Closing Thoughts on California GEAR UP 2017

GU journey

Friends of California GEAR UP:  This is the final edition of our newsletter as we celebrate the end of the 2011-2017 grant cycle. Across the country, graduation ceremonies mark accomplishment and success – for students and the whole school community.  As another school year ends, we join our school leadership teams, families and friends in extending CONGRATULATIONS to the class of 2017!

Since 1999, the GEAR UP network has continued to thrive.  We have expanded our reach to share experiences, resources, lessons learned and success stories with the growing GEAR UP community.  Along with many other States, we have made application for a new grant that would continue this important work from 2017-2024 with announcements anticipated by Fall 2017.  The State grant will remain focused on ALL students and the development and sustainability of a college-going-culture.

In this issue, we share good news about exciting activities in school communities throughout California.  The stories, profiles and updates reflect the breadth of our work in collaboration with our program partners for schools, students, staff and families.

This year has been especially challenging for me as I will retire in June.  I have served as the Director of the GEAR UP program since 2001 and as an employee of the University of California since 1991.  It has been a wonderful experience, serving alongside those dedicated to social justice and equal access to high quality education for ALL students.  The work of GEAR UP in California through the State grant and 19 GEAR UP partnership projects will continue to grow strong, to mobilize and engage whole school communities and to ensure success for our youth.

It has been a great pleasure to know and work with the GEAR UP family and I will always remain committed to “Academic Excellence and College Access for ALL Students”.  There is still much to be done…

 

Shelley Davis, Director-California GEAR UP

Strong Finish in 2017!

####

63rd Anniversary of the Brown v. Board Decision

2017_05_17

Today we rightly celebrate the milestone Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision issued on May 17th, 1954 striking down school segregation. Yet today also marks another anniversary – the annual issuing of statements reminding us that, decades later, we still have not closed the gaps in access and opportunity that segregate our students and limit their ability to learn. When asked about William Faulkner’s essay urging the nation to “go slow” on integration,Brown v. Board attorney and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall pointed out “They don’t mean go slow. They mean don’t go.”

In education, we are quick to celebrate successes, and we should – the educators who’ve dedicated their lives to this work and the students who’ve excelled deserve nothing less. But we are also quick to use time to defend the gradual pace of progress. It is indefensible that more than half a century after Brown v. Board, we continue to subjugate our Black and Brown students to schools that are more segregated than not. While we’ve taken the “for colored only” signs off the school entryways our Black and Brown students use, we still promote policies that de facto discriminate against these students daily. We must do better.

Nationally, we are at a crossroads as we consider the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the education civil rights law signed by President Obama. In California, we can choose the path of gradualism, or we can choose to live up to our professed values and do everything possible to eradicate the educational injustices that students face each and every day. If a group of parents in Topeka, Kansas had the strength and courage to do whatever it took to make schools better for their children in the face of fire hoses and police dogs, surely those of us currently working in education can pick up the pace.

This post was shared with permission from the Education Trust-West

Achievement Gap a National Crisis

There is a national crisis in American higher education, and it threatens to exacerbate the most pressing challenges facing our nation. Consider this sobering fact: For every 10 African-American students who enter college, only four will graduate. Just four in 10. That is a shameful record, and we cannot hope to address the underlying causes of social and economic inequality in our country if this trend continues.

College enrollment in the U.S. continues to stand at record highs.

Dr. Kim Wilcox

According to the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. colleges and universities enrolled 20.5 million students last fall, an increase of 5.2 million students compared to 2000. This upward trend is likewise true across ethnic categories. Between 2000 and 2014 (the latest year for which we have national data on ethnicity), undergraduate enrollment among African-American students increased a phenomenal 57 percent, and enrollment among Latino students more than doubled.

But, as a college degree has become a prerequisite for getting into the middle class and beyond, enrollment is not enough. In the marketplace, job applicants with some or no college will lose out to a college graduate almost every time. Additionally, students who do not complete their degrees often face thousands of dollars in debt without the means to repay it.

USA Today reported last year that students who drop out of college are four times more likely to default on their student loans compared to those who graduated. If six in 10 African-American students aren’t completing their degrees, it doesn’t take much to see the ramifications for individuals, communities and the entire nation.

