The future is bleak for U.S. higher education | Opinion … – Lockport Union

I thought that my jam writing days had ended, but I am so brutally (angered) by the savagery of current decline in higher education that I feel compelled to comment further.

I do not claim original research in the following findings. Rather, I am indebted to regular reports from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, National Association of Scholars, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Young Americans for Freedom, the American Heritage Foundation and various university clearinghouses. Facts are alarming, especially the abysmal understanding of our history and traditions.

Whether or not American education can recover remains to be seen, but it is doubtful that it will occur in my lifetime. I am grieved to say it because the profession was very good to me and my associates and, most notably, our students. The future is bleak not only for the profession but for our higher education institutions and therefore the country as a whole.

In authenticated reports:

— 34 percent of recent college graduates, aged 18 to 34, could not identify when election day is held.

— 50 percent could not name Franklin Roosevelt as the last president to win more than two presidential elections.

— 52 percent of college graduates could not identify George Washington as the American general at the Battle of Yorktown.

— Only 28 percent named James Madison as Father of the Constitution in a multiple choice survey.

— Ten percent thought TV’s Judge Judy was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

— Less than 20 percent could correctly identify on a multiple choice survey the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

— A Yale University survey found that 51 percent of college students favor speech codes.

— A Pew survey found that 40 percent of students think that the government should be able to punish speech considered offensive to minority groups.

— Widely reported is the appalling incident at Middlebury College which prevented Dr. Charles Murray from speaking and resulted in campus violence and the hospitalization of a faculty member. Dr. Murray is a distinguished political scientist and scholar and the author of Losing Ground, which has been credited as the intellectual foundation for the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.

— Other renowned speakers such as Condoleeza Rice, Ben Carson and George Will have been disinvited to deliver commencement addresses because they make some students feel “unsafe.”

Bad as they are, these facts do not tell the whole tale of loss and corruption. Following are some examples of how the curriculum has been destroyed across academia. Replacing previous requirements for history courses:

— The University of Maryland offers “Zombies, Fear and Contagion” (the big question addressed is, “why do we fear zombies?”).

— To fulfill their history course requirements, Bowdoin College allows “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl,” Williams College allows “Soccer and History in Latin America: The Beautiful Game” and Swarthmore College allows “Cigarette Smoking in the 20th Century.”

When I taught history, we required the History of Western Civilization or U.S. History. Now, of the top 25 liberal arts colleges, only seven require U.S. History to graduate. Of the top 25 national universities, only four require U.S. History to graduate.

Summarizing the carnage, the Washington Post recently reported that it’s possible at colleges like Harvard, Yale and Stanford to obtain a degree in history without ever studying U.S. history.

Sadly, American colleges no longer require rigorous liberal arts / general education that used to be the hallmark of a collegiate career. A recent ACTA report revealed that only 35 percent of schools require a course on literature, and only 18 percent of schools require a course in U.S. history or government.

It is absolutely astonishing to me that American colleges and universities have fallen into such Orwellian sinkholes. Students and faculty who tear down the American flag or shred copies of the U.S. Constitution are celebrated as champions of open-minded multi-cultural acceptance while those who defend the flag and the Constitution are labeled as racists, xenophobes and bullies.

But all is not lost! Fortunately, there are still some stalwarts of freedom, leading organizations such as ACTA, NAS, ISI, YAF, the Ashbrook Institute, all striving to keep constitutional liberty and commitment to principles of democracy alive on our college / university campuses.

Until they have clearly turned the corner and regained lost ground, as a past president of four colleges and emeritus professor of history and government, my advice to parents and prospective students is to shun the liberal arts and turn instead to vocational / technical education programs.

 Newfane native John O. Hunter is a retired college administrator and teacher of history, residing in Hornell.

Former Gov. Mike Leavitt blasts federal audit of Western Governors University

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt says a newly released audit of Western Governors University by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General was a “sneak attack by the past on the future.”

The audit report recommends that the nonprofit online university repay $713 million in federal student financial aid claiming faculty did not have “regular and substantive” interaction with students, something WGU officials dispute. Moreover, the audit says the university, based in Salt Lake City, should be ineligible to receive any more federal aid.

Leavitt said in an interview Friday that federal auditors are taking a requirement in the statute and “torturing its meaning to draw its conclusion,” referring to a 1992 law that defines federal financial aid eligibility for distance education programs.

“It’s just Neanderthal thinking that has been revealed in this report,” he said.

According to the report’s findings, many courses offered by WGU do not meet the distance education requirement because they were not designed for “regular and substantive interaction” between students and faculty. The audit says the courses should have instead been labeled as correspondence courses.

The whole thing turns on the question “how, and not if, you have contact with a student,” Leavitt said.

“I would ask you, how do you have contact with your bank? We all interact electronically now. With our family, we all interact frequently over Facebook and we feel like we’re in better touch. That’s the issue here,” he said.

But the overarching concern is that financial aid regulation has not evolved as the number of higher education institutions that exclusively offer online instruction proliferate.

“I think that the Congress will come to understand they need to change this statute, and I would think the secretary of education should step in fairly quickly or they’re going to discourage innovation,” Leavitt said.

His sentiments were echoed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who, as the state’s top elected official, serves on Western Governors University’s board of directors.

“State innovation in education has moved quickly. It’s time for Congress pick up its pace and support successful innovations in higher education, including distance, online and competency-based education. This is especially important in states like Utah, which have large rural areas,” Herbert said in a statement.

Leavitt predicted that the now 20-year-old institution, of which he played a key role in founding, “will be fully absolved of any requirement to pay.”

