January 2013 School Board News

On The Hill
Cutting education is the wrong choice in tough budget climate

By Michael A. Resnick

With the re-election of President Obama and the House and Senate remaining under the respective control of the Republicans and the Democrats, it could appear that Washington will continue to operate as it has for the past two years.

However, voters sent a message to lawmakers to end the super-partisan gridlock. With the fiscal cliff looming from the impending end of the Bush tax cuts and the start of budget sequestration, key players immediately began post-election discussions to frame out compromises that hopefully will reduce long-term debt without creating a short-term recession. At this writing, a framework has yet to be hammered out.

The deal that ultimately emerges likely will be broad in its approach for funding domestic programs, with line item details to be worked out over the weeks to come. It only may be at that point that decisions will be made to totally or partially spare specific K-12 programs from cuts.

Meanwhile, Congress also will start identifying its legislative priorities for this session. That list must include the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization that now has been delayed for five years. To avoid unnecessary confusion and waste, the ESEA enactment must be fast tracked to occur before the 2013-14 school year begins. The reason is that school districts already will be implementing major federal Department of Education requirements that states agreed to this past year as a condition for receiving waivers from certain provisions of the No Child Left behind Act that could be altered by Congressional action.

Congress’ funding and legislative policy decisions will impact education for at least several years, which means lawmakers need to be put on the right track for education as early in the session as possible. NSBA’s Federal Relations Conference, which will be held Jan. 27-29 in Washington, D.C., presents a very timely opportunity for 800 school board members and state association leaders to meet with their House and Senate members and lay out the priorities for public education.

At the same time, all school board members can take action to make the case with their representatives for the schoolchildren in their community.

NSBA is engaged in a continuing effort to make the case that America’s schoolchildren and the nation’s long-term interest in their education should not have to incur the brunt of an 8.2 percent cut next year followed by funding caps and perhaps further cuts over the next decade. In addition to the work of NSBA’s lobbyists on Capitol Hill and with the national media, we have asked local school boards to draw attention to the negative impact of these cuts in your communities. Several hundred school boards have passed formal resolutions opposing the cuts and sent them to their House and Senate representatives and their local media.

NSBA also has presented these resolutions to the dealmakers in Congress and in the White House and will continue to do so as they come in until the final budget is produced. If your district has not passed a resolution, consider doing so. It will reinforce the importance of education funding with your representatives and help NSBA make a significant impact on congressional budget negotiators by showing nationwide school board support for funding programs like Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Within the Department of Education, it is expected that Education Secretary Arne Duncan will continue at the helm. Under his leadership, the department has taken a very activist stance to leverage changes to the state and local education delivery system. Department officials believe these changes are necessary to raise student achievement in general and to close the achievement gap among poverty based and minority group students in particular. It is not expected that Duncan will choose to simply ride out the efforts already put into place but will press further with specific strategies to meet his education improvement agenda.

Starting with the Race to the Top program and more recently with the conditions that states accepted to obtain NCLB-related waivers, those strategies have included raising standards with a preference for the common core approach, improving teacher effectiveness by “incentivizing” states and local school districts to more closely tie the assignment, evaluation, compensation, and promotion of teachers to student performance, and pursuing specific approaches to turn around low-performing schools, including the strong promotion of charters.

Unless Congress acts to determine the role and national policy direction for K-12 schools, we should expect the Department of Education to continue to leverage additional changes and expand its own role. Merits aside, national education policy should not be made without the benefit of representative decision-making that results from the legislative process. If Congress continues to sit on its hands with the ESEA reauthorization, it will be increasingly difficult for the legislative branch to reclaim its position vis-à-vis the Department of Education, which in turn will effectively diminish the voice of local constituents in the policy-making process.

The push for Congress to take up ESEA in a bipartisan way will require a vigorous effort by school board members starting in January and will be another key focal point at NSBA’s FRN conference.

