Articles in the NSBA Opinions and Analysis category

NSBA board member reflects on testing and Teacher Appreciation Week

Neil Putnam, a member of the National School Boards Association’s Board of Directors, writes about Teacher Appreciation Week for his hometown newspaper in Mitchell, S.D.

In “Teachers are more than tests,” he reflects on his past teachers and how teachers now must look for ways to teach skills beyond the rote memorization needed for some standardized tests.

Neil Putnam

Putnam writes: “Today, as a parent and a school board member, I have developed a respect for educators. As a parent, I appreciate what they are doing to prepare my children for their futures, and I visit with other parents who concur with my appreciation. As a board member, particularly being involved in state and federal education policy, I am concerned about some of the fixation on test scores as the sole measurement of the quality of teaching. I would contend a more subjective measurement should be whether students leave the classroom more curious, creative, cooperative, collaborative, and have the character and citizenship to participate in society.”

Read more in The Daily Republic.

Joetta Sack-Min|May 8th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , |

NSBA board members find lessons in Finland’s schools

Three members of the National School Boards Association’s board of directors saw the well-regarded education system in Finland on a recent academic trip. And while the two countries have major differences, there are some important lessons school boards can take away from the Scandanavian schools, said NSBA President C. Ed Massey.

Massey joined a group of researchers and educators from Northern Kentucky University for a guided tour of Finnish schools, where they saw classrooms from early education to postsecondary and career training. He invited fellow NSBA board members David A. Pickler, NSBA’s President-Elect and a school board member from the Shelby County School Board in Memphis, and Kevin E. Ciak, a school board member from the Saylorsville School District in New Jersey, to join the tour.

Massey noted that the country emphasizes the importance of education by giving all children access to high-quality schools from age one through college—and the government pays for it all.

“The biggest thing that struck me was that they only hire the best teachers,” said Massey, a member of the Boone County, Ky., school district’s board of education. “A teacher cannot be hired unless they have a master’s degree, and then they are treated as consummate professionals, on the same rank as a doctor or lawyer.”

Members of NSBA's Board of Directors pose with Bruce J. Oreck, U.S. Ambassador to Finland, on their recent trip. From left, NSBA President-Elect David A. Pickler, Oreck, NBSA President C. Ed Massey, and Kevin E. Ciak.

Students in Finland also learn three languages through immersion by the time they leave elementary school. One thing that schools do not have is sports teams—popular pastimes such as hockey take place in clubs after school. And the schools provide a free lunch for all students, regardless of their families’ income level.

Each school is run by a “counsel” made up of administrators, teachers, and parents, Massey said. A school district is governed by a municipal education board, where members are appointed by the country’s Ministry of Education.

There are some important differences between Finland and the United States that make any comparisons unfair, Massey noted. For one, the country only has about 5.5 million people and 540,000 students—much smaller than even Kentucky, which has more than 670,000 students. The population is largely homogeneous with very little immigration, Massey said, noting that there are 59 different languages spoken within Boone County’s student population.

And—perhaps the most significant difference–Finland pays for all its educational services by taxing its residents at much higher rates than U.S. governments, he added.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|April 4th, 2013|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Board governance, Educational Research, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Preschool Education, School District Reorganization, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , |

Video: NSBA discusses school safety on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal”

Francisco M. Negrón Jr., General Counsel of the National School Boards Association, was featured on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” on Dec. 19 discussing school safety and  how school boards across the U.S. develop and implement emergency plans.

Alexis Rice|December 19th, 2012|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, School Law, School Security, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , , |

School boards can help NSBA lobby to avoid fiscal cliff

Political pundits are already warning President Barack Obama and members of Congress not to spend too much time basking in their Nov. 6 victories. Beginning next week, Congress and the White House will start the tough negotiations to deal with the process of sequestration, which is the cancellation of budgetary resources.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 will impose across-the-board cuts of approximately 8.2 percent to education and other domestic programs in FY2013 unless Congress intervenes by Jan. 2, 2013. Most school districts would not see any impact until the 2013-14 school year, but those consequences will be severe. Districts that receive Impact Aid funds would see immediate cuts.

More than 100 school boards already have passed resolutions urging members of Congress to stop sequestration, which is also being called the fiscal cliff. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking school boards to pass a resolution, write letters to local newspapers and take actions to publicize schools’ plights. NSBA also wants your stories about how these cuts could impact your students and schools. Learn more on the NSBA’s “Stop Sequestration” webpage for  a list of actions for local school board members and more information about the threats.

