Students Worry as California's Online Community College Confronts Offline Woes - Lost Coast Outpost

Students Worry as California's Online Community College Confronts Offline Woes - Lost Coast Outpost

Students Worry as California's Online Community College Confronts Offline Woes - Lost Coast Outpost

Posted: 29 Jan 2020 10:11 AM PST

Maria Garcia, at home in Antioch, works her way through a Calbright cyber security course. Her goal is to get a certificate from the first-of-its-kind addition to the community college system, she says, but recent setbacks at Calbright have made her wonder whether its future is secure. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters


It's quiet in the spare bedroom of Maria Garcia's cheerful Antioch duplex as she sits down to study on a Friday morning. Her husband has been off working construction since 3:00 am, and Garcia, 24, will spend the day on her laptop, poring over a lesson on encrypted communication. It's one more step on a path she hopes will lead to a cybersecurity certificate from Calbright College — California's new online community college — and a job that pays a living wage.

Hiles' departure has revived faculty criticism that the college is squandering state money. Calbright's supporters say to give it time.

Of the more than 450 students who have enrolled at Calbright since it launched October 1, Garcia is one of only a couple dozen who have passed its course in basic workplace skills and moved on to career training. Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law establishing the college in 2018, with the goal of providing flexible job training for working adults without college degrees. Calbright currently offers certificates (though not degrees) in medical coding, IT or cybersecurity.

But despite her swift progress, Garcia is troubled: Just two weeks ago, the college's CEO, Heather Hiles, announced her resignation after less than a year on the job. Garcia saw Hiles as a role model, a woman in an executive position who spoke at a Salesforce summit and hobnobbed with former president Barack Obama.

"I thought, if the director was at all these big conferences, she can really help us get jobs," she said. Garcia said Hiles' abrupt exit earlier this month — which came after clashes with community college faculty and the signing of a half-million-dollar, no-bid contract for executive recruitment — made her ask herself: "How can I trust this college?"

Garcia's not the only one asking that question. Calbright has survived the departure of the governor who championed it, complaints from faculty organizations that it is duplicating programs that already exist at other community colleges, and an unsuccessful attempt by Assembly Democrats last year to slash its funding. But it still has not hired any full-time instructors, and Hiles' departure effective March 31 has revived faculty criticism that the college is squandering state money.

Assemblyman Jose Medina told CalMatters he has requested an audit of the college's finances. Calbright's supporters say to give it time, noting that the Legislature set a rapid timetable for the college to enroll its first class.

"I don't think you can point to many examples in the country where a college is conceived and active and up and running in a 18-month period," said community colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. "We have to be realistic about the expectations we put on the college and be proud of what it's accomplished."

But the early stumbles illustrate the tough questions Calbright must answer if it's going to overcome critics who'd like to scale it down or even put it out of business. Those include how to place graduates in jobs, whether the college looks more like a traditional community college or the private online schools it's trying to compete with, and how to create a curriculum that provides enough personal attention but is scalable to the tens of thousands of students it wants to eventually serve.

'Custom product' or school?

Interviews with students show the appeal of Calbright's skills-based, go-at-your-own-pace approach to learning — but also the extent to which the college has sometimes struggled to implement it.

At her computer, Garcia logs onto Calbright's website, then scrolls through her assignment. Calbright offers its IT and cybersecurity certifications through CompTIA, a non-profit widely recognized in the industry for providing entry-level job skills. Students review CompTIA lessons, study flashcards, then answer questions on the Calbright site.

But the CompTIA lessons are dry, Garcia says, and don't provide enough explanation for her to grasp the material. "Just reading about it, it's not enough," she says. So she does her own research, tracking down YouTube videos that break down each concept.

Calbright officials say the college plans to develop its own custom software but for now is relying on prepackaged curriculum. The basic skills class that all students must take relies heavily on links to the Department of Labor, Google, LinkedIn and Khan Academy. Students can earn badges for such skills as "Building Trust" and "Being an Effective Team Member," then upload them to their LinkedIn profiles.

Spokesman Taylor Huckaby said the college is still in an experimental phase, and will draw on the experiences of Garcia and her classmates — who pay no tuition — to create future courses.

"We need to get all the information from this beta cohort early on, so that when we're building our custom product it's what people want, not what we think they want," Huckaby said.

A message from Garcia's instructor shows up in her inbox. He praises her homework, but asks if she can answer questions in complete sentences. "This will help me to provide more actionable feedback to your learning," he writes.

