Articles from December, 2004

Happy holidays

BoardBuzz will return to a daily publishing schedule on Jan. 3, 2005. Thanks for a great first year! If you miss your daily “buzz” between now and then, you can always revisit our archives, in the sidebar to the right. Please send us your thoughts and suggestions for Year 2 of BoardBuzz using any of the “Feedback” links. And ‘Tis the Season: Share the gift of BoardBuzz with friends and colleagues by using the “Send to a Friend” links.

NSBA wishes everyone a joyful holiday.

Erin Walsh|December 17th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Latest TIMMS results are out

First, the TIMMS acronym now stands for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, with “Trends” replacing “Third.” We don’t remember anyone telling us this, but we can overlook that oversight. For now. Read the Washington Post’s take here: “The gap between minority students and white students here has narrowed, but American students continue to lag behind their peers in Asian countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong,” the Post reports. The Department of Ed’s take is here, and the study itself is here.

Erin Walsh|December 16th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Must have missed this one in the newspapers

Here’s a story that might put a devious smile on the faces of public school advocates who sometimes think their schools don’t get a fair shake from the press or politicians. The public ranks school teachers second among the most honest and ethical of various professions in Gallup’s annual poll on honesty and ethics. Seventy-three percent of the public said the honesty and ethical standards of grade school teachers is very high or high. Topping the list of professions are nurses at 79 percent. Teachers outrank the military, doctors, police and the clergy, just to name a few.

And what of those frequently critical of the public schools? Well, TV reporters checked in at just 23 percent, newspaper reporters at 21 percent. And members of Congress? Yikes. Just 20 percent of the public say they have very high or high honesty and ethical standards. Local and state “officeholders” score in the 24 percent to 26 percent range, according to Gallup. Local officeholders? That could not include school board members, could it? Everyone loves school board members, right?

By the way, we don’t remember seeing a lot of press coverage on this poll, other than this industry publication story. Wonder why.

Erin Walsh|December 16th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Charter school brouhaha, round 2

Didn’t we all just do this a few months ago? As a matter of fact, yes. But the issue is back with the release of the U.S. Department of Education’s analysis of NAEP scores for charter schools. Bottom line: No measurable difference in overall reading performance between charter school students and traditional public school students; lower scores for charter students in overall math but no measurable differences among students of similar backgrounds. That’s straight from NAEP. We won’t rehash the points we made in August. They still apply. Today’s New York Times looks at the department’s analysis here, Washington Post story here, and the Associated Press recap here. The Times’ story includes this notable: “Schools that were not chartered by a school district but functioned as independent districts tended to do worse than those over which districts exercised some oversight.”

Erin Walsh|December 16th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Where things stand

The current Congress did not reauthorize the Perkins Act, but the new Congress is expected to take up the matter. For school districts under serious AYP pressure now, though, there’s no reason to wait on the feds: It may be worth taking another long look at your career programs now. Of course, there may be resource issues. But all three of the articles suggest steps school board members can take or initiate to get the ball rolling.

Erin Walsh|December 15th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

The Big Picture

Under pressure on reading and math, some school districts may not be paying as much attention to their career programs. This is especially the case if the community still thinks of career and technical education as a “non-academic” track that essentially prepares kids for entry-level technical jobs.

The irony, of course, is that many of the students most at risk for failing to make the required academic gains may be the very ones who are in the career programs. An issue last summer of Leadership Insider, the school law and policy newsletter for NSBA National Affiliate school districts, focused on these questions. Here’s that issue. At the time, Congress was still considering the reauthorization of the Perkins Vocational Education Act.

In the newsletter, Paul Weckstein of the Center for Law and Education argues that vocational education is even more important now that the academic challenge is greater than ever. But old notions of “academic” and “vocational” paths still get in the way, he says. As it happens, the Perkins Act for years has said that students are supposed to be getting a solid grounding in “all aspects of an industry,” not just training in technical skills. We’re talking the economics, the business realities, the planning, the finance, etc. This ain’t rocket science: After all, agricultural education always has been about how to run a farm, not how to operate a tractor and combine.

