Saturday, May 20, 2017

DeVos budget brings class war to the classroom

Under Trump proposal, student loan forgiveness and Special Olympics 

would get axed to fund private schools.

This from AlterNet by way of Salon:

President Trump is proposing a massive change in the federal government’s role in education: the diversion of $10 billion from a host of student-friendly programs into federal programs to expand corporate charter schools and vouchers for private schools. As the Washington Post reports:
“Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.”
The budget proposal calls for a net $9.2 billion cut to department spending, or 13.6 percent of the spending level Congress approved last month. It is likely to meet resistance on Capitol Hill because of strong constituencies seeking to protect current funding, ideological opposition to vouchers and criticism of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor, became a household name during a bruising Senate confirmation battle. With no experience in teaching or school administration, she has had a rocky start to her first government job.
What’s in Trump’s proposed education budget
In January, she was chased away from the first public school in Washington, D.C., that she visited (as seen in the photo above).

Last week she was booed by graduating students while giving a commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University.

DeVos’ Priorities
The Trump budget proposal calls for the creation of a new $1 billion federal grant program under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary School Act (or ESSA, which has been rebranded as the Every Student Succeeds Act), which will allow students to take federal, state and local dollars to their public school of choice. That money would be added to the $15.9 billion that the Title I program will receive under the 2017 budget. Current funding is not “portable” to public schools of choice, according to Education Week.

Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, told Education Week that Congress rejected the idea of allowing Title I funds to follow students to the school of their choice when lawmakers passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. In general, she said she was deeply concerned about the ssage the budget proposal sends.
“This is the first direct threat on ESSA opportunity and ESSA success,” she said. “President Trump is completely undermining federal funding to support key elements of the law that Congress passed less than two years ago.”
While DeVos champions a school “choice” agenda, her proposal would actually create a federal program that would supersede state and local control of charter schools and voucher programs.
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, the ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee for K-12, told Education Week the proposal clashed with the intent of Congress in reauthorizing ESSA. “We never set it up in a way so that those funds could be diverted to support private schools,” he said.

Polis also slammed the budget proposal for shifting money away from schools with high levels of poverty to wealthier schools. And he said it would damage prospects for poor students and their families.

“I hope that it is dead on arrival in the House,” Polis said. “Traditionally, presidents haven’t had their way [with the budget]. I hope we keep with that tradition.”

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, issued a statement saying, “This budget would weaken communities by eliminating funding for after-school programs, grant aid for struggling college students and teacher and principal training programs, and so much more—even Special Olympics education programs.”

Charter School Chatter

I was invited to join Tom Shelton and Brent McKim for a conversation on charter schools in Kentucky during a recent edition of Eastern Standard, hosted by WEKU's John Hingsbergen.

Here's the station promo:

Kentucky Charter Schools on Eastern Standard

May 8, 2017

Host John Hingsbergen sat down with Drs. Richard Day and Tom Shelton in our studio to talk about Charter schools in Kentucky. We also heard from Brent Mckim out of Lousiville and Tiffany Williams from a Cincinnati Charter school via phone.
Photo by Marisa Hempel.
Kentucky’s General Assembly has passed legislation that will allow  Charter schools to open as early as next year.

On this week’s EST, we’ll learn more about Charter schools and where they’re most likely to first appear in the Commonwealth. Guests on this week's program include:
  • Richard Day: EKU's Faculty Regent, and Professor at Eastern Kentucky University's School of Clinical Educator Preparation.
  • Brent Mckim: President of Jefferson County Teacher’s Association: Brent was a high school physics teacher for fifteen years, and has been president of JCTA since 2001. He also lobbies the state legislature on behalf of members and is the chair of the representative council. Brent also serves on the National Education Association’s Committee on Legislation.
  • Dr. Tom Shelton: formerly Fayette County Superintendent and Executive director of The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS). Dr. Shelton is also assistant professor of education leadership at Eastern Kentucky University.
We will also be hearing from Tiffany Williams, Principal of the K-6 school at Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy in Ohio, a K-12 Charter school to tell us of the successes of their Charter, which has been educating students since 1999.

