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Articles in the School Boards category

Social networking webinar gives tips to board members

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Collectively, these and other sites are part of Web 2.0, a new generation of e-tools that allow for more interactivity and information sharing.

“Web 2.0 isn’t so much a shift in technology as a shift in mindset and how we connect with others,” said Gene Broderson, NSBA’s director of National Affiliate Services and Technology Programs, which hosted a webinar recently on the emerging cyber world of social networking and how school systems and educators can become part of it.

“Sites like Twitter and Facebook are a great way for you to learn about your community and for your community learn about you,” Broderson said. “It improves community relations and gives people you represent an understanding of what’s going on … but there are also some dangers.”

Helping Broderson lay out the landscape of this dynamic field were communication and marketing staff members from the Georgia, California, and New York state school boards associations, which are trailblazers in the social networking arena, launching Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Wiki pages in order to stay connected with their members.

One thing public relations and communications professionals strive for is increasing public engagement and for school boards, so it’s especially important to find more and more ways to communicate and engage the public, said Laura Reilly, director of communications for the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA).

At GSBA, one way they do that is by using Wikis, a mini website that allows users to collect, manage, and share information with various people.

It’s a lot simpler than an e-mail listserv, said Reilly, which allow questions to be posed and answered in a virtual group setting, but doesn’t make it easy to gather, sort, and disseminate that data.

“Wikis solve that by having a place to store those ideas and documents, than you can build a library for people to find that information,” Reilly said.

In addition, Wiki pages can be customized with your own artwork or logo, and various security settings allow administrators to monitor and invite select people to contribute or edit this virtual workspace.

“Wikis are a shared responsibility, no one person owns the wiki,” Reilly said. “And that’s sort of pervasive throughout all Web 2.0; you have to give up a little bit of control to have that collaboration.”

Reilly said a great resource on how to set up a Wiki can be found at

California’s reputation as a bellwether state continues through its state board association, which not only has a Facebook page and Twitter account, but is on the verge of joining the blogosphere.

Blogging is easy to browse and search, enables you to build a more personal relationship because it allows two-way communication, and most importantly, it is affordable and easy to maintain, said Marci McFadden, CSBA’s marketing director.

“Another key benefit is it serves as a media and public relations tool, with the media more likely to follow and come to you for information and rely on you as the expert,” McFadden said. “But there are some cautions about blogging. It can take a lot of time, so you need to calculate that upfront.”

Identify content and individuals who would be responsible for providing the material and managing the blog, which McFadden suggested needed to be updated at least three times a week.

While blog postings should be informal and conversational in tone, districts need to always be cognizant that it is a public forum and that you don’t want to post content that is questionable, potentially offensive, or private.

Indeed, school boards and educators are advised to work with their district attorneys in drafting policies on privacy, internal and external use, and applicable state laws regarding open meetings and FOIA.

“We had a task force before we jumped into this,” said Barbara Bradley, the deputy director of communications and research at the New York State School Boards Association, which maintains a Facebook page. “I know this is a scary arena to get into for some, but take action, just be careful.”

In case you missed it, the entire webinar, complete with slideshows and links to helpful resources, is available here.

Naomi Dillon|March 17th, 2010|Categories: Educational Technology, School Board News, School Boards|

Do business methods work in education reform?

Do charter schools pose a threat to public education, or can they play a part in improving it? What about giving financial rewards to districts that demonstrate they are willing to implement reforms?

These topics are being debated across the country these days, as Arne Duncan and the Obama administration promote their ideas for public school reform. Education historian and former federal education official, Diane Ravitch tackles these ideas head on in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

A recent article in The Washington Post examines Ravitch’s new book, and points out that many of its ideas are not in line with those of the current administration.

Ravitch believes the new methods rely too much on business principles, such as pay for performance, and standardized testing. Instead, Ravitch believes public schools need to adopt a national curriculum that covers a full range of arts and sciences. She is also a strong defender of teachers’ unions, which puts her at odds with the proposed move toward more charter schools.

Diane Ravitch is one of the featured speakers at NSBA‘s 2010 Annual Conference in Chicago, April 10-12, 2010, and she will also be signing copies of her new book at the Conference bookstore on Saturday, April 10.

Barbara Moody|March 2nd, 2010|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization, School Boards, Student Achievement, Teachers|

The devastating results of school budget cuts

BoardBuzz has seen the devastating results of lay-offs in our school districts including: larger class sizes that do not facilitate the type of interaction and specialized instruction for many students and teachers; the loss of specialists for intervention programs such as reading and math coaches and after school tutoring; and discontinued extracurricular programs that help provide a well-rounded education program for our students.

Take for example Virginia, where  Gov. Bob McDonnell is recommending $731 million in cuts over the next 2.5 years.

Virginia’s proposed budget cuts will trickle down to each of the local school districts.

