Dashboard April 2016

This Edition's Dashboard

Houston removes Confederate names from schools

The Houston Independent School Board has voted to rename seven schools named after historic Confederate figures, including Jefferson Davis High School. The renaming of an eighth school is still under consideration.

Hearings and heated debate over the decision “brought out accusations of racism, questions about historical legacy, and concerns about the cost -- an estimated $250,000 per campus,” the Houston Chronicle reported. Some sympathizers of the name change initiative questioned the associated costs given the district’s projected $107 million budget shortfall.

“I’ll take dignity over dollars,” board member Rhonda Skillern-Jones told the newspaper. She led the effort last year to change district policy allowing the board to order renaming. That decision followed the shooting deaths last June at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Attention to the names on public buildings -- in particular the names of slave owners, Confederate soldiers, and known white supremacists -- has been growing nationwide in recent years.


Feds offer testing guidance

Following President Obama’s call last October to curb excessive testing in public schools, the U.S. Education Department is offering states guidance on how federal grant funds can be used to “support fewer, smarter, high-quality” tests.

Among the suggestions: Instead of using funds to develop state assessments, states and districts could use the money to conduct audits of their tests to see if they are redundant or if poorly designed ones could be eliminated.

States also could use federal dollars to develop strategies to improve the quality of current tests or decrease the time students spend taking them.

A 2015 Council of Great City Schools study found that students spend about 20-25 hours a school year taking standardized tests. Between pre-K and 12th grade, students took about 112 standardized exams, with testing accounting for 2.3 percent of classroom time for the average eighth-grader, the grade with the most mandated testing time.


Fla. district launches Space School

Florida’s Brevard Public Schools and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) recently wrapped their first-ever Space School session. The 16-day pilot program was held at the center and provided hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning to approximately 60 fifth-graders from nearby Apollo Elementary in Titusville.

Students and their teachers were transported daily to the KSC Visitor Complex, where instruction of the state-mandated curriculum content was integrated with a STEM curriculum developed in conjunction with the KSC Education Foundation, said Michelle Irwin, Brevard spokeswoman.

Students examined the history and literature surrounding space exploration; worked on projects in the rocket garden; explored Saturn V, Atlantis, and Mission Mars: Exploring Space exhibits; and met with astronauts.

Future sessions will focus on students at Title 1 schools “to give that experience to kids who might not get it in their regular life,” said Irwin.


Ruling targets school bond practices

California School Districts and community colleges break state law if they hire outside firms to campaign for bond ballot measures or encourage municipal finance providers to advocate for passage of a bond measure, the state’s attorney general said in a recent legal opinion.

The Bond Buyer reports that Attorney General Kamala Harris issued the opinion on the legality of the practices following a request from state Treasurer John Chiang and his predecessor, Bill Lockyer. California law prohibits using public funds to influence the outcome of an election, including campaigning for the passage of a bond measure. Voter-approved bonds backed by property taxes are the primary method of new school construction in the state, and the treasurers sought clarification on whether some common industry practices might be violating the law.

A review of campaign finance records published by The Bond Buyer in 2012 found “a nearly perfect correlation between broker-dealer contributions to California school bond efforts in 2010 and their underwriting subsequent bond sales.”


More Michigan schools test for lead

In the wake of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, there’s no way of knowing how many other neighboring school districts also may have water with unsafe lead levels, the Lansing State Journal reports. That’s because state and federal regulators don’t require schools, day care centers, and other facilities to test their water for lead unless the building is on its own well water rather than on a municipal water supply.

No districts were regularly testing the municipally supplied water going into schools before the Flint water crisis began last fall, the Journal says. However, a number of area school districts “have since ordered tests and some of the early results suggest children could have been exposed to lead in school drinking water.”

A series of bills introduced in the state legislature would require annual testing for lead and other contaminants in the drinking water going into Michigan schools.


Parental depression impacts learning

Children’s academic performance worsens if a parent suffers from depression, a finding that underscores the wide-ranging negative outcomes that mental health conditions can cause, a study finds.

Using data from more than 1.1. million Swedish children, researchers examined the effects of parental depression on children during different time periods, from before they were born through age 16.

Published in the online edition of JAMA Psychiatry, the study finds children of clinically depressed parents fare worse in school than their peers with healthy parents. While all children were affected by their parents’ diagnoses, maternal depression had a larger negative effect than paternal, and the link to poor performance was strongest among female children.


