OVAE Connection - Issue 129

OVAE Connection

                                                                     November 29, 2012 - Issue 129 

Community Colleges Fared Well in Recent Ballot Initiatives

The Community College Times of Nov. 7, 2012, announced that community colleges across the country fared relatively well in several of the referenda that were on the ballot on November 6. For instance, voters in California approved a $348 million bond measure for Solano Community College to refurbish nursing and biotechnology facilities, as well as $398 million in bonds for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to address facility, infrastructure and technology needs. Furthermore, in California, it was reported that voters passed Proposition 30, “[o]vercoming decades of anti-tax sentiment” to provide additional funding for the state’s schools, including community colleges. Proposition 30 will raise this revenue through temporary increases in the state’s sales tax for all taxpayers and in the personal income tax rates for higher-income earners. 

Other examples given in the Community College Times article include New Jersey, where voters approved $750 million in bonds for higher education, with about $150 million targeted for community colleges. These colleges plan to use the funding to upgrade science labs and other facilities. Voters in Texas passed a measure to provide Houston Community College with $425 million in bonds to renovate and build new facilities for training programs in high-demand industries and fields, such as health sciences and STEM. A measure to provide $200 million in bond funding for Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina also passed with 73 percent of the vote. In addition to repairing and upgrading the college’s facilities, the funding will enable Wake Tech to serve an additional 24,000 students.

While many ballot initiatives to increase funding for community colleges passed on Nov. 6, several did not. According to the Community College Times article, in California, voters narrowly rejected a measure to provide MiraCosta College with $497 million in bonds to expand facilities for healthcare programs and upgrade campus infrastructure. And voters in Michigan rejected a $56 million bond proposal for Macomb Community College.  

Literacy Challenges for the 21st Century

Literacy Challenges for the Twenty-First Century, the fall issue of the journal The Future of Children, contains several pertinent articles for policymakers and educators on preparing the American workforce for the 21st century. Some of the issues raised in the journal are described here. 

The comprehension required of workers in the early 21st century goes well beyond that required in earlier years. It is not that the reading scores on standard assessments have declined over the last 40 years, rather the requirements for competency in the workforce—as well as for competent citizenship—have escalated. In fact, the average reading scores for white children over the past few years are similar to those of white children born in the 1960s. Moreover, black and Hispanic children now score considerably higher than their peers of that decade. At the same time, the gaps in reading scores between students of high and low socioeconomic backgrounds have widened significantly. 

Research is conclusive that reading deficiencies are not, at least initially, school-based. Literacy gaps are significant before children begin school. Furthermore, in some instances these non-school factors appear to continue to exert an influence as children progress through school.

Especially troubling is the fact that the gaps between black and white students on reading assessments increase between kindergarten and third grade and grows even wider by eighth grade. Hispanic students, on the other hand, start school with proficiencies below their white peers, but these gaps narrow or stabilize after a few years, perhaps due to non-school factors such as strong families. (Sean Reardon and his colleges have identified these trends both in an essay in this volume and in other scholarship.) 

The articles in the journal make clear that learners, their families and schools are confronted with a significant two-part literacy challenge: (1) the universal need to better prepare students for 21st-century literacy demands and (2) the need to reduce disparities in literacy outcomes between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are more privileged. To address these problems, literacy must be redefined to take into account the heightened demands of the 21st century: Reading as a tool to access knowledge, synthesize information from various sources, understand and evaluate evidence and differing interpretations and points of view for credibility, and gain a deeper knowledge of the components of our increasingly complex world. This redefinition differs profoundly from the current, limited definition that focuses teaching and other school practices on developing reading speed, decoding and summarization skills and the ability to answer multiple-choice questions rather than developing deep comprehension.  

Instructional practices must be re-conceptualized to reflect this redefinition of literacy and retooled to develop the requisite proficiency in students to meet the challenges of today’s world. For example, reading instruction must become focused adequately on the specific knowledge bases of various disciplines and practices. The consensus among the journal’s authors is that, due to the multifaceted nature of the problem, there is no single answer for correcting the deficiencies in literacy instruction. There is agreement, nevertheless, that improving the quality of teaching is the most promising single initiative for ensuring effective literacy in the U.S., and that schools can and should be responsible for addressing differences in literacy achievement even if the original source of differences rest with out-of-school factors.

