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Articles from January, 2007

Wake up little Susie

Attention parents. Stop blasting Sousa into your teen’s room. Put away the garden hose. Your local high school may soon be giving you a break from this early morning ordeal by giving teens what research says they need — an extra hour of sleep. That is, if your school district becomes part of what NPR reports is a growing trend to push back the start time for high school students.

Morning Edition reporter Michelle Trudeau spoke to researchers who say that about 80 school districts across the country have made the decision to start high school as much as 1 hour and 20 minutes later in the morning. Administrators speaking to NPR reported that students in late-start high schools were more alert and more likely to show up to class, while students reported feeling depressed less often. One Iowa district said the change produced an unanticipated windfall; the new start time required a shift in bus schedules, which ended up saving the district $700,000 per year.

This is not news to a lot of school board members, however. The Center for Public Education features the story about how in 2001 the Arlington, Va., school board engaged its community in studying and eventually implementing a later start for its high school students.

Also, check out the Center’s latest research on how school time and schedules can be used most effectively, including ideal start times for teens.

Erin Walsh|January 18th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

What should come first in NCLB renewal?

Much discussion out there in the media and policy-wonk worlds surrounding No Child Left Behind’s five-year anniversary, with lots of speculation on the law’s reauthorization scheduled to begin this year. Check out the first item in this week’s issue of NSBA’s Legal Clips. For that matter, just plug “No Child Left Behind” into your favorite Internet search engine, like Google News, and look at the results.

Although various bills amending NCLB were introduced by Republicans and Democrats in the last Congress, lawmakers did nothing to fix the law. Now the new 110th Congress can distinguish itself by taking some real actions to improve the law.

It’s good news that both the current Congress and the Bush administration want to start reauthorization this year. For the sake of its own credibility, NCLB simply cannot continue to use its flawed accountability framework to rate schools and school districts based on comparing the performance of different groups of students from year to year and imposing inappropriate assessments on students with language and special needs challenges. See here and here. NSBA has recommended 40 provisions to improve the law, mostly focusing on the Adequate Yearly Progress framework. These recommendations were included in the bill introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in June 2006. Young is committed to re-introducing the bill in the new Congress.

In recent months, several provisions NSBA supports have also picked up steam in discussions. These include using growth models to hold schools accountable (see this), and allowing states to rate schools under a multi-tier AYP system by possibly adding a provisional AYP category.

However, other suggestions, such as adding new subject areas to the AYP framework and adding more annual testing in high school, also have surfaced. Thoughtful mulling by social studies advocates here, and Ed Week coverage of a big pow-wow on this issue, here. The civic mission of public schools is fundamental, of course, and historian David McCullough made an impassioned plea at NSBA’s 2006 Annual Conference for school boards not to allow history to be marginalized.

The problem is that when it comes to NCLB, more is not necessarily better. As BoardBuzz has said before, the many sincere community groups who rightly perceive that their agendas for public schools are taking a back seat to NCLB pressures often have an initial tendency to want to pile their own causes on, too. But, as they’re likely to discover once they start delving into the act, we cannot improve the law just by piling more layers onto it. Instead, we must focus on improving NCLB’s accountability framework first and foremost. Get that part (and of course, the funding) right, and then think about any possible additions.

Meanwhile, McCullough had a good suggestion: If the priority is reading (and one can make a strong case for this), then make sure the reading includes history. Instead of dreaming up more legal mandates for schools, curriculum advocates might accomplish much more by putting their energies into developing strategies to help schools use their favorite subjects as effective means to achieve current academic goals.

Erin Walsh|January 17th, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Get your pencils ready …

There could be another round of standardized tests in the future of education. This time, though, the students won’t be taking the tests–school board members will. At least, that’s the way it’ll be if this editorial in T.H.E. Journal has anything to do with it.

