Articles in the FRN Conference 2012 category

Bryant: Time to make our voices louder for public education

Strong public schools are the best investment Congress can make—and it’s time for advocates to raise their voices even louder, the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Executive Director Anne L. Bryant says in a commentary for District Administrator.

The extremely slow process to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and a sense that Washington is broken cannot discourage school officials from getting involved in the political process, she says.

“We can’t get too discouraged by the politics,” Bryant writes. “We must instead take the initiative to get more involved, for the sake of our schools and the children we serve.”

Personal contact is key to persuading Washington lawmakers to take action, she adds. More than 750 school board members attended NSBA’s Federal Relations Conference in February to learn about top issues in education and meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill. But any school board member can take action by contacting their lawmakers, whether federal, state, or local, and talking about their school district’s successes and their needs.

The commentary was published in the March, 2012 issue of District Administrator.


Joetta Sack-Min|April 2nd, 2012|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , |

Members of Congress address FRN audience

In preparation for their big day on Capitol Hill, board members attending the final general session of the 39th Annual Federal Relations Network heard from three members of Congress who reflect the diversity of political persuasions across the country.

Rep. Rush Holt, a former teacher, Congressional Science Fellow, and five-time “Jeopardy” game show winner has long been an advocate of education.

“I think you can say the first answer to every question is education,” said Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who was the session’s first speaker. “The biggest issue facing Congress maybe should be education, but it was the debt ceiling, something that should’ve been disposed of easily but that led to creation of the so-called super committee, which didn’t accomplish what is was charged with and as result left with automatic cuts.”

The annual FRN Conference, which runs through Tuesday, drew more than 700 school board members — selected by their state associations — and state association staff to Washington to learn about the most current federal policies and issues that will impact their schools. On Tuesday, participants will spend a day meeting with their representatives on Capitol Hill to further discuss federal issues and pending legislation and advocate for the needs of their school districts.

Holt said rather than implementing drastic, non-specific budget cuts, Congress would do better to talk about investing in education.

“And there is no better investment,” Holt said. “We should be working on bills that fix problems we know exist without abandoning the poor and minority children.”

While on the Hill, Holt said board members should make their case with data and real-life stories.

“I think you will discover if you haven’t already, that the decisions about legislation are not made only the basis of charts and graphs, but also on the basis of stories … the story of what your students need.”

Rep. Phil Roe, a former obstetrician, was full of stories that he shared willingly with the audience.

Raised on a farm in middle Tennessee, Roe grew up in home with no running water or plumbing and attended a rural school with few walls and even fewer teachers. But those teachers had a positive influence.

“They made an impression on me … and without a strong education I wouldn’t be here today, though when you can deliver your own constituency that helps as well,” joked Roe, who pointed out that one board member in the audience was one of the nearly 5,000 babies he brought into the world.

When he gets down in the dumps, Roe said he often visits his area schools and conducts town hall style meetings. “You can’t help but come out in a good mood when you do that,” he said.

Unfortunately, the mood among teachers and education has not been so cheerful lately.

“We’re making it impossible with all rule and regulations to educate,” Roe said. “The federal government does not do big very well … the thing I want to do and many of us want to do on both sides of the aisle is push as much of the decision making back down to the local level. No one understands your situation better than you do.”

That also happens to be the same position of Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), a former English professor and school board member.

“I believe that a well educated citizenry is the surest way of keeping our society intact,” Foxx said. “We are the great country in the world, no question about it, however, I believe we can lose that categorization and lose it easily if we’re not smart.”

Describing herself as a small government conservative, Foxx said she was convinced America must reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

“I defy you to find education as a responsibility of the federal government,” Foxx said to the crowd.

Naomi Dillon|February 6th, 2012|Categories: FRN Conference 2012|

Compensating talented staff

School board members attending the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference had a number of opportunities to learn about the various congressional and cabinet-level efforts to improve teacher efficacy through innovative recruiting, retention, and compensation models.

