Articles from May, 2008

A time to suspend NCLB’s sanctions?

Idaho’s State Board of Education has asked the U.S. Department of Education to allow the state to restart the NCLB sanctions timeline because student achievement was measured with “an invalid and unreliable tool,” said Mike Rush, state board executive director, in this article in the Idaho Statesman.

At issue is the state’s “poorly written education standards” and the misalignment between the statewide assessments and what teachers are expected to teach, the article said.

It is doubtful that the Department would give the state a fresh start for hundreds of public schools now facing sanctions under the law. Ironically, the feds actually approved Idaho’s standards and assessment system a couple of years ago, see here.

Regardless of whether Idaho will be successful in its request, the message here is clear: given Congress’ inaction to reauthorize and improve the law this year, something needs to happen to prevent NCLB’s misguided sanctions from wrongly ensnaring even more schools. If a committee bill is not ready later this year, NSBA believes it will be time for Congress to suspend the implementation of severe sanctions against schools until reauthorization is completed. And when might that be? Check out Eduwonk’s and Ed Week’s David Hoff’s forecasts.

Erin Walsh|May 30th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Senate gets it right, will the House?

Last week we previewed important pre-Memorial Day-recess votes in the Senate. The good news? The Senate by a wide margin approved H.R. 2642, the supplemental appropriations bill, with 2 crucial pro-education provisions supported by NSBA included: $400 million in additional funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, and an extension of the current moratorium to allow districts to receive school-based Medicaid reimbursement. The inclusion of these important domestic issues was by no means a sure thing and is testament to the outreach of local board members and other public school supporters.

Additional details on those programs are available in NSBA’s Advocacy Office Weekly Highlights.

When Congress returns next week, the House is expected to vote on the supplemental. NSBA is urging that those two provisions remain in the bill.

Erin Walsh|May 30th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Energy drinks and teens

I guess you could say I’m a health nut. After years of regularly sipping lattes, cappuccinos, and café au laits (I grew up in the Seattle-area after all), I eliminated my caffeine consumption a few years back, relying on good old-fashioned sleep and exercise for my morning rush.

I must admit, however, that sleep and exercise can be hard commodities to come by, especially during business trips and busy work weeks. So, every once in awhile, I’ve chugged an energy drink to get the body and the mind moving … and boy do they work!

Too well, it seems, particularly for the growing number of teens who have become hooked on the powerful surge they get after downing highly-caffeinated energy drinks, like Red Bull, Full Throttle, and Amp.

In March, four Florida middle school students were rushed to the ER after drinking an energy drink and experiencing sweating and heart palpitations. Last year, a Colorado principal banned the beverages, after a handful of high school students got sick after shooting the drink.

And earlier this year, a study published in The Journal of American College Health, suggested that regular consumption of these super-caffeinated drinks among athletes could be linked to risk-taking behavior like substance abuse, unprotected sex, and aggression. About a third of 12- to 24-year-olds profess to drinking energy drinks on a regular basis.

I’m not a frequent consumer of energy drinks, hence the only risky behavior I ever engage in is maybe burning the midnight oil to meet a deadline or competing in a race on minimal sleep. Energy in a can certainly has its time and place in my life, but maybe for teens and younger kids, it should have no time or place just yet.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|May 30th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Wellness|

NASA MMO to enhance STEM learning?

BoardBuzz loves a good acronym (or three) on fridays. And so does NASA apparently:

The NASA Learning Technologies (LT) project supports the development of projects that deliver NASA content through innovative applications of technologies to enhance education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Research and development are at the core of the LT mission. LT seeks to enhance formal and informal education in STEM fields with the goal of increasing the number of students in those fields of study and is currently investigating the development of a NASA-based massively multiplayer online educational game (MMO).

What does this all really mean?

NASA expects that such a massive multiplayer online game will enhance STEM education efforts and, through virtual career exploration in game play, help empower students to make educational choices that will take them into STEM fields of study and eventually the STEM careers needed to support NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration. NASA Learning Technologies expects the game/environment to be challenging and engaging at the high school level and also have appeal for middle school and college students as well as a significant portion of the general public.

