September 2011 School Board News

On the Hill

Talk to your lawmakers about ESEA
Michael A. Resnick

Congress recessed for August after acting on several education measures -- with others coming -- that you will want to discuss with your lawmakers at various local events over the next few weeks.

In recent action, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has made progress in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by passing three of what are expected to be five bills.

In order of action, the bills would:

• Eliminate 42 smaller programs, including some defunded in the FY 2011 budget deal (representing about 1 percent of federal K-12 spending) and others that were never funded.

• Establish a new $300 million charter school program.

• Provide flexibility for districts to move any or all of ESEA money from one ESEA program to another as well as into any funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The remaining two bills are expected to address the more complex areas of teaching and accountability. The committee plans to deal with these two components in the fall, then bring all five bills to the floor separately or as one big package.

The charter school bill (H.R. 2218), which would replace the current $200 million program by authorizing an expenditure of up to $300 million, is targeted at strengthening the charter approval process and subsidizing start-up costs.

NSBA opposed the bill for three reasons. First, it encourages states to use multiple entities to authorize charters, not just the board in the community where the school would be located. Second, it did not adequately address the basis for charters’ low academic success rate (only 17 percent do better than traditional public schools, while 83 percent do no better or worse). Finally, given these tight budget times, we believe the money would be better spent to support programs like Title I and fund traditional public schools. Despite these objections, the bill passed with strong bipartisan support.

By contrast, NSBA strongly supported the school flexibility bill (H.R. 2445), which passed on a sharply divided vote. School boards need the flexibility to move funds from one ESEA program to another to meet local needs. Under this bill, a district can move funds across program purposes by simply notifying its state department of education, rather than go through an application approval process.

Groups representing specific ESEA program areas opposed the bill, concerned that funds would be transferred out of -- not into -- their programs. NSBA reminded the committee that districts are held accountable for subgroup performance regardless of resources; the bill provides flexibility to prioritize more limited dollars for students with the greatest needs in a particular district. This includes initiating innovations that might not be available under the existing structure and the fiscal and civil rights provisions of the bill will ensure that districts maintain the federal focus on high-need students.

Looking ahead to the next two bills, this month’s recess provides you with an excellent opportunity to talk to members of Congress about the federal government’s role in promoting effective recruitment, evaluation, or rewards for teachers and principals. Lawmakers also would benefit from knowing how your schools should be held accountable. Examples include the use of growth models, multiple assessments versus one test, measurements of progress for specific subgroups, and whether your state’s preferred accountability system should replace the federal approach. This discussion also could focus on the sanctions and support that should apply when schools don’t measure up.

Unlike the House approach, the Senate committee that oversees education is expected to work on a comprehensive bill that will be introduced in late September -- making August an ideal time to discuss ESEA issues with your senators as well.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is working on plans to provide regulatory relief from various onerous provisions of NCLB before schools begin. Under NCLB’s flawed accountability system, Duncan predicts 82 percent of schools will not make Adequate Yearly Progress this year. Along with other flaws, the result will be an unnecessary and deleterious impact on schools if relief isn’t provided.

Local school leaders have joined the NSBA/American Association of School Administration petition drive to rally support behind regulatory relief. We differ with Duncan’s approach to provide waivers in exchange for new state reforms through a state application process. NSBA strongly prefers setting aside specific requirements simply because they are bad policy.

Removing requirements should not be compromised or conditioned by the delay of a state approval process. Nor should these requirements be replaced by new ones, which could be further altered by a change of direction in the forthcoming ESEA reauthorization. NSBA surveyed its National Affiliate Advocacy Network to show the Department of Education the need for our approach and the specific relief that local school boards need.

Talking to members of Congress during the August recess would not be complete without advocating for needed education funding. As lawmakers work to significantly reduce the federal deficit over a period of years, it is essential that they be strategic and keep the long-term view in mind. America’s economic success 10 or more years from now will depend on how smartly and adequately all levels of government invest in public education today.

With federal K-12 spending comprising a little over 1 percent of the federal budget, a 10 percent increase or decrease will only have a 1/10th of 1 percent impact on the deficit. It could, however, have a much more significant impact on the long-term success of our nation’s schoolchildren and the economy. That point should not be lost on members of Congress.

