Friday, September 22, 2017

Who are those guys? A bit about the Board and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education *

*title reference after the break, should you not know it
I was having dinner with a friend who is active in her school district earlier this week, and she said (here I'll paraphrase): I know there's a Commissioner, and I'm hearing a lot lately about this guy Sagan, but what are their jobs and who does what?

And so, a (very small) Board and Department explainer.

I could write at length about the history of Massachusetts education (and maybe at some point I will), but know that the Board of Education was established (by state law) in 1837, making it among the oldest Boards in the country. Initially, it didn't have power: it was intended to be a statewide study group, as there was a great deal of concern coming out of the American Revolution both that the quality of education had fallen (people were a little distracted) and then that private academies, established with the intent of getting boys into Harvard, were pulling resources away from the public grammar schools (much of which may sound oddly familiar). Both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor sat on the Board, which otherwise was appointed by the Governor and served for eight year terms. The first group was fairly geographically disbursed, though I will point out that two of the men were from Worcester:
BOARD OF EDUCATION: Established by an Act of the Legislature; April 20, 1837.
The Governor and Lieutenant Governor, ex oficiis; Hon. Thomas Kinnicutt, of Worcester; Emerson Davis, D.D., of Westfield; George B. Emerson, Alexander H. Vinton, D.D. of Boston; Hon. Stephen C. Phillips, of Salem; Mark Hopkins, D.D. of Williamstown; Rev. Edward Otheman, of Chelsea; Hon. Issac Davis, of Worcester; Barnas Sears, D.D., Secretary; Hon. Thomas Kinnicutt, Treasurer.
The Board had the power to appoint a Secretary, whose job was two-fold: he was to collect information about how public education was working in the Commonwealth, and he was to share, as we'd put it now, best practices. The man they appointed, Horace Mann, is generally recognized as among the most important figures in American education because of the work he did as Secretary.

As industrial, or what we'd call vocational, education grew up over the latter 1800's, a board overseeing those schools was likewise established. When the Legislature in 1909 abolished both that and the Board of Education overseeing the other schools, as well as the position of Secretary, creating instead a combined oversight, they also created the position of Commissioner. The Commissioner then, and still today, is the executive officer of K-12 education in the state. He--they thus far have all been men--oversees the day-to-day operations of the Department for Massachusetts.

The Department and the position of Commissioner are described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1A. It specifically lays out the Commissioner's duties, with more in much of the rest of the chapter, with the implication that the Department as a whole will carry them out. It's a lengthy list, which has since been supplemented by the duties states are expected to carry out under every federal education law since.

The Board of Education, as reconstituted in 1909 and again since, is described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1E, with their duties described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1B. A great deal of the duties harken back to that original concern of standards of education. Thus the board sets curriculum standards, but also standards for things like teacher licensure. It is a nine member board, with one member nominated by the state labor council, one to represent industry, and one of the parents' group. They are appointed by the governor to five year terms, of which they may serve two; one member serves conterminously with the governor. They meet once a month (with exceptions) to do this work, and the Commissioner is appointed by the Board as I explained here.

The Secretary of Education, who oversees not only K-12, but also pre-K and higher education, is a cabinet official of the Governor. He is appointed by the Governor and serves at the pleasure of the Governor. As a part of that, he holds a voting seat on each of the three boards of education. While he oversees an executive office, most of the work at the state level on education happens within the three departments, not within the executive office.

To put names to the above: the prior Commissioner, who passed away in June, was Mitchell Chester. Currently serving as Acting Commissioner is Jeff Wulfson. The Secretary of Education is James Peyser.
Something which is largely not remembered, 'though it was mentioned upon his appointment as Secretary, is that Peyser previously served as Chair of the Board of Education, after being one of two finalists for Commissioner, a job that went to David Driscoll, Chester's predecessor, in a deal worked by the previous chair John Silber.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Board of Ed has their September meeting on Tuesday, September 26

You can find the Board of Ed agenda here.
In light of the extensive coverage Chair Sagan's recently discovered $500,000 donation to Families for Excellent Schools, who were operating a pass-through for the Yes on 2 campaign, is getting, let me start by pointing out that he won't be at the meeting: he announced last month that he had to be away this month and would be participating remotely (yes, really: he announced it at the meeting in August). The meeting thus will be chaired by Vice-Chair James Morton.

