Articles from February, 2005

‘Groundhog Day’ in Utah; Indiana rebuffs voucher bill

The Utah House defeated a tuition tax credit bill Friday despite heavy pressure and spending (once again) by the voucher lobby. Detailed reports from the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret Morning News here and here. For those keeping score, that’s five consecutive years the Utah Legislature has rejected the concept. The predictable reaction from the voucher lobby: “It’s not over yet. There will be a tax-credit bill here until it passes,” said Royce Van Tassell (or is it Bill Murray?), the head of the state group pushing the measure.

Also on Friday, the Indiana House turned back, at least for now, a school voucher bill, reports the Indianapolis Star here.

Erin Walsh|February 28th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

High school: Education’s hot topic

It is not just governors and the president who are talking about high school. A new report from Educational Testing Service’s Policy Information Center “warns little is being done to stem rising dropout rates and their economic costs.” Press release here, full report here (PDF):

Findings include:

* From 1990 to 2000, the high school completion rate declined in all but seven states. In 10 states, it declined by 8 percentage points or more.

* In high school completion rates, the United States has now slipped to 10th place in the world.

* On average, only one certified counselor is available for each 500 students in all schools, and one counselor to 285 students in high schools. And they have many assignments that leave little time to spend with students at risk of dropping out. The ratio is higher for minority students.

* A “bulge” in enrollments in ninth grade indicates more students nationally are being flunked to repeat ninth grade. This may be reflected in the significant shift toward younger, less educated dropouts than in the past, who face more difficulty in getting jobs.

* In 1971, male dropouts, working full time, earned $35,087 (in 2002 dollars), falling to $23,903 in 2002, a decline of 35 percent. Earnings for female dropouts fell from $19,888 to $17,114.
The report details programs that have proven to be successful in increasing retention, including the Talent Development High School, the Communities In Schools program, Maryland’s Tomorrow, and The Quantum Opportunities Program.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s wrap up of this past weekend’s National Governors Association pow-wow on high school reform.

Erin Walsh|February 28th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Editorial boards that get it

Kudos to The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., which is unveiling a series of editorials and analyses on the hotly debated tuition tax credit plan before the state legislature. Editorial page editor Brad Warthen explains the reasons for the series in this column, noting, “no one editorial can adequately explain all the things that are wrong with the idea.”

More: “Why are we willing to devote so much time and space to this topic? Because it goes to the heart of whether our state will continue to be committed to the biggest thing it does, which only it can do—provide all children with the opportunity for a good education. There are public schools, and there is what our governor is proposing, and the two concepts are completely incompatible. Our state must indeed make a choice.”

The editorial page has even more today, calling the suggestion that tuition tax credits will actually help public school budgets “utter hogwash.” Also worth a read: associate editor Nina Brook’s recent column. She takes the voucher crowd to task for their all-too-familiar mischaracterizations of the public schools, their supporters, and their teachers.

Writes Brook: “The teachers in South Carolina public schools deserve better. So do the students, and their parents. So does our entire state. Our schools need our full support in order to tackle the most important job any society can do—ensure the full education of its young people to help them become productive and responsible citizens.”

And with support for the plan lackluster at best, proponents have begun to scramble, hoping to trim the costs of the plan but curiously removing what little accountability the proposal included in the first place. The South Carolina School Boards Association responded immediately.

Erin Walsh|February 25th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Rally ’round the unaccountable

Speaking of credibility… someone get these folks a professional event planner, quick. In the “Can you top this?” world of Florida voucher embarrassments, comes this story, courtesy of the Palm Beach Post. At a recent rally for the state’s corporate tax credit voucher program, the lead spokesperson was a parent whose children have received vouchers for three years even though they are not eligible for them. They already were attending private school before getting the vouchers, which, according to the law, should make them ineligible. “Somehow, you’ve got a poster child for this program, and she’s flatly ineligible for the program? How does that happen?” state Senator Jim King asked. Maybe the rally was supposed to promote how proudly unaccountable the $88 million program is.

Erin Walsh|February 25th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Governors, legislators, the President on high schools: Anything missing?

Got any weekend plans? Since it is not quite NCAA tournament basketball time yet, we recommend some scintillating alternative TV viewing: the National Governors Association (NGA) winter meeting, which that organization is calling a National Education Summit on High Schools. If you cannot make it to lovely, snow-blanketed, downtown Washington, D.C., grab your microwave popcorn and watch all the thrilling excitement right here.

We make such a wild-eyed recommendation concerning your valuable weekend time because, let’s face it, for 20 years plenty of big time education ideas got their first pushes from governor’s offices. Now that standards and accountability and testing are federal mandates, like it or not, governors know that they can gain fast national attention by pushing big education ideas, especially if they can point to student achievement success at home. The work of NGA Chairman Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia and that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota are two good examples. Warner’s name was discussed regularly as a potential cabinet secretary in a John Kerry administration. Now, Warner is asked regularly about skipping all that and running for president right now.

