Classrooms have not changed much since the Little House on the Prairie days, and Slate magazine is asking for ideas on how school buildings should be revamped to better meet students’ needs. Read more and submit an entry today .On the heels of “Waiting for Superman,” another parent-filmed documentary, “Race to Nowhere,” examines the standardized testing movement and the pressure that students, particularly from upper- and middle-class families, face, according to a review in the Washington Post Also in the Washington Post, Metro columnist Robert McCartney says that the Baltimore City school district’s success shows that D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s reforms “aren’t the only way to success.” Baltimore is the winner of the 2010 Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Award.
School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
Articles in the Urban Schools category
In the wake of “Waiting for Superman” and the hype surrounding it, there’s a district that has been working very hard to make some changes for the better, and they haven’t called any caped crusaders yet. Last weekend, NSBA’s Council for Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) recognized Baltimore City Public Schools in its annual Award for Urban Boards of Education. While much of the press surrounds urban districts woes, Baltimore and the three other finalists districts (Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, Texas’ Houston Independent School District, and Virginia’s Portsmouth Public Schools) have reasons to be proud in their communities. Increased test scores, improved civic involvement, and narrowing the achievement gap, are just a few of the things to celebrate. Baltimore has showed improved test scores, increased high school graduation rates, improved school safety, and has had an increase in the number of students attending their schools for the first time in decades.
Baltimore has also recently struck a tentative deal with their teachers’ union that many thought would never happen.
But don’t take our word for it. Take a look at more of the details in School Board News Today, The Washington Post, and The Baltimore Sun. There’s no doubt that while many are waiting for a Superman, Baltimore decided to get up and do something for themselves.
Who knew the debate on education reform could be so funny? What did you think of Lewis Black’s commentary from last night’s The Daily Show?
Here’s the video:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Back in Black – Education Crisis|
The Los Angeles Board of Education has approved what would be a landmark court settlement that radically limits the traditional practice of laying off teachers strictly on the basis of seniority, the Los Angeles Times writes. The agreement, which has to be approved by a judge, would cap the number of those dismissals at virtually all schools in the nation’s second-largest district and allow up to 45 struggling schools to avoid layoffs Bill Gates’ latest contribution to education is $35 million to help the Obama administration reshape community colleges to meet the changing needs of the American economy, according to the Christian Science Monitor… And liberal-leaning Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson says the Baltimore teacher’s union should be lauded for advocating for a contract that gives teachers a career ladder to reward excellent teaching, not seniority. The Baltimore City school district received the top award from NSBA’s Council of Urban School Boards (CUBE) last week.
Former Hampton City (Va.) Schools Board of Education member Henry J. Godfrey is the winner of the 2010 Benjamin Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award. Godfrey was honored at the CUBE Annual Conference in Baltimore on Saturday.
The Mays Lifetime Achievement Award is given to an individual who has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to representing the educational needs of urban schoolchildren through his or her service as a local school board member.
Godfrey has devoted the past five decades to students in the Virginia Tidewater region as a teacher, principal, school district administrator and school board member. He began his career in 1961 as an elementary school teacher in the Newport News Public Schools. For the next 29 years, he served as a teacher, then elementary, middle and high school principal, in that school district. In 1990, he became Deputy Superintendent for Administration for the Newport News Public Schools and held that position until his retirement in 1996.
In 1997, Godfrey joined the Hampton City Schools Board of Education, where he served until 2010. During his tenure on the board, Godfrey championed alternative education programs to assist at-risk students. In May 2010, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell paid a visit to Hampton to tout the district’s success in reducing the dropout rate.
The 83,000-student Baltimore City Public Schools stands as the top urban school district in the land. The district is the 2010 winner of the CUBE Award, receiving the award at CUBE’s annual conference in Baltimore on Saturday.
Baltimore has made double-digit state test score gains, significantly improved the performance of minority students, increased public support in measurable ways, and sharply cut the number of students dropping out of school.
The district has made particular progress since 2007, when the school board hired former New York City Deputy Chancellor Andres Alonso to be the district’s CEO.
In three years, Baltimore has made record progress in closing major achievement gaps and improving the performance of various subgroups. For example:
# Special education students in grades three to eight have improved their reading scores on state tests by nearly 30 percentage points since 2007. English language learners have made even more progress in reading, improving by 39 percentage points.
# In math, those same special education students improved by nearly 28 percentage points during that three-year time span. English language learners improved by 39 percentage points — and actually outperformed their English-speaking peers in math.
# For Hispanic students, Baltimore has narrowed the achievement gap by 38 percentage points in reading and more than 40 percentage points in math since 2007.