The article cites many “committed school board members” who “care deeply about kids and come to exhibits to learn more about technology and instructional practices” and gives NSBA props for its “many training materials for school board members.” And then the author drops the hammer: “How do we hold the feet to the fire of the school board member who is obstructionist and anti-public school?”

Good question, actually. BoardBuzz would argue that those ineffectual school board members can be voted out of office, but what if a four-year term is too long to wait for a rogue member? How about some remediation techniques using high quality training based on NSBA‘s Key Work of School Boards?

The author arges that “that screening would encourage qualified candidates who want to make a difference to run and might eliminate some of the nut cases.” She concludes by saying, “We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the requirements for a qualified teacher over the last few years. And that’s good. But we also need to look at the process (or lack thereof) for hiring school board candidates who really want to make a difference and not just have another bullet on their resume of community service.”

Here’s some food for thought: If there were to be a qualifying test, who would determine the qualifications? Should other elected officials be required to take qualifying tests too? Let BoardBuzz know what you think by leaving us a comment.

Erin Walsh|January 16th, 2007|Categories: School Boards, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Now hear this!

NSBA‘s Council of School Attorneys will be exploring the often difficult role of the school board attorney as the counselor-at-law in an audio conference on Wednesday, February 7, at 12 noon EST. The discussion, “Navigating School Board Politics: The School Board Attorney as Counselor-at-law,” will cover superintendent/board relations, client role confusion, “rogue” board members, board privileges and executive sessions, and board and attorney ethics. Hosted by COSA chair Deryl Wynn, the audio conference will feature NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negrón, New York State School Board Association General Counsel Jay Worona, North Carolina School Board Association Legal Counsel and Director of Policy Allison Schafer, and Connecticut Association of Boards of Education Deputy Director and General Counsel Patrice McCarthy. For details click here.

Erin Walsh|January 12th, 2007|Categories: School Law, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Invite a student to shadow you

On Friday, February 2, working professionals across the country will participate in Job Shadow Day, part of a national, year-long effort to enrich the lives of students by acquainting them with the world of work through on-the-job experiences and a special school curriculum that ties academics to the workplace. Here’s a twist … invite students to shadow school board members to see what public service is all about.

Sponsored by the financial services firm ING and coordinated by America’s Promise, Junior Achievement, and the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, more than one million students and 100,000 businesses are expected to participate. Notable past workplace mentors include former President George Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, governors, mayors, and other elected officials, and Today show anchors Katie Couric, Matt Laurer, Al Roker, and Ann Curry. Details can be found here.

Erin Walsh|January 12th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Worthy of recognition

Wondering just what the school board is doing (or supposed to be doing)? Thinking of running for office yourself? Already serving and looking for a clear cut list of to-dos? Check out this tidbit from The Morning Sun in Kansas.

In Kansas, more than “2,000 men and women across the state serve their community by serving on their local school board” so it’s only natural that there be some guidelines and responsibilities for the members. The Kansas Association of School Boards outlines this for members, and the Sun is sharing it as a primer for its readers.

According to KASB, the responsibilities include:

  • To establish a clear policy for the school system

  • Select and evaluate the superintendent of schools
  • Hold the superintendent accountable for accomplishing district goals and
  • Help build public support for, and the understanding of, public education.

And some characteristics a school board member, or potential school board members should have are:

  • A broad background of experience and knowledge

  • Be able to understand the forces of societal change and to plan for the future
  • Be tolerant and without prejudice
  • Understand education today is complex and simplistic approaches will not meet today’s challenges
  • Be willing to invest the many hours that will be necessary to carry out the duties of the office
  • Have a sincere desire to serve the community
  • Have a capability to learn and grow as one becomes more aware of the responsibilities of one of the most important elective bodies in our society

BoardBuzz knows that this public service can often be a tiring, thankless job, but it also has its rewards. January is School Board Recognition Month in Kansas and many other states. Check out details here on the celebrations around the country that pay tribute to those brave public servants who make up the school board.

