Articles from January, 2009

Week in Review

Winter hit most of us the country pretty hard this week. Snow and ice shut down dozens of cities, including the Washington D.C. area, where President Obama teased the residents about their paralysis in inclement weather. Associate Editor gave us a glimpse of green in the middle winter, Senior Editor Larry Hardy showed how the staff at one Michigan school district is still retaining their sense of humor, and Senior Editor Del Stover opines a Washington Post editorial calling for the feds to use the stimulus to finally reform education.

Naomi Dillon|January 31st, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Week in Blogs|

Lowering the bar to raise graduation rate

California’s troubled economy — the state is on track to run out of cash in a matter of weeks unless drastic measures are enacted— has taken another victim in education: high expectations.

The board at Santa Ana Unified School District, the largest school system in Orange County, has been discussing and will likely move forward with a plan to reduce the number of credits required to graduate from 240 to 220, dropping them from the district with the most stringent requirements to among the lowest in the county.  

In 2008, the district’s graduation rate was 83 percent, which district officials say would have been bumped to 87 percent or higher under the proposed plan.

With about 56 percent of its roughly 52,000 students classified as English Language Learners, the district argues the change would give them a better a chance at succeeding, while providing all students more flexibility in choosing their classes.

While all of that is true, it seems like the real reason is lack of funding. Ironically, the district had increased it’s graduation requirements in 2001, in concert with a pilot program it had launched to increase the high school day from six to seven periods.

The district has since dropped that program and its hopes of expanding it districtwide as the state’s financial situation has worsened.

“The main goal is to ensure all students graduate,” Jennifer Ruvalcaba, a counselor at one of the district’s high school’s told the Orange County Register.

Yes, but shouldn’t the goal also be to ensure all students are competitive? This isn’t a slam on Santa Ana, which like all districts in California are struggling just to survive, but an admonishment to California legislators for letting its school system continue to slip, one credit at a time.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 30th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|Tags: , , , |

Today’s news headlines

States get D-plus on teacher reviews
Associated Press via Boston Globe, Jan. 29
States are not doing what it takes to keep good teachers and remove bad ones, a national study found. Only Iowa and New Mexico require any evidence that public school teachers are effective before granting them tenure, according to the review released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Read more. 

New Chicago superintendent booed, heckled at school board meeting
Chicago Tribune, Jan. 29
Newly installed Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman got a rude awakening at his first board meeting as dozens of parents and teachers blasted plans to close and reorganize 22 schools.
Read more.

In tight times, schools find many methods to save on paper
Washington Post, Jan. 29
Teachers generate copies by the ream. And now, in tight budget times, many schools are trying to save money, time, and trees by cutting back on paper.
Read more. 

Houston doles out bonuses to 95 percent of teachers
Houston Chronicle, Jan. 29
A record number of Houston Independent School District teachers saw their bank accounts grow when the school district doled out $31.4 million in performance bonuses. Though teachers generally said they appreciated the money – especially as corporations scale back or eliminate employee bonuses – union leaders continue to criticize the incentive system for relying too heavily on student test scores.
Read more.

For more news headlines, go to School Board News Today.

Kathleen Vail|January 29th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

No easy answers in moving economy, schools forward

I can’t help but think that America needs to find a new way to look at the challenges of public education. This thought came to me after reading a Washington Post editorial suggesting that the economic stimulus plan being debated in Congress should require a change in how struggling schools work.

“Congress will not be getting its money’s worth unless it insists on real reforms in what students are expected to learn and how teachers are compensated,” the Post proclaimed. “Instead of offering extra money to states for doing what they should be doing under current law, why not put in place tough new national standards and demand that states meet them to get money? If the federal government is to help save teaching jobs, shouldn’t it demand a way to get rid of ineffective teachers?”

I don’t disagree with the Post’s thoughts. But, as I read, all I could think was that these ideas were a Band-Aid. That’s pretty much what all recent reforms have been-trying to fix the status quo.

The real problem, I think, is more systemic. American has two public education systems-one that works well, and one that is vastly overwhelmed by challenges.

What works well is public education in suburbia and other affluent communities. It’s easy to educate kids from middle class and wealthy homes, and these schools report good academic achievement, high graduation rates, and a sizable number of students going on to college.

Our problem is American’s second education system-the one that serves rural and urban communities that are plagued by high rates of poverty, transient populations, and families whose parents are unemployed or work two jobs, are poorly educated, and cannot provide a stable home life for children.

This system does wonders. But it is overwhelmed and unable to educate children sufficiently to help them achieve the American Dream.
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Naomi Dillon|January 29th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|

Yes John, college is worth it

John Stossel took another shot at education but this time at our institutions of higher learning. In a 20/20 segment earlier this month it described a bachelor’s degree as one of the most overrated products in America. BoardBuzz wondered if John Stossel could possibly be right?

