Articles from February, 2006

Read before your next drive thru order

We came across this one courtesy of the PEN Weekly Newsblast. Twelve-year-old Jasmine Roberts of Benito Middle School in New Tampa, Florida, has captured the nation’s appalled attention with her award-winning science project. Check out the Tampa Tribune coverage posted on MSNBC, here as well as ABC and some other TV reports here and here.

Erin Walsh|February 28th, 2006|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

L.A. school board candidates do the math

After a recent Los Angeles Times series found that many students drop out of school because of their inability to pass algebra, a Times reporter asked four candidates for the Los Angeles Unified School Board and one current board member to solve simple algebra problems, such as: Solve for X: 2X – 14 = 7 – X.

Among the four candidates: One answered incorrectly, two correctly, and a fourth declined to try. The current board member answered his algebra problem correctly. The mayor said he thought the test was a “bit of a cheap shot,” the Times reports. What do you think?

And the answer to the problem above is: X = 7.

Erin Walsh|February 28th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

Sha-zam! Teacher as super hero

Teachers are many things–good listeners, mentors, miracle workers–and now one will get a chance to be a comic book super hero thanks to the combined efforts of OfficeMax, Marvel Entertainment, and TeachersCount. The first-time contest will recognize outstanding middle school teachers and the students who nominate them by turning them into real comic book characters.

Students in grades 6-8 can nominate teachers by writing short essays on “Why My Teacher Is a Super Hero,” and mailing the entries to TeachersCount or dropping them off at participating OfficeMax stores between now and March 17. Entry forms are available here.

The grand-prize winning teacher and corresponding entrant will make an illustrated cameo appearance in a mainstream Marvel comic book such as Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four and will appear in a special-edition Marvel comic book honoring teachers as super heroes. Ker-pow! Now that’s a terrific idea.

Erin Walsh|February 27th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Ed tech show and tell

Each spring, school leaders and ed techies gather to pay a call on selected Technology Leadership Network member districts. These three-day meetings sponsored by NSBA provide an in-depth look at creative integration of technology in schools and lessons that leaders take back home to their districts. This year’s sites are Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina, on March 12-14; Metropolitan School District of Warren Township in Indiana, on April 24-26; and Orange City Schools in Ohio, on May 7-9. Details on how to sign up here.

Headed to NSBA‘s annual conference in Chicago? If so, check out the executive briefing, “Future Vision: Helping Your Students Succeed in a Changing World,” at the Sheraton Chicago on Friday, April 7, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. before the conference starts. On Monday, April 10, there are two TLN site visits scheduled: Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in Chicago from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Willow Bend School, Community Consolidated District 15 in Palatine, Ill., from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Erin Walsh|February 27th, 2006|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

On to the Supremes: Should districts reimburse parents for special ed experts?

Last week NSBA filed its brief in an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case on special ed costs: Arlington Central School District v. Murphy. Press statement here.

The issue is whether a school district has to reimburse parents who win their special ed dispute with the district for the costs of expert witnesses, consultants, lay advocates, etc. IDEA requires the district to pay for the parent’s attorneys fees, but the statute is silent, and the lower courts split, on the others. The case arose in this district in New York. The Second Circuit court of appeals decided that courts should read into IDEA that Congress intended to cover such fees. Summary here.

NSBA and its fellow amici argued that this ruling is contrary to IDEA’s focus on collaboration. In the words of NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negrón, upholding the Second Circuit “will simply perpetuate a cycle of costly litigation by encouraging parents to hire experts. Public schools in turn will have little choice but to hire their own experts to rebut experts hired by parents.” In fact, Congress has leveled the playing field on this question by requiring school districts to pay for a parent who disagrees with the district to obtain a timely evaluation from an independent expert.

Joining NSBA on the brief were American Association of School Administrators, the New York State School Boards Association, and the New York State Council of School Superintendents. NSBA Council of School Attorneys members Darcy Kriha, Julie Heuberger Yura, and Patricia Whitten of Franczek Sullivan in Chicago were lead authors. Also noteworthy: The Bush administration is siding with the school district.

This blog by Chicago special ed parent lawyer Charles Fox highlights some of the arguments on the other side. “Time For The Court To Show Us the Money!” it says, arguing that parents need their own experts to match the “firepower” of the schools. In this case, firepower refers to special education professionals whom, NSBA’s brief notes, the district employs “not to have an unfair advantage at due process hearings” but to serve children appropriately.

As BoardBuzz observed when the Supremes handed down their sensible ruling a few months ago in Schaffer v. Weast, it’ll be worth watching how the news media report this one. As we said then, the press often succumb to the tired temptation to portray these disputes as us-vs.-them, parents-vs.-bureaucrats battles; this tendency is the whole issue in this case. On another point educators and parent advocates can agree: No story is complete if it omits the chronic under-funding of special education that underlies so many of these disputes.

