Saturday, May 30, 2009

chapter 70 aid and stimulus fund

Here's another round of the ch. 70 aid/stimulus fund and what it means to Worcester. The Governor plans to reduce ch. 70 for the fourth quarter (to the tune of 10.52% or $18 million for Worcester) and use FY11 stimulus funds to make up the difference.
The city has to apply for the funds. Also, as the funds are a grant, they would be assessed 9% by the state teachers' retirement system if used for salaries. As such, the city plans to use them as follows:

Health Insurance

$13,731,512

Special Education Tuition

$3,250,000

Transportation

$2,000,000

Total

$18,981,512


The Governor will be using ALL OF THE FY11 stimulus funds in order to do this.

That cliff? It just got a year closer.
(Thanks for the heads up; I missed this!)

FY10 budget is UP!

A bit of light reading for your weekend:

FY10 WPS budget

Friday, May 29, 2009

'Tis the season

A quick look at the June calendar of the Worcester Public Schools reveals the time of year:

1st
South High Community Graduation

2nd
Doherty Memorial High Graduation

3rd
Worcester Technical High Graduation

4th
Burncoat High Graduation

5th
North High Graduation

6th
University Park Campus Graduation

17th
Adult Learning Center Graduation

23rd
Last Day of School

23rd
8th Grade Claremont Academy Graduation

23rd
Burncoat Middle Graduation

23rd
Dr. Arthur F. Sullivan Middle Graduation

23rd
Forest Grove Middle Graduation

23rd
Grade 8 University Park Campus Graduation

23rd
Worcester East Middle Graduation

Worcester School Budget is coming: CORRECTED

I have it on good authority that the Worcester Public Schools budget will be posted later today.
(It isn't up yet; when it is, you can find it at the WPS site.)

It is based on the House budget. Everything, of course, will depend on what eventually passes the state Legislature.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A few notes from the Running for Office forum

Right off the bat, Bob Kievra, T&G city editor cites blogging, Facebook, and Twitter as new sources and resources for those running for office. "We must be of the internet, not just on the internet" (citing there the "old" media, but encourages candidates to do the same) "Those who are successful see the power of the internet...saw that in the national election."
"We can't be everything to everyone anymore," he says in answer to a question about coverage of the Worcester election.

John Anderson, former mayor of Worcester, contrasts his first election (for Congress in the 1970's, which he lost), when he walked the congressional district. "It really is important to talk to people, to talk with people, to listen to people...to let them tell the candidate what's on their mind...representative democracy...can only represent by listening to their concerns."
"We the people are YOU."
"Yes, we can!" We can make a difference. "Anyone running should clarify in their own mind what they want to do."
He was concerned about overdevelopment, put a moratorium in effect, and then changed land use policy.
What are you (we) as candidates concerned about?
Need people with ideas who have answers to these questions.
Campaigning is fun! You should enjoy it. It isn't a chore. It's a point of engagement with the community.
Well advised to have a good campaign manager (his was Tim Murray).

Jabian Gutierrez, community activist and organizer
worked with Barbara Haller and Mike Moore
putting a team together: family (you're never the candidate by yourself), managers, treasurers, fundraisers, workers. Campaign manager keeps you on task and shields the candidate. Treasurer with name recognition (brochures have the treasurer's name on it; easy way to show who supports you). Little donations make a difference (again cites Obama).
creating a message: what do you bring to the table, why do you want to run for office. You have to be able to answer why you're running and why one should vote for you. Hard question to answer. It may develop over time.
strategy: counting backwards from deadlines.
Media person keeps the movement of the campaign going (website, press releases, always moving forward).
Door-to-door; people appreciate having the door knocked on. If no one else touches that door, people remember that you took the time to be on their street. They'll remember your name.
GOTV: getting out the vote. Coordinated campaign to get people out. Database of supporters. People holding signs on the day of. People calling supporters. Poll watchers to find out who has/has not voted. ;
Things change at a moments notice in politics.Need to land on your feet.

Jason Tait, MA Office of Campaign and Political Finance
keeping your name out of the newspaper (you don't want his name in the same story as yours)
"We're not out to get candidates"
disclosing things to the public
go through thousands of candidate information (including our at-large candidates); school committee and district files with the city
(at-large candidates get special checks; banks keep track)
public employees have "to stay away from the money"
cannot accept money (and you can't take cash over $50) directly or indirectly (gathering information, for example)
public employees can hold signs, make phone calls, stuff envelopes, drive voters
can't fundraise in public buildings (senior center, library)
rarely get to the level of criminal code ch. 55; usually want to educate the public
get gov't addresses out of email lists; that's soliciting in a public building if they open it at work
Campaign finance bill at the State House: subvendor reports (can't give money to a contractor and then not report where it goes from there); personal use is especially of concern; legal defense fund has to be disclosed; city councilors have to start filing with the state: THIS IS A PROPOSAL RIGHT NOW. Late fee goes up to $25 a day, and they could pull you from the ballot in future elections.
$500 limit per person; name, address for all donors; donors over $50 have to be itemized; over $200 you need position and employer
expenditures: "to enhance your political future, so long as it's not primarily personal" Interesting choice of example: going to the golf course is personal? campaign?
Questions: call

Gladys Rodriquez-Parker (working for Jim McGovern)
met her husband while doing community activism (she refers to him as "a nice Irish boy")
WPS are 35% Latino, 51+% minority
over languages spoken in the city
very diverse city: great place to run for office
"if you're not growing, you're dying"
in 1991, people were throwing away communities: why bother going to a particular street, as they don't bother to vote?
People want to hear that you're going to fight for them, that you're going to do for them that you'd do for anyone in the city of Worcester
Shoe leather...big digital divide in the city
"in Puerto Rico you do politics as if you're breathing"
knowing your voters, knowing the communities
singled out the Spanish surnames on the registered voters list in the Election office
a great number of children in these communities
"Can I count on your vote?"
Don't forget to ask for the vote!
Do what you say you're going to do;keep your word.
Have someone with you who speaks the language, if needed in a neighborhood.

Joshua Meduna, assistant director of elections in Worcester
the guy who takes your forms
met his wife running a parliamentary campaign in Uzbekistan
city website: one of our greatest resources (you can find elections under the city clerk office)
all forms are up on the city website (who gave what to whom)
all elections are up back to 1980's
if people are not registered at their address, their signature won't count
people can register as they are signing BUT TURN IN THE REGISTRATION FIRST
July 28 at 5 pm
various lists: who has voted, who hasn't voted, can use as a mail merge
glad to see people (as he's the last fulltime person working at the office)

How to Run for Public Office in Worcester

Tonight, Wednesday, May 27
6 to 8 pm
Saxe Room, Worcester Public Library

Speakers include:
  • Joshua Meduna from the Elections Office
  • Jordan Levy, who needs no introduction
  • Michael Sullivan, Director, MA Office of Campaign and Political Finance
  • Gladys Rodriguez-Parker, Office of Congressman McGovern
If you've got questions, here's the place to be!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mayoral control of schools

Something coming up more and more in the national conversation around education is mayoral control of schools. (Try Googling it and you'll see what I mean.) Secretary Arne Duncan has been quoted as saying his term as secretary will be a failure if there aren't more mayorally controlled schools by the end of his tenure.