One of the major challenges of online education, experts say, is creating opportunities for students to connect with professors and their peers. At Calbright, one dean and three part-time instructors oversee instruction for the 275 students enrolled in the IT and cybersecurity tracks.

Students are encouraged to post thoughts and questions to online message boards, but "there's not much of an incentive to read what other people wrote," said Kevin Tostado, a 34-year-old film producer and stay-at-home dad working towards his IT certificate. "I haven't seen any interactivity among students so far."

At first, communicating with Calbright staff was challenging, Garcia said. She would submit assignments, then wait days for them to be graded so she could move on. "I told them politely, 'You guys need to be on top of my assignments,' " she said. After her email to a counselor — Calbright calls them "learner advocates" — she got an apology, and started receiving feedback more quickly, "even on the weekend."

Self-starters and stranded workers

That kind of persistence has helped Garcia make the most of Calbright. Focused and driven, Garcia came to the United States from El Salvador on her own at age 15. She tried traditional community college but was unable to get financial aid and fell behind when classes conflicted with her work as a preschool teacher. Instead, she became a pro at navigating the Bay Area's web of non-profit job training programs. At San Francisco's Dev/Mission, she got a laptop and learned to code. When she's not studying at Calbright, she's cramming for another IT certification offered by Google.

The plan calls for students to complete apprenticeships after their courses, but Calbright has yet to create any formal partnerships with companies or unions, and how it will help students find jobs is still unclear.

Like Garcia, a number of Calbright's first class of students seem to be go-getters and early adopters. A third already have bachelor's or associate's degrees. (Most found out about the college through targeted Facebook ads, Huckaby said.) Tostado has attended two other startup colleges. He's already completed a bachelor's and an online master's of business administration, and says he's not worried that Calbright hasn't yet earned accreditation. "Even if it never got accredited, it's all about the skills and mindset I'll learn."

But if Calbright succeeds in enrolling large numbers of what its supporters call "stranded workers," it will have to figure out how to serve students who are less proactive and tech-savvy.

"We know that students who do not have strong study skills, who do not have strong personal support networks are particularly vulnerable, in the sense that they tend not to do as well in purely online coursework as they would if they were in a classroom," said Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who recently co-published a study of the promises and drawbacks of online education. "That population…needs a lot of academic and personal support in order to succeed."

The kind of support offered to students also matters, Baum said. "If you're looking at a person on a computer screen and they're responding and you're having a conversation, that's very different than 'Send in your question and you'll get a response the next day.' "

Christie Akins, who directs Calbright's IT and cybersecurity programs, says she personally holds a video conference with every student to learn about their career goals. "We know our learners. We don't think of them as a cohort or a big group of learners," she said. "We think of them as individuals and what their needs are."

Just how Calbright will help students find jobs, however, is still unclear. The college's plan calls for students to complete apprenticeships with employers after they complete their courses, but it has yet to create any formal partnerships with companies or unions.

A colorful calendar on Maria Garcia's office wall helps her keep track of her course schedule. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Garcia says every day she Googles "Calbright" and "partners" hoping for more information. She recently quit a part-time job in San Francisco; it paid $20 per hour, but the income barely outweighed what she spent on food and BART fare. Her dream is to become a penetration tester, one of the white-hat hackers who help companies find weaknesses in their computer security. Even an entry-level technology job could help her afford to go back to school and earn a bachelor's degree, maybe give her a shorter commute.

Huckaby said Calbright had been in discussions with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Salesforce about possible agreements, though nothing has been signed. "We are looking at major tech employers, especially employers that have remote work opportunities," he said. Any agreement, he said, would be aimed at getting jobs for current Calbright students as well as developing custom curriculum for the company down the road.

Even within the college, however, there seems to be confusion about what Calbright can promise. "We do guarantee placement," Akins told CalMatters. But after consulting with Huckaby, the Calbright spokesperson, she clarified that the college could not guarantee a job, just the opportunity for an apprenticeship.

Still, she said, even without a job, "certifications are a tangible improvement for learners in their job search."

'They're not ready for us'

Charles Smith, 53, hopes Calbright can make good on its promises. The former federal employee has already been let down once — he spent nearly $30,000 pursuing a doctorate in business administration at Argosy University, before the troubled for-profit school shut down last year.

As a student at Calbright, he's run into some technical difficulties. After he'd completed the basic skills course, it took weeks before he was cleared to start his IT program, he said. He kept receiving emails from the college that mistakenly said he hadn't completed any coursework. "I do get the feeling they're not ready for us," he said.

