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How NOT to vote for school board

By Jay Mathews

Last week, I voted for several people on the Montgomery County school board, one of the few times I ever thought about that body.

As an education writer, I try to stay away from school boards. I know that sounds odd, but over the years, I have found school board meetings to be as interesting, newsworthy and uplifting as visits to the dentist. I avoid them. I talk to teachers, principals, students and parents instead.

I feel guilty about that. School boards have a vital role in a democratic society. They are the link between us and our schools. If you have a complaint that the school system is not addressing, the school board is pretty much the only place to go. So why don’t I make more of an effort to get to know its members?

The recent election reminded me of one reason. The public sources of information about school board members, such as news articles, voters guides and school district Web sites, rarely tell me the most important things to know about those being elected.

The most important decision school board members make is whom to hire as superintendent. Whether they vote for or against the superintendent’s plans for improving schools is also crucial. Cities, including the District, have transferred that power over superintendents to mayors or city councils because their school boards were too distracted by political or personal feuds and failed to support even effective superintendents.

Because each school board member’s, or candidate’s, view of the superintendent is so important, why is it so difficult to determine their views on that subject? If there is a battle over whether to fire the superintendent, allegiances become clear. But most times, board members are hard to pin down. It can take days to sort through their votes to see what side they are on.

Such information rarely appears in voter guides. I checked both the Post’s guide, which appeared in the Oct. 28 editions of Local Living, and the League of Women Voters guide to see what the candidates said about Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

Weast is about to retire. Some candidates mentioned his success at raising student achievement, but it was hard to tell who had been a firm supporter and who had doubts. The most useful information on this issue was published elsewhere in the Post, on another day, by a Montgomery school board member who confessed that to being elected in part because of differences with Weast that attracted support from the local teachers union.

The Post asked the candidates what was the most urgent problem facing the county and why voters should elect them. The league’s guide asked about federal support, programs for students not going to college, longer school days and school year, nutrition and the budget. Neither guide raised the question I think vital in revealing school board attitudes toward the most important issue facing educators. That question is: Why do low-income students on average do so poorly in school?

The biggest debate in public education today is whether we can best help low-income students by making their lives better with more financial support and health care for their families or make their schools better with more training of teachers and principals and more time for instruction. The leaders of the most successful urban charter schools, and some regular school leaders such as former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, say the emphasis should be on schools. But many educators say they cannot make much progress with disadvantaged children until their families’ lives improve.

I would have liked to know what the Montgomery school board candidates thought about that. If I had not been on vacation, I would have asked them. Next election, I will get myself organized sooner, call them up and try to pin them down.

How I interpret what they tell me when I mark my ballot is still up to me, but I will at least feel somewhat less ignorant about what I am doing.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | November 10, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Local Living  | Tags:  difficult to find what candidates think on the most important issues, have they supported the superintendent?, school board elections, why do they think low-income students on average do poorly in school?  
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Comments

Jay- thanks for this post. When it comes to information on the Board of Education it seems like there is plenty of quantity- but not alot of quality. I'm going to hold you accountable in two years!!!! :)

Posted by: mmccabe4724 | November 10, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

One of the biggest problems facing many of our nation's schools is related to school boards. When they are bad, they can be destructive. When they are good, they hire the right person and stay out of the way.

Posted by: brucel2 | November 11, 2010 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Jay, here is where we fundamentally disagree on the facts. You assert that:

" Cities, including the District, have transferred that power over superintendents to mayors or city councils because their school boards were too distracted by political or personal feuds and failed to support even effective superintendents."

I know the political drive for mayoral control is sponsored by entities with the agenda of creating a new form of public education they call the "public-private partnership". I KNOW it, because I've seen their powerpoint presentations in my own public school library. They use their money, political power, and media control to place superintendents of their choice, to pursue their for-profit agenda. Kaplan Education is one of those entities, and it owns the Washington Post outright, not the other way around. here is the Washinton Post Corporation quarterly report:

http://www.melodika.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=86049&Itemid=50

" The decline in results for 2010 is due to increased losses at Kaplan Virtual Education, a developing group of online high school institutions, the sale of the above noted business, and small declines at some of the other Kaplan Ventures businesses. A goodwill and other long-lived assets impairment charge of $25.4 million was recorded at Kaplan in the third quarter of 2009 related to certain Kaplan Ventures businesses, as the book value of these businesses exceeded their estimated fair value."

