Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Why the charter sector "growing at the same rate" as the rest of public education should concern us

So today's much-vaunted study to push the ballot question to lift the charter cap comes from the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation. They've found, they've said, that the spending within the charter sector has grown at about the same rate as spending in the rest of Massachusetts public education. They put forth that charters, with 4% of the student population, are spending 4% of the K-12 education funding.

If that is in fact the case, that's really a problem.

There's often a back and forth about numbers of students with particular needs served by charter schools, 'though the information at a certain level is available online. What's too often missed in this conversation is that special education funding has no relationship to the actual enrollment of kids with special education needs. Right now, special education is funded at a flat 3.75% of kids enrolled in a district or charter school. That is included in the funding whether or not the school has any kids with special education needs. 

What isn't broken out in the state profiles is levels of student need. I think we all recognize, for example, that the kids who have a learning disability who need extra classroom support are different from kids who need a one-to-one aide to (for example) manage their feeding tube and breathing apparatus. Both of these kids and everyone in between are in district schools. That is not the case with charter schools. Yet charter schools, too, get that same flat 3.75% of enrollment for special education.

And special education, as has been recognized for over a decade now (check the footnotes) is costing significantly more than what's in the foundation budget (see page 9) and is rising considerably faster than the increase in inflation. Thus this isn't only a gap: it's a gap that's growing at an exponential rate every year.

Thus if in fact we are spending 4% of K-12 spending on 4% of the population that's in charter schools, we should be concerned.

We should also be concerned that a group that regards itself as a fiscal watchdog wouldn't understand this.

September 27 meeting of the Board of Education: in sum

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met today in Malden. This meeting followed last night's release of the 2016 state testing results and accountability levels, followed by at Monday night meeting on those results.
Today's meeting opened, as usual, with comments from Chair Sagan, Commissioner Chester, Secretary Peyser, and the public. Sagan rarely speaks at any length; today he read a prepared statement regarding his donation to the charter cap lift ballot campaign. He commented that he was "a dedicated supporter of all our public schools," but that none of the Board members "is called on to renounce our position as a private citizen." His statement was praised by Peyser. Chester gave updates on several issues--766 schools, ACT scores, work in Southbridge and Holyoke--and further commented that he felt that press coverage of his visit to Brockton hadn't covered all that had happened there.
Public comments dealt with arts education, Minuteman Vo-Tech's relationship with Belmont, and the engagement of parents in ESSA planning.

The Board re-elected James Morton as vice-chair, and Chair Sagan reappointed the three subcommittees.

The test score and district accountability section focused on a presentation from the Burke school in Boston. There was, however, a discussion afterwards on accountability levels, largely focusing on Boston Latin's drop to a Level 2 school due to non-participation. As I sent around yesterday, Latin was hardly alone. It's worth noting that DESE took the higher participation rate of the 2015-16 testing and the aggregate of 2015-16 and 2014-15 for subgroups, schools, and districts, making declarations of changes only on the basis of the higher rate. Sagan commented that he saw no reason that the Board would overrule the Department on this measure. Ms. McKenna expressed concern that the Board had not spent nearly as much time on the Dever school last night as on the Burke school today, 'though the Dever is in state receivership and "we are their school committee."

The Board also received a report about steps forward under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The department stressed that it maintains the annual assessment requirements, requires the 95% participation that came in with NCLB, requires a system of "annual meaningful differentiation" for all public schools," and requires states to establish "ambitious state-designed long term goals" and measures of interim progress for all students and subgroups. They also were clear that "substantial weight" is required on what we might think of as the standard measures, "much greater weight" than school quality or student success measures. Right now, the department is working off the stakeholder groups they held earlier this year to put together some preliminary (my word) plans to then take back out to the public. This round will include public sessions, something which was met with enthusiasm from the Board. And if you're interested, please do take a look at this section, as I've included where they're starting from, what they're looking for, and where they're going next. 

There was a brief conversation about teacher evaluation, specifically around dropping the impact on student learning measure, which has been met with concern (and stronger) from superintendents, teachers, and others. The department will be coming back to the Board with proposed changes in regulation at their next meeting, which the Board would vote out to public comment.

There was an update on the new MCAS, specifically on the competency requirement (or what's required for graduation). Keep an eye open, as there's a good article from State House News on this section which I hope will get some press.At this point, the proposal is to extend the current MCAS to the class of 2020 (currently, it goes to the class of 2019). There was a longer discussion about what sorts of considerations should be included in the changeover of the high school test (including content and grades).

