Articles from February, 2011

The education reform hype

Blogger, E.D. Kain, has a great commentary today on his blog stating “there are no silver-bullets in education reform.”

Kain notes:

School reformers create a seductive narrative for the media and lawmakers alike. Foundations are lured to support radical changes because they promise radical results. It’s much more glamorous, after all, to put money into shiny new charter schools than to give those dollars to school districts. School choice and accountability sound good on paper, and films like The Lottery and Waiting for Superman pull on our heartstrings and paint pictures of selfish teachers lobbying hard against their own students. These films ignore not only the external factors leading to school failure – including poverty, lack of funding, and other societal issues – they also gloss over the many failed charter schools and choice programs across the country. Advocates of choice and accountability and the modern charter-school movement brush off the wildly varying results found from one charter school to the next. Like traditional public schools, charter schools with a higher percentage of white and Asian students and lower numbers of ESL students and other disadvantaged students fair much better than those with more mixed populations.

Top-down reformers demonize teachers, shut down ‘failing’ schools, and attempt to implement reforms without the input or buy-in of teachers, parents, and the community. This is why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty are no longer serving in Washington, D.C. It’s why Alan Bersin, who publicly fired school administrators and whose tenure saw the highest turnover of teachers and principals in San Diego history, was eventually removed in San Diego. And it’s why Mayor Bloomberg fights so hard to retain total authority over all education decision-making in New York City. Without support from the rank-and-file, school reform is impossible.

American public education is inherently democratic and decentralized, and no amount of dictatorial reform efforts will change that. It’s also about more than simply teaching kids how to take tests in reading and math. We cannot constantly compare American schools to those in other nations – American culture is different from Asian culture or Northern European culture. The accountability movement has shifted the focus away from American ingenuity and creativity in favor of strict testing regimes in an attempt to compete with Japan and Finland. This is the wrong approach. As our nation grows in wealth and technology, American public education should be a reflection of these changes. American schools may have been founded along industrial lines, but accountability efforts only entrench this attitude. If anything, we should be looking for ways to make education more creative and diverse, and to make American students more well-rounded and independent. The current reforms achieve just the opposite.

Let us know what you think?

Alexis Rice|February 28th, 2011|Categories: Teachers, Conferences and Events, Mayoral Control, Federal Programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Comparative Education, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Harvard suggests high schools expand focus to multiple success pathways

separate-paths-29941281454668Ush8Suppose a high school student cannot find any clear, concrete connections between prospective college studies and opportunities for jobs post-college graduation. Suppose this student is also experiencing financial difficulties and perhaps a pull between family, job and school responsibilities.

Additionally, the course work they took in high school will mean they are unprepared for college, and will most likely result have to take remedial courses.  

Should high school teachers and administrators still push this student to attain a four-year degree from a traditional university?

The answer is no, according to “Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century,” a study recently released by Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Intuitively, not every single high school graduate is cut out for success in a traditional college setting. So why do most U.S. high schools advocate attending a 4-year university as the only path for success?

This one-size-fits-all mentality is idealistic, and simply not realistic.

Naomi Dillon|February 28th, 2011|Categories: Educational Research, Student Achievement, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

Education headlines: Unions’ role evolving in collective bargaining debates

Clashes between unions and lawmakers in several states, most notably Wisconsin and Ohio, are recasting the future political landscape for unions, the Washington Post reports… (NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant discusses the collective bargaining process in relation to student achievement in this blog for the National Journal).

Civic leaders in Wake County, N.C., have unveiled a new proposal for integration by achievement, where no school would have an overwhelming number of failing students, the New York Times reports. So far, both sides of the fractured board have found something to like about the plan… California school districts will give out a record number of pink slips to teachers and school staff this year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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

Week in Review

If you’re reading this blog, then you’re clearly not a teenager, as a new study shows blogging just isn’t as popular among the younger set. Meanwhile, an annual report puts education research through the ringer, reiterating that a critical eye is an educator’s (and incidentally a journalist’s) best tool when presented with any new findings. Read these entries and more from this week’s Leading Source.

Naomi Dillon|February 26th, 2011|Categories: NSBA Publications, American School Board Journal|

The week in blogs

Tripoli aside, the biggest story this week was the same as last: the extraordinary standoff in Madison, Wis., between Gov. Scott Walker and thousands of unionized teachers and other public employees. Pundits of all political stripes agreed that it marked a new chapter in labor-management relations.

For you pessimists out there (or is that realists?), Russell Walter Mead, of the American Interest, says the events in Wisconsin depict a national economy undergoing a wrenching change similar to the one that befell the proverbial buggy whip manufacturers in the early 20th century. But this time, he says, it’s not just laborers who will feel the distress.

