Education

Promising Trends, but Discouraging Numbers, in Early Childhood Education Workforce

July 1, 2013

An oft-repeated lament in the early childhood world is that child care workers are so low-paid that, on average, they earn less than parking lot attendants. A new analysis supported by the Institute of Education Sciences and published in Education Finance and Policy finds this old adage is correct – but the authors say there is some promising news, too.

The study, “The Early Childhood Care and Education Workforce from 1990 through 2010: Changing Dynamics and Persistent Concerns,” examines Census data from the Current Population Survey for early childhood employees in schools, centers and home-based care. It looks at four characteristics: educational attainment of child care workers, pay of those workers, the “brain drain” of early childhood workers from the industry and the prestige of the workforce, as measured by the education level and compensation of people new to the field.

Child Care, Preschool, and American Families

June 28, 2013
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The last few news cycles have confirmed what researchers already knew: American families, conceptions of marriage, and views on gender are changing fast. In 1975, nearly half of American households followed the traditional “dad-at-work, mom-at-home” model. Less than one-third of families use that model today. Twice as many dads stay home with their children now as did a decade ago. And today, over 40 percent of mothers are the “sole or primary providers” in their households today.

Bipartisan Student Loan Interest Rate Reform Bill Released in the Senate

June 27, 2013

Would Senate Democrats walk away from a chance to cut interest rates and payments on student loans below where they would be if Congress enacted a one-year extension of current policy – a 3.4 percent interest rate for Subsidized Stafford loans and a 6.8 percent rate for Unsubsidized Stafford loans? Would they turn down a bipartisan plan to spend an estimated additional $30 billion over the next five years to lower rates for millions of borrowers? We will soon find out.

Today, a bipartisan group of senators officially introduced legislation, the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, that would lower rates and payments on student loans below an extension of the current 3.4 percent rate on Subsidized Stafford loans. The bill, led by Sens. Manchin (D-WV), Burr (R-NC), Coburn (R-OK), Alexander (R-TN), and King (I-ME), would tie fixed interest rates on newly issued student loans to the 10-year Treasury note rate – 1.81 percent for the 2013-14 school year – plus a markup of 1.85 percent on undergraduate Stafford loans, 3.4 percent on graduate Stafford loans, and 4.4 percent on PLUS loans.

The rates on the loan would be fixed for the life of the loan, but each year of loans would carry a new rate. The bill would maintain the existing cap on consolidation loans of 8.25 percent, a provision included (albeit not explicitly) in an earlier proposal from Sens. Coburn and Burr.

We’ve written a lot over the past few weeks about this bipartisan Senate proposal and in a recent analysis compare it to other plans. The benefits under the bipartisan plan exceed those of others proposals because it lowers rates on both types of loans undergraduates receive, Unsubsidized and Subsidized Staffords. And because Unsubsidized Stafford loans accrue interest while a student is in school, lowering rates on those loans reduces the amount of debt borrowers have when they leave school, cutting monthly and total payments, too.

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Why is the Democratic leadership in the Senate actively trying to defeat this bipartisan bill? And why are student and advocacy groups egging them on? Because they are worried that interest rates might, sometime in the future, on average, end up higher under the proposal than under current law (i.e. 6.8 percent). In that case, 6.8 percent would be a better deal they argue.

Senate Democrats and advocacy groups, in other words, have put their money on a big move up in long-term interest rates. Sure, they could be right, although the 10-year Treasury note would have to return to its 2007 pre-recession level for the rate under the bipartisan plan to exceed 6.8 percent. But what if they are wrong about future interest rates? What if rates stay lower for longer?

Take a look at Congress’ track record on picking interest rates for student loans. The rates are currently fixed at 6.8 percent because back in 2001 legislators picked that number based on Congressional Budget Office interest rate projections.

That should be reason enough to get Congress out of the business of setting student loan interest rates. But armed with another Congressional Budget Office interest rate projection (which simply extrapolates average interest rates from the past into the future), Democrats and advocacy groups are busy making tables and charts showing exactly where interest rates are headed, all to make the case that 6.8 percent is a good rate.

According to Sen. Durbin (D-IL), student groups have told Democratic lawmakers to let the rate on Subsidized Stafford loans double to 6.8 percent rather than consider any of the alternatives currently being floated. When Congress picked the 6.8 percent rate in the early 2000s, student groups rejoiced. They were sure it was a great deal for students. They even took out full page newspaper advertisements thanking Congress for "lowering rates." Later, as everyone knows, Democratic lawmakers and student advocates cried foul when rates plunged but the 6.8 percent rate remained. Could they be wrong again? 

Check back with Ed Money Watch for more details in the coming week.

New CREDO Charter School Study Provides Talking Points for Both Sides

June 27, 2013

A new report on charter school performance from Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes is—like CREDO’s last major report, in 2009—inspiring a host of talking points. With 95 pages of findings to sift through, there is something for charter school friends and foes alike—which is why it is a mistake to use this, or any CREDO study, as an empirical justification for or argument against the charter school sector in general.

