Monday, November 20, 2017

The Board of Education meets for November next Tuesday

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets next Tuesday at 8:30 am (note: no Monday night meeting this month). The agenda is here. After the opening comments from the Chair, the Secretary, and the Commissioner, there will be time for public comment.

Sydney Chaffee, Massachusetts and National teacher of the year, will be presenting (as is the tradition. These are usually quite good, and also among the only times the Board hears directly from a teacher on a topic of the teacher's choosing.)

There will be an update on the Commissioner's search (get those applications in soon!)

There will be an update from Lawrence, which is of particular interest in light of last week's announcement that the current appointed receiver Jeffrey Riley will be stepping down at the end of this school year; he will be replaced by a board appointed by the Commissioner (hmm...which one, I wonder?).

There will be an FY19 budget update.

There will be a discussion and vote to solicit public comment on the proposed (and verbally supported by the Board) hold steady standard setting on MCAS for the graduating classes of 2021 and 2022. That is, they'll take the new test, but the passing score will be set equivalent to the current difficulty level of passage with the old test.

There will likewise be a discussion and a vote to solicit public comment on a change to regulations around foster care to bring the state into ESSA compliance.

And there will be a discussion of virtual schools.

All I want for Christmas

We are coming up on the season of lists, of what we want and of what we have to do. In the spirit of the season, here's my list:

What I would like to see in a Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.

I want a Commissioner who has cried over children not their own.

I want a Commissioner who knows enough about child development to know what a four year old can, can't, should, shouldn't, and might do.

I want a Commissioner who talks to kids like people.
I want a Commissioner who listens when they talk back.

I want a Commissioner who has had to defend a public budget in public.

I want a Commissioner who has had to wrangle policy through a public process.
...and who has seen that policy is meaningless if it doesn't touch implementation.

I want a Commissioner who knows that we have a million kids in our system, and not all of them are going to be the exception.
...and that each of them is.

I want a Commissioner who knows enough education history to know when we've tried something before.
...more than once.
I want a Commissioner who has been the one with kids on the afternoon of the first snowfall.
...and when Halloween falls on a Friday.
...and the day someone in the community has died unexpectedly.

I want a Commissioner who has seen the smile of delight of a preschooler--or a high schooler--who reads a complete sentence for the first time.

I want a Commissioner who knows what they don't know.
..and who admits it.
...and who learns as a result.

I want a Commissioner who knows what data does show.
...and what it can't.

I want a Commissioner who reads state and federal law with an eye to what we can do, not what we can't.

I want a Commissioner who knows that our high schools don't run on a factory model.
...and that our school year isn't a reflection of the agricultural calendar.

I want a Commissioner who knows about different kinds of special education needs and what the best practice is.

I want a Commissioner who has learned about how we acquire language.

I want a Commissioner who knows the state constitution's Chapter V, Section II at least as well as they know M.G.L. Chapter 69.

I want a Commissioner who knows that education is something we do together for all of us and for each of them.

Remember: you can let the Board know what you think by email. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Late on this: Worcester School Committee tonight

I'm late posting on this, and I don't have time to do a full post, but I do want to flag for Worcester residents that tonight's Worcester School Committee agenda does include the first self-evaluation of Superintendent Binienda; the relevant (full) grid is here. The goals on which these are based are here. Note that two of the four are marked in the self-evaluation as "exemplary," Here's what the DESE guide to the evaluation system says about that:
The Exemplary level represents the highest level of performance. It exceeds the already high Standard of Proficient. A rating of Exemplary is reserved for performance on an Indicator or Standard that is of such a high level that it could serve as a model for educators in the school, district, or state. Few educators—superintendents included— are expected to earn Exemplary ratings on more than a handful of Indicators.
One assumes that the committee plans to evaluate in December. 

At some point, I still have a post I want to get to on the F&O meeting that was Monday...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"A solemn Councel forthwith to be held / At Pandæmonium*"

There were a lot of articles on the MCAS circulating this week.
I can't say we're any the wiser.

I saw this one from Bay State Banner getting shared a good deal, with the quotes being pulled from it either being of the variety that asserted that the new MCAS showed we were going to definitely and for sure have a college ready kids or, on quite the other hand, that it showed that we truly have gone down a long wrong road in education. What I didn't see being shared was Paul Reville's blunt assertion that it's a higher bar, or anyone pointing out that it even straightforwardly is a different test.

Likewise, the Fox 25 coverage resisting the emphasis on MCAS was shared a good deal, approving of Superintendent Jackson's comments about deemphasizing test prep. I didn't see anyone link that to something like Holliston's demographics (7% economically disadvantaged, 3% ELL) and talk about what that meant in Hollison versus places where there might be a valid concern of state intervention or of kids not making it through. I suspect it's closer to what it looks like in Pentucket Regional, where the parents are citing a drop on schooldigger (and a reflection on property values) as a reason for concern.

Today, we had a Globe article, which somehow ascribed to parents and districts confusion the Globe itself had fostered in its coverage: comparing last year to this, speaking fearfully of a "drop" in scores, and lending little lucidity to an already fraught issue.

Two things I didn't see get as much attention were Acting Commissioner Wulfson's note (and I'd put money on that being him; it sounds like him) in yesterday's Weekly Update (note that the website is down for the weekend) and an interview with Daniel Koretz, which, contrary to the boosts I largely saw it get, is more about putting standardized testing into perspective than getting rid of it entirely.

I saw a lot of assertions, a number of them false, and I didn't see a lot of attempts to grapple with making good public policy.

Asserting that a single round of a new test demonstrates much of anything other than it being a new test with new systems and materials on which students hadn't been tried is something of a fool's game. You can do it, but it really isn't any different than when I gave my students a test in a format they weren't accustomed to on material they weren't as familiar with.
And we knew we were going to see these results. We've known for months.
Thus I'm frustrated with the idea that, of itself, means much of anything. We can't know that these kids are any better prepared until we get them to whatever we're preparing them for: can they construct more logical arguments? can they reason through a problem? do they write any better than in the past? There are particular things we were told that this test is supposed to do better: does it? I don't think we know that yet.
By the same token, having a harder test itself is no slur against anything. If you as a teacher feel the assessment isn't accurately gauging where your students should be, you create a new one. What I'm not hearing asked enough is if this test is it. If it isn't, how? And what needs to be different?

I'm also deeply and profoundly frustrated by the ways in which the pandæmonium of the extremes is making it impossible to take advantage of openings for conversation. For example: right now, the state is in the process of working through the statewide history and social studies standards. At the end of that, we know, the state is going to implement a statewide history assessment. There have been a significant number of discussions at the Board of Ed that have opened to the door towards this NOT BEING AN EXAM LIKE MCAS. Wulfson and some members of the Board clearly agree that the best way of assessing actual knowledge and skills of social studies and civics is through community and project based knowledge. I have yet to hear or see anyone attempt to work with or on that. If that advantage isn't taken, there are absolutely those who want to see another "run it through the machine" exam, and if you don't think they're already talking, you're wrong. But that conversation is being drowned out by the shouting going on over the changes in the 3-8 ELA and math test.