And the answer is: of course not. BoardBuzz feels for Rachel, Kris, and Walter, who were highlighted in the report because they had earned a college degree while taking on large debt only to take low paying entry level jobs. It’s both sad and scary but is this the norm or the exception?

If John Stossel and the other “reporters” over at 20/20 had done a halfway decent job of researching this report, they would have found years of research that show these three are the exception rather than the norm. But even if they just looked objectively at the information in their report they would have found that a college education is far from overrated.

For example, throughout the report they say it is a myth that students with a 4-year degree make $1 million more in their lifetime than someone who doesn’t go to college. They base this on the experiences of these three graduates as well as a quote from education consultant Marty Nemko who said:

 There is no more misleading statistic that I could possibly tell you about because it includes superearners, billionaire college grads who skew the average.

However, Mr. Nemko provides no basis to back up this claim. Maybe superearners, like say the former richest man in the world Bill Gates, skews non-college graduate earnings up? So maybe the gap is much bigger?

What Mr. Nemko could have done is look at median earnings–which limits the effects of the so-called superearners- instead of average earnings. This report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics did such a comparison and shows that workers with a college degree earn more than $20,000 a year more than high school graduates. It is also worth noting that high school graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as college graduates. Keep in mind, too, that these do not include those workers who went on to earn professional degrees like doctors and lawyers — those Suze Orman suggested may be the only ones who really benefit from a college education.

Furthermore, they report that Economics Professor Sandy Baum agreed the $1 million figure was inaccurate. They report that in her study she estimated it was about half. BoardBuzz isn’t great at math but half of $1 million is still $500,000. So, even for those students who took on $100,000 worth of debt were likely to earn that back 5 fold.  Doesn’t exactly back up the report’s claim that college doesn’t pay.

Keep in mind however the report did make some good points with which BoardBuzz agrees: 

  • College costs are increasing at a far greater pace than inflations putting many low and middle class families in too much debt, if they can afford college at all.  
  • The best colleges for you or your child may not be the most expensive. So your low cost local public college may provide you with as good an education as those expensive Ivy League schools at a fraction of the price.
  • Not all students need to go to college to be successful. Many students can lead very successful lives and earn good money by foregoing college and learning a trade or gaining skills in field they enjoy. 

So here is some advice from BoardBuzz:

  • For Rachel, Kris, and Walter: Hang in there and keep looking for that job you always wanted. Although times are tough now, over time you’ll find that your college education was well worth the investment.
  • For those in high school: Decide whether college is right for you.
    • For those who wish to go onto college: Select the college that will best help you meet your goals after college but within your price range. Maybe consider going to community college for 2 years before enrolling in more expensive 4-year institutions.
    • For those who don’t want to go to college: Learn a trade or obtain marketable skills in an area you are interesting at either a trade school, community college, or through an apprenticeship. You can be just as successful after high school as those with a college degree.
  • For John Stossel: Give up on stories on education. And BoardBuzz suggests you read this story from CNN to see what a good story on whether college is worth the price of admission looks like.
Jim Hull|January 28th, 2009|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Greatest online threat to teens? Teens themselves

According to a recent report released by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, children are far more likely to be bullied by their peers than approached by an adult predator online. Shocking? No, not really.

The report is the product of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, created in February 2008 in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced in January 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace. The scope of the Task Force’s inquiry was to consider those technologies that industry and end users—including parents—can use to help keep minors safer on the internet. However, the findings on the types of threats minors face are the interesting part. Sadly, the report makes no real recommendations for technologies to improve online safety.

The report finds that kids interacting on social networking sites are relatively safe from online predators. Although sexual predation on minors by adults, both online and offline, remains a concern, “the image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture of the nature of the majority of sexual solicitations and Internet-initiated offline encounters.” BoardBuzz thinks the report is trying to say that our kids are pretty sophisticated online. Nevertheless, there is some controversy over these findings.

As the Washington Post reports:

In other words, children are about as savvy online as they are offline, said Ernie Allen, president of the Alexandria-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which contributed to the report.

“The vast majority of kids in this country have heard the messages about the risks online and are basically dealing with them as a nuisance, as a fact of life, and aren’t particularly vulnerable,” he said. “This report should not be read as saying there are not adults out there doing this.”

But some state attorneys general are upset about a report that, they argue, lulls parents into a false sense of security. One, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, recently blasted the report, saying its findings are “as disturbing as they are wrong.”

“Rapid technological advances with mobile phones, PDAs, video gaming systems and online social networking sites place our children more at risk from predators than at anytime before,” he wrote in a letter posted online. “Our arrest rate is only limited by the amount of resources.”

