Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Conference committee budget is out tonight, voted tomorrow

Because we're almost out of time...
You can find the just-released-tonight conference committee budget here. The headlines will be "preserves local aid," and indeed it does use the Senate's chapter 70 number. It also keeps the $61M for regional transportation reimbursement, the $8.3M for McKinney-Vento reimbursement, and uses $80M for charter reimbursement. Note (thank you, MassBudget) that due to the addition of 3100 charter school seats next year, this level funding will leave the charter reimbursement underfunded by approximately $54 million. 

A few things of concern:
  • I can't find the quality K grant in here at all; it's account 7030-1002, and I'd be thrilled to be corrected if I'm wrong.  Quality Kindergarten is entirely eliminated
  • this budget does not make the automatic transfers to Mass School Building Authority (or the MBTA; what a year to short them!); usually a penny of the sales tax goes to them. 
  • there is nothing on the foundation budget. Nothing, after the state itself has said that current funding is inadequate. More on this to come.
  • As Noah Berger of MassBudget commented, "This budget represents another year of just barely getting by without any clear path to addressing the big challenges our Commonwealth faces, such as rebuilding our transportation infrastructure, making college affordable, and expanding access to high-quality education for all of our children." 
Budgets are moral documents. What we fund is what we value. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Massachusetts testing update

Two things:

  • The state has awarded the testing contract to Measured Progress, who currently hold the MCAS contract. This would not be noteworthy were it not that their subcontractor is Pearson.

  • The following update was sent out by DESE earlier today regarding computer assessment:

  • After consultation with the Test Administration Workgroup and other stakeholders, the Department has decided to implement a gradual transition plan to phase in computer-based testing. We hope this will make the transition more manageable for school and district staff. Here are the details: 
    · For next year’s tests (spring 2017), our expectation is that all schools will administer the computer-based versions of the ELA and math tests in grades 4 and 8.[1] · The Department’s Office of Digital Learning will provide consultation and support for schools that anticipate difficulty in meeting this requirement. In exceptional circumstances, we will waive the spring 2017 requirement if the school has made a good-faith effort to comply and has a plan for getting on track by spring 2018. 
    · For grades 3, 5, 6, and 7, schools may elect either the computer-based or the paper-based tests next spring. We strongly encourage districts to implement the computer-based version in as many additional grades as possible. The Board’s “hold harmless” policy with respect to school level determinations next year provides a good opportunity for students, teachers, and administrators to gain experience with computer-based testing. · Paper versions of all tests will always be available as an accommodation as required by a student’s individualized education program (IEP). We also anticipate setting up a process for principals to request a paper-based test accommodation for a small number of students who do not have IEPs but who are unable to take a computer-based test for other reasons. 
    · We are currently considering a transition in grades 5 and 7 to full computer-based testing in spring 2018, followed by grades 3 and 6 in spring 2019. We’ll finalize this schedule after the 2017 test administration and after plans for high school testing are finalized. 
    It is the Department’s intention to develop a test that is compatible with most of the devices in common use in schools, including tablets, Chromebooks, laptops, and desktop computers. In the coming weeks, we will be finalizing our selection of the next-generation MCAS testing contractor. After that is completed, we will provide additional details regarding the technical specifications for networks and devices. Additionally, we plan to announce funding opportunities for infrastructure upgrades later this summer.

    A few school finance updates from across the country

    NPR has an update from their earlier report on school funding across the country, with updates from Kansas, Texas, and Arizona, ranging from chaos to no change to some change. As all involve funding lawsuits, worth reading, Massachusetts.