But Smith said he appreciates the attention he gets from Calbright staff. After he scored low on a practice exam, an instructor scheduled a Zoom meeting to review the material.

"They really want you to learn something," he said. "Money's not controlling the curriculum. At my other school, it was money first, then the education."

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the state community college system, has been a supporter of the new online community college. But faculty unions feel it duplicates work they already do. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

That public mission could help Calbright stand out in a crowded online education market, said Zachary Pardos, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education who specializes in educational technology. "People are going to be comparing you to all the online offerings out there, and there's a lot of competition," he said.

One advantage the community college system offers is the opportunity to transfer to a UC or Cal State campus, Pardos said. Calbright's leaders should ask themselves, "In what ways is it a California community college? What does it share in common with other California community colleges?" he said.

'They really want you to learn something,' he said. 'Money's not controlling the curriculum.'

While Calbright has marketed itself as an alternative to predatory for-profit colleges, it seemed to be running away from its community college roots under Hiles, an education technology entrepreneur who had worked in venture capital and philanthropy. Management tried to hire faculty without consulting with the community college system's academic senate — a departure from normal hiring practices in the system — and peppered press releases with ed tech buzzwords like "learner" and "competency." Hiles' $385,000 salary drew the wrath of faculty concerned about tight budgets and declining enrollment at brick-and-mortar colleges. Even the college's name seemed plucked from Silicon Valley.

"While Calbright could have attached itself to an existing California community college and budded off over time, they chose to act like a start-up company," said Eric Kaljumagi, president of the Community College Association, a faculty union. "It is unclear whether their 'new kind of college' model can succeed, but so far they're off to a rocky start."

The community colleges' Board of Governors oversees Calbright; its president, Tom Epstein, declined to comment for this story. In a statement at the time of her departure, Hiles called leading Calbright a "great privilege" but said it was time to return to other professional projects.

Oakley described Hiles' tenure as a culture clash. "It's sometimes difficult for people from the private sector to move to the public sector," he said. "Certainly there was a lot of concern about her ability to form good relationships with the myriad of constituencies that needed to be engaged to ensure Calbright's success."

Some view Hiles' exit as an opportunity for the state to correct course on a project on which it's already spent $140 million, with another $20 million proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom for next year.

"I have questions on how effective it's been," said Medina, when asked why he requested the audit of the college. A legislative committee must sign off on the request before it's sent to the state auditor. Another hearing on Calbright scheduled for this week in the state Senate education committee was postponed, but staff say it will be held sometime in February.

Meanwhile, Smith, the former for-profit college student, says he will speed up his studying so he can earn his IT certificate quickly — just in case.

Garcia has her own suggestions for improving Calbright. The college needs a mobile platform, she says, so students like her can complete assignments while commuting to work. And it could take some cues from Google, whose IT course includes videos and live chat, and connects students to a virtual machine so they can practice their skills in a real world setting.

In-person events like hackathons would allow her to connect with mentors, meet fellow students, and create projects that she can put on her resume.

"We would like to see more engagement," she said. "I think tech companies are creating programs that are way better than this. And it shouldn't be like that because California is a state. Calbright should be the best."

### is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Support school choice and empower families with educational freedom - Washington Examiner

Posted: 29 Jan 2020 09:00 PM PST

We the people have lost authority over our schools and desperately need educational freedom. The school system our founders created, designed to be free from government interference, has been hijacked by government intrusion, corrupt, union-controlled politicians, and entrenched special interests. These united forces are enriching themselves and radically transforming our culture through government-run "public" schools.

For example, disastrous new sex ed curricula, marked by explicit depictions and uber-liberal views of sexuality that sharply contradict the sincerely held values of most parents, have been forced on millions of families in schools.

That's why hundreds of my fellow Californians and I traveled to Sacramento to force our state to provide parents "opt-in" protections and transparent, online access to full curricula content. Thousands of letters in support of our bill flooded the legislature, and hundreds voiced their support in person during the bill's hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Jan. 15.

But we were shot down by union-controlled Democrats who voted unanimously to ignore parents in favor of the special interests pushing the sexualized content onto our children.

Before defeating our parent-sponsored bill, the committee chairwoman, state Sen. Connie Leyva, a Democrat from San Bernardino, lectured us from her throne. Using prideful and condescending tones, she dismissed our concerns and basically told us we're too stupid to make decisions for our own children and too afraid to teach them about sex.

She also stated the law already permitted "opt-in" rights, even though it specifically denies them, as does Leyva's committee's own legislative analysis of our bill. She then threatened to have us removed for instinctively reacting with gasps of horror while personally witnessing communist state-like injustices within the halls of our supposedly free republic.

