Articles from October, 2007

High school dropout factories?

While doing one of our typical searches of education news stories, BoardBuzz came across the frightening (just in time for Halloween, we suppose) headline on 1 in 10 Schools are ‘Dropout Factories’. Sure sounded like just another article blasting public education. But after reading further and eventually getting past the alarming language, BoardBuzz found a lot that was valuable. For one, the statistics are quite troubling: about 1,700 (12 percent) of our nation’s high schools do not graduate more than 60 percent of their 9th graders within four years. Since these schools enroll close to 3 million students we’re probably talking about hundred of thousands of students not graduating on time.

But unlike so many other articles that just take cheap shots at our nation’s public schools, this article actually took the time to look at the cause of the problem and ways to fix it. The article mentioned that many of these high schools are in high-poverty areas where students are likely to drop out to work full time or be lured away by gangs – factors that on face value don’t appear within the realm of the schools’ control.

But there are things schools can do to overcome these problems. The article highlighted the success of the inner-city Baltimore Talent Development High School. This school was founded by John Hopkins researcher Bob Balfanz, who actually coined the phrase “Dropout Factory.” The school, located in a high-crime high-poverty neighborhood in Baltimore, Md., now has 90 percent of its students on track to graduate, which is a whole lot better than the 60 percent seen in many similar high schools. Teachers and students point to the school’s focus on ensuring that teachers, students, and administrators know each other well so no student falls through the cracks or feels unimportant.

Twelfth-grader Jasmine Coleman noted “I know teachers that have knocked on people’s doors. They want us to succeed.”

School boards and other education policymakers have recognized the dropout problem and are working hard to fix it. One such state that has garnered a lot of attention recently for their policy to encourage students at-risk of dropping out to take college level courses is New York. This sounded counterintuitive to BoardBuzz but our friends over at the Center for Public Education say the policy is based on research that shows students of all achievement levels are more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college if they take college courses in high school. These programs are especially effective for low-income students. A summary of one such report can be found on the Center’s Web site. There you will also find what research has found to be successful dropout prevention strategies that are actually getting more students to cross that stage at the end of high school – including more challenging subject matter.

These are important strategies to help decrease dropout rates but by no means are they silver bullets. School board members, educators and each community need to work together to make sure every student feels valued and significantly reduce dropouts in every district.

To learn more about how prevent dropouts and raise graduation rates read The Center for Public Education’s The Straight Story on High School Graduation Rates and Research Review: Keeping Kids in School.

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

Boo! say some parents to Halloween costume restrictions

What’s the Lone Ranger without his trusty six-shooter? Or Batman without his belt o’ gizmos? Not to mention Robin Hood without his quiver of arrows. It seems that kids are getting doled some reality along with treats in schools that still allow kids to dress up for Halloween according to this article from the New York Times.

Some schools are banning masks and toy weapons, like swords, pitchforks, and laser guns during the Halloween season in the name of safety.

“We send out letters a few weeks before Halloween telling parents that their children cannot wear masks or bring weapons of any kind to the school,” said Kenneth Smith, the principal at Strathmore [Elementary School in Aberdeen, N.J.]

“We know that kids are kids,” he said, “but times have changed.”

Mr. Smith’s letter this year spelled out in capital letters that students wearing Halloween costumes should not bring along toy “guns, knives or weapons.”

Prompted by school shootings across the country, a growing number of elementary schools, wary of the violent images that even 6- or 7-year-olds packing water pistols might project, have been trying to paint a friendlier face on America’s day for celebrating mischief.

BoardBuzz can certainly understand school officials wanting to keep kids safe, even as they celebrate, but one does wonder when is enough too much? These policies are leaving some parents scratching their heads, too.

“Halloween has always been the one day where it was acceptable for our children to fantasize about being somebody they are not, like a cowboy or a pirate or a person from outer space, and now we’re ripping that away from them,” said Laura Santoro, a nurse from New Milford, Conn., whose 7-year-old son, Johnny, is a second grader at Northville Elementary School there.

Ms. Santoro said that her son would dress as Capt. Jack Sparrow, the character played by Johnny Depp in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, at the school’s Halloween party, but that he would not be allowed to take a sword — part of a policy that caught her by surprise last Halloween.

“I sent my son to school last year dressed as a special forces Power Ranger, and he was told that he couldn’t take along his red laser blaster, which really surprised me, because the laser is red and made of plastic and lights up, and it could never, ever be mistaken for a real gun,” Ms. Santoro said. “I mean, come on, the whole thing is getting really sad.”

NSBA Staff Attorney Cullen Casey weighed in too: “The banning of masks and weapons for safety concerns is something I’ve seen in policies in many states across the country. With all of these tragic events in recent years, schools are becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of their students, and much of this whole thing about banning toy weapons on Halloween has kind of grown out of that.”

