November 2011 School Board News

On The Hill
Jobs bill can significantly benefit schools

By Michael A. Resnick

The ball is now in Congress’ court to determine whether to enact President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act, parts of it, something else, or do nothing.

On both sides of the aisle, those decisions will be driven as much -- if not more -- by politics as they will by how lawmakers view the proposal’s impact on job creation and the economy. NSBA’s advocacy focus is to secure passage of features in the president’s plan that will benefit education and the economy. Two features can appropriately deliver those results.

The first would authorize $30 billion to be spent for school renovation projects, with funds going to the neediest schools. Approximately 35,000 schools -- more than one third of the total in our nation -- are expected to qualify.

On the economic side, these projects would quickly put local private construction firms and an estimated 280,000 employees to work. The dollars spent will have a multiplier effect, as expenditures are made in businesses that supply construction materials as well as at the stores where newly hired construction workers purchase consumer goods.

Meanwhile, there is an equally strong educational benefit as these funds can be used to retrofit and upgrade school buildings to provide students with a 21st century education. This includes new science labs and the technology infrastructure necessary to provide thousands of students across the country with access to a high-quality education.

On a more basic level, too many schools are in a state of disrepair through worsening leaks, faulty heating systems, and other structural or maintenance problems, and financially strapped districts don’t have the funds to fix them. In the most serious instances, these dilapidated conditions result in dismal environments that detract from, and certainly don’t inspire, student learning.

We should not expect children to feel excited about going to school and learning in surroundings that send the message that they don’t matter. The same holds true for adults who work in these buildings.

NSBA also fully supports Obama’s proposal to provide $30 billion to hire or retain teachers and other instructional personnel. Like school construction, this program is projected to result in the hiring of 280,000 employees and will have an immediate and positive impact on the local consumer market. Moreover, bringing teachers back into the schools is an investment in the future of our children and the nation that will reap dividends for many years to come.

This follows several successive years of decline in state and local education revenues and full restoration is not likely for several years. Already, the cumulative impact of teacher layoffs and vacant positions not being filled is taking its toll, and it will continue to affect the capacity of school districts to provide the quality education needed by too many students for too many years.

Today, student-teacher ratios are expanding, which means less personal attention is being paid to individual students and how their instruction is provided. Many teaching positions that are not being filled are targeted for students who need additional support for their success, while others are preventing schools from offering advanced learning programs or a wider range of electives in areas like math, science, and foreign languages.

The point should be clear: More than most job creation initiatives, the construction and teacher components of the jobs bill will have a long-term economic and societal impact that doubly reinforces the case for their enactment. As the economy becomes increasingly global, the knowledge and skills of our people must exceed those in other countries for highly skilled, high-wage jobs to remain in the United States or more companies will fill those positions overseas.

To win that competition, tomorrow’s workforce must be better educated than students in other nations. And, to achieve that objective, we need facilities and a teaching force that are equal to, if not better, than other nations -- not an education system that is being divested into lower-tier status.

NSBA’s lobbyists are on Capitol Hill working for the passage of these programs. We were successful in helping schools get more than $70 billion in education grant funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act two years ago and $10 billion for the Teacher Jobs Fund last year.

Like those successes, politics were a major factor. Ultimately all politics are local if they are made local. Enacting these programs requires you, as local school board members, to show your lawmakers the need, as well as the immediacy and good use that would be achieved by these funds in your schools and communities.

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


NSBA roundup

NSBA objects to House passage of charter school expansion bill
NSBA quickly voiced opposition to the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage in September of a bill to provide $300 million in additional federal funds to support charter schools. The Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act would expand a federal program that provides state grants for charter school start-ups. NSBA has urged members of Congress to reject the bill. “This flawed legislation lacks accountability by allowing independent charter sponsorship and is extremely costly in this current economic environment,” said Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy. Although supportive of charter schools, NSBA questioned a number of provisions in the House legislation -- and shared those concerns with House members in the days and weeks prior to the vote. One concern was the priority placed on states using multiple authorizers for charter schools. NSBA’s position is that, to ensure proper accountability, school boards should be responsible for sponsoring charter schools, and they must have the authority to decertify or not renew the charter of any school that fails to demonstrate improved student achievement.

