OCTAE Connection - May 22, 2014 - Issue 197

OCTAE Newsletter

                               May 22, 2014


Don’t Miss Your Chance: Respond to the Career Pathways Request for Information by June 9

As noted in the April 24 edition of OCTAE Connection, a “Request for Information on Adoption of Career Pathways Approaches for the Delivery of Education, Training, Employment, and Human Services” (RFI) was published in the Federal Register (Vol. 79, No. 78, April 23, 2014). 

Through this request, the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor have joined to solicit information and recommendations from a wide spectrum of public- and private-sector stakeholders on successful career pathways systems.   The RFI builds on a joint letter the three departments issued in April 2012 that proffers a common vision for the term “career pathways,” which generally refers to a “series of connected education and training strategies and support services that enable individuals to secure industry-recognized credentials, obtain employment within an occupational area, and advance to higher levels of future education and employment in that area.” The departments are now seeking innovative and cost-effective ways to make steady progress toward helping future workers gain the education and skills they need to “participate fully in our economy and our society.” An expanded middle class, greater income equality and U.S. competitiveness are the values driving this RFI.

Responses will be analyzed to “inform and coordinate policy development, strategic investments, and technical assistance activities” and to “improve coordination of federal policy development with investments at the state, local, and tribal levels.” For example, feedback may be used to inform future discretionary grant programs, as well as key conversations impacting the reauthorization of legislation, such as the Workforce Investment Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

To comment, visit http://www.regulations.gov/ and enter docket number ED-2014-OVAE-0044. Respondents are strongly encouraged to directly address the 13 questions as worded in the RFI rather than provide general thoughts or comments about career pathways. This will help the federal agencies better analyze and evaluate the feedback received. . 

Comments must be received by June 9, 2014 — just 18 calendar days away!

Please visit the Federal Register for more information.

U.S. Department of Labor Announces $53 Million to Expand and Strengthen Workforce Development Strategies

                             Apply by June 18

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) recently announced the availability of $53 million to be awarded under the Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF) grant program. The announcement notes that the ETA anticipates awarding between eight and 15 grants to support innovative practices designed to “generate long-term improvements in the performance of the public workforce system, outcomes for job seekers and employers, and cost-effectiveness.” This is the second round of grants available under the Workforce Innovation Fund.

According to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, "developing more efficient and effective job training solutions is crucial to building the pipeline of skilled workers needed to compete in the global economy."  Many of the funded first-round grantees “are now working with local and regional employers, industry groups, and their state commerce and development agencies to strengthen public-private partnerships.” This second round of funding is intended to help spur on and expand similar efforts. 

Prospective applicants are encouraged to review the full solicitation for additional information, including grantee eligibility. Adult education providers considering an application for this round of funding may wish to review the work of first-round grantees. See the Workforce Innovation Fund website for more information, application tools, and resources.

Applications are due by Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 4 p.m. ET, and awards will be made in September 2014.

FY 2015 Research Grant Competitions From The Institute of Education Sciences

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education has announced its research grants competitions for the 2015 fiscal year.  The following two opportunities may be of interest to community colleges and researchers.

The Education Research Grant Programs  supports a variety of efforts by researchers to develop, improve, and evaluate education policies and programs.  One of the topic areas for which the institute is currently accepting proposals is postsecondary and adult education research (CFDA 84.305A).  For more details, see http://ies.ed.gov/funding/ncer_rfas/postsec.asp.

The Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy program (CFDA 84.305H) provides funding for education practitioners and researchers to work together to develop research plans, adopt a continuous improvement strategy, and/or evaluate education policies and programs that are already operating on a large scale.  Postsecondary and adult education programs qualify to be funded under this program.  For more details, see http://ies.ed.gov/funding/ncer_rfas/partnerships_colab.asp.

For each grant program the announcement lists an IES staff person who can answer questions and provide technical assistance during the grant writing process.  IES also offers webinars on how to prepare a research proposal.

