Articles from July, 2008

Finding your center

How would you finish this sentence?:

“If I ran the world … ”

Too difficult? How about this one: “If I ran the school district …”

Or, maybe: “If I chose the curriculum…”

Or: “If I could just run the school … ”

I’ve been an editor here at ASBJ for 11 years, and in that time I’ve naturally formed some rather strong opinions about how to achieve what’s become known, broadly, as school reform. I’m sure others who write about education — and those of you who work in the field — have made similar observations and judgments.

So where do I stand on issues as diverse as technology, standardized testing, portfolio assessment, teaching the Bible, sex education, bilingual education, and a basic core curriculum versus a more expansive one?

Well, in the center, of course. And just who defines “the center?” I do, silly!

You see the problem here, and it was not lost on me when I did research for ASBJ’s August cover story: Taking Risks for Reform: The Difference Between Success and Failure in Education Reform.

We all tend to think that our ideas are the right ones, the rational ones, the most reasonable. Trouble is, those with vastly differing views probably think their ideas are pretty rational too. Which means there is conflict. Which means we must compromise.

In the article, I quote Michael Fullan, of the University of Toronto, who says in The New Meaning of Educational Change that it is critical to develop “shared meaning” among groups and individuals for educational reform to have any chance of success. Even rationality — however one defines it — is not enough.

“Forceful argument and even the power to make decisions do not at all address questions related to the process of implementation,” Fullan writes. “The fallacy of rationalism is the assumption that the social world can be altered by seemingly logical argument. The problem, as George Bernard Shaw observed, is that ‘reformers have the idea that change can be achieved by brute sanity.’”

As you know, school reform doesn’t happen in a laboratory but in a complex social environment where myriad ideas, opinions, hopes, and prejudices influence the course of events and help determine whether reforms succeed or fail.

Accompanying my article are stories from four districts from around the country that are dealing with these competing interests as they seek to improve education for all. Tell me what you think of these efforts and of your own experiences with school reform as well.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|July 29th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Governance|

Happy Birthday, MSBA!

But which one? Maine? Minnesota? Mississippi? Or Missouri? For the answer, and for a great overview of everything this 50-year-old powerhouse is doing, check out this nice profile.

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

The Commons

USA Today reports:

A collaboration between the Library of Congress and the Internet photo-sharing community Flickr is giving photography enthusiasts a chance to play history detective.

On January 16 2008, the Library of Congress teamed up with an unlikely partner, Flickr. Thus launched The Commons project. The Library has an enormous photo catalogue, containing over a million photos, but lacks any truly genuine means of classifying them. Thats’ where Flickr steps in. Flickr is a community or social network based on combining visual and word data. A tremendous amount of work by its members has yielded something greater than the sum of its parts: an organic information system of descriptive words and phrases.

The Commons has created a mash-up of the Flickr community and Library of Congress photo catalogues in order to achieve two purposes:

  1. To increase exposure to public photo collections, and
  2. To provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge.

What this really means is that people looking at photos can feed back into the catalogues, making them richer, better classified, and easier to search. So USA Today is serious when they say people can play detective. This all relates to how you can get involved. The best way is to add a tag or two to the photos you see, and if you happen to know anything else about the subject, by all means add a comment. If something piques your interest, you can even do a bit of sleuthing to find out more. Just make sure to share what you learn!

Erin Walsh|July 28th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Taking aim at the lending industry

Here’s a modern day David and Goliath tale. San Diego’s city attorney is taking a stand against the lending institutions that are partly to blame for a housing market that has gone haywire across the country, but particularly in Nevada, Florida, and California.

San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre has aimed his legal sights on Bank of America, which purchased the troubled mortgage lender Countrywide last month, as it was being sued by California Attorney General Jerry Brown for misleading and misinforming borrowers about the intricacies of interest-only, adjustable rate, and other subprime loans.

Aguirre’s lawsuit, which he filed on Wednesday, is attempting to halt home foreclosures in the area, which so far this year have totaled 20,000 in San Diego County, with financial analysts speculating that number could double by the end of the year.