The largest school district in Virginia, Fairfax County, has announced it is planning to cut hundreds of education jobs and reducing full-day kindergarten, foreign language immersion, sports, music programs, and social workers and guidance counselors. Additionally, class sizes could increase and new fees are being considered for athletics and for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests.

Alexis Rice|February 24th, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Student Achievement, Teachers|

The push to raise healthier kids

The spotlight is on the issue of childhood obesity these days, especially with the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Initiative. NSBA, working with and through state school boards associations, has announced it will identify at least one school board member in each state to be a “visible champion” in this effort at the local level. 

The numbers are sobering – as high as one third of our nation’s children are affected by excess weight, and the number is growing fast. “Let’s Move” is taking on this huge challenge by mobilizing community leaders and parents across the country to get kids to exercise and make more healthy food choices.

As BoardBuzz knows, an important part of this equation is schools. School leaders play an essential role in supporting policies that promote physical exercise during and after school hours, and in improving the quality of the meals supplied to students. NSBA’s School Health Programs has more information on this topic on their website, including research data for making informed decisions on policy, and resources to help implement goals.

The 2010 NSBA Annual Conference will feature programming on school health and wellness topics that will delve into the issue of how nutrition affects performance, take a look at some districts that have successfully collaborated with the community to create healthy schools, and examine how schools can work with families to promote healthy kids.

Barbara Moody|February 23rd, 2010|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Less is more?

With all that is going around in the world of education lately, this suggestion from Ohio popped up from among the edu-chatter.  A report from the Greater Ohio Policy Center and The Brookings Institution suggests that Ohio consolidate many of its school districts and reduce the number of districts in the state from 613 to somewhere around 400 instead. 

The justification is that Ohio spends far too much money on administrators and not enough in the classroom.  They suggest the state take on a “base-closing” examination, similar to what the military did to reduce the number of bases in the military and limit redundancies, with schools.  Of course, there is opposition to this idea, which got BoardBuzz thinking.

What if all states reduced the number of districts and consolidated, would there be a financial savings in the long run?  How much would the increased travel time that would be required to bus students longer distances cost?  What are the impacts on student achievement in schools where students spend long periods of time going to and from school?  Could this be something other states should consider?  We know that many districts have consolidated in the past (see NSBA’s resources), but would a state be able to make this change wholesale and pass it off as education reform?  It sounds like Ohio isn’t close to making this a reality, but it certainly got us thinking…

Kevin Scott|February 22nd, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Research, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|

NSBA Files Brief in Supreme Court Case

NSBA attorneys have filed a U.S. Supreme Court brief supporting the city of Ontario, Calif., which is fighting a lawsuit from a SWAT team officer who said the police department acted illegally when it searched his city-issued pager and found sexually explicit text messages.

The case is important to school districts, which need unfettered access to employees’ work-related communications, both to ensure student safety and maintain smooth operations, said Naomi Gittins, NSBA’s deputy general counsel.

“Almost all school districts have these policies in place that tell employees, ‘You have no expectation of privacy'” regarding communications on district-issued equipment, such as cell phones and Blackberries, Gittins said.

Last June, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision in City of Ontario v. Quon and ruled in favor of the police officer, Sgt. Jeff  Quon, who said his immediate supervisor had assured him and other members of the SWAT team that their messages would not be reviewed. The review was part of an audit to determine the number of text messages the officers were sending. However, a higher ranking officer overruled that supervisor, searched Quon’s pager, and found the personal messages.

The city had a written policy stating that phone messages and e-mails were subject to departmental review, but it did not specifically mention pagers, Gittins said. However, before the incident, police officers were told orally that their pager messages could be reviewed.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case this term and issue a ruling before the term ends in July.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|February 17th, 2010|Categories: School Board News, School Boards, School Law|

Digital media is here to stay

Anyone with a teenager knows that the use of digital media is on the rise. As BoardBuzz previously mentioned, in a recent report issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit research organization, the average amount of time children ages 8 to 18 spend using media for non-school related activities is up to seven hours and 38 minutes per day — that’s an increase of more than an hour compared to the same study conducted in 2004. The report, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, is based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,002 3rd-12th grade students. Included in this group was a self-selected group of 702 students who kept media-use diaries. These diaries were used to calculate the number of students who are multi-tasking in their media use – using their cell phones and their laptops or iPods simultaneously, for example. The number of multi-taskers was also up significantly. The study concluded that the percentage of students who were heavy media users were more likely to get fair or poor grades when compared to light users — but maybe that doesn’t have to be the case.

A recent article in Education Week looked at this study, and while acknowledging the negative aspects, also pointed out the potential for student engagement found in the results. Could students who are used to the constant stimulation of digital media just be bored by the more passive, traditional teaching techniques in their classrooms? BoardBuzz is hearing from school districts across the country that have successfully integrated digital media into the learning process, taking advantage of students’ passion for technology to boost student involvement and achievement.

Several leading districts will showcase their successful use of digital media to engage students at NSBA’s 2010 Annual Conference, April 10-12 in Chicago. In addition to district workshops, there will also be a pre-conference site visit to Avoca school district to see firsthand how technology is transforming the education experience.

