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Education policy from preschool through college

Faculty from the Indiana University School of Education offer their views on improving student access and success in postsecondary education, supporting urban schools, helping English-as-second-language teachers and learners and improving the nation's state-based system of K-12 education.

Don Hossler

Don Hossler

Don Hossler

Focus on persistence, graduation rates to improve higher education. Dear President Obama: Given the 50-state public and private mix of nonprofit and for-profit institutions, it is no small task for the federal government to improve the American system of postsecondary education. In the past two decades, the push for institutional prestige and accountability has led to many distortions in our efforts to simultaneously ensure student access, success and excellence. Institutions spend large sums of money on scholarships for students who would attend college, graduate and succeed anyway -- simply in order to influence their postsecondary destinations. Proposals abound to spend large sums of money to measure the impact of undergraduate education -- a daunting task given the range of institutions, their curriculums and their missions. To date, such efforts have ended up being measures of student ability, not institutional outcomes. In this context I offer two simple suggestions.

  • This report, recently released by The College Board and the Lumina Foundation for Education, "Fulfilling the Commitment: Recommendations for Reforming Student Financial Aid" ( is a worthwhile compendium of the most thoughtful approaches to enhancing student access and increasing the effectiveness of federal aid.
  • I encourage you to focus on student persistence and graduation rates. Most institutions devote too little administrative time and too few financial resources to improving student success. By focusing on persistence and graduation, institutions will have no choice but to give more attention to educating and graduating students and less attention to the pursuit of prestige.

Don Hossler is executive associate dean and professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the IU School of Education, Bloomington. Top

Joshua S. Smith

Research, community connections can support urban schools. Mr. President: Recent state and federal policies, particularly the No Child Left Behind and related legislation, have disparaged children and teachers in urban schools as failures. This undermines not only their confidence, but the public trust in our school system. Part of the problem with these policies, in addition to their reliance on deficit thinking, is that they use an outdated model of "one-size fits all" instruction. This creates a "survival of the fittest" mentality that does not align with our aspirations of having an educated, innovative citizenry, representative of demographics of the United States of America. Rather than making new federal policy, I would like to recommend that you use the bully pulpit and competitive grants via the Institute of Educational Sciences to challenge urban school districts, educational researchers and community development officials to think and operate differently.

First we need to follow your lead in Chicago by creating conditions for individuals in the community to have a voice and stake in the quality of education in schools and quality of living in the community. We can look to community school models and democratic education models where students, community members and families have a real voice in developing and assessing the mission of the schools. This would increase the likelihood that students are educated within defined community boundaries where the progression from elementary to middle and high school is clear. High mobility rates and the false promise of school choice have fractured rather than built a sense of community in urban settings. Schools within these "feeder" patterns would collaborate across building levels (elementary, middle, high school and local colleges) to intentionally craft curricula and programs to ease student transition, where many academic and behavioral problems occur. The key is for stakeholders to vertically align curriculum as well as academic expectations and supports for students as they grow developmentally and intellectually. Research shows that families are more likely to remain in their community when their children are successful in school, resulting in more stability in the school and community.

A second component addresses the trickle-down negative impact of the ethical lapses in judgment/actions on the part of government and business leaders on our students and families. Effective urban schools need the collective input of community leaders, university faculty, business, students and schools to define social responsibility within and across institutions. Local businesses and community organizations can bring their human and social capital to the schools, and schools can open their doors past 3 p.m. to provide social services and space for community forums to reflect on the progress students are making in the school district.

Finally, colleges in the urban settings have a commitment to translating research into practice within the communities in which they reside. Please encourage research universities to examine their direct and indirect contributions to the schools, businesses and community organizations right in their backyards. Academia has the potential to find solutions to the challenges of today, but some aspects of the current structure and culture of the academe place barriers to building partnerships with urban schools and communities. IES competitive grants can be structured to reward collaborative partnership-based research between universities and schools. These partnerships are critical if universities want to shed the "ivory tower" cloak and replace it with mutually beneficial partnership varsity jacket that connects innovation and professional development with the needs and strengths defined by students, families and staff in our urban schools and communities.

