September 28, 2007

Friday Night Lights

Robert Andrew Powell takes a closer look at high school athletics, specifically “big-time” high school football programs, and doesn’t like what he sees.  “Sex Scandals, Stadium Sponsors, and National TV: Just three of the reasons to boycott big-time high-school football.”

Tivo Alert

There is surely some irony in alerting couch potatoes about a special TV program about youth obesity. Nevertheless…The CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Fed Up: America's Killer Diet airs commercial-free on Monday, October 1, 2007, from 4:00 -- 5:00 a.m. ET on CNN. Click here for the full CNN classroom resources page about this issue.

September 27, 2007

The Results are In!

The most recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released this week. The “Nation’s Report Card” revealed some good news: American fourth- and eighth-graders continue to improve in mathematics and fourth-grade reading achievement has also gone up. The bad news: Eighth-grade reading scores are about the same as they were in 1998. Additionally, although black and Hispanic students are making gains, significant achievement gaps remain.

The quick and dirty, directly from NAEP:


- Fourth- and eighth-graders scored higher than in all previous assessment years.

- White, Black, and Hispanic students at both grades demonstrated a better understanding of mathematics compared to all previous assessment years.

- The White-Black score gap narrowed at grade four when compared to 1990 and at grade 8 when compared to 2005.

In READING in 2007

- Fourth-graders scored higher than in all previous assessment years.

- Eighth-graders scored higher than in 2005 and 1992.

- At both grades, White, Black, and Hispanic students all scored higher than in 1992. However, only the White-Black gap at fourth-grade was smaller compared to 2005 and 1992.

Secretary Spellings credited the NCLB for the improvement and commented, “We are going in the right direction, and we don't need to let up now.”

For complete results click here.

The Washington Post noted: “Some experts call for a stronger national commitment to adolescent literacy and a rethinking of reading instruction” – something NASBE, via the State Adolescent Literacy Network, is already very committed to.

September 21, 2007

Brain Injuries

“Many of the 1.2 million teenagers who play high school football…either do not know what a concussion is or they simply do not care. Their code of silence, bred by football’s gladiator culture, allows them to play on and sometimes be hurt much worse — sometimes fatally…Poor management of high school players’ concussions “isn’t just a football issue,” said Robert Sallis, president of the American College of Sports Medicine. ‘It’s a matter of public health,’” reports the New York Times

September 20, 2007

And then there were 3

The Florida State Board of Education has narrowed its list of candidates for the Commissioner of Education position. According to the Panama City News Herald, “The three finalists are Dr. Joseph Martinelli, Dr. Eric Smith and Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke. Final interviews are slated for Oct. 8 and the next commissioner will be chosen at the Oct. 16 SBE meeting in Tallahassee.”

September 18, 2007

$2.6 Million the amount that has been raised for the Utah referendum vote ($800,000 pro-voucher; $1.8M anti-voucher). The National Education Association has donated $1.5M to fight vouchers over the past three weeks. Teachers unions in Wyoming, Colorado, Maine, and Ohio have also sent money to the Utah union. “That's not surprising,” Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Monday. “If this issue didn't have national ramifications, it wouldn't have people [in other states] weighing in.” More here from the Salt Lake Tribune.

The reporters included this at the end of the article- how’s that for some perspective!

If all the money spent on the referendum campaign so far went directly to the classroom, it would have:
  • Paid to educate 380 Utah public school students;
  • OR covered the annual costs of 17 average-sized classrooms;
  • OR funded a year's education, with plenty left over, of all 310 students enrolled last year in the Piute School District.
  • OR provided 1,143 private-school vouchers, with a mean value of $1,750.

September 17, 2007

Happy Constitution Day!

September 17th is Constitution Day – celebrating the signing of our beloved country’s owner’s manual on September 17, 1787 in the great city of Philadelphia (site of NASBE’s national conference next month). In addition to some states that require recognition of this day and a lesson on the Constitution, it is now federal law (thank you Senator Byrd (D-WV)) for schools to observe Constitution Day with some educational program. Of course, since the law in question makes no accommodation for days on which the 17th does not fall on a school day, we the people in public education should consider ourselves fortunate that today is a Monday and thus not in violation of federal law this year. Here are some helpful resources from the U.S. Department of Education about Constitution Day. Would a review of “federalism” be considered proper and appropriate today, or would it be too ironic?

