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Articles from January, 2011

WFS — A well-deserved snub

For once, it was a good surprise.

We’d spent months expecting “Waiting for Superman,” the documentary by director Davis Guggenheim that promotes charter schools, to receive a nomination—and possibly win–an Academy Award. Last week, it was snubbed — no nomination.

Since the movie came out last fall, though, I think a lot of people have realized there are serious flaws in Guggenheim’s logic (many of which were outlined in this scathing critique by prominent education historian and author Diane Ravitch).

Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss brings to light a few others—namely, some of the scenes were staged and some of the characters were misrepresented. That, um, certainly did not bode well for an Oscar.

Strauss writes, “Guggenheim edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, even though they can’t be, by their very design. He unfairly demonized Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and gave undeserved hero status to reformer and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Guggenheim compared schools in Finland and the United States without mentioning that Finland has a 3 percent child poverty rate and the United States has a 22 percent rate.”

It gets worse—he also staged a scene by a mother touring a charter school, after she knew her child did not get it, according to Strauss. And another odd scene was Emily Jones, a white student in an exclusive San Francisco Bay suburb who appeared to be hinging her hopes and dreams on getting into a local charter. Guggenheim makes the traditional high school sound inferior, but turns out that Jones—and many others—think it’s actually quite good (and it has the test scores to prove it). Jones later told a reporter that she just happened to like the charter school even better.

My main complaint about the film was that Guggenheim never went to any of the schools that he was so critical of—you just had to take his word as he drove past those buildings. Perhaps next time Guggenheim should spend some time inside those schools—and really learn the issues–before he decides he can solve any problems.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|January 31st, 2011|Categories: Governance, Urban Schools, School Reform, American School Board Journal|

CPE releases new report on effective school boards

NSBA’s Center for Public Education has released a new report, “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards.” Below is a summary provided by CPE of the report’s findings.

What makes an effective school board – one that positively impacts student achievement? From a research perspective, it’s a complex question. It involves evaluating virtually all functions of a board, from internal governance and policy formulation to communication with teachers, building administrators, and the public.
But the research that exists is clear: boards in high-achieving districts exhibit habits and characteristics that are markedly different from boards in low-achieving districts. So what do these boards do? Here are eight characteristics:

1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision. Effective boards make sure these goals remain the district’s top priorities and that nothing else detracts from them. In contrast, low-achieving boards “were only vaguely aware of school improvement initiatives” (Lighthouse I). “There was little evidence of a pervasive focus on school renewal at any level when it was not present at the board level,” researchers said. (Lighthouse I)

2. Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels. In high-achieving districts, poverty, lack of parental involvement and other factors were described as challenges to be overcome, not as excuses. Board members expected to see improvements in student achievement quickly as a result of initiatives. In low-achieving districts, board members frequently referred to external pressures as the main reasons for lack of student success. (Lighthouse I)

3. Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement. In interviews with hundreds of board members and staff across districts, researchers Goodman, Fulbright, and Zimmerman found that high-performing boards focused on establishing a vision supported by policies that targeted student achievement. Poor governance was characterized by factors such as micro-management by the board.

4. Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals. In high-achieving districts, school board members could provide specific examples of how they connected and listened to the community, and school board members received information from many different sources, including the superintendent, curriculum director, principals and teachers. Findings and research were shared among all board members. (Lighthouse I; Waters and Marzano) By comparison, school boards in low-achieving districts were likely to cite communication and outreach barriers. Staff members from low-achieving districts often said they didn’t know the board members at all.

5. Effective school boards are data savvy: they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement. The Lighthouse I study showed that board members in high-achieving districts identified specific student needs through data, and justified decisions based on that data. Board members regularly sought such data and were not shy about discussing it, even if it was negative. By comparison, board members in low-achieving districts tended to greet data with a “blaming” perspective, describing teachers, students and families as major causes for low performance. In these districts, board members frequently discussed their decisions through anecdotes and personal experiences rather than by citing data. They left it to the superintendent to interpret the data and recommend solutions.

6. Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals. According to researchers LaRocque and Coleman, effective boards saw a responsibility to maintain high standards even in the midst of budget challenges. “To this end, the successful boards supported extensive professional development programs for administrators and teachers, even during times of [fiscal] restraint.” In low-achieving districts, however, board members said teachers made their own decisions on staff development based on perceived needs in the classroom or for certification.

7. Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust. In successful districts, boards defined an initial vision for the district and sought a superintendent who matched this vision. In contrast, in stagnant districts, boards were slow to define a vision and often recruited a superintendent with his or her own ideas and platform, leading the board and superintendent to not be in alignment. (MDRC/Council of Great City Schools)

8. Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. High-achieving districts had formal, deliberate training for new board members.  They also often gathered to discuss specific topics. Low-achieving districts had board members who said they did not learn together except when the superintendent or other staff members made presentations of data. (Lighthouse I; LFA; LaRocque and Coleman)

Though the research on school board effectiveness is in the beginning stages, the studies included in this report make it clear that school boards in high-achieving districts have attitudes, knowledge and approaches that separate them from their counterparts in lower-achieving districts. In this era of fiscal constraints and a national environment focused on accountability, boards in high-performing districts can provide an important blueprint for success. In the process, they can offer a road map for school districts nationwide.

