Articles from April, 2009

Swine flu update and guidance for school leaders

 Are concerns about swine flu in your district rising? Should you close your school? Get specific guidance for school leaders on today’s Education Department conference call.

The U.S. Department of Education will host a conference call at 1:30 pm EST today – Thursday, April 30 – to update school leaders on the H1N1 flu (swine flu), offer additional guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and highlight newly available resources.

 The U.S. Department of Education is asking that only one representative dial into the call from each association, district, agency, office, or organization. They also recommend dialing in a few minutes before 1:30 to sign in with the operator.

 DATE: Thursday, April 30, 2009

 TIME: 1:30 PM-2:30 pm EST


 Dial-in: (800) 857-9638


Christina Gordon|April 30th, 2009|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

More students are taking AP courses, but is it smart?

It’s hard to be an elitist. You’re either viewed as a snob-or everyone wants to crash the party.

The latter appears to be the case today when it comes to Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Nowadays, every high school student with college aspirations wants at least one AP course on his or her high school transcript.

At least, it seems that way after reading a new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which reports that the number of high school students taking at least one AP course has jumped 45 percent to 1.6 million students since 2004.

That’s a bit of a bump.

It also raises some questions: Are all those extra students ready to handle high-level coursework? And, if not, are schools letting down their standards rather than watch failure rates rise on AP courses?

So far, such fears appear unfounded, according to the report, Growing Pains in the Advanced Placement Program: Do Tough Trade-offs Lie Ahead? More than three in four teachers “rate their own high school’s AP program as good (52 percent) or excellent (25 percent).”

At the same time, the College Board reports that “the percentage of the 2008 high school graduating class scoring at least one 3 on an AP test rose to 15.2 percent up from 12.2 percent in 2003.”

Not every finding in the report is rosy.  As more students take AP courses, there’s been a modest slip in overall academic results-“the percentage of all exams receiving at least a 3 declined from 61.6 percent to 57.7 percent, and the mean scores slipped from 2.96 to 2.85.”

Teachers also report that growing enrollment in AP courses has more to do with students wanting more impressive college applications than with any love of learning.

Naomi Dillon|April 30th, 2009|Categories: Educational Research, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

Common standards, yes; federal standards, no

The message from the five witnesses who testisfied before the House Committee on Education and Labor at a hearing today was clear: U.S. students need to be competitive globally.  One way to get there is to have “fewer, clearer and higher” academic standards.

The committee hearing today explored how states can improve the rigor of their standards through collaboration.  The witenesses agreed the best way — and the only way– to accomplish this goal is to have states develop voluntary common standards that are rigorous and internationally benchmarked.

BoardBuzz agrees with former  Governor of North Carolina James Hunt who testified that “it’s not the federal government’s job [to develop these standards], it’s the states’ job.”

NSBA supports the development of rigorous academic standards and continues to believe that this effort should be led by states and local communities with the federal government playing a role of support in financing these needs and in sharing best practices.

BoardBuzz is encouraged to hear Arkansas Education Commissioner Ken James telling the committee that already 41 states have expressed “a strong interest in pursuing the goal of state-led common standards.”

But some questions remained: Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI) wondered whether uniformity in standards can be achieved without some  type of [federal] mandate. Committee chairman George Miller (D-CA) is a bit more reassuring: “We are placing a very big bet on the states to come up with a solution [to the problem of standards],” he said. “My sense is we are placing the right bet.”

Katherine Shek|April 29th, 2009|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

As alternative transportation support grows, more districts can get off the bus

The wheels on the bus won’t be going round and round in many school districts that chose to partially or fully cut bus service from their budgets for the 2009-2010 school year. However, that shouldn’t stop other wheels from turning on school transportation options.

Biking is a great way for students who live close to their schools to get to class and get some exercise, all before the bell rings. Parents and administrators who have questions about the safety or practicality of bicycling have many resources to address their concerns.

For example, representatives from Bicycle Colorado visit Denver Public Schools to teach students bike safety and skills education as part of their Safe Routes program. The group also offers advice to small communities on how to implement safe and effective bike routes.

