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Articles from February, 2007

Music to our ears

BoardBuzz told you previously about the eighth annual survey of 100 Best Communities for Music Education. And the wait is over. The list was released this week, showcasing the very best across the country.

The survey even caught the eye of, which published this article. Perhaps some of the students in these prestigious districts will find homes on Broadway thanks to the excellent music education they receive at school.

“Arts are designated as core subjects within the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the districts that participated in the ‘Best 100′ survey, and those who are being recognized here today, know that music education is connected to success in school and in life,” said Mary Luehrsen, Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations for NAMM. “The results of this year’s survey found that music programs receive support from many parts of a community-teachers, administrators, boards of education and community members, including local business owners. Parents, however, are the strongest force in assuring that young people have access to music as part of a complete education.” Luehrsen encourages parents who are committed to music and arts education for their children to become active locally by supporting efforts to be sure that all children have equal access. Support for community-based advocacy is available at

Participants in the survey answered detailed questions about funding, enrollment, student-teacher ratios, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, private music lesson participation, and other factors in their communities’ music education program. The responses were verified with district officials, and the sponsoring organizations reviewed the data.

You can view the complete list and see if your school district is one of the 100 best by clicking here. Learn about the participating organizations, including NSBA, by clicking here. And learn more detailed information about the survey itself by clicking here.

Erin Walsh|February 28th, 2007|Categories: Curriculum, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

NCLB: Coming to a paper near you?

There’s much ink being spilled in the press about the No Child Left Behind Act and issues that are coming to the fore now that the act is up for Congressional reauthorization. A week ago the News Journal in Wilmington, Del. focused much of its Sunday opinion section on NCLB. This is a paper that seems to do quite a lot of high quality K-12 reporting in general, but this was an especially lengthy and meaty dialogue featuring a range of Delaware voices.

Delaware Schools Boards Association president Ed Czerwinski and executive director Susan Francis lead off explaining that Delaware was ahead of the game because its standards-based acccountability system pre-dated NCLB. But NCLB, they say, has replaced Delaware’s focus on continuous improvement with unrealistic time-certain deadlines and sometimes arbitrary sanctions. They note that “growing numbers of families move to Delaware to enroll children in our schools for the exceptional special-education services they provide.”

The problem is that NCLB’s “‘absolute’ percentage of special-education students allowed to be exempted from the standard tests” means that “ranking of an entire school and district based not on ability to continuously improve but rather on a target number in every student category—and sometimes on a single category—is not productive.” Then, of course, there’s the funding gap, the result of which is that “local money that could be used for programs appropriate to a school or district—and for which the citizens passed referenda—is being used to support federal law and regulations.”

State Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff contibutes a piece echoing concerns heard elsewhere about the validity of assessments required of some English language learners or students with disabilities and the accountability problems and uncertainties this creates. Barbara Grogg, president of the state NEA, also emphasizes the need for a “growth model” of accountability and the resources needed to reach the targets.

Pat Heffernan, co-president of the Brandywine Special Needs PTA, agrees that NCLB “is full of underfunded and onerous mandates” and that “the achievement targets are unobtainable and the accountability component has too many problems to even list here.” But she warns that focusing solely on the implementation problems could lead people to the false conclusion that we’re better off without the act. She defends the transformation NCLB has wrought in creating higher expectations for all students, especially those who used to be overlooked. “Sadly, we need explicit laws like No Child Left Behind to help our society live up to its ideals of equality, just like we needed explicit laws to give women and African-Americans the right to vote,” she writes.

The News Journal responds to all this with its own editorial on Delaware and NCLB, saying that “the good news is that the goals of No Child Left Behind are taken seriously here” and that “the complaints are legitimate and solvable with adjustments on the federal, state, and local sides.”

How about your local paper?

Erin Walsh|February 27th, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Five reasons not to worry about U.S. schools

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this article by Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews Five Reasons Not to Worry About U.S. Schools featuring the work of our very own Center for Public Education.

Mathews uses the Center’s recent report More Than a Horse Race: A Guide to International Comparisons of Student Achievement as his jumping off point. He gives the report high praise calling it “a refreshingly clear and balanced reportâ” and “it is the best summary yet of the four major studies that compare our achievement rates to those abroad.” If you haven’t checked it out for yourself already you can find it at

Erin Walsh|February 27th, 2007|Categories: School Boards, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Homework: What is it good for?

BoardBuzz told you before about the Center for Public Education’s research packet “What research says about the value of homework,” and now the Center is taking it to the next level.

The Center will host an online chat on Thursday, March 1, at 2 p.m. ET. The session will delve into such questions as whether homework helps or hinders student learning–and which students, under what conditions, it helps or hinders. The session will also ponder whether students get too little or too much homework–and how can parents tell?

You can submit a question now or during the discussion. And be sure to log on for the live discussion on Thursday.