So while Washington D.C. may look pretty much the same on paper after the election, for education the ground can move significantly over the next few months. This is an important time for school board members to communicate with their lawmakers.

For more information on sequestration and NSBA’s funding resolution campaign as well as the ESEA reauthorization, 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, “On the Hill,” appears monthly in ASBJ.

NSBA roundup

Learning by Design shows award-winning facilities
Learning By Design’s fall edition focuses on projects committed to advancing educational design excellence and creating innovative, collaborative learning environments. The magazine, which is published twice each year by NSBA, American School Board Journal, and Stratton Publishing, shows the nation’s best education design and construction projects, from pre-k-12 to college and university facilities.

The three 2012 Grand Award winners included: Trilogy Architecture/Urban Design/ Research (Redding, Calif.) for Redding School of the Arts; NAC|Architecture (Seattle) for Riverview Elementary School; and Nagle Hartray Architecture (Chicago) for Latin School of Chicago.

For details and to access the magazine’s digital edition, visit www.learningbydesign.biz.

NSBA urges Ariz. court to scrap scholarships

NSBA is encouraging the Arizona Court of Appeals to overturn a state law that allows parents of students with disabilities to use taxpayer funds to pay for private schooling if they sign away their constitutional right to a public education.

NSBA has filed an amicus brief in Niehaus v. Huppenthal, in which the Arizona School Boards Association and several other education organizations filed suit against the state’s “empowerment scholarship” as a violation of Arizona’s constitution.

“Arizona’s latest voucher scheme is bad public policy, and is part of a nationwide effort by special interest groups to undermine public education by diverting scarce tax dollars to private hands, with little, if any, accountability,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.

N.C. leader to serve as chair of CUBE

NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) has selected Minnie Forte-Brown of Durham, N.C., to serve as chairwoman of CUBE’s steering committee, completing the term of Sandra Jensen of Omaha, Neb., who has retired. Forte-Brown previously served as vice chair of the steering committee.

Forte-Brown’s term as chair will last through April 2013, when CUBE elections will take place. As one of her duties as chair, Forte-Brown will serve on NSBA’s Board of Directors.

CUBE represents more than 100 urban school districts in 35 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The districts that comprise CUBE educate nearly 7.5 million students in over 12,000 schools, with a collective budget of approximately $99 billion.

“Minnie Forte-Brown is a strong leader who will help CUBE advance its work supporting urban school boards as they find solutions to critical policy issues in urban education that enhances student and academic achievement,” said CUBE’s Director Deborah Keys.

Q&A with National Association of School Nurses’ Shirley Schantz

As nursing education director for the National Association of School Nurses, Shirley Schantz has received more than her share of calls from school nurses asking for guidance on how to deal with the nation’s growing problem with childhood obesity.

“They see students that can't walk upstairs,” she told National Public Radio last fall. “They see students that are absent because they're overweight or obese, [who] don't want to go to physical education.”

Recent months have seen Schantz repeatedly called upon to speak or write on this issue, and she has presented a webinar on the topic, “The Role of School Nurses in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity,” sponsored by Collaborate for Healthy Weight, a project of the Health Resources and Services Administration and the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality.

Schantz shared her thoughts about the role of school boards in this fight with ASBJ Senior Editor Del Stover.

What are school nurses telling you about the issue of childhood obesity?

We are seeing students with high blood pressure and Type II diabetes, students who can’t keep up with their peers in terms of physical activity, students who are having problems breathing, who can’t walk to the second floor of their school. And that’s just the physical side of it. There is a psychological aspect to this, in terms of bullying. These students can feel isolated and picked on.

What impact do these health problems have on academic learning?

Students who are overweight or obese miss school more, so you see the academic results of that. Students who feel ill don’t do as well. And we know that some students will call in and say they’re sick, and the reason is they don’t want to do physical education that day.

Is there research showing that students in poorer communities—particularly in urban settings—suffer from poor nutrition?