NSBA commends President Obama’s plan to build jobs, schools
Joining many other top education organizations, NSBA supports President Obama’s American Jobs Act, a $447-billion package that would help struggling school districts retain teachers and address the antiquated state of many public schools. “Our school children deserve a quality education and that cannot happen when their teachers are getting laid off and their school buildings are in need of repairs and upgrades that keep getting postponed due to budget cuts,” said NSBA’s Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. More than 31 percent of Obama’s jobs proposal would be allocated to infrastructure and local aid.

Finalists announced for CUBE Annual Urban Boards of Education award
NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) announced that Boston Public Schools, the Mesquite Independent School District, and the Washoe County Public Schools have been selected as finalists vying for the 2011 CUBE Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence. Identified by an independent panel based on data provided by the school districts and their state school boards associations, the finalists were chosen based on the following four criteria: excellence in school board governance, ability to build civic capacity, commitment to equity in education, and demonstrated success of academic excellence. “All three of the finalists have made extraordinary efforts to reach students and increase student achievement,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “The CUBE Award finalists are proof that diverse urban school districts can succeed, even during difficult economic times.” For instance, Nevada’s Washoe County has had an aggressive agenda of change and reform. Working together, the superintendent, the school board, staff, and teachers have made impressive gains in a short time to address the high dropout rate and improve student achievement. In Texas, the Mesquite Independent School District has been quietly making a name for itself as a highly successful small urban school district. The school system systematically has made major gains in student achievement, significantly closed achievement gaps, and rallied community support around the schools. And finally, Boston Public Schools has made educating and assimilating English Language Learners (ELLs) a top priority. Even in tight budget times, the school committee has invested more than $10 million in ELL education during the 2011 fiscal year. The winner, not available at press time, was announced at the 2011 CUBE Annual Conference in New Orleans on Oct. 8.


From the states

Local board member, state director shares how bullying shaped views, policies
Dana Smith, a school board member of the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and a board director for the New York State School Boards Association, appeared as a special guest columnist for the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. He used the space to hammer home the point that bullying in schools is a pervasive problem, one he experienced as a child.

NJSBA survey finds nearly a third of NJ districts have new superintendents
An August survey by the New Jersey School Boards Association found 29 percent of the state’s roughly 600 school systems began the year with a new superintendent. The turnover rate was up from 18 percent the year prior and is the highest since NJSBA began keeping tabs on it a decade ago. Retirements accounted for about half of the departures, though nearly a quarter left for another district often in another state. “The school board sets the goals and the agenda, but the superintendent is the educational leader who runs the district on a day-to-day basis and is in charge of implementing the board’s goals and objectives,” said Marie S. Bilik, NJSBA’s executive director. “It is difficult to achieve the education reform that you want when there’s a revolving door at the main office.”

Mont. education heads debunk belief that schools gained from land values
In a guest column for the Billings Gazette, Montana School Boards Association Executive Director Lance Melton and Dave Puyear, executive director of the Montana Rural Education Association, refuted claims that public schools have received additional revenue from state lands. In fact, Melton and Puyear wrote, the way current legislation works, these funds are actually diverted into the state’s general fund and the schools see not a penny more. That’s what happened two years ago when the state pocketed $81 million from land leases in eastern Montana, 95 percent of which schools should’ve received. “So, the next time you hear someone say or read a news story that claims that increased state land revenues are ‘for the kids,’ don’t bite the hook.”

Diversity guide seeks educational excellence for all

By 2042 -- perhaps earlier -- the U.S. is expected to become a “majority minority” nation, with whites representing less than 50 percent of the population. This will be a dramatic milestone, to be sure. But even more relevant to school board members are the demographics of the under-18 population: This group could become majority minority by as early as 2020.

While the nation as a whole is diversifying at a rapid pace, the same cannot be said of most schools, according to Achieving Educational Excellence for All: A Guide to Access and Diversity-Related Policy Strategies for School Districts, a joint report from the National School Boards Association, the College Board, and EducationCounsel, LLC. Many schools remain segregated by race, ethnicity, and income; confronting this fact and its educational implications will be one of the key challenges for school districts in the coming years. “This guide will help school boards translate our 20th century vision of equality and fairness into a workable plan that lifts the academic achievement of all students in the 21st century,” said Francisco M. Negrón Jr., NSBA’s general counsel and a co-author of the report. “While our society has become increasingly diverse, too many of our communities are becoming increasingly segregated. Voluntary migration patterns and economic segregation have replaced legally imposed divisions, and this guide will help school leaders navigate these difficult issues.”