Send your questions or comments before the show to , or call 859-622-1657 and leave a message, or call in when you tune in for EST Thursday morning at 11:00 on 88-9 WEKU. You can also post a comment or question for our guests regarding charter schools in Kentucky to our Facebook page, or tweet @WEKUEST.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Tax shortfall signals need for reform

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Brad Hughes retiring from school boards association after nearly a quarter of a century

This from the Kentucky Press Association:
Brad Hughes
Chances are really good that if you’ve covered education — local primary or secondary schools, or school board meetings — over the last 24 years, you’ve dealt with Brad Hughes.
Now after 24 years as director of Member Support/Communications Services for the Kentucky School Boards Association, Brad has announced his retirement effective June 30.

Whenever a newspaper reporter called me asking a question related to schools, school boards or about the policy on taking pictures of school children while on school property, Brad was the person I always turned to. I knew I was going to get an answer, an explanation of the policy and an invitation to have the reporter contact him if there were further questions. And it was going to be in a true professional manner.

Brad has been the consummate media relations person to deal with, probably all tied to his background as a reporter himself. He knew what reporters sometime faced in doing their jobs and he was more than willing to help them as much as possible.

His 24 years with KSBA followed 10 years in a similar capacity with the Cabinet for Human Resources (today, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services) where he averaged 250 media interviews a week.

He got his experience on the media side of the fence from 1973 to 1983 when he was an announcer/reporter WFKN Radio in Franklin (trained by Tom Caudill, Henry Stone and Stan Portman); announcer/reporter WHOP Radio in Hopkinsville; news director/reporter WKCT Radio in Bowling Green; reporter WBKO-TV in Bowling Green.

You can see he got started back in the “Dark(room) Ages” because in talking about some of the changes he has seen over his career, he mentions having to develop film and using a manual typewriter. (For those younger journalists out there, manual typewriters had no electricity.)

OST: I asked Brad about changes he has noticed in the media, and the way the news about school boards and education in general has been handled?

BH: There are so few education beat reporters today in Kentucky. Combine that with the turnover of reporters who cover schools in many communities, and you have young journalists who are trying to explain extremely complicated education issues, sometimes with – but sadly too often without – the collaboration of local educators. Clearly there are many more media outlets that are no longer bound by a publication or broadcast deadline to post their stories online. A small number of media outlets are doing instant reporting from school board meetings, which I think is great in the cases when the reporters understand what they are hearing and tweeting/posting without the time to ask “What does that mean?” Unfortunately, it’s very easy when listening to a complex presentation on an education matter, not fully understanding what was said, what was meant, and then putting the information out. I’m a big promoter of social media use by schools and government agencies. I wish every school board member use social media to communicate with constituents – as long as they don’t see that as an alternative to working with mainstream reporters and their readers, viewers and listeners.

OST: Since he deals with school board members, local education officials and at the same time professional journalists, I asked Brad if there’s a common theme or complaint from those education officials about the news media.

BH: Well, there are multiple themes. There is a huge lack of understanding how media outlets really work, why this makes “news” and that doesn’t. Everyone loves positive coverage, but many people – school leaders included – tend to remember the negative stories. Turnover – both in terms of school leaders and reporters – works against building trusting relationships. School officials in communities with multiple public school systems and a single newspaper are constantly doing a comparison of coverage – perceived positive versus negative, features, news release pickups, sports stories, standalone photos. And not enough public school systems have dedicated communications.