NSBA’s Advocacy department also has compiled these facts about sequestration:

  • For every $1 million of federal aid districts receive, they would lose $82,000; and, while districts can vary widely, on average, for every 5,000 students enrolled, districts would lose about $300,000.
  • The impact of an 8.2 percent cut to programs such as Title I grants for disadvantaged students would mean a cut of more than $1 billion, affecting nearly two million students.
  • Special education grants would be reduced by more than $900 million, impacting nearly 500,000 children with disabilities.
  • English Language Acquisition grants would be cut by approximately $60 million, affecting an estimated 377,000 students.
  • These budget cuts to education programs would take place during 2013-14 school year, with the exception of Impact Aid, with which cuts would become effective during this school year.
  • Sequestration’s budget cuts to these and other education programs would mean increased class sizes and less access to programs for children with special needs, as well as summer school, college counselors, early childhood education and after-school programming.
  • Certain school bond programs would also be affected by a 7.6 percent reduction in federal subsidy payments.
  • In addition to school systems losing federal education funds, there are two indirect impacts. First, federal cuts for programs to state and local governments in other areas may result in those units cutting their aid to schools as they scramble to make up the difference. Second, in communities with a large federal presence, such as military bases or government contracts, the across-the-board budget cuts could be devastating to their economies in terms of lost sales and property tax revenues that are often used, in part, to finance education.

If you have any questions or if you would like to send in a resolution, please contact Kathleen Branch, NSBA’s Director of National Advocacy Services at kbranch@nsba.org or (703)838-6735.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|November 7th, 2012|Categories: 2012 Presidential race, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Policy Formation, Public Advocacy|Tags: , |

Won’t Back Down gets panned by critics, movie goers–and NSBA

Last week the National School Boards Association’s former Executive Director Anne L. Bryant gave a review dismissing the new film “Won’t Back Down,” which opened in theaters across the country this weekend.  She noted, “While we wouldn’t expect a Hollywood production about public schools to be grounded in research-based facts, there are many reasons to be concerned about the images of educators portrayed in the movie and the fanfare surrounding this type of law — which so far has only been used in one instance but has piqued the interest of legislatures in several states.”

“While ‘parent involvement’ always sounds agreeable, we have research showing that certain parental strategies work much better than others — and parent trigger laws are far from being a proven methodology,” Bryant writes.

The film, which conveys a fictional story of a mother who seeks to enact a parent-trigger law on her daughter’s underperforming school, seeks to elicit more discussion about that type of law.

Seems Bryant’s criticism was not alone. Leading movie critics bashed the film is their reviews.

The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday noted, “it becomes clear that the movie has been designed as an anti-union, pro-charter screed, the fictional counterpart to the 2010 documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman.’”

Connie Ogle of The Miami Herald stated, “A story ‘inspired’ by real events, the film feels more like an anti-union screed than an inspiring story of educators and parents taking chances to improve a failing school. You can tell by the way the script carefully places token pro-union sentiments in the mouths of some of its characters, then sets up pro-union forces as the ultimate villains of the piece. Nothing wrong with a movie having a point of view, but watching people spout jargon or exposition doesn’t really make for riveting entertainment.”

Ella Taylor of NPR called the film, “a propaganda piece with blame on its mind.”

With all the negative reviews, seems movie goers didn’t care to see it either. The Los Angeles Times reported on the weekend box office numbers and highlighted the film’s dismal success by noting, “The only new wide release to be greeted with poor response this weekend was “Won’t Back Down,” the education drama starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal that tanked with $2.7 million.” The article continued by stating, “Though it sparked debate among the education community, “Won’t Back Down” failed to lure moviegoers to the box office this weekend.”

“Won’t Back Down” was produced by Walden Media, the company that also funded the 2010 pro-charters documentary Waiting for “Superman”. Walden Media is owned by Philip F. Anschutz, a strong supporter of conservative causes and former oil and gas baron who has an estimated net worth of $6 billion, according to Forbes. Anschutz operates the Anschutz Foundation and has a variety of media holdings including Anschutz Entertainment Group, Walden Media, and the Washington, D.C. conservative daily The Examiner.

Anschutz has ties to the far right—including the funding of anti-gay groups, anti-union organizations, and those who deny climate change and evolutionary science. His venture into education reform includes the Anschutz Foundation’s donation of $110,000 to the Alliance for Choice in Education between 1998 and 2008. Walden Media’s goal is to develop films to be “entertaining, but also to be life affirming and to carry a moral message.” With “Won’t Back Down”, Anschutz continued his education reform and anti-union agenda by underwriting a fictional film that misrepresents teachers unions, school boards, and highlights parent trigger efforts as the preferred way to improve a failing school.

