Articles from December, 2007

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  • The good, the bad and the ugly (about smoking);
  • The middle school pressure cooker;
  • Talk about giving a gift;
  • Reach out and touch someone;
  • … and a Happy New Year!
Erin Walsh|December 21st, 2007|Categories: Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

See you next year

The Leading Source will be on a holiday break until Jan. 3. Happy Holidays from the editors of American School Board Journal.

Kathleen Vail|December 21st, 2007|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|

Take time off during the holidays

Clear off the desk. Change your outgoing message on the voicemail and inbox. Secure any personal items. These are the simple things we do to prepare for a break from work. If it were only that simple. Unfortunately, vacations are usually preceded by marathon work days and stress and bookended by, you guessed it, more marathon work days and stress. It’s probably why, according to a Boston College survey, more than a quarter of Americans don’t even bother taking vacation at all.

Holiday breaks are automatically built into public school calendars, eliminating the need to hem and haw on whether to take two, three, or any days off after Christmas. The guaranteed time off, however, doesn’t guarantee some of you won’t actually bring work home. Resist the urge.

Consider this (doesn’t that sound like a commercial?): 40 percent of workers reported their jobs as “very” or “extremely” stressful, with about a quarter of all surveyed considering work the number one stress in their life. Job pressures are believed to be responsible for 30 percent of back pain, 20 percent of fatigue, and 13 percent of headaches. Finally, it’s been estimated (and this is an old statistic) that work-related stress costs the job market more than $300 billion a year.

Convinced yet? I hope so. So as we draw into the New Year, turn off your BlackBerry, don’t log on to the system, delay going over those documents.

Instead, go to the movies, read a good book, and spend time with loved ones. Enjoy the break … we certainly will. See you next year!

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|December 21st, 2007|Categories: American School Board Journal, Wellness|

. . . and a Happy New Year!

BoardBuzz will be off enjoying eggnog, fruitcake, sugar plums, and various and sundry other holiday treats for the next two weeks (we’re certainly glad we don’t have Santa’s workload). We’ll be back in 2008 with all the latest and greatest in education news.

We wish all our readers a very special holiday season and a joyful New Year!

Erin Walsh|December 21st, 2007|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Reach out and touch someone

It turns out that e-mail, text messaging, and Facebook still can’t hold a candle to the good ole telephone. This is according to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, as noted in USA Today.

BoardBuzz wasn’t completely surprised, even in light of NSBA’s recent survey of teens and ‘tweens, Creating and Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social – and Educational – Networking, which discussed just how connected the generation is. “But the No. 1 method of communication for the most wired generation ever? It’s still the telephone — as in landlines wired to a wall, says a new report on teens ages 12 to 17 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which tracks the USA’s online behavior.” Somebody call Ma Bell!

The report also points out,

Teens don’t drop old technologies as they add new ones, “they just communicate more,” says Pew’s Amanda Lenhart. “And more frequently.”

Teens choose the proper tool for each task, be it cellphone texting at a noisy party, Facebook for a quick hello, instant messages for multiple conversations, and seeing friends in person to, well, talk.

And believe it or not, what teens like the least? E-mail. The staple of office professionals everywhere isn’t the hottest mode of communication for the High School Musical set.

The report finds that 28% of online teens have created their own online journal or blog, up from 19% in 2004; 33% create or work on Web pages or blogs for others, about the same as in 2004; and 39% share their own artistic creations online, up from 33% in 2004.

Blogging is still dominated by girls: 35% of all online teen girls blog, compared with 20% of boys. But boys rule when it comes to posting videos: 19% of online boys have posted videos, vs. 10% of online girls.

Be sure to check out NSBA’s report on Creating and Connecting to get a full picture of what teens and ‘tweens are up to online.

Erin Walsh|December 20th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Do harsh school punishments send students down the path to prison?

Does suspending misbehaving students—or sending them to alternative schools —set them on the path to prison?

That question is at the heart of a new report, Texas’ School-to-Prison Pipeline: Dropout to Incarceration, The Impact of School Discipline and Zero Tolerance, published by Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit public interest law center.

