Articles from April, 2005

Also across the pond …

There’s a good ‘ole voucher fight smack dab in the middle of Tony Blair’s re-election campaign.

Erin Walsh|April 29th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Exploding toads sweeping Europe

If you’re eating right now, you might want to come back to this post a little later. Consider that your warning. But with a headline like that, how can you resist?

Scientists and veterinarians in Germany think they’ve figured out why more than 1,000 toads have spontaneously combusted: Blame it on the crows. (Boardbuzz is enormously relieved that educators didn’t get blamed for this one.) The birds apparently are pecking the livers right out of the toads. Says Berlin vet Frank Mutschmann: It appears that a bird pecks into the toad with its beak between the amphibian’s chest and abdominal cavity, and the toad puffs itself up as a natural defense mechanism. But, because the liver is missing and there’s a hole in the toad’s body, the blood vessels and lungs burst and the other organs ooze out. Got it? It’s happening in Denmark too. What’s this have to do with education? Nothing. It’s just Friday.

PETA folks: Please, no emails.

Erin Walsh|April 29th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

More good use of the Web

Two new ways the Web is providing information about public schools:

A new online system allows the public to check Iowa educators’ records and makes it possible for teachers to renew their licenses. The program, operated through the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners’ Web site, went online last week, the Des Moines Register reports. The site will show the educator’s type of license and endorsements, the dates the license is valid for, the educator’s current job assignment, and any letters of reprimand in the educator’s file.

The Internet is also where more and more families are turning for information about where the good schools are. “Housing markets used to be driven by word of mouth,” reports USA Today. “Parents tended to rely on general reputation when it came to understanding which schools were performing best.

“Now parents on the move are flocking to Web sites detailing student-performance statistics and district comparisons.

Homestore.com, which features such school reports, averaged 8.65 million unique users per month in 2004. Users surfed the site for about 300 million minutes in February 2005 alone, according to the most recent figures.

“School information is the second-most popular feature after actual listings, according to Erin Campbell, corporate communications director.”

Erin Walsh|April 29th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Department’s No. 2 has respect throughout Washington

While we are on the subject, the Department of Education’s recently appointed second-in-command, Ray Simon of Arkansas, is profiled here. Education groups across the map get along with Simon, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story points out: “Reggie Felton, director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association, said: ‘We’ve had a good experience with him. He understands the challenges local schools are facing.’

“Felton said he expects Simon to excel at fanning grassroots political support for school funding.

“And the lobbyist said, ‘He’s not a Washington careerist. I think that’s good.’ “

No word on whether Simon ‘frightens’ anyone, though. We’ll check with Mr. Felton and get back to you.

Erin Walsh|April 29th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Spellings: Up close and personal

Let’s see, here are a few descriptions of the Secretary of Education found in this New York Times story: Fun. Strategic. Savvy. Blunt. She doesn’t want wandering conversations. She wants to get down to work. Soccer mom. The first woman with school-age children to serve as secretary of education. Earth mother. Charming. A stream of Texas truisms. One anonymous source (of course) did tell the Times reporter he/she was “frightened” by Spellings. And this quote is cute, we thought: A reporter asked Spellings, upon being named domestic advisor to President Bush in 2001, what is her religion. She replied, “Phonics.” Her rhetoric can be sharp and her loyalty to the president is unquestionable.

Eventually, the personality profile of the former lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards finally gets down to business, however, by suggesting that Spellings, by seeming to treat differently several states who have objected to No Child Left Behind provisions, has invited even more politics into the mix. Then there is this:

“Most ambitious legislation requires revision, and many educators have concluded that this law needs a tune-up, too,” the Times reports. “But the White House is determined to avoid any legislative reconsideration until the scheduled reauthorization of the law in 2007.”

The goals of NCLB are solid, but waiting until 2007 to make the changes necessary to keep those goals on track is not the answer. Her recent moves to add needed flexibility to No Child Left Behind are good starts. But more is needed, because two years is two too long to wait. Here is a great place for the discussion to start: NSBA’s No Child Left Behind Improvement Act.

Erin Walsh|April 29th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

School bus safety revisited

Following several school bus-related student deaths in recent days, such as this one Monday in Minneapolis, many are wondering if a disturbing trend is upon us. But in fact, nationwide, the number of schoolchildren hit and killed by school buses is small, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Students on school buses are safe as well. “But if risk is an inevitable part of life, putting a child on a school bus is one of the less dangerous things a parent does,” editorializes the Washington Post, following an ugly school bus-trash truck collision last week in nearby Arlington, Va., which killed two young school children: “The fatality rate for school buses is less than one-seventh that of regular passenger vehicles. This is a result of their sheer size and of design improvements, mandated by the federal government in 1977, that bolstered safety through what’s called ‘compartmentalization’ — seats placed closer together, with padding and high backs to absorb the energy of a crash. In 2003, five children nationwide were killed riding on school buses; school bus crashes accounted for three-tenths of 1 percent of fatal crashes between 1992 and 2002. In short, it’s safer to put your children on a school bus than to drive them yourself.”

California will require use of “three point” restraints—across the shoulder safety belts—on every new school bus beginning in July. Will students wear them? And are they much of an answer anyway? An activist says they would save many lives. A school bus expert is not so sure, and says costs will be high to fit and maintain lap belt systems in school buses. Good piece on the issues involved here.