“We would like to see San Diego become a foreclosure sanctuary,” Aguirre said at news conference on Wednesday.

It’s a mighty effort, to be sure, and one that in the short-term could benefit the county’s nearly four dozen school districts whose budgets rely heavily on property taxes, and in the long-term have an impact on other school systems with law enforcement agencies that follow suit.

But Aguirre’s suit, which he plans to expand to Washington Mutual, Wachovia, and Wells Fargo, seems like a long shot. If someone had an answer on how to stop the housing market from continuing to slip even further, I’m sure they would’ve come forward by now.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|July 28th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

Mark your calendars now!

NSBA has planning for its 2009 Annual Conference in San Diego, California underway, and BoardBuzz was happy to check in to see what is in store so far.

Registration will open September 15, 2008, so remember to mark your calendar so you don’t miss out. BoardBuzz was especially excited to hear that renowned actress and best-selling author Julie Andrews will address attendees as a general session speaker on Monday, April 6, 2009. We can’t wait!

Remember to keep checking the conference Web site for the most up-to-date information on attending, speakers, pre-conference workshops and more…. There is more great stuff to come!

Erin Walsh|July 25th, 2008|Categories: Announcements, Conferences and Events, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

Technology rears its head yet again

Technology has opened avenues of communication for teachers with both parents and students—from the online grade tracking systems that parents appreciate and children detest, to e-mail submission of homework. But recently some school districts think that these technological advances have allowed teacher-student communications to go too far. An ABC News article reported that two Mississippi districts have banned teacher-student communication through text messages and social networking sites. The ban follows several scandals where teachers sent inappropriate messages to students.

The Lamar school district policy attempts to draw a line between using the Internet for informal socialization and for educational purposes. The policy does not ban all online communication. The school district specifically encourages teachers and students to use the technology and methods of communication that the district already has in place. It also does not prevent teachers or students from using social networking sites—they just cannot use them to communicate with each other.

“The policy is always playing catch-up to the technology, and that’s what’s happening with these schools,” said National School Board Association (NSBA) senior staff attorney Tom Hutton. “They’re relatively new policies because the use of these kinds of platforms for educational purposes is relatively new; you want to encourage the use of technology, but how do you make sure you’re protecting children against some of the potential downsides?”

For a generation that communicates so heavily through cell phones and the Internet, restricting any of those means of communication may make a student less likely to communicate with a teacher. Teachers may find it frustrating that they are unable to reach their students through the methods their students are most inclined to use. At the same time, there is something to be said for placing limits on the teacher-student relationship; just because the technology is available to do so does not mean that a teacher needs to be available to students 24 hours a day—even for harmless questions about homework.

For more information about the habits of teens and ‘tweens online, check out NSBA’s study Creating and Connecting.

Erin Walsh|July 25th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Incentives for education

InnoCentive, as I learned from a recent New York Times article, is a company that has found a niche; connecting companies and organizations with problems to creative individuals who can offer solutions. The incentive is money. Monetary rewards for the one idea that actually works.

This idea, by the way, of offering up cash prizes to the clever person who can fix a thorny issue, is nothing new— though today, the call for help has incorporated the advantages of technology, by sending the call out to just about anyone in the public, regardless of field, background, and education. Truly, solutions can come from the most unlikely of places. InnoCentive calls it Open Innovation.

I wondered; could it work for schools? Now, the education system, I know, is based on a collaborative structure that is supposed to encourage working together to find and share new ideas. But if large, global corporations with impressive R & D operations are willing to look outside its lab walls for help couldn’t public schools do that, too?

For the record, the problems posited on InnoCentive’s website are mostly science and business-related, though there are calls for help on broader issues like how to improve American healthcare and help people make long-term lifestyle changes. Who knows, perhaps the reason no education problems are on the site is because no one has posed them to a wider audience yet.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

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

Drumroll please

BoardBuzz would like to give a round of applause to those who realize how important music and the arts are to our nation’s students. Thanks to The New York Times, we were happy to learn about a summer camp hosted by the well-known Marching 100 marching band at Florida A&M University.

