Articles from April, 2008

Better training for principals

Here’s an interesting statistic: Only about 20 to 30 percent of people who enter principal preparation programs intend to become K-12 school principals, according to the Wallace Foundation.

That’s troubling on many fronts, most obviously because of the looming shortage of school leaders and the importance of strong leadership to turn around struggling schools. And, “that’s a lot of wasted money,” says Jody Spiro, a senior program officer at Wallace.

The foundation is looking for innovative ways to not only ensure that most people who enter these higher education programs actually want to become K-12 principals, but also to find ways to better prepare those candidates. Currently, too many programs focus on managing budgets and administrative tasks, when principals really should be instructional leaders who spend much of their time in classrooms.

Wallace hosted a luncheon for state legislators at the National Conference for State Legislature’s annual federal relations meeting last week in Washington, D.C. Some of the best practices discussed included six-month principal internships, where a principal candidate not only shadowed an experienced principal but also was allowed to oversee programs and make decisions, as well as multi-year mentorships for new principals.

Several principal training programs, including one through Stanford University, have dramatically increased the numbers of graduates who become K-12 principals by more narrowly focusing their programs. Kentucky also has focused its principal training by creating other specialized programs for people who want additional training but don’t want to be principals, such as teacher leadership programs, according to one panelist.

So why do people enter principal training programs when they don’t want to be principals? Many of them want to go into different types of school administration or are merely looking for salary increases, Spiro says.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|April 30th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Educational Research, American School Board Journal|

Don’t forget to write!

BoardBuzz came across an interesting article in USA Today last week on every high school senior’s favorite test, the SAT. The article highlighted two recent studies looking at how effectively the SAT’s new writing section (introduced in 2005) predicted college freshman grades. Both reports, one by the College Board (who administers the SAT) and the other by the University of California, found that the new writing section was indeed a good predictor of college freshman grades. Actually it’s even a better predictor than the traditional math and critical reading (formally verbal) sections.

These results show once again that while math, reading, and science are important, well developed writing skills are critical to the future success of our students and should not be overlooked. Students need to leave high school with content knowledge AND the ability to communicate that knowledge clearly and succinctly whether or not they plan to attend college.

In this digital age of instant messaging, email, social networking, and of course blogging, the written word is taking on a growing importance. However, writing is a 21st Century skill that often takes a back seat to math and science. That is why you should check out our friends at the Center for Public Education in the coming months as they look into the knowledge and skills that will be needed in this new century. The Center will look beyond just math and science skills to determine what skills students need to not only get a good job but to be quality citizens as well.

In the mean time you can check out how students fared on the SAT and the ACT, and explore many other educational issues at

Erin Walsh|April 30th, 2008|Categories: Curriculum, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Waxing poetic

BoardBuzz was inspired by some pint-sized poets while perusing the paper earlier today. The Kid’s Post (a section of the Washington Post) published the winning poems in its annual poetry contest in today’s edition of the paper.

It’s hard to pick our favorite — they range from sweet to funny to sobering — but they’re all quite good. Here’s one that made BoardBuzz smile:

A Bird’s Springtime

Upon this tree I build my nest
Where leaves nor branches stir
May the smooth bark protect me.
The rounded leaves hide me.
And may I never hear a cat’s purr.
–Luci Finucan, 11

Check it out!

Erin Walsh|April 29th, 2008|Categories: Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Black-white achievement gap widens after elementary school

I learned the phrase “24-seven” from a gifted African American student in Prince Georges County, Md. It was 10 years ago, and I was there to do a story on the restructuring of Benjamin Stoddert Middle School, an underperforming school in one of the nation’s largest majority-black counties.

I wonder where he is now, especially after reading a disturbing — but not altogether surprising — article in Education Week saying research shows that the greatest widening of the black-white achievement gap occurs not among the general population, but among higher-performing students as they move from elementary school into middle and high school.

