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Articles in the Educational Legislation category

BoardBuzz swats back

Ahhh there they go again. Our friends over at the Fordham Institute weren’t very impressed with BoardBuzz’s analysis of their high-achieving students study. Actually it wasn’t what BoardBuzz said about the study, but our analysis of their rhetoric. As a reminder, BoardBuzz took exception to Fordham’s claim that high achieving students are being left behind. On its blog, Fordham responded by saying:

Yes, if you go back to the early 1990s, the progress of low and high achievers look roughly the same, at least in some subject-grade combinations. But upon closer inspection the story is very different. Basically the 90s were quite good for high achievers (particularly in states without accountability systems); the post-2000 years have been quite good for low achievers (perhaps due to NCLB). The story since 2000, though, is straightforward; anemic gains at the top versus dramatic gains at the bottom….

BoardBuzz has this question to Fordham: How much do students need to improve for the gains to be considered “dramatic” instead of “anemic”? Or for that matter, “good”?

So, yes let’s take a closer look at the gains students were making before and after 2000, specifically 8th grade math. From 2000 to 2007 high-achieving students on average improved 5 points on NAEP. Not as large as the 13 point average gains made by low achieving students, but anemic? BoardBuzz doesn’t think so. Consider this: Tom Loveless, the author of the Fordham report, says a good rule of thumb is that 11 points on NAEP is roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of learning. Simply, 5 points means high achieving 8th graders in 2007 are learning close to a half a year’s worth more math than high achieving students did in 2000. And this is “anemic” or “languid” as the Fordham report calls it?

Between 1990 and 2000, high-achieving 8th graders did make 13 point gains, which is higher than the 5 point gain post-2000, as Fordham observes. But keep in mind that’s 13 points over a 10 year period. When looking over similar period of time, 1990-1996, 8th graders made an 8-point gain in math — not much higher than the 5 point gain between 2000 and 2007.

Fordham also took issue with BoardBuzz’s contention that schools were not focusing on so-called “bubble kids” – students who score near the proficient cut off line — at the expense of very low and very high achieving students. They point to their report The Proficiency Illusion, which found that most states define proficiency at the 20th or 30th percentile nationally to claim that bubble kids are actually the very low achievers their study focuses on.

Fortunately, BoardBuzz has read The Center for Public Education’s latest report The Proficiency Debate: A guide to NAEP achievement levels and knows that although states do vary in where they set their proficiency levels, most are within NAEP’s Basic Achievement Level. The report also shows that of the students who score at the Basic level on NAEP half go on to earn a four-year college degree so it’s not exactly a very low level to hit despite its label.

Even so, BoardBuzz applauds Fordham for focusing on the issue of high achieving students in the era of NCLB. NSBA is concerned, as well, that accountability systems such as NCLB do not focus enough attention on high achieving students. School board members across the country may find the Fordham study useful in drawing attention to the high achieving students in their districts. However, they should also take pride in that their schools have made dramatic gains for their lowest performing students while continuing gains for their highest achievers as well. Could their high achievers have made more gains? It is impossible to tell, but studies like this highlight the fact that teachers need more support and resources to be as effective as they can be for all their students.

Erin Walsh|July 1st, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

UPDATE: President signs bill with Medicaid moratorium

Thanks to NSBA‘s grassroots efforts and lobbying, the President signed the War Supplemental Appropriations Bill this morning delaying the Medicaid rule which would eliminate certain transportation and administration reimbursements to schools for services provided to low-income students with disabilities. The Senate’s June 26th vote on the measure, which included the same language as the bill the House passed on June 20, was an overwhelming 92-6. The new law means that federal Medicaid reimbursements to schools for the administrative and transportation services that they provide to eligible students will continue until at least April 1, 2009.

Erin Walsh|June 30th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Reality vs. Rhetoric: Are high achieving students being left behind?

If you had read last week’s Gadfly, the Fordham’s Institutes weekly bulletin, you would have been left with the impression that high achieving students have been neglected since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Although that is clearly what our friends at Fordham wanted you to think, you would be wrong.

