Articles in the NSBA Opinions and Analysis category

NSBA praises new budget plan for prioritizing public education funding

Thomas J. Gentzel, the Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), released the following statement on the bipartisan plan from Congressional leaders that would stop the automatic across-the-board cuts created by sequestration for two years:

“We are pleased to see leaders of Congress reach a budget compromise. This plan is an essential first step in the right direction for prek-12 education and public schools across America. NSBA is urging school board leaders to call upon Congress to approve this plan and stop the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, which already has reduced funding from K-12 programs and Head Start by $2.8 billion in fiscal year 2013.

“This plan would sustain important educational programs that help close achievement gaps, raise graduation rates, and foster innovative learning environments. NSBA also is calling for a permanent end to sequestration, which has been a disinvestment in our nation’s students and schools.

“We thank Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for their bipartisan collaboration to restore federal investments in our public schools. This important budget deal is welcome news to many of our school districts and school boards, because it will help to prevent teacher and staff layoffs, continue important after-school programs, and restore essential purchases for classrooms. We value lawmakers’ initial actions to support the success of our nation’s students, and hope to see future plans go even further.”

NSBA is encouraging school board leaders to call both of their senators and their representative regarding the budget agreement and urge them to vote “yes”, in support of the measure that will stop sequestration for two years. School board members can contact their members of Congress through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Alexis Rice|December 11th, 2013|Categories: Budgeting, Federal Advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|Tags: , , , , , |

Sandy Hook tragedy teaches lessons on school security

Thomas J. Gentzel, the Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), reflected on the first anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. with this statement:

“The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary one year ago shook the nation. Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones and to all those in Newtown who were affected on that horrific day.

“One year later, the nation continues to memorialize the 26 adults and children who were killed at the school, support their survivors, grieve, and move forward. For school board members, the urgency of making schools around the country safer and more responsive to future threats is an ongoing imperative and legacy of the Newtown shootings.

“As part of their duties, school boards must ensure that school buildings keep children and school personnel safe without becoming fortresses. In cases of natural disasters and man-made situations, school buildings – equipped with high-occupancy gymnasiums and cafeterias – are often the first shelter, serving as community safe havens and command posts. School boards recognize that even the best emergency preparedness policy is perishable, and they are monitoring and improving their districts’ policies on a routine basis.

“School districts can ensure that parents and the community have a clear and actionable understanding of emergency response plans. One example is parental notification – to clear the path for first responders and their emergency vehicles, parents are often directed to a designated area away from the school where they can safely receive real-time updates.

“Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, there has been much debate on whether armed security guards should be used to protect the nation’s schools, or whether teachers or other school staff should be armed. In cases when a community deems school security is essential, NSBA believes that only sheriff’s deputies and police officers should be hired as school resource officers. Trained to deploy their weapons in the safest way possible and to take action that minimizes collateral damage, sheriff’s deputies and police officers have ‘qualified immunity’ that affords school districts the legal protection they need in case of any unintended consequences that could arise in carrying out their duties.

“As we approach this first anniversary, NSBA joins world and national leaders, state and local governments, community leaders, and people across the country in remembering those affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy. Times like these give us great pause because they remind us not only of the fragility of life but also of the bravery and resilience shown by Newtown’s teachers and school administrators, the students and parents, and the first responders on Dec. 14, 2012. Our nation’s 90,000 school board members will honor them as we continue our efforts to educate and protect our school children and school personnel who work in America’s public schools each day.”

 

Joetta Sack-Min|December 11th, 2013|Categories: Bullying, Crisis Management, Environmental Issues, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Policy Formation, School Buildings, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , , , , , |

CABE leader: Mandela’s life holds important lessons on education

Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), penned this commentary on South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died Dec. 5, 2013, at age 95.

The revered Nobel Peace Prize winner, former leader of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, died yesterday as I write this. His is a story for all of us, from militant leader of the African National Congress and its military wing to long-term prisoner to the first democratically elected president of his nation and to world’s statesman.