Mostly it seems that there are no districtwide policies in effect, and that school principals are making the decisions on a case-by-case basis. At least Superman can still wear his cape … for now. Does your school or district have a Halloween costume policy in place? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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

Walk to school to prevent obesity

When I was an elementary student, I walked more than five miles, up a steep incline, through brush and rugged terrain, in the snow and sleet to get to my school. OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit. But as a grade-schooler, I did hoof it to school, tracing nearly a mile-long path from my home to the school’s campus … and I wasn’t the only one.

Pretty much, everyone in my neighborhood walked to school— even the cootie boys. That stopped, though, once I went on to junior high, which was a significant distance from my home, requiring me to take the bus. Luckily, it was around this time that I got involved in sports.

Or maybe it wasn’t luck. Officials of the federally funded Safe Routes to School program believe that offering kids the opportunity to walk or bike to school can be the catalyst to students incorporating physical activity into their life over the long haul.

According to the program, about half of all students walked or biked to school in 1969, but today more than half of students are brought to school in private cars. This shift has not only increased traffic congestion and lowered air quality around schools, it also has made kids lazy and contributed to the high rates of childhood obesity.

To combat these negative side effects, the federal government has allocated $612 million through the Safe Routes to School program, which works with states to take away some of the obstacles hindering walking or biking to school, whether it means building sidewalks or creating incentives for kids and families. Check out the details on their homepage here: to see what your state and community is doing.

Today, my commute to work is way too long for me to do anything truly ambitious, but when all is said is done, I do end up walking nearly a mile each way to get to my office. I guess some things never really change.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|October 29th, 2007|Categories: Wellness, American School Board Journal|

BoardBuzz podcast: week of 10/22/07
BoardBuzzNSBAMouseover the icon to listen to BuzzCast 10

  • NSBA 2008 Annual Conference lines up top speakers;
  • Interviews with NSBA’s 20 to Watch Emerging Technology Leaders;
  • So tell us how you really feel: AASA releases State of the American School Superintendency study;
  • Having their say: Boise, Idaho Parent-Community Advisory Council practices true community engagement.
Erin Walsh|October 26th, 2007|Categories: Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Good news, bad news on Congressional front

While Congress moved forward this week on two bills of importance to public schools and students, the expectation remains that President Bush will veto both measures. On Tuesday night, the Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations bill that includes more than a $1 billion increase for Title I and $450 million more for IDEA (special education). The House-passed bill (H.R. 3043) includes larger funding increases for education, and differences will need to be reconciled in conference committee before heading to the president’s desk.

Although the Senate cleared the measure 75 – 19, it looks doubtful at this point that the House will reach the two-thirds majority needed to override the expected veto. Follow the process and take action in supporting your local schools by visiting NSBA’s Advocacy web site.

On Thursday, the House passed a new version of the SCHIP bill (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) that President Bush previously vetoed. Of special interest to school boards and taxpayers is that the bill would extend to January 1, 2010, a moratorium preventing the administration from taking any action on a newly proposed rule that restricts school districts’ ability to seek federal reimbursement for Medicaid services to eligible children. As with the approps bill, the vote is still short of what will be needed to override another potential veto. Learn more on why this reimbursement is so crucial to schools on NSBA’s Advocacy web site.

Erin Walsh|October 26th, 2007|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Can college courses prevent high school dropouts?

The idea struck me as counterintuitive. After all, how many supervisors would give a worker struggling with a small task a bigger project? Maybe it’s not the best analogy, but it’s pretty close to what New York education officials are proposing for the 12,000 students on the brink of dropping out.

Desperate to keep the students from giving up on school, the state’s Board of Regents approved a plan on Tuesday that would place at-risk students in college courses, where they could earn college credit while still in high school.

Dual-enrollment program have found success in many school districts across the country, but New York’s version would be one of the first to specifically target potential drop outs.

Risky? You bet, though most of the lawmakers and bigwigs in New York seemed willing to take that risk.

“Especially with the expense of college being what it is, if you can get kids from disadvantaged families to complete work in high school, they would be saving substantial dollars,” Manhattan assemblywoman Deborah Glick told the New York Times.

Ok, hold on a minute. We’re not just talking about disadvantaged kids, even though statistically, many underperforming students do come from impoverished backgrounds.

Who we’re talking about are students that, for a variety reasons, have become disillusioned with school and the solution, from a practical and analytical standpoint, doesn’t seem to me to include making what is already difficult for them, even more challenging.

I wouldn’t tell someone who is obese that the way to solve their weight issues is to train for a marathon. The lofty goal may work for some, but it seems that individual would be better served to examine why they battle weight problems in the first place and what they could do simply, everyday to win that battle.

Not all students want to go on to a university and not all students have to. I understand the power of setting goals high, but let’s not set them so high we forget to deal with what’s in front of them.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|October 26th, 2007|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

More co-sponsors added to NSBA-backed NCLB bill

Kudos to Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) on becoming the latest member of Congress to co-sponsor H.R. 648, the NSBA-backed No Child Left Behind Improvements Act of 2007. Jackson is the ninth co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK). We also thank Reps. Jo Bonner (R-AL), Mike Ferguson (R-NJ), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), Todd Platts (R-PA), Steve Rothman (D-NJ), Terry Everett (R-AL), Charlie Melancon (D-LA) and Mike Ross (D-AR).

