Articles from July, 2008

School board members make their mark on housing bill

Yesterday morning, the President signed the Home Mortgage Aid Bill (H.R. 3221) into law. After carefully reading the 694-page bill (and missing a few of our scheduled 40 winks), BoardBuzz is happy to report that the final bill, passed by the Senate on Saturday morning (July 26), did not include a previous provision that would have been harmful for school districts and local education funding.

The original bill introduced in the Senate included a provision in Section 604 that said if a local government raised property taxes between April 2008 and January 2009, taxpayers would have been restricted from claiming the standard tax deduction on their federal income tax returns. This provision would have limited the local and state authority over property taxes and created a number of serious problems for homeowners, as well as local governing authorities.

In this era of falling property assessments, school districts that need to raise property tax rates simply to maintain services would have incurred the ire of local homeowners who would lose this new one time opportunity to obtain a tax deduction. And, homeowners would more than likely vote “no” to increase taxes for local school budgets in communities that make these decisions by local referenda.

Beginning in April, school board members across the country began contacting their members to Congress to let them know just how many problems Section 604 would have created for their district. It would have angered many homeowners, and the provision would have left it to local governing officials (including school board members) to deal with them. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of school board members across the country, the House removed the problematic language from the bill, and the Senate approved the amended version.

BoardBuzz couldn’t be more pleased to witness democracy in action! This is a great example of the difference that local school board members can make to change federal legislation. Members of Congress will recess August 4 through September 5 to spend some time their home states. This is a great time for school board members to set up meetings with them to talk about the needs of their school district and what legislation needs them to pass before they adjourn in the fall. Want to learn more about pressing issues? Click here for an online toolkit with background information and talking points.

Are you inspired by this story, or do you have a similar story of your own? BoardBuzz wants to hear about it! Post a comment and tell us about it.

Erin Walsh|July 31st, 2008|Categories: Announcements, Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

A little bit greener

Green with envy? That’s not quite the reason behind schools deciding to go green. USA Today reports that more and more schools are looking at how eco-friendliness can help them save money, when pennies are getting tighter.

Though initially green schools cost more to build, (1-2 percent more), they offer the possibility of lower utilities for relief from increasingly high energy bills, and it appears that the higher up-front costs have better long term effects.

A school district that might have been thinking ‘I can’t afford to build a green school’ is now saying ‘I can’t afford not to’,” said Rachel Gutter, schools sector manager for the U.S. Green Building Council which certifies school construction projects based on environmental criteria.

Some green practices include reducing water usage, wind-power usage, and not using the lights when substantial sunlight comes through the windows.

Cost isn’t the only benefit. Green schools help to instill in students a responsibility for the environment, usually encouraged by recycling programs. Some studies even say that student achievement and performance is better in greener schools.

With times tight all over the place, it makes sense that schools are finding beneficial ways to save money and want to know more about other students and teachers experiences in green schools. Has your school district made any efforts to go green? Tell us about it.

Erin Walsh|July 31st, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Student Achievement, Teachers, Wellness|

Happy birthday to us

The Leading Source is one year old today. We, the editors of ASBJ, couldn’t be prouder. When I wrote the first entry last summer, none of us knew where this blog would take us.

Over the past year, we’ve written about nearly every topic of concern to educators and school leaders: achievement, school finance, student health, No Child Left Behind, bullying, technology, school security, and many, many more.

We’ve found that the blog allows us to write about the things that didn’t make it in to our ASBJ articles. We’re also able to talk about personal issues, something we’re not able to do in the print magazine. Each editor has developed his or her own “blog” voice. Those diversity of voices are the strength of The Leading Source.

Diversity is going to be a theme here in the upcoming weeks. The September issue of ASBJ focuses on how schools and communities are dealing with immigration and diversity issues around the country. We’ll be blogging about our stories and asking you to particpate in the discussion with us.

Happy birthday, The Leading Source! Let’s blow out the candles and cut the cake.

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

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

Satire or misinformation?

More than one outraged parent, when angry with how their community schools are run, has spread rumors designed to cause grief to school officials.

But New York City parent Gary Babad has taken his dissent with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s oversight of the schools to a more high-tech—and troublesome—level. He writes satirical news reports for a blog aimed at NYC parents, and on more than one occasion, he’s convinced people to complain about issues that don’t actually exist.

These fictional reports—which Mr. Babad told the New York Times was “a kind of therapy and my form of quiet dissent”—has proven a minor headache for school officials.

Last fall, a member of a community education council complained to school officials over news Blackwater Worldwide—the military and security training firm that garnered some controversy for its work in Iraq—would be taking over security for the NYC schools.

Then there was the Columbia University student who called with questions about a military plan to recruit teachers “who had been removed from the classroom and placed in so-called rubber rooms, where they are paid but do not teach until their cases are resolved.”