But, in that biography, there are lessons for all of us about courage, commitment, communications and compromise. And, yes, about education.

His death holds special significance for me. As you might know, my wife, Megan, was born in South Africa and much of her family still lives there. We visited two years ago and plan to return this summer. I have watched through their eyes this amazing history.

I first went to South Africa in 1980, when Megan and I got married. Apartheid, the separation of the races, was still the law. We were shielded from seeing the worst of this abhorrent system, since whites were not allowed to go into black areas, such as the sprawling city of Soweto.

But, in 2000, years after Mandela’s release from prison in the early 1990s and after he had retired from the presidency, we took a trip to Soweto where we saw his original home, small, yet comfortable, but we were aware that he had been arrested there. It was very moving to think that the man who become such a beloved statesman had lived so modestly.

When we visited in 2010, his 90th birthday was celebrated in the media with articles about Madiba—his clan name, which is used as a sign of respect and affection.

Mandela, who was hunted, brought to trial and convicted twice and spent 27 years in prison, originally on stark, bleak Robben Island, four miles off the coast of Capetown. Contrary to what people might think, he was not a man without anger after his release from prison. However, as Richard Stengel, former Time editor-in-chief and Mandela biographer stated, he knew he needed to hide the bitterness of having been taken away from his wife and children, able to meet with ONE person for 30 minutes ONCE a year and allowed to receive ONE letter every six months. If he was to lead the nation, he could not retaliate for the losses he and other African National Congress leaders and followers had suffered.

It would have torn his nation apart.

To me, this is one of the most amazing feats of “turning the other cheek” in history. Think about it: once he had power, instead of revenge, his government set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—in which whites who had tortured, killed and oppressed blacks, including those in the army or secret police, had to confess their sins. But, after that confession, they served no jail time, were not fined and were allowed to return home. No one was sent to Robben Island.

It is a tourist attraction today.

Mandela gave up his power after one term and even surrendered some authority to his successor before he left office. Like our own George Washington, he understood the need to prepare those who would come after him. He hated the idea of being a President for life, which he could have easily been. That alone is a model for others, especially in Africa, where this does not often happen.

Mandela on Education

In Mandela’s view, education was critical if the blacks of South Africa and others around the world were to thrive. He was an attorney, his legal training at the University of Witwatersrand. Could you imagine what courage that took, especially as he was taunted with epithets and other indignities?

While on Robben Island, this remarkable man learned Afrikaans, the language of his oppressors and studied their thinking and their culture. He felt he had to do this in order to understand his enemies. He became a master of emotional intelligence, able to put himself in the shoes of his jailers.

Thus, the remarkable turning point of getting the support of the whites of Africa came when he emerged from a tunnel into a bright rugby stadium wearing the shirt of the Springboks, the symbol of white South Africa Later captured beautifully in “Invictus”). It was then that he showed in such a vivid way that he “got” it—that he understood the fear and anxiety that whites had in a country where they were suddenly without the power that they had all grown up with.

He spoke many times about education. It was his belief that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” He urged his people to” make every home, every shack or rickety structure a centre of learning”.

The South Africa of today is still a nation with many challenges. When we were last there, we had the chance to visit two schools in the suburbs of Johannesburg.

In a private school, the children had easy access to computers, the rooms had all the supplies the teachers needed and there was a feeling of optimism among those we talked to.

The public schools are dependent on federal funding, which just covers the basics. There was no music, art or athletics in the school we visited, because these are paid for by the community. It was 100 percent black, and though there were caring administrators, there were no supplies in the laboratories and little else that we would take for granted in our country.

That is not a recipe for long-term success for either the students or the nation. But, Mandela’s greatest characteristic might have been his ability to dream of a better future under even ghastly pressure. What he left to his nation, the children in that public school and to us, is the lesson that perseverance, a strong moral compass and the ability to understand and work with others can lead to unheard of success.

