Articles from July, 2007

Outrage?

How long can a community stand by and watch tens of thousands of children being condemned to a life of poverty? Forty years and counting — at least in Detroit.

That conclusion could be drawn from August’s ASBJ cover story, “Summer of Fate,” which examines the 1967 riots that ripped through Detroit. I examined the political, economic, and racial factors that fed the riots and continue to shackle the city’s academically and financially struggling school system.

As the article makes clear, poverty and its accompanying social ills pose huge obstacles to student learning. Meanwhile, school officials are hampered by limited resources in an economically troubled city.

What the article doesn’t do is convey the outrage that should accompany this reality. Year after year for two generations, academic failure has been the status quo. In a nation as wealthy as ours, with the values we hold, this situation should be intolerable and viewed as a crisis — an overused, but applicable term in this case.

It might appear that Detroit is being singled out. But we all know stories of similar tragedies. Poverty is everywhere, and yet we go to bed each night without losing sleep over the academic failure of so many children.

So, where is our outrage?

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|July 31st, 2007|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|

Our Brand New Blog

Welcome to The Leading Source, a weekday blog written by the editors of American School Board Journal. Here you’ll find our take on issues that appear in the magazine, as well as school leadership and general education topics that engage us or pique our interest.

Don’t expect to find a unified voice here: We editors have years of experience covering schools, school boards, and education on a local and national level. That experience has uniquely shaped each of our perspectives, and those perspectives continue to evolve. Each post will be followed by a byline, so you’ll always know the author.

We invite you, our readers, to participate in The Leading Source. If you read a post that you love or hate, agree with passionately or disagree with vehemently, let us know by sending us an e-mail. Your dialog will make our blog richer and more textured. Enjoy.

Kathleen Vail (kvail@nsba.org), ASBJ Managing Editor

Kathleen Vail|July 31st, 2007|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

That’s a mean green bean

Apparently you can fight city hall — or at least the school cafeteria. BoardBuzz had to smile at this one about a group of kids who took on the lunch lady in their elementary school cafeteria. Apparently the green beans at William V. Wright Elementary School in Las Vegas were just too terrible to take, so the students staged a letter writing campaign.

“A little boy said, `Anything, anything, I’ll even eat broccoli,”‘ said Connie Duits, the lunch lady. “So that one touched my heart.”

The children were careful to offer praise as they expressed their concerns.

“Dear Mrs. Duits, The food is so yummy and yummy. But there are one proplem. It is the green beans,” wrote Zhong Lei.

“We love the rest but we hate the green beans,” wrote Viviann Palacios.

The students had recently finished a book about a boy who planned a boycott of his school cafeteria, but these students decided letters were a more polite way to go. And the school district listened. They sent officials out to the school and even invited a panel of students for a taste test to see what appealed more than the offending green beans.

Some children got downright prolific when asked to write what other foods they would like for lunch or breakfast. Viviann requested “stake” and lobster, while Logan Strong wanted “chocolate filled panda cookies” and “chicken cordon blue.”

While not all the requests would be accepted — and green beans would still occasionally be served — district supervisor Sue Hoggan said the survey will help district dietitians “tweak” the menu.

According to the article, the favorites: corn and carrots. One thing’s for certain, these discerning students have future careers ahead of them, as either activists or food critics. Either way, watch out!

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

Write or wrong?

In the days of NCLB, AYP, and all the requirements therein, not to mention the prevalence of the keyboard, an old standard of elementary school education is falling by the wayside: penmanship. The AP (via CNN) covers the subject here.

The article points out that, “The reality in many schools is that handwriting instruction has slid far down the list of education priorities. Many teachers have all they can do to ready students for standardized tests and requirements for core courses like math, science and reading.” So what’s a kid to do? “For one thing, younger children may not have the skills to fully learn keyboarding, and not all classrooms have computers. Handwriting is how young students express themselves and develop as learners, said Steve Graham, special education professor at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee.”

Additionally, it seems there is some benefit to students who learn cursive handwriting.

On the essay section of the SAT, required by most colleges for admission, students writing in cursive averaged slightly higher scores than those who printed. The College Board, which administers the SAT, said the difference wasn’t significant and couldn’t be attributed to handwriting, yet the result has intrigued researchers.