Florida State Board Interviews Candidates

The Florida State Board of Education will interview the seven semi-finalists for the position of state Commissioner of Education. The Palm Beach Post describes the candidates thusly:


• Four out-of-state administrators: William Harner, Joseph Marinelli, William Moloney and Eric Smith.


• Earl Lennard, former schools superintendent of Hillsborough County.


• Jim Warford, the former Florida K-12 public schools chancellor whom Bush's office fired for disagreeing with the high school portion of Bush's school grading system.


• Cheri Yecke, the current K-12 chancellor, whom Bush's office recruited to replace Warford.


The Post story, though, is most interesting for the peek behind former Governor Jeb Bush’s relationship with the Commissioner and State Board and his concern for protecting his “legacy issues.”

September 12, 2007

A Leap of Faith

The Washington Post editorial page continues to amaze and astonish whenever it tries to weigh in on educational policy matters. The latest bizarre musings of the 15th Street crowd is this editorial about a proposal by the Catholic Bishop in Washington, DC to convert eight of the Church's 28 schools into public charter schools rather than close them because they are a financial drain on the Church.

Yet somehow the Post has turned the issue into one of public school choice and a test of new Mayor Adrian Fenty's school reform efforts. Stunning. Only the Post could turn the Church's betrayal of current school choice (these students are in these parochial schools because their parents have already chosen not to have them attend DC public schools but thanks to the Archbishop might be soon enrolled in the DC public school system whether they like it or not) into a referendum on whether DC leaders support choice by agreeing to essentially takeover the Catholic schools. Choice at any cost is the Post's motto. If only it were also for the Archdiocese of Washington. A pity the Post hasn't cared to notice.

What about the Kids?

30 districts in Iowa had their preschool application grants thrown away. The reason: failure to double space. The districts, hoping to share $14.6 million in state funding, were asked to answer in a double-spaced narrative how they would use the funds.

An appeal to the Iowa Department of Education by one superintendent was turned down.

"We told them up front," said Carol Greta, legal counsel for the department of education who testified before a legislative panel looking into the spacing issue. "If you want the public's money, follow the rules."


Wanted: Men

The number of male teachers is at 40-year time low, according to this article in Newsweek.

Only one quarter of the country's 3 million teachers are men. In elementary schools, the problem is even worse, only 9 percent are men, down from 18 percent in 1981. "If kids do not see males in the classroom, they begin to believe teaching is only for females," says Reg Weaver, president of the NEA.

The article outlines some interesting rationales behind the shortage of men entering the profession: the stereotype that men lack nurturing skills, being incorrectly labeled as homosexual , and fear of being thought of as a pedophile.

The article also highlights some state and local initiatives to increase the number of male teachers.

September 11, 2007

Hyperbole - Thy Name is Piche

I expected the debate over House Education Committee Chairman George Miller’s draft NCLB bill to be shrill and exaggerated at times, but the civil rights groups are leading the way in the doomsayers/Chicken Little race. “Dianne M. Piché, executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, said the bill had ‘the potential to set back accountability by years, if not decades,’” reports the New York Times.

Can she or her members seriously believe that Miller’s NCLB refinements will “set back [educational] accountability by decades?” It’s a pity that they can’t be more constructive during this policy development cycle, though I suppose it is more of a shame that such leaders confuse assessments and accountability as an end to itself, and not as a means to improve schools.

Spellings Rebukes Miller in Back-to-School Address

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ annual back-to-school address delivered this past week to the Business Coalition for Student Achievement offered a sharp rebuke to the initial draft of a No Child Left Behind reauthorization bill unveiled by House Education Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) (see next article for more details). The Secretary’s pointed criticisms of the Chairman’s proposal were all the more remarkable for their personal tone and for the fact that Miller was a guest at the event where the Secretary delivered her speech.


The speech is an annual rite marking the beginning of the traditional school year. But the content of the Secretary’s address this year also signals the end of the feel good reauthorization prelude where leaders spoke glowingly of the controversial law’s positives and in vague generalities about possible changes, and now portends a more bruising period where the policy particulars will be stridently debated.