There was an update on the curriculum framework review, specifically on ELA and math, with some discussion around not only the standards being considered, but also the accompanying material.

Finally, there was a budget update, which included the news that the department has a request for funding for the new assessment that they hope to see go through as part of the upcoming settling of the FY16 budget. September's numbers will determine if there are further cuts necessary this year; FY17 is predicated on 4% growth over last year. They're also expecting that federal grants for next year will, in aggregate, be flat.
As always, errors mine, questions welcome! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Here's the reason I'm voting No on 2

It honestly wasn't until the poll tonight asked me for my "main reason" for my position on this question that I tried to push myself to a "main reason." There are many, many reasons: the financial irresponsibility in this proposal is horrifying; issues of equity and access to education are of overwhelming concern; lack of accountability and transparency and best practice are all part of why I oppose this cap lift.

My main reason, though, is that I think charter schools, as they're currently constituted in Massachusetts, are unconstitutional.

I'm not a lawyer. I don't pretend to be one. No one, to my knowledge, has ever tried to make this case in court, and perhaps it wouldn't succeed if it went there.

The state constitution, however, is very clear about who has responsibility for public education in Massachusetts: the legislature and magistrates.

The legislature is, yes, the Legislature, which in the case of charters has empowered the Board of Ed to act for them through legislation.

It is a shared responsibility, as confirmed by McDuffy (among others), however. And no one ever asked the local school committees--the 'magistrates'--to vote their power away to the Board of Ed.

Let me pause here to acknowledge the lack of agency that many have felt in elected school committees. Many--and it's particularly been an issue for communities of color--have been effectively disenfranchised by the system. And that doesn't even get into Boston, which hasn't had an elected committee in decades.

That's a reason to fix the system, however, not a reason to bulldoze over it.

Under Chapter 76, sec. 1, school committees still have general oversight of the education of children in their districts; it's why they are given the authority to approve new private schools. The one exception, made not in this section but elsewhere, is charter schools.

Yet the responsibility of school committees is not lessened for those children. The committees just aren't given any authority to do anything about the problems they see.

That isn't how the system of public education in the Commonwealth is designed. It's a shared partnership as designed by the Constitution to have the state and local authorities together ensuring that the next generation is prepared to continue democracy.

Charter schools have no local constitutional authority. They should not be expanded; they should be reformed, at the least.

Vote no on 2.

I got another Yes on 2 poll!

super voter with a land line! 

It opened with demographic questions: male/female, voter enrollment information
Do you think the state is moving in the right direction? Yes/No
What grade would you give Mayor Walsh (of Boston)? A,B,C,D,F
What grade would you give Governor Baker? A,B,C,D,F
If you had to vote today, would you vote yes or no on lifting the cap on charter schools?
If you had to vote today, would you vote yes or no on recreational marijuana use?
How important is the economic factor of the impact of charter schools on your decision on lifting the cap? (very important, somewhat important, etc)
How important is the quality of education as an impact on your decision on lifting the cap on charter schools?
How important is the fairness factor (in equity) to you in your decision in lifting the cap on charter schools?
Which if these (above three) is the most important to your decision?
Some say that the funding system for public education must be fixed first before a cap lift is considered; how much would that impact your decision on lifting the cap on charter schools?

Isn't that last one fascinating? 

FY17 budget update and into FY18

process of building next state year budget
busy finalizing FY17 budget over summer
on FY17 had update on next testing program on Ways and Means committee
$8.7M supplemental budget ask
looking to have it attached to FY16 year end so Commonwealth can close its books
hoping to have it added
met with budget leadership last week: "we're hopeful to see that"
October discussion of budget request and priorities
November vote to advance priorities to Secretary
(and then into January and spring budget timeline)

 FY17 predicated on 4% growth over last fiscal year
September will determine if there are more spending reductions implemented this year
(planned savings of 1% already; $638,000 across 17 state accounts)
FY18 "likely to continue limited spending growth opportunities"

expecting flat funding on federal grants (there's movement across the titles, but overall funding expected to be flat)
Expecting to have the same administrative funds "which fund 58% of the agency right now"

Curriculum framework review (Board of Ed)

backup here
Chester: hoping by end of 2016 we'll have a redrafted set of frameworks that we'll send out for public comment

update on new MCAS

written update here
Chester: where we're headed with the competency determination (the graduation requirement)
Wulfson: signed contract with Measured Progress
"well engaged in the work now"