BoardBuzz is intrigued, but NASA still has a ways to go. The RFP process for interested developers is open until June 18.

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

Buzzing about the wee speller at the bee

BoardBuzz couldn’t “bee” more excited for Sriram Hathwar, age 8, the youngest speller to ever take the stage in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Hathwar’s correct spelling of “impervious” in a regional bee near Pointed Post, N.Y., was the winning ticket to the competition. And in the preliminary round of the national bee, he nailed the word “elicitation.”

Preparing for the national spelling bee requires years of dedication. An avid reader, writer, and speller from a young age, Hathwar’s preschool teacher’s often relied on him as their “spell checker.”

Hathwar soon became obsessed with words — playing Scrabble, constructing his own crossword puzzles and constantly asking his parents how to spell things he saw around him.

“When my dad would take me places, I’d read words on different [signs] and would start to write them out,” Hathwar said. “I got better and better at spelling them.”

Unfortunately, Hathwar did not score high enough on the written test to advance on to the bee’s quarterfinal’s round. However, with only 90 out of 288 spellers advancing, BoardBuzz thinks Hathwar deserves a pat on the back for his veritable propensity for spelling (and we can’t wait to see his verbal SAT score!). We know we’ll be seeing him again…

The Scripps National Spelling Bee quaterfinals are airing today from 2:00 to 5:30 p.m. Check the Web site for a schedule and more information. BoardBuzz also challenges you to take their online test to see how you would fare in the bee. Let us know how you do!

Erin Walsh|May 29th, 2008|Categories: Announcements, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Rising fuel prices = District budget cutting strategies

Individuals and families aren’t the only ones changing their transportation routines as the price at the pump continues rising. School districts, too, are grappling with the issue, especially rural districts where buses may easily cover 100 miles a day (or more).

National media is taking note as some districts are even altering their schedule, shifting to four-day weeks to save on fuel and energy costs. As the ABCNews.com story notes, the four-day schedule, while not common, has its roots in the oil crisis of the 1970s.

From what BoardBuzz has gathered, districts are attempting to avoid significant cuts to instructional programs or staffing when possible, and instead are taking less draconian measures such as limiting field trips to closer locations, rescheduling extracurricular or athletic events to limit long distance travel, asking parents to drive students to those events, and combining bus routes.

What is your school district doing to combat the rising prices? Our comment line is open.

Erin Walsh|May 29th, 2008|Categories: Educational Finance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

School spying tactics should be shaken, not stirred

“The name is Bond, James Bond. And I’m your new principal.”

Sounds like a bad movie, doesn’t it? Still, this is the 21st century, and anything is possible. For instance, there are a lot of people in the education world who appear to be giving Mr. Bond a run for his money.

That’s particularly true in Britain, the home of the world’s most famous fictional superspy. Here, where the government has spent nearly half a billion dollars putting surveillance cameras on every street corner, there’s a move to use James Bond-style gadgets to stop cheating on high-stakes tests.

So reports the Telegraph News. Exams, it says, have been “tagged with radio transmitters and microscopic identification to ensure they reach the right school.” There also are plans to add high-tech locks to exam shipping boxes, which school personnel could open only with secret codes transmitted from mobile phones.

No word yet if exams will self-destruct five seconds after grading.

More personal spying tactics also are being used across the Pond. One local government council near the southern coast of Britain, okayed spying on a family suspected of lying about their place of residence in order to get their child into a popular school. The News reported spies even observed the family home at night and took “copious” notes of the movements of family members who were referred to as “targets” as they were followed.

Officials justified their actions as allowed by the country’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, passed by Parliament to allow law enforcement agencies to fight organized crime and terrorism. After all, you can’t be too careful about those pesky 3-year-olds.

Will we soon see similar stories pop up in the U.S.? We have already. Indeed, my favorite is a decade-old one from the New York Times, involving a diligent California school official who staked out a biology room window and relied on a shoulder-held video camera with a zoom lens in hopes of catching the wayward souls dropping cigarette butts on the school baseball field.

