Articles from December, 2009

Pets— the gift that keeps on giving

It’s that time of year when charities bring out their best heartwarming stories, and I have to admit the ones that rescue pets always get my check. Call me a crazy cat lady, but I firmly believe that pets bring more benefits to society than we’ll ever realize.

ASBJ‘s research columnist, Susan Black, must have the same soft spot. In the December issue of ASBJ, she devotes her space to heartwarming stories about therapy animals–dogs and cats and other furry friends that even can help children learn to read. Yes, that’s right—they help children learn to read.

“Therapy animals” are pets that are trained and certified by programs that “are proliferating across the country,” as more schools realize their success, Black writes. In most cases, they are the pets of volunteers or staff who have passed rigorous personality and demeanor tests and have undergone training to ensure they are suitable to work with children.

The concept for the reading programs is quite simple: students who have difficulties reading are placed with a therapy dog that “listens” as the child reads to it. What researchers—including Black—have witnessed is that children who are reluctant readers often blossom with a therapy dog.

While they may have been embarrassed or ashamed to read aloud in class, the dog tends to provide a calming effect that allows the child to practice their reading skills more successfully. Studies have found that children who read to dogs gain substantially more points on reading assessments and read at faster rates than struggling children who do not have such programs.  The dogs are trained to sit there and listen, perhaps offer a paw for support.   
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Naomi Dillon|December 23rd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Leadership, Wellness|Tags: |

Expert knowledge of subject not enough to make a good teacher

Photo courtesy Stockvault

Photo courtesy Stockvault

My high school physics teacher had a doctorate in the subject and was obviously brilliant.

But, oh, was she boring.

In college, I took a course in 19th century European philosophy, taught by a young professor with a positively encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.

And that’s what his lectures sounded like — like somebody reading the encyclopedia.

Just because you have great content knowledge doesn’t mean you can teach. It’s something the teachers unions have been saying for years in an attempt to defend the kind of pedagogical training they get in education courses.  But among today’s “reformers,” such arguments are often dismissed as empty defenses of teacher colleges, some of which, to be sure, are horrible.

Just take bright college graduates with good content knowledge, these reformers say — all those young people armed with surplus enthusiasm and no baggage — and let them work their magic.

Indeed, the idea sounds enticing to me and a wonderful quick fix — until I stop to remember my own student experiences. Now, according to a recent story in Education Week, researchers are questioning whether teachers who majored in math significantly improve students’ math skills at the elementary and middle school level.
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Naomi Dillon|December 22nd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Teachers|Tags: , |

Education headlines

sbn_LOGO“The cliff” is the term already being used to describe what may happen to school funding when the federal stimulus funding runs out. Now, a new study by the New York Comptrollers office gives specific examples of the multi-billion dollar deficits states will face, and it is daunting. New York, for one, will see a $2 billion shortfall after its K-12 stimulus money ends in 2011-12, the Associated Press reports, and the analysis estimates the state’s already high local property taxes could increase by 8 percent. In other news, Dallas finds its schools’ climates vary widely and high schools are taking student athletes’ concussions more seriously. Read these stories and more in School Board News Today.

Joetta Sack-Min|December 22nd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|

Coping with the blizzard — and school closings

Stock Vault

Stock Vault

If you’re on the East Coast, you got some snow this weekend. Here in Washington, D.C., they’re calling it the Blizzard of 2009. In Northern Virginia, where I live, we officially received more than 16 inches of snow.

Yes, other parts of the country are used to this kind of snowfall — we’re not. Even those of us who hail from colder places (like me) have lived in this area so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to deal with so much snow.

Around here, even the threat of snow can close schools. No matter where you live, the decision to close school because of weather is controversial. Some parents are mad if you close; some are mad if you don’t.

My sons’ school district closed not only for today but also for the rest of the week — which means we won’t have school until after winter break. I’m glad my district decided to do this, even if it means my supplies for my kindergartener’s holiday party will sit unused until next year.

From my window (I’m working from home — federal government closed today, so that means our offices are closed, too) I can see the school bus stop, covered in a foot of snow. No way could kids stand at that bus stop, even if the roads were clear. Mine is not — it’s only seen a snow plow once since the storm.

Conditions at on my street are pretty typical around my county. Many people don’t own snow blowers, which are pretty much required for getting rid of so much snow from the sidewalks.

When the district made the announcement, I applauded it. I saw from my listservs and Facebook friends that other parents disagreed. One mom complained that the district had gone for the “nuclear option” by closing the district for the three days before winter break.

In a district of our size, that’s to be expected. I hope that parents keep in mind that district officials consider all factors in their decisions — sidewalks, parking lots, and road conditions — to close schools.

Also, today would have been a half day and Wednesday was an early dismissal day. I suspect not a lot of instruction will be missed in the next three days.

Anyone out there had to make an unpopular school closing decision? Let us know and we’ll publish your comments.

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

Kathleen Vail|December 21st, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

Week in Review

Food, glorious food, has seemed to occupy our blog postings this week. And small wonder, with sweets and treats around every corner (especially in our office), it is hard to resist, but as Senior Editor Naomi Dillon writes: a little indulgence is alright from time to time. Though, indulgence is not something school meals and the federal agencies that oversee their production should practice, as more reports and attention are being placed on the quality of cafeteria food. Read these entries and more from this week’s Leading Source. And stay safe and inside from the winter storm traveling through much of the country.

