Articles from November, 2010

Should we treat public education like a business?

In an interesting article in The Christian Science Monitor, the question was posed if business-savvy school officials have improved urban education?

It seems several mayors of large cities have been turning to business leaders “to push their agenda of education reform. But many critics argue that schools need leadership from trained educators.

In the article Diane Ravitch, BoardBuzz‘s favorite education author and activist, is quoted and noted, “Yes, a superintendent should have a background in education. There are very specific issues … having to do with curricula, instruction, pedagogy, relations … Education is not a business.”

Let us know what you think.

Alexis Rice|November 30th, 2010|Categories: Urban Schools, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

NSBA notes flaws in child nutrition bill scheduled for vote

(updated to reflect new date of vote)

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Dec. 2 on a bill to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which, if passed, would send the legislation to President Obama this month.

NSBA is working to amplify the concerns of school districts about the financial and operational impact of this legislation, known as the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” (S. 3307). During a preliminary debate on the bill, several members of the House cited NSBA’s concerns. On Nov. 30, NSBA sent a letter to Representatives outlining those issues, which include:

  • Standards—S. 3307 authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to issue standards for all foods sold outside the school meal program, on the school campus, and at anytime during the school day. Many school districts already have modified and improved options for foods sold outside the federal school meals program and rely on revenue from those sales for school operations.
  • Funding—The bill authorizes $4.5 billion in new funding over 10 years. The bulk of new funding will go toward increasing the reimbursement rate for school lunches; however, the funding level is inadequate to cover the cost to most school districts of compliance with new standards, reporting, and implementation requirements.
  • Reimbursement—The bill authorizes a six-cent increase per school lunch that complies with updated nutrition standards for school meals. NSBA estimates the actual increased cost of compliance ranges from 11 to 25 cents. There is no reimbursement increase for school breakfast in either bill. Compliance with updated standards is not mandatory, but Congressional Budget Office scoring for the legislation assumes that all school districts will do so—and districts will be under scrutiny due to new reporting requirements in the bill.
  • Paid meal pricing—The bill regulates how schools establish prices for paid meals if it appears that the price is artificially low compared to subsidized meals. The price of paid meals is both an access issue and a local control issue. School districts may try to keep the price of meals low in order to assure that low-income families that don’t qualify for subsidized meals can still afford a school lunch.

NSBA is asking the House members to instead pass a simple extension of the current programs.

“Despite good intentions, this bill has many new and problematic requirements that, taken together, make it difficult if not impossible for school districts to successfully implement,” said Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s director of federal programs. “It creates additional burdens and unfunded mandates at a time when our school districts are facing severe budget shortfalls.”

NSBA has communicated these concerns to members of Congress and the Obama administration throughout the two-year legislative process.

According to NSBA’s advocacy department, other provisions in S. 3307 create new requirements for school districts, but provide no new federal funding for implementation. These include:

  • Training and certification requirements for all school food service personnel.
  • Expanded Wellness Policy requirements including implementation status reports and periodic reassessments of the policy.
  • New reporting requirements on the school nutrition environment, including food safety, local wellness polices, program participation, and nutritional quality of meals.
  • Independent review of applications in high-error/high-risk districts.
  • Extension of food safety requirements to the entire school campus.
  • Authority for the Secretary to levy fines against states and districts for program rule violations.
Joetta Sack-Min|November 30th, 2010|Categories: Educational Legislation, Wellness, School Board News|

Schools still have long way to go in preventing anti-gay harassment

ASBJFifty years from now, I predict, all the controversy over the rights of gay people to marry, to serve in the military, to be protected from bullying and harassment — in short, to live their lives like other ordinary Americans — will seem as distant (and, to the more progressive younger generation, as vaguely incomprehensible) as the struggles over racial equality and a woman’s right to vote.  I most likely won’t be around to see this, of course, but everything I know about how social and political change occurs in this country says that fear and prejudice will eventually give way to, well, reality.

