Articles from January, 2012

USDA school nutrition regs add major costs for food services

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rules for nutrition standards for the school lunch and breakfast programs still fail to provide adequate funding for schools, NSBA says.

The USDA estimates that the new rules will cost schools an additional $3.2 billion to implement, a more than 50 percent decrease from its initial $6.7 billion estimate. However, NSBA is concerned that the new estimate is based on faulty accounting.

“Much of the reduction is derived by delaying implementation of some of the costliest standards, including changes to the School Breakfast Program, whole grain requirements, and sodium targets,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant in a written statement.  “Even so, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that less than half of the $3.2 billion cost will be covered by the performance-based reimbursement rate increase of 6 cents per lunch.”

The new standards, part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, require schools to offer more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lower-fat meat and protein options and restrict foods that are high in sodium, fat, or sugar.

NSBA supports community-led moves to bring more nutritious and locally grown foods to school cafeterias and has highlighted many examples of schools that have done so through its conferences, publications, and awards programs.

The increased costs from a federal mandate will only add to schools’ and communities’ budget problems, though, Bryant added.

“By splitting the difference, a 35-cent increase per lunch for a family with two children adds up to $125.00 in the first year alone,” she said, citing USDA estimates that show 1.6 million school-age children come from households with incomes just higher than the above eligibility for free or reduced-price meals, which is a household income of 185 to 200 percent of poverty level or $43,500 to $44,700 for a family of four.  “The few dollars a week more a family would have to pay could price those meals out of reach,” Bryant said.

The USDA reported that it received an “unprecedented” 132,000 public comments on the proposed standards. First Lady Michelle Obama promoted the changes as part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign to help students and families eat healthier meals and exercise.

NSBA has continuously advocated for more funding to support the new requirements, noting that the additional costs come at a time when schools are being forced to lay off teachers and other staff and cut programs. Last year NSBA supported report language passed by the House as part of the agriculture appropriations bill that directed the USDA to propose new rules that do not create unfunded mandates for school districts.

The USDA also plans to issue new rules for foods sold in vending machines, bake sales, and other venues.

“Not only are these activities outside the legitimate scope of federal government regulation, they provide much needed funds for school athletics, field trips and other programs that are in jeopardy given the current budget crisis for schools,” said Bryant.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 31st, 2012|Categories: Obesity, Nutrition, Food Service|

The week in blogs: The sum total of value-added teacher evaluations

Many criticisms of value-added teacher evaluations are based on misconceptions of how the systems work and how they should be used in a comprehensive teacher evaluation program.

That’s what Jim Hull, a senior policy analyst at NSBA’s Center for Public Education, points out in a series of blogs appearing this week in response to comments by education historian Diana Ravitch and Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss. All totaled, the three blogs provide a good introduction to what value-added is — and, perhaps equally important, what it isn’t.

“As the Center for Public Education report Building a Better Evaluation System states, value-added scores can be an effective tool in accurately identifying effective and ineffective teachers,” Hull writes, “but they should be used within the context of a comprehensive evaluation system that includes observations and other qualitative measures of a teacher’s performance.

Is education technology the key to solving our K12 problems? That’s an exaggeration, of course, but Time columnist Andrew Rotherham says we’re often seduced by what technology can do and consider it a panacea. No Luddite he, Rotherham presents a compelling argument for being purposeful and realistic when you consider new technology for the classroom.

Lastly, read Brett Nelson on Forbes (who comes to us via Joanne Jacobs’ blog) on why students should delay college for two years and get what he calls “grownup training.”

“Specifically: six months spent working in a factory, six in a restaurant, six on a farm and six in the military or performing another public service such as building houses, teaching algebra or changing bedpans,” Nelson writes. “. . . I’d reckon that grownup training would put undergrads deeply in touch with 1) why they wanted to go college in the first place, 2) what a special opportunity college really  is, and 3) more than a vague notion of what — and better yet — who they wanted to be when they grew up.”

