Articles from June, 2011

Sometimes less is better, smarter, clearer, saner, more productive …

33aa0e7ed86afff1ab3c0c78416aa059aa7097b0_largeIs it possible for a school board to work so hard that its efforts are actually detrimental to the school system?

Absolutely.

That’s one of the big lessons offered in ASBJ’s July cover story, “Operation Overload.”

So how exactly can hard work hurt your district? It hurts when the school board is focusing on the wrong work, interfering with the work of the administration, and simply burning itself out.

“If you’re worrying about the elementary school curriculum or lights at the stadium or the salary of one administrator, if you’re down in those weeds, you’re not providing the leadership that the whole school system needs,” says Sandi Barry, school board president in Caroline County, Md. “You’re too busy with details, and you will burn out.”

In other words, if you’re spending time on details that could be left to the superintendent, then you’re not focusing on the strategic work—finding resources, allocating resources, planning for the future—that will move your school system forward. You’re micromanaging. You’re wasting time doing work that can be turned over to someone else.

One inspiration for this article—although not shared in the magazine—was an incident that occurred nearly 30 years ago when I was a cub reporter with a big-city newspaper. I was covering as small suburban school board meeting, one where 30 minutes was spent debating the merits of various lawn mowers that the superintendent might buy.
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Naomi Dillon|June 30th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Board governance, NSBA Publications|Tags: , , |

Education headlines: Pennsylvania school boards blast voucher plan

An editorial by Tom Gentzel, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, explains why taxpayer-funded tuition voucher legislation – supported by massive amounts of pressure and dollars spent by out-of-state interest groups –is a bad idea for his state and education policy. Read more in the Philadelphia Inquirer

The New York Times examines Impact, a fast-growing teacher evaluation system being used in the District of Columbia and other school districts… Florida Gov. Rick Scott praised school choice as he signed five education bills that aim to expand charter schools, virtual schools, school vouchers and a program that allows students to transfer out of low-performing public schools, the Sun Sentinel writes. Education advocates say the measures will lead to the privatization of education and benefit for-profit companies…

In a recent commentary for the Huffington Post, NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant calls for relief from the most onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act to allow more funds and resources to be used for the critical purpose of teaching and learning. NSBA has asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to use his regulatory power to help school districts by the beginning of the 2011-12 school year… Bryant also responded to a question posed by the National Journal on the regulatory process, noting that NSBA has concerns about a plan put forth by Duncan that would require states states to apply for waivers in exchange for specific reforms.

Joetta Sack-Min|June 29th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Privatization, School Vouchers|

Eight ways to make school reform work

1210-12409560184r2oGary Galluzzo is all for “client-centered” education, and if that sounds a bit impersonal to you – aren’t we dealing with children here? — chances are it won’t after you read his article in ASBJ’s June issue, titled, “Eight Ways to Make School Reform Work.”

I admit, I recoiled a little when I heard the term. But, as Galluzzo notes, “student-centered’ and “learning-centered” “already connote humanistic education and differentiated instruction.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But Galluzzo, an education professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., is getting at something else. Put the emphasis on the “client” and maybe some practices that mostly serve adults – the “but-that’s-the-way-we’ve always-done-its” – can be seen in a clearer light.

If you still think that Galluzzo is thinking too impersonally, his next two ideas — actually questions each teacher should ask — dispel that notion for good.

The questions: “Who am I to teach these children?” and “Do I have what these children need?”

These two questions are a novel and perceptive way to look at one side of the teacher/learner relationship. Or, as Galluzzo says, “They raise the often-undervalued factor of ‘fit.’ Simply put, some teachers are better fits form some children and schools. More pointedly, some teachers can’t close some gaps in some schools.”

Galluzzo has come up with some innovative ways to look at the enterprise of education and  where all the players, board members included, fit in. The above is just part of recommendation one. Read the other seven here.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|June 29th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Board governance, Governance, NSBA Publications, Policy Formation|

Strange but true, tales from school

649px-Tumbler_Snapper_rope_tricksIt’s always so much fun to read the “News of the Weird” columns and hear about the stories that are so strange you can’t make it up. A bit geekier, but just as entertaining, is ASBJ Legal Columnist Edwin C. Darden’s take on the strangest lawsuits and legal situations of the year. Always good for a laugh or at least an eye-roll—as long as it’s not your district, Darden points out.

This year’s contenders include a 17-year-old high school wrestler who was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery for performing a maneuver called the “butt drag” on a younger student who he allegedly liked to bully.

Several others were the works of teachers, including the work of a new art teacher who penned “Thoughts from a Former Craigslist Sex Worker,” for the Huffington Post, describing how she earned money as a graduate student by advertising in the “erotic services” section of Craigslist.
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Naomi Dillon|June 28th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, NSBA Publications, School Law|Tags: , , |

Urban school boards have role in closing achievement gap

There is no achievement gap among 1-year-olds. By the time those babies are 3, the gap is there. It’s firmly in place by kindergarten, when most children show up in public schools.