I’m blessed to be able to teach a lot of classes on media relations to public officials and agency staff around Kentucky and several times a year in other states. I often wear a t-shirt from the Newseum in Washington, D.C. imprinted with the message, “Trust me. I’m a reporter.” And I try to use those 44 years as a journalist – 10 as a mainstream journalist and 34 in what I call ‘public affairs journalism’ – to increase understanding about how news is gathered, about professionalism and credibility needing to be earned by both sides of an official/journalist relationship, and how to deal with mistakes on both sides. Errors happen but can be reduced when a superintendent or board member or district spokesperson makes it known that they are willing to take a call anytime to clarify. I hope I can continue to do this kind of training for many years to come with KSBA and other groups. On a really good day, a superintendent, board member or principal mentions remembering my training about creating a message or avoiding “No comment,” and I’m on top of the world.

All that said, I see about 200 education stories a week, and sometimes I just stare at the computer screen, wondering “What?” The vast majority of stories in Kentucky newspapers are well-written. But I find too many that leave me wondering who failed to ask a question or to offer an explanation. I’ve come to learn that a story that’s either flat out wrong, partially in error or just confusing can be just as much to blame on the side of the information provider as on that of the story writer.

I do wish I could have educated Kentucky newspaper reporters and editors that it’s the Kentucky School BoardS Association, not the Kentucky School Board (no ‘s’) Association. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to correct that (and I do know sometimes the information comes wrong from school folks), well, I could have retired many years ago. And that’s no joke.

OST: When Brad took the position with KSBA, he was the perfect choice. Can you imagine putting an educator in a position of dealing with the media on a daily basis? That’s why one of Brad’s observations (2) is so on point:

1)      Relationships – not friendships – are crucial between local officials and local journalists. There always will be another story.
2)      The best public affairs people have been reporters. Having met a deadline, got a clarification, wrote a correction, told a story in limited seconds or copy inches makes all the difference.   
3)      Some of the nicest comments I’ve heard since my retirement became public came from reporters and editors I’ve worked with for years – even a few for decades. It proves point No. 1.
4)      Being married to one of the best newspaper reporters I ever competed against and hands down the finest copy editor I’ve ever worked makes me a debtor to journalism for the rest of my life.

OST: And 4) led to the obvious question: Has Judy (his wife) given you a list of “Honey Do” jobs now that you’re getting close to retirement?

BH: When Judy isn’t helping University of Louisville researchers and reporters who need an expert on this topic or that issue, she’s an incredible basket weaver. Two-time Grand Champion of the Kentucky State Fair. She hasn’t created a Honey Do list, but mine includes being her “Reed Roady” for weaving classes around the country.

I’ve appreciated the working relationship with Brad, going back to the days he was communications director for the state cabinet. Whatever we were discussing, whatever question I needed to ask him to help a newspaper reporter, Brad was always the same. Mild-mannered, professional and understanding.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Kentucky projects $113 million revenue shortfall

This from the Courier Journal:
Kentucky’s budget director is predicting the state will suffer a $113 million revenue shortfall when the state’s fiscal year ends June 30.

The new projection by state Budget Director John Chilton means the state's precarious budget outlook is a bit worse than expected and will likely bolster Gov. Matt Bevin's push for a special legislative session to reform the state tax code and pension system.

If the projection proves accurate, it will require Bevin to direct budget moves to assure that - as required by the Kentucky Constitution - the fiscal year ends with a balanced budget. However, a $113 million shortfall from $10.6 billion is not so deep as to require drastic spending cuts - particularly because the state "rainy-day" fund will provide some protection.

Chilton made his projection late Monday in a quarterly economic and revenue report posted on the budget office’s website. The report said tax receipts to the state General Fund fell 3.2 percent during the third quarter of this fiscal year compared to the third quarter of the prior fiscal year. And through the first nine months of the fiscal year, revenues have grown at just 1.2 percent compared to last year, although the state budget requires a growth rate of 2.7 percent, Chilton reported.

Though some recovery is expected in the final quarter, Chilton's report projects “a current-year revenue shortfall of $113.2 million" on June 30.

The General Fund collects revenues from most state taxes and pays for most state programs including education. The report blames the projected shortfall on weaker-than-expected performance so far this year of the two biggest taxes: the individual income tax revenue grew at 2.4 percent through the first three quarters, and the sales tax grew by just 0.6 percent.

