Articles from August, 2006

In search of

We’ve said it before, and we said it again and now this time we’re bringing backup! The National Center for Learning and Citizenship, NSBA, and the American Association of School Administrators are calling out the dogs to search for the 100 District Leaders Network.

So committed are they, the Education Commission of the States just published an article by NSBA‘s own Elizabeth Partoyan about this unique quest for civic literacy. The article points out that “given increased pressures for academic accountability, champions for the civic mission of schools often wonder if there are others who believe what they believe about education and whether practices or policies exist that can be adapted from other programs or systems.” Hence the triumvirate of NSBA, AASA, and NCLC.

NSBA top exec Anne Bryant noted, “When school districts educate students in citizenship and civics, they are creating opportunities for young people to become student activists. The distinguished leaders who make up the 100 District Leaders Network are standouts, not only in their own school districts, but in their states and nationally as well. These leaders have made a commitment to make the civic mission of schools a priority, which in turn benefits their students.”

Read the whole article here and consider this your last reminder to apply to be one of the hot 100. Hurry! Applications are due September 29.

Erin Walsh|August 31st, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

But how do they really feel?

With students returning to school across the country, the recent uptick in violence involving young people in several cities, including Boston, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., raises concerns about the kind of classroom environment that urban school students face.

While a majority of students responding to a survey on urban school climate by NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) say they feel safe in school, almost one of four students say they are unsure of their safety at school. Older students are even less likely to feel safe at school. The survey, Where We Learn, completed during the 2004-05 school year, surveyed nearly 32,000 students from 15 urban school districts in 13 states.

As BoardBuzz has reported in the past (also, here and here and here), bullying is an issue that impacts students’ perception of their safety at school. And with the new Bully video game set to hit the stores later this fall, it’s sobering to hear that more than 50 percent of all survey respondents say they see children being bullied at least once per month. And, almost 40 percent of students say they do not believe that teachers can stop the bullying. As the students get older there is even less confidence that the school can prevent bullying. Almost half of high school students say they do not believe that teachers can stop bullying.

What to do? Here are some tips if students are bullied or see bullying:
• Find a trusted adult at school with whom they can talk about what they see.
• Be assertive rather than aggressive or violent when confronted by a bully.
• Never get physical or bully back.
• Stand up for friends or peers who are being bullied.
• Get involved to create a formal policy against bullying if one doesn’t exist at their school.

Top tips for parents include:
• Practice role playing with their child so he or she can be prepared to react appropriately to bullies or unsafe situations.
• Keep an open dialogue with their child by asking specific questions about what happens during their day and take concerns seriously.
• Keep written records if they suspect their child is being bullied.
• Empower their children to tell adults if they see bullying.
• Reinforce the child’s positive behaviors and model appropriate behavior themselves.

Details in the NSBA news release here.

Erin Walsh|August 31st, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Ups and downs of SAT scores

The College Board made headlines this week when it released the class of 2006 SAT results, which at first glance seemed disappointing, showing a seven-point drop in the combined critical reading (formally the verbal section) and mathematics sections—the largest decline in 31 years. However, the results were in stark contrast to the ACT results released early in August that showed the greatest gains in 20 years. That got BoardBuzz wondering how two highly respected college entrance exams can produce such different results. Here’s the answer.

While SAT and ACT are both college entrance exams, they measure different skills—the ACT is a curriculum-based assessment that specifically measures what students have learned in school and the SAT is a reasoning assessment that measures the kind of reasoning skills students need for college. Therefore, it seems that since ACT and SAT are measuring different skills, different results would appear.

That said, the difference in results is unlikely due to only the difference in what is being measured. The College Board maintains that the decline in SAT scores is largely due to the fact that, this year, fewer students took the SAT a second time. This is significant because The College Board claims test takers typically score about 30 points higher on their second try. Unfortunately, the College Board provides little data to support this claim.

