Articles in the Board governance category

Ravitch: We can learn a lot from Finland — and from our own public schools

Diane Ravitch praised the Finnish schools in a recent speech in Washington, D.C. But it was another nation’s public education system — and the remarkable progress it has made over the past 40 years — that most impressed the celebrated author and education historian.

What country is this? The United States, of course. During that time, student achievement has increased overall, even as today’s student population has become more racially, economically, and culturally diverse. Graduation rates also are rising. And “dropout rates,” said Ravitch, a keynote speaker at NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego, “are the lowest they’ve been in history.”

But if you read some of the anti-public school literature out there, or watched some purportedly “balanced” news reports, you could easily be fooled into thinking something much different, said Ravitch, who spoke at the Economic Policy Institute about her new book on public school reform, Reign of Error.

As an example, Ravitch cited a 2012 report called “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, now head of Rupert Murdoch’s strongly pro-voucher News Corp. The report claims, contrary to the evidence Ravitch cites in the Long-Term Trend report of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), that U.S. schools are so bad they have “become a grave security risk.”

Ravitch devotes much of her new book to the high performing public schools in Finland, a place where she says teaching is a highly respected — and highly selective — occupation, where teachers and principals belong to a common union, and where public education of the highest quality is seen as a national obligation.

“They don’t have charters,” Ravitch said. “They don’t have vouchers. …. There is no Teach for Finland.”

U. S. schools are doing a lot right, too, Ravitch said. In fact, some of the highest-scoring nations on international tests — Singapore among them – are looking at how U.S. schools embrace creativity and teach problem-solving skills. Ironically, with the recent emphasis on high-stakes testing, she added, “We’re moving in the opposite direction.”

“And now we have kindergarten children taking bubble-in tests,” Ravitch said. “This is insane.”

Ravitch criticized the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which she said “has put $5 billion into the pursuit of higher test scores.” She said the money could have been put to better use in efforts to address the growing segregation of many public schools by race and income, particularly in the South and West.

“We’re not trying to solve the real problem, which is child poverty,” Ravitch said. “Poverty is the elephant in the room.”

Elaine Weiss, national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also spoke at the event. Weingarten said budget cuts have harmed school systems across the country, opening them up to criticism and threats of privatization. However, studies consistently show that privatization does not lead to higher student performance while resulting, in many instances, in greater economic and racial segregation.

Lawrence Hardy|October 22nd, 2013|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Board governance, Charter Schools, Comparative Education, Conferences and Events, Curriculum, Diversity, NSBA Annual Conference 2013, Privatization, Race to the Top (RTTT), School Board News, School Vouchers, Student Achievement, Student Engagement|

GSBA director gives guidance on choosing school board members

On Nov. 5, Atlanta voters will select school board members to oversee the local schools and education of the city’s children. Atlanta is unique because all nine of its seats are up for election at the same time, and this year several incumbents have chosen not to run for reelection, which creates the possibility of a completely new board.

Georgia School Boards Association Executive Director Jeannie M. “Sis” Henry penned an editorial for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Oct. 19 that explains why school board elections are so important.

She wrote, “School board races often tend to generate little attention or momentum. However, the decisions made by school boards often affect virtually every important aspect of local schools from school boundaries to bus schedules, curriculum to clubs and even funding field trips… Many of the day-to-day responsibilities for which school boards are responsible generally are delegated to the superintendent. However, in Georgia, responsibilities of a public school board also include but are not limited to some duties that cannot be delegated, such as:

  • The hiring and firing of the local school system superintendent,
  • Buying and selling school property (including the power of condemnation),
  • Calling elections to authorize a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and bond elections to authorize the issuance of bonded debt,
  • Making the policies and rules necessary to govern the school system,
  • Reorganization and consolidation of schools within their control and
  • Authority to hire employees on the recommendation of the superintendent.

Henry also posed a series of questions for voters to consider a school board candidates’ qualities, skills and experience. Those include:

  • What is the candidate’s vision and goals for high academic achievement for all students?
  • Does the candidate inspire parents and other stakeholders to have confidence in the local public schools?
  • Does the candidate understand that the school board’s role is about the big picture, setting the direction for the district and providing oversight and accountability rather than the day-to-day management (micro-management)?
  • Does the candidate focus on a single issue or is he or she concerned about all the issues that come before the board?
  • Does the candidate’s approach make it likely that he or she will be able to work effectively with the rest of the board to get things done?

