Articles in the Policy Formation category

Good journalism, or needless exploitation?

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Journalism can be a brutal business, and sometimes I don’t have the stomach for it. It’s been said that newspaper or magazine writing is inherently exploitive because you often find yourself encouraging people to tell you something that they — had they stepped back and reflected on it — might realize is not in their best interest. “But that’s OK,” journalists say, “because it’s all for the public good.”

No wonder people think we’re arrogant.

But, as a said, sometimes that process makes me uneasy. For example, many years ago, when I was a reporter in Delaware, I wrote a series about what drug treatment was like by actually staying in an in-patient treatment center myself for three or four days and reporting on the stories there. It was miserably confining, by the way, and there was no coffee, but that’s not the point.

I decided to concentrate on one young cocaine addict and chart his progress through the four stories. He was vulnerable and needy and more than willing to tell me his story, but he balked at having his name and photo used. My series turned out well, I thought, but it could have been much better had I pressed him just a little more and convinced him to let me use his name and photo – and I bet he would have complied. Yet I worried that identifying him would make his recovery harder, indeed, might even play a part in sabotaging it. So I didn’t do it. And, in the end, I wasn’t as exploitive as I could be; but then, my story didn’t have the impact it might have had, either.

The Los Angeles Times had no such compunction this week in a prominent story that was easily the most talked about article among education reporters this summer. Titled “Who’s Teaching L.A.’s Kids?” the article was based on a “value-added analysis” of student test scores for different elementary teachers. The highly effective ones were able to move below average performers to above average ones in one school year. The average teachers kept them progressing at an average pace. And then there were teachers like John Smith, pictured prominently near the headline, whose students started the year ahead but ended up far behind.


Lawrence Hardy|August 17th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Extra funds in Jobs Bill not needed, according to some. Really?

The $10 billion Education Jobs Bill signed by President Obama last week is going to soon give school districts so much money that officials won’t even know how to spend it—not that they needed it anyway–according to some pundits.

According to folks like Fox News commentator and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, schools were doing just fine without this money. After 1210-1242160343u74VPresident Obama quickly signed the bill on Aug. 10, Huckabee and others told Fox  that the money would be wasted on bureaucracy.

Naomi Dillon|August 16th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , |

A silver bullet is tarnished

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

It sounded almost too good to be true.

According to a 2009 report from Stanford University professor Carolyn Hoxby and her colleagues, New York City’s charter schools had accomplished something that most urban school systems find virtually impossible – they had significantly closed the “Scarsdale-Harlem gap.” That is, they had largely addressed and conquered one of the thorniest problems in public education: how to improve the academic achievement of poor and minority children.

“This is a shocking finding that, if true, would suggest that charters could be the magic bullet after all,” writes Marco Basile, a researcher at the Century Foundation, in a report released Monday by TCF and the Economic Policy Institute. 

Unfortunately, Basile says, it isn’t true.

Lawrence Hardy|August 10th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|

The week in blogs

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.

It just gets weirder in Arizona.

Most everyone knows about the state legislature’s tough new immigration law, the most controversial parts of which were struck down by a federal judge last month. Less well publicized – at least outside the Grand Canyon State – is the effort by Arizona School Superintendent Tom Horne to make the largely Hispanic Tucson Unified School District drop an ethnic studies course that he says promotes “destructive ethnic chauvinism.” But Horne, a candidate for state attorney general, seems to be doing his best to keep it in the news.

The latest development, according to education blogger Joanne Jacobs: Horne is threatening to withhold 10 percent of Tucson’s state funding if the course is not dropped. Moreover, he’s insisting that the district videotape the classes.

“If they refuse,” Horne told Tucson’s Fox News affiliate, “we would intend to make that evidence to the administrative law judge that TUSD is in violation and they’re attempting to hide the evidence.”

Lawrence Hardy|August 6th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Let’s Move!, more than just a White House initiative

1-1256217176zbgkIt’s always quite hard to find someone who isn’t on a prescriptive diet, watching their weight, or at least trying to make healthy food choices. While much has been made of the fact that the nation as a whole is fatter than it’s ever been, the good news is that we know a lot more about the effect of certain foods on our bodies and can use that information to make healthier choices and (hopefully) lifelong habits for ourselves and our children.

The August issue of ASBJ focuses on childhood obesity and new research that shows the eating and exercise habits we learn in childhood influence the rest of our lives. The current generation of students is not only the heaviest, it’s the first whose life expectancy is expected to be shorter than their parents.

What’s the role of the school board? While some board members don’t feel it’s their job to police school cafeteria lines and meddle with what parents are feeding their children, there’s a role in teaching students healthy eating and exercise habits—part of the whole child movement–and it starts with healthier fare in the cafeteria. (Keep in mind, too, that these days more children are living in poverty and are relying on school meals as their main food source).

Naomi Dillon|July 20th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Policy Formation, Wellness|Tags: , , |

Child nutrition, a visible cause this year

untitledToday the House Committee on Education & Labor will markup— consider and possibly revise— the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act, which is the House’s revamped version of the Child Nutrition Act.

