Blog Envy

December 4, 2009

I’m suffering from blog envy.  Other blogs have had some great posts — much better than what I’ve come up with recently.  If I can’t beat them I might as well link to them and poach their material.

First, Brian Kisida has a superb post at Mid-Riffs on the predictable waste and banality of consultant reports in the political and education arena.  He demonstrates this using as his examples a “curriculum audit” that the Fayetteville school district has commissioned from Phi Delta Kappa for $36,000 as well as a “visioning” report that the City of Fayetteville commissioned from Eva Klein & Associates for $150,000:

To be sure, the report that Phi Delta Kappa comes up with won’t look exactly like the same ideas the community gave them.  They’ll be re-written in such a way that any resemblance or lack of substance will be obfuscated by consultant-speak gobbledy-gook.  For example, when the Rogers School District hired Phi Delta Kappa to conduct an audit, one of the recommendations they received was:

Develop and implement a comprehensive curriculum management system that delineates short- and long-term goals, directs curriculum revision to ensure deep alignment and quality delivery, and defines the instructional model district leaders expect teachers to follow in delivering the curriculum.

Translation: Establish a system to set and achieve goals. And make it a good one.

Here’s another recommendation from the Rogers audit:

Research, identify and implement strategies to eliminate inequities and inequalities that impede opportunities for all students to succeed.

Translation:  Do what you and every other school district has already been doing (or should have been doing) for decades.

I’m willing to bet Fayetteville’s audit will contain many of the same recommendations given to Rogers.  These types of consultant groups have stock boiler-plate language that they recycle time and time again.  I also expect to see some of the views of the community rewritten in consultant-speak.  Here’s some of the comments and concerns the Northwest Arkansas Times picked up from teachers and parents at one of the focus groups:

  • Weaknesses in foreign languages
  • lack of flexibility, especially at the high school level
  • poor communication about special programs
  • lack of strong leadership in some schools
  • the need for more vocational classes, including in middle school
  • too many different intelligent levels in the classroom
  • special needs and at-risk students need more technology
  • need more literacy coaches, especially one at the high school
  • more coordination in all programs
  • need more time for physical activity
  • need more writing in classrooms
  •  I got this list from the newspaper, which cost me fifty cents–a whopping $35,499.50 less than Phi Delta Kappa is going to charge for repackaging these ideas in consultant-speak.

    I don’t know exactly why organizations pay money to outside consultants, like when the city paid Eva Klein & Associates to tell us that the University was one of our strengths, and that the perception that Fayetteville was anti-business was one of our weaknesses.   Don’t we already elect and pay people to think about these things and have a vision for what we need to do?  So why are they sub-contracting out their duties?

    Wow.  Great blogging!

    And Paul Peterson is hitting his stride as a blogger over at the Education Next Blog.  There he notes the political difficulty posed by teacher union financial might for President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s efforts to turn Race to the Top rhetoric into reality:

    The National Education Association (and its local affiliates) gave $56.3 million dollars to state and federal election campaigns in 2007 and 2008, more than any other entity. That’s what we learn from the recently released report issued by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) together with the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

    The much smaller American Federation of Teachers tossed in another $12 million dollars into political campaigns….

    The money is wrested directly from teacher paychecks as an add-on to their monthly dues (unless teachers specifically object), a power granted unions by school boards as part of collective bargaining deals.  So the NEA’s slush fund is in fact built by taxpayer dollars, which flow directly to the NEA instead of into the teacher’s own bank account.  Yes, some individual teachers object and don’t make the political contribution, but unions typically collect the money by default.

    With all that cash in hand, unions are in a position to tell state legislatures what to do, if they want campaign dollars next time around.  Significantly, over $53 million of the $56.3 million dollars went for state-level expenditures, a clear indication that unions know that the action is not in Washington but in state capitols.

    This enormous cash nexus that swamps anything any business entity has contributed creates a huge problem for President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is asking states and school districts to put merit pay into place.