Future of Education Regulation: Close the gap between educators and policymakers

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a hearing with the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce entitled “Education Regulations: Weighing the Burden on Schools and Students.” We heard four testimonies from k-12 representatives and higher education representatives.

There were several recommendations given to the House Committee by the panel. The discussion included the following ideas and recommendations:

Flexibility

There are several regulations that prevent movement and flexibility. This issue is particular to higher education institutions. While the government has been keen on allowing universities to practice some autonomy, this idea conflicts with some regulations in ESEA, like the credit hour regulations that limits the ability to have collaboration in some areas. The worry is that some regulations limit the ability to innovate and create a well-rounded academic life.

The recommendation is to look closely at those rules (as given at length to the House) to make sure that there is still an amount of autonomy for universities to teach what they need to teach in the way they need to teach. The panel was confident that if there was a generalized plan instead of a detailed plan, flexibility would increase and the schools would still be able to meet the necessary criteria for successfully performing schools.

Reporting Requirements

The reporting requirements for k-12 are often redundant. Where one agency is asking for one requirement, another agency is asking for the same. Most times these separate agencies require different reporting mechanisms, creating more of a burden for teachers and administrators. The panel said this is not just something the federal government has imposed, but is also something that the state and local school districts impose. The recommendation is to look very carefully at these varying policy networks and to streamline regulations from both state and federal government agencies.

Data Gathering

There was a huge discussion about data gathering techniques and what data should be used to prove. It was agreed that the era of education has changed since the last reauthorization in the early 90s. The panel discussed that gathering data over the last decade has run its course. It has given institutions and government what they need to move forward. However, the time has come to transition from information based data gathering systems and move to more performance and outcome data gathering systems.

All in all opportunities for students in education is better, high school graduation rates are better, college attendance is better. However, the question becomes even if our schools are doing better nationally, how are they comparing against other countries?

Another issue about data is HOW agencies are collecting data. As mentioned before, different agencies require the same data in different forms. To follow up on the data collection process, the question was asked why there seemed to be a huge disconnect in gathering data. It was asked why data collectors couldn’t come up with a process that was simple by using the example that McDonald’s has a data system that determines how many burgers are made, which stores are selling the most burgers, what dollar amount selling these burger, etc., and why education systems can’t gather data in a similar fashion. The panel provided the answer that there is not a common definition on certain issues, like teacher quality, effective teachers, student achievement, etc. Where McDonald’s knows what a burger is, the issues of what results are demanded in education are often extremely complex and based around dozens of different variables.

It was recommended that data decisions need to be made by: 1. practitioners that provide the data, and 2. regulators that determine what data they want and what outcomes they are expecting. It is also important to realize that data may depend on what the issues are in separate school districts. The main conversation revolved around looking at the process by which data is collected and reported in order to create similar deliverables. It was recommended that there be a centralized process on delivering and driving data collection.

Changes to ESEA

The panel was asked to make brief comments on what major changes they want to see happen with ESEA.

  1. Growth model approach: they want each state to have the ability to adjust as they grow without being regulated or penalized for making certain changes.
  2. Teacher Quality and Resources: they want to research and implement appropriate data gathering systems that determine effective teaching. It was also mentioned that a lot of teachers are demanding the necessary resources and curriculum so they can better meet demands of state and federal regulations. The thought is if they are receiving policy guidelines indicating what outcomes are needed in the classroom, they should also be given information to help them drive those achievement levels. They also feel the reporting systems take too much classroom time.
  3. Money: states need to balance the money between the district. The panel felt that certain regulations prevented an equal distribution of money to teachers and districts. This was a huge disparity that many felt needed to be fixed in public education as a whole. The panel also felt that the federal government needs to refine and particularize rural and urban poverty planning for school districts. Some felt that federal dollars are going to the wrong place, particularly where is isn’t needed. The recommendation is to solidify meetings between state representatives and superintendents/administrators to discuss this disparity and negotiate where these dollars will be more effective.

Other Issues

Some other issues I found fascinating were:

  1. Hearing from practitioners is KEY during the evaluation and implementation process of any regulation. Read my paper on Challenges of Implementation. Everything is case by case and it would be wise for USed people to speak with educators and CLOSE THE GAP between these players in order to meet the demands of education and come up with processes that work. I think this revelation is huge and needed to be heard.
  2. Race to the Top has changed the education agenda for the United States. It has created a more dynamic and competitive environment. However, it is important to realize that this is not the ‘silver bullet’ that there are still several issues that cannot be resolved by one call to action. There is also the realization that if laws aren’t passed that the status quo tends to rue the day.
  3. It was asked what the federal government needs to invest in. Most agree that discussion about pell grants need to be brought back to the drawing board. There is also a huge concern placed on pre-school and pre-k development funding. The panel concluded that early childhood development is also key in moving forward. It was said, “Now that we know what we know about the success of pre-k development, we cannot afford to eliminate it.”

The hearing provided the House with critical information from varying constituencies, igniting the fire to look at regulations and requirements imposed on states. In the end, the panel agreed that the effort of the federal government should be to work with states on education policy and create opportunities for feedback.

You can read more about the hearing on the Education and the Workforce Committee website.