Friday, October 29, 2010

That number is

$44,946.26

That's how much the cleanup of mercury at Grafton Street School cost the Worcester Public Schools.
Full breakdown of costs in this week's agenda backup here.

Generous neighbors

Thank you to Millbury Savings Bank for a generous donation promised this morning to Vernon Hill and Quinsigamond Schools. They'll be the schools' new neighbor on the corner of Providence and Millbury Streets.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another brick in the wall

ThinkProgress is reporting that 111 Republicans running for Congress want to abolish the federal Department of Education. Before we all get too excited (one way or the other), it's worth noting that this has been even a plank of the Republican Party platform before, but it's never gotten enough support from actually serving, actually elected representatives and senators to get it passed. No telling if it will this time.
Also, per the comments following the ThinkProgress post, let's keep even this in some perspective. The federal education department was created as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty; that makes it a fairly new federal department. Even if the Republicans did muster the votes to elminate the federal DoE, this would not somehow magically make education in the United States vanish. We did have education in this country prior to the 1960's! Education is largely--though less so now than fifteen years ago--managed, controlled, and even funded by state and local governments. Losing funding would hurt communities with heavy Title I enrollments (like Worcester), but in the scope of education funding nationally, the federal government is a relatively minor player, even after the $4 billion of Race to the Top.
This is not, I hasten to add, to say that I think we cut the DoE off. The original argument for the creation of the department--that national equity in education is lacking, and it's in the interest of the American people as a whole to change that--is still a valid one. I'd say we need to work on how we're doing it, as some of the policies currently being pursued increase, rather than decrease, inequity.

A Declaration of Conscience for Teachers

Anthony Cody over at Living in Dialogue has posted the twenty year old "Declaration of Conscience for Teachers."
The preamble reads in part:
Education in the United States is at such a crossroad. At the same time that schools have rededicated themselves to equal educational opportunity for all, laws and policies are being imposed on schools that limit the ability of diligent teachers to use their professional judgment to further the personal development and welfare of their students.

There are strong pressures today to dehumanize, to depersonalize, to industrialize our schools. In the name of cost effectiveness, of efficiency, of system, of accountability, of minimal competency, of a return to the basics, schools are being turned into sterile, hostile institutions at war with the young people they are intended to serve.

As teachers we hereby declare ourselves to be in opposition to the industrialization of our schools. We pledge ourselves to become advocates on behalf of our students.
And I would only add that I would extend this to all educators: that principals, administrators, superintendents, and yes, school committee members should hold themselves to such a pledge.

Stotsky: questions from the audience

Councilor Lukes: was trained as a teacher "education courses long on puff and short on substance"
"can't teach somebody how to be a teacher...have to prove themselves in the battlefield of the classrooms"
tenure, seniority, contract provisions
"once we hire those teachers, and they prove to themselves and to us that" they can't do it
one party politics in Massachusetts, power of teachers' unions
I seem to have missed her question here, which was on the importance of actual classroom experience in evaluating teachers, and being able to get rid of those who are not doing a great job

Sandra Stotsky on teacher quality (with commentary)

Sorry for the late posting on this one. Professor Sandra Stotsky was the Research Bureau's guest lecturer yesterday at a breakfast at Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. I thought it very cool to see, by my count, one city councilor, two upper level school administrators, and the city manager (!) at an event on teacher quality. As you'll see below, I question some of the information they got, but nonetheless, the interest is good. Note that the Research Bureau also has the video of this posted on their website. (I stand corrected; it isn't up yet!)
My comments, as always, in italics.

Stotsky: examinations for new superintendents in the 19th century

"the Race to the Top application that came out from the US Dept of Ed" made it "very clear that the US Dept of Ed doesn't think that we have the type of teachers we need"

"far more weight given to" improving the teachers we have, rather than getting good new ones" (okay, can I put out there that both might be important? Speaking as someone who has a small role in running a school system, we've got 24,000 kids in Worcester who are going to show up tomorrow morning at school. We need actual teachers in the classroom.)

"not much about how we make sure that those who get in are like those in Finland, Singapore, Korea and so forth" (I'll post on greater length on this later, but I find it interesting how only parts of the systems in these countries are the ones that get spoken of. How they chose to run their schools is VERY different from the national direction of education in the US right now, for example.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

School closings in Boston

A three hour hearing last night in Boston around the potential closing of eight schools was lively, it sounds like.
It was loud and angry. Before the meeting started, a crowd was chanting, “Save our schools.” This chanting went on for about 20 minutes. Several hundred parents — some with their children — and teachers came with signs and T-shirts. When the meeting started, they charged the stage as school committee members started to take their seats. Boston school police had to get in front of the stage to keep them away.
 The School Committee--which is not an elected body, and so does not answer to these or any parents--votes next week on the plan. The superintendent claims (I can't find this online; I heard it yesterday on the radio) that the schools are not being closed only on the basis of MCAS scores, but then explained that the decision was based on...MCAS scores, crunched three ways (sound familiar?).

Innovation Schools meetings

A reminder that the innovation schools group is meeting on Wednesdays and Fridays from 4 to 8 pm this week and next week at the Durkin Administration Building, 20 Irving Street, 4th floor conference room. Meetings are open to the public.
If you go, send along your notes! I'd be interested!

Notes from Goal Setting meeting

I've gotten so many requests for the notes from the goal setting meeting the week before last that I thought I'd post them. You'll find the notes sorted by committee member here, sorted by district strategic goal here. There are also links to both under "Helpful Links" to the right.
They're up as public Google docs, so you can get them anywhere.
I'll update with whatever "cleaned up" version we get from administration this weekend.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I think I've been at this meeting



h/t the Answer Sheet

Of early retirement and budgetary planning

At tonight's City Council meeting (liveblogged here, for those interested), Councilor Lukes mentioned that the city was having to make up an extra million in their FY11 budget, as not as many people had taken the early retirement offer as anticipated. The city was counting on $2 million dollars in savings; it's coming back as $1 million.

Why isn't the school system in the same boat?
The schools didn't plan on the retirement money.
While the City budget when passed in June counted on $2 million in savings from early retirement, the WPS budget did not include the early retirement.
The somewhere around $350,000 savings is not, thus, already spent.

No, not gloating. Wondering about wiser courses, though.

Special education prepays are legal (still)

The Leicester School Committee has won their case against the town on the issue of special education prepays. This is the (common) practice of using one year's funds to pay (ahead of time) the next year's special education tuition. As school districts may not (mostly) carry funds over from one year to the next, this is a way of taking care of next year's expeditures when you have the funds to do so (or anticipate not having the funds to do so the following year, as the case may be).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Assistant Secretary of Ed speaking at Smith College tomorrow

file under "gosh, it might have been nice to know this more than 24 hours in advance!"

The Assistant Secretary of Education, Thelma MelĂ©ndez de Santa Ana, is the keynote speaker at tomorrow's Otelia Cromwell Day symposium at Smith College. She will speak on "the Administration’s strategies for education reform and the Department’s commitment to improving educational opportunities and resources for all students."
(And I was going to be really impressed, but they're putting her in Sweeney Auditorium at Sage Hall, so they aren't expecting a big crowd.)
While Otelia Cromwell Day is a Smith College celebration (Otelia Cromwell is the first known African-American graduate of Smith; the day celebrates racial diversity), the public is welcome. Sage Hall is at the end of Green Street in Northampton.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Chapter 70 formula: "actually quite simple"

I've now been sent this twice (over and above getting it myself), so apparently, it needs a post!
While I'm the first to be entertained by finance people who earnestly tell you that something is "actually quite simple," kudos to Mass Budget and Policy Center for giving it a great shot!
They've boiled it down to four steps:

STEP 1: CALCULATE FOUNDATION BUDGET

this is basically "how much does it cost to educate a kid in X community?"

STEP 2: CALCULATE REQUIRED LOCAL CONTRIBUTION

Of that amount, how much can X community afford to pay towards it?

