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Common Core, College Cost and Quality Among Education Issues to Watch in 2014

Common Core implementation, teacher evaluation systems and new quality measures will continue to be central education issues in 2014.

2013 was a big year for education.

President Barack Obama announced his plan to rate colleges based on quality and accountability measures, and to tie financial aid to their performance. Legislators reversed a doubling of student loan interest rates to keep the rates low for the time being – though some students are still unsatisfied with the deal. States across the country advanced with their implementation of the Common Core State Standards, much to the dismay of some parents. And American students continued to flatline on national and international tests.

But with two major education governance bills overdue for reauthorization, a full transition to the Common Core still on the way and an ever-expanding sphere of alternative routes to higher education, 2014 could be just as pivotal for education.

Here are a few issues to continue to watch in 2014:

 

1. Common Core implementation: As more states continue moving toward a full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, more parents, community members and politicians have begun to push back against what they claim are federally led, national academic standards.

Parents in at least 17 states held a day of action in November to protest the standards by keeping their children out of school and rallying at local education departments.

Some opponents have say the standards bear similarities to the “one size fits all” education reforms from No Child Left Behind and worry that assessments aligned to the standards will perpetuate a culture of over-testing in the United States.

Others claim the standards are state-led in name only, and that support from the federal government – such as financial incentives through Race to the Top grants – pressured many of the 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt the standards.

Aside from ideological pushback to the grade-level benchmarks for reading and mathematics, states have also struggled to work with colleges to implement the standards and face challenges in preparing teachers and staff to teach to the new standards, often times because they don’t have the funds to do so. Although many states have already begun teaching content aligned to the standards, several said they don’t have the funds and resources to properly train teachers.

[READ: Most States Not Ready for Common Core Standards]

In at least six states, fewer than half of the teachers had received some sort of professional development related to Common Core, according to an August report from George Washington University’s Center on Education Policy. Additionally, six states said they had reduced or stopped buying computers and technology needed to administer Common Core assessments, four said they cut training for school staff to administer the tests, and three said they reduced or stopped professional development for teachers due to a lack of funding.

With a growing concern that many teachers may not be sufficiently trained to teach to the new standards, educators worry students will perform poorly on the Common Core-aligned assessments, which all states are expected to begin using in the 2014-15 school year.

Both New York and Minnesota released scores for tests aligned to the Common Core standards in August and saw significant drops in reading and math, which leaders attributed to the rigor of the new standards. And those assessments don’t just carry weight for the students; many states are implementing teacher evaluation systems that are at least partially dependent on how well their students perform.

 

2. Teacher evaluation: In order to receive waivers to relieve states of some of the strict requirements of No Child Left Behind, they have to adopt new teacher and principal evaluation systems. Since the waivers were first made available in 2011, 41 states, the District of Columbia and eight California school districts have received permission to deviate from the sweeping education law passed during the early part of President George W. Bush’s first term.

But the federal government is also requiring states to use student academic growth data in their teacher evaluation systems. A handful of states, including Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Kansas, have had their waivers put on high-risk status – and are in danger of losing them – for problems related to their teacher evaluation systems.

[MORE: States Need to Connect Teacher Evaluations to Other Quality Measures, Report Says]

Federal guidelines have required all states with NCLB waivers to use student growth data in teacher evaluations by the 2015-16 school year, but 12 states have asked the Department of Education for an extra year of flexibility before they tie their teacher evaluation systems to personnel decisions.

Because most states are expecting student test scores to decrease with the implementation of Common Core-aligned assessments, teacher advocates are hoping to delay states’ alignment of scores to teacher evaluations, at least for the first few years of Common Core instruction.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has repeatedly called for a moratorium on the consequences of student test scores – for student promotions, school closings and teacher evaluations.

 

3. Student loan debt and the cost of college: The cost of college has skyrocketed in recent years, and continues to do so, although at a slightly slower pace. Still, students are more often being expected to foot the bill.

An October report from the College Board showed that while the rise in tuition has started to slow, the net price – what students actually pay after grant aid and scholarships – is increasing, partially because growth in federal grant aid has not kept pace with the increase in tuition.