So have you seen “Won’t Back Down,” or have you decided to skip it? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Alexis Rice|October 2nd, 2012|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, School Reform, Urban Schools|Tags: , , |

Three numbers that could alter the 2012 elections: 92, 37 and 6

August 26th is Women’s Equality Day, marking the 92nd anniversary of the constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote.  While much work remained in the 20th century to assure that everyone could exercise their right to vote, the 19th amendment was an important threshold.  It is particularly significant for local school boards, as Kentucky’s 1838 law permitting married women with children to vote in school board elections was the first state suffrage law following the American Revolution. It took the rest of the country more than 80 years to catch up.

Casting a shadow on this celebration, however, is the wave of laws proposed or passed in 37 states to impose stricter requirements for voting – laws that could adversely impact representation in our highest-need communities.  These laws frequently require various forms of identification in order to vote, but other restrictions – such as limiting early voting hours – are other forms of voter suppression.  While safeguards for the integrity of elections are necessary, a nationwide analysis of 2000 alleged voter fraud cases published in the The Washington Post shows that instances of voter impersonation are extremely rare. If extrapolated to the entire eligible population, voter impersonation could be as rare as 1 in 15 million prospective voters.

BoardBuzz thinks school districts can be catalysts for civic education and engagement by students and communities – especially for students who are 18 years old and eligible to vote for the very first time.  This year’s national elections will set the course for the United States for years to come. Redistricting resulting from the 2010 Census means that many Americans will be voting for newly-minted candidates and/or state & national legislative districts.  And only once every twenty years does redistricting coincide with the presidential election, upping the stakes for voters who must also choose who will represent them in the White House.

The most important number for the 2012 elections then? November 6th – Election Day!

Lucy Gettman|August 21st, 2012|Categories: Curriculum, Diversity, Educational Legislation, Leadership, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|Tags: , , , , , |

NSBA shows how Race to the Top hurts small districts

Lucy Gettman, director of federal programs at the National School Boards Association (NSBA), recently spoke to The Atlantic about the recent announcement of the Race to the Top federal grants for school districts. Gettman noted that the competitive grant program tends to put small, high poverty, and rural school districts at a disadvantage with its lengthy application process.

The author, Emily Richmond, the public editor for the Education Writers Association, has shared her question-and-answer session with Gettman on EWA’s EdMedia Commons website, which is designed to help reporters covering education.

NSBA was pleased that the U.S. Department of Education dropped its plans to require a school board evaluation as part of the process, but remains concerned about other provisions of the program. Read the interview at EdMedia Commons.

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|August 21st, 2012|Categories: Budgeting, Educational Finance, Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Race to the Top (RTTT)|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA: Fordham survey misses the mark on school funding

The National School Boards Association Executive Director Anne L. Bryant was asked to comment on a new survey by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation that shows how members of the public would cut funding for public schools. The survey found that many would prefer to downsize the ranks of administrative staff rather than teachers, freeze teacher salaries, or lay off teachers based on factors other than seniority. Bryant’s response is below.

Looking at the new Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s survey, “How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education,” it’s abundantly clear that Americans are interested, engaged and supportive of their local schools. There is also an overriding sense that many of these hard choices must be made at the local level with a community’s input–thus showing clear evidence for the need for local school boards.

The authors have created a scenario of choosing between critical programs and staff for public schools—choices such as laying off teachers, instructional leaders, arts and music classes and extracurricular activities. However, this survey is about four years late–many public schools are already operating on a bare-bones administration and have been forced to make tough choices to lay off teachers and cut academic programs. And with the federal government looking to implement sequestration this January, K-12 programs may see further across-the-board cuts.

While reducing the number of administrators seems like the obvious answer, as 69 percent of respondents chose, many of these officials play key roles in developing curriculum, managing services, and performing other duties that are directly tied to student achievement. Like any business, school districts need officials to manage budgets and operations to ensure that students are safe and teachers and principals can focus on their jobs.

The public sent a clear message that they prefer forgoing raises or slight salary cuts for teachers and other staff in lieu of layoffs. We’ve seen many examples of school boards, administrators and union representatives working together to navigate these budget choices. For instance, school board members and officials in the Boone County Public Schools in Florence, Ky., worked with their teachers union on a plan to forgo raises in lieu of layoffs, so that student/teacher ratios could be maintained. The labor-management relationship “is truly a relationship built on trust, accountability and respect,” as school board member and current President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) C. Ed Massey recently told me, and the board has brought in coaches to help all teachers improve their skills. That’s an investment that has paid off in continuous improvement in student learning and college and career readiness, as evidenced by average ACT scores that have climbed from 19.5 in 2008 to 20.9 in 2012.

Fordham should not be at all surprised at the tepid response for full-time cyber schools, as too many at-risk students are performing poorly, or simply not logging in. The Center for Public Education found in its recent report, “Searching for the Reality of Virtual Schools,”  that emerging research shows dismal results for some schools and there is little accountability for public funds.