    Slate has a thorough piece on Governor Christie's proposed change in New Jersey state funding:
    Here’s how Christie’s proposal would work in practice: Hillsborough Township, the leafy suburb where he delivered his speech, is 78 percent white, 8 percent Latino, and 5 percent black. Its education funding would increase by 86 percent under Christie’s plan. In high-poverty Newark, which is 84 percent black and Latino, funding would decrease by a devastating 69 percent.
    That a member of the Republican presidential nominee’s inner circle has made such a proposal is frankly terrifying. Christie’s plan is a deeply regressive one that would overturn a half-century of bipartisan consensus that poor children need extra educational resources. 
     Also, worth noting from a Massachusetts perspective (emphasis added):
    New Jersey is  one of the top two states in the nation on academic performance adjusted for student demographics, meaning poor children there academically outperform poor children in every state except Massachusetts.  
    According to an analysis of state data by the Education Law Center, the nonprofit that brought the Abbott case, between 2001 and 2010, the average high-school graduation rate across the state’s poorest districts climbed from 71 to 83 percent. There is little doubt that extra funding for poor children drove those gains.   

    Likewise, true of Massachusetts. But it stands in peril so long as we do nothing on the foundation budget.

    Thursday, June 23, 2016

    Need to rip system apart "a ruinous fiction"

    I highly, highly recommend Professor Jack Schneider's piece in the Atlantic on the fiction of everything in American education being broken:
    American education has some obvious shortcomings. Even defenders of the schools can make long lists of things they’d like to change. But the root of the problem is not incompetent design, as is so frequently alleged. Nor is it stasis. Rather, it is the twofold challenge of complexity and scale. American schools are charged with the task of creating better human beings. And they are expected to do so in a relatively consistent way for all of young people. It is perhaps the nation’s most ambitious collective project; as such, it advances slowly.
    No sample can do it justice, though, so please do read it all.

    June meeting of the Board of Ed

    The Massachusetts Board of Education has their regular monthly meeting on Monday and Tuesday of next week; you can find the agenda here.
    On Monday night, they'll be continuing their discussion of teacher evaluation, particularly the section having to do with "impact on student learning," one which is particularly relevant given the Senate's passage of a budget item that would eliminate that as a state requirement (as it no longer is a federal one).  The panel that will address this is:

    • Henry Braun, Director of the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Education Policy, Lynch School of Education, Boston College
    • Thomas Gosnell, President, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts
    • Barbara Madeloni, President, Massachusetts Teachers Association
    • Martin West, Associate Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education

    DESE is including as backup on this item a joint white paper from the teachers' unions addressing it, with their own remarks embedded in it. 
    Also on Monday night, the Board will be discussing digital learning, regarding which the state says "Our goal is not to determine which model is the best, but rather to support schools and districts in providing options and models best suited to students' learning needs and preferences." On Tuesday, the Board will have a new member joining them: Nathan Moore, a rising junior at Scituate High School, is the new student member of the Board. The briefing gives an overview of the Commissioner's intent on his opening comments, including what DESE has done around outreach for the state's new ESSA plan. These are the Rennie Center's "Shaping the Future of Accountability" breakfast and the Board's Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council meetings with DESE. 
    The Board will hear updates from the Level 5 districts (Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge) and the Level 5 schools. The Board will discuss and be asked to vote in new Digital Literacy and Computer Science standards. Upon this vote, DESE will distribute the frameworks that accompany the standards. The Board will receive an update on MCAS 2.0. Note that DESE announced today that they have awarded the contract to Measured Progress, which will subcontract with Pearson. The Board will conduct the annual review of the Commissioner; there is no attachment for that, but Mary Ann Stewart has posted an update about it. UP Academy-Springfield (part of the Springfield Empowerment Zone) is looking for an extension on their opening date. They were to open this fall; they now wish to defer that by one year.Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School wants the Board to overrule the Commissioner's denial of their expansion from a June 2014 request. The Board is being asked to vote to end some outdated regulations regarding an expired teacher quality grant, school construction (now covered by MSBA), and independent and agricultural institutes (which was part of a now-repealed law). The Board will get an update on the FY17 budget (they haven't met since the Senate passed their version).  They are also being asked (as per usual) to vote to delegate authority to the Commissioner to act over the summer break, and they're voting on next year's meeting schedule.
    I will not be at next week's meeting, due to its late date in the June calendar. 