The National Center for Safe Routes to School website lists coordinators in each state who focus on improving avenues for kids to walk and bike to school. While district funds for busing are drying up, the federal funding for Safe Routes to School was $180 million for the fiscal year ending in September 2009. In place since 2005, the annual program supports encouraging alternative transportation to schools and launching public awareness campaigns on the issue.

If you don’t think expanding bike or pedestrian paths in your district are worth the energy, just be happy you don’t live in Oceanside, Calif., where officials decided to charge families $360 annually per child (but no more than $900 per family, thankfully) to ride the bus to school, the Union-Tribune reported.

That $360 could buy your child a pretty nice bike, but more importantly it would open doors for lessons in how to ride safely and how transportation habits affect the environment.

For a better idea of how to organize walking or cycling plans that promote safety and community engagement, check out this pdf guide from Canada’s Active and Safe Routes to School program.

Christian Kloc, Spring intern (avid cyclist)

Naomi Dillon|April 29th, 2009|Categories: Governance, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

The eye of the beholder

Yesterday, BoardBuzz reported new NAEP results showing that  U.S. students are continuing to make gains in reading and math. To our admittedly pro-public school mind, this is obviously good news. Yet judging by yesterday’s coverage, NAEP, which is also called “the nation’s report card,” should more accurately be described as “the nation’s Rorschach test.”

From the New York Times:

The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics …

Then the Washington Post says:

Math and reading scores for 9- and 13-year-olds have risen since the 2002 enactment of No Child Left Behind, providing fuel to those who want to renew the federal law and strengthen its reach in high schools.

Shouts FairTest:


A more measured, but still gloomy headline from Education Week observes:

Older Students Less Successful on Math NAEP.

Holy Moly! No wonder Achieve was motivated to pronounce:

NAEP Long-Term Trend Assessments Show Mixed Results

BoardBuzz believes our readers can make their own judgments by looking at The Nation’s Report Card: 2008 Long-Term Trends for themselves. We think that, like us, you’ll find reason to applaud the hard work of our schools, teachers, and school kids.

Patte Barth|April 29th, 2009|Categories: Educational Research, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Swine flu: better safe than sorry

This week, the word on everyone’s lips is one we never want to hear: pandemic.  Mexico, the U.S., and now the whole world are closely watching and experiencing the spread of a respiratory disease caused by a type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza among pigs – the swine flu. 

So far, Mexico has been hit the hardest: a CNN article released this morning, states that the flu is suspected in 152 deaths and more than 1,600 illnesses.  Mexican government officials have declared school closings until May 6.  And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are currently reporting that the U.S. has 64 confirmed cases within five states: California, Kansas, New York, Ohio, and Texas.  There are also reports of the flu in Canada, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Israel. 

President Obama has said the outbreak is a cause for concern, not for alarm.  And there really is no need to panic at this point, especially because the U.S. government has started to take the necessary steps to prevent this from becoming widespread, including urging that non-essential travel to Mexico be avoided.  Additionally, the government is putting out a lot of information on how to prevent the spread of the flu.  The World Health Organization has raised the pandemic phase alert to level 4, which means that currently there is sustained human to human transmission, so it is imperative that everyone be proactive in combating this disease.

Unfortunately, schools can often be a disease spreading haven (as evidenced by the case in New York City), simply because they house hundreds to thousands of people in a confined location.  The median age of all cases in the U.S. so far is 16 years.  Therefore, schools need to have an active role in containing the spread of the disease as it is affecting the school-age population.

BoardBuzz knows that it is better to be safe than sorry when dealing with a possible pandemic.  According to CDC experts, the 1918 flu pandemic experience taught us about the importance of intervening quickly and the need to involve the entire community in preventing the spread of the disease.  Experts believe that the coming of summer might help curtail the flu, but also advise that preventive measures be taken now since flu viruses have been known to come back full force in the fall or winter.

The CDC’s Swine Influenza site contains a significant amount of information on swine flu and what can be done to prevent itQuestions from school districts, state education offices, and education associations across the country are continuously being answered on the site.