Lawrence Hardy|January 28th, 2012|Categories: Teachers, Center for Public Education, Educational Technology|Tags: , |

Interview with Khan Academy’s Sal Khan

It began innocently enough in 2004 as a way for Sal Khan to tutor his young cousin, who was struggling with math and lived miles away. Within two years, those virtual lessons blossomed into a full-time career and the KhanAcademy, an online library of 2,600 YouTube videos and counting that currently draw more than 3 million viewers a month and fans like Google and Bill Gates, who sends his own kids to the free site for help with school work.

Covering mostly math and science, Khan’s low-key, straightforward and concise approach to brain-jarring concepts like quadratic equations and the phases of mitosis have taken the education community and students by storm.  

Khan, who is a keynote speaker at NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference in Boston in April, carved time out of his busy schedule to talk to ASBJ Senior Editor Naomi Dillon about his journey toward “helping people learn what they want, when they want, at their own pace.”

So you’re an educator to the masses. Would you say that’s an accurate description?

Different people have different views on what an education is, and we don’t pretend that just experiencing on-demand video by itself is the panacea to solving education’s problems. But what we think we’re giving, at minimum, is an alternate way to tackle the material. If students missed a day at school, if their mind wasn’t engaged when it was happening in class, if they need to remediate things from previous years they’re definitely getting that. And I actually don’t think that should be understated, because frankly I think a lot of the reason why some students have trouble progressing is because they have gaps in their basic knowledge.

Few people realize how difficult it is to transfer knowledge from one person to the next. Did that come naturally to you?

I wouldn’t want to pretend by me recording these videos that I’m doing everything that a teacher does. I once volunteered teaching seventh-graders when I was in Boston. It didn’t take long for the classroom management to go through the door. I did not know what I was doing in terms of being able to handle 30 kids. But the part about explaining concepts, that is something I am into, and that’s hopefully the value I’m bringing. There’s a methodology to learning and my videos are about sharing that methodology to other people: “Let’s think this through; let’s do what seems logical; let’s try to find the pattern between things; and let’s do it in a conversational way.” You should feel like it’s a story even if it’s a math problem.

Where did this drive and appreciation for learning and education come from?

I think it’s a human instinct to love to learn and understand the world. But I think, what’s happened for most people is they become frustrated with one topic or another, or have a bad experience along their education, and they kind of fall off and start to believe that they don’t like learning. When really, they just don’t like being frustrated, they just don’t like being talked down to, and they don’t like when the information is going past them.

Explain why we don’t see you in your videos – just a black screen and a drawing tool with a multiple array of colors, a whole setup you call “The Forum Factor.”

When I decided to make the first videos I didn’t have any production equipment or a background in video production. I just got a cheap $20 head-set to record my voice, used screen capture software and just started using Microsoft paint. My cousins liked it. Other people gave good feedback. And now, although we have the ability to do more, we realize that [this way] is not only easier to produce, but it focuses on the content. It’s more intimate. It feels like we’re sitting next to each other as opposed to me at a white board talking to you.

Your videos are known for being brief and concise, lasting no more than 10 minutes. How do you know how much material to cover and when to stop?

I have found with most concepts 10 minutes is actually about enough time. You can get about two or three pretty decent concepts across in that time. If it requires more complex development I will say, “Hey, let’s just take a break,” and I’ll just resume it in the next video.

Besides the actual lesson, what do you want the viewers to take away from the videos and the exercises on the Khan Academy?

What we’re hoping to do is give students a genuine love for learning and, frankly, I hope I can make students see what I see: a world that’s fascinating, a world that’s full of mysteries to be solved.


Naomi Dillon|January 26th, 2012|Categories: Educational Technology, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, NSBA Annual Conference 2012|Tags: , , |

CPE report finds little research on fast-growing credit recovery courses

This much we know: Credit recovery– “a structured means for students to earn credit in order to graduate”–is becoming more common in high schools across the country, according to a new report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education. What we don’t know about the courses–which can be online, in person, or a mixture of the two–is, well, a lot. And that’s because the programs vary so much from district to district.