WGU, a pioneer in competency-based education, has paved the way for a growing number of online universities, he said.

“Emulation is high flattery. The reason people are looking at it is because it produces a high-quality outcome for a very low cost. A library now in higher education will cost $100 million minimum. The entire investment in this institution is $45 million, $50 million,” he said.

But beyond cost savings, the competency-based model has vastly expanded access to high-quality higher education, Leavitt said.

“The institution is now 20 years old. It has now had 85,000 graduates. It is growing by 20 percent a year. It’s been praised by two presidents of the United States. It’s seen by virtually everyone as a model that is sustainable to provide high-quality higher education to a group of citizens who up to this point are denied access,” he said.

“One really does have to ask the question ‘Why now?’ It’s beyond explanation as far as I’m concerned,” Leavitt said.

The Department of Education will conduct a 30-day comment period after which Leavitt said he believes WGU’s appeal will succeed.

“The thing about it is, the record just speaks for itself. Anyone looking to see how you produce high-quality results for less money and it’s not shareholders, it’s stakeholders, students, employers, accrediting agencies and anyone in a position to judge quality or value, who have lauded this model,” Leavitt said.

“I’m annoyed by it but I’m not worried about it.”

Where Does Personalized Learning End and Special Education Begin?

It’s the start of a new school year and the air is full of promise. I’ve set up my room, made my copies and attended all of my meetings. As students flood into the school, I’m charged with positive energy and hope.

But as I peruse my class list and the academic data that accompanies it, anxiety sets in. I’ve committed to personalizing learning, but how can I do that for every student in my inclusion classroom when the range of abilities among them is so vast?

This is my third year teaching at William Penn High School in the Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware. Dually certified in special education and English Language Arts, I teach an ELA inclusion class to 11th and 12th graders, which means I serve students with and without Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) in the same setting. Additionally, I manage a caseload of 18 students with IEPs, and enter goals and progress for over 60 other students.

A core element of my job has always been to consider how I can tailor instruction to meet the needs of each student—that’s the crux of special education. IEPs are legal documents designed to include specific goals, objectives and strategies for how to modify instruction to meet each student’s needs. Personalized learning doesn’t seem that far off—but meeting the needs of every student in an inclusion class when some have IEPs and some do not can get hairy.

It also raises some questions around where special education practices and personalized learning intersect. Does personalized learning mean every student gets an IEP? Does it mean that students who had an IEP no longer need one because now every learner is receiving tailored instruction? Can I use the same measuring tools to gauge growth for all students? Should it be different than how I was teaching before?

Special education is a gray area when it comes to personalized learning, so it has been a learning curve.

Class Makeup: Rules and Ratios

There are different types of learning environments that serve students with special needs. Some of them are separate settings, and others are inclusive, which means that general education and special education students are served in the same learning environment. There are laws and regulations that exist to ensure that the ratio of students with and without IEPs maintains a specific balance for some special education settings in Delaware—but they don’t apply to my classes.

I am a “SAM” teacher, which stands for Single Approach to Mastery. It’s a relatively new position in the Colonial School District. In many ways, it resembles a Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classroom—but I play the role of both special education and general education teacher. The position was more widely assigned out of necessity after state budget cuts, and currently, there is no law that explicitly states how many students may be enrolled in an inclusion class like mine.

However, in most states by law, “the number of students with disabilities in an Integrated Co-Teaching class may not exceed 40% of the class with a maximum of 12 students with disabilities.” That means the makeup of an inclusion class is required to have at least 60% of students without IEPs. But that’s not always the way it goes down.

Enrollment, funding, and a slew of other factors push administrators to build classes that don’t quite add up to the ideal 60:40 balance. In my classes the ratio is closer to 55:45. Most of the students I teach have failed several classes, so they are already behind the 8 ball when it comes to graduation. Many of my students need to take two English classes simultaneously—which is difficult considering their schedule is usually overloaded with repeat classes across all subject areas.

Teaching students with learning gaps is daunting. To be successful at it, it’s important to recognize that there are a number of reasons why a learner might be delayed. Attendance struggles, a difficult family situation, a learning disability, a set of behavioral challenges, becoming a parent—any one of these obstacles could set a student back, and each one warrants its own unique set of instructional approaches.

I teach three sections of English III to juniors and three sections of English IV Contemporary Literature to seniors. All of my classes are inclusion sections and I work with over 120 students a week—so I see quite a spectrum of learners. My students with IEPs have unique needs with special education classifications including learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, blindness, and medical conditions diagnosed by physicians such as ADD, ADHD, anxiety and depression. Their IEPs have accommodations such as behavior charts, extra time on assessments, reduction in answer choices and opportunities for revision or re-testing.

Though my general education students do not have IEPs, they still have learning gaps and require special consideration as I plan curriculum and assessment. About 20 percent of my students are reading on grade level according to SRI College and Career Ready Assessment, and are planning on going to college. I get the occasional overachiever who is reading above grade level, but the bulk of my students are reading texts that range from a first-grade reading level to ninth-grade reading level.

Recognizing the range I’m serving is always my first step to working with students. To set myself up for success, I will likely need to differentiate the workload based on student ability, or give some learners extra time to grapple with higher-level texts.

How Tech Has Helped Me Reach the Spectrum

I used to do everything manually—differentiating curriculum and assessments, providing student feedback, and managing hard copies of classwork and homework.

For each class section, I found at least six different texts and made all of the copies so students would have a choice regarding what they read in class. I created multiple versions of tests, quizzes and classwork assignments, and I manually gave feedback using a pen and paper. To combat the inevitable student response—“but I turned it in, you must have lost it”—I developed systems for managing hard copies of classwork and homework.