Fortunately, there is hope. A report issued earlier this year by the Education Trust, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for academic success, demonstrated that the derisible national data aren’t uniform across the nation’s colleges and universities. Some institutions have demonstrated considerable success in eliminating the achievement gaps across ethnic and socioeconomic designations. While the success stories are heartening, the report shows just how far we still must go. Out of 676 universities considered, only 55 had been able to completely eliminate the graduation rate achievement gap between African-American and White students.

As chancellor of one of the institutions highlighted by the Education Trust as a success story, I wanted to share a few strategies that have helped us eliminate graduation rate gaps across ethnic and socioeconomic categories.

First, we need data. Every two years, the University of California (UC) conducts the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES), a comprehensive appraisal of our students’ experiences at UC. Thanks to the UCUES, we know that our African-American students spent more time working in paid employment outside of their academic interests, spent less time with their families and had more difficulties with food insecurity and finances. These insights are invaluable in building programs and initiatives that result in student success.

Second, universities must understand that cultural identity is a critical component of success. Affinity groups on college campuses provide homes away from home for students. Our African Student Programs office has been in operation for 45 years, connecting students to academic support, mentors and community organizations. Their success has been replicated across the breadth of communities on our campus.

Third, someone needs to be in charge of coordinating the promotion of student success for a diverse student body across campus units. UC Riverside was one of the first institutions to create an administrative position tasked with partnering with all campus leaders and constituents to promote diversity and inclusion.

Realizing student success requires a comprehensive and cooperative approach that deploys resources intentionally across the entire university. Creating that collaboration needs to be someone’s job.

Finally, universities must recognize that our campuses can be inhospitable, and sometimes hostile, to students on the margins of society. Even diverse institutions have to recognize that it is not how many students of color are on campus, it is how they are treated.

The research is clear. When universities do not actively promote a campus climate of inclusion and mutual respect, student success suffers. A few politicians and pundits can poke fun at “safe spaces” and “diversity coordinators,” but their superficial arguments belie their ignorance. Campuses that fail to adequately address concerns over campus climate will be left wondering why some students leave and never come back.

Our nation’s colleges and universities need to do better for the sake of all of our students. Addressing this crisis will require spending precious resources, but fortunately the examples of how to succeed are widespread. Now it is simply a matter of finding the will to make it happen.

Dr. Kim Wilcox is the chancellor of UC Riverside.

California graduation rates continue uptick, as achievement gap narrows

25238-full

High school graduation rates in California climbed for the seventh year in a row, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, announced Tuesday. The class of 2016 had a record-high graduation rate of 83.2 percent, with significant gains for student populations that have historically lagged behind.

“Graduation rates have gone up seven years in a row,” Torlakson said in a written statement, “reflecting renewed optimism and increased investments in our schools that have helped reduce class sizes; bring back classes in music, theater, art, dance, and science; and expand career technical education programs that engage our students with hands-on, minds-on learning.”

The uptick this year is incremental  – only a .9 percentage point increase from the previous school year – but there been a major shift since 2010. In the seven years of consecutive increases, the graduation rate has increased by 8.5 points.

“It has been quite an impressive increase,” said Estela Zarate, professor in the department of educational leadership at California State University Fullerton. “Particularly if we look at English learners, Hispanic Latinos, and African American students.”

The achievement gap between Asian and white students on the one hand and African American and Latino students on the other has narrowed. The graduation rate for Latino students reached a record high of 80 percent, up 1.5 points from the year before and an 11.9 percentage point increase since 2010. For black students, the rate is 72.6 percent, up 1.8 percentage points from last year and 12.1 percentage points since 2010.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, rates went up 4.8 percentage points to 76.99, from a 72.23 percent rate in the 2014-15 school year. Graduation rates increased by 6.3 percentage points for English language learners and by 6.2 percentage points for African American students.

“If there’s a secret, the secret is out and it’s personalization,” said Frances Gipson, chief academic officer for LAUSD.

Gipson credits the introduction of individualized graduation plans for students starting at the middle school and graduation dashboard to keep students on track.

But observers and experts cautioned that increases in graduation rates mean little if students aren’t graduating ready for future opportunities.