A bigger threat to students is other drivers. In the death of a student in the community of Oregon, Ohio, last month, the culprit was a car whose driver was talking on a cell phone. The car hit and killed the boy who had just stepped off a school bus, after the driver did not heed the bus’s warning lights. School bus drivers know this is a common challenge: Drivers on the road who ignore the law and do not stop when buses load and unload children.

Oddly enough, school bus safety is a big issue right now in Australia and in China as well.

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

Quid pro quo?

That’s what voucher advocates are hoping for in Arizona. Unable to muster enough support to pass a school voucher program on its own, some lawmakers want to make a deal on the state’s budget: Expand full-day kindergarten, which the governor wants, in return for school voucher and corporate tuition tax credit programs. Gov. Janet Napolitano, who opposes vouchers, is signaling she won’t agree, according to Arizona Daily Sun. “I’ve been very clear with the legislature: They need to expand kindergarten and it needs to be a clean bill,” the governor said. “Vouchers are not a solution to public education in Arizona.” More here from the Arizona Republic. Stay tuned.

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

Voucher lobby takes it on the chin in South Carolina

They had called it their number one target this year. But South Carolina, as of now, proved to be an unwilling pawn in the national voucher lobby’s 2005 agenda. On Wednesday, the House tabled the much-debated tuition tax credit plan pushed by the state’s governor, likely spelling its defeat this year, reports The State. When the original sweeping proposal met resistance, a smaller but still costly pilot program was suggested, but found little support as well. The South Carolina School Boards Association helped lead the effort to inform citizens and lawmakers to continue supporting, not abandoning, its public schools and the state’s accountability program. Check out “The Right Choice” materials found on their homepage. The battle in South Carolina, by all accounts, is still in the early stages. BoardBuzz will have more on this story in the days ahead.

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

Another NCLB lawsuit

A lot has happened in the NCLB world while BoardBuzz has been on the road. The National Education Association (NEA), joined by a group of school districts and a group of state NEA affiliates, finally filed its long-threatened legal challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Legal details and links to documents and background here.

The suit focuses on the funding, not NCLB’s provisions. The plaintiffs are invoking the section of NCLB itself that says no state and school district shall be required to pay for complying with the act out of its own funds. They add the new twist that the feds, by imposing unfunded mandates, also are violating the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Council of School Attorneys (COSA) member Ron Wenkart of California’s Orange County Department of Education had explored this line of argument in a law review article back in 2003. The idea here is that federal spending legislation is like a contract, so states need to know what the real deal is before they sign on.

Much of the group’s legal complaint documents how the federal funding actually appropriated is nowhere near what will be required to comply with NCLB. They invoke many of the cost studies that states and other organizations have done on this issue. Now, as we’ve noted, there are various methods for calculate these things, all with pros and cons. But, as with cost studies used in connection with state finance adequacy litigation, the point is that they all tend to point in the same direction. Under-funding NCLB breaks our promises to children and amounts to a Federal Education Tax.

The suit’s been filed in federal district court in Michigan. According to the COSA grapevine, Judge Bernard Friedman will hear the case. COSA member Lisa Swem of the Thrun Law Firm in Lansing reports, “Friedman is a politically conservative Reagan appointee, who has been described as ‘very bright’ and ‘intellectually honest.’”

Reactions to the suit, of course, are mixed. Some voices are sounding the usual “Quit-your-whining-at-least-we-increased-funding-some” theme, some are saying “It’s about time,” and others worry that, although the money may be pitifully inadequate for the task, the end result of calling the funding question may be a lowering of expectations and accountability for serving disadvantaged children. And, aside from the merits of the arguments, some question whether the lawsuit is a good idea or will work.

NSBA’s proposed No Child Left Behind Improvement Act takes different approaches to addressing the NCLB problems that various litigants have raised in court. Folks on the Hill reportedly are expressing interest and sympathy, but politics is politics: Unless they hear from enough people in their own districts that they need to get moving, they’ll sit back and let events continue to run their course. Secretary Spellings has announced one welcome move toward some flexibility that the department will make through regulations, so we’ll have to watch if others may be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal indicates he’s getting ready to file that state’s own suit.

Erin Walsh|April 27th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Welcome back

As BoardBuzz arrived home yesterday, there was much reflection on the success of the NSBA conference. Approximately 13,000 attendees gathered to listen, network, and learn how to lead their districts more effectively. Spirits were high and the commitment to children evident. Clearly, today is a challenging, but extremely rewarding time to lead schools.

Now that we’re all back in the groove, what does a school board member do with all that excellent information gathered throughout the four-day annual conference? Here are Tips for Sharing Your Conference Experience with Your Community, which offers some great ideas for deflecting the criticism that may come from taxpayers or reporters about school board members’ attendance at professional development conferences.

If you didn’t have a chance to attend the conference, check out the completed online discussions, which captured questions and answers on four hot topics that school systems face today: 21st century intrusions in the classroom, obesity, teaching religion lawfully, and sexual minority youth. Good stuff. And let us know what other topics you would like to see covered in future online discussions.

Erin Walsh|April 27th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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