Articles from September, 2006

Doing her part for literacy

While BoardBuzz liked Megan Mullally as the wisecracking assistant on Will and Grace, we now salute her commitment to raising awareness of literacy and the need for more funding for school libraries. The actress and television personality has a new talk show that has launched a contest to give schools the opportunity to win $25,000 for their library.

Teachers and school administrators can submit essays written by their students by mail or online at, describing in 100 words or less why reading is important to them. Based on those submissions, four schools will be chosen to host their own bake sale, and the top two money earners will come to “The Megan Mullally Show” at the end of November for an in-studio bakeoff. The finalists will bake their own unique recipes that will compete before a panel of judges and Mullally herself. Details here.

“Reading and literacy are extremely important to me, and hopefully our contest will help improve the libraries at several of our nation’s schools,” says Mullally. “I remember spending many an hour at my school library as a child and know how important they are to a child’s education and development.”

And though it doesn’t hurt to have a celebrity champion the cause of literacy, BoardBuzz believes that all schools should be fully funded without a national bake sale.

Erin Walsh|September 29th, 2006|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Is time on your side?

More time for learning should lead to more being learned. But finding more time in the school schedule can be challenging, not to mention costly. And if not done right, more can actually turn out to be less.

As part of its ongoing mission to bring clarity to the murky swamp otherwise know as education research, the Center for Public Education has identified the most compelling findings about different ways to organize school time and schedules. The quick version: time makes a difference but only if focused on academic activities; spreading the school year over 12 months instead of nine seems to make a difference, too; and block scheduling isn’t all it’s made out to be, especially the so-called 4X4 structure which some studies suggest can actually have a negative effect on student learning.

The essential ingredient in any reconfiguration? Professional development to help teachers trained in traditional modes of instructional delivery get the most out of non-traditional schedules.

Anyone thinking about adding hours or days to the school year, or squeezing out more from existing schedules, should check out Making Time: What the research says about re-organizing school schedules. If you don’t, you just might be wasting time.

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

To be or not to be … existential angst about the meaning of political clout, er, money

It seems the existential angst about the meaning of union dues is again coming to the Supreme Court, but this time with a new twist. The court has agreed to hear two cases revolving around a Washington state law requiring unions to ask non-members whether part of the “agency” fees they pay to a union can be used for political purposes. The law, which was declared unconstitutional by the state supreme court, is different from previous incarnations of the dues-equal-political-clout debate, because it requires the union to expressly ask non-union members whether they consent to the use of the money for political purposes.

The New York Times reports the cases are a really big deal to both unions and non-union members, who are already cloaking their arguments with the mantle of the First Amendment. But, while the posturing on either side is predictable, BoardBuzz is far more interested in how the court’s new configuration will affect the outcome. With conservative and liberal lines drawn fairly tightly on this one, BoardBuzz wonders whether Justice Alito might be a possible swing vote. How to decide between one’s love of the First Amendment and one’s pro-business stance? One thing’s for sure, either way the court rules, school boards across the country will be squarely in the middle of the debate.

Erin Walsh|September 27th, 2006|Categories: School Law, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Student search bill poses legal problems for districts

Amid the flurry of last minute bills being fast-tracked by Congress in its final days before adjourning for the mid-term election, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would require school districts to set forth policies adopting a Congressional definition of “reasonable and permissible” searches of students on public school grounds. The bill, “The Student and Teacher Safety Act” (H.R. 5295) introduced by Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY) would require districts to adopt these policies as a condition for receiving Safe and Drug Free School funds.

Republican leadership brought the bill to the House floor where it passed by a voice vote despite the concerns of a number of education groups (including NSBA) that felt it was unnecessary, could complicate the legality of some searches, and constituted improper federal intrusion into local and state issues.

As approved, the bill would essentially require school districts to establish search policies that reiterate the general standard set forth by the Supreme Court in its 1985 New Jersey v. T.L.O. decision. Specifically, the measure defines as reasonable “a search by a full-time teacher or school official, acting on any reasonable suspicion based on professional experience and judgment, of any minor student on the grounds of any public school, if the search is conducted to ensure that classrooms, school buildings, school property and students remain free from the threat of all weapons, dangerous materials, or illegal narcotics.” It further provides that, “The measures used to conduct any search must be reasonably related to the search’s objectives, without being excessively intrusive in light of the student’s age, sex, and the nature of the offense.”