 STEP 3: FILL THE GAP WITH CHAPTER 70 EDUCATION AID

Take amount 1, subtract amount 2, and you've got Ch. 70

 STEP 4: AFTER CHAPTER 70 AID IS DETERMINED, DISTRICTS MAY CONTRIBUTE MORE

 Ah, yes...the over and above...this is seldom seen in Worcester. Check out the chart they give comparing Lynn to Newton. 

The second page, which gives the updates on Ch.70 since '93, is where things get complicated. Little known, for example, is this: 

If the Chapter 70 formula were run in its simplest form, according to the four steps outlined above, some high-wealth districts would not receive any state aid to fill the gap between their foundation budget and their local ability to contribute because for these districts their target local contribution, based upon local property and income wealth, is actually higher than their foundation budget. Since the formula’s establishment in FY 1994, however, there have always been provisions guaranteeing some base amount of state education aid to all school districts. The 2007 reforms increased this base considerably, shifting a greater proportion of state resources to these higher-wealth districts.

Give it a read. Not light reading for Friday, but well worth doing.

Play in learning

Good article in the IndyStar about the importance of play for learning, particularly in kindergarten:
Play -- in all its various iterations -- is an essential component of kindergarten. And though it is sometimes criticized by pennywise critics who question the value of taxpayer-funded classrooms for young children, educators and scholars say play is the language kindergartners know best, making it a great tool for learning....
To take away playtime from a 5-year-old, McMullen said, schools might as well take away lunch. It's that essential to learning.

Site/Governance Council trainings

Sorry, I am way behind on posting this!
There are two remaining trainings for Governance/Site Council members:
  • Today, 9-10 am, Quinsigamond School
  • Monday, 7-8pm, Forest Grove School (and childcare is available at this one, if you let CPPAC know ahead of time: Info@cppac.org)
I'm heading over to the Quinsig one this morning, and I'll take notes to post later today.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    What happens now?

    Next steps: Goals, sorted by strategic goal, sent to committee and administration (from my notes; if you want a copy, let me know)
    Administration comes back with a draft with "some cleaned up language" (It's clear that several member suggests either are the same or could be merged)
    Notes go out to School Committee; notes go back to Superintendent (only, incidentally, so as not to break Open Meeting Law)
    Draft for next School Committee meeting the first week of November

    Biancheria question

    Are these administrative goals?
    "what is the label on these, once they are complete?"
    "who is accountable for these goals?"

    Boone and O'Brien reply that these are Worcester Public Schools goals, with Foley adding that this requires School Committee "to take some ownership as well" now.

    O'Brien comments

    major responsibility of School Committee is to address concerns
    to advocate for school system
    to build public support for the system
    to provide resources for public schools

    comments that this doesn't necessarily fit under any of the district's goals, but fall pretty directly under the School Committee purview, anyway

    Boone on goal setting

    This was largely in response to Mullaney's comments about this being in vain unless this makes a difference in the classroom

    More likely to get an impact with fewer goals; more with less
    "your frustration is the right frustration"

    She suggests sorting by strategic goals of the district: alignment
    which is what I started to do, if you saw me copying and pasting during the meeting

    The WPS strategic goals are:
    1. Worcester Public Schools will implement strategies that result in high student achievement.
    2. Worcester Public Schools will develop and maintain welcoming, safe, and secure schools.
    3. Worcester Public Schools will foster high levels of family and community engagement, commitment, and partnership.
    4. Worcester Public Schools will develop a formal communication system in order to better transfer information on effective practices and needs.
    (Oxford/Harvard commas added.)

    Novick

    comment that two of these are based on things we have been doing well or have started doing well

    educating the whole child (Worcester has kept art, music, gym [minimally, but not eliminated] even in tough times); comprehensive curriculum, not just English and math

    planning ahead (as we've done with the five year plan for facilities, somewhat with computers) budgetarily

    educational equity not only with district resources, but with broader ones (how much your principal has to spend on workbooks shouldn't depend on the PTO raising money to cover the cost of the copier; libraries shouldn't depend on moms who don't work during the day)

    Mullaney

    Mrs. Mullaney didn't, on the first go round offer suggested goals, but she did make (editorial: good, warrented) points about the distance between goal setting at the district and administrative level and what actually happens in the classroom.

    as the conversation continued, she added this:

    increase and improve our coverage of our schools in the summertime

    Biancheria

    taking the community piece "a step further:" access to what are our true needs/ match with what community can offer

    extend community engagement so it doesn't fit only one site; can fit three or four; "take that extra step"

    career and college readiness

    facilities

    offer to parents who need help: ELL classes during after school; engage parent as personal benefit (to the parent, giving them a reason to be involved and at school)

    Foley

    comments first that our goals should be "aligned with public schools' goals" (these are the WPS strategic goals, of which more later)

    high expectations for all students; rigor in every classroom

    day-to-day cleaning, upkeep; existing staff used more effectively, efficiently

    O'Brien suggestions

    O'Brien

    more comprehensive long-term plan on school facilities
    more comprehensive plan on technology
    generate public support and financial commitment (he comments that he sees this as being a major responsibility of the School Committee)
    accountability on cleaning and maintenance
    investment in technology

    sorry for the interruption

    but I was asked to lend my typing and technology to the notetaking effort this evening (if you watched the meeting, the notes that were projected were mine)...liveblog thus not live. Continuing the suggestions by committee member and then a few notes I took longhand (!) during the discussion now.

    O'Connell suggestions

    • increase the rigor, sophistocation, and challenge of the curriculum to an ambitious but achievable level in all academic spheres
    • increase the number of parents, guardians, and community members involved integrally and organically in schools and in governance/advisory committees
    • increase the number of students participating in competitive sports and in other strenuous education activities
    • increase the amount of instructional time provided students
    • investigate and implement fesable cost-sharing and cooperative arrangements with other city departments and with neighboring school districts and communities

    Monfredo makes suggestions

    • district graduation alignment with MassCore and college and career readiness
    • develop a district policy manual using MASC service on policy manual development in next two years

    Biancheria: where are we starting

    "not sure exactly what piece is going to be our best tool to start with" (Compact, mission statement, strategic goals)
    "where is the starting point, do we use the tools that we have, are we looking at our individual goals, are we looking for ones we agree on..."

    Goals for the district: Boone

    Boone: setting of district goals
    "tonight's focus...setting goals for the district" (MASC couldn't be here because they're doing this so many other places)
    "within your sphere of influence as school committee members..."
    "we know the issues around educational reform and student achievement is an evolving process..."
    conversations these past few months
    federal and state: don't have an negotiation around
    "we put those in one set of areas we have to focus on districtwide development"
    "values of this school and this community" reflected in district goals and how they related "to those must-do's"
    "alignment and coherence"
    less is more theory...not having more than five goals

    School Committee: President of the EAW

    Zaluskas: Packed room tonight on the top floor of the admin building
    Talk about a living wage; IA's don't make enough money to support their families
    Brought some with him to tell their story

    Worcester's Race to the Top application goes in Friday

    Worcester's Race to the Top application is due on Friday. John Monfredo and I were updated yesterday on the application, and here are the notes I sent out to my colleagues on the committee last night:
    some projects are required; some are optional. Some we can opt-in on; some the state decides on
    this year is planning, studying, doing research, serving on state working groups, working to spring implementation in some cases

    School Committee night: different time, different place, different agenda

    The Worcester School Committee meets tonight, but a few notes: we're meeting at the Durkin Administration Building (that's 20 Irving Street), Room 410*. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30, 'though I hear we've got a lengthy agenda for executive session, which is scheduled to start at 5:30, so don't be surprised if the meeting starts late.

    The changes, in both cases, are due to the different agenda this evening: this is a work session for goal setting. This is part of the retreat agenda that we didn't get to, but is clearly important, as the superintendent is evaluated on goals set--jointly--by the superintendent and the committee.

    *if you enter the building by the parking lot end (the door should be open for the meeting), take the elevator to the fourth floor and walk down the hall straight ahead of you (through School Nutrition). The conference room is straight ahead.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    For want of...

