Articles from January, 2007

FRN conference rocked the house … and senate

The NSBA Federal Relations Network Conference, which wrapped up yesterday with Hill visits by 1,000 school board members, scored big on several fronts this year. Notables such as Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), and Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) addressed conference attendees, while Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) received awards for their commitment to public education.

The conference received a great deal of press this year, too. This piece from North Adams Transcript (Mass.) notes Kennedy’s vow to “soften the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s deadlines and discipline while providing a new surge of money and encouragement.” The article also pointed out that

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said President Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “hate public schools” and set No Child standards so high that they could not be reached.

“The key (to what Kennedy’s) saying is we want to get there, but we’re going to do it with carrots instead of whips,” Koocher said.

The Washington Times covered Secretary Spellings’ remarks to the group and the comments and questions from conference attendees that followed. A delegate from Detroit told Mrs. Spellings that when it comes to charter and private-school policy, ‘you should leave that decision up to the states.’ He also complained NCLB law is ‘woefully underfunded.’” And the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Alaska) spotlighted Rep. Young’s award. “Young said geographic, economic and cultural factors prevent schools from meeting [NCLB's] mandates. He said his bill would hold schools accountable but address unintended consequences of the law.”
Check out all of BoardBuzz’s conference coverage here and here. Wished you had been there? Watch this clip from C-SPAN.

Erin Walsh|January 31st, 2007|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Testing, testing: Join the online discussion tomorrow

U.S. scores on international tests make headlines, but what do they really mean? Some say they’re proof that American schools are broken. Others say that the crisis-mongering is overblown. How does the U.S. really stack up internationally–and more important, what can we learn from international assessments that will help our public schools and students?

You may recall that BoardBuzz alerted you last week about the upcoming online discussion from the Center for Public Education titled, “More than a Horse Race: A Guide to International Assessments of Student Achievement.”

You’re invited to post your questions now or join the chat tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET to discuss and get the facts about international assessments. The Center’s Policy Analyst Jim Hull and Director Patte Barth will share insights and answer your questions. You can also read “More than a Horse Race: A Guide to International Assessments of Student Achievement” here.

Erin Walsh|January 31st, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Secretary Spellings outlines the administration’s priorities

Yesterday afternoon, at the Federal Relations Network Conference, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings outlined the administration’s priorities for NCLB for nearly 1,000 school board members in attendance. You can read Spellings’ complete Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act here.

In her remarks, Spellings advocated for the reauthorization of NCLB. “No Child Left Behind has transformed the education enterprise. Before this law, we took for granted that our education system was meeting the needs of our students,” Secretary Spellings said. “No Child Left Behind changed all that. The law brought standards, data-driven decision making and accountability to the system. And it set a historic goal of every child performing at grade-level by 2014.”

BoardBuzz was happy to note that Spellings acknowledged that the law “isn’t perfect,” which is a change from her 99.9% pure comment in September. She also faced tough questions from school board members in the audience, including whether or not she had seen and would take the time to read the No Child Left Behind Improvements Act (which is in line with NSBA’s own recommendations for the law–read more here)–that has been introduced in the House by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

Young and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) were honored yesterday by NSBA for their commitment to public education and for the legislation that each has introduced in Congress. The FRN Conference concludes today with nearly 1,000 school board members hitting Capitol Hill to lobby their members of Congress to support public education issues and sign the Pledge to America’s Schoolchildren.

Erin Walsh|January 30th, 2007|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Sen. Kennedy addresses school board members

Today in Washington, D.C., more than 1,000 school board members from across the nation listened as Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee outlined his agenda for the 110th Congress at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network Conference. Kennedy called upon the school board members to share their “leadership and service to help strengthen America’s future,” and told NSBA’s president that he would work together to fix NCLB.

Kennedy told the audience that

one of the most important aspects of the strength of our democracy is the excellence of our public schools. As leaders and advocates of that excellence, each of you is at the forefront of the ongoing movement to improve our public schools. In Massachusetts, that movement began in 1837, when the father of public education — Horace Mann — campaigned relentlessly for the support and improvement of public schools.

He reminds us that a free and public education was vital to our future. He brought intense public attention to inferior conditions in our schools. He fought to double the wages of teachers, improve textbooks, and build fifty new secondary schools across the state. And I’m told that he did it without measuring adequate yearly process.