The $25.4 million "impairment" loss to Kaplan Ventures (their semi-secret public school takover business)is in addition to a similar writeoff in the value of its Higher-Education arm, due to public exposure of its sickening exploitation of low-income students and outright fraud.

The damage to Kaplan Venture's "goodwill assets" is money out of P{ost CEO Donald Graham's pocket. While you wait for his permission to discuss the matter, you are continuing to publish political attacks on his enemies on public school boards, who oppose his K12 business expansion.

You say, " Whether they vote for or against the superintendent’s plans for improving schools is also crucial."

But I say, the superintendent's "plan for improving the schools" is a marketing strategy for corrupt vendors, and even for privatizers who are wreaking deliberate damage on their public competition.

Posted by: mport84 | November 11, 2010 4:57 AM | Report abuse

Post readers might not be aware of developments in the Kaplan Higher Education scandal, because the Post is not covering it. The competition is now doing that, however.

Read all about it in the Examiner.

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/Controversies-over-Kaplan-dog-Washington-Post-company-1521395-107066063.html

Posted by: mport84 | November 11, 2010 5:12 AM | Report abuse

The New York Times has a more detailed piece - it includes the boxes of fake diplomas for phantom students, and a policy targeting recruitment of "single parent welfare mothers with two children" because they are unlikely to be able to stay in the program, and Kaplan can continue to charge their tuition on their guaranteed student loans after they cease to use services.

Jay, you say,
"The most useful information on this issue was published elsewhere in the Post, on another day, by a Montgomery school board member who confessed that to being elected in part because of differences with Weast that attracted support from the local teachers union."

How does that answer your "most important question":

"That question is: Why do low-income students on average do so poorly in school?"

Support from teachers might imply opposition to your employer's benificent plan to exploit public funding for poor children for their own profit, as they have done with such massive success in their online tuition ripoffs, feeding on crushed hope to saddle the poor of the whole country with massive debt.


Do we want mealy-mouthed poverty pimps like these in control of our public schools? If not, vote for your school board members who dare to oppose them.

Posted by: mport84 | November 11, 2010 5:44 AM | Report abuse

Hmmmm. Interesting. As a former local education reporter, the main part of my job was to attend the Board of Ed meetings for three public school districts. While some meetings were boring, the only way to really know how your local school district is attempting to waste your taxdollars or shove through curriculum changing programs is by attending these meetings. Here on Long Island, we have 124 very small school districts, nothing like huge districts such as Fairfax or Montgomery. Each has a very distinct local "flavor" and means of operation. For example, in my district, the Board USED to hold two meetings a month, the first was considered a "work session" in which new agenda items were put out for discussion and the second was the "business meeting" at which items were voted on. The work session meetings used to run late into the night, there were times they didn't let out until 1:00 AM. Sometime around 2000, the Board decided it was tired of such late meetings, and so many meetings, so it eliminated the work sessions, cut the number of meetings in half, put most of the items to be voted on under a "consent agenda" and effectively made it so its one meeting a month rarely ran longer than 90 minutes. The public can still sign up for public comment, however the District Clerk starts the timer the second someone begins to speak and cuts them off mid-sentence if the buzzer goes off after 3 minutes. If the speaker has the audacity to ask questions of the Board members, all they get is a "Thank you for your comment".

As someone who now works with parents across the country trying to stop the implementation of IB in their districts, I have recently become appalled at the tyrannical, undemocratic conduct of public school boards. In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, the Board decided it was tired of listening to polite public comment from IB objectors, so what did it do? It eliminated public comment altogether.

In Ozark, MO, the Board "discussed" and approved application to IB all in the same meeting. None of the teachers or parents were allowed any input prior to the vote. This has caused a major rift in the community and much controversy.

In Incline Village, NV, the Superintendent (formerly of Montgomery County) has forced IB K-12 on this tiny village and only had the Board "vote" to approve IB a full year after IB applications had been submitted and almost $100,000 had already been spent.

There IS a pattern, and it does lie with the Superintendents hired and the people elected to rubber stamp their agenda. Jay is delusional if he thinks it is common practice for Board trustees to disagree with the Supt. in a public vote. As a rule of thumb, nothing comes to a vote unless the trustees have given the Supt. a thumbs up in executive session first.

I also totally disagree with Jay as to what the biggest public debate is in education. From where I sit, the biggest debate is over wasteful spending and ever increasing school taxes.

(cont.)

Posted by: lisamc31 | November 11, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

(cont.)

