‘Education Governors’ Once Roamed Statehouses. Are They Making a Comeback?

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I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education covering innovation in and around academe. For more than two years, I’ve been curating the weekly Re:Learning newsletter. Now I’m using it to share my observations on the people and ideas reshaping the higher-education landscape. Subscribe here. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week:

The return of the ‘education governor’?

“Education governors” used to be a thing. Especially in the 1980s and ’90s. Then, Bill Clinton, running in Arkansas, pushed for higher standards for teachers and colleges. Ray Mabus, in Mississippi, and Buddy Roemer, in Louisiana, dared to talk about raising taxes to make their educational systems attractive to employers considering moving to those states.

Come November, voters in 36 states will choose governors. The final primaries for those races are this week. And according to the National Governors Association, education-governor candidates are back — even if they’re using different language than their predecessors. Often, says Aaliyah Samuel, director of the education division for the governor group’s Center for Best Practices, that involves tying education to their states’ work-force needs.

Samuel and her colleagues have been following the races — and the 70 or so candidates running. Along with work-force issues, they found, the topics that came up most often were higher-ed affordability, teacher retention and benefits, and how to fund elementary and secondary education.

I’m not surprised that work-force issues are hot, especially with the millions of skilled jobs now going unfilled. The teacher predicament, though, is a more intriguing one. Do a Google search for news about teaching programs (as I did when writing this), and you’ll find a stream of articles about falling enrollments in such programs over the past several years. (Of course, if you Google “teacher strikes in 2018,” you might get a sense of why those enrollments are dropping.) According to a new poll, a majority of parents now say they don’t want their children to become public-school teachers.

This is a challenge for governors — and the nation. It’s also important for colleges, especially those that have long considered their teacher programs a mainstay. I’ve written before about interesting new approaches to teacher training, most notably the hands-on Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning at MIT, championed by Arthur Levine. I’ve also heard about an interesting program in Florida, through which local school boards guarantee teaching posts to graduates of the teaching program at Nova Southeastern University.

I’m sure there are many more innovations brewing on this front. And maybe some of these new ideas would need a little nudge from the state to get going. So please share them with me. Perhaps I can feature some of them in a “letter to the governors” in a future newsletter.

So apparently college faculty shouldn’t be required to sign corporate-style NDAs.

In last week’s newsletter, I described the concerns I felt — and heard from many in academe — about the broad nondisclosure agreement Purdue University Global was requiring its faculty to sign. Last week, the university announced in a message to the institution that it would ditch the agreement. It was a holdover document from its days as Kaplan University, Purdue Global officials said, that was not aligned with the policy and culture of Purdue University.

Were the concerns raised publicly a factor? You decide. Betty Vandenbosch, chancellor of Purdue Global, said that “well before” media reports surfaced about the agreement, the university had begun examining whether it was still necessary to make faculty members sign it. But it’s worth noting that Vandenbosch’s first statement about the NDA — which she put out on August 22, when the American Association of University Professors first made the agreement public — supported the policy and indicated nothing about an internal examination. (The Century Foundation soon followed with more details on Purdue Global’s original contract with Kaplan.)

Before announcing that the university would scrap the NDA, Vandenbosch sent another letter to the Purdue Global faculty. That letter didn’t mention the AAUP or any organization by name. But it left few questions about how she felt about the criticism. “Sadly a small minority of outsiders is trying to create divisiveness and mistrust to serve their own political agendas,” she wrote in the letter, which Purdue officials provided to me. “We should not let that distract us from the important work we do on behalf of the thousands of students we serve every day. These attempts to mislead and divide are part of a well-established — and historically unsuccessful — playbook to impede the progress we continue to make to create a better learning experience for our students.”

As for the fate of another of those holdover policies, which states that students must resolve any legal issues with the institution through forced arbitration … well, that’s now under review too. It has been discussed with a select committee of the Purdue University Senate, a university spokesman told me, and is now “being examined” by Purdue Global’s leaders and Board of Trustees. Ultimately, he said, Purdue University’s Board of Trustees will make the call on that one.

Quote of the week.

“Nursing apprenticeships have the potential to open a pathway to the bachelor’s degree that is more effective, and more equitable, than just providing financial aid to nurses to go back to school on their own time.”