NEWSLETTERS
March 29, 2013 ED Review

 March 29, 2013
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Warped Incentives
Education Appropriations
Competency-Based Learning
Higher Education Tools
Talking with Students and Teachers
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Warped Incentives

With college basketball's March Madness in full gear, Secretary Duncan and co-author Tom McMillen proposed in a USA Today op-ed that colleges and universities start penalizing athletic coaches financially if the students on their teams do not graduate. They note that big-time coaches earn enormous salaries and rewards for athletic performance. But, there are no penalties and limited incentives for academic performance. "The NCAA should be commended for raising the academic benchmarks that teams must meet for postseason play," they state. "New NCAA regulations essentially require teams to be on track to graduate half of their players to be eligible for postseason play (indeed, the University of Connecticut's men's basketball team—the 2011 champion—was unable to compete in this year's tournament because it failed to meet the minimal academic requirements), and academic progress and graduation rates are up significantly for tournament teams this year. Yet, governing boards of universities and college presidents also need to do more to reinforce the education mission of their institutions. Too often, trustees and presidents undermine that mission by offering lucrative incentives to coaches that downplay the importance of athletes getting a college education."

In 2011, according to McMillen's research, 32 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision coaches and 11 NCAA Division I men's basketball coaches earned more than $2 million annually. (Coaches earn whatever the market will bear. However, many coaches work at public universities, funded by taxpayers, and, in several cases, they are not only the highest-paid school employee but also the highest-paid state employee.) Fully three-fourths of the football contracts and two-thirds of the basketball contracts included a bonus for academic performance, but these incentives were dwarfed by bonuses for performance on the field or court. Athletic incentives averaged $600,000 per coach, while academic incentives averaged $52,000 per coach—a ratio of 11-to-1.

"When many states are reducing funds for higher education, it is hard to justify such skewed priorities and runaway athletic spending," the Secretary and McMillen concluded. "Even at Division I institutions, few athletic programs are self-supporting—which means that institutional funds must typically be diverted to pay for athletic programs.... We are not suggesting any regulatory scheme for capping or restricting coaches' compensation. Nor can we specify the balance between academic and athletic spending that, to paraphrase the Goldilocks principle, is just right.... [Nevertheless,] trustees and presidents can take steps to right that balance. They could adopt a model of best practices that includes a greater parity in new contracts for coaches between academic and athletic bonuses and provides penalties for poor academic performance."

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Education Appropriations

President Obama recently signed into law a Continuing Resolution (CR) agreement, extending funding for education programs and other parts of the federal budget at Fiscal Year 2013 levels—minus $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts, also known as the sequester—through September 30, 2013. The Department of Education's share of the sequester is $2.5 billion. The CR also included an additional across-the-board budget cut of 0.2%, which works out to about $136 million of the agency's $68 billion in discretionary funding. The CR requires all agencies to submit an operating plan to Congress showing the amounts for programs, projects, and activities by April 25. Meanwhile, the President will release his FY 2014 budget proposal on April 10.

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Competency-Based Learning

Last week, the Department issued guidance for postsecondary institutions that offer competency-based programs in which students learn at their own pace—but that currently do not offer federal student aid. The agency is reminding schools that they may be eligible to offer Title IV funds under the direct assessment provision of the Higher Education Act, and it has supplied step-by-step instructions on how to apply. Moreover, for the many institutions that have expressed interest, the guidance addresses developing competency-based programs that are likely to be Title IV eligible.

In recent years, some institutions have recognized the potential of innovative learning models and developed creative programs that allow students the flexibility to learn at the pace that makes sense for them, both in career-technical and degree programs. Students progress in these programs by demonstrating their achievement of specific skills or knowledge. Most competency-based programs fit into traditional learning models that measure progress in credit or clock hours, but an increasing number do not. Some of these programs would like to offer their students Title IV aid—including Pell Grants and student loans—but have been unable to so.

The guidance also notes the potential of competency-based approaches to shorten time to degree completion and reduce costs, while providing an opportunity for students to develop the skills and knowledge they need to compete for good jobs or advance in the workplace. Going forward, the Department plans to collaborate with accrediting agencies and the broader community to encourage innovative approaches, identify promising practices, and gather feedback to inform future policies.