Although the decline in second-time test takers certainly could have contributed to a decline in scores, other factors may have also been in play. The class of 2006 was the first to take the newest version of the SAT, which not only revised the questions in the critical reading and mathematics sections but also added a writing section. These changes could have impacted scores in two distinct ways:

–The elimination of analogies in the newly named critical reading section and the addition of algebra II questions in the mathematics section.
–The addition of the writing section increased the test time by 50 minutes, which may have led to test fatigue.

Given the combined factors that may have contributed to the decline in SAT scores along with the record increase in ACT scores, it would be inappropriate to conclude that 2006 high school graduates are less prepared for college then last year’s graduates. So don’t go there.

Further analysis of both ACT and SAT scores can be found at the Center for Public Education.

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

What some teachers did over summer vacation

School’s back in session and it’s time to talk amongst ourselves about what we did during summer vacation. And not just students. USA Today has a great article about how many teachers spent their “vacations.”

With NCLB standards requiring highly qualified teachers, many are spending their “down time” taking continuing education courses. One group of state Teachers of the Year “spent a week swapping ideas at a special workshop” that included “an airplane ride simulating a near zero-gravity environment.” Bridget Kay Call of West Virginia summed it up by saying, “The speech teacher is speechless, and that’s not quite like me.” She also noted that it left her with an empathy for students who “struggle to describe the world around them.” She also says, “If I don’t keep growing, how do I expect my students to?”

“People think teachers are off for the summer, and they’re not,” says Kathleen Blake Yancey of the National Council of Teachers of English. In fact, many school districts require teachers to participate in summer courses. Programs like Teacher-to-Teacher offer teachers professional development and the interaction with their peers that they rarely have time for during the school year.

The article points out that in addition to the NCLB requirements, “businesses are demanding better prepared students, adding to the pressure teachers feel to keep up-to-date on the latest research and developments in their fields.”

Erin Walsh|August 30th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Patience not a virtue when it comes to fixing NCLB

An editorial published by the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio, criticized the No Child Left Behind bill (H.R. 5709) introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, to improve the law’s accountability and address its unintended consequences. The editorial cited a disability group’s opposition to the bill claiming that it would “allow high potential disabled students to perform at a lower level than non-disabled students.”

Not wanting the facts to get in the way of a good story, the writer ignored that H.R. 5709 aims to have all students—including those with disabilities—reach 100 percent proficiency in English and math by 2014. What the bill would help avoid is setting arbitrary goals that have no real relationship to the student’s individual needs. After all, the name of that other act is “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” which calls for an individualized education program.

Perhaps the writer would actually like to read Young’s bill? This will help. The writer also said Young’s bill has “some Alaskan motivation that may not apply here (Ohio),” referring to the provisions in the bill that address the challenges faced by schools and districts with diverse student populations. That could hardly be considered an “Alaskan motivation” as many of our nation’s urban schools—yes, even in Ohio—face the same challenges. See this.

Young’s bill contains all 40 provisions recommended by NSBA based on inputs from local educators who are on the front line of school reform every day. Here’s a reality check: 39 percent of Ohio’s schools did not make AYP for 2005-06, up from 24 percent last year, and 417 of Ohio’s 610 school districts missed AYP this year. On the other hand, state data showed that the majority of schools and school districts made progress over last year’s peformance. Young’s bill recognizes there are specific student groups that need extra help and will offer that help, but at the same time it credits students and schools that make significant progress toward meeting state proficiency.

The writer argued NCLB reform should be a “slow and patient process.” In contrast, the Denver Post in this skeptical editorial about a proposed federal accountability regime for higher ed refers to “Education Secretary Margaret Spellings (who’s been busy not fixing NCLB)” and refers to NCLB in its current state as “a sputtering mess.” Why should kids in Ohio and Alaska and elsewhere live with the law’s imperfections when we can improve it now?

Erin Walsh|August 29th, 2006|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Clothes that don’t make the grade

It wasn’t Heidi Klum announcing this week’s latest casualty on Project Runway; it was the dismissal of 128 students who didn’t meet dress code standards at a school in Indiana. The Associated Press reports that the students were given one-day suspensions for wearing the wrong clothes.

