Muncie Schools enrollment drops to 5183

MUNCIE, Ind. — Enrollment at Muncie Community Schools has dropped to 5,183, according to the fall count taken on Sept. 15.

That is a decline of 507 students or nearly 9 percent from the count of 5,690 students a year ago.

And it brings with it a decrease in state funding for the deficit-ridden school district, which receives $6,975 in state tuition support for each student enrolled.

MCS declined comment to The Star Press other than to say the fall count is still not official. District spokeswoman Anny Pichardo also said a breakdown of enrollment at each school building was not available yet.

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Indiana Department of Education (DOE) spokesman Adam Baker said there is a “cleanup phase” after schools submit their fall counts, and official numbers won’t be available until Oct. 15.

Another statewide count will be taken on Feb. 1, but that is used for informational purposes only and will not be used to calculate state tuition support for the 2017-18 school year.

Here is a breakdown of enrollment at MCS for the past six years:

  • 2012-13: 6,784
  • 2013-14: 6,568
  • 2013-15: 6,106
  • 2015-16: 5,883
  • 2016-17: 5,690
  • 2017-18: 5,183 (Not official yet)

Of the 5,690 students enrolled at MCS last fall, 4,454 or 78.3 percent were general education students and 1,236 or 21.7 percent were special education students, who come from Muncie and surrounding schools.

RELATED: Emergency manager ‘very concerned’ about enrollment loss

At the Sept. 12 school board meeting, MCS chief financial officer Bob Coddington reported that DOE estimated the district’s state tuition support for the 2018 budget to be $41.7 million, based on 5,339 students. A week earlier, unofficial enrollment was only 5,159, which would represent $1.2 million less in state funding.

MCS’S 2018 general fund expenditures were budgeted at $46.7 million.

The school system’s enrollment has been declining for 50 years after peaking in 1967, according to a study published by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research in March. “These dynamics mimicked the Muncie population in general, and demographic forecasts confirmed these trends repeated from the mid-1970’s onward.”

RELATED: Starting from a one-room schoolhouse: History of local schools

Enrollment at MCS has declined by 26.1 percent since the 2005-6 school
year, the study found. Roughly half of this decline (13.8 percent) represents MCS students choosing to attend other local public schools. 

The study also reported that continued financial problems at MCS are not a revenue issue.

“On a per-student basis, MCS is one of the most highly funded school corporations in Indiana, and by far the highest in East Central Indiana,” the study said. “Rather, the issue is one of failing to align facilities and staff costs to match the observed 50-year trend. In the decade ending with the last school year (2015-16), MCS lost 26.1 percent of its student enrollment, while the decline in employed teachers was 7.1 percent.

“Today, MCS maintains physical plant which can accommodate more than 40 percent higher enrollment. Thus, operational costs are between 15-25 percent higher than warranted and physical plant is roughly 40 percent higher than warranted in the 2016-17 school year. Every forecast of enrollment suggests a continuing decline through at least 2030.”

Since the Ball State study was published, MCS closed Mitchell, Storer and Sutton elementary schools.It has closed numerous other schools over the years as enrollment continued to shrink.

Seth Slabaugh is a reporter at The Star Press who can be reached (765) 213-5834 or seths@muncie.gannett.com.

FAFSA: Your most important ally in the quest for money – Omaha World

It’s time for college-bound high school seniors to apply for federal student financial aid.

The 2018-2019 Free Application for Federal Student Aid opens Oct. 1. With a June 30 application deadline, nearly eight months might seem like plenty of time to apply. But local and federal education officials say it’s important for students to get on the ball sooner rather than later.

The application period allows students to tackle both federal aid and college applications within the same season and gives them more time to choose where they want to go to school — a decision often based on how much financial aid they receive, according to education officials.

Students must submit a FAFSA every year they are in college to determine their eligibility for federal student aid. That aid can include federal Pell Grants, federal student loans and work-study opportunities, said Marty Habrock, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s financial aid and scholarships director. State grants and scholarship applications usually require that a student complete a FAFSA first.

With the change to the FAFSA opening, federal student aid officials also began allowing students and their families to report earlier income information, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid website.

