February 2012 School Board News

2012 provides opportunities to be a strong advocate for schools
By Michael A. Resnick

As the second session of the 112th Congress moves forward, lawmakers increasingly will focus on the relationship between the economy and the political uncertainties that come with this year’s elections. That dynamic is magnified, since the election coincides with a census-driven redrawing of Congressional lines that will result in many incumbents running in primaries and general elections in districts with new voters.

For school boards, the resulting public debate provides a clear opportunity to draw national attention to policies and funding levels that will effectively support the education of our nation’s schoolchildren.

On the economic front, Congress will be politically drawn to short-term employment fixes. But, in the longer run, our nation won’t succeed with policies that simply seek to re-create jobs for a workplace that doesn’t need old skills. This applies to the low-wage manufacturing and service jobs now performed in China and India -- or further in the downstream of poorer countries.

Rather, our lawmakers must focus on finding solutions to the job depletion pressures arising from the convergence of global competition and the structural changes that have occurred within the American workplace. Achieving long-term employment growth requires a comprehensive business strategy that reaches beyond monetary and corporate incentive policies and ensures our youth will have the knowledge, skills, and higher- order thinking to meet 21st century demands.

Better jobs and an expansion of employment opportunities will emanate from industries that rely on workers’ knowledge and ability to perform at high levels. This holds true regardless of whether they are involved in automobile assembly, scientific discovery, or working at a level that allows a Main Street business to thrive. Regardless of other incentives, any of these industries will want to locate where they can draw from the best talent pool. What’s needed is a national education commitment to ensure the talent exists in our local communities.

Unfortunately, Congress has not gotten the message. With extensive lobbying from NSBA and other major education groups, lawmakers closed out 2011 by passing a multi-agency funding bill that spared the major K-12 programs the cuts that other domestic programs incurred. However, by not increasing their investments in ongoing programs, school districts can expect only to receive about the same funding levels that they received three years ago. This is despite the fact that stimulus and jobs money is all but gone, while state and locally generated revenues have not been restored to previous levels.

Overall, state governments have increased spending by nearly 3 percent, according to a report issued by the National Governors Association, but states remain more than $20 billion below 2008 levels. The report also found that states are under pressure to commit more funds to Medicaid, implement the new healthcare law, and replenish rainy day funds while also feeling pressure from the loss of stimulus and jobs funds. Similarly, local revenues are still down and even falling in communities where property values continue to decline and foreclosures rise.

Under these circumstances, our national leaders must step up and make the investment that is needed. It’s certainly not acceptable for Congress to pass laws with more requirements if they won’t adequately fund them.

When it comes to education policy, school boards and educators rightfully are spending substantial time on the mechanics of replacing No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As we deal with those operational details, education advocates must make sure that lawmakers do not lose sight of the vital national economic purpose served by education. To some degree, that purpose has been ignored if not diminished by the prolonged multiyear, “in the box” debate over NCLB’s mechanics. Education committee members particularly need to forge ahead with the ESEA reauthorization and focus on effective outcomes -- recognizing that school districts can’t be all things to all people.

Given the electorate’s negative mood and the low esteem in which it holds Congress, it’s not surprising that political pundits can envision either party winning the White House as well as one or both houses. If either party achieves a clean sweep, federal education policy can move in vastly different ways -- especially in determining the size, scope, and control of the federal level as well as the involvement of the private school sector. On the other hand, a continuation of split government can lead to more gridlock or the opportunity for bipartisan balance, depending on the message voters send.

The uncertainty of the election outcome should serve to redouble school board efforts to pursue funding and policy commitments now. Education advocates can accomplish more this year through strong and persistent advocacy while helping to lock in commitments for the following year.

NSBA will present its election year agenda to the Congress at its Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference, scheduled for Feb. 5-7 in Washington, D.C. That’s when 800 school board members and state association leaders will take both the “big picture” message and the operational details to meetings with members of Congress on Capitol Hill. For more information about the FRN Conference and NSBA’s agenda, see www.nsba.org/frn2012. 

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

Brief opposes Ala. immigration law
NSBA filed three amicus briefs in November, including one that charges Alabama’s recently approved immigration law as using “fear and intimidation to drive undocumented immigrants and their children” from the state. NSBA was joined by the National Education Association and the Alabama Education Association in the amicus brief filed in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Alabama law, which among other things requires school districts to report on the immigration status of new students, has received national publicity over charges that it is being used to harass undocumented immigrants and drive them from the state.

Two other amicus briefs were filed in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court: Filarsky v. Delia, which concerns the qualified immunity status of a private attorney retained by the government to conduct an internal affairs investigation, and Payne v. Peninsula School District, which concerns whether parents of students with disabilities can file suit before going through a hearing process set up by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

CPE report shows quality, not quantity, of time matters
A new report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) dispels the charge that U.S. students spend less time in school than do their peers in other countries.

The report, Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare?, found that U.S. students spend just as many, or more, hours in class than those in countries like China and Finland. Also, it noted that sheer time in class is not a good indicator of educational excellence.

