SIIA Ed Tech Government Forum 2013
By definition, virtually all US public education is funded and controlled through federal, state, and local governments. The SIIA ETGF, just held April 9-10 in Washington, DC is a chance to hear from federal and state education policy wonks what is likely to happen over the next year or two.
At this year’s conference, there were six themes:
- What is the federal funding environment
- What is the funding environment at the states
- What is happening with Common Core
- What is happening with the Common Assessment
- What about Federal Education policy and the waivers
- What is the outlook in higher education
Don’t look for much. It seems that the department of education is going to allow states to reserve up to 15% of last year’s money to go into next year, as a way to soften the blow of sequestration. There do not seem to be any looming events that will force the government to come to a budget compromise, so look for sequestration to continue for at least the next 6 months, with federal education funds being cut 5-7%. Since these are the funds that are often used to purchase content, the impact on the publishing industry will be overweighted.
State revenues are back up to where they were in 2007. Normally, this would be good for education, except the cost of Medicaid, which is mandated, has been growing by 5% a year. This is squeezing education spending. In general, expect some small increases in state funding of education (for the first time in five years) but a lot of that will be paying for increased pension and salary costs.
Common Core State Standards
Depending on how you phrase questions, states and schools are either totally unprepared or virtually completely ready. Teachers will often say that they already teach higher level skills according to the common core. Yet, when you talk to teachers about evaluation, they often respond by saying that neither they nor the students have been getting support to prepare them for the standards.
Educators will say that they currently have to cover so many topics that they cannot afford to go deeply into any one, so they are looking forward to the narrower by deeper focus of the Common Core. But they will also respond that if the new curriculum skips any areas that they currently teach, they will find a way to still cover it.
Practically, we will not fully know the effect of the Common Core until schools have to start administering the common assessments.
These are due to be required for the 2014-15 school year. On the technical side, schools don’t have enough computers or bandwidth to deliver the tests. To get the money to invest in that technology, they’ll have to take the funds from some other area, because no additional money is going to be available.
Just as large an issue is that students will be scoring about 30-40% lower on these assessments as they have been on most state tests. How will states and communities cope with the fact that, while they showed 70-80% proficiency for students in 2013-14, they will be reporting 30-40% proficiency the following year? How will that affect teacher evaluation? Will states start backing away from the Common Core?
Helping states and districts cope with these issues is a tremendous opportunity.
Education Policy and Waivers
NCLB expired in 2007. Nothing has replaced it, so there have been resolutions to keep it in place even though both parties see major flaws in the act.
This has allowed the Obama administration to determine that they can, by executive decree, change certain aspects of the law. So they have been granting waivers to most states from the most penurious effects of the law in return for support on adopting “rigorous standards”, big data, charter schools, and teacher evaluation.
Three of the problems about this approach surfaced during the conference. One, instead of a national policy, there are negotiated policies with each state, and often negotiated and renogotiated by mid-level employees of the Dept of Ed who move in and out of their positions. Two, these waivers only last two years, so they have to be renegotiated often. Three, what happens when the next administration has different ideas about what should be negotiated or if some court rules the the administration does not have the authority to provide waivers to the law?
This is causing a good deal of uncertainty and potential discontinuity.
Higher Education often leads K12 by about five years. The massive online courses (MOOCs) have a real potential to disrupt higher education as we know it, especially if someone can come up with a sustainable model. They also open up a huge opportunity for independent assessment of proficiency.
The Ed Tech Government Forum is the best way I know of to find out about state and federal policy and funding directions in both K12 and Higher Education.