Friday, December 5, 2008

I Want to Help

To Whom It May Concern:

You won’t believe the things I’ve seen. My ‘little’ in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program has parents that left him because of jail or drugs and a grandmother that has abandoned him. He gets suspended and sent home (to his wonderful 80-year-old great-grandmother) if so much as his peer next to him curses. Strength, resolve and hope have never been better displayed in a person—and he’s now repeating the 6th grade. Students from the wrong areas that visit the museum I work at walk in with holes in their shoes and are teased by their fellow students that are really no better off. Again and again, there are the grim signs of hardship breeding apathy among the most needing students. I need your help.

It’s been my only vocational ambition to close the educational gap. I’ll give anything and everything I have to do it right. Here’s how I have failed thus far. I have yet to secure an inner-city teaching post as I refuse to subject myself to the process of substitute teaching to earn my spot as a full-time teacher. I have also made the mistake of becoming a History teacher with no paid, in-school experience. I would teach Science or Math if I had greater enthusiasm for the subjects or could afford to go back to earn either of those undergraduate degrees. Now my license is expiring because I haven’t found a teaching post and then taken the PRAXIS III test to earn my 5 year license. I have fought this, but I’m now willing to accept that I’m being pushed out of this part of the system. But I can’t sit on the sidelines and watch these students’ potential decay. I want to get back in the game.

As well as a Social Studies teacher, I’ve taken on loans to move forward as a graduate student of Public Administration. I can teach, assist in governmental delivery of educational services, or both. Do you know of anywhere that could use me? I’ve only found closed doors so far. I’m willing to put everything on the line and start my own non-profit to tutor failing students one-on-one and organize others to do the same—but I don’t know if there’s state of federal funding for such a small-scale endeavor.  Is there a place for me to find an engaging career in education reform? 

Sincerely,

Dan Adiletta

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Burns and Stalker

It is important to remember that the spectrum of organizations from mechanistic to organic organizations is one model of structuralist thought. Burns and Stalker's analysis doesn't work for everything.

The appropriate model depends on the environment. If, however, these examples do fit within the context, then they provide some practical concepts. For example, the mechanistic system thrives with a division of labor. Jobs should be well understood and protocol in place to run a smooth process. This means role ambiguity and role conflict need to be minimized. 
With organic organizations, the fluidity in the organization's process is enabled through the staff's "commitment to the concern's task," (Shafritz, 199). This means that employees' perception of the organization's cause must be understood lest the lateral nature of the structure blind administrators from seeing a weak spot. Accountability seems harder to maintain without specified job responsibilities. Steps must be therefore taken to insure consistency in a constantly shifting structure. 
Burns and Stalker's models offer such principles that, when applicable to the situation, serve has a guide. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Old and Modern Structuralists

I think the central divide between the "old" and the "modern" structural theories is World War II. The time that they wrote is the primary difference. Both generations of theories involve building a structure that best fits the enviornment. And though over time the enviornment has changed, the central theme has remained the same: "organizational efficiency is the essence of organizational rationality, and the goal of rationality is to increase the production of wealth in terms of real goods and services," (Shafritz, 193).

But to make sure I've hit all the key points, some of the enviornmental changes that have led to new theory is the rapid evolution of technology. With such a fluid enviornment, organic structures have proven capible of facilitating the necessary rapid adaptions. I would also add that a post-WWII emphasis on social equality has added a new layer of oversight into the basic structure.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama Era Begins

As I am determined to keep the content of this blog focused on the study of Public Administration, I will react only to the 2008 election's implications on motivation. The drive to serve is overwhelming. The enthusiasm I have for my studies has doubled. I'm counting the days until I graduate and can totally commit my humble talents to bettering this country through civic service.
I hope there is place in the public sector that can use me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

EMPA 302: Final Paper

From the initial public demand to the ongoing debate of Pell Grants, this program, an addition to the Higher Education Act, shows an eclectic range of policy elements. The money used to help financially strained students afford a college education has met, and continues to meet, fierce controversy. The ability for this policy to weather constant scrutiny throughout the process is a tribute to the public and political factors that support it so diligently. Examining these factors reveals much about the workings of government, and evaluating the policy’s implementation and its effects raises critical questions for the future of this admirable program.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 was initially the continuation of the National Defense Education Act of 1958, (Rudy 87). It had two goals. The first was “to upgrade education in mathematics and the natural sciences. The second goal, which was specified in Title VI of the legislation, was to improve training in foreign languages,” (Rudy 87). In 1972, a Democratic-controlled Congress addressed the reauthorization. Senator Pell led the fight against President Nixon’s opposition to direct aid of tuition and “basic grants” were amended into the bill, (Rudy 121). Today, these “basic grants” are now known as Pell Grants and award up to $4,731 per year to needy students as determined by the results of their Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, (Ed.gov).
More >