We "stupid" parents and teachers are well versed in the entire law and painstakingly fight daily to expose the concealed, horrific, state-imposed materials foisted on our children. We had the facts and the Constitution on our side, but we lost anyway.

This is exactly the sort of state control our founders risked their lives to escape, and it's just one example of why they provided safeguards to keep government out of our schools and the will of the people in. It will take us some time to fully remove the entrenched interests degrading our schools, but we must take immediate action to protect children today.

The quickest way to empower Americans is with educational freedom.

According to a recent national school choice poll, the vast majority of the country agrees wholeheartedly. A whopping 82% of Latinos, 68% of African Americans, 71% of millennials, and 82% of Republicans surveyed agreed that people should be permitted to "use tax dollars to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs."

It's common sense, and it's constitutional, but many pundits claim we're running afoul of the Constitution if we permit tax dollars to be used at private "religious" schools or that religious schools must incorporate state-mandated instruction if they receive tax dollars.

Clearly, those pundits don't know the history of our country, nor do they understand the spirit of our constitutional republic.

Education freedom more closely mirrors the intentions of our founders, who never intended for students to be forced into "public" government-run schools that stomp on the face of parental authority and American values. Our founders knew the only way to keep a free republic is to have a well-educated and moral citizenry that can self-govern.

That's why they used the Bible as the foundation for learning, in all schools, and empowered parents, church leaders, and educators to labor together to teach the children. America's schools offered children a well-rounded education including rigorous, fact-based studies, lessons in wisdom and beauty, and moral literature that stirs the soul. We became the envy of the world because our citizens were empowered with moral goodness and deep knowledge.

The Trump administration has a bold and immediate solution that could jump-start our progress toward freedom from government intrusion. Under the leadership of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Trump is proposing "education freedom scholarships" that states can choose to employ. These scholarships provide simple tax credits for those who choose to donate money for children to receive the education of their parents' choice. There are safeguards protecting religious schools from government intrusion, too.

According to that 2020 national school choice poll, 83% of African Americans, 83% of Latinos, 78% of millennials, 67% of Democrats, and 77% of Republicans support education freedom scholarships.

Americans are desperate for the self-governance that springs from moral goodness and educational excellence. Our republic is in crisis thanks to government-run, communist-like, state-controlled education factories that intentionally undermine these values. Let's get back to our roots and, like our founders, let's fight for liberty.

The state may not impose its sexualized anti-morality religion on us, and it may not have our children, either.

Rebecca Friedrichs is the founder of For Kids & Country, the author of Standing Up to Goliath, and a 28-year public school teacher who led the fight against the divisive tactics, politics, and corruption of teachers' unions as lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v CTA. Her Supreme Court case paved the way for a precedent-setting ruling that freed all public sector employees from forced unionism.

Shaping the Future of EPA | (ACOEL) | American College of Environmental Lawyers - JD Supra

Posted: 29 Jan 2020 05:54 PM PST

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LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP - Daytona Beach News-Journal

Posted: 29 Jan 2020 11:04 AM PST

A look at some of the latest activity in the House and Senate during the legislative session underway in Tallahassee.

House backs guns for churches, local officials

With supporters pointing to attacks on churches and synagogues, a House panel Tuesday approved a measure that would allow people to carry concealed weapons at religious institutions that share properties with schools.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee also approved a separate bill that would allow county commissioners, school board members and elected city officials to be armed at their public meetings.

State law generally allows people to carry concealed weapons at religious institutions, but it bars being armed on school properties. That has effectively meant that people cannot carry guns to churches or synagogues that meet at places with schools.

The measure (HB 1437) would allow religious institutions to authorize people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at such locations.

The other gun-related bill (HB 183) approved by the panel would allow local elected officials to bring weapons to their public meetings if they have concealed weapons licenses.

Senate differs from governor on teacher pay

The Senate on Tuesday unveiled an education-budget proposal that includes $500 million for teacher salary increases and no funding for bonus programs, a departure from Gov. Ron DeSantis' more-ambitious teacher pay plan.

DeSantis has made a top priority of two initiatives that would set a $47,500 minimum salary for public school teachers and create a new bonus program for teachers and principals.

His plans, which would require approval from the Legislature and would cost taxpayers about $900 million, are at the heart of his promise to make 2020 the "year of the teacher."

Senate Education Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said the initial Senate proposal supports the governor's teacher pay plan "quite a bit." But it differs on issues such as providing pay increases to longstanding teachers, who might make more than the proposed $47,500 minimum.