After opening remarks, there will be an update on the Commissioner's search.
The Board will then hear the report on LBGTQ students and the Safe Schools that had originally been scheduled for June.

The Board is scheduled to hear an update on the state ESSA plan. As all plans not already submitted were due Monday (meaning the federal Department received more than thirty new plans), you'd think they'd be seeking to clear out the few remaining they've been reviewing (Massachusetts, Michigan, and Connecticut), but no word as yet. Perhaps why there is as yet no backup?

There are TWO updates on student assessment: an update on the MCAS (both that was given and coming up), which includes a glimpse of the new parent report (not uploaded; let me see what I can do), and an update on the high school test (backup currently not there).

There will be an update on pending bills (this may at least partly be in response to a request from several members that they at least get information on this, and may be lively in light of the bill Senator Jehlen is filing). They'll also be getting an update on the budget.
Among the other items being forwarded to the Board is a schedule for proposed charter schools coming before them; I will get that and share it.

Livetweeting/blogging on Tuesday!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It appears that Worcester CPPAC meets tonight

A Connect-Ed last night announced that the citywide parent group in Worcester, CPPAC, is meeting tonight at 7 pm at the Worcester Art Museum. Superintendent Binienda will be there, and there was mention of an update on the strategic plan.

I won't be there, as I have another event to be at tonight. CPPAC has for years met on the second Wednesday, so I (like, I imagine, others) had last week marked off. Twenty-four hours notice isn't enough. 

Monday, September 18, 2017


Last night around 10pm, I saw the following article post from the Boston Globe: "Two dozen Boston risk being declared underperforming." It opens as follows:
More than two dozen schools in Boston with low standardized test scores are at risk of being declared “underperforming” by the state, an action that can lead to the removal of principals and teachers, according to a School Department analysis.
The 26 schools are spread across nearly every neighborhood, from East Boston to West Roxbury. Officials are expected to learn the fate of each school when the state releases the latest round of MCAS data at the end of October.
It also says:
The analysis flagged 11 schools for being at the greatest risk of being declared underperforming because their MCAS scores rank very low in comparison to other schools statewide.
Now, if you pay close attention to what's been posted on here, you, too, are shaking your head at this article. The simple fact of the matter is the Board of Education voted that all schools taking the new MCAS would be held harmless with regard to test scores this year. This is a reset year; most schools simply are not going to get a new accountability level, because this is the first year of scores from the new MCAS. The only exceptions are schools that have low participation (by whole population or subgroup) which will go to Level 3 plus schools that already are Level 4 or 5.

Secondary schools, remember, still have the 10th graders taking the old version of the MCAS for now, so they could have changes made, but that is the minority of schools here mentioned.

Puzzled, I sent out some tweets:
(there's a thread there if you follow the link)
I also added this commentary:
I tagged in the Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang, and that elicited this response:
In piecing it together, it appears that this originated with the Boston School Committee receiving a report on their Level 3 schools at last week's meeting. You can find the presentation they saw here. Rather than an article which focused on what was and was not working at those schools--which is kind of supposed to be the entire point of this whole discussion--we instead saw an alarmist vision of state takeovers for something like a fifth of Boston Schools.

As a side note: at some point we should talk about the state's capacity at this point. I've mentioned this in passing before, but DESE is down lots of staff, particularly since Race to the Top ended. Level 4 and 5 schools take lots of staff hours to coordinate with districts. Also, Level 4 schools come with School Turnaround Grants, which now have to come out of Title I funds (there isn't a separate line for them). I'm not going to say DESE can't or won't declare more schools, but we shouldn't discount what it takes on the other end for them to do so. 

I sent out a recap this morning, since that was competing with the Emmys:
You'll need to follow the thread there.
Later this morning, DESE sent out the following:

Thus as best as I can tell, what we have is a fairly straightforward School Committee report that turned into clickbait.