There's also development a school report card going on, which includes, as ESSA opened the door to, a lot more things on it than test scores. What is that going to look like? What is going to be emphasized? How is the state and how are districts going to highlight that such that an actual variety (however meager in comparison to what we might like) of things are being evaluated? Is that, in other words, going to mean something now? Can we add things? And what is it going to look like to evaluate some schools that maybe are really good at narrow things being evaluated on a wider array of them?

And finally, is anyone, anywhere, going to attempt to have a conversation about what they're looking for in a new Commissioner? We don't hire them often. They have a significant amount of power. Are we just going to shrug and take whatever Chair Sagan and Secretary Peyser decide between them? Because they're absolutely the ones steering that ship.

Some of the above leads back to my perpetual call for better education coverage, yes. Some of it also points to a question of who is actually interested in making public policy versus staking out positions. Public policy means you don't get all your own way, and it means you have to pay attention to things like the $230 million a year we get in Title I funds (that's why we have a federal law to follow) and the 99% (and not shrinking) of kids who took the exam again in a year in which it "didn't count." It means you have to talk to people who disagree with you and maybe get to think they're at least well motivated if wrong.

If we don't do that, decisions are going to happen, anyway, and they're going to be made by those who have the ears of those in power and by those who show up to talk. And that isn't going to serve the kids nor the broad array of--
agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.
...all that well. Nor will it preserve our rights and our liberties.

*lines 755-6, Book 1, Paradise Lost, John Milton
and yes, Milton is talking about Hell

Acting Commissioner Wulfson on assessing districts

Quote in full from yesterday's weekly Commissioner's Update:
It was great seeing many of you at the MASS/MASC conference on the Cape earlier this month. I’m always impressed by the breadth and depth of the panel sessions and presentations on so many vital topics. One session that particularly stood out for me was a presentation by Wakefield Superintendent Kim Smith on the very robust set of rubrics they’ve been developing to measure student growth and learning. MCAS scores are part of it, but so are many other qualitative and quantitative dimensions of student performance. We all know that MCAS does not measure all of the content and skills that we want our students to know. But how often do we hear the complaint that a district is shortchanging some element of the curriculum because “it’s not on MCAS”? I believe it is neither feasible nor desirable for us to expand the state testing program to incorporate every dimension of student learning. So it’s nice to see districts like Wakefield that are willing and able to put MCAS scores into perspective and develop comprehensive local measures to support their educational goals.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

MASS President (and Taunton Superintendent) Julie Hackett at MASS/MASC

I was going to pull from this to write something up myself, but, really, you should read the whole thing. Remarks delivered by Superintendent Julie Hackett last Wednesday at MASS/MASC's Annual Conference:

When I was a kid, I loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved the way he could string a phrase together to evoke an image from words. I loved the heartfelt letters he and his mother exchanged, and I loved his books that helped me imagine and dream. I even named my yellow lab “Gatsby” after the main character in – you guessed it – The Great Gatsby.

 And I especially loved his quotes. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” It’s a quote that’s stuck with me through the years, and I think it’s quite fitting for this time and this place, and for all those who care about education in Massachusetts.

As you all know, there’s a great deal of tension in public education right now. It strikes me that part of this stress comes from the increasing pressure to hold multiple points of view in mind all at once, without ever really having had an opportunity to hash things out together. I think a lack of organized, collective public discourse about our beliefs tends to impair our ability to function in some ways.
 And this pressure is particularly hard on leaders like you - superintendents and school committee members in this room – whose job it is to help your school community sort things out and make sense of the world.

It occurs to me that this “sorting out of ideas” has never really happened in a big way in Massachusetts. Yes, we’ve all probably talked about the direction of our State Department of Education and of our own district’s mission, but when I think about it, I’ve never even asked my School Committee members or Leadership Team, for example, to share their ideas about the purpose of public education. And to my knowledge, it’s not a discussion that's been had by MASS, MASC or the DESE. And so it seems we jump from one idea to the next without ever truly discussing the fundamental question at hand that gets at the heart of our belief systems, and that is: “What is the purpose of public education?”

And so, never having the opportunity to sort things out creates this kind cognitive dissonance for us, which makes us feel uncomfortable. For instance – we are Massachusetts, and while we may appreciate being the best in the nation, we may bristle at the measurements used to prove it’s so. Another incongruent reality we face is that we may fundamentally believe the purpose of public education is to teach students how to live – not how to make a living. However, our new Next Generation MCAS test (or MCAS 2.0) is designed to measure college and career readiness, and not what it means to be a contributing member of society, which also matters to many of us.

And so I think there is a sense that there’s a fundamental disconnect in what we believe and what we do. Education is filled with these internal inconsistencies, and the Greek even invented a word for this – they call it “oxymoronic” or said another way – “pointedly foolish.”

But I, for one don’t think it’s pointedly foolish – or even a little intentionally silly – to simultaneously believe in ideas that may, on the surface, seem incompatible. In fact, I believe that with more intentional public conversation by all stakeholders in Massachusetts – together in the same room – there’s a great opportunity for us to redefine the purpose of public education, bridge the gap, and gain some momentum. And we all know who that’s going to help in the long run.

So, as a first step in this effort, I thought it would be interesting to reach out to some of you with a question tonight, and possibly even encourage some of you to go back to your school communities and do the same. I wanted to sort out what I believe to be the purpose of public education, what you believe, and perhaps more importantly, what we believe together.

Borrowing from a National School Board Association survey based on an informal survey a teacher did back in 2010, I asked a number of you to answer this question in 30 words or less: “What is the purpose of public education?”

