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Articles from September, 2007

Poll shows public fed up with the Feds

Public schools take their fair share (okay, often more than their fair share) of lumps from politicians, especially the ones who work in Washington. So we couldn’t help but notice the findings of a recent Gallup poll revealing that these are woeful times for the federal government in the eyes of Americans.

How bad is it? Ever hear of Watergate? Well…

Now, Americans generally express less trust in the federal government than at any point in the past decade, and trust in many federal government institutions is now lower than it was during the Watergate era, generally recognized as the low point in American history for trust in government.

On ability to handle domestic issues, which BoardBuzz has a keen interest in, not a lot of love. How does that play into Congress’ need to tackle tough matters, like say increasing education funding and fixing No Child Left Behind?

Less than half of Americans, 47%, now have at least a fair amount of trust in the federal government to handle domestic problems. Gallup found a sub-50% reading on this measure only one other time, in 1976.

But while Americans are vastly unimpressed with the Feds, they still express faith in their state and local governments. So maybe before members of Congress and the administration launch into the occasional trashing of our schools, they ought to take steps to restore credibility in their own houses. One place we might suggest they begin is with improving NCLB and providing states and local districts with the appropriate latitude to make education decisions.

Erin Walsh|September 28th, 2007|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Jeff Kinney — All-American success story

We’ve all had those times where we felt fate had a hand in our encountering an old friend. And the last place I ever expected to run across a college buddy was People magazine.

I actually have no interest in celebrity gossip. But a back issue was the only reading material available when I was getting my nails done one rainy day this spring. And sandwiched in between Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears was a blurb on Jeff Kinney.

Jeff’s first children’s book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was the must-read hit this summer. It’s about a rather geeky kid named Greg Heffley and his immature antics and quests to be popular in—or at least survive—middle school. The book, filled with cartoon drawings, really puts you in the mindset of a preadolescent who’s hopelessly misunderstood by his parents, friends, and the world at large.

Jeff’s biography doesn’t mention this, but Greg Heffley bears a strong resemblance to Igdoof, a very popular cartoon published in The Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student newspaper, where we worked together several years ago. After graduation, Jeff moved to Boston, and he shopped a version of that strip to cartoon publishers to no avail. He told me a while back he was experimenting with a book and online comic strip, but we’d lost touch shortly afterward.

As it turned out, Jeff was experimenting with Greg’s tales of misadventures online while designing children’s games at But he credits sheer luck in meeting his editor at Harry N. Abrams publishers, who immediately saw the potential of this book.

The book’s currently number one on the New York Times’ children’s chapter book bestseller list, where it’s been hovering near the top since it came out this spring. Jeff’s gotten a five-book contract from Abrams and is hard at work on a sequel, when he’s not opening fan mail and letters from teachers happy to have found an inspiration for their reluctant readers.

Jeff’s story is another example of someone rewarded for passion and persistence. Check out my Q and A with him under Five Questions on our home page. We can’t wait to see where Greg Heffley goes next… personally, I’m hoping for a guest appearance by Igdoof.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

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

Here come the ads

And now an update on one of our favorite stories. A little more than a month out from the referendum on Utah‘s universal school voucher program and the ad wars have begun. Utahns for Public Schools’has posted its first four ads on its site. More background from the Davis County Clipper.

Past BoardBuzz coverage on the campaign here, here and here.

Erin Walsh|September 28th, 2007|Categories: Privatization, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

We couldn’t resist

BoardBuzz couldn’t resist this tidbit in the Washington Post. Sure, we told you about the NAEP scores yesterday, but what’s even more interesting is President Bush‘s comments on them.

“Childrens do learn,” he said Wednesday. Indeed they does.

The Post calls the gaffe, “a classic malapropism, the sort of verbal miscue that occasionally bedevils him in public speaking and provides critics and the media easy fodder for ridicule. Subject-verb agreement actually is taught at Andover, Yale and Harvard, the president’s alma maters, but in an unforgiving job that requires him to speak hundreds of thousands of words with cameras rolling, the tongue sometimes veers off in mysterious ways — and someone always seems to notice. ”

We noticed alright. Sure, we all slip up here and there, but we’re not all subject to on-camera public scrutiny when we do. On the other hand, the Post points out,

His latest misstatement masked a serious issue, of course. As Bush’s first-term No Child Left Behind law comes up for reauthorization, many in Congress are attacking it from both the left and the right. The president is trying to preserve what he sees as one of his most significant domestic achievements, an effort to increase accountability through rigorous standardized testing. The latest report card released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress gave him some ammunition.

No doubt this most recent slip up gave some additional fuel to Bush’s opponents’ fires.

Others offered a more measured assessment. “Unfortunately, this administration has dropped the ball on education reform by shortchanging this law to the tune of $56 billion since its enactment,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate education committee. He vowed “to provide the solutions and the resources needed to ensure that students and schools can succeed.”

