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Articles from January, 2010

Race to the Top Applicants Face Challenges

In theory, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top (RTTT) program goes something like this: States compete for an unprecedented $4.35 billion in federal dollars, and the ones that win use the money to fund innovative school reform programs that will serve as models for the nation.

In practice, the process of applying for RTTT is a messy one, with school boards, state legislators, teacher unions, and others seeking input into a process that, in many states, has been anything but transparent.

That was the view of several panelists at a Sunday afternoon General Session of the Federal Relations Network Conference titled “Race to the Top: Are You Ready to Run?” For example, Kevin McCann, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, said, “I don’t know to this day who is really on [the] design team” that is putting together Oregon’s application, even though his educator wife asked to a member.

“It’s entirely possible,” he quipped, “that she got chosen and never told me.”

Lack of transparency at the state level is one problem. Other issues mentioned by panel members include the lack of union buy-in (over concerns about teacher evaluation changes, among other things) and the speed at which applications totaling hundreds of pages must be put together.

“The national timeline – we all face this – was way too short,” McCann said.

Still, said Panfilo H. Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, school districts need to embrace RTTT or risk being left behind as other players move forward on school reform.

“This, to me, is a classic example of getting things taken away from us if we don’t get out in front of this,” Contreras said.

The money isn’t a lot in the context of many state budgets, panelists said. For example, New York would receive $700 million if it is one of the states selected in the first round.

“That runs the New York State public schools for four days,” said David Little, director of government relations for the New York State School Boards Association.

But the money is only part of RTTT’s rationale, panelists agreed.

“There a question of why we applied,” Contreras said. “Did we apply for the money, or did we apply because we’re really interested in student achievement?”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|January 31st, 2010|Categories: Governance, School Boards, FRN Conference 2010, Educational Legislation, Federal Programs, Educational Finance, School Board News|Tags: |

Budget Freeze Could Mean ‘Fierce Battle’ for Boards

Suggesting a freeze in discretionary federal spending was a responsible-sounding proposal when made by President Obama during his recent State of the Union Address.

But such a freeze could one day put public education advocates in the middle of a fierce political battle to protect federal education spending.

So warned Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, during a Sunday session of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network Conference in Washington, D.C.

Many of his remarks to conference attendees dealt with the political realities facing federal policymakers. He also offered an explanation of the current budgetary challenges facing them.

But near the end of his remarks, he pointed out the potential implications of Obama’s idea of a spending freeze after the next fiscal year.

Such a budget freeze isn’t going to curb spending in defense, homeland security, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and a number of other protected federal programs, he said. So “you’re creating a fiscal zero-sum game with everything else.”

In a worst-case scenario, a freeze means school board members lobbying Congress not only will need “to make the case for how to build a first-class education system, you’re going [to need] to start making the case why we should be doing that in lieu of other priorities.”

The fight for a slice of the budget pie, Ornstein said, could be all the more challenging in the dysfunctional political environment stymieing fiscal restraint on Capitol Hill today.

The ideological divide in the nation and between political parties already is discouraging compromise and bipartisanship, he said. Conservatives are threatening a primary election challenge against Republican lawmakers who even consider tax increases, while Democrats face a similar risk from liberals if they talk of program spending cuts.

Indeed, much of the political posturing of the past year in Washington, D.C., has been about “struggling to figure out how we can act responsibly … when the incentive for political figures is not to bring short-term pain for long-term gains.”

Whether there’s a way out of this gridlock remains to be seen, Ornstein said. But political leaders know that, among voters, “there is a great desire to get beyond this partisanship … to get things done.”

Congressman George Miller, D-Calif., commented on Ornstein’s idea at his blog, EdLabor Journal.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Del Stover|January 31st, 2010|Categories: School Boards, FRN Conference 2010, Educational Legislation, Federal Programs, Educational Finance, School Board News|Tags: |

NSBA Leaders Motivate Grassroots Advocates

The Federal Relations Network (FRN) helped secure many legislative victories for school boards in 2009 and is now tasked with even more pressing advocacy efforts this year, NSBA’s leaders said at the FRN opening session.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, securing federal funding in light of state budget shortfalls, and President Obama’s challenge for schools to provide a world-class education for all students will highlight this year’s advocacy efforts. It comes after a year with significant victories—most notably helping secure the $100 billion in federal stimulus funds—but also a time in which the Obama administration took more control of the federal role and pushed through several initiatives without Congressional approval.

