7 Myths About Cage Busting Leadership


From the Harvard Education Publishing Group, this is reposted as part of our series on Leadership and is written by Frederick Hess about his new book, Cage-Busting Leadership. 

I’ve been on the road this spring, talking with educators, community leaders, advocates, policy makers, and foundation types about my new book, Cage-Busting Leadership. In doing so, I’ve been struck by some of the mythology that seems to shape what people think it means to be a cage-busting principal, superintendent, or school system official. The book argues that school, system, and state leaders can do much more than they often realize but tend to be hindered by a “culture of can’t” in which urban legends (“the contract requires that teacher assignment be driven by seniority—when it actually doesn’t”), misinformation (“we’re not allowed to spend Title I funds that way“), and undue caution (“we’re not sure if that’s an fully approved use of school improvement funds“) stop them from doing what they think will be best for students.

By contrast, a cage-busting leader focuses on identifying opportunities to promote great teaching and learning, works with her team to devise smart solutions, and then uses every inch of her authority to assign teachers, employ Title I funds, and spend school improvement dollars in ways that she thinks will make the biggest difference for students. Rather than pursue “instructional leadership” within the conventionally accepted confines of policy, regulation, and contract, the cage-buster challenges those conventions so that she can drive instructional leadership more powerfully.

Anyway, I mentioned that some myths seemed to have cropped up. So, what are some of these myths . . . and what’s the real story?

Myth 1: Cage-busting holds that instructional leadership, buy-in, and school culture don’t matter and distract school and system leaders from questions of teaching and learning.

The Real Story: Look, let me be really clear. Instructional leadership, strong cultures, stakeholder buy-in, and professional practice are all good things. The mistake is to imagine that leaders can foster these things successfully or sustainably without addressing the obstacles posed by regulations, rules, and routines. We’re all on the same page when it comes to recognizing that school leadership is about nurturing great teaching and teaching. The cage-busting point is that it’s frequently hard to do that well given the cages erected in today’s schools and systems. Cage-busters value school culture but, like Principal Adrian Manuel did in New York City, will work with their faculty to waive contract provisions restricting teaching loads so that faculty teams have one full day a week to meet as an instructional team.

Myth 2: Cage-busters are ill-tempered union haters who yearn for conflict.

The Real Story: Cage-busting is not about picking fights, attacking unions, or firing people. Period. It doesn’t give cage-busters license to wantonly alienate educators or community members. It is nothing more, and nothing less, than thinking ambitiously about how to create great schools and then doing what it takes to make them real. Not only is cage-busting not an assault on unions, but it holds that leaders need to stop blaming unions, contracts, tight budgets, and the rest for their own failure to lead. A careful reading of contracts and regulations can reveal that leaders already have much more freedom than they might think to reward hard-working educators, address poor performance, or reconfigure staffing. Yes, some employees or families will inevitably take issue with some decisions. And any cage-buster worth her salt will stand fast rather than back off from doing what she thinks is best for her students. But conflict is not the goal. In fact, antiunion broadsides too often excuse timid, lethargic leadership. After studying Massachusetts’ collective bargaining agreements, for instance, Vanderbilt professor Dale Ballou observed, “On virtually every issue of personnel policy, there are contracts that grant administrators the managerial prerogatives they are commonly thought to lack. When more flexible language is negotiated, administrators do not take advantage of it [but still] blame the contract for their own inaction.” In Cage-Busting Leadership, I note a bushel of similar examples and research.

Myth 3: Cage-busting leadership is less important than it was five years ago because school leaders have more power to hold people accountable and drive school improvement, given new teacher evaluation systems and turnaround efforts.

The Real Story: Actually, these developments make cage-busting more relevant than ever. New teacher evaluation systems in Tennessee and Florida have led to remarkably modest changes in the rigor of teacher evaluation—with the percentage of educators rated effective “plunging” from 99 percent to 97 or 98 percent. Whoops! The Center for Reinventing Public Education has raised important questions about the ambition and coherence of today’s turnaround efforts. These policies create opportunities to boost quality, but their results require leaders with the skill and will to take full advantage. These policies are helpful, reducing the barriers that leaders face and giving them new tools. But those opportunities make a cage-busting mind-set that much more critical. Turnaround efforts can be a powerful opportunity to redesign schools, leverage new technology, and radically alter expectations and routines—but only when school and system leaders use them accordingly.

Myth 4: Cage-busting implies that tackling policy doesn’t matter, that school improvement is all about charismatic leaders.

The Real Story: Some have wondered whether I’ve misplaced my familiar skepticism and now imagine that remarkable leaders can wish away the hard truth of troubling policies and outdated systems. I do not. Policy matters enormously. Let’s keep it simple. It is absolutely true, as would-be reformers often argue, that statutes, policies, rules, regulations, contracts, and case law make it tougher than it should be for school and system leaders to drive improvement and, well, lead. However, what I’m arguing is that it’s equally true that leaders have far more freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed. And this is a challenge that would-be reformers have too often failed to note, or address.

