The Perfect and the Good

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).

(As an aside, EWA has to be my favorite conference of the year.  I have to attend A LOT of education events each year, and I thoroughly enjoy EWA.  It is a fantastic opportunity for me to get to know a lot of the reporters and bloggers I know virtually, and I always get a kick when some of the associates consider me a “journalist” because of this little blog.)
At any rate, there was clearly a catch phrase at EWA this year from the policymakers and talking heads trying to influence reporter-think.  “Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  While I would argue that none of us in attendance are exactly a 21st century Voltaire, it was an interesting observation heard over multiple days.
EdSec Arne Duncan used it in reference to ESEA reauthorization.  Again stating his belief that we will have reauth done before the start of the school year (and more importantly, noting that we NEED to have it done be by the end of the summer), Duncan made clear that ESEA won’t be perfect (he didn’t quite make Margaret Spellings’ 99.94% pure remarks).  But real improvements must be made to the current law.  We know what those improvements are.  We have some agreement on those improvements.  So let’s move forward now down the good path, knowing ESEA will never be perfect for all comers.
The battle between the perfect and the good was also made with regard to teachers and value-added evaluation.  In discussing the great siege on Los Angeles teachers in 2010 (the LA Times is releasing version two of its teacher database in the next week or two) and similar pending efforts in NYC, the general sense was that revealing such data is a “good thing,” albeit an imperfect thing. 
And similar remarks made testing and assessment blush, particularly on issues like common standards and adequately and fairly measuring student achievement across the nation and around the world.
It is all a subtle shift in rhetoric, but an important one for the school improvement debate.  For about a decade now, we were certain in what we needed to do.  NCLB was perfect (or 99.94% so).  RF was perfect.  SBR was perfect.  AYP was perfect.  And even now, CCSSI is perfect.  But with all of this perfection, we’ve seen little growth in student achievement and little agreement on the paths we should head, the speed we should take, and the ultimate destination we should seek.
So now we are focusing on common sense progress.  What incremental steps can we take?  What promising practices can we follow?  What gets us half of the way forward?  Instead of throwing that Hail Mary we’ve all sought in education for decades, we have made the decided shift to a “three yards and a cloud of dust” approach lately.  (Sorry, Mr. Duncan, they can’t all be basketball metaphors.)
Such a rhetorical adjustment has both its pluses and its negatives.  It is harder for the opposition to remain strong when they aren’t fighting an “all or nothing” approach.  It is more difficult to stand against forward progress, even if it is slow.  But it is also more difficult rally strong support.  For supporters, who wants to go slow or compromise or wait patiently?
Will the education community’s embrace of Voltaire win the day?  The challenge EdSec Duncan and his supporters in the ed space have is a matter of priority.  Championing the good is a fine strategy if we can identity primary and secondary needs at this point.  But with ESEA, a range of funding issues from RttT to SIG, common core standards, revisions to AYP, teacher performance and incentive issues, and a host of other topics, something has to give.  In the pursuit of the good, we have to recognize that even good can be subjective.  We’ll never be perfect, but we still need to determine those one or two issues on which we can be really good this year.

Deliverin’ in the Pelican State

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.

But there is a lot of interesting things happening across Louisiana.  A few years back, Eduflack had the privilege of working with the state department of education, along with educators and business leaders, to strengthen the high school experience, toughen graduation standards, and generally get more Louisiana students career and college ready.  That work, along with similar work done by groups like SREB, is happening across the state.
So it was no surprise to see the latest coming from Louisiana.  In Education Week this week, Louisiana State Supe Paul Pastorek and Sir Michael Barber, the founder of the U.S. Education Delivery Institute, place their flag in the ground to tell us how a “delivery unit” is being used to improve the education system.
I know, the first question is, what the heck is education delivery?  According to the U.S. Education Delivery Institute U.S. Education Delivery Institute, when states are ready to implement a reform agenda, delivery:
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.
Essentially, it is a data-driven GPS for state-based school reform.  Plug in the intended destination (improved literacy rates, boosted high school grad rates, etc.) and the delivery model helps guide you to the destination, while adjusting for the changes you may face on your path.  It isn’t the reform, but it is what keep the reform moving forward.
Barber developed and refined the process “across the pond,” where he headed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit.  But it is still relatively unknown here in the States.  So in their piece, Pastorek and Barber lay out the five key questions they are often confronted when talking about Delivery in Louisiana (after, of course, that introductory question, of “huh?”)
* What are you trying to do?
* How are you trying to do it?
* How will you know at any given moment whether you are on track?
* If you are not on track to achieve your goal, what are you going to do about it?
* The Delivery Unit should always ask the goal leaders and superintendent, “how can we help?
With 11 states ramping up their Race to the Top reform efforts (yes, DC, I’ll count you in the state pile), with other states moving forward with their reform efforts, despite the enticing carrot RttT offers, and with virtually all states trying to figure out how to keep up with the Joneses during these challenging economic times, the Louisiana Delivery model is an interesting concept.  We spend so much time talking about what we should reform, but so little time, if any, talking about how we get to the intended goal.  Could there be a proven model that can guide states and large school districts in a meaningful, productive way?
Pastorek sure seems to think so.  And EDI reports it is also working with Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.  So we’ve got a bunch of RttT winners, the top state in education standards, and a long-time leader in forward-looking school reform.  These folks may actually be on to something.