“Yes, we should absolutely celebrate progress, but we have to go further to ensure that all of our students are receiving the opportunity to graduate college with options for a rewarding career,” said Ryan Smith, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based non-profit.

“A high school diploma should mean that you are being given every opportunity to find a career of your choice and an opportunity to go to the college of your choice,” he said.

Many disparities still persist. Only 50.8 percent of foster youth, for example, graduate on time.

And some researchers are skeptical of the numbers. Morgan Polikoff, associate professor in the education school at the University of Southern California, would like to be able to examine what proportion of the graduates have actually passed the college prep courses, known as A-G classes, and how many relied on less rigorous credit recovery programs.

“That would give you a better handle on the likelihood that these changes and these gap closings are real or fictitious,” Polikoff said.

“We don’t want a bunch of students graduating high school who are not qualified and really shouldn’t be graduating high school,” said Polikoff, “because that would probably water down the value of that degree.”

And as a college diploma becomes even more necessary for most career paths, Zarate notes that the high school diploma no longer holds the same significance.

“I question what its impact will be in terms of achieving economic or social equity given that the goal post has shifted.”

The Gap Within the Gap

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 8.30.20 AM

(reposted from the Brookings Institution) 

Researchers and policymakers devote considerable effort to understanding gaps in academic achievement between low-income students and their better-off classmates.[1] And rightly so: the income-based achievement gap is a large and growing source of educational inequality in the United States. The test-score gap between high- and low-income students is 40 percent wider today than it was 25 years ago.[2]

One widely-used marker for poverty in schools is a student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. But while nearly half of students nationwide are eligible for subsidized meals, only a quarter of US children live in poverty. These two statistics make clear that eligibility for subsidized meals is a blunt measure of economic disadvantage. This rough measure may be perfectly appropriate for determining which children should receive school lunch subsidies, but it may be less useful for other purposes, such as measuring income gaps in achievement, determining the effectiveness of educational interventions targeted to low-income families, or steering resources toward the neediest children. Yet it is, for now, the only measure available to the many researchers and practitioners who work with administrative data to evaluate the effects of educational programs, measure gaps in student achievement, and steer resources toward the neediest children.

We use administrative data from Michigan to develop a more detailed measure of economic disadvantage. Our data contain information on the entire population of students in the Michigan public schools. We leverage the longitudinal nature of these data to document systematic variation in outcomes within the population of children who are eligible for subsidized meals. We do this by counting the number of years in which a given student qualified for subsidized meals, over multiple years of school enrollment.

In Michigan, roughly half of 8th graders are currently eligible for a subsidized meal; in math tests, they score about 0.69 standard deviations below those who are not eligible. By contrast, just 14 percent of 8th graders have been eligible for subsidized meals in every year since kindergarten. These persistently disadvantaged children score 0.94 standard deviations below those who were never eligible (and 0.23 standard deviations below those who were occasionally eligible). This gap is 40 percent larger than that measured using the conventional approach, which considers only current disadvantage.

Demographics differ starkly by these measures of economic disadvantage. In Michigan, 90 percent of those who were never disadvantaged are white, compared to 60 percent of those who were ever disadvantaged and 46 percent of the persistently disadvantaged. Students who had ever been disadvantaged by 8th grade were six times more likely to be black and four times more likely to be Hispanic, compared to those who were never disadvantaged. Students who were persistently disadvantaged by 8th grade were eight times more likely to be black and six times more likely to be Hispanic, compared to those who were never disadvantaged. The persistently disadvantaged are more concentrated in urban areas, while the transitorily disadvantaged are more concentrated in suburban areas.

The demographics available in state administrative data systems are limited. We turn to nationally-representative, survey data to shed further light on demographic differences between children who are persistently disadvantaged, transitorily disadvantaged and never disadvantaged. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K) includes information on household income and subsidized-meal eligibility.

In the ECLS-K, about half of 8th graders in 2006-2007 were ever eligible for subsidized meals (similar to Michigan) and about 10 percent of 8th graders were eligible in each survey wave of the ECLS-K (again, similar to Michigan).[3] As in Michigan, persistently disadvantaged students in the ECLS-K are much more likely to be a racial or ethnic minority (73 percent compared to 46 percent among transitorily disadvantaged and 11 percent among the never disadvantaged). They were also much less likely to live with both parents at the start of the survey (51 percent compared to 65 percent among the transitorily disadvantaged and 91 percent among the never disadvantaged) and much less likely to have a parent with any college experience (29 percent compared to 56 percent among the transitorily disadvantaged and 85 percent among the never disadvantaged).