BoardBuzz thinks the issue here is one of media exposure. For the most part, the everyday bullying and harassment of children online goes largely unreported even though they “are the most frequent threats that minors face,” the report says. Children concede that sexual harassment and propositions occur between minors, but such incidents “are understudied, underreported to law enforcement, and are not part of most conversations about online safety,” it adds. BoardBuzz was intrigued by some of the statistics the study provides in this area:

  • Children identify most sexual solicitors as being other adolescents (48%; 43%) or young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 (20%; 30%), with few (only 4%; 9%) coming from older adults and the remaining being of unknown age (Finkelhor et al. 2000; Wolak et al. 2006).
  • Not all solicitations are from strangers; 14% come from offline friends and acquaintances (Wolak et al. 2006, 2008b).
  • Youth typically ignore or deflect solicitations without experiencing distress (Wolak et al. 2006); 92% of the responses amongst Los Angeles-based youth to these incidents were deemed “appropriate” (Rosen et al. 2008).
  • Of those who have been solicited, 2% have received aggressive and distressing solicitations (Wolak et al. 2006).
  • Though solicitations themselves are reason for concern, few solicitations result in offline contact.
  • Social network sites do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation.

Too little is known about the interplay among risks and the role that minors themselves play in contributing to unsafe environments. So says the report, and BoardBuzz wholeheartedly agrees. If you keep up with the news, you’re probably familiar with the story of six high-school students in Greensburgh, Pennsylvania arrested on child pornography charges. Three were girls who allegedly took pictures of themselves, and were charged with manufacturing, disseminating, or possessing child pornography. Three were boys who were found with the explicit photos on their phones and were charged with possession of child pornography. Apparently, this is a new and alarming trend called “sexting” where teens send nude or provocative photos to one another via mobile phones. We’re not sure if legal prosecution is the best strategy though. Research conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy last month revealed that 20% of teens in the U.S. say they have sent or posted lewd photos or video of themselves.

BoardBuzz is left wondering what we should do with such information? According to a 2006 National Crime Prevention Council study, 40% of teens surveyed had experienced some form of cyberbullying in their lifetime. Clearly, anti-bullying and online safety efforts are a must. The Post says that the feds will be looking at this issue more than ever this year. “Under recently passed bills, the Department of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission have been assigned roles to begin online safety awareness programs and evaluate technologies that filter inappropriate content away from children. What’s more, the Obama administration is planning to appoint the nation’s first chief technology officer, and the topic of online safety is likely to be a priority for that office.” That sounds like a good start.

NSBA’s Legal Clips recently reported that California has joined the growing number of states that have passed laws against cyberbullying. According to U.S. News & World Report’s “On Education” blog, as of January 1, officials in California schools may suspend or expel students who harass their peers through cyberbullying. Like California’s law, anti-cyberbullying laws passed in other states call on school districts to develop policies regarding cyberbullying detection and punishment. Other states with cyberbullying laws include: Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington.

NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network (TLN) has posted free resources on cyberbullying and state laws, including a free package of materials offered in partnership with CyberSmart! to “offer schools the opportunity to begin a dialogue with students and build a sustained cyberbullying prevention campaign to continually remind the school community about safe, ethical online use.”

There are certainly new alarming ways for children to get into trouble online. What do you think? How does your district deal with cyberbullying and other online safety issues?

Erin Walsh|January 28th, 2009|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security, Student Achievement|

A bit of green in the midst of winter

These days “going green” for schools is no longer a trend-it’s becoming a necessity. And now green living has its own designated week, where teachers across the country will infuse green lessons into the curriculum.

The Green Education Foundation has designated Feb. 2 to 8 as “National Green Week,” and has mobilized 250,000 students to learn and help demonstrate how to reduce the volume of trash their classrooms and schools produce.

The voluntary mission shows students how to reduce their daily amount of waste, for instance, by using reusable or recyclable containers for snacks. This week, participating classes will weigh their daily trash output and compare the totals after next week’s “going green” lesson. The foundation’s goal is to reduce the waste produced by schools by two million pounds and save districts thousands of dollars on solid waste disposal.

But they’re also hoping students will take the lessons home and find ways to reduce their amount of household trash as well. The foundation, which is mainly supported by a for-profit business that sells eco-friendly products and organic apparel, was started last year by Victoria Waters, who was inspired by her children’s concern over the plight of seals.

The foundation started by distributing green tools to classrooms and encouraging students to find better ways to avoid waste and recycle products. The program’s mission grew after an experiment at Fisher Elementary School in Walpole, Mass., where students reduced their school’s trash output by 70 percent and started a recycling program in their suburban town.