Led by NSBA’s Director of Federal Programs Lucy Gettman, one of Monday’s final sessions recapped the proposed and draft versions of these federal efforts and, more importantly, drew audience members into a strategic discussion on the issue.

“What are some of the things you have done or would like to do to recruit, retain, or compensate talented instructional staff?” Gettman asked the board members in attendance.

One board member said her Arizona district had been struggling with declining enrollment and subsequent declining funding for years. To make sure student achievement didn’t decline along with it, she said star principals were identified and placed in the most difficult schools. “And good teachers will follow good principals,” she said. “It doesn’t matter they don’t get extra pay or have a challenging job, they are really happy to work with them.”

In San Francisco, one board member said that district leadership has engaged in a multi-year and multi-layered effort to improve the quality of teaching. Voter-approved tax hikes and bonds, for instance, have provided a slight increase for all staff, as well as, those who agree to work in hard-to-staff schools or fill chronically vacant positions. In return, the district has raised their standards above the state of California and made it easier to remove ineffective teachers, removing 18 of them last year alone with the union’s blessing.

“The key is you need to link higher standards to compensation,” she said.

But what happens when additional funding just isn’t available? One board member in suburban Omaha, Neb., said his district maintain its competitive edge in recruiting top-quality candidates by emphasizing its size.

“We say, ‘even though we can’t pay you what others can, we consider ourselves to be the right size district for you,’” he said, referring to its smaller student-to-teacher ratio and district population.

Naomi Dillon|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Teachers, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , |

Congress members say changes to ESEA are coming

Two former school board members and current U.S. Representatives promised Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference participants that changes are on the way for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Reps. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., and Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., vowed to support local control and local school boards in speeches at a luncheon session on Monday.

“I see a consensus,” said Thompson. “I have yet to find anyone on Capitol Hill who doesn’t believe [the No Child Left Behind Act] is broken and doesn’t need major changes.”

Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee continue to use four guiding principles as they work to create a bill to overhaul the mammoth ESEA: restoring local control; empowering parents (including offering school choice); letting teachers teach by removing the mandate for adequate yearly progress (AYP); and protecting taxpayers’ investments.

Biggert received a round of applause when she said NCLB had not worked the way it had intended.

“We really did overstep,” said Biggert. “AYP was not a good idea.”

She also promoted the need for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects to grow the nation’s economy.

“We have to lay a foundation to equip our future,” she said.

Thompson, on the other hand, entertained attendees with stories about being a school board member and member of Congress, noting that he had to pay to have things fixed around his Pennsylvania home that he might have done himself before he had entered Congress.

NCLB was designed on the “false premise that every child will go on to a four-year college. But I believe that every child is different and there are many pathways to success in life.”

After having to pay to have repairs to his home, Thompson said he’d come to appreciate the value of career and technical education.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Educational Legislation, Federal Programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, STEM Education, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , , |

NCLB regulatory relief is on the way

Last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan predicted that as many as 82 percent of schools could be labeled failing under the flawed accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The number didn’t materialize—it turned out to be just over 50 percent—but that threat and the realization that Congress could not complete a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) t in time for the 2011-12 school year provoked the U.S. Department of Education to offer regulatory relief for states for portions of NCLB.

Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s Associate Executive Director for Federal Advocacy and Public Policy, led attendees at Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference on Monday through some of the details of the regulatory relief. States are required to apply and must implement four reform principles to be eligible for the waivers. (Not all states have chosen to apply.)

Districts can receive up to 10 waivers from some of the most burdensome provisions of NCLB, including the mandate that all students and subgroups must be 100 percent proficient by the 2013-14 school year and would replace the demand for adequate yearly progress (AYP) with an annual measurable objective (AMO) system that allows schools to show a measure of progress toward specific goals. For qualifying states and school districts the Education Department would also waive identifications and interventions in Title I schools that don’t make AYP for two years; waive the requirement for highly qualified teachers and related restrictions on local uses of federal funding in professional development; and allow states and districts to transfer money from teacher and technology programs into Title I, among other waivers.

