Articles from June, 2006

Read for the Record

Want to show your support for early learning skills and the importance of reading with children? Then join the fun on August 24 when adults and young children across the country will be reading The Little Engine That Could, as part of the Read for the Record campaign for literacy.

This effort has come about thanks to Jumpstart, a national non-profit organization that works to build literacy, language, and social skills among low-income preschoolers, and its sponsors, Pearson Education, NBC, Starbucks, Penguin, and American Eagle Outfitters. NSBA supports the effort, too.

You can participate by organizing a reading event in your community or reading with a child. The campaign organizers hope to set a world record with the number of readers, so visit their Web site and use the promotional code “NSBA Reads” when registering.

Erin Walsh|June 30th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Congressman introduces NCLB Improvements Act

BoardBuzz tips its hat to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) who yesterday introduced the No Child Left Behind Improvements Act of 2006, H.R. 5709. The bill, consistent with NSBA‘s recommendations (pdf) for improvements, includes more than 40 provisions in the areas of assessments, AYP, sanctions, state flexibility, and non-public schools.

In introducing the bill, Rep. Young, a former teacher, said, “I am committed to providing our nation’s children with the best possible education. I firmly believe in the original goals of NCLB but I understand that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to student achievement is not possible.” He went on to say, “Each state in this country has geographic, economic, or cultural barriers that impede its schools from reaching a level of success as mandated by NCLB. This bill will establish an improved framework for accountability that fairly and accurately assesses student, school, and school district performance.”

Norm Wooten, president-elect of NSBA, also from Alaska, said, “Rep. Don Young is to be commended for his outstanding leadership in introducing legislation that would amend NCLB. His bill addresses many of the major challenges facing students, schools, and local school districts in achieving the goals of this important federal law. In addition to improving the implementation of the law for schools in Alaska, the bill would make significant improvements in the implementation of the law for schools across the nation.”

Read Rep. Young’s press release here.

Erin Walsh|June 30th, 2006|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

A little-noted victory

It’s almost recess time for the Supreme Court justices, and we’re getting the usual flurry of decisions they hand down just before then. Passed over by most court reporters, who are focusing on higher profile rulings on campaign finance, the death penalty, and gerrymandering, was an important school law decision.

In Arlington Central School District v. Murphy, the Court ruled that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not require school districts to pay for expert consultant fees when parents win special education disputes. Here’s what BoardBuzz had to say most recently on this case. NSBA applauds the decision here.

The opinions
Justice Samuel Alito and four other justices found that IDEA’s mandate to reimburse attorneys’ fees doesn’t also cover the costs of consultants, especially since the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution requires that Congress “unambiguously” set forth what strings are attached to federal funds so state and local governments can “voluntarily and knowingly” accept these terms. BoardBuzz readers may recall that the Spending Clause argument is a key point in the lawsuits over NCLB unfunded mandates.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t sign on to the Spending Clause part of the decision, but she was a sixth vote for the view that IDEA itself can’t be read to cover expert fees. “Congress did not compose [IDEA], as it did the texts of other statutes too numerous and varied to ignore, to alter the common import of the terms attorneys’ fees’ and costs’.,” Ginsburg wrote.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent focused on IDEA’s legislative history and argued that paying for consultants is consistent with Congressional purposes in enacting IDEA. Much of the oral arguments in the case amounted to a debate between Justices Breyer and Scalia over statutory interpretation, in the form of questions to the lawyers. Scalia is skeptical about relying on chaotic legislative history, while Breyer is somewhat more willing to consider it.

The outlook
The decision is “decimating to parents,” says the director of the advocacy group founded by the consultant whose fee was disputed in the case, in this web-only article from Ed Week. She says the ruling “renders IDEA meaningless for those who have no resources.”

But as NSBA and its fellow amici pointed out to the Court, no one who’s ever dealt with IDEA thinks parents are powerless under this exhaustively detailed and prescriptive law. Notably, parents who disagree with a school district’s evaluation can obtain an independent evaluation, at public expense, by an education expert not associated with the district. What the decision does do, however, is avert some scary fiscal implications and limit another way to game the system. “We don’t view this as a victory for school districts over parents,” NSBA attorney Tom Hutton tells Ed Week. “It is a victory for the collaborative approach over the litigation approach.”

Georgetown law professor David Vladeck, who argued for the parents in the case, tells the Poughkeepsie Journal here that he hopes Congress will revisit this question. In fact, Justice Ginsburg wrote that it is not the Court’s role to “add several words Congress wisely might have included,” and “the ball, I conclude, is properly left in Congress’ court.” The ability of Congress to take away what the Court giveth provides even stronger incentives for school boards to make sure that districts are doing right by children with disabilities and that parents—and Congress—know it.