    There's a fascinating bit in the David Bernstein Boston Phoenix analysis of Charlie Baker's run for governor:


    He seems to be genuinely offended by what he sees as wasteful government spending, and that is where he almost inevitably veers, regardless of the topic or question. (He also gets viscerally angry over the Patrick administration's decision to "abandon" the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) in favor of national Common Core standards, a reaction that seems less to do with a comparison of the two measures, and more to do with a perceived slight to the work he, Weld, and the Pioneer Institute did in creating MCAS.)
    (emphasis added)
    Interesting perspective on education, there.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Equitable school funding

    Currently reading this report on equity in education funding by state (in other words, comparing states by what is, in Massachusetts, Ch. 70 funding(. Manwaring's summary here. Updated numbers here.
    I'll post once I've gotten through it. If you read it, comment!

    Broad Prize for Urban Education goes to...suburban Atlanta?

    The Broad Prize for Urban Education--$1 million in scholarships to one of the largest urban school systems in the country--was awarded yesterday in New York to Gwinnett County, Georgia...which is suburban Atlanta?

    The average household income in Gwinnett County is well above the national average, coming in at over $60,000 per year.. Gwinnett County offers its residents easy access to a major metropolitan area, while allowing them to live in a close-knit suburban environment.

    Street view

    MCAS changes

    While I did post this below, it's buried in notes about the Race to the Top proposal. Since it so seriously moves around what we do, I thought it warranted a pull-out.
    Jeff Nellhaus of the DESE commented that:
    • this coming year, the MCAS will be as it has been.
    • next year (spring of 2012), it will be the "intersection" of the Mass Frameworks and the Common Core.
    • the year after (spring of 2013), it will be entirely Common Core.
    That's a fairly breakneck pace, when you're talking about testing accumulated knowledge and skills.

    The Siege of La Casita (updated)

    The Chicago Public Schools want to spend over $300,000 to knock down a field house contiguous to Whittier Dual Language Elementary School.
    The local parents want their kids to have a library and a community center, and they're willing to fundraise and volunteer labor in order to get it.
    The parents for a number of years been demanding that Mayor Daley use some of the estimated $1 billion in TIF money for education. When this was allocated, CPS decided that of the $1 million they'd allocate for Whittier, a third would go to knocking down the field house, which has been in use as a community center.
    Parents have been staging a sit-in at "La Casita," as they've dubbed the space, for over a month now. The City of Chicago has turned off the heat and the water (and yes, it's been as cold in Chicago as it's been in New England lately!), but the parents--largely moms, largely Latino, largely working-class--haven't backed down. Their local alderman is siding with them, and they've been promised a meeting with the CPS CEO Ron Hulberman, 'though so far that hasn't panned out. Update: CPS has offered to build a library in the school.
    The website the parents are maintaining is here. You can read more here.
     and here. You can become a fan on Facebook here.
    They're taking monetary donations through Paypal and donations of Spanish and Spanish/English books for adults and children, and arts/culture/history of the Americas. Those can be sent to:
    Chicago Underground Library
    c/o Nell Taylor
    PO Box 11444
    Chicago, IL 60611-0444

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them*

    A good summary ('though it flubs the niceties of education policy) of implications of the midterms on Obama's education plans:
    With partisanship at record levels in the run-up to the midterm elections, Obama’s education-reform agenda—once the calling card for his commitment to bipartisan good governance—is under threat from both the left and right.

    ...Stand for Children Colorado, an education-reform advocacy group, will spend between $150,000 and $300,000 on the campaigns of 18 Democratic and Republican supporters of SB 191 who have been targeted by the Colorado Education Association
    (SB191 was the poorly researched and highly inflammatory bill that put a heavy emphasis on evaluating teachers by test scores, among other policy changes. Denver's superintendent has lost a great deal of parental support due to his support for national ed policy.And yes, the same Stand for Children.)
    Whatever the outcome of the midterms (there's plenty going on other than ed policy), I'd hope that the president is hearing the amount of leftwing support he's lost on ed policy. When libertarians and progressives are agreeing that maybe it's time to get rid of the federal department of education, I'd say he's got a problem.


    *reference intentional. The Charge of the Light Brigade was also poorly advised, had disastrous results, and was celebrated with high-flown oratory.

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Start listening to those on the ground

    Part of the October 17 R.E.B.E.L. blog postings. Find them all here.

    The overwhelming theme of educational policy right now is those far removed from any school telling us how it ought to be done. Whether they're in business, law, "public policy," or some other field far removed from education, these self-proclaimed experts are quite sure that if everyone would simply do whatever it is that they say--push harder on standardized tests, open more charter schools, institute merit pay, or whatever the flavor of the week is--all would be fixed.
    Somehow, these appear to be the ideas (whatever their questionable merits) that are being implemented, in contrast, we are told, to the ideas of those who would fight for the "status quo," by which they generally seem to mean those actually teaching.
    Now, I have yet to meet any teacher worth her (or his) salt who is actually satisfied with the status quo. I don't care where you teach: suburban, rural, urban, wealthy or poor district: there's something that you're striving for. Something you'd like to do a bit better yourself. Something you wish your school did better. Something you wish administration did better.
    A surprising number of teachers (and principals, and special ed teachers, and guidance counselors, and those elsewhere on the ground) work at this year after year. They rewrite that lesson. They collaborate with someone down the hall. They barrage the principal with requests for more and better evaluations, the school committee with requests for more resources and a better teaching environment, the community for more involvement and more importance placed on education.
    Equally, there are plenty of parents, of administrators, of school committee members (yes, even them!) who year after year do the same.
    Somehow, however, these are not the voices that get listened to in national education policy right now. The parents who have said for years that standardized tests are overemphasized, are weakening their children's education, are destroying their schools, are ignored (and in some cases dismissed as not knowing whereof they speak). The teachers who point out that merit pay has no merit, that they don't get enough or quality evaluations as it is (and that administration doesn't use them to get rid of weak teachers), that setting teacher against teacher is contrary to what works in education are called union shills. And so on through principals, administrators, and the rest.
    I'm not precisely sure where our community organizer president lost the central notion of community organizing, which is that you have to listen to the community you want to organize in order to organize it. I will say quite plainly, though (and I'm more confident in this than ever coming off of yesterday's Citizens for Public Schools event), that this is a community that is organizing.
    It just isn't being organized by the president and his so-called education reformers.

    (I just started reading some of the other entries. This one made me laugh.)

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Upcoming this week

    I'm heading off to the Citizens for Public Schools conference today at Bunker Hill Community College. I won't be able to liveblog (for at least part of the day, I'm a presenter), but I'll put some notes up later today.
    • The Governance and Employee Issues subcommittee meets Monday at 5:30. You can find the current agenda here. The highlighted items are those being dealt with on Monday.
    • The School Committee meeting is different this week. We're meeting for a "work session" for goal setting. The meeting is at 6:30 pm at the Durkin Administration Building. And yes, it will be televised and it is a public meeting.

    Connections

    A question of connecting with parents, as has been in other cases in the past
    Quote on Boston Latin having material resources, but not keeping their kids, cultural competence

    families of color that are advocating for things that are not in the best interest of all children of color...question as to how we get those parents back to see the whole picture
    (answer about advocating, rather than responding)

    People taking ownership of their schools..."we are going to determine the priorities in our schools"

    School to Prison Pipeline

    Bill Robinson, Political Action Committee Chair, NAACP
    "national trend of criminalizing rather than educating"
    growing use of zero tolerance, often the first step in a child's journey through the School-to-Prison pipeline
    Children are much more likely now to be arrested at school for non-violent offenses such as "disruptive conduct" or "disturbance" of the peace
    Of boys born in 2001, 1 in 3 black boys and 1 in 6 Latino boys are at risk for imprisonment in their lifetime
    Since Columbine, significantly less understanding of language use and childhood behavior
    Case study of officers in the school being misused and then misusing their authority within the school

    Willing to be Disturbed: eliminating the achievement/opportunity to learn gap: parent involvement