High school students should start the FAFSA process as soon as possible, Habrock said. He gave several reasons, including:

• The financial aid application process may be more aligned with the college admission process. Knowing how much financial aid is available earlier can help families make better enrollment decisions, as noted above.

• Along with the earlier application date of Oct. 1, applicants can use their 2016 income and tax information to complete the FAFSA. Because the FAFSA will ask for older income and tax information, applicants will have done their taxes, eliminating the need to estimate tax information. Applicants will be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically import tax information into the FAFSA. The tool is available at fafsa.ed.gov.

• The Oct. 1 start date provides more time for students and parents to explore and understand financial aid options and apply for aid before state and institution deadlines. The federal education department had a few more reasons students should start thinking about the FAFSA now:

• It’s time-consuming. The application process can be done in one sitting, but it’s a bit complicated. Much information is needed to complete the FAFSA, including the student’s Social Security number and driver’s license number (if he or she has one); the parents’ Social Security numbers; federal tax returns, including W2s; child support, veterans’ benefits or other untaxed income; checking and savings account balances; investments, including real estate; and business and farm assets.

• There’s a better chance at receiving more state and school financial aid. Federal education officials say there’s only so much money to go around, as states and schools are limited in the amount of aid they can provide students. That means there’s a chance that both could run out of aid, so time is crucial if help is needed.

• It makes the process less stressful during a busy time. Getting the FAFSA out of the way allows students to focus on college applications, scholarship applications, high school studies and college-level coursework.

Getting ready for college: Your timeline

Marty Habrock, financial aid and scholarships director for the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the Lincoln-based EducationQuest Foundation recommend these steps to stay on track with applications for federal aid and college applications.

Junior year

• Attend college fairs.

• Visit college campuses.

• Take the PSAT to qualify for scholarships and programs associated with the National Merit Scholarship Program.

• Register for college admission exams such as the ACT and SAT. Ask a high school counselor about test prep options and visit act.org.

• Ask a guidance counselor what high school courses, if any, are still needed to meet college entrance requirements.

• Get involved in more extracurricular activities to include on college and scholarship applications.

• Begin searching for scholarships. Use a free scholarship search tool like one offered at collegeboard.org.

Senior year

• Create an FSA ID at fsaid.ed.gov (one for you and one for a parent). An ID is required when applying for federal aid.

• Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1.

• Follow up with schools listed on the FAFSA for any additional paperwork that might need to be submitted.

• Register for and take college entrance exams if that hasn’t been done already.

• Visit and apply to colleges.

• Request information from colleges about admission requirements, financial aid and deadlines.

• Complete scholarship applications and ask counselors and teachers to submit letters of recommendation, if needed. Many scholarships have spring deadlines.

• Watch for federal aid, scholarship and college application notifications via email and U.S. mail.

Sources: University of Nebraska at Omaha, EducationQuest Foundation, U.S. Department of Education

Education Roundup: CCP, Kutztown sign dual admissions agreement

Community College of Philadelphia and Kutztown University have entered into a dual admissions transfer partnership that will provide students with a transfer path from the two year college to the four year institution in Kutztown.

The agreement was signed last week. The structure is designed under a core-to-core agreement that makes the transfer process more streamlined. Kutztown will accept all credits embedded in the college’s associate in arts, associate in science or associate in applied science degrees as meeting all requirements for general education, which currently consist of university core requirements.

A student that selects to enter Kutztown under the dual admissions can do so before earning no more than 30 college level credits and is advised to meet with counselors from both CCP and Kutztown to develop a course taking strategy, said a news release. Students have to earn a 2.0 cumulative grade point average of 2.0. Additionally, students who enter part-time or full-time statuses are eligible for scholarships.

Caucus visits Cheyney during HBCU week

The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus visited Cheyney University last week during National Historically Black College and University week.

“It was a pleasure to join my colleagues and speak with Cheyney University students about the role that HBCUs play in our nation,” said Chairman of the Caucus and State Rep. Jordan Harris (D.Phila.) in a statement. “Cheyney University is much more than a place we send our students to learn. For 180 years, Cheyney has prepared students of color to successfully take on the world. we must ensure that it continues to do so.”

