Articles in the Governance category

Public survey finds large support for overhauling teacher pay, tenure

public-domain-checklist-300x199A new survey shows a strong majority of the American public wants better systems to fire underperforming teachers, and principals, too. But those who are allowed to stay should earn a lot more.

The poll conducted by the Associated Press and Stanford University brought forth data to prove, again, that there is plenty of public support for overhauling teacher tenure and pay scales.

According to the AP, half of the respondents said teachers’ salaries should be based on their students’ performance on state assessments and evaluations from their administrators.

About 35 percent said that “a large number of bad teachers is a serious problem in America’s schools,” and only 45 percent blamed the problems on teachers’ unions. But while the poll did not specifically ask about local school boards, respondents were more critical of school administrators.

Fifty-three percent said local administrators deserved “a great deal” or “a lot” of the blame for the problems facing U.S. schools. (And 65 percent said state officials deserved a great deal or a lot of the blame, while 59 percent said the same for federal officials).

Stanford University’s Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education, told the AP that some of the public’s negative views come from frequent criticism from policymakers and from the media.

“It’s become a throwaway line: ‘Oh, sure U.S. schools are lousy,’” Cuban told the AP. “I think we have schizophrenia in the U.S. that we believe all U.S. schools are lousy except the schools we send our kids to.”

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Naomi Dillon|December 20th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|Tags: , |

The week in blogs

If you’re interested in statistics about your county, you can find a wealth of them in the American Community Survey, which was released this week by the U.S. Census.

Maureen Downey, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, took a look and wasn’t pleased with what she saw:  Of the 62 counties where less than 10 percent of adults had a bachelor’s degree, 14 were in Georgia – the highest number in the nation.

“We lead in another category of under attainment in education in this country,” Downey wrote. “This is for all of you who maintain that Georgia does not need to send more kids to college.”

How do you send more kids to college? One way, of course, is to improve education at the K-12 level. But a report by the Fordham Foundation, “Are Bad Schools Immortal,” casts considerable doubt that some of the drastic turnaround strategies being proposed are effective. Read Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and ASBJ’s own Del Stover on this important topic.

Then you might want to read my September story on embattled Central Falls High School, in a little urban community near Providence, R.I. This is the school where the superintendent famously, or infamously, decided to fire all the staff before coming to a sort-of agreement with teachers.

This past week, Central Falls was in the news again. Several of the teachers and administrators I interviewed for my story were on NPR, and, well, it sounds like things may have gone from bad to worse.

OK. Something uplifting, or at least on a lighter note? Read Superintendent-blogger Mike Smith on the Graph of Snow Day Excitement. Guess who’s not so excited?

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|December 17th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools|

Schools can play role in staying abreast of product recalls

It was a medical mystery: several young children and teenagers scattered across Dutchess County, N.Y., had been afflicted with severe stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. None went to the same school or seemed to have any common activities, but the sudden symptoms were too similar to ignore.

The county’s medical examiner, Michael Caldwell, quickly found that all the children went to the same school district, and the district had a central office for assembling its school lunches. Eventually, the symptoms were confirmed as E. Coli infections that came from a few bags of lettuce. An analysis of the unopened bags found that those were tainted before they ever got to the school district.

Caldwell and a 16-year-old high school student were on hand this week as the National School Safety Coalition announced plans to ramp up efforts to notify parents about safety and food recalls. NSBA, along with the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and Consumer Reports magazine, is a founding member of the NSSC.

Consumer Reports released a survey this week that showed only about one in five people were aware that a product they had purchased had been recalled. While a recall probably wouldn’t have prevented the E. Coli lettuce outbreak, there are many unsafe toys, cribs, and food products that are getting into the hands of children, sometimes causing severe injuries or even death.


Naomi Dillon|December 15th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Wellness|Tags: , , , |

Concrete examples, comparisons difficult in study of global education

11970922351384635865neocreo_Blue_World_Map_svg_medIt’s either a great report, or the ultimate in “apples and oranges” comparisons.

But despite the hazards of trying to compare student performance  in Ghana with results in Slovenia and the Boston Public Schools, I believe the exhaustive McKinsey & Co. study released last week (“How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better”) has some important things to say. And one of the more enlightening is this: What it takes to get a school system from “poor” to “fair,”  in terms of student performance, is vastly difficult from the strategies needed to move one from, say, “good” to “great,” or “great” to “excellent.”

Put simply: Strict teacher accountability and highly scripted, drill-like activities are fine for moving schools up from the lowest performance levels. But in order to achieve truly great results, teachers and administrators need autonomy and the space to collaborate.