Fordham based their rhetoric on a report they released last week called High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB. The report aimed to determine whether high achieving students were making as many academic gains as low achieving students based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores. The report also included a survey of 900 teachers around the country to gain insight into their views on how schools focus on high achieving students.

Although BoardBuzz found the report quite informative and well prepared, the rhetoric from Fordham just did not match the findings. Contrary to the thinking that high achieving students have been left behind, the report actually found that high achieving students (those scoring in the top 10 percent on NAEP) have been making similar gains on NAEP over the past 20 years. BoardBuzz hardly thinks that’s being left behind. On the other hand, low achieving students (those scoring in the bottom 10 percent) have been making 4 times as many gains on NAEP since NCLB was enacted compare to before.

Fordham sees the steady increases of high achievers as proof that NCLB is leaving our high achievers behind, rather than recognizing that schools are doing an amazing job of improving the achievement of their most challenging students while also increasing the achievement of their best and brightest. Isn’t this what we want schools to do? If you had listened to Fordham you would think the achievement of high achieving students remained flat or even declined but this simply is not the case. Would we all like to see greater gains from all our students? Of course. There is always room for improvement, but that does not mean that high performers have been neglected.

What was most striking to BoardBuzz, which no one else seems to be talking about, are the huge gains low achieving students have made in recent years. Reason being, BoardBuzz has heard a lot that schools have been forced to focus on only those students right below or above proficiency, so called bubble kids, at the expense of their low and high performing students to raise their proficiency rates since high achievers would reach proficiency anyway and low achievers weren’t likely to. Fortunately the report shows that this appears to be untrue. Although NCLB implicitly encourages schools to do so, they are not just focusing on these bubble kids at the expense of other students. As a matter of fact, both high and low achieving students are making solid academic gains and teachers report focusing on their low achieving students.

Does BoardBuzz agree with the report that future accountability systems should provide incentives to schools to focus on high achieving students? We certainly do. Schools deserve a pat on the back for their efforts and improvements they are making with their low achieving students. It is certainly time for accountability systems, both state and national, to use more carrots than sticks and to recognize the gains students below and above proficiency are making. This is just one of many reasons Congress needs to act now to change NCLB.

For a summary of High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB go to the Center for Public Education. While there also check out Measuring Student Growth: A guide for informed decision making to learn more about how to measure student growth.

Erin Walsh|June 27th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Who hates NCLB and what voters think of education

Chances are, if you are white and an independent, you’re more likely to hate NCLB. That’s a finding from a new national poll. As Campaign K-12 pointed out, it’s no wonder Democratic presidential candidates were attacking the law. It’s probably no surprise that independents tend to think NCLB is hurting public schools because the law has become so politically controversial. Forty percent of independents surveyed said NCLB is hurting public schools, compared with 32 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans, according to the poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and sponsored by the Public Education Network (see the PowerPoint here).

Among racial groups, 34 percent of whites said NCLB is hurting public schools, compared with 21 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Latinos. Overall, about one third (31 percent) of Americans said the law has hurt and another one third said it has helped. Thirty-eight percent said it has made no difference or that they don’t know.

The poll also asked people to rank the most important issues in their decision in the next president. Even with soaring gas prices and the economic downturn hurting voters’ pocketbooks, they still care about education, ranking it third, above health care, taxes, homeland security and budget deficit. Gas price and economy ranked first and second, respectively.

Erin Walsh|June 26th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Victory on Capitol Hill

We’ll say upfront that this posting is past due, but school boards won a crucial victory in Congress last week when the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the supplemental appropriations bill that included a moratorium on Medicaid reimbursement important to school districts. The inclusion of the moratorium, needed because of an Adminstration rule to end the reimbursements, was one of a limited number of domestic priorities that survived in the final bill, which now heads to the Senate.

