Articles in the Urban Schools category

Obama’s budget plan focuses on education

This morning, President Barack Obama traveled to Parkville Middle School and Center for Technology in Maryland’s Baltimore County to unveil his budget plan and disscussed the need to invest in education.

See the video from the Associated Press:


Alexis Rice|February 14th, 2011|Categories: Teachers, Middle Schools, Educational Technology, Federal Programs, Multimedia and Webinars, Educational Finance, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Vouchers make a comeback in states, Capitol Hill

Proposals to create private school vouchers are back in state legislatures as well as the federal landscape, with new Republican House members and Speaker of the House John Boehner already pushing school choice bills, according to NSBA’s advocacy team.

A voucher initiative could also appear in legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA legislative analyst Katherine Shek told participants of a Monday session at the Federal Relations Network Conference.

Rep. Boehner already has introduced a bill to reinstate a program for students in Washington, D.C., offering vouchers of up to $7,500 to private or religious schools. The program, funded at $13.2 million for the last fiscal year, expired in 2009 and was not renewed, but currently enrolled students were allowed to continue at their schools.

There’s even more action in the states, with 18 voucher proposals in 12 states and Washington, Shek said.

“We’re going to have a serious challenge on vouchers and tuition tax credits,” Shek said. Some of the proposals are referred to as “scholarships,” and new legislators may not understand the full impact of the proposals, she added.

Also this year, the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s tuition tax credits, which give donors state income tax breaks for providing tuition for children to attend private, predominantly religious schools. NSBA has filed an amicus brief on behalf plaintiffs challenging the program, which funnels millions of dollars to private schools without public accountability. (Read more on Winn v. Christian School Tuition Organization here.)

Joetta Sack-Min|February 7th, 2011|Categories: Governance, School Boards, FRN Conference 2011, Educational Legislation, Educational Finance, School Vouchers, Urban Schools, School Reform, School Board News|

Baltimore schools’ turnaround tale

One of the most successful governing bodies in American education today is the board of Baltimore City Public Schools. But that wasn’t the case just a few years ago.

As recently as 2003, student academic performance and graduation rates were declining, the school system had seen five CEOs come and go in six years, and financial insolvency was on the horizon. And, instead of focusing on academic success, the school board was guilty of micromanaging operations.

“Some board members were running departments . . . calling the shots,” remembered Neil Duke, chair of the school board. “We needed as a board to step back . . . to allow our superintendent to actually run the district.”

How Baltimore board members made that transition—shifting focus to policy making and student achievement and ultimately beginning a turnaround of the 83,000-student school system—was the topic of a Sunday morning session of NSBA’s Leadership Conference.

Likening the school board to a master chef, Duke told session attendees that “one of the things we did poorly [was] to keep our hands out of the preparation of the meal. Board members are supposed to be master chefs. You hire the best people to cook and get them good ingredients—and they make beautiful meals.”

“For a number of years,” Duke confessed, “we as a board liked to get in the kitchen and put our hands in the pot. And when the meal didn’t turn out so great, we’d ask, ‘Who was responsible for that?'”

Duke joined the school board in 2007, and over the next two years, he board hired its highly regarded superintendent, Andrés Alonzo, and refocused its efforts to policymaking. Surprisingly, he said, the school board didn’t even have a policy committee until the summer of 2008.

Before that, he said, “we didn’t do policy.”

Helping the school board during this transition was the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE), and its executive director, Carl Smith, who sat with Duke as they talked about MABE’s role in board training. Smith complimented the board for reaching out for the supports that would strengthen its efforts.

“Urban school districts often see themselves as separate, isolated, as having different challenges than the rest of the state,” Smith said. “Baltimore City has never taken that position …. They’ve interacted with all the other districts, been active in our conventions and professional development programs. We work with the board, at their request, to provide assistance and support.”

Another notable step in the school board’s increasing effectiveness—and a factor in the board being named winner of the 2010 CUBE Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence—has been its efforts to engage parents, community members, and civic leaders. The value of that effort was demonstrated in 2009, when an umbrella group of 20 community organizations staged massive public rallies to block cuts in state education funding.

“One of the fair criticism of our district in the past was we weren’t as responsible to the community,” Duke said. “It incredible the amount of time spent engaging the public.”

But the board’s efforts have been worth it, he added. “It’s really paid huge dividends.”

Another sign of that effort can be easily seen in the change in media coverage of the school system, Smith noted. “Up until five or six years ago, you could not pick up the newspaper . . . and not see a negative article about the Baltimore Public Schools. They were the piñata [of] the Baltimore Sun. Now you can pick up the Sun, day after day, and never see a negative article, and when you see an article, it is positive. That is a huge change.”

Del Stover|February 6th, 2011|Categories: Governance, School Boards, Leadership Conference 2011, Urban Schools, School Board News|

High school quality key to urban communities

A coalition of civil rights and education groups are working to strengthen high school quality—and to ensure that students in urban communities receive an equitable education.

That mission is important because the quality of education received by urban students has a huge impact on their communities, Michael Wotorson, executive director of the Campaign for High School Equity, told urban school leaders at the CUBE Issues Forum Saturday at NSBA’s Leadership Conference.

