Articles from June, 2007

UPDATE: Cautiously optimistic

In case you missed the blanket of coverage on the diversity cases decided yesterday by the Supreme Court, check out the following links.

USA Today carried the story on the front page, “National School Boards Association executive director Anne Bryant said she hoped schools would continue with ‘careful race-conscious policies,’ including magnet programs.”

ABC News with Charles Gibson featured the story, “We have our work cut out for us,” said Francisco Negrón of the National School Boards Association. “But I think it’s a task that school boards all over the country are up to.”

Also in the ABC story, “Without using race as a factor, we have found that schools have become more and more racially isolated in San Francisco, or segregated — which is not what we want,” said San Francisco school board member [and NSBA CUBE Steering Committee Member] Jill Wynn.

Negrón was also quoted in the New York Times:

Deciding how school assignment plans will have to be changed to comply with the ruling will require school boards to show some creativity, said Francisco Negrón, general counsel for the National School Boards Association.

“The court doesn’t give guidelines, and it’s not going to be one size fits all,” Mr. Negrón said.

The Times-Picayune quoted NSBA Staff Attorney, Tom Hutton, “Even if you’re under a court order, this is your future if you’re going to be coming out from it. It pays to be thinking about it now, because the landscape is going to change.”

Erin Walsh|June 29th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law|

UPDATE: Diversity cases decision

BoardBuzz is still just as disappointed as we were this morning in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to strike down the voluntary integration plans of the Seattle and Louisville school districts, but we’re encouraged by the fact that a majority of the court recognized the ability of school boards to continue to maintain racial diversity as a legitimate educational goal.

After reading the opinion, NSBA‘s General Counsel Francisco Negrón pointed out, “Despite the majority opinion, we are pleased with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s separate concurrence that explicitly rejected the plurality’s contention that racial diversity constituted racial balancing, which is constitutionally impermissible.”

In addition, Anne Bryant, NSBA‘s executive director, noted that “School districts have a compelling reason to create a diverse learning environment because it helps improve student achievement and prepares students to live and work in an increasingly diverse society.”

You can read NSBA’s complete press release here and you can check out Negrón on ABC World News Tonight with Charles Gibson and on various local NBC affiliates throughout the nation. You can also listen to his interview on “All Things Considered” tonight on NPR, during Nina Totenburg’s court report.

Tomorrow, look for newspaper coverage of NSBA‘s reaction to the decision in USA Today, the New York Times, and Associated Press stories. Several other papers also covered NSBA‘s reaction: the Orlando Sentinel, Cincinnati Inquirer, Baltimore Examiner, Washington Times, and the Times Picayune, as well as Education Week.

Legal junkies can get more information and opinions from the SCOTUS blog and the Supreme Court School Integration blog. And don’t forget NSBA‘s great resource page here.

Erin Walsh|June 28th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law|

They turned back time

This morning, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the diversity cases, striking down voluntary integration plans in the public schools of Seattle and Louisville. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote the majority opinion in the combined cases. The two school districts, Roberts wrote, have “failed to provide the necessary support for the proposition that there is no other way than individual racial classifications to avoid racial isolation in their school districts.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy did not join all of the majority opinion, but joined in the result.

Contrary to popular belief, the cases do not involve affirmative action or “forced busing” programs. In a briefing paper on the cases, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund noted that, “In the vast majority of K-12 public schools, there is no competitive admissions process or attempt to evaluate students’ ‘merit’ in determining student assignment. Every student will be assigned to a public school within the district; the only question is which children will be educated together. Or, put another way, the choice is whether to pursue integration in student assignment through voluntary transfers and other mechanisms, or whether to leave schools racially isolated.”

BoardBuzz will have updates on this story later today. Click here to get more information and resources on these cases.

Erin Walsh|June 28th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law|

And the Hits keep comin’

USA Today opines in its editorial today that the yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Morse v. Frederick is “an invitation for school officials to ban or punish any student speech they can reasonably interpret as promoting illegal drug use or perhaps other activities.”

Is BoardBuzz missing something? Is USA Today saying that exposing students to messages promoting illegal drug use is appropriate in schools? Surely not. Is USA Today saying that messages of this sort when delivered by students have minimal impact and, therefore, do not merit regulation? It is true that BoardBuzz left the public school hive many years ago, but is young enough to remember that some things like peer pressure are part of most every youth’s experience.

But USA Today appears to take issue with schools taking an active role in protecting students, objecting to what it sees as overreaching: “There’s no obvious reason the court’s rationale — drug use is extremely harmful to kids, and advocating it should be off limits — can’t be extended to other behaviors, such as sex and underage drinking.”