In truth, I can’t tell you for sure that he was gifted, just that he was obviously very, very bright. Yet the sad truth was that students like him in Stoddert’s gifted and talented classes would be merely performing on grade level if they moved across the Potomac River to the more affluent areas of Arlington or Fairfax County. That’s what happens, researchers note in the article, if the general population is doing poorly: Teachers tend to teach to the middle, and the middle at Stoddert, located near the distressed neighborhoods that border Washington, D.C., was lower.

After several years of being taught at a level lower than students at more affluent schools, it’s no wonder that the achievement gap tends to widen most noticeably at the top.

There are other possible reasons for this trend. Just as there can be disadvantages in attending a majority black school, some African Americans may feel out of place in an overwhelmingly white one — and determined not to “act white” and do their best. Out-of-school disparities among families can exacerbate the achievement gap as well: think of the academic advantages provided by computer camps, piano lessons, and private tutoring.

Finally, add the influence of NCLB and its single-minded focus on raising the achievement of students who test below state standards. It’s a worthy goal, of course, but there are fewer of these students in the more affluent schools, and that encourages the teachers in these schools to adopt a more enriching curriculum across the board.

The high-end achievement gap is a serious challenge for board members, teachers, and administrators. But it’s not insurmountable. And educators, who tend to be optimists by nature, know that. The more we learn about the reasons for the achievement gap, the more effectively we can begin to reduce it and move toward a public education system that offers all students the chance to reach their potential. Education is not the only tool in the struggle for equal opportunity and social justice, but it is indispensible.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

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

Gentlemen (and ladies) start your engines

It was bound to happen. Someone found a way to make NASCAR educational. BoardBuzz kids you not. So for all you speed freaks out there, pay close attention to this story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It seems that Alpharetta High math teacher Jane McAlister has found a way to make math “fun as well as educational” all by using NASCAR as a guide.

The course description in the 2008 Spring catalog reads: “If you think this is a simple-minded sport for rednecks, you are in for the ride of your life.”

The class embraces all things speed, and looks at the big picture in a mathematical context.

Classroom discussions include the dimensions of a track, the measurements of a race car and how the two can work for or against the driver.

Keeping up with the NASCAR Chase for the Cup, and who is up or down in the complex points system, is all part of the curriculum. Homework assignments include watching Speed TV and weekend NASCAR and Indy car races.

The class is part of Alpharetta High’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program. Students take the class in addition to their regular course work, but don’t get a letter grade for the extra seminar. Students who complete the class get a “gifted participation” designation on their high school transcripts, McAlister said.

The early inspiration for the class came when McAlister was still teaching math at nearby Milton High School. Michelle Theriault was a student.

“She’d come to me every now and then and ask for three weeks worth of assignments because she was going racing,” said McAlister. “And I thought, ‘If she’s interested in this there have to be other teenagers interested.’ ”

Theriault, who started racing long before she had a driver’s license, competes in various NASCAR and ARCA events and dreams of becoming a NASCAR champion.

McAlister said Theriault’s passion for her sport made her wonder if a class that studied racing would work.

And the rest, as they say, is history. It’s innovative programming like this that keeps kids engaged and makes them want to learn. What kinds of creative curricula do you have in your district? Tell us about it by leaving a comment.

Erin Walsh|April 29th, 2008|Categories: Curriculum, Teachers, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

What’s in your state’s interstate compact for military children?

Kansas and Kentucky are the first two states to approve the Interstate Compact for Educational Opportunity for Military Children aimed at addressing perceived inequalities facing these children when they are required to relocate across statelines. This is how the compact works: the laws of the “sending” state would apply to transferring students from military families in the schools of the ‘receiving” state in such areas as graduation requirements and age of student enrollment, etc. The interstate compact would take effect when 10 states approve such legislation.

Although the intent of the compact is appealing, local school districts might want to consider how the compact would affect such local issues as privacy laws, immunization laws, enrollment ages and eligibility for extra-curricular activities. While Kansas and Kentucky do not require students to pass a high school exit exam to graduate, this issue could present a problem in states that do. Because the compact could eventually supersede state department of education requirements, there could be some operational challenges and perceptions of inequalities.

