Articles by Kevin Scott

Summer’s calling

In today’s The Washington Post’s  ”KidsPost” there is a feature that answers some age old questions when it comes to why we have summers off from school.  While many edu-wonks know exactly why schools are off in the summer, the idea of giving students (and teachers) months off in the summertime in the age of air conditioning and creature comforts still drives many non-educators bonkers. 

This got BoardBuzz thinking, in the days of increasing budget cuts and the reality of the costs it would take to keep schools open year around, not to mention changing the pay scale for teachers and administrators, will we ever see year round school? 

While some urban districts started changing their schedules, but many have had to resort back to the traditional calendar to save money.  Should we be more flexible with school schedules?  Will parents cry foul if their summer vacations are thwarted by a school system’s attempt at educating students year ’round?  With Memorial Day just around the corner, it won’t be long until American students act like it’s summer, even if their teachers are trying to keep them focused.

Kevin Scott|May 17th, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Now Hiring

Sure, it’s a welcome sign to see posted around America as we recover from the Great Recession.  In Massachusetts, a new relationship is being introduced that will marry the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary and local school districts in order to hire teachers in areas that need high quality teachers.  35 schools have been identified within the state and unlike previous incentives that involved money, this time the funding will come in part from turnaround grants.  Using websites, foundation dollars, Twitter, and Facebook, the strategy is to help improve achievement levels in those schools that are most in need in the state.

Many edu-minded readers may remember previous attempts at getting teachers to move schools and/or states by offering large signing bonuses.  With a very different economic situation facing us now, the attempt by Massachusetts is based more on pride and the hopes that many districts will encourage teachers who want to make the biggest impact possible on their students.  The question we’re wondering at BoardBuzz today is–will this work?  Will other states and local districts follow their lead?  Or are teachers looking for more than just a change in scenery?  We’ll be waiting to see the results, and hope urban students in Massachusetts districts reap the benefits.

Kevin Scott|May 11th, 2010|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Learning from Catholic schools

We all know the stories.  Whether you experienced it yourself or you’ve heard it through friends or family members, most Americans have a perception of Catholic schools and how tough they can be.  While entertaining at times, is there something to be learned from the experiences of Catholic schools  for urban school leaders?  An article in the religion section of The New York Times raises some good ideas, and got us thinking about what could be replicated for America’s urban schools.

Citing Diane Ravitch’s popular new book, “The Death and Life of a  Great American School System,” the article discusses the success that minority students have had in urban Catholic schools, while in public schools educating this population of students seems to be one of the biggest challenges.  There are several theories on why minority students in Catholic schools seem to do better than their peers in urban public schools, and it’s not just on tests.  Yes, Catholic schools can be selective on who they take in, and perhaps that’s the biggest difference because they are not charged with teaching ALL students, just those that get in.  But there is something to say for the fact that Catholic school teachers and leaders aren’t chasing every educational trend, and changing educational philosophy with presidential administrations or an expert’s new books.  Perhaps the Catholic school’s basics are just very simple, tried, and tested techniques that work (and do not involve a ruler to the knuckles).  Dedicated teachers.  More parental connections.  Structured classrooms and high expectations. 

Is there anyone in America who would disagree with these simple ideology for all schools?  Maybe we should all be paying a little more attention to help our public schools succeed in urban communities.

Kevin Scott|May 3rd, 2010|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Charlotte-Mecklenburg leads the way

While much of the attention in North Carolina centered around the visit by President Barack Obama over the weekend, another story about North Carolina caught our attention from The New York Times.

In an editorial, The New York Times recommends that urban districts around the country look closely at Charlotte-Mecklenburg as a model.  One of NSBA’s CUBE (Council of Urban Boards of Education) districts and a perennial presenter at our conferences, we’ve known about their innovative ways for quite some time.  But to have The New York Times call attention to some of their improvements, and encourage districts nationwide and the U.S. Department of Education to take note, is worth a special mention.  The editorial points out:

  • The district puts the best principals in the schools with the biggest challenges.
  • Principals are given bonuses when the school make academic gains and are able to recruit their new leadership teams.
  • Principals are allowed to remove up to five teachers who are considered “hostile to reform.”

