Articles from October, 2011

The week in blogs

Just in time for Halloween, a “giant wrecking ball” is on the loose, reckless and insatiable, “doing incalculable harm” to the nation’s public schools.

Dracula? Frankenstein?  The Teacher from the Black Lagoon? No, it’s Diane Ravitch’s description of No Child Left Behind, which, for now at least, remains horribly undead (and un-reauthorized).

“Is there any other national legislative body in the world that has ever passed a law that caused almost every one of its schools to be labeled a failure?” writes Ravitch, the education historian and former George H.W. Bush and Clinton administration official, in the National Journal’s Education blog. “NCLB is a giant wrecking ball, setting up public schools for failure, incentivizing cheating, and encouraging states to game the system by lowering their passing marks, lowering their standards or other strategies.”

The occasion of Ravitch’s fusillade is, of course, the flurry activity on Capitol Hill, which has resulted in the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee threatening to drive a stake through the very heart of the accountability and enforcement measures of the Bush II-era law.

That’s fine by Ravitch, but not so good with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said regarding the proposed bill: “America cannot retreat from reform.”

Others have reacted more cautiously to the changes, including Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. He says AASA is “cautiously optimistic” that the Senate will come up with a supportable bill. Domenech is pleased with the bill’s proposed elimination of “the utopian NCLB goals of 100 percent of students meeting proficiency on state tests by 2014” and an Adequate Yearly Progress system “designed to ensure that eventually all schools would be failing.” But he’s concerned about complex new federal mandates tied to the spending of state and federal dollars and a more expansive federal role in defining school discipline.

For NSBA’s position on the Harkin bill, see the recent letter to the Senate committee from Associate Executive Director Michael A. Resnick. Like Domenech, Resnick sees many positives in the bill, but he’s concerned about other provisions, including new data collection mandates that could be seen as micromanaging from Washington and expensive for school districts to follow in these tough economic times.

Among the other interesting writings this week: The American Prospect on the latest bonanza for education firms — teacher evaluations. (Thanks to This Week in Education for that one.)

And finally, for all you parents out there wondering whether you should let your kids keep all the candy they get trick-or-treating (the Rosseauian model) or confiscate it in the name of optimal health (the Hobbesian approach) Joanne Jacobs cites groundbreaking research in The Onion, which concludes …… it doesn’t make any difference.

“Every style of parenting produces disturbed, miserable adults, ” notes the satirical review, citing research that, yes, it made up.

Lawrence Hardy|October 29th, 2011|Categories: Discipline, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Governance, Teachers, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

Reauthorizing the federal education bill has been a little like the reverse of that old saying:  “hurry up and wait.” No, when it comes to renewing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — something that was supposed to happen, oh, four years ago — it’s been more like: “wait — now hurry up.”

The hurry-up happened Thursday, when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, voted 15 to 7 to approve a bill that greatly reduces the federal role by dispensing with a complicated and flawed accountability system for determining which schools need “improvement” and which do not.

That, and many other provisions of the bill, were welcomed by NSBA, state school boards associations, and school districts that had been laboring under the strictures of ESEA’s latest iteration: No Child Left Behind. But while NSBA was happy about that — and pleased that, after waiting so long, the Senate was finally addressing these issues — it cautioned against moving too fast in committee on a bill that still has a lot of bugs.

“The bill also contains many operationally unrealistic features that will need to be addressed,” NSBA Associate Executive Director Michael A. Resnick wrote in a letter to the committee this week. “For example, it contains extensive data collection and reporting requirements, as well as overbearing specificity in several key programs areas that cross well into the micro-management of our schools.”

 NSBA didn’t get the delay in the mark-up it wanted, but the committee did accede to a call from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, to hold a hearing on the bill on Nov. 8.

The blogosphere has been all over the map on this process, and, rather than try to make sense of it myself, I’m going to just give you the links and … .well, you can tell me what it all means. For starters, there was the unusual agreement between Paul, a Tea Party favorite, and liberal blogger Susan Ohanian, about the need for more time.

Then there was the Progressive Policy Institute – from the so-called reformist camp – charging that the law, as currently revised, “guts school accountability.”