For most people, this is the type of legacy that is rarely within a person’s reach. But, even accomplishing a piece of it, whether through our daily lives, our service to others or our willingness to live up to our dreams and, as Lincoln would say, the better angels of our nature, we can help make this a better world for those who come after us.

Goodbye, Madiba. And, thank you.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|December 6th, 2013|Categories: Diversity, Governance, Leadership, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

NCES report shows most states compare favorably to other countries in math and science

Results from a new study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the U.S. Department of Education has found the vast majority of states score above the international average in 8th grade math and science. Although U.S. eighth-graders compared relatively well to their peers in other countries in math, the comparison was even more favorable in science, where just three states scored below the international average. However, the average 8th-grader in most states has obtained a basic knowledge and understanding of both math and science and can demonstrate it in a variety of practical situations.

But the study also highlights the fact that there is a huge variation in student performance across states. While there are a number of states that compare more favorably to the highest performing countries in the world, there are other states whose performance matches the performance of developing countries. For students in all states to have a chance to compete in the ever growing global labor market they, at the very least, must possess basic math and science skills.

Here’s what the study found:

     Mathematics

  • Over two-thirds (36) of states’ average score were significantly above the international average of 500.
    •  Six states (West Virginia (492), Oklahoma (491), Tennessee (490), DC (481), Mississippi (476), and Alabama (466) scored significantly below the international average.  These scores are similar to those of New Zealand (488), Kazakhstan (487), Sweden (484) and Armenia (467) among others.
  • Massachusetts was the highest scoring U.S. state (561 points) and outperformed all but five of 47 countries as well.
    • Massachusetts was outperformed by Korea (613), Singapore (611), Hong Kong (586), and Japan (570).
  • Nearly a two-third of U.S. states performed as well as or better than the traditionally high performing country of Finland (514).
  • Alabama was the only state whose average score (466) fell within the TIMSS Low benchmark (400-474), an indicator of whether a student possesses knowledge of whole numbers and decimals, operations, and basic graphs.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, Massachusetts was the only state to score above the TIMSS High benchmark (550) which indicates that students can apply their understanding and knowledge in variety of relatively complex situations.
    • The remaining 50 states’ average score fell within the Intermediate benchmark (475-549) which indicates a student can apply basic mathematical knowledge in a variety of situations.

Science

  • Nearly every state (47) performed above the international average of 500 while two states (Arizona and California) did not perform significantly different than the international average.
    • Mississippi (486), Alabama (485) and DC (453) scored significantly below the international average. These scores are similar to those of Kazakhstan (490), Turkey (483) and Iran (474), among others.
  • Massachusetts (567) and Vermont (561) were the highest scoring U.S. states and performed as well or better than every country except Singapore (590).
    • Massachusetts and Vermont performed as well as Chinese Taipei (564), Korea (560), and Japan (558) and outperformed such countries as Finland (552), Hong Kong (535) and England (533).
  • The District of Columbia was the only place where students’ average scores did feell within the TIMSS Low benchmark (400-474) which indicates whether a student has a grasp of elementary knowledge of life, physical, and earth sciences.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, eight states (Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin) scored above the TIMSS High benchmark (550), which indicates whether students can apply their knowledge and understanding of the sciences to explain phenomena in everyday and abstract context.
    • The remaining 43 states’ average score fell within in the Intermediate benchmark (475-549), indicating students have basic knowledge and understanding of practical situations in the sciences.
Jim Hull|October 24th, 2013|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|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: , , , , |

School boards push for ESEA reauthorization

National School Boards Association (NSBA) and our state school boards associations are continually advocating for the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization in the U.S. Congress.

Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s Associate Executive Director for Federal Advocacy and Public Policy, posting on the Learning First Allianceblog promoted the need for Congress to move forward on ESEA noting:

In the 12 years since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was enacted, we’ve seen firsthand how the federal role in education has expanded substantially, particularly by unilateral decisions made by the U.S. Department of Education to transform the educational delivery system through initiatives such as its waiver program.

