Articles from January, 2008

Tuesday’s super for us too!

NSBA’s 35th annual Federal Relations Network Conference begins this Sunday and runs through Tuesday, when FRN members will visit their members of Congress on Capitol Hill. Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County will address the nearly 900 school board members in attendance on Sunday on their role in American democracy, and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) will address the group on Monday.

School board members will be poised to talk to their Congressional members about supporting improvements to the No Child Left Behind law and securing funding for key programs. More than 675 school districts nationwide have passed resolutions urging Congress to support H.R. 648, the No Child Left Behind Improvements Act. In this election year, it’s essential that elected officials focus on education, and specifically the reauthorization of NCLB.

Check back here for all the news from the conference.

Erin Walsh|January 31st, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Is your school system doing enough to hold onto new teachers?

Probably not.

My skepticism is based on national statistics that suggest anywhere from 33 percent to 50 percent of new teachers will leave the profession during their first five years on the job.

You’ve heard such numbers before, of course. And you may already have taken steps to address this issue. Every day, I see press releases from school systems announcing initiatives to provide new teachers with mentors, to launch support groups for new hires, or to boost training for first-year teachers.

And those all are steps in the right direction.

But have you taken a serious look at what your district’s efforts? Are administrators making retention a priority? Are these efforts actually making any difference?

You have to wonder. Several organizations have reported in the past year that teacher retention rates continue to slide.

That’s not good. Teacher turnover is a major reason that schools serving disadvantaged students have such high numbers of young and inexperienced new teachers. And it’s a major reason reform efforts fail: How can they succeed if you train a school faculty in a new instructional program—and then half the faculty is replaced with teachers who are unfamiliar with the program?

Meanwhile, school boards are paying through the nose for this turnover—more than $7 billion annually, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future suggests. The cost of recruiting, hiring, and training a replacement for a lost teacher can range from $4,300 in rural New Mexico to nearly $18,000 in Chicago. (Chicago apparently spends $86 million annually in turnover-related costs.)

If you do look deeper into this issue, be prepared for a shock: You may discover that your schools are giving tenure to some very mediocre teachers—and creating future problems for you—because principals are so desperate just to have a warm body in the classroom.

You also should know that some administrators are becoming resigned to higher turnover rates. At a school I visited last year, a principal told me that he’s quit worrying if new job applicants will have any longevity. “I’m looking,” he says, “for someone who will give me a good two or three years.”

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|January 31st, 2008|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|

Passionate about Pre-K

BoardBuzz was happy to see the Pre-K debate simmering over at USA Today. The paper took the pro-Pre-K stance, while Darcy Olsen of the Goldwater Institute stands against it.

USA Today puts forth a number of compelling points in favor of providing Pre-Kindergarten education to students.

States have good reasons to aspire to universal preschool, especially high-quality programs with good teachers and low student-to-teacher ratios. Universal preschool can help fill a void: Poor families have access to Head Start. Well-to-do families pay for quality preschools out of their pockets. In between are lower-middle class families whose children badly need the readiness skills that preschool provides.

Oklahoma educators credit their decade-old preschool program with pushing up reading and math scores in the lower grades, and with raising achievement by low-income children.

Elite preschools — such as the experimental Perry Preschool in Michigan, where researchers followed the poor and minority children who attended that school well into adulthood — return more than $16 to society (in the form of lower crime and higher employment) for every dollar invested, according to the non-profit High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. Even decent-quality preschools produce gains in the $4 to $10 range, other researchers found.

On the other hand, a weak argument, without much sense or direction is posed by Olsen.

All but a few parents go to great lengths to seek out the best for their children. The strength of our early education system is that it can respond with as many options as there are children. For families struggling with job loss, single parenting or other challenges, federal and state governments have programs to help in hard times.

It’s difficult to understand, then, why so many states are pushing to add preschool to their docket of free programs. Last year, California voters overwhelmingly rejected a universal preschool plan. Three-quarters of parents, conservative and liberal, say that one parent at home is the best arrangement for their young children.