# African-American test scores have grown by 21 percentage points in reading and 26 percentage points in math during the last three years.
“From day one as CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, I have felt very fortunate to serve this board,” said Alonso. “It is a board that is first and foremost focused on our kids, and that supports every effort to give schools the resources they need to do right by our kids. Thanks to this board’s leadership, we have been able to build the necessary infrastructure to begin to truly transform our schools, and we are now seeing the results: Our students have posted three straight years of record achievement gains, and the larger Baltimore community is rallying around our students and our schools like never before.”
Three urban districts were named as finalists for the award: Florida’s Broward County Schools, Houston Independent School District, and Virginia’s Portsmouth City Schools,
With more than 255,000 students, the Broward County Public Schools embarked in 2008 on a strategic plan to guide the nation’s sixth-largest school system.
The three-year plan outlined strategies and goals not only for expected topics, such as student performance and closing racial achievement gaps, but also on wide-ranging goals like employee excellence, student wellness, and even environmental stewardship.
Two years into the plan, the massive and diverse school district has made remarkable progress. For example:
# Broward County has regularly equaled or beaten the Florida state average reading and math test scores in both fourth and eighth grades. In particularly, students who speak English as a second language have outperformed their peers statewide.
# The district has made gradual, but significant, progress in closing the performance gaps on state achievement tests between white students and African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students.
# Enrollment in Advanced Placement courses has grown 64 percent for African-American students and 57 percent for Hispanic students in the past five years.
Houston Independent School District has been regarded as a role model for school reform dating back to the 1990s, when future U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige was superintendent. The district has made a number of sweeping recent changes, including linking teacher performance reviews to student achievement.
To show how serious board members are about reform, they hired in 2009 noted innovator — and sometimes controversial leader — Terry Grier, to be the district’s new superintendent. A centerpiece of those transformational efforts has been the board’s innovative and, again, sometimes controversial, approach to teacher evaluation and compensation.
In 2007, the board created the Accelerating Student Progress. Inspiring Results & Expectations (ASPIRE), which uses value-added data to determine educator pay bonuses. To date, the district has paid out more than $113 million in performance-based bonuses. Each year, more and more schools earned full state accreditation.
As the 2002-03 school year started, only three of the Portsmouth Public Schools’ 25 campuses were fully accredited by Virginia. These dismal figures gave evidence to the many skeptics who said Portsmouth’s schools were unsalvageable failures.
But the Portsmouth Board of Education refused to accept that verdict. Neither did David Stuckwisch, the district’s new superintendent entering the 2002-03 school year. The school board, superintendent, and Portsmouth staff set to work on improving the struggling school system.
Then, at the end of the 2008-09 school year, state education officials announced that every school in the Portsmouth Public Schools had earned accreditation. In addition, the district met its federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets, something only 60 of Virginia’s 132 school districts accomplished. Eight schools saw more than 90 percent of students pass the state English test, while seven schools had a more than 90 percent passing rate for math.
After a week that featured the opening of “Waiting for Superman” and NBC’s multimedia blitz that was “Education Nation,” NSBA’s leaders were fired up when they came to the Council of Urban Boards of Education’s annual meeting.
Executive Director Anne Bryant and Board President Earl C. Rickman addressed CUBE members in separate sessions Friday and Saturday, exhorting urban school leaders to look behind the media gauze and work to engage the community in seeing the real story about their schools.
Both Bryant and Rickman said the events were eye-opening experiences, not so much for what they showed but what they didn’t: the leadership and good work that is happening in traditional schools.
“Too many people are concluding that urban education can’t produce quality 21st century education,” Bryant told attendees at the 43rd annual meeting.
Rickman, in a passionate speech on the conference’s final day, said strong leadership from urban school boards is critically important especially now. After attending Education Nation and seeing media attention that he believes was distorted and slanted against urban school districts, he said urban board members must take matters into their own hands.
“We’ve got to tell our story,” he said.
Bryant, who spoke on a panel at Education Nation, said the event did not exactly deliver on its promise to take a wide-angle look at public schools.
“The NBC producers always started the segment with the hard, cold facts, which were true but it’s not simple,” Bryant said during Friday’s luncheon.
In fact, nothing in public education is ever that simple. For instance, the growing contention that charter schools are better and offer the best solution to reforming education is a little more complex than that, Bryant said.
Research has shown that only 17 percent of charter schools outperform traditional public schools. Still, innovative things are occurring in charters that regular schools can learn from.