Sunday, October 19, 2008

EMPA 300: Final Paper

The Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) is Cleveland’s oldest cultural institution (Our Story). Founded in 1867 in large part as a reaction to the dramatic events of the Civil War, WRHS has become one of the largest regional historical societies in the world. But the organization is currently in a phase of steady transition since “the nonprofit sector has been under greater pressure to improve,” (Denhardt 372). To appeal to rising standards of performance and efficiency, the organizational structure and managerial approach is slowly evolving. While still in need of further adaptations to better perform in today’s governmental and cultural climate, the Western Reserve Historical Society has made admirable improvements and appears to be continuing to do so.
More >

Saturday, October 11, 2008

NCLB Performance Measures

Public education affects students’ lives in many ways. No Child Left Behind uses certain performance measures (Smith, 10) to gauge the output of a specific scope of a school’s total impact. Though it is an understandable sacrifice to make, the limitation of measurement criteria has several unintended repercussions.

“3. Are the evaluation methods appropriate for the audience?
4. What kind of evaluation is desired?
7. What kinds of data are necessary for the evaluation?” (Gerston, 132)

Above are three of the ten key questions Gerston summarized for policy evaluators. These criteria need to be readdressed in NCLB reform. The data used to form an evaluation of a program represents the goals of that program (Smith, 2). Public schools have a great deal of responsibility and I would argue that its goals shouldn’t be restricted to the simple assessments of (1) attendance, (2) performance on standardized tests, and (3) graduation rates, (Ohio Department of Education).

The problem escalates as three criteria listed above are used as mechanisms of ‘control’ (Smith, 4). “Outcome measures as instruments of control may lead to unintended and possibly dysfunctional consequences,” (Smith, 17). As schools continue to shape policies focused on a limited criteria of success, desperately needed attention in other matters is moved farther from the agenda.

Before solutions are offered to the limited scope in performance measures and lack of comprehensive outcome analysis within NCLB, the reasons and benefits for the current approach should be mentioned. Before NCLB there were few internal evaluators (Gerston, p. 124) within public education. With limited accountability an assessment of the system was far harder to obtain. And with compartmentalized policy execution it was harder to make broad reforms. Any process evaluation (Gerston, 126) of education policy today would find enormous improvements of our education reform. Meaning, the impact on students’ school experience from legislation has been streamlined as a direct result of NCLB. This makes for a policy window (Gerston, 23) of enormous proportions with the next presidential administration.

A superficial gauge of a student’s short-term memory on a high-stakes test is a poor evaluation of a student. I believe an optimal way of evaluating students is through a Complete Student Profile (CSP). While standardized testing would still remain the core of evaluations (as the content it assesses is critical), the academic curiosity, engagement, appreciation, and outside support of a student ought to be quantitatively measured. As “outcome measurement can never be ‘objective’” (Smith, 7) it is important to include as much information as possible within the pool of chosen ‘stakeholders,’ (Smith 6). The CSP would use surveys to measure students, parents and teachers’ satisfaction (Smith, 11) with their school. It could measure the hours the student engages in extracurricular activities. Many schools already have a reward system for students who read library books. This practice should be standardized and the data used as another performance measure.

Measuring a few outputs rather than the outcome (Smith, 1) can relegate critical tasks to secondary priorities as seen with No Child Left Behind.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

School Vouchers: Implementation

School vouchers have failed on a national level thus far because:
- Many have not been convinced that the concept is “based on a sound theory relating changes in target group behavior to the achievement of the desired end-state,” (Sabatier, 382)
- The policy has always lacked “unambiguous policy directives,” (382)
- The concept is not sufficiently “supported by organized constituency groups,” (382)

Vouchers are clearly a redistributive policy as it benefits “sectors of society who get more from government than they put in,” (Gerston, 103). Thus if the policy is to reemerge on a national level, it will need to be very specific with its intentions (Gerston, 104) and holding minimal ‘bureaucratic discretion’ (Gerston, 109). Clear statutory objectives are necessary not just “because of partisan importance,” but also to avoid a very clear danger with school vouchers.

School vouchers are often opposed because they are thought to deprive funds and students from struggling schools. Why should only some students be able to escape a failing public school—shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the government to fix the school and not provide a couple life-rafts? In order to move forward the goals of its implementation need to “ensure that they have the effects that designers of these policies seek,” (Birkland, 181). That is to say that the school vouchers offer relief to struggling schools, not a cold shoulder. This will not be an easy thing to communicate. “Perhaps the most problematic feature of top-down models is the emphasis on clear objective or goals,” (Birkland, 183).