“We’re here to make sure Congress gets its role right,” Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director, told the 900 attendees (minus a few who were stranded after Saturday’s snowstorm). “ESEA must be reauthorized now, and reauthorized right.”

Because 2010 is an election year—and a particularly volatile election year — members of Congress should be more motivated to overhaul the main federal K-12 law, he added. Education is a more politically palatable issue for voters of both parties than some of more divisive issues, such as immigration.

Expect lawmakers to show a sharp focus on the achievement gap and proposals to strengthen the teaching force, he added. One issue that NSBA is watching is discussion on moving more K-12 funding from formula grants to competitive grants, along the lines of the Race to the Top program. That could severely hinder districts that are unable to afford top-notch grant writers, Resnick noted.

Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director, said that school boards must show leadership to stave off public education critics and naysayers.

“These times demand leadership,” she said. “Leadership is not for the faint of heart; it means stepping up and may cause heartburn.”

With so many people out to make a profit selling questionable services and products under the radar to one individual, school boards must scrutinize those dealings and protect local interests.

She praised President Obama’s remarks on providing a world-class education during his State of the Union address, but added that the White House must help districts achieve those goals.

“We need this federal funding more than ever,” she said. “It will be hard to deliver a world-class education without federal support.”

Joetta Sack-Min, Online Editor

Joetta Sack-Min|January 31st, 2010|Categories: School Boards, FRN Conference 2010, Educational Legislation, Federal Programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, School Board News|Tags: |

Pink Describes What ‘Drives’ Us

In the final general session of the 2010 NSBA Leadership Conference, former political aide, speech writer to Al Gore, and author Daniel Pink illuminated audience members with the findings from his latest book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” Better yet, he showed them what he discovered after several years of research.

“Who here didn’t have breakfast and is thinking about lunch?” Pink queried the crowd.

A hand in the back of the room shot up. It belonged to a woman named Kathy, who hailed from Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Kathy, you’re hungry? Here you go,” Pink said, before handing her a bag containing a bagel and orange juice. “So, Kathy’s being hungry is one motivation. We eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, and we have sex to satisfy our carnal needs. But that’s not all we need as humans, except if you’re a man between ages of 15 to 17.”

Pink called on the audience to illustrate another human motivator.

“I’ll give anyone $10, if they come up here and hold my book up for 30 seconds.” Charlie from Columbus, Ohio, obliged willingly. “As you see, humans respond exquisitely to rewards and punishment.”

But it’s the third drive, the concept that humans will do things because it’s interesting, because we want to get better at it, because we want to contribute to the world, which can inspire humans the most, yet is the least utilized by management and organizations.

“That third drive is extraordinarily important in achieving all kinds of things,” Pink said. “The trouble is businesses and even schools rely too much on that second drive. They think the only reason people will do anything worthy is to entice them with a carrot or beat them with a stick.”

But four years of research and countless studies have shown that just isn’t true.

“If you doubt the salience of that third drive, then let me ask you this: What are you doing here?” Pink said. “Why do you serve on a school board of a state association? You do it because it matters, because it contributes to your community.”

Even though, much of education reform these days seems to focus on incentives and punishments, Pink told the audience they should have cause to be optimistic about their teaching force.

“Intrinsic motivation is what they understand, almost better than anybody else.”

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 31st, 2010|Categories: School Boards, Teachers, Leadership Conference 2010, School Board News|Tags: |

Breaking news on federal education issues

ASBJ editors have been working this weekend covering the National School Board Association’s Leadership Conference and Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference in Washington, D.C.

Read our conference updates and breaking news stories at School Board News Today Conference Daily edition.

Coverage runs through Tuesday and upcoming highlights include Arne Duncan’s address to school boards, Race to the Top information, and a look at President Obama’s proposed education budget. 

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

Kathleen Vail|January 31st, 2010|Categories: Governance, NSBA Publications, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|

Improving School Meals Tops List for District

When a school cafeteria menu calls for peaches, it’s not uncommon for a school district’s food services department to purchase canned fruit soaking in corn syrup.

