Articles in the Governance category

The week in blogs

A widely cited 1998 study linking childhood vaccines with autism wasn’t just bad science, a British scientific journal says: It was fraud.

That bombshell was released last week as investigative reporter Brian Deer revealed the results of seven years of work into the research behind the notorious Lancet article written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield (and several other authors who later took their names off the piece).

Read about the report in the British Medical Journal and at National Public Radio’s website. Then look at the March 2008 article by ASBJ Associate Editor Joetta Sack-Min about the enormous expense that educating children with autism is placing on some school districts.

Our next item isn’t about K-12 schooling per se, but with college football so prominent this time of year, we thought it appropriate to include a piece by Maureen Downy of “Get Schooled” about those amazing Auburn Tigers, which, are playing Oregon for the BSC National Championship at the Fiesta Bowl Monday night.

Well, maybe not so amazing when it comes to their academic prowess. According to a recent New York Times report, Auburn dropped from No. 4 in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, a four-year analysis of team member’s progress toward graduation, to No. 85. That was four years after a Times investigation found an unusual number of football players taking what the university calls “directed-reading courses” – that is, independent study.  In fact, one sociology professor was reported to have “taught” 252 independent studies courses (“10 would be considered ambitious,” the article said) during the team’s undefeated 2004 season.

Another sociology professor who discovered the abuse said Auburn’s precipitous fall in the NCAA academic ranking was actually a good thing. “A genuine consequence to this has been that the people who want to do things right have gotten a bit more grasp of what the university is trying to do,” said the professor, Jim Gundlach.

So high school graduates, want to go to a great university like Auburn – and we mean really go? Better load up on those AP classes.

“Load up on AP classes.” Is there something wrong with that line? Critics in a New York Times forum on the tremendous group in Advanced Placement say there is. Just listen to high school English teacher Patrick Walsh:

“In the last 10 years, Advanced Placement has become a game of labels and numbers, a public relations ploy used by school officials who are dumping as many students as they can into A.P. courses to create the illusion that they are raising overall standards and closing the gap between whites and minorities,” Welsh writes.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|January 7th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Wellness|

What’s that smell? Could be the student body

Do your high school students stink?
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I’m not talking, mind you, about their academic performance. I mean, do your kids stink literally? As in body odor?

The answer is, apparently, a resounding Yes across much of the country. Unbeknownst to me, high school students have given up on the after-gym shower.

Actually, they gave up on school showers in the 1990s.

That’s what I’ve just learned after doing a bit of research that looked as far back as the 1980s. At the end of the Reagan era, I’ve found, a slew of media accounts reported that gym teachers were having a tough time dealing with teenagers who skipped the post-gym shower.

Some students claimed there wasn’t enough time to fit in a shower between classes. The reality, of course, was that students were avoiding the typical adolescent embarrassment that surrounds showering around other teens.

At that time, schools were tougher about hygiene. “Showers are required as part of the grade,” one teacher explained.
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Naomi Dillon|January 5th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Wellness|Tags: , , |

Labor conference will discuss best practices for boards and unions

NSBA will participate in a conference sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education that’s designed to showcase model labor agreements and find ways to use labor-management relationships to improve student achievement.

Federal education leaders have invited school districts, labor leaders, and other groups to participate in the conference, to be held Feb. 15 and 16 in Denver. Some 2,000 school districts that received funding through the Race to the Top program or other competitive grants were invited on Jan. 3, according to the Education Department.

In order for a district’s leaders to attend, the Education Department is requiring the school board president, superintendent, and teachers union leader to agree to participate. Attendees must sign a pledge to collaboratively develop and implement policies in areas such as strategic planning and “aligning all labor-management work with this overarching focus, including ways to share responsibility and hold each other accountable for results; and more effectively supporting the work of teachers, leaders, and administrators in advancing student achievement by improving such systems and structures as organizing teaching and learning time and schedules, and processes for the hiring, retention, compensation, development, and evaluation of a highly effective workforce,” according to the Education Department.

Michael Resnick, NSBA’s Associate Director for Advocacy and Issues Management, said NSBA was working with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials to help get the most useful information for local school board members.

“This is a constructive endeavor to look at how school boards and local unions can work collaboratively, both inside and outside the collective bargaining agreements, to find ways to improve student achievement,” he said. “We’re looking forward to working with the Education Department to identify promising arrangements and bring them to the attention of local school districts.”

Resnick noted that many of the issues that will be discussed are strictly local issues, but said the conference could help local school board members learn about new practices and ideas beyond traditional contractual agreements.

The two main teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, also will participate, as will the American Association of School Administrators and the Council of Great City Schools. The Ford Foundation will fund the event.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 4th, 2011|Categories: Governance, School Board News, School Boards, Teachers|

Can New Year, fresh drive, push through old stalemates ?