The abundance of options available to families reflects the best of America. Do we really want lawmakers deciding how every 4-year-old should prepare for school? Rather than take over preschool, governments should lower taxes and adopt policies that increase parents’ purchasing power and keep family decisions where they belong.

No one is proposing compulsory Pre-K. In fact, only a handful of states have compulsory kindergarten (in most states, districts have to provide it, but parents don’t have to send their children). The argument that universal Pre-K will squash diversity of services is, in our view, utter nonsense. Universal voluntary Pre-K will, however, give low- and middle-income families access to high-quality Pre-K for their children — something many of them don’t have now. And if K-12 benefits by saving money, so be it Sounds like a win-win to us.

For more information on the merits of Pre-K education, visit the Center for Public Education‘s section on Pre-Kindergarten.

Erin Walsh|January 30th, 2008|Categories: Preschool Education, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Bush should fix NCLB and his legacy

When I was once a reporter covering the White House during the Clinton years, someone told me, “When the going gets tough, Clinton visits a school.”

Sure enough, he dropped by school after school during the Monica Lewinsky and ensuing impeachment scandals, sometimes proposing a new program, sometimes hawking one of his many initiatives, sometimes just touting public education. Those visits were a temporary distraction from the bad news—somehow, being in a school made everyone feel better.

I thought of Clinton’s woes when President Bush actually mentioned education in the first 15 minutes of the State of the Union this week. Many analysts believe Bush’s speech brought up past victories such as No Child Left Behind in hopes of deflecting attention from his dismal approval ratings and desperate attempts to stay relevant in his last year of office.

“Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results,” he said to applause mainly on the GOP side.

Problem is, if Bush tries to take that message to public schools, he might hear from the many school administrators who want the law changed, or scrapped entirely. Sen. Ted Kennedy, a top supporter of NCLB when it first passed, appeared to wince at his words. (And in another irony, Bush also touted the D.C. voucher program and called for more vouchers for students in failing schools, even though D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was a guest of honor of First Lady Laura Bush.)

But even if Bush had to bear a few critics, wouldn’t it be better to fix the law now and leave office with a significant accomplishment? Since most Democrats in Congress want to hold off on the reauthorization, my completely unsolicited advice to the president would be to take a cue from his predecessor and stage some school visits, talk to folks there, and push hard for changes this year. There’s still time to build a better legacy, at least in the eyes of school officials.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|January 30th, 2008|Categories: Governance, School Reform, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

Haven’t we seen this movie before?

The good news is that President Bush utilized his final State of the Union address to mention education. The bad news? We’ve heard a lot of this before, including the D.O.A. idea of a national voucher program. Now, if next week the President’s budget includes a substantial increase in funding for the No Child Left Behind Act, then maybe Congress and the administration will be able to seriously tackle the challenge of reauthorizing the broken law in 2008. BoardBuzz has expressed why we think major changes are needed now instead of forcing students, educators and schools to suffer under a flawed system for another 2 or 3 school years.

And vouchers, again? Really? No chance and everyone knows it. When will the administration realize it undercuts its own arguments about school accountability every time it promotes sending taxpayer dollars to private schools that are not accountable to the public?

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant issued this statement on the State of the Union.

Erin Walsh|January 29th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

More imagination needed in the classroom?

Chalk it up to January blahs, but I just can’t get excited about this new coalition and its call for more imaginative and creative instruction in the public schools. According to the group’s recent poll, a solid 30 percent of voters — the so-called “Imagine Nation” — say “incorporating building the capacities of the imagination into core courses is extremely critical.”

And what’s wrong with that, oh bilious blogger? Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s just that, well … Isn’t it obvious?

Apparently not.

“Educators get it. Students get it. The public gets it,” said John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association, speaking at a news conference in Washington, D.C., last week “We hope the policymakers get it.”

I fear, like those at the press conference, that No Child Left Behind has so pushed instruction — especially instruction for disadvantaged kids — to the “drill and kill” side of the spectrum that it will take years to undo the damage. However, speakers at the press conference say there’s a large constituency that will back candidates who support more enlightened instruction.

