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    The benefits of an effective education system are multitudinous. Unfortunately, there seems to be both a consensus and striking evidence that America's education system is mediocre. High school drop out rates are high, and college attendance and graduation rates have stagnated. A seemingly intractable problem of this magnitude necessitates an expeditious response. And there has not been a shortage of solutions offered to improve the education system. Of the myriad prescriptions offered to alleviate America's education ills, one increasingly popular solution is K-14 education. .

    As previously defined on Michigan Policy Network (MPN), K-14 education is "the combination of K-12 education with an additional two years of postsecondary education at a community college or a vocational school." Two notable proponents of K-14 education are Bill and Melinda Gates. Through the non-profit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they have helped implement and fund a plethora of K-14 initiatives. The Gates Foundation's commitment to K-14 education is a testament to the potentially significant positive effects of K-14 education.

    First, K-14 education is an increasingly popular solution because it is designed to comprehensively ameliorate multiple problems; it seeks to concurrently increase high school graduation rates, postsecondary preparedness, and college retention and graduation rates. The allure of achieving these goals is accentuated by the disappointingly anemic high school graduation rates, lack of postsecondary preparedness of high school graduates, and difficulty in retaining college students until graduation. According to a 2008 Education Week study funded by the Gates Foundation, only 71 percent of American students earn a high school diploma; even more distressing was the discovery that only 58 percent of Hispanic students and 55 percent of African-American students obtain a high school diploma. Furthermore, a report from the non-profit Jobs for the Future foundation discovered that approximately 60 percent of community college students enroll in remedial classes; that approximation exceeds 90 percent for low-income and minority students.

    Because K-14 policy is a comprehensive strategy, it is uniquely capable of ameliorating multiple problems. That is why the Gates Foundation has embraced this strategy. However, although the Gates Foundation focuses on all aspects of K-14 education, it is acutely focused on increasing postsecondary preparedness and postsecondary retention.

    Of its efforts to increase postsecondary preparedness, the Gates Foundation has adopted a tactic it calls "fewer, clearer, and higher." This is in reference to state standards for postsecondary preparedness and is predicated on the Gates Foundation's presumption that there are a plethora of diffuse subjects for which schools are required to prepare students. The Gates Foundation describes the current system as "a mile wide and an inch deep, covering far more material than teachers can ever hope to deliver, while giving students only a shallow understanding of complex topics." Thus, the Gates Foundation is seeking to help states adopt clearer and fewer standards while increasing the amount of instruction afforded these fewer standards. It aids states in cooperating and adopting unified standards such as the American Diploma Project.

    The Gates Foundation is also seeking to increase postsecondary retention. A primary tactic to achieve this goal is improving remedial classes in community colleges. As previously noted, 60 percent of community college students enroll in remedial classes. This an especially deleterious trend because remedial classes  suffer high attrition rates; few students complete a remedial class and subsequently graduate. To ameliorate this problem, the Gates Foundation initiated the Developmental Education Initiative (DEI) in 2009. The DEI awarded $16.5 million to 15 community colleges located throughout the United States. The funds are intended to expand upon efforts by the Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count initiative which seeks to leverage tutorials, technologies and mentorships to improve postsecondary retention.

    The Gates Foundation's commitment to K-14 policy is not abating. Contrarily, the Gates Foundation's commitment is increasing. And this trend is not endemic to the Gates Foundation. For example, President Obama is a prominent proponent of K-14 policy. His American Graduate Initiative, although cut from the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, represented his commitment to K-14 policy. The popularity of K-14 policy is constantly increasing. If Michigan is to improve its education system, perhaps it should include K-14 policy as a primary component of its efforts.

    Sources:

    Developmental Education Initiative Mission Statement

    Gates Foundation College Preparedness Initiative

    The Advent of K-14 Education: A Working Definition (MPN)

    The New York Times: Gates Foundation Announces Grants to Community Colleges

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    The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College. 

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    Meet your Policy Fellow: Andy Chou and Andrew Revard

    Andy Chou and Andrew Revard are Education Policy Correspondents for the Michigan Policy Network. Andy is a first-year student in Economics at Michigan State University. Andrew is a senior in Political Science at MSU.