Before the vote, NSBA sent this letter to all House members alerting them to school boards’ opposition to the bill and warning that it could open up school districts to potential liability in cases where school personnel are misled into violating the constitutional rights of students in the errant belief that their actions must be permissible if they conform with the above definition. That’s what happened last time Congress had a great idea like this. A legal analysis of the bill provided to Education and the Workforce Committee staff by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service also reinforces many of the points highlighted in NSBA’s letter.

While the bill was fast-tracked in the House without the benefit of any committee hearings, it is not expected to move forward in the Senate at this time.

Erin Walsh|September 27th, 2006|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

MySpace joins NSBA with tips for school administrators

MySpace has joined forces with Seventeen Magazine, NSBA, and others to help promote online safety. Read details in the TechWeb article. The effort–due largely in part to the criticism that MySpace has not done enough to protect children online–is aimed at parents, teens, and teachers and offers tips, suggestions and information on safe online behavior.

Additionally, MySpace has worked with NSBA to develop a School Administrators’ Guide to Internet Safety, which will address the safety challenges students and educators face in relation to MySpace. This guide will be available in October for download from the MySpace site. Currently, Safety Tips for Parents is available for download on the MySpace site, and offers information about how to protect teens and parents the opportunity to remove their child’s page from the site.

Interested in learning more about social networking issues? NSBA’s upcoming T+L Conference will feature a town hall on social networking that will examine trends, safety issues, benefits, and social networking sites like MySpace. Check out the full conference program here.

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

Three urban school districts earn top NSBA honors

The NSBA‘s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) has announced three finalists for its third annual award for Urban School Board Excellence. Nominees were required to provide evidence of excellence in school board governance; community engagement; closing the gap-equity in education; and academic excellence.

Houston Independent School District in Texas, Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida have been selected as finalists. The winning district will be announced and the award presented to school district officials at a ceremony held in conjunction with the CUBE Annual Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., on September 30. The CUBE Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence is supported by McGraw-Hill Education.

The award for Urban School Board Excellence is presented to the school district that best demonstrates the excellence in four core areas: board governance, closing the gap, academic achievement, and community engagement. The winning district receives a $5,000 contribution to a student scholarship fund.

“Our members learn a great deal from each others’ best practices, and these districts represent the very best in urban school board governance,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “Each of these three districts have the components that make governance work, particularly in an urban setting. NSBA is proud to recognize policymakers for their role in school improvement.”

Erin Walsh|September 26th, 2006|Categories: School Boards, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

NSBA testifies at NCLB hearing

In the spirit of speaking now or forever holding your peace, everyone had a moment to share at the hearing held in Washington, D.C., yesterday by the NCLB Commission created by the Aspen Institute. NSBA’s Reggie Felton, director of federal relations, was one of 13 panelists addressing the 13 commissioners at the group’s last scheduled hearing.

Felton addressed several questions from the commissioners regarding H.R. 5709, the No Child Left Behind Improvements Act of 2006, which fully aligns with NSBA’s 40 recommendations to improve the law. His testimony here. The questions revolved around how students with disabilities should be tested, the N-size and counting students in multiple subgroups.

Wasting no time, the commissioners dove into the hot topic of whether a national standard/test should be considered as part of the law’s upcoming reauthorization. Deputy Secretary Ray Simon from the U.S. Department of Education, one of the panelists, doesn’t think implementing a national standard is possible in this political environment, but said the issue needs to be examined. Several panelists supported using the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) standards as benchmarks for state standards but stopped short of supporting a national standard or test.

Simon said ED will push for expanding NCLB into high school and adding science to AYP calculations during the law’s reauthorization. Meanwhile, NSBA continues securing cosponsors for H.R. 5709. To date, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Penn.; Rep. Steve Rothman, D-N.J.; and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah have signed onto the bill. NSBA’s co-sponsorship toolkit here.

Erin Walsh|September 26th, 2006|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Trouble in River City

In yet another quiet release on a late Friday afternoon (remember the recent report that indicated public schools are outperforming charters?), the U.S. Department of Education was hoping that few would notice the scathing report written by the department’s own Office of Inspector General that suggests a law was broken and ethics ignored when ED dictated to local districts which reading curriculum they must use. The report must be some relief for other reading programs, such as Bob Slavin’s Success for All, which have cried foul for some time about the department’s strong-arm tactics used on districts to adopt Reading First, termed “a jewel of No Child Left Behind,” by AP’s Ben Feller. His report here. Slavin’s reaction here.

