Articles from June, 2011

Classic literature falling by wayside, as students are encouraged just to read

296-1253388461oizyAre you an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy who believes that reading the literary classics is an essential foundation for a good education?

Or are you one of those pessimists who is grateful if educators can get children to read anything at all in this age of cable television, YouTube, and video games?

Those questions currently are being asked across “the pond,” where famed British professor John Sutherland recently “lashed out at the current state of education in the UK” and complained that colleges prefer “modern, culturally relevant texts to the exclusion of the classics.”

The result, he says, is that students read whatever “takes their fancy” instead of what “nourishes the soul.”

Such remarks sound like something a gray-haired professor would say—the kind of fellow who went to a traditional British boarding school and was traditionally bullied until he became a “proper gentlemen.”

The old ways of doing things are best, after all. Harrumph, harrumph.

Now, actually I know nothing of Professor Sutherland’s background. And he might not have gray hair. But, as it happens, I sympathize with his viewpoint.
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Naomi Dillon|June 23rd, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Food allergies more common, severe than previously thought

This week, the findings of the largest study of food allergies among U.S. children were released. In a nutshell (no pun intended), its worse than health officials thought.

The new research, which surveyed some 38,000 parents, suggests that roughly 6 million or 1 in every 12 American kids below the age of 18 suffer from food allergies.

This is up from a 2009 estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which besides pegging the  prevalence of childhood allergies at 1 in every 26 children, noted that this figure had risen by 18 percent between 1997 and 2007.

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Naomi Dillon|June 22nd, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Wellness|Tags: |

In Op-ed, NSBA’s Bryant challenges Duncan’s bandaid fix to NCLB

NSBABryantCall me naïve, but I don’t think the primary purpose of No 3283394_com_arneduncanChild Left Behind was to shame public schools or pave the way for privatization. I believe — and this is just my opinion — that the law’s principal creators sincerely wanted to improve the education of disadvantaged children, and NCLB, flawed as it is, was the vehicle they came up with.

That said, it’s hard to imagine a more breathtaking illogicality than the law’s central premise: That all children, despite their considerable differences, could be taught to a single high standard and that all students would be “proficient” by 2014.

This quote from Arne Duncan’s recent Politico piece on the law is telling:

Despite our shared sentiment for reform and the Obama administration’s long-standing proposal to reshape NCLB, the law remains in place, four years after it was due for reauthorization. Our children get only one shot at an education. They cannot wait any longer for reform.

Read that carefully and you’ll notice the education secretary isn’t talking about reforming schools, but reforming reform. Our children get only one shot at an education, and they cannot wait any longer to reform the reform.

Duncan’s heart is in the right place. He knows the legislation is seriously flawed and has vowed to do, through regulatory reform, what Congress won’t address with legislation. But the Secretary isn’t going far enough — offering merely to be more “flexible” under the same assessment system. That begs the question: If the legislation is so horrendously flawed, shouldn’t there be a moratorium on schools labeled “failing” under that broken system?

That’s exactly what NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant argued last week in a commentary in the Huffington Post:

We need the regulatory relief this summer before school starts, instead of a new bureaucratic process that the Department of Education is purposing that could take many months to create. And as we need this as a matter of policy — not state or school district case-by-case waivers. We specifically support suspension of additional sanctions under current AYP requirements, effective for the 2011-12 school year, so that schools currently facing sanctions would remain frozen; no new schools would be labeled as ‘In Need of Improvement’ or subject to new or additional sanctions.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|June 21st, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Technology, Governance|Tags: , , , |

High Court: Public employees cannot use Petition Clause against employers

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a public employee cannot use the First Amendment’s Petition Clause to claim retaliation by a public employer such as a school district.

NSBA was pleased that the high court overturned a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Duryea v. Guarnieri. The case is particularly relevant to school districts, collectively the largest employers in the country, where the internal grievance process is a common way of resolving employment disputes.

By an 8-1 vote, the majority of justices relied on NSBA’s argument in its amicus brief for the proposition that the “Unrestrained application of the Petition Clause in the context of government employment would subject a wide range of government operations to invasive judicial superintendence.”

