Memo to school board members: Never ever do anything like this.
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 June, 2005
Podcasting is becoming such a talked about idea in education. Cool gadget, together with an endless number of ways to incorporate it creatively into classroom projects. But there is an even hotter concept in ed tech. It’s called Get A High School Student To Help Me. This is one theme heard frequently among teachers when they tell their stories about implementing technology.
One example is Beth Black, a teacher at Chase Lake Elementary in Edmonds, Wash. Her class’s Web site is here. She and her colleagues just completed an online professional development program that turned a group of technology-phobic teachers into real mavericks. They are using simple technology such as Web sites and scanning tools and tablet PCs. “They were very skeptical,” Black said of her fellow teachers. “But once they learned one thing, they started to think up new, innovative projects. It has been a huge change.” One key: Getting a tech-savvy high school student to provide important assistance throughout. That theme was repeated at a NECC session on blogging, run by Clarity Innovations, who worked with NSBA on its annual conference blog. “Just get a senior,” somebody on the panel of top school bloggers said, to knowing chuckles. “You can always find a senior.” Those bloggers included: Tim Lauer, a principal who runs his excellent school Web site as a blog. Will Richardson was there as well. He is a top education blogger and supervisor of instructional technology and communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J. Check out their sites.
This edition of School Board News takes a look at three different student health issues. First, schools’ screening of student mental health is kicking up a storm among conservative Christian groups. SBN reports that “pressure by anti-screening forces has led New Mexico to pass a law prohibiting mental health screening in schools, and similar legislation has been proposed in nine other states, according to the National Mental Health Association.” Further, “the Illinois Mental Health Act of 2003, and a series of recommendations mandated by the act, have become a lightning rod for opponents of screening. A conservative Christian group called the Illinois Family Institute says, ‘Illinois schools are on the fast track to become the nation’s testing ground for mental health.’”
The issue also explores what might happen if a school’s food supply is attacked by bioterrorists. “The issue recently garnered attention when a federal official talked about the potential threat to school lunches at a conference of the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO)… . Although it’s impossible to determine how many students could be threatened by a case of tampering, terrorists don’t necessarily have to cause many deaths to achieve their aims, says David Lineback, director of the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, a cooperative program of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the University of Maryland.” Read more here.
And, type II diabetes is a growing problem particularly among African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American children and adolescents. “At the local level, most school systems tackle the issue of diabetes in a peripheral manner: mentioning the disease as part of the health curriculum, while emphasizing good nutrition and physical activity as important strategies for a healthy lifestyle. Many districts also are helping fight diabetes indirectly by providing healthier fare in the cafeteria and removing junk food from vending machines.” But some districts are taking additional measures. Read more here.
The award-winning School Board News is published as a service of NSBA’s National Affiliate program.
This week at the National Education Computing Conference, representatives from some outstanding schools are showing off not only their achievements, but their courage. One example: Fully one-third of the students and teachers at Sebastian Elementary in Sebastian, Fla., were displaced from their homes following last year’s hurricanes. The school nevertheless made its AYP goals and was named a Florida A+ school. “Against all odds!” says Principal Pat Donovan. A team from the school was at NECC talking about its recently completed professional development program that helped it better understand the National Educational Technology Standards.
The project also got the team to figure out a useful technology goal. “Our goal was to get our teachers to use some of the technology we already have,” said Donovan. About a dozen teachers at the school now have classroom Web sites, and the goal is to get at least half of the entire faculty online by next year. As well as to stay dry during the upcoming hurricane season.
Research agency WestEd has recently released a cost-benefit analysis of taxpayer investment in early childhood education concluding that “a nationwide commitment to high-quality early childhood development (ECD) would cost a significant amount of money upfront, but it would have a substantial payoff.”
Specifically, investing in preschool for children of poverty would eventually result in: lower public education expenses because these children will fail fewer grades and require less special education; lower criminal justice costs because of lower crime and delinquency rates; higher incomes earned by these children as adults; and thus, lower public welfare expenses.
The authors point out that this kind of investment results in a better return than for the stock market’s annual real rate between 1871 and 1998. There, the rate of return was 6.3 percent as compared with the total pre-K investment returns of 16 percent. And unlike stock investments, the returns benefit everyone, not just a few.
The hitch is that society has to be patient. During the first 16 years after the early childhood investments, costs outweigh the budgetary benefits. But, “One of the most important non-government finance-related benefits of ECD investment is its impact on the future earnings of participants. In the long run, these higher future earnings result from higher productivity of as much as a fifth of our future workforce and will translate into higher Gross Domestic Product levels. In other words, a nationwide ECD program that targets all poor children will result in a future workforce that is better educated and more productive.” Anyone listening in Congress?
No Child Left Behind does not threaten much action if states do not improve their graduation rates. But there is good news nevertheless, writes Jay Mathews of the Washington Post.
Mathews quotes this telling section of the Education Trust report:
“This year, states were required to report statewide graduation-rate data to the U.S. Department of Education. But in far too many cases, the information they provided is of little value to school-improvement efforts. In fact, three states reported no graduation-rate data at all. Another seven did not report data broken down by students’ race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
“Of the states that did provide graduation-rate information, most reported rates that look dubiously high when compared to the results of multiple independent analyses of state graduation rates. These studies estimate that nationally, almost one-third of all high school students don’t graduate on time, with significantly worse rates for students of color. But in many of the state reports, these alarming numbers are nowhere to be found.”