It wasn’t sustainable.

Accepting technological support has been pivotal for me. There are two tools that have allowed me to scale differentiated supports for students: Google Apps and Schoology.

Google Drive has helped me manage student work and provide more efficient feedback for students. Google’s ReadWrite app lets me scaffold the texts I use, making higher-level texts accessible to students with lower reading levels. The app has eliminated the grunt work of manually differentiating texts. It has features that support struggling readers and writers including word prediction, text-to-speech, talking dictionary and picture dictionary. Students can pop any text into the app for extra support when they need it, which means that I don’t need to generate alternative versions of every text we use.

Schoology has allowed me to experiment with pacing. I can differentiate the workload for each student, which helps me individualize pacing for each lesson. It also allows me to assign work individually or in groups—this feature helps me meet the specific needs of each learner discreetly, without damaging anyone’s dignity.

With these tools, I’ve been able to increase student choice in my classes. I always knew offering choice was a good thing—but it’s no easy feat. Offering more choice means finding more texts, preparing more materials and making more copies. But Google ReadWrite helps make texts accessible, and Schoology lets me curate materials that are appropriate for each learner and present them all in one place so students don’t get lost in web surfing, which is enticing for teenage students. This makes it possible for me to create more opportunities for students to select which text to read, choose what topic to investigate and make decisions about the sequence in which they learn.

The Struggle is Still Real

Although I’ve had a lot of success over the past three years, there are some unresolved challenges.

There are logistical difficulties like the school server failing, internet connectivity issues and lagging wifi—which apparently is a common occurrence when more than 400 phones are on Snapchat. Last year during a critical lesson with high-stakes due dates, the internet on the entire Eastern seaboard went down. These issues make working online frustrating for students who just want to get their assignments done. To complicate things further, device and internet access at home is quite limited for some students, which makes homework a whole other animal.

Managing pacing is always a struggle—with or without technology. This is even more difficult in an inclusion class because many learners have accommodations for extended time, which often applies to curricular activities as well as assessments.

Of all the challenges, tracking goals and progress is what keeps me up at night. It’s my responsibility to support all students with goal setting, to gauge growth, and to accurately reflect student progress for every student. This means entering goals and assessment data on Schoology. For students with IEPs, it also means measuring progress toward each IEP goal, updating the document four times a year, and collecting hard copies and digitized versions of work samples as evidence.

Codeswitching between managing IEP goals and the personalized learning goals that every student has remains sticky. Making sure that every IEP folder in my trusty filing cabinet is up to date and double-entering some of that data into Schoology isn’t ideal—but it’s what needs to be done.

Down the road, I’d like to see special education take a front seat in conversations about personalized learning. When used correctly, IEPs should play a role in guiding instruction and supporting the learner by ensuring that specific accommodations necessary for student growth are in place. The IEP is a sacred document—there are legal issues and privacy issues that every teacher needs to consider. And my hope is that schools, districts and the entrepreneurs building tools to support personalized learning models consider them as well. 

Stefanina Baker teaches 11th and 12th grade English Language Arts inclusion classes at William Penn High School in Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware.

This story is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Delaware) and made publicly available with support from the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation. Note: the students’ real names were not used in this story.

GAO Report Should Trigger Rethink Of Accountability In Higher Education

To borrow $43 million and pay it back almost immediately may appear a rather pointless exercise. But for Corinthian Colleges, a now-defunct chain of for-profit colleges, it was a clever way to bamboozle regulators and keep federal subsidies flowing with no strings attached.

For all private colleges that receive student aid funds from the federal government, the Department of Education calculates a measure of “financial responsibility,” intended to identify which schools might be in choppy financial waters and thus at risk of closure. But the financial responsibility score formula rewards rather than penalizes colleges for borrowing, so long as the debt they take on is long-term. That creates strange incentives for a college with a middling score.

According to an Education Department Inspector General report released earlier this year, Corinthian manipulated its financial score by borrowing $43 million in long-term debt on the final day of fiscal year 2011. It recorded the debt as long-term, boosting its score to a level that would not trigger additional federal oversight. Then, fiscal year 2012 rolled around and Corinthian immediately repaid the loan. The exercise worked so well that Corinthian repeated it in 2012 and 2013 with larger loan amounts, while the Education Department remained three steps behind.

In 2014, the Education Department subjected Corinthian to increased financial oversight, but never secured any collateral from the school for the risk it placed on taxpayers. Less than a year later, Corinthian shut down for good. Thousands of its students had their student loans canceled under a rule that grants loan forgiveness to the students of closed schools. Even more students had their loans canceled after Department officials determined that Corinthian had defrauded many of them.

At last count, Corinthian’s failure has cost taxpayers $550 million in student loan discharges, a number expected to rise. The pace of college closures, both for-profit and nonprofit, has accelerated in recent years, putting students and taxpayers at risk. And if Obama-era regulations to expand loan cancellations (currently delayed and under revision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) go into effect, the cost of school closures will only go up.

All this heralds a boondoggle that would put Solyndra to shame. Yet according to a scathing Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on Wednesday, the Department of Education’s established method of predicting which schools are likely to close is out of date at best and completely useless at worst.

The “financial responsibility composite score,” ostensibly a gauge of each college’s financial health, has a poor track record of predicting school closures. Schools which receive a failing score must undergo additional federal oversight and post collateral to protect taxpayers from losses in the event of closure. But according to GAO, half of schools that closed in the past six years (including Corinthian) received a passing score from the Department, meaning they were not required to post any collateral. And 80% of schools that received a failing score in 2011 were still open as of 2016.