“We are gratified that the Court rested its decision in part on NSBA’s amicus brief to understand the potential impact of its ruling,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “The Court’s reliance on NSBA’s perspective about the operational realities of public employment affirms not only NSBA’s role as the voice of public employers across the country, but also NSBA’s continued credibility in the high court.”

The case was brought by a police chief who was fired by the Duryea (Pa.) Borough Council. The police chief claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when the council retaliated against him as a result of his successful appeal of the dismissal through its grievance process.

In the amicus brief filed on Dec. 13, NSBA argues that public employees should not be allowed to sue their public employers under the First Amendment’s Petition Clause, which gives citizens the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Such an action could have led to more costly and time-consuming lawsuits and grievances against school districts when school employees already have ample protections against retaliation, NSBA wrote in the brief. A ruling for the employee also could have undermined existing protections created through state law, collective bargaining agreements, and school district policies.

NSBA also noted that the high court has properly drawn the line in prior rulings in which it concluded that public employees are only protected under the First Amendment for speech that is a matter of public concern. “This distinction is critical to the ability of public schools to make employment decisions that further their educational mission to provide students with a safe learning environment conducive to acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to become productive, responsible citizens.”

Joetta Sack-Min|June 20th, 2011|Categories: School Law|

Top tier districts understand teacher mentoring, development are critical

stockvault_6909_20070301There’s very little dispute that new teachers need formal mentoring programs—after all, working day to day in a classroom can be isolating, and it takes time and experience to learn how to deal with each students’ individual needs (and sometimes parents as well).

Research has proven time and again that a high-quality, structured mentoring program can help attract and retain teachers and make them more effective in their jobs.

So why don’t we do the same for school administrators?

In the upcoming July issue of ASBJ, former superintendent Philip Cicero writes about his first job as a superintendent. Not only was he expected to learn how to manage a suburban school district, he would be responsible for the orientation of five new hires: three principals, an athletic director, and an assistant special education director. Only one had had previous administrative experience.

Cicero went to his school board and asked to hire an outside mentor—someone who would be more accessible to the new hires and could create a structured program. Eventually, he found a retired superintendent who knew the region’s issues and needs who agreed to become a consultant.

“At a time when finding effective administrators is as difficult as keeping them, this mentoring program was an invaluable resource to all those involved in it,” Cicero writes.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Naomi Dillon|June 20th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Teachers|Tags: |

Week in Review

Food costs are escalating, but unfortunately federal funds to help districts pay for school meals are not keeping pace. Who knows, maybe future scholars in food science could help bridge that gap? And finally, it’s what most movers and shakers have known all along: change, real change, so often begins with a change in attitude. Read these and other entries from this week’s Leading Source.

Naomi Dillon|June 18th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Week in Blogs|

The week in blogs

“Teachers in Finland are practically rock stars,” exclaims Robert Rothman in the Alliance for Excellent Education’s blog, High School Soup. And if that sounds like a slight exaggeration  – I can imagine a class of middle schooler holding their lighted Bics aloft after a particularly scintillating lecture – it still shows how far we in America need to go to advance the status of teachers.

To be sure, Finland doesn’t pay them like rock stars, Rothman adds. “Teachers salaries are about average. Rather, the country has established its preparation programs and working conditions so that teaching is a highly respected profession.”

The blog is commenting on an article in American Educator that cities the singular importance of great teaching – and a school system that nurtures and supports great teaching – to school improvement.

Should there be more emphasis in high school on vocational training? That’s the question posed this week by the National Journal on its Education blog.  Proponents point to successful apprenticeship programs in Europe and the many good technical jobs that require more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. Skeptics include Thomas Toch of Education Sector, who worries that a new generation of vo-tech could lead to  “watered-down expectations for many students who are already getting short shrift in our educational system.”

Board members are you sick of No Child Left Behind? Guess what, Arne Duncan is too. Read the Education Secretary’s thoughts on ESEA reauthorization in Politico.