“NSBA’s position with charters is that it’s OK, if [school boards] are the authorizers because you can take those lessons and populate them across the district, or shut it down just as you can with a traditional school,” Bryant said.
Rickman and Bryant both took “Waiting for Superman” to task for its overly simplistic look at the challenges facing urban school leaders. Rickman sharply criticized the film’s refusal to portray “even one” traditional public school in a good light, while Bryant focused on the documentary’s anti-union stance.
Casting unions as the villain and the reason why schools are failing is becoming popular public opinion, Bryant said, noting that urban boards need to channel those sentiments into improving their relationships and communication with the local affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
“Why can’t, in a contract, we include the end goal as student learning? Why can’t we be flexible with the length of the school day and year?” she asked, pointing to Finland, who has a robust union and an education system that consistently ranks near the top in the world.
Besides changing the dialogue they have with their unions, Bryant said urban board members need to change the dialogue people have about public education.
“It’s unfair to use the worst public schools as examples of public education, it is heresy, it is wrong,” Bryant said. “We know there are great examples of public education but we need you to share those stories. You are the face of urban education. Claim it.”
CUBE Steering Committee President Lock Beachum agreed with the assessments of NSBA’s leadership.
“We must re-engage in the debate to tell our stories,” said Beachum, who serves on the school board of Ohio’s Youngstown City School District. “My challenge to you is to share your story with your state association, your local media, the national media, teachers, parents they need to know how we are charging urban education, how our schools are serving as the real superman and superwoman for our children.”
Think a school’s indoor air quality isn’t that big an issue? Talk to officials in Memphis, Tenn., where a student’s death was blamed on a respiratory illness aggravated by the poor air quality inside his high school.
“The incident became a media frenzy, prompting school officials and local politicians to request assistance from the EPA,” said Yasmin Bowers, project manager of healthy school environments for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).
Bowers was one of several panelists who spoke on issues surrounding schools’ indoor air quality at a Saturday workshop at the annual conference of NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE).
What school leaders overlook is that, with millions of schoolchildren suffering with asthma, poor indoor air quality can contribute to student absenteeism, said Brenda Greene, director of NSBA’s school health programs. In 2002, the federal government estimates, asthma resulted in students missing 2.8 million school days.
Those absences were lost opportunities to educate students and raise academic performance, she said. And some research suggests improved air quality can actually improve test scores.
“In one study, students in classrooms with higher outdoor air ventilation rates [and higher air quality] scored 14 to 15 percent higher on standardized test scores than children in classrooms with lower outdoor air ventilation rates.”
Health concerns have prompted a number of school systemsMemphis, Milwaukee, and Baltimore County, Md., among othersto develop a districtwide program to ensure the air quality of their schools, panelists said.
The good news is that some steps to improve indoor air quality are inexpensive, panelists said. Not allowing school buses to idle outside of schools, for example, can reduce exhaust emissions that can be drawn into schools through air ventilation systems.
Making sure teachers don’t block air vents with bookshelves is another simple step to ensure that ventilation systems properly move air through the building. Teachers also can clear their classrooms of stuffed animals, which can hold dust and microbes that aggravate students’ respiratory problems.
In Baltimore County, an aging infrastructure and decades of deferred maintenance work forced more costly steps to improve indoor air quality, said Michael Sines, executive director of physical facilities for the school system.
Some schools actually were closed because of mold problems, he said. One school’s brick façade had to be torn away after mold and mildew had worked its way into the walls.
Today, though, the county school district has a comprehensive indoor air quality plan, regular inspections of schools, and a funded maintenance budget to ensure that moisture and mildew problems are caught before they become a health issue.
As a result, it’s been five years since the school system closed a school for air-quality problems, and mold clean-up costs have declined dramatically, Sines said. As noteworthy, the number of reported “critical asthma events” also is down in the schools.
The benefits of improving indoor air quality in schools are well worth a school board’s attention, Greene said. “You have some leadership opportunities by making a commitment to providing a healthy learning environment for students, teachers, and staff.”
Too much of the debate over school reform is shaped by political and ideological beliefsand isn’t shaped enough by what research and successful urban schools can tell the nation about what makes good schools.
So argues Pedro Noguera, executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education and noted professor and researcher at New York University.
Noguera was keynote speaker Saturday at the annual conference of NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE), held in Baltimore, Md.
“I am troubled by the way these debates get framed, because as we know, sometimes when it gets too extreme, the truth gets lost,” he said.
Take the simplistic debate currently under way about charter schools, Noguera said. Even the Obama Administration is guilty of contributing to the mistaken argument that charters are successful alternatives to the public schools.
