Articles in the FRN Conference 2013 category

School leaders can encourage research-based parental involvement

Research shows that parental involvement in schools is a reliable predictor of student success. The more extensive the involvement of parents, the greater the gains in student achievement.

So the question for most school boards isn’t whether they should be increasing parental involvement but how they should be doing so. Board members gathered in Washington, D.C., for NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) meeting heard from several board members talking about research-based methods at a Monday morning breakout session.

Sue Hull, school board member of Alaska’s Fairbanks North Star Borough, emphasized that the research on parental involvement methods was solid. “So often we go on our experiences, but it’s also what the research has shown,” she said.

Hull outlined the six types of parental involvement: Parenting classes, communication, volunteering, learning at home, advocacy and decision making, and community collaboration. She also discussed how school board could avoid some of the traps of trying to increase parental involvement from a school governance standpoint.

One way to tailor the type parental involvement boards want with the kind of results in achievement they want. “Different activities produce different gains,” she said. “Comprehensive approach is for broad gains. A focused approach leads to targeted gains.”

For individual student achievement gains, expand personal communications such as face-to-face and phones calls. Focusing on home learning, such as requiring parental signatures on homework, and engaging parents in decision-making and advocacy also leads to individual gains in achievement.

To improve the overall quality and achievement for an entire school, engage parents in school decision-making and advocacy. Invite parents in for discussions on identifying school needs and enhance volunteer programs “Volunteers are your natural advocate,” said Hull.

“There are principals who would prefer not have parents come in the door. But district leadership can encourage more participation,” said speaker Chuck Saylors, a school board member in Greenville, S.C. Saylors became the National PTA’s first male president in 2007.

To ensure more parental participation in schools and the district, the board should set clear, measurable annual goals. “Get as specific as possible,” said Hull. Also include parent engagement in staff evaluations, starting at the top with the superintendent and going on down to principals and teachers.

Make sure that these efforts are back with “necessary budget support,” said Hull and also that someone is responsible for the parental involvement efforts.

Saylors’ district, like many others, has a full-time staff member who deals with parental involvement issues, including the PTA.

Saylors and Hull encouraged the audience to cultivate parents as advocates of their districts to local and state lawmakers and legislators. “We have seen the power of parents,” said Saylors.

Kathleen Vail|January 28th, 2013|Categories: FRN Conference 2013, Governance, Public Advocacy|Tags: , |

Ravitch wants school boards to speak up for their rights

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

Education researcher Diane Ravitch has posted in a recent blog some provocative questions for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other federal officials when they speak at the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Federal Relations Network conference later today. Ravitch, who will be a keynote speaker at NSBA’s 73rd Annual Conference in San Diego in April, wants to query the leaders about their stands on local governance and school boards. She writes:

In the last few years, there has been an all-out attack on local control. Most of the attack comes from the privatization movement, which thinks that school boards debate too much, listen too much, move too slowly. The privatizers prefer mayoral control in cities to get fast action. And they push laws and constitutional amendments allowing the governor to create a commission to override local school boards that reject charters. This is the ALEC agenda.

Happily, leading members of NSBA will have a chance to ask Arne Duncan why he pushes mayoral control, which has done so little for Cleveland and Chicago–and is now approved in NYC by only 18 percent of the public.

And they can ask Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia what he thinks about that state’s recent drive to strip local school boards of control of their districts. They might also ask him what he thinks of the re segregation that charters are promoting.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the federal leaders’ speeches at the 2013 FRN Conference, taking place Jan. 27 to 29 in Washington.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 28th, 2013|Categories: Federal Advocacy, FRN Conference 2013, Leadership, NSBA Annual Conference 2013, Privatization, Public Advocacy, School Boards|Tags: , , , , , |

Get your legislators’ attention, school board members told

With legislative debates looming in Congress over sequestration, the federal debt ceiling, immigration reform, gun control, and more, school board members looking to influence federal education policy have their work cut out for them.

That’s the assessment of Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a respected observer of the national political scene.

“You’re going to need every talent you can muster when you go to [Capitol] Hill,” he told school leaders planning to visit federal lawmakers as part of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. He spoke at the meeting on Sunday. “Be sure that you get your legislators’ attention.”