But we’re not there yet. And one has to look only at the ongoing harassment of gay students in public schools and colleges to see how far we have to go. For the current issue of ASBJ, I wrote an update about this harassment and what schools are, and are not, doing about it. The occasion was a tragic one: the suicides of at least six LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) students within the first month of school.

Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has taken an important step, telling districts that they could lose federal funds if they don’t take steps to protect gay students.

“A school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring,” the department said in a recent letter to schools.

My story ends with a heartfelt plea from Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, for school board members to look beyond the current bitter politics of the issue and work to end the harassment.

“We are losing wonderful kids,” says Rader, who has a transgendered child in college. “And we owe those who are living more than a life of shame and sadness.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|November 30th, 2010|Categories: NSBA Publications, Wellness, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

Education headlines: Ravitch calls on GOP to give back local control

The Wall Street Journal‘s opinion page features a commentary by Diane Ravitch, who writes that the newly elected GOP representatives should reinstate their party’s historic stance on local control for education and revamp the troubled No Child Left Behind law… Stanford University professor Larry Cuban tells why non-educator superintendents are not usually a good deal for urban school districts in the Washington Post… More colleges are telling high schools to change their logos if those are deemed to be too close to a trademarked mascot, the New York Times reports…

And New Jersey lawmakers have approved a measure to allow districts to sell advertising on their school buses to raise cash, although Gov. Chris Christie has not yet signed it. The Associated Press writes, “The measure was backed by the New Jersey School Boards Association, which noted that it’s optional for districts to participate and that local school boards will have the authority to approve ads.”

Joetta Sack-Min|November 29th, 2010|Categories: Announcements, School Board News|

Economists predict higher education the next bubble to burst

img-thingWe know all about the “technology bubble” that burst earlier this decade, we’re now dealing with the fallout from a “housing bubble,” and economists are predicting the next bubble to burst will be the emerging “education bubble”—because too many people are seeking a higher education.

How can that be? We’ve heard over and over that the 21st century economy demands higher-level skills and a high school diploma is no longer good enough. We’ve seen the statistics on the lifetime earnings of college graduates versus those who only have a high school diploma or drop out.

To clarify, the “education bubble” is a lot more specific, and no, higher education is not a bad word. It turns out, though, that we need to be more careful on the type of higher education we’re pushing and the schools that students attend after graduation.

Since the economy took a nosedive in 2008, and unemployment rates have hovered around 9 percent nationally, more people are looking for a steady line of work and realize that they need new skills. Which is a good thing. However, at the same time, a cottage industry has arisen seeking to provide these people with a college degree, career diploma, or some other credential that may put them in debt but may or may not help them find a job.

Naomi Dillon|November 29th, 2010|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

Creating food allergies policies and practices in schools

Eating food can be a pleasurable experience and food is often used to celebrate an occasion.  But what happens when certain foods are the enemy and make you afraid of eating?  Across the country, approximately three million children face that problem.  Food allergic children don’t know when the next food they eat will bring on a set of immunological responses that can sometimes lead to anaphylaxis – a severe, whole-body allergic reaction that develops rapidly, often within seconds or minutes and can be life-threatening.   

How can those children feel safe and supported in the school environment? That is what NSBA sought to answer through a webcast that aired on November 9, 2010.  The webcast was developed by NSBA to provide school leaders with the necessary information and tools to help keep food allergic children safe and ready to learn. 

The webcast featured NSBA’s own senior staff attorney, Lisa Soronen, who spoke of the legal implications of not addressing food allergies within schools, and School Health project associate Amanda Martinez, who provided the audience with useful resources to help revise or develop food allergy policies and practices within schools.  In addition, panelists included a school board member, a superintendent, a nutrition coordinator, a health services director, a school nurse, a CDC health scientist, a medical advisor to the FDA, a Vice President of FAAN, and two students and their parents who shared their personal experiences in dealing with food allergies in school.

