What should we ask an expert in government education and technology policy?

Jarret CummingsWhat questions should we ask an expert in government education and technology policy?

To explain: this Thursday from 2-3 pm EDT Jarret Cummings, senior advisor for policy and government relations for EDUCAUSE, will be our guest on the Future Trends Forum.  Cummings specializes in how federal policies and actions impact higher education.

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There are so many topics we could cover!

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  • How will the free community college tuition (for two years) play out in terms of state support and competition with other sectors?
  • What are the chances that Biden pushes for significant student debt forgiveness?
  • Will a newly staffed FCC board push to restore net neutrality?
  • How might the Department of Education change guidance about sexual harassment and assault on campuses?
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What would you like to raise this Thursday?  The comments box stands ready for you!

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Jarret has appeared on our program before, discussing changes to net neutrality.

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8 Responses to What should we ask an expert in government education and technology policy?

  1. Glen McGhee, Dir., Florida Higher Education Accountability Project says:

    I’d be interested in the new dynamic between accreditation and online-pivot — that is, how do schools-in-the-cloud fit the 100-year old protocols still required by statute?
    — What needs to change in accreditation when, for example, OPMs and computer servers replace faculty? How far can digitalization go under existing federal law?
    — When will the US DOE’s Covid-waivers be lifted? Which ones first?
    — What will educational quality look like (as a social construct) in the near future? How will educational quality be stabilized and “caged” in the future?

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Good questions, Glen.

      Say more about “caging” edu quality?

      • Glen McGhee, FHEAP says:

        VAM and SOCIAL NETWORKS: Fuchsian Networks

        “Upon relating to the world outside of them, networks behave much as immune systems do. They have metabolism and resonance. That is, networks decompose and recombine an event or information according to their own blueprints [i.e., metabolic processes]. That which the metabolism cannot handle, or that which finds no resonance from the network, cannot become part of it in any way, and might not even be registered or noticed. Recognition depends on wavelengths and frequencies; if these are incompatible, two networks cannot communicate with each other. Much as a tuning fork, a network reacts to stimulations that make it vibrate according to its own resonance. Any direct and unmediated influence of the world on a network that cannot renormalize this influence according to its own metabolism is likely catastrophic. … One can turn art into politics, and science into ideology, but does so at the risk of destroying art or science altogether, as separate networks. … But such interdependencies must still be renormalized by the interdependent networks according to their own metabolisms.” (Fuchs 2001: 264-268)

        “[B]ureaucracies can only perceive and deal with events that can be handled bureaucratically, that is somehow made compatible with that which is already somewhere in the files, rules, and paperwork. … and cannot digest this material ‘as is,’ in its raw state. Rather, a bureaucracy will have to ‘cook’ its raw materials to handle them in its own (bureaucratic) way.”

        “Two completely separate cultures, those without any links between them, are alien territory to each other. They do not observe each other, let alone feed any of their operations and results into the other’s networks. An example is common sense [i.e., taken-for granted reality] and any advanced science … Various degrees of ‘incommensurability’ result from such holes in the networks among networks. Incommensurability is … a structural problem with network ties and holes. Commensurability varies; complete incommensurability is an extreme case. Holes vary also; they can be of various widths, depths, and durations [cites Ronald Burt on structural holes in social network theory]. The deeper, wider, and more durable a hole, the more incommensurability between that which the hole separates. There are deeper and more durable holes between the Two Cultures than between ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. Two specialties separated by structural holes might still, however, have similar ‘codes,’ such as true / false, that allow them, at a minimum, to recognize each other …”

        “Likewise, networks of mass education translate students’ mental and cognitive states into formal grades and credentials, which can be passed between various organizations in this network. In themselves, these states of mind are utterly inaccessible to networks of education. Therefore, the latter help themselves to a number of highly simplified and convenient fictions — that grades measure actual performance, that better grades are caused by better performance [1], that the same grade remains identical across different times and locations, and that employers should decide whom to hire on the basis of diplomas, because better diplomas mean better skills. These meritocratic fictions are not just fictions; like other myths, they become real when they start to make a real difference[2], which of course they do.”

        “The science of education, however, another network different from [actual] education, deconstructs these myths and replaces them with the outcomes of actual research. But when that research is again fed into the networks of education and taught to students, the bureaucratic fictions become operative again, so that a paradox emerges: the science of education might teach classes in which students are graded on how well they understand that grades are fictions. Such paradoxes emerge whenever two separate networks come in contact with each other; paradoxes limit the direct and unmediated effect that one network can have on another’s results and operations. Any such effect is mediated by renormalization.” [Fuchs, 2001:264-268]

        As David Labaree is quick to note[3], “The result is a messy interaction of the researcher and the research subject. … The science of education has encountered severe limitations for its claim to produce hard knowledge. It has been much more successful at describing the ways education works and identifying loose relationships between educational variables than at explaining educational outcomes in light of educational causes … since the hardness of the hard sciences is expressed most distinctively in the ability to predict the effects arising from particular causes. But the only causal claims [that] educational research can make are constricted by a mass of qualifying clauses, which show that these claims are valid only within the artificial restrictions of a particular experimental setting or the complex peculiarities of a particular natural context. Why? Because the impact of curriculum on teaching or of teaching on learning is radically indirect [mediated!], since it relies on the cooperation of teachers and students whose individual goals, urges, and capacities play a large and indeterminate role in shaping the outcome. And at the same time, education as an area of inquiry is more a public policy field than an intellectual discipline, whose central orientation is irreducibly normative — to improve education — and whose research practitioners are less united by a common technical orientation than they are divided by different educational goals they espouse.”

