Details are starting to trickle in on how the U.S. Department of Education will be affected by the budget deal cut late Friday by President Obama and congressional leaders. And how does our little education space shake out?
Presidential Education Budget Redux
Yesterday, President Obama released his FY2012 Budget. And it was hardly a “the new phone books are here” sort of moment. In an era of supposed budgetary belt-tightening, we all knew that the U.S. Department of Education was facing a budget increase. The major question was how much of that increase would go to Pell and how much to P-12.
Should Kids Compete for a Good Education?
“Why should children compete for their education?” That is one of the questions that EdWeek’s Michele McNeil reports came out of yesterday’s face off between EdSec Arne Duncan and local school board members from across the nation who came to Washington as part of the National School Boards Association federal conference.
Can We Innovate to Improvement?
Is there real, honest-to-goodness innovation entering the K-12 education space? We seem to use the term “innovation” a great deal, but few seem to know what it really means. The dictionary definition is “something new or different introduced.” When the U.S. Department of Education issued its Investing in Innovation (i3) program last year, innovation was driven by what was research proven and evidence based.
Some Resolutions for 2011
Another year about to go down in the history books. Are we any closer to truly improving our public schools? For every likely step forward we may have taken in 2010, it seems to be met with a similar step back. For every rhetorical push ahead, we had a very real headwind blocking progress.
Getting Caught In the Net(P)
With all of the talk about innovation, 21st century skills, college and career readiness, and much of the remaining buzz words surrounding school improvement this past year, little has actually be said about the old innovation workhorse, education technology.
Back in February and March, President Obama’s budget proposed zeroing out a number of the programs that served as dedicated ed tech funding for states and school districts, with a promise that ed tech would be better integrated in ESEA (and in ESEA reauthorization), and that increased dollars would be available for competitive ed tech programs that reach directly into school districts and schools.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education finally released its National Education Technology Plan, or NETP 2010. Wrapping itself around the topics of readiness, global competitiveness, performance, and accountability, ED planted a new flag for the direction of education technology programs, injecting a little 21st century into our national blueprint.
According to ED, “NETP presents a model of learning powered by technology, with goals and recommendations in five essential areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. The plan also identifies far-reaching ‘grand challenge’ R&D problems that should be funded and coordinated at a national level.”
How novel. We are connecting the issues of school tech with actual learning and teaching in the classroom. We are connecting ed tech with assessment and student performance. And most importantly, we are addressing the “R&D problems,” important shorthand for how grossly underfunded education R&D, particularly in the area of technology, has been at the government level. (Don’t believe Eduflack, at the percentage of the federal health budget committed to R&D and compare it to the percentage of the ED budget committed to R&D. And don’t even get me started on the horrific shortage of private-sector education R&D.)
The release of NETP 2010 is important. What is equally important, though, is how the rhetoric will be moved into practice. How are these goals being integrated into ESEA reauth planning? How are these goals weaved into evaluations for both RttT and i3 efforts in 2011 and beyond? In our national commitment to better integrate ed tech into the infrastructure of K-12 education, how are we ensuring the necessary funding? And in answering all of the above, who will champion a renewed federal interest and investment in ed tech on Capitol Hill?
For too many years, the ed tech community has been forced to play defense, trying to protect programs from deeper cuts, year after year. NETP 2010 provides a greater sense of hope, a verbal agreement that ed tech is a priority of this Administration and this nation. Now that verbal just has to carry over to the written contracts of this coming February’s Presidential Budget and long-expected ESEA action.
Over the weekend, Darrell Issa (CA), the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, made clear that investigations are a-coming to our nation’s capital in 2011. The new GOP majority in the US House of Representatives plans to investigate the Obama Administration on a host of policy and political issues, all in the name of transparency and accountability.
What does all this mean for education? Possibly quite a bit. We still have many people about town licking their wounds from the investigations into the NCLB-era Reading First program. So what could Issa and the “Investigations Committee” have up their sleeve for education in the coming Congress?
Stimulus Funding — According to the US Department of Education, $89 billion has been provided through the Recovery Act for education, saving an estimated 300,000 education jobs. How has that money actually been spent? Why is so much of the available education stimulus funding still untapped? Are states spending the dollars, or holding them back for a rainy day? How real are those job estimates? The Stimulus may be a bigger topic for for Issa and company, but how billions of dollars has been spent by the K-12 establishment is likely to be a storyline.
Race to the Top — By now, we all know about the $4 billion spent on RttT. So let’s look into the Round 1 scoring and the discrepencies across review panels. What about the huge differences in Round 2 scores before and after oral defense? How hard were states’ arms twisted to change laws and adopt policies in order to qualify for money they never got? And then, more importantly, how is the money being spent? What vendors are now raking in the big RttT bucks? It may be greatly unfair, but many a pundit and so-called policy maven will expect to see tangible results in Tennessee and Delaware next year, only a year after winning the grant. If we don’t see marked improvement …
Investing in Innovation — The i3 program brings many of the same questions coming to Race. Why were so many school districts unsuccessful in winning, while advocacy groups and “friends of the program” won big? What about discrepencies across the different review panels?