Members of Congress are distracted by more than just the legislative challenges that lie ahead, he said. Among Republicans, the re-election of President Obama has some party members questioning the GOP’s hard-line stance on some issues—a stance that some believe has hurt the party’s support among the young, minorities, and other constituency groups whose support will be needed to win future elections.

These questions are all the more unsettling to Republicans because, in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign, some party leaders were convinced GOP candidate Mitt Romney had pulled ahead of the president in the polls—and thus his defeat was all the more shocking.

Amidst their soul-searching, some Republicans are questioning whether it’s time to show the American people some legislative accomplishments, even if it means some compromise with Democrats. It’s a position that has support among some older, influential members of the Senate who are looking to their legacy as legislative leaders.

One possible sign of this new attitude was the end-of-year compromise that put off across-the-board federal budget cuts—the so-called “fiscal cliff,” Ornstein says. In the Senate, 89 senators approved the deal, even though its passage led to an increase in some taxes. At the same time, a small group of senators from both parties is working on immigration policy reform.

“We have a very interesting dynamic at work,” he said.

None of this suggests that a new bipartisan attitude is taking hold in Congress, he warned. Partisan divisions still run deep, and lawmakers face formidable political pressure to hold to the party line. Among House Republicans, in particular, he said, the threat of a primary challenge from unhappy conservatives back home is potent.

What it does mean is that Congress may be stirring from its legislative gridlock and that school board members may face a challenge focusing lawmakers on education issues.

“To get the attention of legislators, to get them to focus on the long overdue need for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act … to make sure we continue to expand our ability to educate and prepare the next generation for our workforce … it is no easy task.”

Del Stover|January 28th, 2013|Categories: 2012 Presidential race, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2013, Governance, Leadership, Legislative advocacy, Public Advocacy|Tags: , , |

Are public schools really failing? Two views

Are public schools failing or are they the victims of bad press? Two education commentators debated the issue at the third general session at NSBA’s FRN meeting on Sunday in front of an audience of school board members in Washington to learn about federal issues and meet with their members of Congress.

Richard Rothstein, author and research associate of the Economic Policy Institute, outlined what he called the “conventional story of public education” – our schools are failing and after 20 years, the achievement gap has not budged. Public schools must make radical changes by removing underperforming teachers, create more competition, and increase testing at every level.

“As you know, the system can be cured of its problems if the diagnosis is faulty,” said Rothstein. “We have a flawed diagnosis so our reforms have little to do with the real problems.”

In fact, Rothstein said, NAEP scores show that black children are scoring higher today than white children did 20 years ago. But the achievement gap has not moved much because white children are doing better, too. “A full standard deviation improvement in a generation,” said Rothstein. “There is no other area of social policy where any set of reforms have achieved that kind of improvement.”

So why does the idea that public schools are failing persist?

“You have been doing poorly telling your story,” Rothstein told the audience. “Your reaction is to say you’ll do better instead of refuting it on the grounds that the charges are false. The conversation won’t be turned around unless you speak up more loudly about your accomplishments.”

Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, was on hand to offer a counterpoint to the argument that public schools were indeed not doing the best job that they could do in educating all children. He said that while he agreed with Rothstein that there has been improvement over the past two decades, he said it’s been in part because of the reform movement, not in spite of it.

“Charter schools for some of us are fresh start,” said Petrilli. “A chance to push away red tape and regulations, get central office and union contracts out of the way and give these schools space to be good schools. It has created some really good schools.”

Fordham’s mission is to promote school choice, including a network of charter schools in Ohio, and its leaders have frequently called to abolish school boards.

Rothstein countered Petrilli’s arguments about charter schools. “We know from data that disadvantaged students in charters don’t do better than public schools on average. If you leave out the great schools, the averages show that as many or more great public schools exist. We already have good public schools. What have we gained from the big push to charter schools?”

Kathleen Vail|January 27th, 2013|Categories: Charter Schools, FRN Conference 2013, School Boards, School Reform, Student Achievement|Tags: , |

FRN meeting kicks off with rally to protect federal funds, promote school board governance

Participants in the National School Boards Association’s Federal Relations Network will focus on stopping planned budget cuts to federal K-12 programs, advocating for a bill to promote local school board governance, and pushing yet again to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

At the opening session the more than 700 attendees also learned about what NSBA leaders are calling the “New NSBA,” the organization’s plan to focus further on advocacy for school board governance and public education.

