Monday, August 29, 2016

"Count me among them."

John E. Walsh, former chair of the state Democratic party, on why he's voting no on Question 2:
When a parent hears from a friend how much their community or a neighboring district already loses to the state charter funding formula and then how Question 2 allows unlimited expansion with no local control, the weakness of Question 2’s approach will become clear. Parents, educators, local taxpayers, and the local elected leaders who must balance school budgets each year are organizing against a state mandate that would allow state bureaucrats to approve 12 new charters schools a year, every year, forever, with no limit on how much money a single district could lose. This would nearly triple the number of charter schools in just 10 years – each year taking more and more resources from local district schools that are educating the highest performing students in the nation.
Well worth reading and sharing it all. 

Worcester School Committee meets September 1

The agenda is here (and note they're back to meeting at 7pm).
The report of the superintendent is "Worcester Comes Together," which I assume (as there's no backup) might be about the staffing kickoff last week (?).
From her week's schedule, I see that Treasurer Goldberg is planning on attending this meeting, so look for the item on $eedMA to be taken out of order.
There are the usual opening of school lists of retirements, resignations, transfers, and new hires.
Clark Street wants uniforms.
Cotey Collins has two citizen petitions in on civics/voter registration and a municipal government day (look for those to go to subcommittee).

Of most import to most parents is a consideration of a new elementary report card.

There's a response on including chronic absenteeism in school improvement plans. Likewise a response to Mr. Monfredo's request for an absentee awareness month (it involves a marching band).

There will be a response on the level of participation in summer school (not posted).

Ms. Colorio had asked for the testing schedule; it's here. Worth noting: it's also in the student handbook.

Mr. Monfredo has a request around the mentoring of principals.

Burncoat Middle has a $90,000 21st century Learning grant for the School Committee to accept (remember that these rotate now).

There are also three prior year fiscal payments.

There's also a request from administration that account transfers be made. There's no backup as yet, but I'd assume this has to do with the news from last week that half the money for kindergarten assistants and four teachers is found.

The School Committee also has an executive session for negotiations with bus drivers, custodians, teachers, IAs, nurses, and computer techs.

No liveblog this week

Malden cuts all school buses

Kind of a big deal:
Yellow school buses, as much a staple of elementary school as backpacks, blackboards and lunch boxes, will roll no more in Malden, after city officials made the unusual decision to completely eliminate bus service for most families. 
City officials said the cancellation was a painful but necessary step to help the School Department, which was facing a $2.5 million budget gap, save $400,000. 
The decision, which affects about 120 of Malden’s 6,500 students, has sent parents scrambling to make other arrangements to get their children to school.
It's worth noting that some of the concern from parents is when the district let them know, which was the end of July (why the article now?).

Here's what I find odd: "all buses" is 120 kids out of 6500. That's like two or three busloads of kids. So mostly school choice kids? Maybe?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Kindergarten aides are saved! (But pay attention to the details)

I keep telling you that finance departments are crucial...
Brian Allen, chief financial and operations officer for the Worcester schools, said health insurance savings following the city’s open enrollment period, as well as special education cost reductions created through in-sourcing services, have helped cover about half of the roughly $750,000 cost of retaining the positions. Financial staff will comb the budget for additional savings, such as through deferred spending or position attrition, to pay for the aides for the entire year, he said.
"about half"
It isn't all there yet, so pay attention to that.

On the other hand, the schools aren't going to be as short as they were going to be on kindergarten aides, which is excellent news, as is the saving of four of the secondary positions (that's also part of an answer to two of the outstanding questions).

Because this has now happened in Lowell and Fitchburg, as well as Worcester, I suspect the lesson being drawn some places on Beacon Hill is "well, see? They didn't need it anyway."
Instead, the question should be "What are they NOT doing to save this?" In every community, there are sacrifices of other things being made in order to make this choice. That shows how important early education is, but it doesn't mean the things sacrificed aren't important. I hope to hear the "what did we lose to do this?" question asked.
And yes, this has everything to do with the foundation budget needing reconsideration.

