August 2011 School Board News

On the Hill

Join the drive to get relief from NCLB regulations
Michael A. Resnick

To its credit, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has focused national attention on the importance of every school being held accountable for raising student achievement to high academic standards. Operationally, though, the program is widely regarded by local educators and policymakers, researchers, and members of Congress as too educationally counterproductive for students and too wasteful of funds and staff time to be sustainable.

NCLB’s flaws run the gamut, starting with the premise that one test on one day can fully measure student achievement, and extend to determining how schools are judged as succeeding or failing. The flawed system also includes a one-size-fits-all process of interventions for schools that do not measure up, interventions that are put in place regardless of whether they are appropriate (in specific cases) or ineffective (in general).

The negative impact of NCLB is worsening as the flawed performance bar to which it holds schools accountable keeps rising regardless of the real progress that many are making. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan predicted that 82 percent of the nation’s schools will be identified as failing even if they are succeeding on dozens of accountability measures. All it takes is failing one measure that may involve relatively few students, and you only have to fail once to be identified.

As we go to press, Congress is not likely to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to replace NCLB prior to the opening of school. Therefore, Duncan’s projected failure rate portends a real and unnecessary problem this fall for many schools, both in terms of public perception and how they may be required to utilize scarce time and money under this flawed program.

Pending reauthorization, regulatory relief from the dysfunctional burdens of this program is needed and is needed now -- before school starts.

For example, many schools will be required to set aside 20 percent of Title I funds to offer choice or tutoring services by private providers (called SES). Putting the money back into the classroom, especially when districts are being forced to slash budgets, would do more for students and the strength of their schools than either of these largely ineffective mandated interventions.

To achieve regulatory relief, NSBA has called on Congress to enact legislation and for Secretary Duncan to use his administrative authority to defer the operation of certain negative requirements of NCLB -- especially dysfunctional sanctions like SES -- until ESEA is reauthorized. We are working with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) on a local school district resolution and petition drive to underscore the immediate need for deregulation.

We are pleased that Secretary Duncan has heard the concern and made the commitment to help. In developing a plan over the coming weeks, his initial thinking is to invite states to individually apply to the Department of Education (ED) for waivers in exchange for adopting certain reforms. That approach would certainly be consistent with his other initiatives -- most prominently, Race to the Top (RTTT).

However, NSBA has several questions and concerns with that approach, including the following:

• Can a state application and approval process be put in place before school starts? For requirements like SES, districts will be engaging in community outreach activities and obligating themselves to contracts with providers in the coming weeks. A subsequent waiver would come too late under this approach.

• If a state chooses not to apply for a waiver or is turned down, will local districts be able to apply individually? Unlike RTTT, the ability to apply also counts since this waiver process is not a grant program that will provide a state or local district with additional funding to pay for new ED reform requirements it might have to meet.

• By tying significant reform conditions to granting waivers, is ED getting ahead of Congress’ own agenda in a way that may result in significant local disruption if different priorities, policies, and operational requirements are chosen in the ESEA reauthorization?

From NSBA’s perspective, the better public policy approach is for Secretary Duncan to simply issue rules that release districts from implementing ineffective and wasteful requirements -- like the 20 percent SES set-aside -- until the new ESEA becomes operational. Replacing one set of federal policy directives with another without Congresional input, especially with reauthoriztion on the horizon, does not seem to be the clearest path for the federal role at this time.

School board members are encouraged to join the NSBA/AASA petition and resolution drive to ensure that members of Congress and the ED get the message that NCLB’s onerous burdens must be removed immediately and in a manner that will work at the local level.

To find out how you can join this effort, please see www.nsba.org/ advocacy. 

Michael A. Resnick (mresnick@nsba.org) is NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy. His column appears monthly in ASBJ.


NSBA roundup

NSBA wins school health grant
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently awarded NSBA a new five-year cooperative agreement to promote Coordinated School Health (CSH) programs with school boards and administrators. NSBA has worked with the CSH model since 1990. The new project will help provide important resources for school board members and administrators, including a CSH webpage and webinars, and engage education leaders in implementing CSH programs.

Immunity for school staff
What do school officials need to know about the legal concept of immunity and how it affects teachers and administrators? “Teacher and Administrator Immunity,” a webinar sponsored by NSBA’s National Affiliate program and the Office of the General Counsel, gave a quick lesson in the basic legal concept and the laws that offer protections to school staff. The webinar is archived at www.nsba.org/webchannelna.

Court rules on child abuse warrants
The U.S. Supreme Court, on a 7-2 vote, declined to rule on whether a warrant was required when police and a social worker entered an Oregon elementary school to interview a 9-year-old suspected victim of child abuse. In Camreta v. Greene, NSBA asked the high court to provide greater clarity on whether warrants are required, because schools often are asked to assist child protective services agencies and police in such investigations by allowing students to be interviewed at school. NSBA’s Legal Clips has a detailed legal analysis of the case (http://legalclips.nsba.org/?p=6721).