“Providing extra time is only useful if that time is used wisely,” says the study, written by Jim Hull, CPE senior policy analyst. Hull looked at international data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Data on Education Seventh Edition 2010-11 and comparison data from five states that enroll a significant number of U.S. students: California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas.

Pre-K must align with elementary grades, coalition says
High-quality preschool is essential for ensuring that all children -- particularly disadvantaged children and English language learners -- are launched onto a path of academic and career success, says a new report by the Pre-K Coalition, a group that includes NSBA and six other education organizations. Yet, pre-K is not some kind of educational “silver bullet,” and its successes must be built upon in early elementary school, according to research.

To get the most impact from pre-K, the programs should be closely aligned with early elementary school so that gains made in preschool can be maintained and enhanced throughout the K-12 years and beyond, says the coalition’s report, The Importance of Aligning Pre-K Through 3rd Grade.

The report cites several impediments to aligning pre-K with early elementary school, as well as strategies for addressing them.

TLN sets spring site visit schedule
NSBA and the Technology Leadership Network (TLN) have announced the 2012 series of Education Technology site visits.

“Through NSBA’s technology site visits school leaders are able to see education technology innovation in action and develop their own successful technology initiatives,” said Ann Flynn, NSBA’s Director of Education Technology. “This is a great opportunity for school leaders to witness classrooms where curriculum goals drive technology decisions.”

This year’s site visits will be held at:

• Klein Independent School District in Texas; Feb. 19 to 21.
• Cullman City Schools in Alabama; Feb. 29 to March 2.
• Dysart Unified School District No. 89 in Arizona; April 1 to 3.
• Clark County School District in Nevada; April 25 to 27.

Talk About It
Our monthly topic worth discussing

What is ‘proficient’?
Ready for a lesson in cognitive dissonance? According to a new report by Change the Equation, a nonprofit that promotes better science standards, about two-thirds of the 37 states it studied reported that most of their eighth-graders were proficient in science in 2009.

Meanwhile, the ACT reported that only 13 percent of eighth-graders were on track that year to succeed in introductory college science courses.

What gives? If you guessed that many of these states set the bar for science proficiency much lower than it should be, you’ve got the gist of the aptly named report, All Over the Map: Comparing States’ Expectations for Student Performance in Science.

Indeed, the states’ science proficiency standards are “all over the map.” For example, an eighth-grader rated as “proficient” in Virginia, which sets the bar the lowest of any state, might be performing at the bottom quartile of eighth-graders nationwide, the report said. In a state like Louisiana, which sets the bar much higher, she might be nowhere near proficient.

“At a time when the demand for robust skills and knowledge in science has gone global, ‘proficiency’ may have more to do with where you live than what you have learned,” the report said. “This hodgepodge undercuts a major reason why we have tests in the first place: to provide reliable information on how well we’re preparing students for the challenges of the global economy.”

To compare the states’ science standards, the group measured them against the standards used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It found that only four of the 37 states set the bar near or above NAEP’s standard for proficiency. And 15 states set the proficiency bar lower than NAEP’s threshold for “basic.”

The good news is that 46 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, and a similar effort is being made to develop Next Generation Science Standards.

“Yet content standards are only half the battle,”the report said. “The best content standards imaginable will not amount to much if we do not ask students to demonstrate that they have truly mastered them.”

Change the Equation suggests states benchmark their standards against more rigorous international science standards. And then schools, communities, and those who support better science instruction will have to do the “heavy lifting” to see that students can reach these goals, the report said.

But first, everyone needs to be talking about the same thing when they say a student is “proficient.”

“When we aim for proficiency,” the report concludes, “we should not be shooting in the dark.” 


Should school boards ‘follow the money’?
At the start of his cover story on the millions of dollars in private money being used to promote charter schools, Senior Editor Del Stover says he won’t go into whether this money “is appropriately spent -- or if the nation’s reliance on charter schools is sound policy.”

That’s a wise decision: Just tracking where a portion of this money comes from and where it goes is a massive task -- and an important service -- in itself, without making judgments about whether such expenditures are good for the welfare of schoolchildren.

But, of course, as school board members, you have to make judgments, not only about what kind of impact all this money has on education, but also about how the public schools should respond to this challenge. Should school leaders try to highlight the money trail? Ignore it? Criticize charter schools as no better than traditional public ones? Or just do what they do best and hope the charter challenge resolves itself?

As always, choose one of the responses below, add your comments, and send your reply to your-turn@asbj.com. We’ll report the results in April.

A. Public school leaders should highlight the massive amount of private money going into the charter school movement so the public has a better idea of the issue.

B. Highlight what regular public schools are doing and point to numerous studies showing that charter schools do no better, on average, than traditional public schools -- and sometimes considerably worse.

C. Don’t fight this fight: Just concentrate on running a great school system.

D. None of the above.


Your cheating thoughts
When it comes to cheating and what to do about it, ASBJ readers mark a collective “all of the above.” About one-third of you say rethinking the high-stakes testing culture is key; the rest are equally divided between “emphasizing ethics,” “better monitoring,” and “none of the above.”