An indicator for eligibility for subsidized meals is often included as a control in a regression that includes other student information, such as race, ethnicity, sex, and school characteristics. For quantitative researchers, a key question is therefore whether these other observables “explain” the larger achievement deficit among persistently disadvantaged students. If other observable characteristics can explain the differences, then an analyst need only include these variables in the regression in order to eliminate biases that may otherwise be induced by unobserved heterogeneity within the population of currently disadvantaged students.

We find that other observable differences between the persistently disadvantaged and other students do not explain their larger test score deficit. When we control for race, ethnicity, and gender, as well as their interactions, the gap between the never disadvantaged and the persistently disadvantaged (0.76) is still nearly 40 percent larger than the gap based on standard measures of contemporaneous eligibility (0.55). Comparing children only within the same school (by controlling for school fixed effects) reduces gaps further, but the within-school gap between the never disadvantaged and the persistently disadvantaged remains 40 percent larger than the gap based on the standard measure of contemporaneous eligibility.[4]

In Figure 1, we plot the relationship between scores and the number of years spent in economic disadvantage and 8th grade scores. There is a negative, nearly linear relationship (this pattern holds after controlling for student demographics and school fixed effects, as described above). A natural interpretation is that this is an exposure effect, with each additional year of disadvantage further reducing scores. However, this linear relationship is nearly identical in 3rd grade, before children have been differentially exposed to five more years of economic disadvantage.

Figure 1. Each additional year of disadvantage is associated with a roughly constant increase in the achievement gap

ES_041317_ScoregapEvSpeaks

What explains this pattern? The number of years that a child will spend eligible for subsidized meals appears to be a reasonable proxy for her current level of income. When in kindergarten, the children in ECLS-K who will be persistently eligible have an average family income of $18,000. For the transitorily eligible it is $31,000 and for the never eligible $71,000.  That is, family income in a given year is negatively correlated with the number of years that a child will spend eligible for subsidized meals.

Our results imply that the number of years that a child spends eligible for subsidized meals can be used to proxy for household income. While still a crude proxy, this proposed measure captures greater variation in economic resources and educational outcomes than does the dichotomous variable currently used by researchers, which measures a child’s current eligibility for subsidized meals.

Our proposed measure can be used to estimate heterogeneous effects in program evaluations, to improve value-added calculations, and to better target resources. Two classrooms may have identical numbers of currentlyeligible children but different numbers of persistently eligible children. A value-added measure that does not account for these differences will be biased against teachers of the most disadvantaged children. Our measure of persistence can also be used in program evaluation, in order to estimate heterogeneity in causal effects or as a control to reduce omitted variables bias.

Our proposed measure can also be used to better target resources toward the most disadvantaged children. Many federal, state, and local programs distribute money based on the share of a school’s or district’s students eligible for subsidized meals. In Michigan, schools that have identical shares of students who are currently eligible for subsidized meals vary considerably in the share of students who are persistently eligible (Figure 2). By taking these differences into account, practitioners and policymakers can better target resources intended to support the most disadvantaged children and their schools.

Figure 2. School-level share of eighth graders currently disadvantaged versus share persistently disadvantaged

CCF_20170413_DynarskiS_Evidence_Speaks_2

The authors did not receive financial support from any firm or person with a financial or political interest in this article. They are currently not officers, directors, or board members of any organization with an interest in this article.

Footnotes available here.

####

Torlakson Files Court Brief to Protect Federal Funding for Schools

20110106__torlakson1 

SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson filed a court brief Wednesday supporting Santa Clara County’s request to halt an executive order by President Donald Trump that threatens to stop federal funding for California cities, counties, and possibly public schools.

Torlakson filed a friend of the court brief in the Federal Court’s Ninth District, where Santa Clara County has filed for a preliminary injunction to stop the President’s Executive Order of January 2017.

The injunction request said the order is unconstitutional because it would compel local governments to take an active role in enforcing immigration law and could withhold federal funding from agencies, including schools, which declare themselves “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The order doesn’t clearly define that term.

