Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #82

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:

  • Deep Dive Part 3: The science of reading debate  
  • In your district: AI in classrooms
  • Share candidate endorsements with us!
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Classroom safety, parental rights, and the academic achievement gap top issues in school board elections in Minnesota’s largest district  
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Canvass: survey responses from around the country

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

Deep Dive: The science of reading debate

Part three of our deep dive into the debate over the science of reading 

In parts one and two, we analyzed:

  • Differing perspectives on applying the science of reading through phonics instruction. Click here for part one.
  • Competing views on whether the studies conclusively support phonics-based instruction. Click here for part two.

Should governments require phonics-focused reading instruction?

This week, we summarize two arguments on whether governments should mandate phonics-focused reading instruction in the classroom:

America Has a Reading Problem. Mississippi Has a Solution. | Nicholas Kristoff, The New York Times

Kristoff writes policymakers should enact curriculum requirements or teacher training standards that focus on phonics instruction through third grade. He argues additional testing requirements create accountability to ensure teachers and schools adhere to government standards. Kristoff cites data from Mississippi, which enacted phonics requirements in 2013, as an example of how a mandated phonics curriculum boosting reading scores in the state. He says, “To put it really bluntly, if Mississippi can do this and enjoy that kind of progress, there should be hope for all the rest of us.”

The social science of reading isn’t so clear | Matthew Yglesias, Slow Boring

Yglesias writes that it’s unclear whether governments should require schools to adopt certain curricula or training. Yglesias says such changes are difficult to implement and enforce unless school administrators agree with the changes. He also says inflexible requirements frustrate teachers and result in ineffective instruction. Yglesias cites a study from the U.K. indicating its phonics instruction requirement set students back, and took time away from teaching vocabulary and other reading comprehension skills. He says the U.K. “should be a red flag not so much about the merits of phonics but about the risks of overstating the case or over-relying on phonics as a silver bullet.”

In your district: AI in classrooms

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

How should districts respond to generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Google Bard, and others? 

Click here to respond!

Share candidate endorsements with us! 

As part of our goal to solve the ballot information problem, Ballotpedia is gathering information about school board candidate endorsements. The ballot information gap widens the further down the ballot you go, and is worst for the more than 500,000 local offices nationwide, such as school boards or special districts. Endorsements can help voters know more about their candidates and what they stand for. 

Do you know of an individual or group that has endorsed a candidate in your district? 

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.

November elections

Nov. 7 is the biggest election date of the year, and voters across the country will decide state and local races—including for school boards (subscribe to our Daily Brew newsletter for Ballotpedia’s coverage and analysis of elections up and down the ballot). 

Over the next few weeks, we’re bringing you in-depth coverage of school board battleground elections—those we expect to affect the balance of power on each board or to be particularly competitive or compelling. 

The districts below are some of our battleground elections. Select a district below to learn more. 

We’re covering school board elections in the following 16 states on Nov. 7:

In seven of those states—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington—we are covering all school board elections on Nov. 7. 

Classroom safety, parental rights, and the academic achievement gap top issues in school board elections in Minnesota’s largest district    

In last week’s edition, we previewed elections in Prince William County Public Schools, in Virginia. Let’s continue our preview of school board battleground elections with a look at the elections for Anoka-Hennepin County school board in Minnesota on Nov. 7. Minnesota is one of 10 states in which we are covering all school board elections on that day.

First, some background about the district: 

  • The Anoka-Hennepin School District is located north of Minneapolis in both Anoka and Hennepin counties. 
  • The school board consists of six members elected by district to four-year terms.
  • Elections are nonpartisan and take place on a staggered basis in November of odd-numbered years.
  • The district has 38,230 students during the 2021-2022 school year, making it the largest district by enrollment in Minnesota and the 154th largest in the U.S.

Seven candidates are running in three districts this year. Classroom safety, parental rights, and the academic achievement gap are among the issues coming up in the elections. 

Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, and the SEIU Minnesota State Council endorsed incumbent Erin Heers-McCardle (District 1), Susan Witt (District 2), and Michelle Langenfeld (District 5). Witt completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. 

The Senate District 35 Republican Party (which overlaps with the school district) and the nonprofit Anoka-Hennepin Parents Alliance—which describes itself as promoting academic excellence, school safety, and “parental rights on political, religious, and moral issues”—endorsed Linda Hoekman (District 1), Zach Arco (District 2), and Scott Simmons (District 5). Hoekman and Simmons completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey.

Here’s a summary of what the candidates are saying: 

  • Incumbent Erin Heers-McArdle and Linda Hoekman are running in District 1. Heers-McArdle, a fine arts jeweler first elected in 2019, said she was running because she wanted to give “students, teachers, and staff the tools, resources, and support necessary to maintain a safe, inclusive environment that is welcoming to all.” Hoekman, a Champlin Park High School teacher, said she was “committed to restoring excellence, freedom, and fairness to our schools by working with parents to ensure our children are protected from violence and politicized instruction.”
  • Zach Arco and Susan Witt are running in District 2. Arco said that, as a mechanical engineer, he had “a mind for diagnosing and solving problems, which is just what Anoka-Hennepin needs.” Witt is a retired elementary school teacher who said she is running because the district needed “to lead with a “student first” mentality and strive to create an environment where our students feel safe, welcome, and supported.”
  • Michelle Langenfeld, Scott Simmons, and Cyrus Wilson are running in District 5. Lengenfield is a former teacher, dean, and principal. She said every child in the school system deserved “equitable access to high-quality learning experiences; provided by exceptional educators in safe, caring, and supportive learning environments.” Simmons, an attorney and substitute teacher, said he was running because “the shortcomings of the system are real and have persisted for too long: failing test scores, an unacceptable achievement gap, unsafe classrooms, [and] teacher retention challenges. Wilson, an IT manager, said his “is driven by a forward-thinking vision for education, a deep commitment to our community’s growth, and an unwavering dedication to ensuring the success of each and every student.”

Click here to read more about elections in this district. 

We’ll be back next week with more school board battleground coverage. 

If you know of an interesting school board election we should cover in your community, just reply to this email!

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

Everyone deserves to know their candidates. However, we know it can be hard for voters to find information about their candidates, especially for local offices such as school boards. That’s why we created Candidate Connection—a survey designed to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more. 

In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.

The survey contains more than 30 questions, and you can respond to the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also appear in our sample ballot.

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!

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.

Candidate canvass: survey responses from around the country

In this section, we feature school board candidate responses to surveys and questionnaires from political organizations and news outlets. Know of a survey or questionnaire in your area that we’ve missed? Reply to this email to share it with us! 

Two at-large seats on the Berea City School District school board in Ohio are up for election on Nov. 7. The Berea City School District, located in northeastern Ohio in Cuyahoga County, is the state’s 46th largest, with an estimated student population of about 6,000 students. 

Today, we’re going to look at two of the four candidates running in the general election (two candidates are also running in a Nov. 7 special election). The responses here come from Cleveland.com, which asked all Berea City School District school board candidates three questions.  

Cleveland.com asked candidates to weigh in on what they believe is the most important issue facing the district. 

Incumbent Cori Farris (elected in 2016)

“Education is no longer just the ‘three Rs.’ It’s about ensuring every child has what they need to be successful. Food insecurity, neurodiversity, poverty, social issues — only when a child is happy and whole can they be expected to learn.”

Larry Gabbard

“Trust. Parents and taxpayers in general have lost trust in our public schools. We have to have complete transparency and accountability to restore this trust. Concealing the settlement in a case involving the rape of a student is only one example of the district putting themselves before families and taxpayers.”

You can read the responses from all candidates here.