Ronald Ferguson, Harvard University economist and education researcher, talked to members of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) at its annual issues seminar in Memphis over the weekend about addressing and solving the black-white achievement gap in their districts.

Board members should look to three things: teachers, peers, and parents.

Successful teachers watch one another teach and talk about their students’ work together, said Ferguson. School board members can figure out if and how this is taking place at their schools by asking some strategic questions: “How are you organized? Do you have a professional learning community? Tell me how your teachers look at students’ work together?  If they aren’t doing it, if you ask, they will start doing it,” he said.

Addressing student attitudes and paying attention to how they treat each other is another piece of the solution. “A majority of students say they aren’t trying hard when they are. Sometimes, it’s better to look lazy than stupid,” he said. “We have to get them to give one another permission to high achievement. Launch a conspiracy against your own youth culture.”

Parents are another important component, said Ferguson, not just parent involvement and engagement with the schools, but also parenting. He acknowledged that the topic of parenting is a sensitive topic, but differences in the way people parent account for some of the achievement gap before kindergarten.

“Black people don’t want white people come to their community and say, you don’t parent the way we parent,” he said. “We have to create a safe space to talk about these things.”

Ferguson said that school leaders, educators, and advocates need to think of closing the achievement gap as a social movement. “Inside a social movement, not everyone agrees, but they have the same sense that they need to move in the same direction.”

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he continues. “Keep it simple enough to wrap your mind around it, but not so simple that you blur the distinctions.”

Board members should not micromanage, he said, but “you guys can ask the questions and compare the notes on answering those questions. Get the ball rolling on things.”

For more information on CUBE, go to www.nsba.org/cube.

Kathleen Vail|June 27th, 2011|Categories: School Boards, Urban Schools|

Urban board members meet around advocacy issues

Members of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) gathered in Memphis this week to hone their skills in advocating for urban schools and their students.

CUBE’s annual issues seminar included workshops on National Common Core Standards, sessions on best practices in the Memphis and Nashville school districts, and updates on the current top federal advocacy issues.

“We are working well with NSBA and our state associate to put the faces of our children in the forefront,” said Sandra Jensen, CUBE chair and president of the board of the Omaha Public Schools.

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant outlined the successes that the organization has had recently with Congress and with getting regulatory relief from No Child Left Behind for school districts. “We’ve had victories, and victories feel good in this environment,” she said.

One of those victories was getting language added to the Child Nutrition Act, passed in the FY 2012 agriculture appropriations bill in June. NSBA warned that some of the demands of the act could cost school districts millions of dollars. “We were at the table advocating reasonableness,” Bryant said.

Another victory: NSBA, along with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for relief for school districts facing sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Duncan has indicated that he would consider this.

Both organizations had solicited support for a petition to remove the regulatory and reporting requirements of NCLB. “That’s the kind of power you have,” Bryant told attendees. “You are so articulate. You speak passionately about kids.”

Reginald Felton, NSBA’s director of Federal Relations, Advocacy, and Issues Management, gave attendees an overview of the current federal advocacy picture in Washington, D.C.

“Most of that stimulus money is gone,” said Felton. “It was important to get it, but we are approaching a funding cliff – you can’t sustain it.”

Congress’ intent is to cut money, and the education community will be affected. NSBA is concerned about the shift from formula-based funding to competitive grants, said Felton.

Felton also referenced the Child Nutrition Bill, saying that NSBA’s position was based on whether it was appropriate for federal government to create unfunded mandates instead of leaving those decisions to state and local officials. “It’s not about us wanting our kids to be healthy,” he said.

Attendees also heard about what they can and cannot do with student assignment plans after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Seattle and Louisville, Ky., decisions in 2007.

NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negron and Jay Worona, general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, told CUBE members about the implications for other districts of the two cases.

Racial balancing is “no longer permissible,” said Negron. “To the extent that you want to do student assignment, the only legally permissible reason is academic.”

Just using student assignment to avoid racial isolation will no longer stand up in the Supreme Court, said Worona.

“We are living in a post integration society,” said Negron. “Get rid of those words. You shouldn’t even think in those terms.”

For more information about CUBE, go to www.nsba.org/cubeAmerican School Board Journal will focus on how school board members can become better advocates in its September issue at www.asbj.com.

Kathleen Vail|June 25th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Nutrition, School Law, Urban Schools|

Week in Review

A new study out this week, suggests that childhood food allergies are higher than originally thought. Meanwhile, our friends across the pond, are bemoaning the fact that classic works from the likes of Tolstoy and Austen are being abandoned for simply what floats the boat for today’s generation. Oh those Brits. But speaking of bemoaning, there was a lot of that this week, as NSBA’s own Anne Bryant took Education Secretary Arne Duncan to task for his bandaid approach to fixing NCLB, while some at the National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta made some pretty outrageous claims. Read these entries and more from this week’s Leading Source.