The title is overdramatic. But the conclusions are worthy of reflection: “The precursor for many young people’s involvement in the juvenile justice system [or prison] is disciplinary referrals in schools.”

That’s not to suggest that school officials allow students to run amok in the classroom. Nor does anyone suggest school suspensions are responsible for students turning down the path of crime and incarceration later in life.

What the report does suggest is that local schools must be thoughtful in their approach to discipline. Taking a hard line with students—with zero tolerance and harsh penalties—actually is counterproductive, undermining school climate and, instead of discouraging misbehavior, actually can encourage more misbehavior among rebellious youth.

Fact is, some school officials are too eager to crack the whip. Something is wrong when some schools are six times as likely as neighboring schools to suspend students or send them to an alternative education program.

Although the report lists numerous strategies for improving your school district’s disciplinary practices, its real value to local school policymakers is more basic: It reminds you that schools exist to help students.

And that help is needed right now. If all your schools do is punish misbehaving students —harshly and with no consideration to the reasons behind such misbehavior—then your schools aren’t really solving the underlying problem. And if a student ends up in an escalating cycle of misbehavior and punishment, then there is an increasing likelihood that imprisonment lies in that young person’s future.

The report can be found at www.texasappleseed.net.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|December 20th, 2007|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Governance, School Security|

It was the reporting, not school communications, that went wrong

It sounded like a nightmare for any administrator: A substitute teacher brings alcohol to school in a coffee mug, becomes intoxicated in front of her students, and has to be removed from the classroom.

Apparently, that’s what happened at an elementary school in New Jersey earlier this month. A fourth-grade sub — a certified teacher who had worked in the district for over a year — became visibly intoxicated, fell out of her chair, and threw books as students summoned the principal.

According to Manalapan-Englishtown School Board President Anthony Manisero in the Asbury Park Press (www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007712120400), the school’s administrators secured the classroom and had the librarian take over as they called in school counselors and the police, who arrested the 54-year-old teacher. The superintendent immediately wrote a letter to parents of students in that class.

Seems like a reasonable way to handle such a crisis, right? Not if you’d only read the first half of an article in the Asbury Park Press: “Parents of Pine Brook School students said they’re upset at the district’s lack of communication following a teacher’s arrest for drunkenness during class.”

The article quotes just one parent, whose students who were not in the class: “Why did I have to hear it through the rumor mill? … It was just totally handled wrong.”

So apparently the school officials were totally wrong because they did not immediately set the parental rumor mill straight? Fortunately, the district did not take the “no comment” route:

“I feel the people who needed to know found out the information they needed in a very quick and reasonable amount of time… just because some other parent wants to know what went on, I don’t think that’s our role,” said Superintendent John Marciante Jr.

It’s very unfortunate that this happened, but a bad situation was made even worse by a shrill parent and a newspaper that missed the point. While drunken teachers are (hopefully) a rare occurrence, this article at least showed the importance for school officials to explain actions and policies to the community and the media.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|December 20th, 2007|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

Talk about giving a gift

BoardBuzz was touched by this story we first heard about on Good Morning America. It seems eighth grader Morgan Corliss needed a kidney and when family donors weren’t able to help, a very special donor stepped up: her middle school principal. BoardBuzz is always overwhelmed by educators who go above and beyond, and this principal is truly going the extra mile.

Jim Friel, the principal at Morgan’s middle school, barely knew the eighth-grader, but he did not hesitate.

“I just had this overwhelming feeling,” Friel said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“I’ve spent 24 years of my life trying make a difference in the lives of kids, and if this isn’t making a difference in the life of a child, I don’t know what is.”

Doctors told Friel to expect several weeks of pain and missed work — sacrifices that discourage many people from becoming donors.

“There’s no way I can ever thank him so that it’s enough,” Morgan’s mother said. “She’ll be able to go to those school dances. She’ll be able to play outside — do all those things and live a teenage life.”

Friel is undergoing more blood tests to ensure he’s a good match for Morgan. So far, all signs look promising for a transplant next month.

In this holiday season, what could be a more selfless act of giving than this? We love the warm-fuzzies, and this is one of the fuzziest.

