The Case for Student Reps
At 18, Ashley Nathanson is the youngest Anne Arundel (Md.) County Public Schools board member-and one of a growing number of student representatives nationwide. To her surprise, she felt respected from the start of her term in July 2002.
Why shouldn't she? Not only has Anne Arundel had student board members since 1975, but Nathanson has contributed on a number of fronts-from student discipline cases to the superintendent's push for more Advanced Placement classes. A former AP student herself, Nathanson says, "I had a little bit more to bring to the board."
Board President Michael McNelly concurs. Often, as Nathanson summarizes a complex issue, "All of a sudden you'll see lightbulbs go on," McNelly says.
Nathanson is one of relatively few students allowed the chance to serve and vote on boards. According to a spring 2001 survey of 2,000 boards conducted by the National School Boards Association, about 85 percent do not have students serving. Of the nearly 15 percent that do, just 11.5 percent give student members voting privileges. Urban and suburban districts are much more likely than rural districts to have student board members.
NSBA spokesperson Linda Embrey says there appears to be recent growth of the number of students on boards. They even have their own group within NSBA, the Young Caucus. Nathanson and others involved in a state coalition of student board members are helping students new to the process by developing a handbook for future student reps.
Community members considering student representation on boards must decide if the student should be allowed to vote. "Student board members can still make a significant contribution and can weigh in with opinions without casting a vote," Embrey says. But McNelly believes Nathanson's voting rights have added value to her input.
"I think having a full voting student member makes [that person] an equal," Nathanson says. "And that is how it should be because a student is a stakeholder. ... Just like a parent, just like a teacher, just like a community member." -Melissa Ezarik
English-only Coming to Arizona
Three years after Arizona voters endorsed teaching students in English, state schools Superintendent Tom Horne is trying to better enforce the English-only mandate known as Proposition 203.
Starting next year, students learning English cannot take any subjects in their native language unless they are determined to be an "English speaker."
Currently, to enroll in bilingual ed classes, students are required only to earn the status of "limited" English proficiency.
Under the more strict, new rules, about 10 percent of the 5,826 Tucson Unified School District students allowed to attend bilingual classes this year would be ineligible next year.
Florida Needs 20,000 Teachers
Florida needs at least 20,000 more teachers this summer to meet a smaller class size amendment and to compensate for more students and teacher retirements and transfers.
Education officials estimate that 5,000 to 7,000 new teachers will meet the class size amendment, reducing the number of students by two in each classroom in the next school year. And then another 15,000 teachers are needed to handle the state's growing student population and the number of teachers retiring or resigning.
Last month, Gov. Jeb Bush called for another vote to repeal the amendment. Bush said voters did not realize reducing the number of students in all Florida public school classrooms by the year 2010 could cost up to $700 million in its first year of implementation and $28 billion overall. www.flboe.org
CRITICS: Prez' Budget Leaves Children Behind
The good news is that President Bush is proposing $53.1 billion in federal taxes for public education next year, up from $40.1 billion in fiscal year 2001. The bad news is that it's not enough, especially in light of a new law, critics say.
Some Democratic congressional leaders and other experts say the president is not playing fair-forcing a federal mandate on local school districts in No Child Left Behind, but taking money away from programs that would help meet the mandate.
"His budget cuts 46 education programs," says Nancy Keenan, education policy director for People for the American Way, an advocacy group for a diverse democratic society. "Here you have a president that is saying he's making sure every child has a fair chance to succeed, ... but he cuts programs for at-risk students. He cuts opportunities for quality teachers. And he freezes funding for [Title II] Teacher Quality block grants."
"Ultimately what happens is that children don't have qualified teachers in front of them," Keenan continues. "He's shifting attention to funding this to vouchers and charter schools. It really is the privatization of public schools. And it's not good. Public schools are the great equalizer for all children. We take them all. ... And private schools can discriminate."
U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) recently announced their own legislation to "truly leave no child behind." "Buildings, roads and bridges aren't this nation's most important infrastructure. Families are," says Dodd, senior Democrat on the Senate Children and Families' Subcommittee.
But Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), chair of the Republican Study Committee, claimed the budget was "overly generous" in part given the hurting economy.
THE PRESIDENT ADDS:
--$75 million for a new Choice Initiative Fund for awards to districts and community-based nonprofit organizations that secure educational opportunities for children. It allows low-income parents to transfer their children to high-performing public, private or charter schools.
--$226 million in refundable tax credits for parents transferring children from low-performing schools.