Also last week, a House panel approved increases, though not nearly to the level needed, for Title I and special education. The full House Appropriations Committee and a Senate subcommittee will continue work on education funding this week. Get all the details on that issue and others in the NSBA Advocacy highlights.

And if you can’t wait to read those weekly Hill updates here on BoardBuzz, visit the Advocacy website every Monday morning.

Erin Walsh|June 24th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Abandon the SAT?

While the thought might bring joy to high school students everywhere, it’s not quite happening yet. Studies (see here and here) find that SAT scores are no better predictors of college success than high school grades. Critics of the SAT point to the results of these studies to show that the SAT is an unnecessary financial and emotional burden on students. However, the College Board, creator of the SAT, says the studies show that combining the results from the SAT with a student’s high school grades provides a stronger prediction of college success than either piece of data separately.

BoardBuzz isn’t a huge fan of standardized tests and certainly didn’t enjoy taking the SAT back in high school, but getting rid of the SAT may be a bit premature. Getting into college is no easy task nowadays and the SAT and other college admissions tests provide another way for students to demonstrate they are indeed ready to succeed in college. This is especially true for students who may have struggled for a time in high school where their grades may not truly reflect their true ability. Just as standardized testing should be used, the SAT is just one tool college admissions officers rely on to determine if a student should be accepted into their school.

And while we’re on our soapbox, BoardBuzz would also like to point out that Congress should take note that test scores are just one measure of student achievement. So, when it comes to grading schools for accountability schools should be not be judged solely on test scores but on multiple measures of student performance like grades and student projects. By doing so, the public will be given a much more accurate picture of their local schools.

For more information about high stakes testing check out the Center for Public Education’s Guide to Standards and Testing.

Erin Walsh|June 20th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Much ado about D.C. vouchers

Lots happening with the only federally funded private school voucher program. Today a House appropriations subcommittee will vote on the Washington, D.C. appropriations bill that could include an increase to $18 million for the city’s private school voucher program. That program, created as a 5-year pilot program, is set to expire in September and reauthorization of it is unlikely. However, President Bush wants to increase funding for it, while the city’s lone Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton opposes continuing it. See her column from today’s Washington Post.

Meantime, the latest research on the program, despite the U.S. Department of Education’s attempt to spin it otherwise, again finds no overall differences in academic achievement between students using vouchers and their public school peers in Washington. The full 174-page report can be found here.

As NSBA told Education Week, “The key finding is that there are no statistically significant differences overall in academic achievement between the two groups of students. This is the second straight year in a row with those findings. The alleged rationale for the program was improved student achievement. The voucher program, like others before it, has come up short.”

Despite proponents’ spin, the report’s executive summary does not bury the lead. It’s right there in the first point of the executive summary: “After 2 years, there was no statistically significant difference in test scores in general between students who were offered an OSP scholarship and students who were not offered a scholarship. Overall, those in the treatment and control groups were performing at comparable levels in mathematics and reading.”

Washington Post coverage is here.

NSBA’s letter to the subcommittee is here. And for more on this and other Hill activity this week, check out NSBA’s Advocacy highlights.

Erin Walsh|June 17th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, Privatization, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Living the DREAM

It’s graduation season, and most high school seniors are planning fun summers with their classmates and getting ready to start college in the Fall. But for valedictorian, Arthur Mkoyan, such celebratory plans may come to a halt ten days after graduation—the day Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has scheduled his and his family’s deportation, according to this article BoardBuzz found via

Mkoyan came to the U.S. with his parents in 1995 and has since achieved a grade-point average above a 4.0 through taking Advanced Placement classes and has been accepted to a California state university to study medicine in the fall. He is one of 65,000 students annually who have been raised in the U.S. and graduated from U.S. high schools, but who because of their undocumented status are denied the same access to higher education as their peers.
The bipartisan Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is designed to help students like Mkoyan have better access to higher education and become legal permanent residents.