    Ruth Rodriguez Fay, president of Citizens for Public Schools: "connect to family involvement"
    Transitional bilingual education had to provide training for families; families had to meet once a year with the superintendent; if they weren't heard, they brough it to the school committee (Rodriguez Fay worked as a family liasion in Worcester).
    "it worked because of parent involvement...because of the negative...some of this has diminished"
    Worcester's consent degree is a result of suit filed by parents..."though Worcester has leverage, I really feel there's so much more that Worcester could do in ESL"
    "a lot of achievement gap has to do with the lack of resources...a lot of parents are worried...they don't have the language...when we went to the School Committee, they listened"
    parents took School Committee members on a walk from Great Brook Valley (to..where?) on a cold and rainy day to see how hard it was for the kids to get to school; they got it paved
    "Think of every child as your own"

    English Language Learners in Boston

    Hey, turns out that Bunker Hill Community College has free public wifi!
    You may have heard about the recent agreement between the Boston Public Schools and the Department of Justice around English Language Learners (note that Worcester Public Schools has an agreement going back to 2007(?)).
    Assistant Superintendent Eileen de los Reyes is speaking here of the history of ELL students in BPS (complicated on one hand by Boston's desegregation plan--the ELL plan was a voluntary agreement under the terms of the desegregation plan--and the passage of the Question 2, which went through just as the voluntary agreement was being dismantled and before a replacement could be put in place).
    "as a district we've explored that you learn English by osmosis" she says, tongue in cheek. There were 4000 kids who had no services. BPS just went from 11,000 students in ELL programs to 16,000 students under the terms of the agreement.
    Students in ELL may not be denied the full range of school placement options afforded other students. Special education services may not trump ELL services (she says to applause from two Worcester guidance counselors, which means we're screwing this up somehow). Students need to get both services concurently.
    Services follow children; there is no such thing as opting out.
    "our object is not to make them monolingual...we all should be striving to be multilingual..."
    "should begin to see these families as an asset to the district...my dream is that all children become bilingual, bicultural, at least"
    "Part of moving forward is to have teachers who are dually certified in those classrooms"
    The teachers will be tri-certified: content, ELL, and special ed.
    "We've ignored the MEPA in favor of the MCAS...for instuction purposes, looking at the MEPA is very helpful"
    "if you have ELLs in the classroom, you need to teach them as ELLs"

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    City in Social Media

    The City Manager is coming back with his response on the City's use of social media this coming Tuesday; you can find his response here.
    To which I can only ask...How was social media used in response to the mercury spill?

    (The School Committee's equivalent item is sitting in the Governance and Employee Issues subcommittee, awaiting an administrative response.)

    Innovation Schools local partnership group

    The Worcester Public Schools administration is looking for volunteers for the Innovation schools local partnership group. You can find the details here and the full schedule of meetings and of innovation schools deadlines is here.
    You have until October 21 to apply; selections will be made by October 25.

    Board of Ed meetings

    The state Board of Education is having a special meeting on Monday to consider changes to charter school policy per the amendments in the 2010 ed law. They aren't taking public comment at this meeting (but you can always email them!). The meeting is Monday, October 18, 5-7 pm, at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Malden. The agenda is here.
    The BoE's regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, 8:30 am to 1 pm, at Urban Science Academy in West Roxbury. The agenda for that is here. There is, as per usual on their agenda, a time for public comment on this agenda. They are considering the Common Core, teacher evaluation, and their FY12 (yes, '12! It isn't too early!) budget.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Councilor Burns of Forth Worth

    Councilor Joel Burns of Fort Worth, TX, made his contribution to the "It Gets Better" Project from the Council floor earlier this week.


    h/t Andrew Sullivan

    Sandra Stosky in Worcester on October 27

    I've been remiss in posting this. Sandra Stosky (former member of the Board of Ed, conservative education policy person, and Endowed Chair in Teacher Quality, University of Arkansas) is speaking as part of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau's 25th anniversary series of lectures. The event is open to the public, but they ask that you RSVP.


    Thursday, October 27
    7:45-9:30 am
    Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
    25 Foster Street, Worcester
    RSVP to info@wrrb.org

    Worcester's Healthiest School System in Massachusetts award

    Last night Superintendent Boone on behalf of the Worcester Public Schools accepted the 2010 Healthiest School System in Massachusetts award from the Mass Health Council.
    Why the award to Worcester?
    Foods and beverages sold at school to students in the cafeteria meet the nutrition guidelines of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Qualified child nutrition professionals assist school administrators to provide students with access to a variety of affordable, nutritious, and appealing foods that meeting their health and nutrition needs; accommodate the religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the student body in meal planning...
     I'll bet you didn't know that Worcester is nationally known for being on the leading edge of getting healthy foods into schools and getting it EATEN! Switching entirely to whole grains, getting food from local farms into schools in season (how do you get 5000 ears of corn to school? Or 6000 pounds of potatoes?), getting HFCS out of chocolate milk..Worcester's done it already!
    Also, Donna Lombardi in school nutrition talked to Todd English last night at the award dinner. Very sorry that I didn't get a photo.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Playing with numbers

    If you are the least bit interested in standardized testing, read this New York Times piece from today's paper. In following the ins and outs of the manipulation of data done by New York City over the past few years, you get a very good picture of the impurity of testing.
    Much of the misunderstanding around standardizing testing boils down to this very notion: is it "pure"? I think many who have never taught have in their head a notion that a test is a test, and that any test is somehow held apart, not subject to bias or manipulation or perspective. Those who perhaps have studied this a bit have gotten to the point of realizing that a teacher might have a perspective or bias that is inherent in a test that teacher gives (good teachers, incidentally, are well aware of this).
    What too often is missed, however, is that all about standardized testing is also subject to human vaguries. Someone has to write the questions. Someone has to decided how things will be weighed (how much essay? how much on algebra?). Someone has to decide--and this one is particularly subject to political and very public whims--what a passing grade will be.
    The notion that somehow the MCAS, the FCAT. the NYSTP, or any test, by virtue of being a bubble test, or statewide, or hired out, is somehow a more virtuous system is to miss the central point: it's still a human test.
    And the stakes are much, much higher when you start piling property values, principals' jobs, school funding, and so much else onto what is already a fallible system. And there's much more reason and room to play with the numbers, as was done in New York City, when you've got so much else riding on it.

    More on ESEA reauthorization

    Here's another take on ESEA reauthorization:

    On K-12 education, there's at least agreement between many Republicans and some Democrats, including the Obama administration, that performance pay for teachers and good charter schools are smart policy. And nearly everyone in both parties thinks that NCLB has some very problematic provisions, they want to give their schools some relief from parts of the law.
    Of course, under a GOP Congress, it might be tougher for the Obama administration to get a formal authorization for Race to the Top and to keep those four School Improvement Models in place. And choice and tutoring will likely be flashpoints, as will spending.
    Note, by the way, that ESEA was due for reauthorization in 2007.

    Race to the Top round 3 and on

    A reauthorization bill has been filed in the House by Representative Jared Polis of Colorado and in the Senate by Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
    According to Schools Matter, it asks for $1.35 billion for the first year and "such funds as as may be necessary for each of the 5 succeeding fiscal years."

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    School Finance Reform: does it matter?



    h/t School Finance 101

    Race to the Top: Worcester

    So, what is Worcester up to?

    Worcester considering/opting in on (*some of which are required):

    *teacher evaluation framework

    *common core standards alignment (the irony (?) here is that everyone in the state is going to have to do this [barring, perhaps, a change in the Governor's office], but the districts doing RTTT might actually get some money for looking at what's done now and how it compares to Core, AND possibly getting money for new curriculum)

    *climate, conditions, school culture strengthening (some talk here about having teachers, parents, and students all surveyed around school climate)

    *School Interoperability Framework (acronym, inevitably: SIF): Worcester's been on this one for awhile. This is a statewide data system, basically.

    *percent of graduates completing MassCore (this may well involve reworking our district requirements for high school graduation)

    *teacher and learning system pilot

    -possibly a wraparound zone (we're already doing this with the Promise Neighborhood grant; there's some question of if we should put this on the RTTT application as well)

    -innovation schools (again, already doing work on this in the South Quadrant, but there's state support for this)

    -early college science/math (yes, STEM) high schools (there's some ongoing thought at North/WEMS/elementary schools on this)

    The starred ones are definite, as they are required. The others are ones that came up and are under administrative consideration to greater or lesser degrees. The School Committee will get more of an update--maybe next week?--on what's rolling forward. And again, all of this is happening SOON, as the preliminary plan is due to the state in two weeks.

