March 2012 School Board News

On The Hill
The ESEA reauthorization: How we got here
By 
Michael A. Resnick

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has successfully focused the attention of educators and policymakers on using a standards- and data-based accountability system to drive efforts to raise student achievement -- especially for minorities and special- needs students.

However, since its enactment 10 years ago, the program has failed to meet the promise of its compelling name. NCLB has a flawed method for measuring success and forces school districts to take flawed actions. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming burden these flaws have placed on classrooms, Congress has gone year after year without fixing the law. Meanwhile, more and more schools have been unnecessarily mislabeled as failing and forced to commit additional staff time and resources to remedies that too often are irrelevant or dysfunctional.

There are multiple reasons behind Congress’ inaction. First, a wide range of groups from both the public sector and the education industry frequently have conflicting positions on how specific changes to the law’s many complex provisions would impact their own educational, operational, and financial interests. Additionally, for seven of the past 10 years, the Bush administration -- which viewed NCLB as the president’s signature domestic program -- opposed opening the legislation to any fixes and the possible unraveling of the law that could result.

To make changes within the NCLB framework, then House Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) produced a draft bill in 2007. Most groups, including NSBA, opposed the effort because the changes it offered to remedy the NCLB’s substantive flaws were even more complex, bureaucratic, and top-down than the basic law.

Central to NCLB is the requirement that 100 percent of students must score as “proficient” on state assessments by 2014. Last March, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan predicted that as many as 82 percent of the nation’s schools would be labeled as not making Adequate Yearly Progress in 2010-11 -- with many of these schools progressing through sanctions.

Feeling that pressure, the House and Senate committees sought to develop bills, but roadblocks emerged -- including philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans. In proposing changes, the Democrats saw a need for stronger federal direction than did their Republican counterparts.

Secretary Duncan, with urging from NSBA, stepped in last September and instituted his NCLB regulatory relief program. Through that program, states applied to have 10 of NCLB’s most serious and intrusive flaws waived on the condition that they develop accountability plans to implement specific requirements of the Department of Education’s reform agenda. NSBA supported the substance of the waivers, but opposed the conditions for several reasons.

Central to the opposition was the belief that the waivers should be granted on their own merit. Further, the Education Department should not institute requirements that will take school programs and district resources in one direction, only to undo them when Congress completes the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

For NSBA and some lawmakers, those conditions also established national education policy without legislative authority. That pre-empted the function -- albeit unexercised -- of Congress to represent its constituents’ will. Quickly, Senate Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) convened a committee markup of his bill last October. Although the bill passed committee with bipartisan but not unanimous support, Republican members made it clear that they wanted to see more movement in their direction when the bill reached the Senate floor -- where legislation requires 60 votes to pass. At this writing, the Senate bill is frozen until some of the differences are worked out.

On Jan. 6, House Committee Chair John Kline (R-Minn.) released a draft bill that Democrats publicly opposed. Both the House and Senate bills, like the waiver component of the Education Department’s program, are vast improvements over the current NCLB. However, the Senate bill, after adopting some concessions to Republicans to move bipartisan legislation through committee, provides much stronger federal direction to states and local school districts than the House bill.

NSBA is lobbying to improve both bills and pressing the House and Senate to move quickly to prevent the legislation from languishing in election-year politics. The last thing districts need is for states to implement the department’s program over the next year, only to have new legislation remove those requirements or perhaps add some of its own. That would leave districts with the rug pulled out from under them, simply because Congress couldn’t finish its work. Further, in states that don’t request ED’s “waivers with conditions” program, school districts should not have to endure more schools being mislabeled as failing and more sanctions for another year.

“ESEA Now: For Our School Children, Our Economy, and America’s Future” was the theme of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network Conference held in early February. Nearly 800 school board members and state association leaders went to Capitol Hill to make the case for reauthorizing ESEA this year. This time, they made sure lawmakers will respond to the needs and reality of local schools -- where education actually takes place.

