Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in education, research, science, agriculture, immigration, energy, environment, natural resources, and intellectual property.
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IN THIS ISSUE:
Capitol News: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions
- Sequestration Looming.
CONGRESS: Immigration Proponents; House Appropriations; House STEM Competition; Congressional Hearings
Administration & independent agencies: SOTU; Open Access; Universal Preschool; College Accountability (Scorecard and Accreditation); Immigration Plans
Noteworthy News: Achievement Gap & Online; MOOCs Expanding Internationally; STEM & Community Colleges; Picky Charter Schools; Making Dissertations Understandable
In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.
- Sequestration Deadline Looming: Once again, sequestration remains a top concern for policy makers in Washington, DC. The threat of the self-imposed deadline of March 1, 2013 for automatic across-the-board cuts of approximately 5% for discretionary accounts does not appear to enough to get Congress to reach a deal. Some Republicans appear to welcome the sequestration and stated they will not accept any tax increases. Senate Democrats made a proposal– a mix of tax increases (incomes over $1 million, ending deductions for moving equipment abroad, etc.) and spending cuts (defense, farm subsidies, etc.) – to prevent the automatic cuts, that won’t be accepted by the House. Meanwhile, President Obama made a last-ditch plea for Congress to reach a deal. If sequestration takes place, the next deadline (and likely vehicle) to fix the negative consequences of sequestration is March 27, 2013, when the FY13 Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.
- Immigration Profiles. Roll Call provides a short description of how the “Gang of Eight” Senators, which includes four Democrats (Schumer, Durbin, Bennett, and Menendez) and four Republicans (McCain, Rubio, Graham, and Flake) came together, as well a brief synapsis of why each of these Members is drawn to work on immigration issues.
- House Appropriations. In what may be a bold move, House Appropriations Chairman Rogers (R-KY) plans to propose an appropriations bill for the rest of the fiscal year that includes new defense and MilCon-VA funding, as well as the funding for the rest of FY13. The current congressional Resolution (CR) expires on March 27, 2013 and this bill may serve as the vehicle for both the CR and to deal with the impacts of sequestration.
- House STEM Push This week, the House will vote on a resolution, Academic Competition Resolution of 2013, promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and creating a STEM competition for every Congressional district. The Resolution acknowledges the benefits of a strong STEM education (“STEM fields are necessary to ensure a qualified national workforce and growing American economy…”) and bemoans the inadequacies of students’ current level of understanding (“A recent study found that less than one-third of eighth graders in the United States showed proficiency in mathematics and science.”)
House Education & Workforce
- Putting America Back to Work: Reforming the Nation’s Workforce Investment System, February 26, 2013
- Protecting Students and Teachers: A Discussion on School Safety, February 27, 2013.
- Raising the Bar: How Are Schools Measuring Teacher Performance?, February 28, 2013.
- How E-Verify Works and How it Benefits American Employers and Workers February 27, 2013
Administration & Independent Agencies:
- State of the Union: The SOTU contained several references to issues of importance to readers of this blog. See the Federal Policy Week posting The State of the Union Speech for details. Senator Rubio (R-FL) delivered the Republican response, which not surprisingly focused on why government is (primarily) bad and a free market economy is the solution for our Nation’s woes. Rubio’s full speech and relevant excerpts are in the Federal Policy Week posting The Republican Response.
- *****Following the SOTU, the Administration released The President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class and A Strong America, which outlines his vision for the next Administration, including issues like college accreditation, job training, and education (STEM, Pre-K).
- Open Access. The White House, in a memo by Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Holdren, announced its plan to increase public access to federally funded research results. Although the directive orders agencies with R&D budgets over $100 million to develop plans, it encourages agencies to work together. The National Science Foundation (NSF) already announced its intentions to collaborate with other agencies to provide additional access to results and enhance the management of the resulting digital data.
- Universal Preschool. President Obama announced his intention to advocate for pre-K for all students. The White House released details of the pre-K plan, which involves sending funding to states based on their share of four-year olds living in moderate and low-income households. Like with all other Obama Administration plans, states are required to meet benchmarks for outcomes that include: standards for early learning; qualified teachers; and plans to implement data and assessment systems. The funds can only be used for full-day kindergarten for all children once the priority children have pre-school. Finally, the plan will expand the availability of Early Head Start and as voluntary home visiting programs. The House Republicans responded critically and skeptically, arguing that before the Administration creates a new program, the value and management of Head Start must be evaluated.
- College Accountability. In the document released by the Administration (The President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class and A Strong America) the President touched on two aspects of higher education accountability, the college scorecard and accreditation.
- College Scorecard. The President also touted the college scorecard during the SOTU speech. The scorecard is designed to provide parents and students information on colleges, including the net cost of attending, graduation and loan payment/default rates. However, as reported in The New York Times, experts remain skeptical of the scorecard’s value, as it currently exists since some of the data are outdated, some of the figures were unclear or misleading, and it does not yet contain data on how recent graduates are performing in the job market.
- Accreditation. In a surprise to the higher education community, the Administration document also takes on college accreditation. Specifically, the document calls for “Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”
- Administration Immigration Plans. While Congress continues to develop bipartisan plans for immigration reform, the White House is also moving forward with its own plans, including providing illegal immigrants a means to citizenship, as reported by The Washington Post. Included in the Administration plans, is almost certainly a proposal for STEM MS or PhD graduates of US schools to obtain green cards or visas.
- Achievement Gap and Online Courses. Contrary to what one might assume, it appears online courses lead to a widening of the achievement gap. As reported in The Chronicle for Higher Education, a new study reveals that ”students in demographic groups whose members typically struggle in traditional classrooms are finding their troubles exacerbated in online courses.” It also found a disturbing correlation between online classes and degree attainment, namely that, independent of demographics, “students who take more online courses, no matter the demographic, are less likely to attain a degree.”
- Expanding MOOCs. Despite evidence, like the article above, that online courses may contribute to education problems, Coursera and edX announced plans to increase their online classes. Both are hoping to expand into the global market with their latest plans, according to Inside Higher Education, including non-US institutions and exploring the idea of offering courses in languages beside English.
- STEM & Community Colleges. Community colleges are looking to support the innovation economy by training their students for STEM industries. As reported in The Chronicle for Higher Education, more jobs will require postsecondary education (even ones that previously did not require more than a HS degree) and community colleges are working to dismantle barriers for their students to enter STEM fields.
- Picky Charter Schools. The success of charter schools remains very questionable, but a few have succeeded in their mission to educated underserved children. Despite being public and claiming to admit students randomly, a new study disputes some of the heraldic tales of charters, as reported in The Washington Post. Specifically, some charter schools create high-level criteria and barriers to weed out applicants, including holding interviews, exams, extensive questionnaires, and requiring research papers. This study, once again, raises the question of how successful charter schools would be absent their use of admission and retention criteria.
- Making Dissertations Understandable. A proposal to make graduate dissertations “user-friendly” to the public appears to be getting a second look, at least at Duke University. As reported in Inside Higher Education, a Duke genetics professor is proposing that students prepare a short (30-60 sec) video explaining their work to accompany their dissertations. The idea is to make students think about and explain clearly the relevance of their research, hopefully assisting those who pursue careers outside of academia and perhaps building an understanding and appreciation of their discipline by the general public.
IN THE KNOW: EVENTS PAST & FUTURE
Upcoming Events (listed by date):
- Urban Institute, The Charitable Deduction: A View from the Other Side of the Cliff, February 28, 2013
- Brookings, Early Childhood Education in the Nordic Countries, February 28, 2013
- CATO, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, March 6, 2013
Recent Past Events (listed by date):