    Race to the Top: money and projects

    all districts MUST:
    • implement statewide teacher evaluation framework
    • align curriculum to Common Core standards 
    • strengthen climate, conditions, and school cultures ("we think a major part of this has to be management and unions working together"
    • create near-real-time accesss to data "by implementing the Schools Interoperability Framework"
    • one additional project

    Chester "to ensure effective educators in every school and classroom" "that the students that most need the effective teachers" have them

    all Title 1 in FY09 (regular Title 1 plus ARRA): whatever percent of the state's total you got, that's what you got of the RTTT money (of the half that goes to districts) was how the allocation of RTTT was allocated:

     Boston getting $31,877,912
    Springfield getting $13,712,496
    14 districts (including Worcester) getting between $1 and $10 million
    13 districts are receiving $0 but have commited to participating
    (note that allocation is by Title 1 allocations; Springfield has a greater Title 1allocation than Worcester does, 'though Springfield is a smaller district. Springfield is nearly 90% free and reduced lunch.)

    half of allocation goes directly to districts; state has half for allocation according project (wraparound zones, AP pipeline prep)
    Chester, again on teacher evaluation:"in my opinion, we do not provide teachers and administrators with high quality feedback in" what people are doing right
    The state then has put together a sample district with district plan: what they're required to do, what they're opting to do, how much they're planning on spending each year on the plan
     
    Board adopted Common Core in July, specifying augmenting standards as needed
    The group that looked at augmentation received a caution from state not to add too much more
    "focused system...hopeful there won't be too many more added on to what's already there"
    2012-13 year as when we need to move to new Common Core standards
    state says they realize that everyone then wonders "what is MCAS going to be covering?"
    "we're going to be sure that anything that MCAS covers, you've had a chance to cover with your students"

    this coming year, current
    next year, intersection (current standards AND Common Core: what they have in common)
    spring 2013, Common Core standards

    state will be putting together workshops and forums for staff on how to use and implement Common Core
    "crosswalk": what's new, what's going to be dropped, what's already there?
    PARCC: through-course assessment system: multiple points in the year, tested
    What needs to be covered when, a curriculum map

    Race to the Top update: RFP's due in two weeks!

    This morning was the monthly Urban Superintendent's meeting, which they'd expanded this month to include other administrators, school committee members, and union leadership, as they were getting an update on Race to the Top from the state.
    (And may I just say that Worcester had probably one of the larger delegations there: in addition to Superintendent Boone, all the cabinet level administrators (Academics, Accountability, Finance, HR) were there, along with the head of grant writing, both quadrant managers, union rep, and two of us from School Committee. Props to Superintendent Boone for wanting lots of people all getting updated information straight from the source.)
    Commissioner Chester (who did much of the presentation today) began by saying something I thought was a rather interesting take: Race to the Top "shouldn't be taking you in a direction different than what you're going in...work you have to do, anyway." That's a very different take than that of the federal government, who, to quote Secretary Duncan, regards Race to the Top and the policies it engenders as "revolutionary."
    Chester then reviewed the four main areas of Race to the Top:
    • Great teachers and leaders 
    • Curricular and instructional resources 
    • concentrated support in low-performing schools 
    • college and career readiness
    Chester spoke a lot about the teacher evaluation piece:"this (teacher evaluation) has been a tough lift for our teachers, and I don't want to hide from that..various levels of commitment and buy-in"
    "in my mind, that's a non-negotiable"
    "we're not going to specify how that happens...we don't have a lock on truth and wisdom in that regard..."

    The state is setting the following goals:
    by 2014: improve student outcomes but expect groups that are farthest behind to make the most progress
    ELA and math MCAS accelerate chievement by 15%
    HS grads completing MassCore by 85%
    students completing HS by 5%
    HS grads enrolling in college by 5%
    reduce achievement gaps for each low performing subgroup by 25% (as measured by CPI)
    reduce gaps in HS grad by 15%
    reduce gaps in college enrollment rates by 15%


    Final RFP posted on Sept. 20: MOU translated in specific projects for districts (some are required, some are optional)

    by 10/22: RFPs due to the state
    by 11/22: approved district plans due to state
    "think about 5-10% (of budget spent) in year one...a planning year..expenditures really get rolling in other years"
    "we'd like everyone to get a grant here...not interested in narrowing to fewer than 275"
    cannot sit out this year; need a grant proposal from you to continue on
    commitments for Years 2-4 can be changed later
    (the slide is titled "Don't Panic!" I never thought I'd see Douglas Adams quoted by the DESE)
    next two weeks are about getting this year one application completed

    You always wondered if they might mutiny...

    turns out they were calling for re-enforcements!



    Yes, that is actually Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. He visited a elementary school in London yesterday in response to a letter from a student there who hoped he'd help them mutiny.
    After his arrival, a special school assembly was called and the film star - along with other members of the cast dressed in full costume - walked in.
    Depp produced Beatrice's letter and performed for the children for 15 minutes.
    But he told the schoolgirl that a mutiny might get them into trouble
    h/t Boing Boing

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Race to the Top update coming

    That's it for tonight's meeting.
    I'll be a part of the Worcester Public Schools group heading out to Marlboro tomorrow for an update on Massachusetts' plans for Race to the Top. I don't know if they have wifi; if they do, I'll liveblog, but if not, I'll post later in the day.
    Remember, by the way, that the Worcester Public Schools do not have school tomorrow (for an in-service day) or Monday (for Columbus day). Enjoy the long weekend!

    Settling up

    We're approving $4,839.90 of FY10 spending after the close of the fiscal year.
    (If it gets spent after the close of the fiscal year, it needs specific approval.)

    Grant acceptance

    We're accepting $837,413 in six grants. There's money that's transitioning Chandler Elementary (they don't have the extended learning grant any longer), two 21st century learning grants, a strategic planning grant for Head Start, and one from Homeland Security for citizenship and integration.

    Green Repair Program

    These are part of the ESCO project list. The state could pick up as much as 2/3 of the cost of the projects.
    O'Connell asks if there's a deadline. Yes, it was Sept. 30, but the state said we could submit next week after the City Council meeting.
    (City Council has to approve this as well.)
    This is:
    • windows and doors at Burncoat High.
    • roof repair for Jacob Hiatt
    • HVAC/boiler for Union Hill
    O'Connell raises the question of keeping the buildings as schools: we are commiting to do so for the life of whatever they pay for.

    Bullying

    We're responsible for having plans surrounding student bullying under the state law. We're looking at how our current policies line up with that, what changes need to be made.
    (I've entered a report from the National Education Policy Center on LGBT safety [linked!] for consideration, particularly in light of the suicides around the country.)

    Draft Facebook/ social networking policy

    And could I just ask teachers, particularly high school teachers, to take a look at this one, please? See if it makes sense.

    TLSS report

    TLSS had a meeting that last three hours and covered one item, due to the level of community concern around innovation schools.
    There's a large number of motions coming out of subcommittee, many having to do with all meetings involving innovation schools be made public, be public, encourage public participation, be public about deliberations and decisions, and keep School Committee well apprised of all items having to do with innovation schools.
    O'Connell points out that there is hope of opening a school by the start of the next school year.
    Boone: these were readiness schools, became innovation schools
    Prof. DelPrete who teaches at Clark is speaking to the innovation school item. "The rationale for establishing a local partnership committee makes a lot of sense...what might define that zone... Promise Neighborhood Intiative...cradle to college pathway for all young people in the Main South area..might be some common approaches...a local partnership committee to abide by the core principal of the law...one is autonomy...an innovation school built on some form of change"
    South Quadrant partnership group to link into other work going on in that quadrant and that neighborhood

    Question 3

    The Worcester School Committee just went on record in opposition to Question 3 (unanimously, Mullaney absent).

