Articles from November, 2007

Lets talk about growth

Should schools be evaluated on the amount of growth students make from year to year or by hitting a set target? Should the amount of growth students make be included in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act? If you want to know the answer to these and other questions, BoardBuzz recommends that you take part in The Center for Public Education’s online chat at 2:00 p.m. EST on Thursday December 6th at The Center’s policy analyst Jim Hull and the National School Boards Association’s director of federal affairs, Marc Egan will take your questions on the various growth models in use today and how they should be used for both assessment and within the context of NCLB.

BoardBuzz encourages you to read The Center for Public Education’s Growth Models: A guide to informed decision making then submit your questions early at

Erin Walsh|November 30th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

BoardBuzz podcast: week of 11/26/07
BoardBuzzNSBAMouseover the icon to listen to BuzzCast 13

  • Biotech buzz;
  • Carrots or chocolate? Not what you think;
  • International reading scores provide surprising results;
  • Leaving NCLB behind?
Erin Walsh|November 30th, 2007|Categories: Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Report shows Native American dispartities

A few weeks ago I provided a link (and hopefully some of you followed it) to a telling study produced by the non-profit think tank, Public Agenda. Walking a Mile certainly corroborated what I’d discovered in my reporting of December’s ASBJ cover story: Very few non-Indians understand the issues, challenges, and misconceptions American Indians face.

I include myself in that group. I knew that Native Americans had treaty rights, but I didn’t how that started, what it meant, and how it affects life for American Indians today. I had some vague sense that the federal government had entered into agreements with hundreds of distinct indigenous tribes in exchange for land many, many years ago.

But I didn’t know what the government had promised, and even more importantly, if it had honored those promises. A 2003 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights shows they have not. “A Quiet Crisis,” which reviewed the budgets of the six main federal agencies tasked with serving the 562 federally recognized tribes, is, to put it mildly, shocking.

Here a just a few of their findings:

Slightly more than a quarter of Native Americans enjoy medical benefits through an employer; most rely on the Indian Health Service. Yet annually, IHS spends 60 percent less on its recipients than the average per person health care expenditure nationwide. In fact, the government spends less than any other group it has direct health care responsibility for, including veterans, Medicaid recipients, and prisoners. Is it any wonder then that American Indians have higher rates of diseases like tuberculosis, diabetes, and alcoholism resulting in a life expectancy that is lower than any other racial/ethnic group?

Of the roughly 4.5 million American Indians in the U.S., less than half a million live on reservations, land held in trust by the government. The housing situation on the reservations is grim, with about 40 percent of homes deemed inadequate compared to 6 percent nationally.

Today, less than 10 percent of American Indian children attend schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs — a complete turnabout from a half-century earlier. Maybe it’s because in 2004, BIA schools spent about $3,000 per student, less than half the amount spent in public schools. Or could it be that BIA schools are generally in worse condition than schools nationally, even inner-city schools, with the backlog of needed repairs and construction tallied at close to $1 billion in 2001.

But what about all the benefits tribes receive, you ask, like tax exemption and the power to run casinos? Tribes are not exempt from paying taxes and, in fact, often pay more than their share. A study by the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs, for example, found that for every dollar the state spent on a tribe, nearly $42 was returned through taxes levied on businesses on the reservation and sales tax on items bought by American Indians off the reservation.

For more details, visit the report at .

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|November 30th, 2007|Categories: Governance, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

Leaving NCLB behind?

We noticed that the Washington Post editorial page took to task nearly all the presidential candidates for saying very little of substance when it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act. We’ve noticed too. In debate after debate this year, education overall, including NCLB, has received less attention than Rudy Giuliani’s recent support for the Boston Red Sox.

The Post editorial also notes the “Congressional inertia” that threatens to derail NCLB reauthorization past the 2008 elections. As BoardBuzz has said before, that would be a disservice to our schools and students. It is hard to find anyone, in Congress, in schools, in local communities, who thinks NCLB is working well and can be left untouched for another 2 or 3 years. And as Education Week’s David Hoff darkly warns, it’s taken Congress forever to reauthorize relatively non-controversial programs like Head Start and Higher Education. So punting NCLB to a new administration and Congress could, gasp, potentially mean no improvements or relief until 2010? 2011? One would have to say it’s at least possible.

Or, Congress can step up and make the substantive improvements needed. Without improvements, more and more schools will be misidentified for missing AYP under the current, flawed system, and will face costly and ineffective sanctions. One solution to the problem is the comprehensive H.R. 648, which more and more Democrats and Republicans are supporting.

For more details on why Congress needs to improve NCLB check out NSBA’s recent letters to the House and Senate.

Erin Walsh|November 29th, 2007|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Separating multiples in school

Should schools put twins in the same class or separate them? And what, if any, say should the parents have in this process?

Plenty, if you ask me.

The question came up in an interesting story published this week in Boulder, Colo.’s The Daily Camera. The story notes that schools are educating more multiples, citing statistics that show 34 of 1,000 births now are twins.