Joshua Smith is assistant professor of educational psychology and director, Center for Urban and Multicultural Education, IUPUI. Top

Faridah Pawan

Faridah Pawan

Faridah Pawan

Teaching and learning English: an opportunity for meaningful engagement. Dear President Obama: It is not clear to me at this point what your administration plans to do with the No Child Left Behind policy (NCLB) -- to eliminate it or to change it. If you are making changes, you must address the exclusion of certified English-as-second-language (ESL) teachers from the category of Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT) in NCLB. Not including ESL teachers in the HQT category takes away the incentive for teachers to seek the necessary opportunities and education to be qualified to help the 5.1 million English Language Learners (ELLs) in this country. More importantly, the non-inclusion is a cruel lack of acknowledgement of the teachers who have worked tirelessly and unconditionally to support the learners.

Second, encourage the 23 or so states, including Indiana, to reconsider the English-only policies they have adopted. A majority of newcomers in this country voluntarily learn English without anybody telling them to do so. Acquisition of the language is a means to achievement, and it also provides a tangible connection and a sense of belonging to this country. However, when English is mandated as the only language to be used in schools, government, business, etc., the move compromises what makes this country great: its openness to newcomers, its acceptance of diversity, its generosity with opportunities and possibilities and so on and so forth.

Finally, President Obama, there is an unprecedented demand for English around the world. In China alone, there are more than 300 million English Language speakers among its 1.2 billion people -- there are almost as many Chinese speakers of English as there are Americans! The interest in English is a goodwill opportunity for us to connect with people overseas through encouraging, for example, Americans to teach English or to undertake research abroad via an increase in federally supported programs for such purposes. The programs too should provide incentives for the teachers to learn the language and culture of the people with whom they work. The prevalence of English as an international language provides our young people with readily available opportunities to engage meaningfully as informed global citizens.

Faridah Pawan is assistant professor of ESL/EFL Literacy, Culture & Language Education, IU Bloomington. Top

Terry Spradlin

Terry Spradlin

Jonathan Plucker and Terry Spradlin

Recommendations for leaving no child behind. Dear Mr. President: As you get to work on your agenda, especially addressing the economic recession, it is encouraging that you are already giving strong indications that education will be a top domestic policy priority for your administration. Including public education in the national stimulus package will ensure that high-quality teachers remain in the classroom, class size ratios stay reasonable, and the growing needs of at-risk students are prioritized. Funding, too, for school modernization, renovation and repair will aid school districts in need of urgent facility upgrades. Overall, the stimulus funding should keep schools on track with the steady academic progress they are demonstrating as illustrated by NAEP scores.

Jonathan Plucker

Jonathan Plucker

Print-Quality Photo

However, to grow the economy, create jobs, and elevate America's global competitiveness, we must ensure that our K-12 education system produces high school graduates who are ready for the workforce or for postsecondary education. It is unacceptable that 30 percent of students drop out of high school and struggle to become productive, engaged citizens. Although the No Child Left Behind Act helped illuminate the significant achievement gaps among groups of students, much more needs to be done. To address these major equity and adequacy issues, we offer you a list of recommendations.

  • Teacher retention is important, but it gets a disproportionate amount of attention (teaching has among the highest retention rates of any profession). Focus on getting the best candidates with strong academic credentials to pursue a profession in teaching.
  • Promote a seamless P-16 system, beginning with your Zero to Five Plan and ending with rigorous high school graduation requirements aligned with college admission standards.
  • Ensure all states uniformly calculate their graduation rates using a cohort methodology.
  • Using scientifically based research, assist states in building capacity to provide substantial and effective technical assistance to turn around low-performing schools.
  • Encourage use of an entrepreneurial business model to keep what works in public education and reform what isn't working. America must continue to foster education excellence through grassroots innovation.
  • Support reauthorization of NCLB with modifications to the testing and accountability provisions to de-emphasize minimum competency, and renew an emphasis on applied knowledge and creativity.

Good luck!

Jonathan Plucker is the director of the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy (CEEP) at the IU School of Education. Terry Spradlin is associate director for education policy at CEEP. Top