I contacted the MASS and MASC Executive Officers, and I posed the question to the sixty or so superintendents and school committee members who attended the Legislative Breakfast we hosted yesterday in Taunton. And finally, I reached out to my “tweeps” – and for the social media neophytes in the room, “tweeps” means “twitter peeps,” which is a term of endearment used to reference one’s followers on Twitter. (And I see the students in the room nodding, and they all know what a tweep is!). I was pleasantly surprised to get more responses to this question than I expected, and here are some that I thought you might find interesting:
  • One of my parents said (and I quote), “The purpose of education is to help my child prepare to be a contributor to society. That’s all I want for her! Go Woodchucks!" (Only the Tauntonians will understand this inside joke - where are my Taunton School Committee members? Woodchucks are from where? That's right - Martin Middle School!).
  •  A former Taunton High graduate said, “I think my public school education made me well rounded. I was well-prepared for a competitive 4-year college, which then prepared me for continued success in both graduate school and now my career. I’ve always been proud of my TPS education.” (I must confess, this one melted my heart).
  • And here's one from one of my current students who said, “The purpose of public education is to teach kids how to function with little sleep.” (Ms. Doherty, I think we'll recruit her to your Late Start Committee).
  •  A retired principal and a son of immigrants said, “My parents shared the importance of caring for your family and community, and the way to do that is to be smarter than anyone else – and damn it – get an education.”
  •  One of my twitter followers who just published a book said the purpose of education is, “to realize the full and complex human potential of each young person who steps through the schoolhouse door.”
  •  A school committee member said, “Public education’s purpose is to educate children providing them the skills needed not only to become responsible citizens but also preparing them for success in whatever career they choose.”
  •  Another school committee member quoted a passage from MGL, and when I asked her to summarize, she said the purpose of education is “for the preservation of their rights and liberties.” • A DESE employee said, “to prepare all students for success in the world that awaits them after high school.”
  •  A superintendent of a regional vocational technical school said the purpose of education is “to prepare students for life and not just a graduation stage.”
  •  And one of my personal favorites? A member of our illustrious MASS Executive Officers said, and I quote: “‘Knowledge is good.” Does anyone know the origin of this quote? That’s right; it’s the Faber College motto from Animal House! (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about which one of the Executive Officers said this!)

And so what does all of this talk about the purpose of public schools mean for us and why does it matter? Like F. Scott Fitzgerald said – smart, intelligent people like you understand that education doesn’t have to be about just one thing, it can and should be about many things to help give our young people every advantage in life. Drawing from your thoughtful comments in response to my question, it appears to me that public education here in the Commonwealth doesn’t have a singular focus, and that’s a good thing. If I had to define it based on my beliefs and your responses, I would say that the purpose of public education in Massachusetts is about college, careers, AND the common good – and not necessarily in that particular order.

As a first generation college student, I believe deeply that everyone deserves a college education. And probably like many of you, I’ve experienced how higher education changes lives. It teaches our young people to think critically, to be civic-minded, and to self-actualize. In addition to all that, a recent study from Georgetown University found that on average, college graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetimes. Now money isn’t everything and all those intrinsic rewards are just as important if not more so, but to me it is undeniable that every child in Massachusetts deserves a chance at a college education.

But here’s the reality: not every child is ready for a college education at the exact moment he or she graduates. So then what do we do? Do we say we’ve taught the young person to be a contributor to society and say our jobs are done? Of course not – the pathway to college and a better life can be through careers, too. We have an obligation to teach young people about career possibilities and prepare them for the jobs of the future. In my school system, 70% of our students take a Career Technical Education course, and I don’t think that’s good enough. It should be 100% - not just for my students, but for all students in Massachusetts. (As a quick aside, soon you’re going to see a white paper published by the Alliance for Vocational Technical Education that defines high-quality education that makes this same recommendation.)

Another important MASS movement involves computer science. In a departure from the top-down mandates that typically occur, MASS initiated a collaboration with the business community and education officials ensuring that all students in Massachusetts develop computational knowledge and skills and the ability – if they so choose – to explore their individual passions and develop the new literacies and foundational skills they are going to need in the future. Equity is an important part of this conversation, and MASS has insisted that all children have access, regardless of their zip codes and whether they live near Boston or in Western, Massachusetts where there’s limited broadband access and infrastructure.

The most compelling reason I believe that every student in Massachusetts should take career technical education courses is because of my conversations with young people. When I ask them what it is that needs to change in their public education, here’s what they tell me: they say that what they study has little or no applicability to their futures. And, truthfully, I have heard this from young people in every school system in which I’ve ever worked. I’ve heard it from students in rural, urban, suburban, less affluent or wealthy districts – you name it. I’ve heard it from the students who take more general courses, to the National Honor Society students who primarily enroll in Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes. If you have a serious conversation with a young person, and you ask them how to improve their public education, they will tell you that there’s no connection between what they’re learning and what they will do in the future. And when they say this, what they’re really saying to you is they need and want contextualized learning opportunities so they can begin to imagine the possibilities for their lives, for their futures. All students in Massachusetts deserve to have more career technical education to help them dream and pursue their passions.

And finally, there is indeed no debate that one of the purposes of public education in Massachusetts is and must be for the common good. We recently heard from the Anti-Defamation League at an MASS meeting, and they reported hate crimes in Massachusetts public schools were said to be in the high 70s and counting in September – and those are just the ones that are known. And the Washington Post just reported that hate crimes in high schools are on the rise due to the national scene. Our young people deserve to grow up in a world where we look out for each other. A fundamental purpose of public education is to teach young people to care about one another, and I think we all can say that our young people deserve a better world tomorrow than the one they're living in today. They need to be active citizens who take collective action in politics and public service so we can preserve the common good.
And let me close by saying that I know with the caliber of superintendents and school committee members in this room, there’s nothing we can’t do together to create better opportunities and life outcomes for the young people we so cherish in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I thank you for your time.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Help is (possibly) coming

Breaking news today that Governor Baker plans to ask the Legislature for additional funding to go to schools who have seen an influx of students from Puerto Rico. It doesn't look like a foundation budget recount, though:
The guidance, which came from Baker's budget office, indicated that the governor will file for additional funding under the Chapter 70 program for fiscal 2018 "to ensure that school districts can draw down additional state aid for these new students, as needed." 
The money, according to the administration, will be dispersed based on school districts' current per-pupil funding levels and account for whether the incoming students need special services, such as English language learning classes. 
"We will continue to monitor these enrollment numbers through FY18 and beyond and seek additional aid for district experiencing significant enrollment increases as necessary," the memo states.
Interestingly, the memo counts 880 students statewide, whereas Politico as of Monday afternoon:
 The phrase "which students need special services" does open the question of if any consideration of students on IEPs will be added in; the foundation budget doesn't count actual students on that.
More as I have it. 

What happened last night in education?

What an election night, huh?

