Commissioner Chester was the after-dinner speaker tonight at the Mass Association of School Committees/School Superintendents Conference. He'd brought along new deputy commissioner Alan Ingram, former superintendent of Springfield (and Broad Superintendents' Academy class of 2007). I livetweeted the question and answer session (most of them are tagged #Chester or #Ingram for who is speaking; start at the bottom and scroll UP), but I'll pull together a bit of a more coherent summary here.
The first question Chester was asked was on educator evaluation, namely, with all else that is on everyone's plate, can't we have more time to get it in place?
Chester passed this question off to Ingram, who said that educator evaluation is not another thing, but is tied into everything else (an answer that the audience appeared to find less than satisfying).
Next, with the PARCC testing for students requiring heavy use of technology in assessment, how are districts to fund this additional tech? Will there be assistance from the state?
Chester took a very long time to answer this, explaining a great length what PARCC hopes to be, why he thinks it's necessary, and so forth. Remember, he is chair of PARCC's Governing board. Eventually, his answer was that DESE has been in conversations with the state treasurer's office; Treasurer Grossman oversees the Mass School Building Authority. Chester is very hopeful that MSBA will fund the technology needed for PARCC out of their funds (remember, MSBA has a dedicated cent of the sales tax in Massachusetts). (I will say that I have heard elsewhere that MSBA is, to put it kindly, skeptical, but I hope that one of us thinks to ask MSBA when they're here later this weekend.)
The next question dealt with the new college and career report that the state has issued: will the state be funding that, or will it be an unfunded mandate?
Chester spoke at some length about pilot programs (including a 9-14 program that leads to an associate's degree and vocation certification), documenting and evaluating what was already being done, and so forth, before commenting that this "is not an agenda mandate; it's a 'here's what's possible mandate." (and no, I don't know what that means, either)
The current president of the superintendent's organization is Paul Dakin, Superintendent of the Revere Public Schools. He asked about meeting (and funding to meet) the needs of the "newcomers" to his and other cities: immigrants of upper age grades who need much assistance. He furthermore asked how we are to do so without compromising the high standards that Massachusetts sets, and without making it look as though we are slipping as we serve a more varied population.
Ingram cited changes in teacher training as being most important, and he also specifically cited Brockton as a place with good practices in handling this. Also, he talked about families needing to be connected to community resources.
When asked about the end of the Race to the Top funding, Ingram spoke at some length about RTTT being "an unprecedented opportunity" and about how much money it was. He talked about the need "to build capacity," not pay for "positions and people," and the need to monitor investments wisely. At this point, Chester jumped in with something I need to ask about: setting aside funds within RTTT for a sustainability effort?
Dakin spoke of the contrasting needs of districts under the new ELL teacher training regulations: some districts need to train hundreds of teachers, some only a few. How can this best be managed? Chester suggested training with other districts or dropping other professional development to do this instead. The comment was made that one way DESE could assist would be to take some of the regulatory reporting off of districts plates, to audience applause. This was rejected, after a discussion of the changes that had been made this past summer, and we were told that Chester is "committed to customer service." No editorial comment.
When asked what two or three reforms made the biggest difference in student achievement, Ingram said having "high expectations" which he further commented doesn't cost much. Chester thought this was a good answer, and further answered about reorganizing classrooms, likening them to egg crates (does he mean egg cartons?), where we put one teacher and so many kids in each classroom. He suggested thinking more creatively about teacher assignments. He further commented that he had great hopes of the new student evaluation of teachers, commenting that students are good at identifying good teachers. At which point, an educator at my table responded, "And I never, in all my years in the classroom, thought of THAT!" which summed up much of the reaction from the audience on much of this, I would say.
And that's it for this evening!