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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

May 14, 2018

Omaha World Herald. May 10, 2018

Nebraska has made significant progress in resolving problems with its state testing

Standardized testing, like it or not, is firmly embedded in our country as a tool for judging students’ academic performance. For high school students, the test results are key factors affecting one’s acceptance to college.

Testing companies have important obligations. They need to deliver their services efficiently and with a minimum of glitches. The last thing students need at test time are system failures that add to the test takers’ stress and undermine students’ opportunity to take a properly conducted exam.

Statewide testing contracts involve major sums, paid for by taxpayers. So, the elected officials overseeing the contracts need to ensure that they’re soundly written and that vendors display professional competence.

In Nebraska, the State Board of Education is the decision-maker on this matter. It’s encouraging that the delivery of exams this year was generally positive — a welcome change from some previous years.

In 2013-14, for example, Nebraska released no state writing test scores because of technology problems during testing. Similar problems disrupted testing on the writing test in 2016: At 18 schools in six districts, students couldn’t log in. At 207 schools from 143 districts, students couldn’t access spell-check and dictionary testing tools.

In the wake of those problems, the State Board of Education last year changed testing contractors. The board recently voted to continue working with that vendor, NWEA, saying that the contractor had performed well and resolved glitches promptly. The board authorized a $6.1 million contract for NWEA to administer testing in grades three though eight for the 2018-19 school year.

The board approved a $1.2 million cotract with Data Recognition Corporation to provide alternate assessments in grades eight and 11.

The third contract approved by the board was for $1.5 million for ACT to provide its college-prep exam plus writing for all public school juniors, as well as access to online ACT prep and the PreACT.

Overall, Nebraska officials said, ACT met the needed standard. An exception involved online testing at Westside High School. Many students were “booted out” of the system for online ACT testing on April 10, a Westside spokesperson said, and the students retook the exam, the paper version, on April 24.

A spokesperson for ACT said the organization is still trying to determine what caused the problem. ACT absolutely needs to solve the matter before next year’s testing time, for the sake of the students, who depend on the results, as well as Nebraska taxpayers, who are paying for the contract.

Nebraska has made notable progress in improving its statewide testing. Now it’s time to resolve the remaining problems, then remain vigilant in ensuring the testing quality.

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The Grand Island Independent. May 11, 2018.

The problem with presidential executive orders

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement wasn’t unexpected, nor was the reaction from his supporters and opponents. Those who think President Obama negotiated a poor deal (including Nebraska’s congressional delegation) were pleased. Others were unhappy.

The rationale for the rejection of the Iran accord is that it was a bad deal for the United States. Time will tell if the president is able to create a more favorable approach to Iran’s bad behavior. But whatever the outcome, his action illustrates a problem with how Washington operates these days.

That problem is the creation of government policies by presidential executive actions, instead of laws passed by Congress. Because President Obama believed the terms of his agreement with Iran would not be approved by Congress, he caused its implementation by a simple stroke of his pen . in Washington-speak, an executive order.

But one president’s orders can be reversed by a future president, and that is what happened with the Iran agreement. If this risk wasn’t understood when Barack Obama signed the document in 2013, it can be marked down as overconfidence that inertia would not allow a future change.

Presidential executive orders are perfectly legitimate, of course, and President Obama wasn’t the first president to employ them. It can be argued, however, that many Obama administration orders covered major issues — issues that critics say should have gone through the rough-and-tumble legislative process to determine their fates.

In recent years, Congress has become so polarized that Democrats and Republicans can barely come to agreement on basic procedural matters, let alone legislative questions that need resolution (example, updated immigration policies). The lesson today should be that executive orders are useful, but are no substitute for laws passed by Congress when they concern issues that should be established as long-term policies of the United States.

It is easy to blame presidents for uncertainties sometimes caused by executive orders. But Congress should become more assertive in assuming its responsibilities in determining national policies.

It is time Congress stepped up.

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Kearney Hub. May 10, 2018

These vacancies may serve rural needs

We residents of “Greater Nebraska” too frequently must discuss the need for more professionals, particularly in medical fields. Several rural Nebraska counties currently have no physicians, and there are shortages of other health care professionals needed to operate hospitals, clinics and labs.