The difficulty mounts, because not only does the policy need to be specific, but it must also be simple in order to be successful, (Gerston 108). One way to successfully implement school vouchers is to set up a strong, national fund accessible to struggling schools with the boilerplate condition (Gerston, 107) that the school allows parents to switch to any other nearby school. This way, schools will not lose much-needed financial support in participating with the voucher program.

Though funding and oversight will come from a national level, the implementation of the program should be handled locally. This way less control needs to be taken away from local school districts that “are often loath to surrender their power and prerogatives to distant agencies headquartered in Washington,” (Birkland, 184).

No matter the efforts made to clarify the intention and implementation, there will be significant resistance. “Most positions within any governmental agency are occupied by career civil servants who are often resistant to changes in existing procedures and programs and only moderately susceptible to the sanctions and inducements available to political appointees,” (Sabatier, 385). One way to ease this resistance is to make participation in the program optional as “the greater the mandated change, the more opposed the target groups,” (Sabatier, 383).

Whether the program is successful or not, it is not likely to survive long-term. On principle alone, school vouchers are a stop-gap measure to provide temporary relief to students in a troubled school. If it works than the need will dissipate. If the program does not result in improvement within student performance in the area, then faith in the program will diminish. “It is absolutely crucial to maintain active political support for the achievement of statutory objectives over the long course of implementation,” (Sabatier, 387). And without such support, the funding will certainly be redirected to a cause perceived as more urgent.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

NCLB Fragmentation

Fragmentation (Kingdon 118) is perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses in education’s “policy communities,” (Kingdon 117). No Child Left Behind shows evidence of this policy fragmentation. However, the national legislation does a good service in uniting some of the broad perspectives in the policy communities and shaping the “national mood” (Kingdon 146) and changing the chemistry of the “policy primeval soup” (Kingdon 116). The initiative was an impressive “recombination” (Kingdon 152) of education ideas and passed into law because it met the criteria for survival: “technical feasibility, value acceptability within the policy community, tolerable cost, anticipated public acquiescence and a reasonable chance for receptivity among elected decision makers,” (Kingdon 131).

The lack of “lingua franca” (Kingdon 120) in dialogue about education’s problems and solutions is evidence of its fragmentation. “The consequence of system fragmentation is policy fragmentation,” (Kingdon 119). We can talk now of state content standards, ‘teaching to the test’ and the educational gap, but the issues, benefits or causes surrounding these ideas lack familiarity. “Diffusion among specialists involves two different kinds of subject matter: awareness of problems, and agreement on solutions or proposals,” (Kingdon 139) and I feel there neither consensus on the problems in education nor agreement on any proposals.

Fragmentation in educational policy communities, and the resulting policy initiatives, is partly a result of the hasty resistance of opposition groups. “If there is some conflict among the organized forces, then political leaders implicitly arrive at an image of their environment that strikes some balance,” (Kingdon 150). The rabid reactionary unions, legislators, and others mean necessary reform will be avoided: “trial balloons” (Kingdon 129) are too dangerous, and thus the policy communities are never “softened up,” (Kingdon 128). “Planning failures are the consequence of events engendered by strong opposition coming from many different quarters,” (Beneveniste ch.7).

No Child Left Behind seems to be a recombination (Kingdon 124) of two major policy ideas: greater national support and leadership of public schools and the implementation of open market forces. It was evident that the national mood (Kingdon 146) was open to some sort of movement on education reform and “policy entrepreneurs” (Kingdon 122) like Senator Kennedy took advantage of a “policy window” (Kingdon 166) to advance reform. Any plan that promises massive federal funds will naturally ‘grease the skids.’ The “plan is bent to suit interests,” (Beneveniste ch.7) and included merit-based funding to please the “value advocates” (Kingdon 123) of market fundamentalism. And “once a government program is established, the clientele it benefits organizes into an impressive collection of interest groups,” (Kingdon 152). The law was passed only to the later disappointment of many who had hoped for the entire sum of promised federal funds.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Institutionalizing Innovation - Case Study

As long as there is scarcity of wealth, there will be a challenge to produce an efficient budget. Finding $29 million is a short-term task of a long-term problem. Group B recommends prioritizing programs based on their creativity to adapt and improve their efficiency.