He also outlined four key messages for his agenda:

Do more to see that resources are available to bring needed reforms to schools;

Find more effective ways to measure progress, see that all students are reaching high standards, and focus on the lowest perfrorming schools instead of labeling so many schools as failures;

Look for creative ideas to meet our common goal to turn around struggling schools, including extended school days, parent and community initiatives, and high school reform; and

Renew the commitment to teacher quality and help the neediest schools to attract and keep good teachers.

You can view a complete copy of Senator Kennedy’s remarks by clicking here.

Erin Walsh|January 29th, 2007|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Can you hear me now?

The continuing debate over cell phones in schools, well, continued this week with an article in USA Today. The piece focuses on Milwaukee‘s ban on cell phones, which begins Monday and will affect the 222 public schools there.

The ban was prompted by “fights that escalated into brawls when students used cellphones to summon family members and outsiders.” Under the new policy, if a student uses a cell phone, it will be confiscated.

Many states banned electronic devices in schools more than a decade ago when pagers and portable music players became popular, says Tom Hutton, a lawyer with the National School Boards Association. The laws were aimed at pagers, then a tool for drug dealers.

And Milwaukee isn’t the only place where bans have taken hold. The article notes that Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School in Glyndon, Minn.; public schools in Biloxi, Miss.; New York City public schools; and Deep Springs Elementary School in Lexington, Ky. all have some form of a ban in place. In fact, “Eight parents and a parents’ group are suing New York City public schools, which last year began enforcing a ban. Their lawyer, Norman Siegel, says the parents don’t believe phones should be used in school. ‘The issue,’ he says, ‘is the right of the parents to provide safety to and from school.’” It’s definitely a sticky issue (which BoardBuzz has covered here, here and here), that pits schools’ need for a learning environment free from outside disruptions against parents’ belief that students need for the phones in case of emergencies.

Chances are we won’t be hearing the last of this subject. What do you think about cell phone bans? Leave a comment and let us know.

Erin Walsh|January 26th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security|

The real scoop on international testing

U.S. scores on international tests make great media copy, but what do they really mean? Some say they’re proof that American schools are broken. Others say that the crisis-mongering is overblown. But how does the United States perform on the international stage? Learn about the lessons international comparisons can offer by joining the Center for Public Education‘s online discussion “More than a Horse Race: A Guide to International Assessments of Student Achievement,” Thursday, February 1, from 2:00—3:00 p.m. EST.

U.S. performance does vary and it’s important to know why. What we learn from international comparisons helps to sort out this question: Are American students in crisis? Our in-house experts, Jim Hull and Patte Barth, will answer your questions about the meaning and use of international data. Click here to post questions now.

Erin Walsh|January 25th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Doing the continental

Earler this week, Board Buzz reported on a Washington Post editorial that presented five myths about how U.S. kids stack up against the rest of the world. Little did BB know at the time that its favorite information source — the Center for Public Education — just released a guide to international assessments entitled More than a horse race .

A lot is made about how American education ranks internationally, but what people hear tends to fall into two opposite camps: on one hand, you have the Chicken Littles who cry out that our students are failing and our economic sky is falling; on the other are the Dr. Panglosses who dismiss international comparisons as irrelevant, saying that American schools are somehow different and that this truly is the best of all possible worlds. The Center challenges both views, however, and shows that reality is somewhere in between. For example,

  • If international assessments were a horse race, American students would not win place, or show on any test. But in some areas they come pretty darned close to the money, and do not fail in any subject. U.S. kids actually perform quite well in reading compared to their peers, and achieve around the international average on most math and science tests.

  • U.S. students are improving in some areas, too, notably mathematics. But other countries are improving at the same time. In some subjects, for example, 4th grade science, this meant that our relative ranking fell even though students performed about the same. In contrast, our 8th graders improved both their science scores and their standing.

Although the importance of being number one may be overblown, the Center shows that the information we can get from international tests matters, particularly what we can learn about policies and practices in other countries that may be applied here, for example, how do high-achieving countries organize curriculum, do they provide pre-K, and others. The real prize for the U.S. is making sure all students are well prepared to meet the challenges of the new century.

Check out this and other useful information at www.centerforpubliceducation.org. While visiting, don’t forget to sign up for updates.

Erin Walsh|January 24th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

NSBA’s grassroots are coming to town

Watch out Washington, D.C. School board members from across the country will be convening in the nation’s capital, January 28-30, at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN)Conference to give Members of Congress some advice and direction on key education issues.

With the dramatic shift in politics this year, the conference is seeing a renewed energy among the nearly 1,000 school board members from every congressional district in the country who come to Washington every year to voice their concerns. There also seems to be a renewed interest in the school board perspective as U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings will address attendees, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will share the democratic education agenda for the 110th Congress.

