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Articles from February, 2009

Week in Review

It’s been a busy week for the ASBJ staff, as we uploaded the latest edition to the Web, and put next month’s issue to bed— a near impossible feat since so much of it hinged on the current economic crisis. If your week was just as busy, perhaps you missed some great entries on the Leading Source, which included: a preview of an inclusive interview with new Education Secretary Arne Duncan , a critical and opinionated look at the way school districts address sex education, and, imagine that, a critical and opinionated look at a new study by the Brown Center on Education Policy.  Happy reading and enjoy the weekend.

Naomi Dillon|February 28th, 2009|Categories: Week in Blogs, American School Board Journal|

International student assessment raises interesting question

As an educational journalist I receive a multitude of emails each day from various organizations, think-tanks, and vendors all trying to push one thing or another at me, in the hopes of scoring some free publicity.

I scan them all, but pause for few, so inundated (and frankly numb) am I from all of the calls for my attention. Such was the case, when I got several heads up from a public relations firm heralding the release of a new study from the Brookings Institution on Wednesday.

I prepared to zip through this one and move on to the dozens of other emails in my inbox, but something caught my eye and the wheels in my brain started to churn.

The study itself (from the Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy) was mildly interesting; an analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) uncovered “serious deficiencies” in its approach to student assessment.

According to the center, PISA’s science portion (not sure about the other subjects) is built on an educational philosophy that “building students confidence in their ability to tackle scientific problems is an important part of improving science performance.”

Furthermore, PISA’s questions in the science section possess ideological bias, asking and weighing students responses to environmental policies and sustainability attitudes.

We won’t touch the second issue. Whether students should be aware and concerned about environmental issues is a given, in my opinion. But whether they should be measured on it, uh, I’m not so sure. I guess, it depends on how important you think the environment is. But, like I said, I’m not going there.

Naomi Dillon|February 27th, 2009|Categories: Educational Research, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

Sex and the awkward, political dance schools do around it

The Pittsburgh school board recently revamped its sex education curriculum. By an 8-1 vote, it re-placed its abstinence-only model for a more comprehensive approach that includes a discussion of contraception.

A bold move, I must say. Sex education is a no-win issue for school boards.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? Schools were created to educate children and prepare them to be productive citizens. Yet any discussion in schools of one of the most fundamental of human activities is certain to spark controversy and discord.

Sex education is the proverbial “hot potato” issue.

This is why it’s no surprise to hear about a new study by two Texas State University researchers that found that two percent of Texas school districts shy away completely from the issue of sex education.

And that’s in a state with the third-highest teen birth rate in the nation.

But ignoring the issue may not be as irresponsible as it sounds. If a school board is struggling with several important issues-a budget deficit, for example, or low student achievement-it might not be in the best interest of students to distract school leaders and the community with a knock-down brawl over one part of the curriculum.

That’s particularly true if there is a sizable segment of the community with moral or ideological beliefs so powerful that they are incapable of a rational discourse.

Naomi Dillon|February 26th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

Sizing up the scope of the problem

It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so I’ve collected some thought-provoking ideas on the topic for your consumption.

When it comes to dietary issues, schools often think about what’s on the lunch menu in cafeterias and what’s on the blackboard (or these days, computer screen) in health classes.

But at the University Laboratory High School in Illinois, counselors recommended blocking websites that promoted anorexia as a lifestyle choice from the school network. While in Seattle, the city school board’s policy on sales of competitive foods on campus says the “availability of non-nutritious foods… increases the potential for development of eating disorders.”

But in the end, how well do we understand eating disorders in children and teens? According to a recent Washington Post article, not very well.

The article describes the experience of Christina Grieco, whose mother remembers her therapist, family physician and nutritionist recommending residential treatment for her 15-year-old daughter when she received an anorexia nervosa diagnosis in 2006.

When outpatient therapy failed, the Griecos spent more than $100,000 for Christina to stay in an eating disorders clinic in Arizona for two months.