We urge school board members to stay on top of the progress and content of this legislation through the year. Given the volatility of this election year -- including Congress’ atrocious 11 percent do-nothing approval rating -- incumbents will look for opportunities to deliver winners to their constituents. Why not an education law that works?

For more information about NSBA’s proposals for reauthorization in ESEA, 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

High Court declines to hear two Internet cases
The U.S. Supreme Court missed an opportunity to clarify what school districts can do to monitor harmful and potentially disruptive off-campus Internet speech when it declined in January to hear a pair of Pennsylvania cases involving students posting fake Internet profiles, said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.

In one case, J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, a middle school girl who was upset about being reprimanded for dress code violations posted a fake MySpace profile of her principal. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in an 8-6 decision, ruled that the school district had violated the girl’s First Amendment right to free speech when it suspended her for 10 days.

The Supreme Court also declined to hear an appeal of another Pennsylvania case, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, concerning a high school senior who was suspended after creating a Web page mocking his principal. That suspension was overturned by a district judge.

NSBA and several other national education organizations appealed the rulings to the Supreme Court in the hope that it would provide more definitive guidance to school districts at a time when technology has blurred the line between campus and off-campus speech.

“We’ve missed an opportunity to really clarify for school districts what their responsibility and authority is at a time when kids are using electronic media instantaneously, and especially when those messages are so impactful and immediate on the school setting,” Negrón told The Associated Press.

Negrón also was quoted on the websites of CNN, ABC News, and other media outlets.

NSBA releases guide on food allergies
NSBA has published “Safe at School and Ready to Learn: A Comprehensive Policy Guide for Protecting Students with Life-threatening Food Allergies” to help school leaders establish policies and practices that support the safety, well-being, and academic success of students with life-threatening food allergies.

Developed with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the guide focuses on the need for schools to partner with families and healthcare providers in identifying and supporting individual student needs and in preparing management plans.

To access this publication online, visit NSBA’s Food Allergies & Schools Web page at www.nsba.org/foodallergy.

Keep up-to-date with NSBA advocacy and legal news by going to School Board News Today at http://schoolboardnews.nsba.org


Q&A with Chef Jeff Henderson

Jeff Henderson is an award-winning culinary figure known simply as Chef Jeff -- although simple would hardly be the way to describe his rise to fame. Growing up poor in southern California, Henderson quickly fell in with one bad crowd after another. When he was 24, he was nabbed for drug peddling and was sent to prison for nearly a decade.

While incarcerated, Henderson worked in the prison kitchen where he found sustenance and salvation in cooking. Today, he is a New York Times best-selling author and television personality who will be speaking at NSBA’s 72nd Annual Conference in Boston in April. The self-made entrepreneur recently took time out of his busy schedule to provide some food for thought to Senior Editor Naomi Dillon.

When did your passion for food ignite?

I was placed on pots-and-pans detail in the prison kitchen. I realized the kitchen staff, like in any restaurant, gets to eat the leftover food. I thought, “OK, maybe this is the place to be.” The opportunity came for me to learn to cook by helping the head inmate cooks, and I got very good at it. I was very fast at seasoning and organization. Six months after I worked in the kitchen full time, the head cook left and I was promoted to head inmate cook and eventually head inmate baker. I had to be creative with the ingredients -- onions, garlic powder, salt, pepper, top ramen noodle seasoning packages, canned tuna, a piece of bell pepper, some squeeze cheese. Whatever it was, we’d create these dishes.

You re-entered society with gusto, becoming the first African American to be named executive chef at Café Bellagio in Las Vegas. How did you make that transition?

I took the same drive and tenacity that I had on the streets into the corporate world. Prison makes you very disciplined, and so do the streets. That added to my ability to move quickly up the food chain in the corporate world. I was the first one in and last one out every day. I studied the best talent around me. I bought the same shoes they wore, the same chef jackets, the same eyewear, and the same books. I watched how they moved through the kitchen, how they held knives, how they seasoned, how they held a pot handle, a sauté pan, and incorporated it all into what I do.

What does food represent to you?