If you’ve been following, the Senate agriculture committee proposed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in March, which was their stab at reauthorizing the bill that pays  for school meals, income based nutrition programs and is the avenue the USDA uses to impose regulations and standards.

These efforts are part of a flurry of legislation and initiatives launched in recent months, aimed at tackling childhood obesity, a worthy cause few argue against though many hold different opinions on the appropriate strategy.

Campaigns to end hunger and childhood obesity, for example, have traditionally been viewed as separate issues. When a child is hungry, providing food is critical while providing healthy food is desirable.

Naomi Dillon|July 14th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation, Wellness|Tags: , , , |

The problem with paradise

Isola_di_Utopia_MoroI don’t know about you, but I’ve always found utopias to be kind of creepy. Whether it’s Thomas More’s Utopia, with its peasant dress and communal dining, or Aldous Huxley’s Island and its – in the immortal words of Wikipedia — “parrots trained to utter uplifting slogans,” it seems that one man’s paradise is another’s authoritarian hell.

America has its own rich history of utopianism, and if the real-world consequences of this multifaceted movement seem more benign, in retrospect, that the fictitious musings of More and Huxley, maybe it’s because the great majority of American utopias didn’t last long enough to realize their exalted dreams. (Shakers, you needed a better business plan.)

In his critique in the June issue of Teachers College Record, Larry Cuban isn’t going after the Shakers or the Owenites, but rather a strain of utopian thinking that the emeritus Stanford Education professor says persists today and is distorting the national conversation about public school reform. It may not be popular to rail against American optimism – even during what sometimes seems like Twilight in America — but Cuban makes a compelling case. 


Lawrence Hardy|July 13th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Rhetoric around America’s biggest issues don’t always fall along party lines

alice-wonderland“Curiouser and Curiouser” – those words from Alice and Wonderland  popped into my mind today as I read page A8 of Monday’s New York Times.

First there was the story about the head of a major political party, who said of the war in Afghanistan: “This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in…. “that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Asia.”

Green Party Platform?  Musings of the (new, old, resuscitated) Left? No. Michael Steele chairman of the Republican National Committee, letting his thoughts run on. And on. His GOP colleagues, understandably, were not amused.

Then, on to education and to Column Five:

“Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced,” Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said at the union’s annual conference in New Orleans.

Naomi Dillon|July 6th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , , |

List and shout

stockvault_24925_20100427I’m not a regular reader of Woman’s Day. Or Ladies Home Journal. But one day awhile back, when we were visiting my mother-in-law, I saw a story on the cover of one of those magazines that was so tantalizing, so enticing that … well, I just had to check it out. It was titled (and here I’m relying on my remarkable memory, and poetic license):

“Five Keys to the Most Energized You …. Ever!!

I think it was the “…. Ever!!” that got me. Anyway, I said to myself, “I need to know that!” and quickly turned to the following list:

Five Keys to the Most Energized You….. Ever!!” 

#1  Get eight hours of sleep a night.

#2  Cut the booze.

#3  Same for coffee.

#4  Avoid stress.

#5  Try not to have kids.

This was not helpful. And unfortunately, most magazine lists that promise these kinds of things aren’t very helpful, either. But not ASBJ‘s Truly Astounding July Feature: “Let’s List Again!!!’”

It’s not just because we use three exclamation points instead of two. (But you’ll notice, we do!!!) No, it’s because I wrote it.

In “Let’s List Again” you’ll find things like: Ten Common Myths of Board Service, Five Comments Guaranteed to Drive You Crazy, Five Tips  for a Successful Meeting, Six Curriculum Mistakes, and Ten Way to Minimize Fraud.

A note on the lede. I didn’t write it; our Editor-in-Chief Glenn Cook did. I had originally – now listen to this — used a quote from the very same board member that Naomi Dillon opens with in her story. (How likely is that???)

So Glenn changed it to “a bad pun.”  Actually, I kind of like the pun. Only after reading it, I can’t get Chubby Checker out of my mind.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|June 29th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Curriculum, Key Work of School Boards, Leadership, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Board training, development — an important part of your governance process

0710Cover_ASBJSchool’s out, summer’s on, and for many school board members the real work starts. I’m talking about board development, whether that means a board retreat to establish a mission statement and goals, a review to determine the district’s progress towards set goals, or workshops and courses to enhance and deepen knowledge on school governance and current issues.

Education is a dynamic and volatile field and the districts that navigate the changes best are the ones with leadership teams who understand the value of regular professional development and training, as I discovered in reporting for the July cover story for ASBJ.

“People aren’t born understanding the intricacies of school funding formulas, parliamentiary procedure, open meetings, and public records requirements,” Lisa Bartusek, NSBA’s associate executive director of state association services, told me. “Board training helps lay citizens get up to speed quickly with the practical knowledge to perform their role.”

In fact, this knowledge base is so important that 20 states currently mandate board training for newly elected board members and even ongoing training for sitting board members.

Naomi Dillon|June 28th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , |
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