Spellings took particular issue with the accountability changes Miller has proposed that would allow states to use growth models to better measure student performance and to focus accountability and improvement efforts on the worst performing schools in each state, what Miller calls “High Priority” and “Priority” schools. Because Miller’s growth model plan would allow students to reach proficiency after the current law’s 2014 deadline, and also allow states to use multiple indicators that would give schools credit for boosting student achievement in other areas, such as science or history, beyond the strict parameters of state assessment scores in reading and math, the Secretary warned that “to move from reasonable accommodations to gigantic loopholes is a step in the wrong direction.” “We must refuse to make any changes that would make us less accountable for educating every child to grade-level standards in reading and math—the gateway subjects for all other learning,” she added.


And then, as if to further underscore the point, she told the assembled business leaders “that’s why I’m counting on you to stand up against policies that say some kids just can’t learn or that some kids count more than others or that if some kids are improving, it’s OK to let others fall behind.”


Spellings peppered her speech with the successes of the No Child Left Behind Act: “Since this act became law, nearly 500,000 more students have learned to do basic math. More than 500,000 others are getting free tutoring that was never before available. And the parents of 50 million students have more information, more control, better teachers, and more choices when it comes to their children's education,” she cited as just three examples.


Her attempts at drawing contrasts between the existing law’s current accomplishments and the potentially deleterious consequences of Miller’s proposed reforms revealed some interesting insights. Implying that the House’s draft bill will result in “more complication and more Washington wonkery,” perhaps only the Secretary could then assert that the current adequate yearly progress calculations provide straightforward, unvarnished information on how students are doing.” But the Secretary also hinted at her negotiating strategy and the ace in the hole she, or families, have in this policy debate and underscored her bottomline position. “Fortunately, families have some leverage,” Spellings noted; “if we don't reauthorize NCLB this year, the law does not go away.”


And later, “if a policy results in more kids getting more help and more kids performing at or above grade level, I’m for it. If it obscures or mitigates against our responsibility to educate every single child, I’m not.” And just in case George Miller momentarily lost his attention, she continued, “Let me repeat: if it obscures or mitigates against our responsibility to educate every single child, I’m against it.”


And just to prove there were no hard feelings, the Secretary sent a letter to Miller later in the week expressing her “appreciation for your work to date” on NCLB reauthorization and the maintenance of two of her “bright line” principles in his draft: the 2014 proficiency deadline and the annual administration and disaggregation of assessment results. Still, the letter went on to elaborate on her concerns about decreasing the information available to parents and options for students, though she said she looked forward to working with the chairman on these issues.


A transcript of her remarks is available on the Department’s website here.


September 10, 2007

Naïve Answers: "It Wasn't Supposed to Work that Way"

Analysis done by the Orlando Sentinel found that teachers at affluent Orlando-area schools were twice as likely to receive merit pay bonuses than teachers from schools that are predominately black and poor. The STAR (Special Teachers are Rewarded) Program has been replaced by the Merit Award Program (MAP), but union officials have "little confidence" that it will be more equitable.

The case of Orange, the fourth largest district in the state, exemplifies the issues: "In the 108 schools where one particular racial or ethnic group is in the majority, the bonuses favored teachers in white, wealthy schools. Orange's 61 other schools do not have a racial or ethnic majority, but the findings were similar. When blacks and Hispanics combined made up a majority, teachers in those schools were three times less likely to win bonuses than teachers in schools with larger populations of white students."

Spellings, Post, & Times: All on the Same Page

Though both papers missed Chairman Miller’s September 5th deadline for submitting comments, both the editorial pages of the Washington Post and New York Times have taken the measure of Miller’s NCLB bill and, channeling Secretary Spellings, and give it a unanimous thumbs down.

Each editorial takes the same tack. Citing several “good ideas” (Times) and “much that is admirable in the draft” (Post), each then hammers Miller’s bill, particularly what they perceive as backsliding on accountability.

“His proposed changes in the law’s crucial accountability provisions, put forth in a draft version of the House bill, may need to be recast to prevent states from backing away from the central mission of the law,” sniffs the Times, while the Post asserts “Mr. Miller would open the door to even larger end runs around accountability.”

It’s bizarre to see in print the two papers’ defense of NCLB’s existing accountability system that makes no distinction between chronically/ across-the-board low-performing schools and those that miss AYP by one point/student, and to decry Miller’s attempts to craft a more sophisticated and nuanced accountability formula.