That means more students are taking out loans, and student loan debt is at an all-time high, totaling more than $1.1 trillion. According to an annual report on student loan debt from the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), seven in 10 college seniors graduated in 2012 with some amount of student debt, which on average was $29,400.

And more frequently, students are struggling to repay their debt. The number of borrowers who default on their loans (by failing to make payments for more than 270 days) within two and three years after entering repayment has consistently increased for the last several years.

[RELATED: 3 Hot Scholarship Trends to Watch for in 2014]

Lawmakers have intensified their calls to find ways to solve the student debt crisis, and are making strides to accomplish that goal.

A group of Democratic senators recently announced plans to introduce a package of bills to funnel more money into grant aid, restore bankruptcy relief to student loans, and require colleges and universities to have some skin in the game when it comes to defaulted student loans.

And President Obama said in August that tying federal financial aid to college performance measures – such as how well institutions serve and graduate low-income students – could help encourage colleges to deliver quality education at better price. But higher education leaders remain skeptical that a ratings system tied to financial aid will actually drive down the cost of college.

“I think everyone shares the president’s view that we have to do better in providing access for lower income students to higher education. But we also believe we want to make sure that access is access to a quality education,” says Debra Humphreys, vice president of policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “That means it’s more than just about how cheaply we can provide it and the benefits that accrue to students extend beyond a sort of simplistic analysis of how much money someone makes right after they graduate from college.”

 

4. Alternative routes to degrees: Due to the high cost of college and poor graduation rates (about half of students nationwide graduate within six years) more students are looking for other ways to earn a degree in a timely manner.

While massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have gained attention for their popularity, rapid growth and controversy, some still question whether they offer the same quality of education as brick-and-mortar institutions. At the same time, schools, companies and nonprofits are venturing into other areas of online and alternative education.

Several colleges are branching out into competency-based education. Rather than being constrained to the credit hour, students move at their own pace and advance based on skills they can demonstrate they know.

Southern New Hampshire University, Western Governors University and Excelsior College all have competency-based degree programs.

President Obama also gave a nod to the innovative approach in his Aug. 22 speech in which he announced his plans to combat the problems of college access and cost.

Such programs give credit “based on how well students master the material, not just on how many hours they spend in the classroom,” Obama said. “So the idea would be if you’re learning the material faster, you can finish faster, which means you pay less and you save money.”

The Saylor Foundation, a nonprofit with a focus on what it calls “free education,” also offers an online alternative to MOOCs.

[ALSO: Technology Trends for Teachers to Try in 2014]

The foundation has several basic courses in both the science and humanities fields – such as Beginning Algebra, Introduction to Western Political Thought, and Business Statistics – that students can online. But unlike MOOCs, the courses are self-paced and are free.

On Dec. 19, the foundation announced that the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) had recommended six of its courses for potential credit. Altogether, the Saylor Foundation has nine courses recommended for credit – the equivalent of almost one year of college.

“This is not about College Lite. This is not about bargain-basement degrees from no-name institutions,” said Sean Connor, community engagement manager for the Saylor Foundation, in a blog post. “This is about helping smart, engaged students on a less-traditional path get to the degree they want or need.”

For a $25 proctored-exam fee, students who pass the test for any of those courses can apply for transfer credit with more than 1,500 colleges that work with the NCCRS, or 11 colleges that partner with the Saylor Foundation and guarantee credit for courses.

Still at issue is how these different approaches will be regulated in the world of higher education, and how students can be guaranteed quality. Issues of accreditation for online and competency-based models are likely to surface as Congress moves forward with discussions to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

“College access is an issue. Overcrowded courses, distant campuses, de-funded programs. Students shouldn’t need to invest three or four years of their lives just to get a two-year degree,” Connor wrote. “Higher education is going to change. The credit hour system is going to change. The degree system is going to change. But not today and not tomorrow.”

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Shady Debit Card Woes for Students

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Paying down debt an receptive idea in improving economy

Unlike many of her college classmates, Tazsandra Jackson has incited down thousands of dollars in tyro loans. The 19-year-old also already has a devise to compensate off a $6,500 she borrowed to assistance her family compensate bills.

