Articles from September, 2011

The week in blogs: A school board member’s ‘unabashed reasonableness’

Amid the clamor for an educational “silver bullet “ — be it charter schools, or vouchers, or more hoops for teachers to jump through, or more mandates from Washington — a guest columnist for Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog talked this week about creating “a vision that looks at the entire system of public education” in the author’s home state and “how to move it forward.”

Who writes with such unabashed reasonableness in this age of partisan stridency and politically loaded speech? A school board member, of course. Namely, David Johnson, president of the Georgia School Boards Association and vice chair of the Floyd County Schools in Rome, Ga.

The system Johnson is referring to is the GSBA project: A Vision for Public Education: Equity and Excellence.

“Instead of picking apart the system and deciding on where or on whom to lay blame, we now have a vision that looks at the entire system of public education in our state and how to move it forward,” Johnson writes. “It’s proactive, productive and positive.”

And well worth a careful look – no matter what state you live in.

The plan specifies immediate actions and long-range steps to address issues such as early learning; governance, leadership, and accountability, and culture, climate, and organizational efficiency.

Other good blogs this week include Joanne Jacobs’ look at the other side of South Korea’s phenomenal test scores, or, as she puts it, South Korea: Kids Stop Studying So Hard!

“You Americans see a bright side of the Korean system,” Education Minister Lee Ju-ho told Time magazine, “but Koreans are not happy with it.”

In other news, Eduwonk calls “sobering” new data on poverty in Hispanic households and the latest statistics on college completion.

Lawrence Hardy|September 30th, 2011|Categories: Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA releases family engagement resource

A new document by the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) School Health Programs, which was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aims to cultivate the relationship between schools and families, with an eye toward nurturing healthy students and a healthy school environment.

Families as Partners: Fostering Family Engagement for Healthy and Successful Students, provides an overview of this critical component of student and school success and offers guidance, strategies, and resources for developing and implementing effective family engagement policies and practices.

According to the document, family engagement in schools has been shown to reduce risky behaviors and improve academic achievement and attitudes about school among students.

The publication also suggests that building connections around school and children’s health issues not only serves as a less intimidating entry point for families, but can reap multiple benefits.

“Family engagement is important to a positive school climate, as well as, to the development of promising school health policies and practices that benefit all students and prepare them for a healthy and successful future,” said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director.

It should be noted that families come in all shapes and sizes, and the use of the word family is an all-inclusive generic term. Regardless of their makeup, according to the document, “families and school staff share the responsibility to counter unhealthy influences and help students lead healthy, productive lives.”

And coordinated school health—an eight-step model that the CDC developed— is a sensible way to address risky behaviors among students. Not surprisingly, one of the key components in the CDC coordinated school health framework is family involvement.

Families as Partners highlights a handful of well-regarded strategies to bolster family involvement, including the model developed by noted Johns Hopkins University sociology professor Joyce L. Epstein.

Among the steps a district should take is a review of their own policies on family involvement. Chances are districts can build on their existing efforts to address family engagement in health, nutrition, and safety.

In tandem with an internal review, is an external strategy to bring families into the fold, whether it’s through community meetings, surveys, standing committees, or other opportunities where two-way dialogue can occur.

Besides the Families as Partners document, more smart tips and best practices, including a fact sheet on health and learning, sample family engagement policies, and sample surveys to engage families, can be found on the new family engagement webpage on NSBA’s website.

 

 

Naomi Dillon|September 28th, 2011|Categories: Nutrition, School Climate, Student Achievement, Wellness|Tags: , |

Analysis: NBC learned its lesson with this Education Nation

Glenn Cook, American School Board Journal’s editor-in-chief, attended NBC’s Education Nation summit in New York for the second straight year. Here are his observations.

You can’t blame traditional public school advocates if they were filled with dread when NBC announced that Education Nation would return this fall. Last year the network bought into the hype surrounding the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” inexplicably tying the event to a flawed film that exhorted charters as the pancea for public education’s ills.

Thankfully, NBC has learned its lesson. This year’s event took pains to correct past wrongs as it recognized the complexities school leaders face in managing a public system that is open to all.

Starting with a screening of “American Teacher,” a documentary that helped erase some of the “bad teachers” taste left by “Superman,” and ending with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton, Education Nation featured a strong balance of heavy hitters from education, philanthropy, and politics.

You also had a touch of celebrity — basketball player Lebron James, actress Jennifer Garner, and what amounted to a family reunion with former Gov. Jeb Bush and First Lady Laura Bush participating in sessions — but in this case, it fit the overall tone.

