How federal rules block innovation

Federal education funding is supporting the status quo, argues a new Center on Reinventing Public Education report, Federal Barriers to Innovation. Authors Raegen Miller and Robin Lake focus on Title I funding for disadvantaged students and  IDEA funding for disabled students.

 The Title I comparability loop hole, for instance, prevents districts from adopting promising new technology–based school models. If a district has a high-poverty school staffed with inexperienced, lower-paid teachers, and an affluent school of the same size staffed with the same number of more experienced, higher-paid teachers, those schools are considered to have comparable staffing levels. The loophole masks the true educational costs of schools, reinforces a traditional compensation system that favors tenure and post-graduate education, and prevents districts from differentiating pay in strategic ways.

IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirement forces districts to keep spending money “without regard for its efficiency or effectiveness.” That blocks innovative teaching methods and technologies.

Instead, IDEA needs a “challenge waiver” system, Miller and Lake write.

Districts could be granted waivers for the 100 percent spending threshold on special education and related services “provided they furnish a coherent, strategic special education plan documenting the rationale for a lower threshold.” Such a system would encourage more data-driven decision-making, while random audits would ensure fidelity of implementation.

In addition, they call for “redirecting Title II funds (an amalgam of funding streams supporting ineffectual professional development and class-size reduction programs)” toward effective new instructional technologies.

Congress: How are colleges cutting costs?

College leaders talked about how they’re cutting costs at House and Senate hearings last week.

Federal higher education funding increased 155 percent over the last decade, yet students are paying more, said House Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican. “If government subsidies aren’t producing more affordable education in the current system, we cannot keep writing bigger checks,” she said.

Let’s make a deal

Now that everyone’s cards are on the table, let’s make a deal on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind), writes Mike Petrilli on Gadfly.

Democrats across and beyond the nation’s capital—in the Administration on Capitol Hill in advocacy groups and in think tanks are up in arms about the ESEA reauthorization proposals released by House GOP leaders on Friday. Or at least they are pretending to be. While they contained a few surprises, the House bills were pretty much as one would expect: significantly to the right of both the Senate Harkin-Enzi bill and the package put forward by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his colleagues.

In the parlance that we’ve been using at Fordham for three years now, the House GOP embodies the views of the Local Controllers, Senator Alexander embraced Reform Realism, and Harkin-Enzi represents a mishmash of ideas from the Army of the Potomac and the System Defenders.

Petrilli suggests a path to a workable — possibly bipartisan — policy.

Bush on No Child Left Behind

Former President George W. Bush is “extremely proud” of No Child Left Behind’s effects he tells Andrew Rotherham on the law’s 10th anniversary.

For the first time, the federal government basically demanded results in return for money. It started by saying, We expect you to measure [student performance]. As a result, there has been a noticeable change in achievement, particularly among minority groups. And I’m proud of that accomplishment and proud of the fact we were able to work with people from both parties to get it done.

The 10th anniversary is “a time to fight off those who would weaken standards or accountability,” Bush adds in the Time interview. People in both parties are trying to weaken accountability, he says. (He seems to be more concerned about small-government Republicans than Democrats.)

Some on the right think there is no role for the federal government [in education]. Some on the left are saying it’s unfair to teachers — basically, union issues. People don’t like to be held to account.

Pouring federal dollars into schools, regardless of results, had to end, writes Rotherham in defense of NCLB.

The increased focus on accountability has produced some benefits. For starters, NCLB has changed educators from arguing about whether to hold schools accountable for performance to arguing about how to do it. That’s no small accomplishment in a field that is notoriously hostile to change and is particularly averse to the concept of consequential accountability. (It’s hard to overstate this; I’ve been in meetings where people have requested that words like “performance” not be used because they consider them offensive terms.) . . .  Elementary and secondary education is a $650 billion annual undertaking, but, until recently, even basic measures of — yes — performance were not routinely taken or analyzed.

The law highlighted achievement gaps and sparked achievement gains or low-income and minority kids, Rotherham writes.

On the flip side, NCLB left most of the major decisions to states and localities, letting “proficiency” be defined down. Many  schools have taken “ineffective or even counterproductive steps in an effort to boost test scores rather than actually teach kids.”

President Bush pumped up federal education spending, but “these dollars were sent through the same pipes and used in much the same way they had been for the previous three decades,” Rotherham concludes.

Ed Week rounds up commentary from the usual suspects.


White House: More racing to the top

Race to the Top will be a model for an updated No Child Left Behind law, says the Education Department, which considers the competitive grants the most successful education reform since sliced bread.  National Journal, unsure exactly what it would mean to have left-behind children racing to the top, asks its education experts what they think about the use of competitive education grants.