But that’s not how the officials in Baltimore, Md., like to do things. Working to provide the healthiest meals possible, the city’s school cafeterias—when peaches are needed—turn first to locally grown fruit plucked fresh from a tree.

Few school systems in the nation are doing more to improve school meals than the Baltimore City Public Schools, and urban school leaders learned more about the district’s exiting initiatives Saturday at an Issues Forum of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE). The session was an early bird meeting for representatives who will attend the Federal Relations Network Conference that starts Sunday.

The school system’s award-winning effort began several years ago with a far-ranging policy discussion launched by the school board about providing more nutritious school meals and combating childhood obesity, city school board member George VanHook Sr. told forum attendees.

Adopting a good policy is a crucial, but its ultimate success depends on the energy put into its implementation, VanHook said. And Baltimore was lucky to find just the man to oversee the district’s food and nutrition program: Anthony Geraci, a former chef and food service consultant who had successfully revitalized a New Hampshire district’s food services program.

In Baltimore, Geraci has worked to improve the quality of school meals that students used to describe as “nasty.” He’s emphasized the purchase of Maryland-grown produce, and is building a central kitchen for the school system where food-service personnel will prepare fresh meals from scratch.

Also on his agenda has been involving students in meal planning, operating a 33-acre farm so students can learn where food comes from, and starting a Great Kids Café to introduce students to careers in the food industry, he told urban school leaders.

Most important, however, is putting healthy food in front of students, particularly those living in an urban environment, Geraci said. Too many are not eating healthy meals at school—or at home.

“It’s not that our children aren’t willing to eat good, fresh food, it’s that they don’t have access to good, fresh food,” he said. “Many of our kids are growing up in ‘food deserts.'”

Del Stover, Senior Editor, Publications

Del Stover|January 30th, 2010|Categories: School Boards, Leadership Conference 2010, Wellness, Educational Finance, Urban Schools, School Board News|Tags: , |

Attorneys: Don’t Run From Diversity Policies

More than two years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down race-conscious student assignment policies in the Seattle and Louisville public schools, many other districts are needlessly avoiding strategies that can increase diversity and boost student achievement, NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negron Jr. said Saturday.

“Most school districts are simply going to run from diversity policies because of fear of litigation.” Negron said Saturday at a break out session titled “Diversity: Dead or Different?”

But running scared is a mistake, said Negron and Arthur L. Coleman, managing partner for EducationCounsel L.L.C. Within decades the United States will be a “majority minority” nation. Global economic competition will continue to increase. The most successful students will be those who can thrive in a diverse environment. And one way to prepare them for that future is to continue seeking diversity in public schools and classrooms as an academic goal.

“Race and diversity are very much in play,” Negron said. “But you have to do it the right way…. It has to be part of a broad academic policy.”

That means districts not under court-ordered desegregation plans cannot seek to diversity as a means of redressing past discrimination; their efforts must instead have a broad academic purpose, Coleman said. He said the high court emphasized in its rejection of the Louisville plan that only about 3 percent of the district’s students would benefit from its race-based student assignments — hardly a prescription for broad academic benefit.

Districts interested in diversifying schools can use things like geographic boundaries, socioeconomic status, designation as English language learners, and other demographic criteria, but not if these are proxies for race, Negron said. And they should look to stakeholders outside the district, including businesses and community groups, to validate their actions, something the University of Michigan did in the wake of its own 2003 Supreme Court case concerning undergraduate admissions. In fact, Coleman said, looking at the policies of colleges and universities can benefit school districts as well.

“Who are the external validators who can come in and say, ‘This is important to our success?'” Coleman asked. “And this is exactly what the University of Michigan did.”

He added: “Frankly, there is more abundant higher education consideration of race than in the K-12 setting,” Coleman said.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor, Publications

Lawrence Hardy|January 30th, 2010|Categories: School Law, Leadership Conference 2010, School Board News|Tags: , |

Helping School Boards Understand and Use Data

Despite the numerous federal and state policies that have established data-based decision making as the norm for K-12 education in recent years, many school board members aren’t sure exactly what the concept means and how they should be using it to do their work.

