Articles from January, 2011

NSBA staff show how school boards can prepare for common standards

In a span of less than two years, 40 states have signed on to an effort to adopt common standards in math and language arts — a development that will have big implications for how those subjects are taught and assessed in local school districts.

But while school boards have mainly sat on the sidelines as governors and state legislatures signed on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative, this is no time to “wait for the states,” said Roberta Stanley, director of Federal Affairs for NSBA, and Patte Barth, director of the organization’s Center for Public Education.

“This is a state-driven initiative, but there are things you can do now,” Barth said during a Jan. 19 webinar for NSBA’s National Afiliate program. “You know what your needs are at the local level.”

Some of the things school districts should do are: get involved in the discussion of state standards with their state education agencies; set aside time for school boards to review CCSS and its implications; and form discussion groups on the subject involving parents, teachers, and administrators.

School districts can also survey local businesses for their input and reach out to their communities in other ways, Barth and Stanley said. And they should partner with local colleges and universities to work on professional development, curriculum alignment, and placement tests that some colleges are giving high school juniors to determine if they are on track to do college-level work when they graduate.

Led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the initiative aims, in the words of its creators, devise “fewer, clearer, [and] higher” standards that will enable all high school students to succeed in postsecondary education and the workplace and help America compete in the growing global economy.

“It’s an exciting time,” Bill Scott, executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association, said recently. “But it’s also producing a lot of anxiety.”

A study released in December by ACT found that just 38 percent of 11th graders scored at the college-and-career level benchmarks in 2009. Writing and language ability were somewhat better, with 51 percent and 53 percent, respectively, meeting those standards.

The language arts levels were lower for African Americans and Latinos. For example, just 11 percent of African-American 11th graders and 19 percent of Latino 11th graders met the reading threshold.

In both math and language arts, the standards ask students to do more analysis and critical thinking than currently required by many state tests. Barth pointed to a language arts example that required eighth graders to read Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and then analyze how the poem’s opening stanza structures its rhythm and meter, and how the speaker’s themes develop over the course of the text.

“We’re taking material we’ve already taught eighth graders, and we’re ratcheting it up.” Barth said.

In addition, Barth said, CCSS includes new standards for reading and writing in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. These standards are expected to compliment current content standards in these subjects. Teachers of these subjects will be responsible for seeing that their students meet them.

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, most states say they will not be able to fully implement the standards until 2013 or later. Still, many observers say the time frame is relatively short for such a far-reaching initiative.

During the Race to the Top competition, officials from the Department of Education strongly encouraged states to adopt the standards, Stanley said, but only 11 states and the District of Columbia were awarded RTTT grants.

Stanley said the common core initiative is occurring in tandem with efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). She said Department of Education officials are expected support tying ESEA program funding to adoption of CCSS — something NSBA opposes, saying its support has been contingent on the standards remaining voluntary for states.

Other challenges for states will be implementing technology-driven assessment systems at a time when state and district budgets are being cut, Stanley said. She said more resources will be needed to support any new technology.

“We know the frustration local districts have in terms of the technology Washington, D.C, expects you to have,” Stanley said.

Lawrence Hardy|January 21st, 2011|Categories: Curriculum, National Standards, School Board News|

Education headlines: Evangelicals target school boards

First Lady Michelle Obama is teaming with Wal-Mart to further her campaign for healthy foods for children, the Washington Post reports… When is it too cold for schoolchildren to go outside to play? The answer varies widely based on where a school is located and what the kids are used to, USA Today writes… An evangelical family has traveled from Alabama to Northern Kentucky, saying they were sent by God and are suing a number of entities in Northern Kentucky, including law enforcement, school boards and teachers for allegedly violating their civil rights, according to Cincinnati’s Local 12 News… And Los Angeles schools have stepped up their security measures after a school shooting last week, according to the Associated Press.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 20th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, School Board News|

A less tolerant and sensitive motherland?

800px-Buck_palace_soldiers_arpAt my son’s school, the term “gay” is bandied about a lot—but not to tease someone for their sexual orientation. As I understand it, the term has evolved into an expression of disdain . . . a synonym for stupidity.

In other words, if you express a dumb idea, your friend will respond with “that’s gay.”

Clearly there’s a derogatory undertone—and the roots of its usage lie in our cultural attitudes about homosexuality.

But my impression is that most kids are oblivious to that—or thoughtless about how a gay student might react to the term. Students use it because everyone else is doing so.

Kids are rather oblivious creatures.

Now, in a perfect world, local educators will slap down such expressions—in a thoughtful, professional manner. One would hope they would see a student’s remark as an opportunity for a “learning moment,” a time to discuss the nuance and subtlety of prejudices and the power of words to hurt.

That would be ideal. Although, if you live in Great Britain, there’s a chance you’ll simply be branded a bigot—even if you’re a four-year-old preschooler.

At least, that’s the impression I gathered from a Daily News headline from London: “30,000 pupils branded as bigots: Teachers log ‘racist’ and ‘homophobic’ jibes in playground squabbles, even at nursery.”

Naomi Dillon|January 20th, 2011|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

What motivates troubled kids to shape up?

800px-Jail_Cell_NMCPFlipping through the channels last night, desperate to find something besides Desperate Housewives in-a-town-near-you, I landed on A&E, completely enthralled by a new documentary series called, Beyond Scared Straight.

In my former life as a newspaper reporter, I remember spending the better part of a day, visiting a correctional facility with a group of students, who were given a grim but cursory look at prison life. I remember the experience being long, void of any real contact with inmates, and hence not very impactful for the students, none of which I recall where troublesome.

I guess, you could say it was a lighter version of Scared Straight, the widely acclaimed one-day intervention juvenile deliquents had in prison. Well, it seems Scared Straight is a lighter version of Beyond Scared Straight, a far more intense and frankly, downright scary wakeup call to teens heading in the wrong direction.