The problem, of course, is that this feeds into a whole bunch of other issues: there is MASSIVE parental mistrust of the planning of the Boston Public Schools, and every move is seen as leading to school closures or takovers. The state's having taken over three districts and a number of schools is seen as threatening by anyone with any school that isn't consistently Level 1. Lots of people find the accountability leveling confusing, and the past few years of switching tests and systems has only made that worse. And we don't have nearly enough press paying consistent attention to these sorts of issues, such that we can get clear, consistent reporting to people who care about these issues but don't do it full time.

Honestly, we deserve much better than this. There are lots of little pieces of blame to go around here, but I'm laying as much as I know at the Globe's door. The crux of what they printed today was untrue, alarmist, and actively harmful.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, September 18

And it's the opening of school report! That's not yet posted, but the agenda is here.

Before the meeting, there is an executive session on negotiations with nurses, custodians, computer technicians, and non-represented personnel, plus two issues in litigation.

This agenda has the lists of resignations, retirements, and moves within the system (there will be more than one round of this); note that the two administrators who have become superintendents elsewhere--Marco Rodrigues in Hudson and Dave Perda in the Worcester Roman Catholic Diocese--are listed.

There is a response on the celebration of Constitution Day (which was yesterday).

There are seven prior year payments:
  • in the amount of $1,470.38 for a student who attended the Waltham Public Schools from September 16, 2016 to June 17, 2017.
  • in the amount of $194.40 for mileage reimbursement for a parent to drive to and from the Thrive day school placement at 100 Hartwell Street, West Boylston, MA in May and June 2017.
  • in the amount of $6,290.00 made payable to May Institute, Inc.
  • in the amount of $8,827.50 for Education Inc. services for home tutoring.
  • in the amount of $2,250 for teacher professional development at Project Lead The Way which was held at WPI.
  • in the amount of $3,000 for Project Lead The Way’s participation fees.
  • in the amount of $1,600 for an employee.
Miss Biancheria wants to celebrate Manufacturing Day (October 6), to recognize Superintendent Binienda's Healthy Communities award, and to have a report on transportation. 

Mr. Monfredo wants an update on teaching CPR.

There is a request that the School Committee vote to accept a 21st Century Out of School Time Grant for Claremont Academy for $150,000, 'though there is no backup.

And apparently we're getting yet another limited admission "academy," this time at North High for Microsoft Image. The School Committee is being asked to approve the admissions requirement and letter. with no prior conversation...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Quick note on the FY18 circuit breaker (with an update!)

From today's MASBO update from Jay Sullivan: the FY18 special education circuit breaker is expected to be 65%. The circuit breaker reimburses districts for out-of-district special education tuitions of a particularly high amount.

If that sounds low to you, here's why (charts are the work of MassBudget, which has great stuff on their Budget Browser:

That's $281M for FY18.

Yes, that is down (about $2M) from last year. And costs keep rising for districts, so there are more applications for less money.

If that's less than you were expecting, it was higher in earlier iterations of the budget:

Not good news. 

UPDATE: I got a question late last week about this, and I thought the answer might be of more general interest. A school committee member asked me, "How do I know what this means to my district?"
Great question!
To back up a step or two: every district budget is created based on projections of how much money is coming in the next year (and from where) and how much money will be spent next year (and to where). Thus, in every district that qualifies for circuit breaker, someone in the finance office sat down at some point and said, "Next year, I think out of district tuition will cost X, and I think we'll get Y back in circuit breaker reimbursement."
Now, I would also tell you that you should be able to find this written down somewhere:
If not, this is a perfectly legitimate question for a school committee member to ask during budget deliberations.
Since it now has changed, it is now a perfect legitimate series of questions to ask to discover: what percentage did we project circuit breaker as? And that was how much? And it now being 65% means it now is what?
And, as those are budgetary questions being asked, that should all be public information.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Worcester: preliminary election on Tuesday! A few thoughts on D5

Worcester districts 1 and 5 have a preliminary election on Tuesday; in both cases, the four names on the ballot will be narrowed to two for the November election. I live in D5, and I haven't been following D1 closely. I will say that I've worked with Ed Moynihan, and if I lived in D1, I'd vote for Ed. What follows are some thoughts on the D5 race, in part drawn from Nicole's liveblog of the forum earlier this week, in part drawn from what I've found in my mailbox. 
In full disclosure: of the three candidates running active campaigns, I've met Matt Wally twice, have lived down the street from Paul Franco for twelve years, and know Doug Arbetter pretty well.