The key word here is balance. Last year’s programming was flawed because it exhorted simple antidotes to complex problems. This year, silver bullets were nowhere to be found, but calls for more effective teaching and improvements to early education were.

You can watch many of the sessions online at www.educationnation.com, but here is my list of highlights:

• Start with “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters,” a fascinating hour-long session featuring Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, and three university professors. Held on Monday morning, it was the best, most concise presentation I’ve seen yet on why we need to reach children much, much earlier than we do.

• The dramatic rise in poverty rates was a focus throughout, especially in the session “What’s in a Zip Code?” moderated by Brian Williams. Poverty is reality for many people in today’s economy — Clinton was eloquent on this topic in the closing session — and communities must come together to do more.

• Education Secretary Arne Duncan was everywhere this year, participating in interviews with Tom Brokaw and responding to questions during various panels (a nice touch).

• We saw an entertaining back and forth between Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Diane Ravitch, author and professor of education at New York University. Their approaches are so different, but both made excellent points. Canada and Sal Khan, another Education Nation speaker, are scheduled to keynote NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference.

• Teacher and student accountability, as you might expect, was a recurring theme. Michelle Shearer, the current National Teacher of the Year from Maryland’s Urbana High School, said teachers “want to be evaluated on things that really matter.”

“There are all sorts of different ways of looking at student growth,” she said. “Whatever evaluation looks like in the end, it has to be a system of multiple measures, because often what’s most important are those intangibles … that are tough to put on a check list.”

• At the same session, Khaatim El, a former member of the Atlanta school board, addressed the cheating scandal that has plagued the district he served for almost a decade. “We wanted to be the hype,” he said of the allegations, which are based on the state assessments. “We wanted to be the first to get it right so bad.”

But El noted the district also made huge gains in NAEP scores during that time, an achievement untouched but overshadowed by the scandal. “I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the hard work that many educators put in,” he said. “We focused on the basics. Literacy instruction in elementary school. Autonomy for principals. We invested in professional development. Those things were overshadowed by the cheating scandal. And they were good things for kids.”

The setting for Education Nation was not perfect — the big tent in Rockefeller Plaza is a good idea in theory, but the humidity and poor audio were ever-present distractions. And while this year’s session was far more substantive, future years should stop belaboring the problems and focus instead on how to solve them. Panels featuring districts that have been successful at “what works,” with ideas and content that are easily imitated and replicated, would be a valuable start.

Chances are good that will happen. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) had a strong presence in the planning and execution of the meeting. Anne L. Bryant, our executive director, met with NBC officials about the content and answered audience questions in a video Q&A format prior to the event. Mary Broderick, NSBA’s president, was featured in a panel session with the mayors of Albuquerque, Baltimore, and Newark.

“What we’ve heard from the last two days of this conference is that we need to come together around a sense of urgency,” Broderick said during her session, noting that it takes a shared vision between the school board, the mayor’s office, and the community. “The vision needs to be of excellence. If that cohesive message can be carried through our schools … there’s nothing off the table.”

IDEA covers educational expenses, not medical ones, NSBA says in court brief

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and five state school boards associations are asking the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court decision requiring a Colorado school district to pay for a student’s residential psychiatric treatment as part of its responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In a joint amicus brief filed this week, NSBA and the state associations say that IDEA was never intended to cover medical and mental health expenses, and that requiring school districts to do so would deplete the limited funds for public schools.

While school districts “are dedicated to educating children with disabilities,” the brief says. “They are not designed or funded to function as medical providers.”

The case involved Elizabeth, a student Jefferson County School District R-1(JCSDR-1), who suffered from a posttraumatic stress disorder and a number of other psychiatric and emotional disorders. As a result of mediated settlement with her parents when Elizabeth was in eighth grade, the district agreed to pay half her private school tuition. However, a few years later, when her condition worsened, Elizabeth’s parents unilaterally hospitalized her in an out-of-state treatment center and sought reimbursement from the district. A federal district court in Colorado said that IDEA entitled the parents to that reimbursement. The case is expected to be heard by the appeals court sometime next year.

“In these tough economic times, school districts are being forced to drastically cut their budgets,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “While IDEA ensures that all children with disabilities receive a quality education, it was never intended to shift the medical costs of treating students’ disabilities to public school districts that are already struggling with budget shortfalls.”

NSBA is joined in the appeal by state school boards associations in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah.

Lawrence Hardy|September 28th, 2011|Categories: Educational Finance, School Law|Tags: , , |

Watch NSBA’s President on Education Nation today

Update: The video for “Going Local: What A City Can Do For Its Schools,” is now archived at educationnation.com.

