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Articles from November, 2005

100 percent common sense

A new Standard and Poor’s report has “has not taken a position on the 65 Percent Solution,” but in fact “has found a lack of empirical evidence linking higher student achievement with higher proportional spending levels.” We’ll take that.

The Standard & Poor’s analysis suggests “that the specific ways that schools use their instructional dollars may have as much, if not more, to do with student achievement as the percentage of dollars spent on the classroom.” Press release here. Full report in PDF here.

Erin Walsh|November 30th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Citywide wi-fi on the way in the Big Easy?

The mayor of New Orleans has vowed to build a citywide wireless Internet network, and offer it free to residents. This could be a terrific boost for schools anywhere seeking to increase their technology offerings. The system could be completed in about one year. At 512 kbps, the New Orleans network is about seven times the speed of dial-up service, but slower than high-speed services provided by telephone and cable TV companies. Users will have to sign up with the city for an account, AP reports. More on this from Washington Post here. Technology mag Red Herring points to potential problems, however. We say go for it, Mr. Mayor. Your city needs some good news.

Nearing three months after the levies broke, no public schools are open, and nearly an entire generation of New Orleans public school students has vanished, reports the Boston Globe. “Administrators, like frustrated detectives, are struggling to find them… Between 30 and 40 percent of New Orleans schools—many of them crumbling, sadly beautiful art deco hulks even before the storm—will probably have to be bulldozed.”

Erin Walsh|November 30th, 2005|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

School boards chew over school wellness mandates

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 2004 requires every school system that participates in the federal school lunch program to have a wellness policy in place by the start of the 2006-2007 school year. The requirements passed down by Congress do not prescribe a specific plan each school must follow, reports the Kingsport, Tenn. Times-News. Instead, the requirements leave to school districts the authority to make decisions about what foods to serve and how much physical activity to incorporate.

Brenda Greene, director of School Health Programs for NSBA, is working with state school boards associations as they assist local school boards in developing policies to meet this requirement. The Kingsport Times-News article is the best one we have seen on these new demands on school districts.

Need some good resources? Check out USDA Team Nutrition. Also, Action for Healthy Kids has a policy development tool that was developed in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How is your state doing on this? We would love to write about it.

Erin Walsh|November 29th, 2005|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Student blogs catching controversy

Can schools enforce restrictions on how students behave when they are not at school? Welcome to the modern age, where the Internet cares little about such distinctions. “As parents wring their hands about Internet predators, many teens are worried about a different kind of online intruder: the school principal,” reports the Wall Street Journal:

Schools around the country have wrestled with how to deal with students’ online writings, and the debate has spilled from classrooms to courtrooms. So far, there is little legal consensus on the circumstances in which schools are authorized to punish students for their blogging, according to Thomas H. Clarke Jr., a lawyer in San Francisco with Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley who focuses on First Amendment issues.

He noted that a handful of courts have examined cases in which schools disciplined students for off-campus writings, taking into account factors such as whether the student published threats against the school or other students, and whether the materials were accessed on campus by students or administrators. While some courts have ruled against schools that tried to punish students for their Web sites — even when the content was vulgar or threatening — others have decided that online writings can be subject to school restrictions. “The courts are all over the place. Trying to find consistency among all these different rules and opinions is extraordinarily difficult,” Mr. Clarke said. …

School officials say they are forced to deal with students’ personal Web sites because often students are writing about each other or their teachers. Blogging has became a part of daily life for many students. About four million teens — or 19% of 12- to 17-year olds who use the Internet — have created a blog, according to a study published in November by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Something called the Electronic Legal Foundation, “a digital rights advocacy group in San Francisco,” has published a legal guide for student bloggers, that at times seems less than adequate. Creating a more serious set of guidelines on this type of issue for both schools and students should be a serious priority.

Erin Walsh|November 29th, 2005|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

NEA’s NCLB lawsuit tossed: Some unfunded mandates OK

The day before Thanksgiving, a federal court in Michigan dismissed the NEA-led lawsuit challenging unfunded mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). New York Times coverage, here, and Hartford Courant, here.

In granting the federal motion to dismiss the case, the court agreed with the federal interpretation of what NCLB’s unfunded mandates provision means. Turns out Congress is free to impose unfunded mandates under the act after all: The language just states specifically that a federal officer or employee can’t pile on additional unfunded NCLB mandates. “This does not mean that Congress could not do so, which it obviously has done by passing the NCLB Act,” the court concluded.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings calls the ruling “victory for children and parents all across the country.” NEA says in a press release that it plans to appeal the decision. By the way, the judge found that the plaintiffs do have legal standing to bring the challenge, at least at this early stage.