Some New Year’s resolutions are harbingers of great change, others merely wishful thinking. Arne Duncan’s commentary on ESEA reauthorization this week in the Washington Post, is not a resolution per se. But the education secretary’s piece is brimming with New Year’s enthusiasm, in this case confidence that key members of Congress — in fresh, bipartisan fashion — “are poised to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).”
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Duncan call’s his plan for a more workable ESEA a “common-sense agenda [that] also reflects the bipartisan revolution underway at the state and local level” to improve student achievement.

Does the secretary have this right? That’s a tough one to answer — or, in the words of that hoary (but useful) journalistic cliché, “Time will tell.”

This month I have an ASBJ story about where experts think the new Congress will take federal education policy, especially ESEA. And the experts say … well, to tell you the truth, the experts are all over the map, even on whether legislators will even get to ESEA in the coming years.
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Naomi Dillon|January 4th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: |

Student mobility rising in economic downturn

33-1215441147HPYYAdd rising student mobility as yet another upshot of a down economy, according to a new federal report.

This week the Government Accountability Office released its analysis of ED data compiled between 1998 and 2007, which already showed a steady increase in the number of transient students.

About 13 percent of school-aged children will transfer schools four or more times before reaching high school and about 12 percent of schools nationwide see 10 percent of more of their student body leave at the end of each year.

Not surprisingly, the students and the schools encompass disproportionately high numbers of low-income and minority populations.

To supplement the data analysis, the report also included recent interviews with schools in six districts across three states. Those conversations revealed the nation’s financial crisis has driven up student mobility often as a result of related job and home loss, forcing families to double up with relatives and/or move to find work.

Although the report did not offer specific recommendations to schools on how to handle the situation, it did acknowledge the challenges inherent in high student transiency, not the least of which is disjointed instruction, lack of resources to meet children’s emotion, social, and academic needs, and lost or delayed student records, which make it difficult to make placement decisions or identify special needs.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|December 22nd, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Governance, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Surprising activity during traditionally down period

holidays_winterHappy Winter Solstice! A time to catch our breath, settle in with a nice cup of hot chocolate, and reflect on the wonders of nature on this, the shortest day of the year.

Yes, of course, I’m kidding. Oh, it really is solstice. It’s just that, well, if your family’s anything like mine, the only ones in your household who have time to reflect on fluffy couches with cups of hot chocolate are those maddeningly blissful models in all those outdoorsy clothing catalogues.  (And remember, they’re getting paid to look blissful.)

Me? I just keep telling myself, “Just make it to Dec. 24th  …” But the truth is, everyone and everything seems to be moving faster these days. Like Congress, of all things. During this so-called “lame duck session,” it has extended the Bush tax cuts, repealed “Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell,” and is poised to take up the new START treaty.

Education news is also happening at a rapid clip — and it’s only going to move faster in the months ahead. Last Friday, for example, I attended an Aspen Institute forum called Assessment 2.0: “Next Generation” Comprehensive Assessment Systems.”
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Naomi Dillon|December 21st, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Governance, Policy Formation|

Court ruling could harm schools’ abilities to assist in child-abuse investigations

NSBA is concerned that a case before the U.S. Supreme Court could interfere with school officials’ interactions with child welfare and law enforcement officials and force them to determine the constitutionality of requests to question a child at school.

NSBA, joined by the Oregon School Boards Association and the California School Boards Association, filed an amicus brief on Dec. 20 asking the high court to overturn the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Camreta v. Greene.

The case stems from an incident at an Oregon elementary school. A police officer and child protective services worker requested permission to interview a girl, S.G., because they suspected her father was sexually abusing her and her sister. Later, S.G.’s mother sued the school district, alleging that the caseworker and police officer violated the Fourth Amendment when they interviewed her child without a warrant, probable cause, or parental consent.

The 9th Circuit ruled that police and child welfare officials need a warrant, court order, parent consent, or emergency conditions to interview a child at school. Doing so without one, the court decided, violated Fourth Amendment “search and seizure” protections of children.

Schools are frequently called to assist child protective services agencies and law enforcement personnel to help investigate reports of child abuse or neglect by interviewing students at school. If the 9th Circuit ruling is upheld, that standard would apply to all states, even though many states have laws requiring school officials to cooperate with child protective agencies and law enforcement in such cases.

“The 9th Circuit’s ruling places schools in the untenable position of either risking a lawsuit or denying law enforcement/protective services access that may be in a child’s best interest,” said Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., NSBA’s General Counsel.

Joetta Sack-Min|December 21st, 2010|Categories: Governance, School Board News, School Law|

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.

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