    NSBA Trainers conference on ESSA

    I'm in Columbus, OH this week for the National School Boards Association Trainers conference. We're getting an update from the Ohio School Boards Association on the Every Child Succeeds Act. 

    updating as we go...
    Initial comment "This gives so much power back to the state...all that control...still needs to be developed" Important for school boards to stay involved as states develop their own plans under ESSA

    Thursday, June 16, 2016

    Worcester School Committee FY17 budget deliberations (round 2)

    scheduled to start at 4; list of accounts is here; they should be picking up with administration; the budget itself is here, and the Table of Contents on (web) page 7 is hyperlinked to each account. Updating as we go.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2016

    Senate Democrats filibuster for gun control

    You can watch it live on CSPAN. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who mentioned in his comments that this is personal, as his son this year is a first grader, the same age as the kids who were killed in Newtown.
    You can find your senators here.  As of my writing this at 4 pm, Senator Markey has already spoken, and Senator Warren just tweeted that she's on her way.
    If you're wondering what this has to do with my usual subjects, I'll quote Senator Patty Murray:

    UPDATE: Senator Murphy ended his filibuster over 14 hours after he began, after Senate Republicans agreed to debate the amendments today at 10:30.

    Sunday, June 12, 2016

    Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, June 16

    You can find the agenda here.
    Apologies, incidentally, for the the skipped first week of June!
    The School Committee starts at 4 with budget; the reports coming back from the previous budget session are:
    If you're following at home, the sequence of accounts is here, my notes from last time are here, and they left off with School Committee salaries passing, so they should be picking up with administration.

    In the meeting at 7--following executive session for collective bargaining for teachers, and drivers and monitors (who share a contract) and for litigation--the regular session opens with some recognitions. There is no report of the superintendent.

    Teaching, Learning, and Student Support met and is reporting out; they've approved three new courses and talked about the report card, it appears.
    Governance also met to revise the cell phone language, which is as follows: 
    Rule 13. – Cell Phones, Electronic Devices, and Laser Pointing Devices 
    While on school premises or at a school sponsored event, a student shall not, without expressed permission of appropriate school personnel, use any cell phone, smart phone, tablet, camera or any other type of electronic device which may potentially be disruptive of school activities or a distraction to students. Electronic devices shall include any cell phone, smart phone, tablet or anything powered by electricity and is suitable for communicating any oral, voice, audio or text messages or postings or for recording or communicating any audio, voice, picture, image or video imagery. Students are not permitted to have their cell phones or electronic devices powered while in school. 
    (it would seem that the final line here reverses the entire preceding paragraph)
    Use of such devices in violation of this rule may result in disciplinary action including, but not limited to, out-of-school suspension time. The School Administration reserves the right to confiscate cellular phones or other electronic devices when a student is believed to be violating this rule. 
    A student shall not use or possess a laser pointing device of any type on school premises or at a school sponsored event, unless such device is distributed by a teacher or its use is authorized by a teacher in connection with school work. Use of a laser pointing device against the face, eyes, or head of another individual may be considered a weapon for disciplinary purposes including, but not limited to, the possibility of long-term suspension.

    Penalties for students found in violation of the policy will be as follows: · 
    First offense: Student’s cell phone/electronic device will be confiscated and returned to the student at the end of the school day. · 
    Second and subsequent offenses: Student's cell phone/electronic device will be confiscated and returned only to the student’s parents or guardians. Any such parent or guardian may, within five days of any such confiscation, request a hearing to determine the validity of the violation of the code of conduct and resulting confiscation of the cell phone/electronic device. In such event the principal shall designate a hearing officer who shall: 1) give the student and/or his or her parents/guardians an opportunity to present their case; 2) hear or review the incident report from the enforcing person and any other person with relevant information; and, 3) provide a recommendation to the principal as to whether there is a reasonable basis to conclude that the cell phone policy of the code of conduct was violated by the student. Regardless of any request for a hearing, any confiscated cell phone/electronic device shall be returned to the parent/guardian at the first opportunity and shall not be dependent on the scheduling or outcome of any hearing. · Student committing repeated violations of this policy may be subject to additional disciplinary action, consistent with the Worcester Public Schools Code of Conduct up to and including suspension from school.

    And let's pause here to recognize how unusual it is for students to have parents who can run over to the school to retrieve cell phones during school hours, how privileged it is to assume that this is possible, and moreover that having and using a cell phone is basic measure of safety for many families. 