The four principles include: Implementing college and career-ready standards, either the Common Core Standards or standards certified by state network of public higher education institutions in language arts/math; developing differentiated recognition, accountability and support, which means that a state would set new AMOs; supporting effective leadership and instruction; and removing burdensome and duplicative reporting requirements that have little or no impact on student success.

While the law needs a comprehensive overhaul, some details of the relief have been incorporated into the Senate legislation and could be considered a good start to the process, Resnick added. “To use a Washington phrase, it does kick the can down the road.”

Resnick gave the participants a list of issues to consider if their states have applied for relief:

# How will the Education Department’s final approval of your state’s accountability plan impact your school district’s budget and program plans for next year?

# What requirements in your state plan will you have to implement next year or plan for?

# What budgetary and staffing changes and concerns will be involved?

# How will the state plan impact your school board’s oversight/governance function?

# How will the reauthorization of ESEA impact your state plan?

FRN participants are pushing for a quick reauthorization of the bill this year, and in response to a question, Resnick said that bills in the House and Senate would need to be passed and moved to a conference committee quickly this spring to have a chance at passage this year.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , |

Dealing with federal mandates

It took awhile for Reginald M. Felton, NSBA’s assistant executive director for Congressional Relations, to get the audience to tell him what they really felt about federal turnaround models for low-performing schools – things like replacing the principal and half the staff, or closing the school entirely.

But once they got going…..


“Private sector engagement!”

“Loss of district authority.”

Now the attendees of the Federal Relations Network (FRN) session on Monday were on a roll – and why not? Because what sense does it make, for example, to replace the principal and half of his or her staff – one criteria for receiving an Obama administration School Improvement Grant – when they’re already the best you’ve got, and when removing them would only cause more disruption?

The Senate’s proposed draft for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has similar language about replacing principals, shuffling staff, or turning the campus into a charter school.

“There’s so little freedom for what a superintendent or a principal can do,” said a New York State board member, “because of state and federal mandates.”

Instead of receiving unfunded mandates from the federal government, schools should be given the authority to decide what they think is best for their students, said Steven Carter, a board vice president for the Connally Independent School District in Texas.

Carter said board members should be encouraged to ask: “What are the [interventions] you need with this school, at this point in time, with this student body.”

All true, Felton agreed. But then he turned the discussion around, asking the board members about the policies they did have significant control over, such as deciding what kind of local student assessments to use.

“What are some of the ideas that you can do from this day forward that can introduce real change?” Felton asked.

Audience members talked about paying attention to individual students, not simply the system as a whole. And they said schools should reach out to students’ families and communities.

Felton said the House of Representatives’ discussion draft for ESEA reauthorization is much less prescriptive than the Senate version. It does not mandate any specific turnaround models and “delegates full authority to states to design, develop, and implement strategies.”


Lawrence Hardy|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Policy Formation, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , , |

Common Core ‘flying under the radar’

Roberta Stanley, NSBA’s director of federal affairs, has had a long career in public education, and she knows many key players at the state and federal levels. So when she says something is “flying under the radar” — as she did Monday at the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference when referring to the Common Core State Standards Initiative – she knows what she’s talking about.

In case the signal you’ve been receiving is a little faint, here are some basics, which Stanley provided at her National Issues session: the Common Core State Standards were released in the summer of 2010 and are, at current count, being adopted by 47 states and the District of Columbia. Internationally benchmarked and designed to be clearer and more rigorous than the patchwork of state standards, the standards are scheduled to be implemented, complete with new computerized assessment systems, by the 2014-15.

While Stanley thinks that date might be overly ambitious, she said the important point is that a big change is coming to K-12 standards and assessments. For the most part, these are good changes, designed by some of the nation’s best experts in the field, she added. It’s just that not a lot of people know about them.