Alexander Russo, of This Week in Education, asked “where was [Arne] Duncan?” He said the education secretary didn’t press the committee for a bill with a more robust federal role. Meanwhile, at the Fordham Institute, Mike Petrilli said much the opposite, asserting that Duncan’s influence helped make it all happen (so far). Petrilli also called the bill an improvement over the current law.

So reaction was indeed divided, which is not surprising given the complexity of the issues and the laborious process itself. But will there be a finished product soon, and will it pass?

Not likely, Education Sector’s Anne Hyslop told the Christian Science Monitor. With this divided and sometimes sclerotic Congress, she doesn’t see a bill passing the House until well after the 2012 campaign.

Lawrence Hardy|October 21st, 2011|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, School Reform, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , , |

Senate amendment would block costly rules on school meals

The U.S. Senate has approved an amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill that will protect the flexibility of school districts in selecting the vegetables served in school lunch and breakfast programs.

NSBA supported the amendment, co-authored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), that blocks the use of 2012 funding to implement “highly prescriptive” requirements on the use of vegetables in school meals, said Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s director of federal programs.

The proposed rules would have limited the servings of some starchy vegetables, such as white potatoes, lima beans, and corn, to one cup per student per week, and banned these vegetables from school breakfasts.

The rules also threatened to increase school district costs for providing meals, and in a letter supporting the Collins-Udall amendment, NSBA expressed concern to senators about the budget impact to local school districts.

“The financial and operational impact on local school districts could be immense at a time when they already are slashing their budgets in response to eroding resources,” NSBA stated. “The proposed rule could therefore force districts to curtail more education programming and take more teachers out of the classroom to pay for it. School district flexibility and authority are needed to assure that meal options are healthy, nutritious, responsive to the needs and preferences of local communities, and are cost-effective.”

NSBA’s letter of support was entered in to the Congressional Record after Sen. Collins mentioned it on the Senate floor, Gettman said.

“NSBA strongly supported the efforts of Sens. Collins, Udall, and others to ensure that school districts retain the flexibility to provide nutritious meals to students,” she said, adding that NSBA would continue to monitor the legislation as it works its way through the Senate. 

Del Stover|October 21st, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, Legislative advocacy, Nutrition, School Boards|Tags: , , , , |

Law gives schools flexibility on location of special services, NSBA says

Federal law requires school districts to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education, but it is up to the district to decide where that requirement can best be met, NSBA and the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) said in a brief filed for R.K. v. Board of Education of Scott County, Kentucky recently in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case was initiated in 2009, when “R.K,” a student with Type I diabetes, was in kindergartener in Scott County, Ky. Initially, R.K. needed insulin injections during the school day, but later he began using an insulin pump that required accurate input of certain dietary information.

The NSBA-KSBA brief noted that the Kentucky Board of Nursing had advised schools not to delegate the responsibility for monitoring insulin pumps to other staff. With this recommendation in mind, the district told R. K.’s parents that he could attend one of two elementary with onsite nurses. However, the parents said the district had an obligation to educate R.K. at his neighborhood school, and sued.

A district court judge ruled in June that R.K. had no “absolute right” to attend his neighborhood school, and the parents appealed the decision to the 6th Circuit.

The NBSA-KSBA brief says there is a fundamental difference between an “educational placement” decision, concerning the types of services and supports offered to a student, and the “physical location” where those services are provided.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) requires that students be educated in “the least restrictive environment,” the brief says. However, in the Kentucky case, NSBA and KSBA said, “the student does not allege he has been removed from education with his non-disabled peers; his sole allegation is that he was denied assignment to his neighborhood school.”

NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. said Section 504 does not require districts to educate children with disabilities in their neighborhood school.

“The court should not read into Section 504 a requirement that a school district be required to provide all disability-related services to students in their neighborhood schools,” Negrón said.

“In addition to minimizing the role of the individualized education program staffing process, such a ruling could needlessly increase costs by minimizing the flexibility of school districts in managing limited resources.”

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant said a decision against the school district threatens the “common practice of deploying the districts’ resources in a many that is both fiscally responsible and educationally sound.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 20th, 2011|Categories: School Law, Special Education, Student Achievement, Wellness|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

NA webinar takes it global

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat became an instant bestseller in 2005 because it detailed a phenomenon most felt but few understood fully: the power of globalization.

While, that’s less true today, back then Friedman wasn’t the only one who recognized and appreciated the increasing interconnectedness of the world.