This article in Newsweek caught my eye; it's on Arne Duncan's successor as commissioner of education in Chicago:

Huberman, the new school chief installed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, did not like what he saw. He promptly moved to fire the principal.

Huberman later told the teachers at Julian: "You are going to be held accountable." He was not bluffing. At 16 other schools, he has canned the entire faculty and staff—and he's only been on the job since February.

What's the line? "The beatings will continue until the morale improves." Does he somehow think that firing entire faculties improves education at that school or anywhere else? Particularly when you do it in February? Huberman is a former cop; he has had no experience of any kind in a classroom (beyond being a student himself).

This is the same system that we can see a bit closer at hand in Boston: Mayor Menino directly appoints the school committee for the city of Boston. He was interviewed earlier this week on Radio Boston about the November mayor's race, and he was asked if he had any thoughts of changing back to an elected system. He was admant that he did not, saying that an appointed board isn't beholden to special interests, as they would be if they were elected.

Interesting comment, coming from a man running for re-election to a public office.

There's a trend just now of bringing in those outside education to run school systems (see Deb Meier, below, on that). Fresh eyes can be a good idea. The problem is that schools are not businesses, and they shouldn't be run as businesses. I'm also not sure on the wisdom of having someone who's previous experience with teenagers was with those in contact with the law running a school system.
We need people who have actually done the day-to-day classroom education to be involved in setting educational policy.
We need people who have actual children involved setting policy.
The farther away we move from that, the more we turn this into some sort of system that runs on spreadsheets. That doesn't work on anything in education other than budgets.
We are talking about actual children in these classrooms. I'm not at all confident that mayoral control brings any benefit to them.

Deb Meier speaking back to Secretary Duncan

Great little interview with Deb Meier on Obama's education policy (including testing and charter schools). A few highlights:
on Duncan's centralizing ideas:
...to look for the answer increasingly in distant from where the action takes place, the cutting out of teachers’, parents’ and children’s voices in making decisions about schools, as we escalate the penalties if they don’t meet test scores. The incredible obsession with test scores, particularly in two particular areas, that hardly define what it means to be a well-educated person.

on charter schools:
...there’s nothing particular about charter schools that gives schools either greater autonomy to make decisions, powerful decisions, close to the children—that’s what I think is wonderful about a small school, that you can know kids and their families, can all know each other well, and can have a conversation that impacts on the school.
But what we’re seeing instead is an enormous number of pilot schools that are really replicas of the worst parts of the public system, where decisions are made farther and farther away from children, and they’re made on the basis of people who don’t know the kids or that school well.


on mayoral control of schools:
The mayor claims that mayoral control works, but, in fact, if you look at the data about which systems are doing best around this country, urban systems, in fact it’s the ones that don’t have mayoral control, not mayoral control. And even in this last round of test scores in New York City, in fact, the cities in New York State that don’t have mayoral control did better than New York City. So, what’s frustrating to me is I don’t like that definition of success, but that they don’t even believe it for themselves.

on who's running the ship:
So I’m also just stunned by the Department of Education that includes virtually no educators, whose definition of being well-educated is that you graduated from Harvard.

There’s something basically missing about what we want from our schools. And if we don’t get that right, and even discuss it, so that the only meaning of achievement now is improving test scores.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, and when you mentioned the people who are running the system that aren’t even educators, increasingly now, especially with this charter school movement, even the principals have no experience as teachers.

DEBORAH MEIER: There is no respect for—now, it’s not the only place we do this. I‘m a little stunned that you send in people on the basis of some general brightness category to fix automobile industries, who know nothing about manufacturing and industry. We’ve gotten—you know, this decade of interest in finance has made us think that only people who know how to manipulate money know how to change the world for the better.

Friday, May 22, 2009

School Report Cards

Worcester's school report cards (as required under NCLB) came out this week. Some highlights:
  • the district has 23,109 students registered, of which 39% are white, 36.4% are Latino, 13.6% are black, 7.9% are Asian, 2.6% are multiracial (or classify themselves as such), and 0.4% are Native American
  • The district is 52% male and 48% female
  • There are 1639.5 teachers employed in the district (yes, that's a half-time teacher). 98.4% of them are licensed in his teaching assignment, and the ratio of teachers to students is 1 to 14.1 (before we get too excited, let's remember that the ratio is an average that necessarily includes special ed classes that have very few children in them).
  • The cover letter points out "Schools receiving federal Title I funds that do not make A(dequte) Y(early) P(rogress) for two consecutive years must allow parents the opportunity to transfer their child to another school in the district that is performing satisfactorily. Schools that have not made AYP for three years in a row, in addition to offering parents the right to choose a new school, must also offer parents a chance to access supplemental educational services for their children." (This might include tutoring or after school classes.) All but three elementary schools in Worcester--West Tatnuck, Flagg Street, and Nelson Place--receive Title I funding and so fall under this umbrella. The city so far has managed to avoid having much of this happen (school choice makes it partly a moot idea, anyway), but there it is. Keep in mind that, using my local school as an example, missing AYP could mean that the white subgroup of children missed having their MCAS scores go up by 0.2 out of a hundred on their English Language Arts MCAS. Rather ridiculous. And of course, much of the school report card is based around this relentless drive to have everyone passing the MCAS by 2014, which has always had limited relationship to reality.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Paving at Chandler Elementary Community School

An item from the Mayor on paving.
The Mayor was asked by a fellow lawyer why the School Department hasn't paid a bill for paving at Chandler Elementary Community School. It was paved last August.
The Mayor was told there was no bid process, upon making phone calls. She was also told that this was not the first time.
She is demanding an explanation: "It speaks to a lack of control over what is going on in the system...I hope that this is not a pattern." She wants to know why there wasn't a bid process and why the bill isn't being paid.
She wants a report from administration (so it's public).

Saving Mass Academy

Mr. O'Connell, at the suggestion of CFO Brian Allen, is speaking of adopting Mass Academy of Math and Science if the state cuts their funding. He speaks of making it a school choice.
Nice one, Brian!

Focus on results

Ms. Hargrove would like a report on the Focus on Results program.

Ch. 74 transportation

This is the funding of transportation for kids who want to specialize in something out of district. The sending district pays for transportation to the appropriate vocational school.
(Here's the McFarlane column dealing with this issue.)
We have several students who are specializing in equine care or other animal care.
Mrs. Mullaney rises to address this: "I could not in good conscience" send her own daughter to a school specializing in that, pointing out that we're spending $58,000 to send one student. She refers to it as a "boondoggle" before catching herself and calling it a "budget buster." She would like parents to interact with legislators around this issue; she would also like to have us working with other districts to cooperate on transportation.
Mayor Lukes asks what our legal issues are.
Mr. O'Connell approves of sharing commuting.
Brian Allen says that we already do some sharing of transportation. He would like us to talk about tuition with the state.

$75,000 from Worcester Educational Foundation

for Foley Stadium refurbishment

Reminder on budget hearings

June 4
June 18
4pm
Worcester Public Schools budget hearings
Put it on your calendar!