This latest development may be part of a trend BoardBuzz observed here when the Supremes handed down their last IDEA decision. In the last several years, all three branches of the federal government have shown that they’re a bit more willing to give America’s schools a little more benefit of the doubt when it comes to these difficult and emotional disagreements.

Considering the feds’ disgraceful bipartisan record of shortchanging IDEA and other education funding—a record that, unbelievably, is getting worse—it’s the least they can do.

Erin Walsh|June 29th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law|

Diversity in schools is not just kid stuff

There’s lots of talk about diversity among students, but rarely mentioned when it comes to teachers. But in Ithaca, N.Y., that’s precisely what all the buzz is about. An article in today’s Ithaca Journal examines the fact that while one-quarter of the student population in the district belongs to racial or ethnic minority groups, only 6 percent of the teachers are people of color.

Theory holds that minority students may benefit, both socially and academically, from having teachers with whom they feel a cultural connection. Ithaca Superintendent Judith Pastel says, “It’s very important that they experience an excellent education program with teachers from very different backgrounds because they’re going to benefit from cultural and life experiences of a variety of people.”

But how to make it happen? New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) and the National Education Association are calling for new hiring practices and reallocated resources. Says Tim Kremer, executive director of NYSSBA, “We ask boards to consider approving a policy that explicitly states their commitment to a diverse staff. Send a signal that will be heard in every corner of the community. Then boards need to examine their recruitment practices; sometimes you need to go out of your geographic region, and out of your comfort zone, to find the right people. When you get the right people, do what it takes to keep them. Create support structures that welcome individuals and help them succeed. Their talent and influence should be spread among all the students, not concentrated with just one group or a few schools.”

Ithaca pulls many of its teachers from local colleges, thus the district is “beholden to the diversity on those campuses,” reports the Journal. The article also cites that “Susan Mittler, president of the Ithaca Teachers Association, recalls a string of stories about the ones who got away: teachers who wanted wider social circles, those who sought higher salaries and a candidate who took herself out of the running upon realizing Ithaca had no subway system.” Additionally, “since teaching isn’t tied to a particular location, job-seekers often choose jobs close to home, further limiting the applicant pool.”

Erin Walsh|June 28th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

UPDATE: Boys’ non-crisis draws your comments

When BoardBuzz covered the non-crisis of boys’ achievement yesterday, we didn’t know we had struck such a chord with our readers.

A fellow blogger called our attention to USA Today’s Richard Whitmire’s rebuttal to the Post article. Another reader pointed out that “I am not sure how they can assume that gender is not at all a factor while finding that some groups of boys are ‘in real trouble.’ Isn’t it possible that cultural issues regarding gender, especially as it concerns education, are negatively impacting the performance of some boys in school in comparison to girls?”

Yet another reader called our attention to an article in Esquire on this issue that states the problem is “actually a problem with men. We’ve ignored all the evidence of male achievement and ambition deficits and stood aside as our sons have notched a growing record of failure and disengagement. It’s time we did something about it. A call to action.”

Read the complete comments here. And keep ‘em coming. BoardBuzz would love to hear more from you on this hot issue.

Erin Walsh|June 27th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

UPDATE: Setting the record straight on high school grad rates

If you missed The Straight Story on High School Graduation Rates online discussion last Thursday, don’t fret! It’s now available in the BoardBuzz online discussion archive. The chat featured guest expert Patte Barth of the Center for Public Education with the scoop on what graduation rates really mean and how they were calculated. The Center for Public Education released its own report on Thursday, June 22.

To read the archived text of the online discussion, click here.

Erin Walsh|June 27th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

NSBA’s take on the takeover of Los Angeles schools

In a letter to the Los Angeles Times yesterday, NSBA President Jane Gallucci said that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposal to take over the Los Angeles school system will fragment the responsibility and accountability for student achievement. Read highlights here.

While Villaraigosa sells his “great deal for kids” here, many are not buying his big idea to put schools in charge of their curriculums, to create a council of mayors responsible for reviewing the district’s budget and coordinating the delivery of essential services for kids, and to give himself the power to handpick the next superintendent. While the mayor has struck a deal with the teachers union, some other teachers are opposing the mayor’s proposal saying that it “could ravage districtwide reading and math programs that they say have brought continuity to thousands of classrooms and helped drive up standardized test scores ….”