--$220 million for charter school grants and $100 million to continue Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities to help charter schools lease and renovate facilities.
THE PRESIDENT CUTS:
--$235 million for Comprehensive School Reform program, which helped highpoverty and low-achieving schools nationwide raise student achievement. But Bush also proposed a $1 billion increase for Title I.
--$50 million from Safe and Drug-Free School grants and cuts funding for afterschool programs by 40 percent. Fight Crime:Invest in Kids, an anti-crime organization, is disappointed. “We work with law enforcement ? victims of violence, and we believe the best way to fight violence is in after-school programs,” says vice president David Kass. This cut would mean that more than a half million children would be denied access to programs. —Angela Pascopella
Does Title I Work?
A new study concludes Title I does not make a great difference in closing the achievement gap for poor and minority students. "Closing the Education Gap: Is Title I Working," conducted by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, shows the program has no systematic, positive effects on student achievement.
THE STUDY FOUND:
--Title I funds have not historically raised test scores of children, according to test scores from the National Assessment of Education Progress.
--The No Child Left Behind law reauthorized Title I so students can transfer to better schools. But options are limited to their own school district. And in urban districts, there may not be enough good schools to take on all the new students.
Findings are consistent with evaluations done since the program was started in 1965.
Like Terror D?j? Vu
When it comes to safety, everything old is new again. In the 1950s and '60s it was "duck-and-cover," today it's "shelter-in-place." In an effort to protect students in the event of a terrorist or chemical attack, the shelter-in-place plan is predicated on the notion that after an attack, people are often safest if they remain inside. Such plans have increasingly been put in place by school districts near nuclear plants, armories and chemical factories.
In a recent survey of district safety officers by the National Association of School Resource Officers, 79 percent of respondents stated that their schools are not adequately prepared to respond to a terrorist attack. Also, more than half of those surveyed felt that their schools' crisis plans were not adequate.
If it's up to the government, those numbers will change. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education plans to recommend this spring that districts across the country have a crisis plan in place.
There is one high-profile district taking the lead. If the Washington area were the target of a chemical attack, students and faculty in Fairfax County (Va.) would be sheltered in locked-down school buildings, inaccessible to parents, while teachers helped undress and shower any contaminated individuals.
"We have the federal government telling us that terrorist attacks are not a matter of if, but of when," says James McLain, security coordinator for Fairfax schools.
Recalling the drills that sought to prepare students for nuclear war decades ago, McLain recalls climbing under desks in elementary school. "We really are going back to a preparedness level that we used to be at," he says.
Specifically, if an attack were to happen, staff members would shut all vents and seal doors and windows with duct tape and wet towels to keep out contaminated air. Students on school grounds, would be showered and then would change into a second set of emergency clothes.
Similarly, in Indiana, the state Department of Education is giving district guidelines to follow in the event of an attack. Its Office of Student Services recently released what it calls a terrorism supplement to its June 1999 report, Checklist for a Safe and Secure School Environment. In the supplement, state officials give districts information on radiological, biological and chemical weapon agents and encourages schools to update their emergency procedures.
Some administrators say changing their emergency plans may not make a noticeable impact.
"We didn't buy any duct tape," says Larry Martin, principal of Madison-Grant High School in Fairmount, Ind.
Online Safety Tool kit
A new tool kit can guide school officials to talk to parents about protecting children when they go online.
The Consortium for School Networking has released, Promoting Online Safety: The Home-School Partnership. CoSN, a national nonprofit organization, advances the use of information technology and the Internet in education.
Between 1997 and 2001, the percentage of classrooms connected to the Internet grew from 27 percent to 87 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. www.cosn.org
Terrorism Insurance for Sale
And districts are buying it. Under a federal law passed late last year, insurance companies are required to offer their policy holders coverage for terrorist attacks.
New York City Public Schools, the nation's largest district, and Chicago Public Schools, the third largest, have rejected coverage because they're self-insured and say it would be too costly. Two other large districts, Miami-Dade in Florida and Clark County, near Las Vegas, leaned on the side of caution and purchased insurance before the law was passed.
Jumping on the bandwagon are the Steel Valley School District outside of Pittsburgh and the Nampa School District in Idaho.
"A threat or a target? No, I can't think of anything here," says Janice Glunk, superintendent of the 2,300-student Pennsylvania district. "But you never know." -LD
L.A. Schools Improve, but Long Way to Go
Elementary students in more than half of Los Angeles Unified School Districts' schools improved their state achievement scores last year, more than other elementary schools in the region, according to published reports.