"A little bit of our differences with the governor is that we did want to recognize veteran teachers," Stargel told News Service of Florida.

The Senate's plan would set aside $500 million for teacher salary increases, $100 million of which school districts would be allowed to spend on pay raises for veteran teachers and other employees such as librarians, school counselors, nurses and pre-kindergarten teachers.

The remaining $400 million, Stargel said, would be used by districts to try to get to the goal of a $47,500 minimum salary. DeSantis' office has estimated it would cost $602 million to meet the minimum salary statewide.

Lawmakers tackle heat strokes among student athletes

Zach Martin, a rising junior at Riverdale High School, had been running sprints with his football teammates in 2017 when he suddenly collapsed in South Florida's sweltering heat. Minutes later, the 16 year-old was rushed to the hospital. He died 11 days later.

His mother, Laurie Giordano, recalled that tragic day Monday as she urged legislators to enact a law that would compel high schools to act more quickly when student athletes show signs of heat stroke and other heat-related stresses.

As it stands, high schools aren't required to have lifesaving devices and equipment available at the sidelines to respond and prevent heat-related injuries in student athletes.

A bill endorsed unanimously Monday by the Senate Education Committee would set standards for monitoring conditions that might put students at higher risk.

At a minimum, it would require schools to to have containers large enough to accommodate students' bodies — tubs or even inflatable kiddie pools — filled with cold water that can be used to rapidly cool down an overheating student.

Rescue animals could become official state pet

Animals in rescue shelters and those adopted from them could become Florida's official state pet under a bill unanimously approved by a Senate committee on Monday.

Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader said he filed the legislation after reading rescue animals have become the official state pet or animal of elsewhere, including California, Colorado, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois and Ohio.

The bill has one more committee stop before reaching the full Senate. An identical House bill is waiting for approval in two committees before going to the full chamber.

Senate moves to boost environmental fines

Gov. Ron DeSantis' request to boost fines on environmental lawbreakers drew support Monday in its first legislative appearance.

With little comment, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously supported the proposal (SB 1450), which would make numerous changes in the amounts and duration of penalties for violating Florida environmental laws.

Bill Sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said "Floridians deserve the strongest reasonable protections" and that many penalties the Department of Environmental Protection can impose haven't been increased since 2001.

Most of the changes would increase penalties by 50 percent. The civil penalty for dumping non-commercial litter, for example, would go from $100 to $150. Violating an order regarding coastal construction would increase from $10,000 to $15,000.

Also, the length of time certain penalties can be imposed would run until the violations are resolved by order or judgment.

Fried decries proposed move as 'power grab'

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried argued Tuesday that an effort to move the Office of Energy from her department to the governor's administration is more political than policy-driven, as a House panel overwhelmingly approved the proposal.

Fried told members of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and later reporters that the proposal (PCN ANR 20-01) to relocate the office to the Department of Environmental Protection is a "power grab" by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"We know that for a decade Republicans have had no problem with the office being where it is, as long as it was run by a Republican," Fried, the lone statewide elected Democrat, said after the meeting. "But now that a Democrat sits in this office, the first woman ever elected to this office, it suddenly needs to be moved."

DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre didn't comment on the topic when asked about it in an email.

Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican who chairs the House subcommittee, called the proposed move an "acceptable place to put the Office of Energy."

The office was part of the Department of Environmental Protection until 2011, moving to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services following a debacle involving about 10,000 unprocessed solar power rebates.

In casting the lone vote against the proposal, Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said she didn't understand how the move benefits the office or the state agencies.

Lawmakers look at prekindergarten changes

A proposal that would revamp Florida's voluntary pre-kindergarten program was approved by a Senate panel Monday as Democrats expressed concern about "high-stakes" testing for the state's youngest learners.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, emerged after DeSantis said last year the education quality offered to kids in Florida's voluntary prekindergarten program was "not good enough."

His disappointment stemmed from a report released by the Florida Department of Education showing 42 percent of children who participated in the program were not prepared to enter kindergarten

The governor called the failure rate "simply not defendable" and called on state leaders to come up with a new plan.

Harrell pitched the Senate Education Committee a proposal (SB 1688) that would bring major changes to how providers are measured and reprimanded if they fall short.

The proposal was unanimously approved by the committee and would require the education commissioner to develop a standardized test for pre-K students.

The new assessment would be taken by kids three times a school year from pre-K through third grade, and the test results would be used to judge effectiveness of pre-K providers.

News-Journal services


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