The Department’s formula for calculating financial responsibility scores was last updated in 1997. In the intervening years, accounting boards have updated financial reporting standards and a global economic crisis has upended what we know about the determinants of financial health. Schools such as Corinthian have figured out ways to manipulate their scores. Among the problems GAO identified with the Department’s scoring:

  • Changes to accounting practices have affected how institutions report financial metrics. But the financial responsibility formula is tailored to old reporting practices, meaning audited financial statements do not contain all the information necessary to calculate a score. The Department must therefore solicit some unaudited information from schools to calculate scores.
  • Financial responsibility scores do not emphasize liquidity. Even wealthy institutions may face financial troubles if they do not have easily spendable assets, a danger now better appreciated following the global financial crisis. Failure to understand the importance of liquidity contributed to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, among other things.
  • The scores focus on a single fiscal year, rather than looking at each college’s finances over time. Studying past and anticipated performance is standard practice in the private sector, since analyzing trends makes it easier to pick up on early signs of trouble. GAO notes that private credit rating agencies gave “junk bond” ratings to 30 colleges with passing financial scores from the government.
  • Scores do not consider nonfinancial factors, such as accreditation and legal problems, which nonetheless have an effect on a school’s chances of closure.
  • Colleges can manipulate their scores, as Corinthian did for years. A disproportionate number of schools have scores just above the passing threshold, which is consistent with some score manipulation.

Despite these problems, the Education Department sees little need to update the financial responsibility score formula. The Department argues in its response to GAO that “any financial measure that the Department would use for evaluating financial health could be manipulated.” While the Department should not dismiss its ability to improve the formula, it does underscore a larger point: the government does a poor job of identifying and protecting itself from risk.

Bureaucracies move slowly by nature. Even if the government had updated its financial responsibility formula after the invention of the iMac, it would still face a fundamental incentives problem. The Education Department does not go out of business if it loses money on a fiasco like Corinthian Colleges; taxpayers take the hit instead. The Department thus has no financial incentive to make sure its tools for predicting school closures, and the massive taxpayer costs that come with them, are up to snuff.

Pennsylvania Auditor General announces audit of Woodland Hills School District

Woodland Hills High School’s recent history of abrasive conflicts between students and school resource officers has stirred concern among borough leaders.

As a result, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced an audit of the school district on Thursday.

“Every kid, regardless of economic background, has a constitutional right in Pennsylvania to get a quality education so that they can have a fair shot at getting into (college) and having a better life for themselves. And right now, I’m not convinced that’s happening,” DePasquale said at a news conference.

The audit is driven by vocal concerns expressed by mayors in the boroughs that the school district serves. One of those elected leaders, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, spoke in support of the audit at Thursday’s news conference.

In making his announcement, DePasquale referenced surveillance videos of physical confrontations involving students and school resource officers that have been made public.

“This audit, in the micro, is about some of the issues that have been brought to my attention in Woodland Hills. Some of it is because of the broad community support for me to do this audit. Part of it is because of what I’ve seen myself on some of these videos,” DePasquale said.

“But in the broader perspective, it’s also about making sure that every single child — regardless of where they were born or where they live — have an equal shot at a good education, and part of this audit is to see if that’s happening in this school district.”

Fetterman said he met with other mayors who viewed the school surveillance videos and agreed that something needed to be done.

“It’s not a ‘he said, she said.’ It’s right there on film — young people sitting in chairs, walking down the halls, getting physically abused and tasered while the principal stands there like, ho hum,” Fetterman said. “It’s not ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ This is high school.”

DePasquale said that his audit will encompass finances as well as things like employee background checks.

He said that he will contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office if the audit finds possible violations of federal law, or the state Department of Education if he suspects that anyone’s educational rights have been violated.

Woodland Hills School Superintendent, Alan Johnson talked with Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 by phone, saying, “we also find the videos very disturbing and we are actively working to make sure that type of thing doesn’t happen again.”

Johnson says the district has established a Woodland Hills Commission on Youth and Learning, also adding that they welcome the audit and will cooperate fully.

Refresh this page later for an updated story.

Education Dept.’s inspector general calls for Western Governors to …

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has released the results of a much anticipated high-stakes audit of Western Governors University, with negative findings that could threaten the large online university and, more broadly, the growing field of competency-based education.

Citing concerns about an inadequate faculty role — which the competency-based university contests — the inspector general called for the department to make WGU pay back at least $713 million in federal financial aid.

The final audit report, issued today, also said the nonprofit university, which enrolls 83,000 students, should be ineligible to receive any more federal aid payments.

Experts said the Trump administration is unlikely to follow through on the inspector general’s recommendations, which the department can reject. The department has signaled that it will be a less aggressive regulator than it was under the Obama administration.

WGU enjoys a good track record with its accreditor and broad bipartisan support in Washington, with the Obama administration having often praised the university as an innovator.

The findings of the audit, which began more than four years ago, were not a surprise to most observers.

That’s because the Office of Inspector General, which is led by Kathleen Tighe, relied on a 1992 federal law that defines aid eligibility for distance education programs, which many have said poses a problem for WGU, some other competency-based programs, and possibly online education writ large.

The audit report said most courses at WGU do not meet the distance education requirement because they were not designed for regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty members. Those courses instead should have been labeled as correspondence courses, according to the inspector general.

