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.