Every year, from time immemorial, when the district trots out its budget and trustee candidates for the vote, we are subjected to the age old cry, "Vote YES! It's for the CHILDREN!" Anyone who expresses a desire to vote NO is immediately branded a child-hater. The PTA mommies host their rally the vote meetings. Only extracurricular sports which would be cut if forced to be on a contingency budget, matter to these people. Those elected to the Board are usually either past PTA Presidents with children still in the system, or local attorneys with dreams of future public office who want to fatten their resume's.

I have given up on attending my local school board meetings. I won't even vote for Board Trustees anymore. All they get from my family is a NO vote. They had their chance to persuade me that they actually listen to community concerns and that they were there to represent those who elected them.

Back in the mid-90's, our annual school budget for 2300 students was $24 million. In 2010, for the same 2300 students, our budget is over $70 million. The school taxes on my 105 year old home have risen from $2,000 to $7,000. We can no longer afford to supplement teacher salaries of $130,000, Superintendent salaries of $300-400,000 and per pupil spending of over $30,000. As long as we can sell our house to some wealthy Liberal, we'll be moving to where common sense and low taxes still prevail, somewhere where Progressives like Jay and the school Board of Montgomery County care about actual academic achievement, instead of social justice.

Posted by: lisamc31 | November 11, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

One more thing. I agree wholeheartedly with mport's statement:

"Do we want mealy-mouthed poverty pimps like these in control of our public schools? If not, vote for your school board members who dare to oppose them."

As someone who ran for a Board seat against 3 incumbent males and who lost by 63 votes, Mport is correct, the only way to bust up the good ol' boys tax and spend network is to elect those who will object to wasteful, quid pro quo spending. Unfortunately, in states like NY, CA, CT, MD and MA, the Liberals are still firmly in control. Even in more conservative states like Arkansas, the Liberals have effectively wormed their way into educational positions of power. Maybe with the rise of the Tea Party movement, we will begin to see more change in local school board composition and as a result, a change in the type of Superintendents placed in charge. One can only hope. However, finding right-minded individuals who are willing to give up their time to sit on these frustrating boards for no pay is very difficult. My personal recommendation is to put together a team of candidates - if there are 3 seats opening up - get 3 like-minded candidates to run as a party. The biggest argument the incumbents used against me when I ran was that I wasn't a "team player" - in other words, I dared to disagree with the status quo.

Posted by: lisamc31 | November 11, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

lisamc31 thinks the problem is ordinary old liberals. Same old political polarization?

No, the problem is even older: corruption, self-dealing, lies, string-pulling, greed, and power have no ideological allegiance. Bush, Obama, Spellings, Duncan: all the same old same old.

And superintendents aren't what you thought they were. Remember Rudy Cruz? Look where he is now - at the head of his own for-profit public school services vendor.

http://www.gps.us.com/2010/07/global-leads-bridgeport-turnaround-effort/

I worry normal humans don't have the reading speed to deal with this flood of text, but here's the link to the very interesting NY Times story on the Washington Post's corporate poverty pimping:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/education/10kaplan.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Posted by: mport84 | November 11, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

mport84,

Bush, Spellings, Obama and Duncan did indeed have the same ideological alliances - globalization and the UN. Remember, it was GW Bush who reinstated the U.S. with UNESCO. The UN is the ultimate "poverty pimp". Why do you think IBO just set up its "global centre" in Montgomery County, MD?

Posted by: lisamc31 | November 11, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

I am shocked to hear you say you have rarely voted for School Board Jay. Your column should be about WHY people need to vote for School Board. In Fairfax County, the School Board - and our UNELECTED Superintendent - are in charge of 53% of ALL county tax revenues - a $2.2 BILLION dollar budget. Anyone who is concerned about how their taxes are used should make voting for School Board a top priority. I do hope you'll write a column in November 2011 about WHY everyone - not just parents with kids in the system - need to vote for School Board.

Posted by: abcxyz2 | November 11, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Don't be shocked, abcxyz2. Progressive media elites like Jay have no need to be bothered with such mundane things as voting. It would run counterintuitive to his agenda to encourage Joe Q. Public to educate themselves as to who is spending their taxdollars. No, for globalist agitators like Jay, it is much more important to try and sell his agenda to State Councils of Superintendents, isn't that right Jay?

Posted by: lisamc31 | November 11, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Don't be shocked, abcxyz2. Progressive media elites like Jay have no need to be bothered with such mundane things as voting. It runs counterintuitive to his agenda to encourage Joe Q. Public to educate themselves as to who is spending their taxdollars, indoctrinating their children and encouraging them to get out and vote. My guess is this time around he just wanted to see what the new voting ballots were like. No, for globalist agitators like Jay, it is much more important to try and sell his agenda to State Councils of Superintendents, isn't that right Jay?