The report said that “the average white student attends a school that is nearly 80 percent white -- a considerably higher percentage than the overall public school enrollment” of whites. At the same time, about “two of every five black or Latino students attend intensely segregated schools (in which 90-100 percent of students are minorities), up from less than one-third in 1988.” But achieving educational diversity is not simply a matter of numbers: Rather, the guide calls for a comprehensive educational strategy that seeks the best possible outcomes for all students. The report defines diversity, examines its history in the public schools, and offers concrete advice on such things as reaching out to diverse communities and considering diversity -- legally and practically -- in student assignments.

The report features chapters on policy, law, and community engagement associated with the development of diversity-related policies. It has been endorsed by the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Asso­ciation, and others. The guide was made possible by a grant from the Ford Foun­dation. The other authors are Arthur L. Coleman, a managing partner and co-founder of EducationCounsel, and Katherine E. Lipper, a policy and legal advisor for the group.

The December issue of American School Board Journal will feature more information about Achieving Educational Excellence for All, as well as other articles on public school diversity.


Talk About It
Our monthly list of topics worth discussing

High-quality preschool helps lead to success in adulthood
Low-income children who spent two to six years in a Chicago preschool program had higher high school graduate rates, fewer criminal arrests, less substance abuse, and higher earnings in adulthood than similar children who did not attend the program, the University of Missouri News Bureau reported. The study, published in Science, is the latest in a number of reports through the years that have documented the academic and social benefits of preschool. “Early education programs can have a direct impact on economic success and good health,” said Irma Artega, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri’s Truman School of Public Affairs who was quoted by the News Bureau. She is one of five authors of the report from Missouri and the University of Minnesota. “The findings of this study indicate that these programs provide a strong foundation for the investment in, and promotion of, early childhood learning.” The study examined the Chicago Child-Parent Center program, a publicly funded child development initiative that provides six years of education in the Chicago Public Schools, beginning in preschool. At age 28, participants in the program were 20 percent more likely to have attained a higher socioeconomic status and 28 percent less likely to have spent time in prison. Both statistics are testaments to the ongoing benefits of early learning. “This study is even more evidence that everyone benefits -- children, schools, and communities -- when children have access to high-quality pre-kindergarten,” said Patte Barth, director of NSBA’s Center for Public Education, which is coordinating the activities of the Pre-K Coalition, a collaboration of education groups dedicated to increasing access to quality preschool.

In down economy, many teachers reaching into their wallets
It’s a ritual that teachers in poor districts know all too well -- the annual late-summer, early fall trek to buy school supplies for students whose families cannot afford them. “Open the trunk of fifth-grade teacher Jennie Gavin’s Ford Fiesta, and this is what you’ll see,” wrote the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Thirty reams of copy paper, 40 packs of loose-leaf, about 300 pencils and pens, 40 packs of markers, 58 boxes of crayon, and folders and notebooks.” Last year, Gavin, who works in the Milwaukee Public Schools, spent $300 “on copy paper alone,” the newspaper said. But like many teachers, she’s feeling the pinch of a dismal economy and must scale back this year. Supporting five children of her own, she said she’ll also have to cut back on the pizza and ice cream parties she would throw as incentives for her students. With a predominately low-income population, the Milwaukee schools don’t charge fees for school supplies. But Wisconsin’s suburban districts usually assess parents academic-year fees for things like kindergarten supplies, and high school specialty classes, such as gym and honors English, the Journal Sentinel said. Wisconsin made news this year when Gov. Scott Walker and the state legislature, in a high-profile battle, succeeded in limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including teachers. But Green Bay special education teacher Kirstin Gerczak told the Journal Sentinel that, despite that setback and having to pay more for health care and retirement benefits, she’s not cutting back on purchases for her students. “My job is so important to me, I would rather take a little away from myself to provide them with an opportunity, because they may not get another one,” said Gerczak, whose school, Eisenhower Elementary, serves a predominantly poor population. “If they need a pair of shoes or boots, I go to Wal-Mart or rummage sales.”

