Articles from March, 2012

Is cheating prevalent in our public schools?

The following was also posted on the National School Boards Assocation’s Center for Public Education blog, The Edifier.

Articles this past weekend by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) and the Associated Press  strongly suggest the answer is yes.  AJC attempted to answer this question by analyzing state standardized test scores from all 50 states to identify districts and schools that had statistically unusual fluctuations in their year to year test scores which is an indicator that cheating may be taking place. Although the unusual fluctuations do not prove there was cheating it does point to the strong possibility that cheating is in fact taking place. As a matter of fact, the newspaper used a similar methodology in 2009 which helped uncovered extensive cheating in Atlanta public schools.   

But is cheating as prevalent across our public schools as the articles strong imply? The answer is quite simply no. When you actually look at the data from AJC you see that about 200 out of the nearly 15,000 school districts (which includes charter school districts and other special districts) analyzed by AJC had suspicious test scores like those found in Atlanta. This represents just 1.3 percent of all school districts nationwide. Keep in mind, even within these districts most schools showed no signs of cheating.

In fact, when AJC calculated how many individual students were likely to be directly impacted by cheating, just a tiny fraction (less than 1 percent) of the 13 million students examined were enrolled in the grade level within the schools where cheating likely took place.

Of course any cheating at the school or district level is not acceptable but the data does show that the AJC’s assertion that the results “…suggest a broad betrayal of schoolchildren across the nation” is not only overblown but outright wrong.  In fact their data shows that cheating is limited to a small proportion of districts and even smaller proportion of students nationwide. So parents and the general public should be confident that teachers and administrators in close to 99 percent of districts act in an ethical and professional manner.

Does this mean cheating shouldn’t be a concern? Of course not.  More work needs to be done by state and district leaders to ensure that the integrity of the test results are not compromised and that struggling students are appropriately identified so they receive the support and resources they need to actually improve their performance.  In the case of the districts identified in the article they need to look further into the data to determine if in fact cheating is going on in their schools. Or whether the fluctuations are due to highly effective instruction in high scoring grades and ineffective instruction in following low scoring grades. Either way, districts need to know why there are such fluctuations so they can either eliminate any cheating or focus on improving instruction in grades where test scores drop.

While statistically large fluctuations in scores indicates a strong possibility of cheating, as anyone who has seen the movie Stand and Deliver, great teaching can lead to unpredictable increases in student achievement. And those teachers should not be considered guilty until proven innocent. But it also doesn’t mean that such indicators of cheating should be ignored either.  Either way, the actual data shows that cheating is limited to a small number of schools nationwide contrary to what the AJC and Associated Press articles imply.

Jim Hull|March 29th, 2012|Categories: Center for Public Education, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Reports|Tags: , , , |

NSBA discusses transforming education through technology on Education Talk Radio

The National School Boards Association‘s (NSBA) Director of the Education Technology, Ann Flynn, and Project Facilitator for Nevada’s  Clark County School District, Margie Zamora, appeared on Education Talk Radio discussing how technology is transforming education.

NSBA’ Technology Leadership Network (TLN) host several site visits  throughout the school year showcasing outstanding use of educational technology.

Since 1987, TLN has served local district leadership teams that establish policy and implement technology decisions to enhance teaching and learning, administrative operations, and community outreach.

Through NSBA’s technology site visits, school leaders are able to see education technology innovation in action and develop their own successful initiatives. This is a great opportunity for school leaders to witness classrooms where curriculum goals drive technology decisions.

From April 25-27, 2012 NSBA will host a site visit in Clark County, the nation’s fifth largest with nearly 310,000 students, encompasses both Las Vegas and its outlying communities.

Ranked first in last year’s Digital School District Survey by the Center for Digital Education and NSBA , Clark County uses technology to provide enterprise systems that support the business of learning and provide engaging 21st century experiences for all students. From cyberbullying prevention initiatives and “bring your own device” pilot programs, to online professional development and extensive use of social networking systems, this visit offers examples of innovation that can be applied in districts of any size.

Listen to the show on Education Talk Radio:

Listen to internet radio with EduTalk on Blog Talk Radio
Alexis Rice|March 28th, 2012|Categories: Educational Technology, Student Achievement, 21st Century Skills, Computer Uses in Education, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Technology Leadership Network|Tags: , , , , , , |

Q&A with Soledad O’Brien, NSBA general session speaker

An award-winning broadcast journalist and long-time CNN correspondent, Soledad O’Brien has made a name for herself through hard-hitting documentaries and deeply personal memoirs that touch on some of the most important issues and events of our time. Whether it is the state of education, race relations, or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, O’Brien is a master storyteller who shows viewers how many of these disparate issues intersect.

One of six children born to immigrant parents — her father is of Irish descent from Australia and her mother is Afro-Cuban — O’Brien grew up with a strong work ethic and love for learning.

