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?
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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?