The New York school closed for a few days.  And some Texas and California schools have also closed.  So when should a school close?  And what are the appropriate measures to take?  

  • The CDC recommends strong consideration of closing schools with a confirmed case of swine flu or a suspected case that has been epidemiologically linked to a confirmed case.  Broader school dismissal should be left to the discretion of local authorities with the advice of the local health department and should take into account the extent of the illness in the community.  The CDC has interim guidance available on its website to help with such community mitigation. 
  • It is also important to inform students, parents and staff about the symptoms, which can include cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches and a fever, and stress preventive measures such as washing hands frequently and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing.   
  • Schools should also refer students who are complaining of flu-like symptoms to a health care provider, but also follow confidentiality guidelines.  Experts state that there is no need to single out students who have recently been to Mexico and that they should only be asked to stay at home if presenting flu symptoms.   
  • The CDC highly recommends home isolation and social distancing, asking that those who have the flu stay at home for seven days after the onset of the disease.   
  • Secretary of Education Arne Duncan encourages all schools, districts and states to monitor closely the health of their populations and communicate with local health authorities, political leaders, and communities.   
  • In addition, your state school boards association, school district, and other education organizations may have useful guidelines in dealing with such an outbreak and/or emergency.  The Washington State School Director’s Association produced a six-page publication on preparing schools for a flu pandemic with tips about policy considerations and other issues school boards should think about in response to a pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Education has created an email address ( where education leaders and school staff can direct any questions related to how schools should be proceeding.  They have also asked that if a school is closed due to swine flu, it be reported to them at this email address.   In addition, the department will be continuously updating its blog on swine flu.

 Be sure to check in regularly with NSBA’s school health web site  for all the latest swine flu news and resources that you can use.  And you’re invited to share with BoardBuzz your comments and tips for what your district is doing to deal with swine flu.

Daniela Espinosa|April 28th, 2009|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

A new buzz in learning: linking children together, one student and one classroom at a time

Continuing in today’s theme of really exceptional kids and classes, BoardBuzz is excited to share this story.  Sure we all know that growing up, children often hear the old adage, “one person can make a difference.”  Yet, as life grows busier and responsibilities compound, making a lasting difference sometimes feels elusive.  Teacher Bill Belsey and  Botswanan educator Tommie Hamaluba are working hard to instill in students the tangible reality that one person can make a difference.

Belsey teaches a grade five class in a rural public school in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains of the Canadian community of Springbank, Alberta.  He and his students, self proclaimed as “Canada’s Coolest Class“, have committed to helping prevent malaria by starting their website, Net4Nets.

Net4nets is a collaborative project addressing the issue of malaria education and prevention.  Focused by their work with students in Africa,  namely Botswana, the project aims to prevent malaria through education, awareness, and raising funds to buy mosquito bed nets (currently 71 nets have been purchased).  Belseyand his students raise money through various measures from doing chores to shoveling snow.  Although, it could appear as a meager beginning with only a little moer than $700 raised, the lessons that these students are learning are invaluable.  These students see their impact on the world, understand the power of public health education, and their intercultural exposure is certainly taking the idea of the 21st Century classroom to a new level.  Belsey notes that it’s “quite common to walk into my classroom and see my students matter-of-factly accept Skype video conference calls from Africa projected onto our Smart Board, with students using Google Earth to plot and track mosquito bed net disbursements in Botswana, all the while calmly continuing with their regular math, language arts, and social studies assignments”. 

The students in Belsey’s class will undoubtedly pursue different career paths and make different life choices, but he has instilled an lasting appreciation for the power of education, the flatness of this world, and the commonalities of cultures.  And perhaps, most importantly, he’s taught them that they can dream, “follow their bliss,” and make a difference in this world.  These efforts are replicable and teachers around the country are doing amazing things with the varied resources they have.  Resources and funding are currently taking a hit in education but creativity and passion can overcome any of those challenges as seen by the impact that these students have had fighting malaria and their eagerness to be involved.  Thank you Bill, Tommie, and, of course, “Canada’s Coolest Class” for reminding BoardBuzz that one person (or one class) really can make a difference and for working hard to do your part!