Henry also urges Atlanta voters to weigh their votes carefully and scrutinize the backgrounds of candidates. Voters should “thoroughly understand what each individual brings to the board in terms of expertise and their willingness to collaborate and work as a team.”

The original editorial is available only through subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Joetta Sack-Min|October 21st, 2013|Categories: Board governance, School Boards, State School Boards Associations|Tags: |

NSBA leaders bring local school boards message to NBC’s Education Nation

National School Boards Association (NSBA) leaders participated in NBC’s Education Nation Summit this week, bringing NSBA’s message that local governance matters to a wide audience that included governors, foundations, business leaders, researchers and practitioners.

This year’s summit incorporated a student-centered “What it Takes” theme, with panel discussions on how to ensure all students are prepared for success in K-12, higher education, and careers. NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel and President David A. Pickler were among the more than 300 attendees invited to the event.

“Innovation was a persistent theme at Education Nation,” said Gentzel. “Some of the best presenters were young people who, in demonstrating their creativity, also served as great testimonials for the public education system that provided the training and opportunities for them to explore and develop exciting new ideas.”

Gentzel added that another significant theme that public schools are accomplishing great things but the expectations and needs are growing. However, he added, there needs to be more emphasis on the local leadership to make these achievements possible.

During an Oct. 8 panel featuring governors, Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky answered a question posed by Pickler, noting the role of local school boards in school improvement. Beshear also stated that charter schools should be authorized by local school boards, which can determine if those schools are needed.

Pickler also lauded the event’s emphasis on early learning and pre-K. In particular, he praised Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s response to a question from NBC’s Matt Lauer on what would be the single most important game changer to address America’s educational challenges. Duncan stated that the ultimate change should be on delivering a world class early childhood education, Pickler noted.

The three day Education Nation event took place October 6-8 at the New York City public library.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|October 9th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Conferences and Events, Governance, School Board News, School Boards, School Reform|Tags: , , , , |

COSA annual conference examines diversity, school law issues

Special education, employment law, school safety and diversity are the hot topics this week at the National School Boards Associations’ (NSBA) Council of School Attorneys’ (COSA) annual School Law Practice Seminar in Nashville, Tenn.

“COSA’s fall seminar is our chance as attorneys to dig deep into the weeds of school law issues facing our public school clients, to discuss approaches and solutions with colleagues, and to get an update on the national legal advocacy work of the National School Boards Association,” said Allison Schafer, the 2013-14 COSA Chair and Legal Counsel for the North Carolina School Boards Association.

In the opening discussion, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Superintendent Jesse Register will discuss his plans to move beyond desegregation litigation to a groundbreaking diversity management plan. The accompanying panel will also discuss the broader issue of diversity in school settings after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin as well as upcoming cases for the 2013-14 term.

Other COSA sessions will be led by experienced school attorneys on relevant issues such as “Student Privacy Concerns in the Cloud Computing Era,” “Responding to the EEOC’s Guidance on Criminal Background Checks,” “the NSBA Legal Advocacy Agenda,” and “Adventures in Ethics.”

Joetta Sack-Min|October 9th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, Board governance, Conferences and Events, Council of School Attorneys, School Law, School Security|Tags: , |

Haycock: Narrowing gap starts with data

Kati Haycock had some good news and some bad news for urban school board members. The good news: Reading and math scores for elementary school students are up for all students, and the racial achievement gaps are narrowing.

The bad news: High school achievement is flat, and American students still aren’t faring well in international comparisons.

Haycock, the president of The Education Trust, was a keynote speaker at NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday.

America tells two stories about itself. First, we are the land of opportunity: Work hard and you can be anything you want to be. Second, each generation can ensure that its children will have a better life. “These are powerful and pervasive stories,” Haycock said, “but they are fast slipping away. Inequality has been rising fast.”

Everyone acknowledges that gaps exist before children show up at school. But once they get there, she said, “we give the kids less of everything. When they don’t do well on tests, we blame the kids, the parents, the culture. We don’t talk about what we did.”

She pointed out that on a macro level, more and better education is not the only thing that needs to happen to reverse the achievement gap and our societal inequality. “But on an individual level, quality education is the only way up. What we do in education is important to our economy and democracy.”