Posted by: lisamc31 | November 11, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Sorry for the double post - I thought I stopped it before going through.

I would like to take this spot to thank all of our Veterans today for their service to our country and for defending our liberties.

Posted by: lisamc31 | November 11, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Oh boy, Jay..did you open a bag of worm's for me.

I have have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly concerning our local school board.

As a local association officer and President, it was part of my job to attend SB meetings.

You want to hear about dysfunctional:
Our SB Chair has announced more than once...he wasn't an advocate for the schools.

He stated as long as he was Chair, no teacher would ever be appointed or serve on the SB. (We recently had a couple of openings.)

Most of the important agenda items occur during the workshops prior to the meeting. They are part of the agenda, but if anyone wants to speak on these issues, they are forced to speak during the untelevised portion of the meeting (the Chair says these items are NOT part of the agenda). All the seats at the workshops are "reserved" for other administrators...limited or no public seating.

I challenged him on this by asking member's to pack a workshop...we made our point and at least they are now televised...but on a delayed schedule.

I also challenged him that his "agenda" included a workshop, so any speakers addressing workshop issues should also be televised. He hung up on me...btw, he hung up on me twice.

The "association" used to be allowed 5 minutes, that was cut to 3.

He asked me to leave a summer workshop. I again challenged him since 3 or more were gathered, and therefore considered a public meeting. Their own attorney agreed with me.

He got his job because of a backroom deal not to fire the former Superintendent.

When hiring a new Sup, discussion's were held in private. When they were ready to hire someone, who was at time being investigated by a grand jury, it was leaked to the newspaper and they changed their minds.

At the time, a preferred candidate for Superintendent was eliminated because he was deemed too "teacher friendly." (A man from FFX Cty.)

The SB doesn't respond to emails. Or respond to speakers.

They rubber stamp everything the Superintendent wants. Hardly any questions are asked...and most of them do not do their homework.

They allow their own special favors and bend the rules.

And that's just the beginning.

Posted by: ilcn | November 11, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

For abcxyz2 and lisamc31---Whoa! Where did I say I rarely vote for school boards? Not true! I have voted in every school board election in which I was entitled to vote since I turned 21 a couple of centuries ago. (Yes, I am so old the voting age was 21 back then.)
I said my voting earlier this month was "one of the few times I ever thought about that body," which is true. I usually only think about it when I vote, every two years or whenever they open the Little Flower Church polling place, and when school board policies seem relevant to my reporting on what happens in schools and classrooms, which is NOT very often, I have discovered.
Many good points here. I am working on the Kaplan thing.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 11, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Interesting article and I don't blame you for not wanting to attend the Board of Ed. meetings.

My opinion is that Montgomery County has very educated parents. The parents want the best education for their own children. They may not see the poverty issue as the major one that other areas do. I think people move there to get out of poverty through education on the low income end and to benefit from the "good" school system on the high end.

There is some opposition to poverty issues like low income housing in MoCo. I think the argument is that people paying upwards of 500,000 for a home and the taxes that go with it don't really see poverty as their issue.

I am not sure that all voters there consider the poverty question when voting. The teachers might consider it. But, parents are generally voting for their own child's interests.

As for the teachers voting being strong, well, maybe, but many younger teachers couldn't really afford to live in Montgomery County. Also, teachers are like everyone else and don't always vote in elections.

There is an idea that teacher's unions really influence teacher voting. I know that they publish pamphlets and so forth, but teachers are usually opinionated individualists and vote their own way.

Posted by: celestun100 | November 11, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

Ah, the 26th Amendment. I wonder how many of today's students actually know what you were referring to.

If your opening salvo was not meant to imply rare or infrequent voting:

"Last week, I voted for several people on the Montgomery County school board, one of the few times I ever thought about that body."

... then we must deduce that most of the time you voted, you mindlessly pulled the levers for candidates you never bothered to inform yourself about.


Posted by: lisamc31 | November 11, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

As President & Co-founder of FAIRGRADE (Grading Policy Improvements in Fx Cty), I wish to highlight a KEY POINT in Jay’s column:

"School boards have a vital role in a democratic society. They are the link between us and OUR schools. If you have a complaint that the school system is not addressing, the school board is pretty much the only place to go."