Erin Walsh|February 26th, 2007|Categories: Teachers, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Shake it all about

The bumping and grinding at school dances have come a long way from the Hokey Pokey and the Bunny Hop of yesteryear. Ever since Johnny hoisted Baby in the air (because nobody puts Baby in a corner), the kids have been “gettin’ their freak on.” But at Gig Harbour High in Washington, dirty dancing has put the kibosh on school dances indefinitely.

The News Tribune reports that “Principal Greg Schellenberg said the sexually suggestive moves started with a few teens, then quickly spread even after administrators warned they would send everybody home.” The school is not the first to tackle the issue of risque dancing, though.

Some adults can remember their high school dances, when they had to face their partner and stand a minimum distance apart. Conflicting inter-generational morals were captured in movies such as “Footloose” and “Dirty Dancing” before today’s crop of teens was even born.

But over the past decade, pop culture loosened its standards on sexual taboos. Images of bumping and grinding in large crowds now appear regularly in movies, music videos, and on the Internet.

One school’s dance guidelines included “banning simulated sex acts and inappropriate groping.” Gig Harbour High even tried to turn the tide at one point by putting on the Hokey Pokey–to no avail. BoardBuzz guesses the students found a less than appropriate way to “shake it all about.” So administrators called off the dance, and suspended the junior and senior proms until students could earn back the administration’s trust.

BoardBuzz predicts a Kevin Bacon-esque meeting before the town council in the future: “This is our time to dance.”

Erin Walsh|February 23rd, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Se habla No Child Left Behind?

The folks in Virginia are definitely up to something. In fact, what they’re up to is a big challenge to NCLB‘s requirement that all children take the tests, whether they speak the language or not. Read BoardBuzz‘s earlier coverage here. The Associated Press (via CNN) is carrying this article which notes that “the U.S. Department of Education threatened sanctions against Virginia–including the possibility of withholding funds–if the state doesn’t enforce the provision, which is part of the No Child Left Behind law.”

But educators in the state argue that the law is unfair to those students just learning the language. “Immigrants who have been in the U.S. a short time ‘are simply unable to take a test written in English and produce results that are meaningful in any way,’ said Donald J. Ford, superintendent of the Harrisonburg city school division.”

So what’s a state to do? Defy the feds and risk losing funding?

School boards in Harrisonburg and the Washington suburbs of Fairfax, Prince William, and Arlington counties have recently signaled their intent to defy the No Child Left Behind mandates, and others are considering following suit.

Those boards have passed resolutions saying they will continue to evaluate all students’ reading proficiency, but will only administer the state’s grade-level Standards of Learning tests to students who have an adequate grasp of English, as determined by teachers and staff. Several school divisions said they will continue using an alternate test to measure progress in non-native English speakers.

The rebellion is not sitting too well with certain people in Washington. Margaret Spellings wrote an incendiary letter to the Washington Post which said that “Virginia is ‘dragging its feet’ and called the testing provision, the law’s Standards Clause, a necessary measure to counter ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations.’ In her letter, Spellings said: ‘It’s time to remember that yes, Virginia, there is a Standards Clause.'”

According to AP, “Spelling’s comments incensed school division officials, including Arlington County School Board chairwoman Libby Garvey.

“‘We’re all so angry,’ said Garvey, who briefed her statewide counterparts on the issue at the recent annual meeting of the Virginia School Boards Association. She called taking the test a ‘painful and humiliating experience’ for children who haven’t grasped English.”

Looks like the gloves are off. Of course, we here at BoardBuzz have some thoughts of our own, echoed in the sentiments of our advocacy department.

Similar disagreements will arise in other states that have many students who aren’t proficient in English, said Reggie Felton, lobbyist for the National School Boards Association. The association has asked that the federal education department grant each state flexibility “for real-life situations to ensure that the test is valid and reliable for each student.”

Want to wander into the fray? Let us know what your thoughts are.

Erin Walsh|February 21st, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

More federal mandates proposed by NCLB commission

The private NCLB Commission, set up by the Aspen Institute, released a 230-page report with 75 recommendations last week for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Its suggestions ranged from changing the accountability system to adding more testing to redefining highly qualified teachers, virtually touching on all key provisions of the current law. Read coverage here from the Associated Press and here from the Washington Post.

How many of the commission’s recommendations will be considered seriously by Congress is unclear because many of them give little details as to why changes should be made and what effects they would have. A few of the commission’s recommendations are consistent with NSBA‘s, such as including growth models in the calculation of AYP and identifying schools for improvement based on the same subgroup not making AYP in the same subject for two years.

