An Interview with KC Deane and Allison Kimmel: What’s Next for Education

Dec 6, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)      First of all, you have recently released a white paper on Education. How did this come about and what role did each of you play?

The development of this outlook was most certainly a team effort. While all of us absolutely love education policy, we’re interested in different facets. For instance, I love state government and I was eager to write the section on state-level initiatives. After working independently, we came together to discuss what we’d found. Through this discussion we discovered the numerous threads that became the foundation of our outlook.

2)      Now that the President has been re-elected, do you see any major change in his policies- or are we going to get “more of the same”?

More of the same is one way to look at it—from another angle, it’s follow-through. By spending his first term building big-picture policies that seek to shape significant portions of federal (and state) policy, Obama and the Department of Education must now figure out what it takes to deliver. There won’t be another stimulus-funded Race to the Top, but we will continue to see the impact of the previous term’s Race to the Top awards as states work to implement their ambitious proposals.

3)      Apparently we are facing a “fiscal cliff” and some turmoil in the Far East. Will these things take precedence over educational issues?

Congress and the White House have a lot coming up in the next few months. Now, it’s the fiscal cliff. Come January, the Administration will turn to the shuffling of Obama’s cabinet. Education is a consistent issue; it always matters, but it’s rarely viewed as a critical emergency. A few times a year, the news cycle picks up on relevant items—the release of yearly NAEP scores, for instance. With the second term likely to focus more on implementation than new idea-building, I suspect the work that goes on at the Department will be inward-facing.

4)      Will “No Child Left Behind” be left behind, in lieu of “Common Core”?

Allie Kimmel: The Common Core certainly won’t replace No Child Left Behind, but the two have been linked in interesting ways. The Common Core is a state-led initiative to adopt common standards in math and English language arts (though some may argue the federal government intervened too aggressively by incentivizing it through Race to the Top and in its ESEA waivers). Thirty-four states have currently been approved for flexibility from No Child Left Behind through the Department’s waiver policy. While many of these states adopted the Common Core in their waivers, some, like Virginia, did not and were still approved for flexibility.

As states confront the challenges of implementing the Common Core in the coming years, we may see some default on waiver promises. But otherwise, these are largely separate issues.

5)      While I do not have data in front of me I often hear about the tremendous growth in charter schools and home schooling. Will this pattern continue?

Regarding charter schools: almost certainly. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of charter schools in the U.S. grew by 7% each year. With Georgia’s law changes, and with the new passage in Washington (which will allow 40 charter schools), we know that charter schools are rapidly becoming a commonly-accepted element of school reform. This growth rate is likely to remain at or above the 7% level for years to come (Source: NAPCS Dashboard).

Regarding homeschooling: NCES estimates that there were roughly 800,000 in 1999 and 1.5 million in 2007.

6)      Kids with special needs- medical, psychological, educational—what do you see on the horizon? More inclusion? Or higher dropout rates?

Our outlook doesn’t address this question.

7)      Will Arne Duncan be given “free rein” or will fiscal constraints rule the day?

Federal funding for education is certainly in for tough times ahead. Without the stimulus dollars that funded many of the more “reform-minded” Obama administration initiatives (including Race to the Top and i3), Duncan will be tasked with managing the less “sexy” department activities. These include handing out and managing formula grants, and making sure that states follow through on their ambitious Race to the Top and ESEA waiver proposals.

8)      What do you see as the most important things that really need to be addressed in the next four years?

The union relationship more generally is likely to shift in the next four years. As we discuss in the outlook, unions have not historically had to fight significant battles. Just this November, unions had to combat state initiatives in numerous states that would have significantly impacted their bottom line:  merit-based pay, collective bargaining, and charter schooling.

ESEA reauthorization: Given that the law has been overdue for reauthorization for 5 years, it’s time for Congress to put this on the agenda. NCLB’s crude metrics are far past their time, and most argue that the new iteration should take into account student growth, instead of raw proficiency targets.

Public sector pension reform: States are likely to see more and more edu-dollars swallowed up by their retired teachers, and will need to make tough decisions concerning this tradeoff.

9)      STEM—anything on the horizon for enhancement here?

Plenty of state-level initiatives to kick-start more activity toward STEM.

10)   What have I neglected to ask?

With Race to the Top and Common Core, it’s easy to focus predominantly on K-12. Even so, much of the last year was spent navigating changes to higher education policies. At the federal level, the changes to Pell grant amounts and Stafford loan interest rates impact how we fund higher education, and how much debt we ask our students to carry after graduation (if they graduate). In our haste to alleviate high tuition and overwhelming debt for the current generation of students, we are making it harder to enact systemic changes in how we fund higher education. The same goes for state-level policies. Colleges and universities are often vocal in their dissatisfaction with shrinking state appropriations, blaming these declines as the cause of tuition hikes. (For instance, Virginia state colleges and universities recently asked for an additional $12 million to deter tuition hikes.***) Those most invested in reforming higher education, however, argue that we ought to focus our energies on decreasing how much it costs to educate a student in college rather than merely inject more money into the system. A great example of state leaders who are taking the reins on this issue are Governors Rick Perry (TX), Scott Walker (WI), and Rick Scott (FL), all of whom are pushing their states’ universities to design a $10,000 bachelors degree.

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