Articles from May, 2006

Got breakfast?

Started as a pilot project in 1966, and made permanent in 1975, school breakfast has been renewed as a pet project of two former senators. George McGovern and Bob Dole are pushing to raise awareness about this federal service for school children in the name of hunger relief, a cause that both have championed since the 1970s. According to USA Today, “the pair are barnstorming the nation to get school officials, lawmakers, anti-poverty advocates, and parents interested in the program.”

“You’re not going to have highly productive, educated, competitive young people coming up in this country if they don’t get a good education,” McGovern says. “And they’re not going to get a good education if a third of them are hungry all the time, or malnourished.”

Although the program has grown steadily since the 1970s, currently, only about 9 million children are enrolled in the program, compared with the the nearly 29 million children receiving subsidized school lunch. With $328 billion approved by Congress (and largely unspent) for the program in 2005, unclaimed funds are returned to the Treasury.

Find information on school breakfast and the link of breakfast to improved learning by searching the NSBA School Health Programs database. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service has information online too.

Erin Walsh|May 31st, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Wellness|

Poll call

BoardBuzz wants to hear from you! Take a few minutes to take our online poll. To better serve you, BoardBuzz has drafted a quick (faster than giving blood, your morning commute, and a trip to the dentist) and painless (easier than, well, giving blood, your morning commute, and a trip to the dentist) survey. Four questions that will change your life. Okay, maybe it won’t change your life, but it will help us ensure that we report on what you want to hear. Thanks.

Erin Walsh|May 31st, 2006|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Pushing vouchers from prison?

It must be getting tough to find advocates for school vouchers. In a story one might expect to find in The Onion, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnists Cary Spivak and Dan Bice bring us this gem about the employment future of former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who soon begins serving time following felony convictions for directing legislative staff to campaign on state time.

Jensen earned $114,035 last year as director of state projects for a national voucher advocacy organization that released this statement last week: “The Alliance for School Choice will continue to employ Scott Jensen so long as he is eligible to work and has not exhausted his right to appeal the verdict against him.”

Spivak and Bice report:

Unsure whether that means he will stay on the payroll once he is locked up – he is scheduled to begin his 15-month prison sentence on July 15 – we rang up Laura Devaney, the flack for the Phoenix-based group, which promotes charter schools and private school vouchers. She told us to call back when Jensen is officially in the slammer.

“You’d have to ask me when that happens, only because honestly I don’t have an answer,” she said. “It’s up to the courts if he is eligible (to work).”

Eligible to work while in prison? What kind of voucher advocacy could be done from behind bars? Bizarre.

Erin Walsh|May 30th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization|

Doing the heavy lifting in court

BoardBuzz thinks the school boards and superintendents of two districts deserve some appreciation from their colleagues for doing the right thing in the nation’s courts.

School principals as Con Law experts?
The first kudos go way up to Juneau, Alaska. Their school district’s fight is Frederick v. Morse, a.k.a. the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case. Kid sued his high school principal and school board when he was disciplined for holding up a sign with that memorable slogan as he and his classmates watched the Olympic torch carried by their school. His free speech claim lost in the lower court, but won in the Ninth Circuit court of appeals. Details in NSBA’s summary of that decision here. NSBA joined a legal brief filed in the Ninth by the Alaska Association of School Boards.

In reversing the lower court, the Ninth Circuit opined: “The phrase ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ may be funny, stupid, or insulting, depending on one’s point of view, but it is not ‘plainly offensive’ in the way sexual innuendo is.” Hmm. Bong hits… Jesus… Not offensive. Not in the Ninth Circuit, anyway.

But the real jaw-dropper in this opinion is the court’s conclusion that the principal gets no immunity from the lawsuit. Basically, the legal standard here is that she can be personally liable where no reasonable public official could have mistakenly believed that her actions were constitutional. In other words, this supposedly was such a slam dunk case that any high school principal should have known better—even though a U.S. district court judge ruled she was right! Note to upcoming administrators taking your school law course: Study hard.

The district will attempt to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. Ken Starr is representing the district pro bono. But it seems the school board has taken a bit of flak for going ahead. This sharp column in the Juneau Empire by school board president Phyllis Carlson explains what’s at stake.

The Juneau School District also has a series of press statements on the case posted on its Web site; click on the Frederick v. Morse link at the top, right side of the page.