Some comments:

• Ranking and pitting schools against each other is a major problem. The press that some schools feel leads to institutional problems. -- Butch Martin, Kentucky

• The question should be, “Who really gets hurt by cheating?” Perhaps driving this point home would make a huge difference at all levels. -- Patricia L. Ziolkowski, board member, New Jersey

• As seen in the behavior of our politicians and mainstream media, lying and cheating are commonplace. We have, as a nation, lost our way. -- Paul Vranish, superintendent, Texas

• There are many reasons to question our current emphasis on high-stakes testing, but cheating isn’t one of them. Schools, as well as parents, should work with children to develop ethical means of problem solving, and incorporating character building into our lessons is a great idea. Ask a child to show what he or she has learned, ask a child to demonstrate a skill, and you have built a cheat-proof assessment. It may not be a paper/pencil test, or something done on a computer that can be scored rapidly and it might not take hours to administer, but a good assessment tells us what the child knows and can do and that is really what it is all about. The best part is that it takes cheating out of the equation.

 -- Randal Braun, superintendent, Wisconsin

Q & A with ‘20 to Watch’ member Cheryl Capozzoli

Cheryl Capozzoli is an open source -- literally. Much like the methodology and philosophy behind Wikipedia, Mozilla Firefox, and other user-centered and user-generated creations, Capozzoli is a true believer in the power of opening the development process -- in this case, education -- to everyone.

As an education consultant, instructional technology specialist with Pennsylvania’s Capital Area Intermediate Unit, and founder of the Web 2.0 Guru wiki, Capozzoli devotes her time to providing professional development and sharing best practices in education technology, which she began delving into in the early 1990s, when she began as an elementary school teacher.

Capozzoli’s enthusiasm for infusing technology into instruction has earned her numerous accolades, including a spot among last year’s “20 to Watch,” an NSBA recognition program that pinpoints emerging leaders poised to do great things in education technology. In Capozzoli’s case, however, the title is simple affirmation.

After successfully earning a seat on Pennsylvania’s Newport School Board in 2009, Capozzoli has worked tirelessly to ensure all children have equal access to education resources, including technology, and has personally provided training and professional development to teachers for free. “To be a change agent, you have to be right there with them,” Capozzoli explains.

ASBJ Senior Editor Naomi Dillon caught up with the energetic Capozzoli for an invigorating chat about what keeps her wired.

How did you become the Web 2.0 Guru?

When I was doing the coaching position, I would send out e-mails to colleagues and say, “Hey, I found this neat thing and thought you’d find it useful.” Later, I’d see them in the hallway and they’d tell me they got my e-mail and would look at it later, which meant they’d never look at it again, and so I said, “Let me put all these resources someplace.” People were calling me “guru” anyway, so I said, “Why not run with it?” The interesting thing about the site is, it’s a reflection of what I was into at the moment, and how I’ve evolved. First it was about providing resources, then it was tools, then it was about building leadership capacity.

Education technology is a broad field. What’s your interpretation of it?

Education technology needs to build higher-order thinking. It needs to reinforce concepts, objectives, and learning standards. It has to have some kind of hook. It can’t just be, “Here’s technology, let’s use it,” because sometimes technology isn’t always the right choice. Some kids want to hold a pencil; they want to draw on a piece of paper. In this way, technology is really about providing students autonomy in the classroom, giving them a choice in how they want to learn and how they want to demonstrate what they know.

We hear a lot about putting students in the driver’s seat of their learning. How can technology help with that?

Students are digital natives, but they’re native to social gaming and entertainment. They don’t know how to use it for learning. Our job is to show them how to use it in their academic path. It can be fun at the same time, but this is how you learn, too. Challenges are the story of life, and yet we don’t teach that in our classrooms. Just because it’s a challenge and you don’t understand it, it shouldn’t stop you dead in your tracks. You should go research and find out how to do it. Unfortunately, we’re still in the sit-and-get mode in our classrooms.

What would you say are other big obstacles to education technology?

Sometimes that the focus in grant or technology initiatives is more about the technology, when it really shouldn’t be. Education technology is really about a change in practice, a change in our approach to teaching and learning. But school systems too often rely on a business model approach rather than [an] instructional design approach.

What do you mean by an instructional design approach?

When adopting any instructional design approach, you have to pilot, you have to plan. Instead, schools -- when they see something they like -- they say, “Oh, let’s get it” and they don’t plan, they don’t test it out, then there’s all these issues and it fails in the implementation. There are no silver bullets, even with technology. Districts need to first have a discussion about what their vision for the future is, what their goals are, who are the stakeholders -- and get everybody on the same page and move together. There’s not a consistent effort on what we need to be doing for our kids.

You make it sound so easy, but it’s not, is it?

As a mentor once said to me, it’s all about building relationships and building that trust. It’s easier to move forward as a whole group. But it’s hard to move as group when there are different mindsets. A fixed mindset stays stuck in a negative mode. People feel threatened, and they don’t want to move because it’s scary. A growth mindset sees a challenge and gets excited about [it] and says, “Let’s go: We’ll be stronger because of it.”

The winners of the 2011-12 “20 to Watch” will be announced in March. Watch for updates on School Board News Today at http://schoolboardnews .nsba.org.