    There are several donations for Heard Street School.
    There is a $4200 donation for the CPR project.
    The School Committee is being asked to accept a $5000 grant for Toolbox for Education.Mr. Monfredo wishes to congratulate schools with a "low chronic absentee level."
    He also wants the "Chamber of Commerce, Media Outlets, and the Colleges" to create a video about the Worcester Public Schools for sharing with real estate agents.
    He wants to recognize the Bravehearts, and Gwen Bui, and Free Fun Fridays.
    The administration requests the School Committee accept a donation from the United Way for Chandler Magnet School.>Miss Biancheria wants Belmont Street and City View Schools property "cleared and maintained from summer into fall."The School Committee has its usual review of "items that have been filed with budgetary implications." (There are two.) The July meeting is being moved to July 14 (from the 21. Note that summer meetings are at 4.)

    Miss Biancheria wants to hear about new Chapter 74 courses.
    And there's a recommendation that the contract of Attorney Paige L. Tobin from Murphy, Lamere and Murphy be extendedfor three years.

    Thursday, June 9, 2016

    Some great quotes on the use of district determined measures (DDMs) this MassLive article; to wit:
    "The research isn't there that shows you can tie assessments to a teacher's performance," said Jake Oliveira, president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, which supports the amendment. "Our principals, teachers and superintendents find this to be onerous and unnecessary."
    ...which, bluntly, is true. There is no research to support the impact of an individual teacher on an individual student. 

    Beyond the problem of the Commissioner's position being unsupported by research, there are a few other things I find problematic: this continues DESE's conflation of state requirements with what happens in schools and school districts. There are--thankfully--many, many things that go on in schools and districts that the state has nothing to do with. And teacher evaluation should not be under the purview of the state; that it is is a result of Race to the Top.
    Also, "student learning" certainly isn't authentically evaluated by test scores, nor is it evaluated by the one (or small number) -off DDMs. Student evaluation should be an ongoing process within the classroom.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2016

    Pennywise and pound foolish

    Last night, the Worcester City Council, on a 7-4 vote, chose to cut the FY17 budget by $3 million; they did so by cutting the North High Stabilization fund, which is paying off the debt on North High. The argument made was that the city had made plans to pay off the debt early through use of this fund, and that wasn't really necessary.

    Two things of note:
    • in order for other projects to go forward with the Mass School Building Authority, we must be able to demonstrate that we can borrow (and pay off) the debt we as a city accrue to do so.
    • "the city is expecting $6 million less in reimbursements from the Massachusetts School Building Authority" next year, and thus the amount the city has to put towards paying off such debt is already less than previously.
    And a question: how much was the city projected to save in interest by paying off the debt early? 

    Tuesday, June 7, 2016

    Huge disparities in student discipline, educational access found in U.S. DoE

    The Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education today released a massive collection of data from the 2013-14 school year. Among the most troubling stats:

    Black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as are white preschool students.

  • In kindergarten through the 12th grade, black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as are white students. 
  • Black students also are nearly twice as likely to be expelled—removed from school with no services—as are white students.
  • Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as students without disabilities to be suspended in K-12 settings. They also represent two-thirds of students who are secluded from their classmates or restrained to prevent them from moving—even though they are only 12 percent of the overall student population.
  • More than half of high schools do not offer calculus, four in ten do not offer physics, more than one in four do not offer chemistry, and more than one in five do not offer Algebra II

  • (Algebra II? How are they not offering Algebra II??) 

    There's plenty of analysis out there to read: EdWeek talks about disparities in outcomes and access; UPI talks racial disparity; Think Progress focuses on suspensions; and the Washington Post points out the school counselor gap: 850,000 students went to schools without a school counselor, and 1.6 million students went to a school with a law-enforcement officer, but no counselor.