Schools have already seen improvement in the short time the plan has been in place, and the district’s principals are wearing the opportunity to serve in difficult schools as a badge of honor.  In fact, the district was also recently named as one of five finalists for the Broad Prize for Urban Education.  As many urban districts search for ways to improve student achievement, take a close look at Charlotte-Mecklenburg for an urban success story.

Kevin Scott|April 26th, 2010|Categories: Federal Programs, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Respecting our elders

While many schools around the country are off this week for spring break, and others were off last, we thought we’d share this feel-good story to kick off spring. 

Students in Baltimore, MD and 22 other cities are getting some help from a group of people that is often overlooked in education circles, mostly because they are not teachers, principals, or education experts, even though they have tons of experience to share.  These helpers are often more than 60 years old and are part of a nationwide “Experience Corps” that is giving a boost to students academically and socially.  What’s even better than providing academic help is the fact that the Corps members are helping students in many ways their classroom teachers can’t.  And the elder statesmen and stateswomen get a lot out of the program as well.  According to the article:

There has been extensive research in recent years suggesting that mental exercises such as crossword puzzles could help elderly people slow the deterioration of their brain. But Carlson said it’s possible that tutoring children might be even more effective by integrating cognitive, physical and social activity.

“How many crossword puzzles can you do before you get bored with them?” she asked. “This tutoring gets people engaged in doing what the brain is supposed to do — the brain is a social organ.”

“The message to them is to take all their accumulated wisdom of a lifetime and give it back to help other people,” Carlson said. “They get out of bed in the morning, even when they don’t feel great, because they have a social contract with the kids at school. They know a child is waiting for them.”

So take a look, and if your city isn’t on the list of 22, think about how you can use the resources in your community to help everyone work toward bettering education.

Kevin Scott|April 5th, 2010|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Is a pattern developing?

Central Falls High School in Rhode Island gained national media attention earlier this month (and a lot of it) for a plan that will fire all of its teachers at the end of the school year.  Education professionals from all angles understood that something needed to be done and the superintendent and the school board took action by firing the teachers there.  Teachers around the country defended the teachers at the school because so much of the student population were coming from difficult family situations, many were victims of poverty, and struggled at home and at school as many urban students often do.

The situation in Rhode Island is not unique, unfortunately.  In Savannah, Georgia, last week, another superintendent faced the cameras and announced another high school is going to have to fire its entire staff and start over, all in the name of a federal rule that would close the high school if scores didn’t improve.  The situation in Savannah didn’t get national media attention for some reason, and unless you live in Georgia, you may not have heard anything about it.  But at BoardBuzz, we wonder if this is the beginning of a somewhat scary pattern. 

In both cases, test scores staying stagnant or not improving significantly enough in urban districts were the reasons for the firings.  In Savannah scores had been improving over the last several years, but not enough to satisfy NCLB requirements.  Perhaps there are some bad staff members (in Georgia, the entire staff, including the cafeteria workers are being laid off), but we wonder if public school teachers and administrators are now being treated like the latest celebrity on Donald Trump’s Apprentice show.  Is “you’re fired” going to be the next thing every staff person is worried about hearing at the next staff meeting?  Despite the attempts of people working hard to help students, these mass firings cannot be good for students in the long run.  Those who struggle at these two high schools will likely struggle again next year with a new staff, and unless we start addressing the bigger issues, engaging the entire community, and raising standards for all students, this pattern is bound to erupt into a national epidemic.

Kevin Scott|March 29th, 2010|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

College gaps

So much attention lately has been about the health care reform effort, and after last night’s passage in the House of Representatives, another bill was passed that will greatly alter the way college students get loans.  The new bill takes the money out of the hands of private lenders and puts it with the government, who hope to waste less and give college students more money for college.  So while we’re thinking about college students, a Dallas Morning News article surfaced that got BoardBuzz thinking.

According to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute, the national college graduation rate for Hispanic students is 51%, while for white students it is 59%.  So just a little over half of all Hispanic students who enroll in college graduate, and many of these students reside in urban areas of the nation.

In Texas, where the number of Hispanic college students is larger than many other states, the number drops to 40% of students graduating.  And if you break it down by gender as well, the number of male Hispanic students graduating is just 37%.  But what was interesting to us is that one of the primary problems students gave for dropping out of college is financial reasons.  The report said that many Hispanic students weren’t aware of loan and scholarship opportunities.

