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Articles from December, 2011

The week in blogs: Center report on time in school elicits big response

Public education, like any discipline, has accumulated a lot of truisms over the years, most of which are, well … true.

Who can challenge statements like: Parents are the first teachers. School boards should set policy, not run the district. Next to home influences, teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education.

Pretty self-evident stuff.

And then there’s this: U. S. students don’t do as well as their international counterparts because they spend less time in school. True? Well, plausible enough (and certainly repeated enough) that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a reference to it recently, saying that students in India and China “are going to school 25 to 30 percent longer than we are,” and adding, “Our students, I think, are at a competitive disadvantage.”

Such a deficit might indeed be a competitive disadvantage —  if it were true.  But NSBA’s Center for Public Education examined the claim and, using the best available evidence, concluded that it was not.

For the report Time in School: How does the U.S. Compare? Senior Research Analyst Jim Hull compared the hours required in school by several nations that compete with the United States with the those required from five of the more populous states. (States were used because they set minimum hour requirements.)

His conclusion? U.S. students attend about the same number of hours as students in most of these other countries, with some variations. (Less than in Italy, for example; more than in Finland.) Moreover, Hull said, a big issue for schools is often not how much time they require, but what they do with the time they’ve got.

The report took off in the blogosphere, being featured in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet column in the Washington Post and several other places.

“Many modern school reformers have unfortunately maintained a narrow focus about the conditions that lead to academic success, including the notion that more time is necessarily better,” Strauss said.

In an EDifier blog, Hull said he appreciated the Posts citation, but he emphasized that “while simply adding more instructional time will not automatically improve student achievement. What gets lost is that adding time can be an effective tool to improve student achievement especially for students from low-income families.”

As they always say  — truism alert! – the devil is in the details.

The study was also picked up byThe Denver Post and U.S. News & World Report.

Lawrence Hardy|December 17th, 2011|Categories: Teachers, Week in Blogs, Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Student Achievement, 21st Century Skills|Tags: , , |

Watch, learn, do; nominations now being accepted for TLN recognition programs

Do you know an educator who is passionate about using technology to transform teaching and learning? Who can inspire their colleagues to embrace new tools and is always looking for how the next innovation can be applied to education?

Or perhaps you are that person because you work for that district; a district that’s on the cutting edge of education technology, a district that fulfills the digital promise, a district that “get’s it.”

Be you an individual or an organization, it is now time for you to get yours, recognition, that is. And NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network hosts a number of upcoming programs to spotlight EdTech’s pioneers.

Established in 2006 as a part of the 20th anniversary celebration of NSBA’s technology and learning conference, the “20 to Watch” program identifies 20 emerging leaders within the education technology community who have the potential to impact the field for the next 20 years.

While primarily focused on K-12 teachers, administrators, and board members, nominations are also invited from higher education, policy, association, and industry organizations.

The 2011-12 “20” will be honored in Washington D.C. during CoSN’s Annual Conference, March 5-7,  and recognized during the Technology Leadership Network luncheon at NSBA’s 72nd Annual Conference in Boston, April 22.

The deadline for the “20 to Watch” is January 12 and the brief online submission form can be found here.

Districts who are current members of NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network are invited to share their district’s technology innovations for consideration as a TLN Salute District.

Districts are asked to describe highlights of their technology innovation across six categories and then highlight one or two specific technology-supported initiatives that they believe are making a significant difference in teaching and learning, district operations, and/or parental engagement and community outreach efforts.

The Salute program is less about “winning” or being the best, but more about serving as an excellent model that showcases how technology initiatives, when aligned with a district’s mission and effectively implemented, can result in positive outcomes.

The goal is to inspire other districts to start their own journey towards technology innovation or provide affirmation that others are already “on the right track” to success. One TLN Salute District will also be recognized during NSBA’s Annual Conference in Boston. Nomination forms can be found here. The deadline for the TLN Salute program is February 15.

Districts can only be “Saluted” once. Therefore, every few years NSBA recognizes a TLN member with the Trailblazer Award. This recognition is reserved for previous Salute Districts that have gone far beyond their first recognition. It was first given in 2002 to the Henrico County Public Schools in Richmond, Virginia, to acknowledge their leadership role in establishing the largest district laptop program in the nation.