Wait for it: Spying 101, the latest college course prerequisite for aspiring educators.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|May 29th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Security|

Hope for the battle against childhood obesity

BoardBuzz’s concern with childhood obesity was rewarded with promising news from an Associated Press article found via MSNBC.com here.

The article informs us that the percentage of children in the United States who are overweight or obese seems to have leveled off for the first time after a 25-year increase. BoardBuzz is happy to hear this encouraging news!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, levels of obesity have been steadily rising in American children since 1980.

While BoardBuzz is pleased that percentages have not increased since 2004, we know that a lot still needs to be done in the battle against childhood obesity. Our own Brenda Greene, director of NSBA’s School Health programs, weighed in, saying, “This is very exciting news and shows that actions by school leaders to change policies and practices can make a difference. But more needs to happen to change the school, community and home environments to continue shifting the direction of the epidemic of childhood obesity.”

And she’s not the only one who thinks so. According to the article, Dr. Reginald Washington, a children’s heart specialist in Denver and member of an American Academy of Pediatrics obesity committee, agrees, saying, “the country should be congratulated” if the rates have in fact peaked.

“There are a lot of people trying to do good things to try to stem the tide,” Washington said. Some schools are providing better meals and increasing physical education, and Americans in general “are more aware of the importance of fruits and vegetables,” he said.

On the other hand, he noted that he recently treated an obese young patient “who in three days did not have a single piece of fresh fruit.

“We still have a long ways to go,” he said.

BoardBuzz also recommends visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, where they have tips and ideas that parents can use in helping to prevent obesity in their children. They have a lot of great and useful information!

Erin Walsh|May 29th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Wellness|

Incentives have their benefits . . . we think

Ahhh to be in school again. BoardBuzz would have loved to receive gifts for being a good student. There were no such rewards back in BoardBuzz’s day, but many of today’s students are much luckier. There are a growing number of schools that are providing cash, MP3 players, and other gifts to students for such things as displaying good behavior, completing assignments, and performing well on tests. Incentives for learning are not new — in fact, BoardBuzz has covered this topic before, here, here, and here.

According to preliminary results from a Stanford University study, these incentives have led to an increase in student reading scores. But what is not known is the whether students will continue to improve when the incentives are taken away. It’s great that incentives increase student achievement but there is something to said for instilling in students the love of learning and the curiosity that comes with it. But time will only tell if increasing student achievement will come at the expense of love of learning.

As with many decisions school board members across the country have to make there is no clear cut answer on whether to provide incentives or not. BoardBuzz would be interested in hearing whether incentives are used in schools in your district. If so, how have they changed teaching and learning? Also, how do you feel about providing incentives for student performance?

Erin Walsh|May 28th, 2008|Categories: Curriculum, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Present and accounted for

Coming to school has its benefits. Aside from being enriched by education, apparently you can also earn a car. At least that’s what happened to Michigan’s Andria Baker. According to this article that BoardBuzz came across via AOL.com, Baker’s father promised her a car for perfect attendance.

What’s remarkable is that it wasn’t just perfect attendance for one year, or even her entire high school career — no, Baker never missed a day of school in her life!

At a party Sunday, her father, Tim, presented the young woman with the keys to a new, $17,000 Pontiac G6, complete with a “0 DAYS” personalized license plate.

“Without a doubt, it was worth every penny I spent,” he said.

The look on his daughter’s face when she saw the car was priceless, Tim Baker said.

“When she turned around after seeing the car, she did not know what to do,” he said. “We got her into the car and she just sat there. Then she ran into the house to get her driver’s license, and she and her best friend got in the car and tooled down the road.”

Andria Baker, 19, said she probably would have gone ahead with her quest for perfect attendance even if a new car had not been promised.

“A lot of my friends thought I was crazy, but I just kept going,” she said.

So . . . BoardBuzz wonders, how many days of school did you miss over your 13-year career?

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