Thursday, April 17, 2014

FY15 mythbusting: Round two

Over the past week or two, I've heard a few more myths about the FY15 budget that we should put to rest:

MYTH: The schools are going to unilaterally change the employees' health insurance.This from this article last week on the city's proposing changes to employee health care.
This one is pretty straightforward: we can't unilaterally change our unionized employees' health insurance contributions. While there is a re-opener clause in our settled contracts (which at this point is most of our contracts) regarding health insurance, all it says is changes on city side mean talking on ours. The city is in the beginning stages of negotiations with the municipal unions at this point.
The City Manager can unilaterally make changes in contributions for all non-represented employees, city and schools. That is the minority on both sides, however.

MYTH: We could save money by not implementing the Common Core.
There's two misunderstandings at once in this one: first, that all curriculum changes stem from the adoption of the Common Core--not true; second, that we haven't implemented the Common Core already--also not true.
Worcester was already looking at our math and English curriculum prior to the Board of Education's adoption of the Common Core standards two years ago. On the math side, you might, if your child is now in middle or high school, remember Everyday Math? Possibly fine curriculum, entirely unsuited to Worcester. We were already well engaged in re-evaluating that prior to the state level changes.
Once the Board voted to move the state standards--standards to which we are tied--we were well into making changes, already, so it was an easier shift for us than perhaps it otherwise might have been.
What all of this hasn't done is given us new materials. Math right now is in a pilot at the elementary level to figure out what we can replace Everyday Math with. We do need a solid math curriculum for elementary (where the teachers, bless them, have been pulling together their own resources for several years as we adjust; we can't continue this way). That's the need for new textbooks at the elementary level.
We were due to review the curriculum regardless; implementing the Common Core already has happened; and we need new textbooks for math, regardless.
Some of this also gets into questions around PARCC and technology spending. While PARCC does add urgency to our technological upgrades, particularly around bandwidth, it's really something that we need to do anyway. Can we do without technology if we have to? Sure. Should we? No.

MYTH: Administration is adding positions.
As far as I can tell, this one is not based on anything other than mistrust in some quarters.
The Worcester School Committee does not get the budget until the first full week of May. However, we've now been told--twice--that administration is among the accounts being reorganized and reduced in this budget.

MYTH: The dual language merger is being done to save money.
I'm relieved that parents have gotten that this is a tough budget year, but every year there is a complete evaluation of programs, as well. For dual language, the handoff from Sergio Paez to Bertha-Elena Rojas this past year gave a clear opportunity for fresh eyes to look at issues that had come up for several years. Most notably, having students continue past third grade in a full 50/50 split has been difficult if not impossible, both in terms of staffing (finding and retaining teachers who can do 4th, 5th, 6th grade curriculum in both English and Spanish is very tough) and in terms of school program. If we don't do that, though, we aren't running a dual language program, and the students aren't going to reap the benefits of a fully bilingual environment.
Thus, merging the kids to Chandler Magnet (where it's their innovation plan) and Roosevelt (where the program started) allows concentration of effort, energy, and staffing.
What it doesn't do is necessarily save the district money. The 72 students currently in Norrback's dual language program can be going to any of several schools. Where they go determines where we need staff. It is possible that we will lose a position or two through this, but not necessarily.
And the transportation, for those curious, is being done with current resources.

And remember: WPS FY15 budget hearing the Monday after vacation! April 28 at 7 pm!

Dual Language update

While we've got an article on some (and by no means all) parental reaction to the dual language merger in today's paper, it doesn't give you the information about plans for next year. Here they are.

  • for current Norrback dual language students entering grades 4, 5, or 6 for this coming year, they may stay at the school and continue to have some form of what they do now in those grades at Norrback: a single period, pull out Spanish period. This will continue until the students entering grade 4 finish 6th grade at Norrback.
  • for current Norrback dual language students entering grades 1-4, they may transfer to either Chandler Magnet or to Roosevelt's dual language program. Transportation will be provided for these students. These students will have, as they have had thus far, a 50/50 model of half day Spanish, half day English. Also, any siblings who attend Norrback but are not in the dual language program may transfer to the same school as their dual language sibling and also have transportation.
  • for students entering kindergarten who have applied to the dual language program, those students have yet to be evaluated for the dual language program (as they are every year; not every child who applies gets in). Those evaluations will be taking place over May and parents will be informed of placement in or not in the program by the end of May.
Note that there are 79 students in the dual language program at Norrback; 2/3 of those students do not have Norrback as their home school. 
Parents and students are invited to visit both Chandler Magnet and Roosevelt in the coming weeks ('though not during MCAS testing) to see what would work best for them. 

And in the spirit of full disclosure: one of my own children is a student in the dual language program at Norrback. 

Burncoat High Musical!

Jonathan Kozol speaking at UMass Boston

I can't go to this--back to back finance meetings--but for those who can:
The College of Education and Human Development
invites you to a keynote address by

Jonathan Kozol

Monday, April 28, 2014 - Campus Center Ballroom
Poster Sessions: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Keynote address: 4:00 p.m.

Jonathan Kozol has been working with children in inner-city schools for nearly 50 years. Kozol, who has examined the inequality inflicted upon children born into poverty in a wealthy nation, has been called "today's most eloquent spokesman for America's disenfranchised." Following the address, Kozol will answer questions and sign copies of his most recent book, Fire in the Ashes.

For more information and to RSVP, please visit

Reception to follow. For dietary or disability-related accommodations, please visit two weeks prior to the event.

This event is made possible through support from the UMass Boston Alumni Association, University Advancement, and the Healey Library

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TLSS meets today at 5:30

You can find the agenda here.
Notes as they're needed.

Birmingham didn't forget

While the commentary from former Senate President Tom Birmingham on ed reform at 20 is largely getting attention due to its mistrust of the Common Core, I was pleased to see that he remembered what is too often glossed over: it was a funding deal. And more than that: it's overdue for reconsideration:
Today, I fear we may be veering away from the act’s two core values — adequate funding and rigorous standards. If we abandon the bedrock principles that have proven to be historically successful, we imperil the progress we have made. In the last decade, support for public schools lost its primacy on Beacon Hill and state budgets reflect that. Today our inflation-adjusted education appropriation is the same as it was in 2002.
In contrast to the generous expansion of the 1990s, education funding for the last decade has remained flat. As a result, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, many (mostly low-income) school districts simply do not have the resources needed to provide the caliber of education envisioned in the reform act’s foundation budget.

We're overdue for fixing that.  

Next Finance and Operations

The next meeting of the Finance and Operations subcommittee of the Worcester School Committee is scheduled for 5:30 on Monday, April 28.

(Thus preceding the public hearing on the FY15 budget which begins at 7.)