Torlakson last year urged California school districts to declare themselves “Safe Havens” and reminded parents and their families that state and federal law guarantee that students can attend public school, regardless of immigration status. To date, 57 separate school district boards of directors, representing nearly two million students combined, have adopted such resolutions.

“The Executive Order places schools, schools districts, and county offices of education, who have merely identified themselves as safe havens for undocumented students, in the precarious position of losing large amounts of federal funds without warning, notice, or clear guidance about what is meant by the order,” Torlakson said in the court brief.

California receives more than $8 billion annually in federal funds for kindergarten through twelfth grade education, which then goes to public schools, districts, and county offices of education. Federal funding ranges from help for students in disadvantaged communities to free and reduced cost breakfast and lunch for students from low-income families.

            U.S. District Judge William Orrick is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Santa Clara County motion on April 5, 2017.

####

Honoring a Lifetime of GEAR UP Achievement

FullSizeRender[40]

At the 2017 GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop, California GEAR UP director Shelley Davis was presented with a lifetime achievement award. These are her remarks.
As the director of the California State GEAR UP program over the past 17 years, I have had the distinct pleasure to learn from and support a wonderful team of professionals in service to thousands of educators, students, families, and communities throughout the state of California. Our work has been driven by a deep commitment to social justice and equity for ALL in the pursuit of academic success. This is clearly demonstrated by the testimonials of those we serve, the positive outcomes of our efforts, the many lessons learned and contributions to the statewide and national school reform agenda.  While we have had a significant impact in this important work, there is still much to do.
Since 2001 I have worked alongside individuals and organizations that place a high value on educational equity and access which provided the foundation for true collaboration and meaningful relationships.
In the words of First Lady Michelle Obama: “I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong; so don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope; never fear.”
I live and work by these principles, which I believe are more important now than ever before. To my GEAR UP family and friends out there, know that there are moments every day that you have the opportunity to impact a students life. Seize these moments, work tirelessly to fight for those who don’t have a voice, and know that you will be on the right side of history.
####

California Partnership Initiative Registration Open

Logo CPI bigger

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.  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 16 active partnership projects and the state grant to strengthen our efforts for ALL students throughout California.

2017 California Partnership Initiative Conference REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!

Please click the link below to register your team:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1EVgwGumXuT6ccAcNMUulx9A41_XrGqkaxl6t9cuGkto/edit?usp=sharing

 

The Racial Gap in Education Is Slowly Shrinking

lead_large

(from CityLab)

In the long fight to close achievement gaps in America’s public schools, some troubling trends are holding strong. The gap between higher- and lower-income students persists, and race, income, and segregation remain deeply connected when it comes to academic performance. But new research shows that the racial gap, though stubborn, appears to be slowly closing.

That’s a finding from a study released Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute that lends hard data to the progress and continued struggles to put students of different demographic groups on equal footing.

The good news from the report: African American and Hispanic students are continuing to catch up to their white counterparts. The gender gap is also gradually narrowing in math and reading: Female students lag males in math by a smaller margin than they did 10 years ago, and male students are catching up in reading, though not quite as quickly.

The bad news: the gap in achievement between poor and wealthy students is as wide as ever, and the proportion of poor students increased significantly over the period of study. Also bad: the gap has actually grown between students who are still learning English (in this study, that was limited to Hispanic and Asian children) and those who are fluent.

“We are going to have to really understand why the social-class gap is not closing. And that’s for whites as well,” says Martin Carnoy, an author of the report. “Poor kids are not making gains relative to non-poor kids. The average lower social class kid is not making gains. The schools have to put much more effort into this.”

Although test scores are rising overall for every demographic, the gains aren’t uniform across all states. An earlier study showed that many states that posted the lowest gains were ones with minimal minority populations. Others, like Michigan and Wisconsin, were states with “long histories of promoting vouchers and charter schools to stimulate privately managed education, to no avail.” The problem for students in these states, most of whom are white, isn’t that second- and third-generation Hispanics are catching up, or that Asian students are pulling further ahead. “The white students in these states are making lower gains,” Carnoy and García write “because their state governments are not making the kinds of public school reforms made by other states, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont, and, in the 1990s, North Carolina”—reforms like strengthening math curriculum and training teachers.