To start this process, the public needs to be dramatically included into the budgeting process. Public hearings and worksessions are great features, but city officials need to reach out and open a dialogue. Meetings held in school buildings (perhaps immediately after parent-teacher conferences), radio shows, local cable broadcasts and internet forums could try to stir up public awareness. The keystone of a constantly improving government is innovation, driven by widespread awareness and evaluation. An aggressive but positive determination to improve the city through resource management needs to be sold from the top down.

As the public is drawn into the process and budget proposals are made available, the city should announce that it's hoping for a 20% reduction in every program feeding from the general fund. This is about 5% above the $29 million goal, but the padding might be necessary to encourage flexibility.

Special attention should be constantly given to those ideas that will save funds without dramatically reducing services. For example, highlight the library's closed day that saves $320,000 or the Austin Librach's plan to squeeze $800,000- $900,000 from Transportation Planning and Sustainability. Public recognition should be given as a reward.

The goal is to institutionalize innovation. Encourage the Austin Music Network to seek sponsorship, promotions or revenue-generating concerts that could keep its valuable contributions to Austin alive. The community should seek greater state and federal funds by trying pilot programs in alternative energy, in charter schools, or with water treatment and distribution. The budgetary process should set innovation as its priority.

If the volunteered improvements are not enough then, in an open conversation, the council should select those programs least flexible to cut. In this way, incentives for creativity are built into the system.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Immigration Policy

The difference between enforcement and economic immigration reform is the same as the difference between symbolic and substantive issues. The symbolic enforcement represents tens of billions of dollars being used with little concern for its efficacy (“Controlling Unauthorized Immigration”, IPC) in order to express tough, popular rhetoric. It isn’t about resources, it’s about linking politicians with the virtues of protection and security. Substantive, economic-centered immigration reform recognizes that immigrant workers are a key resource of our economy. Evidence of this relationship is demonstrated with the decline of illegal immigrants due to our declining job market, (“Homeward Bound”, Center for Immigration Studies).

“No national leader reaches the American public in as many ways as the president,” (Gerston 53). But this connection to the public has been largely misused for the symbolic issues. As Robert Samuelson put it, they “do what sounds good and pleases partisans.” It is poor use of power and a difficult thing to overcome as the agencies that could offer substantive ideas often lack muscle to make changes (Gerston 55).

The seeming inevitability of the public’s attention being used for symbolic issues is the reason why the garbage can model (Kingdon 84) is a more realistic representation of governing than the rational-comprehensive model (Kingdon 78). Setting clear goals and indicators of success is hellaciously difficult without a top-down substantive dialogue. So instead of following a logical process of (1) goal setting, (2) options analysis, (3) decision making, (4) implementation, and (5) evaluation for policy formation the public is forced to endure a system with politics weighted more than administration.

Bold action could break through the stuttering pace and direction of immigration reform. Again, the president could use the public as positive leverage, (Gerston 53). A surprising enough move could serve as a focusing event, (Kingdon 94). For example, the president could stay along the US-Mexican border until a reform bill is ready to be signed. True, such an action sacrifices incrementalism (Kingdon 79) but it is necessary in order to maintain public attention and to combat nondecision (Dye 38).

The news desires drama. Feeding this need could draw out the three effects of the media: “(1) identifying issues and setting the agenda for policymakers, (2) influencing attitudes and values toward policy issues, and (3) changing the behavior of voters and decision makers,” (Dye 40). More importantly dramatic action could also be an opportunity for a leader to communicate substantive issues to the public. Rather than direction and vague goals being discussed, perhaps specific policies and indicators could be introduced.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Changing the museum's model

The Education Department spends considerable effort determining how to use our archival collections to develop school programming that adheres to state standards. We jump on any indicators that might give us an edge in program development.

This model seems silly to me. Why should we sit and hope for revisions to the required curriculum? Why aren't we, as stewards of Northeast Ohio's history, recommending the standards that address local history? In that way we could shape the educational field to our, and the schools' advantage. Thus we could seek funding easier as we would be a more prominent player. We could then provide more programing, offering our huge body of primary sources that would be so perfectly tailored to the state standards.

This could be carried out by a subsidiary non-profit working within WRHS. Such an organization might provide me with an opportunity to stay aboard WRHS while also putting my MPA to use.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The media is weak?

In reading about the influences on the public agenda, I was surprised to read John Kingdon's assertion that the media has little influence. The interesting reasoning was that the "media's tendency to give prominence to the most newsworthy or dramatic story actually diminishes their impact on governmental policy agendas because such stories tend to come toward the end of a policy-making process, rather than at the beginning."

