For much of the last week, Eduflack has been down in New Orleans, living the edu-life. First stop was the Education Writers Association (EWA), followed by a multi-day play at the American Educational Research Association (AERA).
We often hear about how the latest and greatest in education reforms are happening down in the bayou. For the past half-decade, New Orleans has been the place to set up shop if you have an idea to reform a school district, train a better teacher, or close an achievement gap. You simply aren’t on the reform map if you don’t have a footprint in the Big Easy.
is defined as ‘a systematic process for driving progress and delivering results in government and the public sector.’ At the heart of the delivery approach is a set of tools, processes, and a common language for implementation. Key features include prioritizing clear goals, understanding how services reach various constituents, projecting anticipated progress toward goals, gauging impact through real-time data, and regularly taking stock to intervene when necessary.
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.
My name is Eduflack, and I am a captain of negativism. I often like to tease that I’m not a glass half full or half empty sorta guy, I just want to know who took my damned water. So last evening was a fascinating exercise for me. As luck would have it, I had a three-and-a-half hour school board meeting last night, meaning I missed the State of the Union live. But from all of the updates on Facebook and on Twitter, it seemed like President Obama had delivered a truly rousing state of the education union speech, fulfilling all of the hopes and dreams that ed reformers and status quoers alike have for education in the United States. All those negative feelings I have, year in and year out, about how education gets short shrift in the SOTU would be replaced by an unnatural and unfamiliar sense of joy and happiness in dear ol’ Eduflack.
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.
So it is more than a year and a half since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into law and the faucet of federal education stimulus dollars was turned on, sending a stream (either a raging river or a trickle, depending on your perspective) to states and school districts across the nation. While much has been done (particularly from the good folks over at EdWeek’s Politics K-12 blog) on whether we are actually spending the ed stimulus dollars or not, a larger question may very well be if such spending is having any impact.
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?
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 …
The Race is now over (at least until EdSec Duncan gets funding for the third leg of his proposed Triple Crown for school improvement). Some expected and some surprises standing in the winners’ circle. Ten RttT Phase Two recipients in all, including (highest scores first): Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio.
In the coming days, there will be significant electronic space dedicated to dissecting the scores, looking for hidden meaning in the rankings, and generally seeking out those elements that go bump in the night. But there are a few takeaways we can see immediately:
1) As all college basketball fans know, we live in an ACC/SEC world (just ask SportsCenter). The RttT winners list reinforces this, offering a who’s who of East Coast states. One winner west of the Mississippi (Hawaii), and if you remove that outlier, the westernmost RttT winner is … Ohio. While I’m not sure what that says about school improvement in the Midwest, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and such, I know it offers some great hoops possibilities in that RttT bracket.
2) Oral defenses mattered this time around. In Phase One, most scores didn’t move after presentations in DC. Delaware had the largest jump, winning it a Phase One check. But most Phase One states saw single digit changes, with some seeking just a fraction of a point difference. Phase Two was a completely different story. Six states (AZ, CO, DC, FL, NJ, and OH) all saw double-digit increases, thanks to their defense. It likely made the difference for at least two of the three winners (DC and OH).
3) There were a few surprises in the winners, particularly Maryland and Hawaii. Maryland sat out Phase I. Hawaii placed 22nd the last time around. The other eight were all finalists this time around, and were expected to do well this go around. And show me one person who thought New York would do that well (second place, really?).
4) The biggest surprises of those not winning everyone is talking about? Most seem to point to Louisiana and Colorado. In Phase One, Louisiana placed 11th and Colorado placed 14th. Colorado increased its points total nearly 11 points in this round, while Louisiana increased its point total about 18 points. So both improved (slightly) for the second round. It is just that others posted far more impressive improvements.
5) The biggest surprises of those not winning no one seems to be talking about? Illinois was 5th in Phase One, but fell to 15th this round. Pennsylvania was 7th in Phase One, falling to 18th this round (and actually losing points in the process). Kentucky was 9th in Phase One and slipped to 19th this round, losing six points.
6) Who just missed? Ohio was the 10th of 10 winners, scoring 440.8. New Jersey finished 11th, at 437.8. Arizona was 12th, at 435.4. And Louisiana came in 13th at 434.0. So 1 percent separated a winner from three left on the outside looking in.
7) Only two states lost points between rounds — Arkansas and Pennsylvania. Most states posted huge gains, including a 195-point gain from Arizona, an 87-point gain from California, a 64-point gain from New Hampshire, and a 60-point gain from Massachusetts. So credit to virtually all for learning from Phase One (or from benefiting from a more lenient judge pool).
8) Delaware would have come in 4th place in Phase Two, following Massachusetts, New York, and Hawaii. Tennessee would have been 9th this round (10th if Delaware was in), coming in less than four points higher than Ohio.
9) And the most interesting fun fact? Utah gained just fourth-tenths of a point in Phase Two. Now that is consistency at its best.
Stay tuned for the conspiracy chatter. What states lost because of lukewarm support from the unions (I’m looking at you NJ and LA)? Were data systems a problem (can’t be, based on NY’s strong showing, right)? Did Common Core State Standards play a tipping point between the haves and have nots? Would Romanian skating rules judging have changed the order? What really happened in Colorado? Inquiring minds need to know.