But the students have a way to go. Their test scores still remain in the bottom 50 percent statewide, on average, despite the gains. The district's middle and high schools are not showing as much improvement.
Out of more than 430 elementary schools, 53 percent raised their state rank. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 the best, the elementary schools' average raised their ranking from 3 to 4. Superintendent of Schools Roy Romer says a lot of it is teaching. "The teaching that is occurring here is the right kind of teaching," he says. One school principal also credited the increase in test scores to America's Choice program, which helps teachers weave state standards into their teaching plans.
Dialing for Dollars
Singing the budget blues? Well, Hilldale, Okla., Superintendent D.B. Merrill isn't letting the cash crisis get him down. He took to the stage and danced. And students in Longmont, Colo., are taking their shovels and pails and collecting compost door-to-door for their school. And even one company, Renaissance Learning, has a "Finding the Funds" booklet that offers tips and creative ways for schools to find cash through fundraisers and/or grants.
THESE ARE JUST A FEW CREATIVE ENDEAVORS GOING ON ACROSS THE COUNTRY:
--Muskogee (Okla.) Public Schools Area schools will benefit from the country’s first telethon for education. The “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” telethon raised nearly $50,000 in 24 hours. While principals and teachers staffed the phones, Merrill raised the bar after students donated $50 to see him dance on stage. Merrill says the telethon not only boosted schools’ operating funds but also raised awareness about public education’s plight.
--St. Vrain Valley (Colo.) School District Area businesses in Longmont, Colo., organized the Support-Our-Students fundraising program and raised more than $46,000. SOS is also attempting to match schools with a business sponsor to fund everything from chemistry textbooks to art show support to overcome a $13.8 million budget deficit. “The most healing part of this has been the energy and warm-heartedness of parents and community members,” says district spokeswoman Nancy Herbert.
High school students took the district’s plight into cyberspace with www.poorschool.com and donated several hundred dollars by peddling T-shirts and soliciting donations. And some enterprising elementary students started a pet mess clean up business, Pooper Scoopers, to give some earnings to the district. Finally, teachers in the Boulder Valley District initiated a “sister school” program and arranged deliveries of fresh flowers and pizza to their colleagues in Longmont.
--East Lansing (Mich.) Public Schools The East Lansing Educational Foundation plans to establish gift registries to help teachers fill budget gaps. Items will include equipment, supplies and field trip funds as well as money for teacher training. “These aren’t large ticket items, but the spirit behind the registries helps staff morale tremendously,” says Superintendent Thomas Giblin. —Lisa Fratt, www.renlearn.com/requestform.asp
Teacher Quality Online
Curious about how a teacher measures up, or if he or she is credentialed?
Go online. Despite California Gov. Gray Davis vetoing an online rating system for schools based on how many qualified teachers they employ, a university professor recently unveiled the system. Ken Futernick, education professor at California State University, created it.
The ranking, called Teacher Quality Index, rates California schools 1 to 10, with 1 symbolizing a school with over 33 percent of its faculty as under-qualified. If a school has no under-qualified teachers and no more than 20 percent are beginner teachers, it is a 10.
It also calculates teachers' experience and the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch. www.edfordemocracy.org
CEO Superintendents Gaining Clout
H-O-T. That's a fair description of the trend in trading superintendents for corporate-style CEOs. From San Diego to New York, non-traditional superintendents are being handed the helm with the idea that leading an education organization takes the knowledge and skills of an MBA.
"Traditional superintendents bring an enormous amount of talent, but there are other skills necessary in dealing with things like labor, facilities and managing human resources," says Melissa Bonney Ratcliff, spokeswoman for the Broad Center for Superintendents, which is at the forefront of the hot fashion with its year-old Urban Superintendents Academy.
The academy bills itself as "a rigorous executive leadership development program designed to prepare the next generation of public education CEOs." In February, it welcomed a second cohort, including 11 leaders from traditional education backgrounds and nine from outside education. Among them, a former member of the Miami Dolphins, a Navy Rear Admiral and a Goldman Sachs analyst.
The group will attend seven weekend-long training sessions on topics such as, "The CEO: Effective organizational leadership in education," and "Using management and instructional data for decision making," and have access to faculty members like Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Elliott Hall, a former senior vice president at Ford.
Melody Johnson, who had an impressive resume as an educator and a 2002 academy participant, called the Urban Superintendent's Academy, "without question, the best thing I have ever done professionally."