Working with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NSBA’s Center for Public Education partnered with three state associations (Michigan, Illinois, and California) to not only help school boards understand data but specifically show them how to use it to evaluate and guide their policies.

One of the first steps in the training, consultant Katheryn Gemberling explained at the Leadership Conference breakout session, Good Measures for Good Governance, is helping school boards understand the types of data available and ways that data could be used to make their work more effective. Her training uses real-life scenarios and hands-on examples of models that show the different ways data can be compiled and then used.

“We try to get boards really comfortable and confident in using data,” she said. “We use all kinds of data, too, not just student data.”

One of the most important facets, Gemberling added, is helping board members figure out the critical questions to ask — questions are often more important than answers.

One common mistake that she demonstrated was the danger of using averages, which can mask the extremities and trends within a particular study. The project shows school boards how distribution models such as stacked columns, which show disaggregated data by percentage, and scatter plots, which show the range of the subjects examined, give a much more comprehensive view.

For instance, one district used a stacked column to show how teacher assignments to high-need, mixed, and low-need schools correlated to the years of experience of the teacher. While the average years of teaching experience in high-need schools was relatively high, the column showed that about 40 percent of the teachers were actually in their first year of the job.

Nuances exists between using data for accountability and using it to drive continuous improvement.

The CPE, Gemberling, and other consultants have built three modules to demonstrate effective use of data: Creating a Data Culture, Teacher Quality, and High School and Beyond. The CPE is surveying the school officials within the three pilot states for guidance on new modules.

Ultimately, the CPE and NSBA will work with other state associations to provide materials and a training process for their local members. The CPE also will offer online self-guided tutorials and tools.

Joetta Sack-Min, Online Editor

Joetta Sack-Min|January 30th, 2010|Categories: School Boards, Leadership Conference 2010, Educational Technology, School Board News|Tags: , |

Building a 21st Century Education

Though it was one of the final breakout sessions of the afternoon and snow showers continued to blanket the DC Metro area, Saturday’s program on building a 21st century education drew a packed room and ended with a lively discussion.

Led by Patte Barth, director of NSBA’s Center for Public Education, the 45-minute session offered a brisk overview of the forces that have changed the workforce in the last few decades and how schools must adapt to equip students with the necessary skills they need to be successful.

In 1980, for instance, Americans collectively consumed 4,500 trillion words a day; in 2008 that figure is 10,845 trillion words.

“Can anyone even comprehend what a trillion is,” Barth asks the audience.

“That’s like our national debt,” shot back an audience member.

After the laughter subsided, Barth explained that while the Internet — which feeds some 3.6 zettabytes of data to U.S. consumers a day — has made information more accessible, it hasn’t made it more attainable.

“The information is just bombarding us now, we have to process it, digest it, make sense of it,” Barth says.

Hence the need for higher-order thinking skills and a broader view of competencies. The traditional curriculum is not enough, Barth says, students need to develop the ability to apply what they learn in various contexts.

In the 21st century, students need to have the 3C’s: critical thinking or problem solving, communication/collaboration, and creativity. Barth referenced a scene from the movie, Apollo 13, to illustrate what the 3C’s look like in action.

“This engineer comes in and throws all these random parts on a table and says this is what they have to work with, figure out a way to fix this ship and get them back to earth,” Barth says. “Of course, the engineers knew their stuff, but they had never encountered this situation before and they had to collaborate, and communicate with one another be really creative to find a solution.”

Before ending the session, Barth turned it over to the audience, to find out what solutions their school boards had discovered or what educators as a whole should work on to bring schools into the 21st century.

“Having an analysis of the outcome, not being afraid to fail, it’s a way of thinking that has to start in kindergarten, one audience member posited. “Why do kids like math in kindergarten, but they hate it in fourth grade? Teaching critical thinking skills starts early and needs to continue through education.”

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor, Publications

Naomi Dillon|January 30th, 2010|Categories: Leadership Conference 2010, Educational Technology, School Board News|Tags: , |

Photos on Flickr

Photos from NSBA’s Leadership Conference are available for download on our Flickr site. Go to

Glenn Cook|January 30th, 2010|Categories: Leadership Conference 2010, School Board News|Tags: |
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