The webcast covered an array of topics related to food allergies including: clinical background; problems surrounding food allergic children such as bullying; and food allergy policy, procedure and practice issues.  The panelists’ key messages to better manage food allergies within schools are: students, school staff, parents and the community need to be educated on the facts and practices; communication needs to be open and ongoing; and planning and training are essential. 

BoardBuzz has heard great things about the webcast and NSBA School Health Programs’ staff have received excellent reviews on it.  If you didn’t have the opportunity to view the webcast live, don’t miss out on checking its archived version.  To access it, go to and click on the webcast icon and let us know what you think!

Daniela Espinosa|November 29th, 2010|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

New ASBJ examines impact of school choice

The December issue of American School Board Journal, now available online, goes inside two schools in Camden. N.J.—one a charter, one a traditional public school—to see how school choice has impacted the high-poverty community. How has the traditional school fared since many of its most engaged students and families left for the charter? And is the charter actually offering a better education? Read “A Tale of Two Schools” to find out.

Also available online is the recently updated version of the annual Education Vital Signs report:

Erin Walsh|November 24th, 2010|Categories: Charter Schools, Urban Schools, School Board News|

Education headlines: NCLB student transfers overwhelm high-performing schools

Students transferring from failing schools are overwhelming successful schools in their areas, an unintended byproduct of the No Child Left Behind law, the Washington Post reports… At NSBA’s recent 2010 T+L Conference in Phoenix, Executive Director Anne L. Bryant discusses with eSchool News the annual survey on how technology improves student learning as well as her views on “Waiting for Superman” and other issues… The Miami school board is debating whether to rescind some breaks for developers who provide low-income housing, the Miami Herald reports… New Jersey’s lawmakers pass one of the toughest anti-bullying measures , requiring schools to develop anti-harassment programs, but some have concerns over whether its provisions infringe on constitutional rights, according to the Associated Press…. Also in the Washington Post, the Education Trust has released a new report on graduation rates at the nation’s fast-growing sector of for-profit higher education institutions, likening many to sub-prime lenders …

Joetta Sack-Min|November 24th, 2010|Categories: Conferences and Events, Announcements, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, School Board News|

Thanksgiving for education

BoardBuzz is a big fan of John Merrow,  PBS NewsHour‘s Education Correspondent and President of Learning Matters.  In honor of Thanksgiving, Merrow takes a humorous approach in a commentary on his blog about public education noting, “somehow this Thanksgiving seems more like Halloween, full of tricks and treats” and discusses six hot topics in education right now.

BoardBuzz wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving and thanks you for everything you do to advance education.

We’ll be off on Thursday and Friday, so check out our next posting on Monday,  November 29.

Alexis Rice|November 24th, 2010|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Dichotomy’s present, prolific in story of public education

otb-camdenCamden, N.J., is no longer the most violent city in America. That distinction now belongs to St. Louis, Mo., my hometown.

At least, that’s the assessment by CQ Press, which each year examines the rate of violent crime in America’s cities and metropolitan areas. For the record, according to 2009 statistics, St. Louis had 2,070 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, with Camden, last year’s “winner,” not far behind.

CQ’s whole enterprise is misleading, however. In Camden, as in St. Louis, how violent it is depends on where exactly in the city you are. Visit Camden’s gleaming, touristy waterfront, its lovely aquarium and fine hotels, and you might not know what problems lurk in its neighborhoods. Spend a weekend in downtown St. Louis – going to the zoo, the symphony, or a Cardinals game – and you’d probably have no idea you’re in the “most violent” city in America.

I mention Camden’s crime rate, because Senior Editor Del Stover and I wrote about two schools in some of the poorer parts of that city for this month’s ASBJ. Del went to LEAP University Charter School.  I visited the more “traditional” Woodrow Wilson High School.

Naomi Dillon|November 24th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Urban Schools, School Reform, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |
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