Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #37

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues: The debate over declining National Assessment of Educational Progress scores 
  • Conflict election results: a preliminary review 
  • School board battleground election results
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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On the issues: The debate over declining National Assessment of Educational Progress scores 

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district.

On Oct. 24, the National Center for Education Statistics released scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The assessment, which is congressionally mandated, is often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card. The assessment documented a decline in both reading and math scores among fourth and eighth graders in most states. The national reading proficiency average came in at 31% for eighth graders and 33% for fourth graders. In math, 36% of fourth graders and 26% of eighth graders had proficient scores. All of the national scores were down from the previous report in 2019.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) writes that school closures because of COVID-19 caused many students, especially lower-income students and students of color, to fall behind academically between 2019 and 2022. Banks says teacher’s unions continued lobbying for school closures even after the CDC released guidance on remote learning risks. He also says the Biden administration, other Democrats, and teacher’s unions need to be held accountable for learning loss before progress will be possible.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board writes that the COVID pandemic disrupted learning and caused some predictable learning losses, but says underinvestment in schools also contributed to declining NAEP scores. The Editorial Board says the NAEP data suggests schools need more resources to provide extended instruction time and offer tutoring programs for struggling students. The Editorial Board also says California, which kept schools closed longer than most states, experienced smaller NAEP declines than the national average.

Blame Democrats and union bosses for failing school report card | Jim Banks, Fox News

“We know how we got here: Students in public K-12 schools in the United States have had to learn remotely in some form or another for nearly three years. Forcing kids to sit at home in front of a computer screen has been disastrous because kids and teens require the ability to watch, listen, explore, experiment and ask questions in order to learn. This requires their physical presence in classroom with a teacher, surrounded by peers. For those of us who were sounding the alarm from the beginning about remote learning, these results, while not surprising, are no less alarming. The CDC, long an avid proponent of forcing insane COVID-19 restrictions and mandates on Americans even when they’d been proven ineffective, to their credit admitted last spring “[virtual learning] might present more risks than in-person instruction related to child and parental mental and emotional health and some health-supporting behaviors.”  … Powerful teachers’ unions like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) continued lobbying the Biden administration and Democrats to keep remote learning in place. In blue cities like Chicago, New York and Milwaukee for example, union efforts to keep remote learning in place were particularly forceful.”

Learning loss is bad everywhere, and demands immediate action | The Editorial Board, The Los Angeles Times

“The results are hardly surprising given the unprecedented disruption in schooling caused by the pandemic, but they offer concrete proof that K-12 students need more focused attention and resources in the form of tutoring or extended instruction time, depending on specific circumstances. More than just a snapshot in time of how students are faring, the results offer clues for educators, policymakers and parents of how we can better help students. The larger declines in math could mean that students need more support, perhaps one-on-one tutoring or more teacher instruction. … U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the poor performance isn’t just the result of school closures during the pandemic but also a reflection of “decades of underinvestment in our students.” … It’s clear that a multi-pronged approach to boosting student performance will be necessary, but state and local educators and policymakers should ensure that decisions about how to allocate resources are driven by data and other evidence. … The data released this week show the urgency of remediating the learning loss exacerbated by the pandemic. Now that educators have the funds and the data to help guide them, they should use that money wisely. Our children’s future depends on it.”

Conflict election results: a preliminary review

We identified 1,800 Nov. 8 races in 561 school districts across 26 states where candidates took a stance on at least one of three topics—race in education, responses to the coronavirus pandemic, and sex and gender in schools

You can learn more about our project tracking conflict elections here.

We are currently researching the winning candidates’ stances on the three conflict topics using media reporting, campaign websites, debates, and more. For each of the three conflict issues, winning candidates are labeled either supporting or opposing (you can learn more about our label descriptions here). If no stance can be determined, they are labeled unclear. 

We have completed our research on 1,081, or 60%, of the 1,800 winning candidates.

The results are as follows:

In the June 1, 2022, edition of this newsletter, we looked at conflict election results in the April 5 school board primaries in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. We also previously published an analysis of elections on Nov. 2, 2021. The results are below:

We’ll bring you more updates on school board conflict election results when we have final numbers. 

School board battleground election results

Most school board elections are officially nonpartisan. But in races across the country, organizations and individuals with partisan ties endorsed, trained, and funded candidates in the Nov. 8 general elections. In the Oct. 19, Oct. 26, and Nov. 2 editions of this newsletter, we previewed battleground elections in nine districts in California, Texas, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and Kentucky. 

Results from the elections are not certified, and some races remain too close to call. All of the following races appeared on our list of conflict elections. 

Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky

Four of the board’s seven seats were up for election—Districts, 1, 3, 5, and 6. Incumbents in all four districts—Diane Porter (District 1), James Craig (District 3), Linda Duncan (District 5), and Corrie Shull (District 6)—won re-election. Better Schools Kentucky PAC, an arm of the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA), endorsed the incumbents. The Jefferson County Republican Party endorsed challengers in all four races. 

The incumbents’ victories mean the board’s partisan makeup will remain unchanged. 

Frederick County Public Schools, Maryland

Four out of the district’s seven at-large seats were up for election. The seven candidates divided themselves into two slates—the Students First Slate and the Education Not Indoctrination (ENI) slate. The Students First Slate consisted of incumbent Karen Yoho, Ysela Bravo, Rae Gallagher, and Dean Rose. The ENI slate consisted of Olivia Angolia, Nancy Allen, and Cindy Rose.  The Students First Slate said it was committed to “Safe, welcoming schools for all,” a “Diverse, well-trained staff,” and “Family & community involvement.” The ENI slate said it was running to “ensure that feelings don’t define truth, that academically-sound curricula are adopted, that decision-making is transparent, and that parents are respected.”