Harris also serves on the Cheyney University Task Force. Established in 1837, Cheyney has faced challenges over recent years with mounting debt, falling enrollment and probation status with accreditation. However, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education did forgive the schools’ $30 million in loans.

“While Cheyney is on the right path now, our work does not stop here,” Harris said. “We must continue to stand with Cheyney and see that its students and faculty have the resources they need to succeed. Through working together, I am confident that we will do just that.”

Other attendees included Congressman Dwight Evans, Rep. James Roebuck (D.-Phila.) and Rep. Carol Hill-Evans (D.York).

“It was great visiting Cheyney University and being able to speak with an amazing group of students,” Evans stated. “That proves that Cheyney has a unique role in our commonwealth and in our country. We must continue to make sure that it maintains this position.”

Added, Roebuck in a statement, “Our visit to Cheyney University was productive and gave us an opportunity to speak with students and get their perspective on what is happening at the university. I believe these conversations are important and help us make thoughtful decisions in Harrisburg. This encourages me to intensify my efforts to support Cheyney in any way I can.”

Lincoln Univ. to host fundraiser Oct. 22

Lincoln University will host a fundraiser to support its Endowed Undergraduate Student Research Scholarship Fund from 6 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 22 at the Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The cost is $75 per person.

The Endowed Undergraduate Student Research Scholarship Fund, a partnership with Lincoln’s Class of 1970, supports the work of select undergraduate students form their chosen discipline who undertake scholarly project journals, according to a press release. The goal is to raise $50,000 to cover the entire endowment.

Supporters are invited to a reception, followed by independent tours of the Barnes’ 23 art galleries that include the work of artists, Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The evening will honor Selena Cuffee, co-founder and president of Heritage Link Brands, the largest wine importer and producer of African descent in the world and owner of Silkbush Mountain Vineyards.

for more information, contact the University’s Office of Institutional Advancement at (484) 365-7440 or visit lincoln.edu/barnesreception.

Education system visits Hershey School

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education visited Milton Hershey School to learn more about the school’s instructional practices that support low-income students. Milton Hershey School is located in Hershey, Pa., and is a cost free, co-residential school and home for children from lower incomes.

“We are pleased to be working closely with PASSHE,” said MHS Vice President of Graduate Programs for Success Tanya Burton in statement. “Together, we will partner to discuss the importance of effective educational strategies within the classroom setting and how to best serve underrepresented populations.”

PASSHE representatives from its 14 member schools observed high school classes at the school and engaged in a discussion about the transition from high school to college.

“As MHS continues to develop formal partnerships with post-secondary institutions, it is important that we discuss what is working for students and what is not so we can bridge the gap between k-12 and higher education,” Burton added.

PASSHE Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Kathleen Howley said in a statement that she hoped the state system would get a better understanding for students from MHS, and learn about their needs, experiences and dreams.

“We are hoping to capitalize on what MHS does well to allow them to continue their pathways to our universities,” added Howley.

Groups team up to host K-8 school fair

The Children’s Scholarship Fund Philadelphia and Great Philly Schools have teamed up to offer a cross-sector Great Philly School Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 7 at Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School, 1733 W. Girard Ave.

The showcase will feature charter, district and private elementary and middle schools in the Philadelphia area. Representatives from over 100 schools will be on hand, according to a news release. The event is free and open to the public. Activities for children and workshops for parents will be offered throughout the day.

Children’s Scholarship Fund receives grant

The Children’s Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia has received a grant from the William Fund Foundation to improve quality for Early Childhood Education in the city through a collaborative initiative involving parents and ECE centers.

The $491,150 grant will support a partnership between CFSP and members of their parent ambassadors group over a three year period to strengthen participation in the Keystone STARS quality rating and improvement. The parent ambassadors will be equipped to train and educate Philadelphia parents about the importance and quality pre-K. The work will also be supported by the Southwest Regional Key, which administers Keystone STARS in the region.

“The William Penn Foundation grant will help to build a continuum of quality education for Philadelphia families who desperately need access to great schools,” said Ina Lipman, the executive director of the CSFP, in a statement. “the grant will help families gain a deeper understanding of what truly constitutes a quality program for their young children.”

State auditor finds WSU likely violated federal grant rules | The …

Washington State University likely violated federal rules when it used money from a science grant to pay salaries and benefits for two employees who had little to no involvement in the projects, a state audit report has found.

