Articles from July, 2005

Fighting the dropout culture

The Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that Arizona has the highest percentage in the nation of teens 16 to 19 who have dropped out of school. The report says that rate is 12 percent, compared to 8 percent nationally. But as BoardBuzz has reported recently here and here, states have their own creative ways of figuring dropout rates. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne tells the Arizona Republic newspaper that Arizona’s dropout rate is closer to 6 percent: “I think that organization has their numbers wrong,” he said. The Kids Count ranking uses census data, not self-reported figures, the paper reports.

Kids Count does point out that, nationally, the high school dropout rate is one of three pieces of good news about the well-being of America’s children: it fell significantly from 2000 to 2003, even as, over the same time period, the number of children who live with parents facing persistent unemployment grew to 4 million, an increase of more than 1 million, and even as half a million more children were living in poverty.

In the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina, administrators and principals are choosing from a grab bag of initiatives aimed at reducing the dropout rate: Ninth-grade academies, modified block scheduling, elective courses that offer extra help, online courses, career exploration programs, and college-level classes, reports the News & Observer newspaper. More dropout prevention resources here.

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

NCLB lawsuits percolate

This week’s issue of NSBA’s Legal Clips features a roundup of updates on NCLB lawsuits here.

First, the challenge by Illinois districts and parents of children with disabilities over the tension between NCLB and IDEA, which BoardBuzz reported here, has been dismissed on standing. The magistrate judge was skeptical about the plaintiffs’ claims, basically saying that NCLB doesn’t say specifically how individualized education programs (IEPs) have to be modified, so the plaintiffs can’t blame NCLB if the changes to meet AYP aren’t in the best interest of the students. Besides, if NCLB requires IEPs to be modified to meet higher academic standards, that’s got to be good for the kids, right? But the case was dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning the plaintiffs can refile. In a sense, this is similar to where the NEA’s lawsuit is: We may see a more detailed complaint addressing the court’s initial take, just as NEA may make more arguments in response to the federal motion to dismiss its case.

Second, Connecticut’s planned lawsuit looks to be moving forward. Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell has signed legislation backing the challenge, with regrets. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says he wants to file his suit by the first day of school. Maine is considering a suit as well. Attorney General Steven Rowe says his state is still analyzing the extent of NCLB’s unfunded mandates. Read details in the Hartford Courant here. And the response fired back from the New York Times editorial page. Ouch.

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

Friday fare

A school board and Sponge Bob.

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

Farm pesticides and schools

The Journal of American Medical Association reports on the dangers of pesticide exposure at schools and from neighboring farms, and recommends “implementation of integrated pest management programs in schools, practices to reduce pesticide drift, and adoption of pesticide spray buffer zones around schools.”

Competing activists said the numbers in the report were either alarmist and too high, or an undercount of the problem. In May, about 600 students and staff members were evacuated from an Edinburg, Texas elementary school after pesticides sprayed on a cotton field drifted into the school’s air conditioning system, reports AP. About 30 students and nine staff members developed mild symptoms, including nausea and headaches.

Pesticide regulations for educational and day-care facilities were enacted in Texas in 1991, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Since 1995, the state has required school districts and day-care centers to:

  • Notify parents by mail at the beginning of each academic year that pesticides will be used at schools.

  • Post signs at least 48 hours before spraying.
  • Use the least-toxic form and application of required pesticides.

Texas school districts must also adopt the state’s Integrated Pest Management policies, hiring a trained coordinator, the Star-Telegram reports. “We review about 200 district programs each year and try to get to each school district every five years,” a state official told the paper. “The vast number of school districts in Texas are trying very hard to comply.” But is all of that enough? What about “drift” of toxic substances in the air from nearby farms? All pesticides used in the United States are regulated by federal and state law. Would school districts welcome more schools-specific regulation here? Tell us what you think.

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

Summertime and the learning is easy … for some

Here are some new looks at summer school adding to BoardBuzz’s recent coverage. In New Jersey, summer is the only time for many children of migrant workers to explore the Internet or practice their English. About 1,000 migrant children whose parents pick blueberries in the nearby fields are served by the nine-county New Jersey program that provides a free, state-of-the-art summer school. According to this Associated Press article, “Many of the children speak little English, and come from a hodgepodge of cultures and disjointed educational backgrounds. Some have never seen an eye doctor or dentist. Older children may prefer to be earning money in the fields. And the staff knows it has only six weeks to work with. Many of the families swiftly move on, heading to late-summer jobs in Maine or Michigan, then returning to Mexico or Florida for the winter before starting a northward trek again in the spring – their children experiencing school in short, disrupted spurts.”

And a summer school of quite a different nature is popping up nearly everywhere as more students take their remedial or enrichment classes online, avoiding the trek to stifling classrooms in the dog days of summer. Reports Education Week, “‘Students don’t have to go to school, they don’t have to put on [school] clothes, and the teacher can sit with a cup of coffee or with a baby on her knee while [she teaches],’ said Charlene Becker, the director of instruction for the Hamilton County, Tennessee, school district.” And Ed Week reports that the Orlando-based Florida Virtual School is on track to triple its student enrollment, from about 4,000 last summer to 12,000 this summer.

Of course, many students are returning to school right about now to begin their year-round schedules. The Indianapolis Star reports that some kids will be returning to school to hit the books earlier in a new year-round schedule that will hopefully boost test scores and move several schools off a state warning list. Enticing the students to return early is the promise of fully air-conditioned schools, some thing that more Indianapolis schools say they need before they contemplate a change to a year-round schedule. According to the Star, “Indiana law requires the state’s 293 school districts to consider year-round calendars as an alternative to new school construction or additions. But the state’s schools have been slow to sign on.” However, the National Association for Year-Round Education says that more states across the country are making the switch to alternative calendars.