Erin Walsh|February 27th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Special Education|

A game for the ages

Talk about a Friday feel-good story. This one from New York’s Greece Athena High School is unforgettable. Make sure you check out the video clip under the picture in the article.

Another video link is here. You may want a box of tissues near by.

Erin Walsh|February 24th, 2006|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Much ado about Milwaukee from near

Lot of news lately from and about Milwaukee as the Wisconsin legislature considers a bill to expand the city’s school voucher program. The bill is a compromise between Governor Jim Doyle and Assembly Speaker John Gard. Quick background: the 16-year-old program has been inching toward its state mandated cap of 15 percent of Milwaukee Public Schools’ enrollment, or about 15,000 students. The cap is expected to be reached in the upcoming school year. Without a change, the state Department of Public Instruction would implement a rationing plan across participating schools. Details on that plan from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.

Late last week, Doyle and Gard struck a deal, outlined by the Journal Sentinel here.

Key pieces of the compromise: 1) the cap increases from 15,000 students to 22,500; 2) voucher schools must get accreditation from an outside group (More on this below); 3) requires voucher schools to give students a standardized test and report scores to the Legislative Audit Bureau for use in a longitudinal study (Note: the test would not have to be one required of public schools, which would allow for apples-to-apples comparisons); 4) alters the means-testing eligibility requirements so that students in families whose income crosses the threshold continue receiving vouchers; and, 5) would provide $25 million over two years to the state’s class size reduction program for public schools, though that would subject to the whims of the Legislature’s budget process and would not start until 2008-09.

This week, an Assembly committee approved the compromise. Notable among the “no” votes was Rep. Annette Polly Williams of Milwaukee, the author of the legislation that created the program in 1990, and who previously signaled her opposition to the compromise though no news reports have yet indicated why.

With myriad scandals in recent years, like this and this, the program’s lack of accountability has been pushed to the forefront of the debate. That’s likely one reason lawmakers want the voucher schools to be accredited by an outside agency. One potential accrediting agency under the compromise would be Marquette University’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning. The founder and director of ITL is Dr. Howard Fuller, one of the city’s and nation’s foremost voices for vouchers. He testified in support of the compromise this week. In fairness, Fuller has expressed concern about the lack of quality of some voucher schools, and acknowledged last year that voucher advocates’ theory that the marketplace provides all the needed accountability has not panned out in the real world.

Voucher schools are expected to take a sizable financial hit, with some said to perhaps have to close if the compromise fails and the rationing plan goes into effect. That ought to send chills through private school supporters who wonder about the wisdom of taxpayer-funded vouchers. In Milwaukee, many of the participating private schools have essentially become dependent on the government for financial support. In its well-done 7-part series last summer, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that more than 2 in 3 private school students use vouchers.

While most talk suggests the compromise will pass, some Wisconsin editorial pages don’t think it should. The Capital Times seethes in its disapproval. And the Appleton Post-Crescent, concerned about the program’s ongoing lack of accountability and education standards, calls it an “unacceptable.”

Erin Walsh|February 24th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization|

Much ado about Milwaukee from afar

As noted above, Wisconsin editorial pages don’t care much for the pending bill to expand vouchers in Milwaukee, citing the program’s accountability woes and dearth of publicly-available academic results. But New York Times columnist John Tierney thinks the world of the program that he deems “successful.” (Note: column requires paid registration to view. Whether you view it or not you won’t find anything in the column resembling evidence to back the claim of success, at least not by academic measurements). When public schools and districts are called “successful” you typically find data to back the claim: student achievement, graduation rates, teacher quality figures, student retention rates, etc. But for a New York Times columnist it’s enough apparently to declare vouchers successful based on 30-second commercials in favor of lifting the enrollment cap in Milwaukee. Tierney cites a couple of these commercials. We think he missed the hottest ones though.

Tierney also notes the “strong support” for vouchers among African-Americans. His evidence? Zzzzz. BoardBuzz has commented on this matter extensively before. All parents want good schools for their children. Dissatisfaction with troubled public schools, which clearly is high in some quarters, does not equate to automatic support and desire for vouchers as the solution. Remember California and Michigan a few years back? Despite significant—and lavishly bankrolled—overtures to African-Americans by voucher advocates, African-Americans overwhelmingly voted against two real-life voucher initiatives in both states. In California, 68 percent of African-Americans rejected vouchers, compared to 71 percent of all voters. In Michigan, 78 percent of African-Americans rejected vouchers, compared to 69 percent of all voters. These facts didn’t make it into Tierney’s work.

Sadly this isn’t Tierney’s first “half the story” column on vouchers. He wrote one on Florida’s voucher programs last year. Florida in 2005. Milwaukee in 2006. We’re already bracing for a similar column on Cleveland’s program in 2007. Maybe a little preventive medicine is needed. John: we’ll send you a copy.