BoardBuzz recommends you check out NSBA’s recommendations for the law’s reauthorization. Do it for the childrens.

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

BoardBuzz podcast: week of 9/24/07
BoardBuzzNSBAMouseover the icon to listen to BuzzCast 7

  1. Nine of one, half dozen of another? The Little Rock Nine are marking their 50th anniversary today;
  2. School board research recap: the debate of the effectiveness of school boards doesn’t have much basis in research;
  3. NAEP scores prove positive;
  4. We couldn’t resist: President Bush’s comments on NAEP scores.
Erin Walsh|September 27th, 2007|Categories: Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Not Black and White

NSBA and the College Board have released a report spotlighting the Court’s most recent decisions and what they mean to schools as they try to decipher how to forge ahead while maintaining high quality education for all students. This report, titled “Not Black and White: Making Sense of the United States Supreme Court Decisions Regarding Race-Conscious Student Assignment Plans,” will be showcased at NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Annual Conference in Atlanta this weekend. The report explains the Court’s decision and its impact on race-conscious policies and practices districts may currently have in place. It also discusses how best to pursue diversity-related educational goals, as well as how to manage the associated legal risks in the future.

The Supreme Court rulings earlier this year are a topic of discussion as school systems across the country strive to answer the question, “What does this mean for us?” The topic is not new to BoardBuzz, we covered the issue here and here.

When the news hit back in June, media coverage on the Court’s decision was widespread and NSBA’s General Counsel, Francisco Negron told ABC News, “We have our work cut out for us, but I think it’s a task that school boards all over the country are up to.”

For more information on NSBA and the College Board’s latest publication view the press release and for answers to your FAQ, click here.

If you want to get NSBA’s legal news delivered to your e-mail inbox, subscribe to Legal Clips published by NSBA’s Office of General Counsel and the NSBA Council of School Attorneys.

Erin Walsh|September 27th, 2007|Categories: School Law, Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , , , |

NAEP, NCLB, and me

Leave it to the media to spoil any party; and I must admit, at Tuesday’s presentation of the fourth- and eighth-grade NAEP results in math and reading, I did my small part.

I’m sure you know the news by now: Average reading scores were up for all students, as were the scores of African Americans and Hispanics (although racial and ethic gaps showed little change). And the math increases were even bigger.

So, naturally, the second question from the media was:

“What’s wrong with Oklahoma?”

Yeah, what is wrong with Oklahoma, anyway? I’m sure that was foremost in your mind. (The state posted gains in math, but was down in reading from the 1990s.)

Next question? More nattering negativism: “Is the three-to-five-year estimate for closing the racial achievement gap [the estimate from Sacramento Superintendent David W. Gordon] overly optimistic?”

No, Gordon said.

And finally, from this reporter: “To what extent did NCLB have anything whatsoever to do with these increases?” (I didn’t mean to put such a pejorative spin on it, but what can I do? I’m in the media.)

“I don’t know how you would sort out the impact of one from another [state reforms from NCLB],” said Darvin M. Winick, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board. “But I think that the focus on data that NCLB encourages is a very positive impact.”

That was it: four questions. And, as the meeting was breaking up, I overheard someone remark that the media don’t know what to ask when the news is good. Oh, how the truth hurts!

But, seriously, when it comes to NCLB, I really do have an open mind. So open, in fact, that I don’t know what to think. Dedicated policy analysts from the Education Trust say the law is tantamount to educational civil rights for poor and minority children. On the other side, renowned author Jonathan Kozol is weeks into a partial hunger strike to protest the law’s impact on …. poor and minority children.

Is it a great law, a flawed bill that just needs tweaking, or a drill-and-kill abomination? I honestly don’t know. But as the law’s reauthorization makes its way through Congress this fall, I promise to keep asking those downbeat questions.

I’m in the media. It’s what we do.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 27th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

Urban legends

I can’t tell you how much this article disturbed me …… OK I’ll try.

Recently, the Washington Post reported on research concerning our propensity to believe myths or untruths. In fact, not only are we more likely to believe falsehoods that are repeated over and over — something one would expect — we’ll believe them even in the face of denials, if those denials involve repeating the original false information. (As in, “I did not kick my dog.” Listener’s translation: “You are a dog-kicker.”)

It seems our minds are quite willing to believe either what we want to believe, or have been told to. And it’s not just silly urban legends: These beliefs have real consequences. As the Post noted, 59 percent of Turks and Egyptians, and 56 percent of British Muslims, believe Arabs were not responsible for the 9-11 attacks. Across the Atlantic, one in three Americans think Saddam Hussein was “personally involved.”

It’s probably obvious why this bothers me, but let me explain. I can’t think of anything that’s more important than the truth. And telling the truth — or, at least, trying to get the facts straight — is what journalism is all about. But if our minds are programmed to believe all sorts of fabrications, we reporters have our work cut out for us.