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.

So when the details of the budget were revealed, Eduflack’s primary response was, “didn’t we just have this discussion last year?”  New rounds of Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation.  A handful of programs eliminated.  A good number of programs “consolidated” into a series of competitive buckets.  So while some of the specific dollars may be a little different (more for RttT this year than last, less for i3), Eduflack comments on the FY2011 budget seem to be fairly evergreen, all things considered. 
Of course, there are a few things that make this year a little different:
* Political realities — For those eagerly waiting to cash checks based on FY2012 presidential projections, please remember we still haven’t passed the FY2011 budget yet.  FY2012 is largely a do-over because FY2011 never became law.  The Administration is to be commended for sticking to its guns and staying with the same policy priorities.  But we can’t forget these priorities couldn’t get passed in a Democratic Congress in 2010.  If the current fight over the FY2011 continuing resolution is any indication, Congress (particularly House Republicans) have a VERY different view of where our education budget should head.  So let’s realize that the President has essentially put forward a “ceiling” for education spending.  The House will drive it down some, and both the House and Senate will swap out some of the president’s programs for their own favorite funding recipients.
* Reauthorization — Much of the “big thinking” in this year’s presidential budget is based on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Based on yesterday’s ED presentation, all those interesting new programs and the continuation of RttT and i3 are all linked to successful ESEA reauth.  What happens, then, if reauth rolls out at House Education Committee John Kline (MN) wants — incrementally?  Or what happens if Dems in the Senate can’t agree on a strategy?  Another year of ED CRs means none of these big ideas are funded.
* Early childhood education — Kudos to the Administration for the creation of the Early Learning Challenge Fund.  The President is now addressing his 2008 campaign pledges about the importance of ECE.  Even more important, he is placing the responsibility for 21st century early learning with the U.S. Department of Education (instead of over in HHS with the Head Start office).  Could it be we may actually see a P-20 education continuum run through Maryland Avenue?  One can only hope.
* Title I Rewards — Perhaps the most intriguing new idea is that of a Title I Rewards program.  And it is interesting because of what we know, and what we still don’t.  Based on yesterday, it seems that ED will provide $300 million in new Title I dollars directly to the states, based on current Title I formulas.  It will then be up to the states to divide that money up among those Title I districts who are demonstrating the most progress in student achievement improvement.  So will dollars go to a select few districts or most?  Are rewards simply the thanks of a grateful nation, or are they to be designated for specific interventions or to scale particular improvements?  Lots of questions, with lots of opportunities.
* Teacher training — Last year, the Administration took a beating for the perception that it was scrapping its commitment to preservice education for teachers, instead handing the keys over to alt cert providers and programs like Teach for America.  This year, the President is offering up $975 million for the recruitment, reward, and retention of new teachers.  We’re looking at recruitment programs, scholarship efforts (particularly those targeting minorities), and an emphasis on science and math teachers.  This seems like an awful lot of real capital to begin supporting the initiative.
And who is getting condolence cards today?  Those 13 programs slated for elimination (including the Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners, which is experiencing another year of life and another $8.8 million under the CR).  The 38 programs targeted for consolidation, while a few are destined for greatness in the competitive grant process (I’m looking at you, TFA), most may go the way of those Whaling Partners.  Career and Technical Education, which seemed to be the big loser, as some well-meaning program had to sacrifice to make this year’s number, and CTE seems to be the recipient of such cuts.  And I’d also put ARPA-ED on the list, simply because after all of the build up it received in the week leading into the budget, the total dollar figure allotted to our very own DARPA seems small by comparison.
Now the fun begins.  Anyone willing to bet more than half the new funding makes it through the House of Representatives this fall?