CPE videos focus on use of data
A dozen short videos from NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) cover a variety of public school topics, from preschool education to college readiness to teacher quality. The three- to four-minute videos are designed to be educational and make data fun. Check these out on CPE’s website, www.centerforpubliceducation.org, or the Data First website, www.data-first.org/learning-center.


From the states

• The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) praised a state Supreme Court ruling striking down a state commission that could approve and direct funding to charter schools over the objection of local school boards. GSBA noted, “In preserving the 134-year history of local control enshrined in the current and earlier Georgia Constitutions, the Court rejected the General Assembly’s attempt to expand its authority to create ‘special’ state schools and to define ‘special’ to mean whatever it wanted it to mean.”

• New Jersey’s Pascack Valley Regional High School District let visitors peek into the inner workings of its successful eLearning initiative through a webinar hosted by the New Jersey School Boards Association and NSBA. View the webinar at: www.njsba.org/ learnatlunch/ archives.html.

• The Missouri School Boards Association’s foundation, FutureBuilders, helped solicit donations for the Joplin, Mo., school district, which saw most of its schools leveled or seriously damaged by a deadly May tornado. Joplin won the 2011 Magna Grand Prize for districts in the 5,000 to 20,000 student enrollment category. It had launched a comprehensive program to engage community members and map out a strategic plan, which resulted in a much lower dropout rate and significant donations of time and money from community members and local businesses.

• The New York State School Boards Association has unveiled a legislative reform package to tackle runaway costs in seven key areas. The “2011 Essential Fiscal Reform Playbook” proposes legislation to curtail rising health care and pension costs, level the playing field during contract negotiations, impose tighter controls on the teacher disciplinary process, and bring special education costs into line with other states.


Magna Best Practices: A class of their own

Six years ago, the high school graduation rate at Mitchell County School System in Camilla, Ga., was 54 percent. At the same time, only 61.5 percent of county residents had earned a high school diploma and postsecondary enrollment was only 26 percent.

Mitchell County’s solution to increase high school graduation rates and promote college awareness, the Freshman Academy, earned the district a 2011 Magna Award in the under 5,000 enrollment category.

The Freshman Academy was designed to better prepare students academically, socially, and mentally for the transition from middle school to high school. It is located in a separate wing of the high school and has a freshman facilities and administrative support team. Students are provided with instructional support by the academy staff during school breaks, Saturday morning tutoring sessions, and after-school programs. Class sizes are kept low with a teacher-to-student ratio of 1:18.

Five years into the program, 85 percent of freshmen were promoted and the dropout rate among freshman decreased significantly, to 1 percent. The high school graduation rate increased to nearly 88 percent.

For more information, contact curriculum director Christy C. Wray at christy_wray@mitchell.k12.ga.us. The district’s website is at www.mitchell .k12.ga.us.

Would you like to see your district’s exemplary program featured here? Nominations for the 2012 Magna Awards will be open Aug. 1 and run through Oct. 31.

Go to www.asbj.com/magna to apply online and read about past award-winning programs. The three grand prize winning districts receive cash awards. All winning districts are featured in an issue of ASBJ and are honored at a luncheon at NSBA’s annual conference in April.


Q & A with early education expert Arthur Reynolds

Enrolling disadvantaged children in a high-quality preschool program can have surprisingly enduring benefits -- with an impact that can still be found in early adulthood, according to a new study from the University of Minnesota.

What’s more, it is the children at greatest risk of failing in school and later in adulthood -- such as African-American males and those living in high-poverty neighborhoods -- who benefit most from the preschool experience.

These findings won’t surprise many school board members, but the study led by child development professor Arthur Reynolds is noteworthy for the persuasive evidence it brings to bear. The Chicago Longitudinal Study is one of the largest and longest research projects of its kind, having tracked the academic, economic, and social experiences of more than 1,500 children for 25 years -- from their first preschool and kindergarten experiences in the 1980s through early adulthood.

The study examined two groups: almost 1,000 children enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools’ federally funded Child Parent Centers, a well-respected preschool program, and a control group of more than 500 children who didn’t attend preschool but who participated in full-day kindergarten. Many of the children were from low-income, largely African-American households in poorer Chicago neighborhoods.

Reynolds, who also serves as co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative, spoke to ASBJ senior editor Del Stover about his research and how its findings can guide school boards in developing early education policies.

How did you go about determining the impact of a child’s preschool experience?

We started with a cohort of kids [and] followed their progress over the next 25 years -- and compared them to an equivalent group of kids randomly selected in other early intervention programs, usually kindergarten programs.

We tracked both groups with the support of the Chicago Public Schools.... We looked at school records, surveyed parents and teachers, and used any approach for data collection to get a comprehensive look at [the students’] progress in school and eventually in adulthood.

What were the preschool experiences of the children in your study? How did the control group’s experience differ?

The Child Parent Centers were much more innovative in that kids started preschool earlier, so all these kids started at ages 3 or 4. The usual intervention [in Chicago] was to start in kindergarten. So that’s one big difference.

The centers also had a much heavier emphasis on language development and structured educational activities in the classroom, with a very intensive parent-involvement program.

What were your most significant findings?