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

What you can do on your summer vacation

As reported in BoardBuzz last week, federal funding for education faces significant hurdles. The House passed its version of the FY06 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill (H.R. 3010) on June 24. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported its recommendations for FY06 spending levels on July 14, clearing the way for Senate floor consideration that is expected this September.

Here’s the bad news on the proposed overall funding levels for Title I and IDEA:

  • Title I would be funded at $12.8 billion, receiving the lowest funding increase proposed within the last decade of $100 million (0.8 percent). The $12.8 billion proposed for Title I falls more than $9 billion below the promised amount for FY06.

  • Special education programs (IDEA) would receive approximately $10.75 billion under H.R. 3010, which represents a proposed increase of $150 million (1.4 percent), again the lowest amount proposed in over 10 years. With the pending legislation, IDEA funding would still fall more than $12 billion below the federal commitment to fund 40 percent of the cost per pupil for special education.

What to do? It’s time to work with your senators to champion education funding in the upcoming floor debate for the pending appropriations bill. Contact your senators and urge them to introduce and support amendments to H.R. 3010 that will provide larger increases for the two major sources of funding essential to helping our schools fulfill the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and the mandates of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

NSBA’s goal is to obtain increases of $1 billion each for Title I and IDEA in a final spending bill for FY06. Here’s how you can help. NSBA’s advocacy staff has prepared a terrific Guide to Increasing the Federal Investment in America’s Students that includes talking points, sample letters, and ways to communicate with your Congressional members during the August recess. Now don’t just sit there. DO something!

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

More on board elections

This member of the Celina Independent School District Board of Trustees in Texas writes in the Dallas Morning News that he opposes a plan under consideration to force local school districts to move board elections from May to November:

May elections allow board candidates the opportunity to make their personal points of view and strengths known without being buried under the rhetoric of the media blitzes present in state and national politics. Our positions get front-and-center attention in local media, as they should. Moving the school board elections to November will effectively reduce attention on local candidates and divert attention from local issues toward the national stage.

Advocates have historically stayed busy on both sides of that one. Stay tuned.

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

Big bucks for tutoring

An important piece in the Baltimore Sun reports on a potential $2 billion bonanza for companies aiding students in troubled schools, specifically tutoring:

Industry revenues from NCLB-mandated services more than doubled this past school year from 2003-2004 and are expected to grow by at least 20 percent this year. At Baltimore-based Educate Inc., one of the largest for-profit tutoring companies, revenue from work with troubled schools jumped 402 percent in 2004, to $27.6 million from $5.5 million.

“We’re pretty excited about that from a business perspective,” said (Russ) Miller, vice president of business development for Huntington Learning Centers Inc., based in Oradell, N.J. “We’re pretty well poised to capitalize on [the market], and I say capitalize, but I mean helping kids.”

That’s ok, Russ. We know what you meant. The big issue: Are these dollars resulting in academic achievement gains? Apparently, the answer is who really knows? “There are few, if any, requirements of what the tutoring firms must produce in terms of student achievement,” the Sun reports. Skepticism here is a good thing, equally important to finding ways to alert parents to effective tutoring services for their kids who may be in need of academic help. Private educational service providers even have their own association now.

At the Education Industry Association’s annual conference last week, the other side of the story was also heard. According to Education Daily, some of the tutoring companies complained that “schools or districts sometimes do just the minimum to inform parents about SES services. They may only send notification home with children in their book bags, and the notification may or may not be passed on to the parents.” Others complained that parents tend to send their children to receive services to those only offered at the school site, rather than transporting children to tutors outside the schools. One education expert predicted that reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2007 should address facility access, notification to parents, and other gray areas.

Erin Walsh|July 26th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

18 schools moving on up

From Education Leadership Online: Consultants at WestEd’s Northern California Comprehensive Assistance Center found 18 schools in California and Nevada where student test scores were low when their statewide testing first began but who made dramatic gains or who raised their test scores and consistently kept them high. The education wonks wanted to know how it happened, and interviewed the school’s leaders.

Among the highlights: High expectations. “A typical challenge for low-performing schools is overcoming the often ingrained belief that not all students will be able to master challenging academic standards. In the schools we studied, staff members infused high expectations into day-to-day practice inside and outside the classroom. Principals communicated the message that every student was expected to achieve to high standards.”

Another good one: Making data part of the culture. Nicely phrased, eh? Great title for a book. Read the whole article here at the ASCD site. Just click on the summer 2005 issue. (And you can read more about the project at the SchoolsMovingUp website.)

Erin Walsh|July 26th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Hot fashion trends for teachers: Tie quotas in, spaghetti straps out

Flip-flops at the White House aren’t the nation’s only fashion crisis. School boards and superintendents increasingly are pursuing dress codes for teachers, reports the Associated Press. At issue is the same kind of questionable attire most often associated with students:

In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex or baseball caps. Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts supported by spaghetti straps are not welcome in the classroom.

District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for example, prohibits sexually provocative items. That includes clothing that exposes “cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments,” district rules say.

In Georgia’s Miller County, skirts must reach the knee. Elsewhere in the state, hair curlers are disallowed in Harris County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or three times a week.

“There’s an impression that teachers are dressing more and more—well, the good term for it would be ‘relaxed,'” said Bill Scharffe, director of bylaws and policy services for the Michigan Association of School Boards. “Another term for it would be ‘sloppy.”‘

The article quotes NSBA Staff Attorney Lisa Soronen advising school boards to take care in crafting employee clothing policies. A board member for Manatee County schools in Florida recently called for an examination of establishing a dress code for employees who work with students. As usual, stories are plentiful of students wearing various controversial T-shirts. And here is a disturbing clothing trend among teenagers: T-shirts sporting gangbanger phrases.

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