Every year, American School Board Journal’s Magna Awards honors school boards and school districts across America that are going above and beyond the call of duty, reaching out to their communities and leading for positive change in numerous ways. Read about the recently named 2005 batch of winners and their programs here. Big winners: Miami-Dade County Schools; Metropolitan School District of Warren Township in Indiana; and San Diego City Schools. The winners will be honored at NSBA’s annual conference in April.
School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
Articles from March, 2005
How would your state teachers’ union respond to this? A state lawmaker in Hawaii has suggested that state’s public school teachers be forced to weigh in as part of the fight against obesity in students. The resolution calls for all public schoolteachers to weigh in every six months. The measure calls for the education and health departments to formulate an obesity standard and appropriate measures for teachers who cannot meet the standard, reports KITV in Honolulu. State Rep. Rida Cabanilla introduced a resolution in the house requesting that the board of education establish an obesity database among public schoolteachers.
“You cannot keep a kid to a certain standard that you yourself are not willing to keep,” Cabanilla said. More than 20 percent of Hawaii’s children are at risk, or are already overweight, according to the station. There are no statistics on teachers. The Hawaii State Teachers Association objects.
School boards around the country are taking action to address a serious issue: Burnout and stress among high-achieving students. The school board in Winnetka, Ill., is considering major changes at New Trier High School, where nearly 95 percent of students go on to college. “New Trier, like a number of large, high-performing schools, is beginning to acknowledge that a culture of excellence can have a dark side, and that the push to craft gilded college applications can bring on stress and overscheduling,” reports the Christian Science Monitor, in an article that lays out the issues.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the Winnetka school board last week endorsed having administrators study 41 recommendations to address such concerns. Among them: Eliminating class rankings, setting guidelines for homework, and mandating student meetings with counselors beginning in ninth grade to assist students in arranging healthier and saner mix of academic and extracurricular activities. The most controversial suggestion, oddly enough: Mandatory lunch. Some students choose to skip lunch, opting to eat in class, to free up more time to choose other elective classes, such as art and music.
The school board in Palo Alto, Calif., has been addressing similar issues for about three years. Such efforts are deadly serious. “In 2003, there were two suicides at Palo Alto High School,” reports the San Jose Mercury News. “But there are many more cases of students developing unhealthy habits—like skipping meals, drinking too much coffee, abusing alcohol—in their drive to succeed, said Mollie Galloway, co-director of Stanford University’s Stressed Out Students program.” The Stanford Program—called S.O.S.—offers programming and some good resources. “There are two kinds of solutions. Some I call Band-Aids, and some are root changes,” Denise Pope of the Stanford program tells Christian Science Monitor. “For some of the schools, it’s a huge success just to have conversations about this.”
Board members and administrators of NSBA National Affiliate districts who will be attending NSBA’s Annual Conference in San Diego next month have a chance to get some answers to their questions on school law. For the third year running, there will be a special session for National Affiliate members called You Asked! discussing the legal issues they ask about in advance. In the future, a special issue of Leadership Insider, the National Affiliate school law and policy newsletter, will recap the discussion.
To submit questions, National Affiliate board members and employees can click here. Even if you can’t make it to San Diego, we want to hear from you. If you’re not sure whether your district is a National Affiliate, you can check here.
Black parents are getting involved in their children’s schools, in places such as New York City’s Harlem neighborhoods, and are making a difference. Here are more examples of parents getting involved in new ways, in Maryland. Online “toolkits” at an Indiana school are aimed at spelling out precise student expectations for parents, and encouraging school-home connections. This group, Parents for Public Schools, is doing good things and, incidentally, has some thoughtful material on parents and school boards. And: This expert makes a good case that parental involvement, along with staff training, are the two keys to a successful anti-bullying strategy.
Syndicated columnist David Chartrand sees the great education apocalypse, and it is not about student achievement gaps or inabilities to solve various other important challenges. Nope. Chartrand’s worries are all about schools making naming rights deals with private firms on sports stadiums. “Only the hopelessly naÃ?Â¯ve or incurably optimistic can see this leading to anything but trouble,” he writes. “As we open the corporate-advertising can of worms, two questions come crawling out. If school districts receive private advertising dollars, whose money is it? Is it public money? Will local patrons have a say over how it’s spent? Actually that’s three questions. And if you really want to make your neck hurt, imagine the outcry if it turns out school board members or administrators have ties to these new corporate partners.” The headline over the column in the Kansas City Star is a bit much: “Advertising makes joke of public education system.”
This is all a bit much. Bringing community financial support into public schools can be tricky, and admittedly there are legitimate, difficult issues out there about the commercialization of schools and making sure that boards get the very best deal for kids. Chartrand points out that one school district is considering multi-million dollar promotions. But the apocalypse-is-here stuff is a bit much. School boards are faced with numerous pressures, from pleasing sports-mad communities to tremendous financial shortfalls. Let’s find ways to engage the issue without the woe-is-public-education stuff. And here is a great tactic we need to try: Everyone who disagrees with us is either “hopelessly naÃ?Â¯ve or incurably optimistic.”
Merit pay for teachers is a hot issue in the education world. After all, it makes intuitive sense that employees who produce great results be compensated for their exemplary efforts. And the flip side, of course, is relatively less compensation for those who are less exemplary. School boards have been working on better ways to connect performance to compensation, although the fairness questions are very sensitive employee relations issues, especially with budgets so tight.