One certainty: Credit recovery is growing, representing $500 million out of a $2 billion digital education market, according to a 2010 study. The Center conducted the report in part to give school board members and the public more information and open a conversation about the related issues.

“Unfortunately, credit recovery is a subject where there are far more questions than there are answers,” the report says. “The wide variation in program structure could be a good thing, encouraging creative solutions to the dropout problem. However, since so little is known, we cannot identify what works and what doesn’t. Because the concept of credit recovery is so varied and its implementation so malleable, there is little sense of its impact and effectiveness, leaving many in education with questions.”

Among the most basic questions: Is credit recovery effective? On one hand, proponents argue that it allows struggling students a second chance in which they direct the pace of instruction. However, skeptics wonder how much students are learning and whether some districts use the programs simply to increase their graduation numbers.







Lawrence Hardy|January 26th, 2012|Categories: Center for Public Education, Dropout Prevention|

NSBA sees common ground in Obama’s State of the Union

NSBA was pleased that President Barack Obama showed a commitment to advancing public education and appeared to share several of NSBA’s goals in this week’s State of the Union speech.

In his Jan. 24 address, Obama said his education reform plan would offer more control for schools and states. Obama also praised the teaching profession, calling for more flexibility for local schools to offer differentiated pay and other incentives in exchange for accountability.

“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones,” Obama said. “In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant noted that stable funding is also critical to school districts’ success. School boards must be able to maintain high-quality education services for students without sacrificing effective programs that are raising student achievement, said Bryant.

“We must support America’s students and communities and prevent additional cuts to education funding,” she said. “It is vitally important that the president and Congress find long-term solutions to adequately fund education that will help ensure student success and prepare our next generation with the 21st century skills needed compete in the global economy. Now is the time for the president and Congress to support their local school districts.”

Further, Bryant called on Congress to finish the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. A bill has passed the Senate’s education committee and House Republicans have released a draft of a bill that is expected to be voted on this spring.

Congress “needs to pass a bill that supports local flexibility to increase student achievement while eliminating counter-productive requirements contained in current flawed law,” she said.


Joetta Sack-Min|January 26th, 2012|Categories: School Boards, Federal Programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Policy Formation, School Board News, Legislative advocacy|

What K-12 issues will Obama address in the State of the Union?

Education Week‘s Politics K-12 blog is speculating what education issues will be discussed in the president’s State of the Union address tonight.

Education Week‘s Alyson Klein noted, “In giving this election-year State of the Union speech, Obama may brag about some of the steps his administration has taken on education, including creating the Race to the Top education redesign competition, and offering states wiggle room under key parts of the No Child Left Behind Act if they agree to take-on the administration’s reform priorities.”

Klein went on to mention, “Last year, President Obama asked Congress to pass a bipartisan reauthorization of the law. But it never happened, and now the administration is moving ahead with a waiver package that Obama’s own secretary of education thinks is stronger than any of the legislation under consideration. So, if I were a betting woman, I’d guess there won’t be much talk about NCLB this time.”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) will be hosting a Twitter chat during the State of the Union address tonight starting at 9 p.m. EST.

Join the Twitter chat by using hashtag #EdSOTU and share your thoughts about the president’s speech and his plans for K-12 education.

By using #EdSOTU in your tweets, you will become a part of this virtual conversation. To see the entire conversation stream just go to Twitter and search #EdSOTU.

Alexis Rice|January 24th, 2012|Categories: Educational Technology, Federal Programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Race to the Top (RTTT), Legislative advocacy|Tags: , , , |

NSBA to host Twitter chat on education issues during State of the Union

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) will be hosting a Twitter chat during President Obama’s State of the Union address,  starting at 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Join the Twitter chat by using hashtag #EdSOTU and share your thoughts about the president’s speech and his plans for K-12 education.

By using #EdSOTU in your tweets, you will become a part of this virtual conversation. To see the entire conversation stream just go to Twitter and search #EdSOTU.