For more information on all of these issues and NSBA’s action, 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 pleased with ESEA flexibility bill passed by House committee
NSBA supports the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act (HR 2445), which would allow school boards to redirect federal funds from some education programs to support other initiatives that would help increase student achievement and help serve the students with the greatest needs. The legislation is one of several parts of a comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, is spearheading. “At a time when districts are facing tight budget constraints and increased accountability under federal and state laws, this legislation would help school leaders to meet those obligations,” said Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for advocacy and public policy. The measure would not remove achievement goals or requirements for program compliance, he added. The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved the bill in July. Kline is planning to bundle several ESEA bills into one omnibus reauthorization package that he will bring for a vote by the full House this fall. The Senate is planning to craft its own ESEA reauthorization bill, while NSBA and other education groups continue to press U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to use his powers to grant relief from the No Child Left Behind Act’s most unworkable provisions.

TLN announces Technology Site Visits for fall and spring
NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network (TLN) will host five of its popular Technology Site Visits in coming months. These multi-day visits give school board members and district executive teams the chance to learn from school systems that are striking new territory in the area of education technology. This fall, TLN combines its popular school district site visit program with the hottest legal issues in education technology with a site visit to St. Charles Parish in Luling, La., Oct. 12 to 14. Attendees will visit schools in St. Charles Parish, a district of 10,000 students near New Orleans. The school board’s strategic action plan addresses the integration of technology across the curriculum with policies that support its sustainability and continuous funding. A visit is planned to the innovative Satellite Center’s 1:1 program, where students explore career pathways such as engineering, culinary arts, broadcasting, and health sciences. Participants will hear about parental engagement tools and data-driven instructional practices, and they will see the district’s “bring your own devices” program for students. This visit also offers important legal content through TLN’s collaboration with NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys’ School Law Practice Seminar. The spring 2012 lineup features four other districts selected to showcase the innovative and transformative ways they’ve adopted and integrated education technology:

• Klein Independent School District, Klein, Texas: Feb. 19 to 21

• Cullman City Schools, Cullman, Ala.: Feb. 29 to March 2

• Dysart Unified School District No. 89, Surprise, Ariz.: March 28 to 30

• Clark County School District, Las Vegas, April 25 to 27

Last year’s site visits filled up early, so be sure to plan well in advance. The full agenda and registration information will be available soon at www.nsba.org.tlnsitevisits.

NSBA recognizes exemplary school board members
NSBA recently announced the recipients of the 2010-11 School Board Member Recognition Program, which allows state school boards associations to recognize exemplary school board members from their states on a national level. The recipients must meet criteria that include having made a significant contribution to the advancement of education, as evidenced by leadership at or beyond the local level. Nominees also must have regularly attended regional, state, and national conferences for four consecutive years. State associations are allowed to nominate up to 1 percent of their membership. A list of the 2010-11 recipients can be found on School Board News Today at http://schoolboardnews.nsba.org.

Share your opinion on CPE and win a Kindle
NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) is conducting a short survey about its website, www.centerforpubliceducation.org. Enter the survey for a chance to win a 3G Kindle e-reader and to give valuable feedback on what you’d like to see on the site. Take the 10-minute survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/CPEfeedback.


From the states

PSBA speaks out against voucher proposals
Thomas J. Gentzel, the executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), recently penned an editorial for the Philadelphia Inquirer on a proposal by state legislators to create a taxpayer-funded school voucher program for private and parochial schools. Several versions of the voucher program stalled in the state’s GOP-led legislative bodies this summer, but Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, plans to make another push this fall, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “School board members across the state applaud the brave senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle who are standing up to the enormous pressure and seeing vouchers for what they really are -- just another attempt to slowly dismantle Pennsylvania’s public education system that has served us well for more than 175 years,” Gentzel wrote. Also, he added, a new entitlement plan would cost millions of dollars at a time when public schools are facing major cuts and the state is facing a fiscal crisis.

Contreras retires from ASBA
Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA), retired this summer. Contreras, a former school board member, had served as ASBA executive director since 1998. He also served on the ASBA board of directors in various leadership positions for four years, including as president of ASBA in 1995, before becoming its executive director.