Aside from the merits of merit pay for teachers, though, it does strike us as curious that in the big money world of Fortune 500 companies, the concept doesn’t seem to apply to low-performing CEOs. They often land quite softly thanks to their golden parachutes. We wonder about the enthusiasm for teacher merit pay among some of the business community relative to their attention to matters closer to home. Things that make you go hmmm…
Lots of press today on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on Title IX. In case you missed BoardBuzz’s late posting, here it is, with a link back to the points we made when the case was argued. In light of some of the court’s opinion and the press coverage, a couple of points bear repeating.
Some accounts, like Nina Totenberg’s NPR report, relate Mr. Jackson’s version of events without noting that these are allegations and the only version the courts legally can consider at this point in the process. As we’ve noted, it’s a sympathetic account that makes for good drama and inspiring telling. In the end, if the case doesn’t settle, the district court may determine that Mr. Jackson’s version is true. But since realistically many people form their opinions on the legal questions from the facts at issue, it’s at least worth bearing in mind that this is just one side of the story.
Ms. Totenberg also observes that, in ruling for the Birmingham school board, the lower courts in the case broke with “decades” of earlier lower court rulings on such claims. But the point was that more recent Supreme Court holdings pointed in another direction. Although the Supreme Court held that no reasonable school board could have assumed it was “free to retaliate,” the school board’s argument was about who can sue and when—and the fact that the district court, the appeals courts, and four Supreme Court justices agreed with the board suggests that perhaps the board wasn’t so unreasonable for thinking there was a problem with this lawsuit, even if the majority of the Supreme Court ultimately disagreed.
On this “free to retaliate” point, this Salt Lake Tribune piece by Lya Wodraska quotes some Utah coaches as being astonished at the suggestion that someone could be fired for raising a concern. But school employees have powerful legal protections in such situations, even without yet another way to sue. And remember, Mr. Jackson was relieved of coaching duties, not fired from his teaching job.
As NSBA General Counsel Julie Underwood told Scripps Howard’s James Brosnan here, school boards have some reason to be concerned about underperforming faculty and coaches who might try to “wrap themselves in Title IX.” Bottom line, as she told Knight Ridder’s Stephen Henderson in this article: “We’re trying to limit the amount of litigation and encourage people to use other avenues, because money spent in court won’t be spent in the classroom.”
The Supreme Court today allowed a Title IX lawsuit go forward, issuing a decision that has some troubling implications for schools. AP coverage here. Ed Week here. This was the case brought by Birmingham, Alabama, teacher Roderick Jackson, who alleges that he was retaliated against for complaining that his girls’ basketball team was getting shortchanged compared to the boys’ team. Here’s what BoardBuzz had to say when the case was argued in November.
Writing yet another majority opinion in yet another 5-4 ruling expanding the reach of Title IX, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor basically decided that retaliating against someone for complaining about gender discrimination against somebody else is itself a form of intentional discrimination on the basis of sex. She discounted the school board’s argument that Title IX does not expressly permit lawsuits over alleged retaliation, let alone by those who are not the victims of sex discrimination. Those retaliated against are direct victims of sex discrimination, the Court held.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the dissenting opinion, which noted that recent Supreme Court opinions had made clear that Congress must unambiguously authorize lawsuits under federal laws like Title IX. “Rather than requiring clarity from Congress,” he wrote, “the majority requires clairvoyance from funding recipients.”
The disagreement between the majority and the dissent really boils down to this question. The majority decided that because Title IX doesn’t enumerate any particular legal claims at all, the more recent rule that the scope of lawsuits must be expressly delineated doesn’t apply.
Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center, one of Jackson’s lawyers, calls the decision “a slam dunk for everyone who cares about equal opportunity.” Nice sound bite, but even if you accept her side’s legal argument, this assertion is a bit silly. School boards and school administrators care about equal opportunity. NSBA supports Title IX. And incidentally, as former executive director of the American Association of University Women, NSBA Executive Director Anne Bryant is hardly unsympathetic to equity concerns.
The problem, of course, is lawsuits. The Court has created another new path to the courthouse for a new range of plaintiffs, even though Congress was silent on this question and even though Congress also provided a way for complainants to seek administrative enforcement from the federal government and spare everyone the cost of a lawsuit. As NSBA argued and Justice Thomas noted, nothing prevents parents and students from filing Title IX complaints about unfair treatment. Jackson’s lawsuit, on the other hand, doesn’t even ask for any relief for the girls: it seeks back wages and reinstatement as coach.
More was at stake in this case than Title IX lawsuits. Of even greater concern to NSBA was how the Court’s decision may be invoked to argue for new kinds of lawsuits against schools under other federal laws. On this point, there may be a silver lining of sorts: at least the Court does not appear to have endorsed outright the plaintiff’s blanket argument that courts should infer that every other non-discrimination statute gives those who are not direct victims of discrimination a right to sue over alleged retaliation.
On the other hand, we’ll have to watch what the lawyers and the courts do with this one. School boards should anticipate that plaintiffs’ lawyers will attempt to argue that at least some of these other federal laws—those that may be silent on the questions of retaliation lawsuits or indirect victims—are like Title IX and that such lawsuits therefore should be permitted. Stay tuned.