BoardBuzz is aghast at USA Today’s narrow view of the mission of schools. Thankfully, school boards all over the country know the expectations parents rightfully have of them when they entrust their children to the public schools. And, they know that a safe learning environment is the best place for students to learn.

But, we do agree with USA Today on one count: No, educators “don’t take constitutional lawyers with them to school.” They take their professionalism, their creativity, and their love for inspiring and educating their students. And, now they can continue to do so without worrying that their professional efforts will be undermined by needless and costly litigation.

Read more coverage in the Washington Post here and on MSNBC here. Both carry commentary by NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco Negron.

Erin Walsh|June 26th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law|

Bong Hits No More…

BoardBuzz is happy to report the Supreme Court handed down this morning its decision in the notorious Bong Hits 4 Jesus case, Morse v. Frederick. Ruling for the Juneau, Alaska School District and its Principal, Deborah Morse, the court found that Joseph Frederick’s free speech rights were not violated when Principal Morse took Frederick’s 14-foot banner emblazoned with the now-famous quote. The court’s decision had two primary holdings: First, that student freedom of speech is not co-extensive with the rights of adults, and second that schools are different and can regulate pro-drug messages. The Court expressly weighed the danger of drug use more highly than the student’s First Amendment claim, appearing to give increased consideration to the notion that schools have a role in maintaining student welfare. In fact, writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts brought a sobering realism to the court’s decision, rejecting theoretical arguments about free speech for the reality of the very real danger of the scourge of drug use, which he said was “serious and palpable.” Hear, hear.

The decision although boasting a strong majority in the judgment (6 justices in all), had 3 Justices dissenting in full and 1 dissenting in part. BoardBuzz is flummoxed. Is this 5-4? Or 6-3? And, it seems at least one justice, Justice Thomas is willing to do away with the Tinker standard altogether! What a day. Justice Alito, however, warns his vote is dependent on the limitation of the decision to regulating drug messages, and cautions the Court not to go to far down the path that would allow school districts unfettered discretion to regulate speech on the basis of the “educational mission.”

The decision also puts to rest the question of whether the Alaska public school principal was personally liable for damages for allegedly violating a students free speech rights when she disciplined a student for holding up a banner saying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at an off-campus, school-sanctioned, school-related event. Since it ruled for the school district and the principal, the Court did not reach question of qualified immunity. That means Principal Morse is not personally liable. BoardBuzz is happy to report the even the three-justice dissent would not find Principal Morse personally liable.

So, BoardBuzz celebrates today. Educators and administrators across the nation can sleep well tonight, comfortable in the conviction that they do not have to fear personal legal reprisals when they act in good faith to implement school board policies designed to protect students by prohibiting messages promoting drug use!

You can read previous BoardBuzz coverage of this here, here, here, and here. Check out NSBA‘s press release on the case here.

Erin Walsh|June 25th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law|

The high price of turnover

The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) has released a study on teacher turnover and created an interactive cost calculator to determine just how much it costs when teachers leave.

From the Web site:

In 2007, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) completed an 18-month study of the costs of teacher turnover in five school districts – Chicago Public Schools (Chicago, Illinois), Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Granville County Schools (Granville, North Carolina), Jemez Valley Public Schools (New Mexico), and Santa Rosa Public Schools (New Mexico).

The selected school districts varied in size, location, and demographics enabling us to explore how these variations affected costs. We examined the costs of recruiting, hiring, processing, and training teachers at both the school and district levels. Our findings indicate that the cost of turnover does vary from district to district, largely dependant upon the size of the district and the types of induction programs the district implements — but in all cases, the cost of teacher turnover is substantial.

The study and calculator offer some interesting information, especially considering that the estimated cost of teacher turnover nationally is more than $7 billion a year.

Erin Walsh|June 22nd, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Ready, set, read!

BoardBuzz always loves a way to get kids reading, and one of our favorites is coming back for a second time around. Read for the Record, which kicked off last year, is coming back again this fall.

Read for the Record is a national campaign designed to encourage hundreds of thousands of children and adults from across the country to read the same book on the same day. The goal is to raise public awareness about disparities in early education. According to the Web site,

An early learning gap exists as early as age 3, due primarily to economic inequality. And because of these early discrepancies in language acquisition and literacy skills, one third of America’s children arrive at their first day of school unprepared to learn. Awareness about this issue is crucial, as this early learning disparity serves as a critical precursor to our country’s persistent educational achievement gap.