“I’m going to try to compensate some-more than a smallest remuneration since I’ll compensate it off faster,” a Broward College tyro vows.

She’s one of many South Floridians focused on shortening debt — a devise that could assistance them and a whole village in 2014. Healthier change sheets equals reduction highlight and eventually some-more dollars to spend in South Florida, economists say.

Most economists plan South Floridians to serve revoke their debt and urge their finances in a subsequent year as a internal economy strengthens and creates some-more jobs. The University of Central Florida’s Center for Economic Competitiveness, for example, forecasts that South Florida will attract both some-more jobs and people.

The area’s mercantile miscarry has been strong.

“Tourism, genuine estate, those things are entrance back. Business is improved and people’s domicile finances are a small better,” pronounced John Kiernan, comparison researcher for CardHub.com, a consumer website that recently found South Floridians weren’t charging as many on their credit cards in Sep as they had a year ago.

The waves has now turned: Once South Floridians spent and charged reduction out of fear when a Great Recession strike — though now many are feeling assured adequate to compensate down debt and demeanour to a future, pronounced economist William B. Stronge, a highbrow emeritus during Florida Atlantic University.

“It’s an opinion change,” Stronge said. “People have turn some-more positive.”

At a same time, many have schooled from a recession. They aren’t spending generously to acquire bills they might not be means to compensate in a future. “People will concede their debt to go adult as their income does,” Stronge said.

South Floridians have turn some-more clever over what new debt they are holding on, surveys show. Many contend approbation to borrowing to buy a automobile to get them to work, while many are whittling divided during mortgages, college loans and credit label balances.

In fact, normal mortgage, credit label and tyro loan balances declined in Nov from a year ago in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, according to a consumer website, CreditKarma.com.

“There’s a good diminution in normal credit label debt year-over-year, that is a good sign,” pronounced CreditKarma.com CEO Ken Lin in an email.

South Floridians also have been branch divided from home equity loans — balances were down some-more than 10 percent in Nov from a year ago, a sharpest diminution in any debt category, reported Equifax, a inhabitant credit stating agency.

With 2014 projected to move some-more jobs and mercantile activity to South Florida, many analysts are suggesting South Floridians should demeanour to save even some-more in a entrance year.

CardHub.com researcher Kiernan, for one, is anticipating that South Floridians “will get debt out of a way” so they can start saving.

“It frees we up,” Kiernan said.

South Floridians “need to start an puncture fund,” he said. That approach astonishing waste or pursuit waste won’t emanate massacre in family finances — as a Great Recession did when it strike South Florida harder than many of a nation, Kiernan said.

Saving and shortening debt — or avoiding it altogether — are prohibited topics, generally among immature people, pronounced Alysha Klein, a 24-year-old “spokester” for Miramar-based Tropical Financial Credit Union.

She tells her peers how she puts her paycheck into 5 accounts so she can save for large expenditures to equivocate loans. She is finishing her master’s grade but any loans, she said.

“It’s a good thing to be debt free,” she said.

Tazsandra Jackson, a 19-year-old Broward College student, thinks so too.

She is operative part-time so she won’t have to take out any some-more tyro loans. Jackson is formulation on requesting for scholarships this open so she can get a bachelor’s grade in rapist probity from possibly Florida Atlantic or Florida International universities.

She pronounced she had to steal $6,500 to assistance her family compensate rent, utilities and other bills. But now, with her job, Jackson pronounced she is means to save.

“I schooled how to save,” she said. “The some-more we save, a some-more we have for a stormy day. And once we get on your feet, we start saving again.”

dgehrke@tribune.com or Twitter @donnagehrke

New Year’s Resolution: Teach Your Teen About Finance

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Your child’s financial preparation should start during an early age. If your teen doesn’t nonetheless know credit label interest, bank fees and a need for retirement income, now is a time to learn. The dual categorical problems with watchful until your child is comparison and operative full time are that (a) habits are many easier to arise progressing in life, and (b) your child will really approaching make bad choices with tangible income if she doesn’t have a devise for a supports before they’re in hand. This can’t be helped — financial grasp doesn’t come by magic.

