Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How State of Residence Shapes College Affordability and Illinois’ MAP Grants

Historically, state need-based aid has been the largest area of state investment in student financial aid. However, state need-based grant aid is not evenly distributed across the US states. Some states, like South Dakota, invested less than $1 million in 2010-11 in need-based undergraduate grant aid. Other states, like Illinois, invested more than $400 million in need-based undergraduate grant aid in 2010-11 (NASSGAP 2010-11). Figure 1 shows that just nine states provide 72.6% of all need-based undergraduate grant aid in the US. The other 41 states’ collective effort amounts to only 27.4% of the total effort made by states in this area. Given this uneven distribution of state need-based grant aid across the country, students’ prospects for college are largely shaped by where they live. Low income students in the nine states that provide 72.6% of all need-based undergraduate grant aid have better prospects of being able to make college affordable than do their low income peers in other states.
Even students in the nine largest need-based aid states are seeing erosions in state investment in need-based aid. For example, Illinois offers 6.3% of the total nationwide state investment in need-based grant aid. In 2010-11, Illinois awarded $404.513 million in need-based aid, which represents 98% of the state total investment in student aid. The primary undergraduate need-based grant aid program in Illinois is called the Monetary Award Program (MAP), which is administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC). MAP can be used at any approved Illinois college by Illinois residents. The grant award season begins in January, when students are first able to apply for MAP by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and awards vary depending on a student’s financial circumstance, the cost of tuition at a student’s school, and the maximum award allowed in that year. In 2011-12, the effective maximum MAP award amount was $4,720. Awards are processed until the funds are exhausted, leaving some students who qualify for MAP unable to receive a grant if the funds are depleted before their FAFSA is complete. ISAC reports the number of eligible recipients with suspended awards each year. Table 1 shows the maximum (or effective maximum, which includes rescissions) MAP award, the total number of students in Illinois eligible for MAP, and the number and percent of eligible students who did not receive a MAP award. In 2000-01, all of the 197,889 students who were eligible for MAP received an award. In the 2011-12 award year, 369,674 students were eligible for MAP, which left 145,365 eligible students, or 39%, without awards. The suspension date for the 2011-12 MAP grant was April 8, 2011. 
Because MAP is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, not all eligible students have equal odds of being denied an award. This is a particular hardship for students who decide to enroll in community colleges close to the start of the fall semester, or students who otherwise are not informed about the early suspension date for the program.
However, prior research has shown that receipt of MAP can affect postsecondary outcomes. Feeney and Heroff (2010) examine the relationship between the MAP grant and college persistence and enrollment for first-year students in Illinois who completed the 2003-2004 FAFSA and qualified for MAP. Low-income students who receive MAP are significantly more likely to enroll in college and more likely to enroll in a 4-year college, compared to non-recipients. The amount of the MAP award also impacts student enrollment and persistence.
At the end of December a state-wide task force on MAP released a report offering recommendations on the program.  Overall, the commission took a stand by not recommending many changes to the MAP program.  Instead, the commission restated a commitment to need-based aid through the MAP program.  Even though Illinois has been a historically strong need-based aid state, this recommitment to need-based aid is needed to prevent further erosion in support for low-income students. I hope the work of the MAP commission will inspire higher education institutions and the General Assembly to work towards reaffirming Illinois’ leadership in providing postsecondary opportunities for low income students. 

Figure 1: Need-based Undergraduate Grant Aid by State: 2010-11

Source: NASSGAP 2010-11.
Table 1: Number of Eligible Students Denied Funds for MAP Grants in Illinois, 2000-01 to 2011-12
Maximum Award or Effective Maximum
Number Eligible
Number Eligible Left in Susp.
Percent of Eligible Students Who Did Not Receive a MAP Award
Source: 2012 ISAC Databook. Tables 2.0c Monetary Award Program - Maximum Award History Academic Year 1977-2013 and 2.0d MAP/IIA Suspension History FY1978-FY2012. https://www.isac.org/dotAsset/14943d2b-302a-4e9c-a555-53ccd12eacc7.pdf

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Policy Interventions or Political Posturing?