Erin Walsh|December 19th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

President Bush’s fuzzy math

Think you’re good at math? Economics? Bet I can trip you up.

Which increase in domestic discretionary spending is a greater threat to our nation’s fiscal health:

A) Four percent for one year
B) An average of 7 percent a year over six years.

Did you guess A? Congratulations! We have a job for you in the Bush White House.

You see, 4 percent was the cap on domestic discretionary spending growth demanded recently by the president. Never mind that over the first six years of Bush’s term, domestic discretionary spending averaged 7 percent a year, according to a Heritage Foundation report cited in the Washington Post.

But that was when Republicans controlled Congress. Now that the Democrats are in charge, the White House is getting all fiscally responsible. Sort of.

Bush vetoed a $22 billion spending increase and rejected Congress’ offer of an $11 billion hike, but then announced this week that he was “pleased” with a budget bill, passed on Monday, that would exceed that $11 billion limit with “emergency” spending on border security, veterans care, and other items.

What got cut in the process? Title 1 funding of $280 million, and $250 million for special education — a program which, many years ago, Congress vowed would be 40 percent federally funded.

Meanwhile, Congress and the president all but guaranteed the deficit will rise next year after Congress approved an arguably needed $50 billion rollback of the Alternative Minimum Tax (originally meant for wealthy taxpayers but now affecting 20 million upper-middle-income households, according to the Post) but without new offsetting taxes on private equity managers, which Bush opposed.

“I have difficulty seeing how $11 billion or $22 billion in discretionary spending on the domestic side of the equation is so fiscally irresponsible when juxtaposed against these major AMT provisions of $50 billion, or certainly against the $70-plus billion they want for the global war on terror, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” G. William Hoagland, a budget adviser to former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, told the Post. “It doesn’t pass the sensible man’s test.”

Who said anything about sensible?

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|December 18th, 2007|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Student Achievement|

The middle school pressure cooker

BoardBuzz was intrigued by this article in today’s edition of USA Today. The commentary discusses the increased pressure on middle school students and the often “unrealistic expectations” heaped on students as they enter middle school.

The author reflects on a recent meeting at his child’s school where the teacher told him and other parents, “Seventh grade is a crucial time for the children,” explaining in detail how our kids’ academic performance this year could dramatically affect their educational path. “So we stress to the kids that this is when their grades really start to matter.” And this concerned the author because his daughter had already become stressed about her increased workload.

These days, cracking the nut of education is a formidable task, and one that is made all the more complicated by America’s ongoing struggle to raise national averages and close the achievement gap.

On one hand, our policymakers are keenly aware of this problem, as they continue to concoct a variety of jujitsu-like solutions — from the president’s ambitious but deeply flawed No Child Left Behind program to the ongoing experiments with charter schools, voucher programs and standardized testing.

And yet as we earnestly try to fix what’s broken, we are, in the process, turning an entire generation of children into a giant flock of canaries in the coal mine. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for the heavier workload in middle school, as it helps prepare students for the academic challenges to come. But when that homework includes asking our kids to focus less on the Louisiana Purchase and star clusters and more on living up to some arbitrary, government-crunched data, then we’ve truly begun to lose touch with what learning is all about.

BoardBuzz couldn’t agree more. What is more important? Getting our students to learn arbitrary facts and figures or growing young people’s minds into well-rounded fields of ingenuity ripe for the harvesting? Certainly, kids need to focus on school work, and increasingly so as they progress from elementary school to middle school and from middle to high school, but they also need to play and laugh and learn about art and music and the world around them. Instead of growing their resumes, we need to grow their minds and spirits.

Only recently, Bridgette mentioned to me that she wanted to join an after-school project involved with African relief. This is typical of my oldest child — she was born with her mom’s heart. What was unusual, however, was Bridgette’s next comment.

“And it’ll look good on my résumé,” she said.

Yowch! BoardBuzz hopes that as NCLB moves toward reauthorization (we hope!) our lawmakers will take note and not lose sight of the fact that students are more than a test score or a statistic. For more information about NCLB, visit NSBA’s web site here.

Erin Walsh|December 18th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|
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