Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Yes, you care about net neutrality

You may have heard about the FCC's plans to repeal net neutrality in a victory for big telecoms and a loss for...basically everyone else. Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal has a post from a few years ago (addressed to Senator Cruz) explaining why you should care.
There is (as so often is the case) an education angle, and this interview with the president of the American Library Association captures what it is. You might also look at this EdSurge post.

So, what can you do? The FCC doesn't answer to us, but they DO answer to Congress, so go check out BattlefortheNet for resources and contacts.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Board of Education meets for November next Tuesday

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets next Tuesday at 8:30 am (note: no Monday night meeting this month). The agenda is here. After the opening comments from the Chair, the Secretary, and the Commissioner, there will be time for public comment.

Sydney Chaffee, Massachusetts and National teacher of the year, will be presenting (as is the tradition. These are usually quite good, and also among the only times the Board hears directly from a teacher on a topic of the teacher's choosing.)

There will be an update on the Commissioner's search (get those applications in soon!)

There will be an update from Lawrence, which is of particular interest in light of last week's announcement that the current appointed receiver Jeffrey Riley will be stepping down at the end of this school year; he will be replaced by a board appointed by the Commissioner (hmm...which one, I wonder?).

There will be an FY19 budget update.

There will be a discussion and vote to solicit public comment on the proposed (and verbally supported by the Board) hold steady standard setting on MCAS for the graduating classes of 2021 and 2022. That is, they'll take the new test, but the passing score will be set equivalent to the current difficulty level of passage with the old test.

There will likewise be a discussion and a vote to solicit public comment on a change to regulations around foster care to bring the state into ESSA compliance.

And there will be a discussion of virtual schools.

All I want for Christmas

We are coming up on the season of lists, of what we want and of what we have to do. In the spirit of the season, here's my list:

What I would like to see in a Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.

I want a Commissioner who has cried over children not their own.

I want a Commissioner who knows enough about child development to know what a four year old can, can't, should, shouldn't, and might do.

I want a Commissioner who talks to kids like people.
I want a Commissioner who listens when they talk back.

I want a Commissioner who has had to defend a public budget in public.

I want a Commissioner who has had to wrangle policy through a public process.
...and who has seen that policy is meaningless if it doesn't touch implementation.

I want a Commissioner who knows that we have a million kids in our system, and not all of them are going to be the exception.
...and that each of them is.

I want a Commissioner who knows enough education history to know when we've tried something before.
...more than once.
I want a Commissioner who has been the one with kids on the afternoon of the first snowfall.
...and when Halloween falls on a Friday.
...and the day someone in the community has died unexpectedly.

I want a Commissioner who has seen the smile of delight of a preschooler--or a high schooler--who reads a complete sentence for the first time.

I want a Commissioner who knows what they don't know.
..and who admits it.
...and who learns as a result.

I want a Commissioner who knows what data does show.
...and what it can't.

I want a Commissioner who reads state and federal law with an eye to what we can do, not what we can't.

I want a Commissioner who knows that our high schools don't run on a factory model.
...and that our school year isn't a reflection of the agricultural calendar.

I want a Commissioner who knows about different kinds of special education needs and what the best practice is.

I want a Commissioner who has learned about how we acquire language.

I want a Commissioner who knows the state constitution's Chapter V, Section II at least as well as they know M.G.L. Chapter 69.

I want a Commissioner who knows that education is something we do together for all of us and for each of them.

Remember: you can let the Board know what you think by email. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Late on this: Worcester School Committee tonight

I'm late posting on this, and I don't have time to do a full post, but I do want to flag for Worcester residents that tonight's Worcester School Committee agenda does include the first self-evaluation of Superintendent Binienda; the relevant (full) grid is here. The goals on which these are based are here. Note that two of the four are marked in the self-evaluation as "exemplary," Here's what the DESE guide to the evaluation system says about that:
The Exemplary level represents the highest level of performance. It exceeds the already high Standard of Proficient. A rating of Exemplary is reserved for performance on an Indicator or Standard that is of such a high level that it could serve as a model for educators in the school, district, or state. Few educators—superintendents included— are expected to earn Exemplary ratings on more than a handful of Indicators.
One assumes that the committee plans to evaluate in December. 

At some point, I still have a post I want to get to on the F&O meeting that was Monday...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"A solemn Councel forthwith to be held / At Pandæmonium*"

There were a lot of articles on the MCAS circulating this week.
I can't say we're any the wiser.

I saw this one from Bay State Banner getting shared a good deal, with the quotes being pulled from it either being of the variety that asserted that the new MCAS showed we were going to definitely and for sure have a college ready kids or, on quite the other hand, that it showed that we truly have gone down a long wrong road in education. What I didn't see being shared was Paul Reville's blunt assertion that it's a higher bar, or anyone pointing out that it even straightforwardly is a different test.