Repairs

Mr. Monfredo is proposing that "repair, remodel, and restore" be the new motto of the Worcester Public Schools plant.
He wants to have volunteerism in sprucing up schools.
Referring to Community and Employee Issues

The Mayor says she's sure there are legal opinions "floating around out there."
Mr. Bogigian says "there have to be safeguards." He mentions liability.
Mr. O'Connell mentions work at Worcester Arts Magnet done by parents and inmates at the County House of Correction. He says that the collective bargaining with tradespeople was one issue in the past; he also agrees that liability was an issue, but speaks of a "carefully considered balancing of the" risks and benefits.

To refer or not to refer

Mr. O'Connell is moving to refer the report to the subcommittee on curriculum.
Mayor Lukes is pointing out that with a new superintendent, perhaps the referral isn't appropriate. She says she "doesn't understand the merit" of carrying it over.
Mr. Monfredo says he wants to wait to get her goals.
Mr. Foley says the School Committee is going on retreat with Dr. Boone; they could talk to her then.
Councilor Rosen and I have just agreed that this is the first we're hearing of a retreat (which must be a public meeting). We'll find out on that!

End of year report of the superintendent

Tonight's School Committee agenda has the Superintendent's summary report as an attachment. Currently, Mr. O'Connell is asking a series of questions regarding it: one on teacher preparation, and another on autism training.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Secondary School Innovation Fund Act

Now before the U.S. Congress is the Secondary School Innovation Fund Act (Senate Bill 968, House Bill 2239) which would create a $500 million fund for innovation in secondary education nationwide:
The Secondary School Innovation Fund Act would create a $500 million Secondary School Innovation Fund to support partnerships to create innovative models and programs in secondary schools to increase student achievement and prepare students for success in post-secondary education and the workforce. The partnerships would consist of state education agencies or local education agencies with institutes of higher education, community based organizations, non-profits, businesses, or school development organizations to create innovative models and programs of reform in the nation’s secondary schools.
The Act is particularly concerned with the large number (more than a million a year) of high school dropouts. It's estimated that we lose billions of dollars a year in potential from those kids dropping out.
If you're interested, contact your representative and senators.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In defense of the liberal arts

We don't do a lot with college education on here, but I did want to share, as, yes, a liberal arts grad myself, this defense of the liberal arts.

A recent New York Times article noted that Humanities now account for only 8% of all college degrees, and that proponents are having to work harder than ever to justify the worth of a humanities, or liberal arts, course of study. The article quotes Anthony T. Kronman, a Yale law professor, as saying, reluctantly, that the essence of a humanities education may become "a great luxury that many cannot afford."

Whence the stimulus?

Here's a cool interactive map that lets you see where the federal dollars are going. Note that the specifics of the education funding are NOT included in this.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weighing in with Secretary Duncan

While Secretary of Education is taking his listening tour on the road, this being the Obama administration, he's also taking it online.
Each week, he'll post a question and ask for answers. On May 11, he asked:

Many states in America are independently considering adopting internationally-benchmarked, college and career-ready standards. Is raising standards a good idea? How should we go about it?

Comments are still open, and it looks as though it's being read. Weigh in!
I'll try to remember to post updates here when he posts a new question. If you want to check the updates yourself, you'll find the blog at http://www.edgovblogs.org/duncan/topic/listening-tour/

Friday, May 15, 2009

T&G has a change of heart

(or maybe just a change of editor?)

Today's lead editorial "Raising Achievement" regarding yesterday's panel sponsored by the Research Bureau is most interesting in its ending:

...the forum did provide some guidance for what works that all can apply: opportunity for all, school-based planning and control, and a mindset that emphasizes bold innovation and experimentation over cheap political talk.

Wait a minute! "(S)chool-based planning and control"? Is this the same newspaper that for years has been telling us about how important statewide standards are? The same paper that has been pro-NCLB since its inception?

And how about that "bold innovation and experimentation"? If we take this at face value (as opposed to, say, code for "lift the cap on charter schools"), this would require that we trust our teachers. That we allow some light and air into classrooms. That we allow, even encourage, much less top-down and much more bottom-up curriculum development.

I'm all for it. I'm hoping that the editors at the T&G are, as well, and that they are willing to follow through on exactly what that really means.

What do the following have in common?

  • Worcester Technical High School
  • University Park Campus School
  • MATCH Charter School
Beyond their citation in today's paper?

They all have self-selected populations.

Yes, University Park Campus School has 80% free and reduced lunches and a majority English-second-language population. Yes, MATCH has kids making all kinds of jumps in achievement. Yes, Tech is increasing performance. And, really, good for them for doing as well as all of them are doing.

But the basic question posed by today's article (and, apparently, yesterday's panel, 'though I wasn't there) is how we can make this work across the board for all kids.

It isn't a simple matter of more charter schools (sorry, Mr. Anderson, but this isn't nearly the freedom of choice issue you think it is). It isn't only about vocational training, or smaller classes ('though smaller classes nearly always help).

It's about kids and parents caring enough about education to make a choice about the child's education.

All of the schools cited about require a parent and a child to choose for the child to be there. This isn't the neighborhood school; none of these is a place one just ends up. You have to find out about it, fill out forms, attend meetings. Sometimes you have to volunteer, or arrange transportation. For younger kids, the parents have to be actively involved for it to work. For older kids, the students have to want to make it work (I know what time the bus to Tech comes down my street; those kids want to be at school to be out the door at that hour!).

That involvement and caring is always in any school going to pay off in the child's education. The schools that require it, however, have a population made up entirely of those families, however. You've concentrated the caring and parental involvement (and, incidentally, pulled them out of other schools, thus possibly diluting it there). Given resources, smaller classes, adults who have good support, classes that they love, those kids are going to succeed.

What about the kids who don't have that? The ones who have parents who aren't involved, who don't care, who don't know? What about the kids themselves that don't care?
That's the population that really is at risk here. Often, those are your "achievement gap" kids. They aren't going to self-select out. How we reach those kids sitting in classrooms today: that's the question we ought to be asking.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More details?

If you're looking for more details on what the Senate Budget has (and doesn't) for education, the Mass Budget and Policy Center has it.

Senate Budget disaster

Among the disastrous parts of the Mass Senate's proposed budget is a statewide cut of $79 million in Chapter 70 aid (I'm working on what that means for Worcester), an $110 million cut statewide in special education reimbursements (which would hit Worcester hard), and cutting out the "inflation" part of the foundation formula, which would, before anything else, cut $4 million from the Worcester Public Schools.
That's 80 teachers.
Not to mention that the cut in local aid ($347 statewide) would, in addition to what it would do to parks, fire, DPW, police, the library, would automatically result in a city-side deduction in the school contribution (through, yes, the foundation formula). A cut in local aid is a cut in schools, too.

Senator Harriette Chandler of Worcester (Harriette.Chandler@state.ma.us) is the Assistant Vice Chairman of Ways and Means in the Senate.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And we have a budget

...for now, as the Mayor reminds everyone as they leave.

