Articles from April, 2008

Schools CAN help reduce student obesity

There’s some new evidence that all the efforts to cajole kids into trading chips and candy for carrot sticks and yogurt really do work.

A widely publicized new study shows that school-based nutrition programs in Philadelphia helped many of their students avoid obesity and make better food choices.

The schools that implemented a broad-based plan to cut back on high-sugar and high-fat foods, coupled with nutrition education, found that fewer students became overweight. In the end, about 7 percent of students who’d taken part in the program had significant weight problems, compared to about 15 percent of students at the schools in the control group.

The study’s lead author, Gary D. Foster, called the findings “a dramatic effect,” although he acknowledged that there were still too many overweight children. The study was published this week in the April edition of Pediatrics. The researchers followed about 1,400 students, grades four through six, in 10 Philadelphia schools for two years. More than half the students were eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches.

First, the schools replaced sodas with milk, juice, or water, and eliminated candy. Strict limits were set on the fat and sugar content of foods, and snack portions were downsized. The students were given rewards, such as raffle tickets for prizes, for choosing healthy options and were encouraged to exercise. And students and teachers spent many hours learning about nutrition and better habits.

While this report highlights the obesity problem and need for school-based interventions, any school dietician will attest to another looming problem: Food is getting more expensive, particularly the fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains that are staples of a nutrition program.

If your district is looking to increase its nutritional offerings or just better manage its food services division, stay tuned for ASBJ’s June issue, which will examine these and other issues facing school cafeterias.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|April 9th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Educational Research, Governance, Wellness|

It’s elementary!

BoardBuzz got wind of something really interesting across our desk yesterday . . . the National Elementary Honor Society. Our friends at both the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Elementary School Principals have set up the program to “recognize elementary students in both public and non-pubic elementary schools for their outstanding academic achievement and demonstrated personal responsibility, to provide meaningful service to the school and community, and to develop essential leadership skills in the students of elementary schools. ”

Sounds good to us! What could be better than acknowledging the academic achievements of elementary school students? The NEHS Web site also tells us

Through the development of a chapter that functions with these purposes, elementary schools create a method for acknowledging achievement and focusing on the needs of the total child. In addition, NEHS provides information and resources to enhance the culture of achievement in the whole school, not merely the culture of a select few. This Web site and the resources being sent to every member school are designed to support these purposes and strengthen the lives of our nation’s elementary students and the schools in which they are enrolled.

For more information be sure to visit the site and start a chapter in your school district.

Erin Walsh|April 8th, 2008|Categories: Announcements, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Special education: Experts to forecast what’s coming

Ever wish you had a crystal ball to see what new special education controversy might be headed to a school or a court near you? We’ve got a great alternative for you. Don’t miss next week’s audio conference on “Special Education: What’s On the Horizon?” Join in the discussion Wednesday, April 16, at 1:00 Eastern. Click here for the registration info. This one is a joint production of the NSBA Council of School Attorneys (COSA) and the Education Law Association (ELA) and features a diverse panel of frequent and nationally known presenters and authors: Christopher Borreca of Bracewell & Giuliani in Houston, Tyson Bennett of Reese & Carney in Annapolis, Allan Osborne, Principal of Snug Harbor Community School in Quincy, Mass., and Julie Mead of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

COSA members, ELA members, state school boards associations, and NSBA National Affiliate districts get discounted rates, and best of all, it’s a flat fee per phoneline, so you can gather your whole team around a speaker phone and follow the slideshow together.

Erin Walsh|April 8th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Special Education|

Dropouts start as ‘Children at Risk’

What a game! In the closing minutes of the NCAA Men’s Basketball finals, Stanford edged Davidson College while thousands cheered and….

Not the game you watched last night? Well, it might have been if you were rating the teams’ graduation rates, not their basketball prowess. The analysis of the 64 tournament teams was done by Education Sector and noted recently in a Washington Post opinion piece by Ted Mitchell and Jonathan Schorr, chief executive and partner, respectively, for NewSchools Venture Fund.

Every year we do something like this: We lament the dismal graduation rates of big-time college athletes (and African-American athletes, in particular) then sit back and shamelessly enjoy the game. That’s bad enough. But, as Mitchell and Schorr note in their column, it’s not just athletes who are having trouble graduating, and the problem doesn’t start in college.

According to a study by America’s Promise Alliance, just 53 percent of African-American students are even completing high school. Look the overall gradation rates in some urban school systems — Cleveland, 34 percent; Detroit, 25 percent — and the statistics are even more alarming.