The bill would make more than 40 improvements to NCLB on issues such as assessments, Adequate Yearly Progress, sanctions and funding requirements. Read a bulleted summary of the bill or check out our Issue Brief.

Meanwhile, close to 550 local school boards have passed resolutions urging their members of Congress to support the provisions in NSBA’s comprehensive NCLB bill. If your board has not, here’s a sample resolution.

What’s the status of the reauthorization? Talk continues that the House Education and Labor Committee could (heavy emphasis on could) take up a bill at any time, while the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also continues working toward introduction of a bill for possible markup. NSBA’s Advocacy Office has compiled a side-by-side look at our recommendations compared to current law and to the House committee’s discussion draft.

Erin Walsh|October 25th, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Having their say

BoardBuzz got wind of the Boise, Idaho school district doing things a little differently, and we can’t wait to see what happens. The district’s Parent-Community Advisory Council (PCAC) is composed of parent representatives from the district’s 52 schools, and, according to this article in the Idaho Statesman, “enables parents and other community members to gather information from school district officials and trustees and bring that information back to their schools and to groups like the Parent Teacher Association.”

Sounds like true community engagement to us. The group holds monthly meetings with guest speakers like the superintendent, associate superintendents, and other education policy experts.

PCAC set a tentative policy agenda in the spring by polling community members and its own committees. [President Tani] Theiler said the group will likely focus this year on middle school curriculum, reducing class sizes, increasing the number of aides available in classrooms, health and nutrition in the schools, and encouraging junior high parents to be more engaged with their schools. This agenda might change as other issues develop, she said.

Becky Young, who was president of PCAC last year and is now vice president, said the group is not set up to represent individual schools or teachers or administrators.

“We represent the school community,” Young said.

PCAC’s October meeting focused on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, and the district’s curriculum director, Don Coberly, took detailed questions on the new ISAT and the reauthorization of the federal education funding law No Child Left Behind.

“We’re not just about what’s happening in the Boise School District,” said Kay Brassey, PCAC’s secretary. “Anything that affects children, we take back to our schools.”

This sounds like a win-win for all: the board, superintendent, community, and most definitely, students. Imagine the leverage that a group like this could have in the state legislature to support new programs and funding. BoardBuzz will be definitely keeping its eye on their progress.

Erin Walsh|October 25th, 2007|Categories: School Boards, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

The politics of research

When you read a newspaper or magazine article about the latest education research, there is a good chance you’ll find a quote from a critic pooh-poohing the findings.

That’s part of the journalistic tradition of telling both sides of a story. But it also has the unintended effect of raising doubts about the credibility of education research in general: If every study published comes under criticism — or is contradicted by other research — what can you believe?

That question is particularly relevant today when special interest groups seek to sway public opinion by publishing their own reports and studies designed to sell a political perspective — and seek to discredit research that contradicts their ideological beliefs.

But fear not. My November cover story, “Politics and Research,” takes a look at the deluge of reports and studies being published today — and at whether that research is credible or simply a political tool designed to sway policymakers.

All in all, the news is good. Education research is improving in quality and relevance to education policymakers. And finding this quality research isn’t all that hard if, as Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College, advises, you become “a better consumer of what’s out there.”

If you read the story online (, you’ll also find tips on how to become that better consumer, as well as an article on how the media reports on research—and how the profession of journalism is trying to do a better job in telling you what you need to know.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|October 25th, 2007|Categories: Educational Research, American School Board Journal|

So tell us how you really feel

Our friends at the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) recently released the updated State of the American School Superintendency study, which “offers a definitive look at the state of school leadership in the United States … and a detailed picture of the men and women leading the nation’s schools, based on a representative sample of school leaders nationwide.”

Some key topics outlined in the study include superintendents’ professional experience, preparation, and training; superintendent/school board relations; working conditions of the superintendency; superintendent tenure; board evaluations and contracts; superintendent demographics; national trends and key issues affecting education and leadership; and the history of the school superintendent in American public education.

BoardBuzz was most pleased that superintendents report good working relationships with their boards. The study points out that “89% of superintendents say their boards evaluated them very fairly or fairly.” And, “Boards expect a great deal from superintendents but nothing more so than leadership in working with the board and the community and in being a political leader for district interests. Management of budget, finances, and operations are the highest priorities followed by leadership in instruction and curriculum.”

Moreover, “superintendents are generally pleased with how well the board works with them in leading the district. Fully 78.8% said their boards were doing a good job in providing district leadership.” Great news for superintendents and school boards alike!

Want more? Get findings from the study here and purchase a copy of the full study here.

Erin Walsh|October 24th, 2007|Categories: School Boards, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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