This week, NBC News is hosting its second annual Education Nation Week and Summit. NBC News is promoting the 2011 Education Nation as a way to, “address the developments, challenges, and progress of the past year, as well as identify and explore new, exciting opportunities to reinvent America as an Education Nation.”

The National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) President Mary Broderick and Executive Director Anne L. Bryant are representing NSBA at the Education Nation Summit. Broderick will be on the Education Nation panel, “Going Local: What A City Can Do For Its Schools,” scheduled for today, September 27 from 1 – 2 pm EDT. Broderick will be joined by mayors and community leaders to discuss how they’re addressing education.

NBC News’ Lester Holt will moderate this session. The Twitter hashtag for this session is #LocalEdNat.

Mary will be a panelist in the second part of the session with:

  • Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque
  • Mayor Cory Booker of Newark
  • Mayor Angel Taveras of Providence

The first part of the session will feature:

  • Michael Brown, CEO & Co-Founder of City Year, Inc
  • Marguerite Kondracke, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance
  • Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia
  • Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore

 

The session is scheduled to be live web streamed on the South Stage feed.
View it here:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Additionally, during Education Nation, Bryant will serve an education expert on EducationNation.com.  Bryant will be answering users’ questions. To ask her a question or to view questions Bryant has already answered, go to the Ask an Expert page .

Alexis Rice|September 27th, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Announcements, Board governance, Key Work of School Boards, School Board News, School Boards, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

WH sidesteps Congress, offering relief from NCLB

The Obama administration has unveiled its plans to offer states and local school districts some regulatory relief from the more onerous mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act—a policy move that NSBA calls encouraging.

First proposed this summer, the initiative will allow states to request waivers to specific NCLB mandates in exchange for “serious” reform efforts designed to close achievement gaps and boost accountability.

For local school boards, such waivers could offer greater flexibility in the use of federal funds—or the elimination of the highly unpopular requirement that local districts set aside 20 percent of Title I funds for school choice and supplemental tutorial services.

States also can seek relief from NCLB’s accountability system, with its unrealistic expectation that all students will be 100-percent proficient by 2014, and from such punitive sanctions as forcing a low-per-forming school to fire its principals and teachers or close down.

The waivers will come at a price. The White House says states and local school districts will need to embrace new accountability standards, create tougher and more meaningful teacher evaluation systems, and make greater efforts to ensure all graduating students are college and career-ready.

“The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability, but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level,” Obama said in a statement released Friday.

NSBA has long campaigned for federal policymakers to fix the flaws of NCLB, and NSBA officials welcomed the Obama administration’s latest initiative.

“The proposed NCLB regulatory relief plan is a positive step as it could provide much needed assistance to local school district efforts to improve student achievement,” says Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director.

Still unclear, however, is whether individual local school boards will see the regulatory relief they want.

“The effectiveness of the plan will depend upon the details of the application requirements, the specific locally needed relief states ask for, and whether the merit of a state’s application is judged adequate by the U.S. Department of Education to receive the relief that it asks for,” Bryant notes.

The administration’s waiver program might yet need to take another step forward, suggests Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy.

“NSBA believes that federal requirements that are educationally, financially, or operationally counter-productive at the school house level should be eliminated as a matter of policy not as a condition for states qualifying to meet new conditions,” Resnick says. “We encourage the U.S. Department of Education to provide local relief along those lines should its state-based approach fall short of the local relief needed.”

Administration officials said they’ve acted because of delays in Congress over NCLB’s reauthorization. Under the law, schools are facing increasingly serious sanctions as they approach the 2014 deadline for bringing 100 percent of the nation’s students to proficiency levels in reading and math.

One federal estimate is that 82 percent of the nation’s schools will miss that target.

“The states are desperately asking for us to respond,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last month.

Most states have indicated they will apply for waivers. The White House says the first waivers could be granted by early 2012.

 

Del Stover|September 23rd, 2011|Categories: Board governance, School Board News, School Boards|Tags: , , , , , |

Is NCLB hurting top students?

The following post was originally posted on the Center for Publc Education’s blog The Edifier.

It’s déjà vu all over again. Back in 2008 the Fordham Institute claimed in this report that our nation’s best students were being hurt by current education reform efforts, particularly No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Fast forward to earlier this week where Fordham released another report to once again try to show that our education reforms are being targeted at our low performing students at the expense of our top students. The similarities don’t end with both studies examining the performance of high achieving students, in both reports Fordham’s conclusions don’t fit what their own data says.