Johnson is now superintendent of the Providence, R.I., schools and taking advantage of the knowledge and resources of the Broad Center every day. She says the program's novelty is in the business-oriented approach to problem solving. With her classmates in the academy, she learned how to take an MBA-style case-study approach to problems, exploring issues and solutions from every angle."It was a whole different approach," Johnson says. "It helped to take the business side and blend it with the education side."
The Superintendents Academy isn't available to everyone. And Johnson says she doesn't believe that district leaders necessarily need MBAs. "You don't need to have an MBA to be a good leader, whether you come from education or business," Johnson says. "Leading a school system is a blend of these two. Whatever skill set you bring you have to augment, supplement it with the other." -Rebecca Sausner, www.broadcenter.org
Principals Get Their Own CEO-Style Class
Superintendents aren't the only ones targeted for CEO-style leadership training and instruction. In New York City, Chancellor Joel Klein recently announced his creation of a leadership academy for principals, with Jack Welch, the executive who turned General Electric around, in charge of the advisory board.
In a similar development, Washington, D.C., is home to the latest expansion of New Leaders for New Schools, the principal training program already in action in Chicago and New York. "We are preparing people to be outstanding principals, great instructional leaders, general managers, leaders of change and community leaders," says Jon Schnur, CEO and founder of NLNS.
NLNS has enrolled 48 fellows in its program so far, including some from outside education. Participants receive intensive instruction during two summer months on topics such as human resources management and skilled management of resources and finances. After that, they are placed in a school with a mentor principal where they receive on-the-job training.
Few details have been released about New York City's Leadership Academy, but it will be modeled on the leadership training programs that made Welch famous at G.E. -RS
Internet Town Hall Meeting Links Iraqi, U.S. Classrooms
With a U.S. invasion of Iraq looming, two classrooms half a world away joined together last month to discuss the issues surrounding the countries' disputes.
The Global Nomads Group presented a rare exchange between an Iraqi and a U.S. classroom on March 3. The two-hour "Open Voice" town hall meeting was a two-way video link broadcast over the Internet between a school in Baghdad and a public magnet school in Bloomfield, Conn. Hosted by ABC News' Chris Cuomo, student moderators led the event.
The questions were far ranging, and touched on political issues as well as standard teen topics. When asked why the potential U.S.-led conflict could be happening, one Iraqi students said, "The U.S. is after something, some benefits, maybe oil. ... They have these war things, they are not making them just to look at, they want to use them." On the American side, a student said classmates felt the conflict was because "people are becoming more and more greedy, not only after material things, but pursuing what they feel is right, their own way."
When asked if they were scared about the upcoming war, one Iraqi student replied: "We are not scared, but we are worried. Nobody is not worried. When you hear 5,000 people a day will be killed, how can you think about your future?"
A question on the divided feelings about war in their respective countries touched off an exchange that showed the U.S.
students' concerns about how the U.S. is perceived abroad. Brushing off the question, an Iraqi student's replies were "Everyone is against war. All Iraqis want peace." Another stated, "America wants the war. It's not their country that will be invaded. How would you feel if you got told your grandmother had died?" The U.S. students countered that they did feel the effects of war, through their relatives in the military, who could very well die in the conflict.
Other questions on non-political topics showed a striking similarity between the two groups, in terms of teen music, goals and aspirations, hobbies and sports.
The event was broadcast live; it is expected that it will remain on the site to be viewed for $8.99. -Elizabeth Crane and Richard Raucci, www.gng.org
Parents Nail Truants
Parents are on the streets and in the malls and subway stations in Philadelphia. They're on the lookout for truants and putting them back in class.
In an effort to crackdown on truancy, the schools' chief executive, Paul Vallas, started the program this year. Philadelphia has 250 parent-truant officers, paid $9/hour for at least 10 hours a week. More than 12,000 Philadelphia students, or 6.4 percent of the student body, are absent daily without an excuse.
"Parents know the terrain, understand the culture, and may even know some of the individual parents and kids," Vallas says.
The officers visit the homes of truants and inform parents their child is not in school and that resources are available to help get them back in class.
Report Card for Parents?
Parents in Lebanon, Penn., could be getting their own report cards this fall. School Superintendent Marianne Bartley is proposing that parents be graded on how involved they are in their children's education. Under her proposal, parents would be evaluated in such areas as attendance at parent-teacher conferences and whether their children come to school healthy and properly dressed. Teachers would check "yes" or "no" and send such forms home with student report cards.
Bartley says she wants to ensure parents are sending their children to school ready to learn and to continue progressing academically. "We have a lot of parents who are involved and do a wonderful job, but we need to make sure that it's widespread," Bartley says.