This year, the official campaign book is The Story of Ferdinand, which will be read across the country September 20, 2007, in an attempt at breaking the record for the largest shared reading experience ever, which was set by 150,000 people on August 24, 2006 during the inaugural year the campaign. To learn how to get involved, click here.

Erin Walsh|June 21st, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Gaining steam: School boards passing NCLB resolutions

More than 250 local school boards have now passed a resolution urging their Representative to support and co-sponsor an NSBA-backed bill (H.R. 648) to improve the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Check out the list of boards here. Special thanks to Georgia, Kansas, and Virginia, three states whose school boards are leading the way in urging Congress to reauthorize and improve NCLB now.

If your board is not on this list, it needs to be. With widespread agreement that NCLB as currently constructed is not working for students, schools, or districts, Congress needs to hear from local school leaders now that the law must be re-worked, and sooner not later.

Get a sample resolution right here.

The greater the support for the more than 40-plus provisions to improve NCLB in H.R. 648, the greater the influence school boards will have with the education committees drafting the reauthorization bill.

After your board passes the resolution, send a copy to your member of Congress, to your local media and to NSBA’s Kathleen Branch.

Get more information about NSBA’s recommendations and H.R. 648 right here.

One of the areas within NCLB where NSBA has made recommendations is that of supplemental education services or tutoring, an issue getting national attention. For more on that see item below.

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

Jury still out for SES effectiveness

For a program that can cost as much as $2.6 billion a year but lacks evidence of effectiveness, USA TODAY’s Adrienne Lewis is right to question whether continued federal investment in supplemental educational services (SES) or free tutoring under NCLB is warranted, see this editorial. Her point is that the quality of tutoring programs determines whether SES works. As of now — five years after NCLB was passed — the evidence of effectiveness is not there.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings disagreed. In her op-ed opposing Lewis’ view, she announced that a new report from the department found significant academic gains among students who received SES for more than a year. What’s more, parents said the program is helping their students achieve.

The report Spellings mentioned has not been released; it’s unclear what it will look like. One thing’s for sure is that states are still struggling to evaluate SES providers’ effectiveness. Small-scale, individual evaluations over the years are a mixed bag. An upcoming report from the Center on Education Policy that surveyed 349 school districts found that SES was not rated highly in helping students improve peformance.

For now, it seems there’s still a long way before any conclusion can be drawn on the effectiveness of SES — at least, not until all states have comprehensive and valid evaluations in place. Despite that, the adminstration is proposing to increase the per-pupil spending on SES for some students. Already school dstricts are paying more in per-pupil costs for private SES providers than for services provided by the districts themselves, see this.

NSBA supports making tutoring available to students who need help most. In fact, it recommends making SES available for these students sooner than the current law requires, see NCLB recommendations here. However, NSBA does not support spending more of the much needed Title I funds on SES until there is concrete evidence that the program is working.

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

Merit pay … for students?

Some students in New York City will be able to earn more than just their milk money next school year, if they make the grade. BoardBuzz got wind of the plan by way of this story in the New York Times:

New York City students could earn as much as $500 a year for doing well on standardized tests and showing up for class in a new program to begin this fall, city officials announced yesterday. And the Harvard economist who created the program is joining the inner circle of Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, according to an official briefed on the hiring.

The economist, Roland G. Fryer, who has published several studies on racial inequality in public schools, met this month with school principals around the city to push his program, which uses money raised privately.

As a part of the mayor’s antipoverty campaign, this incentive is designed to “influence behavior and reduce poverty.”

Under [Fryer's] plan, fourth-grade students will receive up to $25 for a perfect score on each of 10 standardized tests throughout the year. Seventh-grade students will be able to earn twice as much — $50 per test, for a total of up to $500. Fourth graders will receive $5 just for taking the test, and seventh graders will get $10.

Officials expect up to 40 schools to participate this fall, with a total of 9,000 students, in the pilot phase of the program, which will be monitored by Professor Fryer. After two years, they said, they will evaluate it for possible expansion.

There are similar programs in place in Chelsea, Mass. where students get paid for attendance, and in Dallas where students can earn cash for each book they read.

BoardBuzz can’t help but wonder what these students might do with their windfalls–the latest video game, or perhaps a lifetime supply of bubble gum certainly is appealing to most fourth grade students. Perhaps the sum should come with a “financial responsibility” course on how to wisely invest and grow the money, for a college education, for instance. After all, if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.

Erin Walsh|June 19th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|
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