So what happened in education?
  • Close to home, of course, the Worcester School Committee drops Colorio (by 291 over Biancheria) and adds Comparetto. A few things to keep in mind on that: Colorio's two big issues were Common Core--gone because of the standards redrafting and ESSA==and overtesting--which appears to be less of a concern in a state in which the state test is regularly racking up rates of 99%--so she didn't have as much to run on this year. Comparetto, of course, ran as a progressive, though the big issues around education--race, school-by-school inequity, police in school--were never brought up by him or anyone else. I'm dubious about how much of a victory it is for "us" when a newcomer wins a seat by spending (what I believe to be an unprecedented) over $45,000 to win a school committee race. At a time when we're seeing school board seats be bought for big money (don't forget LA), I'm going to say bluntly that if we care about representative democracy locally, this isn't something we'll find encouraging. Note also that McCullough moved up the ranking while Biancheria moved down (in fact, for awhile it looked as though she might be bumped instead). 
  • On the Worcester City Council, Gaffney is out and Rosen replaces him at large. The two newcomers, representing districts 1 and 5 respectively, are Sean Rose and Matt Wally. Rose has kids in the schools, and Wally has parents who were WPS teachers, so at least initially, that looks like possible education support. Aside from general supportive messages for schools, and Wally specifically talking about getting South and Doherty done, we haven't heard a lot on that. Also, someone should ask Rose about a new Burncoat.
  • Farther afield, the big news is from Lowell, where the non-binding question on putting a new high school downtown won by a nearly 2 to 1 margin, and the City Council race went to those who supported that location as well. For those who haven't been following this issue: Lowell's only high school is right downtown, and many students walk to and from school. The district runs a good number of programs that keep kids in and around the building during and after school; it's widely seen as one of the strengths of the district. The school committee has wanted to keep a new high school in that location, in order to keep those programs and that access in place for students; the City Council instead wanted to move the high school out to a more suburban location. In Massachusetts municipal districts, the city (not the district) builds schools, so when the City Council voted to put the high school in the more suburban location, the School Committee balked, and then sued, and then lost. Meanwhile, a group of citizens who wanted to keep the high school downtown had collected enough signatures to put the a non-binding measure on the ballot. It has by far dominated the municipal election, and, last night, the downtown supporters won big. All of which demonstrates that the MSBA was wise to postpone dealing with Lowell until after their election. Also, pro-tip? A major concern of MSBA is the academic program and how the building supports that. Lowell's suburban site was not making good arguments for that.
  • We can't talk about last night and education without recognizing two mayoral races that bring new mayors in from the State House coming out of races that spoke about school funding: Representative Paul Heroux was elected last night in Attleboro, defeating seven term incumbent Kevin Dumas. Note that Heroux himself cites school funding as one of the factors of his win; Attleboro regularly dances on the edge of barely making minimum net school spending. In Lynn, Senator Tom McGee beat incumbent mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy by a 64/35 margin. Lynn, of course, has been the city that has been so far under net school spending for years that the state has had a few rounds of renegotiating how they're ever going to make up ground on it. The outgoing mayor had variously referred to minimum spending as "a thorn in our side" and had spoken of the school budget "swallow(ing) the city budget". Those are weak arguments in a city in which the school budget is funded a full 75% by the state.
  • Framingham elected their first city school committee, choosing a mix of incumbents and newcomers. 
  • In New Bedford (h/t Kat McKiernan), incumbent Josh Amaral (disclosure: Josh is a friend) won re-election, and and the city elected two new members, one of whom, Colleen Dawicki, is an interesting city policy wonk type and becomes the only woman on an all-male board.  
  • In Malden, where a ward school committee candidate had attracted an enormous (for school committees) amount of dark money, the non-dark money candidate Jennifer Spadafora won, and by a fairly significant margin.
  • I put together a bit of a thread last night about school committee races across the state (which does not claim to be everything; let me know if you have additions). 
To peek nationally a bit:
I'll add more to this over the course of the day...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Vote hope, not fear

The cities (whether they call themselves so or not) of Massachusetts have local elections today, including my hometown of Worcester.
I've already posted once in this election season about Worcester, as my district race had a preliminary contest. I'll be going in later today to vote for Matt Wally, with a fervent hope that he steps up to learn more about education funding, and backs way off the policing focus, should he win.

In the at large race, I'll tell you that Mayor Petty has walked the talk on school funding. What WPS most needs, when it comes to budgets, is a mayor who goes to Boston and actively advocates for the change to the foundation budget that has Worcester functioning at something like 4/5ths of the budget it should have. He gets it, he's internalized it, and he's served us well.
On other aspects of other education policy, we don't always agree (check four years of roll calls if you don't believe me), but he came into the mayor's chair knowing that he needed to learn the school committee side. And he doesn't pretend to know what he doesn't, which is one of the biggest drawbacks of many a politician (that's also my other main test of who NOT to vote for).

Overall, though, here's what I'll recommend across the board:
Don't give votes to people who try to make you afraid.

We again this election have had a wide array of people running for office whose main pitch to voters has been fear. The District 5 race has focused largely on policing and taxation, and neither in any way that is positive or moving forward or forming relationships or trying to be constructive. We've seen in on Council over and over in the past two years: we should fear immigrants, or poor people, or anyone who isn't like us. Frankly, I'm not going to vote for very many at large candidates--maybe two? beyond Petty--because so many councilors have, at one time or another, made it clear that they view fellow denizens of Worcester as "those people."

And that's particularly dangerous when it comes to schools.

And it's been particularly pervasive when it comes to schools. I won't walk you back through two years ago--it's already been said, and better, by others--but the mystery of the suddenly safe schools post-election doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to place.
It isn't just school safety (though we saw another round of "the safety budget must go up" as well as "but the policing is working!"). This past two years saw a concerted effort to make parents afraid of wireless internet in their buildings, in defiance of all science. The campaign has seen an effort to make PCBs, after all the testing has come back below EPA levels, an issue again. It also has seen yet another "but the Common Core" push, after two rounds of standards revision post-Common Core.

I'll tell you bluntly that refusing to vote based on fear won't give you many options. But you should never be ashamed of a bullet vote.

Vote hope, not fear.

Monday, November 6, 2017

CPPAC hears about the strategic plan on Wednesday

Last night, families received a connect-ed, letting us know that the citywide parent group CPPAC willl be hearing from the Rennie Center on Wednesday night about the strategic plan. CPPAC meets at 7 pm at the Worcester Art Museum.

Note that there is again no mention of interpretation or childcare. Plus, the art museum is not on public transit (it's a hike to get there from most bus lines).

I can't go because Burncoat is having a session on financial aid that night. If you go, take notes! Also, I've received notice from the Attorney General's office that they've received my Open Meeting Law complaint. 

Friday, November 3, 2017


left for me by housekeeping this week at the conference 

Two years ago tonight, I lost an election.
Like a lot of "clubs no one wants to belong to," it's one of those things that are both different for everybody and not really something you can relate to until you've been there.

We talk a lot in education in Massachusetts about superintendents being the only ones who have public evaluations that can involve their being publicly fired.
Not so: everybody out there who sticks their name on a ballot for a second or subsequent time can also have that same experience.

It stinks. It hurts.

But also like those other "clubs no one wants to belong to," it clears some things up. It makes it clear who values you for what (and who values you at all). It makes it clear what matters, and it makes it clear what doesn't.

There are much, much worse things in life than losing an election.

As the annual Thanksgiving posts on Facebook started to swirl, it occurred to me that I've never really said anything about the past two years, and if this past month has taught me anything, it's that you should say something lest you miss the chance.

