Flexibility, Budget And Otherwise

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the House Budget Committee broke last summer’s budget deal by eliminating the automatic sequestration and cutting non-defense discretionary spending while sparing defense spending.  The inclusion of the defense cuts in the original package always seemed like the thing that would trigger its unraveling, especially because this package seems unlikely to become law absent a more balanced – read fewer cuts all around – approach.

Also, when OMB asked for ideas and comments about how to reduce the regulatory burden for federal grant recipients they received more than 350 comments.  But an informed source says fewer than 10 were from K-12 groups.  Another datapoint about just how big of an issue flexibility really is, as this report on NCLB flexibility asks.

Tell Us What You Think

Bellwether’s third fiscal year is coming to a close soon and we’re doing some strategic planning as we look toward the future and think about our growth.  In addition to a survey we’ve sent to many people in the field we’re hoping for a shorter – just a few minutes – response from blog readers about your take on the needs of the sector.  You can fill out the survey here, it’s anonymous, and we’re grateful in advance for your time and thoughts.  The survey will be open for one week.

Conjuring Romney And Let’s Go To The Videotape?!

In the American Spectator RiShawn Biddle argues that Romney largely will continue the education policies of Bush and Obama – mainly because he has some moderates advising him and once was a moderate on the issue. But as a rule it’s always risky to conflate the policy apparatus of a presidential campaign with its political imperatives. So Biddle’s analysis would be more convincing (a) if many of these advisers were not privately saying that the politics of education are tough on the Republican side (b) if the candidate himself – who does seem prone to change his positions on this stuff – was not saying he’s going to pursue a more conservative federal role in education and (c) if we ignore that were he to win Romney would almost certainly be dealing with conservatives in Congress not favorably disposed to a strong federal role in education and eager to undo some Obama (and Bush) era policies and, of course, (d) if Biddle’s best evidence of Romney’s moderate education credentials were richer than supporting the D.C. voucher program and some pro-reform speeches from 2003. And of course President Bush himself hinted disapprovingly at what the Republican candidates were up to himself.  My take on current state of presidential education politics via TIME here.

In The Times Michael Winerip takes a look at resistance to a new teacher licensing system based on video that’s being jointly developed by Stanford and Pearson. It’s one of a few efforts to use video currently underway. As to the resistors, let’s just stipulate that when you think Stanford’s Graduate School of Education is too reformist, well…anyway…

Winerip seems most concerned that this new idea will lead to outsourcing and “corporatization” and denigrate teachers.  Perhaps, but teachers have to pass licensing tests now.  Absent subject matter tests for secondary teachers they’re mostly low-level and most people from the educational left to the educational right think a higher-bar would help elevate the profession – it’s one of the few points of pretty widespread agreement in today’s education debate. And probably worth nothing that today’s licensing tests are also developed and administered by the private and non-profit sector and then paid for by candidates and used by states.  It’s, well, outsourcing. Or, in other words, this is how it works today.  The only difference in this case is the technology.

A more serious objection might be the cost-effectiveness of this video approach relative to better hiring and human resources practices at the school level.  Rather than sparing people from making decisions should we be investing in capacity to make those decisions? And once there is more data a key question will be what the predictive leverage of this approach is relative to other – cheaper – licensing tests now in use? A second, related, issue is that for all the talk about value-added scores bouncing around it’s observations that are really noisy right now and have big reliability issues. The way to address that is more observations but that’s costly.

More generally, the idea of more observational protocols is obviously a good one.  It’s still entirely possible to get hired for a teaching job without anyone in the place where you are teaching having actually seen you teach. And the majority of teachers do not teach in subjects or grades where standardized tests are used, so other approaches are needed even if you think value-added data are useful.  But as with all things evaluation you can’t just go from zero to 60. In this case there is still a lot of work to be done to figure out how to norm the evaluators for greater consistency and more generally around how to most effectively use video. The Gates Foundation MET project is one important piece of that work (and is about to produce a large library of live teaching video for public use, the privacy issues are not the three ring circus they’re made out to be in this column). Other fields – particularly athletics of all things – are further ahead on using video in different ways. It’s an area where some innovation could lead to new ideas and methods.

Finally, higher-bar or no higher-bar, a big part of the problem here is the lack of accountability for schools of education (I say that as a board member of two of them – UVA and HGSE – and a former state official). Another area of broad-agreement in today’s education debates is that the country’s education schools need to step up their game, in many cases dramatically. How to do that and the politics of doing it are the flash points. That’s an issue of better policy, not better video.

Note – I’ve done a very small amount of consulting indirectly for Pearson and unrelated to this work.  Gates is a funder of BW.

This Week’s TIME – Pineapplegate. Not As Bad As You Think – And Worse

In this week’s TIME column I take a look at PineappleGate.  In case you’ve been under a rock that’s the saga in New York over a question on the state’s ELA test. I trace the saga from the incorrect passage first published by the NY Daily News to the larger implications for our conversation about testing. The column includes an exclusive comment from Pearson – a deviation from their usual policy of not commenting on these issues – as well as a leaked memo outlining the background and use of the question.

When the New York Daily News posted an article about an Aesop-inspired fable that appeared on the standardized test eighth graders in New York state had to take last month — about a pineapple challenging a hare to a foot race through the forest — all hell broke loose because the passage was so poorly written and the questions about it so incomprehensible. The fable described several animals assuming that the pineapple must have a trick up its sleeve that would enable the immobile fruit to win the race, and when they discovered that it didn’t, they ate it. Test-takers were asked: Why did they eat the pineapple? The correct answer: because the animals were annoyed. And who was the wisest of the animals? An owl that was never mentioned in the passage. Anti-testing activists responded with fury that this set of questions showed why standardized testing is worthless. New York officials quickly turned tail and tossed out the pineapple passage, declaring that they would not count it on this year’s test and would not use it in the future.

There was just one problem: much of the uproar was based on bad information…

The questions following the pineapple/hare passage were multiple choice – in this case there is just one option: Click here to read the rest of the column.

Update:  More on the memo and Pearson’s response via NYT.

EduCycling And EduRunning – For A Cause


In August Bill Phillips of NYCSA and I are riding the Pan Mass Challenge to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  We’ll ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown in Massachusetts.

Cancer touches all of us in various ways and impacts loved ones and colleagues.  If you’re interested in supporting our efforts – 100 percent of rider-raised revenue goes directly to Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund – then you can learn more and donate to my ride via this link and to Bill’s ride via this link.  Contributions are 100 percent tax deductible.

If cycling is not your thing you can run the NYC Marathon for LinkEd.  Last year several Eduwonk readers joined their team and you can, too.