Regrettably in Fairfax County, many of our School Board members have increasingly forgotten this key aspect. Whether it is grading policy reform, improving high school "start-times" (SLEEP), school closures (Clifton), boundary changes, budget priorities, discipline reform, or the superintendent's contract, many school board members have ignored constituent input and/or dismissed it as "special interest".

Furthermore, they excuse their inaction by stating they will not be swayed by "mob-rule". The irony is that public advocates come armed with compelling, substantive data (ie FAIRGRADE), while the school system does not.

To be clear, there are several Fx Cty School Board members who genuinely listen to public input and advocate for these concerns. However, as they are in the minority voting block, it is difficult to effect desired change.

Along with representing their constituents, School Boards must review and set school policy, as well as outline the school system's annual priorities. They are the valuable "checks and balances" to the Superintendent and his staff. Regrettably, this has been erroneously labeled as trying to "micro-manage".

In order to provide effective oversight, School Boards must require the Superintendent and his staff to provide them and the public with accurate, substantive data to support recommended changes, as well as invite public input.

Fairfax County's entire School Board is up for re-election next year. Hopefully, there will be a large field of candidates who value public input and insist upon accurate, substantive data . Our children’s futures depend upon it.


Posted by: macfiveva | November 11, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

for lisamc31---But I DID think about the school board then. That is what I said. The point was that I only thought about them before voting, only every two years or so, because they did not usually do much that was very interesting or important to the life of the classroom.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 11, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

School Boards should ALWAYS have the best interest of the students in mind.

They are not mouth-pieces for the unions.

They are not PR agents and cheerleaders for the superintendent.

They are elected, objective, intelligent, open-minded individuals who are chosen to serve our children's interests.

In my experience as a watchdog in Fairfax County, this concept has been lost.

They hide behind strategic governance and state that they should not "meddle" or "micro-manage" the staff or the Sup.

So we have noone asking tough questions or verifying the data that is presented.

Jack Dale says test scores are great-School Board high fives eachother.

Dean Tistadt says Clifton should be closed-they all vote ok. Nobody asks about overcrowding, costs or false allegations of bad well water.

School Board members Tessie Wilson, Stu Gibson and Liz Bradsher say that Fairfax has eliminated the achievement gap-everyone applauds for work well done. Nobody says, "gee, in some of these high poverty schools nearly half the kids aren't taking the SOLSs".

It is one big lovefest and it is nauseating to watch. I have never, in my professional career seen such a dysfunctional organization who oversees $2.2 billion dollars-with virtually no oversight.

The 2011 elections can't come soon enough and EVERY parent needs to step up to the plate and make this school district a better place. There is nothing more important than the quality of the education that our children receive.

Make it a priority.

Posted by: takebackourschools | November 11, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Jay - How about you make a promise to all of your devoted readers to start following OUR school board members and create a more informed electorate for 2011? In Fairfax County, there is PLENTY of material there - and a lot of it IS interesting! Resources at the Washington Post may be tight but this issue is deserving of more serious coverage. FCPS sucks up 53% of all our county tax dollars. A majority of our SB members - particularly Chairman Kathy Smith, Stu Gibson and Liz Bradsher - treat parents and taxpayers with absolute contempt and should NEVER be re-elected. We need a newspaper that will accurately report to the public the behavior of these people towards parents before the elections!

Posted by: abcxyz2 | November 11, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Jay, please do pledge to follow and report on SB business in our area. I'm another FCPS parent who has been paying attention to the school board. Not all, but the majority of them, particularly the 3 mentioned in earlier posts, demonstrate disrespect for, and outright animosity toward their constituents. Moreover, their rubber stamping of superintendent proposals has got to stop. Fairfax Co. taxpayers, pay attention to the elected board who is in charge of spending over 50% of our tax dollars.

Posted by: harmony24 | November 11, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Mark Twain had a quote about school boards which nicely sums up how I felt about that group watching their shenanigans in San Francisco for many years.
"In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards."

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | November 11, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Jay observes that voter guides do not ask the most important question about education: "Why do low-income students on average do so poorly in school?"

I'm sure he knows why, and also why no one in public life (including Jay himself) dares to answer the question truthfully, so no one asks it. And no district dares to collect the student data that would allow the question to be answered definitively.

If you think no one knows the answer, ask yourself which of the following statements you would believe to be untrue, on average:
a) Adult earnings are strongly correlated with IQ (as well as with education);
b) Children's school performance is strongly correlated with their individually measured IQ;
c) The IQs of parents and their (biological) children are strongly correlated.