About 450 students from across the United States and around the world, many who receive scholarships to attend, have spent eight days learning songs, beats and formation styles from the revolutionary band. Days are long, the sun is hot, but these students don’t stop playing, even as the insects buzz around them.

While many music programs across the country have been cut to add in double periods of NCLB’s concentrated math and reading courses, these young instrumentalists have the opportunity to spend the week embracing their musical interests and talents. Each is expected to learn two routines and to perform with either a symphonic, chamber or jazz ensemble.

BoardBuzz might not have any musical talents to showcase, but we are proud of this opportunity that Florida A&M has provided and hopes that their stories and music will inspire more of our nation’s kids to pick up an instrument!

Erin Walsh|July 24th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

It’s good to be a teen!

BoardBuzz came across this interesting article in USA Today about whether kids are better off today than their parents were at their age. The article is based on a report released this week by the Foundation for Child Development. The Foundation created the Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI) that tracks 28 key quality of life indicators of teenagers over the past 31 years.

BoardBuzz was happy to hear that:
• Overall teenagers are better off today than they were nearly 30 years ago.
• They are less likely to participate in risky behaviors like smoking, binge drinking, and using drugs.
• Teenage girls are much less likely to become pregnant.

However, BoardBuzz was dismayed to hear that:
• Teenagers today are more likely to live in poverty.
• They are almost three times more likely to be obese than just a generation ago.
• Teen pregnancies rates are starting to rise.

The report got BoardBuzz thinking about how such an index could apply to education. Unlike schools that are typically judged on one indicator—test scores—this report evaluates the quality of our children’s lives using a variety of indicators like poverty rates, teen pregnancy rates, and drug and alcohol abuse to gain a broad picture of the quality of our children’s lives. So BoardBuzz asked itself why aren’t schools evaluated in such a fashion? Wouldn’t our children be better off if their schools were evaluated not just on math and reading scores but along with other indicators of school success as well, such as whether they provide a safe learning environment, prepare students for college and the workforce, and prepare students to be good citizens.

Our own Center for Public Education provides a list of good indicators for successful schools in their Good Measures for Good Schools tool. There you can find 28 measures of school success and how they should be used and maybe, most important, how they shouldn’t be used. BoardBuzz recommends you check it out so you can look beyond your schools’ test scores to determine for yourself the true quality of your local schools.

Erin Walsh|July 24th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Gettin’ students sweatin’ to the oldies

BoardBuzz has talked about student fitness many times before. And now one of our old friends is taking student fitness to Washington, D.C. And that’s great news, especially in light of recent reports about student physical activity declining with age.

Fitness guru Richard Simmons is going before Congress tomorrow to urge them to keep physical education at the forefront of education. USA Today and the Washington Post are both covering his crusade (here and here, respectively). And it turns out that Simmons is hosting a rally immediately following his appearance on the hill. The Post tells us,

That’s right, Richard Simmons, who turned 60 this month and whose “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” video is about to turn 20, is slated to testify Thursday before the House Education and Labor Committee about expanding physical education in public schools to combat childhood obesity.

And while he still has his loud helium balloon-like voice and big hair, unfortunately, Simmons is hinting he won’t be wearing his signature short shorts and tank top at the hearing.

“When I stand in front of Congress to testify I will speak from my heart but I will look like and talk like a Congressman,” Simmons told the Sleuth. “That’s right,” he added, “no dolphin shorts and tank top.”

But keep hope alive. Maybe Simmons will be sporting short shorts and a tank top underneath his congressman costume, which surely he’ll have to remove for the “pro-PE” rally he plans to lead immediately after the child obesity hearing.

Sounds like Richard’s got a plan to get students out of their seats and in shape!

Erin Walsh|July 23rd, 2008|Categories: Curriculum, Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Wellness|
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