Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #39

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 cell phones in classrooms
  • In your district: philosophy of education 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Seven states held elections for superintendent of schools
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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On the issues: The debate over cell phones in classrooms

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.

Student cell phone policies in schools vary across the country. In states like California, Maine, and Virginia, districts have banned most student cell phone use during class. 

Erica Berry writes that schools should try to teach students how to use their cell phones effectively and self-regulate their cell phone use. Berry says teaching such skills will better equip students for the adult world than a blanket cell phone ban.

Steve Koppman writes that cell phones reduce concentration and impede students’ abilities to learn. Koppman says banning cell phone use in schools will help students learn how to function without digital media, and practice direct in-person communication.

Banning Phones in Class? Not So Fast | Erica Berry, Wired

“[T]he case for eliminating devices to create safe learning spaces can seem like a no-brainer. But if we’re trying to prepare students for the messy, wider world, administrators need to put less energy into figuring out how to implement bans, and more into helping teenagers learn how to foster balance and focus while surrounded by the siren call of their devices. Popular discourse holds students responsible for their tech addictions, and if not them, then their parents and teachers for failing to enforce better rules. But these are systemic problems, and they demand systemic solutions. It’s time to shift our collective gaze of accountability outward—not with a one-size-fits-all device ban, but with a renewed investment in digital literacy, ethics, and well-being. … A full-out device ban suggests the cat can be put back in the bag, but to imagine a future of unmonitored adulthood for my high schoolers is to realize that I’d do them a bigger favor by teaching them ways to train the cat. … Students should enter the adult world understanding not only how their devices are addictive but their own addictive tendencies.”

Opinion: Why we should ban kids’ smartphone use in school | Steve Koppman, Mercury News

“We have enough research data to know young people’s development benefits from time away from an all-consuming internet, which absorbs attention and obstructs learning. Smartphones impede students’ concentration and engagement with people in their presence — arguably schools’ key purposes. … Learning to get along without digital media, to depend directly on themselves and each other without electronic distraction several uninterrupted hours a day, could be the most important training we can give our young people before sending them into an uncharted and potentially uncontrollable technological future. Banning smartphones in schools is NOT a Luddite plot to outlaw the devices or quash technology but a way to immerse young students, for a big chunk of their early lives, in the world of direct communication and physical reality. To benefit from what is inarguably great about technology — potentials to improve health, increase longevity and alleviate disability, for example — we need some control over it, including: Stop letting it bring up our kids.”

In your district: philosophy of education

School districts around the country face diverse issues and challenges. We want to hear what’s happening in your school district. Complete the very brief survey below—anonymously, if you prefer—and we may share your response with fellow subscribers in an upcoming newsletter.

Today’s question:

What book or essay best reflects your philosophy of education? 

Click here to respond!

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

Louisiana school board elections on Dec. 10 in Louisiana 

Most states held school board general elections on Nov. 8, and won’t hold elections again until 2023. In Louisiana, however, school board primaries took place on Nov. 8, and general elections will take place Dec. 10. Under Louisiana’s unique majority-vote system, all candidates running for local, state, or federal office appear on the same primary ballot regardless of their partisan affiliations. If no candidate wins a simple majority of the votes cast, the top-two finishers advance to a general election (what other states might refer to as a runoff). 

We’re covering the following elections on Dec. 10:

Seven states held elections for superintendent of schools

School board seats weren’t the only education-related offices up for election on Nov. 8. In seven states—Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming—voters selected a state superintendent of schools. 

The elections for superintendent tended to reflect broader debates over race and gender in the curriculum, as well as disagreements over the role of vouchers in public education. According to Politico’s Juan Perez Jr., “These once obscure jobs that supervise bread-and-butter concerns about academic testing and teacher certification — in tandem with legislatures and school boards — have now attracted attention from big-spending political groups and some of the most prominent names in GOP politics, including former President Donald Trump.” State and national teachers union organizations backed state superintendent candidates in several races. 

Arizona: Thomas C.Horne (R) defeated incumbent Kathy Hoffman (D). Patrick Finerd (R) ran as a write-in candidate. Horne served as the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2003 to 2011. From 2011 to 2015, he served as the state attorney general. Hoffman, who was first elected in 2018, is a former pre-school teacher and speech-language pathologist. She was the first Democrat to become superintendent of public instruction in the state since 1995. Horne said he was waging a “war against ethnic studies and critical race theory.” He campaigned on promoting patriotism and quality education. Hoffman campaigned on policies to mitigate pandemic-related learning loss, like addressing student mental health needs and equipping rural schools with better technology. 