New Yorkers not happy with Bloomberg’s stewardship of schools
Take over the school bureaucracy, open hundreds of new campuses, declare yourself an “education” mayor, and what does it get you? If you’re New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an approval rating of 34 percent when it comes to education policy. That’s less, even, than the mayor’s overall approval rating of 45 percent, which is at a six-year low, noted the New York Times, which conducted the poll. “What had been a signature issue for Bloomberg may not be the legacy issue he hoped it would be,” political consultant Bruce N. Gyory told the newspaper. Poll respondents said during follow-up interviews that they were frustrated over the prominence of standardized tests and the quality of services for disabled children, the Times said. “Bloomberg treats the schools and the education system like a business,” Liette Pedraza-Tucker, a film editor from Brooklyn, told the Times. “But schools aren’t a business. Kids need nurturing, not to be treated like adults.” On the other hand, a majority of respondents seemed to favor Bloomberg’s school choice program, with 67 percent saying they were satisfied with their choice of schools, compared to 51 percent in 2004. “Maybe things aren’t perfect, but they are moving in the right direction,” Takeisha Hall-Ruff told the Times. The Bronx resident has an 8-year-old in a gifted and talented program. “Schools are being evaluated; they are more accountable.”

Want higher math scores on international tests? How about paying teachers more?
America’s advanced math students rank somewhere in the middle when compared with similar students from 56 other countries, according to Teaching Math to the Talented, a study by Stanford and Harvard researchers published in the winter 2011 edition of Education Next. Might this ranking have anything to do with how much we pay our teachers relative to the salaries in some of those other nations? Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, thinks it might, and he made the case for relating the two in a recent blog posting to the Huffington Post. Jennings cited a recent survey called Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from Around the World, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). For each of the 27 participating nations, OECD calculated the ratio of the average salaries of teachers with 15 years of experience to the average earnings of other full-time college-educated workers. For the U.S., that ratio was 60 percent, putting it 22nd out of the 27 nations. Jennings said that in many other nations, teachers can expect to earn 80 percent to 100 percent of the average of their nonteaching peers. “Money is never the reason why people enter teaching, but it is the reason why some people do not enter teaching, or leave as they start to think about beginning a family or buying a home,” Jennings wrote. “Today too often the heart-breaking reality is that a good teacher with a decade of classroom experience is hard-pressed to raise a family on a teacher’s salary.” With the U.S. economy in the midst of an extended downturn, it might not seem like the best time to push for higher teacher salaries, Jennings acknowledged. But he said that the nation will not have economic success in the long term unless its citizens are better educated. “Business leaders have been saying this for years,” Jennings said. “Paying teachers higher wages and getting and retaining good teachers is integral to achieving that goal.”

YOUR TURN: We ask

Do school boards need to reform?
Not to alarm you or anything, but on page 14 Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy quotes educators who say the latest (and relatively successful) push for school vouchers is part of a well-coordinated effort to privatize the public schools. Then, on page 20, Senior Editor Del Stover describes the latest round of school board bashing from education “reformers” of many stripes.

The country is in a sour mood about a lot of things, education included, and everyone from politicians to media pundits and think-tank analysts seems to think they can do a better job. As Michael Usdan, a senior fellow with the Institute for Educational Leadership, tells Stover: “The country has made an implicit, if not explicit, judgment that education is too important to be left to educators.”

The news isn’t all bad, of course. Surveys consistently show that the public has a much better opinion of its local schools than of public schools in general. And it’s a good bet that if people like their local schools, they have a generally high opinion of the people who volunteer to govern them. At least, theoretically.

This month, we ask what you believe the public thinks of school boards nationally -- you can also talk about how your constituents feel about your own board -- and what can be done to improve that assessment. Please choose a response from those listed below, add your comments, and send it to your-turn@asbj.com. We’ll report the results in January.

A. In general, the public has a positive view of school boards and the work they do. (Please elaborate with all answers and suggest how school boards could do a better job influencing public opinion.)

B. The public has a mixed impression of school boards.

C. The public has a negative view of school boards.

D. None of the above.


YOUR TURN: YOU SAY

No middle ground on lobbying
More than half of you (55 percent) say you spend a lot of time lobbying your state or local leaders on behalf of public schools, while the rest do “a little” advocacy work on your district’s behalf.