In one study, college students who took good lecture notes got higher scores on essay tests. The best predictor of quality notetaking was writing speed, said researcher Stephen T. Peverly, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York.

“Since at least for many kids the thoughts they think up are a little ahead of their handwriting, they need to be able to write fast or they’re going to forget them,” he said. Faster writing also helps the brain spend less effort on forming letters and more on higher-order cognitive tasks like composing good essays, he said.

Cursive or not to cursive, that is the question.

Erin Walsh|July 30th, 2007|Categories: Curriculum, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

NCLB resolutions top 400; Congressional action in September?

These are no lazy days of summer for school boards that are aggressively making the case to Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) with the NSBA-supported provisions in H.R. 648. More than 400 local school boards, large and small, across the country have now passed a resolution in support of the legislation, including large numbers from Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington. Is your school board among them? Check out the running list of boards. Need a sample resolution? Here it is.

For more information on NSBA’s recommendations on NCLB here’s a simple two-pager.

When will Congress act on NCLB? Certainly not before its upcoming August recess, but both House and Senate education committees are hoping for activity when members return in September, making August a key month to make your case to your lawmakers. Tell them to take action in this Congress so our schools and students do not have to endure another 2 or 3 years under a flawed law. In the meantime, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) will discuss NCLB reauthorization on Monday at the National Press Club.

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

20 to Watch deadline extended

BoardBuzz told you before about the return of the “20 to Watch” to NSBA’s T+L Conference. And now there’s even better news! The deadline to submit nominees has been extended until August 15.

20 to Watch seeks to identify 20 emerging leaders who, like today’s education technology pioneers, cross all job titles and district sizes. Classroom, building, and district leaders will be considered, as well as those making exceptional contributions in state departments of education.

Those selected will be announced during the T+L Conference in Nashville, Tenn., October 17-19. For information on all the conference latest, including registration details, check in with the conference Web site often.

Click here to complete the nomination form and find out if you or someone you know will be one of the next 20 to Watch.

Erin Walsh|July 26th, 2007|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Cheating goes high tech

USA Today has this item on a Michigan district’s decision to get tougher with cell phones. Plymouth-Canton Community Schools has adopted a new policy calling for the suspension of a student violating the rules about using cell phones on campus. NSBA lawyer Tom Hutton tells USA Today most districts are much more tolerant of cell phones since most state lawmakers finally figured out these decisions are best made locally and repealed laws banning pagers and similar devices. But school officials are having to experiment with tweaking the rules as the technology and its uses change. Electronic cheating is one big concern USA Today notes, and the school district makes a pretty strong case that its telecommunications-addicted students just aren’t taking the current rules seriously. For that matter, New York City’s schools ban cell phones outright. That policy got them sued, but a state court recently ruled in their favor. The court decided sensibly that, while reasonable minds can differ over how best to handle these problems, there is “no constitutional right to bear cell phones.” While you’re at it, check out this article by Dennis Adams in the American School Board Journal’s July Tech Traps 2.0 issue on some of the other considerations, including learning opportunities.

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

Jumping ship

The school choice debate continues to heat up with two editorials in USA Today. The first, the paper’s view, suggests that letting students “transfer out” of “failing schools” in their own district to other school districts is the magic wand solution everyone’s been waiting for. NSBA President Norm D. Wooten offers a differing opinion, pointing out that, “Currently, less than 1% of eligible students transfer because parents want their children to remain in their local school. Moreover, the few students who do transfer tend to be higher achieving —not those students for whom the transfer option was intended.”

USA Today echoes the recent opinions expressed by education advocate extraordinaire, Jonathan Kozol in the New York Times, by recommending that states “come up with a package of carrots, sticks and financial aid to make it happen. In the end, every city would have modest transfer programs handling a few hundred, or a few thousand, students who opted out of their failing school.” It’s still not exactly clear where USA Today would have these “carrots” coming from–already thinly stretched state education budgets, perhaps?

Conversely, Wooten points out, “struggling schools can worsen because not only are they losing their best students, but their districts also have to divert very scarce federal funds to transport them to other schools rather than drive all the dollars toward improving the academic performance of struggling students.”

While there is no magic wand, Wooten notes

Given all we know about improving schools and educating diverse students, the law should focus on interventions and incentives that build the capacity of schools wherever they are located, rather than mandating transfers across district lines.