On a related note, one Democrat looking ahead to 2008 is concerned about the politics of vouchers and its utility as a wedge issue. It’s not our place to give either party strategic advice. We want politicans of all stripes to support public education. But his point about accountability is an obvious one given the run of voucher scandals. And as for public school choice, more than 4 times as many parents have chosen that option in Florida than private school vouchers via the state’s A+ program.

Erin Walsh|February 24th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization|

Favorite son preaches to the choir

As BoardBuzz previewed last week, John Stossel, co-anchor of ABC News’ 20/20 program, delivered a “special briefing” to school voucher advocates in South Carolina yesterday. Sounds as if he received a hero’s welcome. And why wouldn’t he after ABC News gave him an entire hour to present a one-sided diatribe against public education?

The spokesman for South Carolinians for Responsible Government, one of the groups that sponsored the briefing, said Stossel was not paid to appear. But he sure was bathed in adoration. He’s splashed all over the group’s Web site, which proudly notes Stossel’s recent 20/20 special “concluded school choice is needed to help improve education in America.”

Jim Foster, spokesman for South Carolina’s Department of Education, hits the nail on the head: “It was obvious from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in examining school choice in an objective way. He had his personal opinion, and he went looking for ways to support it.”

Here was NSBA’s letter to ABC News regarding the recent report.

Erin Walsh|February 23rd, 2006|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

A tutoring tutorial

Susan Saulny had a story in the New York Times last week about how few students who are eligible under No Child Left Behind for supplemental educational services (SES) like tutoring are taking advantage of the opportunity. Fewer of those who start actually finish the programs. And, as we’ve noted ourselves, there’s no “scientifically based research” of the programs’ effectiveness. NSBA’s Legal Clips has a summary of the Times piece, with links back to many past developments on the SES front, here.

The Times also ran an editorial deploring the situation, arguing that the feds and states need to stop the finger-pointing and, by the way, increase accountability of SES providers and provide the necessary funding. Speaking of finger-pointing, Checker Finn of the Fordham Foundation takes the Times to task here for missing what he claims is the real scandal: He calls for “outrage that some districts are doing all they can to keep parents in the dark” about SES opportunities.

Actually, what NSBA is hearing from school districts is a very different story. It goes like this. Some of the district’s schools aren’t making AYP, so of course they have every reason to want their students to get the extra help. But the schools or the district are barred from providing SES themselves. The private SES providers hire the district’s teachers to do the tutoring and pay them just what the district would have. But they charge the district several times what it would have cost the district to do the job. That means fewer kids can get help. HmmEven those innocents who have yet to figure out that the 65 Percent Solution is a cynical political ploy apparently are barking up the wrong tree altogether.

As BoardBuzz has been pointing out for some time, there’s no sinister conspiracy at work when those who actually have to balance school budgets while serving all children bump up against what doesn’t work in NCLB.

On this point we have our own quibble with the Times editorial. While it focuses on the feds and states, it includes this line: “Instead of providing tutoring from outside sources—as envisioned under the law—some failing schools have been allowed to do it themselves.” We have to call them on that one. Undoubtedly there are schools that are, by any measure, failing to meet the needs of their students. But these editorialists repeat the all-too-easy mistake of equating any school, or for that matter any district, that is ineligible under NCLB rules to provide SES with one that is “failing” and, presumably, incapable of tutoring.

This journalistic shorthand is one of the most predictable but most irresponsible NCLB phenomena—one that has done much to undermine the credibility of NCLB, and one that some NCLB supporters now and then have strenuously urged reporters to avoid. Thankfully, many news media have been more careful about always explaining the proper context and nuances, even if this takes a little more space or time.

In this case, a school or district that misses targets for even one of many student sub-groups finds itself moving toward ineligibility, even if it has fixed the problems for that sub-group in the first year but then has a challenge with an entirely different sub-group—or an entirely different set of pupils—in the next. And even if we’re talking about a very high quality school or district overall.

As the Times article notes and editorial seems to bewail, the feds have responded gingerly to the cost and ineligibility problems by granting a few waivers to allow technically ineligible districts to provide SES themselves. High profile examples of pushback like this one by some gutsy school districts helped prompt the concession.

But there’s another problem with the SES program and the news coverage. If a school is identified for improvement, every one of its low-income students is eligible for SES, not just those who are in the sub-group that is failing to make adequate yearly progress. Somehow that crucial point seems to get overlooked in many discussions of what percentage of the huge numbers of “eligible” students aren’t going in for the extra help.

Here’s a novel idea: Instead of providing a few waivers around these problems, how about just fixing them? Here’s how. Among other ideas, NSBA has proposed targeting NCLB interventions like SES on the students who actually need the help. What a concept.

Erin Walsh|February 23rd, 2006|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers|
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