Erin Walsh|January 31st, 2011|Categories: School Boards, School Board News|

Week in Review

Walmart, yes Walmart, is the latest industry heavyweight to join First Lady Michelle Obama’s national campaign to end childhood obesity.  Meanwhile, it seems all of the attention on making sure high school grads leave with the necessary skills and knowledge should also extend to our nation’s college graduates. Finally, California lawmakers, after gutting education funding, are putting in measures to make it illegal for schools to pass on their financial difficulties to families. Read these entries and more from this week’s Leading Source.

Naomi Dillon|January 29th, 2011|Categories: Week in Blogs, American School Board Journal|

The week in blogs

High School Soup had great things to say today about NCES’s new Education Dashboard, a database that looks at how students in the states and nation rank against a number of key academic benchmarks. In fact, the blog says, the new resource shows “the Obama Administration gets it…”

All the indicators on the dashboard are connected in some way to the Administration’s signature goal of making the U.S. once again the leader in college degree attainment.  

Now, a critique: National stats are great — and a tremendous help to reporters like me — but sometimes these relentless counts and comparisons seem to focus on ends (some of them of dubious value, such as the number of states using student achievement data in teacher performance evaluations) at the expense of substance.

To which, none other than Ronald Reagan might have replied – as he did in one of his famous presidential debates _– “There you go again!” Only this time, the one saying that is Alexander Russo, taking so-called education “progressives” to task for being much better at knocking popular school reforms (the Harlem Children Zone, the educational changes in places like New York and Chicago – or, I might add, the new Education Dashboard) without coming up with better ideas of their own.

So, yes, we’ve still got a long way to go in the way of developing 21st-century skills. As one national daily put it, “Educators are hardly triumphant and say different skills are needed to compete in a global knowledge economy.”

So true. Except the above quote comes not from a U.S. newspaper but from the state-controlled China Daily, which, according to Atlantic blogger James Fallows, isn’t overwhelmed by the fact that Shanghai teenagers are outscoring the rest of the world in reading and math, and says they need to do more critical thinking and less rote learning.  

Finally, let me recommend Joanne Jacobs’ blog on the rise in “blended learning” at the K12 level, a combination of traditional and online classes that looks like a wave of the future.

 Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|January 28th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Educational Technology, Student Achievement, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

Education headlines: Memphis, Shelby County boards debate consolidation

In an unprecedented move, the Memphis City school district is preparing to give up its charter and merge with the much smaller Shelby County school district, the New York Times reports. Such a move would set off tensions between suburban and urban, affluent and poor, white and minority residents as well as raising a host of logistical issues… With many high-performing, highly regarded schools being labeling as failing under the No Child Left Behind law, President Obama and his aides will work to make the law more flexible, the Washington Post writes… Following up on a case that made national headlines last year because of its brutal violence, the mother of a Deerfield Beach, Fla. teenager who was beaten and kicked by a fellow student wearing steel-toe boots is suing the school district, saying that it did not do enough to keep the violent teen away from her daughter, the Miami Herald reports.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 28th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, School Board News|

Fixing NCLB in our rural schools

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined with Director of the National Rural Education Association, John Hill, for a conference call with journalists who cover rural schools.

Duncan and Hill discussed the need to rethink federal mandates in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for rural schools and  unique challenges rural schools have to comply with NCLB.

> Listen to a recording of this call
> Read the transcript

Alexis Rice|January 28th, 2011|Categories: Rural Schools, Federal Programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Education headlines: New Gallup poll shows support for education funding

A new Gallup poll shows that 67 percent of Americans oppose cuts to education in federal spending programs… “Waiting for Superman,” director Davis Guggenheim’s documentary that slams some traditional public schools while promoting charters, did not receive an Academy Award nomination this week—and Washington Post education columnist Valerie Strauss gives her take on why the film was too biased and fell short on facts… President Obama sounded many positive themes on education during his State of the Union speech, but his plans for the Race to the Top program have some analysts scratching their heads, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 27th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, School Board News|

President Obama touts education plans in State of the Union

Education is back.

After being overshadowed by national security, the economy, and health care in recent years, education issues were a major component of President Obama’s Jan. 25 State of the Union speech.

Obama called for a new investment and focus on science and technology to help restore the U.S. economy and help the country maintain its standing as a world leader.

“Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success,” he said. “But if we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in the U.S. and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant praised the emphasis on improving education to strengthen the economy and increase global competiveness.

