October 2014 Dashboard


Minorities are the new majority this year

History will be made as this school year starts: Minority students are expected to outnumber non-Hispanic white students for the first time.

A growing Hispanic population is largely behind this demographic shift. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Hispanic children account for one-quarter of the nation’s school enrollment, while 15 percent are black, 5 percent are Asian and Pacific Islanders, and biracial and Native Americans account for the rest.

Non-Hispanic white students are still the largest racial group in schools, at an estimated 49.8 percent.

Although educators generally welcome such diversity in their schools, they also express concern over the additional challenges associated with a growing minority population. The demand for English language instruction is expected to climb, and schools can expect a growing population of students from low-income homes who will enter school academically behind their white and Asian peers.

STEM requires more rigor

If school leaders want to prepare students for future jobs in science, engineering, and other high-tech fields, it’s not enough to require them to take more math and science classes for a high school diploma.

School leaders instead must provide students with more rigorous coursework in high school, as well as better prepare lower-achieving students so they are ready for those advanced courses, recommends a recent study by ACT, the organization that administers the popular college readiness test.

The study, “Missing the Mark: Students Gain Little from Mandating Extra Math and Science,” notes that more states are adding more math and science classes to high school graduation requirements. But offering more classes doesn’t always encourage or prepare students for future STEM studies or careers.

“An unintended side effect of increasing high school graduation requirements through a mandate is that students may be completing more coursework that is less advanced.”

Back-to-school spending up

Buying clothes and other school supplies in preparation for the 2014-15 school year was the most costly effort on record, according to Huntington Bank’s annual Backpack Index.

Families on average spent $642 for elementary school students, $918 for middle school students, and $1,284 for high school students, the report estimates.

These figures represent a 20 percent increase in spending over last year, but such a cost hike is not unprecedented. Since 2007, back-to-school costs have increased by 83 percent for elementary school students and 44 percent for high school students.

Rising prices for everything from pencils to electronic equipment helped fuel the jump, but the National Retail Federation also attributes it to the increasing number of schools that charge fees for standardized tests, gym uniforms, and field trips.


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.

"That [board service] is self-serving, that somehow I have benefited financially from being in this position, that we and our families grow suits of armor as soon as we are elected."

Shirley Tyree, school board member, Nebraska


“The misconception that a board member can hire and fire at will is still alive and well. Our board is a team, trying to become better at setting policy that promotes sound education, not play politics to appease a few disgruntled citizens whose stake in the schools is mainly sports.” 

Mary Mathes, school board member, Indiana

"That the work is easy. It is not. Every decision affects the lives of students."

Linda Griffin, school board member, Texas


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

Saving the planet—and money

We asked readers what their districts are doing to make their schools more
environmentally friendly:

“An accounting system put in place by our energy consultant revealed a leak in the high school water main. We stopped the leak and reduced that school’s water bill by $32,000 this year.”

Jeff Phillips, school board member, North Carolina

“We built our high school on the site of a brick quarry. We used the excavation dirt to make the bricks that surround the high school. We truly reduced our footprint by making our own bricks!”

Cynthia Smith, school board member, South Carolina

“We purchased Chromebooks for English writing classes to save paper.”

Terry Reed, school board member, Indiana

“A district initiative to reduce copying costs saves $20,000 per year.”

Erin Green, director of business and sustainability, Wisconsin

“Two schools are cleaning green. We meter cleaning supplies at most schools, and use less product in every aspect of our cleaning procedures.”

Bob Maggio, executive director, support services, Missouri


For more green school stories from readers, or to join ASBJ’s Reader Panel, go to www.asbj.com/readerpanel.

High school graduates can get lost

As many as one in five high school seniors lose their direction after graduation and abandon plans to attend a four-year college, reports the Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research.

Among those planning to start community college, 40 percent give up their dreams.