It's the other correlations that will occur to you that make the question too radioactive to ask or to answer.

Posted by: linsee1 | November 11, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the encouragement on school board coverage. I will pass it on to the folks who decide what we cover.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 11, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Another question for linsee1---1,000 low income black and Hispanic students who have completed 4 years of a KIPP middle school went from the 32nd to the 60th percentile in reading and from the 40th to the 82nd percentile in math. If school performance strongly correlates with IQ, did their IQs also climb at that great rate?

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 11, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

In response to Jay's primary question re: low income student achievement gap, there is one key component that MUST exist: STRONG parent/guardian investment in their children's education.

My father's parents were Newfoundland (Irish) immigrants with grade-school educations and working-class. Yet their 3 sons earned college degrees, and several grandchildren attended Ivy-Leagues schools, and earned graduate degrees. (I will also note that my grandfather was a Boston fisherman who was out-to-sea for 3weeks each month, so my grandmother was essentially a single-mom most of the time.)

In other words, it wasn't about "education-level" or "income-level", but it was about parents who were invested in their kids' education.

I don't wish to oversimplify this very serious issue. There are multiple factors that impact low-income student achievement, including poverty and unsafe neighborhoods. But research does indicate that parent involvement is a key component to "student success" in the classroom.

So the challenge becomes, HOW do schools reach out to these parents/guardians to increase involvement in their children's education?

Posted by: macfiveva | November 11, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I wanted to add an additional component that is needed for improving low-income student achievement: Peer Support/Buy-in to education.

Research shows that by age 7, children's peers become increasingly more influential and parents become increasingly less influential. Therefore, starting at the elementary school level, a peer-culture that supports educational achievement is also critical.

This may help explain why low-income students have shown vast improvement in small charter schools. They have 3 key ingredients: quality, innovative teachers; invested parents; invested peers.

Posted by: macfiveva | November 12, 2010 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I,too, live in Va. I have to ask...if so many of our school board's are so dysfunctional...and only a minority of citizens pay attention to what they do and how, they don't want to "micro-manage" and are just rubber-stamping administrative decision's and expenditure's, why do we have school boards?

At election time...most of them are unopposed and many more don't even bother to campaign.

Posted by: ilcn | November 12, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

You asked the right question, Jay. Do school board members believe schools can teach all students or do board members believe the family needs work before students can succeed. School boards spend too much time on paternalistic efforts at "parental engagement" and "student self improvement" programs. It is easy for board members to accept poor achievement from their superintendent when they believe students can't succeed because of their parents. If 50% of students enter kindergarten unprepared, then why do 100% of students receive remedial curriculum? Too few students, including the 50% who came prepared, receive Social Studies, Science, or meaningful Art curriculum. More school boards need dedicate their time to putting resourses in educating the students who come to them rather than try to fix them or their families. Ask for a daily class schedule from your local school and then evaluate the incumbant school board members from that. Ask school board candidates what is more important for student success, instruction or family resources. Vote against anyone who doesn't believe that instruction is the most important influence on students.

Posted by: suenoir | November 12, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

School boards can regularly be like congress, which, of course, is the opposite of progress.

Posted by: delray | November 12, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Another question for linsee1---1,000 low income black and Hispanic students who have completed 4 years of a KIPP middle school went from the 32nd to the 60th percentile in reading and from the 40th to the 82nd percentile in math. If school performance strongly correlates with IQ, did their IQs also climb at that great rate?

It's an unfair question unless you also compare the results of white and asian students who went through the same program. How about special education students? How do they fare in KIPP schools?

Posted by: lisamc31 | November 14, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

"Neither guide raised the question I think vital in revealing school board attitudes toward the most important issue facing educators. That question is: Why do low-income students on average do so poorly in school?"
The ones that don't do well aren't motivated to succeed.

Why aren't they motivated? Their parents don't put make educational attainment the number one focus of their kid's lives.

Why don't they focus on educational attainment? Because they didn't do well in school and so focusing on that failure makes them feel less good about themselves. They have to admit a negative about themselves and let their standing sink relative to the child. They also may not understand how transformative educational success can be, and instead blame their station in life on other uncontrollable factors, such as race or their own parents.

How do we fix that? We need to market extensively the connection between educational success and future life success across several angles, economic, cultural, and even from a standpoint of national competitiveness. We need to talk to kids about what the average salary is for people that drop out of school, vs complete high school, college, and advanced degrees, in various subjects

Posted by: staticvars | November 15, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

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