Latest Edu-Reads

This is hard to stomach: “The Trump administration determined that more than 500,000 children would no longer be automatically eligible for free school meals under a proposed overhaul to the food stamp program…”

Madeline Will takes a long look at the two competing accreditors for teacher preparation programs. I suppose it’s not great that programs can now shop around for an accreditor that gives them the answer they want that is more aligned with their needs, but I’m also not convinced accreditation is the right lever to pull if we’re trying to improve the quality of new teachers.

You already know what I think of loan forgiveness programs for teachers. Kevin Carey walks through the history of all the various programs and requirements. Warning: It may make your head hurt, but it’s a helpful reminder of just how complicated these all are.

Earlier this month the House voted 419-6 in favor of repealing the “Cadillac Tax” on expensive employer-provided health care plans. It would still need to pass the Senate, but that large majority shows just where the politics stand right now. Meanwhile, health care wonks of all political stripes are trying to push back. Frankly, I’m with the wonks on this one. I’d rather Americans didn’t have our health care benefits tied to our employers at all, but we’ve created a particularly weird incentive by not taxing employer spending on health care. That creates a system where the people using health care have little reason to help control health care costs. And, in the long run, employers spend more and more on benefits at the expense of salaries and wages. That’s bad for efficiency, bad for budgets, and, ultimately, bad for workers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

The TEACH Grant Program Is a Mess

The TEACH Grant program is a mess. It was never a great idea to give college kids annual grants of $4,000 a year in the hopes that they’ll become teachers. It was worse that Congress attached a four-year, all-or-nothing commitment to those grants and, if students failed to live up to those promises, to convert those grants into loans.

I admit I’m biased here. I was part of a team calling for an end to TEACH Grants way back in a  2009 paper, and while I was in the Obama Administration I worked on a regulation to at least limit the scope of TEACH Grants to high-quality programs in high-need subject areas. Those efforts ultimately failed. We’re now more than a decade into the program, and it’s hard to call it anything less than a big, giant mess.

The TEACH Grant program offers prospective teachers up to $4,000 a year in exchange for committing to teach for four years in a high-need subject in a low-income school. If recipients fail to fulfill that commitment within eight years of graduation, their entire balance converts to a loan, with interest going back to the time they received the money. In theory, TEACH Grants may have sounded like a good idea, but in practice they have too many logistical snares to work well.

First is their complexity. We do have a problem recruiting teachers to serve in low-income schools, and we do have chronic shortages in high-demand fields. It’s also true that teachers take on higher debt loads than other professionals, especially to acquire Master’s degrees, and there’s evidence to suggest these high debt loads are a barrier to entry particularly for black and Hispanic candidates.

But at the time Congress created the TEACH Grant program in 2007, we already had separate federal teacher loan forgiveness programs for Stafford and Perkins loans, and in the same bill that we got TEACH Grants, they also created Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Income-Based Repayment. Each of these programs have slightly different eligibility rules and service requirements, some of which conflict with each other. TEACH Grants only added to that complexity.

The second problem is related to targeting, and this is the tricky part of loan forgiveness programs generally. How do you induce people to become teachers who otherwise would not? A study on a Florida loan forgiveness program found it did “work” in the sense that it did induce some teachers into the profession, but it was not the most cost-effective way to do that.

In the TEACH Grant context, most of the TEACH Grant recipients are not fulfilling their commitment. It’s hard to argue the program is inducing many people to become teachers, or at least doing that job efficiently.

Third, once you get teachers into the profession, loan forgiveness programs have to follow them over time and make sure anyone who fails to live up to their commitments pays back the money. That’s a logistical nightmare, and, as NPR has reported, thousands of teachers met their commitments but had their grants converted anyway. Those teachers went through years of stress–we’re talking gray hairs and lost teeth–all for processing errors, paperwork mistakes, or deadlines that were sometimes missed by only a couple days. NPR reporters Chris Arnold and Cory Turner deserve a Pulitzer for staying with this story, and their reporting has helped out thousands of TEACH Grant recipients who did not deserve to have their grants converted into loans.

But finally, we have all the people who simply don’t fulfill their TEACH Grant commitments, which is two-thirds of all program participants. According to a follow-up study released last year, 39 percent of participants who had their grants converted to loans were teaching but not in a qualifying position (meaning they weren’t teaching a high-need subject or in a low-income school) and 33 percent were not teaching or never completed their degree or certificate. Separately, another 32 percent said they didn’t understand the terms of the grant and others didn’t follow the necessary steps to prove they were fulfilling the grant’s terms.

That’s why I prefer more direct policies. If you want to boost the supply of new teachers, make it easier to become a teacher, stop requiring them to get useless Master’s degrees, and raise teacher salaries. There’s no paperwork or tracking involved in raising salaries, and it allows teachers to decide how they want to spend their compensation, whether that’s on loan forgiveness or something else.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Universal Student Loan Forgiveness Solves the Wrong Problems

Bernie Sanders is proposing to forgive all student loan debt, an outstanding balance of about $1.6 trillion. Lots of people have pointed out flaws with this idea, but Matt Bruenig has one of the simplest explanations for what’s wrong with the Sanders proposal:

Thus it appears that the universe of people selected for this program is both over-inclusive and under-inclusive. It is over-inclusive because people who graduate from Harvard’s MBA program in 2021 will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt relief (though, strangely, people who enroll in that program in 2022 will receive nothing). It is under-inclusive because people who drained $50,000 off their net worth to pay for an undergraduate degree at a public college — but who do not currently carry student debt — will receive no reimbursement for their ongoing financial suffering.

$1.6 trillion is a lot of money. If we’re sticking solely in the education world, that would buy a lot of Pell grants for poor students or slots for Head Start or universal pre-k. Heck, the federal government could wipe out all state pension debt for that kind of money, which would translate into boosting teacher salaries by an average of about 12 percent.

Maybe Senator Sanders is so attached to the idea of universal programs that he just doesn’t care about how well they target benefits. Maybe I’m missing the point, but if we’re going to invest that kind of money, I’d prefer we target it to individuals who need it the most.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Money > Complicated Loan Forgiveness Programs

California Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing to revive a teacher loan forgiveness program. Here’s a brief description of the proposal via EdSource:

The college loan repayment program would provide up to $20,000 to an estimated 4,500 newly credentialed teachers who commit to teaching at least four years in high-demand fields in districts having the hardest time hiring credentialed teachers. Newsom suggested the program would make inroads in reducing the 6,000 to 8,000 emergency, uncredentialed teachers who have been hired annually to fill California classrooms.

Spot how many rules are buried into this paragraph? Candidates must:

  • Be newly credentialed teachers
  • Have loans
  • Teach in high-demand subjects
  • Teach in districts struggling to staff their schools
  • Verify said teaching for four years

Prior versions of this program required four consecutive years of teaching, and the loan forgiveness was all-or-nothing.

There are simpler, fairer ways to address teacher shortage areas. For example, a Georgia program offering supplemental pay for math and science teachers had large positive effects on retention. When Florida offered a combination of loan forgiveness and direct bonuses, both components seemed to have an effect on retention, but the direct bonuses were more cost-effective.

Instead of a convoluted loan forgiveness program, California should just send the money directly to teachers. Money should be paid out annually, not as some sort of promise if teachers complete all the requisite paperwork. Not only would this be more fair and simple for teachers, it also might just work better.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman