Public Agenda Alert -- Thursday, April 17, 2014
This Week's Headlines
The Common Core - Why Isn't Public Support More Robust?
In For-Profit Scuffle, Where Are the Students?
PA in the News
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The Common Core - Why Isn't Public Support More Robust?

The development and implementation of the new, voluntary Common Core learning standards in literacy and math got off to an impressive start. Set in motion in 2009, the standards were quickly adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Now, however, the Common Core is meeting forceful resistance from both the right and the left. Indiana has already dropped the standards, and many others are considering following suit.

How did an idea that started off with so much support become so controversial, especially when many people seem open to the general idea of national standards and guidelines for learning?

In this month's Beyond the Polls, Jean Johnson explores a variety of reasons for the about-face, particularly among parents and the public. Among the questions she examines:

  • Parents identify a number of concerns about their child's schools. Where do higher standards fall on that list?
  • Saying the standards are "harder" is an easy sound bite for media, but is it skewing the way parents and the public understand the Common Core?
  • Where does testing fit in?

Click here to read our analysis of the controversy and to find out how we can improve the conversation - and why doing so is imperative.†

In For-Profit Scuffle, Where Are the Students?

Last week, the Washington Post's Fact Checker blog and the Department of Education went head-to-head over the earnings of for-profit graduates.†

The two institutions disagreed on a sound bite from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said that 72 percent of graduates from for-profit programs make less than high school graduates. Other organizations and media groups entered the fray as well.

Yet for all the talk of what graduates actually earn and what that statistic says about school quality and value, the voices of real, actual graduates were missing from the conversation.

This isn't uncommon. For-profit colleges don't fit into a neat little box - they belong to a diverse sector offering a wide range of certificates and degrees. This diversity poses a challenge for researchers and policymakers trying to understand the experiences of students at different types of schools.

We hoped to fill this gap by surveying graduates of for-profit colleges about their experiences (we also enjoy a challenge). One of the questions we explored was how these graduates felt about their schools and the value of their education.

Unsurprisingly, the attitudes these graduates hold toward their alma mater are as knotty and complex as the sector itself.

The vast majority of graduates are satisfied with the quality of their schools:

  • 77 percent say they had caring instructors who know how to teach.
  • 81 percent say their schools kept class sizes small.
  • 82 percent say they had good opportunities to work with other students on teams.

At the same time, 77 percent say their schools were either "very" or "somewhat" expensive," and they're divided on whether their degrees were worth the cost:

  • Fewer than 4 in 10 (37 percent) feel getting their degree was well worth it.
  • A third (32 percent) says their degree "really wasn't worth it."
  • 30 percent say it remains to be seen.

Alumni also feel their schools did not prepare them adequately for the job market:

  • 37 percent say their schools did a fair or poor job teaching them knowledge and skills relevant in the workplace.
  • Just 43 percent say their schools succeeded in giving students excellent help in finding jobs in their field.
  • Most startling, 44 percent say their schools cared more about making money than educating students.

Good student outcome data is important, but data alone can't tell the whole story. When we listen to alumni themselves, the scrutiny surrounding the for-profit sector seems justified. But the story isn't that simple - many of these students think their schools did a good job on a number of important measures. The "72 percent" statistic may make for a provocative quote, but to truly meet the needs of students and the economy, higher education deserves more than just a sound bite.

PA in the News

Recent press coverage of Pubic Agenda's work. †
A†Move Toward Competency-Based Education†(American Association of Community Colleges)
"There's little doubt that students gain knowledge in the classroom. But learners also benefit from the education of life. In an effort to study the value of 'seat time' versus the merits of so-called competency-based education, or experiential learning, the nonprofit research organization Public Agenda convened the Competency-Based Education Network."

"For schools to not only be integrated but also places where all students can succeed, now and after graduation, districts must protect, value and support the professionals whose role it is to help students - school counselors."
"The anti-homework people have some good ideas and mean well, but they are often out of sync with what happens in classrooms. Effective teachers need the power to demand work that makes sense to them. Those of us who support them remember how doing our homework helped us and see how it is motivating our children."

"Teachers think about a lot during the course of a school day - from planning lessons tied to the core curriculum to making sure Jimmy gets home on the right bus. One thing teachers often do not think about is saving themselves time, but they should."††
About Us
Public Agendais a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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