It means a lot of things. Early in my life, it was survival. In prison it was an opportunity for me to eat better. After prison, food became a career. It became that vehicle for my redemption. The power of food is like a metaphor; food changes life. I get e-mails and letters and blogs and tweets from people who talk about how food changed their lives.

What is the Chef Jeff Project?

It was born out of my Los Angeles business called the Posh Urban Cuisine, where we catered to Hollywood celebrities and corporate executives. I would always hire at-risk kids through Job Corps, Pro Start, and local culinary trade schools. I would take these young people into multimillion-dollar estates and catering events and teach them how to cook. Many of these kids had social challenges. They didn’t smile, they sagged their pants, and their facial expressions were intimidating. So I wound up teaching these kids the importance of self-presentation. Then the Food Network reached out to me after I was on the Oprah Winfrey show and said, “Chef Jeff we want you to do a show.”

So how are you able to break through to the kids you work with?

Most teachers don’t come from poverty so they don’t understand the mindset. They don’t understand the trauma that these kids have been through. Until you understand that, you can’t connect. You can’t get them to buy in to the idea that education pays off. You get them to buy in by building up their self-esteem. You have to help them discover their gift and figure out what they want to do [in life] and cultivate that. In my travels, I meet kids who have never been on an airplane, never saw the ocean, never been to a white-tablecloth restaurant, never been to a museum, never been told that they were smart, never been told that they have potential. These kids were born in poverty to drug-addicted parents, abusive single parents, and broken family homes. It’s them against the world and the odds are stacked against them. So you’ve got to let them taste it, feel it, and see it, so when they go back to that environment that little voice talks to them and says, “You know what, there really is an ocean, there really is a New York, there really are opportunities.”


Recovering from disaster: Tell us your stories

An unusually harsh weather year prompted us to tell the story of two school districts dealing with weather-related disasters. December 2011’s “Aftermath” featured Schoharie, N.Y., which was recovering from a devastating September flood, and Bastrop, Texas, a community reeling from an equally devastating wildfire.

Of course, these two districts were not the only ones that struggled with natural disasters in 2011. Nancy Langseth, president of North Dakota’s Minot Public School Board, read the article and was prompted to write a letter telling us about a flood that “completely destroyed” two schools.

“Our city, Minot, N.D., suffered a horrible flood this summer that evacuated a quarter of the population and saw 4,100 homes impacted -- most having several feet of water for almost a month on their main floors,” Langseth wrote. “Churches, businesses, parks, recreational facilities, and our school district were also affected, terribly.”

Langseth said one reason for the excessive damage “was because the flooding lasted almost a month.”

“We were told by disaster workers this is the worst damage they have seen from a river flooding. ... The only positive of this disaster is no lives were lost, as people followed evacuation orders very well,” she wrote.

At Erik Ramstad Middle School, Langseth said, the damage “looked as though a bomb had exploded ... Interior walls were completely gone, the roof collapsed in many sections, the swimming pool popped from its decking, and massive windows hung precariously from metal frames. The enormous quantity of river mud covering everything in this 105,000-square-foot building added to the destruction. Fortunately, most of the technology, textbooks, and music instruments were saved. However, furniture, the music library, and more were lost.”

The other school, Lincoln Elementary, “had 12 feet of water on its first floor and was declared a total loss. There has been a Lincoln School on that site since 1905.”

Fortunately, Langseth said, four elementary schools were saved by dikes. “These schools suffered some damage from groundwater or sewer backup, but were ready for the start of the school year. All in all, the district has suffered over $60 million in damage. Much of this will be reimbursed by FEMA and the state of North Dakota. However, we are responsible for 3 percent of the cost.

“We have great sympathy for all of the districts mentioned in the cover story. However, we feel that our district and city should be included in a story dealing with disasters and recovery from disasters.”

Stories of districts dealing with unusual weather conditions continue this year. In Alaska, snow doesn’t usually constitute “unusual,” but 200 inches of the white powder in November and December closed schools into the new year in the small fishing community of Cordova on the Prince William Sound. The town needed the help of the National Guard to get the slick, heavy, icy snow from building rooftops and other areas.