And we’re not talkin’ white after Labor Day. “The offending attire—including baggy pants, low-cut shirts, tank tops and graphic T-shirts—are banned from classrooms. Students were also cited for cell phone use.”

Principal Theresa Mayerick defended her decision, saying, “This was the worst year I’ve seen in a long time. It’s gotten out of control, and we needed to send a message that we’re not messing around.”

School board members said they support Mayerik and the mass suspensions. “I’d be supportive if half the school was sent home, because 99 percent will get the message our schools are for education,” board president Rebecca Ward said.

BoardBuzz has tracked this issue before here and here.</a

Erin Walsh|August 28th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Sloppy grading, but not from teachers

Here’s another example of problematic research/advocacy of the type BoardBuzz criticized here.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) this summer issued a School Foods Report Card that gives 23 states a failing grade in nutrition policies. The misnomer here is that the report cards about “schools” are based on state laws, not necessarily on what’s actually happening in school districts.

The curious thing is the report itself acknowledges that, “there has been tremendous activity at the local level to improve school foods. Large school systems, such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, have strengthened their school foods policies.” And at another place it cites one study in which volunteers actually went to the trouble of visiting schools to see what was happening nutrition-wise (which in this case, they say, wasn’t pretty).

But then it goes on to say this:

While policies for school meals are determined at the federal level, states have broad authority to address the nutritional quality of foods sold outside of meals. Thus, we analyzed state policies for foods sold outside of meals through vending, a la carte, school stores, and fundraisers.

So CSPI did online research of state laws and called state officials to see what mandates their states had. And they issued the grades based solely on how much regulation the state imposes. That’s a whole lot easier than finding out what school districts may be doing on their own, but, as we said, convenience of benchmarking and lobbying is not the same as what’s ultimately best for communities and children.

Nonetheless there’s some predictable fretting going on in response to the grades. “Illinois was handed a report card Friday, but it wasn’t one to brag about,” says this item.

This op-ed by Washington state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Shelley Curtis of the Children’s Alliance says, “Clearly, we need to do more in our public schools and communities to address childhood obesity more effectively” and “public schools can, and should, be a proactive part of the solution.” But then only one of their recommendations specifically is about how the state can “assist local school districts.” Some of the others are, or could be, more state mandates instead of exhortations and assistance to school boards.

But maybe the best example is this reaction from Utah’s state assistant director for national school lunch and breakfast:

“I talked to people in many of the 28 states that didn’t fail, and most of them had statewide legislation that regulated the types of food that could be sold in vending machines, a la carte, at school stores or as fundraisers,’ she said.

Well, yeah. That’s how you get the grade. Under this analysis, state legislation is the end in itself, not the means. For all we know, school districts may be doing a great job in some of the states that got an ‘F.’ In fact, if state lawmakers decided not to enact a one-size-fits-all rule precisely because school districts were doing a great job, they’d earn their state an ‘F.’

For the record, we’re all for school boards and school districts taking a hard look at this issue. And they’re doing it. But a policy wonk and public interest world that can’t be bothered to look any closer than the state level is seriously missing the boat—especially in public education.

Erin Walsh|August 25th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Wellness|

Fun facts to know and tell

For those who really like number crunching, a new publication has been released by the Center on Education Policy that pulls together some fun facts about public education. Okay, maybe not that fun, but kind of interesting. For example:

–Children of color make up the majority of public school enrollments in six states (Hawai’i, Texas, California, Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana).
–More than one-third of public school students are from low-income families.
–About 35 percent of the nation’s school districts are very small, enrolling fewer than 600 students. But the very largest school districts—the top 2 percent—enroll a third of all students.
–The public school teaching force does not reflect the diversity of the student population. Nine out of 10 teachers are white, and almost 8 out of 10 are female. In fact, there were fewer African American teachers in 2001 than in 1971.

Want more? Check out A Public Education Primer.

And speaking of statistics, the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll hit the streets this week with a blistering take on No Child Left Behind:

Nearly six in 10 Americans who are familiar with the federal No Child Left Behind Act believe it has had no effect on our schools or has actually harmed them. “This finding is significant and disturbing given that the nation’s schools are spending virtually all of their available money and resources on an effort to meet the demands of this law,” said Lowell Rose, the poll’s co-author along with Alec Gallup.