Colleen O'Brien|April 28th, 2009|Categories: Governance, Educational Technology, Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

I’d like to teach the world to sing

In these days where the eyes of the world are focused on the U.K.’s Susan Boyle, it’s nice to know that the good old U.S. of A. has it’s own talent pool.  If you haven’t heard this group of New York City students from Staten Island’s PS22 singing yet, you will soon.  NPR’s pop culture blog did a story on them yesterday, Jimmy Fallon is talking about them on his blog, and Ashton Kutcher is twittering/tweeting about the newest singing sensation to hit the web. 

Feeling down?  Is the news of the economy, GM, or the swine flu getting you upset?  Check out the Eye of the Tiger to pick you up.

Is there another classic song you enjoy?  Perhaps PS22 has covered it–do you need some inspiration during the day?  Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Crowded House, the Beatles, Josh Groban, Tori Amos (we could go on), are all performed by these elementary students.  When you watch, you’ll see the joy in the faces of the singers, the enthusiasm of their teacher, the teamwork, the desire to perform well, and most importantly, the fun in learning.  For more, check out Mr. B’s blog, and take a minute to celebrate one success in America’s urban public schools.

Kevin Scott|April 28th, 2009|Categories: Teachers, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Take that John Stossel! Some good education news!

Ok. BoardBuzz admits, we’re picking on media’s most vocal school-basher. But educators should be forgiven if they gloat over these results: at every age, by every student group, in both reading and math, American schoolkids are outperforming their counterparts from 30 years ago. Moreover, our 9- and 13-year olds are scoring at their highest levels since scores have been collected.

According to NAEP’s Long-Term Trends released today, reading and math scores also increased by statistically significant margins in the four years between 2004 and 2008, with the one exception of 17-year-olds in math. In addition to higher student performance, the report shows dramatic increases in the numbers of students taking high-level math. Nearly two-thirds of 13-year-olds (62%) were taking algebra or pre-algebra compared to one-third in 1986. And a whopping 72% of 17-year-olds had taken courses Algebra II and higher, up from 47% in 1978.

The folks at Education Week had a markedly different take on the matter.

For more information, be sure to check out the Center for Public Education.  You can also participate in an online discussion hosted by NCES at 2:00 p.m. ET.  Click here to submit your question in advance and participate in the chat.

Christina Gordon|April 28th, 2009|Categories: Curriculum, Announcements, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Outside author provides tips on how schools can get inside track on grants

We receive a fair number of unsolicited manuscripts at ASBJ, and some of them are remarkably good – indeed, good enough to make it into the magazine. We also get a lot of submissions that make me wonder if the authors even looked at our magazine before sending us their manuscripts, among them numerous research papers with ABSTRACT scrawled on the first page and many scholarly citations, which go something like this: Maslow, 1967; Freud, 1888; Aristotle, Ancient Times.

We have nothing against scholarly research, but that’s not what we do. And if you send us a research paper— something we say specifically in our writers guidelines that we don’t publish —chances are it won’t be accepted.

The same principal holds true for obtaining federal grants, Howard J. Moskowitz writes in ASBJ‘s May issue.

With the economy in such turmoil, school districts need all the money they can get and grants are a good place to look. But grant reviewers aren’t mind readers. Just because you think you’re proposal is great doesn’t mean they will agree. As Moskowitz says in this excellent primer on grant writing, you must, at minimum, give them the information they’ve requested.

“Teachers wish that students would follow directions. Grant reviewers wish that grant writers would do the same,” Moskowitz writes. “Answer the specifics questions asked in the request for proposal (RFP) and label and format your document as the funder specifies.”

That’s just one of many suggestions Moskowitz offers as he leads readers though the entire grant-writing process.

“Use these ideas to help in writing your next grant,” he concludes, “and I’m sure you will have great success.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|April 28th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: |
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