February 2014 Dashboard


Taking it to the streets

Teachers and community youth and parent group members joined together in early December in more than 60 cities to draw national attention to what they see as an unprecedented attack on public schools.

The National Day of Action (www.reclaimpublicednow.org) was sponsored by several national organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

The public rallies were as varied as the cities and communities where they were held. In Rochester, N.Y., teachers wore blue and protested against Common Core State Standards. In Chicago, they protested again school closures. In Houston, they rallied against standardized tests and excessive reliance on test scores.

Organizers have promised multicity and multistate campaigns will follow in the spring.

Is handwriting a dying art?

in the age of keyboarding and text messaging, do we need to teach cursive handwriting anymore? Many districts have pushed cursive to the side to make room for more instruction on core subjects, but the debate over the necessity to learn handwriting rages on in many communities.

The latest entry came from the Kansas State Board of Education, which approved new handwriting standards for the state in December. Students are to learn cursive in third grade and write legibly in cursive by fifth grade.

Despite their strong wording, the standards don’t have much bite: The subject is not included in annual statewide testing.

The leaning scores of PISA

u.s. students’ results on the most recent international comparison are, to be sure, a mixed bag. Depending on your perspective, the PISA (www.oecd.org/unitedstates) scores -- which showed that our 15-year-olds’ performance in math, reading, and science have stayed the same while other countries have jumped ahead -- are signs that the U.S. education system is a dismal failure.

Or not.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan dubbed the scores “a brutal truth” that “must serve as a wakeup call.” Author and historian Diane Ravitch accused Duncan of trying to “whip up a national hysteria” over the issue.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the scores were a sign that recent school reform -- “focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools” -- wasn’t working.

The OECD, which administers the tests, suggested that the Common Core State Standards might help boost test scores for U.S. students once they are fully implemented.

Broadband or bust

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates want your schools to have faster Internet connections

the technology moguls together donated $9 million in December to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway (www.educationsuperhighway.org) to help bring Internet infrastructure to every school in America.

About 80 percent of schools currently have slow or an inadequate number of Internet connections, according to Richard Culatta, director of education technology at the U.S. Education Department.

Most schools, Culatta told The Associated Press, were about as connected as the average home. This means gummed-up networks prone to crashing  --  hardly a conducive atmosphere for creative use of technology and the Internet by students and teachers.

Federal agencies, including the FCC, also are working to increase broadband connectivity to schools. The ultimate price tag for high-speed access in every school is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

You do what?

Members of the public say the funniest things. And they often have little clue about what school board members actually do.

We asked our Reader Panel members what was the biggest misperception that the public has about school board work.

“The biggest misconception seems to be that one board member can get things done without collaboration with and consideration for other board members.” Dwight Bernard Cannon, school board member, North Carolina

“That we are a rubber stamp for the administration.” Steve Baker, school board member, Michigan

What common misperceptions have you heard about board service? Send one to editor@asbj.com and we may run it in an upcoming issue.

Reader Panel
Charter schools and you

In this issue, we asked readers to tell us their charter schoolauthorization and oversight stories.

“Overall, the schools in our state perform better than [the] national average, which dispels the efforts behind charter schools.” Barb Riley, school board member, Montana

"Our school district proposed a public-private charter school for one of our poorly performing middle schools, but it was turned down. We were told that they did not like the fact that the local district would have the power to appoint members to the management advisory committee." Edward Higgins, school board member, North Carolina

"A proposal to authorize a virtual charter school in our county made our board a pariah among the other school districts; they felt we would be grabbing their students and funding." Jeff Phillips, school board member, North Carolina

Saying no to zero tolerance

Florida’s broward county public schools is the most recent among large U.S. districts to reverse a trend started in the early 1990s.

The sixth-largest district in the country, Broward is reconsidering its get-tough “zero tolerance” discipline policies. Instead of arresting and expelling students for misdemeanor offensives, the district is looking to keep those students in school with counseling and other services.

Other large districts -- including Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles -- have taken similar measures to reverse zero-tolerance policies.

“What you see is the beginning of a national trend here,” Michael Thompson, the director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, told the New York Times. “Everybody recognizes right now that if we want to really find ways to close the achievement gap, we are really going to need to look at the huge number of kids being removed from school campuses who are not receiving any classroom time.”

Tools to Build Support for Public Education Are at Your Fingertips
National Connection Public Engagement Toolkit

Negative information about public education and school boards, playing out on state and national levels, is having huge ramifications for the trust and credibility the community has of its local school board, as well as its support for public education. NSBA and many state school boards associations are mounting broad-based public relations strategies to garner support. But it’s not enough. Citizens need a deeper understanding of the issues, which they can obtain only in up-close, local contexts.

State school boards associations, in partnership with NSBA, are teaming up to create a strong national resource package as part of the National Connection service. The online Public Engagement Toolkit, which is constantly being updated with new resources, gives you concrete advice and examples to get started in building public understanding, support, and engagement in your district.

The toolkit offers practical tools to support you in all levels of public engagement.

You’ll find:

Community relations self-assessments

Tip sheets on understanding and engaging various community groups

Practical guides for conducting community surveys and focus groups to
understand what your community thinks on key issues

Guidance on crafting messages that work and communicating effectively

Getting Started

To get started using the toolkit, go to www.nsba.org/Services/National-Connection/Public-Engagement-Toolkit.aspx.

If your district is not yet part of the National Connection program, get connected today! You’ll receive valuable resources you can use, and know you are making a difference at the national level. Learn more at www.nsba.org/getconnected.