Back to full council

$90,000 has been added to the public health nurses to keep them until September; the money is coming from health insurance.
The City Manager is asking the Council to hold on for some photocopying which will reflect the PILOT money coming from WPI, which will fund the library being open on Mondays and Wednesday and give some funding to Institute Park; it also will reflect the negotiations that the Manager has had with various unions that have agreed to a salary freeze and a 75/25 split, and thus had some positions restored.
(Councilor Palmieri is taking this moment to stand up and laud the City Manager for today's WPI PILOT announcement.)

Dealing

We're still here at the budget hearing (now back from dinner break), where they are now hearing the Economic Development budget. The thing that's most interesting is the amount of circulating around the room that is happening. There are quite a number of side conversations going on between and among councilors. I've heard that several have suggested cuts for later on, when they vote on the entire budget.
Just to review, the City Council votes on each section of the budget whilst meeting as finance committee (which is what they have been doing for the past few weeks), and then convenes as Council to vote on the entire budget. They can reconsider any part of the budget when they do that.
There are also are a number of nurses in the audience tonight, which implies something happening with them. In fact, right now there's a huddle of councilors in the hallway (Eddy, Toomey, Petty, and Rushton) with a nurse.

Approved

School budget has been approved; half hour recess

WRTA and schools

Haller would like to know how much the WRTA changes are costing schools. Report to come.

Councilor Germaine

wants to know if the high mobility rate is why we have underperforming schools.
Boone says that's only part of it.
ELL is part of it. (English Language Learners)
There are other challenges "race or socio-economic status"
He asks what the population looks like and is our per pupil funding down or up
Increase in ELL, low income, and sped students
Foundation funding is predicated on ELL and low income; it doesn't include sped in that calculation.
Germaine thinks busing could be a place for savings.
Do we exceed federal guidelines?
Allen says that state law determines that. K-6 beyond 2 miles. Bus is paid for by the day: once it's out of the yard, we've paid for it, so we use it. Transportation improves attendance, and NCLB includes attendence in how we are graded. WRTA is used, but their discontinuing transfers has made that more expensive.
Do we pick up children inside 2 miles?
Yes, if safety issues present themselves.
Germaine looks at that as a citizen and says there's gotta be a way to save money.
More than half of transportation is mandated by IEP's for sped students.
Germaine asks about the athletics budget, which will stay the same. He wants a transparent discussion of cuts, once we need to have cuts, so we can have fundraising efforts as needed.

Councilor Haller

says an important question is what would you do with less funding, but she apparently means that question rhetorically.
Haller gets confirmation that there will be no change in the community schools.
She's asking about ELL (you might remember that there was a question back at the hearing in April that was co-signed by Councilor Haller)...programming additional staff, says Brian Allen. She asks if there are guidelines. Allen says there are mandated services, and we are working to be in compliance.

Councilor Palmieri

speaks of his own experience in the Worcester Public Schools, saying that Loughlin is among the great teachers he had, as was Senator Chandler.



Early intervention, he says, has been something important to him. Boone says it's something she'll take a look at.
Palmieri speaks of gifted student funding..."a school for gifted children" is something he'd like to see.
Loughlin speaks of the advanced placement in the high schools, music at Burncoat, engineering at Doherty, Goddard Scholars at South, and health at North.
Palmieri wants to see something like Boston Latin.

Councilor Clancy

points out that he's already moved to pass the budget.
He also says he knows of three ways to balance budget:
  • raise taxes
  • cut more
  • get more money from the state or fed, which isn't going to happen

Lauds for Loughlin and Mills now.

Councilor Smith

citing himself (to much Councilor muttering and chuckling) as a fine example of a Worcester Public Schools graduate
He asks how Superintendent Boone would spend more money, if she had it, "to increase student achievement"
There are a lot of things, she says, to provide "stretch goals" for the district (she's doing a dang good job, incidently, of citing councilors by name). She's going to be meeting with her "leadership team" to develop those. She also thanks Councilor Smith in citing himself.

Interm Superintendent Loughlin has a wish list to offer:
  • low class sizes
  • teacher development
  • 3rd grade and sped achievement gap
  • student health
  • gifted and talented programs
  • parental involvement (not just having meetings, but training parents in reading and math)

Smith asks what is the long-term plan for the loss of federal dollars.

Boone says that's a good question and she's going to be working on that..."a clear direction" She calls it a "real change in landscape" She's also considering in using stimulus dollars to "cushion" the blow.

Smith asks how much we've lost in students ($10 million of $60 million in losses over the past 6 years). And have we gotten more now? Yes (as, Brian Allen points out, he already explained once). Smith wants to know when the money is coming; this year, says Mr. Allen, based on last year's enrollment. Smith asks if we're going to continue to see that; it varies, says Mr. Allen.

Smith asks about repairing schools, citing Nelson Place School in his own district (which has to be periodically be checked for how far it's leaning). It's a question of when the state will fund it. "Kids should be able to learn in a school where they aren't worried about the building crumbling around them."

Councilor Petty

says he'd like to know what we are looking at moving ahead.
He's also asking where the missed money is coming from. Brian Allen says the retirement fund; they don't want to have to cut teachers midyear.
There's a recommendation coming that some positions will be cut, coming with the budget presentation to the School Committee in two weeks.

Councilor Toomey

Brings up the 80 languages spoken by people in the city (we heard about that last week during public health, too), and how the kids reflect that.
Asks a question of Brian Allen about charter school funding (Toomey has been very active in working against charter school funding statewide).
Much talk about "working together" as Councilor Toomey chairs the Education subcommittee that has been meeting jointly with the Business subcommittee of the School Committee.
Councilor Toomey just came out to request the clarification above on "funding" of charter schools.

Councilor Rosen

...with much commenting on how "it's been years" since he's paid close attention to this, but he's concerned. He's also remembering a well-stocked chemistry closet at Doherty.
He points out the 80% rate of moving in some schools.

Late for the budget

Sorry for the late start on blogging here at the School budget. There were four speakers from the public, the budget passed without comment, and now we're getting a series of comments and questions from Councilors.
I came in just in time to hear Councilor Eddy say that "if this keeps up, we're going to have to start having a conversation around sustainable revenue"

For what we've missed here, you'll have to check Daily Worcesteria.

Leadership

"A true leader does not take the public to where the public happens to be, because the public is already there. A leader takes the public to where the public should be, according to that leader’s view of the society’s highest ideals – ideals that the public shares but which have not yet been realized."

Robert Reich in his post "Obama and Pragmatism." He was speaking of something else, but I thought it might be appropo for tonight's City Council budget hearing.

A popular choice?

We would be remiss if we didn't point out Daily Worcesteria's post from yesterday revealing that Councilor Rich Rushton is considering a run for School Committee.
That would make two at-large Councilors potentially in the race for School Committee, as Councilor Gary Rosen is also considering a run for School Committee.
Neither Councilor has formally announced a run for School Committee, and only Rosen has pulled papers for it, 'though he has not yet turned in any signatures for either at-large or School Committee.

Monday, May 11, 2009

School Budget is UP next!

TOMORROW!

The City Council will hear the Worcester Public School budget.
The meeting begins at 4pm, 'though they have a small bit of regular agenda before they begin the budget hearing. Word has it that they will go straight through into the evening if needed.

