Tag Archives: Accountability

The College Transparency Act would be the best thing to happen to higher education in years

Melissa Korn of the WSJ reports that

legislation that would overturn a decade-old ban on collecting individual student data that track enrollment, completion and graduate success…

The bill, the College Transparency Act…

The legislation is backed by a number of higher-education industry groups, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the American Association of Community Colleges and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators…

This would be a huge improvement for higher education. As I wrote in Minding the Campus a few years ago:

The fact that we spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on higher education and can’t determine something as basic as a national graduation rate is a dereliction of duty. The solution to this problem is deceptively simple: turn to Student Unit Records. SURs are straightforward – they are databases that assign each student an individual number so that their educational history can be tracked. With a SUR, the pace of part-time students could be accounted for, and transfer students would no longer vanish, making it possible to calculate an accurate and meaningful graduation rate.

There’s a second advantage from having a SUR: it would allow a better understanding of each college’s and even each program’s performance. For example, while post-college earnings are certainly not the only thing that matters, they are an important consideration for many students. Matching educational records from a SUR with earnings data from the IRS would allow for accurate employment outcomes to be published for each college and program. Such information would help students make better decisions which would in turn help discipline and focus colleges. This can’t be done without a SUR.

There are two main groups opposed to SUR. The first are colleges. In an unusual alliance, both the best and the worst colleges fear SURs. The bad colleges like being able to say things like “Our 9% official graduation rate ignores transfer students and is therefore not an accurate depiction of the quality of our college.” The fact that they oppose a SUR system which would allow for accurate graduation rates to be calculated tells us that they are more interested in maintaining plausible excuses than in actually finding an accurate number. Meanwhile, the best colleges are terrified of being compared to other schools on something like value added earnings. At best, such a comparison would confirm that they are indeed the best. But a comparison might show that they do not deserve to be on top, and they are terrified that some no name college will be shown to be just as good or better. Thus, for top colleges, there is nothing to gain, and potentially everything to lose from such comparisons. While colleges’ opposition to SURs are understandable, there is absolutely no reason for policymakers to indulge them.

The second group opposed to SURs are Republicans concerned about privacy violations. To an extent these were legitimate concerns as any database has potential privacy issues. But recently, convincing methods of safeguarding privacy while implementing a SUR have been developed. Republican Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell has done great work in this area, as has Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Republican U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter. The Republicans that have opposed SURs to date deserve credit for ensuring that privacy was taken into account, but it is now time to acknowledge that their concerns have been addressed.

America has some great colleges that are the envy of the world. But we also have some terrible colleges that waste student and taxpayer money. A SUR would help us separate the wheat from the chaff.

Marguerite Roza on K12 school finance coming out of the dark ages

Marguerite Roza:

Want to know what’s spent per student at a public school near you? Or whether it’s more or less than what’s spent at another school up the road? While it may seem crazy, in most communities you’d need to be a forensic accountant to get answers to such seemingly straightforward questions. That’s because what typically gets tracked and reported in this country is district-level spending. (And even that can take several years to be released to the public.)

But that’s all about to change.

A sleeper provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act—come December 2018—will serve up a motherlode of never-before-available school-level financial data…

Backed with bipartisan support, ESSA’s financial transparency clause calls on states to publicly report spending by school starting in the 2017-18 school year—and do so just six months after the school year ends…The intent was to make spending data public and accessible to communities and school systems, unmasking systemic fiscal inequities among schools in the same district and making it much easier to investigate (and understand) the relationship between school outcomes and school spending…

Jay Greene on a flaw in the accountability through test scores movement

Jay Greene:

I’ve described at least 8 studies that show a disconnect between raising test scores and stronger later life outcomes.

Well, now we have a 9th.  Earlier this month MDRC quietly released a long-term randomized experiment of the effects of the SEED boarding charter school in Washington, DC

If we think we can know which schools of choice are good and out to be expanded and which are bad and ought to be closed based primarily on annual test score gains, we are sadly mistaken.  Various portfolio management and “accountability” regimes depend almost entirely on this false belief that test scores reveal which are the good and bad schools.  The evidence is growing quite strong that these strategies cannot properly distinguish good from bad schools and may be inflicting great harm on students.  Given the disconnect between test scores and later life outcomes we need significantly greater humility about knowing which schools are succeeding.