As the July 30 Times article makes clear, some of Babad’s parodies are pretty obvious. One of his first took aim at a consulting firm that he believed had fouled up school bus routes. He announced the firm would take over reconstruction plans in Iraq, with the logic that “if you can’t beat the insurgents militarily, we’ll cut off their transportation and starve them out.

Kinda funny, really. But I wouldn’t say that aloud around any NYC school officials, one of whom the Times reported “had nothing to add about Mr. Babad’s hobby.”

Nothing to add publicly, you mean.

Still, let’s hope this is a “hobby” that doesn’t gain adherents elsewhere. There’s already plenty of misinformation and rumor mongering online.

By the way, did you hear that the CIA is performing experiments on kindergarten kids in . . . .?

Del Stover, Senior Editor

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

Jump on in

BoardBuzz has always been on the lookout to see how students are staying active and what opportunities schools offer for physical education. We covered before the upcoming skateboarding trend, but now it looks like another unique sport is hitting some schools… Double Dutch!

The New York Times reported that next spring some New York City schools will be adding the well-known jumping rope game to their list of varsity sports. The ultimate goal is to get more students participating in competitive sports, and the long-standing jump-roping activity seemed like a great addition.

“As an urban district, we need to be creative in an urban kind of way, and double dutch does that for us,” said Eric Goldstein, who oversees the Public Schools Athletic League, the governing body for the city’s interscholastic sports. “If you see people doing it, it looks hard and it is hard.”

Kyra D. Gaunt, who wrote “The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop” (N.Y.U. Press, 2006), said that recognizing double dutch as a sport not only taps into something that many children are passionate about, but also gives a nod to the influence of black culture. “They’re helping to regenerate a tradition in the black community and legitimize it in the eyes of a lot of parents,” she said.

Double Dutch has been played in neighborhoods and on playgrounds for years intramurally. School district officials plan to develop standard rules and scoring guidelines so that students can compete interscholastically. Besides spinning the ropes and learning jumping tricks, these students will spend time running and lifting weights to build muscles.

It seems like school communities are excited to start, and the city plans to start co-ed teams at ten high schools. BoardBuzz wishes them luck for their first seasons next spring, and can’t wait to hear how it ends up!

Erin Walsh|July 31st, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Workin’ it a new way

In the immortal words of Bobby Brady, “Mom always says, don’t play ball in the house.” C’mon, admit it — your mom said it too. Ah, but times they are a-changin’. That’s right. Now kids can play virtual ball right in the comfort of their living rooms! And not just ball, but they can box (don’t hit your sister!), play tennis, and even do coordinated dance moves. BoardBuzz can hear our mother now . . .

According to an article in USA Today, exercise video games really do get kids’ heart rates pumping.

New research shows that exercise video games such as Wii Sports and Dance Dance Revolution boost children’s activity levels significantly.

The Wii system, made by Nintendo, is controlled by a wireless remote that translates movements to its “Mii” caricature on screen. In Dance Dance Revolution, from video game maker Konami, players use their feet to hit arrows on the game’s dance mat, matching their own steps with arrows set in time to music on screen.

One study, from the University of Nebraska, measured the heart rate and oxygen consumption of kids playing Wii Boxing, Wii Tennis, DDR and a sedentary auto racing game for 15 minutes each. Another study, based in the Netherlands, monitored the oxygen consumption of children playing six popular exergames, including DDR and Wii Tennis, for five minutes each.

Both studies, presented to members of the American College of Sports Medicine, found engaging in exergames had positive effects.

The Nebraska research showed active video gaming requires more than twice as much energy as traditional video gaming. In the Netherlands study, several of these games raised children’s activity levels enough to meet health guidelines for a moderate-intensity activity.

Some schools are adding video games to their programs. West Virginia plans to place Dance Dance Revolution in all public schools by the end of the 2008-2009 school year.

BoardBuzz is always happy to see another way to get kids fit and healthy. But experts caution that these games are no substitute for traditional play, like tag and bike riding. So, while these games may be relief for kids as temperatures soar outside, they should still get out (early, not during peak sun hours) for some good old fashioned games. And remember, no running in the house!

Erin Walsh|July 31st, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Back to school slump

We hate to be the (continued) bearers of bad news, but as BoardBuzz has told you before pennies are tight all over the place. And now USA Today is telling us (so really, they’re the bearers of the bad news, not us) that back-to-school shopping is strapping folks as well.

There will be fewer new backpacks. Fewer mall trips. Fewer electronics. Some are cutting back even on basic school supplies such as pencils, pens and paper.