In 2004, the Trailblazer honor went to Community Consolidated School District #15 in Palatine, Illinois, recognizing its special accomplishment as a Malcolm Baldrige Award winner.  Then in 2006 Calcasieu Parish Public Schools was recognized as a Trailblazer recipient as a result of the comprehensive technology planning that allowed the district to serve not only students and faculty, but their community at a time of crisis after Hurricane Rita. Township High School District 214 in Illinois was the last district to be recognized as Trailblazer in 2010. 

Not sure if your district has been as honored as a TLN Salute District? The full list can be found here.  If you feel your district has experienced an extraordinary accomplishment since your initial recognition as a TLN Salute district, please describe the new initiative in an e-mail to Ann Flynn.



Naomi Dillon|December 14th, 2011|Categories: Technology Leadership Network|Tags: , , , |

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant announces retirement

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant has announced her plans to retire in fall 2012. Bryant has served as head of NSBA for more than 15 years, where she has been instrumental in focusing the organization’s governance, research, and training on increasing achievement for all students and advocating on behalf of school boards in Congress, in the federal courts, in federal agencies, and in the public media.

Read NSBA’s press release for more details.

Joetta Sack-Min|December 13th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized, School Law, Announcements, Center for Public Education, Leadership, Legislative advocacy|Tags: , |

New guides help districts navigate diversity issues

It’s well documented that student diversity enhances educational experiences while racial isolation can hinder academic achievement. But recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have complicated matters for school districts seeking to create or to maintain diverse environments.

On December 2, the Departments of Education and Justice issued  new documents to shows ways school officials can promote  diversity and reduce racial isolation within the confines of the court decisions and other laws. In September, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) released its own report with the College Board and EducationCounsel, LLC, Achieving Educational Excellence for All, which discusses diversity policies, legal issues, and community engagement.

The federal documents interpret three recent Supreme Court rulings that have addressed the consideration of race in K-12 assignments and higher education admissions: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger. The new federal guidance, which replaces guidance issued by the Bush administration,  gives examples of ways school districts can promote diversity or reduce racial isolation, such as the location of a school or program, drawing school attendance boundaries, grade realignment and restructuring feeder patterns. The federal agencies also issued a separate document for postsecondary institutions that describes how race could be used as a factor in admissions, recruiting, and other activities.

NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. noted that, in addition to the legal issues, school board members should engage their communities to determine their needs and priorities when considering any policy to promote diversity in their schools. Achieving Educational Excellence for All includes a chapter on how to do so, as well as chapters on legal and policy implications, particularly on the importance of focusing on the educational benefits of diversity. Negrón added that voluntary migration patterns and economic conditions in many places have led to increased segregation even as our country becomes more diverse, making practical guidance tohelp school leaders navigate those challenges even more critical.

Representatives from the two agencies said in a recent conference call that they will offer technical assistance and other tools to assist school districts.



Joetta Sack-Min|December 12th, 2011|Categories: School Law, School District Reorganization, Diversity, Board governance, Policy Formation|

The week in blogs

Beware the blog that begins, “If you want my opinion….” because chances are you’re going to get it, whether you want to our not.

So, as I was saying, if you want my opinion (promise I’ll keep this short) on the whole Newt-Gingrich-wants-poor-kids-to-work-as-school-janitors thing, it’s not the idea itself that bothers me, it’s the attitudes that seem to support it.

That is, I could imagine a small charter-type school in a disadvantaged neighborhood where the students were charged with taking care of the building as  part of a team-building, esprit-de-corps type activity.

But to suggest, as the Republican presidential candidate did, that poor children as a group lack any kind of working role models — well, that to me is a bit much. Gingrich obviously hasn’t spent much time in a diverse American high school with lots of poor immigrants, where oftentimes the problem isn’t students not working, but working so much outside of school to help support stressed families that they have precious little chance of passing their courses.

For the record, here’s some of what Gingrich said, according to the New York Times’ Politics blog, which, in turn, quoted Politico:

You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

Among the many who criticized the candidate was Charles Blow, of the Times, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“Who in their right mind would lay off janitors and replace them with disadvantaged children — who should be in school, and not cleaning schools,” Weingarten said. “And who would start backtracking on laws designed to halt the exploitation of children?”