Now, we have an opportunity to change this course through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The National School Boards Association (NSBA) applauds Congress’ overall goal to ensure through legislation that all students are ready for college and careers. NSBA also is pleased to see that Congress is turning its attention to the growth of the federal role, including where it may adversely impact states and local schools.

Resnick continued:

NSBA believes that local school boards and educators have the know-how to meet local needs and conditions, and they are committed to the schoolchildren they serve to get the job done without the burdens and less effective top-down approaches. Ultimately, ESEA will be written in a House-Senate conference committee where, hopefully, the differences between the two bills can be worked out. Only time will tell if this can happen, but it’s an effort that Congress has a responsibility to make.

Along with many other education groups in Washington, we look forward to a new law that will support public education and our students.

Additionally, David Baird, Interim Executive Director of the Kentucky School Boards Association and Durward Narramore President of the Kentucky School Boards Association and a member of the Jenkins Independent School Board published an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leaderr urging the U.S. Senate to take up ESEA, noting:

The Senate’s bill to reauthorize ESEA, Strengthening America’s Schools, S. 1094, has yet to come to the floor for a vote. Our local communities have a great opportunity to reach out to our senators and urge them to:

■ Restore greater flexibility and governance to local school boards consistent with the House bill.

■ Schedule S. 1094 for a floor vote in September.

■ Include provisions in the Senate bill that would continue maintenance of effort requirements and eliminate any arbitrary caps on the federal investment in education.

We need Kentuckians to call Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule the floor vote on S. 1094 for September. Local school boards want ESEA reauthorization now.

 

Alexis Rice|August 13th, 2013|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, No Child Left Behind, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Public Advocacy, School Boards, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , |

NSBA’s President discusses the New NSBA and school board leadership on Education Talk Radio

David A. Pickler

David A. Pickler, President of the National School Boards Association and member of Tennessee’s Shelby County Board of Education, was a guest on Education Talk Radio for a two part interview. Pickler discussed the “New NSBA,” school board leadership, vouchers,  the Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act, and his experiences and leadership on his local school board.

Listen to the interviews:

Part 1:

Listen to internet radio with EduTalk on BlogTalkRadio

Part 2:

Listen to internet radio with EduTalk on BlogTalkRadio
Alexis Rice|May 30th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization, Public Advocacy, School Buildings, School Vouchers|Tags: , |

The harm of school vouchers

David A. Pickler

David A. Pickler, President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and member of Tennessee’s Shelby County Board of Education, was featured in The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet today discussing the failures of school voucher schemes and the impact of the recent Louisiana Supreme Court ruling deeming their state’s school voucher program unconstitutional.

Pickler noted:

Imagine a state outsourcing the education of its disadvantaged children to dozens of private entities, asking for only minimal updates on the students’ learning and their financial management of taxpayers’ dollars.

This happened in Louisiana last year, when Gov. Bobby Jindal and his allies in the state legislature rammed through a school voucher bill that diminished communities’ schools and their students by siphoning off public funds to private, parochial, and for-profit enterprises.

But the Louisiana Supreme Court recently took a strong stand for public education across the country when it deemed the funding for that plan unconstitutional in a 6-1 ruling.

Read Pickler’s complete commentary on The Washington Post’s website.

Alexis Rice|May 20th, 2013|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Public Advocacy, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , , , , , |

NSBA Director writes about “Debunking the ‘reform’ agenda’” for ASBJ

In the June issue of American School Board Journal, National School Boards Association Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel writes about the importance of a strong public education system and the forces that make false promises  through “reforms” such as vouchers. Read his “Last Word” column here:

No human enterprise is perfect, and we all are capable of improving. That’s especially true when an institution faces continuing challenges and new demands. Such is the case with public education, which has undergone many

Thomas J. Gentzel

transformations since it was established — from its early agrarian roots, through the Industrial Revolution, two world wars, the cold war, and the Technology Revolution.