Likewise, the Fox 25 coverage resisting the emphasis on MCAS was shared a good deal, approving of Superintendent Jackson's comments about deemphasizing test prep. I didn't see anyone link that to something like Holliston's demographics (7% economically disadvantaged, 3% ELL) and talk about what that meant in Hollison versus places where there might be a valid concern of state intervention or of kids not making it through. I suspect it's closer to what it looks like in Pentucket Regional, where the parents are citing a drop on schooldigger (and a reflection on property values) as a reason for concern.

Today, we had a Globe article, which somehow ascribed to parents and districts confusion the Globe itself had fostered in its coverage: comparing last year to this, speaking fearfully of a "drop" in scores, and lending little lucidity to an already fraught issue.

Two things I didn't see get as much attention were Acting Commissioner Wulfson's note (and I'd put money on that being him; it sounds like him) in yesterday's Weekly Update (note that the website is down for the weekend) and an interview with Daniel Koretz, which, contrary to the boosts I largely saw it get, is more about putting standardized testing into perspective than getting rid of it entirely.

I saw a lot of assertions, a number of them false, and I didn't see a lot of attempts to grapple with making good public policy.

Asserting that a single round of a new test demonstrates much of anything other than it being a new test with new systems and materials on which students hadn't been tried is something of a fool's game. You can do it, but it really isn't any different than when I gave my students a test in a format they weren't accustomed to on material they weren't as familiar with.
And we knew we were going to see these results. We've known for months.
Thus I'm frustrated with the idea that, of itself, means much of anything. We can't know that these kids are any better prepared until we get them to whatever we're preparing them for: can they construct more logical arguments? can they reason through a problem? do they write any better than in the past? There are particular things we were told that this test is supposed to do better: does it? I don't think we know that yet.
By the same token, having a harder test itself is no slur against anything. If you as a teacher feel the assessment isn't accurately gauging where your students should be, you create a new one. What I'm not hearing asked enough is if this test is it. If it isn't, how? And what needs to be different?

I'm also deeply and profoundly frustrated by the ways in which the pandæmonium of the extremes is making it impossible to take advantage of openings for conversation. For example: right now, the state is in the process of working through the statewide history and social studies standards. At the end of that, we know, the state is going to implement a statewide history assessment. There have been a significant number of discussions at the Board of Ed that have opened to the door towards this NOT BEING AN EXAM LIKE MCAS. Wulfson and some members of the Board clearly agree that the best way of assessing actual knowledge and skills of social studies and civics is through community and project based knowledge. I have yet to hear or see anyone attempt to work with or on that. If that advantage isn't taken, there are absolutely those who want to see another "run it through the machine" exam, and if you don't think they're already talking, you're wrong. But that conversation is being drowned out by the shouting going on over the changes in the 3-8 ELA and math test.

There's also development a school report card going on, which includes, as ESSA opened the door to, a lot more things on it than test scores. What is that going to look like? What is going to be emphasized? How is the state and how are districts going to highlight that such that an actual variety (however meager in comparison to what we might like) of things are being evaluated? Is that, in other words, going to mean something now? Can we add things? And what is it going to look like to evaluate some schools that maybe are really good at narrow things being evaluated on a wider array of them?

And finally, is anyone, anywhere, going to attempt to have a conversation about what they're looking for in a new Commissioner? We don't hire them often. They have a significant amount of power. Are we just going to shrug and take whatever Chair Sagan and Secretary Peyser decide between them? Because they're absolutely the ones steering that ship.

Some of the above leads back to my perpetual call for better education coverage, yes. Some of it also points to a question of who is actually interested in making public policy versus staking out positions. Public policy means you don't get all your own way, and it means you have to pay attention to things like the $230 million a year we get in Title I funds (that's why we have a federal law to follow) and the 99% (and not shrinking) of kids who took the exam again in a year in which it "didn't count." It means you have to talk to people who disagree with you and maybe get to think they're at least well motivated if wrong.

If we don't do that, decisions are going to happen, anyway, and they're going to be made by those who have the ears of those in power and by those who show up to talk. And that isn't going to serve the kids nor the broad array of--
agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.
...all that well. Nor will it preserve our rights and our liberties.

*lines 755-6, Book 1, Paradise Lost, John Milton
and yes, Milton is talking about Hell

Acting Commissioner Wulfson on assessing districts

Quote in full from yesterday's weekly Commissioner's Update:
It was great seeing many of you at the MASS/MASC conference on the Cape earlier this month. I’m always impressed by the breadth and depth of the panel sessions and presentations on so many vital topics. One session that particularly stood out for me was a presentation by Wakefield Superintendent Kim Smith on the very robust set of rubrics they’ve been developing to measure student growth and learning. MCAS scores are part of it, but so are many other qualitative and quantitative dimensions of student performance. We all know that MCAS does not measure all of the content and skills that we want our students to know. But how often do we hear the complaint that a district is shortchanging some element of the curriculum because “it’s not on MCAS”? I believe it is neither feasible nor desirable for us to expand the state testing program to incorporate every dimension of student learning. So it’s nice to see districts like Wakefield that are willing and able to put MCAS scores into perspective and develop comprehensive local measures to support their educational goals.