Attendees will also hear from House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), chair of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. In addition, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) will be honored for their support and sponsorship of a bill that contained improvements for the No Child Left Behind law.

School board members will be poised to talk to their Congressional members about supporting improvements to the No Child Left Behind law, following through on promised funding for the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, supporting universal pre-kindergarten programs, getting high-quality teachers in every classroom, and making sure students have critical math, science, and technology skills. And, the push will continue to get Congressional members to sign NSBA’s Pledge to America’s Schoolchildren. Have your representative and senator signed yet?

Erin Walsh|January 23rd, 2007|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Hope springs eternal for the unbiased media

Could it be that we’re seeing signals that the era of swallowing and regurgitating untruths about our schools is starting to wane? BoardBuzz celebrated when, over bagels and coffee yesterday, we spied Paul Farhi’s editorial in the Washington Post’s Outlook section. The piece examines “Five Myths About U.S. Kids Outclassed by the Rest of the World,” which are:

  1. U.S. students rate poorly compared with those in the rest of the world.
  2. U.S. students are falling behind.
  3. U.S. students won’t be well prepared for the modern workforce.
  4. Bad schooling has undermined America’s competitiveness.
  5. How we stack up on a international tests matters, if only for national pride.

Farhi notes that when “you cherry-pick results” American kids do rate poorly. However, “University of Pennsylvania researchers Erling E. Boe and Sujie Shin looked at six major international tests in reading, math, science and civics conducted from 1991 through 2001. Their conclusion: Americans are above average when compared with 22 other industrialized nations. In civics, no nation scored significantly higher than the United States; in reading, only 13 percent did.” Sounds good to us.

Additionally, our students aren’t falling behind as would be suggested by those who suggest things. Farhi tells us that “As the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) shows, America’s eighth-graders improved their math and science scores in 1995, 1999 and 2003. Only students in Hong Kong, Latvia and Lithuania—three relatively tiny and homogenous entities—improved more than the United States did. Indeed, no nation included in the major international rankings educates as many poor students or as ethnically diverse a population as does the United States.”

And another thing—the ranking of U.S. students on international tests matters, but “if being No. 1 in education is our goal, shouldn’t we also want to be No. 1 in all the things closely linked to academic achievement, such as quality of childhood health care and reduction of childhood poverty? National pride can be a destructive concept, especially when it views learning as a zero-sum game (“their” gains are “our” losses, and vice versa). Continuous improvement should be our goal, regardless of whether we’re No.1 in the test-score Olympics.” You can see more research about standardized testing by clicking here, here, and here and read previous BoardBuzz coverage here.

Erin Walsh|January 22nd, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Ohio: Getting it right

Our friends in Ohio are on the right track, it seems, as a consortium of 12 statewide education groups dedicated to strengthening education and economic opportunities in the state submitted a constitutional ammendment to the attorney general this week. The amendment campaign, Getting It Right for Ohio’s Future, is pushing for more state funding for education and supports developing a well-educated workforce to help stimulate good jobs and restore Ohio’s competitiveness.

According to the Getting It Right for Ohio’s Future press release, the campaign would:

  • Amend the Ohio Constitution to establish that a high-quality education is a fundamental right for every Ohio child

  • Determine levels of funding based on student need for all types of students, including special education, vocational education, gifted or economically disadvantaged
  • Eliminate “phantom revenue” of untaxed property value calculations by the state, thereby reducing the need for local tax levies
  • Exempt Ohio seniors and disabled citizens from property taxes on the first $40,000 of the market value of their homes
  • Create an independent commission appointed by Ohio’s top elected leaders—the governor, speaker of the House and Senate president—that monitors districts to ensure that high-quality educational opportunities are available to students in a cost-effective manner
  • Direct the independent commission to report annually to the governor, General Assembly, State Board of Education and the public
  • Create and maintain a permanent local government fund to support police and fire departments, libraries and other local government services that support Ohio schools, citizens, and Ohio’s ability to compete for jobs
  • Establish a system that ensures total state funding for Ohio’s public institutions of higher education receive no less than the amount provided in 2007 and increases annually based on the state’s personal income percentage.

The attorney general’s office has 10 days to respond to the petition, which is backed by 12 top education groups, including the Ohio School Boards Association. You can check out media coverage of the petition here and here.

Erin Walsh|January 19th, 2007|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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