If the DREAM Act were in place, Mkoyan and other undocumented students graduating high school who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and were brought here when they were 15 years old or younger would be eligible for a six year conditional legal residency during which they are expected to complete a 2-year degree, 2 years toward a 4-year degree, or 2 years of military service. If they complete the requirements of the six year conditional period and demonstrate good moral character, they will be granted permanent residency.

NSBA supports the enactment of the DREAM Act to give students like Mkoyan the educational opportunities they deserve. It was first introduced in 2001, and has continued to grow, passing the Senate Judiciary Committee twice and passing the full Senate in 2006 as part of comprehensive immigration legislation, though not passing in 2007. This year, there is minor legislative activity regarding the DREAM Act, but it is unlikely to see further progress until 2009.

Students like Mkoyan currently have little resources available to obtain higher education in the U.S. — they are often ineligible for in-state tuition and for state and federal loans, as well as unable to work legally. In addition to their academic struggles, these students constantly face the possibility of deportation. In an update on Mkoyan’s struggle, also reported that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has introduced a private bill to allow the family to stay in the U.S. The bill likely will create only a temporary reprieve, however, since such private immigration bills usually do not pass. Unless the DREAM Act is passed, the potential of students like Mkoyan will continue to be significantly restricted by the undocumented status they inherited from their parents.

Erin Walsh|June 13th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

How many students aren’t graduating?

Last week Education Week released their annual special issue Diplomas Count 2008. You may have come across headlines decrying that 30 percent of high schoolers dropout or 1.23 million students fail to earn a diploma. These headlines cite the graduation rates reported by Education Week. However, BoardBuzz knows better than to believe such exaggerated claims. That’s because we’ve read the Center for Public Education’s Straight Story on High School Graduation Rates which cautions against making such claims from the data.

The Center’s guide informs readers that graduation rates are not the inverse of dropout rates. Meaning, just because a student isn’t included in the graduation rate doesn’t necessarily mean the student never received a diploma. Which further means that the 30 percent dropout rate you’ve heard so much fuss about is probably not that high. Included in that 30 percent are students who took longer than four years to graduate, students who went on to receive a GED, and students who received a Certificate of Completion instead of a standard diploma. Although not traditional graduates, BoardBuzz certainly wouldn’t consider these students dropouts (and neither would they!).

Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly how many of these students there are, who they are, and what happens to them after high school. But our friends at the Center for Public Education are on the case. In particular, the Center will be looking into how many students are taking longer than the typical four years to graduate and who these students tend to be. The Center will also look to see how these students’ lives differ after high school than traditional graduates and dropouts. This is of particular interest to BoardBuzz because there has been a lot of talk of making high schools more accountable for their graduation rates in next version of NCLB (if that day ever comes). But if these graduation rates are based on only those students who graduate in four years, won’t that punish schools for taking the time to teach those students who come in behind instead of just giving them a piece of paper after four years? Schools should be encouraged to take the time necessary to graduate all their students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in this global economy, not penalized. Hopefully NCLB 2.0 will do so.

For more findings from Education Week’s Diplomas Count 2008 check out the Center’s summary here.

Erin Walsh|June 11th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

House OKs school construction bill

Thanks to NSBA‘s advocacy and grassroots effort, Congress has finally acknowledged the tremendous infrastructure needs facing our nation’s public schools. NSBA is pleased about the House passage of a school construction bill yesterday, which would provide $6.4 billion in grants to states and school districts for school repairs and modernization. H.R. 3021 came at a time when total school facility and technology needs are estimated at well over $300 billion, see this letter from NSBA.

Although the timing of final passage and enactment of this legislation is uncertain, NSBA looks forward to working with the Senate to advance the issue and where there are two major school construction bills pending: Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) S. 912, the America’s Better Classroom Act, and Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) S.1942, the Public School Repair and Renovation Act. While not direct companion bills to H.R. 3021, both the America’s Better Classrooms Act and the Public School Repair and Renovation Act provide substantial legislative vehicles to advance school construction in the Senate.

Stay tuned to NSBA‘s legislative updates here.

Erin Walsh|June 5th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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