She encouraged conference-goers to consider the choices that are made in schools that widen achievement gaps, including allowing minority and poor students to be taught by less experienced and ineffective teachers. Another problem is teachers who have low expectations for their students, and teachers who don’t know what and how to teach their students.

Haycock recommended school board members start with collecting data so they can correct the inequalities of teaching assignments. She advocated for the Common Core State Standards as a way to help teachers increase rigor and expectations. She also suggested learning from other schools and districts that have been successful in narrowing the achievement gap.

“It’s not a long list,” Haycock said of her suggested solutions, “but there are hard things on it.”

 

Kathleen Vail|October 5th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Common Core State Standards, CUBE Annual Conference2013, Governance, Urban Schools|Tags: |

School leaders: Tell your story and ‘saddle up’

We have a story to tell, Reginald Felton, assistant executive director for Congressional Relations for NSBA, told urban school board members gathered this week to attend NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The meeting ends Saturday.

Felton, a keynote speaker on Friday, urged board members to tell their story of public school success. “We are in crisis,” he said. “We are under more attack than in the past. Every bad example that can be publicized is publicized. Communities would rather believe our urban schools provide no opportunities for advancement, but we know that’s not true. We have a story to tell. We can’t back off telling that story if we want to get out of crisis.”

He discussed the importance of school board members getting involved in the political process – including advocating for public education to their state and federal representatives. This is crucial now when federal government “believes that it can tell us at every level what needs to be done to succeed. We say, you can establish the ultimate goal, but you’ve got to let us work for our kids,” he said. “We need to have the flexibility but we need to tell our story. Some in Washington believe we don’t have a story to tell. Except for the one on the 6 o’clock news.”

Felton told the audience: Having a strong relationship with members of Congress promotes value of public education and enhances member accountability.

CUBE Steering Committee Chair Minnie Forte-Brown also spoke at the conference on Friday. She talked about the temptation as a board member to “get tired” – feel exhaustion in the face of what seems like insurmountable obstacles, especially the societal difficulties that many students face.

It’s this temptation to give up on the system, she said, that drives parents and communities to try charter schools or support vouchers.

However, she said, board members must fight this temptation. “On this day, these decisions that damage our schools will not tempt me to be tired. We will be fired up and take this back, energized and ready to fight,” she said.

Forte-Brown, a member of North Carolina’s Durham School Board, closed by encouraging her fellow board members. “Nobody said it was going to easy. School board leadership is not for sissies,” she said. “You have been chosen. I want you to saddle up and let’s go.”

 

Kathleen Vail|October 5th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Conferences and Events, CUBE, CUBE Annual Conference2013, Federal Advocacy, Public Advocacy, School Boards, Urban Schools|

Robert Slavin tells urban board members the secret to ‘Success’

At what point in your life have you done things well because you’ve been threatened, Robert Slavin asked. The researcher and longtime school reform proponent posed the question to point out the fallacy behind the belief that school reform can come about by threatening teachers and principals. “People do things because they feel excited and motivated,” he told a crowd of urban school board members gathered this week to attend NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The meeting will be held through Saturday.

Slavin, the director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, was a keynote speaker at today’s general session. Slavin spoke to audience of board members about how his program, Success For All, can work in urban schools. Success for All is a whole-school reform strategy that features research-proven tools, cooperative learning to engage students, and collaborative leadership for continuous improvement.

While Slavin advocated for reforms at the school and classroom levels, he warned that you can’t change the district by changing individual schools or teachers.

“Why do we see this great school and how do we make that the norm rather than the exception?” he asked. “The answer has to be to create a system that expects schools of that kind.”

Slavin suggested that school reform that works should spread to other schools in the district, using constant professional development as a tool to create systemic change. “Create a place where people want to work and are dedicated to helping other schools to achieve, too,” he said.

On Thursday, board members got to see Slavin’s program in action when they visited Pershing Elementary School in San Antonio School District. Pershing, a Title 1 school in downtown San Antonio, earned a state academic achievement award for increasing its reading scores as the result of Success for All.

NSBA’s Executive Director Thomas Gentzel spoke to attendees at today’s general session about the “active assault on public education from those who would let each child fend for herself or himself.”

Gentzel outlined how NSBA’s focus on legislative, legal, and public advocacy is about strengthening public education which “helps us become a strong democracy.”

