Deafening Silences

Two recent policy happenings are noteworthy as much for what happened as for what didn’t:

Silence of the lambs: Upward Bound is an important program and expanding access to higher education for currently underserved populations is an important policy goal. But, Upward Bound should be subject to the same standards of evaluation as any other program precisely because it’s important and needs to be as effective as possible. Yet Congress has inserted itself into the research process by basically dictating a method to evaluate the program to ensure favorable results and guard against findings that might show the program needs to improve. Where is the outrage from the research and knowledge community? It’s all in private because they don’t want to stick their necks out on this one so aside from a squib in AERA’s newsletter, mostly silence. The advocates aren’t that scary and this is an awful precedent for research and evaluation.

Silence of the clams: Despite the raging debate about whether schools should be held accountable for helping to close the achievement gap absent improvements in other social services, it’s hard not to miss that the mainline establishment education organizations have put a lot more effort into taking the teeth out of No Child Left Behind than overriding the President’s opposition to expanding access to health care for children via SCHIP. And, it’s hard not to conclude that some Republican votes against the SCHIP program might change if faced with the intense pressure that has been put on members of Congress about No Child Reauthorization. Here’s a real chance to address out of school issues and provide a vital service for kids and yet the usual suspects have mostly clammed-up. Priorities? Telling.

4 Replies to “Deafening Silences”

  1. Thanks so much for giving attention to the Upward Bound evaluation issue. Our advocacy group was deeply concerned about the language in the bill as well as the Senate floor statements. Congress should be promoting rigorous high quality research and not injecting itself into the research process. This case illustrates why sound knowledge policy in education should be a priority for all ed groups not just the research crowd. We should all aim for high quality, useable and appropriate research to help all children achieve.

  2. Andrew,

    How’s this for a deal? We “take the teeth out” of the out-put-driven component of NCLB accountability. We adopt a traditional input-driven accountability, comparable to the system for SChip. Then we set priorities that have real potential for big benefits to poor children i.e. improved access to health care, nutrition, physical and mental health, etc. Then we return to the prime purpose of federal education aid – assisting low income students.

    I realize you don’t want to given up on output measurements but I suspect you must be realizing that society is not ready for it. Come back in a generation and maybe we can all join you on that.

    But your basic point is right. Our priority should be children, not defeating fellow liberals.

    You don’t WANT to back off from data-driven output accountability, but I hope you understand why we believe that we CAN’T back off from opposing it. I hope you realize that for many of us, it is not an issue of protecting special interests. It is an issue of protecting our values that our deep in our soul. I’m not saying you have to agree. But I hope you realize why we have to make resistance to NCLB as a priority, and if you do we ought to be able to make an alliance that can produce real results for kids.

    John Thompson

  3. Are you talking about visible or total efforts? I think I received as many ‘call your Congresscritter’ requests about SCHIP (or reasonably close) as I have about NCLB… from the national and state affiliates of my faculty union (i.e., teachers unions). And there’s been a reasonable amount of news coverage, though not for the same length of time as for NCLB.

    I think you have a better point about Upward Bound, but there’s a time-scale issue with your complaint: since AERA is a lumbering more than a nimble organization, it would have been fairly difficult for it to take a stand specifically on that as the issue came up in less than the 9-12 months I’ve seen for AERA to move on an issue. I don’t remember when the politics of Upward Bound’s evaluation came up, but it’s something to consider.

    For what it’s worth, there’s a long history of contracted organizations being insulated from evaluations. This is true for some of the TREO programs but even moreso with the regional labs (see some of Maris Vinovskis’s work for the most scholarly criticism along those lines), and even with research programs that are consolidated in national centers. There’s plenty of stuff in the interstices of USDOE, and everyone’s to blame for looking the other way on that.

  4. Come on now. It is ridiculous to assert that education organizations are somehow culpable for SCHIP’s failure. Of course children’s health is related to their success in school, but so is a number of other factors. Under your proposal, education groups should be lobbying for an expansion of president Bush’s policy to offset the mortgage crisis so fewer children will be displaced. Education groups are just that, and their agendas are set out for them by their members. These members don’t join educator unions or groups to weigh in on health care policy. There are ample associations and groups whose purposes are to engage elected officials regarding health care issues, and I would venture to say that many members of educator groups are probably active in these associations as well.
    I don’t know if you had a bad day, but you are really reaching here.

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