Articles in the Policy Formation category

Their future — and ours

First Christmas in America. Ellis Island, 1918. Library of Congress photo It’s an ingenious title, when you think of it. Also a little ambiguous.

The Future of Children — the collaboration between the Brookings Institution and Princeton University’s Wilson School of Public and International Affairs — is it about future generations of children and our commitment (or lack thereof) to them? That’s the way I’ve always read it. Or is it about the future of today’s children and the kind of lives they will lead as adults?

It’s about both, of course, because the future of children — today’s and tomorrow’s — is the most compelling issue facing our society today.

Unfortunately, we often don’t treat children’s futures with the kind of commitment and urgency they deserve. As Laura Moore, of the Brookings-Princeton collaboration, notes in her blog last week on the challenges facing immigrant children, “without purchasing, voting, or lobbying power, the well-being of children can easily get lost in the debates, which is why knowledge and advocacy on the behalf of children is so critical.”

In other words, adults – teachers, school board members, school administrators, and others – must do the speaking for them. That’s one reason why thousands of them are going to NSBA’s 71st Annual Conference in San Francisco this week: to give voice to the voiceless. 

Ironically, those most in need of a voice are also the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population: immigrant children. Thus, by definition, their success and the nation’s are inextricably combined. Appropriately, the latest Future of Children volume is devoted to them. 

 “Most of the recommendations in these volumes, and other Future of Children volumes, suggest prioritizing and investing in children now — regardless of their circumstances and often ahead of other interests,” Moore writes. “This is simply because investments in child well-being are the smartest ones we can make.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|April 5th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|

The week in blogs

Ready for today’s “Week in Blog Question?” Here goes: “How are those weird Easter Island statues like the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition?”

“Say what?”

Sorry, time’s up.  But because this is our inaugural, occasional, semi-monthly-on-average Week in Blog Question, the Judges have graciously offered to give you another try.  “Now take the eraser end of your pencil and open the test  booklet…” No, actually, just think real hard.

Question #2: “So. About those statues: How is the fact that their construction is said to have totally devastated Easter Island civilization as we know it (or think we know it – it was, after all, hundreds of years ago) analogous to what RTTT will do to the public schools?”

Yes, it’s a toughie, and, yes, I’m poking fun at Yong Zhao’s blog on these seemingly disparate topics (“I can’t help but make the connection between Easter Islanders’ race to erect the statues and the Obama’s Race to the Top program…” he writes) because it’s a little, well, out there; but the fact is, the University of Oregon professor writes some of the most original and provocative analyses of K12 education on the web today.

Here, to be as brief as possible, is his point: Just as Jared Diamond’s argues in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed that the Easter Islanders exhausted their human and natural resources in a misguided competition to build ever-grander icons, so is RTTT exhausting our schools’ resources in a misguided competition for the best test scores.

“Test scores have no doubt become American’s stone statue in education…” Zhao writes. “Just like the Easter Islanders’ obsession with building statues damaged their ecosystem, America’s obsession with test scores have already begun and will continue to damage its education ecosystem.”
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Lawrence Hardy|April 1st, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|

Testing is useful tool, even if Obama labels it boring

1335-1243972165NX9TPresident Obama says testing makes education boring.

I’m not sure he’s right on that. When I was at school, I found nothing boring about a test.

In fact, I remember with great clarity sitting at my classroom desk, reading the questions on a test paper, and feeling the panic choke my throat.

Even when I knew the material, I was sweating heavily.

That’s because my parents expected good grades. They didn’t beat me if I got bad grades. I just knew that bad grades were not acceptable.

I knew there would be consequences—although, come to think of it, those consequences were never actually spelled out.

Now, I know the President, speaking recently at town hall meeting in Washington, D.C., was really talking about the dangers of today’s overreliance on standardized testing.
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Naomi Dillon|March 31st, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Obama hosts town hall meeting focusing on Hispanics and education

Yesterday President Obama spoke to Latino students and families about the role education plays in their community and their future. Watch an excerpt of the forum he held in Washington D.C.

Naomi Dillon|March 29th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , |

The week in blogs

First, a disclaimer: Our first item is not a blog, and it was not published this week. (Other than that, the headline above is perfectly accurate.)

But this article on high-flying high school students being flummoxed by an SAT essay prompt involving  …. Gasp! TV reality shows! .. was too good to pass up. Yes, it’s from the New York Times. And, yes, I tend to cite them a lot. And, yes that’s because I really like Times. And no, I’m not getting paid by them to say this.

Back to the story: It seems an SAT question on just how real the “reality” is on reality TV shows like American Idol and Real Housewives of New Jersey — which all high school kids know something about, right? — was too much for those high achievers who don’t have time for the tube.  

“I ended up talking about Jacob Riis and how any form of media cannot capture reality objectively,” one frustrated student wrote on the Web site College Confidential, referring to the 19th century reformer. “I kind of want to cry right now.”

The irony, unmentioned in the article, is how for years SAT opponents have criticized the tests for being culturally biased toward affluent white students and against minorities and the disadvantaged. A famous example from years ago was the analogy that required students to know the meaning of “regatta,” which could be tough for children who’ve never seen a sailboat or a racing shell.

I don’t begrudge the high-achieving, non-TV watching students their complaint, but it seems to me that, if anything, the tests favor students with their life experiences over kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While we’re on the subject of standardized tests, blogger Jennifer Fox writes in the Huffington Post about her campaign “to stop the testing trend.” One suggestion: “Ask teachers to have their classes of students fill out the cards [postcards  to First Lady Michelle Obama asking the president ‘to end the use of high stakes standardized tests!'] and bring in a quarter to mail them as a class.” Don’t think teachers – or administrators – would relish being be put in that position.

Finally, be sure to read Joanne Jacobs on how respondents to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher say they need more help in differentiating instruction for diverse learners.

“Ninety-one percent of public school teachers say schools need to do more to prepare ‘diverse’ learners for success after high school,” Jacobs writes.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|March 25th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Diversity, Educational Research, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools|

Hiring teachers late in the year works against building a quality faculty

stockvault_7718_20070525Chances are, if you’ve paid even passing notice to the national education debate, you’ve heard some variation of this: “If we could just get rid of bad teachers…”

There’s some truth to that statement. Many times, union contracts (which, it must be added, were negotiated, in most cases, with school board members and/or their representatives) make it difficult to fire bad teachers or reduce staff by methods other than seniority: “Last in, first out,” is the rule, in many cases.

It is a problem, of course, and it’s being debated at the national level and addressed in many districts. But it’s not the biggest staffing problem facing schools. That problem is attrition: nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

They leave because of lack of support and guidance, and frustration with a job that, despite our pronouncements, does not convey much in the way of authority or respect.

Now a study by Nathan D. Jones at Northwestern University and Adam Maier at Michigan State provides new information about another practice that leads, inordinately, to attrition: late hiring.

Looking at data from schools in Michigan, they found that nearly 12 percent of teachers were hired after the start of the school year. But these teachers were not evenly distributed.
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Naomi Dillon|March 22nd, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Policy Formation, Teachers|Tags: , |

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