College Print Isn’t Dead Yet

I’m not so far removed from my time at the alma mater that I can’t remember the highs and lows of college textbooks.  The excitement of the book list for new classes.  The dilemma of whether to buy new or used.  The challenge of lugging a stack of books back to the dorm.  And then the roulette-like feeling of finding out how much those textbooks were worth a mere three months after buying them (and knowing that the spines of many of them may not have been cracked during that time).

But I am also a 21st century consumer of information.  And I’m enough of a geek that the highlight of my week — so far — has been discovering that the 2011 AP Stylebook is available as an iPhone/iPad app (and is now proudly downloaded on my electronic devices, with my old, ratty 2001 edition of the AP writing guide now officially retired).
So Eduflack was quite surprised to see the info-graphic on the front page of today’s USA Today.  The question — What kind of textbooks do college students prefer?  The answer, determined by Harris Interactive speaking with more than 1,200 students on Pearson Foundation’s behalf?  Print textbooks are preferred by 55 percent of college students surveyed, with 35 percent choosing digital (tablet, e-reader, or computer).  We’ll forget about the 10 percent who have no preference, a now requisite number for most surveys, it seems.
In an age where we live on our smart phones, print textbooks are still by a sizable margin.  In an era of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and netbooks, print remains king (at least in the eyes of today’s college students).  And a time when dollars are tight and college costs are rising, those expensive print textbooks still rule.
Maybe I’m alone in this, but I was incredibly surprised by the data.  I can understand such numbers coming from professors, many of whom want to see students purchase their teachers’ textbooks.  And I can see it from the colleges and universities themselves, who depend on college bookstores as revenue centers.  But just a third of today’s college students prefer digital textbooks?  Really?
So I pose a few questions for the two-thirds of college students choosing to diss the e-text?  Do you still subscribe to print newspapers?  How many slick magazines are delivered to your mailbox each month (assuming you still have a box receiving snail mail)?  When was the last time you bought an actual, paper book for leisure reading?  Do you still keep a printed phone book in your dorm or apartment (instead of using the web)?  Just curious, is all.
This survey response really has Eduflack scratching his head.  Is the problem that current electronic book experiences don’t stack up?  Are professors down on the e-book, and students are feeding off that?  Has classroom instruction not caught up to the times, as we still deliver 20th century instruction that doesn’t warrant 21st century tools?  Or do we just like that payoff for selling back those used textbooks at the end of the term for a fraction of the purchase price.
Someone, anyone, please help me out here.  What are the motivations for the college student, in the year 2011, having such a strong preference for a print textbook?  

Enforcing a Safe and Drug-Free School

Just how important is providing all students a safe and secure learning environment?  While drug searches in our schools have been around for decades, and the case law empowering local school districts to do so seems quite clear, such searches can divide a community, resulting in some very heated rhetoric and accusations.  Are we really taking issue with zero-tolerance drug policies in the schools and questioning the right to a safe and drug-free learning environment?

That is the question I explore over at Education Debate — The Trouble with Puppies: How Invasive are Drug-Sniffing Dogs?   The question becomes even more interesting considering the U.S. Department of Education’s decision this week to restructure the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools following a near 40% cut in the Office’s budget.
Check it out.

There’s Edu-Gold in Them Thar States?

For the past three years, we have heard a great deal about the financial cliffs our states were falling off, particularly with regard to education funding.  When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed in early 2009, the promise was additional dollars to the states for K-12 education, all in the name of ensuring that programs and service levels were not slashed as a result of the economic downturn.

Today, states and school districts are forced to confront the next “new normal,” a normal where the stimulus dollars are gone, state economies are still fragile and hurting, and schools are being asked to do more with far less.  District after district notes we’ve long passed the point of cutting school budgets to the bone.  We’re now at the marrow.
An interesting new report from Education Research Strategies offers an interesting take on the “cupboard is bare” reality facing so many school districts.  In Restructuring Resources for High-Performing Schools: A Primer for State Policymakers, ERS authors Karen Hawley Miles, Karen Baroody, and Elliot Regenstein note that changes in education policies could free up billions of dollars in needed funds to address the specific ails of our districts.
Among their recommendations:
* Increase student-teacher ratios — By boosting such ratios by an average of one student per teacher, districts could free up $6 billion nationwide.
* Reduce specific special education funding — By having states currently spending above the national average lower sped spending to the national average, $3 billion nationally could “freed up” to improve results for all students.
* Eliminate spending buckets — By combining smaller funding streams and thus reducing the costs of compliance and reporting for each individual program
Now there is thinking outside the box and then there is thinking OUTSIDE the box.  No one is ever going to accuse ERS of just rearranging the deck chairs.  Tackling special education, for instance, by saying we need to reduce the dollars spent on the specific population to “spread the wealth” across all students is not what one typically hears.  But there is no denying these are real ideas for shaking up the system and freeing up dollars to focus on the new priorities and mandates that are coming from the feds.
Are there states rushing to adopt these reccs or pilot one or two of the specific ideas offered by ERS?  Probably not.  Is there merit to the economies of scale argument that bucket consolidation could reduce administrative, evaluation, compliance, and reporting costs?  Absolutely.
Like it or hate it, the ERS report is an interesting, provocative read.  There is something refreshing about some new ideas, no matter how far from the box they may be.

Waivering on NCLB

How do you solve a problem like ESEA?  Last week, Eduflack opined on how ESEA reauthorization didn’t seem to be moving as scheduled, and how EdSec Arne Duncan and company could make due with NCLB with a few changes.  Based on Duncan’s remarks over the weekend, reported superbly (as always) by the Associated Press’ Dorie Turner, it looks like Eduflack was doing a little more than just whistlin’ in the wind.   

