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Transgender Students, For-Profit Colleges And Changes To The SAT

A screen projection shows U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressing the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in National Harbor, Md.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
A screen projection shows U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressing the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in National Harbor, Md.

Welcome to our second weekly roundup of notable national education news! (Missed us last week? Find it here.)

The biggest ed headline of the week, of course, had to do with:

Transgender students and Title IX

In technical terms, the departments of Justice and Education this week rescinded Obama-era guidance on the interpretation of Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

In symbolic terms, the Trump administration backed away from endorsingtransgender civil rights on the federal level, at least as they concern students. This includes access to sports teams and locker rooms as well as restrooms.

In practical terms, states and districts will continue to set policiesregarding the estimated 150,000 transgender students in the U.S. And in the courts, attention now turns to the case of a high school student in Virginia, Gavin Grimm, that is set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month.

DeVos speaks to conservatives

This week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos joined President Trump and other members of his administration in speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside of Washington, D.C.

NPR's Domenico Montanaro reportsthat she took a "defiant tone" in her brief remarks to the crowd. On transgender rights, she said: "This issue was a very huge example of Obama administration overreach, one-size-fits-all approach to issues best solved at [a] personal and local level."

Not surprisingly, she also used her speech to champion her favorite subject. "We have a unique window of opportunity," she said, "to make school choice a reality for millions of families."

For-profit college stocks rising

The New York Times reportedthat, since the election, the for-profit college industry is bullish on the prospects of "regulatory relief." "DeVry Education Group's stock has leapt more than 40 percent," the Times noted. "Strayer's jumped 35 percent and Grand Canyon Education's more than 28 percent."

One of the regulations the industry might wish away is the "gainful employment" rule. As drafted by the Obama administration, it requires colleges to demonstrate that a significant percentage of students earn enough to pay back their student loans. When questioned during her confirmation hearing by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as to whether she would commit to enforcing this rule, DeVos responded: "We will certainly review that rule and see that it is actually achieving what the intentions are.

One of the regulators that has taken the lead against for-profit colleges is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was originally proposed and established by Sen. Warren. Earlier this month, House legislation was introduced that would eliminate the CFPB. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, told NPR's Steve Inskeep this weekthat it was a "rogue agency."

Also this week, a federal court in Washington delivered a blow to the main accrediting agency for for-profit colleges.

District Judge Reggie Walton denied a motion to put on hold the Obama administration's decision to terminatethe Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). ACICS had accredited both Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, two for-profit schools that have been shut down for financial irregularities.

The SAT gets a security boost

The College Board, the organization that owns and operates the SAT exam (as well as several other big tests), announced new security measures Wednesday. The announcement comes on the heels of several scandals worldwide in the past few years — including the cancellation of some international SAT scores as recently as last month due to cheating.

The College Board says it will reduce the number of international SAT testing dates from six to four for the next two school years, aiming to cut down on opportunities to steal testing materials. It also plans to increase auditing at testing centers, take steps to prevent cheaters from retaking the exam and work with U.S. and international law enforcement to prosecute theft of exams.

But FairTest, a national organization critical of standardized testing, was quick to point out a potential problem — the College Board didn't say it would stop "recycling" test questions from previous sittings, something FairTest says leaves the "barn door for cheaters wide open."

A political test for professors

During her CPAC speech, DeVos took a swipe at university professors on political grounds. "The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think," DeVos said. "They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you're a threat to the university community."

Most social science research shows liberals greatly outnumbering conservativesamong college faculty.

In related news, Iowa State Sen. Mark Chelgren, a Republican, introduced a bill this week that would require public universities in the state to consider political party affiliation when hiring faculty members in order to maintain a partisan balance. Speaking to the Des Moines Register,Sen. Chelgren compared it to hiring policies intended to ensure other types of diversity.

But U.S. Rep. Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, said that the policy — if enacted — might violate the state constitution.

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Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.