While Margaret Spellings is taking it on the chin saying that she will “swiftly adopt all the audit’s recommendations,” and “that the problems happened in the early days of the program before she was secretary,” it seems that the Reading First director who has come under fire in the investigation was one of her employees until last Friday when he resigned.

Reports the New York Times, this is the first in a series of investigations into complaints of political favoritism in the reading initiative.

Erin Walsh|September 25th, 2006|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

1.5 million pennies for your thoughts

Here’s a feel-good story to start your week off right. USA Today reports on a middle school in Massachusetts that got a valuable lesson in karma last week in the form of 1.5 million pennies. Teacher Niki Rockwell launched a project for eighth graders at the school to collect the pennies, which were to represent the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust. “I said these kids don’t understand what a million is,” Rockwell said. “How will they understand 1.5 million children, 6 million Jews?” And the project was born.

But ingenuity can be a double-edged sword. The students at Groton-Dunstable Middle School learned this the hard way earlier this week when 120,000 of their pennies were stolen by a substitute janitor working at the school. Here’s where the karma comes in.

The students rallied, publicized what had happened, and went around to local businesses in an appeal to make up for the stolen coins. “They thought it would take four years before they would have 1.5 million pennies,” Rockwell says. “And they’ve reached it in four days.” The community demonstrated an outpouring of support. USA Today notes, “An elderly man who had survived a concentration camp came in Monday and gave $5,000. A man rode up on a Harley-Davidson, asked whether this was ‘the penny school’ and handed over a plastic piggy bank filled with pennies.”

Now what? A class trip? New bikes? Not for these students. They plan to use the pennies part of a permanent memorial for children of the Holocaust. Student Jeremy Moisson summed it up best, “It was a lot of pennies to get stolen, but we knew we could get it back, and we got it back and five times more. It’s like the ultimate in karma. Something bad happens and then you kind of get compensated for it.”

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

Former ED sec’s weigh in on national testing

In these days of accountability and AYP, it’s difficult to compare 50 different states and the District of Columbia when each has its own tests and standards. And now the heavy hitters are weighing in with a solution that calls for a national school test. The Washington Post is running the editorial from former Secretaries of Education William J. Bennett and Rod Paige, that calls for “better and more efficient ways to produce an educated population and close the achievement gaps in our education system.”

Bennett and Paige start off with a bit of the obligatory “money doesn’t matter” and “down with the monopoly” Babbitry—an expedient dose of rhetorical sweetener for an argument that amounts to the unceremonious dumping of what has been a non-negotiable principle of American conservatism:

Out of respect for federalism and mistrust of Washington, much of the GOP has expected individual states to set their own academic standards and devise their own tests and accountability systems. That was the approach of the No Child Left Behind Act—which moved as boldly as it could while still achieving bipartisan support. It sounds good, but it is working badly. A new Fordham Foundation report shows that most states have deployed mediocre standards, and there’s increasing evidence that some are playing games with their tests and accountability systems.

The remedy? As both of us have long argued, Washington should set sound national academic standards and administer a high-quality national test. Publicize everybody’s results, right down to the school level. Then Washington should butt out.

States that prefer to cling to their own standards and tests—and endure the rules and meddling of federal bureaucrats—would be free to do so. Some surely would. But many would welcome a new compact with the Education Department.

AASA recently compared the U.S. to Britain in an article which notes, “Perhaps most interesting is the fact that our critics tend to beat up on our school systems, comparing them to world standards. The criticism comes in spite of the fact that many of the countries that we do not favorably compare with on achievement tests do have national standards, curriculum and testing.”

On the other side of the coin (and this side of the pond), an article we found in the ERIC Digest, based on testimony presented by FairTest’s Monty Neill to the House Subcommittee on Select Education, argues, “that current efforts to establish a national test to measure progress toward the nation’s educational goals will inhibit, not advance, educational reform.” The article goes on to recommend that “federal government should assist states and districts with the development of performance assessments; teacher education and staff development; and the development and dissemination of model curricula, standards, and assessments. All these should be integrated into comprehensive reform strategies.”

The article concludes by saying, “U.S. students need school reform, not more testing. More test scores will not magically produce educational improvement. Resources should be spent on helping teachers teach and students learn, not on further sorting and ranking students, schools and states.”

So is a national test a worthy solution, or an example of the goverment usurping local school governance and ignoring school reform? BoardBuzz invites you to weigh in with a comment.

Erin Walsh|September 22nd, 2006|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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