Foreign Influence in Higher Education
Connecting With the Field
School Ambassador Fellowship
NAEP Results: Grade 12
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Foreign Influence in Higher Education
Last week, during an event held in person and broadcast live, Secretary DeVos issued a report detailing the massive failure of many American colleges and universities to disclose more than $6.5 billion in funding and resources from foreign sources, including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Section 117 of the Higher Education Act (HEA) requires institutions of higher education to report foreign gifts and contracts. Yet, over the course of this last year, the Department has uncovered billions in unreported financial ties (press release and Section 117 page).
"The threat of improper foreign influence in higher education is real. Our action today ensures that America's students, educators, and taxpayers can follow the money," the Secretary said. "Transparency in foreign funding of higher education is not just something I think is important. It's the law. For too long, enforcement of that law was lax, but not anymore."
After four decades of pervasive non-compliance by colleges and universities, this report -- produced by the Department's Office of the General Counsel (OGC) -- empowers Americans with the information they deserve about the current relationships between taxpayer-supported institutions and foreign actors, who may not have the best interests of students at heart. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations described foreign spending on U.S. institutions as "a black hole" because schools "routinely" fail to comply with the law, and foreign money can come with strings attached that might compromise academic freedom.
Among the report's major findings:
- Huawei, the Chinese technology giant supported by the Chinese Communist Party, had financial ties to nearly all the investigated institutions. Huawei targets its funding to issues key to national security, such as nuclear science, robotics, and online cloud services.
- Two Chinese companies are working with one American university on a research project involving crowd surveillance and predictive behavior technology, which the Chinese government could harness for nefarious purposes.
- A university accepted a $25,000 sponsorship from Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, a cybersecurity company with suspected ties to the Russian government, to host a cybersecurity conference.
- A large donation by a Saudi prince to a university empowered the Saudis to push an ideological-driven narrative through the teaching and learning done on specific topics relevant to the Middle East.
- Two universities failed to accurately account for foreign funding of their campuses in Doha, Qatar, in part by the Qatari government. The Qatari Foundation exerted its influence to stifle free speech.
In June, the Secretary unveiled an online portal to make it easier for institutions to report foreign gifts and contracts valued at more than $250,000. To date, that portal has recorded more than 7,000 transactions, totaling $3.8 billion. Some 60 of the schools that have filed through the portal so far had not submitted any reports between 1986 and June 2020, and their disclosures alone totaled $350 million for the July 31, 2020, reporting period.
Connecting With the Field
With visits, calls, and virtual showcases, Secretary DeVos and Department senior officials are promoting safely reopening schools and expanding educational options for students and families.
Then, on October 20, the Secretary spoke about the need to transform and adapt K-12 education during this time of COVID-19 as part of the Milken Institute Global Conference.
This week, traveling across the American South, the Secretary participated in a roundtable discussion with Kentucky Pastors in Action in Louisville; visited Florida Virtual School headquarters in Orlando (joined by State Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran); toured Belton Preparatory Academy and Anderson Institute of Technology in South Carolina (joined by Deputy Secretary of Education Mitchell Zais and State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman); and participated in a roundtable discussion with Black Led Schools of Choice in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Separately, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan and Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (delegated the duties and responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services) Mark Schultz hosted almost a dozen virtual showcases. Brogan featured Hills-Beaver Creek Independent School District in Minnesota; St. Timothy Christian Academy in Plano, Texas; University Charter School in Livingston, Alabama; Fort Huachuca Accommodation Schools in Arizona; Avon Local Schools in Ohio; Havasu Preparatory Academy in Lake Havasu City, Arizona; and Pima Unified School District in Arizona. Schultz featured Spectrum Charter School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania; Brehm Preparatory Academy in Carbondale, Illinois; and statewide vocational rehabilitation services in Iowa and South Carolina.
An Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) Back to School Success Stories page offers testimonials written and submitted by parents, teachers, school officials, and community members sharing their positive experiences with bringing students back to school (see local media coverage of one story).
On October 23, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) provided an update on the school mask initiative in support of President Trump's safe reopening of schools. As of last week, 110 million masks had been deployed. Distribution of adult-sized masks is complete; child-sized masks are being distributed as soon as they are manufactured.
Also on October 23, the Department of Education released a Parent and Family Digital Learning Guide, a resource to help parents and guardians understand how digital tools can provide tailored learning opportunities, engage students with course materials, encourage creative expression, and enrich the educational experience. The guide has advice and best practices about topics such as how to leverage flexibilities and innovations of technologies and digital tools, like accessibility options, to meet the unique needs of every learner; steps parents can take to keep their children safe online and foster safe digital behavior, like accessing security features on a child's device, tracking log-on information, and monitoring videoconferencing; how competency-based learning, which measures a student's knowledge of a subject rather than time spent on the subject, can harness technology for the benefit of students; and simple primers on major federal laws governing student privacy and safety. This publication is the first in a series that will also provide digital learning knowledge and resources to educators and school leaders.
The Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and Institute of Education Sciences (IES) have developed "Welcoming Safe and Supportive Learning Environments" -- resources to support teachers and school and district leaders. These resources include School Climate Improvement, Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment in Our Nation's Classrooms, Mindfulness in Education: An Approach to Cultivating Self-Awareness That Can Bolster Kids' Learning, Returning to School During and After Crisis, and Supporting Students with Disabilities at School and Home. Similar resources are available at OESE Resources, the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), the National Center for Pyramid Innovations, and IES COVID-19 Evidence-Based Resources.
OSEP also issued a new questions-and-answers document about implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C Provision of Services in the current COVID-19 environment.
And, the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) issued a new questions-and-answers document regarding the administration of the State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services and American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services (AIVRS) programs under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and Business Enterprise programs under the Randolph-Sheppard Act during the pandemic.
School Ambassador Fellowship
Apply now for the Department's 2021-22 School Ambassador Fellowship Program. This program enables outstanding teachers, principals, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other school-based professionals interacting with students on a daily basis to bring their expertise to the Department and expand their knowledge of the national dialogue on education. In turn, fellows facilitate the learning and input of other educators and community members. As in previous years, applicants may choose to apply as Washington Fellows -- a full-time appointment, where fellows are based in residence at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. -- or as Campus Fellows -- a part-time appointment, where fellows collaborate with the agency while maintaining their regular school responsibilities in their home communities. The application closes January 11, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. (Note: Over 130 educators from across the nation have participated in this highly competitive year-long fellowship experience, and the Department regularly seeks the feedback of those within the Ambassador Alumni Network.)
NAEP Results: Grade 12
According to the most recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the average reading score for the nation's twelfth-grade students declined between 2015 and 2019, and there was no statistically significant change in twelfth-graders' average mathematics score over the same time period. "The decline in twelfth-grade reading scores resembles the declines in fourth- and eighth-graders' reading scores, where we saw the largest declines among the lowest-performing students," noted National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Associate Commissioner of Assessment Peggy Carr. "There is an urgent need for research into this phenomenon, which we have now observed in multiple reading assessments, in the NAEP U.S. history assessment, in the NAEP geography assessment, and in some of our international assessments. This pattern of decline concentrated among lower-performing students -- across grades and across subjects -- is a troubling indication that too many students are falling behind."
Compared to 1992, reading scores in 2019 improved only for the highest-performing students -- those at the 90th percentile. The score for twelfth-graders performing at the 75th percentile in 2019 was not measurably different from 1992. However, the scores for lower- and middle-performing students (10th, 25th, and 50th percentiles) declined compared to 1992, with the largest decrease (20 points) seen among the lowest-performing students (10th percentile). And though there was no statistically significant change in the overall average math score since 2015, scores declined for lower-performing students (10th and 25th percentiles) (press release and NAEP home page).
The NAEP reading and math assessments were administered to 52,100 twelfth-graders from public and private schools nationwide between January and March 2019. (Note: Secretary DeVos issued a blunt statement on the results.)
Odds and Ends
- Federal Student Aid (FSA) is currently in the process of sending electronic messages to 2020-21 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) filers and parents of dependent 2020-21 FAFSA filers who have not submitted the 2021-22 FAFSA form. The goal of this fall campaign is to remind customers that the 2021-22 FAFSA form is available and should be completed as soon as possible for those planning to attend college between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022.
- New on the Homeroom blog: "The Parent's Guide to Filling Out the FAFSA Form."
- Signed into law five years ago (2015), the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) extended flexibility to states in education and laid out expectations of transparency for parents and communities (video).
- OSEP released its latest "OSEP Fast Facts" on children ages 3-5 served under Part B, Section 619 of the IDEA.
- Secretary DeVos announced 10 principals from 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools as this year's recipients of the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership. Named for the second U.S. Secretary of Education, these awards honor principals for their outstanding work and the role they play in guiding their students and schools to excellence, often under challenging circumstances.
- The Secretary also announced additional funding for the Federal Work Study (FWS) Experimental Site, an initiative that expands earn-and-learn opportunities for students by removing the barriers to off-campus jobs, allowing students to work more hours and institutions to pay for work-based learning such as apprenticeships, externships, and clinical rotations (fact sheet). Initiated in February, FWS at 190 institutions has incentivized student work opportunities that provide a paycheck and meaningful skills training aligning with students' future work goals.
- When submissions closed earlier this month, the Rural Tech Project had received 63 proposals from 34 states, representing schools and school districts that serve between 15 and 7,500 students, for technology education programs. A review panel of experts across disciplines is the first to evaluate submissions and will advance the leading proposals to the judging panel.
- IES Director Mark Schneider's recent blog post, "Introducing Operation Reverse the Loss," presents preliminary ideas for speeding up the IES machinery to identify, scale up, and verify the effectiveness of interventions that show promise in reversing learning loss for students at the greatest risk.
Quote to Note
"We have been very methodical about our rulemaking and regulatory moves to do everything according to law, so that if there are changes, they have to be done by law as well."
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (10/19/20), from a roundtable at Hillsdale College in Michigan
Schools are encouraged to invite U.S. military veterans into their classrooms around Veterans Day (November 11). Veterans can share their experiences and teach students lessons about the history and significance of the federal holiday, helping students reflect upon the importance of the ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy.
International Education Week (November 16-20), a joint initiative of the Departments of Education and State, celebrates the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.
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