Thus, I am enormously grateful:

  • for my family, who made it immediately and enormously clear that this really didn't matter all that much in the larger scheme, who set about finding me a new ('real') job immediately (however...puzzling), never doubted that I would find something that was good and right, and who have embraced with aplomb the idea that now I go to lots of different school committee meetings.
  • for those who fed me that Wednesday. I had support when I was most in need of it. I'll never forget that. 
  • for every single person who said, "But who will blog the Board of Ed now?" You gave me a different perspective on my role in state education policy at a time when I needed it.
  • for every single Worcester person who has said, "I always voted for you!" That never doesn't matter (and don't believe anyone who tells you that they don't care). 
  • for all of the people in all of the various realms of education and politics and policy who didn't change a tick in reaching out for thoughts, analysis, information, explanations and such. You helped show me a path forward.
  • for, of course, the Board, my boss, my colleagues at MASC. Quite seriously, every single person in that office wants every single school committee member (and quite a number of administrators!) to do the best job they possibly can. They are great fun, they are smart, they work hard, and I am so glad to work with them. Seriously: I love my job.

If you're in the above--and many, many of you who read here are--thank you.

Remarks from Acting Commissioner Wulfson at MASS/MASC annual conference

I was (regrettably) on my phone during this, so I'm reconstructing this from my tweets; it is a reconstruction.

Acting Commissioner Wulfson opened by saying that he was going to say what he's been too shy to say for 23 years, and warned that by the time he gets done, no one, including members of his family, may be speaking to him.
  • Real changes and progress in schools takes years, whether it's curriculum changes, school turnaround, or other things. The average tenure of a superintendent is now 3 years. What are we doing to support superintendents to stay longer?
  • Kids need more time in school, particularly those with greater needs.
  • All kids need access to computer science (praising MASS for taking this up).
  • Educator licensure is "way too complicated" and needs pruning. There should definitely be some requirements of what you need to know and to do, but the system needs reworking.
  • Buildings are expensive to build; we should fix them, not keep building new ones.
  • "When did taxes become a four letter word? The original Tea Party was neither anti-government nor anti-taxation."
  • Regarding school transportation reimbursement: It “doesn’t seem right to me that Dighton-Rehobeth gets 80% and Taunton gets zero.” 
  • On charter schools: “When the kid arrives mid year from Guatemala, he’s going to the district schools” BUT ALSO "there are good charters out there and districts should learn from them." 
  • And there is excellent work being done by districts across the state every day.
And I'll close with the same thing I tweeted when he ended: "This is why MASS President (and Taunton Superintendent) Julie Hackett said that if it were up to her, she'd just cross out the "Acting" before "Commissioner." 
I don't always agree with him, and I think he's wrong sometimes, but he never takes criticism personally (at least publicly), he's always up front about what he knows and thinks, and he genuinely cares, not just about kids, but about people doing work in school districts, and sees himself as on the same team. That matters a lot. 

Speaking of student-centered learning

Among the questions asked last week of candidates to the Worcester School Committee was one on "student-centered learning." All spoke, in some fashion, in support of it. Mr. O'Connell, in fact, went on at some length at how this was something that Worcester doesn't do enough of.

Worcester just didn't do enough of it again.

A group of students delivered a set of policy proposals to the superintendent yesterday, having, per the report, first asked candidates to sign off on it. They were, it appears, largely dismissed (including by Mr. O'Connell).

Contrary to Miss Biancheria's comment that this "isn't how you get things done," having candidates promise to support policy proposals is exactly how one gets things done, or at least moving, in an election year. Surely we haven't all forgotten the yearly "lowest residential tax rate" pledge the Shrewsbury Street Neighborhood Association extracted from candidates?

As is clear from the above sequence, yes, it takes more than nice noises to get elected officials to do something. Perhaps someone could remind the students that they have (as required by law) a representative on the Worcester School Committee. Time to start making use of that.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Regarding the Commissioner's search

A twitter thread:

Update on the OML Worcester strategic plan complaint

My appeal to the Attorney General's office was mailed yesterday.

OH! And on Tuesday, the Worcester Public Schools twitter feed sent out this:

Note that Worcester East Middle is actually 420 Grafton, should you be heading there.
As it was the first notice, and I have a meeting tonight, I won't be there. But they suddenly appear to have decided that parents should come, as in the past half hour I have also received:

  1. a computer-voice Connect-Ed urging attendance
  2. a blank email: 
Too late to make it up to us on transparency... If you go, take notes!

Scott O'Connell went to the forum.
And Bill Shaner wrote a bit about the lack of public notice and input.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Worcester School Committee "Community and Schools Forum" at Worcester State

I'm blogging tonight from the "Community and Schools Forum" at Worcester State University tonight. It's co-sponsored by the Latino Education Institute, Adelante, CENTRO, Southeast Asian Coalition, and African Community Education. This is a good one, because Worcester is a majority children of color system; the stats for last year are: 
Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity (2016-17)
Race% of District% of State
African American15.48.9
Native American0.20.2
Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander0.00.1
Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic4.13.4
Worcester has--and will continue to have, regardless of the results of the November election--an entirely white school committee.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Commissioner's search (if you couldn't read the photos)

Appointed by Chair Paul Sagan to the screening committee is:
Voting members (current members of the Board)
Secretary Jim Peyser
James Morton
Margaret McKenna
Katherine Craven

Non-voting members
Vanessa Calderon-Rosado (former member of the Board, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion)
Sydney Chaffee (National Teacher of the Year, Codman Academy Charter School)
Alex Cortez (Reimagine School Systems Fund--New Profit; Board of MATCH Charter and Innovate Public Schools)
Paul Dakin (retired superintendent, Revere Public Schools)
Marcia Faucher (adjunct professor, Roger Williams University; former New Bedford principal)
Robert Gittens (Executive Director, Cambridge Family and Children Services; former Boston School Committee member)
Sheila Harrity (superintendent, Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School; Vice Chair, Board of Higher Ed)
Matt Hills (Newton School Committee; he's also a managing director at LLM Capital)
Beverly Holmes (on Springfield Empowerment Zone board; former member of the Board of Ed)
Linda Noonan (of Mass Business Alliance for Education)
Mary Walachy (of the Davis Foundation; member of the Early Ed Board)

I've tried to give a relevant link as warranted; if there are others, send them along 

Board of Ed: Educator License Actions

backup is here
Wulfson: DESE is licensure authority for over 90,000 educators and administrators
part of that is investigating misconduct
"critically important part of the department that rarely gets public attention, and that's probably a good thing, because it means our staff is doing its job well"
within legal office
vast majority of teachers are caring, hardworking, trustworthy individuals; small number should not be an indictment of vast majority

