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Articles in the Policy Formation category

Picking sides (or not) in Central Falls

Back row: Two members of the new leadership team at Central Falls High School near Providence, R.I.

Back row: Two members of the new leadership team at Central Falls High School near Providence, R.I.

I liked them all – just about everybody I met in the tiny urban hamlet of Central Falls, R.I.

I liked the superintendent, Frances Gallo, and her soft-spoken yet no-nonsense approach to school reform. I liked George McLaughlin, the crusty high school counselor with his wicked wit and way with words. I liked the students, mostly Hispanic and among the poorest in Rhode Island. Heck, I even liked the town’s crazy, one-way streets — streets that, for an agonizing 20 minutes on the first day of my visit, seemed to prove the old adage that, “You really can’t get there from here” (even if “here” and “there” were a mere three blocks away).

Maybe it’s good that I liked everybody. Maybe it helped me write a more balanced story about all those nice people who found themselves on opposite sides of a wrenching and bitter dispute about the best path forward for Central Falls High.  


Lawrence Hardy|August 24th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|

The week in blogs

stockvault_4799_20070301Fall is coming: A new season awaits. The players are bigger, stronger, tougher than ever.  It all leads, inevitably, to a critically important question: To get an edge on the competition, should you consider redshirting ……your kindergartner?

I confess to being behind the times. Because while I was aware of parents keeping their just-kindergarten-age children at home for another year of maturing, I didn’t know there was a name for it — same as the name for a standard practice at Ohio State and the University of Georgia. But there is, and you can see it right here on that encyclopedia of record for the Internet age, Wikipedia.

I mention redshirting – kindergarten redshirting – because there was a lively discussion of it on the web after USA Today reported on new research showing that children who are the youngest in their class are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest. In other words, it appears that mere immaturity is being misdiagnosed as a learning disability.

A lively debate about whether parents should “redshirt” boys is summarized on Joanne Jacobs’ blog, Linking and Thinking on Education.

Want more debates? How about one on whether President Obama has, in the words of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, “taken the worst aspects of Bush’s No Child Left Behind law – an obsession with testing – and amplified it.” That drew immediate fire from his colleague Jay Mathews, and by John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress.

Nothing like a few good Internet debates to liven up the Dog Days of Summer.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|August 20th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Special Education, Student Achievement|

Skeptics worry district’s policy on student achievement may lead to grade inflation

gold_letter_CThe Mount Olive, N.J., school system is just fiddling at the edges of a problem—but not really fixing it.

That was my initial reaction after reading about the decision of local school officials to raise the academic bar and eliminate D’s on report cards.

As ASBJ‘s resident skeptic, the school system’s decision—reported recently by the New York Times—sounds a lot like one of the many overly simplistic solutions I’ve seen over the years that attempt to fix the problem of low student academic achievement.

Not that Mount Olive’s intent isn’t worthwhile. As the Times so cleverly put it: “Who wants to pay for D-quality plumbing? Fly the skies with a D-rated pilot? Settle for a D restaurant?”

Or, as Mount Olive Superintendent Larrie Reynolds put it: “It’s a throwaway grade. No one wants to hire a D-anything, so why would we have D-students and give them credit for it?”

Naomi Dillon|August 19th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , |

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|
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