Articles tagged with education secretary

NSBA comments on U.S. Chamber of Commerce report on school boards

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may not agree on everything regarding K-12 education, but when it comes to basic recommendations for improving school board governance they can find some common ground.

Consider School Board Case Studies, a new report by the chamber’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce, which was released May 15 at a forum in Washington. Among the report’s findings:

  • School boards are most effective when they have clearly defined, and limited, responsibilities
  • Superintendents play a key role
  • Effective training and board development can make a difference
  • Caliber and commitment of individual board members matters

“Frankly, that’s what we call The Key Work of School Boards,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant, one of several panelists asked to comment on the report. NSBA’s Key Work is a framework of eight interrelated action areas to focus and guide school boards in their efforts to improve student achievement.

The chamber’s report looks at case studies of 13 mainly urban school districts across the country that are experiencing varying degrees of success, from the internationally recognized Long Beach Unified School District in Southern California to more challenged school systems in Detroit and Newark, N.J. The report emphasizes the role that business can play to create — as panelist Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, put it — “urgency and context for reform.”

Rotherham said that business leaders and other concerned parties need to encourage well-qualified people to run for school boards. He said recruiting the right people doesn’t mean finding someone who shares your political views as much as choosing citizens who are up to this increasingly complex job.

“The reality is — it’s the type of habits and skills that people have” that are important, Rotherham said.

Bryant agreed. But she pointed to the 2011 report by NSBA, the Iowa School Boards Foundation, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, School Boards Circa 2010: Governance in the Accountability Era to counter some of the claims in the report, including a claim that school board elections are driven by special interests that are pouring money into races. School Boards Circa 2010 found that nationally, 74 percent of school board members said they spent less than $1,000 on their most recent race, and 87 percent spent less than $5,000.

Bryant also noted that two-thirds of board members surveyed for the report saw an urgent need to improve student achievement. As a group, the board members were also well-educated; 75 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree. And they typically aren’t using the board as a stepping stone to other positions, as some critics charge. When asked what prompted them to serve on a school board in the first place, just over 50 percent of respondents reported that their first motivation was to ensure that schools were the “best they can be,” 22 percent said “civic duty,” and only 1 percent said “developing their role as a public leader,” according to School Boards Circa 2010.

Bryant emphasized the need for collaboration, but also warned that strong partnerships take time and work.

“ We know from experience that our most successful partnerships start by building a culture of collaboration,” Bryant said. “This is hard work and any business or local chamber of commerce needs to understand that it takes time not only to build partnerships but to recognize their schools’ strengths and challenges. We’ve seen many partnerships flounder when a business coalition comes in and tells a school what to do without understanding how schools work and what the levers of real long term change are.”

Another panelist, Don McAdams,  chairman and founder of the Center for Reform of School Systems, criticized the report and said the 13 case studies were used to advance opinions rather than represent a snapshot of national findings.

The audience also heard from former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, now president of the chamber’s U.S. Forum for Policy Innovation. She said that business people need to have more of a presence at school board meetings, which she said are typically attended by vendors, teacher unions, and others with special interest in the proceedings.

 

 

Lawrence Hardy|May 15th, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Data Driven Decision Making, Governance, Key Work of School Boards, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , , , |

New Center report looks at ways to boost high school rigor

Advanced Placement courses, rigorous math curriculum, dual high school-college enrollment, and early college programs can all increase the rigor of America’s secondary schools, according to Is High School Tough Enough?, a new report by NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

While the report noted that more in-depth research is needed, it said that school boards interested in applying these four strategies need to consider issues such as funding, data collection, and increasing access for low-income and minority students.

“In today’s education landscape, many are beginning to re-think the high school experience,” said Patte Barth, Director of the Center.  “From Advanced Placement courses to dual enrollment, early college high schools, and even high-level math, the aim is to expose students to concepts, curricula, and ideas that will help them succeed in college or lead to a productive career.”

Barth said this emphasis is reflected in many policy trends, including an increasing “PreK-16” perspective as well as the recently developed Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, which most states have adopted in order to help produce college-ready and career-ready high school graduates.

Still, there is wide variation in secondary school rigor across the country, the report noted. It said that — while the term “rigor” is not easily defined — “many low-income schools lack access to a rigorous high school curriculum by any definition.” For example, according to a 2011 report by U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) 3,000 high schools serving nearly 500,000 students offer no classes in Algebra II, a gateway to higher math, college, and career readiness.