Commissioner may suspend, revoke, or limit a license if the license holder:
  • Lacks sound moral character
  • pleads guilty to or is convicted of a crime
  • commits gross misconduct or negligence
  • is dismissed from a school for just cause
  • misrepresents their history on an application
  • has another professional license that is revoked
a dismissal, non-renewal, or resignation for reasons that might implicate that educator's license, the superintendent is required to report it to DESE
Schneider: a balancing test
Cavell: your license is your ability to do work; you may not fit into culture of a school, but that does not mean you don't deserve to have your license
Dale: will open a file when there is a media report

the office investigates: 
  • professional boundary violations 
  • grooming student for inappropriate relationships
  • sexual relationships with students
  • inflicitng physical harm
  • MCAS cheating
  • criminal condcut
  • inappropriate language and acts
  • substance abuse
Do investigate social media; brief discussion ensues on where the lines are on whose job it is; Wulfson points to policies adopted by school committees on social media use of employees

applicant investigations: must disclose criminal court appearances and convictions; child neglect or abuse findings; employment dismissal for cause
also must certify that there are no misrepresentations on the applications and disclose any future changes to their answers

Stewart: "small but mighty"
Schneider: two full time lawyers, a part time lawyer, two full time investigators, and an investigator admin (not her word)
"deal with the worst first" in setting priorities
Dale: prioritize most risk of harm
Sagan urges them to come back if they need greater resources
Dale: educators do have due process rights; sanctions are reported to national clearinghouse; also use clearinghouse for reciprocal actions

Have increased volume due to background checks by districts for hiring authority
"press our school districts to be as vigilant as they can be on this"

Trimarchi: administration of new MCAS on computer: has that created any new "test weirdness"
Cavell "we do have one matter that we're looking at right now, but one matter does not make a trend"
Wulfson: do believe computer testing will tighten up what we're doing

Moriarty: any flags on pending investigations?
No, though in very rare cases, do get flagged during investigations
Moriarty: concerned about staying ahead of investigations
Schneider: authority of hiring and careful checks
"would you rehire this person?"
Peyser: are you required to check background?
what is potential liability for a negative reference that can't be proved?
Cavill: each district does its own hiring, "there are some HR people that are very, very savvy"
Senator Lovely's bill would set more requirements in hiring
Peyser: if former employer tells another district that DESE has been notified about certification, does that put the district at any legal risk?
Cavill: if it's a mandated report, the district is pretty safe
emphasize that districts can report anything
case law about a glowing recommendation for someone that was not warranted
"if it's an omission, there's not a lot of case law holding the district liable"

Board of Ed: Level 5 update

Johnston: review of quarter one results; report here
Rodriguez: pull out some themes
pretty intensive support and assistance to Level 5 districts and schools: liaison from the department
coordinate support provided plus monitor implementation of turnaround plan
figure out what support is needed from department or elsewhere
quarterly updates from Level 5 schools; benchmarks
make mid-course adjustments
"a lot of time right now analyzing results"
schools jumping into variance by grade (growth by grade)
"this is a snapshot in time"
"really make decisions about resources"
digging in with receivers
working to see if other testing is aligned with state assessments
all schools spent professional development time on school cultures and curriculum
"really strong instructional leadership structures"
"really a refinement of the work"
big challenge relates to staffing; "big picture, we know this relates not just to Level 4 schools, not just to Level 5 schools"
looking at efforts schools are putting in
"have turnover that happens in the late summer"
hardest one is principal at Parker is stepping down for personal reasons
good news is seeing places with deeper benches; still change, which is hard to manage
"asserting ourselves and involving ourselves a little more directly"
Q from Moriarty: not as much in Dever?
Dever worked with Boston; cautious, as has been an issue in past years
Moriarty: "see this business of August resignations extremely troublesome...these are licensed accredited professionals"
"but for folks who are doing it for convenience for a better opportunity...I don't think that behavior is ethical"
"there's something unconscionable about that"

Johnston: Southbridge
focused on schools being ready to welcome students back
then turned to new receiver
listening to community to see the qualities wanted in new receiver
four: community building; integrity; resourcefulness; shared vision
turnaround plan "is right plan for district" community felt, so need someone who will implement
networking and are encouraging people to apply
hope to be interviewing by Thanksgiving; hope to have choice by close to year's end, I'm gathering
To Q from Trimarchi: network among receivers; common themed meetings; have visited each other's districts
how DESE brings to bear ideas across districts
for schools to own the change
25 urban districts gather each month; agenda co-developed with DESE
a real emphasis on trauma on learning this year

Board of Ed: FY19 Budget proposal

Wulfson: about a third of the year through FY18, beginning development of FY19

Bill Bell
quick FY18 update: briefly in middle of implementing FY18 spending plan
has been some activity since Governor signed the budgets
override of vetos has some earmarks; hasn't been finalized
big positive news is the additional $4.1M for assessment has been authorized and approved by Governor; awaiting a revenue transfer of that funding
sooo...not DESE money. Where did they find it?
restricted revenue environment
federal ledger is fully appropriated for the school year
funding work you hear now is to fund next school year (on federal side)
discussion around prioritizing areas of emphasis

Craven: did talk a lot about general climate
"constrained resources"
much of DESE funding is a pass through to districts
very little oversight or ability to change
working with health for high needs children
Peyser: really important point
"a lot of supports and services out there...not easy to gain access to it...the whole is greater than the sum of the parts"
growing attention to opioid crisis; intersects with challenges we are facing
Craven: retained revenue fund for licensure?
Wulfson: teacher licensure fees have not been raised in twenty years; under discussion for this budget cycle

four or five aid accounts represent 98% of our budget
in all cases, there are arguments that they aren't being fully funded
"so large that they tend to scoop up all of the available dollars"
"concerned about the capacity of the department to undertake all of the work we are doing, as well as the responsibilities that are being added"
level 5: very intensive
investigation in licenses
"very constrained fiscal cap"
"We may be able to hire a commissioner, but our ability to hire additional staff is virtually non-existence at this point in the budget cycle"
oversight of programs not funded
no rule similar to state as fed with percentage set aside for oversight
Stewart: is there a better way to reimburse those areas?