Michael Furdyk was just a teen-ager at the turn of the century, but he’d already amassed a lifetime of experiences— he began his first company by the fourth-grade and was dabbling in a new fangled technology by the sixth grade— experiences he shared in Tuesday’s National Affiliate webinar: Reimagining Learning in a Globalized World. 

Furdyk, a Canadian native, is the co-founder of TakingITGlobal, an online community that facilitates global education, social entrepreneurship, and civic engagement that has reached more than 40 million youth worldwide since its launch in 2000.

But it began simply as an answer to the countless letters that aspiring young entrepreneurs bombarded Furdyk with eager to know the secrets to his success and how they could make their big break.  In 1999, Furdyk made headlines, appearing on Oprah and Teen Magazine (he was after all just 17) after he and fellow high school students sold their tech review site, Mydesktop.com, to Internet.com

The ensuing attention and inquiries from other bright, young people across the world inspired Furdyk and fellow wunderkind, Jennifer Corriero, to develop a place where youth, ideas, and action could be combined.

“We built a powerful learning community that really focuses on inspiring, informing and involving youth, which I’m sure is the same goal for all schools,” Furdyk said. “And it’s not just using computers as a glorified typewriter, but leveraging the power of this connectivity with the world to engage our students in learning that is powerful and captivating.”

TakingITGlobal does this in a number of ways, most importantly through TakingITGlobal for Educators (TIGed), a program it launched in 2006 that provides professional development, lesson plans, and collaborative global projects to currently more than 2,400 schools in 118 countries.

With more than 1 million projects shared across 13 different languages, TakingITGlobal is certainly living up to its name.

The second challenge is to connect them to a world that is increasingly globalized. 74 percent think Englisn is #1 language.

“We’re exposing [youth] to countries not as a place on a map to be memorized but a place where they’ve created a meaningful connection,” said Furdyk. “So, when I think of India, I think of my friend Habeeb who I’ve collaborated with and talked online.”

Naomi Dillon|October 19th, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

At the more popular charter schools operating within the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are lotteries to see who gets to attend and waiting lists that are very long – 500 children long, in the case Larchmont Charter elementary school. But if you’ve got the money and the time, according to a revealing story in LA Weekly, you can go to the front of the line as “founding parents” — even though the school opened in 2004.

“Add something called a ‘founding parent’ to the long list of ways that charter schools are accused of manipulating which children get to enroll and who doesn’t,” writes Alexander Russo, who cites the story in his This Week in Education blog. But “before you go crazy…” he adds later, “remember that district schools also have all sorts of ways of letting students in through the back door …”

True …but, the scale of the Larchmont “program” and the amount of money involved – and how it bridges the increasingly blurry line between public and private schools – is truly amazing. And it backs up what charter skeptics have long said about charters tailoring their admission policies in various ways (for example, not accepting near as  many special needs children) but claiming a universal benefit for an area’s students.

Need something lighter? When I do, I turn to the Principal’s Page and Superintendent Michael Smith’s often amusing view of his job and life. This short piece is on his junior high school daughter’s unusual level of self-esteem, which is uncannily high for someone who has every right to be the brooding teenager.

My favorite line: “Her worst day ever was great.”

It reminds me of those brilliantly funny Dos Equis beer ads – yes, brilliant beer ads – featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” played by the late Jonathan Goldsmith. (I love these two lines, especially: “When he’s in Rome, they do as he does.” And: “His Mother has a tattoo that reads, ‘Son.’” – both uttered with mock gravity by a reader who, in real life, does the ultra-authoritative voiceover for PBS’s Frontline.)

Enough fun. There are serious issues to consider. And Jay Mathews has taken on a weighty one in his Class Struggle blog, namely how well schools are addressing the needs of gifted students. Actually, Mathews is commenting on a much longer article by Rick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, who says “not very well at all.” But, like Mathews, I don’t think re-restricting access to Advanced Placement courses, because they’re presumably not as rigorous as in the past, is the way to go.

The final item is not a blog, but a piece Friday on NPR’s All Things Considered about how the recession caused a drop in the U.S. birthrate. (Scroll down to “US  Birthrate Dropped During Recession,” which refers to this Pew Research Center report.)

So what’s so bad about 300,000 or so less babies a year? Well, think of that in terms of the reduced number of parental Babies R Us visits, and you get an idea of the economic impact.