From an education policy perspective, the City Council races are relevant for where they actually have a purview on school policy, From past experience, I can tell you that councilors often appear to have no idea where that is. The refreshing thing about this year's district race is that we at least don't appear to have candidates who are overstepping. It's not as clear that we have a solid group stepping up.
The main place Council purview falls on schools is the budget, of course, and as Worcester has yet to fight its way up to a full percent over foundation, and at a time when Worcester is owed on the order of $100M a year in foundation funding from the state, it might have been good if anyone (anyone?) had asked about that as an issue. It does not appear that they did; I have seen no mention in the forum or in interviews of Worcester's funding (as a measure of foundation) nor of state funding for schools.

I have on my table the mailers of the three candidates: the only one who mentioned school funding at all was Doug Arbetter.
from Doug Arbetter's mailer

Yes, yes, you're thinking, Tracy continually goes on and on about foundation and that's your thing. Well, if the district is owed another $100M on the school budget, I'd expect any candidate who professes to care about education to know and care about that.

This is not, however, the only place that schools are mentioned on the mailers, though, to be fair: both Franco and Wally talk about South and Doherty, which Arbetter does not:

from Paul Franco's mailer

from Matt Wally's mailer

 Yes, South High is in District 5, as much as that may be a surprise: D5 is, as Cyrus Moulton points out in his coverage, truly the west side of Worcester. That isn't necessary what Worcester thinks of as the "West Side" of Worcester (roughly, north of Park Avenue). Note the difference in focus: Wally (as he echoed in Nicole's forum coverage) is concerned about paying for the schools; he said that he disagreed with the decision the Council made not to add to the North High stabilization fund. Franco's "will stand the test of time" language appears to be remarking on the age of the buildings we're replacing, that is 40 and 50 years old respectively. MSBA's standards are for buildings to last fifty years. Wally's point is something that arguably is within the Council's purview (as they vote the capital budget); unless Franco is appointed to a building committee, I'm less certain his is.

That's it for specific mentions on schools by the candidates, which in itself is disappointing. There's a few other things of note on the mailers, though:
Doug Arbetter mailer
 Arbetter's is the only one that mentions political party; Worcester's elections are (at least nominally) non-partisan. Interestingly, if you get the city Republican party's updates on Facebook, you'd know that Franco's a Republican, though he doesn't mention it on his mailers.
Paul Franco mailer (with edits)
The big push that Franco talks about on the right of his mailer, around property that isn't developed, largely has to do with the owners not wanting to move forward with projects. As you might gather from Nicole's blog, Franco's experience on the Conservation Commission largely (in his case) was around his working "with" developers to develop property, rather than to preserve open space. This sets up an interesting conundrum: does he privilege the rights of the property owners, or is he advocating for the city to take these properties by eminent domain?
Matt Wally mailer
Wally, as the other two do, hits public safety in his mailer, but he also links to his current seat on the Parks and Rec Commission by mentioning parks improvements.

It's pretty clear from Nicole's blog that Wally is hoping to position himself as the "centerist" candidate in contrast to Franco the conservative and Arbetter the progressive. Both Franco and Wally hit the policing theme hard in their T&G interview, something Arbetter, who appears to be focusing on taxation, does not. I'm not sure what "today's approach to policing" is, as mentioned by Franco. There has been no discussion of police in the schools, nor of the nearly million dollars a year that is now costing the district. In the forum, Arbetter captured the question of pedestrian safety--key, in a city in which half the schoolchildren walk--best, though all spoke of sidewalks.

When it comes to my vote on Tuesday, I'll echo what I've heard lots of people say since January (or even last November): resistance starts locally. I want, and I think my city needs, a city councilor who of course is going to keep all our people safe and use best practices to do so; a city councilor who of course is going to protect the rights of LBGTQ people; a city councilor who of course sees women as equals, not as pawns; a city councilor who of course supports the right of all to worship (or not) as they choose in safety; a city councilor who of course doesn't resort to fearmongering for political ends.
We also need a candidate who will clearly disavow those who do otherwise.
Earlier this week, only Doug Arbetter did.
I'll be voting for him on Tuesday.