Board of Ed: determinations for classes of 2021 and 2022

aka high school MCAS revisions 
Wulfson: now turning towards next generation high school test
field testing questions this spring
administering test for first time in spring 2019
first class taking with be class of 2021; they are freshmen this year
competency determination cut scores
standard setting groups in grades 3-8; not high stakes decisions
high school is a high stakes test for students
an extended discussion having over next years
and engaging with stakeholder groups
because it is a high stakes test, both fairness and due process requires giving notice of change in standards
propose that first two classes be held harmless with any raising of the bar
would set passing score at a level commensurate with a score of passing the current MCAS test
will require amendment to Board regs on competency determination
expect to be brought forward with language at November Board meeting
ninth graders are getting their eighth grade scores now; a lot of students falling into partially meeting expectations category
"We don't want them freaking out and saying, 'oh my God, you've changed the rules on me and I won't pass my high school competency determination'"
"not raising the bar on them"
passing will still be in 80 or 90 range of previous years
not asking for a vote now but "would urge anyone who takes exception to that to signal that now"
"it'd be even better if somebody said that they think it's a great idea"
West: supportive of idea "what assumptions we're making about our ability to do that" (cross-referencing)
Stapel: meeting of technical advisory committee this week
essentially be doing it in two ways: percentile linking
will also be investigation how to qualitatively do that during the standards setting process
Morton: thinks it a great idea
speaks to Ed's point: gives us a chance to try the test
"where we get a chance to learn from our past experiences" moving forward
Trimarchi: several mentions of updating language
Stapel: current language is associated with current assessment
changes would update those to reflect decisions we're making
Moriarty: makes sense, continuity
"this is transitional, goal in these assessments is to better align and better support a high school diploma as a genuine" signal of college and career readiness
Wulfson: will signal to class of 2023 and beyond: Board does plan to raise the bar

Board of Ed: recap of MCAS results

Wulfson: new test grades 3-8 ELA and math
"by all accounts it was an extremely successful administration"
expressed appreciation to staff "and many hundreds of teachers who engaged with us in all the aspects of test results and scoring"
school and district results provided last week
student and parent reports will be delivered today
providing materials for parents and schools
"not directly comparable"
"designed to signal readiness for academic success at the next grade level"
"a single data point...we caution against reading too many conclusions into it"
transition year because of Board's decision to have an accountability pause to reflect switch to new test as well as new requirements from ESSA
"vast majority of schools did not receive an accountability level this year"
seven Commendation schools
Randolph district exited level 4 status
existing level 4 schools showing good progress, want to see sustained progress over time
some will be good candidates for exiting next year if they maintain progress to date
goal in Level 5 is not to see how fast we can get in or out, but lasting progress
Doherty: very comprehensive presentation and "quite dense"
hope will pause to consider mistakes of the past and not make those mistakes going forward
one mistake was "using test far too much"
"to label schools as failing schools"
NCLB: all students proficient by 2014: a lot of schools labelled failing schools

Board of Ed: Commissioner search

The Board is now soliciting public comment on the Commissioner's search:

Rosa-Lyn Morris here addressing the Board
does higher ed searches
"delighted to partner with you all"
individual calls with each Board member, other heads of agencies, will be speaking with senior staff
have had conversations with Acting Commissioner
have a working draft of short job description (that would be posted publicly) plus longer job description
documents now being circulated to Board
(the above is the short description)Morton: "what I liked about it...I wondered if everyone saw themselves in the conclusion is that they would"
"this commissioner needs to serve all children and see all children have opportunities for success"
Fernandez likes section on achieving educational equity: more on that lines to emphasis cultural, linguistic, ethnic diversity of state
Sagan asks Board to follow up afterward; looking for Board input by end of week
applications by December 15
committee will see all applications; "there's no pre-screening"

holy stacked deck, all! Only teacher is a charter school teacher; Reimagine School funds; empowerment zone; MBAE! 

Hoping to have finalists for January interview
Sagan: "very encouraged...everyone says this is the best job in the field"

Regular October meeting of the Board: opening comments

You can find the agenda here. The meeting begins with comments at 8:30; updating as we go. 
Interestingly, it's a quiet morning here: few staff, not many in crowd. 
All here save Margaret McKenna, Katherine Craven, and Michael Moriarty: Moriarty and Craven are on the way

No opening comments from Sagan

Wulfson: contingency planning for an influx of students from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands continues
government-wide task force established by Governor
looking at a number of ways we may be able to assist districts
probably number in hundreds
have been advised to consider the possibility that the numbers may become very much larger
Sagan: "I know you have a slush fund to possibly help the districts" (to surprised laughter)
Wulfson: have McKinney-Vento; talking about supplemental appropriations; some MEMA funds

continuing revisions of social studies standards; revisions this school year
working group in Legislature related to civics education
coordination on science with higher ed
posting some updated guidelines on social-emotional curriculum (originally from anti-bullying act)

lawsuit on translation: status report to court this month
broad areas of agreement in principle; may not need preliminary injunction
preliminary hearing thus postponed; status report November 13

Auditor opinion to Framingham: educator evaluation an unfunded mandate?
determined requirements do not fall under unfunded mandate provisions
program on books for reimbursment never been funded; DESE should develop guidelines for making reimbursement payments if there were an appropriation for that

increasing participation in school breakfast program
continue to believe that school principals and superintendents are in best situation to determine delivery models for their schools

Public comment:
Cateria Albert (sp?) from Newton
input on quality of future commissioner: interest in gifted education
tells of her son who was working ahead of his level
"many kids like him across Massachusetts"
concerned with tears were bullying, but not being educated at level a form of being bullied

Craven and Moriarty here

"there is no perfect commissioner...but it is up to you to accommodate that asynchronty"
"We need a Horace Mann...we need someone to say 'what is it going to be like 10, 15 years from now?'"
need a commissioner who will understand things like competency-based education

Laura Trendal (sp?) from Northborough
"please find someone who understands the gifted and twice-exceptional learners"
cites Massachusetts as 49th in the nation in gifted education
"these kids are fending for themselves"
"too insular and do not look to other states as we should"

Jay Gonzalez, candidate for governor
former Chair of early ed, former secretary of finance
raises serious questions if members of this Board have been forthright
"you and the public deserve better"
Peyser invited to weekly strategy sessions with FES
invites him to be forthright to public
participated in strategy for campaign, solicited donations, if used any state resources
"the people of Commonwealth deserve public leaders...that are following the rules"

Monday, October 23, 2017

Evening meeting of the Board of Ed

coming in a bit late here to the presentation; I'll see if I can pick up what I missed later

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A rabbit hole I fell down today on Massachusetts property taxes and school funding

In order:
  • 1620: Mayflower passengers arrive in Plymouth (start of the Plymouth Colony)
  • 1630: Massachusetts Bay Company starts in Boston
  • 1634: Taxation of every man's assets and products of his abilities passed by Mass Bay Colony
  • 1635: Boston Latin School founded
  • 1636: Harvard founded
  • 1646: Taxation of "visible estate" (a property tax) 
  • 1647: "Old Deluder Satan" law requires a school for every settlement of fifty families and a grammar school of every settlement of a hundred paid either by parents and masters OR by the settlement as a whole
This of course both leaves a lot out and oversimplifies, BUT I thought the interaction of taxation and education in Massachusetts interesting.

If you're coming to the MASS/MASC Conference next week, this is background research I was doing for the "70 on 70" session at 12:30 on Wednesday. 