[Aside 1: It's refreshing to see a school district telling its side of the story like this. Educators never will compete on equal footing with the PR-savvy voices who have so much time and money to devote to disparaging public schools. And, of course, schools have constraints when commenting on pending legal matters and must follow privacy laws. But just about every school district has a Web site, and school leaders can make good communicators.]

A Magna Carta for an emerging industry?
Kudos also are due this district in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which has taken an IDEA case, Arlington Central School District v. Murphy, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here’s what BoardBuzz said last time about this case, which concerns whether school districts should have to pay the costs of consultants in special education cases. The legal bills have generated headlines there too, though, like this one.

Like in Juneau, it may not be readily apparent to the local taxpayers who are footing the legal bill just how much money is at stake in such crucial court decisions, not only locally but for school programs all over the country. That article from the local paper in Poughkeepsie, though, took note of this key exchange from the Supreme Court oral arguments:

During the April 19 hearings, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy signaled what school districts could face when he responded to claims by the Murphys’ lawyer, David Vladeck, that expert fees awarded in other cases “tend to be exceedingly modest.”

“Well, that’s before the Magna Carta you’re asking for in this case, which would establish a whole new profession of experts,” Kennedy said.

That’s a key point NSBA made in its brief to the court, one echoed by NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negrón in the article.

[Aside 2: The Poughkeepsie Journal sets a good standard, by the way, of high quality coverage of a complex case like this. Reporters John Ferro and Erikah Haavie clearly have sunk their teeth into this one. In fact, here's a whole Web site page the Journal has dedicated to the case.]

Stay tuned to BoardBuzz for how these cases play out and what they mean for school programs. Meanwhile, if you have a few moments, you might consider dropping a line or two of gratitude to these district leaders for doing the heavy lifting for everybody.

Erin Walsh|May 30th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law|

The good, the bad, and the bloggers

As with anything, there are good blogs and bad blogs. And school districts are starting to use the force against the dark side. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on how Community School District 128 in Illinois is handling the situation. Like many school districts, District 128 has a student code of conduct that students, primarily those participating in extracurricular activities, must agree to and sign in order to remain eligible.

The district, with the support of its two student board members, amended the code to include, “Maintaining or being identified on a blog site which depicts illegal or inappropriate behavior will be considered a violation of this code,” as a new requirement. Student member Tom Engstrom, a senior at Libertyville High School, said, “The Internet is in the public domain and if used improperly can be potentially dangerous to some.”

In another angle, school districts, administrators, and many who care deeply about education find themselves trying to harness the power of the blog for their own purposes. This Week In Education notes several successful and unsuccessful attempts at education-themed blogs.

Erin Walsh|May 26th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security|

Good news/bad news on NAEP science scores

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) yesterday released the 2005 results in science, and it seemed like deja vu all over again. Mimicking trends that NAEP reported in mathematics and reading in 2004, the nation’s youngest students are making gains in science, only to lose momentum in middle school, and stall out in high school.

According to the report, 4th graders overall improved their science performance between 1996 and 2005. Moreover, gains were reported for every racial, ethnic, and economic student group, and achievement gaps between them are narrowing. At 12th grade, however, overall scores have declined, particularly in the area of earth science, and achievement gaps are unchanged.

The lackluster results reported for 12th graders are likely to add volume to the high-profile calls for improving high schools sounded by the governors, Bill Gates, and Oprah. At the same time, we think it would also be useful to take a close look at what elementary schools are doing right.

A snapshot of mathematics and science achievement in the U.S. can be found at NSBA’s Center for Public Education. You can also find a guide to interpreting NAEP vs. state assessment scores, which can come in handy when the news reports come out.

Erin Walsh|May 25th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Financial first impressions (you’re never too young to make a good one)

“It’s pretty tempting to spend. But every week I’m going to deposit . . . so I can watch it grow and grow and grow.”

“I think I’m definitely going to work on savings.”

“Sometimes I regret what I spend it on. Now I can come to the bank and just put it in instead.”

No, these are not the latest financial wizards from Morgan Stanley. They’re elementary school students who have been taught to save through financial education programs, and in some instances bank branches, at their schools. The Washington Post reports that children are learning financial savings skills through school that their parents haven’t mastered or aren’t teaching them.