Erin Walsh|January 11th, 2007|Categories: School Boards, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Education: The fountain of youth

The verdict is in. The key to a long and healthy life is education. This recent article in the New York Times points out that “The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income.” Not only that, but “those factors that are popularly believed to be crucial — money and health insurance, for example, pale in comparison.”

Education is not the only factor, however, that affects lifespan. There’s smoking, “which sharply curtails life span. There is a connection between having a network of friends and family and living a long and healthy life. And there is evidence that people with more powerful jobs and, presumably, with more control over their work lives, are healthier and longer lived.” But education keeps coming up, again and again.

“If you were to ask me what affects health and longevity,” says Michael Grossman, a health economist at the City University of New York, “I would put education at the top of my list.”

Suprisingly, “It turned out that life expectancy at age 35 was extended by as much as one and a half years simply by going to school for one extra year.” That’s a rousing endorsement for education, if you ask BoardBuzz. And most interestingly, as Victor Fuchs, a health economist at Stanford, points out “it is not clear how or why education would lead to a longer life.”

BoardBuzz loves a feel-good story, and this one makes us feel really good! Hats off to education!

Erin Walsh|January 10th, 2007|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

New at the Center for Public Education

The Center for Public Education (CPE) has been up to all kinds of stuff lately. They’ve added a new monthly discussion feature, which will highlight a different subject every month.

Interested in Pre-K education? The CPE has several presentations chock full of need-to-know information about Pre-K. Topics include: advancing quality Pre-K in all states; exploring the school connection; Pre-K momentum; and state Pre-K programs.

You can also get stories from school districts and check out new and relevant reports that will keep you in the know. But don’t take BoardBuzz‘s word for it, sign up for the Center’s e-newsletter and get all the news as it happens, delivered straight to your inbox!

Erin Walsh|January 9th, 2007|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

UPDATE: Libraries’ day looking up

In response to a recent article in the Washington Post (see BoardBuzz coverage here) about the demise of classics on its shelves, the Fairfax County, Virginia libraries are speaking out to the contrary. This statement posted in the libraries’ site insists that “there are classic texts that are widely regarded as some of the most important literature in western culture. These include works by Aristotle, Hemingway, Proust, Faulkner, Bronte, Fitzgerald, Angelou and many others. We are committed to offering classic texts by important writers like these in our library system.”

The statement goes on to explain the balance the libraries are trying to strike between the growing number of formats (audio books, large print, electronic, etc.) with the ever expanding number of texts and the lack of space, noting “we have to balance the need to offer classic literature, and satisfy public demand, with the physical limitations of our finite shelf space.”

It looks like, for now, the classics are safe in Fairfax. You can read the library’s complete statement on the subject here.

Erin Walsh|January 9th, 2007|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

How Google-y is your school district?

Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list is out and that got BoardBuzz thinking about how many school districts would make the cut.

Google, which nabbed the top spot, offers its employees perks such as free meals, swimming spa, and free doctors onsite. BoardBuzz was especially keen on the on-site volleyball court. The payoff? Happier and healthier employees are more productive and lowers the company’s health care costs.

While most school districts don’t offer these, there is the gym where motivated school employees can go for a workout. And perhaps it’s not haute cuisine, but the school cafeteria is always a good place for a hot meal, especially with the push for healthier foods in schools. The number two company, Genetech, offers staffers a paid six-week sabbatical for every six years of service, while number four Container Store boasts a “family friendly” shift, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., allowing for school dropoffs and pickups.

So how Google-y is your school district? BoardBuzz learned of one district near Chicago that pays for its employees to belong to a nearby gym. The results go far beyond trimmer waistlines: The district saw its health insurance claims drop by 30 percent and health insurance premiums stay at the same level for the first time in years. BoardBuzz wants to know how your district is helping employees become happier and healthier. Leave us a comment!

Erin Walsh|January 8th, 2007|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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