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.
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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.