In reaction to these findings, Alabama’s Times Daily recently offered some advice. The newspaper encouraged colleges to “extend a hand” to incoming students struggling with course selection, housing applications, and financial aid requests. “Communications from the college of choice shouldn’t stop once the acceptance letter is sent.”

School leaders can help, as well, the editors suggested. “High schools have existing relationships with many of these students and should continue efforts to assist them. … Perhaps high schools could host summer check-ins that would allow college-bound students to meet with their high school counselors in the weeks following graduation to review deadlines and answer questions.”

Feds to boost teacher quality in high-poverty schools

The Obama Administration is launching a new initiative to help school districts strengthen the quality of teachers in high-poverty, high-minority schools.

The Excellent Educators for All initiative calls on states and schools to create “educator equity plans” to ensure all students have access to good teachers. The federal government also intends to fund a $4.2 million technical assistance network and publish “equity profiles” spotlighting the equity gap between affluent and low-minority schools and those serving high-poverty and high-minority communities.

Research indicates that schools serving low-income and high-minority students employ teachers with less experience, fewer credentials, and less success in academic outcomes.

“All children are entitled to a high-quality education regardless of their race, ZIP code, or family income. It is critically important that we provide teachers and principals the support they need to help students reach their full potential,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in announcing the initiative.

E-rate program is all about Wi-Fi

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is looking to modify the E-rate program for the era of wireless Internet connections, texting, and a cyber-connected new generation of students.

Under a plan adopted this summer, the E-rate, the federal program that helps schools and libraries with telecommunications costs, will divert an increasing share of E-rate dollars to support schools developing their wireless (Wi-Fi) capacity.

After investing billions of dollars into connecting schools to the Internet through traditional land lines, the increasing use of laptops and electronic tablets creates a greater need for linking students to fast, wireless Internet service, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said. The FCC’s new plan would shift $1 billion annually to support the focus on Wi-Fi connections.

The plan also calls for focusing on the previously overlooked Wi-Fi needs of rural schools, leveraging federal dollars “to make E-rate dollars go farther,” and streamlining the application process.

Common Core retreat spawning lawsuits

Several states have retreated from their original commitment to Common Core State Standards after the political winds turned against the states-led effort to raise school standards nationwide.

Now state officials are being sued for their decisions.

In Louisiana, a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal argues he overstepped his authority by suspending state test contracts needed to purchase test materials aligned with the standards. That’s disrupted the standards’ implementation.

Meanwhile, an Oklahoma lawsuit is challenging the state legislature’s repeal of the Common Core Standards. Plaintiffs argue lawmakers overstepped their authority and intruded upon policy decisions entrusted to the state board of education.

Both lawsuits were filed by supporters of the Common Core Standards, but a third, in Louisiana, is unique in that it was filed by lawmakers opposed to the Common Core Standards. Their attempt to hamper the standards’ implementation is directed at the state school board, which lawmakers claim failed to enact the standards properly.

Your National Connection

Straight talk from Federal Insider

Inside-the-Beltway scoop and analysis from your Washington, D.C., office

will congress ever reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act? How will new federal school lunch nutrition requirements affect your students? And what should you do about the Dear Colleague letters you keep getting from the U.S. Department of Education?

We realize that what goes on in our nation’s capital can sometimes leave school board members and administrators scratching their heads. Why do federal lawmakers and policymakers do what they do?

We’re here to help. While we can’t promise to make sense of everything that happens in Washington, D.C., our legislative and legal experts provide in-depth, timely analyses of federal education laws, policies, and everything in between.

Federal Insider, a quarterly online newsletter for National Connection participants, is your window—and your crystal ball—into the federal government and its agencies. Knowing the current situation and seeing what’s coming down the road can save you and your district time and money.

Past issues have delved into child nutrition legislation, E-rate, Office of Civil Rights investigations, and Department of Education de facto lawmaking.

Log in at www.nsba.org/getconnected to read the latest issue of Federal Insider. While you’re there, access your other National Connection benefits.