Of course, you can’t accomplish this without providing vocational students with solid academic skills and making sure their programs are meaningfully connected to the wider curriculum. Low expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Gene Bottoms of the Southern Regional Education Board highlights what his organization finds are the common features of successful career and technical programs. And Mike Oler, school board member of Ohio’s Fairfield City Schools and board president of Butler Technology and Career Development Schools, along with Robert Sommers, the career schools’ CEO, emphasize that we’re talking about a two-way street here: A high quality career program has a lot of wisdom to impart to help the rest of the “traditional” academic program meets its goals.

Erin Walsh|December 15th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

The Brentwood debate

The Brentwood district wants to make sure its students who are interested in pursuing vocational education stay on track in math and reading for accountability purposes. The Post-Gazette indelicately suggests that students oriented toward vo-tech “are sometimes not exactly whizzes at handling math and English.” So the district is planning a point system that would require students to meet standards for grades, attendance, and homework in order to be admitted to the Steel Center Vo-Tech School, which serves several districts.

The proposal has opened a debate about whether the requirements would interfere with student and parent choice. Dana Etzel Hardman, a Steel Center director, voices this criticism and says a better approach might be to provide tutoring for students who are struggling, as other districts have done.

But Brentwood School Board Vice President Rick Lenigan responds that times have changed. “In a different day and age you didn’t have to worry about such things,” he says. “Math and English could take a back seat to vocational ed for some students and they could just slide through school. There’s a whole different focus now.” And, as Board President Julia McCarthy points out, “You need English and math skills to be a valuable trades person.”

Board member Jim Dilla says he’s not sure the particular criteria proposed are the right ones, although he agrees that some are needed “because we owe something to the taxpayer.” The new standards will have some major loopholes, he points out, such as for student athletes, home schooled students, charter school students, and Brentwood students attending other schools. These loopholes increase the risk that, “If we have criteria, some kids may feel cheated out a vocational education.” But, he notes, “If we don’t have criteria, some kids may not get everything they should out of going to school.”

Erin Walsh|December 15th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Rethinking vocational ed in an NCLB world

Check out this recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, which highlights an issue we may be hearing a lot more about this year. Pennsylvania’s Brentwood School District is wrestling with how vocational education fits into the accountability scheme of things under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the state testing system. If your district hasn’t been discussing this question, it just might be overlooking a crucial opportunity to realize some key academic gains.

Erin Walsh|December 15th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Voucher land roundup

We’ve noted that South Carolina and Texas are two states to watch on the school voucher front in 2005. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, pushing a tuition tax credit plan, took a voucher field trip to Milwaukee, reports The State. The newspaper’s editorial staff thinks the voucher / tax credit idea is far from what South Carolina’s public schools need. No word on whether the field trip included lessons like these.

The state Board of Economic Advisors says the governor’s plan would cost South Carolina $234.4 million. “We need to focus our attention on continuing to build a quality public education system for all students, not just those who can qualify or afford tuition,” South Carolina School Boards Association spokeswoman Debbie Elmore told the newspaper.

To the west, expectations remain intact for a legislative scuffle over vouchers in Texas. Read this column by John Young of the Waco Tribune-Herald. His take? “Political support for vouchers is no deeper than the varnish on the Capitol floor. Yet the idea will come up again this session. How can I say that support for vouchers is microns thin? Because every election year I ask candidates. Politicians, of all people, would glom onto vouchers with great vigor if the idea were so popular. Invariably, however, the candidates I query either oppose vouchers outright or use evasive jargon like ‘keeping all options on the table.’”

Erin Walsh|December 14th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

School board member heads to Iraq

The board member, from the Elizabeth Forward School in Pennsylvania, has accepted an assignment as an intelligence support consultant and will spend the next year in Iraq. “I feel this is something I have to do,” Retired Air Force Capt. Richard Saccone told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “I’m sitting on years of valuable experience that might allow me to contribute to the success of the mission in Iraq.”

Erin Walsh|December 14th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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