The General Assembly sets rules for Bevin to follow in taking steps to balance the budget. And in such situations, governors can tap the state’s reserve "rainy-day" fund, which currently has a balance of about $235 million. However, one rule lawmakers put into the state budget is a provision that no more than 25 percent of the balance of that reserve fund be used to help balance the state budget at the end of this fiscal year.

While a $113 million shortfall can likely be met without much immediate pain, it adds urgency to concerns over the state's revenue outlook and strengthens Bevin's case for the need for tax reform.
The governor has said he will call a special legislative session for later this year to address both tax reform and pension reform. Bevin has said the unfunded liabilities of state pension funds (officially reported $38.7 billion, but Bevin says the outlook is much worse) present a major financial crisis and both the tax system and pension system must be reformed to address it. Bevin has not specified when he plans to call the session later this year.

Monday's quarterly report had better news for the state Road Fund. This fund, which collects revenues from the gas tax and sales tax on vehicles and spends it on road maintenance and other transportation needs, is projected to take in $1.5 billion this fiscal year, about 1.2 percent more than the current-year budget requires.

Public Regional Colleges Never Die. Can They Be Saved?

It’s possible to imagine a future iteration...that looks and operates 
less like a collection of independent public universities and more 
like a system of branch campuses.

This from the Chronicle on Higher Education:
You don’t need a Ph.D. to understand the math that spells trouble for public higher education in many states. Typically, the number of high-school graduates is projected to decline by X percent in the coming decade, and state support has dropped by Y million dollars since the recession with little sign of ever rising again. Meanwhile, the number of four-year regional comprehensive universities remains constant, an inflexible

The numbers are plain, but solutions remain elusive. Comprehensives are the workhorses of a public higher-education system, awarding the bulk of bachelor’s degrees and providing educational opportunities in all corners of a state. But certain corners of many states are home to institutions that have been hemorrhaging students and struggling to balance their budgets.

Pennsylvania is one of those states. Nine of the 14 institutions in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, known as Passhe, have suffered double-digit percentage drops in fall enrollment since 2009. (Only one, West Chester University, in a Philadelphia suburb, has seen steady annual increases during that period.)
Enrollment at Clarion U. of Pennsylvania has dropped nearly 29 percent since 2009.

In January, the system announced the first ever full-scale review of its universities and the system over all, which Frank T. Brogan, the chancellor, says is unsustainable in its current form. "The Board of Governors pretty quickly made the case that everything should be on the table. What got most of the attention was the word ‘closure,’" he says. But neither he nor the board want to take that route: "Sustainability is a more complicated approach, and I think a more powerful approach." A State Senate committee will also conduct its own independent review of the system later this year. Passhe’s is slated to be completed this summer.

What can be done, in Pennsylvania and in the growing number of states that are being forced to reckon with their comprehensive-university systems? Universities, even wobbly ones, are complex and substantial organizations sunk into the bedrock of their communities, their regions, their states. It may be nearly impossible to close one. And so some leaders are looking for ways to keep colleges alive, by carving out niches for them in the marketplace or by merging and consolidating, as has happened in Maine and Georgia.

But are such efforts transformational enough, or are they just a way of rearranging the deck chairs? And what will public comprehensive universities look like on the other side?

Whatever happens, it’s probably high time, says Karen M. Whitney, president of Clarion University, a Passhe institution. "We are," she says, "in a moment of reformation."

Some Passhe institutions are not waiting for the results of the two reviews to try to improve their fortunes, and they’re using a strategy being employed by colleges everywhere: finding a distinctive competitive niche. It’s a remarkable shift for institutions designed to be "comprehensive."
But significant transformation is not unknown at an institution like Clarion, according to Ms. Whitney. Since its founding in 1867 in the small Western Pennsylvania hilltop town from which it takes its name, Clarion has been a private Methodist seminary, a commonwealth normal school, an independent public university, and, since 1983, a Passhe institution. "Each of those reformations came with a shift of development in our mission and why we exist," she says.