NGA has its own high school initiative, even as President Bush is focusing on high school as part of what essentially is an extension of No Child Left Behind. Here is NGA’s 2005 Summit website. On the event’s “action agenda”: Redesigning the American high school. It is ambitious: “All students who start high school must graduate with the skills and knowledge they need for college and work. This will necessitate upgrading the requirements for earning a diploma, changing how high schools are structured, providing all students with access to effective teachers and principals, collecting better data to measure progress, holding high schools and postsecondary institutions accountable for results, and streamlining and improving education governance.”

Speaking of which, today’s Washington Post has an editorial that, from the title on, is pretty revealing. Called “Two Messages on Education,” it juxtaposes the expected NGA discussion with what the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) has to say about NCLB. The Post’s simplified take: “higher standards and accountability,” versus “flexibility, which in this context could be a code word for letting standards slip.” That characterization of NCSL’s arguments is similar to that voiced by a Business Roundtable spokeswoman in the New York Times: “Most of what they call for would be a reversal that would turn back the clock on what N.C.L.B. is trying to accomplish, all in the name of federalism.” She said that her concern was that NCSL “did a better job of pinpointing problems than identifying solutions.”

One can, of course, quibble over how much these commentators actually have looked into what both NGA and NCSL are saying and doing substantively about accountability, aside from the arguments over the federal government’s role in education. After all, governors and legislators are facing academic challenges and living with some of the things in NCLB that need fixing, just like school boards.

But there’s a larger point here: Does it strike anyone else as odd that the focus is so much on Presidential, gubernatorial, and state legislative postures? Maybe, just maybe, it will start occurring to more people that it might not be a bad idea to consider some input from those who actually are responsible for the education of children at the local level. Here’s a great example, courtesy of The Tennessean’s Claudette Riley.

And here are resources on NSBA’s specific proposals regarding NCLB—identifying solutions without turning back the clock. People can and will debate the particulars, and there surely are other suggestions from other representatives of those at the local level. But clearly the “two messages on education” take misses the boat. It’s also striking that NCSL and many individual states are zeroing in on some of the exact same problems, and some of the same solutions, as school boards. The credibility of NCLB is at stake. Here’s one way you can help make sure Congress pays attention.

Erin Walsh|February 25th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

FYI: NCSL on NCLB

A task force of the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) released a report Wednesday of a 10-month study it did on the No Child Left Behind law. (Check out the full report (PDF) or executive summary.) The law comes up for re-authorization in 2007. Message to Congress: Why wait until then for needed important changes?

The defenders are out in force. Rep. John Boehner, (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Education Committee, told the Washington Post that critics “want the funding No Child Left Behind is providing, but they don’t want to meet the high standards that come with it.”

Not so, says Minnesota State Sen. Steve Kelley, (D), co-chair of the study task force, who points out that using only one yardstick to judge every school’s effectiveness is not practical. “To say that only one measurement can be used to judge every school’s effectiveness is not practical,” he said. “Our recommendations continue to hold schools accountable, but provide for a more realistic measurement method to ensure that they do.”

The report lists 43 specific recommendations, many of which sound familiar. The group calls the following its four top NCLB complaints:

* “Remove obstacles that stifle state innovations and undermine state programs that were proving to work before passage of the act. Federal waivers should be granted and publicized for innovative programs;

* “Fully fund the act and provide states the financial flexibility to meet its goals. The federal government funds less than 8 percent of the nation’s education program, but the No Child Left Behind Act affects nearly all classroom activity. In addition, states ask for a Government Accountability Office review to determine the act’s costs and whether it violates the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act;

* “Remove the one-size-fits-all method that measures student performance and encourage more sophisticated and accurate systems that gauge the growth of individual students and not just groups of students. States believe the 100-percent proficiency goal is not statistically achievable and that struggling schools need the opportunity to address problems before losing parts of their student populations;

* “Recognize that some schools face special challenges, including adequately teaching students with disabilities and English language learners. The law also needs to recognize the differences among rural, suburban and urban schools.”

Here is UPI’s version, and here is the New York Times’ take.

Erin Walsh|February 24th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

To cell or not to cell?

School boards and superintendents continue to wrestle with the issue of cell phones carried by students during the school day. Since the events of 9/11, many schools have relaxed their policies to allow students to have them, but require the phones to be turned off during the day. Parents like the idea of being able to get in touch with their children if an emergency arises. But today’s cell phone technology offers text messaging and picture taking features that could lead to cheating and privacy invasion. In an article published yesterday in Education World, William Scharffe, director of bylaw and policy services for the Michigan Association of School Boards, noted that the cell phone issue now “extends down to the elementary grades. There are first and second graders with cell phones,” which was unheard of a few years ago.

In the same article, NSBA attorney Naomi Gittins noted, “Many states are repealing the laws [regulating cell phones in schools] and are throwing the issue back at the local districts.” In response to Connecticut’s relaxing of state law, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education advises school districts to be flexible in its cell phone policies but recommends that camera phones be banned from schools.

