Articles in the Policy Formation category

The week in blogs

Next month marks the 28th anniversary of A Nation at Risk, notes University of Oregon education school dean (and blogger) Yong Zhao, so it’s only appropriate that we quote from that ground-breaking document:

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the insane policies that threaten democracy, turn American children into robotic test takers, narrow and homogenize our children’s education, reward grant writing skills instead of helping the needy children and stimulate innovation (e.g., Race to the Top), value testing over teaching, and scapegoat teachers that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Not the Nation at Risk you knew? That’s because Zhao has taken it upon himself to edit the document in ways that more accurately reflect the state of education, and education politics, these days. Very clever — and revealing.

So how’s that risky nation doing these days? Surprisingly well, writes Robert Pondiscio in the Core Knowledge Blog — not exactly a font of giddy enthusiasm for American schools.

Speaking of how education is taught, Atlanta Journal-Constitution blogger Maureen Downey quotes from a piece called “The Failure of American Teachers.” It’s not what you might expect.

And finally, this:

A Cinderella choice if there ever was one, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy topped Pride and Prejudice, The Grapes of Wrath, Anna Karenina and a little yarn called Moby-Dick in David McCandless’ illustrated “consensus-cloud” of books mentioned most often on “Top 100 Must-Read Books” lists.  If only my bizarre March Madness picks were so lucky.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|March 19th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|

Week in Review

An NSBA-commissioned report confirms school boards are vital to leading change. Meanwhile, the common core academic standards initiative continues to gain traction across the country, especially as momentum to overhaul NCLB builds. Speaking of legislation that didn’t quite work out the way it was envisioned, class-size reduction policies are getting squeezed by  severe financial strains.  What does it mean for the future? Read these entries and more from this week’s Leading Source.

Naomi Dillon|March 19th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Policy Formation, Week in Blogs|

You get what you pay for, especially in education

stockvault_9810_20080130One of my pet peeves is that people demand that public schools do a better job in educating students—then their elected officials pull the rug out from under any effort to do so.

Case in point: After years of investing in smaller class sizes, state policymakers are giving up on the effort because of severe budget cuts.

Now, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the class-size movement. Although there is research to suggest smaller class sizes are beneficial, my thinking is that some of those benefits are achievable with more careful classroom assignments—basing class size on the needs of each child and the capabilities of individual teachers.

To me, shrinking class sizes to some arbitrary number is no guarantee of student academic gains. If I’m wrong, of course, then today’s policy decisions to raise class sizes are all the more wrong-headed.

 And that, I suppose, is my real point: If you invest millions of dollars and millions of hours in administrative time to improve student learning, what does it say about your commitment to school reform when you give up on that investment because times are tough?

Naomi Dillon|March 17th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Pen may be mighter than the sword, but not the federal budget

2576-1275491944laKRPersuasive writing, technical writing, creative writing, journalism—all have their place in education and are useful in different capacities. Yet, students across all fields of learning must develop basic writing skills in order to excel and communicate effectively.

So why then, did President Obama sign a bill to cut all federal funding to the National Writing Project earlier this month? This all-encompassing program is devoted to teacher development and strengthening writing skills across subjects for students at all grade levels.

The NWP’s 2009 annual survey reports that throughout the nation, program sites (see pages 12-15) are set up on the campuses of over 200 colleges and universities, with over 70,000 teachers serving the program’s objectives. Each year,  1. 4 million students and 130,000 teachers gain academic and professional development through the NWP.

It’s by no means a small program, and results have continuously showed that enrolled students displayed an improvement in basic writing skills by the end. In NWP’s 2010 study , about 92 percent of the NWP students surveyed across seven states showed higher increases in writing achievement than peers who had not participated in the program.

Naomi Dillon|March 16th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , |

NCLB needs fixing, will common core standards be the answer?

At about the midpoint of a recent Washington, D.C., seminar on the fast-moving push for common state standards, Michael J. Feuer, a dean at George Washington University offered this humorous, if slightly discomforting, comparison with No Child Left Behind:

“For awhile, we were hoping that all kids would be proficient,” said Feuer, dean of the university’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. “Now we’re just hoping the tests will be proficient.”