Myth 5: Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein are the alpha and omega of cage-busting leadership.

The Real Story: Not at all. First, I take pains in the book to try not to name any particular list of cage-busters. Lots of leaders have some potential cage-buster in them. In fact, the book is rife with cage-busting anecdotes and tales from more than 100 leaders from schools, systems, and states. Now, Rhee and Klein absolutely exhibited some cage-busting chops in overhauling the central office, freeing school and system leaders to repurpose funds, revamping teacher evaluation, removing mediocre school leaders, and forcefully tackling persistently low-performing schools. But the combative approach they adopted is just one of many that cage-busters may employ. While some cage-busters tend to be heated and dramatic, there are plenty of others who tend to be cool, calm, and collected. What defines a cage-buster is not their personality but a probing mind, an unwillingness to accept convention as a given, and an appetite for smart, strategic ways to solve problems and promote great teaching and learning. Recall that Rhee and Klein were nontraditional leaders who came into recalcitrant, troubled, urban systems in major media centers, and that they were outsiders hired to produce dramatic change. How they went out about it was noteworthy and (to my mind) invigorating, but there are plenty of cage-busting leaders who make fewer headlines because they adopt a less controversial course. As more educators, in more contexts, with a variety of skills embrace cage-busting, I’m confident that we’ll see more publicized models of how to bust the cage in a variety of ways.

Myth 6: Cage-busting leadership is only necessary in district schools; it doesn’t apply to charter schools or private schools.

The Real Story: Even charter schools, supposedly besotted with autonomy, frequently choose to dwell in the cage. The reality is that most charters haven’t done all that much with their newfound autonomy. The National Center on School Choice at Vanderbilt University reported in 2011 that the role of charter school principals “was not significantly different” from that of district principals. As a whole, the nation’s 5,000 charter schools have done a modest job of leveraging the ability to rethink the school day or hire, pay, and use teachers in smarter ways. In a 2011 study of charter school collective bargaining agreements, the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s Mitch Price noted that, despite the chance “to craft agreements from scratch . . . charter school contracts look quite similar to their district counterparts.” Charter leaders can be trapped by mind-set, even when rules or requirements are relaxed.

Myth 7: Cage-busting is just for martyrs; it’s a sure recipe for leaders having to go find a new job.

The Real Story: It’s true that school boards, business leaders, parents, editorial boards, and civic leaders tend to have long prized tranquility above excellence. Leaders who keep the waters calm, avoid harsh cuts, and say the right things have tended to earn good reputations and laudatory press. But things change. In the past decade, the center of gravity has shifted in K–12, producing more tolerance and enthusiasm for cage-busting than was once the case. Charter schooling, virtual delivery, value-added systems, and new providers offer bold leaders new tools and a new set of attractive opportunities. Accountability systems, increased transparency, and tight budgets have made it easier to justify tough-minded changes. A growing number of cage-busters, backed by impassioned advocates, foundations, and public officials, means there’s safety in numbers. And cage-busters themselves can boost the odds that they’ll be more than martyrs.

That’s why Cage-Busting Leadership is stuffed with strategies that can help leaders leverage existing rules, reduce friction, frame the public debate, mobilize allies, operate strategically, and avoid reckless posturing. It shares lessons from superintendents who have shown how they can work within existing contracts while finding new ways to reward valued teachers and principals who take on important challenges. School and system leaders have shown how tough, disruptive choices (like launching a new program or creating a new academy) can be made palatable—even popular—by allowing faculty and families to opt in. School leaders have shown how they can more expeditiously and systematically deal with the handful of “bad apple” staff so that they can devote more time and energy to supporting and coaching the 90 percent who are eager for such help.

Frederick M. Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Cage-Busting Leadership (Harvard Education Press, 2013).


2015 GEAR UP National Conference Wrap Up

 July 19-22, 2015 San Francisco, California

The 2015 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference took take place July 19–22, 2015 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California.  The Annual Conference actualized the theme: Together we Rise and featured five plenary sessions, approximately 135 concurrent sessions, and a variety of pre- and post-conference events.

Access the 2015 Annual Conference schedule-at-a-glance.

Access the 2015 Annual Conference Preliminary Conference Program

Access conference materials (PowerPoints, handouts, etc.)