Naomi Dillon|December 19th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Week in Blogs|

Education headlines

sbn_LOGOLos Angeles Superintendent Ramon Cortines is demanding that schools fire weak teachers before they receive tenure, so that the district is not forced by state teacher-tenure laws to keep ineffective but more experienced teachers in the event of more layoffs. The move was spurred by a Los Angeles Times investigation that is slated to run in Sunday’s paper, so stay tuned. In other news, Chicago’s school board approved a new policy for admissions to its magnet schools that angered some minority groups, and read about New York arts students who are auditioning for a coveted seat at the city’s performing arts high schools. Read these stories in School Board News Today.

Joetta Sack-Min|December 18th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|

The week in blogs

Stockvault photo of New York City

Stockvault photo of New York City

What’s the toughest thing about being a leader? According to New York City schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, it’s knowing “when to put your foot on the brake, and when to put it on the gas.”

“You keep it on the brake, it will be a safe ride,” Klein says “You’re going nowhere, but it will be  a safe ride.” Put it on the gas “and you might go over the hill.”

Klein isn’t talking Driver’s Ed here; he’s looking at what makes a dynamic school superintendent. In this short video interview with Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, he boasts about the changes he’s made in the nation’s largest school system, discusses school leadership in general, and comes to the defense of fellow pedal-to-the-metal reformer, Michelle Rhee of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

My favorite line from the interview concerns Rhee’s often brusque management style. “Systems don’t change ’cause you charm them,” Klein says.

Is Detroit getting its very own “rubber room?” Don’t cheer. This would be a shame, says the Detroit News story, which is on the Eduwonk blog. “Rubber room” is the derisive term given to that place where New York City has put unproductive teachers whose union contracts make them almost impossible to fire.  According to the News, Detroit’s latest teacher agreement may set up the district for the same thing. 

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Lawrence Hardy|December 18th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Technology, Governance, NSBA Publications|

School meals getting increasing attention, news coverage

Photo courtesy Stockvault

Photo courtesy Stockvault

A school cafeteria worker in North Dakota returns to work after a weekend illness—and, within days, 52 students and eight faculty members are sick.

Ninety-one people fall ill from eating contaminated food at a high school in Illinois, while 136 succumb to illness after eating at a school cafeteria in Kansas.

All told, reports USA Today, “23,000 food-borne illnesses were reported in schools from 1998 through 2007.” And that’s just the illnesses the newspaper could identify from U.S. Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

Given that schools serve more than 5 billion meals annually, it should come as no surprise that lots of kids and adults end up sick, falling victim to mild stomach upset, diarrhea, stomach flu, or a more serious ailment leading to hospitalization. And it’s not as if kids are dropping dead from cafeteria food.

Still, this kind of news should prompt local school leaders to ask questions. Are school cafeterias as clean as they should be? Do cafeteria workers wear gloves when handling food? Are they checking the temperature in the refrigerator? Are ill workers handling food?
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Naomi Dillon|December 17th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|

Redesigning public education

We’re all struggling to do more with less these days. As budgets are cut and traditional resources are shrinking, we face the demand for new and innovative ideas. But innovation needs to be much more than an idea – it needs to produce real results. The challenge in public education is to identify which new initiatives make the best use of limited resources – time, money, and energy.

In the January issue of American School Board Journal, author and founder of the Leadership and Learning Center, Douglas Reeves, outlines his plan for how school boards can redesign public education. In his article, The Board’s Role in Innovation, Mr. Reeves calls for school districts to join the dialogue and share their success stories, and he outlines the steps needed to make real progress in these tough times. For starters, school boards need to deal with “initiative fatigue” – too many priorities, spread too thin. School leaders must also identify sound practices that don’t rely on budget-draining single programs or products. BoardBuzz would like to hear from you – does your board have a success story to share with our readers?

Mr. Reeves will delve deeper into this topic at the 2010 NSBA Annual Conference in Chicago, where he will share more ideas on what works and what doesn’t and outline how school leaders can improve student achievement by sharpening their focus.

Barbara Moody|December 17th, 2009|Categories: Conferences and Events, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

School boards give perspectives on charter schools

The National Journal produces a series of “expert” blogs with leaders in the education community, including NSBA’s executive director, Anne L. Bryant. The blog solicits opinions on a variety of topics, and its most recent question is definitely a worthwhile read:  “Do charter schools deserve the spotlight?”  At least 23 opinions have been posted with varying degrees of support for charter schools, and some fascinating pro-and-con arguments.

BoardBuzz wants to share some thoughts from some 150 experts – school board members — who composed, developed, and voted on NSBA’s Beliefs and Policies on charter schools. Without further ado, here is  NSBA’s Delegate Assembly take on charter schools:

NSBA recognizes ‘charter schools’ are one of several mechanisms available to local school boards, provided that the local school board:

(a)     Retains sole authority to grant the charter and receives full funding for monitoring costs;

(b)     Determines accountability, such as determining the criteria that will be used in establishing the charter;

(c)     Retains authority to decertify or not renew the charter of any school that fails to meet criteria set forth in the charter or as otherwise specified by the local school board, including but not limited to a requirement that charter schools demonstrate improved student achievement;

(d)     Has the authority to ensure that a charter does not foster racial, ethnic, social, religious or economic segregation or segregation of children by disability, ability, sexual orientation or academic performance; and

(e)     Determines that funding for the other schools under its jurisdiction will not be adversely affected.

In cases where entities other than the local school district authorize the charter, the law should require that all schools receiving public funds meet the same standards of accountability and that funds for traditional local schools are not diminished or reduced by the funding mechanism for charter schools.

(Article I, 1.10, Charter Schools, Beliefs and Policies of the NSBA, as amended April 3, 2009, San Diego, Calif.)

Joetta Sack-Min|December 16th, 2009|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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