As BoardBuzz reported last week, Wisconsin has already moved to develop performance standards for students about their financial future. And now there’s news that Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia are passing laws mandating economics and financial literacy be taught at the middle and high school levels. Additionally, the Maryland Sate Department of Education is working to develop lessons covering such topics as health insurance, retirement planning, and credit card management.

And that’s news you can bank on.

Erin Walsh|May 25th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

New NSBA poll: Broad public support for Congress delivering on education promises

Wake up Congress. A national poll released this morning by NSBA finds a large majority of likely voters want Congress to restore federal funding for major education programs to the levels it authorized, and believe K-12 education should receive a much greater share of the federal budget than it currently does.

Seven in 10 likely voters say that Congress should restore funding for NCLB/Title I and special education in the FY07 budget to the levels it authorized ($42 billion) instead of the current budget proposal of just $23 billion. Republican voters support restoring funding to the authorized levels by a 2-to-1 margin (62 percent-to-29 percent) and undecided voters back it 72 percent to 16 percent.

Further, voters say they will be considering Congressional members’ voting record on education funding when they go to the polls in November.

“This poll clearly shows that the American public is fed up with Congress’s inability to deliver on its continued promises of federal education funding,” said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA executive director. “In fact, nearly 85 percent of voters in this poll believe that Congress is cheating our children and is jeopardizing our country’s economic future if it leaves education programs unfunded or underfunded. If that’s not a mandate from the public, then I don’t know what is.”

NSBA press release is here, key findings here (pdf), and complete survey with results here (pdf).

Adding even more credibility to the poll is the fact that it was conducted by leading GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio of Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates.

Erin Walsh|May 24th, 2006|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

New study reads between the lines

A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality examined coursework and texts used at 72 leading colleges of education and asserts that many are using outdated, discredited approaches for teaching reading. According to the study What Education Schools Aren’t Teaching About Reading–and What Elementary Teachers Aren’t Learning, released Monday, only 11 colleges are currently teaching teachers about all five “scientific” components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

The report concludes:

While more research is always needed to improve our understanding of reading (particularly reading comprehension), the issue of what to include in an effective reading instruction course is settled. The question that now must be addressed is: How can we ensure that education programs are effectively teaching future teachers the basic components of reading instruction? Future teachers need the knowledge and skills to understand sound reading strategies for themselves and to be able to transmit these to their students. With the scientific discoveries that began over a half-century ago, we now have the good fortune of holding the keys to the locks that bar far too many children from having full access to society. It is time to put the keys in the locks and start turning them.

To read the full report or an executive summary, click here.

Erin Walsh|May 23rd, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Hard fact or urban legend?

What do 600,000 and 350,000 and 70,000 all have in common? No, this is not the latest logic puzzle brought to you by the folks who gave us SuDoKu. Supposedly, it’s the number of engineers produced in 2004 in China, India, and the United States, respectively. Can this be true? Are our friends in the east outperforming us by such staggering numbers? Or is this just another urban legend like the one about Pop Rocks and Coke?

Contrarian Gerald W. Bracey examined this phenomenon in The Washington Post yesterday.

Carl Bialik, who writes the “Numbers Guy” column in the Wall Street Journal, was suspicious. He had previously examined the Fortune numbers and concluded that they were inflated, so he sought to find their source. The most likely origin for the 600,000 Chinese engineers was a 2002 speech by Ray Bingham, then-chief executive of a semiconductor company. Bialik couldn’t find any obvious birthplace for the Indian figures, but National Science Foundation analysts told him the number was unlikely to be anywhere near 350,000. As for the academies’ report, Deborah Stine, who led the study, told Bialik that the committee had “assumed Fortune did fact-checking on their numbers” and so used them. Meanwhile, a McKinsey Global Institute report had cast doubt on the quality of the Chinese engineering graduates, so Bialik reasoned that removing unqualified candidates would obviously reduce the total.

In fact, about half of what China calls “engineers” would be called “technicians” at best in the United States, with the equivalent of a vocational certificate or an associate degree. In addition, the McKinsey study of nine occupations, including engineering, concluded that “fewer than 10 percent of Chinese job candidates, on average, would be suitable for work [in a multinational company] in the nine occupations we studied.”

After an exhaustive study, researchers at Duke University also pummeled the numbers. In a December 2005 analysis, “Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate,” they reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. That’s more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation.

To read Bracey’s article, click here.

Erin Walsh|May 22nd, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|
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