The latest shift has been sparked by a serious enrollment decline. Clarion’s fall enrollment dropped from 7,346 students in 2009 to about 5,224 students last year, a decrease of nearly 29 percent.
For Clarion to rebound, it must focus on what its students want, Ms. Whitney says. And those preferences are clear: About 80 percent of Clarion’s students enroll in its business, health-care, or education programs. "I am not going to ignore 80 percent of our students," she says. "We’re moving from a broad-based approach to being all things to all people to what I’m going to call a distinctive mission."

The university recently expanded its health-care offerings with a nursing B.S.N. program, and she says she’s encouraged by the trends in applications and admissions for next fall. Ms. Whitney adds that in five years, if all goes well, she expects the share of its students enrolled in professional degree programs will have topped 90 percent.

Meanwhile, fall enrollment at Mansfield University, in rural north-central Pennsylvania, dropped from 3,569 to 2,198 since 2009, a decrease of 38 percent. It is planning to increase its appeal to students by shifting its role away from a straightforward comprehensive university toward a liberal-arts institution at a public-education price point, including ambitions to suffuse its existing professional and pre-professional programs with "liberal-arts-type tenets," says Brig. Gen. Francis L. Hendricks, the president. Mansfield isn’t making a left turn from its mission, he says, "it’s just a matter of playing to our strengths."

Edinboro University, in the commonwealth’s northwest corner, is responding to losing about 28 percent of its fall enrollment between 2010 and 2016 by identifying four academic program areas on which to refocus its resources, including its arts and digital entertainment program, among other pre-professional tracks.

Emphasizing certain things leads to de-emphasizing others. As Clarion’s nursing offerings have grown, disciplines such as philosophy and history have dwindled to a handful of faculty of each. At Edinboro, programs that are less in demand by students may have to be cut, says H. Fred Walker, the president. "What we’re being asked to do right now is become responsive to the changing economy," he says. "That’s a healthy thing."

While leaders at some Passhe institutions may be setting a new course for their universities, those courses may be reversed by the recommendations of the looming system reviews. Five years from now, Clarion might have staked out its niche funneling students into careers in hospitals, small businesses, and schools. Or the system might have steered it in an entirely new direction. Or it might be shuttered.

But Ms. Whitney and other Passhe presidents agree that something must be done. Whatever happens, she says, "the worst thing that can happen is that nothing happens."

In the abstract, closing faltering institutions makes some sense. In reality, it’s all but impossible.
"Devastating" is a common response to questions about the possible effects of a closure. Clarion University, for example, is the largest employer in Clarion County. It is an economic and cultural driver in a poor region where the population and the manufacturing base that once employed it have both trailed off in recent decades. If Clarion closes, "you just basically say, ‘We’re shutting down Clarion County,’" says Jamie L. Phillips, a professor of philosophy and chair of the Faculty Senate at Clarion.

If the region is to rebound, it needs Clarion more than ever, says Mr. Phillips, who has worked there for 18 years. About 86 percent of the university’s students come from within 200 miles of the campus, and Clarion represents one of the few options for higher education in the immediate region. "Take that away from them, and what’s left?" Mr. Phillips says. "There’s nothing."

But the truth is that public colleges almost never die. The only commonly cited example of a stand-alone quasi-four-year public college that has been shut down is the University of South Dakota at Springfield, a small technical college that mostly offered two-year programs until it closed in 1984. (It was soon converted into a state prison.)

Even killing off a failing branch campus can be an agonizing process. Partly because of a $30-million cut to state support, the University of Connecticut system last year closed its campus in Torrington, where enrollment had dwindled to about 150 students even as it climbed at all five other UConn campuses. System officials spent a year in discussions about the necessity of the move with the Board of Trustees, state and local elected officials, and students and community members, says Sally M. Reis, the system’s vice provost for academic affairs.