With Congress having “kicked the can” on dealing with the debt ceiling and sequestration’s across-the-board program cuts now slated to take effect around March 1, FRN attendees have come to Washington at an opportune time to influence members on Capitol Hill, said Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy. The session served as the kick-off point for the annual FRN conference meeting, where attendees selected by their state associations spend two days being briefed on current topics and then lobby their members of Congress.

On sequestration, Resnick noted that after the deal reached to raise tax levels at the new year, federal programs will be subject to an across-the-board cut of 5.9 percent on March 1, and those cuts will continue for the next nine years. That means for every 5,000 students in a school district, those districts will lose about $250,000, or more if they receive Title I funds for disadvantaged populations.

But keep in mind K-12 programs make up less than one percent of the entire federal budget, and while cuts would be significant to school operations it would be miniscule to managing federal debt, Resnick said.

“When it comes to education we will not sacrifice the vehicle our children need to tackle the economic situation ahead,” he said. “A child does not get to re-do an inadequately funded third-grade education, or the years after.”

NSBA President C. Ed Massey emphasized that public education is being attacked by people who want to privatize systems for their own profit.

“I am so tired of hearing about the cost or expense of education,” Massey said. “Education is not a cost or expense—it is the greatest investment our public can make.”

NSBA has also proposed legislation that would seek to prevent the U.S. Department of Education from overreaching its authority. The proposed bill prohibits the Education Department, in the absence of specific legislation, from issuing a regulation or grant condition that would interfere with local governance, require the Education Department to go through a more rigorous process that would allow school boards and others to comment, and each year require an annual report to Congress on public education law.

Massey also introduced new NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel, who joined the organization in December. Massey noted that the NSBA Board of Directors undertook an exhaustive process to find a leader.

Gentzel spoke about the increased legislative advocacy of the new NSBA based on the phrase “from, with and through.” That means more legislation and other initiatives will come from NSBA, the organization will partner with other like-minded groups to promote legislation and other initiatives. Most importantly, he noted, NSBA will mount a strong defense against any proposal that would harm public education or school board governance.

“They’re going to have to come through us to get that done,” Gentzel said. Further, he added, “We are facing a critical moment right now in terms of public education.”

Resnick also noted that in spite of naysayers who use terms such as “failing schools,” data and test scores show that public school students are improving.

And while some naysayers criticize the institution of school boards, Resnick noted that local school board members, the vast majority of whom are elected to their jobs, have proven to be a far more effective governance structure than Congress, which continues to stall on dealing with the debt ceiling and budget cuts, favors continuing resolutions instead of new budgetary guidelines, and has not reauthorized ESEA in 11 years.

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|January 27th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2013, Governance, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, Privatization, School Reform, State School Boards Associations|

New federal nutrition rules caused a ‘buzz’

So many parents have complained that school meal portions are too meager—and that their children are hungry and tired by the end of the school day—that Congress is beginning to pay attention.

That’s one of several developments that are keeping policymakers busy more than two years after passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, said Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s director of federal programs.

Speaking at a Saturday briefing to NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) in Washington, D.C., Gettman told urban education leaders that the new federal rules on school meals that went into effect this year caused “quite a buzz.”

Although some expected the biggest complaint would center on inadequate financial support for new and costly mandates, Gettman said the most notable criticism has focused on the size of federally reimbursable school meals as mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Designed as a tool to combat the nation’s childhood obesity problem, the strict calorie limits on meals has prompted tens of thousands of letters and phone calls to members of Congress.

“Parents, students, and other citizens were giving their members of Congress an earful,” Gettman said, noting that one online music video mocking the meal rules has gotten more than 1 million viewers.

The protests prompted the House Committee on Education and Workforce to send a letter asking the U.S. Government Accounting Office to look into the impact of the new law and the USDA rules.

In the letter were a “pretty thorough list of questions, and I think it will really be helpful to Congress once they get a report back,” Gettman said. “It can guide Congress on future policy.”

The public outcry already has prompted the USDA to grant schools some relief in meeting federal guidelines, she added, “but the relief is only temporary” as that the rules were waived only for the rest of this school year.