Education spending dips again

Public school spending per student fell for the third straight year in 2012-13, the most recent year for which data is available. An analysis from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that, on average, U.S. schools spent $10,763 per elementary, middle, and high school student, down 0.6 percent when compared with 2012.

Cumulative expenditures were $858 less per student than in 2008-09, when expenditures reached an all-time-high of $11,621 per student (adjusted to today’s dollars).

“You’ve been educating more students with more need as the dollars have been dwindling,” Hilary Goldmann, executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, a funding advocacy group, told U.S. News and World Report.

Expenditures per pupil ranged from a low of $6,432 in Utah to a high of $20,530 in the District of Columbia.


Most schools failing in sex education

Fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools teach all 16 sex education topics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as essential to sexual health education.

And at every age group, how to get and use condoms is the topic least likely to be taught, the CDC report says.

The agency’s recently released 2013-2014 biennial report is based on surveys of school health educators and the topics they teach in the areas of HIV prevention, STD prevention, pregnancy prevention, and sexuality information.

The overall low compliance was not surprising, CDC official Stephanie Zaza told NPR. “As far back as I can recall, it’s been pretty flat,” she said.


A wave of school district takeovers

Often citing a moral obligation to intervene because of chronic academic or financial failure, a number of state lawmakers have recently moved to seize struggling urban school districts, the Washington Post reports.

Governors in Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin are among the “mostly Republican leaders who otherwise champion local control in their fights with the federal government” but have advocated state takeovers and the creation of state-run “recovery,” “opportunity,” or “achievement” school districts, according to the Post. It says all of the recent takeovers have occurred in districts that are poor and majority African American and Latino.

A 2015 Education Commission of the States report said 11 states had passed or debated legislation to create state-run school districts in the past year.

NSBA Executive Director Thomas Gentzel is quoted by the Post saying, “There certainly is an effort afoot in the country to dismantle local government and reduce or eliminate the role of local school boards.”


Mindfulness benefits middle schoolers

Harried professionals aren’t the only ones likely to get a boost from mindfulness meditation. A study in the journal Pediatrics shows that students at two high-poverty Baltimore City middle schools who participated in a 12-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program also benefited.

They had lower levels of general health problems, depression, recurrent thoughts about negative experiences, and other symptoms of stress and trauma compared to students in a 12-week health class.

The program had three components: material about meditation, yoga, and the mind-body connection; practice of those techniques; and group discussion. In general, mindfulness training is geared toward a person “tuning in” instead of “tuning out” like some other meditation practices, researcher Erica Sibinga of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine told Reuters Health.


Schools tackle concussion testing

More than 60 Michigan high schools are participating in a pilot program that does baseline testing of athletes in football and other sports to help diagnose and document concussions.

The testing -- a mix of memory, reaction time, attention, and stress assessments -- is standard protocol in major pro sports. The NCAA recommends baseline testing of all college athletes.

The Associated Press reports that Michigan found seed money to fund the testing this year by taking $10,000 primarily from playoff gate profits.

The National Federation of State High School Associations says the only state doing anything similar to Michigan is Mississippi, but that program involves far fewer schools and only football.


Soft skills strengthen at-risk kids

Teaching young children self-control, how to get along with others, and other “soft skills” may be key to keeping at-risk kids out of criminal trouble in the future, says a study in the journal Child Development that re-examines a 20-year-old intervention program.

In the new analysis, Duke University researchers looked at data they previously collected from nearly 900 students who participated in the Fast Track program, started in the early 1990s for kids at high risk for aggressive behavioral problems. The program included a teacher-led curriculum, parent training, academic tutoring, lessons in self-control, and other “soft skills” for first-grade through 10th-grade students.

The new analysis showed that about a third of the impact on lower rates of future delinquency and arrests was due to the social and self-regulation skills the students learned from ages 6 to 11, far outdistancing the impact of academic skills, Kaiser Health News reported.


ESSA: From law to regulations

By Del Stover

Now that states will select their own student assessment systems, what regulations should the federal government adopt to guide the states’ work? And how will Title I’s supplement-not-supplant rules work as school districts are granted more flexibility in how they spend federal funds?

These questions have been at the heart of NSBA’s work in recent weeks.

Although Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December, implementation of the law will be guided significantly by regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education, says Michael Zola, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy.

