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Articles in the Governance category

The week in blogs

They honored former President Bill Clinton, and heard from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker — all pretty measured, mainstream folks. But attendees at this week’s National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta were also subjected to some ugly and inflammatory rhetoric from people trying to cast traditional public schools in the worst possible light.

Commenting on the Georgia Supreme Court’s recent 4-3 ruling that the state was unconstitutionally commissioning charter schools that should, by law, be authorized by local school boards, Tony Roberts, president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, offered this assessment:

“The majority of the Georgia Supreme Court has just found 16,000 innocent children guilty of choosing a better education,” Roberts said. “And even worse, the justices have sentenced them, in many cases, to failing or inadequate schools.”

“Innocent children.” Guilty.” “Sentenced.” If that kind of talk sounds a bit over the top, well, it is. But it’s all too common today in the national debate over – to use a term that has seemingly lost much of its meaning or usefulness – school reform.

Of course, school board members should not respond in kind, yet they ignore such attacks at their peril. And, unfortunately, the rhetoric will only get worse as the election season heats up. (For more on how to counter the naysayers and build trust, see Nora Carr’s Communications column in the June issue of American School Board Journal.)

Lawrence Hardy|June 24th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Week in Blogs, School Reform, Board governance, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|

Classic literature falling by wayside, as students are encouraged just to read

296-1253388461oizyAre you an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy who believes that reading the literary classics is an essential foundation for a good education?

Or are you one of those pessimists who is grateful if educators can get children to read anything at all in this age of cable television, YouTube, and video games?

Those questions currently are being asked across “the pond,” where famed British professor John Sutherland recently “lashed out at the current state of education in the UK” and complained that colleges prefer “modern, culturally relevant texts to the exclusion of the classics.”

The result, he says, is that students read whatever “takes their fancy” instead of what “nourishes the soul.”

Such remarks sound like something a gray-haired professor would say—the kind of fellow who went to a traditional British boarding school and was traditionally bullied until he became a “proper gentlemen.”

The old ways of doing things are best, after all. Harrumph, harrumph.

Now, actually I know nothing of Professor Sutherland’s background. And he might not have gray hair. But, as it happens, I sympathize with his viewpoint.

Naomi Dillon|June 23rd, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Student Achievement, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

In Op-ed, NSBA’s Bryant challenges Duncan’s bandaid fix to NCLB

NSBABryantCall me naïve, but I don’t think the primary purpose of No 3283394_com_arneduncanChild Left Behind was to shame public schools or pave the way for privatization. I believe — and this is just my opinion — that the law’s principal creators sincerely wanted to improve the education of disadvantaged children, and NCLB, flawed as it is, was the vehicle they came up with.

That said, it’s hard to imagine a more breathtaking illogicality than the law’s central premise: That all children, despite their considerable differences, could be taught to a single high standard and that all students would be “proficient” by 2014.

This quote from Arne Duncan’s recent Politico piece on the law is telling:

Despite our shared sentiment for reform and the Obama administration’s long-standing proposal to reshape NCLB, the law remains in place, four years after it was due for reauthorization. Our children get only one shot at an education. They cannot wait any longer for reform.

Read that carefully and you’ll notice the education secretary isn’t talking about reforming schools, but reforming reform. Our children get only one shot at an education, and they cannot wait any longer to reform the reform.

Duncan’s heart is in the right place. He knows the legislation is seriously flawed and has vowed to do, through regulatory reform, what Congress won’t address with legislation. But the Secretary isn’t going far enough — offering merely to be more “flexible” under the same assessment system. That begs the question: If the legislation is so horrendously flawed, shouldn’t there be a moratorium on schools labeled “failing” under that broken system?