While the amount in question is small — just $17,000 in all — a WSU professor who blew the whistle on the case says he’s concerned WSU’s federal grant funding could be in jeopardy as a result.

The issue was raised by Norman Lewis, a professor in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and former director of the institute, who reported it to the state auditor this past year. In an interview, Lewis — a whistleblower who has waived anonymity — said he believes WSU administrators falsified documents and may have also committed grant fraud.

The state auditor’s office didn’t go that far, but it found reasonable cause that an “improper governmental action” occurred when James Moyer, the associate dean of research for the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), directed changes to the federal grant to pay the salaries of two employees.

The auditor’s office found that one employee did no work on the NASA project, but was being paid from that fund, and that another worked at a lesser percentage than was being charged to the grant.

While the state auditor found that an improper government action took place, it did not find that a possible ethics violation took place, said Kathleen Cooper, spokeswoman for the auditor’s office. In part, that’s because Lewis didn’t raise that issue at the time, and also because the action didn’t meet the definitions of any of the things that constitute an ethics violation, Cooper said.

However, the State Ethics Board will also review the case, and it could reach a different finding, she said.

WSU officials have pushed back against the auditor’s report, saying it left out some facts that “lend to an inaccurate and incomplete context of the situation.”

Among the reasons for why WSU objects to the finding: administrators say Lewis was told that if the two employees weren’t moved to federal grant work, they would be at risk of being laid off; and that Lewis had been “repeatedly instructed to address the funding concerns but has repeatedly failed to respond and did not take appropriate corrective action,” wrote Phil Weiler, the university’s vice president for marketing and communications, in an email.

Lewis disputes those arguments.

He was granted whistleblower status by the state as part of the investigation, which means he cannot be retaliated against for providing information to the auditor.

At issue are grants awarded to CAHNRS, the university’s largest college. In 2016, CAHNRS received more than $83 million in federal research funding, according to the state auditor’s report.

One of those grants was a $2 million, 3-year grant awarded by NASA to investigate how genetically modified plants would grow in space, Lewis said. The plants are scheduled to be sent in 2018 to the International Space Station, where astronauts will grow and tend them in a specially designed plant-habitat facility.

Lewis is the principal investigator for the NASA grant, as well as for a second grant from the federal Department of Energy (DOE). Both grants involved the study of lignin, a complex organic polymer found in plants that makes them woody and rigid. The two studies are unrelated.

As principal investigator, Lewis — who was director of WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry for 25 years, before he stepped down two years ago to focus on research — is the primary contact responsible for overseeing the project, including its fiscal aspects.

In the summer of 2016, Lewis said, WSU administrators proposed moving an employee who worked as a technician in the institute onto the NASA grant payroll. But Lewis said the employee didn’t have the skills necessary to do the work, and both he and NASA officials told administrators not to use the grant money to pay the employee’s salary.

Lewis said something similar happened with the DOE grant, involving a technician whose salary was 30 percent funded by the grant. He said WSU officials wanted that employee’s salary to be fully funded by the DOE grant.

In August 2016, after Lewis filed a public-records request to see paperwork on the two grants, he said he discovered WSU officials had charged the two employees’ full salaries from the grant funds. In addition, Lewis said, another WSU administrator had signed the paperwork and listed himself as the principal investigator for the project, even though Lewis is the principal investigator.

“As far as I am concerned, this was falsification of documents,” Lewis said. He said he is also concerned WSU may be liable for grant fraud.

In the NASA case, the employee’s salary — $8,218 in compensation and $3,416 in benefits — was charged to the NASA grant for about six weeks, starting in July 2016, according to the auditor’s report. The employee told investigators that she had never worked on the NASA grant.

In the DOE case, the employee whose salary was partially funded by the grant became wholly funded by the grant starting in July 2016, an amount totaling $3,569 in compensation and $1,850 in benefits.

Lewis said the case will be reported to the office of inspector general for NASA and DOE, which could penalize WSU.

Lewis said he is concerned that WSU could be frozen out of future federal grants. In past cases of grant fraud, the federal government has prosecuted such misconduct aggressively, including levying millions of dollars in fines against universities found in violation of the law.