We know that dropping out of school is a process, an accumulation of failures that begins long before a student decides to leave school. And while the problem may be most acute in the urban areas mentioned above, no district — urban, rural, or suburban — is exempt.

At NSBA’s 68th National Conference in Orlando last week, I facilitated a roundtable discussion about this very issue, how to help those whom ASBJ has called “Children at Risk.” We had representatives from large and small districts, from places like Broward County, Fla., Seattle Wash., Dubuque, Iowa, and Rochester, N.Y. In future blogs I’ll share their concerns and some of the solutions we discussed to perhaps the biggest problem facing education today.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|April 8th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, Student Achievement|

The Buzz is back!

BoardBuzz is back from Orlando! We learned a lot and were especially impressed with our conference bloggers!

If you didn’t make it over to the Conference Blog during our stint over there, be sure to check it out. The guest bloggers were amazing and really gave a full perspective of the conference. You can also get highlights from the conference in NSBA’s Conference Daily newspaper.

Already jonesing for next year’s conference? Think you’ve got what it takes to share your insights with school board members from all over the country? Why not submit a proposal to present at the conference?

Erin Walsh|April 7th, 2008|Categories: Conferences and Events, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Teaching Grade Schoolers Appropriate Behavior May Be More Productive than Punishment

Are no-tolerance sexual harassment policies for elementary students acceptable?

Ask the mother of Randy Castro, a first-grade student at a school in Woodbridge, Va., who has a disciplinary record that includes sexual harassment. She’ll tell you, “No.”

That’s because her son’s principal called the police after the six-year-old spanked a female classmate at recess, The Washington Post reported last week.

Castro’s mother said the incident did not warrant such drastic measures and contacted The Post to share her son’s story and draw attention to her district’s harsh policies. She fears her son’s record has already affected the way he is being disciplined.

“Kids can be exploratory in behavior, they can mimic what they see on TV,” Ted Feinberg, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists told The Post.

But when does “exploratory behavior” among peers merit more than a stern talking-to?

The Post did some investigating and discovered that Virginia suspended 255 elementary school students last year for “offensive sexual touching or ‘improper physical contact against a student.’”

Experts recommend teaching students the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch” and only severely reprimanding students when their actions reflect other inappropriate behavior.

How strict are your district’s sexual harassment policies? How many students under 12 in your district are being disciplined for something that could be part of their development? And, what are your policies regarding police intervention?

Exploring these questions could not only prevent your schools from the embarrassment of an unflattering story in a national newspaper, but also keep them from unfairly punishing kids for simply being kids.

Stacey Hollenbeck, spring intern

Naomi Dillon|April 7th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

Athletics on the Cutting Block, as Economy Squeezes Budgets

When people ask me if I played sports in high school, I usually ask, “Is yearbooking a sport?” Uncoordinated and non-competitive, I preferred scoring A’s to scoring goals.

But although I never made it on the field, I always appreciated sports in schools. Athletes are often the most motivated and well-rounded students, having learned valuable teamwork and time-management skills.

Sports can also be a great way to foster parental involvement and develop community partnerships. Unfortunately, tight budgets have some schools shutting off their Friday night lights.

School districts across the country are considering reducing or eliminating funding for extra-curricular activities, including sports, to make up for devastating budget cuts.

Earlier this month, hundreds of angry students from Alameda, Calif., walked out of class to protest a $265,000 cut in athletic funding, reports The Mercury News.

Officials in Orange County, Fla., say cuts there could lead to the dismissal of district coaches, says the Orlando Sentinel.

Parents and students have been vocal about the negative effects of such maneuvers. Cuts in athletic programs could prevent students from earning college scholarships and staying out of trouble after school.

Reducing or eliminating sports would also diminish community involvement and prevent generations of students from learning the value of discipline.

Many schools have used ticket sales and concessions as a way to raise money for athletic programs. Unfortunately, not even hot dogs can stop the nation’s economy from curbing some schools’ sports budgets.

Stacey Hollenbeck, spring intern

Naomi Dillon|April 4th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|

Finding Common Ground Across the Bargaining Table

More than a few school board members offer the opinion that teacher contracts are a major impediment to school reform.

But is that true? Union leaders argue just the opposite in “State of the Unions,” the April cover story of American School Board Journal.

Indeed, National Education Association President Reg Weaver puts it quite colorfully when responding to complaints that teacher contracts add unnecessary costs to school budgets and create bureaucratic obstacles to reform.

“That’s crap,” he says.

The truth, as usual, is much more nuanced.

Take tenure rules. Yes, some contracts make it incredibly time-consuming and expensive to fire a bad teacher.