Talk About It
Our monthly list of topics worth discussing

Less money may mean less class time
Tight budgets have led to reduced class time in many school districts across the country, according to the New York Times. An analysis by the Times found school districts were moving to a four-day week, lopping days off their schedules, or eliminating summer school programs. These moves come at a time when President Obama and many educators are calling for more school time, particularly for disadvantaged students. Some of the nation’s largest and some of the most rural school districts have been affected. The Times found that the Los Angeles Unified School District’s budget for summer school dove to $3 million from $18 million in 2010. Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and about half of the school districts in North Carolina have deeply cut their programs or eliminated summer programs. Meanwhile, rural districts are more likely to move to a four-day week primarily to save on transportation costs. Some districts in New Mexico, Idaho, and other states will be closed on Fridays or Mondays beginning this school year, according to the Times.

Farm-to-school ­programs snowballing, USDA says
Given the success of and interest in using locally grown foods for school meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that it will continue to support such programs by connecting schools with farmers and other activities, The Associated Press reported. Such programs not only help introduce students to healthier foods and educate them on how foods are grown, but they also help rural economic development and small-to-mid-sized farms. A new USDA report noted that a successful program must have good communications among schools, farmers, and others involved. More money will be needed for staff training, equipment, and facilities to process and store produce, and to develop educational activities for students. NSBA has called for more funding for the Child Nutrition Act, which sets new standards for foods sold in schools and for staff training.

Mass. expands ‘innovation schools’
About a dozen “innovation schools” are scheduled to open in Massachusetts this fall. The schools are billed as experiments to pursue education innovations and compete more aggressively with charter schools, according to the Boston Globe. Innovation schools have flexibility to determine curriculum, staffing, and budgeting based on the needs of their students and communities. Those decisions are made by each school’s governing board. Innovation schools must negotiate the extent of the freedom to make their own decisions with the superintendent and local school board, and they are bound by most provisions of the district’s teachers union contract. Charter schools in Massachusetts are authorized by the state. Three innovation schools opened last year, and about 12 more are expected to open in the 2012-13 academic year. The state’s education secretary, Paul Reville, predicted that innovation schools could soon surpass the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.

First-time funding supports school health programs
The federal Health Resources and Services Adminis­tration (HRSA) will give $95 million in grants for school-based health centers to 278 programs across the country. These programs will improve access to basic primary health care for school-aged children, many of whom have no other sources of care. The grants are the first-ever source of federal funding to uniquely support school-based health centers, according to the HRSA. The schools that received grants serve 790,000 patients, and those schools will be able to increase their capacity to serve another 440,000 patients. School-based health centers are designed to improve students’ health and wellness through screenings, health promotion and disease prevention activities and enable children with acute or chronic illnesses to attend school. NSBA’s school health department works with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help promote school-based health centers.

Census finds proportion of U.S. children declining
Even with a boost from new immigrant families, the percentage of U.S. residents under age 18 is dropping while those over age 65 are increasing, according to analyses of the 2010 census data. Children currently make up 24 percent of the U.S. population, and that percentage is expected to drop to 23 percent by 2030, according to the census. In 1900, children under 18 made up about 40 percent of the population, and were at least 30 percent of the population until 1980. About one-quarter of children under 18 are children of immigrants. Meanwhile, the percentage of U.S. residents ages 65 and older will jump from 13 percent today to about 20 percent by 2050. The data points to emerging economic issues, most notably the country’s ability to sustain Social Security and other benefits to senior citizens with fewer workers, the Boston Globe wrote. In addition, the increasing costs of providing for an older population may reduce the public resources that go to children, said William P. O’Hare, a senior consultant with the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

OCR data show lack of advanced math classes
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released data this summer that showed thousands of high school students, particularly those in low-income areas or with limited English proficiency, have no access to higher-level math classes. The report found that 3,000 schools serving nearly 500,000 high school students offer no Algebra II classes, and more than 2 million students in about 7,300 schools have no access to calculus classes. In addition, schools serving mostly African-American students were twice as likely to have inexperienced math teachers. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that the data “show that far too many students are still not getting access to the kinds of classes, resources, and opportunities they need to be successful.” Jim Hull, senior policy analyst at NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE), noted that simply offering more rigorous classes would actually require more time and resources than many schools have. “In order to fill this ‘opportunity gap’ of course offerings, our districts need enough counselors to ensure students enter high school on track to succeed in high-level courses,” Hull wrote. “They also need resources to higher-quality teachers to teach those subjects effectively.” Hull’s analysis of the report is available on CPE’s blog, The Edifier, at www.center- forpubliced.org.  