That’s exactly what NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant argued last week in a commentary in the Huffington Post:

We need the regulatory relief this summer before school starts, instead of a new bureaucratic process that the Department of Education is purposing that could take many months to create. And as we need this as a matter of policy — not state or school district case-by-case waivers. We specifically support suspension of additional sanctions under current AYP requirements, effective for the 2011-12 school year, so that schools currently facing sanctions would remain frozen; no new schools would be labeled as ‘In Need of Improvement’ or subject to new or additional sanctions.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|June 21st, 2011|Categories: Governance, Educational Technology, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

“Teachers in Finland are practically rock stars,” exclaims Robert Rothman in the Alliance for Excellent Education’s blog, High School Soup. And if that sounds like a slight exaggeration  — I can imagine a class of middle schooler holding their lighted Bics aloft after a particularly scintillating lecture — it still shows how far we in America need to go to advance the status of teacher

To be sure, Finland doesn’t pay them like rock stars, Rothman adds. “Teachers salaries are about average. Rather, the country has established its preparation programs and working conditions so that teaching is a highly respected profession.”

The blog is commenting on an article in American Educator that cities the singular importance of great teaching – and a school system that nurtures and supports great teaching – to school improvement.

Should there be more emphasis in high school on vocational training? That’s the question posed this week by the National Journal on its Education blog.  Proponents point to successful apprenticeship programs in Europe and the many good technical jobs that require more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. Skeptics include Thomas Toch of Education Sector, who worries that a new generation of vo-tech could lead to  “watered-down expectations for many students who are already getting short shrift in our educational system.”

Board members, are you sick of No Child Left Behind? Guess what, Arne Duncan is too. Read the Education Secretary’s thoughts on ESEA reauthorization in Politico.

Finally, the NAEP History scores are out and they’re not exactly historic – at least, not in a good way. See commentary and analysis by Joanne Jacobs and Jim Hull of NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|June 17th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Week in Blogs, Student Achievement, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

As food costs inflate, federal funding for child nutrition remains depressed

33-12130430812yrA12787431361636935689breadwhite-thI’ve been hearing that food prices are going up, but it really didn’t hit me until I had to buy bread the other day.

I’m always willing to spend a bit more for the nutty, crunchy, whole grain type, preferably organic. But at the Harris Teeter near my house I had to shell out at least $4 for a loaf for anything other than the white stuff you cut the crusts off of in elementary school.

One of NSBA’s main complaints about the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization last year was the lack of federal funding to meet the new requirements for more nutritious foods. While there was an increase for the costs of school lunches, that only covered a portion of the increased costs—about six cents per meal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently estimated that the federal government’s contribution for the free and reduced price lunch program will come eight cents short of the increased cost (about 14 cents) of a more nutritious meal. And rising food costs will only exacerbate the problem for school district.

NSBA’s advocacy department did the math: If a school district has 5,000 students who qualify for FRPL, that’s $400 a day in extra expenses. Over the course of a typical 180-day school year, that’s $72,000—more than the cost of a teacher.

Last night the House of Representatives began debate on its agriculture appropriations bill. NSBA is supporting report language issued by the appropriations committee that directs the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to propose new rules that do not create unfunded mandates for school districts.

Naomi Dillon|June 15th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|Tags: |

The week in blogs

It’s summer — time to break the routine. So, in that spirit, let me begin this column with a subject that is truly dear to my heart:

Interesting Facts About Your Week in Blogs Editor

Readers, did you know that:

A) I’m a champion swimmer*

* in the struggle-across-the-pool category

B) My wife says I have distinctive taste when it comes to home decorating*

* distinctively bad taste

I could go on, but, you get the point: Place a qualifying asterisk (*) after almost any assertion, and you can pretty much claim anything. It doesn’t make much difference when the subject is my swimming ability or home decorating prowess. But if I did the same with, say, a piece purporting to compare the relative advantages of charter school start ups to traditional public school turnarounds, the consequences might be  greater.

To his credit, Mike Petrilli does indeed qualify his assertion in a Fordham Institute blog entitled Charter start-ups are 4 times as likely to succeed as district turnarounds* (Note big asterisk). But that doesn’t stop him from making sweeping policy pronouncements based on data from just 19 schools. That’s the number of schools (in 10 states studied)  in which 1) the start up charter was near a traditional school with state reading and math proficiency in the bottom 10 percent, and 2) either school subsequently increased its performance to above the state average.

Those 19 schools further break down to 15 charters and just four traditional schools, meaning, Petrilli concludes, that serious questions must be raised, “about the wisdom of the federal government pumping $3 billion into school turnaround efforts instead of using some of the money to replicate and scale up successful charters.”