Others, including Peter Meyer of the Fordham Foundation, said Gingrich was on the right track.

“It was a bit odd to to see Charles Blow (of the New York Times) take out after Newt Gingrich for saying that ‘really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,’’’ Meyer said. “I had just returned from an inner city school where teachers and administrators and parents were saying the same things as Gingrich.  In fact, I’ve been hearing these complaints from teachers – and business leaders – for years.  Teaching children the ‘habits of working’ is a growing part of the school reform movement.”

Yes, there was other news this week. For starters, check out Joann Jacobs’s discussion of how schools’ emphasis on reading and math tests could be crowding out other subjects.

Lawrence Hardy|December 10th, 2011|Categories: Curriculum, Week in Blogs, Urban Schools, Immigrants, School Board News|Tags: , |

U.S. compares favorably on hours spent in school

As school board members and administrators, you may have heard the charge that U.S. students spend less time in school than their peers in other countries. It fits with the notion that we in the United States aren’t as serious about education as such top-performing nations as Finland, or up-and-coming competitors such as India and China.

There are two problems with the above assertion, according a new report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education titled Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare? One, it isn’t true: U.S. students spend just as many, or more, hours in class than in countries like China, and Finland. And, secondly: Sheer time in class is not a good indicator of educational excellence.

“Providing extra time is only useful if that time is used widely,” says the study, written by Jim Hull, the Center’s senior policy analyst. “As the Center’s report Making Time found, the relationship between time and student learning is not about the amount of time spent in school. Rather, it is how effectively that time is used. And this report has also shown that there is no relationship between simply requiring more time and increased achievement.”

To compare time spent in school, the Center looked at international data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Data on Education Seventh Edition 2010-11. Because minimum hours in the United States are set by individual states, the Center used for comparison data from five states that enroll a significant number of U.S. students: California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts.

In most cases, U.S. students were required to attend as many, or more, hours of class as their international counterparts. For example, at the middle school level, the number of hours of instruction ranged from a low of 777 hours in top-performing Finland to 1,001 hours in Italy, an average performer.

“Three of our five large states, New York (990 hours), Texas (1,260 hours) and Massachusetts (990 hours) would rank near the top of all industrialized nations in number of hours required,” the report said. “California and Florida would rank near the middle at 900 hours but still above the OECD average of 886 hours.”

More important than total hours is the way schools use them, the report said. It said that school districts should evaluate how effectively they use existing school time and consider alternatives.

Lawrence Hardy|December 9th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Center for Public Education, Comparative Education, 21st Century Skills|Tags: , |

Turning America’s schools “green”

The U.S. Department of Education announced this week that 33 states and the District of Columbia have submitted intents to nominate schools for the new Green Ribbon Schools awards program launched this past September. Schools nominated by state education agencies are eligible to receive the award.

Participating states, as well as the District of Columbia, to date are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Department also received intent to nominate from the Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Education school district.

The program asks states to nominate schools in their jurisdiction that come closest to achieving the high bar that Green Ribbon sets: net zero environmental impact of facilities, net positive health impact on students and staff, and 100% environmentally literate graduates.

Participating states are currently posting applications for schools in their jurisdictions, and will submit nominees to the Department by March 22, 2012. The Department will announce winners in April, 2012 and will host the first national U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools ceremony in Washington, D.C., in late May 2012. The national ceremony will be followed by local ceremonies at each of the winning schools in fall 2012.

BoardBuzz likes this and is proud that the National School Boards Association is part of the executive committee of the Coalition for Green Schools. To learn more about greening your school district, check out the resources from the Center for Green Schools.

Alexis Rice|December 8th, 2011|Categories: Environmental Issues, School Buildings, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , , , |

Align Pre-K and early grades, coalition says

High-quality preschool is essential for ensuring that all children — particularly disadvantaged children and English Language Learners — are launched onto a path of academic and career success, says a new report by the Pre-K Coalition, a group that includes NSBA and six other education organizations. Yet, as important as this advantage is, Pre-K is not some kind of educational “silver bullet,” and its successes must be built upon in early elementary school,

To get the most impact from Pre-K, the programs should be closely aligned with early elementary school (kindergarten through third grade) so gains made in preschool can be maintained and enhanced throughout the K12 years and beyond, says the coalition’s report, The Importance of Aligning Pre-k through 3rd Grade.