Under the law, a college is not eligible to receive federal financial aid if more than half of its courses are offered via correspondence or if most of its students are enrolled in correspondence courses. The inspector general’s audit report said 62 percent (37,899) of the 61,180 students who were enrolled at WGU in 2014 took at least one of 69 courses (among 102 courses in the university’s three largest academic programs) that failed to meet the distance education requirements.

“None of these 69 courses could reasonably be considered as providing regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors, the key requirement to be considered a course offered through distance education,” according to the report. “Therefore, Western Governors University became ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs as of June 30, 2014.”

As a result, the inspector general said the department should require WGU to return $713 million in federal aid it received during the two years before July of last year, as well as any federal aid it received since then.

The university rebutted the report, both in responses to the inspector general that were included in the final report and on its website.

“Western Governors University respectfully, but strongly, disagrees with the findings in the Office of Inspector General’s draft audit report. WGU is, and has always been, fully compliant with Department of Education regulations since our founding 20 years ago by 19 U.S. governors,” the university said in a May letter to the inspector general. “Our innovative learning model, which has the support of the law, the department, our accreditor and policy makers, is validated by the outcomes WGU is delivering for our 82,000 students and 81,000 graduates.”

Unbundled Faculty Model

In previously released audits, the inspector general has questioned whether some competency-based programs should be classified as being of the correspondence variety. Others have criticized the department and accreditors for their scrutiny of competency-based programs, particularly those that do not rely on the credit-hour standard.

WGU uses the credit-hour standard, even though the U.S. Congress passed a law exempting it from certain requirements relating to the standard.

However, the inspector general found that the university’s unbundled (or disaggregated) faculty model, which is considered one of its primary innovations, runs afoul of federal distance education requirements.

Students at WGU are assigned a faculty member, called a student mentor, when they first enroll. Faculty mentors have at least a master’s degree in their field and are well versed in students’ program requirements, the university said. Mentors work with students regularly until they graduate.

The university also employs a Ph.D.-holding subject matter expert for each course, dubbed the course mentor. These faculty members interact with students as well. In addition, subject matter experts oversee each program of study at WGU. (Students must enroll in a program at the university, not just in individual courses.) And the university employs faculty evaluators, who review competency assessments.

The inspector general, however, found that “only course mentors and evaluators, not student mentors, product managers or council members, could reasonably be considered instructors.”

The report also said interactions between students and instructors were inadequate under the federal law.

“The course design materials for all 69 of these courses described courses that would be self-paced, interaction between the students and instructors that would primarily be initiated by students, and interaction between the students and instructors that would not be regular and substantive,” according to the inspector general. “The course design materials described limited interaction with course mentors that was typically on an as-needed basis and typically initiated by the student. Therefore, we concluded that the school’s faculty composition model did not ensure that the school’s courses were designed to provide the regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors required by the Title IV definition of distance education.”

In an interview, Scott Pulsipher, WGU’s president, said the inspector general’s report was based on a “misinterpretation and misapplication” of statutory and regulatory guidance.

“We vehemently disagree with the inspector general’s opinion,” he said. “We’ve been compliant with the laws and regulations since our founding.”

Pulsipher noted that the university’s regional accreditor, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, backs the university’s faculty model. And he said the inspector general had applied a “very narrow and tight definition of faculty” at the university, compared to the approval by its accreditor and other regulators of WGU’s varied and broad faculty roles.

Congress could intervene by changing the 1992 federal law, as some backers of WGU and competency-based education have been advocating. The university will work with federal and state policy makers, Pulsipher said, to address ambiguity in the law.

“We’ll work together to make sure it gets clarified,” he said.

A department spokeswoman said the agency was reviewing the report, but added that “it is important to note that the innovative student-first model used by this school and others like it has garnered bipartisan support over the last decade.”

Observers React

Supporters of competency-based education said the federal government should update its regular-and-substantive requirement, but in a way that prevents fraudulent, low-quality programs from taking advantage of students.

Deb Bushway is an expert on competency-based programs. She’s currently provost at Northwestern Health Sciences University and previously worked for Capella University, the University of Wisconsin Extension and, briefly, as an adviser to the Education Department.

“The inspector general is clearly following the letter of the law,” Bushway said, adding that the report was not a regulatory overextension. But she also called it “more evidence that the law needs to be changed.”

Pulling the regular-and-substantive language completely, however, which some online education experts 

 have privately pushing for, would be a mistake, said Bushway.

“That would invite bad players into the field and threaten the reputation of competency-based education,” she said.

Instead, Bushway and others call for a two-pronged solution, with a fix that would protect WGU and other competency-based programs in the short term while Congress revisits the law, perhaps as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Russell Poulin, director of policy and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, said the department has done a “horrible” job of informing colleges about its expectations of how to comply with the regular-and-substantive requirements, which he said have changed over time.

In addition, he criticized the inspector general’s decision to base its compliance position on disagreement about the mode of teaching at WGU when there is no evidence of any harm to students.

“I totally agree with the intention of proponents of the ‘regular-and-substantive interaction’ rule, which is to avoid fraud. But it is an outdated method of reaching that goal,” he said via email, comparing it to a hypothetical decision by regulators to remove all ATM card readers because of the risk of credit card skimmers.

Poulin also said the inspector general used a narrow definition of the faculty role under the law.

“The issue is quality, and there are ways to redefine interaction and pair it with other requirements for determining a student’s academic participation in a course for financial aid purposes to achieve the goals of preventing fraud and assuring quality,” he said. “I am confident that WGU provides a quality education and is not fraudulent.”

Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said he hoped the department would reject the recommendations from the inspector general, which he said had applied an obsolete, 20th-century definition to a 21st-century institution.

