Articles from August, 2007

The future of high school

It’s tempting to see the Village School in Great Neck, N.Y., as a wave of the future.

It’s an unusual alternative school in an affluent Long Island community. While traditional alternative schools are for students with behavioral and academic problems, the Village School is for students in danger of getting lost in Great Neck’s two large, comprehensive high schools. It is not for the academically struggling student: The Village School is college-prep, with most students going on to four-year universities.

The school reflects many elements of the current high school reform movement — small classes, a nurturing environment with lots of personal attention from teachers, challenging academics, and an emphasis on learning to think, speak, and write critically.

Students who attend the Village School were overwhelmed by their large high schools. Some suffer from social and emotional problems. Others face anxiety and difficulties with focus and organization. These problems are easier to deal with in the Village School’s intimate, low-key atmosphere.

You could make the argument that all high school students should learn in places like the Village School. When I mentioned this to Principal Stephen Goldberg, his answer surprised me. The Village School isn’t for every student, he said. He used himself as an example: His large, comprehensive high school gave him the chance to shine on a larger stage.

Those in the high school reform movement have cast the comprehensive high school as the villain that causes dropouts and creates places where kids feel anonymous at best and unwanted at worse. But can the large high school offer some good qualities to students who thrive on competition and lots of extracurricular choices?

Read about the Village School in my September article, “The Caring Village,” and judge for yourself.

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

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

Catch ’em before they slip through the cracks

sidewalk cracksMany school districts have a pretty good handle on when they begin to see their kids disengage from school and start along the path to dropping out. For instance, kids who struggle during the transition years between elementary and middle school, and middle and high school frequently drop out.

To help their kids ease the high school transition and stay in school, the Pittsburgh, Pa., school district has taken a unique approach by launching a “9th Grade Nation,” according to an article just published by our friends at Education Week. The new program is an intensive and fun way for incoming ninth grade students and their teachers to start to build relationships with each other. Reports Catherine Gewertz:

“Two weeks before school opened, the district welcomed more than 800 incoming 9th graders–about one-third of the class–to an orientation. … Students walked the hallways and learned school rules, but they also shook their booties to hip-hop aerobics and went on a scavenger hunt. They discussed a novel they’d all read over the summer, and talked about why it’s important to show up in class and get good grades. They also went with their teachers to a wooded campsite, where they managed an aerial ropes course and shrieked their way across a log suspended high above the ground.”

Said a Pittsburgh high school principal: “This is about getting them to go beyond where they’re comfortable, here and in class, and to see that the adults are there with them. What happens when they don’t deal well with being uncomfortable is that they disengage, and that is a pattern that leads to bad grades.”

And dropping out, according to NSBA’s Center for Public Education in a recent roundup of dropout research. “Size matters. So do relationships and curriculum. Some high schools have better ‘holding power’ than others with similar students. Students who attend high schools that have smaller enrollments; better interpersonal relationships among students and adults; teachers who are supportive of students; and a focused, rigorous, and relevant curriculum drop out at lower rates.”

The “9th Grade Nation” is just one piece of the Pittsburgh’s initiative to keep kids in school. To read more of Ed Week’s story, click here. To read more about the CPE’s drop out research, click here.

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

BoardBuzz podcast: week of 8/27/07

Show notes:

  1. The cell phone debate has started up again;
  2. Double vision on how the public sees No Child Left Behind?;
  3. Recently released reports on 2007 ACT and SAT results;
  4. Dropout rates among at-risk students

This week’s podcast

Erin Walsh|August 31st, 2007|Categories: Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

On Katrina’s anniversary

Three reports — two provocative and one time-honored standby — were released today, pointing out severe flaws in the federal government’s response to schools affected by Hurricane Katrina, more information on rising segregation in the South, and the public’s attitudes toward public schools.

* The Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation ( slammed the federal government with its new report, Education after Katrina: Time for a New Federal Response. In sobering detail, the 30-page report chronicles the losses for students from pre-K to the university level.

“Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s has the United States witnessed so many of its own students thrown out of school,” the report states. “During the last two years, however, the most powerful national government in the world has spent relatively small amounts of time, money, and effort in helping to set right the hurricane-displaced students and the schools they attend.”

* Historic Reversals, Accelerating Resegregation, and the Need for New Integration Strategies, issued by the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA ( describes what Gary Orfield calls “the racial realities in American schools.” The report criticizes the U.S. Supreme Court for taking away “useful tools for educators at the same time academic evidence clearly shows the benefits of desegregation,” and asks Congress to provide help to school districts.

* Finally, the 39th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward Public Schools ( revealed no great surprises. Local schools and school boards get high marks, while public education in general is only average.

What’s interesting about this year’s poll are the answers surrounding the public’s knowledge and support for No Child Left Behind. Almost half of those responding say they know very little about NCLB. And while the public is split on the law’s effect on public schools, NCLB gets less favorable reviews when people get more details.

Ah, those details…

Glenn Cook, Editor-in-Chief

Kathleen Vail|August 29th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Tale of two reports

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you put two economists in one room, you’ll get three opinions.” In education, it can be said, “If two reports are released on the same subject, you’ll get three conclusions.” Actually, you’ll probably get a few more than three conclusions, but you get the point.

It’s a fitting analogy for the recently released reports on the ACT and SAT results for the Class of 2007.

Here’s the scoop: Scores on the ACT once again showed gains, while SAT scores declined for the second straight year. Policy wonks, beltway insiders, and researchers can argue ad nauseam about why SAT scores have declined over the past two years while ACT scores have risen. And they do! Some blame student fatigue, claiming the longer SAT—with the inclusion of the writing section—is exhausting. Some say that fewer students are taking the SAT a second time to improve their score. But arguing about such technicalities doesn’t help those responsible for setting school policy.

Here’s the problem: The fact that more students are taking college admissions tests than at any other time in history gets lost in the argument. This is especially true of poor and minority students who in the past may have not seen college in their futures, but now do. Why is this overlooked? Because states, and many school districts across the country, have stepped up to the plate in getting all students to take these college admission tests. States like Maine, Illinois, and Colorado now require all students to take the SAT or ACT as part of their exit exam. And numerous districts, like Baltimore, Md., pay the administration fee so all students can take the test regardless of financial need.

But their efforts don’t end there. While states and districts are providing more students the opportunity to take college admission tests, they are also doing a better job preparing students to succeed on the tests. Both the ACT and SAT results show that more students are taking more advanced classes, which prepare students to score higher on the tests and to attend and succeed in college. Many states and districts have implemented default curriculums including rigorous courses that are aligned with what students should know and be able to do in order to succeed in college and life after graduation.

Although states and school districts are making tremendous strides, they know they are not at the finish line. As policy wonks, beltway insiders, and researchers debate why the numbers came out the way they did, we need to keep in mind those students who now see college in their future when there was little hope in years past.

Check out NSBA’s Center for Public Education for complete summaries of the results from both the SAT and ACT.

Erin Walsh|August 29th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Modernism (and other quaint notions)

“I don’t care if it’s not ‘kid-friendly,’” I said to myself. “I’ve got to see it.” So on the last day of the exhibit, my wife and I packed up our 3- and 5-year-old daughters for a trip downtown to the Corcoran Museum’s blockbuster show: Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939.

No, it was not a fiasco. I gave up trying to explain it to the little one (“See the car? See the funny man with four noses?”) and she still made it to the 1930s before the meltdown.

But what to tell her sister? “This is the art and architecture of your great-grandmother’s generation — and it’s called, um, ‘modern.’”

I’m no expert, but I learned that Modernists believed art could create a dynamic, expansive environment, a Utopia even, for the new 20th century man. It didn’t work out that way, of course: The 20th century, with its two world wars and the Holocaust, signaled, if anything, the triumph of the old man — his penchant for conformity, his weakness for authoritarianism and totalitarianism, his unimaginable cruelty.