In a survey issued Tuesday, OCR expanded on that issue, noting, among other things, only 29 percent of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with the lowest black and Hispanic enrollment. In addition, the report found that teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less than teachers in low minority schools in the same district. It also noted that African American students, particularly males, were far more likely to be expelled or suspended from school than their peers.

“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.  It is our collective duty to change that.”

Exposure to advanced courses can have a big impact on the educational success of low-income and minority students, the Center for Public Education report said.  

“For example, Hispanic students who passed an AP exam were nearly seven times more likely to graduate from college than their non-participating counterparts,” the Center’s report said. “Such findings buttress the argument that exposure to higher-level courses can translate into long-term gains for underrepresented students.”

Moreover, the Center report said that taking AP courses can improve students’ chances for success even if they don’t pass the AP exam. It said that only 10 percent of African-American students who did not take an AP course graduated within five years, compared with 37 percent who took an AP course and did not pass the exam, and 53 percent who took an AP course and passed.

 

Lawrence Hardy|March 7th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Board governance, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Discipline, Diversity, Educational Research, High Schools, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs: MIT tries turning down the pressure

Greetings, prospective MIT freshman. Ready for your first essay question?

“What do you do for fun?”

If you think that’s a trick question on the application of the ultra-selective Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stuart Schmill, MIT’s Dean of Admission, assures you on Inside Higher ED  that it is not.

“The truth is that we’re looking for balance,” the application says.

Then, look at this: In the spaces where MIT asks applicants to list their AP, IB, or Cambridge classes, there are all of three spaces (although students can click a button to add more if they want.) The point is that MIT is trying, in one small way, to send the message that it’s not all about loading up on AP classes or signing up for every activity. Try telling that to some students at highly competitive high schools, who routinely enroll in five or more AP classes in a typical senior year.

MIT is on the right track. Question is, with most highly selective colleges looking at strength of program (that is, how may advanced classes a student takes) as a measure of student accomplishment, is MIT really going to give no edge to those with more college-level classes?

Speaking of trying to lay off the pressure, read Bill Gates in the New York Times on why public release of individual teacher performance assessments is not a good idea. And, also in the Times, see the insightful editorial “Shuttering Bad Charter Schools.”

Finally, in what can only be called The Best Twisting Left-Handed Over-the-Shoulder Pass in a Celebrity All-Star Game by a U.S. Secretary of Education, see the UTube video of Arne Duncan – former Harvard and Australian pro league basketball player — in a warm up to Sunday’s NBA All Star Game

Lawrence Hardy|February 26th, 2012|Categories: Curriculum, High Schools, Teachers|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

Reauthorizing the federal education bill has been a little like the reverse of that old saying:  “hurry up and wait.” No, when it comes to renewing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — something that was supposed to happen, oh, four years ago — it’s been more like: “wait — now hurry up.”

The hurry-up happened Thursday, when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, voted 15 to 7 to approve a bill that greatly reduces the federal role by dispensing with a complicated and flawed accountability system for determining which schools need “improvement” and which do not.

That, and many other provisions of the bill, were welcomed by NSBA, state school boards associations, and school districts that had been laboring under the strictures of ESEA’s latest iteration: No Child Left Behind. But while NSBA was happy about that — and pleased that, after waiting so long, the Senate was finally addressing these issues — it cautioned against moving too fast in committee on a bill that still has a lot of bugs.

“The bill also contains many operationally unrealistic features that will need to be addressed,” NSBA Associate Executive Director Michael A. Resnick wrote in a letter to the committee this week. “For example, it contains extensive data collection and reporting requirements, as well as overbearing specificity in several key programs areas that cross well into the micro-management of our schools.”

 NSBA didn’t get the delay in the mark-up it wanted, but the committee did accede to a call from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, to hold a hearing on the bill on Nov. 8.

The blogosphere has been all over the map on this process, and, rather than try to make sense of it myself, I’m going to just give you the links and … .well, you can tell me what it all means. For starters, there was the unusual agreement between Paul, a Tea Party favorite, and liberal blogger Susan Ohanian, about the need for more time.

Then there was the Progressive Policy Institute – from the so-called reformist camp – charging that the law, as currently revised, “guts school accountability.”