Others lined up in opposition include current superintendent Roy Romer with a thoughtful editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times in which he says the mayor’s deal with the teachers union “is about power and money, not about children–and certainly not about education reform.” And as the California School Boards Association points out, “The mayor’s proposal would shift control from the school board to the superintendent, and the superintendent would be selected by the mayor–thus ultimately giving the mayor the keys to the schoolhouse door.”

In April, NSBA‘s governing body approved a policy calling for mayors to back away from taking over school districts and concentrate on issues outside the schoolyards that impact learning, such as crime, housing costs, and healthcare. Now there’s a news flash for the mayor … get the job done that you were elected to do.

Erin Walsh|June 27th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

Make plans for T+L conference now

If you’ve been too busy getting into the swing of summer and haven’t gotten around to making plans to attend T+L, NSBA‘s premier K-12 education technology conference in Dallas, November 8-10, then drop that trashy beach novel and get it together! Keynote addresses will be given by Ray Kurzweil, visionary technologist and educator; Professor James Paul Gee, gaming and learning theory expert; and Clyde Prestowitz, noted expert on global change and economic policy.

You’ll find information-packed pre-conference workshops and district-led workshops that will inspire and energize, arranged in programming strands that address the spectrum of technology planning and management needs with a unique dual focus on both technology planning and technology implementation. Your team will return ready to tackle tough challenges and exciting new opportunities.

Since this is T+L’s 20th anniversary, BoardBuzz recommends making your registration and hotel reservations now. More than 2,000 education leaders are expected, including school board members, superintendents, and education technology staff. (Helpful tip: NSBA has a block of rooms at Adams Mark Dallas, and most conference-goers will be staying there.) Technology Leadership Network members receive a deep discount on registration. Send a team of 10 or more and your district gets the team discount. One Kansas district is taking advantage of an even deeper registration discount for sending a team of 30 or more, literally busloads. Various airline and car rental discounts are available, including a shuttle coupon (PDF). If you register before September 15, each member of your team will be eligible to win a free half-day pre-conference workshop session. All registration information and details are now online.

Erin Walsh|June 26th, 2006|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Taking a reality check of boys’ achievement

A new analysis by Education Sector Senior Policy Analyst Sara Mead entitled “The Truth About Boys and Girls” highlighted in today‘s Washington Post indicates that perhaps the “national crisis” of boys educational performance is more likely not that “boys [are] doing worse; it’s good news about girls doing better.”

Mead’s analysis points out that “there have been no dramatic changes in the performance of boys but instead that girls are improving at a slightly faster rate in some key areas. Overall boys are improving, too, says Mead, just not as rapidly.” The analysis examined data compiled from the National Assessment of Educational Progress since 1971. It found, according to the Post, that “over the past three decades boys’ test scores are mostly up, more boys are going to college, and more are getting bachelor’s degrees.”

The report also finds that “much of the pessimism about young males seems to derive from inadequate research, sloppy analysis and discomfort with the fact that although the average boy is doing better, the average girl has gotten ahead of him.”

Erin Walsh|June 26th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Two extraordinary students lead by example

BoardBuzz loves the warm fuzzies, and as the dog days of summer set in and temperatures soar, this story in the Washington Post today is perfect for some relief. With the backdrop of this week’s dismal high school graduation rates for urban blacks, the story of Wayne Nesbit and Jachin Leatherman, two high school seniors at Washington, D.C.‘s troubled Ballou High School gives us more than a little hope.

The story begins when the two boys meet in middle school, one valedictorian, one salutatorian–a scenario they would repeat in high school. The boys bonded over girls, sports, and their desire to make a difference at their high school in impoverished southeast D.C. When they were offered full scholarships to an elite private high school in Maryland, the boys turned it down in favor of staying in their neighborhood. They made a pact “that by the time they graduated from high school, they would have made Ballou a better place to be young, black and male.”

Their pact paid off. Not only did they both succeed, but they raised the bar for the other students in the school. This year, six of the 11 students inducted into the National Honor Society at Ballou were male. Six of the 9 students in AP calculus were male, and six of 13 students in AP literature were male. All were record numbers of male student achievers for the school.

In his valedictory address, Jachin “chided people who criticize public schools while refusing to ‘help by becoming tutors.’ He encouraged his classmates to vote ‘so outsiders are not determining the fate of our community.’ He expressed gratitude to Ballou and to his mother. ‘But most of all I want to thank my father.’”

Both Jachin and Wayne, best friends, will attend College of the Holy Cross, where they will room together and “resume their contest for valedictorian.”

BoardBuzz salutes you!

Erin Walsh|June 23rd, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|
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