Naomi Dillon|June 25th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Week in Blogs|

The week in blogs

They honored former President Bill Clinton, and heard from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker — all pretty measured, mainstream folks. But attendees at this week’s National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta were also subjected to some ugly and inflammatory rhetoric from people trying to cast traditional public schools in the worst possible light.

Commenting on the Georgia Supreme Court’s recent 4-3 ruling that the state was unconstitutionally commissioning charter schools that should, by law, be authorized by local school boards, Tony Roberts, president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, offered this assessment:

“The majority of the Georgia Supreme Court has just found 16,000 innocent children guilty of choosing a better education,” Roberts said. “And even worse, the justices have sentenced them, in many cases, to failing or inadequate schools.”

“Innocent children.” Guilty.” “Sentenced.” If that kind of talk sounds a bit over the top, well, it is. But it’s all too common today in the national debate over – to use a term that has seemingly lost much of its meaning or usefulness – school reform.

Of course, school board members should not respond in kind, yet they ignore such attacks at their peril. And, unfortunately, the rhetoric will only get worse as the election season heats up. (For more on how to counter the naysayers and build trust, see Nora Carr’s Communications column in the June issue of American School Board Journal.)

When engaging the public in these kinds of discussions, it’s always good to know the facts. And a great place to start is at NSBA’s Center for Public Education, which has a section devoted to the latest research on charter schools. Among the more recent findings is a survey of 15 states and the District of Columbia by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).  It found that while 17 percent of the charters performed significantly better than the regular public schools, a larger number – 37 percent – performed significantly worse. The rest scored about the same.

One more note on charters: Check out Richard Kahlenberg’s response to a USA Today editorial that buys into the charters-are-the-answer argument.

Still need some inspiration? Then read the Washington City Paper’s excellent profile of education historian and public school advocate Diane Ravitch. (Yes, it’s been awhile since she spoke at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network conference in Washington, but her words are still timely.)

Ready for something lighter? We know the political landscape seems slightly confusing as far as education policy is concerned. We’ve got Democrats Bill Clinton and Cory Booker attending conferences that include some of the more radical members of the Georgia charter school crowd, and Ravitch, a former education official in the George H.W. Bush administration, emerging as arguably the nation’s premier champion of the public schools.

So how about Chester Finn and his left-leaning Fordham Foundation?  That’s right — they’ve gone all liberal on us, said Redstate.com after Finn had the temerity to question some of the education ideas of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential presidential candidate.

You can’t make this stuff up. But thanks to Eduwonk for digging it up.

“It’s really getting to be French Revolution time over there on the right,” the Ed wonks say.


Lawrence Hardy|June 24th, 2011|Categories: Student Achievement, Week in Blogs|

The week in blogs

They honored former President Bill Clinton, and heard from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker — all pretty measured, mainstream folks. But attendees at this week’s National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta were also subjected to some ugly and inflammatory rhetoric from people trying to cast traditional public schools in the worst possible light.

Commenting on the Georgia Supreme Court’s recent 4-3 ruling that the state was unconstitutionally commissioning charter schools that should, by law, be authorized by local school boards, Tony Roberts, president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, offered this assessment:

“The majority of the Georgia Supreme Court has just found 16,000 innocent children guilty of choosing a better education,” Roberts said. “And even worse, the justices have sentenced them, in many cases, to failing or inadequate schools.”

“Innocent children.” Guilty.” “Sentenced.” If that kind of talk sounds a bit over the top, well, it is. But it’s all too common today in the national debate over – to use a term that has seemingly lost much of its meaning or usefulness – school reform.

Of course, school board members should not respond in kind, yet they ignore such attacks at their peril. And, unfortunately, the rhetoric will only get worse as the election season heats up. (For more on how to counter the naysayers and build trust, see Nora Carr’s Communications column in the June issue of American School Board Journal.)
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Lawrence Hardy|June 24th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Board governance, Governance, Policy Formation, School Reform, Week in Blogs|

Education headlines: Diane Ravitch’s unlikely rise to stardom

The Washington City Paper has an in-depth profile of education historian Diane Ravitch and her unlikely rise as a “rock star” for defending public education. (Ravitch also spoke at NSBA’s Federal Relations Conference this year, read more in Conference Daily.)

Newsweek has released its annual list of “America’s best high schools” this week, with a special emphasis on “10 Miracle High Schools”–most of which are charter or magnet schools… USA Today writes about the Riverside, Calif., school district’s gleaming new high school facility, built at a cost of $105 million, that now will go unused for at least a year because district administrators cannot afford to hire teachers, principals, and other staff members or other operating costs.

The New Tech Network will partner with 11 New York City high schools this fall, part of a massive expansion by the education group, which focuses on technology, rigorous, individualized study and project-based learning for its students, according to Business Wire. Read more about NSBA’s recent site visit to the flagship New Tech High in Napa, Calif., in Conference Daily.

Joetta Sack-Min|June 23rd, 2011|Categories: Announcements, NSBA Annual Conference 2011|
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