National Journal posed the following question, to which Forum Director Chris Lubienski responds:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., last Friday visited a private Catholic school, St. Mary's Academy in New Orleans, for a tour and a discussion with local education officials and families. The purpose of the visit, (gumbo and sazerac aside) was to promote Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's education agenda, much of which has landed in court. "We want to explore what has been gained in terms of experience to see how we can learn from this at the federal level," Cantor said after the event.
Jindal, a rising star in the Republican party, last year announced an ambitious education plan for Louisiana that has been cheered by school choice advocates and booed by teachers' unions. The plan forms a virtual battleground for a difficult education debate in a state whose schools are ranked among the very worst in the country. Louisiana is the perfect place for radical school proposals, and Jindal doesn't shy away from the task. His plan includes private school vouchers, severely weakened teacher tenure, and fast-tracking for charter schools.
Last week, a Louisiana court threw out Jindal's teacher tenure evaluation measure, saying it violated the state constitution because it contained too many unrelated provisions. Late last year, the same court said the voucher program was unconstitutional because it diverted local tax dollars to private schools.
Jindal is unbowed by the setbacks. "When we embarked on this path of reform, we knew this would not be an easy fight because the coalition of the status quo is entrenched and has worked to hold Louisiana teachers and students back for decades," he said in response to the most recent court ruling.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten cheered the ruling, saying elected officials can't force radical changes on the education system without consultation and deliberation. The court decision "should be a wake-up call to so-called reformers determined to ram through top-down dictates that undermine the voice of educators and public schools at all costs," she said.
What does Jindal's plan--and Cantor's interest in it--signify about Republicans' views on education? What is the impact on the public school system from school choice initiatives like Jindal's? What is the impact of eliminating the benefits of teacher tenure? Is it a direct attack on the teachers unions? Where can Democrats find common ground with Republicans in this conversation?
Dr. Lubienski's response:

Poor John White.  The Louisiana Superintendent’s efforts to do right (at least in his mind) by the state’s school children has earned him substantial credibility with the current crop of education reformers around the country.  But he also serves a governor who seems more intent on positioning himself with the right-wing of the GOP for a presidential run than on having a lasting beneficial impact on education in the Bayou state.

His boss, Governor Bobby Jindal has been causing quite a commotion, in the schools and in the courts.  He has tried to deepen and accelerate the market-oriented reforms that proliferated in post-Katrina New Orleans, expanding them across the state.  Jindal’s plan for education reform has a number of elements, but centers on:

·       expanding Louisiana’s voucher program statewide to students at more public schools
·       growing the supply-side by inviting more groups (including businesses) to provide education services
·       opening up more opportunities for “high quality charter operators” with “proven track records” to get established (so much for the local, independent “mom-and-pop” start-ups)
·       and, of course, cultivating a teacher labor market by undercutting tenure and salary scales, giving more authority to employers, and tying teachers’ value to students progress.

But then a Republican-appointed judge throws out the tenure reforms on a technicality, and rules that the voucher program undercut local control of public education resources. 

Is that a problem for the Jindal education agenda?  Hardly.  After all, the point isn’t to get these things implemented in order to improve the education of Louisiana kids.  Indeed, there’s precious little clear and compelling evidence that things like vouchers, monetary incentives for teachers, or even charter schools necessarily raise achievement for students (consider the continuing widespread failure in RSD), much less that scaling-up even these programs will work with a wider population. 

Instead, the Jindal education agenda appears to be more about positioning the governor as the standard bearer for ALEC-inspired education reforms, probably in preparation for a run for national office where he’ll need the support of influential and well-heeled conservative groups.  In that sense, it doesn’t matter if these measures “work,” or even if they’re implemented, but only that his proposals demonstrate superior commitment to the cause of attacking unions and elevating market mechanisms.

In that regard, Eric Cantor’s recent visit was likely to produce more in the way of political insights into Jindal’s electability than any policy insights into the efficacy of these programs. 

Meanwhile, as the political circus proceeds through Baton Rouge, and his boss engages in political posturing, John White has a lot of kids in need of a better education.

Twitter: Democratizing policy and research, or a HUGE waste of time?

I (@mlinic1) joined Twitter for several reasons. Professionally, it serves as an excellent way to promote my own research and that of the Forum on the Future of Public Education (@forum_future_ed). Further, Twitter provides an excellent opportunity to customize your own access to the news of the day by following people and organizations that are important to you. As such I’m able to keep abreast of recent developments in politics (@barackobama, @corybooker, @marcorubio), follow favorite entertainers (@neilhimself, @colbertreport, @nathanfillian), follow research organizations and think-tanks (@occrl, @heritage,  @nepctweet, @hooverinst), and keep up on the news (@newsbreaker, @educationweek). Perhaps the most engaging aspect of Twitter, for me, is following the discussions of individual educational researchers, advocates, and media figures (@clubienski, @schlfinance101, @mpolikoff, @saragoldrickrab, @michaelpetrilli, @shermandorn, @michellerhee, @leoniehaimson, @dianeravtich, @chingos). When I started using Twitter (@mlinic1), I was concerned that it was consuming too much of my time, reducing my productivity, and distracting me from meaningful work. I am amazed by productive scholars that are able to use Twitter engagingly, while promoting their scholarly pursuits, and challenging poor research (@saragoldrickrab and@schlfinance101 are great examples of such scholars).