The report indicates that charter schools serve roughly double the percentage of African-American students, a higher percentage of Hispanic students, and a higher percentage of students in poverty than traditional public schools. But CREDO also found that charters serve fewer English language learners and special education students than both traditional public schools as a whole and charter school “feeders”—demographically similar schools that students may attend before enrolling in charters.

The study found that charter school students are, on average, making bigger reading gains than their traditional public school peers, amounting to about eight days of additional learning time. In math, charter school students are making learning gains equivalent to their traditional school peers. In both areas, the charter school sector has improved its performance since 2009.

CREDO’s school-level achievement numbers are particularly amenable to ideological massaging. On one hand, they clearly show that a majority of charter schools perform the same or worse than traditional public schools in math (40 percent the same + 31 percent worse) and reading (56 percent the same + 19 percent worse). Hence the Washington Post’s headline about the study: “Charters not outperforming traditional public schools, report says.” It’s settled: charter schools are a disaster!

But wait! The data also clearly show that a majority of charter schools perform the same or better than traditional public schools in math (40 percent same + 29 percent better) and reading (56 percent same + 25 percent better). Hence the AP’s more encouraging headline, which references “general gains” at charters. It’s settled: charter schools are a triumph!

What’s that old line about lies, damned lies, and statistics?

The real lesson from the new CREDO study is less dramatic, and thus gets less attention. The national aggregate data on charters mask wide variance in school quality; charters in Washington, D.C. are good and getting better, for example, while Nevada charters are weak. In other words, “charter schools” alone aren’t the solution to our educational ills, though high-quality charters can make a big difference in students’ lives.

The CREDO study shows that the rules states set for their charter school sectors affect the quality of their schools. Indeed, the paper states, “The rise in average student growth across the continuing schools is due in no small part to the closure of low-performing schools, which amounted to about 8 percent of the 2009 sample of schools.” This ought to be intuitive. Charter schools work better in states (and the District of Columbia) with laws that maintain strict school accountability standards. The study found that “the use of the option to close schools represents the strongest available tool to improve overall sector quality for the time being.” (For a more comprehensive look at the promise and challenges of closing charter schools, see this report from the Progressive Policy Institute.)

To repeat the analogy I offered on Twitter yesterday: “Charter schools don’t solve U.S. education’s quality problem any more than oatmeal solves the problem of eating a quality breakfast.” Like oatmeal, charter schools are just one, potentially beneficial option—but by no means a guarantee of educational quality.

Building Early Literacy Through Libraries and Museums

June 25, 2013
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Public libraries may seem like an easy place to trim some fat off local budgets. Indeed, according to the American Library Association, 40 percent of states cut library funding in 2011. But that approach may be undermining parallel efforts to boost investment in early childhood education.

Harkin Interest Rate Proposal Costs Students More than Bipartisan Bill

June 25, 2013

Less than a week before interest rates are scheduled to double on some federal student loans, yet another proposal has surfaced in the Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is reported to be circulating a proposal similar to one Sens. Manchin, King, Coburn, and Burr released last week, only his plan includes lower rates on Subsidized Stafford loans (but higher rates on Unsubsidized) than the bipartisan Senate proposal and Senator Harkin adds a cap on rates.

Harkin’s plan ties rates to the 10-year Treasury-note rate, plus a 1.5 percent markup for Subsidized Stafford loans; a 3.4 percent markup on Unsubsidized loans; and a 4.5 percent markup on PLUS loans. Stafford loans would be capped at 8.25 percent, and PLUS loans would be capped at 9.25 percent. (Consolidation loans, currently capped at 8.25 percent, would no longer have a cap.) The Manchin-King plan, on the other hand, would start with the same 10-year Treasury rate with a 1.95 percent markup on undergraduate Stafford loans; a 3.4 percent markup on graduate Stafford loans; and a 4.4 percent markup on PLUS loans.

Yesterday, we compared monthly payments for a hypothetical student taking out the maximum in Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford loans for four years of school, under several of the existing proposals. (We used the current Treasury rate as a basis for our estimates.) Today, we’re adding the Harkin proposal to those estimates. Readers should note that the bipartisan proposal is still a better deal for undergraduates than the Harkin proposal. And because the bipartisan bill reduces the interest rate for both Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, more students will  get a better deal.

The bipartisan Senate proposal achieves lower loan balances and overall interest rates for undergraduates than the Harkin plan because it charges graduate students more than undergraduates on Unsubsidized Stafford loans. We think charging graduate students higher rates to provide undergraduates lower ones is smart policy. It’s also progressive. Student loan borrowers with graduate degrees are hardly an economically oppressed class. Meanwhile, too many Americans struggle to obtain an undergraduate degree.