And so do the schools. Have you ever heard someone who had little or no knowledge of public education (and, perhaps, your connection to it) tell you how abysmal, how unsafe, how money-sucking — whatever — the schools were? I have. And I wonder how much of that comes from the mark of failure that influential detractors have been able to affix to them.

In his 1981 inaugural address, Ronald Reagan famously declared, “Government is not a solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Is it any coincidence that two years later a high-level commission would expand on that theme, declaring in A Nation at Risk that, had these government schools been foisted on us by a foreign power, we would consider it “an act of war?”

There are plenty of bad schools out there, but it’s not Canada’s fault. And fixing them will take more than sanctimoniously saying, “It’s the government’s problem.”

That Post article does offer one bit of hope. Not everyone believes the myths. “But the mind’s bias does affect many people, especially those who want to believe the myth for their own reasons, or those who are only peripherally interested and are less likely to invest the time and effort needed to firmly grasp the facts.”

The key, then, is to move the “peripherally interested” into the mainstream — to show them why they should care about their schools, and learn the truth about them, learn their real problems as opposed to those fabricated by people who may not have the best interests of the public schools at heart.

It will take a lot of effort.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 27th, 2007|Categories: Governance, Student Achievement, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

NAEP Scores Prove Positive

Every two years those in the education community eagerly await to see of how well our nation’s students perform on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) also referred to as The Nation’s Report Card. Although NAEP has been administered since the 1970s, the passage of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002 has escalated its importance. Since it is the only assessment that measures the reading and math skills of all students throughout the country both proponents and critics of NCLB look to NAEP results to argue their positions on whether NCLB is working or not and this year was no exception.

President Bush noted “These scores confirm that No Child Left Behind is working and producing positive results for students across the country.”

While Fairtest, an organization critical of NCLB and standardized testing, stated that “NAEP shows educational improvement across the nation slowed significantly since NCLB went into effect.”

While NAEP scores are an important tool in determining the impact NCLB is having on our nation’s schools, it should be just that a tool. NAEP provides a great view from 30,000 feet but it is those working closest to schools that know the real impact NCLB is having on our nation’s schools. It is the students, the parents, the teachers, the administrators and the school board members that Congress need to listen to as they debate reauthorizing NCLB.

As the debate rages over what impact NCLB is having on our schools, what should not get lost in the discussion is that schools keep getting better and better.

Black and Hispanic students have made significant gains since 1990 in both math and reading while white students continued to improve as well.

Schools have been especially effective in math where fourth-graders improved by 27 points and eighth-graders improved by 19 points between 1990 and 2007.

In reading schools are doing a better job with their struggling readers. The scores of those students scoring at the lowest 10 percent increased by 15 points between 2000 and 2007.

The results show that schools are at least on the right track on improving student achievement. While achievement gaps persist, schools are more effective educating their minority students than they were seventeen years ago when the student population was less diverse. The progress schools have been making over this time should not be overshadowed by the debate over NCLB.

For more information on the NAEP results visit The Center for Pubic Education.

Erin Walsh|September 26th, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Large-scale school construction headaches

Think your last school construction project was over budget and behind schedule? Take comfort in the latest news on the former Belmont Learning Center in Los Angeles.

The school complex, now known as Vista Hermosa, is finally scheduled to open next year—nine years late and more than $350 million over budget.

The total tab for the Los Angeles Unified School District is expected to be more than $400 million, undoubtedly making it the most expensive K-12 school construction project in the country.

The project began in the mid-1990s as a state-of-the-art high school complex to alleviate overcrowding and long bus rides for 5,000 students in the nearby low-income neighborhoods. But in 2000, poisonous gases were found underneath the site, a prime 34-acre parcel in downtown L.A. that was a former oil field. Construction resumed in 2002 after consultants determined a fan and vent system could alleviate the toxins, but the project was halted again later after the discovery of an earthquake fault line running across the property.

Eventually, then-Superintendent Roy Romer and the school board worked out a plan to demolish the buildings that sat on the fault line, scale down the size of the school to 2,600 students, and use part of the acreage for a community park.

Even as the project finally nears completion, the mention of Belmont is still synonymous with incompetence and bureaucratic waste—and many of the city’s politicians and editorial writers still relentlessly criticize district officials. So far, the project has been a headache for four LAUSD superintendents.

But some, including Romer, felt the project needed to be salvaged. And L.A. City Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the area, recently said that the project would provide a much-needed school and park space for the nearby communities, even though the money should have been better spent.

“They probably could have built three more high schools, maybe four” with all the money spent, he told the Monterey County Herald in July. “That’s a very painful reality. I think 70 percent of the cost was not necessary.”

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 26th, 2007|Categories: Budgeting, American School Board Journal|
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