Trouble is, Mr. Pessimist points out, there’s no NCLB militating for more imaginative and creative classrooms. At least not yet, and I don’t know how you would devise one.

It seems the pendulum swings this way and that, and never stops in the middle. Are you for “imagination and creativity” or “Core Knowledge?” “Direct instruction” or “project-based learning?” Well, can’t you be for all of them? For example, I could imagine a U.S. history course in which students would be taught the basics of what’s happened, from colonial America onward. They would even know a few names and dates! There would even be lectures! Part of the class would be devoted to this teacher-directed instruction, but there would also be class discussion of compelling themes in U.S. history. Finally, students would have the chance to pursue subjects that interested them in greater depth, in the form of projects, performances, and research papers.

The key is finding teachers who could do this kind of teaching. And, studies show, it’s disadvantaged children who have less access to them. For example, a University of Missouri study released this month found that “67.6 percent of high-socioeconomic status students are taught by highly qualified teachers, compared with 53.2 percent of low-socioeconomic status students.”

“This opportunity gap of 14.4 percent is significantly larger than the international average of 2.5 percent,” the report says.

So it’s not just a problem of educational theory and practice: It’s a problem of equity as well.

I applaud the coalition for pushing for more creative and innovating classrooms in the public schools, and for championing the arts and music, which are so vital to a well-rounded education. I just feel it’s got a big job ahead.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|January 29th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Student Achievement, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

Show me the mon-ayyy!

Do you get paid a bonus for completing the tasks in your job description? How about a big screen TV for showing up for work on time every day? Does your boss slip a 20 into your in-box for saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you?’ It seems that some schools are taking this approach as more and more stories break into the news with “academic incentives” that pay students for good grades. BoardBuzz finds it confusing, to say the least. We’ve covered this before here, here, and here) and our friends at USA Today bring it up yet again.

In an article and an opinion piece, they talk about students getting paid for grades. Clearly, the idea is catching on, especially in large districts. The article points out that students in Baltimore, New York City, and outside of Atlanta are getting paid between $100 to $500 if they earn good grades. Other districts pay $8 an hour to stay after-school for extra help (not to teach, just to stay). This trend started in another large city, Dallas, more than 10 years ago. What was a pilot program has grown into a trend and the areas that need to make up the most ground on test scores are willing to try anything to bridge the achievement gap.

Most of the money being used comes from philanthropic efforts or corporations that know they have a stake in education down the road — but at what cost? Some call this a short term solution, some compare it to steroid use, others think it solves the motivation problem that exists in many large districts. Is this the miracle pill many districts are willing to swallow, regardless of risk? It’s clear that motivation is a factor in American schools today. As you’ve heard before, there are no stupid questions, but if we motivate our society with tangible benefits and scores rise due to these rewards, is it helping our education system as a whole? Does it help our future? What’s next? One day it’s M&Ms to aid in potty training and a few years later it’s crisp $20 bills. What’s the difference?

And as we’ve pondered previously, BoardBuzz still wonders just how many of these programs come with any sort of financial responsibility training for those receiving the incentives. Wouldn’t it be nice if the issues of responsible spending, investing, and perhaps even credit were addressed as a condition of the rewards? Weigh in and tell us what you think.

Erin Walsh|January 28th, 2008|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , , |

Student disruptions getting worse, W.Va. survey says

A recent newspaper article made me think of her. I can’t remember her name; this was high school after all. But I remember she used to sit in front of me in history class and talk and talk and talk. Mondays and Fridays were the worst because she’d regale me with tales of what she did on the weekend and then provide details about what she was planning next.

She was a nice girl, but distracting. And our teacher, unfortunately, never had the nerve to confront her. I’m sure I missed some portion of instruction because of her incessant chattering but it was mild compared to a survey released by the West Virginia affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers on Wednesday.