We often forget that during most of our nation’s history, public schools were expected to provide basic instruction to all students while preparing some to move on to higher education and the professions. This system of sorting worked well when family-supporting jobs in factories and mills were plentiful. Today, lower skill jobs are hard to find, let alone capable of sustaining a middle class existence.

Now, public schools are expected to do something never asked of them before: educate all students to a very high level. This, of course, is a good and necessary development if our nation is to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Remarkably, America’s public education system has responded to these heightened expectations in ways that once would have seemed nearly impossible. Our commitment to educating every child is unparalleled, as is our effort to help each one reach his or her potential. No other country in the world even pretends to do what Americans demand of our education system. Perhaps not surprisingly, we spend more time focusing on what remains to be done and less on what already has been accomplished. That’s not altogether a bad thing, since it has the effect of pushing educators to continue to improve. Yet, it has had some serious negative consequences, too.

Some critics of public education have relentlessly assailed the institution for failing to educate all children at the levels now expected. Here, we must pause to acknowledge that, despite dramatic gains in student achievement we have witnessed in most places, some schools have not performed nearly as well as they should. These pockets of deficiency are a source of real concern, since they often exist in communities with the greatest challenges, generally. This is a major problem; in fact, it is one that must be addressed in order to ensure all children are prepared to become contributing members of society.

We should have a candid conversation about how to address these issues, and we must work to ensure that every public school in America, regardless of zip code, is an excellent school. We should do these things but, instead, in the current education policy debate, children in these struggling schools have become pawns in a larger effort coordinated by some well-funded interests with an agenda of their own. Many of these “reformers” have pushed hard – and, often, effectively – for solutions that are either untested or have demonstrated only limited success.

How else to explain the drive to create as many charter schools as possible, despite clear evidence that most do not outperform traditional public schools (and in fact, many fare much worse)? Although advocates of tuition vouchers and tax credits argue these measures could provide options for children “trapped” in poorly performing schools, they acknowledge their proposals would help only a small percentage of such students, and they have virtually nothing to say about what should be done for the many who would remain in those schools.

I believe some proponents of the school choice agenda are sincere in their belief that competition will help all schools to be better. Unfortunately, those people are not driving this debate. To be blunt, certain interests that stand to make a lot of money are the ones most actively promoting the privatization agenda. If they were sincerely interested in ensuring that every child in America had access to a great public school where they live, they would be supporting early childhood education, mentoring programs for new teachers, and other investments that have been demonstrated to be effective. That they so steadfastly refuse to do so speaks volumes about what they really want – and that has a lot more to do with them and their own bottom lines than it does with children receiving a great education.

Joetta Sack-Min|May 17th, 2013|Categories: American School Board Journal, Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, NSBA Publications, School Boards, School Reform, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , |

Videos: NSBA leaders address the 2013 Annual Conference

Check out the speeches from National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) leaders from the 2013 NSBA Annual Conference:

2013-2014 President David A. Pickler:

Our new President, Pickler, discussed the “New NSBA” to create “the most relevant and responsive organization possible as we advocate in Washington, D.C., in state capitols across this country, and in service of our state association members.” Pickler noted that the NSBA Board of Directors has focused significant energies over the past few years to reform, restructure, and create a stronger national organization for school boards.

2012-2013 President C. Ed Massey:

Adaptive leadership was the theme of Massey’s presidency this year, and in his final address as President of NSBA, he reflected on the changes this leadership has brought about. Massey discussed his travels during his presidency; he made it to 26 states and two countries – Finland and Estonia. In those places, he said, he met many people “with a passion for public education and the interest of children.” And while Finland may top the U.S. education system in some ways, “they can’t match us in creativity,” he said.

Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel:

Gentzel discussed the “New NSBA” and plans for NSBA to have a more assertive role in advocating for local school board governance, noting that state and federal officials are increasingly encroaching upon decisions best left to local school leaders. Gentzel unveiled NSBA’s new logo launching this summer.

Alexis Rice|May 15th, 2013|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Annual Conference 2013, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|Tags: , , , , |
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