Connecting Systems, Connection Youth: The Interagency Forum on Disconnected Youth

Amidst high youth unemployment rates and skill gaps in several job sectors and geographic regions of our nation as the baby-boom generation retires, the U.S. also faces a widening opportunity gap for vulnerable young people. In the U.S. today there are nearly 6.7 million “disconnected” young people ages 16 to 24 that are homeless, in foster care, involved in the justice system, or neither in school nor employed. According to the White House Council for Community Solutions this amounts, roughly, to one in six people in this age range. The consequences of being disconnected are serious for both the individual and society. These young people not only fail to meet their personal potential but also cost the nation billions of dollars every year in lost earnings and tax revenues as well as high levels of expenditure on social and other services. Improvements in their prospects would also brighten the economic outlook for the U.S. for years to come. 

Responding to this issue, the Office of Management and Budget and the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development, along with other federal agencies, established the Interagency Forum on Disconnected Youth (IFDY) in March 2012. The IFDY is committed to improving education, employment and other outcomes for this population through collaboration. “The cost of inaction is high,” said Kathy Stack, the OMB IFDY co-chair. “All of the agencies involved in the IFDY are dedicated to working together to develop coordinated, targeted solutions that put these young people on the path to self-sufficiency. With federal, state, and local government resources so constrained, we must find the most cost-effective approaches for improving outcomes that will yield a return on investment for taxpayers in the decades to come.” 

Based on past federal efforts, the work of the White House Council for Community Solutions and the responses from stakeholders to a recent IFDY Request for Information (RFI), it is clear that this population is not being served effectively by existing systems. Issues raised by respondents to the RFI included difficulty sharing information and data; lack of common eligibility requirements, performance measures and outcomes; and the need for interim indicators to identify best practices and grade effectiveness of programs. “As a result, many of the systems designed to serve these young people often operate in ‘silos,’” according to Annie Blackledge, a Casey Family Programs Fellow with ED. “No one system can do this alone. Breaking down the walls of these silos will require a deeper knowledge of cross-agency and cross-program functioning and the development of a broad and coordinated approach that allows programs and services to be delivered in a more holistic manner.” 

IFDY is focused on creating opportunities to improve outcomes for these youths by identifying federal barriers to serving disconnected youths and pursuing administrative, legislative, and regulatory changes necessary to overcoming barriers. Its other critical tasks include building evidence about what works, incorporating it into program strategies across the federal government, and disseminating it to the entities providing services to disconnected youths. 

The partner agencies are exploring and testing innovative ways of providing services, such as providing greater flexibility and developing shared measures so that federal, state and local agencies and other stakeholders can better track progress in improving outcomes. The IFDY is also exploring ways to partner with philanthropic organizations by examining ways to leverage funding and other resources, to complement ongoing work in the private sector, and to align public-private strategies and goals for serving disconnected youth. 

"The commitment by 12 federal agencies to the shared goal of improving the outcomes for the most vulnerable youth is significant. Building on prior efforts and through thoughtful coordination with the private sector, we are creating the opportunity to have a positive lasting impact in the lives of millions of youth and young adults," said OVAE Deputy Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin who co-chairs the IFDY.

Submit and Review Ideas About Developmental Education Reform at NextDev Challenge

The Education Commission of the States’ Getting Past Go project recently launched the NextDev Challenge, to identify and highlight innovative, research-based developmental education reforms. Practitioners and policy leaders are invited to submit their promising developmental education innovations through Nov. 30. Registered individuals can then review and rate the submissions. You can register to participate on the NextDev Challenge website and review the submitted innovations from Dec. 3 to Dec. 7. The top-ranked developmental education innovations will be featured in coming months on the Getting Past Go website, in a publication series, and at the 2013 NextDev Showcase.