Articles from June, 2004

State school board association trainers polish board training skills

As the need for training of school board members continues to generate discussion, state school boards association staff from all across the country gathered last weekend in Portland, Oregon for the 2004 New Frontiers in Leadership Training.

In the spirit with which Lewis and Clark adventured and blazed new ground for expansion (strike up the patriotic music!), staff from state school boards associations training and NSBA convened to exchange ideas on how to better our nation’s schools through school board leadership training.

While each state has specific training needs, and while these professionals have varied job descriptions, they share the same mission: to increase school board effectiveness by training local board members on issues of public school governance. These trainers are constantly in search of methods and ideas to add to their “bag of tricks” and enable them better to serve both veteran and newly elected board members, as well as board candidates.

To that end, featured state staff members shared their own state strategies and best practices, as well as the challenges and successes these programs have had with their local boards. One excellent example of the cross-germination and training so crucial for a strong federation of state school boards associations is illustrated by the Online Learning Center. The trainers who offer web-based instruction for board members participated in a hands-on training session to learn more about which online courses can best work for school board members in their state.

The need to share ideas and collaborate across state lines gave birth in 1985 to the concept of NSBA “work-alike” groups of state school boards association staff. Today more than half a dozen such work-alike groups provide state association staff performing similar duties a chance for professional development and to share expertise and experience. These groups are in contact online year-round via email groups and meet annually for professional development and networking opportunities. Check out NSBA’s web site to learn more about your state’s school board association and its services.

Erin Walsh|June 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

IDEA bill’s fate depends on you … and the whims of Congress

NSBA’s Advocacy Staff reports that no Congressional conference committee has yet been appointed to negotiate reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for final passage. Key Democrats reportedly are asking for a pre-conference meeting to discuss some of the more contentious issues before appointing committee members. Their Republican counterparts see no need for such a prior meeting.

In the absence of continued pressure from the education community, NSBA’s Advocacy Staff warns that Congress may decide that it has every incentive not to finish its work on IDEA this session. That means we would have to go back to square one in the new Congress. For a comparison of the House and Senate versions of the bill, H.R. 1350, and NSBA’s positions on fixing IDEA, see this side-by-side. While Congress dropped the ball yet again on full funding and other key improvements, both bills contain lots of provisions to make IDEA more workable. To contact your legislators and urge them to get on with finishing the job now, see NSBA’s Action Alert, here

Erin Walsh|June 29th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Colorado Supreme Court says vouchers unconstitutional

The first and only state voucher program created after the landmark 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld Cleveland’s voucher program has been found unconstitutional. Colorado’s fledgling program, created by the state legislature in 2003, violates the state constitution because it strips local school boards of their authority to oversee the expenditure of local education funds, ruled the state Supreme Court on Monday. The Court’s 4-3 decision upheld a district court ruling issued last year that halted the program. The Court indicated the program, as currently constructed, simply does not square with the state constitution. “To hold otherwise would render the local-control provisions of (the Constitution) meaningless,” it said.

Expect a renewed legislative effort to revise the program to sidestep the Court’s ruling. As BoardBuzz previously reported, some lawmakers made such an attempt in the 2004 legislative session only to see their bill fall one vote short in the House. What we said then bears repeating now. Colorado’s record is full of losses for the voucher lobby. To recap for those scoring at home, here’s the record: Colorado voters rejected a voucher initiative 67 percent to 33 percent in 1992, then rejected a tuition tax credit scheme 60 percent to 40 percent in 1998. Following those clear statements, some lawmakers still wanted, in the next few years, to create a tuition tax credit program, but the legislature wisely said “No.” Finally, last year, it gave in and created a voucher program by a mere one vote in the Senate. A judge promptly ruled it unconstitutional, the decision now upheld by the state Supreme Court. In 2004, lawmakers, twice in a month’s time, rejected more attempts to revive it.

No, no, no, no, no. What part of this message don’t they get? Hmm. Might all that energy be put to better use trying to improve public schools for all of Colorado’s kids for a change? We know, what a crazy thought.