    Note further that this is aggregate data; district and school level data will be released in the fall at 

    Friday, June 3, 2016

    Novick Reports: Healthy Food Fuels Hungry Minds conference in sum

    As shared with MASC earlier today:
    Earlier this week, I attended the Healthy Food Fuels Hungry Minds child nutrition conference, which MASC co-sponsored. The day’s schedule is here; you can also find a link to the presentations there. My liveblog of the day is here.
    The morning keynote was Daniel Giusti, who you may know as a chef; he’s now working on Brigaid, which will have chefs working with and in schools in New London, CT. One of his points was the real gap that exists between the culinary world (most particularly including its training) and institutional food of all kinds. He’s clearly found the realities of school cafeterias eye-opening. It will be interesting to see where Brigaid goes.
    The following presentations were on the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act and updated nutrition standards.
    A few statistics I found interesting:
    • Those in school meal programs consume about half of their calories in school.
    • 97% of schools are meeting the new 2010 nutrition standards.
    • Kids are now eating 13% more of their entrees, 16% or more vegetables and 23% more fruit at lunch.
    While the HHFKA expired in September, Congress has yet to pass an update. There are concerns with the bills that have come out; see the slides for more details, though we’ve also discussed them on the [MASC] list-serv in the past. In particular, the proposed House change on Community Eligibility would remove 7000 schools that are currently in the program (and untold others that haven’t yet made it in).
    The following panel was on the link between school food and school performance, though it also functioned as a reflection on what is and is not working around feeding kids. Beyond the obvious cost and delivery concerns, there was a repeated call for students to have food that is thoughtfully prepared and presented; to have enough time to sit and eat; and to have time to socialize over food. It wasn’t clear that the presenters knew where to go with that (‘though I think we do!).
    I went to a session following on Springfield’s new Commissionary, which I didn’t take extensive notes on, but I’d encourage those interested to ask Springfield about. Boston City Council President Michelle Wu spoke of the importance of school food, and then I had to leave. My understanding, though, is that Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang echoed the importance of students having enough time to eat.
    As always, questions welcome!

    Let's lose the reading logs

    Please. Forever.

    A few things about yesterday's Worcester Public School budget hearing

    My notes from yesterday are here; Scott O'Connell of the T&G reports here. He's captured the major direction of the deliberations.
    As I listened yesterday, I kept reflecting back on this:
    The vote of the legislative body of a city or town shall establish the total appropriation for the support of the public schools, but may not limit the authority of the school committee to determine expenditures within the total appropriation. 
    M.G.L. ch. 71, sec. 34
    In Massachusetts, school committees are virtually unparallelled in their power to allocate within their budget. A simple majority vote moves money.
    The thing is, though, the vote has to move money. There's no such thing as a vote to "find" money, as the motion yesterday on school security. And ultimately, it's up to the school committee, not the administration--which has already done its job in presenting a recommended budget to the committee--to examine the recommendations and make the allocations.
    Mayor Petty captured this well in his reaction to the "find a million dollars motion" when he said he found it hard to believe that this was going to happen.
    If there were a million more dollars for teachers, they already would have been moved by the administration in the recommended budget. It wasn't.
    Wishing, or making motions, doesn't make it so.

    The news that the city was putting an additional $250,000 into school capital is a welcome one, given that the account has been level funded for years. We get back into that sticky allocation question with the addendum that the funds are "for security," however; school allocations are made by the school committee, not by the city.
    I'd also question if $250,000 in cameras is really the most pressing capital need of the Worcester Public Schools right now, given the flat facilities account, the increasing pressure on the buses in service, and the welcome-but-restrictive local funding of the MSBA repairs. There are lots of needs, and that allocation should be decided by deliberation, not by administrative fiat.


    Superintendent Binienda, in response to a question on security planning, responded that she's meeting with the Chief of police regarding staff training, which may include ALICE, which is the "fight back" response to an active shooter. This has been hotly debated in the communities in which it has been adopted. This is not only a policy change--which is under school committee purview--it's also a fairly substantive change for those of us with children in schools. It certainly warrants plenty of public discussion before any such change is made. I hope--though honestly I didn't see any indication--that such a discussion is planned.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2016

    Healthy Food Fuels Hungry Minds conference

    Not sure yet how I'll divide this one up...coming up is an update on the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act and other legislation, changes in nutrition standards, and food and the link with school performance