Then again, I’m still waiting for school board members to explain why their school system gives tenure to these poor-performing teachers in the first place.

School board members also are correct that seniority rules make it too difficult to transfer the best teachers to where they’re needed.

But union leaders are equally correct in arguing that assigning teachers where they may be resentful or unhappy is no formula for success. It isn’t going to help teacher retention rates, either.

Finally, it’s also true that collective bargaining agreements hinder innovation and creative solutions by restricting administrators’ leeway on such things as scheduling after-hours training, for example.

But union officials have a point when they argue that contract agreements sometimes save school boards from making hasty and costly policy mistakes, and that such agreements help avoid the policy churn that might follow with the rapid turnover of board members.

So what’s my point? It’s a bit simplistic to put too much blame on collective bargaining and teacher contracts.

It’s also pointless. Collective bargaining is here to stay.

So here are some questions for school boards: How often do you meet with your union’s leadership to talk about common goals? Do you seek solutions to problems as they arise? Or do you wait until the pressures of contract talks before addressing an issue?
And how good a horse trader are you? If you want something in the contract changed, do you offer a tangible benefit for a serious concession? Do you lay out the data to prove that change is good for students—and, thus, for teachers?

Maybe your school board is hampered by contract language. Maybe your union leadership is militant and difficult to work with. I won’t say you’re wrong.

But, then again, it might be worth rethinking how you go about working with your union. There may be more opportunities there than you imagine.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|April 3rd, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

A Day to Promote Better Understanding of Confounding Disorder

Autism is now the fastest growing developmental disability in the world. And one of the most remarkable features of autism is that there is no particular pattern in its affliction of young children— the disorder presents itself equally among different races and ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, national origins, and about every other identifying factor, except for sex. It affects many more boys than girls.

“I call autism the most nondiscriminating, equal opportunity condition,” said Lee Grossman, head of the Autism Society of America. Research, he added, has shown a large rise in autism in other countries parallel to the rise in the U.S., and many of those children do not have access to the treatments they need.

With that in mind, and the general need to promote the urgency of awareness and treatment, autism groups around the world have dubbed today, April 2, the first annual “World Autism Day.” The United Nations passed a resolution, sponsored by Qatar, last year to mark the occasion.

“Autism knows no geographic boundaries – it affects individuals and families on every continent and in every country,” said Suzanne Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group that promotes awareness of the disorder. “The celebration of World Autism Awareness Day is an important way to help the world better understand the scope of this health crisis and the need for compassion and acceptance for those living with autism.”

Most importantly, advocates say, an early diagnosis and early interventions are essential to helping a child lead a fulfilling life. While there is no cure on the horizon, and may not be for many years, early treatments can make a vast difference in the prognosis. More than 20 countries, representing every continent, have planned events for today to publicize the cause.

More information on events and resources can be found at www.worldautismawarenessday.org, and my recent American School Board Journal story on how some schools in the U.S. are grappling with treatments and intervention is available online.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Naomi Dillon|April 2nd, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

States Careful About Asking for Federal Involvement

It was a modest proposal, really. The resolution before NSBA’s Delegate Assembly in Orlando last Friday would have supported states that wanted to collaborate in creating voluntary regional standards and to seek federal funds for those efforts.

No big deal, right? Especially since something similar was on the books from last year’s meeting in San Francisco.

Wrong. And to see why, just focus on one word: federal. To many in NSBA’s legislature, “federal” suggests intrusion into state and local prerogatives, and in this case, perhaps, a slippery slope to national standards.

Talk about paranoid! You’d think the federal government was — let’s see — requiring every school in the country to raise the achievement of every student to a miraculous level of “proficiency” in six years. Or vowing to pay 40 percent of the cost of educating special education students without anteing up the money. Or requiring states and districts to set up vast testing infrastructures without helping to fund them. Or demanding that all teachers, from Altoona to Albuquerque, be “highly qualified “by ….

Oh.

Maybe they’re not so paranoid after all. Because, after flying home to chilly Reagan National last night after four days at NSBA’s National Conference, I had the distinct impression that — its marvelous cherry trees notwithstanding — Washington’s not too popular with school board members right now.

The good news is that changes will surely be made to NCLB’s rigid accountability system and to other aspects of the law once it is reauthorized. The bad news: With all the tumult of the presidential elections, that might not happen until 2009 or even 2010.

In the meantime, many districts are finding themselves in what one Florida board member dubbed a “perfect storm” of dwindling local and state funds, burgeoning numbers of low-income and ELL students, and increasingly stringent federal demands.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|April 1st, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|
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