From all of us at BoardBuzz, have a safe and restful holiday. We’ll return on January 3!
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.
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Articles from December, 2005
School districts are looking at a variety of steps to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students, according to the December cover story of American School Board Journal. But despite widespread use of background checks to screen employees, many experts continue to say the safeguards are inadequate, and as a result, people slip through the cracks. In the article “Safe Hiring,” writer Ann Bridgman notes that there are more stringent requirements for people who want to brush down horses than for those who work with kids.
Background checks are also costly. But, she writes that it’s much better to pay for background checks up front than after children have suffered harm and schools have faced liabilities. And, efforts are under way on the national level to help ensure that employees who regularly come in contact with children are fit to do so.
Interested? Read more here.
What is your school district paying for tutoring services? Long piece here in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram details the situation in that area of the country, and why some critics say introducing the profit motive into the education of a child is the wrong recipe for success. The piece points to a study from FairTest on how tutoring services are not cost effective, but that is not exactly an unbiased source on this stuff. The Fort Worth piece includes the usual excuse-making among the adults, blaming poverty, etc. One complaint though rings true: Where is the adequate oversight? “Indiana schools have spent millions since 2003 on private tutoring to raise the test scores of struggling students, yet no one can tell whether all the extra lessons are making a difference,” reports the Indianapolis Star.
More from that paper here and in an editorial here: “Since neither state nor local education officials provide much data on the quality of providers, parents have to shop around on their own, and they can be lured by promises of Xbox videogame systems as a result.”
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Dover, Pa. school board violated the Constitution when it ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause. AP report here. “We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom,” he wrote in his 139-page opinion. The controversy divided the community and galvanized voters to oust eight incumbent school board members who supported the policy in the November 8 school board election, AP reports.
One thing seems clear: Those on ALL sides politically love to use public schools as their convenient culture war battleground. But kids don’t have time for this. Especially these days. Save the politicizing of the classroom for another era, long after this country’s academic challenges have all been solved. Sound good?
And while we are at it, how about a fast read of the new book by Joe Williams, Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education. Here is an interview with Williams in USA Today. (Hat tip: Eduwonk.)
NSBA praised today’s decision in its press statement below.
During the dot-com boom in the Silicon Valley area of California, housing prices spiked, and many school districts began to lose teachers seeking better pay and more affordable housing. Just when they were trained, they would leave for other districts where they could live more comfortably and closer to their jobs, the New York Times reports. And even after the tech bubble burst, housing prices never really came down. The median price is $714,250. Ouch.
The Times tells how the Santa Clara Unified School District tackled the issue: It hired an apparently good-hearted developer that built an upscale apartment complex for nearly no overall profit margin. Now teachers pay about $1,000 per month in rent when the going rate is about $3,000. The result: The housing is helping retain teachers. According to the district, new recruits in general had a 24 percent turnover, but teachers who moved into the apartment complex had only an 8 percent attrition rate. Great piece.
Another example includes the efforts of the city of Alexandria, Va., which is planning to purchase an old apartment complex then sell it to a non-profit housing development organization that will then refurbish the property and turn it into “workforce housing,” or apartments and condos that can be afforded on a city salary. Trust us. Housing in Alexandria ain’t cheap. This sounds like a worthy effort. But a lot more needs to be done nationwide.
You may have heard about this incident on the news a few years ago … a board member sprinkling voodoo powder outside the office of a district administrator. Maybe sprinkling voodoo powder is not so common, but the fact that the elected board member was summarily removed from office by an unelected superintendent as a result and took the district to court raises the larger issue of school board member removal. NSBA ‘s federal policy and guidance manager Karla Schultz wrote about the lawsuit and matters surrounding board removal in the most recent edition of the Education Law Reporter.
Particularly intriguing are the details of the incident: “After an especially contentious January 2002 school board meeting over the district’s diversity policy, board member [Nancy] Ortiz claimed that fellow board member Amy Velez went to the office of the acting superintendent, sprinkled a ‘suspicious, pink, powder-like substance’ in front of the door, and left a plastic bag which contained more of the powder.” Nastiness ensued with a lawsuit about who had the power to do what and why. Read the legal details here.
Maybe not quite yet. But one sign is positive. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s top education advisor said the governor is prepared to consider raising taxes as part of a long-term solution to the problems plaguing California schools, reports the Los Angeles Times.
(Bersin) thanked CSBA for being part of an Education Coalition that “put out the hand” to the state administration after this year’s bitter special election campaign. In November, voters rejected all of the governor’s ballot initiatives, including Proposition 76, which CSBA and other coalition members argued was a serious assault on minimum school funding guarantees under Proposition 98.
“It would be foolish to pretend we don’t have a lot of healing to do,” Bersin said.
Nearly half the states are doing a poor job of setting high academic standards for science in public schools, according to a new report that examined science in anticipation of 2007, when states will be required to administer tests in the subject under No Child Left Behind, the New York Times reports. The report, from our close friends over at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, offers a snappy description we kinda’ like: “Science education in America is under attack, with ‘discovery learning’ on one flank and the Discovery Institute on the other.”
Written by pre-eminent biologist Paul R. Gross, The State of State Science Standards finds that even though the majority of states have reworked, or crafted from scratch, their science standards over the past five years, we’re no better off now than before.
The report cited mounting “religious and political pressures” over the last five years as undermining the teaching of evolution. But Gross said in an interview with the Times that a willingness by schools in Kansas and elsewhere to consider alternative theories to evolution was only a small part of a “larger cultural problem.” The Times adds:
Gross said that more critical has been a retreat from an emphasis on all science instruction, which is leaving students ungrounded in basic subjects like biology, human physiology and the environment.
Many of the standards are easily fixed. More involvement by bench scientists, and better editing, could greatly improve what’s out there, the report suggests. Plus, there are a number of excellent models to follow (California, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, for example). “The public’s anxiety about the future of our nation’s scientific prowess is palpable—and reasonable,” the report offers. More info here.
How cold is it in your school district? The state board of education in Oklahoma is planning to ask that state’s legislature for nearly $16 million in supplemental appropriations, more than half of which would be used to cover rising diesel fuel costs for school districts. Then there is Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, which all by itself is set to pay an additional $10 milllion in heating and electricity costs this year, the Washington Post reports.
The same forces—soaring prices for natural gas and heating oil—that are affecting consumers are hitting area school systems just as they begin to lay out spending priorities for the next year, the Post adds. Examples of schools paying twice as much this year are common. And as we pointed out before, there continues to be plenty of buzz in a few areas of the country around wood-burning heating options for schools.
Interesting article from the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages newspaper that tackles the tough subject of student drug testing. Looking for solutions to an upward surge of violence in the tiny reservation town of Cass Lake, a high school coach has singlehandedly created momentum to randomly drug test all middle and high school students involved in extracurricular activities. What’s significant about this story is that the tribal leadership has “agreed to pay for and administer the program, effectively eliminating one of the perennial criticisms of school drug testing–that it’s simply too expensive,” according to the City Pages. Of course, some argue that those students involved in extracurricular activities are not the ones we need to be concerned about, as often, after-school activities are seen as a deterrent to drug use. No doubt the school board will face pressure as it considers this proposed policy–the first of its kind in Minnesota–next month. The paper reports:
“While the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the federal constitutionality of drug testing, the Cass Lake-Bena school board could still find itself mired in a court fight if it adopts the proposed policy. That’s because legal challenges can also be mounted on the basis of state constitutions, which often set broader privacy standards than the federal constitution.”
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