Erin Walsh|June 29th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

More boards going paperless

Who needs all those stacks of paper, memos and printed emails anyway? As BoardBuzz has previously discussed, paperless school board meetings are gaining in popularity. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on a few Missouri school boards that have now joined the e-Board movement. The president of the Parkway School Board, which has moved to paperless board meetings, told the Post-Dispatch she learned about the concept at an NSBA conference. The Missouri School Boards Association is considering promoting the idea as well. “This is a trend that’s beginning to take hold,” said MSBA’s Brent Ghan. “We urge boards across the state to investigate the possibility.

Erin Walsh|June 28th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Keeping things in perspective

A column in the current issue of School Board News by Jack Jennings and Madlene Hamilton of the Center on Education Policy effectively reinforces some of themes we’ve been sounding here at BoardBuzz. They contrast “helpful prodding” of public schools with the kinds of harsh condemnation we’ve been seeing too much from people who should know better. Here are a few reminders from the column:

  • Nine out of 10 Americans who made this country the unrivaled economic and military success it is were educated in public schools.

  • Between 1990 and 2000 (before No Child Left Behind), math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) went up across the board and for all racial and ethnic groups. They’ve continued to rise, and achievement gaps have narrowed. Researchers questioned the reliability of less encouraging 12th-grade scores, since seniors know the scores don’t count and may have “checked out” by the time they take the test.

  • SAT scores are up and ACT scores are steady, despite the fact that more students are taking these college-entry exams.

  • Greater percentages of students are taking more rigorous high school courses and Advanced Placement exams.

  • Incidences of school crime have declined over the past decade, and homicides have become even rarer than they already were.

  • Public school enrollment has grown at twice the rate of private school enrollment.

  • A large majority of Americans says the nation should focus on improving its existing public school system, rather than divert its energies into finding alternative systems.
The full report on which this column is based can be viewed here. For more resources to put criticism of public education in perspective, see the Center for Public Education website, here.

These resources don’t attempt to paint too rosy a picture of the real challenges America’s schools face and the real opportunities we have for improvement. Jennings and Hamilton point out that “schools in some communities, often the most economically ravaged communities, are not doing a good job of educating young people.” They acknowledge that much work remains to be done to eradicate inequities and eliminate achievement gaps. “Constructive and civil criticism can help identify ways to improve public schools,” they say.

But broad attacks on public education writ large are belied by reality. Jennings and Hamilton rightly say such attacks are irresponsible. They note pointedly that children learn by the examples set by adults.

BoardBuzz would add another critique. Apocalyptic and ideologically motivated attacks do not spur public education to meet its challenges in new and more effective ways. Instead, they merely discredit and undermine legitimate calls for change.

Erin Walsh|June 28th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Should voters be citizens?

The San Francisco school board is considering a proposal to allow district parents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in school board elections. The only criteria would be that the immigrants have students in the school system. Their goal is to increase parental involvement, especially among immigrants. Chicago and several Massachusetts and suburban Maryland communities already allow the practice; New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC are considering it.

Prospects for the New York proposal look bleak however, with Mayor Bloomberg voicing the sentiments of those who oppose such voting rights: “If you want to have full rights, and voting is a very big part of full rights, become a citizen.” One columnist in the Bay Area supports the idea, however, pointing out how long it takes to become a legal citizen in the United States. The editorial also reminds readers: “Up until the 1920s, some 22 states and territories allowed legal immigrants to vote in local elections.” Other supporters reason that non-citizens constitute one-third of the parents in the San Francisco school district. What do you think about this idea?

Erin Walsh|June 25th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Vouchers: Thanks for supporting my campaign. Now what state are you from again?

It is no secret that in recent years the pro-voucher lobby has stepped up its efforts to get pro-voucher candidates elected to offices including school boards and state legislatures. And while some may grumble about the influence pro-voucher groups and their political action committees have on elections, we recognize it is all part of our democratic process. Still, we could not help but take notice of some intriguing tactics that took place during a recent statehouse race in South Carolina.

A pro-voucher, Michigan-based political advocacy group ran radio ads and distributed a mailer supporting Joan Brady in a Republican primary runoff for a state House seat, reported The State newspaper in Columbia. That’s right. A special interest group from Michigan wants to influence the outcome of a South Carolina election. But that’s not even the best part.