Does this mean highly-scripted programs are the only ones that work with, for example, children from disadvantaged areas? I think not, and I hope not. Because I’ve always found disingenuous those education reformers who seem fine with narrowing the curriculum for poor students and putting them through highly prescriptive tests — as long as their own children benefit from the kind of rich, varied curriculum that middle class students enjoy.

At a presentation to announce the report, it was pointed out that, while the strategies for teaching the lowest-performing students may be different, these schools could still benefit from having strong teachers and administrators who have the autonomy and flexibility to move to more varied instructional methods, once student achievement improves. That, I believe, is the model we should be working toward.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|December 14th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Governance|Tags: , |

Parents now feeling the heat

pointing-fingerA new poll conducted by the Associated Press and Stanford University finds nearly 70 percent of adults feel parents are largely responsible for what’s wrong with public education in America.

And so the Blame Game continues, though, there’s no denying that families play a huge role in student achievement, so much so, that it’s clear when they are not fulfilling that role.

That’s probably what spurred California lawmakers to adopt the Parent Accountability Act, the first state law granting judges the power to send parents of convicted gang members back to school.

Enacted in January, the statute has gotten off to a rocky start thanks to the state’s budget woes and, frankly, low attendance at the court-mandated classes which counsel parents on how to get more involved in their child’s life and how to spot signs of gang affiliation.

“The most difficult thing is to have control of the kids,” Socorro Gonzalez, a housekeeper and mom told the Huffington Post, after her son, a Los Angeles gang member, faced trouble with the law, forcing her to take classes. “When I come home, I don’t know what they have been up to.”

An honest and, no doubt, common problem among many parents. But here’s my question, if families have a hard time controlling their own kids, what makes people think that teachers can be any more successful?

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|December 13th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

Wouldn’t you rather be in Finland?

atka-island-reindeer_w725_h483Catchy tourism slogan? No, actually, I just made it up. And to tell you the truth, maybe December isn’t the best time to be running that kind of campaign. Because here in Washington, as in a lot of other places across the country, we already feel like we’re in Finland — minus the reindeer.

So let’s rephrase: Wouldn’t you rather have the Finnish education system? And to that, as anyone who’s read about either of the two international studies released last week can attest, you’d probably have to say “yes.”

In the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results released Wednesday, Finland continued to dominate in science, reading, and math, along with several high-scoring Asian nations. And a McKinsey & Co. report, “How the Worlds’ Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better,” named the Scandinavian nation as the only one among 17 studied that moved from “great,” in terms of student performance, to “excellent.”

So what do the Finns emphasize when it comes to public education? Surprisingly, according to a recent Hechinger Report interview with Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish education official, not exactly the same things that many U.S. reformers are pushing.


Lawrence Hardy|December 10th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Budgeting, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Wellness|

Should teachers names be posted alongside students performance?

12284172421897139812CoD_fsfe_Checklist_icon_svg_medDoes the public have a right to study the academic progress of an individual teacher’s students?

That question could prove the next “hot topic” in policy circles. This fall, the Los Angeles Times published a controversial analysis of test scores in an effort to determine the effectiveness of more than 6,000 elementary school teachers. One teacher allegedly committed suicide after being rated poorly.

Now the New York City newspaper, the Daily News, and the United Federation of Teachers are in Manhattan Supreme Court fighting over the release of teacher evaluations conducted by the city school system.

The city’s lawyers, who are defending the right to release the documents, argue “teachers have no rights when it comes to job performance,” the Daily News reports. The union argues “the reports are deeply inaccurate.”

Naomi Dillon|December 9th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Governance, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

Report shows how all school districts can continue to improve

Here’s the good news: According to a new international study, school districts can substantially improve student performance in as little as six years, whether they’re located in Brazil or Boston, Latvia or Long Beach.

“How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better,” a new longitudinal report from McKinsey & Co., looked at how schools in 17 diverse nations improved the educational outcomes for their students over periods ranging from four to more than 25 years. In addition, the researchers looked at the school districts in Boston and Long Beach, Calif., and a charter school network. The report found common strengths in all the systems, despite the considerable diversity in such things as size, culture, and resources.

That’s the good news. The more difficult news is this: These countries and the individual school districts are, by and large, exceptions. Elsewhere throughout the world schools are experiencing “a lot of stagnation, a lot of inertia,” co-author Mona Mourshed said Dec. 7 at a conference in Washington, D.C., to discuss the report.

As if to underscore that point for the United States, the results of the international PISA tests (Program for International Student Assessment) were released coincidentally the same day, and they showed that while the science performance of U.S. student climbed to near the middle of the pack of the nation surveyed, math achievement remained in 25th place overall (or 17th place in statistically significant numbers) out of 34 nations.

