Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #83

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 4: 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
  • School board battleground preview—Bucks County, Pennsylvania
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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Deep Dive: The science of reading debate

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

Welcome to the final edition of our four-part series on the science of reading.

In parts one through three of our series on the science of reading, we analyzed:

  • Differing perspectives on the application of the science of reading through varying degrees of phonics instruction. Click here for part one of this series.
  • Competing views about whether the scientific studies cited to support a phonics-based approach to reading instruction are conclusive. Click here for part two.
  • Arguments about whether government mandates are the best way to promote phonics-focused reading instruction in classrooms. Click here for part three.

Today, we’ll be covering the following question:

Have state-level reading instruction requirements been successful?

We wrap up our deep dive with an examination of arguments about whether state policies that support phonics instruction have improved reading outcomes for students.

Just Adding More Phonics Yields Only Short-Term Gains On Reading Tests | Natalie Wexler, Forbes

Wexler writes that state phonics instruction standards have generated mixed outcomes. She cites a study that examined data from 42 states that implemented policies aimed at teaching children to decode words. Wexler says that while such policies have been associated with short-term improvements in reading test scores in earlier grades, students typically lose the gains by middle school. Wexler says phonics standards are not sufficient and often crowd out other knowledge-based learning activities and topics that students need to succeed long-term in the states where they’ve been tried. Wexler says, “The bottom line is that policies focused on improving kids’ decoding skills seem to have only short-term effects.”

More States Are Using Science-Backed Reading Instruction. It Shouldn’t Have Taken This Long. | Emma Camp, Reason

Camp writes that state phonics instruction standards for young students have generally been successful. She says Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are good examples where phonics instruction standards have generated significant improvements in reading achievement, especially for poorer students, and argues that other states should adopt similar legislation. Camp says, “Since these policies’ implementation, reading performance in these states has dramatically improved, even though reading scores there have historically been among the lowest in the nation.”

In your district: Artificial Intelligence (AI) in classrooms

We’re still accepting responses to our survey on AI in classrooms. We want to hear from you! 

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.

Districts are grappling with the rise of generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, Google Bard, and others, which can, with varying levels of accuracy, answer questions, compose poems, write computer code, and even draft whole essays on any imaginable topic. Teachers and education scholars have spoken about the promise and perils of such tools in classroom settings. 

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. 

Select a battleground 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. 

School board battleground preview—Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Thousands of school board members will be elected in races across the country on Nov. 7. Over the past few weeks, we’ve brought you in-depth coverage of elections across the country—including in Douglas County School District, just south of Denver, Colorado, and the Anoka-Hennepin County school board races in Minnesota. 

Today, we’ll look at the Central Bucks School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where 10 candidates are running for five board seats.

The district, located north of Philadelphia, is the fourth largest school district in Pennsylvania, with approximately 17,570 students during the 2021-2022 school year. It is the 468th largest school district nationally.

School board elections in Pennsylvania are partisan. Heading into the election, the board has a 6-3 Republican majority. The five seats up for election are for regions 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8. Republicans represent three of those regions, while Democrats represent two. Republicans need to win at least two of the five regions to maintain a majority, while Democrats need to win at least four of the five to win a majority.

Here are the candidates running in each region. An (i) indicates an incumbent.

The five Democrats—Smith, Reynolds, Foley, Haring, and Gibson—are running as the Neighbors United for School Board slate of candidates. They are campaigning against the school board’s book and neutrality policies. On its website, Neighbors United says it supports “candidates who respect our students and staff as individuals, commit to supporting public education, and will improve classroom resource funding.” The slate opposes what it calls “book banning, anti-LGBTQA+ policies, and ‘culture war’ politics.”

The five Republicans—Hunter, Mass, Schloeffel, Martino, and Arjona—are running as the Central Bucks Forward slate of candidates. The slate’s priorities are: “employ School Resource Officers to protect schools and build bridges with students; launch full-day kindergarten and STEM Academy; reverse Covid learning losses by shifting from controversy to classroom excellence; design and deploy curriculum focused on preparing students for tomorrow’s jobs; and nurture civil debate to protect the voices of students, parents, and teachers.”

Two recent events have played a factor in this year’s elections.

  • In July 2022, the board voted along partisan lines to allow parents to “challenge a book in a school library if it depicts implied or actual nudity or ‘sexual acts.’” According to the new guidelines, a committee of librarians, teachers, and administrators then determines if the book should remain in school libraries. 
  • In January 2023, the board voted along partisan lines for a neutrality policy that forbids district employees from advocating to students on “‘partisan, political, or social policy matters,’ or display any ‘flag, banner, poster, sign, sticker, pin, button, insignia, paraphernalia, photograph, or other similar material that advocates concerning any partisan, political, or social policy issue.’”

To learn more about the Central Bucks School District elections, click the link below.

To read more about other school board elections we’re covering this year, click here

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

Today, we’re taking a look at responses from two candidates facing off on Nov. 7 in the nonpartisan general election for Denver Public Schools Board of Education District 1 in Colorado. Incumbent Scott Baldermann, who was elected in 2019, is running against challenger Kimberlee Sia

The Denver Public Schools Board of Education consists of seven members elected to four-year terms. Two members are elected at large and five members are elected by district.

Denver Public Schools is the largest district by enrollment in Colorado. We are covering all school board elections in Colorado on Nov. 7. 

Here’s how Baldermann answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

  • “Recruit and retain the best teachers and paraprofessionals for kids through higher compensation and support systems.
  • Reduce class sizes so students receive the individualized attention they need and deserve.
  • Keep students and employees safe through early interventions and expanded wraparound services.” 

Click here to read the rest of Baldermann’s responses. 

Here’s how Sia answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

  • “It’s time for a change on the DPS Board. I bring the passion and experience necessary to make that change.
  • Our students, family, educators, and community deserve a transparent and functional school board. Denver Public Schools has the potential to be an effective, high-achieving school district. I am ready to work alongside our community to make this happen!
  • We deserve school board members with experience in education. Kimberlee Sia has a decades-long career in education and executive leadership that uniquely qualifies her to serve on the school board.”

Click here to read the rest of Sia’s responses.