Let’s improve all public schools, not push policies that don’t make sense for kids, their parents, or schools.

As evidenced by communities in Missouri, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, school districts, in conjunction with neighboring districts, can and do establish transfer programs that can make sense for students. What is not needed is a federal decree wrapped up in an already flawed No Child Left Behind law that forces districts and communities into one-size-fits-all policies.

Have an opinion? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Erin Walsh|July 25th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization|

What the Supremes mean for public ed policy

In case you missed it, Education Week ran this chat Thursday, July 19, featuring NSBA‘s own Deputy General Counsel, Naomi Gittins, on the subject of the Supreme Court’s impact on school policies. Gittins was joined by Mark Walsh of Education Week, and Paul Beard, a senior staff attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Questions focused heavily on the recent race-based cases decided by the court, as well as Bong Hits 4 Jesus case.

Here’s a good question from Kirstin McCarthy, a program associate with the Business Higher Education Forum:

I’m interested to know if panelists could identify one or a few school district(s) that have successfully “limited their use of racial classifications when making school assignments”? I’m interested to understand what classifications, or combinations of classifications, have lead most successfully to diverse classrooms, and what benefits these school districts have gained from such school assignment classification systems.

Gittins replied: “Several districts that have received media attention in the wake of the decision are San Francisco, Wake County, N.C., Cambridge, Mass., La Crosse, Wis., and Brandywine, Del., as school districts that have moved away from assignment plans that take race into account to ones that are based on one or more factors including socioeconomic status, poverty, home language, educational attainment of parents, student test scores, etc. The jury is still out as to whether these plans successfully promote diverse classrooms. The U.S. Department of Education touts them as successes, and Richard Kahlenberg, a proponent of SES as a means of achieving diversity, asserts that such plans do work.

“Others are less optimistic in their assessment about whether these plans do result in racially diverse schools that help close the achievement gap between whites and some minority groups (see NAACP LDF website). What is important to remember is that these districts as well as many others are committed to bringing the benefits of diverse classrooms to all their students and avoiding the harms of racial isolation, both of which are well documented and they will continue to struggle to accomplish these goals within the parameters of the law.”

Want more? Check out the complete transcript from this expert panel.

Postscript: Louisville’s school board (Jefferson County) has ratified a plan for how the district will deal with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the upcoming school year. The plan will be submitted to a federal judge. The district previously had announced that the decision would not change everything in the district overnight, leading the plaintiffs in the case to threaten more litigation. Stay tuned.

Erin Walsh|July 24th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law|

Debate intensifies over NCLB’s impact

With a report released last month by the Center on Education Policy, arguments over the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) are still percolating in the hallowed halls of Congress and beyond.

In its fifth annual assessment of NCLB, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) concluded that student achievement has improved since the law was enacted but that gains can’t be definitively attributed to the law. BoardBuzz covered the report’s release here.

In Answering the Question that Matters Most: Has student achievement increased since No Child Left Behind? CEP found that:

• Math and reading scores on state assessments were improving since 2002.
• Achievement gaps were narrowing in more states than not.
• Students were making greater gains after NCLB than before NCLB in 9 of the 13 states for which CEP had sufficient trend data.

Proponents of NCLB quickly pointed to the report as evidence that NCLB is indeed increasing student achievement. Critics of NCLB emphasize that CEP clearly stated that it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether the increases were because of NCLB.

So has student achievement improved since NCLB was put into law in 2002? Here’s our take. According to NSBA’s Center for Public Education, CEP makes a strong case for concluding that it has, but by how much is not clear. The Center adds that, as CEP itself observes, it’s not possible to isolate the effects of the law from federal, state, and local school improvement efforts that have been underway before and since 2002. Read what else the Center has to say about the report here.

Instead of waiting for researchers to agree (scheduled to occur at approximately the same time that pigs fly), school board members should use their unique vantage point to evaluate how their own policy decisions have been influenced by NCLB and what impact those decisions have had on student achievement.

And with reauthorization of the law looming, BoardBuzz reminds you to encourage your representatives in Congress to support H.R. 648, NSBA’s bill to improve NCLB. Learn more by visiting NSBA’s Advocacy & Legislation web pages.

Erin Walsh|July 23rd, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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