The editorials do serve the purpose of putting everyone on notice about the competing, perhaps irreconcilable, demands Miller (and Kennedy) is under: to satisfy the request of education constituencies to refine the accountability system on the one hand, and to preserve the spirit of NCLB’s current formula on the other (everyone else).

September 7, 2007

The Greatest Education Lab?

So suggests Time magazine in this new article: “’This will be the greatest opportunity for educational entrepreneurs, charter schools, competition and parental choice in America,’ he said. Call it the silver lining: Hurricane Katrina washed away what was one of the nation's worst school systems and opened the path for energetic reformers who want to make New Orleans a laboratory of new ideas for urban schools.”

Charter Students Athletically Eligible in Other Schools

The Utah High School Athletic Association has “created a way for charter school students to participate in sports and activities at traditional public high schools Thursday. The group's Board of Trustees voted 19-4 to amend an interpretation of its policies. The battle is far from over, however. Now it is up to individual school districts to grant the same eligibility, and several have balked at such a notion, saying they stand to receive inadequate funding from the state or the charter schools for their hospitality to the ‘traveling’ students,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Governor Spellings?

Are Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’ ambitions larger than being president of the University of Texas? Say Governor of the Lone Star State?

That is the self-reinforcing rumor being promoted by these two sites: Eduwonk and US News’ “Washington Whispers.” (Note that Eduwonk refers and links to the Whispers’ reporting on Spellings’ possible gubernatorial run, while the Whispers column refers/links to the Eduwonk piece referring to them. So circular. So self-referential. So synergistic!).

Though the Labor Day deadline White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten had set for administration officials not staying through January 20, 2009 to leave, rumors continue to swirl around the Education Secretary’s future. Our own take is that rumors of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison running for governor are much more realistic than Secretary Spellings, if for no other reason than the senator is a proven fundraiser and the Secretary for all of her public policy credentials is an unknown campaign rainmaker (though we do believe that with the help of President George Bush’s prodigious fundraisers he would not lack for funds should she make the race.)

More NCLB comments solicited

Clearly, House Education Committee Chairman George Miller’s strategy is to keep everyone busy writing comments on drafts of NCLB language while he passes an actual bill.


In case you missed it, the draft language for Title II and Titles III-XI were posted on the committee’s website some time yesterday afternoon/evening. Comments are due September 14th to the same email address as before.


Title II text here


Titles III-XI text here


Highlight’s summary here



Attitudes about Public Schools in NYC

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg released the findings of the "Learning Environment Survey," part of an effort to grade schools on an A to F system. The results offer some unique insight into the top issues for parents and teachers.

Given a list of potential school improvements and asked which one they would most like their children’s school to make, 24 percent of parents selected smaller class size, a hotly contested issue in NYC.

Only 26 percent of parents responded, but rates were better among teachers and students. Forty-four percent of teachers and 65 percent of middle and high school students filled out the survey. Parent and teacher response rates were lower in schools that are largely poor and minority.

There has been a lot of talk recently about parent involvement in schools- it's great that the results of the parent survey will be included in individual school report cards, but what is the commitment of the city as a whole and individual schools to increasing parental participation?

Survey results are available here.

September 5, 2007

Back to School Address

Secretary Spellings delivered her Back to School address today. Click here for a transcript of her remarks. As interesting as what she said, is where she said it – to members of the Business Coalition for Student Achievement.


Back to School, Minus the Deep Fryer

As the new school year begins, many students across the country are returning to healthier schools- as the New York Times put it, the school cafeteria is on a diet.

"Some states and school districts have simply adopted the federal standards for food sales outside the school nutrition program, which critics deride as lax and antiquated. For instance, under the federal guidelines, jelly beans and Popsicles are banned because they have “minimal nutritional value.” But Snickers and Dove bars are not because they contain some nutrients, according to Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest..."The national policy is so pathetic that states who follow them should be ashamed of themselves."

The NASBE Center for Safe and Healthy Schools
houses the Increasing Healthy Eating Project which focuses on providing research-based capacity building assistance and information to education leaders on helping to establish, maintain and evaluate health school nutrition environments.

I found this point interesting (and a bit sad...) "Parents in Texas lobbied to get a "Safe Cupcake Amendment" added to the state’s nutrition policy. The measure, which passed, ensures that parents may bring frosted treats to schools for celebrations."