Alexis Rice|January 23rd, 2012|Categories: Announcements, Educational Technology|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs: Making elementary school feel safe for all

By its very title, the report suggests that playgrounds, as well as other places in elementary schools, aren’t viewed as  “safe” by many students.

Titled Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, the report was released this week by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. (GLSEN). It found, among other things, that 75 percent of elementary school students “are called names, made fun of, or bullied with at least some regularity.”

“Most commonly this is because of students’ looks or body size (67%), followed by not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%) or because other people think they’re gay (21%),” the report said.

Along with the report, GLSEN also released Ready, Set, Respect! a toolkit for helping teachers understand bullying, gender nonconformity, and family diversity. Board members should also see NSBA’s extensive information on bullying and visit Students on Board, which recommends that school board members get critical information from some of the best sources around – students themselves.

“Honest conversations with students can be the quickest way you can move toward practical steps to sustain or improve school climate,” the Students on Board website says.

Also of interest this week is the National Journal’s Education forum on the push for more comprehensive education in civics. And NSBA’s Center for Public Education looks at a comprehensive study showing that teacher evaluations based on multiple criteria  — including well-designed and regular classroom observations – can be highly effective and accurate.

Lawrence Hardy|January 21st, 2012|Categories: Teachers, Bullying, Week in Blogs, Diversity, Educational Research, Data Driven Decision Making, Board governance|Tags: , , , |

High Court declines to hear two Internet cases

The U.S. Supreme Court missed an opportunity to clarify what school districts can do to monitor harmful and potentially disruptive off-campus Internet speech when it declined this week to hear a pair of Pennsylvania cases involving students posting fake Internet profiles, said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.

In one of the cases, J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, a middle school girl who was upset about being reprimanded for dress code violations posted a fake MySpace profile of her principal That profile, according to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, “contained crude content and vulgar language, ranging from nonsense and juvenile humor to profanity and shameful personal attacks aimed at the principal and his family.” Nonetheless, the court, in an 8-6 decision, ruled that the school district had violated the girl’s First Amendment right to free speech when it suspended her for 10 days.

The Supreme Court also declined to hear an appeal of another Pennsylvania case, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, concerning a high school senior who was suspended after created a fake webpage mocking his principal. That suspension was overturned by a district judge in a ruling that was confirmed by a three-judge panel and the entire Third Circuit Court.

NSBA and several other national education organizations appealed the rulings to the Supreme Court in the hope that it would provide more definitive guidance to school districts at a time when technology has blurred the line between campus and off-campus speech.

“We’ve missed an opportunity to really clarify for school districts what their responsibility and authority is at a time when kids are using electronic medial instantaneously, and especially when those messages are so impactful and immediate on the school setting,” Negrón told the Associated Press. “This is one of those cases where the law is simply lagging behind the times.”

Negrón was also quoted on the websites of CNN, ABC News, and other media outlets.

Lawrence Hardy|January 18th, 2012|Categories: Governance, School Law, Social Networking|Tags: , |

In support of digital learning

Earlier this month, Ann Flynn, NSBA’s director of education technology programs, participated in a lively discussion on the impact and power of technology in schools. Hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the webinar highlighted successful schools and initiatives that advance and utilize digital learning.

Speaking of initiatives, the panelists– which included award-winning science teacher Jason Pittman, Jayne Marlink of the California Writing Project and the Alliance’s Bob Wise—also spent time discussing the inaugural Digital Learning Day, the flagship event of the Alliance’s Center for Secondary School Digital Learning and Policy, which recently released the report, “The Digital Learning Imperative: How Teaching and Technology Meet Today’s Educational Challenges.”

NSBA has joined other leading education organizations as a core partner of Digital Learning Day, the culmination of a year-round national awareness campaign to improve teaching and learning, utilizing the power of today’s technology tools.

Marked for February 1, Digital Learning Day will feature a nationwide, interactive town hall meeting and a request that everyone do one of three things: start a conversation, try one new thing and showcase success.

Naomi Dillon|January 18th, 2012|Categories: Educational Technology, School Board News|Tags: , , , |
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