Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Compliance Anxiety

Stimulus funds are beginning to flow. But not as quickly as needed to provide a boost to the economy. One source of hesitation might be called “compliance anxiety.” People in school systems know that the Department of Education is looking for bold innovations and progress toward lasting reforms of the schools (see, for example, the recently published suggestions), but are not sure exactly what is going to be asked of them in terms of accounting for the funds they spend. The third guiding principle of ARRA calls for K-12 districts to “ensure transparency, reporting, and accountability.” This is meant to prevent fraud and abuse, to support the most effective uses of ARRA funds, and to accurately measure and track results.

Over the past few weeks, in webinars and similar venues, educators have been asking what this means. Many are hesitant to commit funds without knowing what evidence of compliance will be called for. The following quotes were compiled by Jennifer House, Ph.D., Founder of Redrock Reports:

Superintendent of a large suburban district: “We just need to know what kind of data needs to be collected for the accountability portion of ARRA—especially funds in the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.”

Superintendent of an urban district: “When is the Department of Education going to tell us what data they need for the accountability and reporting requirements of ARRA?”

Title I director of a major urban district: “I know what I need to do for Title I reporting. Is there any other data I need to collect to report on the use and impact of the ARRA funds?”

IDEA director of a large suburban district: “What other data is needed about ARRA funds”

Paraphrase of seven questions from a single MDR webinar: “When will we hear what the accountability requirements are for ARRA?”

CIO of a large suburban district: “We need to accommodate the data that needs to be collected in our system for ARRA. When do we get the word?”

These educators need to know what is meant by “accurately measure and track results.” Will this information just be used to audit who was paid for what? Or will ED be calling for a measure of results in terms of impact on schools, teachers, and student achievement?

State Education Agencies are asked for “baseline data that demonstrates the State’s current status in each of the four education reform areas.” Will the states and districts be asked for subsequent data showing an improvement over baseline?

Educators have heard that, in the near future, ED will describe specific data metrics that states will use to make transparent their status in the four education reform areas for the purpose of “showing how schools are performing and helping schools improve.” They expect that this will not be a one-time data collection; instead, they expect an element of tracking to help them with continuous improvement.

ED has a one-time opportunity to move education toward an evidence-based enterprise on a massive scale by calling for evidence of outcomes—not just the starting baseline. Conditions are ripe for quickly and easily promoting a major reform in how districts measure their own results. Educators already expect this. A simple time series design is all that is needed. Training and support for this can be readily supplied through existing IES funding mechanisms.

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