“States are not accustomed to having to defend their self-congratulatory statistical tricks,” Mathews writes. “But the federal law has forced some of these maneuvers into the open, where curious outsiders can see what is going on. Maybe that will make them less likely to define dropouts completely out of their equations when the next reporting deadline arrives.”
As BoardBuzz promised yesterday, we have more today on the Supreme Court’s decisions in the McCreary County and Van Orden Ten Commandments cases. McCreary County was the Kentucky courthouses one, Van Orden was the Texas state capitol one. Here’s the press release, with resources, from NSBA’s press office. Here’s Linda Greenhouse’s New York Times coverage, and here’s an article about the K-12 implications by Education Week’s Caroline Hendrie. Here we offer up more observations specifically for the public school world.
First, the Court most definitely did not accept NSBA’s plaintive invitation to provide a new and clearer test for resolving such religious controversies. The Court did not retire the Lemon test, as NSBA had urged. If anything, the fractured rulings in these cases make a muddy ground even muddier.
The Justices did seem painfully aware of the toll that these disputes are taking on the nation’s social fabric, and several went out of their way to explain their understanding of the meaning of religious liberty under the Constitution. But Justice David Souter, writing the majority opinion in McCreary, seemed to signal that the Court will not provide a convenient, bright-line rule, because this would just invite people to game around it. Indeed, the Court decided that the facts in McCreary revealed an attempt to get around Court holdings in order to promote the religious message of the Ten Commandments.
Justice Stephen Breyer, in his separate concurring opinion in the Van Orden case, went even further. He questioned whether any formulaic test—Lemon or any other—can resolve these questions consistently in such fact-intensive cases. Instead, he said these cases come down to the “exercise of legal judgment” about the purposes of the Religion Clauses—whatever that means for school boards trying to figure out constitutionally acceptable ways to preserve and build public confidence.
Second, it is noteworthy that Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas in their opinion upholding the Texas monument, as well as Justice Breyer in his own opinion, specifically noted that a key factor was that the state capitol was not a school setting. Memo to schools: The Ten Commandments do have tremendous historical, cultural, and religious significance, but be very careful about what you do to reflect this fact, because it will be closely scrutinized. Academic motives yes, other motives (probably) no.
Third, the fact that the Court is not about to become clearer is yet more evidence that the culture warriors on all sides could do America’s children a giant favor by trying to work toward compromise on things like this. Setting up and waging costly legal battles will never resolve clashes of religious sensibilities. We joked about this on April Fool’s Day. But as one school lawyer who read that piece noted, it’s a tragic statement that what we wrote there was merely the stuff of satire.
Sadly for our schools, the political and financial payoffs of exploiting religious differences and fears are just too tempting. This kind of sloppy (or deliberately sensational) headline doesn’t help. School boards can expect to keep getting caught in the crossfire.
There is, of course, a critical function of public education at stake in all this. It’s one the voucher crowd would like Americans to forget. As the Supreme Court itself has pointed out, the “public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and our most pervasive means of realizing our common destiny.” Public schools hate to be ground zero in these battles. But unless public schools can help our country learn to discuss these issues respectfully and accept differences, the prospects for our democracy and our common destiny won’t be as bright.
BoardBuzz is reporting live from the National Education Computing Conference in Philadelphia this week. One hot topic, not surprisingly, is weblogs. One presenter here is Michael Lackner, whose terrific website about blogging in education is here. That site wrestles with all sorts of blogging-related issues, including: What is the real difference between blogs and message boards? It turns out that message boards are 25 years old this year. Lackner links to another blogger who does a great job of exploring this issue here.
Also: Here is a terrific literacy building project using blogs, in Chicago Public Schools, presented by these two, who definitely know their stuff. Here is the site from one elementary school in the project. The presentation today by Susim Munshi and Susan Switzer explored numerous core benefits to blogs in education, including one that intrigued: They make teaching and learning more public. There are concerns with that, of course, but also plenty of potential for benefit and community building. Check out their site.
Techie leaders are also gearing up for NSBA’s T+L2 Conference later this year in Denver. Check out the early registration incentives here.
Is this security requirement for school districts in Florida an overreaction?
Lots of coverage out there about the Education Trust report that sharply criticizes how states calculate graduation rates. Here is the report (pdf), and a press release. When states either don’t have the capacity to figure this out, or simply do not try that hard to get it right, school boards and other decision makers cannot make informed policy decisions. “Getting Honest About Grad Rates: How States Play the Numbers and Students Lose” also rebukes the U.S. Department of Education for failing to exert leadership by demanding that states get honest about graduation rates. The Indianapolis Star points out the problem is even worse in urban districts. A few states, such as Alaska and Washington, have acted.
It turns out that North Carolina in 2003 claimed a 97 percent graduation rate. “Instead of trying to determine a four-year graduation rate, North Carolina’s rate reflects the percentage of high school graduates who finished in four years,” reports the Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer. “Students who dropped out along the way simply aren’t included. Daria Hall, a policy analyst with The Education Trust and the author of the study, said that was misleading. ‘What kind of standard is that?’ she asked. ‘How can we hold states accountable if that’s the definition?’”
Some of this is undermining the punch behind the good news that many urban districts are quietly making solid academic achievement gains, such as in Cleveland. “The public needs honest data on how well its students are doing,” Kati Haycock, head of Education Trust, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Some of this is laughably bad data.” Here is a good report on all this from the Washington Post. No doubt school boards are going to need to insist on districts doing a better job, too.