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.

It is an interesting question, posed among many of similarly interesting points and concerns raised by local school boards across the country.  McNeil also highlights board members’ concerns of issues such as teacher incentives, ELLs and testing, and even ESEA itself.
(Full disclosure, Eduflack is an NSBA member, a delegate to the Virginia School Boards Association, and the Vice Chairman of the Falls Church City (VA) School Board.)
The notion of children competing is tied to the Obama Administration’s efforts to move almost all of our nation’s discretionary education spending into a competitive grant process.  By doing away with many of the federally funded programs local schools have long counted on and using U.S. Department of Education dollars to fund an instructional version of American Idol, the story goes, we are jeopardizing our classrooms and learning processes.  
Forget that federal education spending represents less than 10 cents of every dollar spent on K-12 education.  Forget that most of that federal education money is committed through formula spending programs like Title I.  Forget that too many kids, despite high per-pupil expenditures, are still getting a lousy education.  The real problem right now is that a small portion of federal education money is being given to those who can demonstrate a real plan and who are committed to showing efficacy and impact?
Our communities should be competing for their educations.  If Congress and ED and the state legislatures are effective stewards of taxpayer dollars, they should want to see ROI for their spending and know the money is producing results.  With so much of the federal commitment to K-12 going to formula spending, what is wrong with wanting to see that results and evaluation, along with need, factor into who gets what?
At the end of the day, competitive programs such as those envisioned by ED are intended to serve as test cases for school improvement.  We sprinkle some seed money in a particular district or state, measure the outcomes, and see if such an investment is warranted at a larger scale.  Such an approach — of early adopters, if you will — works in other industries.  What is so wrong by trying new approaches, gathering the data, and they saying if it can work in Indiana (or Massachusetts or South Carolina or Nevada) or it can work in Dallas (or Atlanta or name your urban district) then it can work in a state, a district, or a school like mine?
A little competition is a good thing.  Meaningful competition, where school communities (SEA or LEA) change their behaviors and approaches to trigger changes in the outcomes (student achievement) is an even better thing.  
Our schools already compete for Title I funding.   Districts and states compete with each other on everything from teacher pay to student achievement.  Kids are already competing for a good education.  We should be focusing on turning more kids into winners in the competition, rather than looking to hand out a slew of participant trophies.

SOTU Disappointment

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.

So I was excited to go and watch the tape of the SOTU.  I, too, wanted to feel that bliss.  Unfortunately, I’m just the same old grumpy Eduflack.
I know it isn’t popular, but I’ll say it.  I was disappointed by last night’s SOTU, particularly how it addressed education.  And I say this knowing that teachers loved his embrace of the teaching profession.  Reformers heard lots about the need for reform.  Local controllers heard what they needed.  The higher ed community heard its shout out.  And even the tough-lovers had the parental responsibility lines to hang their hat on.
So why am I disappointed in the speech?
* It was very inside baseball.  One of my greatest frustrations in education policy is we talk about the work to a broad audience as we do to a group of 12 folks who know how to talk the talk.  We all love teacher quality in a general sense, but it has a very specific meaning to an ed reformer, and very broad meaning to a regular parent.  Despite what those of us in the field think, most Americans don’t actually know what Race to the Top or No Child Left Behind actually is.  We say RttT is the greatest ed reform in a generation (which I wholeheartedly disagree with, as, like it or not, NCLB had a much greater impact, both good and bad) or that NCLB needs fixing, and folks will nod their heads in agreement because it is the President and he should know.  But head out to Main Street USA, ask them how RttT is reforming their classrooms, and you’ll get a blank stare.  Inside baseball.
* It was very much just a laundry list.  I realize that we were trying to group everything under the umbrella of competitiveness and economic improvement, but this just didn’t seem strategic.  Essentially, the speech is summarized as follows:  We all need college degrees.  Parents need to get involved.  Schools need to do a better job.  RttT and federal leadership are great.  So is local control.  We need to respect our teachers and be more like South Korea.  Need a job, become a teacher.  Raise expectations.  It is never too late for education.  Education is a gateway to talking about our immigration challenges.  This isn’t a strategic vision for P-20 education (forgetting that ECE was ignored), this is simply a Chinese menu of education issues.
* It was missing a call to action.  In identifying that laundry list of educational priorities, we were missing a true call to action.  The President spoke, very eloquently, about honoring teachers and encouraging kids and getting to (and graduating from) college.  But what was the big ask, reforming NCLB?  We needed more of an education vision so that the average parent, the average teacher, the average mayor, and the average taxpayer understands what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we get there.  What action do I, as a parent and local school board member, take to get us to to this grand vision?  Listening to the speech, it seems my responsibility is to turn off the TV, respect teachers, applaud the science fair (which as a former International Science and Engineering Fair award winner I already do), and believe in the feds to push the right policies.  But I still don’t know how this boosts student achievement or learning.  And I still don’t know how we are measuring these reforms and how we can one day have that “Mission Accomplished” moment.
I don’t mean to be so negative about this, but it is my way.  Last year, when the U.S. Department of Education released its ESEA Blueprint, that provided me the details and the call to action that I’m looking for.  And nearly a decade ago, we certainly saw it in the adoption of NCLB, as we told teachers and parents and business leaders and policymakers what they needed to do to enact the law with fidelity and improve student achievement.  
It is great that President Obama devoted nearly nine and a half minutes to education in this year’s SOTU, more than doubling the air time given to education last year.  But with all of the build up leading into tonight, the promise that education is a key pillar to improving our nation, and the excitement those in the know demonstrated last night, I just wanted more.  I want the rhetoric to connect to real policies.  I want to know how we measure success.  I want education discussed in a way that we can fill football stadiums, and not just cocktail parties, with supporters.  Is that really too much to ask for?