The shows promo contends that today’s youth require a different approach, one that marries communication, information and confrontation, to get through to them. In watching the last 20 minutes of the program, I’m certainly a believer in this strategy. And in followups with a handful of girls they profiled in the season’s openers, all but one seemed changed for good.

As security issues and student violence continue to plague schools, it’s a get-tough approach that could save some of today’s toughest youth.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 19th, 2011|Categories: School Security, School Climate, Dropout Prevention, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

President Obama’s 48 education promises

According to,  a St. Petersburg Times website project which monitors and fact checks political claims, President Barack Obama has “kept 11 of his 48 education promises, compromised on four of them, and has made progress on another 24. He has broken one promise — to double funding for after-school programs — and eight others have stalled. One of the promises ‘in the works’ is to reform No Child Left Behind.”

So BoardBuzz wonders when Obama delivers his State of the Union address later this month, will he focus on completing more of his education promises?

Alexis Rice|January 18th, 2011|Categories: Federal Programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Culture, stereotypes, and the drive to succeed

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Stereotypes are dangerous things, but they can sometimes be useful. They’re blunt instruments that can just as easily reveal truth as prejudice, but more likely point to some uncomfortable  mixture of the two. Which is why we try to leave them alone.

Today, however, I’m not taking my own advice. And that’s because the authors of the two essays I want to tell you about have tossed out some broad stereotypes of their own.    

If you’re tired of reading about the self-described Chinese American “Tiger Mother,” I understand. But if, somehow, you missed her recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, you must know that Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua created an Internet sensation with her account of her strict (or is that draconian?) child-rearing practices:

Lawrence Hardy|January 18th, 2011|Categories: Diversity, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|

Education headlines: “Who Needs School Boards?”

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews reviews journalist Gene Maeroff’s new book, “School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy,” and finds that despite the tedious and frustrating aspects of the job some Washington-area boards have made some impressive accomplishments. (Read more about Maeroff’s book in the November issue of ASBJ)

Several school districts across the country are trying out video cameras as a way to deter drivers from passing buses that are loading or unloading children, USA Today writes… And school board members in Prince George’s County, Md. , were awakened at 4 a.m. one morning last week in what the Washington Post is called “robo-call revenge.” Turns out, a school system employee mistakenly set a robo-call informing parents that school was closed for a snow day for 4 a.m. instead of the usual 6 a.m. earlier this week, and one annoyed parent decided to send a prank call back to school board members to let them know he did not appreciate the early wake-up call.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 18th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, School Board News|

Week in Review

The discovery that a British doctor’s theory that vaccines cause autism among children (a belief that has set parents against schools) is fradulent has outraged the public. Meanwhile, the latest shooting tragedy in Arizona have left people bewildered, hurting, and wondering how schools could have better addressed the obvious signs of mental illness in the alleged perpetrator. Finally, Detroit officials proposal to close nearly half of it’s schools has raised rhetoric and outrage— though maybe that was the point. Read these entries and more from this week’s Leading Source. Happy reading and enjoy the long weekend.

Naomi Dillon|January 15th, 2011|Categories: Week in Blogs, American School Board Journal|

The week in blogs

Many years ago, when I was a college senior in Southern California, I took a child development class connected with a wonderful campus preschool that was all the things you would expect a ‘70s-era preschool to be – discovery oriented, child centered, creative, and fun.  It guess you could call it “open classroom” as well,  seeing as the kids had the run of a multi-room former home; of course it helped, in terms of classroom control, that – in addition to having a wonderful director – there was a ratio of roughly one college student helper for every two children.

Flip ahead two years, and I was one of the teachers in a Head Start program for minority students in Boston’s South End. This was also “open classroom,” but by necessity: There was some structural problem in one classroom that forced us to combined two classrooms of 20-some students each into a mega-class of four teachers and more than 40-something children.

Yes, it was bedlam. There were just too many students – and too much noise – for much real learning to occur.

I thought about those two schools this week after reading about an experimental elementary school in Brooklyn founded by a former principal and Harvard graduate student who was trying to replicate the small discussion groups at Phillips Exeter Academy. This is analogous to my California school. But, according to a New York Times story on the project and Joanne Jacobs’ subsequent blog, instead of organizing several small groups (which may not have been possible) the founder put 60 first graders in a class with four teachers, and the results were …. yes, as the Times strongly implies, bedlam. The same thing I experienced in Boston.

Lawrence Hardy|January 15th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Educational Technology, Diversity, Educational Research, School Climate, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, School Buildings, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

USDA issues draft regulations on school nutrition

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its draft regulations for the Child Nutrition Act this week. After many concerns about the costs and requirements of the new law, NSBA’s advocacy department is carefully reading the proposal and will issue a response in coming weeks.

The proposed regulations require schools to serve more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. One of the biggest changes, though, is the limit on sodium content—meals would have to have at most only half of what is currently allowed. Those guidelines are based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine.

The USDA provided a sample before-and after school lunch menu to show the proposed changes in the works. For Monday through Wednesday, the main entrees would change from a bean and cheese burrito, pizza sticks, and hot dog, all served with sides such as applesauce, canned pears, and celery and carrot sticks with ranch dressing, to a submarine sandwich on wheat bread, whole wheat spaghetti with meat sauce, and chef salad, accompanied by items like jicama, green pepper strips, and kiwi slices.

NSBA had many concerns, particularly related to the lack of full funding and implementation of the new law. More information about the law is available on the school nutrition resource page.

The proposed regulations are available in the Jan. 13 Federal Register. School officials and the public may also give responses and recommendations to the USDA. All responses are due by April 13.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 14th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, Nutrition, School Board News|
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