Most of the education experts who’ve weighed in so far dislike Race to the Top for its priorities, the competitive process and federal bossiness.

Race to the Top is a terrible precedent for federal funding,” writes Diane Ravitch.

For one reason, it replaces the principle of equity (funding the students with the greatest needs) with the spurious notion of a “race,” with winners and losers. We want a generation of winners, not a few states that reap the rewards of federal funding because they hire slick grant writers.

. . . nothing in the Race to the Top is based on evidence, research, or practice.

Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado and Monty Neill of Fair Test also dis the Race.

Jeanne Allen of Center for Education Reform complains the Race “lost momentum when guidelines regarding teacher accountability and charter schools were diluted to the point of inconsequence.”

One of the rare Race fans, Sandy Kress thinks it’s way too early to tell if it’s going to improve student achievement.

What’s best use of job training money?

Over the next four years, two-year colleges will get $2 billion in federal funds to train “dislocated” workers. What’s the best use of the money?

Also on Community College SpotlightMore community college students are making it to their second year, but retention rates are declining at private four-year colleges.

Does college pay?

Does college pay? Employers pay more for workers with college credentials, writes Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Those sociology graduates working as bartenders and cashiers will move on to better jobs.

Overall, career colleges and professional training programs are booming, while liberal arts programs shrink.

Also on Community College Spotlight:   Two-year colleges will get $2 billion over four years to train “dislocated” workers.

Learning online

On Community College Spotlight:  The Gates Foundation is funding Next Gen Learning.

But a study finds online students do worse than students in traditional classes.

Community colleges are basking in praise for their role as “gateways to success,” but critics wonder: Where’s the money?  President Obama didn’t promise more federal dollars to produce an extra five million community college graduates.

Edujobs: Harmful, not just wasteful

Spending $10 billion on edujobs isn’t just a waste of money, writes Rick Hess. It’s “flat-out bad for K-12 schooling.”

“For more than a half century, we’ve spent more dollars on K-12 schooling each year than we did the year before,” Nobody’s been forced to “reexamine old priorities, to create a leaner culture focused on productivity and performance, and to increase the likelihood that new dollars will be spent smarter.”

In my experience, the majority of districts are careless about deploying talent, undisciplined at the negotiating table, lax about pursuing operational efficiencies, and generally in need of a severe belt-tightening. This is not just about making sure resources are better used. It’s also about the lethargy that takes root in bloated bureaucracies, and how leaner, efficiency-hungry organizations create an environment that attracts and energizes talent.

Two years of education bailouts have subsidized the status quo and made it hard for school leaders to set priorities, Hess argues.

Union leaders will make no concessions on salaries, benefits or pensions if they think the bailout drawer might be open.

If we can’t change now, he argues, we never will.

The Education Department has rushed the edujobs application form, as promised. State can apply now for the money.

When stimulus isn't enough

A little more than a year ago, Congress passed and the President signed the “Stimulus” bill.  At the time, we were told that one of its chief features was to save the jobs of public school teachers.  There was, despite my general feelings of disapproval towards the Stimulus, some sense to doing this.  As I’ve often argued, there’s no “playing catch up” with missed education.  Once a child falls behind, he or she is pretty much screwed, both from a biological perspective (the brain becomes less adaptable as it ages) and on a social basis (our school system and our merit-tracking systems tend towards the chronologically-based).  So if there aren’t any teachers — the scenario that proponents of the stimulus package averred would come to pass in its absence — it’s actually really bad for students.

Now we can argue back and forth about whether the feds actually should (or do) have this sort of authority, whether public school teachers really needed shoring up, and whether states and districts ultimately just needed to learn to tighten their belts and are being led down the garden path by the DoE and Congress.  We can go back and forth all day on those issues.  But it’s clear that the argument for keeping public school teachers in play is (at least as I’ve made it here) a plausible one.

Sometimes, though, when a person get’s a good argument in their head, the argument keeps getting made.  Over, and over, and over.  It’s like in Les Miserables, where Thenardier gets a plausible argument that he’s a hero.  (It’s false, but it’s plausible.)  The guy’s entire life becomes about leveraging that story over and over again for everything it’s worth.

I wonder…. how many more times are we going to see the feds saving state jobs in education?

The Obama administration on Thursday threw its support behind a $23 billion measure intended to avert large-scale teacher layoffs, urging Congress to include the effort in a spending bill lawmakers are drafting to fund wartime costs and other urgent needs.

“We are gravely concerned that ongoing state and local budget challenges are threatening hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs for the upcoming school year,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Duncan added: “These budget cuts would also undermine the groundbreaking reform efforts under way in states and districts all across the country.”

It’s for the children.  At least that’s what we can keep telling ourselves.