The most significant is that a large-scale, school-based program -- run through the third-largest school system in the country -- can have effects 25 years later. That’s almost unheard of for most federally funded programs.

The breadth of these effects also are noteworthy, not only in educational outcomes but also in carrying over to improvements in socioeconomic status, job skills, average annual income, and health and socioeconomic outcomes, such as reductions in involvement in the juvenile justice system, lower rates of arrest and incarceration as adults, and in rates of substance abuse.

Many boards already support preschool programs. What are some specific strategies that could make their programs more effective?

There should be an opportunity for more than one year of preschool participation -- and hopefully the availability of full-day services. Our evidence shows that ... kids with two years of preschool are associated with higher academic gains and long-term success.

We can’t assume that providing preschool education is all that children need. We need to enrich those experiences with a longer duration of implementation organized within the school environment. We can do the pre-K-to-grade-three experiences in a serious way -- designed with follow-through activities that school districts are funding with Title I money. Funding must be aligned so that kids are provided with a natural course of services later in kindergarten and beyond.

Small classes made the programs more effective ... classes that didn’t exceed 17 children. We also saw results with a strong activity-based curriculum focused on language, literacy, communications skills, and that those schools using evidence-based curricula in a structured way will strengthen learning gains.

What other advice can you offer board members?

Any district could take the Child Parent Centers [program] and adopt a model that follows the same strategy ... to follow these principals of effectiveness. It’s doable. It’s documented. This could be a strategy that provides a greater level of quality and effectiveness beyond that which most districts and states are realizing.

Programs like the Child Parent Centers have a much bigger bang for the buck than most other programs. The cost savings that districts will get back oftentimes and usually far exceeds the return on investments in other remediation and intervention services that come later when students are struggling.


Talk About It
Our monthly list of topics worth discussing

ECS: Shorter weeks do not mean big cost savings
Facing severe budget woes, many states and school districts have moved to or considered a four-day week to save costs for transportation, utilities, and other incidentals. So how much did those who lobbed off a day in the week really save? According to a recent report by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), cost savings for a four-day week actually only amount to between 0.4 percent and 2.5 percent of the total budget, with a maximum of 5.4 percent savings. The analysis used national finance data supported by information from individual districts.

How much homework is enough?
School boards across the nation are rethinking homework policies because of concerns that high-stakes testing and competition for college have resulted in a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, according to the New York Times. Many say that hours of homework do little to raise student achievement, particularly in elementary grades. The Times reported that teachers at an elementary school in Fontana, Calif., replaced homework “with ‘goal work’ that is specific to individual student’s needs and that can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace.” Another California district, Pleasanton School District, has proposed to cut homework times and prohibit weekend assignments in elementary grades.

Nashville superintendent calls for ‘balanced schedule’
Jesse Register, superintendent of the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, wants his students to give up part of their summer vacations and return to school in late July. Register and others cite research that shows the longer a student stays out of class, the less knowledge they retain. That’s particularly critical for the district’s low-income students and English language learners, he told the school board this summer, according to the Tennessean. The plan he presented to the Nashville school board this summer would add three extra days of instructional time for all students, 10 teacher professional development days, and two weeks of intensive instruction for low-performing students. The plan would add $20 million in costs.

LAUSD gives away excess food, bans chocolate milk
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will give up to 21,000 uneaten school meals a day to nonprofit organizations that feed the hungry. According to the Los Angeles Times, nonprofit organizations that want the school food must apply to become partners with a local school. The types of foods available might include packaged foods such as granola bars or cereal, entrees, fruit, vegetables, and milk, the district’s deputy food services director told the Times. One item that won’t be found in LAUSD cafeterias this fall: flavored milk. After months of debate, the school board voted to eliminate chocolate and strawberry milk from schools beginning July 1, joining a number of districts that have done so.

EPA chief says more air monitoring needed in some schools
The head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says more monitoring of air quality near schools is needed after preliminary results of an investigation found some concentrations of toxic chemicals that are higher than what the agency considers safe for long-term exposure. The study analyzed air samples outside 63 schools in 22 states over the past three years, USA Today reported. The EPA conducted the tests in response to the newspaper’s 2008 investigation that identified hundreds of schools where outside air appeared to have excessive amounts of industrial pollution. However, the EPA found that most of the air monitoring so far has not found dangerous levels of pollution.

Homeless mom case includes drug and prostitution claims
The ongoing case of an allegedly homeless Connecticut mother who forged an address to enroll her children in a Norwalk elementary school gained national attention and debate. The mother, Tanya McDowell, was ordered to go to trial for “stealing an education” by using her babysitter’s address to enroll her son in kindergarten. The case took an unexpected turn in June when McDowell was arrested for allegedly selling crack cocaine and marijuana to undercover officers, according to CBS News. McDowell was sent to jail on those charges while police investigated a separate prostitution charge. The education case entails a larceny charge for the $15,686 cost of educating her child for a year, according to the Daily Norwalk. The school district said it did not initiate the court proceedings to remove the child from the elementary school nor seek reimbursement for the costs of the education.