Interesting, though, that while the Modernists were making their pronouncements and their art, another progressive thinker was espousing a vision of education that was every bit as revolutionary as the paintings of Picasso and the swirling edifices of Le Corbusier. John Dewey — with his emphasis on reasoning over rote learning — seems to have emerged from the 20th century more relevant, and necessary, than them all. For proof, just read the experts in September’s ASBJ story on 21st century skills. Listen to them talk about the need for problem solving and collaboration, for critical thinking and authentic learning. Sounds a lot like John Dewey to me.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|August 29th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Look for the positive in new SAT scores

Get ready for the doom and gloom report. SAT scores were released today, and the average of high school seniors dropped slightly in all three categories tested – reading, math, and writing.
The drops were minor (1 point in reading, and 3 points in math and writing), but you can expect the Chicken Littles who scream about every little decline to have their megaphones out. What they won’t talk about are some positives:

# Nearly 1.5 million members of the class of 2007 took the exam this past year, the largest and group on record. Minority students made up 39 percent of the total.

# Almost one-fourth of those taking the test did not use English as their first language. The 24 percent figure is up from 17 percent in 1997 and 13 percent 20 years ago.

# Fee waivers to take the test, administered by the College Board, also have grown by 31 percent in just two years.

You can twist the statistics around any which way, but I’m tempted to agree with College Board President Gaston Caperton, who said the numbers mean “an increasing number of students in this country are recognizing the importance of a college education and are taking the necessary steps to get there.”

What does this mean for interested board members and administrators? Take some advice from NSBA’s Center for Public Education (, which notes the need for more advanced, rigorous courses (such as trigonometry and physics) that are available for all students.

“School board members should determine if rigorous courses are offered and ensure that students are on track to take these advanced classes from the time they enter high school (if not sooner),” the Center noted in its analysis of ACT scores, which were released earlier this month. “Although it is not an easy task, the payoff for preparing more students for college is tremendous.”

Glenn Cook, Editor-in-Chief

Kathleen Vail|August 28th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Double vision on how the public sees No Child Left Behind?

Double Vision Just as sales and Labor Day are signs of getting back to school, so is the 39th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. And just as in the past 39 years, the poll found once again that the public—especially parents of school age children—give their local schools high marks. But they’re not so generous with schools outside their communities. They give them lower marks. This year’s lesson? Americans are happy with their own schools but see room for improvement for others.

How Americans rate their schools is usually the highlight of this annual report but this year BoardBuzz thinks the headliner is how the public feels about the controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) since it is up for reauthorization this year. To add to the frenzy, several other recent polls by Public Agenda, the Education Testing Service (ETS), Education Next/Hoover Institute, and the Scripps Survey Research Center have spurred headlines both decrying the public’s dismay with NCLB and touting the public’s support for this controversial law. Umm, which is it?

To help BoardBuzz make sense of these polls and find out what the public really thinks about NCLB, we asked our friends at NSBA’s Center for Public Education for their analysis. What they found across each of the polls were:

The public is not very knowledgeable about NCLB.

Only half claim to know at least a ‘fair amount ‘about NCLB.

According to the ETS poll, almost half (47 percent) of those who say they know at least a ‘fair amount’ about NCLB weren’t able to associate it with its basic components—standards and assessments.

The public would like to see changes to NCLB instead of scrapped all together.

Across the polls, between 10 and 20 percent of the public do not want NCLB reauthorized.

Although some would like NCLB reauthorized as is, the vast majority of the remaining 80 to 90 percent would like to see NCLB reauthorized with either minor or major changes.

What those changes would be and to what extent the public would like the law changed is unclear.

However, the public strongly supports (82 percent) having schools judged on how much students have learned from year to year (i.e., growth models) instead of whether they were able to jump the proficiency bar or not on a single test.