As we noted before, this lawsuit yielded for the first time a plausible legal argument from the feds about the unfunded mandate issue. It’s not the same as the one they’ve made politically (“You’re free to turn down the money” or “The GAO says this isn’t an unfunded mandate”), but it worked. As the court noted, the federal government argued that it’s not plausible that Congress really intended to require so much of states and school districts, only to let them off the hook if they claim that they have to spend some of their own funds.

While NEA appeals, attention may shift to Connecticut’s lawsuit. That state’s Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says the court’s ruling “creates a preposterous loophole” to the ban on unfunded mandates. He points out that the decision is not binding in Connecticut’s case, which he says his state still plans to pursue “vigorously.”

Meanwhile, watch as the feds explore more flexibility on NCLB, like last week’s announcement of a 10-state pilot program for using “value-added” or “growth” calculations to measure adequate yearly progress. This is one improvement NSBA has long been advocating. The trick: How to give schools credit for making realistic progress with individual students, without perpetuating achievement gaps. Stay tuned.

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

Happy Thanksgiving

BoardBuzz is enjoying a break this week as we pause to reflect on our good fortunes. Among them are our dedicated readers–now 5,000 strong. Thanks very much to each of you! See you next week.

Erin Walsh|November 21st, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

This beer’s for you … or maybe not

Controversy is brewing in Utah over Wasatch Beers’ change of one of its beer labels from Unofficial Amber Ale to Evolution Amber Ale. According to the Deseret Morning News, “The company says the change is inspired by Utah legislators and the debate here and nationally over whether public school evolution lessons should be balanced with ‘intelligent design.’ … The new label features several images of monkeys walking more and more upright behind a man, carrying a six-pack and swigging from a bottle. A stamp mark says ‘Darwin Approved’ and ‘Created in 27 days, not 7.'”

BoardBuzz‘s reaction? TGIF.

Erin Walsh|November 18th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Education spending plan fails by close vote

In a surprise to many, the House of Representatives voted down the fiscal 2006 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education conference report Thursday. That bill contained cuts for the Department of Education.

Senators Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are expected to rename conferees so the reconciliation bill can be renegotiated to restore some earmarks and other programs stripped out of the defeated version. The 224-209 vote, with 22 Republicans breaking ranks, marked the first time in a decade that such a large annual spending bill has been rejected by the House so close to enactment. The bill’s defeat halted what had been a steady drive to complete annual appropriations bills freezing many agency budgets, the Wall Street Journal reports:

After a decade of steady growth, these programs would be cut by $1.4 billion below 2005 levels including rural health initiatives important to many Republicans.

To forestall deeper program cuts, Appropriations Committee leaders had stripped out more than $1 billion in lawmakers’ home-state projects. That made it harder to win over unhappy Republicans.

Insiders are pondering two possible outcomes: The adoption of a year-long continuing resolution for Labor-HHS-Education, or a renegotiated conference report that would be considered along with another appropriation bill, such as defense. The defense spending plan is not set to be considered until after Thanksgiving.

Erin Walsh|November 18th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Pay raises for school board members

When should school board members get pay raises? Board members in Flagler County, Fla. are considering whether they deserve a 12 percent increase in pay next year. Currently, the five board members make $25,032 each year, but the Florida School Boards Association suggests the elected officials should be paid $27,964—an increase of $2,932 in each member’s paycheck, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Board members in nearby Polk County, Fla., are also considering the issue.

A 2002 survey of 720 school districts by NSBA reveals that board members in two-thirds of those districts are not paid.

Erin Walsh|November 17th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

‘Anecdotal but troubling’

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday barring schools from requiring hyperactive children to use drug treatments as a condition for attending classes. “Backers say the bill was designed to curb anecdotal but troubling reports of officials telling parents that disruptive kids must begin drug treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in order to stay in school,” reports WebMD Medical News:

The bill easily passed 407-12, with one member voting “present,” but drew criticism from some lawmakers.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who is a psychiatrist, tells WebMD that the measure was “a bad bill.”

“Local school boards and districts are the ones who have to deal with these issues, not Congress,” he says. …

The House approved a similar bill in 2003 but the Senate never acted.

One enlightening way to proceed on anything related to ADHD is to spend 10 minutes making use of your favorite Internet search site, then reading what you find with a very critical eye. That’s because the truth can be found in the easily gleaned and often frenzied appeals of several well-funded advocacy organizations on all sides of the ADHD Wars. These groups have become expert at exploiting frustrated parents, and then in recent years of politicizing that pain to further their agendas. Schools are convenient but improper targets here. “Anecdotal but troubling” would describe the state of behavior of many in this debate. Especially of Congress.

Erin Walsh|November 17th, 2005|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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