“Awesome NCCEP conference this year. My team was fully Engaged, Excited and Energized! The California delegation is mobilized to excel and prove why GEAR UP is the most effective college readiness program in the nation.  We will be sharing what we learned at the conference, focused on improving service to schools, students and families throughout our State.”
 Shelley Davis, Director

California GEAR UP
California GEAR UP convened the second ever meeting of all the GEAR UP programs across the state, now called the California Partnership Initiative. The California Partnership Initiative (CPI) is a project of the California State GEAR UP Program. Since 1999, the California State program has enjoyed working in collaboration with GEAR UP partnership projects to reach our mutual goals: increasing college and career readiness for low income students and improving the college going culture in schools.  CPI was formalized at the National GEAR UP conference in Washington, DC in July 2014 and continued at the national conference this year. The CPI planning committee was formed and representatives from the partnership projects met again at the NCCEP CBW in Philadelphia in February 2015. This initiative brings together the 19 active partnership projects and the state grant to strengthen our efforts for ALL students throughout California.
California GEAR UP was recognized this year as a leading program for both innovation and quality services, which was on display at a multitude of sessions from Parent Engagement in conjunction with PIQE to National GEAR UP week, to Common Core strategies, and the amazing work of Vista Preps focus on student teacher relationships.
“The conference was a wonderful reminder of the power of community.  Our leadership team was met with a warm welcome by GEAR UP personnel at every turn, whose genuine interest lies within their hearts as seen through their actions.  We were able to share ideas, which when  coupled with a genuine sharing of like-minded people whose focus is all the same allows one to come away with the architecture for the labor of passion that provides support to move mountains.”
Isaac Scharaga
Vista Preparatory Academy Principal/Conference Presenter
Khan Academy:
Plenary speakers were excellent this year. Sal Khan is the founder of Khan Academy (www. khanacademy.org), a nonprofit with the mission of providing free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy is a learning platform which is comprised of practice exercises, instructional videos, dashboard analytics and teacher tools which empower learners in and outside of the classroom to study at their own pace. Khan Academy has over 15 million registered users, is in over 190 countries and is available in around 28 languages and covers subjects from basic math through economics, art history, computer science, health and medicine and more. Khan holds three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Khan has been profiled by 60 Minutes, featured on the cover of Forbes Magazine, and recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” In late 2012, Khan released his book The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined.
Underwater Dreams Screening:
Mary Mazzio, an award-winning documentary film director, Olympian and former law firm partner, is founder and CEO of 50 Eggs, Inc., an independent film production company. Mazzio wrote, directed and produced the highly-acclaimed films, Underwater Dreams, was hailed by Jonathan Alter as “the most politically significant documentary film since Waiting for Superman” (The Daily Beast). Narrated by Michael Peña, the film was announced by the White House; opened Clinton Global (with Chelsea Clinton moderating); and then screened at Aspen Ideas Festival. In partnership with NBCUniversal/Comcast, the film is the centerpiece of a new community engagement campaign focused on exciting the next generation of Hispanic students around science and engineering.
“In the spirit of Ranjit Sidhu, President and CEO of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, my reflections from the conference align with the his words on conference theme “we must celebrate our impact and rich history as a social movement, but at the same time, strive for even greater heights.” With the conference theme of unity: Together We Rise, the conference did inspire and motivate through speakers like Mary Mazzio and Sal Khan.”
Kay Coelho
California GEAR UP
One of the highlights of the conference every year is the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy. In order to better support the GEAR UP mission nationwide, the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) created the GUALA program, with the support of the Kresge Foundation. GUALA works to advance college and career readiness in communities by providing 12 months of training for Alumni Leaders on topics related to peer-to-peer outreach and mentoring, social media engagement, public speaking, and education policy.
The GEAR UP Youth Congress is a youth leadership program that implements a student-focused curriculum, blending leadership development with life skills and strategies for increased learning. Offered during the NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference each July, GEAR UP students who participate in the Youth Congress have the opportunity to experience a professional conference while interacting and learning with other students from around the country.

“The experience was great! I am a HUGE
fan of GEAR UP and would like to thank
everyone who made this possible. I may
have only been here a few days but the
experience will stay with me forever!
Hope I’m invited again.”

— Youth Congress 10th Grader

As in past conferences, we were all exhausted from the extensive professional development, collegially working with other GEAR UP professionals, and learning more about effective practices from programs across the country. Now we return to our own organization to share what we learned and to be more effective in the powerful work we do every day.


National GEAR UP Week Sept 21-25, 2015


2015 National GEAR UP Week – September 21-25!

Join thousands of students, parents, teachers, partners and college access professionals from across the nation to celebrate GEAR UP and the successes of your hard work and dedication!

National GEAR UP Week is an opportunity for you to raise awareness in your community about the positive impact GEAR UP is having locally.  It’s a time to engage all your stakeholders – local, state and federal elected officials, funders, partners, as well as local, state and regional media – to share your program’s accomplishments and to get them more involved with your services to students and families.

We encourage you to use the resources below to plan and prepare for 2015 National GEAR UP Week.

Please share your plans, ideas, and materials with us so we can all benefit from your creativity and energy.  Let us know if you have any questions or comments about National GEAR UP Week and check back often for additional/updated resources.

Share your National GEAR UP Week plans with us!  Just complete this form.  Have cool resources or other materials to share?  Send them via e-mail so we can upload them on this page!



  • Download the National GEAR UP Week logo
  • Download the #I<3GEARUP / #IheartGEARUP sign
  • Download the 2014 GEAR UP by the Numbers infographic
  • Proclamation request template – Use this letter template to request a proclamation for National GEAR UP Week from your Senators, Representatives, Governor, Mayor, Councilmembers, etc.
  • Proclamation template – Attach this proclamation template to your proclamation request to save you time!
  • Student letter to Member of Congress – Use this letter template as a guide to encourage your students to share their GEAR UP successes with their Members of Congress!

Press & Media:

  • Media Advisory – This template is to notify media outlets in your area to cover the event you are hosting.  Media advisories are distributed ahead of the event so that outlets can schedule and plan to cover your event.
  • Press Release – This template will help you create some “buzz” about your event.  You can send it out before or after the event takes place, just make sure you edit it accordingly!
  • Op-Ed: Guidelines & Talking Points – Op-eds are a great way to raise awareness about GEAR UP at the local and regional level.  Follow the tips and use the template in this resource to submit your op-ed to your news outlet.

Community Resources:


GEAR UP 4 LA: Writing the City

As part of a new ongoing series and the newly formed California Partnership Initiative, a collaboration of GEA RUP Programs in California, we will be posting stories from other GEAR UP programs across the state.

From July 13th-17th, one of the amazing GEAR UP Partnership Projects in Los Angeles, GEAR UP 4 LA, sponsored a one week, field based writing workshop in partnership with Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching, with the goal to create better writers and prepare for the kind of writing valued in college.

Research shows that kids who graduate from HS and college participate in high impact practices one of which is participating in summer enrichment opportunities. This is what GEAR UP is all about. –Paula Crisostomo, Occidental College Assistant Dean of Students

Here is the breakdown:

Writing the City: Los Angeles

A one-week, field-based Writing Workshop in the dynamic city spaces of Los Angeles

“I’ve been all around the world and I haven’t found a city that I’d rather be from, or rather come back to, than Los Angeles.” –Ice Cube

What does exploring a city and writing have in common? How can you find your writing voice as you rediscover Los Angeles? Grab your notebook and come write with us.

This summer we are sending small teams out into Los Angeles–with pen, paper, and camera. The city will be our campus and inspiration. Together we will figure out makes writing so useful, important, and powerful. We will build on the writing you already do everyday—texts, posts, tweets, and email. We will help you expand your skills to communicate your ideas to others.

Our goal is to become better writers and prepare for the kind of writing valued in college. We will explore the place you call home with new perspectives. We will feed our curiosity through writing. We will discover how to use words to build out ideas and become more confident.

This five-day workshop is designed to get your moving through Los Angeles, energizing your summer, rewarding your creativity, making new friends, and kicking up your writing.

In preparation for college-level writing, you will be pursuing big questions:

  • What is real about Los Angeles and what is imagined?
  • How do Angelinos see this city differently than outsiders?
  • Can we see our city fairly?
  • How can writing about Los Angeles help others see our city more clearly?

Our week-long adventure begins at Heart of Los Angeles in the Rampart District; each day we explore different parts of the city and the arts–walking, observing, talking, and writing together:

  • Downtown L.A. • Mid-city & LACMA • Occidental College & East L.A. • Hollywood • Arts District

We will write on location–and along the way. We will write for fun–for ourselves and each other. We will write informally and we will write with purpose. We will write to discover our voice. We will write to have our voice heard. And together we will give L.A. a new song.

I wished it were longer. It opened my mind and that early on it was hard to write for even 10 minutes and now I write for 30 minutes. When I am done I say “I’m not done I have more to say “.

—-Writing in the City Participant.

For more pics and information about their experience check out the Writing the City LA Facebook page.

Students who participated in The Writing the City program this week were able to spend time walking around the city with the question “What is Los Angeles to you?”as their theme. They wrote in parks, on the train, at museums, and in public spaces such as Pershing Square and Olvera Street. The students got the chance to share their ideas and challenge themselves to think differently about the city they call home. At the end of the week they presented some of their work to their peers.  They all agreed that it was a great week; several wanted to keep going for another week.

— Kristin Didrickson, GU4LA Program Coordinator.


Check out the websites for more information on California GEAR UP and GEAR UP 4 LA.

Free Community College Idea Catches On


Article originates from Inside HigherEd.

President Obama’s push for free community college has yet to be shunted aside by the debt-free college ideas his aspiring Democratic successors are talking up.

Oregon now is poised to follow Tennessee as the second state with a plan on the books to provide free two-year college. And Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives introduced bills Wednesday that seek to make Obama’s federal proposal a reality. The proposed legislation lacks any Republican support, however, so the bills are unlikely to go anywhere.

Yet the Oregon Promise, which the Legislature passed last week and which Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, is expected to sign, is an indication that the concept of free community college has some momentum.

Mark Hass, a Democratic state senator in Oregon, proposed the legislation. It’s a last-dollar plan, which means the state will spend $10 million a year to fill in the tuition gaps that state and federal aid don’t cover. But eligible students also will receive a minimum grant of $1,000, which they can use for transportation, books and other expenses besides tuition (click here for a fact sheet about the plan).

Oregon also will spend a new $7 million on related student success and completion programs, which higher education leaders in the state called a much-needed and welcome move. The new money is part of a large funding boost for higher education in Oregon.

In his written testimony about the free community college bill, Hass argued that making community college free is a “bold, visionary” idea. It would help the 70,000 people in the state who are between the ages of 18 and 24 and have no job or higher education, he said, by better enabling them to enter the workforce.

The legislation could also direct more federal aid to the state, said Hass, by increasing community college enrollment and student applications for financial aid.

“We like to study things in Oregon. And for the last two years, we have been studying how to make this happen here,” Hass said. “Under the Obama administration, funding for Pell Grants has doubled. It would be smart for Oregon to take advantage of those dollars.”

The White House has said it wants to encourage a broad shift in the way state and local lawmakers, business leaders and the general public view community college. Given increasing demand for workers with at least a certificate or associate degree, the administration’s goal is for public funding to cover a K-14 education that is open to all.

“The president has put a stake in the ground to say education after high school should be a given, just as K-12 education is a civil right,” Martha Kanter, a professor of higher education at New York University and former U.S. under secretary of education, said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed a couple months ago. “It’s always been called a ‘promise,’ but for too many people the promise was not delivered.”

The Obama plan, which is dubbed America’s College Promise, has its critics. Some don’t like the strings that would come with the money. For example, the proposal includes unspecified federal performance indicators and a requirement that colleges adopt “evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.”

To conservatives, the free community college program looks like a federal takeover of the two-year sector.

Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Republican governor, who played a big role in creating the Tennessee Promise, has argued that state programs are a better way to go than a federal free community college plan. Backing that call has been Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who leads the Senate’s education committee.

But the Obama administration hasn’t let up at the state and local level, either. Kanter has helped lead what observers say is an administration-backed “full court press” to build support for a broad range of free community college plans.

Results are starting to emerge. The Community College of Philadelphia and Harper College, a two-year institution located in Illinois, recently announced tuition-free plans, joining one the City Colleges of Chicago created last year, which the White House has touted.

Likewise, Minnesota began a pilot program for free technical college, and Washington, D.C., is mulling a free community college plan. But Oregon is the first state to follow Tennessee by jumping in with a broad statewide program.

“It’s certainly a great opportunity for Oregon to help lead the way,” said Ben Cannon, executive director of the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

The big kahuna would be California and its 112 community colleges, which enroll 2.1 million students. Filling in the gap between state and federal aid also wouldn’t be a huge stretch in California, which is flush with tax revenue. And community college tuition in the state has long been relatively inexpensive.

Sources said conversations have occurred with California lawmakers and higher education officials about a free community college plan. But nothing has emerged yet.

New Features

Oregon’s legislation would cap spending on the free community college subsidy at $10 million a year. In contrast, Tennessee created a $360 million endowment to pay for the $34 million estimated annual cost of its plan, and to protect that stream of money from the vicissitudes of economic downturns and new lawmakers.

The Oregon plan won’t cover student demand, as lawmakers and community college officials acknowledge. But the bill includes features to cope with the shortfall, which have won praise from higher education experts.

The minimum $1,000 grant for each qualifying student, which the state’s Office of Student Access and Completion will administer, helps solve the problem of a free tuition plan — and additional state funding — that could benefit wealthier students rather than the neediest ones, who are more likely to qualify for Pell Grants and other aid.

“For a student who gets the full Pell, they’ll also get some money left over for books and living expenses,” said Andrea Henderson, executive director of the Oregon Community College Association.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, testified before the Oregon Legislature in February.

“This bill will benefit low- and moderate-income students in real and measurable ways — it will increase their rates of enrollment in college, boost their persistence and may also increase their graduation rates,” she said in her prepared statement. “Rigorous studies have shown that reducing the cost of community college by even $1,000 a year results in substantial increases across the board.”

As with the Tennessee Promise and Obama’s proposal, Oregon’s plan includes several eligibility requirements for students. They must be residents of the state for a year, hold a high school diploma or its equivalent, and have earned a high-school grade point average of at least 2.5.

Recipients of the grant must enroll in degree, transfer or career academic tracks at an Oregon community college within six months of graduating from high school. They can’t have earned more than 90 college credits, and must maintain a 2.5 GPA to remain eligible.

Students will be required to kick in a $50 per-term “co-pay.” The new state grants will cover the price of full-time, full-year community college tuition, which is about $4,900, minus whatever state and federal aid is received — with the minimum grant being $1,000.

Henderson said community college leaders had “grave concerns” about early versions of the free community college plan that began circulating in the statehouse two years ago. She said the first ideas to emerge were mandates for the state’s already underfunded community colleges to cut tuition.

Since then both the proposal and the state funding situation have improved, with Oregon’s community colleges receiving a 22 percent increase in their state contribution this biennium. Henderson said one key change in the bill is that the grant will be administered as part of the financial aid process rather than as a tuition discount.

“The colleges aren’t on the hook for a waiver,” she said.

Another big selling point for the bill is the accompanying $7 million Oregon ponied up to help recipients get to graduation. That money could go toward student coaching and counseling, said Cannon, as well as to college readiness programs in K-12 schools. (The funding has yet to be allocated, and the commission must propose to the Legislature how to spend it.) The state also will spend a new $1.5 million on college advising.

Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission will have flexibility under the free community college bill to direct money toward priority students.

“We’re unlikely to be able to serve the entire state,” Cannon said. But being able to target the money to certain high schools will help the commission ensure that it is helping a “cross section of Oregon,” including rural and urban districts and students that need the most help.

The Federal Version

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress on Wednesday introduced legislation based on President Obama’s free community college proposal.

In unveiling the bill, which stands little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said it would “build on the momentum we’re seeing across the country and across the political spectrum with local and state efforts to reduce the cost of community colleges and expand college affordability.”

Duncan cited Minnesota, Oregon, Harper College and the Community College of Philadelphia as examples of a “growing movement.”

As Obama proposed, the Congressional bill would create a matching grant where the feds would kick in $3 for every $1 participating states spend toward waiving community college tuition and fees for eligible students. It would a first-dollar program, meaning that tuition and fees would be waived before other forms of state and federal aid are applied.

The free community college legislation would cost $90 billion over the next decade, an increase from the $60 billion price tag the administration cited earlier this year.

Part of the legislation’s estimated $90 billion cost includes a proposal for a new $10 billion federal grant program for historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. Under the bill, the federal government would pay the first two years of tuition and fees of low-income students who attend minority-serving institutions that enroll large numbers of low-income students.

The House version has 61 co-sponsors, all Democrats, while the Senate version has 10 Democratic co-sponsors.

“We strongly support structuring this program to support low-income Pell Grant students by preserving the availability of the award for full cost of attendance. This will allow students to borrow less, and potentially persist at a faster rate,” said Noah Brown, president and CEO of the Association of Community College Trustees, in a written statement. “Additionally, we support requirements that ensure states continue to invest in higher education.”

2015 GEAR UP National Conference: TIPS


 July 19-22, 2015 San Francisco, California

The 2015 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference will take place July 19–22, 2015 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California.  The Annual Conference features five plenary sessions, approximately 135 concurrent sessions, and a variety of pre- and post-conference events.

Access the 2015 Annual Conference schedule-at-a-glance.

Access the 2015 Annual Conference Preliminary Conference Program (Upated 6-26-15; Subject to Change)

Go the the home page of the conference registration web site.

Access conference materials (PowerPoints, handouts, etc. if/as available).

Learn about the theme and highlights of the 2015 Annual Conference.

Learn more about pre- and post-conference workshops and special conference programs.

To register now, click here.

Hotel registration is also open.  To make reservations with the Hilton San Francisco Union Squareclick here.  Group Code is “GEA.”

If you have any questions about the registration, please contact Suzan Shimko.

If you have any questions about the Annual Conference program, please contact John Donaldson.

If you are interested in exhibiting or sponsoring, take a look at the Sponsor, Exhibitor, and Advertiser Prospectus or contact Betty Paugh-Ortiz.

Get the most out of the conference!













Better Together: 2015 California Teachers Summit

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The event is FREE to all California PreK-12 teachers and will be held at 33 locations from 8:00 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. To register for the free day of learning or to locate a host site, visit:



Graduation Time is Here, Time to Save


Graduation is the Perfect Time to Think About the Future

Graduation season is here. Whether you have a child finishing kindergarten or high school, graduation is the perfect time to reflect and think about the future. Planning for college can be daunting at times, and that’s why graduation is a natural time to consider your options about saving for college, which may be just around the corner. ScholarShare, California’s 529 College Savings Plan, offers families a tax-advantaged way to save early and help them ease the burden of rising tuition as well as provide some additional encouragement for that college-bound child in your life. Also, a great graduation gift could be one your graduate can’t unwrap, a contribution to a ScholarShare 529 account. Family members and friends can easily make a gift contribution to that special graduate’s college savings account.