Alexander Russo, of This Week in Education, asked “where was [Arne] Duncan?” He said the education secretary didn’t press the committee for a bill with a more robust federal role. Meanwhile, at the Fordham Institute, Mike Petrilli said much the opposite, asserting that Duncan’s influence helped make it all happen (so far). Petrilli also called the bill an improvement over the current law.

So reaction was indeed divided, which is not surprising given the complexity of the issues and the laborious process itself. But will there be a finished product soon, and will it pass?

Not likely, Education Sector’s Anne Hyslop told the Christian Science Monitor. With this divided and sometimes sclerotic Congress, she doesn’t see a bill passing the House until well after the 2012 campaign.

Lawrence Hardy|October 21st, 2011|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, School Reform, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Here are two unsettling statistics on school discipline, based on an unprecedented study of nearly 1 million Texas secondary school students: Nearly 60 percent of these children were suspended or expelled over the course of the six-year study, and African-American students were disproportionately disciplined for infractions that the researchers described as “discretionary” – that is, the school had the option of not suspending or expelling the student but chose the harsher path.

As it turns out, it’s not as much the behavior of the students that leads to vastly different kinds of discipline, says the study by The Council of State Government’s Justice Center and Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute. It’s the policies of school leaders.

“The bottom line is that schools can get different outcomes with very similar student bodies,” Michael D. Thompson, a co-author of the report, told the Washington Post. “School superintendents and teachers can have a dramatic impact.”

To that list we should also add school board members, who hire the superintendent and, through their policy-making decisions, have significant authority over the way schools handle discipline.

The day after that report was made public, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder issued a new Supportive School Discipline Initiative that aims to dismantle the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” that pushes students into the juvenile justice system for school infractions that could be handled in other ways.

Citing the Texas report and the high number of suspensions and expulsions it found, Holder said, “I think these numbers are kind of a wake-up call. It’s obvious we can do better.”

In yet another critical look at school discipline, journalist Annette Fuentes, in her new book, Lockdown High, examines the heightened national concern about school safety – and its negative consequences – since 9/11 and Columbine.

“The Columbine scenario is terrifying, but the odds of it occurring in your hometown are about one in two million,” Fuentes told the Post.

In a later interview, she makes another point that is well known to most school board members: School is among the safest places for children and young people to be.

So how about those ultra-safe playgrounds, with nothing too high or too hard, too fast or too rickety? Not good for kids, says Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University of Norway. Yes, they may prevent a few physical injuries (and even that is open to debate) but the psychological toll – in children becoming more fearful because they’re not given the chance to adequately explore their world — outweighs the benefits, she says in a New York Times article.

So too safe is bad – psychologically. What about too extravagant, for example, the $248,000 playhouse a former CEO built for his grandchildren? Not a great idea, notes the Post’s Ruth Marcus. Could make for overly indulged, uncreative kids. Imagine that?

At least that’s one problem cashed-strapped school districts don’t have to worry about.

Lawrence Hardy|July 22nd, 2011|Categories: Reports, School Climate, School Security, Teachers, Uncategorized, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , |

A new role for the Office of Civil Rights

Photo courtesy of Stockvault

Photo courtesy of Stockvault

It’s been more than 10 years since I visited the small city of Perry, Iowa, to do a story on how its public schools were adapting to a large influx of Hispanic students. There had been friction in this little railroad town over the new immigrants, but the schools were a refuge for all.

I remember how impressed I was by the dedication of the superintendent, the principals, and the ESL teachers: They were truly committed to giving the newcomers from places like Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala the very best education they could provide.

I wrote a pretty glowing story — and rightly so. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to some of these foreign-born students in a few years, especially those who had come to Iowa as middle or high schoolers with limited English skills. How many of them would graduate and go on to college or decent-paying jobs?   
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Lawrence Hardy|March 10th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Diversity|Tags: , , , , |

308 days and counting

1209homepageartAsk seven experts about the economy, and you’ll get seven different answers. Same for health care, the war in Afghanistan, and other pressing national concerns that don’t lend themselves to simple “either/or” answers.

The same is true for education policy, as we illustrate this month in Year One, ASBJ‘s assessment of just where the Obama administration is headed with regard to public education and whether that direction is the right one.

To put it mildly, experts differ.

“I think there is more possibility of change today than anytime since A Nation at Risk,” says a cautiously optimistic Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy.

Diane Ravitch, by contrast, is resoundingly pessimistic. The university professor, education researcher, and Brookings Institution Senior Fellow says, “We are on the wrong track and headed in the wrong direction.”