But school board members should. In fact, as Stanley put it, now is no time to “wait for the state” to come up with policies and curricula that align with the Common Core. Among the steps districts should be taking now:

# Partner with local colleges and universities for professional development, curriculum alignment. Information sharing, and the sharing of placement tests.

# Survey local businesses on what they think about the Common Core and what they feel high school and colleges graduates need to know,

# Reach out the members of the community for their ideas

#Check national updates, such as those from NSBA’s Center for Education Policy.

The standards released in 2010 included math and language arts. In addition, 26 lead states are working with Achieve, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Research Council, and other groups on common science standards.

Lawrence Hardy|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Governance, Key Work of School Boards, Assessment, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: |

Avoiding bad charter school policies

Charter school laws vary from state to state—with some more flawed than others—but NSBA can help school boards by asking Congress to avoid legislation that encourages states to adopt more bad policies.

So NSBA is arguing against legislation that might encourage states to lift their caps on charter schools or expand the entities that can authorize new charter schools, said NSBA legislative analyst Katherine Shek, who spoke Monday on a panel about charter schools at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference.

That doesn’t mean that NSBA opposes charter schools as a matter of policy, she added. Instead, NSBA’s message to Congress is that the school board should be the sole authorizing body for charter schools, charter funding should not be at the expense of the traditional community schools, and charter schools should be held to the same accountability standards as other schools.

This message is important to present because some members of Congress don’t fully understand the influence of bad policy—or how they can inadvertently encourage such policy at the state level, Shek said.

In its Race to the Top grant program, for example, a number of states lifted their caps on charters to improve their chances of winning grant money—“basically encouraging states to have a more charter-friendly policy without considering other factors,” she said.

What’s more, as it works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the House’s latest legislative proposal would give federal grant priority to states that supported multiple charter authorizers.

“So we’re having a conversation with members of Congress … there has been some evidence that multiple authorizers [in states] were associated with weaker student performance.”

Local school boards can help their advocacy efforts regarding charter schools by pointing out the fallacy of many myths that are circulated during legislative deliberations, said fellow panelist Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

There is a misperception that school boards oppose charter schools and are quick to deny charter applications, he said. That’s not true. In fact, he added, the data reveals that school boards are not adverse to approving new charters—and they take their duties very seriously.

“They spend a lot of time and energy being authorizers,” Hull said.

Nor are all school boards guilty of claims that they impede charter school organizers in acquiring adequate facilities for their schools, he said. Many state laws require school district assistance, and data indicates that it’s very common for school boards to provide charter schools with district facilities or financial support for acquiring facilities.

“There is no evidence that districts are an impediment to the expansion of charter schools.”

Finally, panelist David Stone, a board member in Baltimore, Md., shared his school district’s experience with charters.

His school board has embraced charters as one of many strategies for providing improved services to students—and many district-run schools now mirror some of the independent traits of charters.

“We strongly believe resources should be in the schools, with schools having autonomy and decision-making over its resources … and our central office is there to provide guidance and support and oversight,” he said. “In fact, we try to make every school [like] a charter school.”

But, to the clear envy of the audience, he acknowledged his school system has a distinct advantage over many school boards: Under Maryland law, the school board is the sole authorizing body of charters.

Del Stover|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Charter Schools, Federal Programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , |

Boards face federal and state bullying rules

The national media has been highlighting incidents of bullying and harassment in schools, and for good reason – statistics show that many children are being bullied, electronically or otherwise.

Federal and state policy and lawmakers are trying to stop bullying of children through policies and legislation, which was the topic of a National Issues session of the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference on Monday. NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. and Jay Worona, general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, outlined to audience how those state and federal actions could affect school boards and districts.

At the federal level, the Obama administration has focused on the topic of bullying and harassment. President Obama “is using the bully pulpit to make connections that are not made under the law,” said Negrón. “That spells untested liability.”