One million students drop out of school each year—and only about half of minority students graduate on time.

That makes it a civil rights issue as well as an educational issue, Wotorson said. “There are critical supports that school s and districts need to be able to right things for our kids.”

It’s not just a matter of what’s right. Joining Wotorson on the panel discussion was Fred Jones, a legislative associate with the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE). Jones said the nation’s high school dropout rate was an economic and social problem for everyone.

“If you take the class of 2010 droputs—1.3 million—that results in about $337 billion in lost lifetime earnings,” he said.

One goal of AEE is to support the focus on the nation’s 2,000 lowest-performing high schools—so recently labeled “dropout factories,” where 60 percent or less of students graduate, Jones added.

The coalition—working through the campaign—also is supporting efforts at developing effective tools for evaluating teachers, Wotorson said. “We recognize how important it is to come up with a useful metric that allows us to talk about effectiveness.”

According to T. Beth Glenn, education director for NAACP’s Advocacy and Research Department, a value-added formula is appropriate—but “with caveats.” Also needed are observations of classroom practices, a review of student academic work, and other demonstrations of effective teaching.

For school boards, they should be looking at such policies as whether teachers have coaches and there is some means of using student outcomes to “feed back into” professional development, she said.

When an Arizona board member rose from the audience to describe the policies that affect students in her state—some of which she suggested were oppressive and racially motivated against minorities—Glenn said such “urgent and pressing problems need to be dealt with now.”

“Organize, organize, organize,” she said.

Del Stover|February 5th, 2011|Categories: Governance, School Boards, Teachers, Leadership Conference 2011, Urban Schools, School Board News|

ELL research can guide district policy

Let’s say your school board is looking for the best way to educate English language learners (ELLs)—and some in your community insist that English-only instruction is the way to go. How do you respond?

A good start would be the Center for Public Education (CPE), a “one-stop resource for objective, understandable research and data on key education issues.”

That was the message that CPE Director Patte Barth gave attendees of Saturday’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Issues Forum at NSBA’s Leadership Conference.

For a school board wrestling with the issue of ELL instruction, a little help—in the form of easy-to-read research—could be most welcome, she said.

“This is one of the most controversial issues out there,” Barth said. “There are a lot of emotions attached to teaching second languages. It’s very political. People have some very strong feelings about this.”

Those feelings aren’t always supported by research, she added. One important research finding listed on the CPE website is that it takes four to seven years on average for ELL students to become proficient in English to a degree that allows students to succeed academically.

“What confused the issue is people can pick up [conversational] English,” Barth continued. “Their oral proficiency makes them appear capable of succeeding in the classroom.”

But that’s not so. Tapping into CPE resources, she said, school boards can present evidence that shows elementary-aged students enrolled in English-only classrooms score, on average at the 12th percentile in reading tests by the time they reach high school.

Young students enrolled in bilingual programs—where they are taught part of the time in their native language—reach high school reading at the 45th percentile.

In addition to finding a clear analysis of education research, Barth said, school leaders also can tap into CPE DataFirst website, a collection of resources designed to guide policymakers to the questions they need to ask on various issues—and to point them to the data that will answer those questions.

To emphasize the value of CPE, she proposed another scenario—one in which the superintendent suggests a school board adopt an incentive plan to lure better teachers to low-performing schools.

A visit to the CPE website, Barth said, would provide school board members with some of the steps that research suggests is necessary in developing a successful incentive plan. Those steps include examining how teachers are distributed in the district, tapping into best practices on teacher recruitment and retention, and involving teachers in the planning process.

For more information, visit the CPE website:

Del Stover|February 5th, 2011|Categories: School Boards, Leadership Conference 2011, Urban Schools, Immigrants, Student Achievement, School Board News|

The diversity of school board members

A new report released by NSBA, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and the Iowa School Boards Foundation is giving new insights into the workings of America’s nearly 14,000 school boards, including diversity of school board members.

The report, School Boards Circa 2010: Governance in the Accountability Era, finds that school board members, especially those in large districts, are more representative of the communities they serve than state legislatures and members of Congress. Boards now include women at more than twice the rate of the U.S. House Representatives and Senate. In large districts, 21.8 percent of school boards members surveyed were African-American and six percent were Latino.

BoardBuzz is proud to know that school boards are reflecting the diversity of their local communities.

Alexis Rice|February 4th, 2011|Categories: School Boards, Educational Research, Urban Schools, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

The week in blogs

Ask an 8-year-old this Sunday what he wants to be when he grows up and you might hear “a star running back for the Green Bay Packers” (or the Pittsburgh Steelers). Or maybe, if he or she is more focused on the halftime show: “A rock star like the Black Eyed Peas!”

How would you respond? Probably something on the order of, “Aww, isn’t that cute.”

But get the same response from, say, a 13-year-old – and I did once, when I visited an alternative school in Brockton, Mass., and talked to a 5-foot, 98-poundish student who wanted to be a pro basketball player — and your reaction would be more like:  “Isn’t that sad and deluded.”