Entangled Solutions’ view on measuring college quality

Entangled Solutions has a new framework for evaluating the quality of higher education. From their manifesto:

What We Believe

1. Quality assurance should focus on outcomes, not inputs.

2. Standards should be open, and findings should be transparent.

3. No organization should have a monopoly on quality assurance.

4. Students’ opinions matter, particularly after they have had time to evaluate their experience.

5. Learning outcomes should be judged on a value-added, or individual growth, basis.

6. The metrics used should encourage institutions to innovate to better serve students.

The devil is always in the details with these things, but they’ve got their eye on the ball to a greater extent than just about any other organization looking at this issue. If it works, it could supplement/replace accreditation.

Greg Forster on school choice

Greg Forster

There are now 59 private school choice programs in 28 states plus Washington, D.C., serving hundreds of thousands of students.

This has brought school choice new allies—allies who aren’t yet completely comfortable with the idea… they still worry. Is it really safe to take our hands off the wheel and let parents be in charge?

It has also meant that the limitations of school choice in its current form are becoming more visible. Existing programs are badly limited and hindered by many unreasonable regulations. This has made it difficult to attract educational entrepreneurs who create radically reformed schools; unfortunately, the programs we have now mostly just transfer students from public schools to existing private schools, which are marginally but not radically better. The correct response is to push on towards universal choice in order to attract more entrepreneurial schools, but many people see the moderate results and think that more controls are needed to improve quality…

parents do need information to make good choices. And two centuries of government monopoly have prevented the emergence of the normal processes for getting people information…

Better information, not tighter regulation, is the best way to let parents improve school quality.

Alexander Holt on how federal financial aid could ruin coding bootcamps

Alexander Holt:

bootcamps where students enroll in relatively short programs (often three to six months) to learn coding skills and gain high paying jobs. These boot camps, and other programs like them, are arguably the most exciting type of postsecondary education to emerge in the last decade. If the federal government gets its way, it will likely suck most of the innovation out…

as soon as federal dollars touch these programs, they will become hopelessly distorted. Instead of students selecting educational programs for high job placement rates and schools accordingly tying their price to students’ post-graduate outcomes (as they do now), federal financial aid dictates that providers will get money as long as the student enrolls–an input model, not an output model…

There once was another highly innovative industry that federal aid ruined. For-profit companies using online distance learning tools were seen as a brand new way to educate students at lower costs… What we failed to understand was that online programs were only innovative when they had to survive in a real market. In 2006, schools were no longer required to teach at least 50% of the program on campus, thus opening up the crazy online degrees we have now… with little or no evidence they lead to positive outcomes for students…

what starts as expanding access ends with bad actors taking advantage of federal dollars with no strings attached…

Republicans should be against forcing taxpayer money in and thus distorting a now functioning market. Democrats should be opposed to the next “for-profit” disaster…

Holt makes a good point. While we should provide aid to students wanting to enroll in these programs, if we rely on the same input monitoring process we currently use for aid, it will likely just open the floodgates to fly-by-night providers. The solution, of course, is to start making aid available based on outcomes (e.g., value-added measures of learning and earning), not inputs (e.g., enrollment and provider credentials).

Macro Rubio offers two worthwhile higher ed reforms

Marco Rubio offers two worthwhile higher ed reforms:

reform our accreditation system to welcome low-cost, innovative higher education providers, which are currently being blocked by the existing institutions that control accreditation. This will transform higher education by exposing it to the market forces of choice and competition…

help students and families earn the right degree at the right price from the right institution for them. I’ll require schools to tell students how much they can expect to earn with a given degree before they take out the loans to pay for it…

Rubio consistently offers some of the best thought-out plans for fixing higher ed, frequently with a Democratic co-sponsor for bills (e.g., Wyden and Bennett). One suggestion to make the second proposal even better: In addition to providing students with information on graduates’ earnings, inform students of say the top 10 most frequently taken jobs (by the BLS’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system).

Eric Hanushek on No Child Left Behind

Eric Hanushek via Chad Aldeman:


No Child Left Behind is in some sense backwards—what No Child Left Behind says is that states decide what should be done, what the standards and the testing should be, and the federal government decides how it’s going to be done, because if the school is failing there are written regulations about how the education system should change to do better. This is just about 180 degrees backwards. The federal government is in a better position to make broad statements about what we expect to achieve and how it should be measured, and the local districts and local schools should be the ones making the decisions about how to adjust and what to adjust if they’re not achieving he results they want.

In other words, I believe in having a lot more autonomy for schools but holding them responsible for outcomes…