“I serve on a committee that authorizes charter schools . . . and I’m the first person to say, just because it’s a charter, it doesn’t mean it’s better,” he said. “We’ve completely lost sight of the fact that charters were conceived as schools to provide laboratories for education. Now we’re in competition with charters . . . we’re at odds with one another.”
The facts also have been lost in the debate over “bad” teachers, Noguera said. Teachers are an easy target for blame, and that’s led some of the reform debate to turn to teacher union bashing.
But, if there’s going to be a debate over who is accountable for poor student academic performance, he added, when is that debate going to turn to the responsibilities that parents are supposed to shoulder for their children’s success in school?
And, if people are going to throw around blame, who should be held accountable for asking high school teachers to educate ninth-graders who enter their classrooms reading at a third-grade level?
The reality is that many troubled high schools never had a chance, Noguera said. “They were designed to fail because those schools were overloaded with high-needs students, English language learners, special education students, and kids coming in below grade level. And they were staffed with the least-experienced teachers.”
The failure to look at the real issues behind today’s education problems also can be seen in the politically popular suggestion that policymakers close so-called “dropout factories,” he said. Closing these schools create other problems. What’s to become of the students once their schools close?
Simply moving students is no guarantee that their new school will be any more successful in dealing with their educational deficiencies, he said. “You need to provide the additional resources to give that [new] school a chance to meet those students’ needs. But that’s not part of the conversation. We just talk about shutting schools down.”
What policymakers really should discuss, he said, are the underlying reasons that these troubled high schools failusually because their feeder middle and elementary schools are failing to teach students to read.
Noguera encouraged school board members to not allow today’s simplistic, polarized debate to cloud their judgment.
“I encourage you to focus on the evidence. It’s interesting we talk so much about dataat looking at researchto make decisions. But right now, most of the decisions made in education are not based on research. They’re based on politics. And that, unfortunately, sometimes prevents us from doing what makes the most sense.”
Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the race-based student assignment policies in Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky., some urban school leaders are looking to use socioeconomic factors as the criteria to determine student placements designed to promote diversity in their schools.
The strategy holds promisebut comes with a caveat. “I would suggest if it ever gets to the point that you use something as a proxy for race, it still opens you to some [legal] challenge,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negrón.
Urban school leaders received an extensive overview of the legal issues surrounding school diversity policies at a workshop Thursday in Baltimore during the 2010 Annual Conference of NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE).
For local school policymakers, a key point of the high court’s rulings on the Seattle and Jefferson County attendance plans is that the decision did not totally bar the use of race in school district efforts to promote diversity in schools, Negrón said.
The court did, however, set a high bar for the consideration of race, he added. But a school board must show a compelling government interest for its actionsthat its policies to promote diversity offer real educational benefits to students and counter the educational harm of racially isolated schools.
In Seattle and Jefferson County, the high court ruled that the school systems had not proven their cases. For example, justices questioned that, if diversity in schools was such an important goal, why did the districts’ policies focus on the mix of whites versus minorities in schools instead of the more complex mix of all racial groups.
“For districts to proclaim their concerns about diversity, and forget about Asians or other types of individuals . . . that would not necessary bode well with the court,” said workshop panelist Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association.
To pass legal muster, school boards must articulate why specific levels of diversity are needed, why race-neutral policies won’t do the job, and explain how the criteria used in student assignments serve a school district’s educational goals.
When setting up its student assignment plans, school boards would be wise to look first at the feasibility of a race-neutral plan for student assignments, panelists said. Socioeconomic factors, parent education levels, and academic achievement levels are just some of the criteria that could be used in such plans.
School boards also should weigh other strategies to promote school diversity, such as redrawing attendance boundaries or building new schools in locations that would draw from a diverse population in surrounding neighborhoods.
Another important step is to articulate and document the reasoning behind any policy, Negrón said.
“You, as school board members, as you talk about diversity programs, you need to be aware of what the research says [about diversity and academic gains] and be talking about that,” he said. “Because when you get hauled into court, the question is going to be, Aren’t you doing this [criteria] as a substitute for race?’ Another question will be, Why do you believe this [diversity] is good as an academic goal?’ ”
Near the end of the workshop, Negrón suggested that one of the ironies of the high court’s rulings is that, by making it harder for school boards to promote diversity, the court is making school boards more vulnerable to the same accusations leveled in Brown v. Board of Educationthat the existence of segregated schools is denying all children an equal education.
“It may very well be, at some point, a parent sues you,” he said.