Edujobs — Just because so many folks seem to dislike the program, it would make a great investigation, particularly since many school districts are holding the money back for next school year or the following. Did it actually save a job for the 2010-11 school year? And at what cost?
General Favoritism — This was the great hook of the RF debacle. The Bush Administration allegedly steering contracts, funding, attention, and well wishes to their closest friends and family in the reading community. What goes around, comes around, I fear. Imagine those hearings to see what orgs are sitting at the table to write the education stimulus and ESEA reauth? Who helped develop criteria for RttT, i3, and other programs? What orgs are now reaping the benefits of their “help” on moving education improvement forward? And who is in the pipe to benefit from proposed funding consolidation and competitive grants, as proposed in the president’s budget?
Are such investigations fair? Hardly. But that doesn’t mean they won’t happen. Education is one of those interesting policy topics, where everyone believes they know best. We all went to school, after all, and thus our ideas are the most important. Over the past 18 months, we’ve spent a great deal of education dollars. There have been real winners and real losers. And if the House GOP is serious about reducing federal spending and federal power, going after federal education can be a powerful rhetorical device.
So what’ll it be, Mr. Issa? Is federal education on the hit list, somewhere between healthcare reform and cap and trade?
Education Policy and 2010 Elections
This time tomorrow (or possibly this time Thursday or Friday, depending on how close some elections out west may be) we will know what the 112th Congress will look like and we will have a clear sense of who will be sitting in the big desks in governors’ offices across the nation. You have to be living in a cave (or be in complete denial) not to know that big change is coming. So how will such change affect education policy plans for 2011 and beyond?
ESEA Reauthorization — We will likely see ESEA reauth in 2011, and it may actually be helped along by Republicans taking over the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep, John Kline (MN) has already been working closely with Chairman George Miller (CA) on the legislation. So while Kline is likely to give the draft a greater emphasis on local control and rural schools, it should still move.
And the U.S. Senate will follow the House’s lead. It is expected that Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) will remain in charge of the HELP Committee. But major changes on the committee (due to election results and retirements) may change the Senate perspective. If anything, it may help focus Harkin and get him to move on a meaningful piece of legislation.
Common Core Standards — Tomorrow, we are likely to see a lot of governor’s offices change parties. Inevitably, that is going to lead to many seeking new GOP governors to reconsider their states’ adoption of the Common Core Standards (all in the name of local control). And we may well see a few states pull out of the process, particularly if said states were RttT losers and are particularly proud of their state standards. Texas and Virginia can serve as the model for these “rebel” states.
Phase Three Race to the Top and Phase Two i3 — Many are hoping for another round of both RttT and i3. But additional rounds mean additional dollars. And if the lead-up to today’s elections mean anything, it is that folks are frustrated with how many federal dollars have been spent over the past 18 months. If we are seeing new RttT and i3 processes, it likely means having to move money from existing programs and existing priorities, a task that can be difficult during the reauthorization process.
Early Childhood Education — ECE has been the big loser in the last year. Despite a great deal of rhetoric about the importance of early childhood education and plans on what should be done, ECE simply hasn’t been shown the budgetary love. And that is unlikely to change. ECE advocates will likely be fighting for the scraps in the larger picture for the coming year, particularly if they cannot find new champions on the Hill from both sides of the aisle.
Public/Private Partnerships — We have long relied on public/private partnerships to help move education issues forward, and STEM education is the latest in a long line of such efforts that the education establishment and the private sector have been able to work together on. But will the Administration’s attack on business, particularly the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, make it more difficult to cut a deal to advance STEM in 2011? Or will the business community move forward without Obama and company? Only time will tell.
Teachers — EdSec Arne Duncan’s Teacher campaign is off and running, and it is likely to gain speed following the elections and stronger GOP representation in the states. Many see the Teacher effort, led by Brad Jupp, as an alt cert campaign (an unfair characterization, but it has stuck). So an anti-teachers union sentiment could give the recruitment effort some legs, particularly as new Republican governors look to model their administrations after NJ Gov. Chris Christie.
And what are the likely unsung issues in our post-election environment? Parental and family engagement is at the top of ol’ Eduflack’s list, as folks see the need for community buy-in on reauth and other issues in a difficult budget year. The assessments aligned with the Common Core will pick up steam. And we are likely to see state legislatures take on an even stronger role in education issues, particularly as we look at the future for ESEA and Common Core. And with all of our focus on reading for the past decade, math is likely to step into the forefront, particularly as more and more people raise issues with the math common core.
And so it begins …
About Those i3 Matching Funds …
By now we’ve all seen the list of the big Investing in Innovation (i3) winners. Nearly 1,700 contestants entered the squared circle, and only 49 emerged as “winners,” with the survivors now left to prove that their research-based innovation is the best damned innovation in the entire education land.
(Bear with Eduflack, I’m trying to build up the hype here. I’m amazed by how little excitement or enthusiasm has come from the announcement of $650 million in i3 grants earlier this week. This should be a much bigger deal than it is.)