“The National Guard was here for a week,” Cordova School District Superintendent Jim Nygaard said in an e-mail. “It is difficult for many to realize the amount of snow we received. Our high school was completely hidden with snow.”

School was closed from Jan. 6 to 16 -- a first for Cordova. “This is my 33rd year in education, and it is the first time I have ever closed school,” says Nygaard, who was just named Alaska’s 2012 Superintendent of the Year. No snow days are built into the schedule, so the district is in the process of figuring out how to lengthen the school year.

Share your stories and photos of your district’s recovery from weather-related disasters and we’ll run them in future issues. Send them to editor@asbj.com.

In May, we’ll tell the story of two Magna Award winning districts -- Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- a year after both were hit by a historic spate of destructive tornadoes, and focus on what they have done to reopen and rebuild in the wake of tragedy.


YOUR TURN: WE ASK

Is ‘Big Money’ coming to your school board elections?

Money and partisan politics -- are they coming to a school board election near you? Or maybe they already have?

There are still many communities where school board elections are rather low-key affairs, mainly of interest to a few parents, educators, and other civic-minded folks. But, as Senior Editor Del Stover notes on page 14, board elections in an increasing number of communities -- Denver, North Carolina’s Wake County, and Virginia’s Fairfax County, to name a few -- are attracting national attention, the interest of the political parties, and some rather “big” money.

With education such a hot issue and the nation so polarized, perhaps it’s inevitable that the kind of big-budget -- and often nasty -- campaigns that often characterize runs for Congress are filtering into school board elections.

Our question to you: Is this a good thing? Some would say that more money, more partisanship, and more publicity will have a detrimental effect on school board elections. On the other hand, these developments have certainly focused attention on K-12 issues and helped draw more members of the public into the debate over the future of America’s schools.

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

A. All totaled, the new attention to school board elections is a good thing. (Please elaborate with all answers.)

B. These developments are not good for school board elections.

C. They won’t have a big impact either way.

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

Free lunch partipation on the rise

Seventy cents a day -- it’s less than what some of us spend on coffee each morning. But for some families in the Portage (Ind.) Township Schools, paying 70 cents per child for combined breakfast and lunch was a hardship.

So, in 2009, the school board reduced the price of its already reduced-price meals: nothing for breakfast; 25 cents for lunch. As a result, says Your Turn responder Jan Black, parents were relieved and the district saw a nearly 40 percent increase in reduced-lunch participation within four months.

“The additional participation covers any cost associated with the new program,” Black said. “We also provide summer feeding for our community and served 12 locations.”

Portage’s experience is typical for school districts and families in these tough economic times. Indeed, more than 60 percent of you said you’ve seen a big increase in the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches recently. Another 23 percent have seen a small increase, 8 percent have had their numbers remain stable, and 8 percent have witnessed a decrease.

More comments:

• [We’re] reaching out by providing continuous information and opportunities to be a part of the program other than that the beginning of the year signs up and monitoring for those that show evidence of a lack of nourishment and grade drops from previous years. We cover the costs by continuously working to reduce cost in both the food areas and other school operational areas that do not impact classroom learning (energy savings, transportation, supplies, waste, and using technology to reduce cost). -- Board member, Kentucky

• We have new admissions and a small percentage of these students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. I feel that families are still putting pride in front of making the decision to apply. My school has a point-of-sale computerized cash register system but parents still don’t understand how it works and because of this they still won’t apply. Every student has an ID number that has to be put into a PIN pad so it appears that every student is the same. The changes for income qualification have also put families over just enough to not be eligible even if they were last school year. If we want families to use this program then it needs to be available to them and the state needs to stop changing the income levels. -- Bob DeBruycker, board member, New York state

• School numbers of free/reduced qualifiers have mirrored the increased demands reported by other community agencies responding to family hunger. The participation in the seamless feeding program for summer months and the winter break at a number of school campuses also reflects the fact that many families -- especially those with children -- are in serious distress. Is anyone watching this alarming trend in a nation that is the “land of plenty?” -- Benny Gooden, superintendent, Arkansas