On a national level, Hispanic and African American students in the United States are making headway despite the odds stacked against them. Hispanic and African American students are more likely to be poor and live in low-income, racially segregated neighborhoods or areas of concentrated poverty. And even when these students aren’t poor themselves, they’re more likely to attend schools with large proportions of poor students. More than 40 percent of black and Hispanic students were in high-poverty schools by 2013, compared to only 7 percent of white students, according to the study.

1b2b69ee2

“These kids, on average, are going to the schools which allegedly should not be very helpful to them to do well, according to what we know about these schools,” Carnoy says. “That means that somehow either our judgment of these schools is incorrect, these high-minority, high-poverty schools, or there’s something happening outside getting them to do better.”

That fact, he says, should temper the condemnation of public schools that has come from many politicians, including President-elect Donald Trump and education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. It could also be a case for not making radical changes based on the idea that schools are uniformly failing their students and communities.

“In terms of these ethnic gaps closing, and kids of color doing well in the system, the public schools should keep doing what they’re doing, making the kind of reforms they’re making, whether it’s trying to improve the curriculum, or as in some states, like California, assigning more money to poor kids, trying to do a better job of getting good teachers into these high-minority, high-poverty schools,” Carnoy says.

But language programs still need to make more progress to help English-learners, and the fact that schools are generally becoming poorer also raises some red flags. Among the eighth-graders they sampled for mathematics performance, the share of schools classified as high-poverty rose from 15.7 percent in 1996 to 24.1 percent in 2013. In that same time, the number of schools with more than half of their students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch rose from 31.2 percent to 48.3 percent.

To reach their findings, Carnoy and García examined fourth and eighth graders in reading and mathematics from 2003 to 2013, and eighth graders in mathematics from 1996 to 2013. They used individual students’ microdata from the National Assessment of Education Progress, which allowed them to separately analyze the influence of English language ability on the academic performance of Hispanic and Asian American students.

Their report is more silver lining than cloud: the racial achievement gap has long been one of the more damning symptoms of inequity in education, and it’s getting better. Economic inequality, however, is not—and its consequences on children will shape the future.

The study concludes with some concrete policy recommendations: investing in early childhood education (particularly by strengthening the math curriculum), strengthening public education, and investing in afterschool and summer enrichment programs. These steps aren’t enough to solve social divisions in the United States, but, the authors write, “neither is doing nothing or implementing policies that don’t work for anyone.”

####

GEAR UP Government Relations Update

f_devos_hearing_170117.nbcnews-ux-1080-600

(this updated provided in part by NCCEP in Washington DC)

The last week has been incredibly busy on Capitol Hill. Congress passed a resolution to set the 2017 budget and decide funding levels for 2018-2026. This means that Congress wants to create a budget that won’t have to be approved by the Administration and help speed up the process of creating the budget. The primary target of budget discussions has been the Affordable Care Act and not education funding levels.

With the election of President Trump, we’ve been working hard to shore up support for GEAR UP among our Congressional stakeholders, while trying to acquaint the Trump transition team with the importance of the GEAR UP program to communities all over the nation. In December, we submitted a transition memo to key players on the incoming administration’s education transition team, including Robert Goad, who is widely expected to have a key role on the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.

This week, the Senate HELP committee held Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing for the role of Secretary of Education. The hearing was exceptionally partisan and short on policy specifics. Republicans came out in support for with DeVos’s general approach to increasing school choice, whereas Democrats questioned DeVos’s lack of approval through the ethics process, the amount of money she has donated to political campaigns, and her inexperience with the complexities of federal education policy. While her passion for low-income students certainly came through, much of the beltway chatter this morning is focused on her refusal to commit to not privatizing public school, her relative silence on some of the most pressing education issues of the day, and the need for her to be surrounded by a strong team while leading the Department of Education. There’s certainly enough votes on the Committee to approve her appointment, so we’ll be working hard with her and her team to ensure that GEAR UP remains a deeply valued program.

