions – especially when it comes to using digital formats to help disabled and underprivileged students who have the most to gain, and lose, in the new learning environment.

Patricia Burch is committed to improving quality and equitable access in public education. The focus of her current research is how the policies and practices of various sectors, in particular business and education, intersect in low-income communities. As an educator, parent and citizen, Burch is interested in building an informed and respectful dialogue to counter commercialism of public schools.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Upcoming Event: Restoring the Promise of Higher Education

Join us on Thursday, March 5, for two public events that are part of the 2015 Cline Symposium, “Restoring the Promise of Higher Education. The Cline Symposium is a major campus-wide event that draws an audience of nearly 200 students, faculty, and distinguished alumni from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to discuss significant issues affecting the governance and welfare of democratic societies. The Cline Symposium is made possible by a gift from Richard G. and Carole J. Cline and is one of the most visible annual events on the University of Illinois campus.  Since its inception in 1995 it has attracted a number of world-renowned speakers and some of the most distinguished alumni and friends of UIUC’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  

This year’s focus is the current state of higher education in the United States. Earning a college diploma was once heralded as the key to upward mobility and greater economic opportunities for many Americans. But the U.S. system of higher education that used to help level the playing field now exacerbates social and political inequalities. Today, despite the fact that many more people are attempting to go to college than in the past, there are some indicators that access to a 4-year degree for lower-income individuals is no longer expanding. A series of political and public policy changes have transformed the higher education system from a vital pathway of opportunity to a major source of social stratification. The Spring 2015 Cline Symposium aims to understand why these changes have occurred, and explore ways to promote equal opportunity while maintaining high academic quality at all institutions.

This year’s symposium features two public events that are open to all interested students, faculty, and community members. We would like to invite you to attend both of them, and to pass word along to anyone else who might be interested in attending:

Roundtable Discussion and Public Forum“Is Higher Education Still The Great Equalizer?”
3:00-4:30pm     Illini Union – Room 314A

Professor Scott Althaus (Chair), Depts. of Political Science and Communication, UIUC
Professor Suzanne Mettler, Dept. of Government, Cornell University
Professor Denice Hood, Dept. of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, UIUC
Professor Christopher Lubienski, Dept. of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, UIUC
Professor Lorenzo Baber, Dept. of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, UIUC
Mr. Ryan Croke, Former Chief of Staff to Governor Quinn
Keynote Address“How the Politics of Higher Education Is Undermining the American Dream”
7:30-9:00pm     Illini Union – Room 314A

Suzanne Mettler, Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions in the Government Department at Cornell University.

Professor Mettler’s research and teaching interests include public policy (including social welfare, tax, health, and education policies), American political development, political behaviorcivic engagement, and inequality.Copies of her book Degrees of Inequality: How Higher Education Politics Sabotaged the American Dreamwill be available for purchase at this event and there will be a book signing after the keynote.

More details on these events can be found in the attached flyer and athttp://www.clinecenter.illinois.edu/news/events/cline/2015ClineSymposium/default.aspx. I hope you will be able to join us on March 5.