ScholarShare is proud to be partners with GEAR UP, so we can work together to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college.

According to a 2013 survey by Hart Research Associates, 92% of parents considered getting a college degree worth it, but only 46% of parents have set up a dedicated savings or investment account for their child’s higher education costs. ScholarShare, recently awarded a Bronze metal rating by Morningstar, a prominent ratings agency, is administered by the state of California and managed by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. Named for the section of the internal revenue code under which they were created, 529 plans offer families a tax-advantaged way to save for college.scholar

Some of the benefits of the ScholarShare plan include:

  • Accounts can be opened with as little as $25;
  • A wide variety of low-cost investment options are offered;
  • There are no annual account maintenance fees;
  • Potential earnings are tax-free if used for qualified higher education expenses such as tuition and fees, books and supplies, and certain room and board costs;
  • Funds may be used at eligible educational institutions nationwide, and some abroad;
  • Anyone can contribute to the account, making it a great gift idea for family and friends for special occasions.

To learn more or to open an account, visit www.scholarshare.com or call 1-800-544-5248. Like ScholarShare on Facebook at www.facebook.com/scholarshare529 and follow us on Twitter at @ScholarShare529.

Preparing for college academically and financially can help keep students on the path toward success.


Consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing in the ScholarShare 529 College Savings Plan. Please visit www.scholarshare.com for a Program Disclosure Booklet containing this and other information. Read it carefully.

Before investing in a 529 plan, you should consider whether the state you or your Beneficiary reside in or have taxable income in has a 529 plan that offers favorable state income tax or other benefits that are only available if you invest in that state’s 529 plan.

The tax information contained herein is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties. Taxpayers should seek advice based on their own particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. Non-qualified withdrawals may be subject to federal and state taxes and the additional federal 10% tax. Non-qualified withdrawals may also be subject to an additional 2.5% California tax on earnings. Investments in the Program are neither insured nor guaranteed and there is the risk of investment loss. The ScholarShare 529 College Savings Plan Twitter and Facebook pages are managed by the state of California. TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., Plan Manager


Site helps community college students find best online classes

virtual campus

(from SF Gate article originally published here)

A website overhaul that makes it easier for community college students to know which online classes are best for their academic goals is the first tangible product of California’s $59 million push to make cyber college available for all.

State college officials unveiled the new website Monday, two years after lawmakers authorized spending the money over five years and made online education a key part of their plan to transform community college students from aimless course-takers into scholars with an eye toward university transfer.

The colleges offer thousands of online courses. But students complained that information they needed was often hard to find on the old site and that it couldn’t be used where they needed it the most: on their phones. Now it is.

“California may well be one of the largest providers of online education in the country,” said Brice Harris, the state’s community college chancellor. “We have a responsibility to make it good as we can and to provide support.”

The improved website — dubbed the “Virtual Campus” of the community colleges’ Online Education Initiative — is supposed to make it easy for students to find what they need from among more than 19,000 online courses offered at every level: community college, California State University, University of California, and even private schools.

But its main goal is to steer students toward the 2,500 classes that will earn them not merely an associate’s degree, but an associate’s degree “for transfer.” That degree premiered in 2013 and guarantees admission as a junior to CSU. The site “now provides search priorities that can be set for the associate degree for transfer,” said Steve Klein, program director of the Online Education Initiative.

Bold headlines — “Find your career path with an associate degree for transfer” or “Interested in guaranteed admission into a CSU?” — flash across the screen. But California has 2.1 million community students, and backing those promises up with enough courses to make it possible for all students to get the classes they need requires a huge amount of virtual assistance through online classes.

Online enrollment has more than doubled since 2005, from 13 percent to more than 29 percent this year, college officials said. That’s more than 650,000 students.

But the news isn’t all rosy.

Success in online courses is 11 to 14 percentage points lower than in traditional classrooms, says a 2014 study by the Public Policy Institute of California. The study looked at a wide range of students, subjects and colleges and found that students were less likely to complete online courses than those taken in the classroom, and were less likely to pass them.

Rather than give up, the college system — at the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, a champion of online education — hopes to improve those outcomes. A new Public Policy Institute study with recommendations for the online effort is due out Tuesday.

A big reason students drop out is that they “don’t know what they’re getting into,” said Pat James, executive director of the online education initiative, who has taught online for years. “Very often they think it’s going to be easier. But you have to be self-motivated.”

One student who is self-motivated is Cristina Puente, 18, of Davis who has just graduated from high school and community college at the same time. Puente took all of her college courses online through Foothill Community College and will be a junior at UCLA this fall.

“A family friend who is savvy and technically smart worked alongside me” to sign up for the right courses, she said. “Without her, it would have been more challenging.” The new website, Puente said, “is a tool, like having a counselor. I think that’s wonderful.”