To apply, follow the instructions in each program link. Grant applications for both programs are due on Aug. 7, 2014 by 4:30 p.m. ET.

American Association of Community Colleges Announces $4.19 Million Walmart Grant for the Job Ready, Willing and Able Initiative

              Support for 17 Community Colleges

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) recently announced $4.19 million to be awarded from the Walmart Foundation for a three-year grant to support the Job Ready, Willing and Able (JRWA) initiative. The grant includes $2.67 million to directly support 17 community colleges nationwide. All of the colleges were selected through a competitive process—four of them were selected as mentor colleges and will provide guidance to the other 13 mentee colleges. Entities providing and coordinating services for adult learners may wish to follow the work of and results from these community colleges in their respective communities to inform their own work.

According to the AACC press release, the initiative “will provide middle-skill training, industry recognized credentials, and access to employment across varying industry sectors in each of the 17 communities.”  The initiative builds on known findings that “students who have access to high-quality education and training programs, relevant and quality job opportunities, and public benefits and supports are more apt to persist and succeed.” 

The selected colleges will work in close collaboration with local businesses, economic development leaders, and local workforce systems to address the unemployment needs in their communities.  This initiative will provide new skills, credentials, and jobs to over 5,000 unemployed adults.

According to AACC president and CEO Walter Bumphus, “This initiative is a model for how community colleges can connect students with specific, sustainable jobs in their communities and contribute to long-term economic growth.”

Please see the AACC announcement for a list of the selected colleges and some of their current community efforts.

PISA Results— Problem Solving Skills Among 15-Year-Olds Worldwide

The first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) on the problem-solving skills of students in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and other participating countries was released last month.  PISA 2012 Results:  Creative Problem Solving:  Students’ skills in tackling real-life problems (Volume V)” focuses on the problem-solving abilities of approximately 85,000 15-year-old students in the 44 participating countries and economies.

PISA defines problem-solving competence as “an individual’s capacity to engage in cognitive processing to understand and resolve problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious.  It includes the willingness to engage with such situations in order to achieve one’s potential as a constructive and reflective citizen.”

Singapore (562) and Korea (561) produced the highest-scoring students in problem solving, followed by Japan (552).  U.S. students (508) performed slightly above the average (500) of the 44 OECD countries and economies that participated in the assessment.  The U.S. also lagged behind the leading nations in the percentage of high-performing students that can “systematically explore a complex problem scenario, devise multi-step solutions that take into account all constraints, and adjust their plans in light of the feedback received.”  Where top- performing students made up 11.4 percent of those OECD countries and economies tested, again, Singapore, Korea, and Japan scored highest, with more than one in five students achieving at this level.  For U.S. students the percentage was 11.6.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, while only 7 percent of Japanese and Korean students are classified as low achievers, 18.2 percent of U.S. students fall into this category.  The OECD average of low performers in the participating nations and economies is 21.4 percent.

U.S. students compare worst with their Asian counterparts in the highest-performing Asian nations on tasks where the student must select, organize, and integrate the information provided and the feedback received.

On a somewhat more optimistic note, U.S. students, on average, are significantly better at problem solving than students in other countries who perform similarly in mathematics, reading, and science.  This is especially true for U.S. students with strong performances in mathematics.

U.S. students perform strongest on interactive tasks, when compared to students of similar overall performance in other countries.  These tasks ask students to uncover some of the information required to solve the problem themselves.

The impact of socio-economic status on performance is significantly weaker on problem solving than in mathematics, on average, in both the U.S. and across OECD countries and economies.

When viewed along gender lines, boys in the U.S. score at the same level as girls in problem solving, in contrast with the OECD average difference of seven score points in favor of boys.  However, more boys than girls in the U.S. perform at the highest levels of proficiency. 

These highlights barely scratch the surface of the wealth of information available in this study.  Those with a keen interest in the correlates to successful problem solving will benefit from reflecting on the in-depth data reported in it.