Research shows that in inner cities, there are fewer grocery stores per mile than in suburban areas, so people are more prone to shop in convenience stores, where there’s less likelihood of finding fruit and vegetables.

There’s also the perception that children are unsafe in their own neighborhoods. You look at parks that possibly aren’t open or safe, where sidewalks are broken. School grounds may not be open after school hours, so there may not be any use of the playground. All these issues mean that some children aren’t going outside to play.

What role is there for school boards and superintendents in dealing with these issues?

So much attention has been paid to grades and test-taking, so I suggest to school board members and administrators that there is evidence to show that students who are active in the day perform better in the classroom. Policymakers need to pay attention to the physical activity of students. They shouldn’t take away physical education time, for example, in order to have more class time, because that’s really counterproductive.

Also, they should look at a breakfast program. Many schools already have such a program, but [school boards] need to look at who is eating breakfast. There is some evidence that when you serve breakfast in the classroom, you get greater classroom participation. If you serve breakfast to everybody, you also get better participation.

What advice can you offer to help school boards better meet the health needs of students?

Under federal rules, every school district was supposed to have developed a wellness committee and wellness plan that looked at education, physical activity, and nutrition. Some have put their plans on a shelf; others have put them to use. I would recommend that if districts don’t already have a wellness committee—or it’s inactive—that they resurrect it, and then say, “Where do we want to go next?”

Make some decisions. Get people involved. Parents are very, very important, and school boards should be listening to them. And get a lot of collaborators from the community. Get a local business to help with a community garden. Lots of good organizations can help, too, such as Action for Healthy Kids or the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Talk About It
Our monthly topics worth discussing

Seattle to train teachers through apprentice program
Seattle Public Schools, working in partnership with the Seattle teachers union, the University of Washington, and the Alliance for Education, this month will look for 25 recruits interested in teaching special-education students and English language learners. These recruits will participate in a new teacher training residency program that offers university coursework as well as substantial on-the-job training with a trained mentor. Like medical residents, the teacher interns will receive stipends during their residency year. The Alliance for Education is collecting donations to assist with program costs. Both recent college graduates and career-changers are welcome to apply to the program. Recruits will earn an initial teaching certificate. After finishing the program they will be required to work in Seattle for several years, according to the Seattle Times.

Chattanooga schools end holiday meals with parents/families
Administrators at Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tenn., have reluctantly made the decision to end parent and family participation in their annual Thanksgiving and winter holiday luncheons, after coming to the realization that using up the potential leftovers could make them noncompliant with new federal meal regulations outlined by the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act, reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The USDA discourages the serving of leftovers, and if the holiday meal leftovers were served on consecutive days, schools could go over federal regulation allotments for grains, fats, or meats. This could cost the district hundreds of thousands of federal dollars it receives to ease implementation of the new meal standards if it is found to be noncompliant in an upcoming state audit of district cafeterias.

Kentucky’s scores drop precipitously on Common Core-aligned tests
Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards, and last year it was the first to administer tests explicitly tied to them, resulting in a huge—and anticipated—drop in students’ test scores. Education Week reports that the number of elementary and middle school students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math dropped by a third or more when the new Common Core-aligned tests were given. Kentucky education Commissioner Terry Holliday plans to combat any backlash with a public relations campaign.

College credit for MOOCs
Enrollment in MOOCs—massive, open, online courses that are usually free—has grown tremendously over the past year. MOOC provider Coursera, founded in January 2012, is offering courses from 33 of the most elite postsecondary institutions in America, including Brown, Columbia, Duke, and Princeton, and has now reached more than 1.7 million online students. The New York Times reports that MOOC is growing faster than Facebook. While signing up for a MOOC takes five minutes or less, few stick with the program, participate in the assessments, and end up with a certificate. In the past, that certificate would not gain you college credit. But the American Council on Education (ACE) is currently preparing to review the effectiveness and value of MOOCs, according to USA Today. ACE’s approval could lead to college credit for participation in MOOCs, resulting in lower tuition costs for students.