In recent years, research and policy discussions have experienced a great democratization with the expansion of new media forms such as blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Debates about policy are no longer contained to newspapers and news broadcasts, nor are debates about research validity contained to after-the-fact responses in journal articles (but, for a great example look here.) I have found the use of Twitter to provide two benefits to me as a new scholar. First, despite the restrictive nature of 140 characters, excellent and enlightening discussions can emerge on Twitter about the intricacies of education research. For example, in 2012 Matthew Chingos and Paul Peterson released a widely discussed study of voucher effectiveness; however, despite endorsement by the Wall Street Journal, the study’s methods were quickly attacked on Twitter. Additionally, wisdom can be found 140 characters or less. Following a discussion between several educational researchers about the validity of voucher studies, Dr. Morgan Polikoff asked “So, until such time as a review appears, how would you discuss voucher literature,” and Dr. Chris Lubienski responded, “Cautiously, considering the source, research design, etc.” While only requiring 57 characters, such advice is something all researchers (especially those working with policy) would do well to heed. 

Second, understanding how Twitter is used by organizations and individuals to disseminate and absorb information regarding policies and research is an interesting prospect, especially for any researchers interested in the use of research in policymaking. As discussed by Michael Petrilli, simply understanding who is following who, says quite a bit about how information is disseminated and echo chamber that exists (he provides a great image here). I am currently pursuing further research on this subject, examining organizational approaches to research dissemination. I will be presenting a paper on this subject at AERA 2013, and will share more about my findings in coming months.     

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Replicating failure – John Banks and charter schools

The following blog was originally posted at The Daily Blog, and was written by John Minto.

“charter schools are not about raising student achievement but are a political response to a corporate problem – how can we get into public education and make private profit from government spending?”

Friday’s announcement by Act leader and Associate Education Minister John Banks of the Board which will select successful charter school applicants raises two important issues.
Firstly the appointment of the board and its announcement was premature – a slap in the face for parliament which has not yet even heard from the select committee considering the proposal, let alone passed legislation enabling these schools to be established. Fellow Act Party member and chair of the Charter School Working Group Catherine Isaacs did something similar late last year when she used her position to call for expressions of interest in running charter schools despite the select committee having not heard even the first submission.
The second issue relates to the makeup of this John Banks Board. There is not a single person on this group who has a track record of improving educational achievement for children from low-income communities despite the fact this is the very group the government says it wants to target with charter schools.
This is not surprising because charter schools are not about raising student achievement but are a political response to a corporate problem – how can we get into public education and make private profit from government spending?
But before we condemn charter schools out of hand we must ask the key question – do they raise education achievement? The answer is a resounding NO. Every country which has gone down the charter school path – the US, UK and Sweden were held up as examples by Act – has seen its education system go backwards in international comparisons such as through PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment).
In the last PISA tests in 2009 New Zealand was 7th in reading, 13th in maths and 7th in science – well ahead of any of the charter school countries. The US was 17th, 31st and 33rd, the UK 26th, 28th and 16th and Sweden 20th, 26th and 29th respectively of the 65 countries who took part – including all OECD countries.
These charter school countries have slipped in the rankings despite two decades of letting the private sector into their education systems. “Epic fail” would not be too strong to describe their educational performance. Charter schools have led these education systems to become fragmented and incoherent and the horror stories are thick on the ground.
Mismanagement, lack of accountability, poorly resourced classrooms, untrained, unqualified teachers on low pay and poor educational achievement are the norm.
After 20 years of charter schools in the US the most comprehensive study showed just 17% of charter schools outperforming public schools, 37% performed worse than public schools and the rest showed no difference. The high achievers either had selected intakes or sophisticated ways of expelling less academically able students. In KIPP school for example – another example paraded by ACT – 40% of African American boys “drop out” before they reach 8th grade (Year 9 in NZ)
John Banks wants the worst features of charter schools here. Untrained and unqualified teachers are essential to the private sector because they are cheaper and this allows for greater profits to be stripped from the schools. Being exempt from the Official Information Act and Ombudsman as Banks wants also means we will never know the true extent to which we and our kids are being ripped off.
Instead of mimicking failure we should emulate successful countries like Finland whose PISA results were 3rd, 6th and 2nd respectively. No charter schools in Finland – just a heavily resourced and very high quality public education system. That’s what we need here.
The government has made much of the “long tail of underachievement’ in New Zealand’s education system where children from low-income families (including disproportionate numbers of Maori and Pacifika children) achieve poorly at school. We do have a longer tail than some countries but our poorest performers still do much better than the poorest performers in most surveyed countries.
More importantly though our long tail of underachievement is in fact our long tail of poverty and inequality – a situation created by the neo-liberal free market policies which ACT, National and Labour foisted upon the country from 1984.
Reversing these policies will be an important part of raising student achievement for the children of the poor.