Finally, committee assignments are coming together in the House and the Senate. So far, in the House we know that Diane Black (WI) is likely to chair the House Budget Committee; Rodney Felinghuseng (NJ) will chair the House Appropriations Committee; Virginia Foxx (NC) will chair the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Tom Cole (OK) will chair the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Service. In the Senate, Bernie Sanders (VT) will be the ranking member for the Senate Budget Committee; Patrick Leahy (VT) will be the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee; and Patty Murray (WA) will be the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. We are waiting to hear more from House Democrats and Senate Republicans on leadership assignments.

UPDATED 2/2/17

Yesterday, the Senate HELP Committee voted on Betsy DeVos’s nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education. With the public weighing in at an unprecedented level, DeVos was narrowly approved by the committee along a party-line vote (12 for and 11 against). While the nomination will make its way to the Senate floor, two Republicans who supported her in the committee have not committed to supporting her on the floor vote. This is becoming the most contested vote of all of the President’s cabinet nominees so far; Democrats only need three Republicans to vote “no” to succeed in blocking her appointment.

While this committee is somewhat unique in their bipartisan collaboration, Chairman Alexander’s (R-TN) refusal to postpone the vote to allow for deeper inquiry into DeVos’s ethics filing and questionnaire responses sparked an unusually strong rebuke from Ranking Member Patty Murry (D-WA). In addressing the Chairman, she said that the process has dramatically impacted their “ability to work together in good faith moving forward”.

As we shared in a previous Digest, we asked the Senate HELP committee to pose GEAR UP-related questions during DeVos’s hearing. While the hearing itself did not include many program-specific questions, a modified version of our questions were included in the follow-up questionnaire, which required the nominee to submit written responses to the committee.

The questions posed by committee members communicated that GEAR UP and TRIO enjoy “strong bipartisan support” and “play a critical role”. This is a crucial message for them to send to the potential Secretary, and we welcome their sentiment. However, her generic responses to the questions signal very little specifics about where she stands relative to the programs. To her suggestions that she will be “reviewing the effectiveness” and “strengthening” the programs if need be – that is a meeting that we are very eager to have. We have the evidence demonstrating that GEAR UP works and have a reauthorization package to make the program even better!

When given the opportunity, we have no doubt that the GEAR UP and TRIO communities will make an impassioned, evidence-driven case for expanding the modest federal investment in our students, families, and communities. We have included the pertinent questions and her answers below in full.

Senate HELP Committee Questions for DeVos Related to GEAR UP

Question #53 (P.38)
According to a recent report, racial gaps in college completion between white and African American and Hispanic students have widened significantly since 2007. At the same time, the face of the American college student is changing. Students from low income backgrounds, as well as older students and students with children, are increasingly enrolling in colleges across the country. Yet, retention and graduation rates are low for these students compared with so-called “traditional college” students.
  1. With 65 percent of jobs by 2020 requiring education beyond high school, how will you as Secretary help ensure that our historically disadvantaged students are able to access and complete college at a rate comparable to their white classmates, in order to ensure that students from all backgrounds have a fair shot of getting the jobs they need to be successful in a 21st century economy?
  2. Given that creating a highly skilled, competitive American workforce increasingly requires a college degree, what will you do to ensure that traditionally underserved students are able to enter and succeed in college?

ANSWER: The goal of the federal student aid programs is to ensure access to postsecondary education for traditionally underserved populations. These programs are supported by college access programs like TRIO and GEAR UP. If confirmed, I will review these and other programs to ensure they are operating as effectively as they can be. Should these programs need reform because they are not producing appropriate outcomes, I look forward to working with you and your colleagues to strengthen them during the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Question #87 (P.52)
The TRIO and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) are competitive grant programs that identify and seek to increase the number of low-income students who are successful in K-12 and higher education. These programs have strong bipartisan support and play a critical role in ensuring that promising students from low-income families have the resources and the community that they need to be successful. Do you think that students who face greater barriers to success in their education, such as the students who participate in TRIO/GEAR UP, need additional resources such as tutoring and financial assistance to be successful in K-12 and higher education? If so, do you think the federal government has any role in providing those services?

ANSWER: The Higher Education Act (HEA) has several programs designed to help underserved students gain access to higher education and be successful in their pursuits. If confirmed, I look forward to reviewing the effectiveness of these programs and working with you and your colleagues to strengthen programs with a demonstrated track record of success in the HEA reauthorization.
####