O’Brien is a general speaker at NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference in Boston. In between filming segments and covering breaking news, O’Brien took time out of her busy schedule to speak with ASBJ Senior Editor Naomi Dillon.

What was one of the most memorable interview you ever had?

That’s such a tough question. In some ways, it was Jim Carrey when I was on the “Today Show.”  We had this big picture window behind the set and he would talk to the people at the window who came to watch. It was fun, he was hilarious, and I got to play the straight man. And then, a lot of our reporting during Hurricane Katrina was really important because we were educating the nation about what was happening. We were really letting people at the highest levels [of government] see what was happening on the ground in New Orleans. I’ve had such a long career now, I’ve had some really great opportunities to really do important stories and then just silly, crazy, ridiculous fun stories.

What do you like the most about your job?

It’s the opportunity to really understand in-depth someone’s life and their experiences. I love that. I love sort of dipping in and trying to really understand their motivation, why they did what they did? What happened? I’m always really fascinated by motivation.

Let’s talk about race. It’s played a prominent role in your life.

It was very formative to my childhood. I grew up as a black girl in an all-white community in Long Island. Luckily I had a big family. We all supported each other and I had friends. But every so often you’re made to feel like ‘Oh, you’re not one of us.’ And then certainly when it came to work in terms of the stories that I ended up telling in the documentaries, I like having the opportunity to tell stories about people who are different … and maybe it all comes back to motivation. What goes into making a person who they are? Sometimes that’s race, sometimes that’s how they were raised, sometimes that’s values.

Census figures show we are becoming an increasingly multiracial society and we have a sitting president who is multiracial. How do you think this blending of cultures is changing the dialogue on race?

It’s more in the forefront. It also makes you have to have conversations that are much more real. We’re not foreigners in a foreign land. We’re the people you run into every day.

Tell us about your documentary “Don’t Fail Me: Education in America”

Oh, I love that documentary. It was about a bunch of kids from different parts of the country who were trying to compete in a robotics competition. But ultimately it was about the quality of education in the United States today. And we were able to kind of tackle both of those things since we had an hour and see what makes a good education. What parts the country have access to that, what are the different rules, and how each community has a different standard that applies? And even what culturally are some of the challenges for students?

What did you discover from doing that project?

In every documentary, the lessons are always what we want it to be. If we decide we’re going to invest in education, then here’s a great opportunity. Using robotics to teach kids math and science is very practical, and we saw it was successful. On the other hand, we also saw that having different standards across the country is a real challenge.

 To take the title from your most recent book, what’s the next big story?

The election is a big story, and of course with the election, many questions will be asked about how does the country invest in education. But for me the next big story is about what’s breaking now. So it depends. Tomorrow when something happens, I’ll be on a plane to go cover it. That’s what I love about my job.

Naomi Dillon|March 28th, 2012|Categories: STEM Education, School Reform, NSBA Annual Conference 2012|Tags: |

NSBA urges caution on virtual learning expansion

The National School Boards Association’s Executive Director Anne L. Bryant cautions lawmakers and school leaders to be wary of proposals to expand online learning and virtual schools in a commentary for the Huffington Post.

Bryant notes that while online learning can be beneficial for many types of schools and students, particularly those in small or rural schools, virtual schools are a “messy emerging field” with little data to evaluate their effectiveness.

“Until we have the data to show that virtual schools are meeting the challenge of educating our diverse populations of students, lawmakers must take a hard look at these schools and their sponsors, hold all parties to the same high standards as traditional public schools, and shut down any operations that are wasting students’ opportunities and taxpayer funds,” she writes.

In the midst of these fast-growing fields, conflicts of interest are not hard to find. Bryant notes a recent article by John Chubb, a visiting fellow at Hoover Institute and founder and chief executive officer of Leeds Global Partners, a firm with major financial investments in for-profit online learning institutions, calls for unlimited access to virtual schools and for state and local governments to pay those schools the same per-pupil amount as traditional public schools.

Read more in the Huffington Post.

Erin Walsh|March 26th, 2012|Categories: Educational Technology, Board governance, Online learning|

The week in blogs: Alleviating poverty, improving schools

Does “family income itself” determine whether or not a child learns? That’s what progressive educators believe, charges Harvard Professor Paul Peterson in a recent piece for Education Next.

Of course, Peterson is distorting the views of those in the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education coalition, who say that out-of-school factors such as a child’s health, nutrition, safety, and housing – all of which are influenced by a lack of adequate income — can have a big impact on that child’s ability to achieve  in school. Therefore, they say, we as a society need to address these out-of-school concerns.

This should be pretty well-accepted stuff by now – indeed, concepts that people like Coalition for Community Schools Director Martin J. Blank shouldn’t have to be called on to defend. Nonetheless, Blank does a admirable job of explaining the coalition’s position in “Education is a Both-and Issue” in the Huffington Post. The “both-and” refers, naturally, to improving both the schools and the conditions in which disadvantaged children live.