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Lawrence Hardy|November 24th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Dunkin with Duncan? New ed secretary already fielding offers to play ball

What do you say to the new U.S. education secretary — a bona fide basketball star — after you’ve just learned he’s decided to send his children to your school district, the Arlington (Va.) Public Schools?

Well, naturally, you invite him to the venerable and long-running Wednesday night “fathers, friends, and hangers-on” pickup basketball games at your daughter’s elementary school.

What do you say if you’re the new U.S. education secretary and a former co-captain of Harvard’s basketball team, who’s accustomed to playing ball with the president, and you’ve just been asked to play in a pint-sized elementary school gym with a host of (can’t really call them “weekend,” — let’s say “Wednesday night”) athletes in various sizes and shades of in- and out-of shape-ness?

You demur.

“Well, I, ah, haven’t really thought that part out yet,” the Secretary graciously said.

Last week, I talked about my recent interview with Arne Duncan, which will appear in the April issue of ASBJ. Most of the interview concerned education policy and the stimulus package. This week I wanted to add something about why Duncan chose the Arlington Public Schools, which won’t make it into the magazine.

“My family’s obviously sacrificing a lot for me to do this work, and it’s so critical that we find great schools,” he said. “There are great schools here [in Duncan's Chicago neighborhood] and it’s also important for me that the schools be diverse. We come from a very diverse community — Hyde Park- – on the south side of Chicago. And that’s just extraordinarily important that my children continue to grow up in that type of environment. And what we found here [in Arlington] was that combination of both real academic rigor and diversity.”

I asked him what it was like playing basketball with the president.
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Naomi Dillon|March 3rd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

New Ed secretary full of superlatives, ideas for the future

The new head of the U.S. Department of Education kept using superlatives— words like “staggering” and “extraordinary”— to describe the opportunity presented him by the billions in stimulus money destined for the nation’s schools. At the same time, Arne Duncan — friend of the president, magna cum laud Harvard graduate, former pro basketball player (in Australia), and much-lauded former head of the Chicago Public Schools — was downright humble in describing his own good fortune in being appointed Education Secretary. Twice he remarked on how extraordinarily “lucky” he was to serve at such a critical time.

After interviewing Arne Duncan for an April ASBJ “Newsmaker” column, I can only think one thing: We’re lucky, too.

I can’t say that in a news story (objectivity and all). But in a blog, I can. And after talking to Duncan for just a few minutes, I was impressed by his down-to-earth style, his willingness to listen, and his admission that he doesn’t have all the answers and will need the input of people who work in, and on behalf of, the schools. One of his first acts as secretary, he said, will be to travel the country and get people’s ideas on how No Child Left Behind might be improved when it is reauthorized.

Having been an urban school superintendent himself, Duncan should understand when educators complain about some of the more onerous provisions of NCLB. He is not, however, going to make it easier for them– just different.

Listen to Duncan’s description of the $5 billion Race to the Top Fund, which will support states that are interested in creating stronger standards for their schools:
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Naomi Dillon|February 24th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|Tags: , |

Obama relies on Chicago ties for education secretary

Daniel Schorr, the remarkably ageless 90-something news analyst for National Public Radio put it best last week when asked what he thought Barack Obama was looking for in his Cabinet appointments. 

 The president elect wasn’t looking for liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans (although his appointments are almost all Democrats), Schorr said. He was looking for pragmatists, doers, people with expertise who know how to get jobs done and put ideas into practice.

It is, therefore, fitting that today Obama found just such a pragmatist in Arne Duncan to lead the U.S. Department of Education. The head of the Chicago Public Schools — and Obama basketball buddy — is receiving praise from all quarters.

“He’s gotten the job done in Chicago” Allan R. Odden, a University of Wisconsin education professor, told the New York Times. “There’s more to be done, but he’s done a great job of reaching out and recruiting and improving the talent of both teachers and principals.

Last week, I talked about the intense debate in education circles over whom Obama should appoint – an “establishment” candidate such as Stanford University professor and teacher union favorite Linda Darling-Hammond, or a “reformer” like controversial New York Schools chief, Joel I. Klein.

 Wisely, the president-elect sidestepped both those options.

 “Obama found the sweet spot with Arne Duncan,” Susan Traiman, of the Business Roundtable, told the Times. “Both camps will be O.K. with the pick.”

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Naomi Dillon|December 16th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , |
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