But still there were objections, which were both practical and quirky. Torrington residents insisted to the board that it stay open, even though many of their own children had enrolled at UConn campuses elsewhere, Ms. Reis says. Community members suggested revitalizing the campus with a new manufacturing emphasis, even though nearby community colleges provided such training at a lower price. Some fretted publicly about the fate of the library’s in-house cat. (It found a new home before the campus closed last May.)

Suggested closures not only alarm local communities, they’re political poison. Each endangered university sits in some representative’s or senator’s district, and there’s "lots of downside for the people who represent those areas and not a lot of upside," says Iris Palmer, a senior policy analyst for education policy at New America, a former Department of Education official, and an expert on public higher-education policy.

If states actually wanted to close institutions, Ms. Palmer says, it would help to have something like the United States military’s Base Realignment and Closure process, which is designed to make holistic, impartial decisions about closing defense installations, "to right-size these systems and do it well."

Since closing universities often isn’t a realistic option, several systems have considered campus mergers and other kinds of consolidation. That can take the form of sharing or pooling some business functions with other institutions, or merging two separate campuses under the same management and leadership.

Some struggling Passhe institutions are already sharing services with their peers in order to increase efficiency and reduce their costs. Cheyney University, a historically black institution outside Philadelphia that has seen enrollment drop by more than half since 2010, now outsources most of its business functions to nearby West Chester University. Mansfield University, which is handing over many of its business functions to the larger Bloomsburg University, about 90 miles away, will save the former money "so that we can protect the primary mission," says General Hendricks, the president.

Mr. Brogan, the system chancellor, says he suspects that consolidations could be a part of how the system moves forward after the reviews "Our system has up until quite recently been very much an every-man-for-himself operation," he says, with many of the same basic functions reproduced 14 times over. "They just don’t have the money to do that. More importantly there is no longer the necessity to do that."
Other states have taken similar tacks. The University System of Georgia, for example, has merged 14 institutions over the past six years in an effort to improve academic opportunities and cut costs. Maine has also looked to mergers to help adjust the scope of its system of seven public four-year institutions to serve a shrinking population of 1.3 million.

The University of Maine system announced in March that it would merge its coastal Machias campus, which enrolls fewer than 800 students, with its flagship campus in Orono, about 90 miles away. The Machias campus had been struggling to maintain its enrollment — fall headcount shrank from 863 in 2011 to 786 in 2015 — and years of budget shortfalls had led to numerous staff cuts. "It had really become hollowed out," says James H. Page, chancellor of the University of Maine system. "That’s a strong term, but it really had."

The system’s Board of Trustees considered closing the campus, but ruled it out. "Would you take one of the last anchor institutions out of a region to save five, six, or seven million dollars, which would probably be a quick back-of-the-envelope net savings from something like that?" Mr. Page says. "And the answer is, you would not."

Because of Orono’s size and relatively good financial health, it can perform back-office functions far more cheaply than Machias can. The flagship can also offer the smaller campus services that it hasn’t had money for in several years, according to Mr. Page, including marketing and enrollment assistance. There are also academic synergies woven into the merger. Orono students and faculty will gain better access to Machias’ marine research facilities and teaching opportunities, while Machias could gain more students and access to more research funding. If Machias gets back to more solid footing as part of Orono, Mr. Page says, it might be able to strengthen itself, and its region, again.
Still, the old model of individualized universities has presented barriers to efficiency, and difficult questions. The system has a cybersecurity program taught on three different campuses. Do students have to enroll in three different universities? What about the differences in fees from campus to campus? And then there’s accreditation. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges accredits individual institutions, not systems, Mr. Page says.