Junior Achievement’s 2013 teenagers and personal financial survey is not encouraging, and it is easy to know why. National mercantile imbecility churned with unawareness and plain incomprehension can furnish usually one result: insecurity.

Junior Achievement (JA) is a nonprofit classification that teaches financial literacy, among other things, to immature people. JA asks how teenagers how they perspective a simple economics of particular spending, saving and budgeting, and how good a teenagers cruise they’re doing. For a year now ending, it seems that teenagers are some-more upbeat and carefree now than in past years about their financial future, despite with some poignant reservations.

Significantly, some-more of them envision that they will sojourn contingent on their relatives for longer durations of time.

Teens miss certainty about income

While a commission of teenagers who are assured of being financially eccentric by a time they strike a 25 to 27 age operation has doubled given about 2011 (12 percent contra 25 percent), their somewhat younger conspirator is many reduction optimistic. The 18- to 24-year-old group’s cheerfulness fell 16 points in 2011, from 75 percent to 59 percent today. Moreover, a commission of teenagers who possibly don’t know or are uncertain if they will be improved off than their relatives rocketed from a medium 4 percent to 28 percent. Uncertainty and doubt concerning a destiny is widespread and growing.

What don’t teenagers know?

A vital writer to teen distrust about entering a adult world, eccentric of their parents, is simply an inability to bill for room and board, clothing, travel and utilities as good as know a workings of a credit card. And that’s in further to complicating factors like assets and investments, health insurance, automobile insurance, upkeep and repairs. JA found that:

  • 23 percent of teenagers are “somewhat” or “extremely” uncertain about their ability to bill successfully
  • 20 percent of a under-20s are “somewhat” or “extremely” uncertain about their ability to use credit cards
  • 34 percent of teenagers are “somewhat” or “extremely” uncertain about their ability to deposit money. Aggravating a onslaught relatives face in assisting their children to turn financially self-sufficient is a miss of grasp among teenagers about a significance of formulation to compensate for college.
  • Only 9 percent of teenagers have saving for college. But they are entirely unwavering of a pitfalls: a infancy (52 percent) trust that college students are too gladdened with college loans, and scarcely two-thirds (64 percent) have discussed a subject with their parents. Yet scarcely half of teenagers in a consult prove they possibly don’t know or are uncertain about how many they will need to steal to compensate for tuition, books, room and board.

Such miss of recognition does and will repairs students’ destiny financial health, as a stream evasion rate on tyro loans has proven. Outstanding tyro loans have doubled given 2007. As of 2010, an eye-popping 40 percent of households headed by an American underneath 35 have an superb tyro loan balance. And a numbers are approaching to rise.

The resolution for your teen

The conclusions are mostly self-evident. The commentary of Junior Achievement’s 2013 Teens and Personal Finance Survey denote that teenagers need a resources and believe to assistance them grasp an eccentric future. The delegate propagandize complement and, many of all, relatives contingency learn financial preparation and  entrepreneurship by real-world activities and practice.

Key points to cover with your teen include:

  • Save 10 percent now
  • What compounded expansion looks like
  • A association 401(k) compare is giveaway money
  • That it’s really tough to settle good assets habits after in life
  • That bad credit leads to really costly financing
  • The tangible cost of credit label purchases paid off slowly
  • What a tyro loan remuneration looks like in propinquity to tangible take-home pay
  • That starting income does not relate to a university’s cost tag
  • What acceleration does to a shopping energy of a dollar
  • That good income government is not usually for a wealthy. On a contrary, a reduction we have, a some-more vicious to conduct it expertly.

If we don’t cruise yourself a income government expert, strech out to your possess bank, credit kinship or brokerage for giveaway workshops and other educational material. Check with a National Foundation for Credit Counseling website for online and in chairman financial preparation programs. Click here for “Start Smart” from a FDIC.

Young people contingency be empowered with a believe and a certainty that they can strech out and possess their personal mercantile success. Make it a idea in 2014 to assistance your child use good saving, investing and purchasing habits.

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