Bilingual education has taken a lot of hits of late from English-only supporters, but did you know that developing skills in two languages simultaneously can make you smarter? Read Joanne Jacobs, who links to a fascinating story in the New York Times.

Lawrence Hardy|March 26th, 2012|Categories: Wellness, Urban Schools, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs: High school reports spark more discussion

Two reports on high school rigor, which came out within hours of each other last week, have sparked an online discussion about the need to make secondary school more relevant for all students. 

“Are Disparities Creating an Educational Caste System?” the provocative title of Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled blog in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, quoted reports on the status of high school from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and NSBA’s Center for Public Education. Among the more striking statistics from the government report — 3,000 high schools serving almost 500,000 students don’t offer algebra II – a gateway course to college and career success.

“Without algebra II, you probably don’t go to college,” Center director Patte Barth told Downey and other reporters. “If you go, you are probably going to end up in remediation. Without it, you don’t become an auto mechanic. You don’t get into one of the growing service jobs in growing fields like communications.”

The Center’s report notes that a rigorous math curricula, Advanced Placement courses, dual high school-college enrollment, and early college programs can all enhance the curricula of American high schools.

Moving on, we turn to a blog we missed last week but is too important to let slide: Diane Ravitch, who recently addressed the Louisiana School Boards Association, speaking on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s truly draconian plan to privatize education.

And lastly, concerning the latest skirmishes in the parenting wars, we’ve written about “Tiger Mothers” and the new homeschooling trend among progressives (or is that “mini-trend?”). Now it’s time to consider the French. The French? Well, do they do parenting any better over there? Apparently not, writes blogger Joanne Jacobs, who links to a new commentary in the Atlantic magazine.


Lawrence Hardy|March 16th, 2012|Categories: High Schools, Center for Public Education, Privatization, School Vouchers, 21st Century Skills|Tags: , , , |

Showcasing education innovation

Check out the National School Boards Association’s Director of Education Kanisha Williams-Jones and Director of Exhibits Karen Miller on Education Talk Radio this morning discussing innovations in education and previewing session topics and our exhibit hall at our upcoming Annual Conference in Boston, April 21-23.

This year’s Annual Conference is full of education innovation and will feature keynote speeches by CNN news anchor Soledad O’Brien, Khan Academy founder Sal Khan, and Harlem Children’s Zone President Geoffrey Canada. More than 5,000 school board members, administrators, and other educators are expected to attend.

There will be more than 200 sessions on topics that are critically important to school leaders and the conference will feature one of the largest educational expositions with more than 300 companies showcasing the latest in innovative products and services for school districts.


Listen to internet radio with EduTalk on Blog Talk Radio
Alexis Rice|March 15th, 2012|Categories: School Boards, 21st Century Skills, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, NSBA Annual Conference 2012|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs: When the numbers don’t add up

Sarah Wysocki, a fifth grade teacher at McFarland Middle School in Washington, D.C, was worried about how she’d fare under the district’s IMPACT teacher evaluation, writes Bill Turque in a disturbing article in The Washington Post.

Her main concern was this: Fourteen of Wysocki’s 25 students had attended Barnard Elementary, which had five times the number of advanced fourth-grade readers as the district average. Yet Wysocki said that some of those so-called “advanced readers” could barely read.

Were the scores –the scores from which Wysocki’s “value-added” evaluation would be derived — inflated? Despite the high number of erasures on Barnard’s test papers and a subsequent investigation, a district spokesman told Turque that “it’s just not possible to know for sure.” And so, despite glowing evaluations, and even suggestions that she share her teaching methods with colleagues, Wysocki got the low score she feared and was dismissed.

The Post story is one of several this week that call into question the kind of “value-added” teacher evaluation programs that are becoming increasingly common across the country. Of course, many of the previous evaluation systems weren’t so great, either. In a New Republic article titled The False Promise of the New York City Teacher Evaluations, author Simon van Zuylen-Wood notes that, under a previous evaluation system that relied solely on classroom observations, 97 percent of New York teachers were judged “satisfactory.” But the new system has apparently substituted new errors for old ones.

There’s more. Read the essay by William Johnson in the New York Times titled “Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher.” Then see how some liberal parents — many concernebout what they consider a misplaced emphasis on testing and evaluation– are joining their conservative counterparts in the home schooling ranks, thereby removing some of the most high-performing students from public school.

With all this — as well as massive budget cuts and staff reductions — is it any wonder that, according to the latest MetLife Survey of the American Teacher,  teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009, and nearly a third of teachers are considering leaving the profession?

I didn’t plan to make this column so negative, but I think these things are important to point out. Certainly, most school districts value their teachers and treat them like professionals. But even with the best of intentions, grand ideas concerning testing, evaluation, and accountably — when applied clumsily — can end up harming the very professionals we need to support.