    AP tests

    What happens with kids who don't have the money for AP tests?
    They can get help through the school; also kids eligible for free or reduced lunch have their fees waived.
    They can get that help through guidance or their teachers.
    Mullaney points out that multiple AP tests gets expensive (she has a kid taking four); might there be a discount for multiples (she asks in jest, but raises a good point).

    Hiring

    Luster notes that a district of our size in better fiscal times, we'd hire 200 teachers a year. This year we hired 55 new teachers (either replacement for those who've retired, or getting teachers with appropriate certification).

    Foundation budget up

    Biancheria points out that because we can count our Head Start preschool kids in our student enrollment, our foundation budget is up.

    and just as a side note

    I'm not sure the heat is on in City Hall tonight.

    AYP letters

    AYP letters are going out this week. We're required to notify parents of students at schools that fail to make AYP for two years in a row.
    Nine schools met AYP in both English and math
    Twelve schools made it in English only
    Six made it in math only

    Many that failed to meet AYP were very very close. Superintendent Boone further notes that requirements for AYP are going up and up all the time (remember NCLB requires 100% by 2014).

    Tech

    All schools are now on a modern fiber network
    200 document cameras, projectors, and mobile carts
    "ongoing improvements to district website and admin tech tools"

    Transportation

    94 large buses
    88 special ed and out of district vehicles
    11,072 kids take the bus daily
    They drive about 10,000 miles a day

    Food

    Worcester Public Schools serve 9,600 breakfasts and 15,900 lunches
    72% of our kids get free and reduced lunches

    Parents weighing in

    You'll see satisfaction surveys at the Parent Information Center.

    Opening of schools report: enrollment numbers

    Report of the Superintendent tonight is on the opening of school. She's starting with new admin staff and new principals.
    Total enrollment as of October 1:23,948
    That's 436 more students than last year. 989 students are new to the district in grades 1-12.
    K-6 is up by 286 students from last year.
    In total, we're up about 1.8% from last year.
    Elementary class size is a 21.5 to 1 ratio (teacher to student)...goes down to 17.6 to 1 if you include all adults (that's instructional assistants and tutors)
    343 classes are less than 23 kids; 189 are 23-26 students; 40 classes are 27-30 students; 4 classes are more than 30 (two of those are team taught; the other two are kindergarten classrooms with a full time IA). We're up against space restrictions (not staffing restrictions) in those big classrooms.

    Creamer Center allotments

    Report coming back from administration on the Creamer Center. Student/teacher ratio is 15:1. There are 55 slots for each of the comprehensive high schools and 10 each for UPCS and Claremont.

    Mayor is recommending that we asking the Legislative delegation about getting reimbursement for night students.

    School Committee thanks

    ...going tonight to Target for the work they did in re-creating the library at Union Hill. We've got Representative John Fresolo here (it's his district, and he's a graduate of the school) speaking to the item, as he got Target involved in getting the library there.
    (It's a big night for Union Hill, as we're also approving an application for a new HVAC/heating system for the old building.)

    Novel financial manoveres

    So, while Massachusetts talks about what would actually happen if we rolled back several of our taxes, California has simply gone to fudging the numbers for their state budget:
    For example, it would delay nearly $2 billion in payments to K-12 schools and community colleges until the next fiscal year.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Wherefore ESEA reauthorization?

    Interesting Teachers College Record article regarding the possible fate of ESEA reauthorization and other federal education issues, depending on the outcome of the November election. The short version: if the Democrats lose seats, they're going to lose them to conservative Republicans (rather than moderates), many of whom have run on an anti-big government platform. The remaining Democrats are largely anti-Obama education platform.
    Which means it's going to be tough to push forward with the executive branch's priorities in education.

    Bullying and WPS

    And I should perhaps point out that the comment accompanying the (excellent) Worcester Magazine bullying article is correct: the child on whom the article focuses does not attend a Worcester Public School.

    This week's School Committee agenda

    Tomorrow night's School Committee agenda has a little bit of everything in it.
    (For those who don't know how to find the agenda, go to worcesterschools.org, click on 'School Committee,' and the link to the agenda will be on the righthand side of the page. This works after Friday of the week preceeding a meeting.)

    • The Superintendent is giving her "Start of School" report (you might remember that this got postponed the first week of school). If you're looking for numbers of kids enrolled, classes of a particular size, who's a new hire, number of buses used this year...have we got a report for you!
    • We're thanking Target for the new Union Hill library and those from the court system for the painting this summer.
    • Reports are coming back both from the Accountability subcommittee and the Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meeting. That's the new accountability system, AP, innovation schools, vocational ed, community schools...
    • We're going to (I think!) hear something about the South High swimming pool.
    • There's a request going in on Latino education in the city of Worcester and creation of a group looking at that (more and more relevant all the time).
    • Considering policies on bullying and on Facebook (social media; always a popular one!)
    • A request for information on integration of early childhood ed with K-12 ed.
    • A few things about Grafton Street. I've heard that we won't yet be getting a report on Grafton Street tomorrow night, but that it will be forthcoming soon.
    • Approving some applications for the state's Green Repair program. This is for windows and doors at Burncoat High, roof repair at Jacob Hiatt, and HVAC/boiler at Union Hill (the old building: it's 117 this year!).
    • We're seeing some grants coming in (including one from Homeland Security).
    Executive session starts at 6; the public meeting will start right about 7 pm tomorrow night at City Hall.

    Newark spending in context

    I know I just linked over there yesterday, but School Finance 101 has another post worth reading, particularly for those who were shocked (shocked!) at Newark spending $22,000 per pupil.
    (and as a side note: I think we ought to be teaching in math class that bit about how to play with a chart to make it look a particular way.)

    Citizens for Public Schools!

    I'm looking forward to the Citizens for Public Schools  annual conference in Charlestown next weekend. From their website:
    It’s time for those who see strong public schools as a foundation for a vibrant democracy to join Citizens for Public Schools in defending our schools and teachers.
    You can still sign up!

    What's up with innovation?*

    It's occurred to me that much of the below on innovation is the sort of "inside baseball" story that this blog was designed to clear up, so in interest of that, a bit on innovation.
    We've had in Massachusetts a series of names for what are basically in-district charter schools. Call them pilot schools, Horace Mann schools, readiness schools...the idea is that the energy and independence associated with a charter school in Massachusetts would be captured within the district, without the accompanying loss of funds, debates over populations served, and so forth. Innovation schools are just the latest name, coming out of the ed reform law that passed in January.
    (Interesting to note, by the way, that in-district charters are what many states have as their charter schools. Leads to confusing national conversations.)
    Worcester had, since the Readiness Project report was issued by Governor Patrick in 2008, been working on a readiness school proposal.  Because there was much emphasis in the initial presentation on having community partners, the South quadrant was targeted for this project, as there is much energy around community partners--not to mention different school arrangements--in the South quadrant. 
    When the readiness schools became the innovation schools--largely in response to federal priorities changing and Massachusetts submitting an application for Race to the Top--that became an innovation school project instead.
    There had been a few initial conversations and meetings around readiness schools. Then we had an administration change. Then we had Race to the Top. Then we had community meetings in each quadrant around different school arrangements. All of which--I think--led to this appearing to be further along that it actually is.
    The other difficulty here is the tension between what was an administration project--
    create a readiness school in the South quadrant--
    and what is now a ground-level project--
    create an innovation school somewhere in the district. 
    I don't think that tension has yet been well resolved, and I'd add that it led to having a packed meeting yesterday.
    It's been said plenty of times before, but I'll say it again: you aren't in teaching long before you get a bone-weariness of administrators coming in and saying, "Hey, here's a great idea!" You know, deep in your soul that this, yes, even this, is going to pass, and it will be something else, but in the meantime, this is going to mean more meetings and more paperwork to fill out...and you're still going to need to teach Shakespeare or algebra or World War II.
    (note: The Mass Frameworks were an exception. Until they weren't.)
    The trick then, is to capture the very real energy that is out there in education--from teachers, parents, and interested community members--without killing it with administrative enthusiasm (and PowerPoint presentations). This is, I think, the danger we're running with innovation schools. We've managed to freak out the teachers, irritate the parents, and basically create a lot of negative energy on what could--honest!--be a great project if we let the right people run with it.
    This is why I'm concerned about the administration's proposal to have a "Partnership committee" make decisions around what the requirements would be for any innovation proposal. I completely respect the notion of getting more people involved, but having fourteen people appointed by a three member committee (superintendent, school committee member, teacher's union president) make decisions isn't democracy. It isn't even representative democracy. (And it isn't a republic, either.) 
    Since the ultimate decision on innovation schools rests with the School Committee (who at least were elected), public hearings on requirements would be the best answer. Give anyone who is concerned, worried, angry, irritated, or enthused a chance to say so. Explain--in public and repeatedly--exactly what is and is not going on. This happened last night--at what was, note, a subcommittee meeting. More of this, rather than private meetings, would be a better answer.
    And then let's make sure the innovation proposals really are a) grassroots and b) innovative.
     