Lawrence Hardy|June 10th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Week in Blogs, Diversity, Educational Research, Urban Schools, School Reform, Student Achievement, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

High school yearbooks spark controversy, contrition

1947-yearbook_0028It never fails to amaze me how any little thing can turn suddenly into a big headache for local school board members. A good example? High school yearbooks.

It’s ironic, really. What should be less controversial than a yearbook? It’s nothing more than a bunch of photos of students and teachers, band members, athletic teams, clubs, and sporting events—all worthy of celebration and fond memories.

Yet, every year there’s always a handful of communities that find the high school yearbook a source of controversy.

Thankfully, these are controversies that should be spelled with a little “c”—the kind that are a bit embarrassing, but, in retrospect, can wisely be con-signed to the category of “whoops!” or “doh!”

By way of example, I point you to a recent story in the news blog, The Lookout that offered a few examples:

At Arkansas’s Russellville Middle School, the yearbook’s list of “5 worst people of all time” consigns President George W. Bush to the ranks of such historical bad boys as Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Charles Manson

In West Sacramento, California’s River City High School, the yearbook included a photo of the cheerleading squad with a bit of underwear showing—along with “a screed describing the school’s cheerleading team as being ‘dolled up’ in ‘glorified underwear.’”

Naomi Dillon|June 9th, 2011|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

The suburbs have problems?

HighSchoolClassNewsweek2009I’d been assigned the suburban school district angle. Let me back up. It was March and we were discussing the coverage for our June edition. For those that aren’t aware, the production cycle for magazines is three months ahead of the release. Yes, it’s quite a challenge and a skill to project immediacy from three months ago. Just think of all that’s happened since March, then imagine what will happen in September.

At any rate, we were hashing out the details of our June issue which would feature an in-depth look at education reform through the experiences of three different school districts: an urban, rural, and suburban school system.

My mind went into a tailspin when I learned I’d be profiling a suburban district. Suburbia? What challenges do they face other than population swells and demographic shifts.  It’s rural America and the inner city where cameras always roll and headlines blare “broken system, major disparities.”  Well, I wrong — and right.

By and large, suburban issues tend to center around changes in population, which, in turn, can lead to a host of other issues, not the least of which are growing disparities among their students. These differences can often lead to achievement gaps, which was the case in Montgomery County Public Schools, which I profiled for the cover package.

Montgomery County, the largest school system in Maryland and the 16th largest in the country,  had once been a pretty homogeneous area. The school district was virtually all-white up until 1970.  Today, 37 percent of the student body is white. The rest of the students are a fairly even  mix of black, Hispanic, and Asian students. In addition, the low-income level has risen, as has the ELL population.

Naomi Dillon|June 8th, 2011|Categories: Governance, NSBA Publications, Diversity, Policy Formation, Leadership, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

NYSSBA announces “playbook” to reform state laws for spending and employment

(Republished with permission from the New York State School Boards Association).

Asserting that state law forces school districts across the state to operate inefficiently, NYSSBA unveiled a legislative reform package last month to tackle runaway costs in seven key areas.

The 2011 NYSSBA Essential Fiscal Reform Playbook includes draft legislation to curtail rising health care and pension costs, level the playing field during contract negotiations, impose tighter controls on the teacher disciplinary process, and bring special education costs into line with other states.

“As school districts continue to grapple with the worst fiscal crisis in a generation, they need a new set of rules going forward,” said NYSSBA President Florence Johnson, a member of the Buffalo, N.Y. school board. “Several years of frozen or diminished state aid coupled with the prospect of a local property tax cap call for a new way of doing business.”

“School boards want to optimize resources to more efficiently serve taxpayers and support new practices to improve teaching and learning,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves up against outdated state mandates, inflexible rules and expensive procedures that are out of place in today’s world.”

Taxpayers will benefit if these rules are changed, Kremer said. “Taxes are high because school boards are forced to operate inefficiently. Removing barriers to cost-savings is a critical ingredient to reducing school district spending and, by extension, property taxes.”