This brings us back to the new bill passed yesterday.  We spend a great deal of time, energy, blogspace, and Twitterverse discussing “college readiness” and hope that all students in K-12 America will someday go to college.  The reasons this is important are clear, and in many cases schools are preparing students adequately for college.

We also need to prepare those same students about the business of college and how to stay in school once they’re enrolled.  The likelihood of them re-enrolling once they drop out of college is low, and it would be shameful for so much effort to go into students during their K-12 years and not have them live up to their potential.  What is your district doing to follow through once high school students get to college?  Do you track how many actually graduate?

Kevin Scott|March 22nd, 2010|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Civil rights, Duncan, and the 45th anniversary of Selma

Today, following the 45th anniversary of the march in Selma, AL (AKA “Bloody Sunday”), Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was in Selma giving a speech refocusing attention on the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to enforce civil rights matters. 

As most BoardBuzz readers know, “Education is a Civil Right,” is a phrase that has been endorsed by many educational organizations, including NSBA, and it seems that Duncan is putting some muscle behind that idea starting today.

BoardBuzz hopes that the re-invigoration focuses not just on education as a civil right, but the larger issue of poverty in America’s large and urban districts.  Schools are doing the best they can in most cases when it comes to educating the students that arrive at their doors, but many educators can only do so much.  The issue of poverty and lack of support from home (for a variety of reasons) is also something that needs to factor into this discussion. 

Time and time again, NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) has heard this message from experts who are dealing with poverty in schools on a daily basis.   We hope that the U.S. Department of Education promotes education and civil rights by helping those communities who face poverty-ridden lives every day.

Kevin Scott|March 8th, 2010|Categories: Federal Programs, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

The dropout problem

Earlier today, President Barack Obama spoke about high school dropouts, and how he hopes to help the cause. The numbers are scary. About 7,000 students drop out of high school a day. Yes, everyday! That’s more than a million a year nationwide and you can only imagine the consequences of all those students not completing their high school education. You’ve heard BoardBuzz talk about high school graduation rates before, but alongside President Obama’s efforts is another familiar face, General Colin Powell.  He and his wife, Alma, and their organization (America’s Promise Alliance) are starting Grad Nation, which they hope will curb the dropout problem.

What’s common knowledge doesn’t mean there’s a common solution.  The education community understands that many of these dropouts are in large and urban districts, and these same districts are the ones being concentrated on as the lowest performing schools that need to be changed.  The administration and the Department of Education have made it very clear that they are targeting the 2,000 schools that contribute the most to the dropout problem.  But with grants and promises of major funding coming from the government, is that all these districts need?  We know, based on the work that the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) does within NSBA, that one size does not fit all.  Each district has its unique issue to address and a network of like-minded solutions must be draw upon for success.  We’re hopeful that the network set up by America’s Promise will help shape policies and programs that help school districts succeed.  With $900 million to utilize as transformational grants, BoardBuzz hopes it pays off and changes graduation rates for good.

Kevin Scott|March 1st, 2010|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Less is more?

With all that is going around in the world of education lately, this suggestion from Ohio popped up from among the edu-chatter.  A report from the Greater Ohio Policy Center and The Brookings Institution suggests that Ohio consolidate many of its school districts and reduce the number of districts in the state from 613 to somewhere around 400 instead. 

The justification is that Ohio spends far too much money on administrators and not enough in the classroom.  They suggest the state take on a “base-closing” examination, similar to what the military did to reduce the number of bases in the military and limit redundancies, with schools.  Of course, there is opposition to this idea, which got BoardBuzz thinking.

What if all states reduced the number of districts and consolidated, would there be a financial savings in the long run?  How much would the increased travel time that would be required to bus students longer distances cost?  What are the impacts on student achievement in schools where students spend long periods of time going to and from school?  Could this be something other states should consider?  We know that many districts have consolidated in the past (see NSBA’s resources), but would a state be able to make this change wholesale and pass it off as education reform?  It sounds like Ohio isn’t close to making this a reality, but it certainly got us thinking…

Kevin Scott|February 22nd, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Research, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|
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