We know what happened with NCLB, and it certainly wasn’t universal agreement over the law’s ability to quantify and then raise student achievement.

“This law is fundamentally broken, and we need to fix it, and fix it this year,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce last week. “The law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed.”


Naomi Dillon|March 15th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs

This week, education researcher Richard Rothstein takes Bill Gates to task for claiming in a recent Washington Post column on teacher development that student achievement has remained “virtually flat” in recent decades while per-student costs have “more than doubled.”

 Looking at NAEP tests since 1980 and 1990, Rothstein concludes that “American students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally.” As far as a doubling of K12 funding is concerned, yes that’s true, he adds, but the statistic begs to be qualified.

“The biggest single recipient of new money has been special education for children with disabilities,” Rothstein writes. “Four decades ago, special education consumed less than 4 percent of all K12 spending. It now consumes 21 percent.”

What can high schools do to help community colleges and their astronomical drop-out rates? Blogger Dana Goldstein offers a thoughtful analysis.

 “Why are people dropping out of community colleges en masse?” Goldstein asks. “In part, it’s the frustration of being academically under-prepared and thus being forced to pay tuition for credit-less remediation classes. But national surveys of community college drop-outs find that the most cited reasons for leaving school are work and family responsibilities.”

(Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for leading us to Goldstein’s commentary.)

Recent stories in the Washington Post have questioned zero tolerance policies in the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools. Read a sobering post by the Post’s Valerie Strauss on common myths about zero tolerance’s effectiveness.

 Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|March 11th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Budgeting, Curriculum, Discipline, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Special Education, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools, Week in Blogs|

Financial capability challenge kicks off this week

Stay tuned for a deeper look into financial literacy and how this critical 21st century skill is being taught or not in an upcoming ASBJ issue. Until then, test your high school students knowledge of financial smarts through the Obama Administration’s National Financial Capability Challenge, an online exam, which kicked off this week and runs through April 8.

Naomi Dillon|March 9th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , |

More opinions than facts in debate about teacher impact in education reform

IMG_8381Many excellent points are made in “Why Blame the Teachers?” this week’s “Room for Debate” forum in The New York Times.  But a lot of these are just opinions, the kind of thing you would expect from this type of discussion.  

An exception is the essay by author Diane Ravitch, who spoke last month at NSBA’s Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. She backs up her argument that, yes, teachers are being unfairly targeted, with two disturbing facts.

#One is that No Child Left Behind’s goal of having every child rated “proficient” – truly proficient — by 2014 is, by nature, unattainable.

In a world where students come to school with differing backgrounds, abilities, and challenges, the only way to deem them all “proficient” would be to make the tests easy enough for all to pass.

Naomi Dillon|March 8th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

Many, many years ago, my brother fought in The Battle of Nashville.

Maybe I should qualify that: He helped re-enact the Civil War Battle of Nashville. And since we were from St. Louis, a nominally Yankee town, he was part of a ridiculously undermanned squad of union re-enactors that somehow managed to overcome a massive army of Confederates. (We’re talking Tennessee, remember?) But even re-enactors must be minimally accurate, so yes, the Yankees won.

Just who will win today’s Battle of Nashville — a battle for public opinion similar to those that have erupted in Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin — is hard to say. But as many as 10,000 teachers are gathering to demonstrate at the capitol in Nashville as I write, preparing to march against a bill in the Tennessee legislature that would limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights.


Lawrence Hardy|March 5th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|

Harvard suggests high schools expand focus to multiple success pathways

separate-paths-29941281454668Ush8Suppose a high school student cannot find any clear, concrete connections between prospective college studies and opportunities for jobs post-college graduation. Suppose this student is also experiencing financial difficulties and perhaps a pull between family, job and school responsibilities.

Additionally, the course work they took in high school will mean they are unprepared for college, and will most likely result have to take remedial courses.  

Should high school teachers and administrators still push this student to attain a four-year degree from a traditional university?

The answer is no, according to “Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century,” a study recently released by Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Intuitively, not every single high school graduate is cut out for success in a traditional college setting. So why do most U.S. high schools advocate attending a 4-year university as the only path for success?

This one-size-fits-all mentality is idealistic, and simply not realistic.

Naomi Dillon|February 28th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |
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