YOUR TURN: We ask
Are you an advocate?

“You should run for school board. It’s a great service to the community -- and it’s only one night a month.”

If you’re a board member, chances are you’ve heard some variation of that statement, either from people who don’t know any better, or people who do know better but want you to run so much they’re willing to, well, fudge.

No, it’s not a one-night-a-month job. And with more and more directives emanating from statehouses and Washington, it sometimes seems barely manageable with a full-time job.

And one other thing: You know those aforementioned state and federal directives? Well, we need you to go to your local officials, state legislators, and representatives in Washington and tell them just how their policies are affecting you -- in your spare time, of course.

This month’s issue is all about advocacy for board members. It’s important to have lobbyists speaking on behalf of school boards and school districts, Senior Editor Del Stover says on Page 22, but to be most effective, they need your voice as well.

How many of you lobby your state or federal legislators or local leaders, either in person, or by phone, e-mail, or other means? 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 November.

A. I spend a good portion of my time advocating for my school board and district. (Please elaborate with all answers.)

B. I do a little lobbying on my district’s behalf.

C. It’s all I can do to go to that “one meeting.”

D. None of the above

About the Your Turn survey: These responses represent the views of the ASBJ Reader Panel, a self-selected sample of subscribers, plus other readers who choose to participate by postal mail, e-mail, or online at www.asbj.com. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of American School Board Journal or of its publisher, the National School Boards Association. Join the panel at www.asbj.com/readerpanel.

YOUR TURN: YOU SAY
On task or in the weeds

More than half of you (52 percent) say your school board is pretty much on task most of the time. That still leaves 23 percent who say you spend too much time “down in the weeds” and another 23 percent who say you’re especially weed-challenged. (Three percent marked “no comment.”)

When things are good, they’re very, very good. And when they’re bad? Just listen:

• At our school, our superintendent (alone) sets the board agenda and we see it maybe five days before the meetings.

• Our board never discusses priorities or strategies. We never discuss philosophy. Our board president says that whatever the superintendent says is good enough for her.

• The daily (monthly) grind is about all that shows up on our agenda. No planning. No direction. No hope for student achievement.

Thankfully, we also have some good news to report:

Though we have many personal differences and sometimes heated discussions, we do stick to the agenda and accomplish a great deal every year. We do have specific long- and short-term goals that we take seriously and review quarterly. These goals are aligned with our superintendent’s goals. We are in the process of completing a new strategic plan. Implementation will begin this fall. I believe we do a commendable job of “staying on the balcony.”

 -- Julia Kennedy Beckman, board member, Illinois

We have a great handbook of process for our board. We also have a code of conduct that helps us to stay on track. We had four new board members elected or appointed this year out of a board of seven. Even though a few of our new board members sometimes want to get down in the weeds and micromanage, we have the processes to get them back on the track. ... We have some really great things happening that are affecting student achievement.

 -- JoDee Sundberg, board member, Utah


Education Books Worth a Look

The Influence of Teachers
Reflections on Teaching and Leadership
John Merrow. LM Books. 220 pp. $14.95.

Nobody argues with the principle that the school board’s basic function is to establish and maintain policies that nurture a strong and productive learning program for each student. The question is how to create such a learning program in the best way possible.

Now comes John Merrow. Before becoming a distinguished TV education commentator on the “PBS NewsHour,” he taught in the secondary schools, as well as at the university level. Merrow has been closely involved with public school reform for more than 35 years. In his radio and TV work, he has interviewed thousands of public school teachers, administrators, school board members, and state and federal officials. He brings his rich education background to bear in the daunting task of identifying what really works in school reform in his new book, The Influence of Teachers. The answer: It’s the teacher.

In slightly more than 200 pages of well-written narrative, Merrow’s sharp intellect, honed by his doctoral studies in education from Harvard and his perspective from a seat on the board of trustees of Columbia University’s Teachers’ College, sorts out a winding path to genuine improvement in the learning process, led by teachers in the public schools in a new learning environment fostered by school boards.