Barbara Moody|February 4th, 2010|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Student Achievement|

Rep. Fattah Speaks with CUBE Members on Budget

Meeting with urban school leaders from NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE), U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah said that President Obama’s willingness to invest in education during economic hard times was a bold but necessary decision.

“We face some challenges . . . a fiscal deficit,” Fattah (D-Pa.) told urban school leaders during CUBE’s annual Congressional Luncheon at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

“But another great deficit our nation faces is in human capital,” he said. “We cannot possibly live up to our ideals, live up to our potential as a nation, if we leave so many of our young people behind.”

Last year’s stimulus package put $100 billion into public education and mitigated the negative impact that devastating budget cuts could have had, Fattah told school leaders. But the stimulus “was a one-shot deal, and [Obama’s] budget is about turning the country in a different direction.”

Even in tough economic times, a greater regular investment in education—particularly in urban education —is essential given the high economic costs of allowing students to fail, he said. A recent report suggested that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would rise 3 percent to 5 percent “if we would just eliminate most of the disparities that exist in terms of educational attainment of the young people in our urban centers.”

In fact, he suggested, the economic cost of these educational disparities “are larger than the costs of the entire economic recession that we face. So we have work to do.”

That’s all the more true given the heavy investment that China and India are making in their educational systems. “They’re ramping up their educational systems. We can’t compete in the long-term and leave so many of our people  . . . people who’ve been written off.”

Although Fattah expressed support for much of Obama’s budget plan, he said he was particularly gratified by the proposal to put $323 million into GEAR UP—Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

The federal education program was sponsored by Fattah a decade ago to provide college-readiness support for low-income students.

“It has made a remarkable transformation in the districts where it’s been implemented,” he said. For example, he noted, South Dakota officials have included GEAR UP in their application for Race to the Top Funds because of its success in dramatically boosting graduation rates and college entry among Native American students.

Fattah also took the opportunity to praise urban school board members for their hard work. And he urged them to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill.

“We’ve got to look at what’s in front of us,” he said. “We have a president who is willing to carry his part, and those of us who believe in education is the lynchpin of our future, we need to stand up” and carry part of the load, too.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Del Stover|February 2nd, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, FRN Conference 2010, Governance, School Board News, School Boards, Urban Schools|

Va. Delegation Shares Concerns with Sen. Warner

When a delegation of Virginia school board members visited Capitol Hill this morning to meet with federal lawmakers, its first stop was the office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)—who cheerfully expressed his readiness to hear its opinions.

But, he added quickly, he had a pretty good idea of what they’d come to say: “Fix NCLB and send us more money.”

That generated its share of chuckles. But the score of visiting board members had spent recent days debating and studying the issues at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network annual conference.

So they still took the opportunity to emphasize their concerns—and their hope that Warner could get federal help to local schools.

How much that help was needed was voiced by Patricia Edmonson of the Virginia Beach school system. Just prior to Warner’s appearance, she told School Board News that last year’s stimulus package had provided “an 11th hour rescue” that spared her school board from making devastating cuts in spending.

Without assistance from somewhere, however, she said her board would be looking this year at budget cuts of $40 million to $50 million. “That’s going to be tough on everybody.”

One school board member told Warner that she hoped that the federal government could provide some relief from the punitive sanctions imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act.

But, while acknowledging the problems in NCLB’s accountability system, Warner expressed caution about a suggestion for a moratorium on sanctions. True accountability, he said, means federal law “has to have some teeth.”

Michelle Flynn, chair for the Greene County Public Schools, expressed concern about the Obama administration’s interest in putting new funding into competitive grants.

She, along with others, told Warner that there were worries that small, rural school systems would find it difficult to compete against the grant-writing teams that larger, better-staffed school systems could afford.

Warner ended the meeting with a mild warning. The education community recently has seen more federal support put into K-12 schools, he said, but given the economy and future budget projections, it’s not clear that’s sustainable.

“Unless something dramatic changes  . . . we can’t keep growing at that level.”

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Del Stover|February 2nd, 2010|Categories: Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, FRN Conference 2010, Governance, School Board News, School Boards|

School board members take to the hill

School Board News is reporting live from NSBA’s Federal Relations Network conference.

The Federal Relations Network (FRN) helped secure many legislative victories for school boards in 2009 and is now tasked with even more pressing advocacy efforts this year, NSBA’s leaders said at the FRN opening session. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, securing federal funding in light of state budget shortfalls, and President Obama’s challenge for schools to provide a world-class education for all students will highlight this year’s advocacy efforts. It comes after a year with significant victories—most notably helping secure the $100 billion in federal stimulus funds—but also a time in which the Obama administration took more control of the federal role and pushed through several initiatives without Congressional approval.

Visit School Board News for excellent coverage of this exciting event.

Erin Walsh|February 2nd, 2010|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards|
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