Chicago Public Schools give parents $25 Walgreens cards for picking up report cards
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has started a pilot program with 70 Chicago public schools that will give a reward card redeemable for $25 in Walgreens merchandise to parents who pick up their children’s report cards and participate in teacher conferences, according to the Chicago Tribune. Some parents cannot afford to take the time off from work to attend teacher conferences, and some are intimidated and need an extra incentive—such as the $25 reward card—to begin the habit of participation, the Tribune writes. Eugene Field Elementary School has used raffles and similar incentives to increase its report card pick-up rate from 50 percent to 92 percent over the past two years. The school also offers English classes, GED programs, and Zumba lessons to parents to help draw them into the school.

Your Turn

Will the Common Core State Standards raise achievement?
Reader Panel members are mostly optimistic that the new standards will raise achievement, with some healthy skepticism thrown in

School board members are optimists. Why else would they volunteer their time to the education of the next generation? At the same time, they’re skeptics, because they know from experience just how hard the process of education can be.

Asked to comment on the promises inherent in a far-reaching proposal—specifically, the Common Core State Standards that are being implemented in all but four states—ASBJ’s Reader Panel responded with a characteristic mix of optimism and skepticism. And optimism wins the day.

Nearly 58 percent of panel members predicted that the Common Core will lead to higher student achievement. As a caveat, many stressed that it has to be implemented effectively for this to occur. Another 29 percent said it will either not raise achievement or increase it only marginally. And 13 percent were perhaps reserving judgment (answering “none of the above.”)

Some comments:

• Common Core State Standards will dramatically change the way teachers teach and the way children learn. The new standards are far more rigorous than anything our children have previously experienced. Student collaboration and project-based learning will become the order of the day. Teachers are learning new strategies to improve the delivery of instruction. Bottom line, student achievement will eventually increase, but it certainly won't be overnight. —Dan Schlafer, board member, Tennessee

• Common Core is just words on paper. Student achievement is the result of teacher-student interaction. It will just place more burdens on teachers and take away time and energy from teachers that should be directed at teaching. —Gil Burroughs, board member, North Carolina

• Having common standards does not improve student achievement. Effective, quality instruction and student engagement in the learning process improves student achievement. Having common standards merely allows a student moving from one state to the next (as long as both states have adopted the common standards) to have the same expectations in learning outcomes. —Trudy Clark, superintendent, Nebraska

• The introduction of any standard is generally to introduce a basis for subsequent comparison. I'm not sure the new standards will, by themselves, raise achievement, but if we use them as a starting point, we can make incremental improvements to the standards until we are, indeed, raising achievement. If we find that we aren't raising performance, we would really need to step back and start over on new standards and practices. Could the standards be better? Perhaps. Are they necessary? Yes. —Jim Butt, board member, Pennsylvania

• [The Common Core] will result in higher student achievement if it is taught with fidelity. Teachers will have to understand the standards and then teach them the way they are supposed to be taught. If they are taught badly then they won't be as effective, however. —Harry E. Martin, superintendent, Arizona

• The Common Core State Standards should raise student achievement, particularly in those states whose existing standards were rated much lower than the Common Core. We live in a very mobile society. It makes sense that if a family moves from one state to the next, the minimum standards should be the same in both states. The biggest impediment is a political one. Those opposed to the Common Core seem to focus on the initiative being a federal usurping of state control. In Indiana, which was one of the states rated as having standards with a grade of A, some say that by accepting Common Core, we have somehow lowered our standards. The standards are a floor, and there is nothing to prevent exceeding this minimum. —Terry Reed, board member, Indiana

In an effort to be more timely, the Reader Panel question and comments will now appear in the same issue of ASBJ, often accompanied by a cover package or other story on that topic.  Want to get in on the discussion? Join ASBJ’s Reader Panel by going to www.asbj.com/readerpanel.