Federal Audit Challenges Faculty Role at WGU

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. (The department must approve these so-called direct assessment programs, determining whether they have an adequate faculty role in the process.)  

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 pushed 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.”

Superintendents: New Iowa education plan offers improvements

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Each year, the Iowa Department of Education releases its Condition of Education report. Here are 7 facts about Iowa schools from its 2016 report.
Des Moines Register

Superintendents in the Johnson County area say Iowa’s proposed education accountability plan would bring improvements compared with No Child Left Behind. 

While questions remain about what assessment Iowa will use to gauge students’ progress, school district superintendents in Iowa City, Clear Creek Amana and West Branch said they are hopeful about the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. 

Iowa City Superintendent Steve Murley said in an email that Every Student Succeeds creates more state and local control when it comes to tracking students’ progress. He said the state used this flexibility “to create an accountability plan that is better connected to the needs of Iowa.”

On Monday, Iowa released its plan and submitted it to the U.S. Department of Education for approval. 

President Barack Obama signed Every Student Succeeds into law in 2015. It will replace the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, giving state leaders broader authority to use their own measures of success when evaluating schools.

Kevin Hatfield, superintendent of the West Branch Community School District, and Murley said they appreciate how the new plan focuses on supporting schools rather than sanctioning them. 

Sanctions under No Child Left Behind for any school that failed to reach progress goals after several years included corrective actions like staff replacement and restructuring. But Iowa’s Every Student Succeeds plan would establish additional resources for the lowest-performing schools.

Hatfield and Murley also said they appreciate the variety of progress measures in the new plan, including test results, students’ achievement growth rates, graduation rates and a measure of post-secondary readiness.

No Child Left Behind focused on reading and math benchmarks. 

However, Clear Creek Amana Superintendent Tim Kuehl said Iowa’s choice of a new state assessment will make a big difference when it comes to successfully tracking students’ academic progress. 

“We don’t really know all the details yet,” he said. 

Although the Iowa Board of Education adopted the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the tests were never funded nor implemented in Iowa schools. A search for a new assessment vendor is underway. 

The new education plan also uses different, and sometimes lower, goals for minority and low-income students. The differentiated measures aim to help the state close the achievement gap between student subgroups. 

More: Iowa plan sets higher growth rate, lower goals for minority students

Kuehl said Clear Creek Amana is working on closing proficiency gaps between Special Education students and their general education peers, as well as gaps affecting English Language Learner students. He said he is unsure whether the plan will offer resources to help with this work. 

Paul Roesler, vice president of the Iowa City Community School Board, said the plan’s focus on gaps is aligned with work already underway in Iowa City schools. He pointed to the district’s weighted resource model, which aims to concentrate resources like teachers at schools with high levels of need.

“We may be ahead of the curve in starting to do some of those things,” he said. 

Hatfield said West Branch also is working to bridge achievement gaps, including those that stem from poverty. West Branch considers students’ growth, Hatfield said, adding that he looks forward to tracking growth in terms of multiple measures under the new plan. 

“It looks to me like it’s giving us much more flexibility,” he said. 

Reach Holly Hines at hhines2@press-citizen.com or at 319-887-5414 and follow her on Twitter at @HollyJHines

 

 

Tarrant County schools lose $7 million in federal funding

Third-graders Alexis Segovia and Keiy’ana Cook like fiction, especially stories about Meli, a dog character featured in a series of books they read at West Handley Elementary in east Fort Worth.

When the two 8-year-olds started working with tutor Susan Titus last year they weren’t reading at grade level, but they made huge gains after participating in 30-minute sessions four times a week.

Titus beamed as she described their accomplishment.

“Honestly, it almost brings me to tears,” she said. “I have a passion for this community and these kids.”

The money that pays for the tutoring program at West Handley comes from Title I, Part A, a federal program that provides funding to schools serving economically disadvantaged students nationwide. School leaders say these dollars are critical because they boost teachers working with students who face immense barriers to learning — from hunger to poverty to broken families.

But this school year, because of changes in federal laws, some school districts have seen their allocations drop, forcing administrators to make tough decisions about what programs to keep — and which ones to let go.

Tarrant County school districts lost almost $7 million when compared with last year.