However, the majority of the recommendations tend to call for more federal mandates on states and school districts. The bottom line question of how the proposed changes will raise student achievement is largely not answered. For example, the commission wants to give parents the right to file complaints with the U.S. Department of Education or state court against school districts for not complying with the law — how would that promote parental involvement or improve local capacity to meet specific requirements? Besides, what would happen to attorneys’ fees? What about the paperwork and time involved? There is a lesson to learn from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which was reauthorized in 2004 with the goal to minimize its compliance-driven and litigious nature and refocus the attention on student outcomes.

Elsewhere in the commission’s report, little evidence was provided to back up some of the changes. What’s the research to support changing the current 2 percent cap to 1 percent cap to calculate AYP for students with disabilities? What’s the rationale behind the requirement that all states have an N-size or minimum subgroup size of no more than 20, despite the vast differences in geographic characteristics, student populations, and demographics among states?

The Aspen commission appears to have taken the approach that the more requirements the better. But when it comes to NCLB, more is not better and the urgent fix is to improve current implementation> See H.R. 648 introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska that fully tracks all of NSBA‘s recommendations. Also see this.

Public Agenda chimed in to last week’s report coverage with its findings that noted:

“… only 9 percent of superintendents and 16 percent of principals say meeting No Child Left Behind requirements is their biggest challenge. Inadequate funding tops the list, at 57 percent of superintendents and 41 percent of principals.

It’s important to note that administrators in districts with mainly minority and low-incme students, especially the principals, tell a different story. A majority of [those] principals … say their schools have serious problems with too many kids dropping out, acting disrespectfully and slipping through the system without learning.”

Here’s more on Public Agenda’s reality checks.

Erin Walsh|February 20th, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Stormy weather

A new report by the Education Testing Service (ETS) released last week, America’s Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation’s Future,” forecasts severe economic division in our society unless more adults gain the literacy skills needed to compete for good jobs. Unlike other reports predicting economic Armageddon, however, it does state that we have choices: Confront the storm head on so we can grow as nation together or simply hide under an umbrella while we grow apart. What makes this report refreshing is that it doesn’t place full responsibility on schools, rather it recognizes that society as a whole must play its part in our success.

The report’s authors predict a convergence of three socio-economic phenomena. First, almost half of new jobs in the next decade will require college-level skills and the number of manufacturing jobs will likely decline. Second, the majority of the population growth will stem from an increase in the immigrant population, many of whom will arrive without a high school diploma or strong English, reading, and writing skills. Finally, the wages of highly skilled workers are already double those of low skilled workers, and the pattern will continue. Combined, these conditions create a “perfect storm” that will dramatically separate the economic haves from the have-nots.

BoardBuzz agrees with the report’s assertion that it will take more than education policies alone to raise literacy skills to the level needed for shelter from the storm, so we hesitate to quibble. But apparently the authors did not read the Center for Public Education’s report on international assessments, More Than a Horse Race: A Guide to International Assessments of Student Achievement. If they had, they would not have:

• Referenced PISA scores to back up their assertion that U.S. students are falling behind their peers when, in fact, U.S. scores are flat in reading and math, and have fallen only slightly in science.

• Neglected to report that on some international tests U.S. students perform well, particularly in reading.

Want more reality checks? See for yourself at the Center for Public Education.

Erin Walsh|February 20th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Homeworkin’ it

Our friends at the Center for Public Education have new research findings available on the value of homework. What research says about the value of homework offers a summary of findings that can help to inform decisions about homework.

Some of the key points include:

–Homework appears to have more positive effects for certain groups of students;
–Homework may have nonacademic benefits;
–Too much homework may diminish its effectiveness;
–The amount of homework completed by students seems to be more positively associated with student achievement than the amount of homework assigned by teachers;
–After-school programs that provide homework assistance may improve student behavior, motivation, and work habits but not necessarily academic achievement;
–The effect of parent involvement in homework is unclear;
–There is little research on connections between specific kinds of homework and student achievement.

The packet includes key lessions, research review, and Q&A.

Erin Walsh|February 16th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Ed gets small increases as Congress completes work on last year’s budget

Nearly halfway through the current fiscal year, Congress has finally passed the FY 2007 budget for most federal agencies, including education. Most agencies had been operating on a continuing resolution that the previous Congress put in place in lieu of actually passing the appropriations bills last year.

The Senate voted 81-15 on the measure that will fund education and other domestic programs for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends September 30. The House passed it in January.

The measure will provide a $250 million increase in Title I grants, including $125 million for School Improvement grants for NCLB; and a $200 million increase for IDEA (special education) grants. Despite the small increases, total FY07 funding for Title I will still be about $12 billion below what Congress authorized for it this year under NCLB, and FY07 funding for IDEA will still be almost $6 billion below the level Congress authorized for it this year.

Looking ahead to the FY08 budget process, NSBA is urging Congress to provide a $2.5 billion increase for both Title I and IDEA. More info on that here.

Erin Walsh|February 15th, 2007|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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