Blogs might be the answer to this though, or might help reshape the dialogue.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Policy Philosophies of NCLB

No Child Left Behind, in terms of Bozeman’s policy philosophies, is an attempt at rationalism that is unable to meet its full potential because of the influences of brokerism and egoism. The initiative is sadly anything but pragmatism or transferalism. If you do not know what these terms mean and don't feel like searching through chapter three of Bozeman's Philosophies, Management, and the Public Interest, don't worry: it should be self-evident.

NCLB attempts, and has succeeded in many ways, to raise academic standards and accountability in schools, teachers, and students. Principles of open-market competition and incentives, scientific based research, improved communication, formal evaluations, and standardized testing have been implemented as a way to intelligently improve a desperate education system. These are legitimate steps toward rationalism in public policy.

However, funding to properly incentivize teacher improvements and development have not made it to all schools, (at least the ones I’ve worked in). Similar problems are occurring with the funding of the Enhancing Education Through Technology Program. And failing teachers hide behind the impressive strength of unions. Lobbies are apparently pulling money for other interests. Unions are standing strong to protect their own. These are symptoms of brokerism. And the denial of these problems is an example of the ubiquitous presence of egoism.

Teachers are unable to adapt curriculum even under extreme circumstances. They must address the tests that, in Ohio, face students at 5th and 10th grade. Students that can’t speak English, who under-perform, or even over-perform can skew scores and thus hurt school ratings. Teachers and local government can not address these problems because of formalities imposed by NCLB: this is a lack of pragmatism.

And the greatest problem in education today is the inequality in schools. Areas with many poor, failing schools lose what little federal funding they have. This creates “sinkholes” in our public system. Meanwhile, areas with high property values and thriving schools blossom and receive the benefits of high school ratings. This is a lack of transferalism.

Q&A: Perspective on Public Policy

Q: Students should present their perspective of public policy (1/2 page) Please feel free to go beyond the readings and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of our policy making process.

A: Public policy is a mess. Explanations of it can be packaged into a four step process (Kingdon pg 2-3) but the inherently complex is simplified at the tremendous cost of meaning and insight. Embracing the pluralistic nature are the explanations by Bozeman and Hird. Bozeman’s policy philosophies give a better understanding of public policy than any of the introductions I’ve read. This is because the first and most critical lesson of public policy is the tangled multitude of organizations and agendas. It’s a study, not a discipline (Hird), it “revolves around needs, emotions, unanticipated events, and a good deal of irrationality,” (Gerston, pg 7).Personally, I think the system is wonderful. The mess is interesting. It catches the curiosity and suggestions from economists, biologists, philosophers, doctors, geoscientists, and bioethicists, (Hird, pg 2). The structure is vast and complicated because it’s a response to many bigger and messier problems.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Politics vs Administration, Reactionary

Public administration is the task of efficiently implementing the public’s demands. Woodrow Wilson wrote in 1887 that administrators should be concerned singularly with the policies’ execution and not their development. It is a confusing idea as administrators are an insightful part of the public themselves. And it is reacting to the public’s expressed needs that have always influenced administration the most.
Our current governmental process functions only in reaction to strong needs rather than avoiding the creation of need. This is a problem as balancing the rapid evolution of society and the deterioration of our environment requires greater anticipation. I think the primary way to shift away from a reactionary model is through education. If the public can be given greater foresight, then need will be expressed through public policy before it is too late.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Unknown Classes

I have no idea what my classes starting next week will be like. The only thing certain is my gitty enthusiasm for my long-awaited return to studies. If the courses turn out to be easy, I fear I may nag my professors with questions and over-done assignments that I will surely burn the bridges I hope to build.

I have purchased the textbooks for my first batch of classes. They speak of high principles of government, which intrigues me, but the texts lack specifics. They stick to general, fluffy theory. I suppose it is the most logical thing to go over first. However, I'm anxious to master the application. I'm comfortable with talking and learning about theory; I want to be pushed to a place where I have to grow.
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Setting Context

A little information about what's led me here: I'm a teacher without a class room. I have been washed out of the educational system because I was unwilling to subject myself to substitute teaching, (I tried spending a year teaching in Korea instead). As such, I was unable to weasel into a temporary job in a public school that would have earned me a gross amount of pressure, scrutiny and work that tenured teachers were unwilling to do. Failing to do this has seen the end of my two-year provisional license in Ohio, (I still have my Virginia license). I would have to return to a four-year institution and gain new credits to renew my provisional license. Instead, I am shifting career paths to help improve the system rather than continuing to endure it.

Exactly what form of improvement effort I will find myself in, I don't know. Learning about the system and finding a way to help is what this blog is about.