When its governing board abruptly dismissed the president of the University of Virginia in 2012, the flagship state university quickly became the focus of national attention. The decision—prompted by board complaints that the president had not moved fast enough to address the university’s challenges—embroiled the board, faculty, and president in two weeks of public confrontations. It also prompted a board member’s resignation before ultimately culminating in the president’s reinstatement.
At a 1979 meeting of The University of Texas Arts and Sciences Foundation in San Antonio, Peter Flawn, then-president of UT-Austin, railed against what he dubbed the “widget theory” of education. The notion, he said, is “that a college or university is a manufacturing enterprise that produces products called academic degrees in basically the same way as a company such as Universal Widgets Inc.produces widgets.” He went on to forecast “that the struggle for excellence in higher education over the next decades will be a struggle against the widget theory in higher education and against those who knowingly or unknowingly espouse it.”
There’s an online-learning boom going on in higher education. The focus is on a relatively new model that promises to teach tens of thousands of students at a time for free, with a mix of short Web videos and automatically graded (or peer-graded) assignments. These new offerings are called massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
Higher education is not just big business: It is huge business. If you add up all the revenues colleges get – tuition, government subsidies, ancillary operations, etc. – higher education took in nearly $500 billion in 2009-10, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. But despite the magnitude of money that flows into colleges and universities, these institutions have faced considerable financial pressure in recent years as states have cut funding for higher education.
For-profit colleges and universities are a growing presence in American higher education. The sector accounted for an estimated 13 percent of all U.S. college students in 2009—up from 5 percent in 2001—as well as an outsize share of the federal financial-aid dollars that help students cover the cost of higher education. For instance, nearly 25 percent of Pell Grant funds—need-based awards that the federal government provides to students from low-income families—go to students of for-profit schools.
The federal government provides billions of dollars in student aid and tax breaks to the nation’s colleges and universities each year, and it demands remarkably little in return.
Imagine a “professor.” For many, the idea evokes images of a well-compensated, full-time scholar with the academic freedom, job security and prestige associated with tenure. Now think again, but this time envision a Ph.D. who spends hours a day commuting between the two or three colleges at which he’s taken on course assignments, in an attempt to make a living. The pay is low, the job security is non-existent and a full-time position is a kind of pipe dream – let alone the possibility of tenure.
There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, ranging from open-enrollment community colleges to highly selective Ivy League institutions, from colleges with historical missions to educate the underserved to universities exploring the cutting edge of online education.
So—which college is the best in the nation?
“Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma,” President Obama said in a February 2009 address to a joint session of Congress.“And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education, and half of the students who begin college never finish.” With those remarks, the president put the issue of college completion front and center on the national stage.Calling the situation a “prescri
America’s higher-education system passed a milestone a few years ago that university officials would probably prefer no one noticed: Annual tuition plus room and board at some private institutions overtook the median household income. Going to a selective college, for the first time, cost more than the average family earns in a year.
College access and college admissions are closely related, essentially the two sides of the gateway that determines who can enroll in (and ultimately complete) a college education. On a very basic level, college access refers to the preparatory work that must be done in order for a student to knock on a college’s door with the genuine possibility of being let in and being able to earn a degree. College admissions—at least from the standpoint of admissions officers who work at postsecondary institutions—is about how best to evaluate whether to let that student in.
Many efforts to improve U.S. education today focus squarely on the “talent strategy” – how to get more great teachers into the pipeline and keep them in the classroom.
In 2009, a now often-cited study of teacher evaluations in multiple states found that just 1 percent of teachers were labeled unsatisfactory. That implicitly glowing appraisal of teacher performance stood in contrast to alarming achievement gaps among students of different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and to a more general slippage of U.S. students in international rankings of student achievement. The study, titled “The Widget Effect,” came at a critical moment.
Recognition of the importance of summer to the traditional school year is growing nationally, as more districts realize just how detrimental months away from school can be to students – especially those who are already struggling academically.
But how best to use the summertime to foster student learning and development remains undetermined, although more research has emerged on what works best.