Lawrence Hardy|March 11th, 2012|Categories: Teachers, Urban Schools, Data Driven Decision Making, School Reform, Assessment|Tags: , |

New Center report looks at ways to boost high school rigor

Advanced Placement courses, rigorous math curriculum, dual high school-college enrollment, and early college programs can all increase the rigor of America’s secondary schools, according to Is High School Tough Enough?, a new report by NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

While the report noted that more in-depth research is needed, it said that school boards interested in applying these four strategies need to consider issues such as funding, data collection, and increasing access for low-income and minority students.

“In today’s education landscape, many are beginning to re-think the high school experience,” said Patte Barth, Director of the Center.  “From Advanced Placement courses to dual enrollment, early college high schools, and even high-level math, the aim is to expose students to concepts, curricula, and ideas that will help them succeed in college or lead to a productive career.”

Barth said this emphasis is reflected in many policy trends, including an increasing “PreK-16” perspective as well as the recently developed Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, which most states have adopted in order to help produce college-ready and career-ready high school graduates.

Still, there is wide variation in secondary school rigor across the country, the report noted. It said that — while the term “rigor” is not easily defined — “many low-income schools lack access to a rigorous high school curriculum by any definition.” For example, according to a 2011 report by U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) 3,000 high schools serving nearly 500,000 students offer no classes in Algebra II, a gateway to higher math, college, and career readiness.

In a survey issued Tuesday, OCR expanded on that issue, noting, among other things, only 29 percent of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with the lowest black and Hispanic enrollment. In addition, the report found that teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less than teachers in low minority schools in the same district. It also noted that African American students, particularly males, were far more likely to be expelled or suspended from school than their peers.

“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.  It is our collective duty to change that.”

Exposure to advanced courses can have a big impact on the educational success of low-income and minority students, the Center for Public Education report said.  

“For example, Hispanic students who passed an AP exam were nearly seven times more likely to graduate from college than their non-participating counterparts,” the Center’s report said. “Such findings buttress the argument that exposure to higher-level courses can translate into long-term gains for underrepresented students.”

Moreover, the Center report said that taking AP courses can improve students’ chances for success even if they don’t pass the AP exam. It said that only 10 percent of African-American students who did not take an AP course graduated within five years, compared with 37 percent who took an AP course and did not pass the exam, and 53 percent who took an AP course and passed.


Lawrence Hardy|March 7th, 2012|Categories: Curriculum, High Schools, Center for Public Education, Diversity, Educational Research, Data Driven Decision Making, Board governance, Student Achievement, Discipline, 21st Century Skills|Tags: , , , , |

Annual conference preview: Attorney discusses special ed liability

As NSBA prepares for its 73rd Annual Conference in Boston, April 21-23, School Board News Today is featuring previews of major and noteworthy sessions, workshops, and other events. We’ll query some familiar names and introduce you to behind-the-scenes experts who can show how to best perform your duties.

Special education law is one of the most complicated and confusing issues school boards must handle. On Saturday, April 21, Jim Walsh, an attorney with Walsh, Anderson, Gallegos, Green & Treviño, P.C., based in Texas, will present “Avoiding Liability in Special Education Disputes: Lessons for School Board Members,” which will analyze the most recent and relevant decisions pertaining to school boards and districts.

Walsh says school board members should attend his session because, “legal issues in the operation of your school’s special education program continue to multiply.  Litigation over special education issues has become common, raising costs and concerns for school board members. This session will outline the key features of special education law that school board members need to know about, with an emphasis on preventive steps to be taken.  The best way to keep costs and legal concerns under control is to operate a program that complies with the law.  This session will focus in what school board members can do to make sure that happens.”

Question: What has changed?  Are school board members being held liable in more cases?

Answer: Litigation over special education these days usually involves not only the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, our special education law, but also Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  These other laws open the door to damages that are not available under IDEA.  School board members as individuals are generally not sued personally or held liable over special education disputes, but there is a noticeable increase in litigation seeking to impose liability on individual administrators or teachers.

Q: What are some basic rules school boards should follow to avoid litigation?

A: The rules to be followed with regard to special education are no different than the rules that apply to other areas of school operations. Schools need to hire good people, train them well, follow the law, and get early and preventive legal advice.

Q: What are some major new decisions that could impact school board members’ work?

A: There are many cases over the past few years alleging that the school district harmed a child through the use of physical restraint, or that the school turned a blind eye to the bullying of a student with a disability.  These issues have generated considerable media attention and raised awareness of these issues.

If you haven’t already registered for NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference, to be held April 21 to 23, go to the Conference website for more details.



Joetta Sack-Min|March 7th, 2012|Categories: Special Education, NSBA Annual Conference 2012|
Page 1 of 212