Finally, the NAEP History scores are out and they’re not exactly historic – at least, not in a good way. See commentary and analysis by Joanne Jacobs and Jim Hull of NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

Lawrence Hardy|June 18th, 2011|Categories: Student Achievement, Week in Blogs|

The week in blogs

“Teachers in Finland are practically rock stars,” exclaims Robert Rothman in the Alliance for Excellent Education’s blog, High School Soup. And if that sounds like a slight exaggeration  – I can imagine a class of middle schooler holding their lighted Bics aloft after a particularly scintillating lecture – it still shows how far we in America need to go to advance the status of teacher

To be sure, Finland doesn’t pay them like rock stars, Rothman adds. “Teachers salaries are about average. Rather, the country has established its preparation programs and working conditions so that teaching is a highly respected profession.”

The blog is commenting on an article in American Educator that cities the singular importance of great teaching – and a school system that nurtures and supports great teaching – to school improvement.

Should there be more emphasis in high school on vocational training? That’s the question posed this week by the National Journal on its Education blog.  Proponents point to successful apprenticeship programs in Europe and the many good technical jobs that require more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. Skeptics include Thomas Toch of Education Sector, who worries that a new generation of vo-tech could lead to  “watered-down expectations for many students who are already getting short shrift in our educational system.”

Board members, are you sick of No Child Left Behind? Guess what, Arne Duncan is too. Read the Education Secretary’s thoughts on ESEA reauthorization in Politico.

Finally, the NAEP History scores are out and they’re not exactly historic – at least, not in a good way. See commentary and analysis by Joanne Jacobs and Jim Hull of NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|June 17th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|

House approves funding bill with child nutrition report

NSBA is pleased that the House of Representatives has passed HR 2112, the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, with the committee’s report language on child nutrition intact.  Although the report language is non-binding, NSBA’s legislative advocacy team feels it sends a powerful message regarding congressional intent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA is charged with writing regulations for the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization, which was approved late last year.

The report language states: “New Nutrition Requirements for the School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.-The Committee notes that FNS [Food Nutrition Services] has responded to the actions required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, P.L. 111-296. The Committee urges restraint and practical timelines for implementing new national nutrition standards in the school breakfast and lunch programs. As many of the representatives in states and local school districts have cautioned, an overly aggressive implementation schedule and unrealistic demands on changes in nutrient content can lead to burdensome costs, estimated to be about $7 billion over 5 years. Therefore, the Committee directs FNS to issue a new proposed rule that would not require an increase in the cost of providing school meals.”

Read more about school nutrition issues at: www.nsba.org/Advocacy/Key-Issues/SchoolNutrition.

Joetta Sack-Min|June 17th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, Food Service, Nutrition, Obesity, Wellness|

NAEP results: students’ history knowledge in need of improvement

Earlier this week, the 2010 NAEP U.S. History results were released for our 4th, 8th, and 12th graders. Overall, the results were not very encouraging especially at the 12th grade level. Our 8th graders have made some progress over the past decade but overall scores at the 4th and 12th grade levels remained relatively unchanged. However, as Jim Hull over at The Edifier points out, Black and Hispanic students have made tremendous progress since the mid-90’s at both the 4th and 8th grade levels.

Yet, besides these bright spots yesterday’s report point out our students are lacking in their knowledge of this nation’s history. That, as the New York Times argues, there needs to be a renewed focus on history. The first step in doing so is for Congress to reauthorize ESEA so schools aren’t judged on math and reading alone. BoardBuzz is excited to hear Secretary Duncan signal there is regulatory relief for school districts if Congress doesn’t act this summer. Hopefully this will push Congress to develop a fair and constructive federal accountability system that values the importance of all subjects.

 For a full summary of the NEAP results check out NSBA’s Center for Public Education’s blog The Edifier. Also, for more information on what NAEP results really mean check out The Center’s The Proficiency Debate: A guide to NAEP Achievement Levels.

Jim Hull|June 16th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education Update, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Reports|
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