When I first saw the list on Wednesday afternoon (thank you Michele McNeil and Politics K-12 for giving us the list a day before we all expected it), I was taken by a few things. The first was the absence of the Chicago TAP program from the list. For the past year, I have been all but certain that TAP would win one of the $50M biggies. Perhaps the recent study on TAP’s effectiveness was more damaging that most expected.
The second was how few school districts actually won i3 grants. Throughout the process, most talked about how these were LEA based. We all knew that some non-profits and institutions of higher education would win. In fact, we expected that some of the larger grants would go to reform-minded non-profits (as it did). Yes, I am surprised so many IHEs put in winning applications. But I am more surprised how the list seems to say that innovation is coming from outside influences, and not from the entities (the districts) entrusted with educating our children.
Yesterday, I (and I’m sure much of the free world) received an email from the good folks over at the NewSchools Venture Fund, as it congratulated nine “NewSchools supported ventures” that won i3 grants. And it got me really thinking. This week’s 49 winners all need to find a 20 percent match to actually receive their oversized checks from the US Department of Education. I assume that these nine NewSchools groups (including Teach for America and KIPP) will be able to find the outside funding necessary. But what happens to those orgs that may not be able to secure a few million in outside funding in short order, in this economy?
When applications were solicited, it was made clear that such outside funding did not have to be lined up to win. Securing that third-party funding could be done after selection, meaning you only needed to hustle for the dollars if you actually needed the money to close the deal. So we now have 49 innovative education programs scurrying to secure $130 million in matching funds to qualify. Once the Gates Foundation puts money down on the horses it is going to back, and other large foundations do the same, who is going to pick up the slack for the many remaining groups, particularly those in the “validation” category? Will we see dollars coming from local foundations? In-kind contributions of staff and benefits? Creative book keeping to hit the magic mark?
It all raises a bigger question. How many of the 49 selected applications will fail to meet all of the requirements (meaning the 20 percent private funding match) by September 8? Will today’s winners be denied their checks tomorrow? Personally, I’m willing to bet at least five of the winners will have to seek waivers and extend their private-sector fundraising efforts.
Without question, those writing the checks want to put their money on winners, particularly in the education space. And these 49 are as sure a bet as there is. But 49 groups scurrying for $130 million in 34 days, including five weekends (one of them a holiday) is asking an awful lot, even for innovators like this lot.
Throwing Some Needed Cold Water on i3
For nearly a year now, school districts across the nation have been eagerly anticipating a piece of the Investing in Innovation grant program. The promise of $650 million to continue innovative approaches to school improvement is too big a lure for many to pass up. While districts and non-profits worried about how they could get their applications done, where they would find the staff time, and what to promote, they were not going to forgo the opportunity.
Final proposals were due this month, and by US Department of Education count, nearly 1,700 applications were submitted. These applications range from the large (those seeking $50 million) to the small (those seeking $5 million or less for their plans). They include proposals from urban, rural, and suburban school districts, consortias of school districts, colleges and universities, not-for-profits, and blends of all of the above.
Every one of them optimistic of their chances to get a piece of the $650 million i3 pie. And that optimism was only heightened when the final i3 RFP and regs were released earlier this year, and ED talked about plans to award up to 300 grants (up to 100 in each of the three categories) before the end of the coming fiscal year.
That expectation (up to) 300 grants had Eduflack scratching his head a little at the time. Expecting that most applicants would seek the maximum dollar amount for their category, By my meager math, I could only see 40 or so winners. Think about it. Development grants allow a max of $5 million, validation grants a max of $30 million per, and scale up grants a max of $50 million per. If you awarded just eight grants in each of those three categories, you had already exceeded the $650 million available. Account for a few winners asking for less than the max, or a few more development awards and a few less scale ups, and you might push 40 up to 50. But 300 grants was never a possibility, at least not under Phase One of i3 (assuming, as most do, that EdSec Duncan will get Congress to offer up new funds for new rounds of i3). You’d need billions ot hit that mark, unless applicants were just asking for a fraction of the available money.
This reality was confirmed earlier this week by none other than the good EdSec himself. According to the usually reliable Eduwonk, Duncan revealed, at a Wednesday meeting that he expects 70 total i3 awards to come this fall. So nearly 1,700 enter the i3 steel cage, with 70 or so emerging as victors.
Surprisingly, this declaration hasn’t been widely reported. But it throws a real splash of cold water on the whole i3 process. Even expecting 300 winners, the odds for most applicants was pretty low. Winnow that down to 70, and many districts would have been better off buying scratch tickets or hosting a car wash to fund some of their “innovative” plans.
It appears that ED is building the i3 path based on the same blueprint it used for Phase One Race to the Top. The goal is to award funds to those with the highest chance of success. One IDs just a fraction of the 1,700 applicants, gives them the seed money, and watches it blossom. Let those 70 or so winners show how i3 can be sucessfully used, how to measure ROI, and how to actually boost student achievement. Reward some of those rural districts who feel left out of the Race. Encourage partnerships. And, most importantly, require all those enjoying i3 to both demonstrate real research findings to date and provide even stronger research moving forward.
We’ll show you the money if you can show us the data, if you will.