NYSSBA is looking to reform a provision of a state law to allow school districts to freeze salaries upon the expiration of a contract. The so-called Triborough Amendment would remain intact with the exception of the current provision that guarantees teachers receive step increases under expired contracts.

The Association is also looking to eliminate seniority as the sole factor in layoff determinations. NYSSBA’s proposal establishes new criteria to be considered when making these difficult decisions. In addition to using the “last in, first out” rules, a board of education would be able to consider other criteria under the proposal, such as annual professional performance reviews, the needs of a particular school, and a teacher’s credentials. NYSSBA is continuing its call to streamline the teacher disciplinary process to make it less time-consuming and less expensive.

“School boards are pro-children and pro-jobs,” Kremer said during the news conference. “We want every school to provide a high-quality affordable program, within a safe learning environment, where every employee or volunteer in every school district is the best person for that particular job.”

The 2011 Fiscal Reform Playbook also calls for capping the maximum amount school districts would contribute to a health insurance policy at 85 percent for individual coverage and 75 percent for family coverage. This would bring public employers in New York more in line with the national average across all industries of 81 percent for single coverage and 70 percent for family coverage.

Hoping to cap another rapidly rising expense, NYSSBA has endorsed the Empire Center proposal for New York State to create a Tier VI to the state pension system.

The Empire Center has submitted legislation that would provide new public employees with the option of choosing a pure defined contribution retirement plan or a hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan.

And, following the lead of the state Board of Regents, NYSSBA officials said any talk about reducing school spending needs to include a frank discussion about curtailing the costs associated with special education. Special education spending in New York has increased $3.1 billion in just five years, according to the most recent data. There are more than 200 state laws and regulations layered on top of federal requirements. NYSSBA believes an advisory committee should be created to recommend which of those should be continued.

The final piece of the proposal was one that Kremer admitted was a bit “mundane,” but could save schools a significant amount of money – purchasing reform.

NYSSBA wants to see schools given the ability to leverage the purchasing power of large, national procurement cooperatives and contracts entered into by other states and local governments. A national analysis of cooperative purchasing found that “piggy-backing” resulted in 7 percent savings for large agencies and 30 percent for smaller entities. New York is currently one of only two states that do not allow schools to use out-of-state or national cooperative contracts.

“If the governor and the Legislature truly want to make public education more affordable and effective, they should look to enact these reforms as soon as possible,” added Kremer.

The entire playbook can be found on NYSSBA’s homepage at

erandall|June 7th, 2011|Categories: Governance, School Boards, Educational Finance, School Reform|

The week in blogs

It’s the good elementary school teacher who tells her students: “It’s Okay to ask questions if you don’t understand.” It doesn’t mean you’re dumb; there could be many reasons why you’re lost.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a strong advocate for public schools, seems to have taken that axiom to heart. In a sometimes darkly humorous video clip posted on This Week in Education, he shows that sometimes you can’t follow what someone is saying (in this case, someone testifying before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce) because, well, she isn’t making any sense.

“What are you telling me?” proclaims a somewhat exasperated Miller, after a witness attempts to explain that all those ill-defined private Education Management Organizations (EMOs) that are increasingly running public charter schools really are accountable to their public boards (even though they typically withhold the most basic information from them) because, well, they should be accountable — and, doggone it, it’s just the right thing to do. (Or something like that; I didn’t get it either.)

“I don’t understand what you’re telling me.” the congressman deadpans.

Watch it. Laugh. And maybe — weep.

Speaking of accountability, in a provocative Op-Ed in the New York Times, author and education historian Diane Ravitch says that a lot of the dramatic short-term gains of charters “reconstituted” schools, and other highly touted programs “are the result of statistical legerdemain.” That drew a sharp response by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Alter called Don’t Believe the Critics Education, Education Reform Works.

And what do the kids think about this whole accountability thing? We can’t speak for all of them, of course, but the blogger “Miss Malarkey” has provided a helpful Top Ten list of “comments made by my third graders” during their first ever New York State tests.

My favorite: “Wait, is this the real test?”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|June 3rd, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Week in Blogs, School Reform, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|
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