Brockton New Heights charter school renovation still shut down

The ongoing saga continues (apologies for the lengthy quote, but wow!)
Casieri said that city officials were doing a routine inspection on Tuesday at the 1690 Main St. building when they discovered work that was going beyond the scope of permits that were given for the project.
“They had a permit for an HVAC and a back door, but that’s separate from the work going on there,” Casieri said. “They were fitting out for a school (on the first floor), putting up walls and doing sprinkler system with no permits. The wiring permits were not adequate for scope of job. We are waiting to see what they come up with.”
Casieri said another major problem is that the city's building department needs to be informed of the fire rating for walls that are being installed to separate the charter school from another section of the building being used for storage.
“When you separate one use from another there is a fire separation wall,” Casieri said. “That has to be adequate. There is going to be kids in the school in there.”
On top of that, the proposed charter school building has zoning issues for parking that will require a lengthy Brockton Planning Board process to solve, Casieri said. The building is in a “C2” classified zone, which by city ordinance doesn’t provide preset parking regulations, he said.
“There’s nothing in the parking table that speaks to a private school,” Casieri said. “In the zoning ordinance, it says that if the table doesn’t mention the use, it has to go to the Zoning Board for their approval. ... That’s not a speedy process. That’s a three-month ordeal.”
"There is going to be kids in the school there."

I can't help but wonder if there's a bit of a "the rules don't apply to us" in the thinking here. No doubt at some point the charter defenders will come out with some accusation of overreaching; point them to the fire code.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Charters may be good on test scores, but maybe not so much on everything after

No doubt you saw the coverage swirling yesterday of the NBER paper raising some serious questions about what charter schools are long term doing for their students. To quote from the abstract:
No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.
This of course raises some really troubling questions on what we're doing with charter schools, then, since test scores aren't intended to be the end all of education; it's supposed to prepare you for the rest of your life!
Obligatory interruption here to point out (again) that the Massachusetts Constitution in fact creates public education in the Commonwealth for something EVEN MORE IMPORTANT than "earnings."
It's for the preservation and continuation of a democratic republic.

Okay, so far, so...lousy, actually, because that's pretty horrifying, but at least we know where we are. I think it's crucial to point out a few things that didn't get a lot of attention yesterday, though.

First, one of the authors of this paper is Roland Fryer, best known around here for his seat on the Massachusetts Board of Education, but here in his professional capacity at Harvard. Fryer's a charter supporter, no question, so the research that is negative on charters coming from him is unexpected.
There have, however, been some questions raised about some of Fryer's work in the past (see, for example, this from Vox on research released earlier this year on police shootings), in terms of methodology, sample size, and so forth, and those can be issued here as well: the study doesn't have exact matches on the public side for the charter students; it only looks at Texas, and so on.
It's also worth nothing that this isn't a completed research piece: what comes out this way isn't a peer-reviewed piece of work, analyzed by others. There are reasons for that having to do with the work Fryer does, but it also is worth nothing.
This isn't to take away from the conclusion drawn, within its parameters; just note the parameters.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hey, speaking of school finance lawsuits

Washington state's legislature owes $36.5 million in fines, as it's been a year, and they haven't fixed the state funding of education.
Interesting to note what the court said the state couldn't use in funding education:
The McCleary opinion reminded the legislature of a rule in Washington law that school funding must be drawn from “dependable and regular tax sources.” The Supreme Court has said that these sources can’t be local property taxes.
Why is that? In the words of the opinion, Districts with high property values are able to raise more levy dollars than districts with low property values, thus affecting the equity of a statewide system. Conversely, property-poor districts, even if they maximize their local levy capacity, will often fall short of funding a constitutionally adequate education. All local-level funding… suffers from this same infirmity....