Articles in the Policy Formation category

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: , |

Line between church and state blurred as schools budgets stay flat

Feb_11th_2008_117It could be considered a lifeline in the midst of catastrophic budget cuts: a local community group “adopts” a school, stocking a closet with some $5,000 in supplies and going door-to-door to find out what teachers need. They send volunteers to serve as reading and math tutors, sponsor spaghetti dinners, and even buy shoes for students from impoverished families.

Is there a catch? Quite possibly, as this community group happens to be an evangelical Christian megachurch–and their pastors and members are on a mission to bring the parents and students at Combee Elementary School in Lakeland, Fla., to Jesus Christ.

What was even more astonishing about the article that first ran in the Wall Street Journal was that the principal of Combee didn’t seem to object—he and another school staff member even appeared in photos praying with Dave McClamma, an associate pastor at the 9,000-member First Baptist Church.

“We have inroads into public schools that we had not had before,” McClamma told the WSJ. “By befriending the students, we have the opportunity to visit homes to talk to parents about Jesus Christ.”

Naomi Dillon|June 22nd, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs

duck_soup_1933When I heard that the Alliance for Excellent Education has a new blog titled High School Soup, I couldn’t help but think of the classic Marx’s brothers comedy, Duck Soup, the irrepressible Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho), and the ridiculous football game between Darwin and Huxley colleges, during which Quarterback Chico gives the signal: “Hey diddle diddle, the cat with the fiddle, this time I think we go through the middle.”

Appropriate, too, because the film is about the absurdities of college life — and High School Soup is all about high school graduation rates, preparing students to succeed in college, etc.

Except that …. well, that movie was called Horsefeathers. (Duck Soup was great too!)

In one of its first posts, High School Soup has a more sobering story to tell: According to the latest issue of Education Week‘s Diplomas Count, the national graduation rate fell by nearly a half a percent – to 68.8 percent – for the class of 2007, the last year for which statistics are available. This is a “cohort” graduation rate, one that basically looked at the on-time graduation percentage of students who were ninth graders four years earlier. Like all graduation measures, it has its problems. Many students, especially ESL students, do indeed graduate, but take more than four years to do so. And, in some urban schools with high student mobility, defining an accurate “cohort” is difficult.

Lawrence Hardy|June 18th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Homeless People, Leadership, Policy Formation, School Climate, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Celebrity chef goes to Congress, lobbies for improvement in child nutrition

Rachael Ray is famous for her perky personality and 30-minute meals on Food Network. But the issue of childhood hunger brought her to Capitol Hill today, and the affable TV talk-show host was optimistic but serious as she stood outside the Capitol to promote a new bill that requires schools to serve healthier foods.

Leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee invited Ray to D.C., where she spoke at a press conference to introduce the “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act,” a bill to reauthorize the 1965 Child Nutrition Act. That law does not include the school lunch program but controls almost all other foods students eat at school and after-school programs.

“I really think that teaching a child good nutrition and the basics of cooking gives them the skills they need for self esteem and security for the rest of their lives,” Ray said. “Just being able to eat a nutritious meal really improves the quality of your life.”

Ray went on to say that good nutrition does more than keeping students focused in class, instilling healthy habits at an early age helps cut health-care costs and helps them learn to choose healthier options, particularly if they are short on money.

Naomi Dillon|June 10th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation, Wellness|Tags: , , , |

High court passes on hearing legal challenge to NCLB’s unfunded mandates

296-1257480461v4okI had mixed feelings upon hearing the news that the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear a legal challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act.

The case, District of the City of Pontiac v. Duncan, involved challenges brought by a group of school districts in Michigan, Texas, and Vermont, all arguing that “a provision of the federal law says states and school districts can’t be forced to spend their own money implementing the law’s requirements.”

So reports the Bloomberg Businessweek, which adds that the case originally was tossed out by a lower court and stymied by a split decision on appeal. Plaintiffs finally took the case to the nation’s highest court—which chose to punt.

On one hand, I agree with those who ask why public schools must comply with costly and onerous mandates that lawmakers approve without consideration to their impact on local school budgets.

After all, NSBA’s Office of Advocacy says Congress underfunded NCLB by tens of billions of dollars since its enactment. Yet schools have been forced to embrace costly testing programs and face harsh sanctions if they fail to meet unrealistic yearly goals of academic progress.

On the other side of the coin, however, this lawsuit reached the high court a bit late in the game. While Congress is taking its time, it is working on a reauthorization of the law. Some of the rules that are really ticking off local school officials are on their way out the door.

I suppose it would be nice if the courts would make Congress live up to its promises. But given how many unfunded mandates there are, it might do more harm than good to set a legal precedent that lets school districts off the hook on expectations that cover every issue from student safety to academic rigor.

Naomi Dillon|June 9th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation, School Law|Tags: , , , |

Nevada prof. finds much “bang for the book”

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Most of us have heard it so long, we can say it by rote: Nothing is more important to the quality of a child’s education than the quality of that child’s teacher ….  Nothing, that is, except for a key out-of-school factor: the socioeconomic and educational status of that child’s parents or caregivers.

Countless arguments have erupted over how much schools can do to surmount the effects of poverty and a lack of parental education, which tend to go hand-in-hand. Some experts say the right kind of schools can make dramatic progress on their own; others say such progress is limited without key social supports like jobs programs, health care, and housing.

Now a University of Nevada sociologist has added a new twist to the debate, reaching a stunning conclusion concerning the capacity of poor children to learn: Children growing up in homes with many books (a library of 500 or more) have an average learning advantage of 3.2 years over those from bookless homes – the same advantage that children of university parents have over those whose parents are barely literate.

Lawrence Hardy|June 1st, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Dropout Prevention, Educational Technology, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|

Texas’ “little red book”

ist1_3162960-flag-of-texasFor people who profess to love America’s freedom, the majority on the Texas Board of Education is offering precious little of it to public school students in the Loan Star State.

In a couple of 9-5 votes last week, the board adopted social studies guidelines that pretty much dictate to students what they should think on issues ranging from the legitimacy of the United Nations (a global organization that “undermines U.S. sovereignty”) to the extent of U.S “exceptionalism.” (Students are “expected to describe how American values are different and unique from those of other nations.”)

If you thought the imposition of right-wing dictates has little to do with the process of educating thoughtful, open-minded, and inquiring young people …well, you just don’t know what this fight is all about.

“This is a political process,” five-term board member David Bradley of Beaumont, told the Austin American-Statesman. “Absent that, go find yourself a benevolent dictator. But we represent a constituency.”

Lawrence Hardy|May 25th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Diversity, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|
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