Consolidations also may not be the silver bullet, financially, that many hope they are. While merging campuses can save money for a system, the savings typically come from layoffs of employees made redundant. "Saving that money will result in people losing their jobs, and some legislators are going to fight very hard to preserve jobs in their district," says Thomas L. Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. While closing or consolidating some offices can result in savings, many merged institutions still maintain two physical plants, two sets of faculty, and many administrators. Mergers are increasingly popular options, but "it’s an open question to how much money will ultimately be saved at the end of the day through these campus consolidations," Mr. Harnisch says. (It’s difficult to gauge the extent of savings in Georgia; the University System of Georgia did not respond to interview requests before press time.)

Yet, despite the uncertainties, Passhe, the University of Maine, and other systems may be peering over the lip of a new era of public higher education, where the autonomy and distinct identity of individual universities is redirected to a focus on delivering education to students as efficiently as possible. "The real question in all of this is, How do you use the collective assets of the institutions to serve students wherever they are?" says Dennis Jones, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, or Nchems, a nonprofit organization that advises colleges and systems on higher-education policy, and which is conducting the review commissioned by Passhe. Looking at the situation with a student-centric focus, rather than an institution-centric one, moves the conversation away from which individual universities might be closed or merged and toward how those universities operate and collaborate to provide education to students — which may have to be reconceived, he says.

It’s possible to imagine a future iteration of Passhe that looks and operates less like a collection of independent public universities and more like a system of branch campuses.

Each state’s political realities shape what’s possible in rethinking, and possibly reconfiguring, a large public university system. They are especially daunting in Pennsylvania.

No overarching office or organization coordinates its higher-education policy. Reforming that policy is the sort of complex and potentially contentious political task that’s going to take an official who "wakes up every morning and thinks that solving Passhe and its issues is my everyday job," says Mr. Jones. "The problem in Pennsylvania is that nobody does that, because there’s nobody that’s charged with that."

There are many issues to solve, some of the stickiest falling well outside the control of Passhe’s Board of Governors. Penn State University, the flagship research university, now has 24 campuses located throughout the commonwealth, all of them vying for many of the same students who might attend Passhe universities. Thanks to its laissez-faire approach to higher-education strategy, "this state has created an inherent competition even within the competition," says Mr. Brogan.
Passhe leaders also say that the system’s union contracts have made it tough to maintain their institutions’ sometimes shaky bottom lines. Mansfield University cut its labor force by almost 7 percent last year to help close a projected $8-million budget gap, says General Hendricks, the president, only to be hit with increased labor costs from a new faculty contract: "We watched all that water that we bailed out of the boat come right back in."

The system’s labor agreement with faculty also contains limitations on dismissing or reassigning professors that may make it difficult to substantially shift how its universities deliver instruction in a revamped Passhe.

But Passhe’s problems have nothing to do with its unions, according to Kenneth M. Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, known as Apscuf, which represents the system’s faculty. The financial straits affecting many of the system’s institutions stem from crumbling state support (only about 24 percent of Clarion University’s annual operating budget now comes from the commonwealth, for example), and from bad choices made by the leaders of individual institutions, he says. "It’s easy to say that this university or that university is failing, but is it really failing, or are the conditions such that it just can’t succeed?" he says. He adds that union-contract strictures provide an important check on "business mentality" decisions about the course of Passhe’s universities. System leaders "should be required to justify why what they’re doing is necessary," he says.

In the end, resolving these complications — or even electing to face them — comes down to political will. "You can do a great review, you can do a great study," Mr. Brogan says. "But if the powers that be don’t want it to happen, it either won’t get off the ground or it will crash and burn immediately after takeoff."

The state’s elected officials are ready to shake up Passhe, according to David G. Argall, a Republican state senator. The enrollment statistics for the system convinced him and many of his legislative colleagues that the status quo can’t endure. Mr. Argall was the lead sponsor of the measure that called for the Senate Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to review Passhe. The committee’s review will not be completed until months after Passhe’s review, but Mr. Argall says he’s "hopeful that they come up with very similar answers. This way we can say to everyone we have looked under every rock, we’ve asked every possible question."