 

Kathleen Vail|October 4th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, CUBE, CUBE Annual Conference2013|

Missouri businessman, MSBA announce $1 million incentive for Baldrige school district award

A Missouri couple will donate $1 million to the first public school district in their state that can win a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which recognizes organizations for achieving performance excellence. The award will be announced at the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) conference this weekend.

Larry Potterfield said he and his wife, Brenda Potterfield, are making the donation because they want to help improve public education in Missouri. “This is for the children,” he said. “We want to impact the educational system, to make the school districts more accountable, to better prepare and educate the next generation so that our nation can continue to compete in the global marketplace.”

The gift challenge will reinforce current efforts for measurable educational improvements among Missouri’s 520 school districts as they strive to achieve “role model status,” as defined by the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Each year, the President of the United States honors American organizations in business, health care, education, non-profit, and government that win a Baldrige Award, the nation’s only award for performance excellence.

Anne L. Bryant, who sits on the board of the Baldrige Foundation and is a former executive director of the National School Boards Association, said that Larry and Brenda Potterfield’s million dollar challenge has called upon the entire state of Missouri to “show the way” by encouraging every school district across the state to consider taking up the Baldrige quality and excellence program.

“Like all Baldrige Award winners, a school district that goes through the process is demonstrating to its students, faculty, staff, parents and entire community that it wants to be the best,” Bryant said. “I watched my neighboring district, The Montgomery County Public Schools (MD) go through the process and reach the national award with such pride and excitement. It reinforced to the community and the entire state that this public school district could be an example for all.”

Moreover, Bryant said that the Baldrige community is “thrilled by the Potterfield’s generosity but, even more importantly, by their foresight to focus on education…which indeed is the cornerstone of a state’s economy and future.

The $1 million gift will be stewarded by the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award until it is awarded.

“The million dollar unrestricted gift will be an obvious benefit to the school district that demonstrates outstanding performance,” said Potterfield, who is CEO of Midway USA, a company that sells hunting and gun supplies. “The school district will receive tremendous recognition for winning the Baldrige Award. Most importantly, the winner will have to demonstrate an improvement in educational outcomes because the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence are results-driven.”

The Potterfields’ official announcement will be made at the 2013 MSBA Annual Conference on Oct. 5, 2013. The conference is held in cooperation with the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA).

“We’re delighted Larry and Brenda Potterfield chose the MSBA Annual Conference to announce their gift,” said Dr. Carter Ward, the MSBA executive director. “MSBA strongly supports school districts interested in utilizing the Baldrige Criteria to create a culture of continuous improvement ultimately aimed at providing the finest possible education for the students in our public schools.”

Dr. P. George Benson, chair of the Board of Directors of the Baldrige Foundation, called it “gratifying” for the Potterfields to link their donation to the Baldrige National Award for Performance Excellence.

“It demonstrates the faith and confidence that Larry and Brenda Potterfield have in the Baldrige Program,” Dr. Benson said. “For 25 years, we helped organizations in the public and private sectors reach their peak level of effectiveness, and honored the very best with a Baldrige Award. With their generous donation, the Potterfields are challenging Missouri school districts to provide a better education to their students.”

School districts must reach the highest level in the Missouri Quality Award, the state Baldrige-based program, to apply to the National Baldrige Performance Excellence Award Program. School districts will need to demonstrate performance results that are national benchmarks and better than their peer groups at comparably-sized school districts across the country. In so doing, they will be improving their budget and operations, as well as the education they provide in the classrooms.

“Schools and districts interested in pursuing a Baldrige award can access resources through the recently launched Missouri Network for Educational Improvement (MNEI),” says Daniel L. Clay, dean of the University of the Missouri College of Education. “The network will help schools and districts strategically coordinate continuous improvement efforts.”  The MNEI is led by the Hook Center at the University of Missouri College of Education, in partnership with MSBA, MASA and districts around the state.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|October 4th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, Board governance, Educational Research, School Board News, School Boards, School Climate, School District Reorganization, School Reform, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA: Allegations of misused funds by charter school operators show need for school board oversight

According to The Washington Post, D.C. authorities filed a lawsuit Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court in which former senior managers and the board chairwoman of D.C.-based Options Public Charter School (OPCS) are accused of diverting millions of taxpayer dollars intended to fund student programs.