In the 2008 study Fordham argued our top students were being left behind because their gains were not as large as the gains low performing students made post-NCLB. I argued then that their own data didn’t fit their claim. Once again, Fordham claims that our top students are being left behind don’t fit their own data. As a matter of fact, according to Fordham’s report the gap in math scores between low- (those scoring below 10th percentile) and high-performing (those score above the 90th percentile) did not significantly change as students moved from 3rd to 8th grade or from 6th to 10th grade. The good news is that all students made consistent gains, unfortunately for low-performing students their performance still lagged way behind. The story is a bit different in reading where gaps did close between the lowest and highest performing students. However, Fordham sees this gap closing as a negative even though high performing students continued to make significant gains between the 3rd and 8th grades. It was just that low-performing students made even greater gains during that period.

Just as I argued in 2008, this is how gaps should be narrowed, where everyone improves but the lowest performers improve at a faster rate. However, Fordham didn’t agree with me then and I’ll safely assume they won’t agree with me now. We will just have to agree to disagree because I don’t believe the data shows our best students are being short changed simply because our lowest performers are making more progress than our highest performing students. Now that doesn’t mean our schools or our education policies should focus solely on our lowest performing students. Educators and policymakers need to ensure that ALL students have an opportunity to reach their highest academic potential before they go onto college or the workplace. Yet, neither Fordham study provides compelling data that our schools are short changing our highest performing students.

Yes, educators and policymakers need to focus on our highest achieving students as international test scores show we have a much smaller proportion advanced students than the leading countries such as South Korea and Finland but the same international tests show we also have a much larger proportion of very low-performers than most other industrialized nations. And students with such low achievement have little chance to go onto any sort of postsecondary education or find a good job that pays a living wage and offers benefits. So we need to at least sustain the gains our highest achievers are making since many will be our country’s future innovators, policymakers and business leaders. At the same time we need to accelerate the gains our lowest achieving students are making so they at least have the minimal skills necessary to either go onto earn some sort of postsecondary degree/certificate or find a good job. Doing so is not a zero-sum game. If we provide our teachers with the training, resources, and support they need, they can improve the performance of all students.

Jim Hull|September 23rd, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Reports, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

Who wants yesterday’s paper?” Mick Jagger asked decades ago in a song that had more to do with a failed relationship than the newspaper industry. But as a former newspaper reporter, I’ve tended to take that line quite literally and protested, if only to myself: “I do. I want yesterday’s paper.” Because you can learn a lot from yesterday’s paper (it’s not all breaking news, after all) and, for that matter, yesterday’s books and magazines, yesterday’s poetry and music, yesterday’s take on the world.

And what about yesterday’s classroom technology? Or, more broadly, yesterday’s teaching methods and the curricula that went with them? Are they still relevant today? Not only are they relevant, argues Core Knowledge founder E. D. Hirsch Jr. — they’re far superior to the process- and test-based approaches of today, an approach he says is responsible for across-the-board declines in verbal SATs.

“Our national verbal decline transcends this ‘achievement gap’ between demographic groups,” Hirsch writes. “The language competence of our high school graduates fell precipitously in the seventies, and has never recovered. What changed — and what remains largely un-discussed in education reform — is that in the decades prior to the Great Decline, a content-rich elementary school experience evolved into a content-light, skills-based, test-based approach that dominates in our schools today.”

It’s an intriguing argument; and, for what it’s worth, I buy some, but not all, of it. Hirsch thinks we’ve all gone skill-based crazy, but at my daughters’ elementary school in Virginia, for example, the approach to skills and content is quite obviously  “both-and,” not “either-or.”  Is it an outlier? I don’t think so.

Another critique of what some consider today’s newfangled education can be found in The Quick and the Ed, where Richard Lee Colvin proclaims that “dumb uses of technology won’t produce smart kids.” He’s commenting on a recent New York Times article on how state-of-the-art technology has not led to higher test scores in many classes.  Once again, his argument is interesting, if taken with a dose of skepticism.  I doubt, for example, that Colvin could find a lot of school technology experts who think that dumb uses of technology are just the thing to make their students smarter.  It’s a bit more complicated than that.

We’ve quoted from the conservative side (Hirsch) so I thought it only fair to go the other direction, and what better place than to education commentator Susan Ohanian? And it turns out, her guest writer, Yvonne Siu-Runyan, president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), is pining for the old days too. More specifically, a time when school libraries and public libraries weren’t staggering under huge budget cuts. Siu-Runyan quotes an American Library Association study showing that school expenditures for information resources decreased overall by 9.4 percent from 2009 to 2010, and in high-poverty areas by an alarming 25 percent.

It doesn’t bode well for creating the kind of content-rich environments that Hirsch and so many others say are critical to our future.

 

Lawrence Hardy|September 23rd, 2011|Categories: Educational Technology, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , |

NA webinar illustrates collective power of one

NSBA lobbyists are hard at work explaining to Congress the many challenges facing local school boards—and how federal policy should be shaped to help local officials do their jobs better.

