February 2014 Leaderboard

From the Editor

New Year's is tailor-made for looking backward and forward at the same time, which makes it a perfect time to debut American School Board Journal’s new look. 

Founded in 1891, ASBJ has gone through many changes. This year also marks my 20th working for this magazine, which gives me the chance to look back at its remarkable journey.

Those two decades brought a transformation in the publishing industry, and to school governance as well. Back then, school boards were focused on budgets, building maintenance, and teacher contracts. Privatization—charters, vouchers, and for-profit school management—was only beginning to nibble at the edges of the K-12 education landscape. 

Now, privatization concerns are on the forefront of school governance, as are student achievement, equity, and the achievement gap. Through the years, ASBJ has strived to help school board members do their jobs, and we remain the only national magazine for school board members and school leaders. 

We knew from our recent readers survey that we were doing many things right, but we did not want to stagnate when so many changes were happening around us. We wanted to push forward to make this publication even more useful to our audience: you. 

Art Director Carrie Carroll and her production staff—Mary Endres and Donna Stubler—deserve kudos for creating this new visual identity for ASBJ to complement the New NSBA. We also have new features—in print and online. 

The magazine is, as always, a work in progress, and we will be rolling out more features in subsequent issues. Thanks for joining us at this new stage of our journey.

—Kathleen Vail, Editor-in-Chief

Tom On Point
New Year, New NSBA

We stand at the cusp of an exciting New Year. As we embark on the second full year of building the “New NSBA,” this is a good time to reflect on our journey and the major milestones we have reached already. Thanks to the support of our state association members, NSBA is becoming the leading advocate for public education in America.

We are demonstrating why public education is vital to our nation and why local school board governance represents grassroots democracy in action and community ownership of public schools. Our collective voice has the power to reshape and guide dialogue around public education in America.

Our public advocacy efforts include the launch of a national campaign that will promote public education and school board governance, and will counter critics who largely have gone unchallenged. Our legal advocacy efforts -- the most prolific and successful of any Washington-based education group -- are weighing in on more cases that impact public schools. Our arguments have been cited in numerous key decisions, including by the U.S. Supreme Court. And, of course, we are striving to have a greater impact in the legislative arena -- to help shape the debate and not simply respond to it. The Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act, drafted by NSBA, is one example that attests to our growing impact. Many provisions of that bipartisan legislation were incorporated into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this past year.

This year, the New NSBA moves forward with even greater resolve and focus.

That will be evident in early February when hundreds of school board members come to Washington to take part in our new Advocacy Institute, the successor to the Federal Relations Network Conference. This new Advocacy Institute aims to provide practical tools for our Army of Advocates consisting of local school board members and others who care about public education, to enable them to be effective proponents for public education throughout the year.

We are accomplishing all this thanks to the strong support of state school boards association leaders across the country. The newly launched National Connection service, successor to the National Affiliate program, is reflective of the important collaborative relationship among state associations and NSBA. National Connection is creating a premier service package that will help you and your district stay on the leading edge of American public education and, in the process, will help underwrite our advocacy work. NSBA also is actively working to secure additional financial support from corporate partners.

We have a clear sense of direction. NSBA’s Board of Directors has approved “A School Board Vision for Public Education” and an accompanying set of “Guiding Principles” to provide a framework for our advocacy. Through our state associations, thousands of laminated cards with the vision statement and key resources needed to achieve the vision are being distributed.

We realize that to be effective, NSBA must be focused on what matters most. We need to address, head-on, critical issues facing public education and local school leaders. To do so, we are revamping NSBA’s Delegate Assembly, which maps our advocacy work. The new process allows us to focus on more substantive issues and build a comprehensive, impactful advocacy plan.

Finally, as you’ve surely noticed, the New NSBA includes this first issue of a fully redesigned and modernized ASBJ. While retaining its in-depth feature reporting, the new ASBJ also provides concise “sound bites” for readers needing access to short, credible content. This will be followed by a redesigned NSBA website, to be unveiled at the Annual Conference in New Orleans in April.

We’ve taken on some challenging tasks, but we are building upon a strong foundation that was created by many Federation leaders over the years, backed by dynamic state associations and the 90,000 local school board members who are the very embodiment of grassroots democracy. Your expertise is vital.

Change can be challenging, but it is also exciting. Through it all we remain anchored by our core commitment: to work with and through our state associations to ensure that all children in all communities across the nation have access to great public schools, no exceptions, no excuses. Make the New Year count: Our voice is stronger and our message more powerful when we act collectively. Join America's school boards in taking a stand for America's public schools.

Thomas J. Gentzel (tgentzel@nsba.org) is the executive director of NSBA.

President's Corner
Make public schools the school of choice

David A.Pickler

In my cross-country travels for nsba this fall, one recurring issue I’ve seen is the challenge to public education.

Numerous groups -- often tied to the same funders and run by the same people -- are infiltrating states and manipulating legislatures to weaken charter school accountability and allow for more for-profit providers. In some states I’ve visited, they’re pushing vouchers to send at-risk students to religious or for-profit private schools that provide a questionable education and have little to no accountability for taxpayer dollars. We must stem this tide.

I’m now calling on school boards to make public education the school of choice.

We must show all the good work that takes place each day in our communities' public schools. Student achievement is improving -- one of the best-kept secrets is that our students have made impressive gains in math in the past two decades, according to a December 2013 analysis of major international tests by NSBA’s Center for Public Education. We know what it takes to educate diverse populations. And we must remind our lawmakers that public schools are open to all students -- the legacy of some charter schools and voucher programs so far has been to expel or refuse to admit some students with special needs.

We must counter these well-funded and well-organized groups who want to privatize our public schools, end the promise of public education, and create a fend-for-yourself system under the guise of “school choice.” We must keep the pressure on such groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

We’re seeing our efforts pay off: The media and the public are starting to question the motives of privatization efforts and their funders.

For example, a recent Washington Post investigation found that “D.C. charters expelled students at a rate more than three times the national average in 2011-12 -- the rate was 72 times higher than in the city’s traditional school system.” ALEC has lost major funders, including Visa and Wal-Mart, and it lost 400 state lawmakers as members in 2013, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

One of my next trips will be to Washington, D.C., to attend NSBA’s new Advocacy Institute. This will be a critical step in building our Army of Advocates to take these issues to Capitol Hill, and then to return home to work with our local representatives. The time has never been more critical to promote our work and show why public schools are the best choice.

David Pickler (dpickler@nsba.org) is the 2013-14 president of NSBA and a member of Tennessee’s Shelby County School Board.