Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Membership And Context Of The "State House Sustainable Education Task Force Report"

They say that context is everything.

Others say it's all in the details.  I'd say that without the context, the details mean nothing.  But context with no details is also problematic.  We need both. 

This started with this Dec. 31 Anchorage Daily News story:  
"Task force members clash on education funding"

There are so many contexts to examine here. 

[Before getting into them, let me just say, this post grew on me and I'm going to focus on the first context in this post - task force membership - and give a brief overview of the other contexts.  I'm hoping I'll be able to write followups a couple of the other contexts.] [Here's the follow-up]

1.  The political context of this Alaska task force.

The report is identified as coming from "State House Sustainable Education Task Force."
However, it's available at  (empahsis added)

And it looks like most if not all of the members are Republicans.  The ADN article identifies the members:
"The panel includes three lawmakers, Republican Reps. Tammie Wilson, Lynn Gattis and Charisse Millett. The resolution setting out the task force also called for one member representing a regional Native corporation, in this case, Andy Baker; two educators, Jerry Covey and Nees; and two representatives of the business community, Halcro and Keithley. Wilson and Gattis are co-chairs. "
The three members of the house are all Republicans.  And, given this is an Education task force, I guess it's not surprising they are all women.   Apparently no male legislators thought it important enough to get on.  But all the outside members are men.  What does that mean? 

I'm only vaguely familiar with the others, but here's a little of what I found online.

Andy Baker is listed as vice-president of Baker Aviation in a 2007 Bienniel Report, a company his parents created in 1964.  However, the state of Alaska has a Certificate of Involuntary Dissolution/Revocation on file for Baker Aviation dated June 11, 2013.  In 2007 he was listed as a lobbyist for Teck Cominco AK.

Jerry Covey is an Anchorage based consultant and former teacher and Commissioner of Education appionted by Gov. Wally Hickel in 1990.

David Nees is a math teacher, has been an Anchorage school board candidate, and, according to the Anchorage Press, is a Republican who was supported by Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan.

Didn't know much at all about Brad Keithly before reading this article, but apparently I should have.  He is an oil industry consultant/attorney who has stopped writing his Alaska Business Review column because, as his says on his website
"I have suspended that column while some talk about me running for Governor (ABM’s policy understandably is to discontinue any “writings” by formally announced, or potential candidates)." 
He's also been banned by the University of Alaska Anchorage from being involved in UAA Athletics and some women he's dated are pretty pissed at him (I'll leave it at that and not link to the site.)  In trying to confirm he is a Republican, I found another Amanda Coyne piece that reports some Republicans saying he's a stealth Democrat from Texas who might run for governor as an Independent.  

Andrew Halcro is a bright former Republican state house member and Indepndent gubernatorial candidate and runs (has run?) the family Avis franchise and is the new president of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce.  He does things his own way and frequently ruffles feathers as he seems to have done on this committee by being the lone dissenter. 

This is clearly a House Majority task force set up to come to fairly predictable conclusions.  There are no House Democrats and most of the outside members seem to be chosen more for their support of budget cutting than their educational expertise.  Only Halcro has not gone along with the script. 

2.  The larger partisan political national context which might influence the study. 
This was what I was originally going to write about - the general right wing movement to cut government spending in general, and in education, to push vouchers and other ways to get hold of public school money and move it to private schools.  When I first reported on the Koch Brothers supported ALEC, which champions the free market as the cure for everything,  Rep. Tammy Wilson attended the presentation along with Reps. Wes Keller and Carl Gatto, and Sen. Dyson.  I'll try to add this context in the next installment.

3.  The context of past studies of education and education funding in Alaska.

Alaska education reports are a dime a dozen.  The legislature has its fair share of reports.  I remember one being set up in the legislature when I was blogging it in 2010. It would probably be more productive to have a task force simply review the findings of the last ten legislative reports on education and identify:
  • all the recommendations made
  • how many times the same recommendation is made in different reports
  • which recommendations have actually been followed
  • which recommendations have not been followed
  • why some were and weren't followed through on
Here are some that are just reports written for the legislature:

4.  The context of the Anchorage Daily News coverage.

I won't spend much time on this, but I thought it interesting that the ADN focused on the clash in the committee.  The title is about the 'clash,' and the first sentence focuses on the clash as does the last sentence in the first paragraph:
"The disagreement came over whether to include proposed language that, in the current budget environment, state education funding needs to be reduced as well. "
From what the article reports, Halcro was the only member opposed.  While I think the issue is important, I wonder if Halcro hadn't dissented, would it have even been reported?

5.  My own context.

I'm preparing to teach the UAA MPA capstone class in which students show their understanding of what they've been learning in the program by doing a management research project and reporting on their findings.  I've taught this class numerous times over my career and this is the first time since I retired in 2006.  So, I've been thinking deeply about reports that analyze government programs and policies and how to research and write reports that come as close as possible to objectively finding useful data and interpreting and presenting it so that the reader can understand
  • what theoretical models were used to organize the study, 
  • how data were collected, 
  • how the researchers interpreted the data and came to their conclusions
It's also important to see the data.  Not necessarily the raw data, but enough of the data that the knowledgeable reader can see how the researchers got from the data to the conclusions.  If the data are there, the reader who disagrees with the conclusions, can still use them to follow other possible implications. 

When I look at the full two page report itself - which you can see here - I'll use my own training and experience in what a good policy report should cover to review this report.

Here are Some first, quick reactions: 

This report is a bit thin.  The URL hays "Final Report" in it,  but the two page document calls itself an initial report.  The ADN article reports:
The panel was created by a House resolution last April and charged with "examining the efficiency and effectiveness of public education delivery." It faced a Wednesday deadline for submitting its recommendations and findings to the governor, Legislature and state education department. The panel is scheduled to expire Jan. 1, 2015.
So, they've had the interim in the legislative session to prepare a report - about seven months.  Despite being an 'Initial Report' it manages to reach conclusions without reporting any supporting evidence for the conclusions. My students will only have about three months to come up with much more substantive findings.  They'll have no staff and no budget.  But they'll come up with real reports with support for their findings. 

6.  The context of Alaska's difficult educational environment.  Alaska has many small towns and villages scattered across a huge geographical area and a few 'urban' areas most of which would not be recognized as urban in the rest of the United States.  So many small populations, off the road system give Alaska challenges significantly different from what other states face.  Added to this is the mix of Alaska Native culture and the dominant non-Native culture and the lack of serious cross-cultural understanding.  

This context is worth several books and I won't try to do more here.  But I did want to mention this as a critical context.  And you'll note that the Task Force says they have traveled the state and taken testimony.

Again, this post focused on the membership and the various contexts of this issue.  I'll  write more about the national political context of this topic and then focus specifically on this Report. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.