“At the end of the day, we need a clear federal policy toward and definition of ‘online education,’ ” he said via email. “Until we have that, we are dealing with round pegs and square holes.”

Other experts, however, were more positive about the audit report.

“The audit’s findings should be taken very seriously, as the regular and substantive interaction requirement draws a clear distinction between self-learning and education and protects the integrity of federal student aid programs,” said Spiros Protopsaltis, a visiting associate professor at George Mason University who worked for the Obama administration as deputy assistant secretary for higher education and student financial aid after a stint on the Democratic side of the U.S. Senate’s education committee.

“The inspector general has rightly focused on ensuring that colleges comply with this key statutory provision, according to the department’s guidance,” he said via email. “Blurring the lines between correspondence and distance education and undermining the role of teaching entail enormous risk to students and taxpayers.”

A recently formed association for colleges that have created competency-based programs or are in the process of designing them, dubbed the Competency-Based Education Network, in May released a set of quality principles and standards for the field. The association on Thursday issued a statement that said the regular and substantive law should be updated.

Bushway and members of the group hope the new standards can help inform lawmakers as they consider revising distance education statutes.

Likewise, a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would create a so-called demonstration project for competency-based programs. The proposed legislation, which has substantial support, would grant statutory and regulatory flexibility to participants, including in the application of federal financial rules, while also creating new requirements aimed at accountability and transparency. (WGU first became eligible to receive federal aid in 1999 as part of a federal demonstration program.)

Information gathered during the project also could be used by Congress as it reauthorizes the Higher Education Act.

New America, in written comments submitted to the department this week, called on the Trump administration and Congress to keep the regular-and-substantive requirement on the books for distance education programs. But the group said it would support some shifts to the law as it relates to competency-based programs.

Amy Laitinen, director of higher education policy for the group and a former Obama administration Education Department official, said the law was a response to rampant fraud and abuse.

“We need to carefully fix (not gut) the now-outdated law to ensure that students are getting the academic and other supports that they need,” she said via email. “If we don’t do it carefully, it will be a fast race to the bottom, which would be bad for students and bad for the competency-based education community.”

Meanwhile, WGU will continue to be the largest and best known competency-based education provider — by far — while the Education Department decides what to do about the audit report.

On its website, the university described its take on the process to students and others.

“The inspector general has no decision authority; she cannot directly affect an institution’s participation in the federal student aid programs. Federal Student Aid will review the OIG’s recommendations and, upon the completion of its review, will issue a letter in which it will indicate whether it agrees or disagrees with the OIG’s findings,” the university said. “There is no fixed timetable for this review. Ultimately, it is the secretary of education who determines whether to accept or reject OIG recommendations.”

Education Dept.’s inspector general calls for Western Governors to …

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has released the results of a much anticipated high-stakes audit of Western Governors University, with negative findings that could threaten the large online university and, more broadly, the growing field of competency-based education.

Citing concerns about an inadequate faculty role — which the competency-based university contests — the inspector general called for the department to make WGU pay back at least $713 million in federal financial aid.

The final audit report, issued today, also said the nonprofit university, which enrolls 83,000 students, should be ineligible to receive any more federal aid payments.

Experts said the Trump administration is unlikely to follow through on the inspector general’s recommendations, which the department can reject. The department has signaled that it will be a less aggressive regulator than it was under the Obama administration.

WGU enjoys a good track record with its accreditor and broad bipartisan support in Washington, with the Obama administration having often praised the university as an innovator.

The findings of the audit, which began more than four years ago, were not a surprise to most observers.

That’s because the Office of Inspector General, which is led by Kathleen Tighe, relied on a 1992 federal law that defines aid eligibility for distance education programs, which many have said poses a problem for WGU, some other competency-based programs, and possibly online education writ large.

The audit report said most courses at WGU do not meet the distance education requirement because they were not designed for regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty members. Those courses instead should have been labeled as correspondence courses, according to the inspector general.

Under the law, a college is not eligible to receive federal financial aid if more than half of its courses are offered via correspondence or if most of its students are enrolled in correspondence courses. The inspector general’s audit report said 62 percent (37,899) of the 61,180 students who were enrolled at WGU in 2014 took at least one of 69 courses (among 102 courses in the university’s three largest academic programs) that failed to meet the distance education requirements.

“None of these 69 courses could reasonably be considered as providing regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors, the key requirement to be considered a course offered through distance education,” according to the report. “Therefore, Western Governors University became ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs as of June 30, 2014.”

As a result, the inspector general said the department should require WGU to return $713 million in federal aid it received during the two years before July of last year, as well as any federal aid it received since then.

The university rebutted the report, both in responses to the inspector general that were included in the final report and on its website.

“Western Governors University respectfully, but strongly, disagrees with the findings in the Office of Inspector General’s draft audit report. WGU is, and has always been, fully compliant with Department of Education regulations since our founding 20 years ago by 19 U.S. governors,” the university said in a May letter to the inspector general. “Our innovative learning model, which has the support of the law, the department, our accreditor and policy makers, is validated by the outcomes WGU is delivering for our 82,000 students and 81,000 graduates.”

Unbundled Faculty Model

In previously released audits, the inspector general has questioned whether some competency-based programs should be classified as being of the correspondence variety. Others have criticized the department and accreditors for their scrutiny of competency-based programs, particularly those that do not rely on the credit-hour standard.

WGU uses the credit-hour standard, even though the U.S. Congress passed a law exempting it from certain requirements relating to the standard.

However, the inspector general found that the university’s unbundled (or disaggregated) faculty model, which is considered one of its primary innovations, runs afoul of federal distance education requirements.