School officials make good points in the story, saying that twins are split up to encourage individual strengths and because one sibling often dominates. But some districts require all multiples to be separated, prompting a rise in parent citizen groups that have pushed for legislation to be involved in the placement of their children. Laws have been passed in four states – Georgia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Texas.

Legislation is a bit much, but it’s what happens when common sense gets thrown out the window. Unlike many parents, I do believe the school knows best in some areas.
But as the parent of fourth-grade twins, I can’t imagine being told by the school that requiring them to be separated is what’s best for my children.

Or, as Kathy Dolan, a New York mom to twin boys and creator of, says in the story: “You can’t have these across-the-board policies. Children should be placed according to their needs, and you have to have parent input. We really know whether they need to be together or apart.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Glenn Cook, Editor in Chief

Kathleen Vail|November 29th, 2007|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|

International reading scores provide surprising results

There were some surprising results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) that was released today. For those not in the know, PIRLS is an assessment of reading skills of fourth graders from more than 40 countries. It was first administered in 2001 and U.S. fourth graders performed very well. They were outperformed only by students in Sweden, the Netherlands, and England. Although the 2006 results were not as rosy, U.S. fourth graders still held their own against their international peers.

BoardBuzz is fairly certain that some critics will decry that the U.S. ranks 18th in the world in reading achievement but don’t be fooled. But, if you have read the Center for Public Education’s More than a horse race: A guide to international assessments of student achievement you know that reporting scores in straight rankings is misleading and flatly inaccurate. You also know that in 2001 only three countries outperformed the U.S. by a statistically significant margin (meaning the difference in scores did not happen by chance). However, in 2006 that number grew to ten, although three of the ten were Canadian provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario) not full countries. This is not because U.S. performance had declined; it is due to several countries, including Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Italy, making dramatic gains from 2001 to 2006 while U.S. performance remained relatively flat. As a matter of fact, U.S. fourth graders lost little ground to the highest performing nation. The United States scored only 25 points below the highest scoring nation—Russia—in 2006 compared to 19 points below 2001’s highest performer Sweden.

There will be those who debate where the United States actually ranks. But on the merits of such rankings, what shouldn’t be lost is the wealth of information these assessments provide to both educators and policymakers. As the Center for Public Education report states, this is what international assessments are meant to provide—a wealth of information. Educators and policymakers should analyze PIRLS’ rich data on reading policies and school-based reading practices to determine what work in other countries that may also be effective in this country. By having access to best practices from around the world, educators, school board members, and other policymakers can make better informed decisions about the policies and practices that could work best for their students.

For more information on the PIRLS results and other international assessments check out

Erin Walsh|November 28th, 2007|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Hate NCLB? Ron Paul’s your man

My cousin, a teacher, recently lamented about the presidential race: “When is someone going to talk about education? I probably would vote for anyone that said they were going to ditch NCLB!”

Well, if you want change… meet GOP candidate Ron Paul, a 10-term congressman from Texas. He not only wants to ditch NCLB, he’d also abolish the entire U.S. Department of Education as well. (And the Internal Revenue Service and income tax, too.)

The federal government should have no say in education policy — nor should it give any money, the libertarian-leaning Paul says in a statement provided by his campaign.

“I want to abolish the unconstitutional, wasteful Department of Education and return its functions to the states,” he writes. “By removing the federal subsidies that inflate costs, schools can be funded by local taxes, and parents and teachers can directly decide how best to allocate the resources.”

In 2001, Paul blasted the NCLB legislation: “Schools remain accountable to federal bureaucrats and those who develop the state tests upon which participating schools performance is judged … the current system of imposing oppressive taxes on America’s families and using those taxes to fund federal education programs denies parental control of education by denying them control over their education dollars.”

His education priorities center on annual tax credits: $5,000-per-child credits for public, private, or home-school expenses; and $3,000 credits for full-time teachers. He’s also a huge supporter of homeschooling.

Paul’s mostly dismissed as a bit of a nutball. But after the first GOP debates he picked up quite a fervent following — he’s set GOP fundraising records and won praise from celebrities as diverse as crooner Barry Manilow and punk rocker Johnny Rotten. He’s recently shown some life in the New Hampshire and South Carolina polls, although he’s still far from the first tier.

Political pundits, though, have questioned his math when he proclaims the U.S. government can do without an income tax. And while the teachers unions and other education groups gripe about NCLB and the federal bureaucracy, I highly doubt he’ll be getting any endorsements from them. Change is needed, but not to the point of blowing up the whole system.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

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

Carrots or chocolate? Not what you think

Burgers or broccoli? Tater tots or tangerines? Pizza or parsnips? When it comes to school lunch, students seem to gravitate to the less healthy options. Or do they? A new study out of the University of Minnesota suggests that students are willing to eat the healthier alternatives being offered at schools.

In fact, “school lunch sales don’t decline when healthier meals are served, and that more nutritious lunches don’t necessarily cost schools more to produce.” And that sure is good news for school districts looking for healthier options for kids.

The study, which appears in the December issue of the Review of Agricultural Economics, analyzed five years of data for 330 Minnesota public school districts. It looked at compliance with federal standards for calories, nutrients and fats.