Truth is, schools need to do a better job of preparing students for careers as well as higher education. And this week the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report outlining just how it thinks it should be done.

One big supporter is Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“I start with the basic premise that it is the responsibility of K-12 educators to prepare all students for both college and a career,” Duncan said in a speech this week.  “This must be ‘both/and,’ not ‘either/or.’ High school graduates themselves – not the educational system – should be choosing the postsecondary and career paths they want to pursue.”

A great idea, but what’s the track record for schools in preparing students for careers? A mixed one, notes Education Week‘s Catherine Gewertz in the Curriculum Matters blog.

What’s another way to improve career education – and, indeed, all education? “Stop driving out good teachers,” says University of Georgia Professor Peter Smagorinsky, quoted on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Get Schooled blog.  In this witty and quite opinionated piece, Smagorinsky muses about how today’s test-crazy education leaders would have reacted to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Speech.  Hint: Think multiple choice.

“I suspect that neither (here he’s referring to Jesus and Socrates) would last long as the test-administering functionary required by Duncan.”

I think “Ouch” is the proper (and clichéd) response.

Finally, thank Alexander Russo’s “This Week in Education” for alerting us to the return of Patrick Riccard’s satirical “Edu-Pundit” on YouTube. Very clever. Very funny … but scarily close to reality? See for yourself.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|February 4th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Educational Research, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

WFS — A well-deserved snub

For once, it was a good surprise.

We’d spent months expecting “Waiting for Superman,” the documentary by director Davis Guggenheim that promotes charter schools, to receive a nomination—and possibly win–an Academy Award. Last week, it was snubbed — no nomination.

Since the movie came out last fall, though, I think a lot of people have realized there are serious flaws in Guggenheim’s logic (many of which were outlined in this scathing critique by prominent education historian and author Diane Ravitch).

Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss brings to light a few others—namely, some of the scenes were staged and some of the characters were misrepresented. That, um, certainly did not bode well for an Oscar.

Strauss writes, “Guggenheim edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, even though they can’t be, by their very design. He unfairly demonized Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and gave undeserved hero status to reformer and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Guggenheim compared schools in Finland and the United States without mentioning that Finland has a 3 percent child poverty rate and the United States has a 22 percent rate.”

It gets worse—he also staged a scene by a mother touring a charter school, after she knew her child did not get it, according to Strauss. And another odd scene was Emily Jones, a white student in an exclusive San Francisco Bay suburb who appeared to be hinging her hopes and dreams on getting into a local charter. Guggenheim makes the traditional high school sound inferior, but turns out that Jones—and many others—think it’s actually quite good (and it has the test scores to prove it). Jones later told a reporter that she just happened to like the charter school even better.

My main complaint about the film was that Guggenheim never went to any of the schools that he was so critical of—you just had to take his word as he drove past those buildings. Perhaps next time Guggenheim should spend some time inside those schools—and really learn the issues–before he decides he can solve any problems.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|January 31st, 2011|Categories: Governance, Urban Schools, School Reform, American School Board Journal|

Culture, stereotypes, and the drive to succeed

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Stereotypes are dangerous things, but they can sometimes be useful. They’re blunt instruments that can just as easily reveal truth as prejudice, but more likely point to some uncomfortable  mixture of the two. Which is why we try to leave them alone.

Today, however, I’m not taking my own advice. And that’s because the authors of the two essays I want to tell you about have tossed out some broad stereotypes of their own.    

If you’re tired of reading about the self-described Chinese American “Tiger Mother,” I understand. But if, somehow, you missed her recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, you must know that Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua created an Internet sensation with her account of her strict (or is that draconian?) child-rearing practices:

Lawrence Hardy|January 18th, 2011|Categories: Diversity, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|

The week in blogs

Many years ago, when I was a college senior in Southern California, I took a child development class connected with a wonderful campus preschool that was all the things you would expect a ‘70s-era preschool to be – discovery oriented, child centered, creative, and fun.  It guess you could call it “open classroom” as well,  seeing as the kids had the run of a multi-room former home; of course it helped, in terms of classroom control, that – in addition to having a wonderful director – there was a ratio of roughly one college student helper for every two children.

Flip ahead two years, and I was one of the teachers in a Head Start program for minority students in Boston’s South End. This was also “open classroom,” but by necessity: There was some structural problem in one classroom that forced us to combined two classrooms of 20-some students each into a mega-class of four teachers and more than 40-something children.

Yes, it was bedlam. There were just too many students – and too much noise – for much real learning to occur.

I thought about those two schools this week after reading about an experimental elementary school in Brooklyn founded by a former principal and Harvard graduate student who was trying to replicate the small discussion groups at Phillips Exeter Academy. This is analogous to my California school. But, according to a New York Times story on the project and Joanne Jacobs’ subsequent blog, instead of organizing several small groups (which may not have been possible) the founder put 60 first graders in a class with four teachers, and the results were …. yes, as the Times strongly implies, bedlam. The same thing I experienced in Boston.

Lawrence Hardy|January 15th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Educational Technology, Diversity, Educational Research, School Climate, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, School Buildings, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|
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