Friday, August 29, 2014

Everybody loves education

...during an election.
Take a look at the candidate profiles in Worcester Magazine this week, and nearly every single one cites education, schools, funding for education, or the like as a top priority.
Don't get me wrong--this is great. I would urge those who are voting in those races,thought, to do more than take that at face value. Some of those who are citing those as priorities have an actual record on that as an issue. Does what they have done match what they are saying? Have they advocated and voted for more funding, better facilities, appropriate support for public education?
Some have, and some have not. If they haven't done it yet, putting them in a new position--or continuing them in the one they have--isn't going to fix that.

It's also important to know what you can and can't do in the position for which you're running. The above profiles have at least one candidate for state rep saying he'd fight for a Worcester Public Schools budget that "exceeds the minimum foundation budget." That would be great, but that can only be done at the Worcester City Council. 

...a City Council, just as a reminder, that hasn't done that in years. 

I was more disturbed, though, to come home today to a postcard in my mailbox for the First Worcester District Senate race that said this:

First of all, we do have a school replacement going on in the First Worcester District: Nelson Place School, which has been slated for replacement for quite a number of years, was voted into the MSBA process during the past two years, and is moving along nicely. Assigning credit for such things is always slightly ridiculous, but we certainly have had the support and attention of both Senator Chandler and Representative Mahoney for Nelson Place.
The rest of this is just scurrilous, but not really about the Senator: about the Worcester Public Schools. 
"School buildings with no heat"? News to me. We've had some rooms that have had heating issues (including what I suspect is the target here, at Doherty), but they're worked on and they're dealt with as they happen. We've also been replacing boilers at an impressive clip through the Mass School Building Authority these past years, so we're in better shape on heating than we've been, possibly ever.
"Rodent Infested School Buildings"? Really? Where? That's a health and code issue as well as a custodial issue, and this would be the first I've heard of it. The custodial staff--whose reputation here is being impugned, I'd point out--does not let any sign of any kind of infestation go by them, and they're not the only eyes on the building. As far as I know, this is just made up. If anyone else knows otherwise, they aren't reporting it to the people who can fix it. 

My assumption, 'though this went out to more than just the Worcester section of the First Worcester District, is that this is supposed to be a "you don't have a new Doherty yet" dog whistle. 
So let me--at the ongoing risk of being honest rather than politic--be blunt: we're not going to have a new Doherty for quite some time.
South--which has both open classrooms and an electrical plant under the swimming pool--is our number one priority, and rightfully so. Burncoat High and Middle is in tougher shape than Doherty (not just me saying that). That doesn't even get into the elementary schools that may need replacing during this next few years (which is why we need a facilities master plan). 
We are a single system city: we have a brand-new high school. We've had two new high schools in the past twenty years. Has it been going as fast as it could be? I'd say no. Are we moving along pretty well now? Yes, we are. We can't jump around in our building priorities, though, and not just because it isn't right. We can't because the state knows very well that our highest priority isn't actually Doherty, because it isn't our greatest need. And they pick up 80% of the bill. 
In fact, the fastest way to get a new Doherty is all push together to get the higher priority schools into the MSBA pipeline, and keep them moving. If anyone wants to start working on that, count me in.

Meanwhile, by all means talk about education, better yet, DO things about education, but don't make things up about the Worcester Public Schools. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nearly missed it!

Go read Mr. Southwick's column today for some Worcester Public Schools history!

About the teacher survey and anonymity

After we had the report last week on the teacher survey, I saw some questions circulating online about the legitimacy of the survey results, given that teachers are asked for their years of experience and the level they teach, which could be used to identify them.
Should that have been holding anyone back, I asked about that, and here's what you should know about the information:
Individuals can feel even more secure about their anonymity being protected because:
*It is not possible to view data by role, years of experience, or any other demographic information at the school or district level.
*Demographic data will only be reported at the state level.
*If the Department decides in the future to make raw data available to districts for further research, demographic information will be removed"
I got this from our Accountability department; it's from the FAQ on the survey.
Worcester doesn't see it, the principals don't see it, and the state only views the results in aggregate (e.g.: they can see that elementary teachers in general said X).
So, please answer, please be honest, and those that have, thank you!

We're barrelling ahead with using test scores to evaluate teachers in Massachusetts

Hey, remember that moment of sanity we all had last week when Secretary Duncan talked about how we were overtesting and that we should wait a year on evaluating teachers based on student test scores?
Yeah, well, that lasted less that a day or two, as Commissioner Chester's weekly update last Friday said that Massachusetts will be barrelling ahead with the "if it matches MCAS, it counts; if it doesn't, we count earlier MCAS" mix n' match we talked about last month:
Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle issued guidelines that support the approach DESE has taken. According to the guidelines, states may delay using assessment results in educator evaluations while transitioning to new assessments so long as: 1) states calculate student growth data based on the new assessments, and 2) each teacher of a tested grade and subject, as well as each principal, receives their growth data based on 2014-15 state assessments. 
The Commonwealth's July guidance is designed to parallel the "hold harmless" policy for school and district ratings that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted in fall 2013. Under the two-year timeline that the Board adopted, districts are choosing whether to administer PARCC or MCAS in 2014-15. Those that administer PARCC will have their accountability level held harmless; that is, their accountability level can rise but not fall because of PARCC results. In fall 2015, based on two years' experience with PARCC, the Board will decide whether to sunset MCAS and adopt PARCC as the new state testing program.
 No, Commissioner, this does not support the approach DESE has taken. The fed proposed WAITING A YEAR, not "holding harmless" schools and districts while moving ahead with questionable calculations for teachers.This is not reasonable, this is not prudent...this isn't good math. It makes no sense.
When, of all people, we have Secretary Duncan saying, "Hey, maybe we've got a lot going on and we should hold off on part," maybe we should consider it?

A few back to school notes

Overall, a good first day! A few back to school notes from me:
  • Did you get one? We have "please update and return" forms for the basic office information this year! That is because parents asked that we work on the number of back to school forms (yes, you ARE heard! And there are still too many.).
  • School lunch costs $1.75 this year.
  • If your child is in secondary school (particularly middle school) and there is not a nearby bus stop, get in touch with the school's assistant principal. We don't stop at everyone's driveways in Worcester, but your child should, if he or she is bused, be able to get to a bus stop safely.
  • Remember that requested supplies are not required! We are not funding school supplies adequately, so if you can help, it's appreciated, but requests for supplies--or for checks to cover classroom supplies--are requests only. And if you're hearing otherwise, please let me know.
  • Yes, some elementary class numbers are high; we did cut 23 elementary positions in this year's budget. The way that the remaining to-be-assigned teachers are placed is largest classes, highest number of kids impacted first (as adding a teacher lowers all class sizes of that grade). There's "a handful" of teachers left to be assigned; we have some elementary classes over 30. And the only way to fix this is to adequately fund education. We don't. 
  • That student handbook your child brought home? Don't just sign and return the back page; give it a read and then hang on to it! 
Please keep the queries coming, and I'll field them as I get them! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Happy first day!

Off they go!
Please watch for kids walking and waiting at bus stops. And when those buses stop, STOP. IN BOTH DIRECTIONS.

Have a great year!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why no universal free lunch?

Because I see the T&G is doing another article on districts doing universal free lunch (and didn't give Ms. Lombardi much space for why Worcester isn't doing it), here's a link to last September's post on why we're not offering universal free lunch.
And the fed has not fixed the issue of kids who aren't signed up for food stamps who qualify for free lunch.