    *actual question I was asked this morning. And when I do annoying things like use "insider" terms, call me on it. Always happy to explain or clear it up.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Pieces of proposal

    Novick requesting the proposal be put forward in pieces:
    • innovation schools
    • partnership proposal
    • South quadrant
    to be considered on its merits, individually
    Mulqueen not pleased with characterization "undemocratic"
    Monfredo asks that the proposal be limited
    wishes to move forward with the partnership proposal
    Motion from Biancheria: clear definition of new/conversion

    And here's where I had to duck out (babysitter at home)...and the meeting got pre-empted by NASA at 8? Really?

    why this might not be like small schools

    Biancheria: some weren't eliminated because they weren't working, some were eliminated because the funding was lost
    we shouldn't lose sight of the good that was done at those schools
    might one be done as an expansion of an existing academy?
    teachers in an academy could become an innovation school
    that would be a conversion, not a new school
    Question: what about the students? current students? particular subgroups of students? what input do the students have?
    Mulqueen: "the student voice is critical in this whole process"
    "prudent to include student voice in this plan"
    teacher at Sullivan: any guidelines on how exclusive school can/has to be? from a special ed teacher
    Mulqueen: "part of job of partnership team"
    "you'd have to have a really good reason for doing that"
    he raises the point of gifted and talented programs
    Question: are they in Level 3 schools? what is your goal?
    is it to improve on the gifted or is it to improve on the kids who are failing?
    need parent voices

    Innovation school questions

    do innovation schools have to meet the same accountability standards as the rest of the district?
    yes, and more: the School Committee can only approve for up to three years, so schools must meet what they've promised
    is there a way for community groups to know which schools might be applying for innovation schools to work on partnerships?
    when prospectus comes in, might publicize
    "sounds very exciting for the teachers to have more control over what's happening in their schools"

    teacher at Sullivan: how can there be flexibility with curriculum when we must follow frameworks and now Common Core and responsibility for state and federal testing down the line?
    Mulqueen: "lots of ways you can accomplish those"
    "standard wouldn't change...but what you use to do that would be more up to you"
    Biancheria asks if that would be in the proposal? Yes
    She asks further if parents and teachers would be informed of this
    Mulqueen says this decision making would take place within this school
    Biancheria reads aloud from regs: there is the ability to suspend parts of the innovation plan

    teacher at South: small schools did not have autonomy, a lot of that was curriculum; are you saying that we could just go and make those decisions without going to the administration for approval?
    Mulqueen: you would have ownership of the decisions
    autonomy is an important part

    Monfredo: the proposal is going to drive the process, going to be looking at partnerships

    Mulqueen talks about the local partnership group

    principal at South High: I really think there should be equal represenation of these two schools, should be based on the conditions on the ground; would ask the committee to look at what the setup of this committee is

    teacher at South High: if there's numerous proposal for one school, will the principal be able to review all of them? Might the principal extract best proposals to improve the school without going under innovation schools?
    (there's some back and forth on this...it appears the answer is sort of yes, though Mulqueen maintains that there are advantages to being an innovation school)

    More innovation schools questions

    Teacher from South High: what is our part in either accepting or rejecting what will happen at South High?
    Mulqueen: a conversion: faculty will accept or not
    a brand new school does not require a faculty vote
    School Committee has the final authorization: even if a prospectus is accepted, final approval must come from School Committee
    Sullivan Middle teacher: what is the planning committee?
    "the proposal is really around accept the six steps and having those creating the proposals have some guidance...'here's what we think would be a really good'..give everyone something to get a footing one"
    teacher points out that there is a template from the state for proposals
    Mulqueen's partnership group (which, note, is NOT A STATE REQUIREMENT) would try to set the 11 essential conditions around the proposals
    Mulqueen notes that this is HIS PROPOSAL for the School Committee to adopt, not adopt, or amend
    Mulqueen says his only caution would be having a managable group size
    teacher asks if they could get help on the finances
    within the district, Mulqueen could offer support on proposals; can't offer that to groups outside
    Promise Neighborhood grants: how does that affect innovation?
    connection is that the Main South initiative connects as a way to support school performance: have to work out the details of what that looks like--a planning grant
    school as a hub for activity
    money? "any money would be speculation on my part" says Mulqueen
    Parent of students at South: I don't see a lot of parents here
    "we didn't get that for this particular meeting..you're talking about a grassroots program. The parents are the grassroots. A little concerned that this was slid by the parents..."
    Mulqueen: "we have to start somewhere.. that we have a proposal doesn't mean it has to move forward"
    why is the focus on the South quadrant?
    "we have the right conditions, we have high need, we have some innovative practices going on" in the South quadrant
    "don't want to do too much too quickly"
    "sounds to me that it's how it's working" says the parent; focus ought to be on Level 4 schools
    how would an innovation school academy change the schools that are already there?
    Mulqueen: students would enroll (or not) in that school, which would be in that proposal
    how quickly are you looking to implement all of this?
    "I just don't understand, as a parent, how it would fit...they have pretty high numbers"
    Mulqueen says it wouldn't bring in more numbers
    Mulqueen says process isn't in place yet
    parent says "now you have a process, there's something for you to understand here"
    "I can't do that on my own independent of the School Committee"
    Monfredo: it's in the inital stage
    Biancheria: "I certainly can appreciate the anxiety of not hearing...this is to keep everyone informed...this is the first...this is a continuation of the discussion..to keep the conversation with teachers, parents, and the community involved"
    comment on district "being forward thinking...learned something from that process...partnership group will allow for creation of plan and proposals...open, honest, transparent...make sure we have communication going back and forth"
    how is this different from small schools, which were disbanded? and how do we know that it isn't going to be disbanded again?
    Mulqueen says he doesn't want to keep repeating the past "doesn't show good learning"

    Innovation school questions

    Question if this would allow for innovation at the new North High
    Mulqueen: the original thinking has been around the South quadrant (coming out of readiness schools), timing of North in line with innovation schools. "It may be that the school committee says this makes sense" for North as well
    Question: what's the goal?
    "always looking for how to boost student performance...might bring to the table some new thinking from teachers..to launch some really good practices..freedom, flexibility, self-governance...doing what they think is best...flexibilities built in that maybe other schools wouldn't have"
    Flexibility in what manner?
    Budget, staffing, curriculum, professional development, scheduling
    who would be in charge of the school if the proposal gets in approved?
    could be several models, says Mulqueen: maybe an assistant principal, another entity, (other places have teacher committees that run schools, though he doesn't mention this)
    Mulqueen points out that teachers must opt in
    what if the idea gets approved but no teachers opt in?
    Staffing has to be part of the plan: no viability without teachers to staff

    EAW president Len Zaluskas: why have I never been informed of this, the screening committee, why haven't you gone to South to have these conversations?
    Mulqueen: "for me to go there, that was by invitation"
    "I'm still open to doing that...I don't jump over the principal and his or her responsibilities with their staff; it's for them to talk about it with their staff"
    "this is a proposal...we're just starting off here..the school committee could say, we're not really interested...haven't actually started the work...if you could just have a clean slate, what would that look like...if we got approval from the school committee, then it could move forward"
    "my work to this point has been just to keep up with the legislation"
    Zaluskas: Reville said if the building and the staff are the same, then it's not a new school
    "if it went forward that way, it would be a real issue for us"
    "how much funding is involved in this, and is the funding coming from Race to the Top?"
    there is no funding
    Zaluskas: you still want to start a school at South High?
    Mulqueen: won't push past the principals
    not every school needs to be an innovation school
    a lot of good work over at Sullivan, for example
    Zaluskas: you don't really know how many schools you want to do with this
    Mulqueen: not for me
    Zaluskas: should proceed cautiously, control model, try one and see how it works, "doing any more would be asking hastily"
    O'Connell says it had been our intent for the EAW to invited, also reads from the regulations regarding conversion of existing schools