These are critical needs, and Nebraska educational and professional leaders are attempting to fill the vacancies. However, in a state where specialists and technicians tend to gravitate toward practices in Omaha and Lincoln, it’s an ongoing struggle.

What can we do to counter the tide of professionals to urban practices and encourage more young people launching their careers to consider rural Nebraska? We can make huge investments in infrastructure, such as the Health Science Education Complex at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The HSEC was built with the belief that medical professionals who train in a rural setting are more likely after graduation to practice in a rural setting.

There are other strategies to recruit and retain professionals, but one approach which may not be so apparent to rural Nebraskans is serving on the various volunteer licensing panels under the State Board of Health. Serving on such boards is a service to the state, with the added bonus of keeping rural board members in tune with trends and happenings that may influence decisions about where professionals may decide to practice.

Serving on health care boards grants volunteers a front-row seat to learn where licensed professionals are practicing and possibly what factors stand between them and taking their career to Greater Nebraska.

This week, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced vacancies on a broad range of health boards. Among the 14 panels with vacancies are the boards of Alcohol and Drug Counseling, Hearing Instrument Specialists, Medical Radiography, Mental Health Practice and Occupational Therapy.

Serving on one of those boards or the nine others with vacancies is a commitment. Terms are five years. However, board members have the opportunity to give back to their professions and serve their state and region.

Interested individuals can obtain an application by email at monica.gissler@nebraska.gov; by phone at 402-471-6515, or at http://dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/pages/BoardReqVac.aspx.

Applications must be received by Aug. 1, and interviews will be conducted Sept. 16.

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McCook Daily Gazette. May 11, 2018

Digital Readiness Survey can help our voices be heard

The earliest European explorers arrived in what is now Nebraska by following the rivers, natural pathways to the mountains where they hoped to find their fortune in furs or gold.

Later travelers were linked to Utah via the Mormon Trail, or Oregon via wagon train.

The floodgates opened with the construction of the transcontinental railroad, making the establishment of towns like McCook possible.

Railroads brought the telegraph, connecting us to the world, albeit in a slow, unwieldy manner until the arrival of the telephone, which in turn paved the way for today’s instantaneous communication.

But those connections to the world took major commitments of time and money.

Most of us depend in one way or another with that connection to the world.

Without transportation and communication, our way of life would look very different.

The 19th century saw the arrival of the railroad, the 20th-century highways and electronic communication, and the 21st century has seen the internet grow into a vital resource.

According to the Brookings Institutions, two-thirds of new jobs created between 2010 and 2016 required medium to high digital skills.

In fact, this weekend’s graduating class has never known a time when it was impossible to Google the answer to almost any question.

But resources are not unlimited, and planners need to know where and how rural Nebraskans are using online resources.

The Nebraska Information Technology Commission has partnered with the University of Nebraska Extension, the Nebraska Public Service Commission, the Nebraska Library Commission and Purdue Center for Regional Development to conduct a statewide Digital Readiness survey.

Unfortunately, Southwest Nebraskans have not been well represented and have not taken advantage of a chance to have their voices heard.

We can still do something to change that. The survey is open to the public and available until May 24. It has only 20 questions (1/4 demographic) and will take about 7-9 minutes to complete.

“Broadband availability and digital readiness are fundamental to helping all Nebraskans realize the benefits of participating in the digital economy,” said Ed Toner, Chief Information Officer for the State of Nebraska and Chair of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission.

The survey will provide information on how Nebraskans are using broadband at home and the cost benefits of using broadband technologies. Results from this survey will help communities, resource providers, and policymakers address digital readiness and the digital divide. Participation in this survey is voluntary and is for research purposes only. Results will only be released in aggregated form removing personal identifiers.

The Purdue Center for Regional Development (PCRD) seeks to pioneer new ideas and strategies that contribute to regional collaboration, innovation and prosperity. Founded in 2005, the Center partners with public, private, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations to identify and enhance the key drivers of innovation in regions across Indiana, the U.S. and beyond. These drivers include a vibrant and inclusive civic leadership, a commitment to collaboration, and the application of advanced data support systems to promote sound decision-making and the pursuit of economic development investments that build on the competitive assets of regions.

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