If you have anything to say about the budget (remember: the Council sets the amount, the School Committee decides how to spend it), be there!

Tax Levy limit

In light of some of the editorials coming out recently (last week's Worcester Magazine and this Sunday's Nick Kotsopolos column), a few facts on Worcester's tax levy may be in order:

Worcester is 3rd in “excess capacity” which is the dollars under the levy limit.

Cambridge is first at $96 million under.

Marlborough and Worcester are both $12+ million under.

Waltham is 4th at $8 million under.


In % under the limit, we are ranked 26th.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Campaigning?

We should comment, incidentally, on the presence of Councilor Gary Rosen at tonight's School Committee meeting. It is so extremely rare as to unheard of to see any councilor at a School Committee meeting. Interesting in light of today's Worcester Magazine comment that he might be running for School Committee rather than re-election.

PILOT? What PILOT?

Thanks for the hand!

To accept donations of $1,000 each from Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, UMASS Medical School and UMASS Memorial Health Care, Inc. for a total amount of $4,000 as a stipend to be paid to Dr. Boone for her four week long visits to the Worcester Public Schools.

Bullying on the rise

In response to Mr. Monfredo speaking on anti-bullying, the Mayor said that the D.A. has let them know that bullying in the city, especially among girls, is on the rise, and is being "publicized over the internet".

Restructuring the administration

Mrs. Mullaney speaking on the change in administration: "We have two members of the administration leaving, and we don't know what her plans are."
(That would be the Deputy Superintendent, Stephen Mills, who will be leaving to become Superintendent in his own right, and the Quadrant Manager for North/Burncoat, Don Kelley, who is retiring after thirty years of service.)
She'd like the School Committee to meet with Dr. Boone regarding her plans, which may involve reorganization.

School Budget hearing dates

MARK YOUR CALENDARS:
Two Thursdays, presumably at 7 pm:

June 4
June 18

Principals do what?

Mr. Bogigian speaking on the role of principals in hiring teachers. "I think we've neglected that" in our latest discussions over Human Resources. He suggests that perhaps it should go to the task force.
The Mayor doesn't think it should go to the HR task force.

Joint subcommittee report

Mr. Foley reporting on the joint meeting Monday night.
They're having a conference call later this week with the fed to determine who can raise the percentage on grants.
They're also looking for a list of what the cost assessments are for other communities.

Business subcommittee report

We've got a few reports here, the first was the Business subcommittee coming out of the hearing in early April.
Mr. Foley is now reporting on the grant rate increase; we've done the numbers here before 1% to 3% means we're up to $1.2 million that's going to the city on our grants (including the federal stimulus). And now the quote from Commissioner Chester: "at digression of the School Committee"
We're also looking at a comparison with other districts of like size, and a long-term plan that includes Medicaid.

We're also running through the financial numbers later on in the agenda, as those are the quarterly review done by the Business subcommittee.

Dual Language at Norrback

We're having a superintendent's report tonight on the dual language program at Norrback Avenue School.
The kids are on a whole-week program: one week in the English classroom, and one week in the Spanish classroom. The teacher presenting says that there is a great deal of peer learning going on. Science and social studies are taught in the language they're in for that work. Specials are in with the rest of the school (in English).
Both English and Spanish fluent is the goal.
Up to 25% fluency in the language after kindergarten, with 100% fluency by third grade.

Personnel items

We're taking the personnel items out of order and not just filing them so that the appointments can be publicly congratulated:


Principal, South High Community School, effective April 13, 2009

Binienda, Maureen, CAGS, Step 10, $111,235


Principal, Columbus Park School, effective April 13, 2009

Boss, Jessica, CAGS, Step 5, $88,833


Principal, Grafton Street School, effective April 13, 2009

McKiernan, Mary, CAGS, Step 9, $102,178


Principal, Lincoln Street School, effective April 13, 2009

Pulsifer, Mary Beth, MA+30, Step 8, $95,582

Principal, Roosevelt School, effective April 13, 2009

Kelley, Ellen, CAGS, Step 7, $95,519

Acting Principal, J. A. Caradonio New Citizens Center, effective August 25, 2008

Alzamora, Steven, CAGS, Step 9, $82,654

Assistant Principal, Chandler Magnet School (ACT), effective March 12, 2009

Culligan, Colleen, CAGS, Step 9, $82,654

Liveblog: report on School Plant

The School Committee is taking the report of the School Plant out of order.
They've just decided not to send books stored at South High to the Historical Museum.

We've now got two items filed with Lieutenant Governor Murray was Mayor (!), one on veterans, one on firecode, and both were filed (which means they sit on it).

I take it the School Plant does not meet often?
Yup, here's one by Murray and Joe O'Brien, both of whom have been off the School Committee for at least two years (four?) on an energy audit, which would be a great idea, but is also being filed, as is "aggressively pursuing" energy savings, as is one on putting solar panels on the roof of the Tech School.

No idling zones around schools: filed.
Energy conservation options at the new North High: filed.

uh, okay, basically everything on this report is being filed, with the exception of the "innovation center" at the Tech School, which was approved 2-1, Mullaney voting nay.

The Mayor asks if the Green Hill Park Coalition and the City Manager has approved the item. Mr. Bogigian says this was "just a next step" before they go any further. Mr. Coghlin has said that he is dealing with each group separately, 'though the grant is due in June.
Building budget approved 2-1, Mullaney voting nay.
Mr. O'Connell assures us that every item was thoroughly considered before filing.

"put aside personal agendas"

We don't usually quote from the invocation, but the above was in the prayer tonight. Makes for an interesting contrast with today's Worcester Magazine, doesn't it?

Liveblog School Committee, but not yet!

The School Committee is once again doing a school suspension hearing and so is running late for their meeting.

A Schoolhouse Divided

Well, at least the School Committee isn't being ignored anymore...

By seasoned political-watching standards, the Worcester School Committee isn’t exactly sexy political theater. It’s a group that — even by one of its own member’s admissions — deals “as much with acknowledgements … as significant policy issues.”

This week's Worcester Magazine cover story reviews through individual interviews with its members the "scandal, croynism, and city mergers" with which the Committee has been dealing of late.

Budget hearing note

Just a note that next Tuesday's (5/12) budget hearing which will include the Worcester Public Schools' budget starts at 4 pm. The Council did not finishing all of their budgetary agenda this past Tuesday ('though the meeting ran to midnight), so they are starting right away with that at 4.
The Schools are FIRST on that night's agenda!

The Council hopes to vote the entire budget that night, too.
For now, anyway.

Come and bring a sandwich!

School Committee meeting tonight

The School Committee meets tonight, and, as is not unusual at the end of the year, approves the appointment of some new principals. What is new is the listing of step and salary of each, as requested by the School Committee a few weeks ago.
A few other interesting orders:

gb #9-110 - Mr. Bogigian/Mayor Lukes/Mr. Monfredo/Mr. O’Connell

(April 22, 2009)

Request that the Superintendent define the role of the building principal in the hiring of a teacher.