California: Incumbent Tony Thurmond defeated Lance Christensen. The California superintendent of public instruction is a nonpartisan office. Christensen completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Thurmond, who was first elated in 2018, served as a Democrat in the California Assembly from 2014 to 2018. Christensen worked for 15 years in the California Assembly in various positions and as the vice president of education policy & government affairs at the California Policy Center, a conservative and libertarian think tank.

Georgia: Incumbent Richard Woods (R) defeated Alisha Searcy (D). Woods, first elected in 2014, worked as a social studies teacher and held various school administrative positions. Searcy was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives from 2003 to 2015. Searcy completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey.

Idaho: Debbie Critchfield (R) defeated Terry Gilbert (D). Both Critchfield and Gilbert completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Critchfield worked as the information officer for the Cassia County School District, while Gilbert worked as an educator. Critchfield defeated Incumbent Sherri Ybarra (R) in the Republican primary. 

Oklahoma: Ryan Walters (R) defeated Jena Nelson (D). Walters taught high school. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed him Secretary of Public Education in 2020. Nelson is a 6th and 7th grade English teacher. Walters and Nelson disagreed on critical race theory, school funding, and the use of taxpayer dollars to cover private school tuition.  

South Carolina: Ellen Weaver (R) defeated Lisa Ellis (D) and Patricia Mickel (Green Party). Weaver and Ellis completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Weaver worked for then-Sen. Jim DeMint (R) and the Palmetto Promise Institute, a think tank. Ellis worked as an educator. The use of taxpayer dollars to allow students to attend private schools or defray educational expenses was a defining issue in the race. In her Candidate Connection survey response, Weaver said, “It’s time to expand education choices. Whether it’s traditional public, public charter or magnet, private, home school, or any of the growing array of high-quality hybrid options, we must ensure that parents of every income level can choose the right environment to support the safety, well-being, values, and unique educational needs of their child.” Ellis said, “I think that the move consistently into trying to privatize education, trying to move public money to private entities completely gets away from the purpose of educating a civilized society.” 

Wyoming: Megan Degenfelder (R) defeated Sergio Maldonado (D). Degenfelder worked in the Wyoming Department of Education. Maldonado has worked as an educator, college administrator, and school board member. 

The superintendent of schools—sometimes known as the superintendent of education, superintendent of public instruction, secretary of education, or chief school administrator—is the principal executive officer overseeing the state department of education. The superintendent oversees the state’s elementary and secondary schools. The superintendent also represents the department of education before the governor and legislature. The first state superintendent was appointed in New York in 1812, and the office now exists in all 50 states. 

In 38 states, the superintendent is appointed. In 12 states, the superintended is elected. In 18 states, the board of education appoints a superintendent, while in 18 states the governor does so. The Board of Regents in two states appoints the superintendent.

In eight of the 12 states that elect a superintendent, candidates run in partisan elections. Currently, two of the eight partisan-affiliated superintendents are Democrats (New Mexico and Oklahoma) and six are Republicans (Georgia, Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wyoming). In January in Oklahoma, Ryan Walters (R) will replace outgoing Superintendent Joy Hofmeister (D), who unsuccessfully ran for governor. Hofmeister switched her party registration from Republican to Democrat when she announced her candidacy. Oklahoma is the only state in which the party affiliation of the state superintendent will change a result of the 2022 elections. 

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

We’re featuring survey responses from school board candidates who won their races on Nov. 8. 

Today, we’re looking at responses from Andrew Gonzales, who defeated incumbent Geronimo Rodriguez Jr. in the general election for Austin Independent School District District 6, and Crissy Pratt (R), who defeated Amanda Cook (D) in the general election for Guilford County Schools school board District 2. 

Here’s how Gonzales answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“Prioritizing the mental health of students and teachers and ensuring available and accessible support is one of my biggest priorities. Academic outcomes correlate directly to mental health. Our district must have an inclusive model of education, focusing on improving experiences and outcomes for ALL students–specifically Special Education, multilingual, and economically disadvantaged students.

The teacher shortage is another critical issue. Our teachers are woefully underpaid, devalued, micromanaged, and mistrusted. Until we provide relevant professional development, accountability for administrators, and adequate compensation, we will continue to experience staff shortages. I will exhaust every avenue to keep our staff appropriately supported and our schools well-resourced and open.”

Click here to read the rest of Gonzales’ answers. 

Here’s how Pratt answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“I am passionate about educating students. It has been my life’s work, in every job that I have held. I believe in allowing every student to reach their full potential and to grow and learn. However, I am very concerned by what appears to be a lowered bar of standards in GCS. Our test scores have been trending downward for years, even pre-Covid. We have allowed distractions to take the focus away from what school is all about – education. We need to refocus our priorities and ensure that every single action that the Board takes is focused on providing our students with the best possible education.”

Click here to read the rest of Pratt’s answers

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey. And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!