On the pages of Politico yesterday, Duncan made one final attempt to jumpstart ESEA reauthorization.  Otherwise, he may be forced to resort to “Plan B,” using his waiver powers to provide school districts and states some relief from those NCLB mandates that many want to see reversed, such as the accountability provisions.
Now folks have been talking about NCLB waivers and executive powers for years now.  Former EdSec Margaret Spellings made some adjustments to the law in 2008 through the powers invested in her, including adopting a common graduation rate formula.  And many have been waiting for Duncan to take similar action, expecting changes and adjustments since his confirmation in early 2009.
Of course, Duncan initiated talk of Plan B without going into specifics on what would be waived and what would be reconsidered.  And why should he?  The EdSec (and the President, for what it’s worth) has made clear he both wanted and needed a reauthorized ESEA by the start of the 2011-12 school year.  Just as he wanted a revised ESEA in 2009.  Just as he needed it in 2010.  And just as he wanted it earlier this year.  
And Duncan has made clear what he wants. More discretionary funding for programs like Race to the Top and i3.  Codifying RttT priorities such as educator quality and school turnaround.  A revised outlook on accountability, with an emphasis on college and career readiness (and those lovely common core standards).  Some flexibility for rural schools.  And a little more this, and a little more that.
He’s offered, time and again, to play Let’s Make a Deal with Congress.  Three years running, he’s had his people ready to work with congressional leaders on a new ESEA.  More than a year ago, he issued his ESEA Blueprint to provide Congress a map to get to the shared destination.  Yet here we are, more than four years after ESEA was supposed to be reauthorized, with the same NCLB and no new whole cloth legislation to consider in its stead.
So why not threaten to take your ball and go home?  At this stage of the game, why not offer Plan B, with details to come at a later date?  
Almost reminds me of the climax of Major League, when Pedro Cerrano is desperate for the game-winning home run, talking to his “spiritual guide, Jobu.  “Look, I go to you.  I stick up for you.  You don’t help me now.  I say *@&#*$ you, Jobu.  I do it myself.”
Duncan and his team have gone to Congress.  They’ve stuck up for Congress and many of the leadership’s priorities.  If Congress isn’t going to help them now, Duncan can just do it himself.
The remaining question now is whether Congress intends to step to the pitcher’s rubber on this one, or just let Duncan hit it off the tee.

Whither ESEA Reauth?

Earlier this year, President Obama and EdSec Arne Duncan made it perfectly clear.  We absolutely, positively needed ESEA reauthorization before the start of the 2011-2012 school year.  As we are now less than three months from that benchmark, how close are we?

Similarly, we heard promises from some in the U.S. Senate that a new ESEA bill would be offered to those on the senior circuit by Easter 2011.  The ears have been eaten off of virtually all the chocolate bunnies, and there is nary a stale jelly bean left.  But still no ESEA.
Unfortunately, it looks like we are no closer to reauthorization than we we last year, or in 2009, or even in 2007 (when it was originally due).  In fact, we may be further away than it seems.  Eduflack has said it before, and he’ll say it again.  In all likelihood, ESEA will be reauthorized in the first half of 2013.  (Yes, that isn’t a typo.  2013.)
Why?  Let’s take a look at things.  Round 3 Race to the Top and Round 2 Investing in innovation details went over like a lead balloon last week.  About a billion dollars in new spending for states and districts was discussed, yet few paid it much attention.  And those that did seemed to criticize it.  Too much money for early childhood education.  Too little money for Round 2 RttT finalists.  Yet another round of proposals, applications, and reviews for those seeking i3.  The ed reform merry-go-round continues, with heavy rhetoric but light financial incentive, at least by most perspectives.
Other than a Labor Day wish, we’ve seen little from the U.S. Department on Education regarding reauthorization.  No updated blueprint.  No new recommendations.  Just proposed program cuts and consolidations in the President’s budget, and the promise of more competitive grantmaking and investments in innovative ideas.  And some are already chattering that the folks on Maryland Avenue are going into “hunkering down” mode, just hoping to make it through the elections a mere 17 months away.
So let’s move to Capitol Hill.  On the House side, we have an Education Committee Chairman following Ohio State’s old “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy.  The House is moving incrementally, moving individual bills on individual issues to “fix” or “improve” NCLB.  Chairman John Kline (MN) has made his agenda clear, and the Committee will take things piece by piece.  Assuming the Senate acts on the House bills, we could have a nice little ESEA patchwork quilt by 2013, anchored by the original NCLB and enhanced by the patches and flourishes developed by the House committee.
And on the Senate side?  Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) has been resolute in his intention to bring ESEA reauthorization forward.  But in the absence of a final, complete piece of legislation, gossip has filled the void.  Is there a full piece of ESEA reauth, based on the components that have been floating around for months?  Will the chairman bypass the usual process for moving legislation forward, and instead just move to a multi-day, full committee markup of the NCLB law?  Or will the Senate follow the Kline model and start picking off important issues like special education, ECE, rural ed, and accountability?  
Only time will tell which path we actually head down.  But it begs one important question.  Do we really need ESEA reauthorization right now?  Short of the EdSec acting to address the AYP pitfalls coming in 2014, are there other necessary changes to enact in ESEA?  RttT and i3 can continue without being codified in ESEA.  Tweaks to teacher quality can proceed, as can much of the turnaround efforts.  And we can continue to focus on data systems and assessment models and even common core without making changes to ye olde ESEA.
Assuming Duncan and company can secure the dollars for their agenda in the upcoming budget, 2013 doesn’t seem so bad after all.  Sure, you don’t get the bounce in your step from passing “landmark legislation,” but you have little preventing you from enacting your plans and policies.