The foundation offers curriculum guides and lessons on going green, and more information can be found on their website. And stay tuned for ASBJ’s April issue, which will feature a special supplement on the many ways your schools can go green, too.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 28th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, School Buildings|Tags: , , |

Today’s news headlines

Chicago mayor to name transportation chief to lead city schools
Chicago Tribune, Jan. 27
Chicago Transit Authority President Ron Huberman will be tapped by Mayor Richard Daley to head the Chicago Public Schools, sources said. Huberman, 37, will replace Arne Duncan, who last week was confirmed as President Barack Obama’s secretary of education.
Read more.

Arizona lawmakers urged to suspend tax credits in budget battle
Arizona Republic, Jan. 27
Education groups are pushing state lawmakers to consider suspending Arizona’s popular tax credit for donations toward public school extracurricular activities and private school tuition to avert $125 million in basic education-funding cuts. They argue that suspending this taxpayer benefit would avoid an unusual situation: cutting funds for things like textbooks, computers and transportation while continuing to allow the credits to fund after-school programs.
Read more.

New Colorado program aimed at helping school counselors be more successful
Rocky Mountain News, Jan. 27
The three-year School Counselor Corps program, signed into law last year by Gov. Bill Ritter, is meant to install a targeted approach that addresses students’ academic, career, personal and social needs. Participating schools must develop goals, measure impact and tweak programs that fall short of the mark.
Read more.

For more news headlines, go to School Board News Today.

Kathleen Vail|January 27th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

Humor doled out with bandages in board members’ survival kit for economic crisis

Even before he took office — especially before he took office — Barack Obama was barraged with unsolicited advice from a host of interest groups and individuals from across the political spectrum. It comes with the territory, of course, but no human being could possibly process all the requests, admonitions, warnings, entreaties, demands, etc., directed at the newly-elected president.

In these tough economic times, other elected officials, including school board members, are probably also finding themselves inundated with unsolicited advice about how to do more with less. A lot of it is unwanted, I suspect; but not the advice offered at a recent school board meeting in Southeast Michigan. Those suggestions were happily, even gratefully, received.   

I visited Pontiac, Mich., a few weeks ago and went to the meeting of the Pontiac School District’s Board of Trustees. With the state in serious financial trouble and the district losing students, Pontiac faces a multi-million deficit and may have to close as many as half its schools next year. You can imagine the kind of stress board members and administrators must be under. And that’s why I found the advice board members received at that meeting to be, well, refreshing. We’re talking useful advice here, not demands or entreaties: a kind of “Chicken Soup for the Board Member’s Soul.”

It was Board Appreciation Day, and each trustee received a tote bag from the administration with a bunch of inexpensive do-dads. Here — as announced in the meeting — was what each “Survival Kit” contained:
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Naomi Dillon|January 27th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|

Popup predicament

ABCNEWS.COM reports a troubling story about a substitute teacher who not only lost her job teaching, but was also arrested on 10 counts of risk of injury to a minor when a computer she left unattended began spewing porn site popups.  You know popups—those annoying messages that flash across your screen just because you happened to click on a web site of interest.  BoardBuzz got popped by a few just trying to access the story on ABCNEWS.COM.  See for yourselves.  Those of course, were not of the nature that popped up on the teacher’s computer.  And, it didn’t help that the computer was in a seventh grade classroom where children gathered around the terminal and giggled (as only seventh graders can) at the amazing images promising all kinds of… well, you know. 

You can imagine what happened next.  Even though the teacher’s administrators understood it was mistake and not the fault of the teacher, word got around, tempers flared, ires became aroused … goodness, BoardBuzz better stop. Long story short, the teacher got canned and was eventually arrested.

The teacher swears she didn’t access an adult site and that the popups appeared when she innocently opened an email.  The problem was, she couldn’t shut them off no matter how hard she tried.  Click one and another one pops up.  (BoardBuzz isn’t even going to pun this one). Of course, the teacher missed the computer’s on/off switch claiming she only recently began using the computer herself.  Huh?  And, so the teacher was hauled into court and eventually convicted.

The thing is, when the state’s own forensic experts and computer whizzes examined the computer itself they found “that the true culprit of the pornographic pop-ups was a malicious spyware program.”  In other words the teacher was not guilty of the charges and a judge overturned her conviction “saying the prosecution’s star witness, a computer forensics expert, had given false testimony.” 

The state “dropped the felony charges, but in November 2008″ the teacher pled “guilty to disorderly conduct,” fearing a new trial’s effect on her health. 

All of this leaves BoardBuzz thinking the prosecution may have gone a bit too far, but in terms of the teacher’s future in education, in these times of 21st century learning, if you can’t even figure out how to turn off the computer, perhaps a classroom is not the right place for you.

Christina Gordon|January 27th, 2009|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law, Teachers|
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