When the researchers crunched all the numbers they found that schools serving the healthiest lunches did not see a falloff in demand.

While serving better meals does entail higher labor costs, the study found, that’s offset by lower costs for more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables compared with processed foods. However, many districts need to upgrade their kitchens and train their staff to prepare these foods, the researchers said.

The study’s conclusions rang true for Jean Ronnei, director of nutrition services for St. Paul Public Schools, which serves more than 46,000 meals daily. The district was held up by the authors as a model for others.

Ronnei said the percentage of St. Paul kids eating school lunches has increased in recent years at the same time the district has been offering more fruits and vegetables.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have a hot dog on our menu. We do… In our case it’s a turkey low-fat hot dog,” she said.

It sounds like a step in the right direction to BoardBuzz. What is your district doing to help kids live healthier lives? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Erin Walsh|November 27th, 2007|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Don’t dump novels for test prep

Oh, the unintended consequences of being assigned Mutiny on the Bounty as eighth-grade summer reading. I know because I was so assigned. My parents knew because of the salty effect it had on my language.

I remember one morning at breakfast:

Mom: What will you have for breakfast, Larry?

Larry: “By God, I’ll have pancakes!”

Mom: “O … K. And what would you like with that?”

Larry. “Orange juice…… By God!

Mom: I think we need to talk about your language.”

Yes, that happened (more or less as stated). But, joking aside, reading the Nordhoff and Hall novel of adventure on the South Seas — its tale of loyalty and betrayal, and of the indistinct line between good and evil — was incredibly enriching. So was reading the other novels I was assigned in the upper elementary and middle grades: Old Yeller, The Yearling, The Call of the Wild, A Member of the Wedding. I only vaguely remember the stories, some of which I might never have read if not introduced to them in school. What I do recall is the effect they had on me, how they helped me visualize a boundless world outside myself.

I thought about this yesterday while reading a letter from a Maryland woman in the New York Times. She was responding to an article about a National Endowment of the Arts report on the endangered status of reading for fun. (“Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading” And she praised, albeit ironically, the Times headline for making the connection between test scores and reading, “because only the evidence of lower test scores will move the myopic beast loosed by No Child Left Behind to change its course.”

Then, the kicker. “My son attends arguably the best public middle-school program in Baltimore,” the letter writer, Christina Myers, said, “and the language arts teachers there have been told not to teach novels until the spring, after the state testing is over.

“The absurdity might almost make me laugh, if it weren’t so horrifying in its implications.”

I would have used the word “sad” — how sad that these children, and so many others like them, are being denied the kind of transformative experiences I remember from my youth.

Please, don’t let this happen in your schools.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

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

Biotech buzz

You can’t be in the education world these days without hearing the familiar refrain about students’ preparedness for a global marketplace. How will they compete? Will U.S. companies have to go abroad to find employees with the skills necessary to fill their jobs? What can we do to get ahead and stay ahead? BoardBuzz has certainly heard it all before.

But one teacher in San Francisco has his finger on the pulse and is preparing his students for the biotech field in a very unique way. This article in the New York Times details the story of George Cachianes and his innovative approach to biotechnology.

More than a decade ago, after George Cachianes, a former researcher at Genentech, decided to become a teacher, he started a biotechnology course at Lincoln High School in San Francisco. He saw the class as way of marrying basic biotechnology principles with modern lab practices — and insights into how business harvests biotech innovations for profit.

If you’re interested in seeing the future of biotechnology education, you might want to visit one of George Cachianes’s classrooms. “Students are motivated by understanding the relationships between research, creativity and making money,” he says.

Lincoln has five biotech classes, each with about 30 students. Four other public high schools in San Francisco offer the course, drawing on Mr. Cachianes’s syllabus. Mr. Cachianes, who still teaches at Lincoln, divides his classes into teams of five students; each team “adopts” an actual biotech company.

The students write annual reports, correspond with company officials and learn about products in the pipeline. Students also learn the latest lab techniques. They cut DNA. And recombine it. They transfer jellyfish genes into bacteria. They purify proteins. They even sequence their own cheek-cell DNA.

BoardBuzz is impressed. And it’s not just San Francisco either. In Mesa, Ariz., they’re doing it too.

“Our whole goal is to transform the work force,” says Xan Simonsen, who coordinates the biotech program for high schools in Mesa, Ariz. The schools follow a curriculum very similar to San Francisco’s, including an emphasis on learning about the biotech business.

To be sure, biotech lab work is expensive. Mr. Cachianes’s classroom in San Francisco has about $500,000 of equipment, obtained mainly through grants and donations from local companies. (The spending total was similar for the Mesa district’s biotech labs.)

Perhaps most important is the philosophy Mr. Cachianes holds, one that should be a “no brainer” — that if we believe in our students and push them, they can achieve. “The lesson here is that seeds of innovation are sown in high school — and that setting higher expectations can encourage better performance. ‘Our kids can shatter limits,’ Mr. Cachianes says, ‘if we adults take a risk and give them the chance to try.'”

Erin Walsh|November 26th, 2007|Categories: Curriculum, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
Page 1 of 512345