“Then, as we look further down the road, school enrollments will be begin to fall,” said Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau who was interviewed on the radio show. “We would need fewer teachers….   A school board that looks at 15 percent fewer students has some tough decisions to make down the road.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 14th, 2011|Categories: Charter Schools, Student Achievement, Uncategorized, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , |

New online at ASBJ.com: Dealing with adult bullying

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the American School Board Journal on bullying. It was a belated follow-up to a decade-old article I wrote in the wake of the 1999 Columbine shootings. The education world changed after Columbine, particularly in the area of student safety and security. I was pleased to find out in my research that school leaders, administrators, and educators were taking bullying and student aggression much more seriously than before the tragedy. 

I interviewed counselor and author Stan Davis for my article, and I’ll never forget what he had to say about bullying prevention.

All schools have an overt culture and a hidden one, he said. “Kids are paying attention to the hidden one. They will see if we welcome new staff, and if we will listen to hate speech.”

If adults are permitted to bully and mistreat each other, or their students, no program, assembly, or curriculum will have much impact.

I had his words in mind when I assigned Senior Editor Naomi Dillon ASBJ’s October cover story, “Adults Behaving Badly,” now online on ASBJ.com. Dillon looks at the phenomenon of work place bullying. Lean budget times, school layoffs, and high-stakes testing pressure have created a toxic environment in some districts. In some cases, the toxicity is fueled by social networking sites. If not addressed, bullying among adults will spread to students. As educators and parents all know, children are watching your actions more than paying attention to your words.

Also as part of our school climate coverage, Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy writes about how some districts are working to reduce racial, ethnic and cultural tensions while creating an environment where children can thrive. “How’s Your Climate?” is also available at www.asbj.com.

Take a look at what we have online this month and please feel free to comment.

Kathleen Vail|October 12th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Bullying, NSBA Publications, School Climate, School Security, Social Networking|Tags: , , , , , , |

Urban school boards, board member honored at New Orleans conference

CUBE Award Winner

Texas’ Mesquite Independent School District receives the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence.

Three urban school boards were honored at NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) annual meeting in New Orleans on Saturday. Texas’ Mesquite Independent School District took top honors as the winner of the 2011 Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence. Boston Public Schools and Nevada’s Washoe County Public Schools were named as finalists.

Mesquite Board President Kevin Carbo, board members Christina Hall and Cary Tanamachi, and Superintendent Linda Henrie accepted the award.

“We are very proud of our district’s accomplishments,” said Carbo. “This award is not just for the Board of Trustees, but for everyone in the district-from the administrators to the teachers to the auxiliary employees who day in and day out give our children their maximum effort.”

Henrie accepted the award on behalf of all of those across the country who are dedicated to public education. “This honor affirms that public education works and works well,” she said.

“This is just one more step in the right direction,” Carbo added. “We have more work to do, and CUBE just gave us a little more incentive to continue working toward a better future for our kids.”

The award recognizes excellence in school board governance, building civic capacity, closing the achievement gap (equity in education), and demonstrated success of academic excellence.

A 37,000-student school system located less than 20 miles east of Dallas, Mesquite has systematically made gains in student achievement and significantly closed achievement gaps while successfully rallying community support around the schools.

Eighty-four percent of students tested proficient in math in 2010, up from 67 percent in 2004. The percentage proficient in science grew from 52 percent in 2004 to 82 percent in 2010. Reading test scores rose from 82 percent to 91 percent proficient during the same time period, while social studies scores went from 86 percent to 95 percent passing.

While all subgroups showed improvement, minority students enjoyed particular gains, and the test score gaps between white and minority students closed significantly in all subject areas.

For more information on the winning district and the finalists, go here.

Also at the CUBE meeting, Arizona school board member Eva Carillo Dong was honored with the 2011 Benjamin Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award. Dong has been a member of the Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board since 1999.

She was honored for her long-time dedication to the community and her strong belief that education can improve life for children in Sunnyside Unified, which serves more than 17,000 students.

President of the Sunnyside board three times in her 12 years of service, Dong has helped the district gain state and national attention for its innovative programs and initiatives to increase student achievement, reduce the dropout rate, and increase community engagement.