Another issue still unresolved is what federal standards will exist for “competitive foods”—food sold in vending machines or at concession stands at school athletic events, Gettman said. Those rules—which USDA has yet to release in draft form—could affect the revenue that schools use to support athletic, food-service, and other programs.

School policymakers also are waiting for draft rules concerning the training and certification of food-service personnel.

USDA has indicated it’s going to do “everything in its power so that these standards won’t be costly,” Gettman said. “But the proof is in the pudding.”

Del Stover|January 27th, 2013|Categories: CUBE, FRN Conference 2013, Leadership Conference 2013, Legislative advocacy, Nutrition, Obesity, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , |

New USDA regulations present challenges to urban districts

Some challenges confront urban school districts seeking to comply with the new, more healthy oriented regulations mandated for school meals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It turns out that some kids don’t like the healthier cafeteria fare—and won’t eat it. Parents complain that strict, new calorie portions are too stingy for high school students—and their children are going hungry during the day.

Finally, school food-service directors are warning that cooking healthier meals is more costly than the additional 6 cents that USDA has promised to help comply with its new mandates.

Yet school districts are finding ways to cope, a panel of school board members and school food-service experts told urban leaders attending a Saturday workshop for NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE).

The session was an Early Bird offering of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) Annual Conference, which starts today in Washington, D.C.

Convincing students to eat the new daily portions of fruits and vegetables mandated for federally reimbursed school meals—as well as other healthier fare—requires a calculated redesign of school recipes and changes in food preparation, panelists said.

Virginia’s Hampton City Schools are working with local restaurant chefs to learn new preparation techniques and relying on student taste-testings to find recipes that will win over students, said school board member Monica Smith.

The district also is seeking to change student attitudes by educating them about nutrition, as well as revamping cafeterias with smaller serving lines and a more aesthetic, restaurant-oriented appearance that makes the school meal experience more appealing, she said.

Improving menus and cutting operational costs will require more professional development—and not just for managers and cooks, added Amy Virus, assistant food-services director for the Philadelphia Public Schools. Under new USDA regulations, school meals are not federally reimbursable if students don’t have the mandatory fruit and vegetable servings on their food trays—and the cafeteria staff has to stay atop of student choices.

“It’s a huge change for us,” she said. “For our cashiers, for our line staff … so we’ve really focused on training, talking about new meal patterns.”

The USDA is reconsidering the controversial calorie counts it imposed on school meals, but the cost issue remains a challenge to be overcome, panelists say. Some school districts are complaining the price of healthier foods is proving greater than the additional financial support provided by USDA.

A drop in participation can exacerbate the challenges created by rising costs, a phenomenon reported by some school lunch programs. But, in Hampton, Smith said, food-service personnel are looking for ways to cut costs—and have managed to increase in participation as cafeterias fine-tune their healthier fare to meet student tastes.

So healthier school meals aren’t necessarily a negative—simply a new challenge that requires new practices, panelists said. But school boards can make a big difference in whether these challenges ultimately are met.

Boards need to set the priority, put district wellness programs in place, and hold food-service personnel accountable, Smith said. But also “listen to the trained staff and give them the flexibility to do the job … let them be creative [while] we show our support.”

Del Stover|January 27th, 2013|Categories: CUBE, Food Service, FRN Conference 2013, Leadership Conference 2013, Legislative advocacy, Urban Schools|Tags: , , |

Two federal meetings feature leadership and legislative advocacy for school boards

Over the next four days, School Board News Today will be covering the top events and sessions at NSBA’s annual Leadership Conference and its Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference, held in Washington, D.C.

The NSBA Leadership Conference, held Jan. 26 to 27, is a two-day networking and professional development event designed to explore issues and opportunities related to state school board association leadership and management. The conference brings about 200 people to Washington, D.C., including the NSBA Board of Directors and state school boards association officers as identified by the executive director.

The annual FRN Conference, which runs from Jan. 27 to 29, brings more than 600 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. This year, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) are scheduled to speak at the conference.

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.

In addition, NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education members will meet concurrently on important issues for urban schools.

Keep reading School Board News Today for highlights from these activities.

Kathleen Vail|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, CUBE, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2013, Governance, Leadership Conference 2013, Legislative advocacy, School Boards, State School Boards Associations, Urban Schools|Tags: , |
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