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. 

So as we head into 2011, your friendly neighborhood Eduflack offers up a few “resolutions” for all on the education reform boat to consider as we start a new year.  We need to come to accept the following:
1.  True reform does not happen at the federal level.  The federal government is an important lever in the school improvement process, offering some necessary financial resources and some bully pulpit language to inspire reform.  But true improvement happens at the state and local levels.  It is about what our SEAs and LEAs do with those resources and whether they embrace the call from the bully pulpit.  Just as all politics is local, so too is all education reform.  Why do you think groups like DFER are so keen on launching new statewide efforts, like the new one in California?
2.  ESEA reauthorization really doesn’t matter.  As much as we want to fret about when ESEA is going to be reauthorized and what will and won’t be included, it doesn’t have much impact on the game at hand.  At the end of the day, EdSec Duncan could work from the current NCLB, make a few tweaks, and be just fine for the next few years.  Those thinking a major sea change is coming with reauth will be sadly mistaken.  If we see reauth this year (put at about 60 percent), expect it to simply be a kinder, gentler NCLB.  Nothing more.
3. Education technology matters.  For years now, we’ve placed ed tech in the perifery when it comes to school improvement, trying to define it as simply the adoption of a particular piece of hardware.  Ed tech needs to be at the center of 21st century school improvement.  It is important to instruction and student achievement, teacher quality, and all-around turnaround efforts.  If we are to realize its impact, we need to ensure it is a non-negotiable in the process.
4. We cannot forget about reading instruction.  Nine years ago, Reading First was born, emphasizing the importance of literacy instruction in the elementary grades.  We cannot boost student test scores and we cannot ensure that all kids are college and career ready if everyone isn’t reading at grade level.  RF taught us a great deal on how to teach reading (and how not to advocate it politically).  Building on those lessons, we need to redouble our efforts to get each and every child reading proficient.  And that now includes focusing on middle and high schools, where too many students have fallen between the cracks.
5. Superintendents matter.  Many of our largest and most influential school districts will experience change at the top this coming year.  These new leaders can’t forget that the role of instructional leader is essential to their success.  Shaking things up is good.  Sweeping out the old is fine.  Doing things differently is great.  But at the end of the day, being a superintendent is all about teaching and learning and measurement.  Magazine covers are nice, but rising test scores are far more rewarding.
6. We still need to figure out what teacher quality is.  Is it just student test scores?  Does it include preservice education requirements beyond HQT provisions?  Are their qualitative factors?  Can we accept a “we’ll know it when we see it” definition?  With increased focus continuing to be placed on the topic of teacher quality, we need a true defition and a true measurement to really launch a meaningful discussion.  We’ve spent too much time talking about what it isn’t or what it shouldn’t be.  It is time to determine what it is.
7. Research remains king.  In 2010, we spent a great deal of money on school reforms and improvement ideas.  Most of these dollars were an investment in hope.  Now it is time to verify.  We need to determine what is working and what is not.  We need to know not just that the money is being spent (as ED typically sees evaluation) but instead need to know what it is being spent on and what is showing promise of success.  We need to redouble our investments in evaluation.  Other sectors have made real advances because of investments in R&D.  It is about time for education to do the same.
8. We need to learn how to use social media in education.  It is quite disheartening to see that states like Virginia are exploring banning teachers from using tools like Facebook with their students.  It is also a little frustrating to see that media like Twitter are still being used for one-way communications.  We need to see more engagement and dialogue through our social media.  An example?  How about more Twitter debates like those between @DianeRavitch and @MichaelPetrilli ?
And as we look forward to the new year, some predictions on what is hot and what is not for 2011.
HOT — Accountability (and its flexibility).  Assessments.  International benchmarking.  Rural education.  Alternative certification.  Special education.  Competitive grants.  Local control.  School improvement.  Local elected school boards.  Online education.
NOT —  Charter schools.  Early childhood education.  21st century skills.  STEM.  ELL.  Education schools.  RttT/i3.  Education reform (yeah, you heard me).  Teachers unions.  Mayoral control.  AYP.  Early colleges.  Edujobs.
Happy new year!  