        “As a result, despite their best efforts there is little that researchers can do to construct towers of knowledge on the foundations of the work of others. Within a particular research group (defined by shared values and interpretive approaches), it is possible at best to construct Quonset huts of knowledge through a short-term effort of intellectual accumulation; but these huts are seen as structurally unsound by researchers who do not share the values and interpretive approaches of those within that group’s intellectual compound,” or, in Fuchs’ terms, network.

        This contrast between education and educational research is a good example of what Fuchs describes as network ‘incommensurability’ — networks that do not share resonance are consequently unable to meaningfully communicate with each other; and incommensurate networks are unable to metabolize what the other networks produce. Even renormalization, the restructuring and recombination by the target network of network output, for its own purposes and processes, is unsuccessful.

        As Labaree notes, “It’s not enough to study what is interesting about education; the researcher is under pressure to improve it. Fields like education are sites of public policy” and research results must be successfully renormalized or “shaped by public goals for their sectors of society and are responsible in part for the powerful consequences — for good or ill — in the lives of children …”

        The bureaucratic use of standardized tests to reconstruct student performance is foundational for VAM, which goes a step further by repurposing longitudinal trends in student performance as teacher performance indicators. At no point is the reductive character of these bureaucratic strategies explicitly recognized.

        In fact, the redeployment of student testing for VAM teacher performance evaluations would be impossible without the prior acceptance of the belief that student grades and actual learning are synonymous.

        In institutional and professional terms, the policy-level search for value-added measures has incentivized educational researchers to repurpose and renormalize their student learning assessment results as a way of increasing their policy-level influence and ameliorating the low academic status of educational researchers generally. Shifting educational priorities have opened up an opportunity niche for researchers working in these areas. The reframing of student learning assessment results as possible tools for school reform adds to the appeal of VAM for educational policy makers, who are problem solvers looking for workable solutions.

        But in Fuchsian network terms, the repurposing of student learning assessment results as valued-added measures — to be used for teacher evaluation, and then for teaching program evaluation — has an additional characteristic: increased network commensurability between public school systems, and the colleges that train their teachers.

        Even though the stability of test results is questionable, and may not be something that can ever be achieved, this is why the VAM approach has such enormous appeal, overshadowing any scientific doubts there may be about the reliability and validity of testing data. It is not a question of scientific validity at all — it is all about network outcomes, what networks are now being established to make use of what other networks produce (Hagstrom, 1965; MacKenzie, 1981) and the formation of new coalitions that include educational policy makers, public schools, the public and the media, teacher’s colleges, and testing companies within a single, vastly enlarged network.

        1. The ubiquitous and unquestioned practice of equating student grades with actual learning is a key feature of modern education; actual performance is defined as one’s performance on standardized tests.

        2. The Thomas theorem is a theory of sociology which was formulated by W. I. Thomas (1863–1947) during the year 1928: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” The basic idea is very old, appearing in Epictetus: “What disturbs and alarms man are not actions, but opinions and fancies about actions.” Lawrence Sterne’s delightful and irreverent novel Tristam Shandy (1759) accordingly, featured the Epictetus aphorism on its title page, and in its concept of the hobby-horse. See:

        3. David Labaree, The Trouble with Ed Schools (2004). Chapter 4: The Peculiar Problems of Doing Educational Research, 62-108.

      • Glen McGhee, FHEAP says:

        “Caging” is what every measurement scheme claims to be able to accomplish. First, however, the regime must be able to legitimately stabilize the variable it seeks to monitor/ measure.
        Stephan Fuchs, Against Essentialism: A Theory of Culture and Society (Harvard, 2001), uses the art world and modern science to elaborate the concept — that is, how each of these in turn stabilizes “truth”.

        See below, where I talk about socially-constructed Value-added modeling (also known as value-added measurement, value-added analysis and value-added assessment, or VAM), a method of teacher evaluation that purportedly measures a teacher’s contribution in a given year using student test scores.

      • Glen McGhee, FHEAP says:

        Here’s another example of stabilizing Florida’s K-12 curricula.
        NEW Florida Rule No.: 6A-1.09401
        Purpose: To revise student performance standards for grades K-12. Revisions include adding new K-12 Holocaust education standards, new K-12 character education standards, and new K-12 substance use and abuse standards; revising K-12 civics standards and K-12 B.E.S.T. English language arts (ELA) standards; and updating exceptional student education access points to be specific for the K-12 B.E.S.T. ELA and mathematics standards adopted in February 2020.
        Click on MS Word link on left side for more details.

  2. I’m not sure if this would be pertinent to a conversation with him, but I’d like to know if federal policies affecting how/when international students can take online courses are being revised. The pandemic hit them really hard and our institutions and students lost out on expanding networks, differing perspectives, global awareness, etc. Are these policies set in stone or can they be massaged to allow online courses to support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

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