The poll finds that two-thirds of those surveyed oppose measuring school success by the percentage of students passing a single statewide test, while 81 percent prefer measuring the improvement that students make during the year.

Commentary from NSBA‘s exec Anne Bryant was included in this year’s poll. She noted that the “poll shows the public’s distaste emerge for mayor interference as nearly 70 percent of the public opposes having a mayor take over the public schools even as an answer to turning around low-performing schools.” That sentiment aligned with NSBA‘s adoption earlier this year of a policy that called for mayors to back away from taking over school districts and concentrate on issues outside school that impact student learning.

Still gotta have more facts? Check this out.

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

Take a hike Pluto

Okay, someone better be held to account for this. We’ve lost a planet people!

Think of the winners and losers on this one.

Winners: The textbook industry, licking its chops at all those reprints. A simple insert just won’t do.

Losers: The ping pong ball industry, shuddering at how many fewer balls they’ll now sell on those 40 million annual “planets of our solar system” student projects.

Related bonus entrepreneurial opportunity: Put your now “vintage” solar system class project from 1985 up for sale on eBay.

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

The Sound and the Fury, take two?

It hasn’t quite lived up to the original firestorm of Summer 2004 and its aftermath, but this week’s release of federal test data comparing traditional public schools and charter schools has fueled another round of rhetorical wrestling among the education punditocracy.

Two years ago, data from the 2003 NAEP exam for 4th-graders showed charter schools lagging traditional public schools. Hard-line charter advocates responded with a flurry of explanations, excuses and attacks, often lining up behind the claim that charter schools enroll high percentages of low-income and minority students for which the study did not account.

The statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education reanalyzed the data, this time controlling for student characteristics in an attempt to provide a more accurate apples-to-apples comparison of the two types of schools. The results? Public schools scored 4.2 points higher than charter schools in 4th grade reading and 4.7 points higher in 4th grade math, both statistically significant differences according to the NCES report.

And, of particular interest to school boards, charter schools affiliated with a school district had higher student achievement scores (roughly equal to public schools) than did charters not affiliated with a school district, which scored substantially lower than public schools both before and after controlling for differences in student characteristics. Sound familiar? Some media outlets, like the La Crosse Tribune editorial board, noted the distinction. Something for school boards, which authorize most charter schools, and those who have acquiesced as the more strident voices attempt to pit charters against school districts, to consider.

As with the report issued two years ago, the data present a picture of public school versus charter school achievement from a single year. Drawing long-term conclusions one way or another would be risky and potentially misleading. Hard-line charter advocates might have said as much, acknowledging that on this national assessment charter schools came up short, and moved on. But instead, some chose the attack mode approach, slamming its methodology and dismissing it as irrelevant, while releasing their own reports timed to coincide with the NCES findings.

“This research is no more valid than the government response to Katrina,” opined charter advocate Jeanne Allen in this New York Times story. Wow. Somebody needs to call Spike Lee.

Meanwhile, officials with the Department went out of their way to downplay the data or, in the case of this non-comment comment from Secretary Spellings, to essentially avoid mentioning it at all. Said NCES Commissioner Mark Schneider: “What does the report say to a parent? Not much, frankly.” Strangely, we’re unaware of similar statements from the feds when NAEP figures that are less flattering toward traditional public schools have been released. According to multiple press reports, Schneider also thinks NCES should get out of the business of carrying out analyses like the charter study and the public v. private study released last month. Why? Because a few advocacy groups that can’t stomach seeing data detrimental to their policy beliefs attack? We need more research free of political and ideological influence, not less. Good Ed Week coverage on that issue here.

Let’s face it. Those who make a living advocating for publicly financed alternatives to traditional public schools by criticizing student achievement in public schools are not having a very good summer. The over-hyped rhetoric so often used to push silver bullet alternatives like vouchers and charters is getting pushback from, of all things, data. Yes, transparency is a good thing.

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