Given the wide variations among state education policy and the potential for modifications to the compact by state legislatures that take up the issue, NSBA recommends that school board members, state legislatures, and other involved parties fully understand the impact of the interstate compact adoption on their own state education laws. In addition, the implications of costs associated with implementing these changes remain unclear.

Currently, Georgia and Arizona have both passed such legislation which is headed for the governor’s signature.

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

No Missing Report Cards, Technology Keeps Parents Connected

Kids love the Internet.

It’s where they upload photos on Facebook, befriend people on MySpace, and illegally download music. But now, their favorite medium could soon become their worst enemy.

This week, the Schenectady City School District joined many districts across the country by giving parents online access to their student’s report cards, says the Times Union in Albany, N.Y.

The district went even further, giving parents the option of viewing discipline records and daily updates on classroom attendance.

Earlier this month, some Florida districts allowed online parental access to grades, attendance, and homework assignments, says TCPalm. In Minnesota, districts that don’t have “parent portals” have fallen behind, says the Star Tribune.

Posting grades online not only keeps interested parents in the loop, it also saves teachers valuable time. Thanks to the Web, they no longer have to add up grades by hand or field calls from curious parents.

And knowing Mom and Dad are only a click away from seeing his or her D in chemistry could keep students from slacking.

Parents who feel like they need they need a crowbar to pry information from their kids will find the program most useful—and possibly thrilling.

Secretly glimpsing at grades could be just as exciting as downloading music for free.

Although some schools have experienced low registration numbers—at Albany High, only one-fourth of parents signed up to glance at students’ grades—the option promises make otherwise info-starved parents more involved in their child’s education.

Stacey Hollenbeck, spring intern

Naomi Dillon|April 28th, 2008|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

NSBA: Congress, not Spellings, must fix NCLB

Given the proposed Title I regulations that were released last week by the U.S. Department of Education, NSBA belives that school districts must look to Congress, not ED, to fix the accountability flaws of the law and address its unintended consequences.

Overall, the proposed regulations add new requirements but offer little flexibility to educators who are struggling to implement the law that is based on a flawed accountaiblity framework. NSBA continues to urge Congress to reuathoarize the law now that would support states and school districts in improving student achievement, see the official statement from NSBA Executive Director Anne Bryant here.

Erin Walsh|April 28th, 2008|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

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  • A tarnished silver anniversary?;
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  • The way it’s supposed to be;
  • Feeling green;
  • TMZ: the Supreme Court edition?;
  • More is worse for NCLB.
Erin Walsh|April 25th, 2008|Categories: Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Budget tips in tough times

I stopped dining at fancy restaurants last year. I haven’t seen my hair stylist in months. I’ve nixed my occasional visits to the coffee shop. And the only trips I’ll be taking in the near future are for business. Ah, the sacrifices we make when money is tight.

No one knows this more than school districts, which are used to doing more with less— though they’ll have to be even more ingenious and penny-wise in today’s faltering economy. For the May edition of American School Board Journal, I explored the strategies and approaches that school districts take under financial duress.

“Any cut means someone is losing something,” Luz Cazares, the chief financial officer for Alameda Unified School District, said bluntly. The California district is one of many in the state that were blindsided by Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposal of 10 percent across-the-board cuts to fill a $14.5 billion deficit.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget would mean a $4.8 billion reduction in education funding across the state; for Alameda it would mean $4.5 million in cuts for next year’s budget.
“The Governor has put us in a position to cut half of what it took us seven years to do,” Cazares said of the $7.7 million the district had to trim soon after student enrollment began to decline in 2000. “We were blindsided.”

As are parents and children, some of whom stood in trash cans during a recent visit by Schwarzenegger. “Our students/teachers/coaches are too valuable to throw away,” read signs each held.

“There’s nothing like showing up when the governor’s there and sticking read kids and real teachers in trash cans and saying, ‘You know what? This is what you’re doing,” Brook Briggance, a member of the Alameda Education Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|April 25th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|
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