The Benjamin Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award is given to individuals who demonstrate a long-standing commitment to the educational needs of urban schoolchildren through school board service. Benjamin Elijah Mays, whom the award honors, was a teacher, minister, author, and civil rights activist who served as president of Morehouse College and the Atlanta school board from 1970 to 1981.

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

Kathleen Vail|October 11th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, Conferences and Events, CUBE Annual Conference 2011, School Boards, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Last December I read a disturbing New York Times article about “China’s army of [college] graduates,” but it wasn’t disturbing in the way you might think.  For years, Americans have been concerned, understandably, about the increasing economic clout of the world’s most populous nation. And, in today’s high-tech world, economic competition means educational competition as well, with China’s aforementioned “army” of new graduates now numbering more than six million a year.

But the unsettling point of the story wasn’t that young, highly educated Chinese were taking away jobs from Americans; it was that, in growing numbers, they couldn’t find jobs at all. So much for the universal, transformative value of the college degree.

In the months since then, we’ve seen the same thing happen – on a smaller, but no less traumatic, scale – for thousands of disappointed U.S. graduates as well. Now comes Christopher Beha asserting in Harper’s magazine that “educating a workforce doesn’t change what jobs are available to society as a whole,” according to Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education blog. “Our treatment of education as a social panacea  … allows us to ignore entrenched class differences and the root causes of inequality in America.”

Read Beha’s entire essay on the Harper’s website. Also read John Marsh, author of Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality,” who is interviewed in Urbanite. Concerning the debate over whether schools can “do it all” in terms of raising up the disadvantaged or must be well supported by strong anti-poverty programs (the Richard Rothstein view) Marsh sides with the Rothstein camp, yet takes the argument a step further.

“If we do want to reduce poverty and inequality,” he tells Urbanite,  “we need to stop talking about classrooms and start talking about class  — about economics, about who gets what and why, and how this might be different.”

But, of course, education is important, especially public education. And no one makes that point better than Peggy Zugibe, a guest columnist in Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post Answer Sheet blog and a member of the Haverstraw-Stony Point (N.Y.) Board of Education. Quoting academic Benjamin Barber, she writes that “public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness; institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 8th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |

Involving families in schools: addressing opportunities and challenges

It is common sense that family involvement in schools is essential to increasing student achievement.  Research also suggests it reduces risky behaviors and improves attitudes about school among students.

However, family involvement in schools doesn’t always come easy.  For one, schools and parents often have a different understanding of what that involvement should look like.  In addition, there can be cultural and language barriers and other issues such as lack of knowledge about how the school system works that make it difficult to get families involved.  So what can school board members do to seize opportunities and address challenges to involving families in schools?

A new National School Boards Association (NSBA) publication, Families as Partners: Fostering Family Engagement for Healthy and Successful Students, presents an interesting suggestion.   According to the publication, from a school district perspective, family engagement in health issues can be an excellent first step toward getting families involved in schools as they are often more willing to address health issues than potentially intimidating academic issues.  In fact, a recently published Center for Public Education (CPE) document shows a similar thread and relays that an effective means to getting families at the door can be a targeted involvement to solve a particular problem – like poor attendance or behavior.

At first it can seem overwhelming to involve families in schools as families comes with differing views and expectations regarding the school system and their children’s learning.  But the benefits outweigh the challenges and ultimately improve student achievement!  So in thinking of ways to address challenges and seize opportunities to involving families, BoardBuzz would like you to check out some important strategies outlined in the documents above:

  • Recognize that all families, regardless of income, education, or cultural background are involved in their children’s learning and want their children to do well;
  • Investigate how families want to be involved and how teachers want families to be involved;
  • Address family involvement through a coordinated school health framework, which includes a family involvement component;
  • Foster district-wide strategies including reviewing policies and procedures to effectively engage families;
  • Ask what families need to know to be involved and how well your district and schools are meeting those needs;
  • Build the capacity of your board and staff to strengthen family engagement; and
  • Continue to survey or track the effects of involvement.

To learn more about steps to take to accomplish some of those strategies, view Families as Partners.  In addition, check out NSBA’s new Family Engagement in School Health webpage to access relevant resources such as sample policies, surveys, and tools created by NSBA to help school leaders better engage families.

How is your school district addressing family involvement?  What have been some of the outcomes?  Drop us a comment!

Daniela Espinosa|October 7th, 2011|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Wellness|Tags: , |
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