For a state-by-state recap of statutes, check out the 2004 study, “Pagers and Cellular Phones on School Property,” published by the Education Commission of the States. To learn more about how states and school districts are dealing with this issue, read this Teacher Magazine article and this Education Week article. How are you dealing with cell phone policies? Let BoardBuzz readers know!

Erin Walsh|February 24th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

So, to review …

NSBA proposes changes in three categories: measuring adequate yearly progress (AYP), state flexibility, and sanctions. NSBA’s bill includes redefining AYP to more accurately measure progress of specific groups of students, strengthening the connection between sanctions and specific student achievement progress needs, and allowing states to be more innovative and use their own accountability systems.

We will be writing often about NSBA’s suggested changes to NCLB, in more detail. And we will also be writing more about this very soon too. Promise.

Erin Walsh|February 23rd, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

NCLB II: The sequel

As the Oscars approach, we take heart in the realization that none of the Best Picture nominees are sequels. (Here is a vote for Sideways, if anyone asks.) One sequel that is on the way for better or worse is President Bush’s proposed changes/additions to No Child Left Behind. In an interview excerpted here, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings speaks in general to criticism of the act:

National Journal: Some people criticize the department for being too rigid in not granting states the flexibility to meet No Child Left Behind goals. Other people say you should stick to your guns. What’s your response?

Spellings: If you’re going to do systemic school reform, people on the ground have to buy into it. The people on the front lines — teachers in classrooms, principals on campuses — are the ones who are going to close the achievement gap, not me, the Secretary of Education, and not this department. So they have to think it’s achievable and do-able and sustainable.

There’s a lot of misinformation out in the world about what No Child Left Behind is and is not, and what it does and does not do. I called them horror stories in my [confirmation] hearing — people who say No Child Left Behind forced them to cancel the spelling bee, or they can’t have art because of No Child Left Behind. Of course that’s not the case. There are some very bright lines in this statute. I’m committed to them, I’m hawkish about them, but I think I need to look at and listen and learn about what flexibilities need to be provided so that we’re moving toward the goal of proficiency by 2013-14.
“People on the ground have to buy into it.” Did you catch that part? Right on. And “hawkish” is certainly fine at the proper times, as is flexibility, at just about all times. NSBA is working to maintain important measures in NCLB, while advocating updates of areas of the law that badly need improvement.

“Local school boards have seen the benefits of the program that have caused rich data to surface about the performance of specific schools and groups of children in their local communities,” writes Michael Resnick, NSBA associate executive director. “But of utmost concern is the belief that NCLB places too much emphasis on one way of evaluating schools and students. Local school boards welcome increased accountability, but they believe that the assessments for all children should be valid and reliable. They also believe that the data publicly reported should fairly and accurately reflect school and school district performance.”

Resnick’s comments can be found here (PDF), in an introduction to NSBA’s own recommended bill. (Here is a site that collects NSBA’s documents and presentations on NCLB’s next frontier.)

Erin Walsh|February 23rd, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

‘Ice ice baby’

Just remember. It’s about the kids. It’s not about the money. Seriously, there’s nothing unusual about an investment firm that owns the nation’s largest ice manufacturer and a kitchen cabinet manufacturer also gobbling up a chain of 17 private schools that happen to have access to lots of taxpayer dollars. Not unusual at all. We’re talking Florida and its multitude of voucher programs. Anything goes! “Obviously, a private investment corporation has decided that this law was designed to help people make money,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). “It should have been designed to help kids.” The Palm Beach Post has the scoop.

Meantime, the Florida Legislature, with the former Senate president leading the way, may make another effort to add meaningful public accountability standards to the state’s scandal-ridden voucher programs. Standing in their way? The Florida Department of Education, which has floated its own “accountability” plan that has fewer teeth than a toddler. “What is being proposed by the Department of Education does little to protect our kids. It would allow a person with little specific ability, either education- or experience-wise, to be hired as a teacher, and does not require any form of meaningful reporting by the school to the department, which would be an index of that school’s progress,” Sen. Jim King (R) said. More here from the Palm Beach Post, and an editorial from The Ledger here.

What might also get in the way of adding accountability to the state’s voucher programs? Maybe an expansion of vouchers? That proposal looks to be part of a larger education package coming from the governor. Reports here and here, with the Florida School Boards Association on record. “I told them we could not agree with that,” FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton said. “I told them there are other ways to accomplish reading at grade level. We will not support a voucher bill.”

As an aside, we’re told that a certain policy wonk and soon-to-be-state education board member wondered if BoardBuzz’s recent hibernation was connected to the usual run of voucher bills making their appearances in state legislatures. While BoardBuzz would love to believe our policy impact is that far-reaching, we’re inclined to believe that crude politics and deep pockets have more to do with the annual proposals. For those who want their daily fill of voucher news, we invite you to make regular stops here and here.

Erin Walsh|February 23rd, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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