“Child development is a continuous process that must be fed and nurtured along the way,’ the report says. “Gains made in high-quality Pre-K programs must be sustained by quality education throughout the K-3 years. Likewise, skills developed in first grade must be reinforced and built upon in second grade.”

The report cites several impediments to aligning Pre-K with early elementary school, as well as strategies for addressing them. One issue is the lack of focus that policymakers have put on the early grades.

“Unfortunately, our education system is structured to pay the least attention to children’s progress during these critical years,” the report says. “Under current federal law, state and district accountability benchmarks focus primarily on student performance in grades three through eight. Intervention strategies and turn around models for schools ‘in need of improvement’ target these grades as well.”

While the new Common Core State Standards, which cover grades kindergarten through 12, will help states and districts focus on the entire K-12 continuum, schools need to provide “a continuous and well-aligned set of early learning experiences” in grades K-3 to achieve sustained success,” the report says.

School districts also have to work to finds ways to collaborate with community preschool programs, which may have different regulations, funding streams, and educational philosophies.

“To foster collaboration, some districts have implemented joint professional development opportunities for community-based early educators and teachers to come together to share experiences and align expectations,” the report says. “Other efforts may involve more formal program integration such as the sharing of program staff, space, or other resources between a public school and a Head Start provider.”

The report cites school districts in three communities that are successfully aligning Pre-K and early elementary school: Montgomery County, Md.; Nooksack Valley, Wash.; and Santa Maria Bonita, Calif.

In addition to NSBA, which is spearheading the coalition, the other members are: the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National Education Association.

Successfully aligning Pre-K and early elementary school will take hard work and the cooperation of educators and policymakers at all levels, said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.

“There must be a culture of shared responsibility among all partners (local, state, and federal as well as parents to support a comprehensive continuum of learning from pre-K to grade 3,” Bryant said. “We are asking the federal government to become a true partner with states and local communities to ensure that students receive a high quality start to learning.”

Lawrence Hardy|December 7th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Center for Public Education, Preschool Education, Educational Research, National Standards, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, School Board News|Tags: , , , , |

December issue of ASBJ now online

With winter season still officially weeks away, it’s possible Mother Nature could have one more unwelcome surprise ready to round out 2011, which months ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared as one of the most weather-extreme on record. 

Tornados. Flash-floods. Wildfires. 2011 hasn’t been fun or easy for the countless school districts and communities struck by a natural or manmade disaster. December’s cover story profiles some of the district’s who were hit the hardest and looks at how they’re recovering.

As always, December’s issue includes a rich line-up of  features, including this month’s column from ASBJ contributing editor, Nora Carr, on the importance of telling your story, visually.

Naomi Dillon|December 5th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Depending on your point of view — and your experiences with high-stakes testing — No Child Left Behind was either a critical first step toward school accountability, a good idea with some major flaws, or a colossal flop. (And there’s probably a myriad views in between.) Will the Common Core State Standards Initiative be any better? As you might expect, the views expressed by a number of experts on the National Journal’s education blog are all well-reasoned — and all over the map. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Alberta has one of the best school systems in the world, writes the provocatively-named blog Dangerously Irrelevant, and it doesn’t look too kindly on what’s happening to its south. Thanks to This Week in Education for pointing out this eye-opening critique of why Canada seems to be getting things right in school reform – and much of the U.S. is getting it wrong.

Another must-read is the review of a new Department of Education report on school inequity from Raegen Miller of the Center for American Progress.  Then, on the same site, see Robert Pianta’s proposals for improving teacher development.

Finally, a non-education story, strictly speaking, but one that says a lot about what it takes to be an effective leader – including a leader in a school district. Yes, it’s a sports column (by the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins) and yes it deals with recent coaching changes on two of Washington’s pro teams, which, most of you I would imagine do not care a whole lot about. ( I live here, and even I don’t care that much.) But — trust me here — Jenkins’ message about the kind of leaders people follow goes beyond mere games.


Lawrence Hardy|December 2nd, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized, Governance, Teachers, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Educational Research, National Standards, School Reform, Board governance, Student Achievement, Leadership, Professional Development|Tags: , , , , |
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