Arlington schools saw a decrease of $3.3 million.

Fort Worth schools saw a drop of $2.3 million.

“These are the dollars we use to support children who meet criteria for socioeconomic disadvantaged status,” said James Schiele, chief financial officer for Eagle Mountain-Saginaw schools, which lost more than $50,000 compared with the previous school year.

“They are the group that is most at-risk for failure in schools. Failure to provide additional resources to support at-risk kids will have a dramatic negative impact on these children’s lives and the country as a whole,” Schiele said.

Title 1 02

At West Handley Elementary, where 90 percent of the students participate in the free and reduced lunch program, keeping reading tutors such as Titus meant the school sacrificed another program. The school lost $20,000 in Title I, Part A funding and decided to cut the Communities in School program, which helps find resources for struggling families and students.

“We have been able to work through it, but it is a budget game,” said Julie Moynihan, principal at West Handley. “We have to be more intentional with the money we spend on people.”

Related stories from Star-Telegram

‘The new normal’

Bob Farrace, with the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Virginia, does not mince words when trying to explain school finance at the federal level, especially with the latest round of changes.

“Federal funding is complicated,” Farrace said. “It is often not particularly accessible to the lay person.”

Nationally, the Department of Education allocated about $15.4 billion in Title I, Part A funding, which is up from about $14.9 billion in 2016.

In past years the doling out of Title I, Part A dollars has been a somewhat fluid process, based on such factors as enrollment numbers and poverty levels.

Those factors are still key parts of the funding formula, but as states transition from federal No Child Left Behind laws to the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, more federal dollars are now allocated to campuses that are trying to sustain success after being low performers. Last year the Texas Education Agency set aside 5 percent of Title I money for sustaining low-performing schools; this year the number is 7 percent (about $99 million), officials said.

59 percent of the state’s more than 5 million public school students were listed as economically disadvantaged last school year

So while the amount of Title I money sent to Texas actually increased, from about $1.37 billion to $1.4 billion, some schools had their amounts reduced, according to the TEA.

“ESSA law changed, so we had to make the required statutory adjustments,” the TEA said in an email. “The state does not determine the formulas for allocating funds to school districts.”

The formulas are determined by the federal government.

The problem is not unique to Texas, said Carlas McCauley, Director of the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd, a California nonprofit focused on improving schools.

“The shock is that for most (schools) this will be the first year you have received less,” McCauley said, explaining that in some cases “that will be the new normal” as the reserved funding is supposed to help struggling schools.

‘Always worried about money’

In the Fort Worth school district, there are 124 campuses that receive Title I, Part A dollars this year. Besides reading tutors, who play a key role as the district tries to improve its reading levels, principals were forced to unload data specialists, other tutors and support programs such as Communities In Schools which supports at-risk students.

Mirgitt Crespo, the Fort Worth school district’s federal programs director, said that about $1.5 million in leftover funding from last year will be used to make up for this year’s shortfall. Other districts said some of these federal dollars increase during the year.

But, Crespo said, “it’s not going to solve the problem.”

How much schools get can change from year to year, she said.

Crespo said that as Fort Worth grows, more people with money are moving into the district. That results in a reduction in Title I funding because Title I dollars are supposed to help lift low-income students. All students who live within the Fort Worth district’s boundaries are counted in the funding formula, even if they attend private, public charter or home schools.

“The people who are coming into the area are not poor,” Crespo said. “But we still have poor people.”

We are always worried about money. We are always worried about the unknown.

Regina Williams, Dunbar’s Title I Priority Schools Grant coordinator

While most Fort Worth schools lost Title I funding, a handful of the district’s campuses saw increases in funding, creating a situation described by some as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Schools with high levels of poverty end up vying against each other for the same dollars.

A similar dynamic is taking place at the federal level, said some Title I experts, because the federal government is asking Texas to use more of the Title I, Part A dollars to support struggling schools — thereby taking resources away from campuses that serve those other at-risk students.

For example, at Wyatt High School, where the percentage of students living in poverty increased from 74 to 94 percent, Title I, Part A funding increased to $321,300 — up from $281,590.

In comparison, Dunbar High School, a few miles away, received a smaller campus award, to $179,010 — down $14,740.