Under Ed Reform, the principals received greatly enhanced powers to hire and fire. How this interacts with the administration in a place like Worcester is a good question. And yes, this, too, has to do with the last debacle in Human Resources.

gb #9-112 - Mr. Foley/Mrs. Mullaney/Ms. Hargrove

(April 24, 2009)

Request that Dr. Boone meet with all members of the School Committee on her next visit to Worcester to discuss the structuring of her Administration.

There's been some thoughts going around that there may not be an assistant superintendent in Dr. Boone's administration, that she will reorganize closer to the system out of which she is coming.

Liveblog tonight!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Listening tour begins

Secretary Duncan is starting his 15 (at least) state listening tour with a visit to West Virginia yesterday:

''What No Child Left Behind did is, they were absolutely loose on the goals,'' Duncan told the Education Writers Association, meeting in Washington. ''But they were very tight, very prescriptive on how you get there.

''I think that was fundamentally backwards,'' he said.

Duncan said the federal government should be ''tight'' on the goals, insisting on more rigorous academic standards that are uniform across the states. And he said it should be ''much looser'' in terms of how states meet the goals.

The education community is watching closely to see just what Duncan means by ''tight'' and ''loose.'' So far, the administration has offered few clues.

And remember, he's taking suggestions on a new name!

Other states targeted for potential events include Michigan, Vermont, California, Montana, Wyoming, New Jersey, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington D.C., Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Utah, and Alaska, according to the Department of Education's press release. Additional states and events may be added during the course of the tour.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Great summary of Geoffrey Canada

I haven't posted as much as I ought to have about Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children Zone. Canada is among those who are speaking at the New Yorker Summit .
Kottke has a great summary of what Canada's discovered:

1. We have to tackle everything at the same time. Small programs touching unconnected parts of kids lives aren't that effective.

2. They start working with kids from birth and stay with them until they graduate from college. If they don't let them get behind, later superhero-type interventions (which don't often work) are not needed.

3. Scale is important. If you work with lots of kids, their collective action reinforces itself with little further effort.

4. Accountability and evaluation is needed. Canada said that if bad teachers aren't teaching the kids, they should be fired.

Yes, we're still here...

and the same refrain keeps coming back:
  1. There are more cuts coming
  2. We don't have a done budget yet.
On a day in which the lead headline in the local paper reported a $1 billion shortfall, no one thinks that we've got a finished budget here. The state has to figure out what it's going to do with $1 billion less, then let the city know what that will mean for us, and then the Council can decide what they're doing.

Councilor Petty, echoed by Councilor Eddy, commented that we don't have final numbers yet.

Rosen on the public schools

In speaking of the privatization of public health, Councilor Rosen commented:
"public schools have some pretty good finances for this coming year"

The MCAS and 21st century skills

I'm sure you all get tired of hearing me rant about the MCAS, so here's someone else responding to yesterday's Globe editorial on 21st century skills.

Put 'em to work

Councilor Toomey is currently suggesting putting our Worcester Tech students to work for the library in upgrading their computers. But then she said "major qualifying project" which (thanks, Amy) means that she means WPI? We guess?
Maybe they could work on the other school computers first?!

HR item

If you're looking for coverage of the HR item, head over to Daily Worcesteria (scroll down to 4:32). It does miss the retirees' demonstration as Councilor Germaine stood to address the item (they had a whole chant thing going, and had to be ejected from the chamber when they refused to be gavelled down).

(And it's "aisle" but then, I was talking.)

HR up today

(we think!)
Item 5d is the Human Resources item, moved from last week. All of last week's items are early on the agenda for this afternoon (remember, the Council meets at 4 pm again today), so one assumes they'll get to them.

Originally, tonight's budget hearing was supposed to include the School department. I'm pretty sure it's been moved to next week, but I'm checking for sure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Housekeeping again

Running out of batteries here...but it looks like the meeting is also wrapping up.

WHEW: Go Isabel!

Isabel Gonzales is concerned about tone, too: "because the city is suffering the kids need to suffer more"
The only people who give less than us is Holyoke.
How many teaching positions is $28 million?
Working hard on state level as well as city level

The answer, incidentally, is 400: if we really are $28 million behind two years from now, that's 400 teaching positions.

Structural reaction to a cyclical problem

Colleen Fahy :"the city never gave more than 1% above minimum"
"structural reaction to a cyclical problem"
"when four years of math is an unaffordable program"
"Historically, we haven't seen this reciprocity we're hearing about going around the table"

"Is it ethical?"

Deb Steigman asks "Is it ethical?"
We were willing to pay more taxes when the economy was okay.
The only way we're going to survive is our future, and our future is our children.
If the president thinks the money thinks we need to have the money.
"Who are we to take it away?"
We don't have nurses.
26 or more children in classes.
"I have neighbors who have moved out of the city because of the schools"
"taking care of the most vulnerable"
"This is not where we should go after and get that extra money!"
calls for reforms in every union in the city
"This is the one clear place where there should not be a cut."

Monfredo with some reminders

$50 million dollars lost
8 schools closed
programs for gifted, librarians, health teachers
"When cuts are made, those things don't return."
Quotes Cellucci that the key to a good economy is a good educational system.

O'Connell points out...

Supplies are down to 1/3 of what they were.
Teachers down, no librarians...
Longitudinally, the losses have been great.

Only an illustration...

We aren't actually laying off 20 teachers (don't panic yet!).

Rosen "brings back memories"

"brings back memories of those ten years I was on the School Committee...I thought we had come so far...a little painful for us...can take me out of the school system but you can't take the school system out of me."
"They are the City...we are the City...there's no competition"
Budget constraints make us pull in all directions. School Committee members were elected to advocate for the children; city councilors were elected to advocate for children, too.
"Let's keep in mind that this has to be a team...a team of seventeen."
dang, is he running for something?
Rosen is the first City Councilor who directs a question to Brian Allen: he asks how the loss of the funds will show up in the school budget.
It's been factored into the budget already, he says.
Is it teachers? Books? Rosen pushes.
Roughly 20 teachers, Allen says.

Eddy concerned about tone

what government has to do, must do, should do...
Stimulus money meant to revitalize economy.
(and we're back to police officers again...)

Talking here about what people look for in a city. "When I hear...someone say the word boondoggle...that we're somehow trying to take some money and it's us and them...be careful with the term boondoggle...what are the best of the bad situation. Worldwide global recession. Repectfully, I urge you rethink that word."

Mullaney withdraws the word. She also points out that schools have declined over the past six or seven years..."we've been at a bad level, and we're going to stay at a bad level."

Commissioner said they could charge

..but that it's at the discretion of the School Committee, says Brian Allen.

Mullaney takes the floor

We have a document from the State saying we can vote on this. Zidelis referenced a 1991 agreement saying that we can't vote on it. We need to find out which has the authority.
"a little skeptical until I see it in writing"
The intent of the stimulus money..that 100% would go to schools. Would like to know from the federal level that 97% would go to schools. Stimulus money being a grant is "sort of an Alice in Wonderland thing...a bit of boondoggle."
"We seem to have conflicting rationales on whether this amount of money can be charged or not"

Zidelis says we've been found okay by three sets of auditors.