The lawsuit claims that improper payments of more than $3 million were made since 2012. The filing alleges a “pattern of self-dealing” in which large payments were made to for-profit companies that OPCS managers founded while running the charter school. The OPCS enrolls about 400 at-risk students in middle and high school, many of whom have disabilities, for which the charter school receives thousands of dollars in extra taxpayer-based payments because they have special needs. The OPCS board chairwoman is D.C.-based WUSA9 news personality J.C. Hayward.

“The alleged charges surrounding this local issue should spark national attention and concern,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association. “While charter schools authorized by local boards of education assure the public of transparency and accountability, those solely in the for-profit sector without the oversight of a public school board offer a degree of risk that does not effectively serve the public interest. Strong local governance protects students’ interests. If these allegations are proven true, it is yet another case in point that local school boards are what best serve the public good.”

According to the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), Options Public Charter School opened in 1996 as one of D.C.’s first five charter schools. While the initial charter was issued by the D.C. Board of Education, oversight for the past six years (including the period during which the abuses are alleged to have occurred) has been the responsibility of PCSB, an appointed board with no direct accountability to the public.

NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. noted that any misuse of public funds would ultimately hurt students and the public schools that serve D.C. families.

“The diversion of tax dollars from traditional public schools into charter schools lacking the oversight of a public school board serves neither students nor taxpayers,” said Negrón. “Diverting scarce monies into such programs limits the ability of traditional public schools to carry out their mission to educate all children.”

Joetta Sack-Min|October 2nd, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Charter Schools, Educational Finance, Governance, Public Advocacy, School Boards, School Reform|Tags: , , , , , |

NSBA President: Effective school boards will improve students’ success

David A. Pickler, the 2013-14 president of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and a member of Tennessee’s Shelby County School Board, wrote this column for the October 2013 issue of American School Board Journal.

How can school boards become more effective?

Through our work at NSBA and the state associations, we’ve seen many good examples of school boards that function well and show results through student achievement. We’ve learned through NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) that school boards in districts with high student achievement are different than school boards in low-achieving districts.

So this would seem to be a fairly straightforward matter of identifying what makes school boards work effectively. But teasing out the tangible areas where school boards can make a difference is still an emerging area of research, and the question is more complex than it initially appears.

I recently spoke at a media event in Seattle, hosted by the Alliance for Education. This nonprofit group is working with the Seattle school board to improve academic achievement and guide student success in the district — and to sustain those actions over time. We talked about CPE’s recent report, “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards,” as well as other research by the Iowa School Boards Foundation and NSBA’s Key Work of School Boards. Researcher Thomas L. Alsbury, a professor at Seattle Pacific University, also discussed the important role that a school board holds as “one of the few remaining vestiges of accessible democracy.”

So what do we know about effective school boards — those that are making progress in student achievement across all sectors of their student population? CPE’s research shows that some of those characteristics include:

  • An ability to set goals reflecting high expectations for students and monitoring progress toward goals, an understanding of student data and how it can be used
  • A relentless focus on student achievement and spending less time on operational issues
  • A comprehensive understanding of the needs of the school district, and strong relationships with the superintendent, other administrators, teachers, and other key stakeholders, and
  • Perhaps most importantly, everyone in the district is committed to success.

More information about the eight characteristics can be found at CPE’s website.

Student success should be the core mission for any school board. We cannot focus on a single issue but must be committed to a comprehensive plan that will support all our students and their needs, Alsbury noted. Board conflict and turnover ultimately will harm student achievement. We must not get mired in micromanagement and organizational details.

As school board leaders, we must lead, and we must model these characteristics for the district staff, students, and the community. We must ensure that every child is prepared for the 21st century and beyond. We know that we are living in exponential times of change—in just the last few years technology has changed our work and our lives in ways we never imagined. The generation of students that we are now educating will be taking on jobs that don’t yet exist.

This work becomes even more important in light of the new landscape of education policy, where we as school boards are being forced to justify our existence more frequently.

Not every school board has an organized group like the Alliance for Education to monitor our work, so we must take it upon ourselves to learn from this research, taking a hard look at our inner workings and continuously striving for improvement. We also could look for community and business partnerships with like-minded groups such as the Alliance. If we use our ability to lay a foundation and set the culture for the school district, our students will benefit for years to come.

Our students need—and deserve—the best we can give.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|September 11th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Governance, Key Work of School Boards, Leadership, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Reform|Tags: , , , , |
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