“We are always worried about money. We are always worried about the unknown,” said Regina Williams, the coordinator of Dunbar High School’s Title I Priority Schools Grant.

The Priority Schools Grant is funded by the 7 percent pot set aside for supporting previously low-performing schools, which must apply for the money.

Williams said both Title I funding sources are crucial to Dunbar’s academic performance. During the 2013-2014 school year, Dunbar was listed as needing improvement by the state. But it has met the state standard the last three years and last year excelled in math.

“We need our kids to continue to grow,” Williams said. “We need for our federal government to hang with us.”

‘A light bulb goes off’

The Title I, Part A money supplements teachers’ efforts with tutors and specialists who help enable students to bridge gaps in reading, math and bilingual education.

The funding also helps engage parents and family members — which is a must for student success, said Alexandra Montes, principal at Western Hills Elementary. That west Fort Worth campus has 100 percent of its students on the free and reduced lunch program, she said.

Western Hills Elementary 1

Montes said Title I funds recently helped pay for a “Pastries for Grandparents” morning event that included expert help on how to use car booster seats. About 250 people attended the informational session that also served to connect with families, she said.

“The grandparents are the ones who are raising all these babies,” Montes said.

This year, the school started with $20,000 less in Title I, Part A funding, Montes said.

She said she cut a computer lab assistant’s position.

At nearby Western Hills Primary, Teresa Chaney said she lost her tutoring job after working at the school for eight years.

She said it’s very important that the students at the school in the Las Vegas Trail area receive extra support.

Western Hills Primary Principal Sonya Kelly told the Star-Telegram recently that the funding decrease meant she had to cut two temporary tutor positions for reading. The two tutors assisted between 30 and 40 children a week. Kelly said she hoped they could find a way to meet this need.

“We get first-graders who still don’t know letters and sounds,” Chaney said. “We have to move them up about nine levels so they are ready to go to second grade.

“When they discover they can read, a light bulb goes off,” Chaney said. “They just soar.”

Star-Telegram writers Sandra Engelland and Alice Murray contributed to this report.

Feds offer compliments to Western Governors University in response …

bwood@sltrib.com

Western Connecticut State University receives federal mental health …


Western Connecticut State University will receive more than $1.6 million over the next four years to expand and improve programs focused on training students to respond to mental health crises.

The funding is part of a federal grant awarded to the Danbury-based university and the University of Connecticut on Friday.

WCSU is expected to received $421,000 each year for four years, making it the largest grant the university has received.

The money was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, which was reauthorized as part of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s Mental Health Reform Act. The program expands the behavioral health workforce and trains new mental health providers, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and paraprofessionals.

UConn received nearly $179,000 to recruit, train and place social workers in underserved areas of Connecticut with a focus on integrated care.

As grant recipients, UConn and WCSU are expected to help close the gap in access to behavioral health care services by recruiting new behavioral health professionals and providing opportunities for field placement, job placement, and career development services, according to the news release.

“Too many kids and adults with mental health needs in this country don’t get the timely care they need for one reason: we don’t have enough trained behavioral health specialists to care for them,” Murphy said. “I worked hard to reauthorize this grant program as part of my Mental Health Reform Act because I believe that it should be as easy to access a doctor or get prescriptions for an illness of the mind as it is for an illness of the body.”

Dr. Gabriel Lomas, professor of education and educational psychology at WCSU, applied for the grant.

“A key aspect is to grow our program so we can increase the behavioral health workforce in the area,” Lomas said. “We will be able to place more students in primary care with physicians and train all students in the behavioral health program in trauma and crisis models. If we have space, members of the community will be able to take the training, too.”

Lomas came to WCSU with a deep background in helping communities respond to crisis. He was a member of a school-based crisis response team and clinical crisis response team in Texas, and he helped to create a Regional Crisis Team in the western part of Connecticut to assist area schools in crisis response preparation.

“WCSU prides itself in being a community partner, developing curricula that are responsive to regional needs,” said WCSU Provost Dr. Missy Alexander. “This grant is just another example of our commitment to Danbury and the surrounding area. We are extremely proud of Dr. Lomas and the work that he has done to secure these funds.”

The future is bleak for US higher education – 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.