Maybe progressives could learn a thing or two from Sens. Manchin (D-WV), King (I-ME), Coburn (R-OK), and Burr (R-NC). The bipartisan proposal is a better deal for students, and it’s a better solution to the problem.  

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New Research Shows Social Skills and Mixed-Language Play Help ELLs Learn English

June 24, 2013

A new study provides evidence of the direct link between social and academic skill building during early childhood. The article, “Understanding Influences of Play on Second Language Learning,” is by Ruth Piker of California State University – Long Beach, and was published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Early Childhood Research. Piker uses developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s “concept of play as rule driven” to analyze how non-native English speakers develop skills in English through structured play with both native speakers and other dual-language learners.

Senate Interest Rate Compromise on the Way – and it Saves Students Money

June 24, 2013

A bipartisan group of senators (King, Manchin, Burr, and Coburn) is reportedly drafting a bill that would prevent interest rates on Subsidized Stafford loans from doubling on July 1. Their proposal would set market-based interest rates on all newly issued federal student loans. It looks similar to proposals from Senators Coburn (R-OK) and Burr (R-NC), President Obama, and the New America Foundation. How does the proposal compare to other options for setting rates? We decided to run the numbers.

The interest rates would be set at the 10-year Treasury yield plus a 1.9 percent markup for undergraduate loans; a 3.4 percent markup for graduate Stafford loans; and a 4.4 percent markup for Grad and Parent PLUS loans. Media reports indicate that the plan produces budgetary savings over 10 years with a 2.0 percent markup on undergraduate loans, and the bill’s sponsors are likely to further reduce the rates to ensure the compromise proposal is budget neutral. That puts the markup for undergraduate Stafford loans in the 1.9 percentage point range.

Using this information, we ran scenarios comparing the bipartisan Senate bill with an extension of current policy (3.4 percent Subsidized Stafford, 6.8 percent Unsubsidized), current law (both loan types at 6.8 percent), and the president’s proposal, which also pegs fixed-rate loans to the 10-year Treasury note but adds a different markup to that rate.

Our calculations are a bit more complicated than others so as to be more accurate. We account for the fact that undergraduate borrowers typically borrow both Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford loans. Our calculations are based on an undergraduate who borrows the maximum in both loan types.

And we account for the fact that lower interest rates on Unsubsidized Stafford loans reduce the amount of debt borrowers have when they leave school (interest accrues on these loans while borrowers are enrolled, so a lower rate means less interest added to the total loan balance while in school). That effect lowers a borrower’s monthly and total payments. We also hold the 2013-14 interest rate constant for four years of borrowing. We don’t profess to know where interest rates are headed; instead, we assume today’s rates are constant.

The tables below show the average interest rate at repayment, the debt at repayment, and the monthly payment under a 10-year fixed repayment plan under each interest rate scenario outlined above for an undergraduate who borrows the maximum. The bipartisan Senate plan provides nearly identical terms as the president’s plan when translated into monthly payments, though the Senate plan has simplicity going for it—both loan types have the same interest rate. More importantly, both plans would be better for students this year than letting the 3.4 percent rate expire, or even extending it.

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The bipartisan Senate proposal could increase the budget deficit by $30 billion in the next five years, a cost that some Senate Republicans are willing to swallow in exchange for a market-based rate. That sure looks like the bipartisan compromise that everyone says they want to see more of in Washington. Amazingly, other Democratic lawmakers cannot decide if a $30 billion rate cut is enough, because interest rates might, sometime in the future, on average, end up higher under the proposal than under current law, negating that new spending. They are, in other words, holding out for a sure thing and more money to boot. But what if rates stay lower for longer? By holding out for more, Democratic lawmakers will have torpedoed their only chance at providing students and parents a shot at those lower rates.

Student advocates and Democratic lawmakers may be looking a gift horse in the mouth. 

What Obama's Pre-K Proposal Could Mean for Head Start

June 24, 2013

This guest post was written by J.M. Holland, a Head Start teacher in Richmond, Va., and adjunct faculty in the school of education at Virginia Commonwealth University. He writes about education at The Collaborateurs,  formerly The Future of Teaching

To be honest, President Obama’s recent re-commitment to improving quality and increasing access to early childhood education was a surprise to me. I knew that he had an interest in early childhood, because as a Head Start educator I have experienced first hand his interest in early childhood through the Designation Renewal of Early Head Start and Head Start grantees.  And when the Obama administration set accountability as a priority in its efforts to strengthen Head Start it made sense to me. There have been calls for revisions of Head Start funding for years. I am not sure if there will be unintentional negative consequences down the line but any effort toward change takes that risk.

Storify: House Ed & Workforce Committee ESEA Markup

June 19, 2013

On Wednesday, the House Education & Workforce Committee convened to debate Chairman John Kline's (R-MN) proposed Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization. Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) also proposed his own version of the bill. ICYMI, here's the play-by-play.

Click here for the Storify of last week's Senate HELP Committee markup.

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