Our friends at the Center went on to say the polls are unclear on how the public believes NCLB is affecting their schools, some say it is hurting, others say it is helping, while many others are not sure. This goes to show that school board members are in the unique position to educate the public on NCLB and the effects it is having on our local schools. School board members can also get their representatives in Congress to co-sponsor NSBA’s Bill to Improve NCLB—HR 648.

To read more analysis on the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, visit the Center for Public Education. To read the press statement from NSBA Executive Director Anne Bryant, click here.

Erin Walsh|August 28th, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

School-business partnerships and blueberries

Every few months or so Jamie Vollmer’s “blueberry story” makes the rounds on the e-mail circuit as an inspirational and humorous pick-me-up of sorts for educators feeling under attack.

In short, Jamie tells of his days as a high-profile business executive — head of a company that became famous for its blueberry ice cream — who loudly and frequently griped about the quality of public schools and ineptness of educators. But one day when he blasted a group of teachers and school staff for not behaving more like business folk, a sharp-witted teacher promptly tore his case to shreds. []

As Jamie become more involved with his local schools, he realized his naïveté and used his humbling experience to start an educational consulting business. He’s now a leading advocate for public education and wants to help corporate types better understand how schools work, and why.

Too often, business leaders expect schools to run just like businesses, he says. But the biggest difference is that while executives can run their companies with little outside input, school superintendents must answer to the school board, parents, business and community leaders, and the public at large. And even if they make all the decisions that a corporate executive would consider correct, they still may lose their jobs.

“This public aspect makes the game fundamentally different,” Jamie says.

Building constructive school-business partnerships can help school leaders not only build better programs but also weather the inevitable politics of the job. But it takes time and effort from both sides, but can be well worth the effort. Read more tips from Jamie and others who’ve done it in my September article, “The Blame Game.”

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|August 28th, 2007|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy

It’s been a while (see here and here), but as we get closer to the beginning of the school year (some districts have already returned) the cell phone debate has started up again. BoardBuzz caught this item in today’s Washington Post which reports on Montgomery County’s (Maryland) move to allow middle school students to carry cell phones to school. According to the article,

School boards everywhere are revisiting decade-old bans against portable communication devices in the classroom. Enacted with dire visions of drug dealers plying their trade, the rules have instead become an impediment to lacrosse moms trying to negotiate pickup times. Parents are also vexed by the notion that their children might not be allowed to call home during an emergency, the very scenario for which many such phones are purchased.

The article also points out that,

Elsewhere in the nation, large, urban school systems tend to have more restrictive rules on cellphones, and small, rural districts are more permissive, said Reggie Felton, director of federal relations at the National School Boards Association.

Cellphones are banned in New York City public schools. Detroit and Miami schools allow students to carry cellphones but not to use them. Chicago officials leave the decision to principals.

It’s clear that this hot button issue will continue to be contested. One Cleveland-area television station posts its local school districts’ cell phone policies right on their web site. Our friends at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association report that they know of 321 school districts with cell phone policies, and of those policies, 86 are complete bans on the possession of cell phones in schools. The remaining policies allow students to possess cell phones in school, but restrict usage to after the school day ends. At the other end of the country, the Association of Alaska School Boards reports there are no outright bans on students having a cell phone, but their use is restricted in most districts to outside school hours. Some Alaskan districts allow their use over the lunch hour, but an outright ban on their possession has not been proposed.

Should students be allowed to carry cell phones to school or should students leave the technology at home? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think.

BoardBuzz sees that school districts are dialing back their agressive cell phone policies, and it looks like this may be the future for social networking sites and internet usage as well. Often, in the past, school districts have reacted to the negative reputation of social networking sites rather than harnessing the opportunities they offer. As NSBA recommended in its recent study, Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social and Educational Networking, students become more savvy with technology and turn to these sites as resources, school districts will have to find a way to make technology work for them, rather than working against technology. This follows a trend noted in NSBA’s annual technology survey which takes place at the T+L Conference each year.

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