More than a third of teachers and support personnel who were polled felt that disruptive students could negate up to a day of instructional time each week for their classmates simply because of their misbehavior and antics. What’s more, 56 percent of teachers said they felt intimidated by students, 71 percent cited verbal abuse as an issue, and 39 percent of school staff said they have received physical threats.

I don’t remember school being this bad. Well, according to a majority of teachers surveyed it has steadily gotten worse, even within the last year. To address the problem, AFT-West Virginia and the state’s School Service Personnel Association have joined forces and unrolled an initiative that includes teaching students proper behavior and issuing consequences promptly and fairly when students don’t adhere to them.

But it was state Sen. Shirley Love who offered the most bizarre solution, though it apparently drew wide support. “I don’t think that’s the answer to our disciplinary problems,” said AFT President Jody Hale in the Register-Herald, to Love’s plan of returning to corporal punishment. “We’re not prepared to go back to the days of paddling.”

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|January 28th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Cash to Students for Better Scores? Desperate Times Indeed

Cash incentives? Worked for some teachers, though with uncertain results. Do bonuses accelerate student learning? Dunno. Has extra pay meant better instruction? Can’t tell.

Armed with such definitive findings, the Baltimore City Public School System is embarking on a questionable plan to use much the same approach on students.

Though she expressed reservations, state Superintendent Nancy Grasmick recently gave the green light to the initiative, which would award up to $110 to high school students who improve upon their initial scores on state graduation exams.

Does anyone see something wrong with this? Apparently quite a few people do, in particular the staff at New York City schools where a similar program was implemented.
No surprise, the person behind the initiative there was Andres Alonso, who left the nation’s largest school system as deputy chancellor to become Baltimore’s chief of schools in July.

According to news accounts, the program drew mixed responses and high controversy in the Big Apple, dividing teachers who believed money wouldn’t inspire students to embrace learning against those willing to try anything to raise student achievement levels.

Granted, the programs are a little bit different. New York City’s plan was funded with private money, targeted toward younger students, and centered simply around cash incentives for students. In Baltimore, the plan would be publicly funded, aimed toward high schoolers and include a wide array of strategies to help struggling students pass high stakes test, including tutoring and additional training for teachers.

Still, I have a problem with bribing students to do well in school. Money can make people do things they wouldn’t otherwise, but it won’t make them like it or stick to it in the long run.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 25th, 2008|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|

Did Utah’s failed voucher plan spell the end of Republican rule?

The move to create publicly funded vouchers in Utah got shot down by voters last fall, but the political ramifications within the state may still be playing out in some very interesting ways.

Two Republicans are now running as Democrats for the state legislature in Utah County, the state’s second-most populous area just south of Salt Lake City. It’s also considered one of the most solidly Republican areas in one of the reddest states in the country. In a typical election, any Democrat who dares to run gets slaughtered, but this year they might be more competitive.

What’s going on out there?

Paul Rolly, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, believes those two candidates might be part of a sea change in Utah politics related to the GOP-backed voucher legislation, which narrowly passed the state legislature but became a ballot referendum that was rejected by voters.

In a recent column, Rolly points to Steve Baugh, a former superintendent of the Alpine school district, who was registered as a Republican but is now running as a Democrat against Rep. Steve Sandstrom. Apparently, Baugh supported Sandstrom in the last cycle because he ran as an anti-voucher candidate against a man who had profited from a charter-school enterprise, but Sandstrom later voted in favor of the voucher legislation, which passed the House by one vote.

Then there’s Gwyn Franson, a city council member and Republican-turned-Democrat who Rolly says cited the voucher legislation as one piece of evidence in her argument that the GOP party has simply lost touch with the desires of its constituents. And there are likely other prominent Democrats that will run for the legislature this year, Rolly says.

Even if they win, does it really add up to a sea change for state politics? “If so, chalk it up to last year’s tsunami over private school vouchers,” Rolly writes, but cautions, “whether it turns out to be a ripple or a flood remains to be seen.”

Yet another sideshow to watch in this wacky political year…

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|January 24th, 2008|Categories: Governance, School Reform, American School Board Journal|
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