March 1, 2008

You can write a very nice article describing train wrecks

The budget situation for Florida is pitiful and deteriorating. I'm on the Florida Education Association's governance board, and we're meeting this weekend. I think the students in the Florida Student Education Association and the occasional younger teacher were probably among the few who were truly partying last night at the reception. Part of it is addiction: As I told one activist who's on the NEA national board, what the heck were we doing talking shop at 10 pm? But part is being disheartened at the emerging picture in the state.

At one level, it's my emotions that are engaged, in part because I represent over 1700 faculty and professional employees at USF, and the idea of any one of them receiving a layoff notice is upsetting. Someone not being reappointed or failing to make tenure is a different issue; in principle, those should be merit-based decisions. But with a layoff, you're telling someone who's worked hard and met the institution's standards that they're gone. I hate that, and a large part of my time and energies in the last few months has gone towards addressing that.

And yet there's a part of me that knows that a budget crisis is a remarkable opportunity for studying organizations. Almost a quarter century ago, David Tyack, Robert Lowe, and Elizabeth Hansot wrote Public Schools in Hard Times, looking at how the Depression changed public education. Some in my institution look instead to Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which argues that restructuring ideas float out in the political ether, and people who advocate those ideas use crises as opportunities to push dramatic change that would never be considered otherwise. I haven't read Klein, but the representation of her argument strikes me as a more conspiratorial version of John Kingdon.

The world is more complicated, at least with regard to education. Several years ago, Iowa's plan for performance pay got knocked for a loop when a budget crisis led the state to cut those dollars, and given the realities of budgeting in most states, innovative programs funded with discretionary dollars are often the first on the chopping block. That's the dynamic whether the programs represent good, bad, or ugly ideas.

But this is clearly an area where I'm relatively ignorant. Putting school and budget crisis into my favorite academic search hopper gives us a few pieces to examine, including the following ones that look promising:

You can then snowball outward from those first entries by looking for who cites Glassberg and others. These are two of the essential tools of the academic researcher: leveraging one's interest/passion in a topic to begin crafting questions and discovering what others have already written. And I suppose this is all to say that someone else can write some fine articles on what is currently giving me nightmares.

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Posted in Education policy on March 1, 2008 7:10 AM |