“The Education Department is providing guidance documents to states about the issues to be considered as they transition to the new law,” he says. “But an important step in implementing ESSA is the development of regulations, and they’re a big deal … they will determine how the law specifically affects the work of school boards in the years ahead.”

That’s why NSBA is working so hard to see that the concerns of school boards are incorporated into the rules that come, Zola says. As ASBJ went to press, NSBA was determining who will serve as a representative to a “negotiated rulemaking committee” that will discuss how ESSA’s legislative language is translated into regulations that guide practical, day-to-day school practices.

In February, the Education Department announced the creation of the committee to prepare regulations on the development of state assessments and how the new flexibility in spending federal funds will work without violating the supplement-not-supplant rules of Title I.

The committee membership will consist of key interested parties in ESSA, which include educators, business leaders, civil rights groups, parents, and federal officials.

“What’s promising is that the law specifically identifies local school board members as a stakeholder who can be part of that process,” Zola says.

This approach to rule-making is unusual for the Education Department. Traditionally, an initial draft of regulations is developed internally by federal officials, and the public is offered an opportunity to comment. Under ESSA, however, the department is required to create a committee of constituencies affected by the law to seek consensus on how regulations should be developed on key areas of the law -- and then the proposals are to be made available for public comment.

Although there’s no guarantee the committee will reach consensus -- leaving Education Department officials with the option of drafting regulations on their own —this more inclusive approach has obvious advantages for local school leaders, Zola says. It’s far more likely that school board concerns can be incorporated into regulations as they’re being written rather than by seeking to amend an already written draft of rules.

As this article was written, it couldn’t be confirmed whether a school board representative will serve on the rulemaking committee, but NSBA’s legal and advocacy staff was preparing to support the committee’s work.

“The work will be very time consuming, very technical for committee members,” Zola says. “But NSBA, as the Washington, D.C., office for state school boards associations and school boards nationwide, is in the best position to support the rules-making process and ensure that the concerns of school boards are heard.”

The effort to influence future regulations actually began less than a month after ESSA’s passage, when NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel offered comments at a Jan. 11 “listening session” conducted by Education Department officials in Washington, D.C.

Gentzel calls on federal officials to ensure a balanced “federal-state-local partnership” in the development of new ESSA regulations, as well as flexibility for local schools to make decisions regarding the use of Title I funds, and technical support in complying with the new law.

ESSA was a significant legislative victory for NSBA, as the law puts specific curbs on the authority of the Education Department to impose mandates on local and state school officials -- and requires federal officials to consult more with school boards and others as they develop federal regulations that impact them.

Gentzel reminded Education Department officials of that responsibility in his remarks -- and in written remarks submitted afterward by NSBA. As important as federal consultations are, however, he points out that “it’s equally important for the department to require states to work closely with local school districts” as they develop state regulations on ESSA’s implementation.

“A lot of this decision-making will shift to the state departments of education,” he told federal officials, “and it’s critical they work with local school leaders in developing state plans.”

For more information and resources on ESSA, go to http://www.nsba.org/advocacy/federal-legislative-priorities/every-student-succeeds-act-essa.

Del Stover (dstover@nsba.org) is senior editor of American School Board Journal.


School board role in student achievement?

In this issue, we ask readers to tell us how their school boards have improved student learning in their districts:

“We have upgraded career technical education programs and as a result we have increased student participation in high school and post-high programs.” -- Thomas Martin, school board member, South Dakota

“We have focused additional resources on our lowest performing schools, creating an Achievement Zone that is working to raise student achievement by bringing in some of the top teachers in the district, forming new business partnerships, and partnering with Junior Achievement to create a high school magnet program infused with career-readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy skills. We also are rolling out a personalized learning technology device to our students. One other big initiative for our district is Continuous Achievement -- allowing students, particularly in the elementary and middle schools, to move forward at their own pace, so they are allowed to work above grade level in math and language arts. We are also exploring additional choice options within our district that will allow students to pursue courses of study that may benefit their style of learning.” -- Julia Bernath, school board member, Georgia

“Our Early College High School has had remarkable success is getting first-generation college students to pursue a college degree. One recent graduate even received a prestigious Morehead-Cain (full ride) scholarship to UNC Chapel Hill after completing an associate arts degree at our high school.” -- Jeff Phillips, school board member, North Carolina

To join ASBJ’s Reader Panel, go to www.asbj.com/readerpanel.


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