Foley: costs and who approves

Foley points out it isn't just what the costs are, but who approves it.
He asks Brian Allen what the indirect costs charges are...he hasn't checked yet. 0-3% is what he's been told.
1991 was when the override passed, and that's when indirect costs were implemented.

Toomey: "not an us versus them"

"our children...public services that we're providing to all..."
However, "I know, as a former School Committee member, the needs that need to be met on the school side...need to find solutions...may not find them this year."
Need the legal opinions

Smith: "our city" and more leading questions

Schools are "a major part of our city"
Hasn't been updated since 1991? No. There was "some pushback" in 1991; it "took a phone call up to the federal level" to let the schools know that the city could demand it.
Did the 1% cover costs?
They were asking for 2.1% then, so, no, 1% was not enough to cover costs then.
Has it kept pace with inflation?
"would venture to say that it hasn't kept" up with inflation

"There's a good chance that the city has been heavily subsiding" the schools, Smith says. Zidelis says that they would be at 3% now if it has been reassessed.

Zidelis points out that Ch.70 keeps up with the real costs each year, as it is looked at on an annual basis. Grants are not.

Smith wants to know what we're saving in the city with that school money: 20 jobs, says Zidelis. Even with those moneies coming in, we still will lose jobs.
"It would have a direct impact on the quality of life in the city," says Smith.
as opposed to the impact it will have on the schools?!?!

Eddy asks a leading question

Up until now, has this been an agreement between city and school sides?
"There were recommendations to increase it" under Hoover, Zidelis says."The City's plan justified it, even back then." Plan hasn't been reviewed since, as far as he knows.
Eddy asks how much.
Over a million, Zidelis says, not including the stimulus money.
Including stimulus? Another $600,000.

Eddy talks about police officers and firefighters, not sweeping streets..."felt deeply" is his refrain. "look at future years as things change on both sides"

Bogigian asks for a compromise

Mr. Bogigian asks if there is room for compromise: the city needs money, but they are entrusted to advocate for the schools. Is it possible that we could help the city out, or does it have to be set?
He says this came up for the subcommittee on business.
Toomey comments that they said this at the beginning of the meeting; she says this is "for now" and "recognize that next year will be a much worse state of affairs."
Mr. Bogigian recommends that periodic meetings be between the superintendent and the City Manager be the forum for the discussion.

O'Connell wants it reviewed

Mr. O'Connell has asked that prior records be reviewed.
He points out that the percentage means that the amount of money goes up every time the money goes up, and now it applies to the federal stimulus (whereas it would not apply to the Ch. 70 money it replaces). He wants "a proper level of reimbursement."

Zidelis quotes "a consistent level of redirect" (not only of schools, but of all grants coming to the city); that's what the federal law was intended to ensure happens: consistency.

He goes on to say that the percentage "covers the costs of your grants."

Toomey wants to have a legal opinion on the grant percentage from local, state, and federal authorities.

Chairman's orders

  • conference call checking with the fed on who gets to decide
  • listing of other admin charges of other districts similar in size to Worcester

Foley explains further

they're going to check and see if it's subject to an annual vote of the School Committee.

At the time of the original agreement in 1991, Zidelis says it was not subject to the vote of the School Committee. He's very confident that it will be found compliant by the federal government.

Zidelis responds

Two discrete charges:
  1. plan agreed to that a flat charge for Ch. 70 funding
  2. plan since 1991 on the percentage of grants
The increase that the city admin has put forth is an update of the 1991 plan, says Mr. Zidelis.

Foley poses the percent increase question

Mr. Foley has asked the DoE and Senator Moore about the increase question. Brian Allen has learned that

A 3% cut would mean $600,000 loss for schools.

Commissioner Chester has circulated a letter on "indirect cost reporting" is at the discretion of the School Committee. That policy applies to all grant dollars, according to the DoE. Mr. Foley says that they will be getting a legal opinion from the state.

Mr. Foley is proposing that if this is the case, that the subcommittee would look at the current state of things in the city and look ahead at how things are or will be going. Also, he proposes a renegotiation of the percentage vs. per-pupil charge from the city. He also brings up Medicaid.

We'll be out of stimulus money in two years, and where will we be then?

Liveblogging joint subcommittee meeting: House budget

We can solve the current budget hole if we hold aside all employee raises, says Brian Allen.

Tom Zidelis says we're down $3.4 million. Today was the hearing for the two home-rule petitions (the City sent a delegation, including eight City Councilors, into the State House for this earlier today). April revenues should be released tomorrow, which will give us more of an idea of how the year is going, and it will give the Senate more of an idea as it moves forward with our budget.

Liveblogging joint subcommittee meeting: Allen update

Brian Allen is giving an update of what's happened since the last joint meeting...no new news for those who read here...

Liveblogging joint subcommittee meeting: May version

Quite a group here tonight: Toomey, Eddy, Smith, but also Haller, Petty, Rosen. Foley, Bogigian, and O'Connell, but also Monfredo, Mullaney, and Hargrove. Plus we've got T&G columnists, reporters, both CFO's, both clerks

And it's televised!

And in this corner...

Clive McFarlane's column today sounds a bit like a set-up for a round of boxing. I wouldn't count on it being quite that dramatic, but the City Council's Committee on Education and the School Committee's Standing Committee on Business are holding a joint meeting tonight at 7:15 in the Levi Lincoln chamber (the other end of the third floor hallway).

The agenda just says a FY10 budget update; the two things that may or may not be up for discussion are the percentage taken from grants given the School department and the possibility of the City taking over the Schools' Human Resources department (now item 5d on tomorrow's Council agenda).

The first item has been a flat raise proposed by the City Manager; he has said that he can simply impose it. It sounds, from Clive's column, as though the schools may have gotten a different interpretation of that (what happens if both ask the City Soliciter for an opinion on that? Or does someone have to get outside counsel?). This could lead to the less-than-ideal situation of two parts of the City having a legal disagreement.

The second is more of a red herring. The Human Resources merger cannot happen without the agreement of both the Council and the Committee. It's not clear that a majority of the Council supports the idea, let alone the School Committee. Other than furthering the bad blood between the Council and School Committee--and perhaps making it look like they're doing something--I'm not at all clear on why the Council has proposed this.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cramming in Kindergarten

An article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine tomorrow covers the ongoing and increasing amount of cramming going on in kindergarten:
A survey of 254 teachers in New York and Los Angeles the group commissioned found that kindergartners spent two to three hours a day being instructed and tested in reading and math. They spent less than 30 minutes playing. “Play at age 5 is of great importance not just to intellectual but emotional, psychological social and spiritual development,” says Edward Miller, the report’s co-author. Play — especially the let’s-pretend, dramatic sort — is how kids develop higher-level thinking, hone their language and social skills, cultivate empathy. It also reduces stress, and that’s a word that should not have to be used in the same sentence as “kindergartner” in the first place...

