Wednesday, December 13, 2017

And South High is in!

Not a surprise, really, since it made the agenda, but South High was approved for invitation to Project Budget Scope and Sequence at today's MSBA meeting. Full list of districts moving here.

OML complaint denied

Well, this is disappointing. Essentially, their determination is because the strategic planning committee wasn't appointed by the superintendent or the school committee, it isn't a public body.
That isn't how public bodies have been previously defined.
It's also a terrible precedent.

Thus, we'll find out what they've decided for our school system when they deign to tell us.

Oh, and also there's a session next Wednesday at 6:30 at Doherty where we're invited to "join the discussion."

The Board of Ed meets for December next week

Didn't they just meet? They're early for December due to the holidays.
You can find the agenda here.
After the round of opening remarks, the first report is one from the Springfield Empowerment Zone. I do want to flag here, by the way, that the Zone has now been incorporated into the regular circulation of monthly reports from the receivership districts, 'though Springfield is not a receivership district. The description here, as elsewhere, continues to tap dance past the whole "hey, we took away the local democratic governance model" by sprinkling the words LOCAL AUTONOMY all over it.

In any case...

There will be an update on the Commissioner's search. As a reminder, the deadline to apply is this Friday (December 15); the screening committee meets December 18. They will then do some interviews, meet again in early January to vote to forward finalists to the full Board, who will interview those finalists on January 17 and 18. The Board is expected to vote on January 23, at their regular January meeting. EDITING to add a link to this Ed Week article on state commissioner salaries; our previous commissioner did make less money than a number of our superintendents.

Did you know there's an Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council?
The School and District Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council (AAAC) advises on matters pertaining to the development and implementation of the Commonwealth's School and District Accountability and Assistance system.
Me, either. They're reporting out next week on their work this year. Two things that they weighed in on that I found interesting: they suggested that the state "categorize districts and schools using meaningful descriptors instead of numbers" and they also raised two concerns related to classifying districts as Level 3 due to non-participation in testing.

And speaking of accountability, there is an update on the state's accountability system. Key sentence:
The enactment of ESSA in 2015 and our state's transition to a Next-Generation MCAS assessment have given us the opportunity to rethink the design of our accountability system.
There is as yet no backup (maybe they're going for a big unveiling?), but the highlights the memo does let us know about are as follows:
  • The inclusion of additional accountability indicators, which will provide information about school performance and student opportunities beyond test scores; 
  • A focus on raising the performance of each school's lowest performing students in addition to the performance of the school as a whole; 
  • and The discontinuation of accountability and assistance levels (Levels 1 to 5), which will be replaced with accountability categories that better define the progress that schools are making and the type of support or assistance they may receive from the Department.
So, a big deal (and why I keep complaining on Twitter about people focusing on the level system: WE WON'T HAVE THE SAME SYSTEM ANYMORE.); here's hoping I can keep up with the presentation in the liveblog! 

The Board is voting on the increase in tuition for virtual schools, bringing them out of the school choice amount and into something closer to the foundation budget amount.

And, as promised, the Board is getting an update on the LOOK bill and ELL students in general.

You may also be interested in the Board's letter about FY19, a report on grants, and an update on Commissioner's actions on charter schools.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

DESE on the Chart of Accounts and school-level report at MASBO

DESE's Melissa King, Rob O'Donnell, Jay Sullivan on updates on school-level reporting and the chart of accounts
Melissa King opens by announcing that she does not plan to return to DESE after her maternity leave in February. 
On the chart of accounts: Technology spending: current format makes it difficult to draw conclusions about technology investments
districts making different reporting choices
are now circulating final draft
District Level (two functions): Administrative technology (1450)
Technology infrastructure, maintenance and support (4400); includes associated staff
School level: Administrative technology and support (2250) technology related to running the schools (including printers, copiers)
Instructional hardware (2454): student and staff devices
Instructional hardware(2455): all other costs for instructional technology
Instructional software and other instructional materials: software licenses, ebooks,
Instructional technology leadership and training (2130)
distant learning and online coursework (2245): new category due to growth
Textbooks (2410): anything physical

ESSA school level expenditure reports
"disaggregated by source of funds, for each local educational agency and each school in the state for the preceding fiscal year"
will be part of 2018 district and school report cards
"other states aren't so lucky" as they are having to collect information for the first time
based on data given on schedule 3 (school level data)
"a little unclear to me from the language in the law" when they're expecting it
note that the Obama administration had issued guidance which had then been pulled
DESE soliciting comment on draft from business officials
spending by school by functional category
spending broken out to school level including context on students and teachers to explain spending differences
instructional spending that isn't assigned to a school
administrative spending
breaking out by fund groups:
report also that is data for all schools
request for additional context, for better definitions, for other breakouts (special education), for aggregation (athletics, food service)

audits looking for procedures
Jay Sullivan on student activities: "(student activities) was all they could talk about" when it came to the IRS fine
auditors will be asking "when was the last time you did the student activity audit"
"we're not exactly sure what's going to happen with those...will be part of department's risk assessment"
students coming from Puerto Rico: make sure you specify in SIMS that they are coming from Puerto Rico
"There will be aid coming for districts who have had students coming from Puerto Rico"
supplemental appropriation "they expect to go through very quickly"
pothole account for districts that have gotten students from Puerto Rico
putting together how districts will apply for that now


Monday, December 11, 2017

Time is running out...