In efforts to improve public education in the United States, much of the attention has been on helping teachers maximize their own abilities, and to make campuses effective – and efficient – at the business of schooling. But what if students themselves were the focus, and the primary goal was to structure their learning in the way that best met their individual needs? That’s the question put forth by advocates of student-centered learning, an educational approach that is gaining ground, bolstered by federal incentives to encourage innovation in the classroom and new research connecting students’ engagement to their academic success.
Calls to improve education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math have taken on fresh urgency in recent years. With U.S. prospects for prosperity increasingly seen as tied to performance in the STEM fields, the education community has stepped up efforts to rethink and revamp how U.S. students are educated in those subjects and groomed for technical careers.
There are few questions more crucial to the field of education than what students should learn and how that learning should be measured. This Topics section examines several currently hot topics – including common standards, international comparisons, and cheating – in the often-contentious realm of standards and testing.
Each year, parents and school boards duke it out at hearings and in court over the kinds of services and placements their schools provide for students with special needs.Those battles over special education have their roots in the 1976 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.The basic tenets of that landmark federal law are that students with disabilities should be provided with a “free, appropriate public education” (FAPE), and that this education should take place in the “least restrictive environment,
There was a time when the idea of creating a desirable school climate was practically redundant because there were few, if any, obstacles. “In the earliest public schools, teachers taught and students listened,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written approvingly about that simpler era in American education. “Teachers commanded, and students obeyed.”
In the modern era, however, maintaining a good school climate is a continuing challenge for teachers, administrators, and policymakers.
Just a little over a decade ago, online learning for many educators fell into the realm of science fiction, or worse, snake oil.Visions of students accessing an array of courses on their computers, interacting with teachers over the Internet, and participating in virtual “field trips” seemed more fantasy than reality.
Backed by decades of research, a movement is afoot to rethink how students learn inside and outside of classrooms. As a result, momentum is building to introduce students to fresh ideas that will help them confront their anxieties about homework, tests and their own ability to learn, making them more motivated learners along the way.
Many education decisions—from how many students will be in each class to how long bus routes will be—are driven by one significant factor: money. This Topics section offers materials that explore the myriad decisions that affect how money for K-12 schooling is raised and spent, and how those decisions shape the way the nation’s public schools are run.
The No Child Left Behind Act may have given the federal government a big say over K-12 policy – but Congress and the administration remain minority investors when it comes to education funding. A relatively small slice of overall financing for K-12 schools – just about 10 percent – comes from Washington, D.C. Schools across the country depend much more on state and district dollars. The federal share can range from more than 15 percent – in states including South Dakota and Louisiana – to less than 5 percent, in Connecticut and New Jersey.
The field of early childhood education—spanning infancy to 3rd grade—has seen tremendous change in recent years, particularly in the years before kindergarten.
Is it possible to provide every child an equal education, to create classrooms where all students can learn effectively regardless of the multitude of differences each student brings to the schoolhouse every morning?
From test scores to teacher salaries, from graduation rates to grade-point averages, the education world is full of data. The federal No Child Left Behind law, signed in 2002, created an unprecedented demand for detailed information about students and schools. No longer are public schools judged simply by average test scores for all students. The law requires states, school districts and campuses to break out (“disaggregate,” in education-speak) test scores by race, gender, English proficiency, socioeconomic status and more.
What students learn and how that content is taught have been concerns at the heart of schooling in the United States since universal education took root in the 19th century. Throughout the 20th century the “struggle for the American curriculum,” as one education historian called it, ebbed and flowed for decades as debates raged over the very purpose of schooling – whether to prepare an engaged citizenry, develop a competitive workforce, or ensure an educated populace capable of reaching its intellectual potential.
Little by little, technological innovations are revamping the look of education. The chalkboard gave way to whiteboards several years ago, and now textbooks and a vast array of other learning tools are readily available online. The rapid pace of digital innovation, in one way or another, has been transforming the nation’s schools.It has put vast resources – e.g., textbooks, lesson plans, student data and more – quite literally at the fingertips of students, teachers and administrators.