“The US manufacturing sector has actually grown since 1973, producing more even as it has shed workers,” Mead writes. “There is no reason why the same thing can’t happen to lawyers, middle managers, government bureaucrats and many more white collar workers as computers get smarter and firms start outsourcing professional work overseas.”

For a more political take on the confrontation, see Understanding Government (“Scott Walker’s Union Dismemberment Plan”) which links to an earlier New Republic article on the efforts of several Republican governors to change the prevailing management-labor dynamic.

Moving further left, we have Mother Jones on how the billionaire,  staunchly anti-labor Koch brothers helped fund Walker’s gubernatorial campaign.

On the right, there’s the Heritage Foundation, with a sit down interview with Gov. Walker himself, and the MacIver Institute blog on how much protesting teachers could be costing taxpayers in missed classroom time. (Nine million-plus, it says.)

Finally, we have some relief in the form of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and his priceless interview with AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|February 25th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Teachers, Week in Blogs, Policy Formation, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

Rethinking collective bargaining to focus on student achievement

Anne L. Bryant, the National School Board Association’s (NSBA) Executive Director, is part of National Journal’s expert blog on education, and posted a response to this week’s question on labor-management collaboration following attending the Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration.  NSBA was a partner in the conference and Bryant served as a panelist.

Bryant noted, “The collective bargaining process must be focused on promoting our most important educational priority — increasing student achievement.”

Regarding the conference, Bryant said, “we were exposed to 12 school districts with various styles of innovation. All these districts had ‘collaboration’ as their strategy and outcome. Two great examples that should be applauded are Hillsborough County’s (Fla.) and Montgomery County’s (Md.) efforts to advance the effectiveness of their education professionals. Going forward, we need to find ways to replicate throughout the country these successful teacher compensation, incentive, and development models, while taking into account the local circumstances of every community.”

Check out Bryant’s entire National Journal posting.

Alexis Rice|February 25th, 2011|Categories: School Boards, Teachers, Conferences and Events, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Assessments show urban students lagging in science, but data limited

The following analysis of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results was provided by Jim Hull, senior policy analyst at NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the 2009 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) for fourth and eighth grade science. Results for 2009 show that students in most of our nation’s large urban districts still lag behind their peers nationally at both the 4th and 8th grade levels. Only three districts—Austin (TX), Charlotte (NC), and Jefferson County (KY)—had similar achievement as the national average in at least one grade level.

About TUDA

In 2009, seventeen large urban school districts across the country voluntarily took part in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) assessment so their results could be compared to other large urban districts and the nation as a whole. Although each of the districts had participated in past TUDA science assessments, results cannot be compared to past results due to significant changes in this year’s assessment. Therefore, this report is not able to determine if urban districts have made any gains over the past decade since TUDA began.

Main findings

Fourth Grade

  • Austin (TX), Charlotte (NC), and Jefferson County (KY) were the only urban districts to score similarly to the national average. No district scored significantly above the national average.
  • Six urban districts—Austin (TX), Boston (MA), Charlotte (NC), Jefferson County (KY), Miami-Dade (FL), and San Diego (CA) — did score higher than the national average for students attending schools in large cities (cities of populations of 250,000 or more).
  • The percent of students scoring at or above NAEP’s Basic Level varied dramatically among urban districts, from 71 percent in Charlotte to just 27 percent in Detroit.

Eighth Grade

  • Austin was the only district to score similarly to the nation as a whole.
  • Five urban districts—Austin, Charlotte, Houston (TX), Jefferson County, and Miami-Dade–scored higher than the national average for students attending schools in large cities.
  • The percent of students scoring at or above NAEP’s Basic Level varied just as it did at the fourth grade level. Austin had the highest percentage at 61 percent, while Detroit and Baltimore City were the lowest at 20 percent.


Not being able to compare results to past years limits the conclusions we can draw from this report, since it prevents us from determining what gains these districts have made over the past decade. However, the report does show that most urban districts are far from achieving at the same levels as the average public school nationally. In order for this test to be meaningful, school board members must determine why some districts achieve closer to the national average than others. Only then can this assessment help urban districts learn from each other so they can better serve their students.