Some comments:

• During the state legislative session, I belong to formal groups for superintendents that are focused on issues; meet individually with legislators (on and off “season” to build relationships), as well as travel to the legislature to meet with legislators in small groups, along with other superintendents and/or governing board members. There is sometimes more influence in “numbers.” I find that most legislators are appreciative of education leaders taking the time to come to them and give their thoughts and opinions personally on key issues. It doesn’t always change their thinking or their vote, but it often starts a dialogue that can continue later on other important issues. -- Debbi Burdick, superintendent, Arizona

• The word “lobby” has bad connotations. I’d rather say that I and other members of my board try to keep our state legislators and congressional delegation informed of the issues affecting K-12 public education. For example, when our legislature is in session every other year, prior to the session, our district conducts a legislative forum. We invite all of the legislators representing the region to attend a dinner and preview of legislative issues. We also invite the county commissioners, city council, and park board members to make their pitch. We provide a notebook of information and try to persuade our state legislators to support K-12 education and to not support unfunded mandates. That’s part of the board member’s job description, i.e., being an advocate and ambassador for public education.  -- Tim Lamb, board member, North Dakota

• It is imperative that we board members tell our stories to those at the state and federal levels. We are the ones who receive the phone calls and e-mails about our school systems from discouraged and disgruntled students, parents, staff members, and community members. We have the real stories about the successes (sometimes miracles) that occur every day in our classrooms. We also know the challenges and the failures. We can humanize the information so that state and federal legislators do not forget they are dealing with real people, not just numbers. -- Vicki Roy, board member, Minnesota

• I use information from our lobbyist for the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) to guide my messages to the committee and our legislators. My school board participates in the TSBA Day on the Hill in Nashville each February and at least one of us attends NSBA’s Federal Relations Network Conference each year in Washington, DC. We usually propose a resolution to TSBA in the fall as a first step in the process of passing legislation that will result in a change in law to allow some flexibility from the abundance of state mandates. -- Susan Lodal, board member, Tennessee


Q & A with Chris Weber, instructional specialist

After flying high in the sky as a U.S. Air Force pilot, Chris Weber continued his service to country at the most grass- roots level: as a classroom teacher. From there, the California native climbed the education ranks (principal, central office administrator, superintendent), gaining insight on what it takes to move students, especially the most challenging ones, toward academic achievement.

Under his leadership, Capistrano Unified’s R.H. Dana Elementary School earned its first-ever California Distinguished School Award, and he was the instructional director at Garden Grove Unified School District when it won the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2004. Despite the awards and the accolades, Weber has stayed true to his belief that humility and selflessness are among a leader’s most important attributes.

Weber, now a consultant, a Solution Tree featured author and speaker on education interventions and strategies, and administrative coach for the Chicago and California’s Oakland school systems, shared with Senior Editor Naomi Dillon his thoughts on how to build success for all.

What were the advantages of climbing the career ladder though school systems, in light of claims that only outsiders have the answers to public education’s problems?

Having served as a teacher and a principal is a great asset. My successes and frustrations are experiences from which I continue to draw upon every day. On the other hand, effective leaders, whether from within or outside the system, share attributes that do not necessarily rely upon extensive school-based experience. For example, effective leaders are humble. They ask questions of the folks they lead and serve far more often than they give answers. Next, they are selfless. They don’t seek the limelight, instead seeing their primary job as ensuring that others (teachers) can effectively and efficiently do their jobs -- ensuring high levels of learning for all students.

What are professional learning communities (PLCs), and why are they so important?

Collective responsibility is the most critical characteristic of PLCs. This includes a unanimous and continuously affirmative response to the following questions: Do we believe ALL students can learn? Are we willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen? Here’s an example: First, as a team of teachers, we agree on the essential items students must learn in the upcoming 19-day unit of instruction. Often, sets of standards emphasize breadth over depth, which we know is not in the best interest of students or student learning. Next, we reach clarity on what student mastery of these standards looks like with such precision, it generates the common assessment that students will take on Day 20. PLCs are tight on essential standards and the rigor and format they represent. But we don’t have to be tight on how those standards are taught, the order they follow, or the time allocated to each. And while we share best practices and strategies, we respond to the needs of the students in our respective classes. Like all PLCs, we collectively analyze the results of the common assessment. And if I, as a team member, realize my class scored lower than my colleagues, I will not make excuses and blame my students. I will learn from the successes of my colleagues, who will help me improve. We have accepted collective responsibility for the learning of all students.

If you had to identify the one message you are trying to get across in your work, what would it be?

First, I believe we can and must serve all students better. The largest underserved group at most schools is not students who will require intensive supports, although we must and can ensure that they close the gap. The largest underserved group is students who are currently meeting the (less than lofty) state standards but are not growing at a rate that is adequate to ensure they will graduate college- and career-ready. We can and must make a profound difference in the life of every student. Teachers and schools must develop systems so that every student is guaranteed the time and support they need to learn at high levels. We know this can be done, and we know how to do it. The question is, will we?