It didn’t work. Officials at the clinic told her parents not be “food police” when she returned home, but Christina relapsed and continued to starve herself with such freedom.

Naomi Dillon|February 25th, 2009|Categories: Wellness, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

What country is your state most like?

Here’s an interesting (and educational!) afternoon distraction. Enjoy3889

Naomi Dillon|February 24th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Asking more from our high school students

Last week, Achieve, Inc released their annual Expectations Gap report that examines the policies states have implemented to align high school expectations to college- and career-readiness. Achieve found that a growing number of states have increased the rigor of their high school math and English standards as well as their graduation requirements. However, Achieve also points out that most states still have some work to do in improving their high school assessments and accountability systems.

For a summary of the report’s full findings and what role school boards can play to increase high school expectations for all students check out the Center for Public Education.

Jim Hull|February 24th, 2009|Categories: Curriculum, Educational Research, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

New Ed secretary full of superlatives, ideas for the future

The new head of the U.S. Department of Education kept using superlatives— words like “staggering” and “extraordinary”— to describe the opportunity presented him by the billions in stimulus money destined for the nation’s schools. At the same time, Arne Duncan — friend of the president, magna cum laud Harvard graduate, former pro basketball player (in Australia), and much-lauded former head of the Chicago Public Schools — was downright humble in describing his own good fortune in being appointed Education Secretary. Twice he remarked on how extraordinarily “lucky” he was to serve at such a critical time.

After interviewing Arne Duncan for an April ASBJ “Newsmaker” column, I can only think one thing: We’re lucky, too.

I can’t say that in a news story (objectivity and all). But in a blog, I can. And after talking to Duncan for just a few minutes, I was impressed by his down-to-earth style, his willingness to listen, and his admission that he doesn’t have all the answers and will need the input of people who work in, and on behalf of, the schools. One of his first acts as secretary, he said, will be to travel the country and get people’s ideas on how No Child Left Behind might be improved when it is reauthorized.

Having been an urban school superintendent himself, Duncan should understand when educators complain about some of the more onerous provisions of NCLB. He is not, however, going to make it easier for them– just different.

Listen to Duncan’s description of the $5 billion Race to the Top Fund, which will support states that are interested in creating stronger standards for their schools:

Naomi Dillon|February 24th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

New on

And while you’re on, check out the other new reads from the March edition, including: a school law column on the tricky legal scape of social online networks; a research-laden look at whether crime is rising among pre-teens; and a how-to on rebounding from a media leak. Read it all now or throughout the week. But don’t wait too long, they won’t be available to view for free for much longer.

Naomi Dillon|February 23rd, 2009|Categories: NSBA Publications, American School Board Journal|

New on

Dysfunction happens when something isn’t working right. But dysfunction doesn’t even come close to describing how bad things got on the school board of Clayton County, Georgia. You’ve probably seen the headlines, but read the real story and the lessons learned in our March cover package, which also features a first-person account from a school board member who weathered a leadership crisis. Read them both while they are still available online.

Naomi Dillon|February 23rd, 2009|Categories: NSBA Publications, American School Board Journal|

NCLB’s uneven accountability

BoardBuzz checked out The Accountability Illusion–the latest report brought you to by the Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).  The report examines 36 schools in 28 states to determine how NCLB accountability systems vary across states. To do so the report determined how many of the 36 schools would have made NCLB’s Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP) in each of the 28 states.

One example they highlight is that just one elementary school would have made AYP if they were located in Massachusetts, while all but one of the same schools would have made it if they were located in Wisconsin. For each of the schools, the same students took the same tests.  The only differences were the rules each state sets for their schools to make AYP. Such rules that differ from state to state are:

  • the minimum number of students they set for a student subgroup the school is accountable for,
  • the cut-scores on the state assessment students must meet considered proficient,
  • the percent of students expected to meet proficiency each year, and
  • whether they allow confidence intervals or not.

There is a whole lot more in the report. For more information check out the Center for Public Education‘s summary here.

Jim Hull|February 23rd, 2009|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: |
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