    Packed TLSS subcommittee meeting

    The Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports subcommittee meeting up on the fourth floor of the admin building is PACKED tonight: people are standing in the hall (I wonder if there's a case to be made her for wiring the auditorium for cable?). Lots of teachers and administrators from the South quadrant, some community members, as well.
    We're down a subcommittee member--chair Brian O'Connell is absent.
    Mulqueen is talking now about the various committees involved in innovation schools: "overaching portfolio...floated a proposal" for community committee to make decisions about the innovation schools "portfolio"...11 essential conditions
    (to interject here: this is entirely outside the law and the regulations on innovation schools)
    "provide to superintendent, union leadership, and school committee for their consideration in making decisions on schools"
    Mulqueen lists the "wide variety of people who could come together...wouldn't have decision making on their own...broadbased group"
    Monfredo: proposals would "be judged according to the guidelines"
    "set the stage for grassroots decision making, grassroots ownership" says Mulqueen
    screening committee of superintendent, school committee, union (one of each) makes first round decision
    school committee makes final decision
    planning committee creates proposal then makes final proposal to school committee
    Monfredo: what would be the next step after they submit their application?
    Mulqueen is asking that his proposal move to entire school committee, and then it could move forward
    Mulqueen points out that decisions have to be make in line with the current budget, as there's no extra money for this to happen
    who would select the 14 member group, asks Monfredo
    the three member group would, says Mulqueen
    Monfredo suggests to O'Connell that they take questions from the audience

    You don't have to be a rocket scientist,

    'though maybe being an astronaut helps, in seeing that we're overdoing it with yet another education acronym:
    ...mention the odious and increasingly pervasive term “STEM education,” and instead of cheerleading gear, I reach for my ... pistil. In my disgruntlement, I am not alone. For readers who heretofore have been spared exposure to this little concatenation of capital letters, or who have, quite understandably, misconstrued its meaning, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, supposedly the major food groups of a comprehensive science education...
    The term also sounds didactic and jargony, which is why Sally Ride, the former astronaut who now travels the country promoting the glories of science education to girls and other interested parties, said she consciously avoids it.
    “With my NASA heritage, I’m perfectly capable of speaking entirely in acronyms, including the verbs,” she said. “But this is not very helpful when talking to the public.”

    Yes, please. And could we please rid ourselves of "ELA" (English Language Arts, which is itself an abuse of the English language) while we're at it?

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    School Spending and how it ranks

    by state and in several different ways.
    Note that in all cases this is accounting for state and local spending, not federal spending.
    ...for you number wonks out there. And I know you're out there.

    Time enough for counting...

    Turns out you really shouldn't offer gift cards to get kids to enroll in your school just prior to the official state count to determine state aid.
    Especially just after the state passed a law saying you shouldn't.

    Civics, or lack thereof

    I've got an item on this week's agenda on the teaching of science and social studies in K-6 (of which more later), but it seems appropriate to send you over to Hess on the lack of the teaching of civics and related lack of the focus on forming future citizens in public education.
    From the dawn of the Western tradition, dating back to Plato, Aristotle, and their contemporaries, education has been regarded as essential to the formation of good citizens and the cultivation of a proper attachment to the state. For America's founders such as Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, and Thomas Jefferson, one of the main functions of schools was producing democratic citizens.

    And you know I don't quote Hess often!
    UPDATE: He's followed it up today with more that's absolutely right.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Not so fast, Mr. Zuckerberg, Mayor Booker, and Governor Christie!

    It appears that the Governor does not have the legal power to grant the mayor any power--let alone executive power--over the Newark Public Schools:
    David G. Sciarra, the director of the Education Law Center, a Newark-based organization that represents poor urban schoolchildren in a lengthy equitable-funding lawsuit against the state, said that no New Jersey law permits a mayor to run schools, and that approval by the state legislature would be required for such a change. Nearly all the state's 600 school districts have elected school boards; a handful have boards appointed by mayors.

    In addition, a 5-year-old law governing state intervention in struggling school districts vests authority over those districts in the governor's appointed state commissioner of education, not the governor or a mayor, say experts and current and former lawmakers.
    "There is no provision for the mayor to have that kind of control. The [state] commissioner [of education] is really the one who is given that authority by the law," said Craig A. Stanley, a former Democratic state assemblyman who co-authored the 2005 law...

    Paul L. Tractenberg, a Rutgers University law professor who is an expert on education law, called the Christie-Booker proposal "an effort to totally blur the lines" of authority over Newark schools.

    "It's a basic, established principle of law that you can only delegate the authority you actually have, and I don't think the governor has the authority to operate the Newark schools," he said.
    The response of Derrell J. Bradford, the executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone, co-founded by Booker?
    "These people are punks."

    Professor James McDermott: interview

    You may remember that back in July, Governor Patrick named two new members to the state Board of Ed, among them Professor James McDermott of Clark University. The newest issue of The Backpack (from Citizens for Public Schools) has an interview with Professor McDermott. You'll want to read it all!
    On teaching and urban education:
    LG: How does your background working with urban schoolchildren and teaching writing inform your goals as a new member of the Board of Education, and what are those goals?



    JD: Kids, especially those written off by others, have taught me that, no matter their background or perceived abilities, they can compete with anyone anywhere. The key is their having amazing teachers who love their discipline so well they want to share the love they have of their content with younger others. My goal then is to help the bureaucracy provide amazing support for these amazing teachers – to free them from the constraints that institutions often impose. Good teachers understand the importance of designing thinking classrooms, respecting youngsters as the thinking and feeling individuals they are. They know that the end of education cannot be to produce narcissists whose only reason for schooling is to earn higher paying jobs to satisfy their yearning for instant gratification. They understand that they who follow a program or a text or a curriculum without understanding why perform an injustice on young minds.
    On writing:
    To me, writing is the best academic tool we have to probe thinking. I like to talk about two broad types of writing: writing to learn and writing to show learning. Writing to learn is the low-stakes writing—timed, messy, zany, brainstorming—used to quickly reflect on what you think might be going on as you try to figure [something] out…We do not use enough of this low-stakes writing in classrooms. Indeed, we do not use thinking enough in our classrooms today.
    On the MCAS:



    Look, I worked on the frameworks and on MCAS. MCAS is a misnomer. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System is not comprehensive and it is not a system. I call it MT – Massachusetts Test. ...


    I had many ways to assess my kids. I knew my kids better than anyone correcting the MCAS test. We did portfolios and presentations and took college courses and wrote and read and laughed and struggled and grew. And then I told them: This MCAS test will ask you to do some reading and writing. All I want you to do is show your thinking – that is what we have been doing every single day. So at University Park Campus School we took the MCAS test and outscored nearly everyone in the state – no test preparation and no focus on five-paragraph essays. Scores count. But not at all costs. The funny thing is the test worked for us because we did not teach to it. On the other hand the test may actually lower expectations if kids are pulled out of actual classes to do mindless test-taking drills.
    Hopeful.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Innovation, Community, Vocational...

    A glance at this coming Tuesday's Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports agenda shows a bit of something for everyone!
    • there's a crowd, I hear, coming to report back on what's happening in the South quadrant schools around the creation of proposed innovation schools in Worcester
    • the definition of a community school was referred here and is coming back
    • vocational education at the comprehensive schools, plus the horticulture program
    • also: the Gates foundation grant, free and reduced lunch, and libraries!
    It's at 5:30 in the fourth floor conference room at the Durkin Administration Building (and also live on Channel 11, and online, both, we hope, with sound!).