Over the past two decades, charter schools have emerged as the fastest growing form of school choice, outpacing other alternatives such as vouchers, magnet schools, and homeschooling. Charters have also become a touchstone for how people feel about a host of related issues: job protections for teachers, the role of elected school boards and teachers unions, and the privatization of schools. The materials compiled in this Topics section examine the ways charter schools and other school choice options play out in the education process.
Offered at schools and community sites throughout the country, after-school programs have been used for years as a means to provide a safe place for children when many parents are at work and unable to provide supervision.
Backed by research that shows the hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are a peak time for students to engage in dangerous, illicit, and delinquent behavior, these programs have been proven to not only reduce misbehavior, but to improve students’ motivation and attendance in school.
Thomas Jefferson, among others, is credited by historians with equating an educated populace with one that was prepared to participate and vote in a democracy. “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone,” he once wrote. “The people themselves are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”
So what role does the issue of education itself play in elections, from the White House to the local school board? The materials gathered in this Topics section tackle this question.
The role of the school principal has come into sharper focus in recent years, as a growing body of research shines a light on how principals affect student learning. With that knowledge comes a growing recognition that, in an era of accountability, the success of school improvement initiatives depends heavily on having effective leaders on campus.
The Every Student Succeeds Act is the long-awaited rewrite of the main federal law for K-12 education, and replaces the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act.
In 2010, state after state took a remarkable—and unprecedented—step: They adopted common academic standards. Once the dust had settled the following year, 46 states and the District of Columbia had signed on to the Common Core State Standards.
Education is a perennial issue in political campaigns, and the 2016 election cycle is proving no exception. In the crowded field of White House candidates, education may not be the dominant issue, but it’s gained a solid foothold. And it’s sure to be a significant factor in other 2016 contests, including those for governor, with a dozen seats up for grabs.
Interest has mounted over the past several years in how U.S. students stack up academically against their peers abroad, as well as the potential lessons educators and policymakers here might glean from high-achieving nations.
In late 2016, a raft of fresh student performance data is expected out from a pair of major international assessments best known by the acronyms PISA and TIMSS. PISA tests 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science. TIMSS tests fourth and eighth graders in math and science.
Pressure to meet testing benchmarks and close the achievement gap have spurred growing interest nationally in examining new ways to think about the structure and use of time within schools. One such emerging reform, called Expanded Learning Time (ELT), adds hours and/or days to the traditional school schedule under the assumption that more classroom time will help disadvantaged, minority students “catch up” to the speed of their higher performing peers.
Since the creation of the U.S. Department of Education in 1980—if not long before—policymakers, educators, and the public have debated how involved the federal government should be in shaping the schools that children across the nation attend. The articles, reports and other materials in this Topics section examine the recent impact of federally driven efforts to reform elementary and secondary schools.
Paints, pantomimes and piccolos – the arts are on display in our movies, on TV sets, and along city streets. But in recent years schools have had an uneasy relationship with arts education, sidelining stand-alone classes here while adding elements of the arts there. Yet after years of debate over perceived declines in access to arts education in U.S. schools, efforts are underway to expand funding and opportunities for students to draw, drum or dance.
Stories about campus crime and safety always attract interest, but these issues also are often difficult to summarize simply. That’s especially true with sexual assault, a subject that has been highly visible in recent headlines. Prominent universities like Yale, the University of North Carolina and Notre Dame have been the subject of investigations by the Department of Education; the alleged involvement of football players in sexual assaults has intensified the spotlight on incidents at Vanderbilt University, the U.S. Naval Academy, Florida State University and the University of Montana.
Are students ready for life after high school? What does “college and career readiness” really mean, exactly, and why should the pursuit of this goal matter to reporters who cover education? The next time you find yourself writing a story on the topic, don’t forget to check out our college and career readiness topics page with news articles, reports, blogs, podcasts, videos and more to get you up to speed.