NAEP Achievement Levels
Districts Grade 4 Grade 8
Basic and above Proficient and above Basic and above Proficient and above
National 71 33 62 29
Large Cities 66 19 44 17
Atlanta (GA) 52 19 33 10
Austin (TX) 65 31 61 33
Baltimore City (MD) 31 5 20 20
Boston (MA) 62 17 39 14
Charlotte (NC) 70 33 52 22
Chicago (IL) 44 11 29 7
Cleveland (OH) 30 4 26 6
Detroit (MI) 26 4 20 20
Fresno (CA) 28 8 34 9
Houston (TX) 55 16 49 18
Jefferson County (KY) 70 33 57 24
Los Angeles (CA) 45 11 33 9
Miami-Dade (FL) 66 24 49 18
Milwaukee (WI) 44 12 28 5
New York City (NY) 56 18 38 13
Philadelphia (PA) 38 8 25 6
San Diego (CA) 65 29 49 20
Rebecca St. Andrie|February 24th, 2011|Categories: Curriculum, School Board News|

Schools are getting creative, but not always clever about fundraising

rabbit_hat_oopsHere’s a novel school fundraising idea: Cow Bingo.

How do you play? You paint a grid on a field and number each square. You sell raffle tickets and offer to split the proceeds with whoever holds the ticket with the winning number.

And how do you pick the number? You ask a local farmer if you can borrow a cow—a well-fed cow. 

I don’t think I need to explain the somewhat amusing, somewhat childish way that organizers allow the cow to select the number. Point is, there are a lot of unusual—even silly—ways that school communities are trying to raise money in these difficult economic times.

Actually, I could write quite a lot about school fundraisers today. I could write about how desperate cash-starved schools are for revenue—and the immense pressure out there to run fundraisers.

I could write about burnout among students and parents at the relentless requests for financial assistance. I could write about Grand County, Colo., where parents are trying to raise $500,000 to save two elementary schools that are slated for closure.

Naomi Dillon|February 24th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

NSBA sees showdown looming on federal budget bills

NSBA is expecting significant differences between the House and Senate budget bills as members of Congress work to create a spending plan for most education programs for the rest of fiscal 2011.

On Feb. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would cut funding for many K-12 programs, including Title I, according to the GOP’s analysis. The bill, H.R. 1, passed by a 235-189 vote, with three Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

According to an analysis by NSBA’s advocacy department, H.R. 1 would reduce funding for more than 70 education programs by more than 16 percent, or $11.6 billion. The bill would reduce funding for Title I grants for disadvantaged students by $694 million, cut $337 million from Title I School Improvement Grants, and impose a $500 million cut to Teacher Quality State Grants.

NSBA’s advocacy efforts helped rescind a provision that would have cut special education funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by almost $558 million.  The House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., to reinstate the funding, but the offsets would include the cuts to School Improvement Grants and Teacher Quality grants.

Because Congress did not pass a fiscal year 2011 budget last year for the Department of Education and several other agencies, K-12 programs have been funded at fiscal 2010 levels by a continuing resolution that expires March 4. Congress must now pass, and President Obama must approve, a new spending plan for those federal programs to continue to operate by March 4 or those federal agencies will be forced to shut down until a measure is approved.

The Senate is expected to create its own spending bill when its members return next week, and NSBA is anticipating significant differences between the House and Senate bills.

“While the House wants to cut key programs, the Senate wants to keep funding at fiscal 2010 levels,” said Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for advocacy. “NSBA will be fighting vigorously to maintain funding for all education programs, especially IDEA and Title I.”

NSBA sent a letter to members of Congress on Feb. 17 thanking them for their support of the IDEA funding amendment and urging them to invest in education.

President Obama has proposed a fiscal 2012 budget that would give modest increases to Title I, IDEA, and competitive grant programs.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 24th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, School Board News|Tags: |

Blogging losing popularity among youth, gaining among older generation

1-1216221367ByEeFullscreen_capture_4162010_112507_AMTeens just don’t blog as much as they used to anymore, according to a study conducted by The Internet & American Life Project at the Pew Research Center. Half as many youth ages 12 to 17 keep blogs as in 2006, the results showed.

For example, High School senior Michael McDonald told The New York Times that he doesn’t bother to post his edited films on a blog anymore.

Why? Social network sites of course. McDonald posts videos on Facebook, because he can reach a wider audience, the Times reports.

As sites such as Twitter and Facebook have grown, “traditional” blogs have declined—at least among adolescents. The Pew Research Center also found that the number of blogging adults older than their mid-thirties rose to 14 percent in 2010, from 11 percent in 2008.

But social networking sites have a “darker side,” psychologist Catriona Morrison warns the University of Leeds News. Morrison is the lead researcher of a University of Leeds study about the mental health effects of social networking and chat room use, released last year in the Psychopathology journal. 

Naomi Dillon|February 23rd, 2011|Categories: Governance, Educational Research, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |
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