Articles from September, 2008

What’s the impact of the financial crisis on schools?

That’s a question that Education Week will explore tomorrow, October 1st, in an online chat that includes John Musso, the executive director of the Assocation of School Business Officials International. You can submit questions in advance.

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

Congressional work beyond the bailout

It’s the bailout that wasn’t that is getting all the attention, but Congress actually has been working on other issues in what is believed to be the final days of the session, including passage of a continuing resolution to essentially keep most of the government operating at FY08 funding levels until a new administration and new Congress convenes. No commentary on that princely accomplishment is really needed, is it? You can find the details with NSBA’s Weekly Highlights.

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

Just 15 miles to go

Sometimes things are just beyond comprehension.

Every week, ASBJ receives two or three unsolicited manuscripts from administrators, board members, and university professors, among others. Some we publish in the magazine; others are now placed online in the “Bonus Articles” section of ASBJ.com.

Recently we received a manuscript from Stan Bippus, a retired administrator from Indiana, on “Developing and Maintaining a Unified Board.” The article wouldn’t fit with the mix we had planned for the magazine, and Stan agreed to let us post it online. He also told us that he would be hard to reach because he was embarking on a cross-country bicycle ride with his 29-year-old nephew, Jeremy Winkelman, who has cerebral palsy.

The two men took off from San Diego on Easter Sunday, planning to ride 3,100 miles from San Diego to Saint Augustine, Fla., in an attempt to show young people that they can overcome disabilities. After a couple of setbacks, which Bippus chronicled on Jeremy’s Blog, the two had just 15 miles to go when both were struck by a truck on Sept. 17.

Winkelman broke his collarbone in the accident. Bippus fared much worse, receiving seven broken ribs, a punctured lung, and other injuries. Fortunately, due to his conditioning, he survived, and the most recent blog posting says he is “off of the ventilator and is talking. … He still has a ways to go, but this is a good starting point.”

Read more about the accident here. Also, take a look at the comments, where you will see a mixture of good wishes for Bippus and his family and ignorant boobs who feel like they have to weigh in on everything.

Consider us in the former camp. We wish you well, and hope you will someday be able to finish your worthy journey.

Glenn Cook, Editor-in-Chief

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

Lukewarm on evolution

I still wince when I think of that biology class. The kids were bored, the teacher young and inexperienced. He kept asking them to define the word “adapt” as it pertained to the animal kingdom. One by one, he would call on students and ask the same question: “’Charles,’ what does it mean to adapt?” And ‘Charles’ — perhaps lifting his head briefly from his desk — would parrot the response of the student before him: “Um… to change?”

At the time, I thought how sad it was that the kids at this low-performing middle school, most of whom were minorities, were getting such lousy instruction. If you wanted a graphic example of how students who most need strong teaching so often get just the opposite, you could find it in this class.

But there was another problem, too. The textbook, as far as I could tell, was abysmal. It completely avoided any discussion of how animals adapt. (Apparently, they just do). And it didn’t mention the dreaded E-word: evolution.

The issue of textbook quality was very much in the news last week, if indirectly. Texas newspapers reported on a proposal before the state Board of Education to remove the long-standing requirement that students be exposed to the “weaknesses” of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The board’s vote is expected to be close. See more news coverage at School Board News Today.

If you’ve followed this issue at all, you know that this requirement has nothing to do with science and everything to do with religion. It’s an attempt to inject doubt into the minds of students concerning a fundamental principal of biology and open the way for discussion of creationism and intelligent design.

Textbook publishers pay attention to big markets like Texas. And if the Lone Star State is lukewarm on evolution, might some publishers decide it’s best to tread lightly on this “controversial” theory and its perceived “weaknesses”? After all, why risk your textbook being rejected with so much money at stake?

The result, I fear, could be more biology classes like the one I witnessed. And that would be sad, indeed.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 30th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance|

The power to change

Despite urgings from the Bush administration that a decision was needed before the markets opened Monday morning, Congress has yet to place its final seal of approval on the $700 billion bailout plan for Wall Street.

As fascinating (and infuriating) as this entire scene is, I’d like to direct your attention to another calamity in the making, replete with its own price tag: $2.2 trillion. That’s how much the U.S. will spend on health care this year, with that figure expected to double by 2015.

Health insurance has become the fastest growing expense for employers, and school districts are hardly exempt; school business officials named medical costs as their single biggest concern in a 2005 ASBO survey.

The reality is rampant health care costs have the potential to disrupt and alter American life as much, if not more than Wall Street has. By 2030, government officials predict 72 million Americans will be over the age of 65, about 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Americans currently are overweight. In other words, the costs will continue to escalate exponentially unless immediate steps are taken.

Fortunately, the power to effect change is within your grasp. Employee wellness programs are becoming a popular strategy of school systems to combat rising medical costs. From offering onsite health screenings to providing smoking cessation and weight loss programs, health promotion for staff members can take many forms.

A review of several published studies have pegged the return on investment for staff wellness programs at $3.48 to 1 in medical costs and $5.82 to 1 in reduced absenteeism, though many experts caution against expecting to see any health-care cost-reductions right from the start.

“Obviously, we want to see lowered costs, but that may take some time,” advises Ellen Essick, school employee wellness manager for the nonprofit Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “But if they are willing to stick with it, schools can expect to see fewer claims, less absenteeism, and fewer workers compensation. Not to mention, it’s becoming clearer and clearer if we want healthy students we have to have health and productive employees.”

To read more about this important issue, check out my story in this month’s American School Board Journal.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 29th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Wellness|

What can Brownsville do for You?

On Saturday night, the CUBE Annual Award for School Board Excellence was awarded to the Brownsville Independent School District in Brownsville, Texas.

At the CUBE Annual Conference, attendees gathered over the weekend to learn about 21st century skills and how urban districts need to react to the changing educational environment. Every fall, CUBE also gathers to learn the best practices among urban school districts and how the board provides leadership and guidance to their community.

Three finalists were announced in August—Omaha, Nebraska, Chula Vista, California, and Brownsville, Texas. All three demonstrated how the leaders of a district work together as a team, strive for excellence for their community, and focus on student achievement. While it may not get the coverage that the Emmys or the Oscars get, the CUBE Annual Award is a prestigious honor for urban school districts. Other winners from prior years include Boston, Norfolk, Hillsborough County (Tampa), Florida, Miami-Dade, and Houston. That’s pretty good company, especially as time goes on and we can examine the long term successes in these districts as they evolve. The competition was stiff for 2008. All three districts have overcome challenges while keeping their eyes on the student’s needs, first and foremost.

Every district faces challenges, regardless of size, location, and who’s in charge. Brownsville sits on the border of Texas and Mexico and their population is 98% Hispanic and 95% economically disadvantaged. With more than 48,000 students, they still make academic gains and find ways to educate ALL students using innovative strategies. The school board and superintendent work in concert to provide leadership for a community that wants the best for their families.

One of CUBE’s missions is to share information and celebrate the successes of urban boards and governance teams. Brownsville, Chula Vista, and Omaha will all be spotlighted in CUBE’s conferences, webinars, and publications in the coming year. All three were genuine and graceful in demonstrating how they’ve made big improvements in their districts. Take our word for it—the challenges of today are tomorrow’s success story. Just ask Brownsville.

Erin Walsh|September 29th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Keep a close eye on fraud

Good afternoon, faithful readers, although it hasn’t been such a good morning for me. I awoke to find someone had hacked into my account and purchased hundreds of dollars worth of iTunes gift cards in the middle of night. What a way to kick off the weekend!

While the incident is obviously very upsetting (and currently unsettled), I’m glad I discovered it so quickly. Logging into my bank account isn’t usually part of my morning routine, but I suppose the domino implosion of some of the country’s largest financial institutions that has me one edge. Did you hear another banking giant fell last night?

These are truly unprecedented times we are living in now and Congress and the government’s financial analysts are understandably confused, anxious, and split over the best way to proceed out of this monumental financial mess. I have very little confidence that anyone can say with full confidence, “if we apply these actions, things will go back to normal.”

I think we’re past that. I suspect the real answer is a larger, far more complex reform of the principles of our economic system, not unlike the overhaul our country’s educational system needs in order to see real change and equity. Will either be done? I don’t know.

One thing I do know and its good advice for you and me: keep a close eye on the books. You never know when someone is going to try to swindle you.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 26th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

Communities, the Web, and school board elections

BoardBuzz came across an impressive website about school boards by a group called the
Committee for Good School Governance in California’s Pajaro Valley Unified School District. This group has made endorsements in that district’s upcoming school board elections, but what got our attention was the detail their site features about the role of a school board and its members. As the site explains:

We have adopted the California School Board Association’s Professional Governance Standards for School Boards recommendations. We found the Association’s standards to contain the fundamental principles required in governing responsibly and effectively. Adding to the Association’s standards, the Committee has incorporated additional standards that will advance improvement in student learning and achievement. These additional standards largely include expectations for academic achievement goal setting, progress measurement compared with goals, and frequent improvement cycles to advance District progress.

Here’s another example, from a group that called itself Take Back Perry Schools and was organized around elections earlier this year in the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township in Indiana. We like that this one includes links to NSBA’s Key Work of School Boards, an article by Missouri School Boards’ Association executive director Carter Ward and former Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Arthur Griffin Jr. on five characteristics of an effective school board, and the Center for Public Education’s “All In Favor” brochure about the importance of school board elections and related resources for voters.

Committees that run slates of candidates can be controversial, and the Pajoranian Register reports that this is true of the Pajaro Valley one. Let’s be very clear here: BoardBuzz doesn’t know a thing about the candidates running in these races, these groups’ agendas, or the validity of their endorsements.

What we do want to applaud, though, is organized community efforts, using the power of the Internet, to give these vital contests more attention and—even more important—to direct voters’ attention to the principles of effective school governance. That’s something we’ve said before should be part of a community’s discussion at election time. It may not help much to immerse school board members in these principles if the people choosing who serves on the board base their voting decisions on entirely different considerations.

Some school board elections can be complicated, with lots of candidates and little help from news media unless there’s something sexy going on. Don’t expect reporters to spill a lot of ink on principles of good governance. But if communities do this on their own, that can only bode well for children.

Erin Walsh|September 26th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

Who wants to go to college? Almost all 8th graders do

Educators and parents who wring their hands wondering if their kids have goals other than becoming a video game-meister should do what the U.S. Department of Education has done—ask them. They’ll probably like what they hear. Nearly four out of five 8th graders (79%) said they expect to go to college after high school. Most of them (70%) expect to earn a B.A. or better. Plus, college-intending crosses all racial and income groups of kids—even our poorest middle schoolers say by large margins they expect to go to college. Only 16% of all 8th graders reported that they don’t know what they want to do.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been watching college-going trends. When BoardBuzz was hustling our way into college to the tune of “Staying Alive,” only half of our fellow high school grads were joining us. Since then, the number has risen dramatically, and now two-thirds of all grads are enrolling in college right after high school.

But there is another reality, too, and this one really warrants our collective hand-wringing: Despite their middle school dreams, according to the Center for Public Education, somewhere between 20% and 30% of our young people are not completing high school with a regular diploma. And without one, the way back into the education pipeline is incredibly difficult to navigate. It’s not impossible. But it has certainly been shown to be highly improbable.

What can we do? Fortunately there are many things that the Center tells us work to keep kids in school and on track to graduate. For one, educators and parents should be alert to early warning signs that students may be in danger of eventually dropping out. These include failing grades in English or math, poor attendance and other signs of being disengaged from the school culture. These students can really benefit from intensive interventions that address their academic and social needs. For another, we need to pay attention to the transition years when students leave one school for another. This in itself could really pay off for our 8th graders because even high-achieving students have been known to fall off the rails after entering high school.

Finally, we need to make sure students have a high-level curriculum. Yes, this seems counter-intuitive. But successful drop-out prevention programs like the Talent Development high schools and the so-called middle colleges like this one understand that young people rise to the occasion when the subject matter is relevant, rigorous, and can get them where they want to go. And for most of them, where they want to go is college.

Erin Walsh|September 26th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Follow me on Twitter

As a journalist, I’ve covered a lot of conferences. As an association employee, I’ve worked at a lot of conferences.

This week, I was afforded the luxury of participating in a conference. I just got home from Chicago, where I attended FOLIO, a conference for people who work in magazine publishing.

Social networking was the big talk of the conference. So was Twitter — a social networking site that allows you to send and receive updates. The publishing world seems to have embraced it whole-heartedly. I’ve joined this brave new world, too. So, if you want to follow me, go here . I promise to at least attempt to be informative!

Also, shameless plug here for the importance of professional development. Magazine publishing is changing quickly, and to remain viable in this market, every little advantage helps. As someone who’s been writing about and covering education for almost 20 years, I can say with authority that the same applies to education.

Going to conferences gives you invaluable information that you won’t get by staying home. The National School Boards Association holds a conference with professional development for school board members in April. Tough budget times? All the more important to go.

See you on Twitter.

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

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