Regardless of the cause, Miller says, accelerating kindergarten is unnecessary: any early advantage fades by fourth grade. “It makes a parent proud to see a child learn to read at age 4, but in terms of what’s really best for the kid, it makes no difference.” For at-risk kids, pushing too soon may backfire. The longitudinal High/Scope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study followed 68 such children, who were divided between instruction- and play-based classrooms. While everyone’s I.Q. scores initially rose, by age 15, the former group’s academic achievement plummeted. They were more likely to exhibit emotional problems and spent more time in special education. “Drill and kill,” indeed
.

Here's something we KNOW, Secretary Duncan! How about a federal mandate on that?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cellucci, Swift secretary says we need higher taxes

Really interesting editorial in today's Boston Globe on the need for the Commonwealth to raise taxes, particularly if you look at who wrote it: Steve Crosby, who was a secretary for former Republican governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift.

Typically, governments spend at least all that they collect. The enormous revenue growth of the mid-'80s led to no savings, a huge unfunded pension liability, and vastly increased spending. If the tax cuts had not occurred, the Commonwealth's spending would likely have matched all the tax revenue the state collected. Nearly two decades of tight fiscal policy has been an essential brake on state spending, and an appropriate response to the legitimate concerns of personal and business taxpayers about profligacy in state government.

But times have changed. Service delivery is genuinely compromised in vital areas of government. There is also a structural deficit that probably cannot be made up with spending cuts that the public will support.

We have reached the end of the inexorable pendulum-like cycle of government change, from the social investment of Governors Sargent and Dukakis, to the fiscal conservatism of Weld/Cellucci/Swift/Romney, and now back to the demand for social investment under Patrick. New revenues are needed, and that means taxes need to be increased. It should not occur until pension and health costs for state employees are brought to standards that are sustainable and fair in today's environment. It should be done with shrewd phasing, and with full utilization of the stimulus and rainy day funds.

Extraordinary, dramatic, and incent

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the Education Writers Association (did you know there was one?) yesterday. He's rather jokingly hostile to them ("occasionally..insight"?); beyond that, here are a few excerpts with comments:

Truth is supposed to be objective, unequivocal and beyond debate, but do we always meet that standard of objective truth? Do we sometimes choose facts and ideas selectively—and ignore certain truths in favor of others?

I raise these questions because I worry that our public conversation about educating children, lifting struggling schools, and evaluating teachers and principals, too often fall apart because we can't agree on facts, let alone solutions.

There is little agreement on what kids should know and be able to do—how to measure it—and how to report the measures.

We can't agree on whether standardized tests can accurately reflect achievement levels. We can't even agree on whether to test.

There is little agreement about which student outcomes matter most.

What are our priorities?

  • Higher graduation rates?
  • Higher test scores?
  • Better attendance?
  • Higher grades?
  • Better freshman year on track rates?

We don't agree on how to measure these simple outcomes—not to mention the more complex ideas like value-added.

And there is even less agreement around the means to reaching these goals.

  • A positive school culture?
  • An administrator's leadership skills?
  • Or a teacher's degree of helpfulness?

We can't agree on whether teachers should be measured by their peers, level of qualifications, classroom observation, student performance—or all of the above.

Most people agree that learning begins at birth—yet I recently saw a very irresponsible piece on television calling pre-school a waste of money.

We need to develop a new generation of great teachers—yet there is little agreement on how to hire a great teacher. Is it college grades, advanced degrees, or some intangible quality of empathy and passion?

Somehow amidst all of this chaos and confusion—differing opinions—competing agendas—and absence of broadly-accepted truths—you and I must conduct an open, honest, and productive national conversation on public education.

This all supposes that he gets it, to some extent: that there might possibly be another side to the issues about which he is passionate. Why then does he go on to cite being open to charter schools as necessary for advancement? Are there not two sides to that one?

For example, performance pay is fairly new to education so there may not be a lot of studies showing that it boosts student achievement.

But there's plenty of proof that it boosts worker productivity in other industries, so why not try it in schools?

Well, except there are studies showing that it doesn't boost student achievement. See, for example, the work of George Madaus on "payment for results" in other countries (you'll need to scroll down, but it's a great interview, anyway, and worth reading!).

Too often, we let ideology get in the way of honest conversation. Take charters for example.

Depending on what you read, they are either the salvation of public education or the death-knell for unions.

The fact is they are neither. There are good charters and bad ones—there are union charters and non-union charters. Albert Shanker was one of the pioneers of the charter school movement.

Charters don't take money from public schools. They are public schools—serving our kids with our money and accountable to the same standards.

With one exception: charters don't have to take all kids. Public schools do. Whatever their needs, whatever their histories, all kids can attend a public school.

And where unions are behind these efforts to impede charters we should certainly call them out but we shouldn't demonize unions or blame them for all of the problems in education.

We don't demonize all corporations because of Enron. We don't demonize every stock broker because of Bernie Madoff.

There are many, many great teachers in union schools doing a great job. I met several this week at the White House.

Many of them put in more hours than is required because they care about kids and they care about the work.

That doesn't mean some teachers shouldn't find new careers or that some union contracts shouldn't be rewritten. It doesn't mean some locals aren't opposed to reform.

But we owe it to the millions of dedicated men and women who teach our children—to sit down with them and be respectful even as we challenge them to change.

Union leaders say they are open to reform if it is done "with" them—not "to" them. The President and I have taken them at their word.

We have pushed them on performance pay, higher pay for hard-to-staff schools and subjects, and teacher evaluation systems linked to student performance.

As any frequent readers of who-cester know, the relative amount that teachers are responsible for what any given kid learns in the classroom varies widely. You can my kindergarten, who knows she'll have dinner and a bed tonight and has been read to since she could pick up her head, and put her up against a kid who doesn't know if he'll have dinner or where he'll sleep, and has never had anyone show the slightest interest in his education, and see how much a teacher can do with each of them. There's a reason that teachers are pushing back on performance pay and linking evaluation to test scores.

Kids only have one chance for an education—and we need to have the courage to stand up for them when the system doesn't work. Sometimes you just need to start over.

We're challenging parents to take more responsibility for the education of their children.

We understand that we can't easily fill a home with books or change the behavior of parents overwhelmed by burdens or demons.

Nevertheless, the President has spoken forcefully on the issue—calling for parents to turn off the television, help with homework, and get involved with school.

Agreed on kids only having one education. Having the President speak forcefully on parental roles is not enough, though. We're going to need a whole lot more than that.

We need to be more candid about teacher evaluation. The State of Wisconsin explicitly prohibits linking teacher evaluation and student performance. New York State passed a similar law related to teacher tenure and the State of California also decouples student data and teacher evaluation.

I have an open mind about teacher evaluation, but we need to find a way to measure classroom success and teacher effectiveness. Pretending that student outcomes are not part of the equation is like pretending that professional basketball has nothing to do with the score.

Ugh. Bad analogy. It's more like saying that professional basketball has nothing to do with the number of completed free-throws. It's part of the game; it isn't the ultimate measure of it.

We know that test scores don't tell you everything about students or teachers—but they do tell you something—and until we come up with better measures ways to measure achievement—we must use what we have.

And those test scores will continue to mirror closely the race, education level, income level, and amount of test prep those kids got. How useful is that? How about throwing some money at getting better evaluations?

You can find some of the Q&A from after the speech here.