If you want to be the next Massachusetts K-12 Education Commissioner, make sure you get your application in!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Let's talk about North High

I posted a thread on this yesterday on Twitter, but I've done a smidge more digging and I think I know where this is coming from now. 
I missed the initial article from earlier this month announcing that Superintendent Binienda had moved into North High School while Principal Lisa Dyer was out on medical leave and did not intend to appoint an acting principal in the meantime. Offhand, it's not clear to me that it's legal to fail to have a principal; the relevant MGL is Ch. 71, Sec. 59B:
The superintendent of a school district shall appoint principals for each public school within the district at levels of compensation determined in accordance with policies established by the school committee. Principals employed under this section shall be the educational administrators and managers of their schools and shall supervise the operation and management of their schools and school property, subject to the supervision and direction of the superintendent.
The section then goes on to enumerate the quite extensive list of responsibilities and powers of the principal under the Mass General Laws. Those are specific, distinct, and discrete from the powers and responsibilities of the superintendent.The union president being okay with it isn't what we're looking for here; I'd be interested in a legal opinion, preferably one from the state.

Likewise, of course, having the superintendent overseeing just over a thousand students of a 27,000 student system directly is less than reassuring. Worcester needs a superintendent who's actually running the system.

Yesterday's follow-up article, revealing that the superintendent intends a turnaround plan of some kind, wasn't any more reassuring. The opening comment:
“North High’s performance on the MCAS (this past year), for the third year in a row, showed no progress”
...is simply not true. You can find North's MCAS data over time on DESE's website here. You don't have to know about CPI and PPI and the rest to tell what the lines are doing. Here's a screenshot of the charts for students scoring proficient or higher, 2013-2017.


Are those lines trending steadily downward for three years? No, they are not. They did go down this past year, but they had gone up the year before.

More to the point, look at the median student growth percentiles (from the same page):


Have they bounced down? Yes. Have they gone down for three years? No. Again, they were up before they were down.
We can't panic every time there is a year of down results. Analyze, plan, figure out what had happened, absolutely, but some classes are stronger than others (and that's why the state doesn't judge on a single year's worth of data, either).

Now, are those fantastic results? No, they aren't. And the district has been concerned and working on North in past years. There are also things that matter besides MCAS, and those things, because North High is a high school, the state even judges the school on. Here, for example, is North's dropout rate since 2012:
It was 2.4% last year; the state's rate is 1.9%.
And here's the four and five year graduation rates:
Again, none of these are my numbers; they're what the district has reported to DESE.
So let's say that I'm coming into this a bit skeptical that North High is suddenly in an emergency situation.

However, I did have a chance to poke around a bit more this afternoon, and I've come across what I think is probably driving this.
You'll remember that only high schools were assigned levels this year. That means that this exercise, where we set the schools in order by percentile, suddenly only involves high schools (save the Level 4 and 5 elementary schools). Remember that you want a higher percentile (those are better), and take a look at the list (I clicked to set them in order by percentiles and then scrolled down until I found anything, as nearly all the elementary schools don't have one):

So from the top here we have Madison Park (Boston's vocational school, which is undergoing another round of turmoil now); Holyoke's Dean Vocational (which was under state receivership before the district was); then Brighton High, New Bedford High, High School of Science and Tech in Springfield, Excel High, all of which are Level 4 schools already. The first Level 3 school we hit is North High in the third percentile, before going back to Level 4 again with West Roxbury.
Remember, though, that the Level 4s are always at the Commissioner's discretion, which is how we find this if we scroll further down:

Yes, that's Springfield's High School of Commerce, a Level 4, coming in after North (it has a higher percentile this year).
All of which is to reiterate that it is a mistake to think that this all comes down to MCAS scores. It doesn't, and it never has. What does the state look at?

District governance.

By the by, Worcester is already a Commissioner's district, so that threat won't stick. 

It's not often we build a new high school

...and Worcester's South High is already into schematic design before the public is seeing it.
Do we not even try to build buildings that are attractive and welcoming anymore? There's no effort here to say "this is a public building: welcome!" nor "what happens in this building is something this community values."