As of this writing, the election is too close to call. The latest results show the following:

  • Allen (ENI): 15.2% 
  • Yoho (Students First): 14.89%
  • Gallagher (Students First): 14.82%
  • Dean Rose (Students First): 14.43%
  • Cindy Rose (ENI): 13.93%
  • Angolia (ENI): 12.93%
  • Bravo (Students First): 12.89%

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina

Six of the nine seats were up for election, and we included the races for Districts 1 and 4 on our battleground list. 

In the District 1 race, Melissa Easley defeated incumbent Rhonda Cheek, and challengers Ro Lawsin, Bill Fountain, and Hamani Fisher. Easley completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Click here to read her responses. 

Cheek is a registered Republican, while Easley is a registered Democrat. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators (CMAE), the county’s largest teacher organization, endorsed Cheek and Easley. The African American Caucus also endorsed Easely.

In the District 4 race, Stephanie Sneed defeated incumbent Carol Sawyer and challengers Clara Kennedy Witherspoon. Sneed completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Click here to read her responses. 

Round Rock Independent School District, Texas

Four seats were up for general election and one seat was up for a special election. All five incumbents ran for re-election. 

All three of the candidates the Round Rock Democrats Club endorsed won their races—Estevan Zarate (Place 1; special election), Alicia Markum (Place 4), and incumbent Tiffanie Harrison (Place 6). All five candidates the Republican Party of Texas and the 1776 Project Pac endorsed lost—John Keagy (Place 1; special election), Orlando Salinas (Place 3), Jill Farris (Place 4), Christie Slape (Place 5), and Don Zimmerman (Place 6). The Republican Party of Texas-backed candidates had run as a slate. 

Leander Independent School District, Texas

Five of seven seats—Places 1,2, 5, 6, and 7—were up for election. Incumbents Trish Bode (Place 1), Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia (Place 2), and Sade Fashokun (Place 5) won re-election. Fashokun completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection Survey. Click here to read her responses. Francesca Romans won in Place 6 (the incumbent did not file for re-election). Paul Gauthier won in Place 7, defeating incumbent Elexis Grimes and Joseph Gorordo. Gauthier was one of four candidates who ran on removing books they said were inappropriate in schools, and he was the only one of them to win election. 

Polk County Public Schools, Florida

Four seats were up for election, and we included the race for District 7 on our list of battlegrounds. 

Incumbent Lisa Bone Miller defeated Jill Sessions. 

Seminole County Public Schools, Florida

Three of five seats were up for election. Incumbent Kristine Kruas won her election for District 1 outright in the Aug. 23 primaries. 

In District 2, Kelley Davis defeated Sean Cooper. In District 5, Autumn Garick defeated Dana Fernandez. Both Garick and Fernandez completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey, and we featured both candidates in the Sept. 14 edition of this newsletter. 

Brevard Public Schools, Florida

Three seats were up for election, but the races for Districts 1 and 5 were won outright in the Aug. 23 primaries. 

In the District 2 race, Gene Trent defeated Erin Dunne. The Brevard Republican Executive Committee had endorsed Trent, while the Brevard Democratic Party had endorsed Dunne. 

 San Diego Unified School District, California

Two seats were up for election, and we included the race for District C on our list of battlegrounds. 

Cody Petterson and Becca Williams ran in the election for District C. Although the race has not been called, as of this writing Petterson leads Williams 56.09% to 43.91%. The San Diego Education Association endorsed Petterson, while the Community Leadership Coalition backed Williams. 

Both Petterson and Williams completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. 

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

So far in 2022, 375 school board candidates in 232 districts completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Throughout the year, we’ve featured many of these responses in this newsletter, giving you a look at the issues animating candidates and the themes around which these local elections have revolved. 

School board elections aren’t over for the year. Many districts in Louisiana will hold runoffs on Dec. 10

Today, we’re highlighting survey responses from two candidates who won in the Nov. 8 general elections. Justin Cook defeated Rae Parker in the general election for Rochester Public Schools Seat 2 in Minnesota. Adaline Villneurve Rutherford (R) defeated Rebecca Stogner in the election for St. Tammany Parish School Board District 3 in Louisiana. 

Here’s how Cook responded to the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“I am passionate about public education generally. I see public education as the single best way to harness the latent potential of a community, and help it become the best version of its future self. Public education should certainly provide a robust instruction in the essential academic subjects, and I will insist on that. But an excellent public education should also allow for liberal exploration of diverse topics. The point is to provide an idea environment conducive to success by giving students opportunities to identify and pursue their passions. Once we get that part right – connecting students with their passions and giving them the support necessary to pursue them – then our community will benefit immensely with a far more robust, resilient, and diverse economy and through the contributions to civics and the arts that those students will provide.”

Click here to read the rest of Cook’s answers. 

Here’s how Rutherford responded to the question, “Please list below 3 key messages of your campaign. What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

  • “Our children deserve better! We need to get back to being the best! At one time the St. Tammany Parish School System was TOP, but now we are ranked 18th. Clearly, we are not utilizing our supportive community resources to maximize our teachers’ potential. I want to see CHANGE!
  • We need to address teacher and substitute shortages. We need to work harder to retain our teachers. We also need to quickly do background checks and get people signed up to substitute. We can’t have this continue the way it is.
  • Accountability and transparency are key. My priorities would be to hold the school board accountable fiscally, to be an accessible voice for my constituents and district employees, and move forward in a positive direction.”

Click here to read the rest of Rutherford’s answers.