Analyzing the Ed Stimulus’ Impact

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.

For the past year, we’ve heard how Race to the Top has completely changed the game, with states across the union overhauling their policies on data systems, teacher firewalls, charter schools, turnaround schools, and many topics in between.  A new reform era has been ushered in, according to many, leaving status quoers with nothing to show for decades worth of work.
But a new study released today by Bellwether Education Partners and Education First Consulting finds that the stimulus’ impact on education reform may not be as definitive as both cheerleaders and critics may believe.  InConflicting Missions and Unclear Results: Lessons from the Education Stimulus Funds, Bellwether’s Sara Mead and Andy Rotherham and Ed First’s Anand Vaishnav and William Porter lend an analytical eye to whether the $100 billion in ed stimulus cash is having the sea change impact we expected.
Their findings?:
* Stimulus dollars are being used primarily to make up for cuts in state and local budgets, with most of those cuts coming in the HR arena
* Districts are confused by mixed messages from the US Department of Education as to whether stimulus bucks are intended to preserve jobs or advance reform
* ARRA spending is being driven by existing processes and expected inertias in many school districts (instead of by the reform priorities in the stimulus rhetoric)
* In districts that used ARRA dollars in a strategic way, it went more to local leadership, local capacity issues, and local factors, instead of to federal reform priorities
* The edu-problems ARRA intended to solve aren’t going away
For those at the district or building level, such findings should be no surprise.  Stimulus money was primarily for stopping the bleeding, not for inventing new 21st century educational sutures.  So once the money passes from the feds to the states to the localities, those much needs dollars are used for tactical needs, not strategic visions.
What can we learn from these findings?  Bellwether and Education First offer a few insights.  First, federal funds won’t generate reform unless they are attached to clear reform requirements (does Eduflack hear NCLB?  Anybody?).  Competitive grants (like RttT and i3) have the greatest chance of driving reforms.  Formula-based programs, not so much.  Reform plans need to be strategic.  Policymakers need to support strategies that build capacity of all types (data, analytic, research, instructional).    
Most interestingly, Conflicting Missions touts the importance of advocacy in the reform process.  During the NCLB era, we lost this point, believing that the federal stick was enough to force long-term change.  It didn’t work.  In the early days of ARRA, we re-found the importance of advocacy, with the EdSec and other ED officials working hard to reach out to key groups and stakeholders so they understood the problems, what ED was doing to fix those problems, and the expected outcomes we would all reap following the fix.
Heading into ESEA reauthorization, we have lost some of that focus on advocacy.  But history tells us that effective public engagement is the best way to drive real and lasting reforms and improvements.  Erect a big tent and give all stakeholders a voice.  Make the process open and public.  Make clear the problem and the available solutions.  Give stakeholders a choice on such solutions, making clear that ED’s vision is the best for the current situation.  Underpromise and overdeliver on the agreed solutions.  Rinse and repeat.
Yes, Conflicting Missions focuses on ARRA.  But it also offers some real lessons for moving ESEA forward in 2011.  The big question, will anyone listen.
(Full disclosure, Eduflack has provided counsel to Bellwether Education Partners.)



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 …

Win, Place, Show – 9 RttT Observations

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.