“Schools are a key component of the technological revolution that has transformed the way our nation does business,” she said. “Local school boards, as Obama mentioned in his speech, are a critical component of that work.”

In addition, NSBA strongly supports President Obama’s call for preparing 100,000 more teachers for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields in the next 10 years, in part to replace underperforming teachers and retiring baby boomers.

While President Obama called for a five-year federal spending freeze, with unspecified investments in education, funding for K-12 programs is likely to stir fierce debates this year. Republican leaders have called for more drastic cuts, while the continuing resolution that is temporarily paying for federal K-12 programs expires March 4.

Bryant also called on the White House to back up the president’s call to action with the necessary funding for these critical investments.

“Unfortunately, in these tough economic times, school districts across the country continue to face massive budget shortfalls and, in many cases, have been forced to make cuts to effective educational programs that directly impact student success,” she said. “As we work together to rethink education in these extremely challenging times and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the president and Congress cannot lose sight of their commitments to support and fund the efforts of local school districts to achieve the necessary reforms and innovative ideas needed to increase student achievement.”

President Obama called on Congress to reauthorize the ESEA and fix the law’s major flaws, and he promoted his signature Race to the Top federal grant program as “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.”

He also broached the topic of immigration, calling on Congress to pass reforms that would give some undocumented students a chance to gain citizenship. “Let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can be staffing our research labs, starting new businesses, who could be further enriching this nation,” he said.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 26th, 2011|Categories: Student Achievement, School Board News|

What’s entailed in a free education?

296-1253384112F0PLI understand the frustration among California parents at having to ante up more and more for items and activities that used to be free. I can’t believe some of the ridiculous charges that the airline industry has tried (sometimes unsuccesfully) to employ. A fee for using the lieu? C’mon. Similarly, school districts that make students pay for standard textbooks and tests also fall into my “gimme-a-break” category.

But unlike the airline industry, public schools in California aren’t passing on the costs of doing business to maintain or widen their profit margin but merely as a means of survival.

Which is why I’m a little befuddled by recent legislative activity in the state that to me, serve only to kick a system that’s already down. The latest incarnation of this is Assembly Bill 165, which would prohibit school districts from charging students for classroom(OK) and extracurricular activities (huh?).

As someone who played sports and participated in many extracurricular activities throughout my K-12 career, I can vouch they were an instrumental part of a well-rounded education. But I can also tell you, when my grades started to slip during senioritis, those extracurricular activities were one of the first targets for my parents. Lesson: it was the classes and the learning that occurred there that should be my primary focus.

So, what should be a school’s primary focus? I think it’s been pretty clear that policy and lawmakers, businesses and industries want students leaving schools with a mix of skills, competencies and subject matter knowledge. While valuable lessons are learned outside of the classroom, I think it’s also pretty clear that in today’s economy it’s getting more and more difficult to provide even the basics let alone the extras.

And in a state like California, whose budget has suffered from double-digit deficits for the last several years, I really don’t think lawmakers who’ve gutted education funding to fill those gaps have any right to tell school districts that cheerleading or water polo should be part of a free education.

Most schools, particularly those in California, have passed the point of doing more with less and must simply do less with less. Rather than penalize them for this harsh reality, the Statehouse should support the tough decisions schools are forced to make.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 26th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Policy Formation, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

NSBA leaders, 150 school districts to attend federal labor conference

NSBA’s president and executive director will participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration next month.

The Education Department has chosen 150 school districts from among the 241 applications it received to participate in what’s being billed as a historic event, scheduled for Feb. 15-16 in Denver.  A list of the 150 districts is available on the Education Department’s website.

Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director, and Earl C. Rickman III, the 2010-11 board president, will represent the association at the conference. Rickman is president of the board of Michigan’s Mount Clemens Community School District, one of the local districts that will attend.

“School board members across the country understand the importance of increasing student achievement through developing collaborative relationships in the labor management process,” said Rickman. “It is of the utmost importance that local school and union leaders come together in labor agreements to advance student achievement in the public education systems.”

To participate, the Education Department is requiring the school board president, superintendent, and teachers union leader to agree to attend. All must sign a pledge to collaboratively develop and implement policies in areas such as strategic planning and “aligning all labor-management work with this overarching focus. The alignment includes “ways to share responsibility and hold each other accountable for results; and more effectively supporting the work of teachers, leaders, and administrators in advancing student achievement by improving such systems and structures as organizing teaching and learning time and schedules, and processes for the hiring, retention, compensation, development, and evaluation of a highly effective workforce,” according to the Education Department.

In addition to NSBA, other organizations that are co-sponsoring the conference include the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of the Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

“Successful labor-management relations must be fostered with collaboration from a broad base of support from teachers, administrators, and school board members,” said Bryant. “Effective labor-management relations are an important part to supporting school improvement and driving student success.”

Joetta Sack-Min|January 26th, 2011|Categories: School Boards, Teachers, School Board News|
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