Even if there is consensus among decision makers, Mr. Brogan says he expects that there will be objections, opposition, and arguments over what happens to Passhe and its institutions. He hopes that all parties to the discussion can put their own turf concerns aside and think about the bigger picture. The outcome of this process could determine not only the fate of 14 universities, their faculties, and their students, it could set the course for higher education in Pennsylvania for future generations.
"This thing’s going to long outlive the chancellor," Mr. Brogan says. "It’s going to outlive any of the 14 presidents. It’s going to outlive most of the people in the General Assembly. And therefore it needs to be designed with the best interests of those to come."
Lee Gardner writes about the management of colleges and universities, higher-education marketing, and other topics. Follow him on Twitter @_lee_g, or email him at

Career Readiness and State ESSA Plans

This from Terry Holliday in CTE Policy Watch:
I recently reviewed the Every Student Succeeds Act plans from the 17 states (including DC) who have submitted their plans for review by the U.S. Department of Education. Of interest to me were the measures that states are using to identify college and career readiness. I also researched the draft plans of the other 33 states and if they did not have a plan available, I looked at the existing state accountability model.
What I found is very interesting. During the NCLB era, there were very few states who utilized a measure in the state accountability model for college and career readiness. Kentucky and Louisiana were among the very few states to have actual measures of college and career readiness included in their models. Based on my quick review, 25 states will have measures of college and career readiness in their new ESSA state accountability model. 10 states are continuing to discuss the inclusion of a measure and 16 states do not have any plans for college- and career-ready measures.
Why the change in state measures? Some part of the change is due to the public perception of the “honesty gap.” For years, high school graduation rates have been improving. The United States currently has the highest graduation rate in the history of the nation—over 80 percent. However, the postsecondary remediation rate in some states is over 70 percent of high school graduates. This means that a high school diploma does not validate that a student is academically prepared for college credit-bearing courses. Also, the research has been very clear that many of America’s high school graduates are not prepared for entry level academic and/or technical programs that lead to jobs that pay a living wage.

States have been responding to these concerns. Council of Chief State School Officers and numerous other national and regional organizations have been responding to the “honesty gap” issue and one of the strongest policy responses is to include college and career readiness in the state accountability model.

However, there is a growing concern with the models that I have seen to this point. Most states have been using a “menu” model for state accountability. Schools will be held accountable based on the percentage of students who choose among menu options. The menu of college and career indicators usually includes student performance on Advance Placement, dual credit courses, International Baccalaureate exams, WorkKeys, SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, completion of a CTE course of study, ASVAB, and industry-recognized certifications. These measures are good measures, however, there are some potential pitfalls that states should avoid or we will find that many students are pushed toward measures that are seen as “lesser than” measures and most of these are aligned with the career-ready label.

“Career ready” should be a measure that ALL students who graduate from high school have obtained. Whether a student is preparing to become a surgeon or obtain a two-year technical credential, ALL students need to have academic preparation equal to the requirements of entry-level postsecondary courses. While some students will focus primarily on the academic measures, many students will already know that they have an interest in a career area and these students should have an opportunity to gain the technical skills that will give them advance credit and preparation for their future studies.
The bottom line is that career readiness needs to be something all students strive for as a graduation measure and must include measures of both academic and technical skills. College readiness should be a subset of career readiness and only ensures a student is academically prepared to enter postsecondary credit bearing courses. If the career-ready measures used by our states are a “lesser than” model, then we will continue to perpetuate the myth that “career-ready courses are for those other students and not for my students.” Our nation has a perception problem when it comes to career education in high school and we have a great opportunity to address that problem with the ESSA accountability models. If readers want to see a few states that have good models of career-ready measures, I refer them to the Delaware, Tennessee and Louisiana plans that can be found at
This guest piece was written by Terry Holliday, former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education and current board chairman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Dr. Holliday was also ACTE’s 2016 Champion of the Year, and continues to play an active role in education at the national level through involvement in projects like New Skills for Youth. We are pleased to share his insights into ESSA implementation*!