Education, Innovation, and Manufacturing Outlook in the Lame-Duck Session

Before the Republicans prepare to take the gavel in the House, and as Democrats emerge with a smaller majority in the Senate in the 112th Congress, lawmakers will return to a lame-duck session filled with a number of unfinished legislative matters.  While most of the attention has been devoted to the status of the Bush-tax cuts, which are set to expire, there remain a number of other pieces of legislation that could potentially come up before the end of the year.

One is the Department of Education’s (DoE) 2011 spending bill.  While both chambers of Congress have agreed on specific appropriations within the bill, no compromise has been made as of yet.  One specific provision, the Investing in Innovation Grants, which provide funding to schools to create innovative programs and techniques for educational development, was slated for $400 million in the House but only $250 million in the Senate version.

Pivotal to the DoE is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which has thus far stalled due to differences in how to implement standardized testing and how to deal with low performing schools. Also included in the reauthorization is a renewed focus on STEM based education backed by $300 million in appropriations in an attempt to re-take the lead in science and math.

Another item is President Obama’s infrastructure proposal, which is designed to upgrade the deteriorating highway, railroad, and airport systems across the country.  When making the case for this proposal, Obama highlighted the link between infrastructure and maintaining America’s innovative and competitive edge.

In addition to infrastructure and education the lame duck also may take up clean energy fuelimmigration reform, and patent reform.

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: CNN, Council on Foreign Relations, Department of Education, Education Week, Huffington Post, IPWatchdog.com, Seeking Alpha

Photo credit: Washington DC – Capitol Hill: United States Capitol courtesy of flicker user wallyg

Linking Innovation to Education Standards

With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) pending, educators and politicians are mulling over how standards, either national or state-by-state, will deliver results and raise student achievements.

Earlier this week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the Virginia Governor’s Education Summit where he addressed the need for stronger innovation in teaching.  While addressing the crowd, he gave a personal anecdote about his how his children, who attend Virginia public schools, learn of the solar system through song instead of a textbook, an example of innovative learning techniques that move away from the “teach the test” mentality.  He went on to argue that this type of innovative teaching will help the country regain its status as an educational powerhouse.

Secretary Duncan has become a strong advocate for advancing national standards as a means to increase student success across the country, as they are pushing for legislation that is supportive of reform.  However, some local officials are objecting to setting national standards.

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who hosted the event, argued that he “would prefer that federal rules allow a choice between the national standards or equivalent state test,” Governor McDonnell made the decision not to let Virginia compete in the federally funded Race to the Top program earlier this summer.  Despite the differences in opinion between the two, McDonnell praised Duncan for his “relentless focus on setting high standards.”

At a Wilson Center event earlier this year, a group of Distinguished Einstein Fellows gathered to discuss this very issue.  One panelist, Kirk Janowiak argued that a balance must be found between standards.  “If they are made high enough to be meaningful, then we end up squashing the innovation of teaching, and we end up providing our teachers with scripts,” but continued by adding that if standards are too low  “we open up ourselves to the current trend we have of mediocrity.”

In an attempt to raise the bar in education, Janowiak argued that compromise must be reached between local and federal officials in order to ensure America’s educational success for the future.

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Photo credit: David Hawxhurst, Wilson Center

Grants Distributed for STEM Education

In addition to the much talked about Race to the Top, the Department of Education also recently held a grant competition known as Investing in Innovation.  These grants were included in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (The Stimulus) and were intended to go to either state education agencies, non-profit organizations, or a consortia of schools.  According to the Department of Education, these grants will allow the grantees to expand and develop innovative practices, create partnerships between the private sector and the philanthropic community, and identify and document best practices that can be shared and scaled.

The biggest recipients included Teach for America and KIPP, each of whom received a $50 million grant.  Among the winners were a number who focus on STEM education; including  ASSET Incorporated, the Bellevue School District, ARCHES, and the Center for 21st Century Skills at Education Connection.  The specific grants were designed to, among other things, expand proven regional STEM programs state-wide, increase enrollment in Advanced Placement STEM courses, increase the amount of under-represented students in STEM courses, and develop a model to increase STEM interest and achievement.

Before each winner can accept the funds they must secure commitment of 20% of the value of the grant from another source by September 8, 2010.   Critics, meanwhile, claim that the grants favored larger and more urban school districts that had the capacity and infrastructure necessary to prepare competitive grant applications.  However, in a press release, the Department of Education noted that grants were distributed across 42 states and 2 territories.

Posted by: Clark Taylor

Sources: The Department of Education, The New York Times, The New America Foundation

Photo Credit: IMG_1414 courtesy of flickr user ncsunewsdept

Increasing Number of States Adopt National Education Standards

On Wednesday July 21, 2010, 27 states indicated their intentions to adopt national education standards to be implemented in the coming years and more are expected to do so in the near future.  While critics maintain that national education standards will lead to more federal government control and inertia at the state level, pursuing national education standards has long been a goal of Secretary Arne Duncan and the Obama Education Department.  States that adopt these standards by August 2nd will receive bonus points towards receiving ‘Race to the Top’ funding which will be granted in September.

In March of this year, the Program on America and the Global Economy held an event on the question of national education standards with a group of Einstein Fellows, outstanding math and science teachers selected to spend a year in executive branch or congressional offices.  While some of the fellows argued for the adoption of national standards, citing the achievement gap, increased student mobility, and making cross-state comparisons more effective, the fellows admitted that having national standards in place would certainly not act as an educational panacea.

Posted by: Clark Taylor

Sources: New York Times, The Atlantic, The Cato Institute

Photo Credit: The United States Department of Education