Students at WGU are assigned a faculty member, called a student mentor, when they first enroll. Faculty mentors have at least a master’s degree in their field and are well versed in students’ program requirements, the university said. Mentors work with students regularly until they graduate.

The university also employs a Ph.D.-holding subject matter expert for each course, dubbed the course mentor. These faculty members interact with students as well. In addition, subject matter experts oversee each program of study at WGU. (Students must enroll in a program at the university, not just in individual courses.) And the university employs faculty evaluators, who review competency assessments.

The inspector general, however, found that “only course mentors and evaluators, not student mentors, product managers or council members, could reasonably be considered instructors.”

The report also said interactions between students and instructors were inadequate under the federal law.

“The course design materials for all 69 of these courses described courses that would be self-paced, interaction between the students and instructors that would primarily be initiated by students, and interaction between the students and instructors that would not be regular and substantive,” according to the inspector general. “The course design materials described limited interaction with course mentors that was typically on an as-needed basis and typically initiated by the student. Therefore, we concluded that the school’s faculty composition model did not ensure that the school’s courses were designed to provide the regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors required by the Title IV definition of distance education.”

In an interview, Scott Pulsipher, WGU’s president, said the inspector general’s report was based on a “misinterpretation and misapplication” of statutory and regulatory guidance.

“We vehemently disagree with the inspector general’s opinion,” he said. “We’ve been compliant with the laws and regulations since our founding.”

Pulsipher noted that the university’s regional accreditor, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, backs the university’s faculty model. And he said the inspector general had applied a “very narrow and tight definition of faculty” at the university, compared to the approval by its accreditor and other regulators of WGU’s varied and broad faculty roles.

Congress could intervene by changing the 1992 federal law, as some backers of WGU and competency-based education have been advocating. The university will work with federal and state policy makers, Pulsipher said, to address ambiguity in the law.

“We’ll work together to make sure it gets clarified,” he said.

A department spokeswoman said the agency was reviewing the report, but added that “it is important to note that the innovative student-first model used by this school and others like it has garnered bipartisan support over the last decade.”

Observers React

Supporters of competency-based education said the federal government should update its regular-and-substantive requirement, but in a way that prevents fraudulent, low-quality programs from taking advantage of students.

Deb Bushway is an expert on competency-based programs. She’s currently provost at Northwestern Health Sciences University and previously worked for Capella University, the University of Wisconsin Extension and, briefly, as an adviser to the Education Department.

“The inspector general is clearly following the letter of the law,” Bushway said, adding that the report was not a regulatory overextension. But she also called it “more evidence that the law needs to be changed.”

Pulling the regular-and-substantive language completely, however, which some online education experts 

 have privately pushing for, would be a mistake, said Bushway.

“That would invite bad players into the field and threaten the reputation of competency-based education,” she said.

Instead, Bushway and others call for a two-pronged solution, with a fix that would protect WGU and other competency-based programs in the short term while Congress revisits the law, perhaps as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Russell Poulin, director of policy and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, said the department has done a “horrible” job of informing colleges about its expectations of how to comply with the regular-and-substantive requirements, which he said have changed over time.

In addition, he criticized the inspector general’s decision to base its compliance position on disagreement about the mode of teaching at WGU when there is no evidence of any harm to students.

“I totally agree with the intention of proponents of the ‘regular-and-substantive interaction’ rule, which is to avoid fraud. But it is an outdated method of reaching that goal,” he said via email, comparing it to a hypothetical decision by regulators to remove all ATM card readers because of the risk of credit card skimmers.

Poulin also said the inspector general used a narrow definition of the faculty role under the law.

“The issue is quality, and there are ways to redefine interaction and pair it with other requirements for determining a student’s academic participation in a course for financial aid purposes to achieve the goals of preventing fraud and assuring quality,” he said. “I am confident that WGU provides a quality education and is not fraudulent.”

Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said he hoped the department would reject the recommendations from the inspector general, which he said had applied an obsolete, 20th-century definition to a 21st-century institution.

“At the end of the day, we need a clear federal policy toward and definition of ‘online education,’ ” he said via email. “Until we have that, we are dealing with round pegs and square holes.”

Other experts, however, were more positive about the audit report.

“The audit’s findings should be taken very seriously, as the regular and substantive interaction requirement draws a clear distinction between self-learning and education and protects the integrity of federal student aid programs,” said Spiros Protopsaltis, a visiting associate professor at George Mason University who worked for the Obama administration as deputy assistant secretary for higher education and student financial aid after a stint on the Democratic side of the U.S. Senate’s education committee.

“The inspector general has rightly focused on ensuring that colleges comply with this key statutory provision, according to the department’s guidance,” he said via email. “Blurring the lines between correspondence and distance education and undermining the role of teaching entail enormous risk to students and taxpayers.”

A recently formed association for colleges that have created competency-based programs or are in the process of designing them, dubbed the Competency-Based Education Network, in May released a set of quality principles and standards for the field. The association on Thursday issued a statement that said the regular and substantive law should be updated.

Bushway and members of the group hope the new standards can help inform lawmakers as they consider revising distance education statutes.

Likewise, a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would create a so-called demonstration project for competency-based programs. The proposed legislation, which has substantial support, would grant statutory and regulatory flexibility to participants, including in the application of federal financial rules, while also creating new requirements aimed at accountability and transparency. (WGU first became eligible to receive federal aid in 1999 as part of a federal demonstration program.)

Information gathered during the project also could be used by Congress as it reauthorizes the Higher Education Act.