One aspect of the survey is particularly flawed. The questions related to support for special education services show that, among other findings, 71 percent say programs should be evaluated on their effectiveness and “replaced” if deemed not effective.

The survey questions ignore the landmark 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)  law that mandates a “free appropriate public education” in “the least restrictive environment” for every student identified with a disability. This was a major victory for students with disabilities who previously had been denied an education or received inferior services. Since the law’s passage the numbers of students with disabilities have increased tremendously, largely because of better diagnoses of conditions such as autism and in part because better medical treatments have allowed some severely disabled students to live and attend mainstream schools. More recent reauthorizations of the law have instilled new accountability requirements onto school systems to ensure that students with disabilities are meeting high expectations.

Yet the federal government has never come close to funding the 40 percent of excess costs for educating these students as lawmakers had promised in 1975. Each year NSBA and thousands of school board members and educators lobby the U.S. Congress to request full funding; however, funding currently stands at $11.5 billion, or about 17 percent, and is in danger of being reduced by $900 million through sequestration. This program has been a priority of both parties, as it frees up state and local funding to be spent on programs that each community deems to be its priorities.

A strong public education system attracts and retains businesses that are essential to local economies. Public schools must have the resources to give our students the knowledge and skills needed for long-term global competitiveness. Our nation’s future economic success depends on how smartly and adequately all levels of government invest in public education today.

Erin Walsh|August 2nd, 2012|Categories: Educational Finance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Special Education, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , |

Washington group analyzes K-12 initiatives and predicts future steps

Obama administration initiatives such as the Race to the Top (RTTT) competitive grant program and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)/Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waivers have generated more innovation in a shorter time than any other K-12 education reform in recent memory, according to an influential Washington group.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a forum on July 27 “The State of State Education Reform: What’s Happening, What’s Next?” At the event, the panelists singled out:

  • A wide variety of school improvement strategies
  • Removal of the caps on charter school creation
  • Widespread adoption of college- and career-ready standards
  • A build up of human capacity in the education sector
  • A determined focus on education reform creating a coherent vision of goals to achieve, the means to achieve them and the obstacles that need to be overcome

The National School Boards Association has been following developments in all of these areas because of the critical role school boards will play in implementing these programs, as well as monitoring the role of the federal government. Representatives from NSBA’s legislative advocacy department attended the event.

At the event, panelists John King, New York State Commissioner, Michael Yudin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Education, and Alex Johnston, adviser to the Bloomberg Philanthropies and Chair of the Board of Directors, Policy Innovators in Education, agreed that the RTTT funding was a huge incentive to jump start much-needed reforms and help accelerate reforms many states had already embraced; increase charter school development; and bring an evaluation system into labor-management relations.  The process of developing applications brought together governors, state superintendents/commissioners and state boards of education, and ultimately state legislatures.

King was critical of local school boards for not being more proactive on the innovation front and avoiding interventions with failing schools.  He said he is seeking legislation in the upcoming New York 2013 legislative session to empower the state to remove local boards that have not addressed chronically underperforming schools.

“We’ve been missing that tool,” said King, whose experience before joining the New York Department of Education was with charter school management.

Johnston noted that Connecticut has been identified as having the greatest achievement gap between children in poverty and those from families with more affluence. But the state’s failure to secure RTTT funds motivated both gubernatorial candidates to make education a top campaign issue and continues to be a driving force.

Brown and panelists noted the current widespread diminished and limited capacity of state departments of education in leading change.  Their embedded monitoring and compliance approach, dictated by NCLB and the enforcement of state aid policies, was shifted to an agenda marked by change, school improvement, and increased standards.  The Common Core State Standards have also motivated states to work together on evaluating curriculum, on developing new, upgraded assessments, and on developing a system that relies more on technology for delivering professional development to teachers and principals.  The emphasis on building regional teams has also been reinforced.

The event was in tandem with the CAP’s analysis of the second round of applications for the NCLB waiver program.

This report was compiled by Roberta Stanley, NSBA’s director of federal affairs.

Erin Walsh|July 30th, 2012|Categories: Educational Legislation, Governance, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, School Reform, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA President speaks on unfunded mandates

The National School Board Association’s (NSBA) President C. Ed Massey, a member of the Boone County, Ky., school board, spoke to his local Rotary Club about the need to relieve local school systems from inflexible federal laws that do not come with enough funding to successfully implement.

Massey explained the need for local school board members and other education advocates to become involved in lobbying their members of Congress in a presentation to members of the Florence, Ky. Rotary Club last week.

“A lot of congressional members just get snippets of information,” he said in a story published at the Cincinnati Enquirer’s community website. “Because they are not educators, they don’t understand the issues in depth.”

The Boone County school board and members of the Kentucky School Boards Association have recently worked with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on issues related to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|July 23rd, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Educational Finance, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , , , , |
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