“The brutal truth is, our country is nowhere where it needs to be educationally,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at the conference.

“The only thing our children lead the world in is self-confidence,” he added. “We’re Number One in self-confidence. We’re 25th in math. There’s a massive disconnect there.”

But the McKinsey report showed that — regardless of differences in wealth, political systems, educational structure, culture, and a host of other factors that distinguish educational practices around the world — school system can improve dramatically by implementing six interventions. These “clusters of interventions” have more to do with the process of educating students than either the resources available to the system or its structure and are valid whether a school system moved from “poor” to “fair,” (including Chile, Jordan, Armenia), fair to “good,” (England, Latvia, Boston, and Long Beach), good to “great” (Singapore and South Korea.), or great to “excellent” (Finland).

However, the particular cluster of interventions that get schools from, for example, poor to fair as opposed to good to great, are very different.

“What made you successful in the last journey will not make you successful in the next performance journey,” Mourshed said.

Highly prescriptive curriculum and accountably systems may be effective for improving very low-performing school systems, but the top performing ones achieve their gains through giving schools and teachers more autonomy. For example, school systems moving from poor to fair dedicated 54 percent of their professional development interventions to technical skill training, 38 percent to coaching, and nothing to peer collaboration, the report said. At the other end of the spectrum, Finland, the system moving from great to excellent, dedicated 25 percent of its intervention to technical skills, 18 percent to coaching, and 14 percent to  peer collaboration.

Even more dramatic were the differences in accountability systems. The poor-to-fair systems were heavily reliant on standardized assessments — 85 percent of their evaluation interventions compared to just 29 percent for great-to-excellent system. The lowest group dedicated virtually no resources to school and teacher self-evaluations, compared with 42 percent for the highest performing system.

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant said one critical component of reform is having the kind of community support that effective school boards and administrative teams provide.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said during the conference that the results underscore the need for “a culture of collaboration” in schools. In these high-performing schools, she added, principals ask: “‘What do you need to do your job?’ Not ‘If you don’t do this, you will be fired.’”

Duncan underscored the importance of community support and added that another key component is the involvement of — and high expectations of — parents. He recalled that he and President Obama were recently talking to the president of South Korea when Obama asked him about his biggest challenges.

“My biggest challenges are — my parents are too demanding,” he replied.

“We laughed,” Duncan recalled. “But we also winced.”

Lawrence Hardy|December 8th, 2010|Categories: Governance, School Board News, School Reform|

Children often come last in the battle of special interests

Across education circles and news media yesterday all everyone talked about and is still talking about is Michelle Rhee’s new venture.  I have to laud one of my collegues for guessing the former D.C. schools chief would ultimately end up at a national organization. Though, I’d suspected much the same move, as her now oversized persona would be too small to fit comfortably in another school district and heading to Florida  to become state commissioner, as been rumored, would hardly be smart given her engagement to former professional basketball player and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

I’m slightly surprised, however, that she has chosen to wade into the one  area she seemed so dismissive of: politics. Because even though Students First aims to continue education reform by tackling issues like teacher recruitment, merit pay, and school choice, Rhee makes no bones that her new organization will put its clout and money behind candidates vying for large and small offices that support her ideas. Fascinating. So, Rhee now heads a lobbying group. How ironic. And unfortunate.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Michelle Rhee
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive


Naomi Dillon|December 8th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|Tags: , , , |

Handwriting a dying, yet still critical skill

2576-1275491944laKRIt’s the second most frequent question I get asked by kids when I’m visiting an elementary school for a story. And it’s …..Oh, you want to know the first?

The first is: “Am I going to be on TV?”

 To which I reply: “Does it look like I’m holding a TV camera?”

No, actually, I’m much nicer than that and say something about how print is way cooler than TV, which they probably don’t believe. 

And the second most common question, as they watch me scribbling wildly in my reporter’s notebook?

 ”Is that shorthand?”

Now this is embarrassing. I could say something like, “Yes, as a matter of fact, it’s my own personal shorthand, perfected after years of covering fire, police, schools, politics, education – in short, the news you want and need to know.”

But being honest to a fault, I generally have to admit: “No, it’s just sloppy writing.”

Which puts me in good company with doctors, abstract expressionists, and first graders.  My problem is writing fast and legibly – something I’ve never been particularly good at. More serious, however, is the decline in handwriting ability among many of today’s young people. A number of recent studies show the importance of handwriting (and spelling) in reading competence and the forming of complex thoughts.

Naomi Dillon|December 7th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|Tags: |
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