The group, which calls itself All Children Matter, says its mission is to help elect candidates who support vouchers. Curiously though, their radio ads made no mention of vouchers or even the more vague term “school choice,” The State reported. Instead, the radio ads and political mailer urged voters to support Brady because of her pledge to oppose tax increases. “If you are an organization that is so ashamed of your agenda that you have to result to subterfuge to get your candidate elected, then shame on you,” Richland 2 school board member Mike Montgomery, a Brady supporter, told the newspaper.

Also registering on the strange meter was the fact that Brady contends she knows little of the group and knew nothing about the radio spots. “They chose me. I did not choose them,” she told the newspaper. She also stopped short of committing to support vouchers, saying she won’t support a program that drains funds from public schools. Well, that would eliminate vouchers.

Not mentioned in the South Carolina stories is the fact that this Michigan-based group is led by Dick DeVos, the former president of the direct-marketing firm Amway. DeVos is well known in school voucher circles as the architect of the failed 2000 ballot initiative to bring vouchers to Michigan. On Election Day that year 69 percent of Michigan voters rejected his voucher plan. It failed in every county and among every demographic and socioeconomic group even though voucher advocates outspent voucher opponents by a 2 to 1 margin.

Unable to convince the people of his own state to support vouchers, DeVos and his “All Children Matter” organization are now working to influence who gets elected to public offices in other states, such as South Carolina and Virginia, where it contributed nearly $300,000 last year in almost two dozen state legislative races.

By the way, Brady won the runoff. Stay tuned. Michigan dollars may be coming to a campaign near you.

Erin Walsh|June 25th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Does money matter on the field?

It’s worked pretty well over the years for free-spending New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner: spend a lot, win a lot. Is the same true with high schools? Maybe so. This week USA Today had a front page story on its finding that wealthy high schools disproportionately win sports titles when compared to poorer schools. The paper noted that in Kentucky, rich districts topped the least wealthy ones in titles won by a 15 to 1 margin. Rhode Island proved the only exception. In that state the less-moneyed schools won more titles than those that were more affluent.

Resources were an obvious factor in the overall disparity. One reason for more money in the winning sports programs? “Schools in wealthier neighborhoods often have booster clubs that raise money beyond what is budgeted by school districts and can be used for any number of wish-list functions,” reports the paper in an accompanying article. Not coincidentally perhaps, the most successful team in Kentucky also has booster clubs that generate tens of thousands of dollars for its sports programs each year.

This brings us full circle to a topic covered by BoardBuzz last month: the possibility that booster clubs contribute to opportunity inequities in schools. In March, BoardBuzz noted an Education Week article about the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (Calif.) superintendent who initially proposed that the $4 million raised by parents in one school be shared among all the districts’ schools. After an outcry from some parents, the plan was revised to include an optional check off for parents to donate to an “equity fund.” What are your thoughts about funding equity and booster clubs?

Erin Walsh|June 24th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Board leadership for after-school programs

Is your school board a champion of your district’s extended-day or after-school programs? Does your board collaborate with other local organizations and agencies to promote student success beyond the traditional school day? NSBA’s Extended-Day Learning Opportunities program is looking for school districts with strong school board leadership and collaboration practices that support extended-day and after-school programs. Success stories will be shared in upcoming NSBA publications and featured at NSBA’s 2005 Annual Conference. Contact NSBA’s Elizabeth Partoyan with questions or to request a Word version of the nomination form. The deadline for submissions is Friday, so nominate your district today! Learn more here.

Erin Walsh|June 24th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

It’s Blog fever as mainstream press picks up on the phenomenon

BoardBuzz readers and contributors are way ahead of the curve. But you knew that already, right? Well, the mainstream press is beginning to notice the rising popularity and influence of Blogs. We recommend this Time Magazine piece on the phenomenon. One of its observations: “Blogs don’t pretend to be neutral: they’re gleefully, unabashedly biased, and that makes them a lot more fun.” Darn straight. Our only gripe? They didn’t mention the impact blogs could have on the education world. Our world.

Erin Walsh|June 23rd, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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