USA TODAY looked closely at the back-to-school shopping plans of 10 families and found one clear common thread: They are trying to be creative in finding ways to cut back-to-school costs. Such as having kids try on all of last year’s duds before shopping, tracking down used textbooks and taking needle and thread to the holes in last year’s backpacks.

Maybe it’s the back-to-school from hell. It certainly is shaping up as one filled with shopping negotiations between parents and kids. But it’s also dotted with cleverly calculated savings steps, some of which may stick around after the economic knot loosens.

What’s most interesting to BoardBuzz is that, like school districts, now parents are doing their level best to find creative ways to manage their budgets. Looks like lean times all around. And retailers are responding in kind.

It’s why Staples tried to lure consumers in this month by selling pencils for a penny and protractors for a nickel. “Consumers are telling us, more than anything they want value,” says John Mahoney, chief financial officer.

At American Eagle Outfitters, some $29.50 fashion T-shirts now are less than $20. The chain hopes the message to shoppers is, “When you get to the store, steal this,” says Henry Stafford, merchandising chief.

Many purchases will be the result of spirited family horse-trading.

“When I speak with kids, they keep talking about negotiating with their parents,” Marshal Cohen says. “If they get one pair of designer jeans at the mall, they’re willing to get everything else at Target.”

Check out the article for more information and tips from USA Today readers for saving money on much needed back-to-school supplies.

Erin Walsh|July 30th, 2008|Categories: Educational Finance, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Can you go home again?

A few months ago, a writing assignment jogged a memory of my (gulp) middle school career. It’s been more than 20 years since I set foot in McMurray Middle School in Nashville, Tenn., and I can’t say I’ve really thought about the place since I spent my seventh- and eighth-grade years there.

I do remember that the vast majority of students were white (the rest were African American), usually from middle-class families. Most of the teachers already had spent years in the classroom, and the surrounding 1950s-era suburbs were modest and considered safe. All in all, it was a rather unremarkable place.

My curiosity piqued, though, I Googled McMurray. And assuming the data and news clips I found are accurate, things have certainly changed.

It’s now a Title I school, grades five to eight instead of seven and eight (Nashville’s court-ordered desegregation plan had resulted in some unorthodox grade configurations in the 1980s). Now, only about 30 percent of its student population is white, another 40 percent is Hispanic and a quarter is African-American. Eighty percent receive free and reduced-price lunches. More than 30 languages are spoken and the school occasionally holds diversity day celebrations.

Thanks to the reporting requirements of No Child Left Behind, I can tell that students’ test scores are quite a bit below state averages, particularly in the subgroups, and the school missed AYP for several years. Just this week, though, the Nashville district announced that the school had been moved from the “high priority” to the “good standing” category under NCLB.

In the mid-1980s, the only reported assessment we had was that it was a “good” school, from the neighbors who sent their kids there.

When the ASBJ editors began discussing the need for a series on diversity and the changing demographics of schools across the country, I knew I wanted to go to the South and visit a suburban secondary school. I chose a high school in suburban Atlanta, which has seen an amazing influx of students from all points of the world. Look for our package of stories in the September issue of ASBJ.

And one of these days, I hope to drop by McMurray to see firsthand all its changes.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|July 30th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Governance, Student Achievement|

Tech tock

That’s right, time is flying by and NSBA’s annual T+L Conference will be here before you know it! This year’s conference, which will be held from October 28-30 in Seattle, will highlight the latest and greatest in 21st century learning.

Registration and housing are now open, as is the T+L blog. A perennial favorite, the blog offers up-to-the-minute information about what’s going on pre-conference, and attendee perspective during and after the conference.

To register or for more information on preconference sessions, keynote speakers, and field trips, check out the conference Web site today! And new this year, you can “find us on Facebook!”

Erin Walsh|July 30th, 2008|Categories: Announcements, Conferences and Events, Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Teachers|

A fresh coat of paint…

That’s not all the schools of the Independence School District in Kansas got this past weekend. BoardBuzz checked out The Kansas City Star to learn more about the makeover that members of the community gave to the district’s 180 classrooms, hallways, libraries, cafeterias, and more.

The idea was modeled after ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and the goal was to get the classrooms ready for the start of school on August 18. More than 2,000 volunteers from or connected to the community spent two days giving the schools a new look. With everyone working together to get the job done, tasks included everything from washing windows, painting walls, and dusting library books.

The school district enlisted the work of a marketing agency to coordinate the big event, but much of the success is due to the grassroots efforts of the community organizers. Current students, retired teachers, and school alumni all came back to help.

BoardBuzz was impressed with the district’s dedication and the community’s willingness to step up and grab a paintbrush with the simple goal of making schools better for their kids. Is your district up to any community projects? We’d love to hear about it.

Erin Walsh|July 29th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Student Achievement, Teachers|
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