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), part of the U.S. Department of Education, sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter in October 2010. The letter had several problems, which NSBA responded to, saying it had “fuzzy standards of liability,” said Negron.

Those problems included:

# shifts the “actual knowledge standard” to “knows or should have reasonably known.”

# redefines Title IX requirements from responding to peer harassment in “a reasonable manner” to “eliminating harassment and a hostile environment.”

# requires school districts to publicly label incidents as “harassment,” which could violate students’ privacy rights if they are identified.

State legislatures also have been working in this area, including New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and Louisiana. Worona told the audience about his experience with what is now the Dignity for All Students Act. He said that NYSSBA’s lobbyists respond to all education legislation that includes unfunded mandates: “If it’s unfunded, we don’t like it.”

Worona realized that a more nuanced approach would be required after he met with the head of the New York Civil Liberties, who asked him why the association was opposing the bill. Worona told her the training requirements would cost money and “our districts are broke.” She answered: “But kids are killing themselves.”

That’s not where school boards should be in these types of conversations, he said. “You need to be thinking about what your reaction will be that kind of legislation. Take some steps back to see what it’s all about.”

The OCR held a briefing on the bullying issue in May 2011. NSBA submitted testimony stressing the common goal of preventing and addressing bullying and harassment but cautioned that OCR’s approach was too broad. Federal initiatives can overburden districts when state and local initiatives appear to be working well.

Last September, OCR issued its findings and sent them to the president and Congress. NSBA’s testimony was included in those finding. “People get to see your perspective and why it’s important,” said Negrón. “A one-size-fits all federal mandate is not the answer.”

Kathleen Vail|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Federal Programs, Policy Formation, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , , |

What makes teachers highly qualified?

Research has consistently shown that an effective teacher has the greatest single impact on student achievement inside a school. But how to determine what an effective teacher is and even what impact an effective principal has on his or her faculty has been less clear. The good news is these questions are being increasingly addressed in federal and local policy and practice, and was the focus of a Monday morning session at the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference.

Over the last decade, what most people have considered a highly qualified teacher is someone who possesses strong credentials, is highly motivated and passionate about teaching, and cares about their students, said Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

But that view has shifted as research and proposed federal legislation call for more rigor and quantitative data to measure teacher effectiveness. The House, for instance, has introduced a bill that would eliminate the provision under the No Child Left Behind Act that identifies teachers with bachelor’s degrees, state certifications, and subject matter knowledge as highly qualified, in favor of programs to develop teacher evaluation systems that would presumably rely on student achievement data like test scores to demonstrate teacher effectiveness.

“It’s going from quality to effectiveness and looking at the impact teachers have on students,” Hull said.

The problem is most states haven’t yet developed systems to quantitatively identify what an effective teacher looks like. Many of the original indicators, such as experience, teaching training, and cognitive skills, still have relevance, Hull said. But research has shown it’s the combination of these factors that is most likely to lead to teaching effectiveness and not any one in isolation. Research literature, for instance, is pretty clear that an advanced degree, in and of itself, does improve teacher efficacy — especially if the degree is not related to the subject matter taught.

“The most common advanced degree among teachers is in school administration … but there is no evidence that it improves their teaching or the performance of students,” Hull said.

And while teachers have been proven to have a tremendous impact on student success, research is just emerging that shows principals also play an important role.

“Researchers and policy makers have only recently begun to focus on [principals] and have found principals are second only to teachers in having an impact in school,” Hull said. “So what impact do principals have on student achievement? Quite a bit.”

But that impact varies between schools, with evidence suggesting that principals have the greatest impact in the most challenging schools.

“Unfortunately what we see is principal turnover at these challenging schools is twice as high then in less challenging schools,” Hull said. “We really need to find a way to keep our best principals in our most challenging schools.”

Naomi Dillon|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Teachers, Federal Programs, Data Driven Decision Making, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , |
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