At the outset, Merrow makes it clear that modern technology has “turned the world upside down,” including education. He is disdainful of the current approach to education. He calls it “regurgitation education,” in which the teacher throws out a tsunami of facts that the student is expected to memorize and throw back. His entire thrust for reform is teaching students how to think, think, and think some more.

Merrow builds his case for school reform briefly and deftly, reminding us of the three historical purposes for society to provide schools (i.e., a place where knowledge is stored and dispensed, a place where children are socialized and where they learn to deal with others peacefully and productively, and a place where children can be placed in the safe custodial care of trusted adults). His conclusion: Technology has dramatically changed the first two purposes, and they cry out for a change in our approach to education.

Merrow says teachers should play a critical role in shaping school reform and that they should be paid to reflect the respect that the position deserves. He also discusses the breadth of scope and authority that should be held by teachers in formulating the educational program. He describes these in general terms by focusing on three sections -- “follow the teacher,” “follow the leader,” and his “hopes and suggestions” for future schools.

In the first two sections, Merrow comments on a cornucopia of relevant issues, including teacher evaluation processes, the opinions of business people, charter schools, union skirmishes, the use of student test results in measuring teachers’ performance, and the like. He also expands on his case for reshaping the role of the teacher, underscoring the dependency all others have on the new work of teachers, and transforming “regurgitation education” to a learning process that emphasizes teaching students how to think. That is the essence of his “hopes and suggestions” for future schooling. Formulating good questions and searching for their answers should be a more highly valued skill than merely memorizing and reporting on someone else’s old answers.

Merrow’s book is a worthwhile read for each school board member and superintendent in America, as well as by professors of education who design and teach courses to prepare future teachers.

Thomas A. Shannon, executive director emeritus, National School Boards Association.

Stretching the School Dollar
How Schools and Districts Can Save Money While Serving Students Best
Edited by Frederick M. Hess and Eric Osberg. Harvard Education Press. 351 pp. $27.95.

The ever-increasing pressure to improve student achievement in an environment of limited budgets forces educational leaders to make hard decisions. To address this issue, Frederick Hess, director of educational policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and Eric Osberg, vice president and treasurer of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, present a collection of tightly written pieces on cutting costs.

Contributors include scholars, journalists, educators, and research consultants. Stretching the School Dollar provides the reader with a broad range of examples that purport to demonstrate how to cut costs without harming, and in some cases even improving, student performance.

How can educational leaders save money and still preserve or possibly enhance programmatic quality? The contributors offer research-based and real-world solutions: cut costs, implement new data analysis systems, calculate per-student costs, assign teachers to improve efficiency, integrate online learning, and battle the political and structural obstacles that prevent spending less. School leaders will no doubt find money-saving strategies in the book that will work for them.

The chapter by Nathan Levenson, a Harvard business school graduate turned superintendent, will grab your attention as a captivating cost-cutting, achievement-raising, success story. His candid description of the battle for the budget provides practical and innovative strategies for freeing up funds while meeting students’ needs. If you read only one chapter in the book, read his.

Emily Hailey (eph9av@virginia.edu), doctoral student, University of Virginia.

Terms of Engagement
New Ways of Leading and Changing Organizations
Richard H. Axelrod. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 227 pp. $29.95.

Anyone involved in an organizational change movement can most likely recite the obstacles that impede structural reorganization. Richard Axelrod, co-founder of an organizational consulting firm, goes the next step to debunk the many practices purported to lead to desirable organizational outcomes. Then he offers what he believes to be straightforward strategies for effecting such change in the world of education.

Axelrod approaches the considerable challenge of large-scale organizational transformation by focusing on the human factor; that is, he argues that people involved in the change process will ultimately determine its success or failure. A lack of attention to the psychology of change on the human psyche is, in Axelrod’s opinion, the reason so many initiatives fail.

This book serves as a handbook for leaders of any organization, large or small, who are trying to alter the status quo. It is important to note that the author learned his craft while working with companies such as Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, and Harley-Davidson. When he speaks about changing private corporations or public school districts, people ought to listen.

Axelrod is straightforward and provides examples that both identify common pitfalls and advance positive models. He does not sugarcoat the risks; he warns of messy, sometimes costly investment. If I had to direct an organizational change effort, or simply wanted to learn more about the process, I would buy Axelrod’s book and pay the shipping fee for express mail.

Lisa Schoener (lgs8m@virginia.edu), doctoral student, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia.