Articles from December, 2008

Nothing improves without change

You probably haven’t noticed anything, but BoardBuzz has undergone some changes. We are now part of the open source movement! Yes, we’ve successfully transitioned our blogging platform to WordPress. What is WordPress you ask?

WordPress started in 2003 with a single bit of code to enhance the typography of everyday writing and with fewer users than you can count on your fingers and toes. Since then it has grown to be the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, used on hundreds of thousands of sites and seen by tens of millions of people every day.

Yes, WordPress is an Open Source project, which means people all over the world work on it. It also means you are free to use it for anything from your personal home page to your school district’s website with no licensing fees! BoardBuzz gives it two thumbs up! If you want to set up a blog today, check out WordPress.com.

Also, if you are still subscribed to our original feed we strongly recommend you add our Feedburner feed. Happy blogging!

Erin Walsh|December 5th, 2008|Categories: Educational Technology, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Child health indicators

BoardBuzz already knows that healthy children learn better.  And, that the higher an individual’s education is, the better the health of that person or of that person’s children will be.  A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supports that claim.  The report presents state-by-state data on two child health indicators—infant mortality and child general health status—and compares them with parental educational attainment and family income.  The results are striking, though not surprising:

  • Infant mortality rates in nearly every state were closely linked to the mother’s level of education—the higher the mother’s educational attainment, the lower the rate of infant mortality
  • Children’s general health status in EVERY state was linked to family income—the higher the household income, the better the child’s general health status

Sadly, even children of families with the highest incomes and mothers with college degrees were not as healthy as they could be when compared with national benchmarks established by the government. So what does all of this mean for schools?  By helping increase graduation rates and the number of youth who go to college, not only would schools help young women improve their educational attainment, but family incomes would also likely increase, thus laying the foundation for healthier, more ready-to-learn children and youth in the future.

However, in order to increase graduation rates, children need to be healthy.  A wide variety of health-related issues—asthma, nutrition, physical activity, and stress—contribute to factors like chronic absenteeism and poor behavior that affect a child’s ability to learn and achieve.  But schools can play an important role is contributing to efforts that address these issues through coordinated school health programs and the use of effective school health policies.

To learn more about school health policies and programs that can help kids stay in school, check out NSBA’s School Health Programs website and order our “Coordinated School Health Programs 101” Packet.

Daniela Espinosa|December 5th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Wellness|

Elementary school student writes the book of love

After so much doom and gloom in the news lately (the tragic Black Friday death in a Long Island Wal-Mart is still disturbing) my eyes were naturally drawn to a light-hearted story, this one about a nine-year-old boy who seems to have it all figured out in the dating department.

A fourth-grader at Soaring Hawk Elementary School in Castle Rock, Colo., Alec Greven decided to write about girls and how to attract them for a classroom writing assignment.  His surprisingly mature insights, which he gleaned from observations he made on the playground, so impressed his teacher that she showed it to the principal, who then offered copies for sale at the school’s book fair. It was the number one bestseller.

Word soon spread to the local media and then to Ellen DeGeneres, who booked the young boy on her show and introduced him to book publishing giant Harper Collins, which has turned the handwritten assignment into the 46-page colorful guide, “How to talk to girls.”

Among his tips: If you want to talk to a girl, go up to her casually and say, ‘hi,’ if she responds you’re off to a good start; try to avoid pretty girls, all they care about is their looks; If a girl ditches you, get over it. Life is hard, move on.

Sage advice that can apply at any stage in life. To hear more words of wisdom from this young dating expert watch this:

Naomi Dillon|December 5th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|

A Bailout for Schools?

Since we last wrote about the nation’s fiscal crisis and its impact on schools, the situation seems to have worsened. And with the Big 3 automakers back in Washington this week (forgoing their private jets this go-round), asking for more than $30 billion from the Feds, at least one school district thinks it has a case to make for federal assistance. “If those with golden parachute deals can get bailout money, I would hope there is some money left over for school children in the United States,” Dr. Todd Hoadley, superintendent of the Olmsted Falls City School District in Ohio said. The district has requested $100 million, including $50 million for school construction, from the $700 billion-plus bailout plan Congress passed this fall.

Last month, NSBA provided members of President-elect Barack Obama‘s transition team, and key Congressional offices, with a series of recommendations for federal fiscal assistance to school districts to mitigate the short-term and long-term pain of the recession on students and schools. These include immediate funding for school construction, which will also stimulate job creation in communities; a guarantee on outstanding bonds; and, advance refunding of bonds.

Ed Week continues some of the best ongoing coverage of how the financial crisis is impacting schools and states. State departments of education already faced questions of capacity in providing technical assistance and other support to schools and districts, particularly with No Child Left Behind’s flaws unresolved, and now, many departments are looking even more beleaguered, given the economy. South Carolina temporarily furloughed department employees to save jobs, while other state departments are shrinking through attrition and early retirements, Ed Week reports. Meanwhile, the state of Alabama came up short, temporarily anyway, in providing districts with funds to meet payroll for the second consecutive month.

Erin Walsh|December 5th, 2008|Categories: Educational Finance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Solving the missing textbook problem

Where exactly is the $124 million worth of textbooks purchased by the Philadelphia school system since 2004?

That question arose earlier this week in the Philadelphia Daily News, which reported that the Philly schools have spent a lot of money on textbooks—yet some classrooms report only “one set of books for five classes.”

“In my English 4 class, we had a grand total of two textbooks,” one senior high school student told a reporter. “There aren’t any underneath our desks; there are none on the shelves.”

Putting aside the educational implications, this turn of events is a public relations headache for schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. What’s more, the matter doesn’t bolster confidence that the city schools are a good steward of taxpayer money.

“This is crazy and I am so frustrated and upset about it,” she told the Daily News. “I’m not going to continue to let the system bleed money around textbooks.”

Interestingly enough, Ackerman is hardly the first school administrator to find herself facing a textbook “crisis.” Fact is, it happens all the time.

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Kathleen Vail|December 4th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|

Classroom advertising?

BoardBuzz got word from CNN.com of a high school math class in California whose teacher sells advertisements in order to cover the cost of printing his exams. Say what? Are times that hard? (The answer: apparently, they are.) While students tackle the questions on their calculus quizzes or tests, parents or organizations have the chance to get a message or advertisement across the bottom of the page.

Teacher Tom Farber pitched this idea to parents at a back to school night this past September, and for $10 a quiz, $20 a test, and $30 a final exam, parents have the option at inserting an inspirational quote or even a business advertisment at the bottom of the test paper.

So far, its working. Seven tests or exams have featured a quote from parents or business ads, and Farber has collected more than $300 to print his exams. Though Farber is pleased with their success, the article reports that he doesn’t want quiz ads “to become the standard”, rather the government must do more to provide educators with the supplies they need in their classroom.

“What I’m doing now is … dealing with the economic situation and making sure kids get what they need,” Farber said. “Teachers shouldn’t have to scrounge for funding. To me, this is what our government is for, to provide necessities, and that’s why we pay taxes.”

Does your school district offer similar initiatives? Leave BoardBuzz a comment to let us know what you think about this teacher’s new strategy. Maybe on your student’s next exam he or she will be looking at ads for where to get their haircut or an orthodontist to visit, like these San Diego students have!

For more information, be sure to check out USA Today’s coverage as well.

Erin Walsh|December 4th, 2008|Categories: Educational Finance, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

A very sincere congratulations

NSBA would like to extend warm congratulations to Robert Kazeangin of Niagara Falls, New York for his Excellence Award honor at the The After School Experience training conference on Nov. 18, 2008 in Tarrytown, New York.

Kazeangin serves as president of the Board of Education for the Niagara Falls Central School District and is being recognized for his steadfast efforts in advocating for after school programs across his district, the state, and a national level.

NSBA was pleased to hear of Kazengin’s recognition as his presence has been valued in our own community. He served as a co-presenter at the NSBA Annual Conference in Orlando and is an active member of NSBA’s Extended Day Learning Opportunities (EDLO) group that works to promote school board leadership to make high-quality afterschool programs available to all students. For more information on EDLO’s program, please visit this link.

Robert has truly demonstrated his dedication for championing quality after-school-programs, and BoardBuzz applauds his achievement. Congratulations Robert!

Erin Walsh|December 4th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Do americans really lack civic knowledge?

While BoardBuzz was away eating turkey with friends and family we came across this over-the-top headline in USA Today: Americans don’t know civics . So, just why does BoardBuzz think this is over-the-top and not merely pointing out shortcomings in our public schools? Well, first of all these findings were based on just 33 questions of an adult’s civic knowledge. Don’t you think there is more to a person’s knowledge of civics than just 33 multiple choice questions? BoardBuzz sure thinks so.

Second, the neither article nor the study provide any context as to how American’s civic knowledge compares to those in other countries. But, in 1999, there was such a study which does not get the headlines other international comparisons receive. What the study found is that no other country had ninth graders with a higher civics knowledge than the United States. And while the survey is nine years old, BoardBuzz doesn’t think that these students suddenly forgot how our democracy works as soon as they received their high school diplomas. What is more likely is that adults may not answer many questions right on any subject when they receive a random phone call.

BoardBuzz applauds the Intercollegiate Studies Institute for shining a light on the importance of civic education with their study. But we wonder if maybe there’s a better way to gain a more accurate perspective on whether American’s have the knowledge needed to participate wisely in civic life. Until then, we’ll declare that headlines like Americans don’t know civics are simply over-the-top.

See for yourself how you would do on these 33 questions and leave a comment here and tell us about it.

Erin Walsh|December 3rd, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Homework … do I have to?

Homework. Whether it’s school kids in full avoidance, or parents in lockdown mode (maybe even flashbacks of our own homework-doing days), the word itself gets us all knotted up inside. So how much homework are kids being asked to do anyway?

According to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Education, a fairly good amount, at least at the elementary level. Department researchers looked at the amount of time elementary teachers expected their students to do at 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades. They found that nearly 70% of 1st grade teachers expected their students to do more than 20 minutes of homework in reading/language arts, and 32% wanted that much time devoted to math homework. By 5th grade, about nine in ten teachers were asking students for 20 minutes or more of homework in both subjects.

Keep in mind this is what teachers expect. If you want to know how much homework students should do, take a look at What research says about the value of homework over at the Center for Public Education. We’ll give you a hint. Your first graders have a right to complain.

Erin Walsh|December 3rd, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Debt-free school districts

The headline alone caused me to do a double-take: “Fulton schools set to become debt-free in 2012.”

In these days of budget deficits, rainy day funds, and flat-out fiscal disasters, how could a school district actually be attempting to pay off debt early? What were they thinking?

Turns out, the Fulton County, Ga., district has made the same pledge that many of us should be considering—especially during holiday shopping season. It wants to pay off its debts from school construction and other long-term projects to help shore up its financial state, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Collectively, Georgia districts owe about $4 billion in long-term loans, and so far very few have been able to eliminate their debts. Fulton schools currently owe about $178 million in principal and interest on long-term projects.

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Kathleen Vail|December 3rd, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|
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