But members of Congress also care what their constituents have to say, so it’s vitally important that individual school board members make their voices heard by communicating personally with their elected representatives.

That was the message of NSBA’s advocacy team, which offered a briefing on federal education policymaking during Wednesday’s National Affiliate webinar, “The Power of One: What You Can Do to Change What is Happening on Capitol Hill.”

“We can’t do it alone,” moderator Kathleen Branch, NSBA’s director of national advocacy service programs, told participants early in the webinar. “We need you to join us … to become a resource for your members of Congress.”

To prepare school board members for that task, members of NSBA’s advocacy team offered a summary of legislative and regulatory efforts in the nation’s capital—and how those efforts could impact local school districts.

One of the most important legislative efforts under way today is the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, said Reginald Felton, assistant executive director for congressional relations.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers are tackling the reauthorization through a series of bills, and one promising proposal would give local school officials more flexibility and authority over the use of federal education funding, Felton reported.

Less promising was the recent passage of the Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which NSBA argued was approved without sufficient review and raises concerns about how much accountability will be demanded of charter schools.

Lawmakers also are talking about consolidating several federal education programs, which is not necessarily a bad thing, Felt said. But there also is a move to expand competitive block grants, at the expense of categorical programs.

That concerns NSBA because many school systems do not have the resources to compete with larger or more affluent districts in writing grant proposals.

It’s important that NSBA and local school boards continue their efforts to influence Congress and shape policy that’s in the best interest of local schoolchildren, Felton said. “We continue to lobby members of Congress, but we’re pleased when you come to Washington and help that dialogue—or you meet with members of Congress when they’re home in your communities. We need to keep the pressure on.”

Later, Deborah Rigsby, NSBA’s director of federal legislation, briefed webinar participants about the debate on Capitol Hill over the federal budget—and the need to urge Congress to protect funding for education.

“For 2011, K-12 programs were cut by $849 million,” she said. “But they were already underfunded, so we don’t want to go [through another round] of addition cuts for fiscal 2012.”

Finally, Lucy Gettman, director of federal programs, talked about the potential impact of the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids—last year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act—and new regulations for school meal programs that could force local school districts to raise meal prices.

At least one school system already is looking to raise the price of school milk by as much as 25 cents, she says. “What we’re very concerned about at NSBA is the impact on children and families who can ill afford a price increase [in school meals] but, conversely, about the impact on school districts … if districts are required to supplement or offset a price increase with their own state and local funds.”

Concluding the webinar, Branch yet again encouraged listeners to become more involved in lobbying federal policymakers, and she shared a number of resources that NSBA makes available for board members who are new to education advocacy work. And she encouraged board members to participate in the National Affiliate Advocacy Network.

 Finally, she said, if board members aren’t certain what to say about today’s complex policy issues, they can just call her. “That is what NSBA is here for.”

Del Stover|September 22nd, 2011|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Leadership, School Boards|Tags: , , , , , , |

Registration open for NSBA Annual Conference 2012

Registration is now open for NSBA’s 72nd conference, held for the first time in Boston, from April 21 to 23, 2012. Join school board leaders and administrators from across the country for this premier event for school boards to learn about education issues from a national perspective, understand how federal legislation and court decisions will affect your district, and gain insights into strategies to raise student achievement and save money in your district.

In addition to the new locale, the conference will offer more than 200 sessions, plus an expanded lineup of technology sessions, important legislative and legal advocacy issues, and new opportunities to learn about new products and services in the Exhibit Hall. Discounts are available to early-bird registration National Affiliate Districts and TLN Districts only, of groups of 10 or more for the same school district. Visit NSBA’s Annual Conference website registration page for more details.

Keynote speakers include Geoffrey Canada, a nationally recognized and passionate advocate for education reform and president/chief executive officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, a free online education platform and not-for-profit organization. The General Session speaker for Saturday has not yet been announced.

Author and culinary star Chef Jeff Henderson will highlight the Sunday morning fellowship program with a talk entitled “From the Streets to the Stove: The Power of Potential.” Henderson spent 10 years in prison for dealing drugs, but while incarcerated, he discovered a passion for cooking and committed himself to turning his life around. He became the executive chef at Café Bellagio in Las Vegas and now hosts Food Network’s “The Chef Jeff Project,” which takes at-risk young adults and commits them to changing their lives through work with his catering company.
(more…)

Joetta Sack-Min|September 20th, 2011|Categories: Conferences and Events, Key Work of School Boards, Leadership, NSBA Annual Conference 2012, School Boards|Tags: , , |
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