Get Schooled: Student Debt, No Child Left Behind and More Education News

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Welcome to the first edition of what will be a new weekly feature here on NewsFeed. Each week, TIME’s Kayla Webley will fill you in on the goings on in the education world, everything from K-12 to higher ed.

Student Debt Hits a New High
Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards, reports the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. For the first-time ever, the total amount taken out last year in the U.S. topped $100 billion. And, sometime this year it’s expected that outstanding student debt will hit $1 trillion — also for the first time ever. Among the most disturbing findings: Students today are borrowing double the amount they did 10 years ago, after adjusting for inflation. Read more at Moneyland.

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Recap: An Exciting Week for No Child Left Behind
A lot has been happening with the coming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (better known as No Child Left Behind) in the past several days. Here’s a recap:

Last week: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, released an early draft of the most comprehensive rewrite to date of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.

Over the weekend: While the draft has gained broad bipartisan support, it initially required school districts and states that receive funds to create teacher evaluation systems that take student performance into account. Over the weekend, that provision was scaled back such that only those districts who participate a competitive grant, called the Teacher Incentive Fund, would have to craft evaluations. According to The Huffington Post, that decision was made after Harkin spoke with teachers, teachers’ unions and committee members.

Monday: Education Secretary Arne Duncan weighed in, criticizing the decision to strip evaluations from the rewrite. “A comprehensive evaluation system based on multiple measures, including student achievement, is essential for education reform to move forward,” Duncan said in a statement sent to TIME and other news outlets. “This view is shared by both national teacher unions and state leaders all across the country who are committed to doing a better job of preparing our young people for the global economy. We cannot retreat from reform.”

Wednesday: Harkin’s bill had a hearing in the committee he chairs yesterday (the Senate’s Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee). Most expected the debate over the bill and the more than 140 proposed amendments to go into the wee hours of the night, but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., used a procedural maneuver to halt discussion at two hours. Paul said he was concerned that everything was happening too fast — even though little progress has been made on reworking the current law since it came up for reauthorization in 2007. Paul also thinks education ought to be done by the states and has proposed an amendment to repeal No Child Left Behind altogether. For more, read this story from the Associated Press.

Foreign Student Worker Program Further Challenged
The New York Times had an important story this week on the oft-questioned State Department program for temporary worker program for foreign students. The NYT story, which follows up on an Associated Press report from last year, details the experiences of a handful of foreign students who signed up for the program because they were promised steady work and the chance to see the best of America. It in turn further calls into question the State Department’s management of the program, which has been criticized for much of the past two decades. One student, Tudor Ureche of Moldova, who wanted to make American friends and sightsee, instead was placed in a Hershey packing plant, working grueling night shifts on speeding production lines.

Court Strikes Down Part of Controversial Immigration Law
A federal appeals court in Alabama issued a ruling that blocks parts of what has been called the toughest immigration law in the nation. The new law, which went into effect Sept. 29, requires schools to check the immigration status of students. As a result, since school began in September large numbers of Hispanic students have been absent from public schools, according to Education Week.

No Child Left Behind Waiver Update
The Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind waiver plan I reported on a few weeks ago on our politics site, Swampland, is now in full swing. According to the Associated Press, 37 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have officially signaled that they plan to seek waivers, which will provide some relief from the current law’s strictest requirements, including the mandate that all children show they are proficient in math and reading by 2014. To qualify for the waivers the states must sign on to a set of reforms the Obama Administration prefers, many of the same requirements under its Race to the Top grant program. While the deadline to notify the department of plans to file was last week, states may still file for waivers, or alternatively decide not to file, so the final number of states who will apply for waivers is still yet to be determined.

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Kayla Webley is a Writer-Reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley or on Facebook at facebook.com/kaylalwebley. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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