New America, in written comments submitted to the department this week, called on the Trump administration and Congress to keep the regular-and-substantive requirement on the books for distance education programs. But the group said it would support some shifts to the law as it relates to competency-based programs.

Amy Laitinen, director of higher education policy for the group and a former Obama administration Education Department official, said the law was a response to rampant fraud and abuse.

“We need to carefully fix (not gut) the now-outdated law to ensure that students are getting the academic and other supports that they need,” she said via email. “If we don’t do it carefully, it will be a fast race to the bottom, which would be bad for students and bad for the competency-based education community.”

Meanwhile, WGU will continue to be the largest and best known competency-based education provider — by far — while the Education Department decides what to do about the audit report.

On its website, the university described its take on the process to students and others.

“The inspector general has no decision authority; she cannot directly affect an institution’s participation in the federal student aid programs. Federal Student Aid will review the OIG’s recommendations and, upon the completion of its review, will issue a letter in which it will indicate whether it agrees or disagrees with the OIG’s findings,” the university said. “There is no fixed timetable for this review. Ultimately, it is the secretary of education who determines whether to accept or reject OIG recommendations.”

Waco: New PE program partners general, special education students

WACO, Texas (KWTX) A new Midway ISD PE program is helping general education students better understand and form closer relationships with special education students.

(Midway ISD photo)

“One of the biggest things I think for both is there is empathy,” said teacher Kyna Saul.

“It’s developing that empathetic nature that is sometimes lacking in our world today.”

“As they work together they see what people go through so they’re able to kind of see the world through a different perspective which makes them have compassion for other kids.”

Saul is teaching a brand new class at Midway Middle school for seventh and eighth graders called Partner PE.

The program pairs general education students with students who have special needs during their PE period at school and allows students to enroll in a class that focuses on students with special needs instead of choosing a traditional required physical education course such as volleyball or basketball,.

The students first spend time in the classroom time learning about the challenges of the special needs students and then keeping in mind what their abilities are, plan activities for the special needs children.

So far, 48 children are taking the course helping to bridge the relationship gap in district that has population of 8 percent of kids with special needs.

Special education teacher Elena Leon says the effects of the class could be far reaching.

“I’m excited to see that when my students in special education are seen by their peers for their abilities how that changes the peers’ attitudes towards them and through that it can change the community’s attitude.”

Midway Middle School Principal Dr. Herb Cox first got the idea years ago from a high school in Plano but wasn’t sure it was age appropriate for middle school.

Now that he’s seen the positive response, he wishes he had implemented it sooner.

“The partners relationship has extended outside of the PE classrooms so now during lunch some of our gen ed kids have invited their partners to come sit with them at lunch.”

“So now, our students who for the rest of their academic careers are self-contained, not only do they have a new friend in their partner but now they sit at lunch with their 5 or 6 other friends.”

Students meanwhile are embracing the program including a seventh grader named Leah.

“I chose to do the partner PE program because I just love seeing those types of kids just have fun and helping people. I really like doing.”

The feeling was echoed by her classmate, Areyana.

“It will help me and then understand that we can all be friends.”

(This story aired on a new segment with Julie Hays that airs Monday-Friday on “News 10 at 5” called “Tell me something good.” If you have a good idea about something good for Julie, email her at Julie.Hays@kwtx.com.)

Community Education Update | News | yorknewstimes.com – York News

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Melton unites general and special education students – Oconee …

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Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 6:00 pm

Melton unites general and special education students

Katie Tiller

Oconee Enterprise

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0 comments

In the past 11 years, Malcom Bridge Middle School’s Teacher of the Year Coach Crystal Melton has more than left her mark.

In 2009, after two years of coaching girls’ PE, Melton, who received both a bachelor’s and master’s from UGA, introduced the adaptive PE course at MBMS.

Adaptive physical education courses often intermingle general education and special education students.

Melton’s course allows eighth grade students who apply to work with their special education peers and create physical education curriculum for them. 

“I felt like something was missing,” said Melton, who drew from her experiences in high school and college to create the course.

Typically, about 30 eighth graders apply for the class each semester, writing essays about what they could bring to the class.

Much of Melton’s curriculum for the adaptive course focuses on interpersonal communication and overcoming differences.

“At the beginning of each semester, I train them on various disabilities we might be working with, person-first language—how to talk to these kids … I try to teach them how to talk to them and interact with them on a professional level,” said Melton. “I’m just a facilitator at this point; they’re picking their activities and running the show.”

Melton said the class has greatly improved the school’s culture as well.

“The adaptive PE class is definitely a highlight of each day. Especially on Tuesdays and Fridays, when the elementary kids come down. It’s precious to see our eighth grade star running back playing ring-around-the-rosy with an 8 year old or see the chorus girls singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of our students.”

Melton, who gave up one of her regular PE courses to create the adaptive course, credits her administration with giving her the freedom to do what she feels is best for the students.

“We have a super supportive administration,” said Melton, who has also been allowed to plan a faculty flash mob and glow-stick pep rally among other fun activities. “If we have an idea to better students or to make them laugh, they always seem on board with whatever is best for the kids. They’re very flexible and open to new ideas.”

Melton’s ultimate goal is to help her students find a sport or activity that they can enjoy for a lifetime. Most importantly though, she wants her students to leave middle school knowing that she cared for them.

“Middle school is such a tricky age,” she said. “Even though it’s been a while since I’ve been there, I remember being a kid. I hope that they always look at me as an understanding person in the building who they can come to for anything.”

For more on this story, see the Sept. 21 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, go to oconeeenterprise.com or call (706) 769-5175.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017 6:00 pm.