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Higher Education Tools

Throughout the month, the Department has been promoting a set of consumer tools to help students and their families make informed decisions about their choice for higher education, as well as better understand their loan debt and stay on track in repayment. First, on March 14, staff presented on tools that make it easy to compare critical information, such as college costs, average student loan debt, and graduation rates, across different institutions. The EDstream broadcast can be viewed here, and the session's handout is available here. Then, on March 26, the agency launched two key features on the StudentLoans.gov web site: a Complete Counseling web page and a new Repayment Estimator that lets borrowers compare what their monthly repayment amounts would likely be across all seven repayment options. Borrowers can access both these tools by signing into their accounts online.

Also, on March 27, the agency hosted the first-ever bilingual #AskFAFSA Office Hours on Twitter.

Additionally, the Department has posted more than 130 submissions to a Request for Information on promising and practical strategies to promote college student success from institutions across the U.S.

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Talking with Students and Teachers

As he has done in the past, on consecutive days last week, Secretary Duncan met with small groups of students and teachers for an honest conversation about a variety of topics. This time, he also brought along a video camera, and, with the participants' permission, captured these conversations so others can see them. With seven students at Hart Middle School in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., the focus was on the impact of gun violence. With eight teachers at Rogers Heights Elementary School in Bladensburg, Maryland, the conversation covered the pace of reform, the impact of early learning, and testing. Both excerpt videos and full videos are posted for viewing.

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Odds and Ends

  • Secretary Duncan announced the start of the fourth Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition by releasing an invitation for pre-applications for the "Development" grant category and a notice of final priorities for the program overall. This year's competition incorporates several improvements to support school districts and non-profit organizations partnering with schools to develop and expand innovative practices that accelerate student achievement and prepare every student to succeed in college and their careers. Applications for the "Validation" and "Scale-up" grant categories will be announced later this spring. (Note: The Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) is seeking individuals from various backgrounds and professions to serve as peer reviewers for the competition.)

  • The Secretary also announced that 10 more states will receive funding to turn around persistently lowest-achieving schools under the School Improvement Grants (SIG) Program. Awards are being made on a rolling basis. To date, 21 states have been approved to receive SIG funding.

  • The Secretary recently addressed the National Newspaper Publishers Association's Black Press Week Conference and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's Annual Legislative Summit.

  • On March 19, in a ceremony with Dr. Jill Biden, Santa Barbara City College (CA) and Walla Walla Community College (WA) were named co-winners of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

  • On March 20, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle testified on the Department's efforts to improve mental health supports for students.

  • Student representatives with the Alliance for Educational Justice, Dignity in Schools Campaign, and Padres y Jovenes Unidos (Parents and Youth United) met with Secretary Duncan and David Esquith, Director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students, to discuss school and community safety.

  • With summer right around the corner, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking new partners to spread the word and participate in its Summer Food Service Program, which supplies free meals for children when school is out.

  • The What Works Clearinghouse, now in its second decade as a trusted source of information about what works in education, has released a revised and expanded Procedures and Standards Handbook for public comment.

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Quote to Note

"It has now been three months since the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut. Three months since we lost 20 innocent children and six dedicated adults who had so much left to give. Three months since we, as Americans, began asking ourselves if we're really doing enough to protect our communities and keep our children safe.... Today, there is genuine disagreement among well-meaning people about what steps we should take to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in this country. But, you have spoken. You've made it clear that it's time to do something. And, over the last few weeks, Senators here in Washington have listened and taken some big steps forward.... We have a real chance to reduce gun violence in America, and prevent the worst violence. We have a unique opportunity to reaffirm our tradition of responsible gun ownership, and also do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or people with a severe mental illness. We've made progress over the last three months, but we're not there yet."

        President Barack Obama (3/23/13), in his weekly address

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Upcoming Events

April is Financial Literacy Month, making it a good time to visit MyMoney.gov, the U.S. government's web site dedicated to teaching all Americans the basics about financial education. The site includes resources for youth, teachers, and parents and caregivers.

The second event in the Department's 2013 Community College Webinar Series is scheduled for April 10, from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. ET. Experts from the field and local practitioners will discuss promising community college correctional and reentry education models.

On Earth Day (April 22), the Department will broadcast live on its USTREAM channel the announcement of 2013 U.S. Department of Education-Green Ribbon Schools Award winners, as well as post all nomination packages and release a highlights document. This cohort will include the first District Sustainability Award honorees.

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Last Modified: 04/04/2013