James and Klein said the next step in the online education initiative is to train instructors to do a better job, and to help students learn how to be students in the virtual world, where no one is there to welcome them with an open door and a clock on the wall to say that class is starting.



Many blacks in educational limbo, some college credit, no degree

From LA Times June 2, 2015


Ida Marie Briggs, shown at Cal State Long Beach, enrolled in community college as a young woman, but family and work kept her from earning a degree. Now, at 58, she’s about to re-enter school at Cal State Long Beach in the fall, determined to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)


Earning a college degree has eluded Ida Marie Briggs for nearly 40 years.

Growing up the eldest of seven in a poor New Jersey household, she wasn’t able to accept a scholarship at a local university because of family responsibilities. Out on her own, she went to work, relocated to California and raised two children.

There were fits and starts over the decades: She enrolled in community college, attended a fashion and design school, and a San Fernando Valley business college that lost accreditation and cost Briggs time and money.

Her experience mirrors that of a population beginning to receive more attention from academic experts and colleges themselves: African Americans who have some college training but never made it to graduation. Their challenges are important because many would likely fill higher-wage jobs if they attained a degree.

In California and around the nation, campus-based programs have sprung up to coax many of these adults to re-enter college. These efforts, however, face a number of hurdles, including a lack of awareness that a degree may be within reach, limited financial resources and inadequate outreach and support services, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity.

About a third of black adults in California — 385,250 — have some college education but no degree, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group, according to the report. Overall, about 4.5 million California adults never completed their studies.

There is no statewide strategy to help those who want to return to school, nor adequate funding for programs, said Michele Siqueiros, president of the advocacy group.

“The numbers are pretty stunning,” Siqueiros said. “We should be incentivizing adults interested in finishing and earning those degrees to come back. Not all will, but this is low-hanging fruit. Growing capacity, though, is going to require additional funding from the state.”

Under budget proposals by Gov. Jerry Brown, state funding for the University of California, Cal State and community colleges has increased this year. The 2015-16 plan calls for the three higher education systems to ease transfer policies, boost basic skills instruction and improve graduation rates — particularly for low-income and minority students.

Many of those goals may help re-entry students, but no specific funds are targeted to that group. And both UC and Cal State officials have complained that the budget plan doesn’t provide funding needed to increase enrollment.

The problems are not confined to California.

Nationally, enrollment of older, nontraditional students (adults 25 and over) is expected to grow more than twice as fast as for younger students in coming years, according to a recent report by the Center for Law and Social Policy.

But many financial aid and transfer policies are not keeping pace. A survey of the nation’s largest state-funded financial aid programs by the Education Commission of the States found that 33 of them link eligibility to the SAT and other college entrance exams, high school GPAs or other measures geared toward recent graduates. Many programs fund only full-time students, leaving out adults who may need to attend part time.

In California, the availability of Cal Grants dips steeply for students who don’t apply within a year of graduating from high school, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

Additionally, many colleges and universities may not accept credits previously earned at other institutions, through online programs or for military training or work experience and may require students to take pre-college courses. Such policies could have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, who typically are heavily recruited by for-profit institutions and may end up with huge debt.

Many experts believe that the role of adult re-entry students may loom large in efforts to substantially increase the ranks of degree holders needed to bolster the nation’s workforce and economy, an agenda being pressed by President Obama and nonprofit organizations such as the Lumina Foundation.

“Unfortunately, this group is not at the top of anybody’s priority,” said Christina Sedney, project coordinator for the Adult College Completion Network.

“We need to think of ways to make coming back as efficient as possible for nontraditional students,” Johnson said. “Both UC and CSU are increasingly offering more online courses, and that will help. All of these are incremental changes but incremental changes in the right direction and necessary to help close some of those gaps.”

A program at UC Berkeley includes a course that helps re-entering students connect with each other. Many are low-income, underrepresented students who’ve had little experience at a competitive research-oriented institution such as Cal, said Ron Williams, director of Re-entry Student and Veteran Services at the campus.

Their life experiences and maturity may even be a “selling point” in the competitive admissions process, he said, adding that “it does set them apart from other applicants.”

Cal State Long Beach is actively recruiting African Americans to complete their degrees, with counseling, academic support and help with financial aid, said Bruce Vancil, assistant director for transfer and re-entry services.

Briggs attended a recent luncheon meeting of the African American initiative in Long Beach, which landed her in Vancil’s office to determine her prospects and whether her previous credits can be transferred.

At 58, she hopes to enroll at the Long Beach campus in the fall, determined to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Being unable to complete her education after high school had always been a big regret, Briggs said.

“Now I understand that I got accepted once and can get accepted again,” she said.

Twitter author: @CarlaRiveraLat