On economic inequity and educational impact: TO READ

I highly recommend this piece from WGBH working with MassLive on Springfield's High School of Commerce and what poverty and inequity look like from there.
Longmeadow spends 144% of net school spending, Springfield just hits 100%, to compound the hardship. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Board of Ed meets Monday and Tuesday

The Board of Education holds its October meeting Monday and Tuesday of next week; the agenda is posted here.
The Monday evening portion is the MCAS results discussion as well as the discussion on district and school accountability measures. And yes, I'm going to go to that, as well, because it's necessary.

Tuesday morning is their regular meeting; the briefing from the Acting Commissioner is here. Along with the usual round of Acting Commissioner, Chair, Secretary, and public comment, they'll elect the vice-chair (memo on that here).
We'll hear a recap of the previous night's presentation followed by discussion of the competency determination, aka the MCAS graduation requirement, usually taken in grade 10; at the previous meeting, Acting Commissioner Wulfson spoke of the need for an interim step on the transition to the grading standards of the new test, and this looks like more on that.

There's a discussion of the FY19 budget (with no backup. And by the way, I'd be interested in the revenue stream the Department runs on).

There's an update coming on the Level 5 districts and schools. This includes an update on the search for a new Southbridge receiver; they plan to have the position posted in mid-October...UPDATE: I am told the position is posted. There are also updates on the Dever and UP Academy in Boston, Morgan Community in Holyoke, and Parker Elementary in New Bedford. It's interesting to note that in two of those cases, the schools are now operating under their district superintendent, 'though reporting directly to DESE. There's also a schedule of upcoming presentations, which includes one of the Springfield Empowerment Zone (Interesting, as it isn't under a level 5 designation).

There's a report on the revoking of educator licenses (this came up during the revisions to licensure regulations), on which the Globe reported today. I'm interested if the increase in the revoking of licenses is as a result of increased reporting or something else.

Among the reports going to the Board (but not for discussion) is one on school breakfast.

Liveblogs next week! 

Monday, October 16, 2017

So how is this going to work?

MASC posted a "just the facts" piece on how the accountability and test bit is going to work this year. With the release of scores and levels--what there are--being released Wednesday, we thought it would be timely. Nothing in this will be news to regular readers here, but you might find a more boiled down version useful. We've also put it up as a PDF here.
Nothing there (or here) is arguing in favor (or against) testing, the new MCAS, the ESSA plan, accountability levels, or the like. This is just the "what's going to happen" version.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Worcester meetings this week

Two Worcester school meetings this week:
  • The Governance subcommittee continues their power drive through policies with a meeting on Tuesday at noon (very conducive to public input). Note that this section includes those on students (J), on negotiations (H), facilities (F), community relations (K), and educational agency relations (L). Most of the policies are MASC boilerplate. Interesting that the superintendent's chief of staff (I have to check the org chart; I didn't know there was such a position) is being given the power to approve WPS statements.

The School Committee meets Thursday at 7 pm with an executive session at 6. In executive session, there are still negotiations with custodians, computer techs, IAs, and educational secretaries, plus there is a teacher discipline case and pending litigation.

MASC will be out to give a series of awards to community members and to Mayor Petty, who is this year's All-State School Committee winner in Division IX (urbans). 

The report of the superintendent is on nursing in the 21st century. There are the usual beginning of year appointments, resignations, and retirements. 
There is a response that the Capstone project--which is the big AP push--was funded in the current year budget; a short response on the wraparound coordinators working at schools; a response on the QUEST program at QCC; a response on the "Seeds to STEM" program from WPI; and a response on improved manufacturing options

There's also a response on possible federal grant impacts, which begins with "Federal initiatives are very much in a state of flux," which may be the understatement of the administration. 

There is an update on the  "management plan activities" on the PCB situation at Doherty and Burncoat. The committee (again?) proposes to review the resolutions before the Delegate Assembly of MASC in November. There's a proposed building fee change (no report) and the close of the FY18 books (also no report as yet).
The administration is proposing participating in the model Educator Evaluation system (?no backup?).

There are a series of donations.

Mr. O'Connell wants to invite a representative from MNA to tour the schools; to modify the McKinney-Vento grant to include hurricane impacts (uh...); to investigate licensure options for those coming from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and to ask DESE to extend the October 1 count to later, considering those who may be evacuating elsewhere.
Miss Biancheria wants to discuss the Community Addiction Response Program.

I'm also confused by a series of financial responses coming in from Mr. O'Connell and Miss Biancheria from the last meeting, as there were no fiscal reports on the last agenda, nor any items filed. There's a chart from the Operational Services Division of tuition rates. There's the Educational Divisions supplies account from the FY18 budget. There's an explanation of the changes in the administration account from FY17 to FY18. And there's a report on the Environmental Systems Management. These all feel like budgetary questions, coming during second quarter; did someone just review their budget now?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

DESE Education Forum in Abington

I'm in Abington tonight in their gorgeous brand-new K-12 school for an educational forum tonight at which Acting Commissioner Wulfson is speaking. It's entitled "K-12 Education Update: How the state and school districts work together to serve your child."
Updating as we go...
Abington Superintendent Peter Schafer welcomes people to the new school and introduces Acting Commissioner Wulfson.
Wulfson says he'll speak about what the Department does and leave time for questions.

Speaking of school funding formulas, Kansas is back

Their state Supreme Court struck down their changed formula as inadequate:
The court said in a much-anticipated ruling that the state's $293 million spending increase after an earlier ruling failed to provide its students with an "adequate" public education. The state's legislature now has until July 2018 to come up with a new funding formula, according to the ruling. The state is spending close to $4.3 billion on K-12 in the current fiscal year.
The legislature, already dealing with a series of spending cuts after a years-long revenue shortfall, will now have to figure out how to raise more money to spend on its public schools. Legislators have been reluctant to raise taxes, though a growing chorus of teachers and parents in the state have pushed for more spending on schools.
It's worth noting that part of what the Legislature tried to do was tie the new funding up in a lot of requirements. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Pumpkin Spice has officially gone too far

h/t Dan Gleason

Have a good weekend. 

Update on the Strategic Planning Committee OML Complaint

I'm beginning to think I should have labelled these as episodes.
When I last posted, I was waiting to see if I would get a response to my complaint by close of the allotted 14 day window, Tuesday, October 3.
Note, incidentally, that complaints are filed first with the body against whom the complaint is being made; it's right there in the first line of the FAQ on the Attorney General's page:
Individuals who allege a violation of the Open Meeting Law must first file a complaint with the public body alleged to have violated the OML.
emphasis is NOT added
Tuesday came and went.
I did not.
Wednesday and Thursday also came and went.
I did not.

Today, I received the following in the mail:

After Bowditch and Dewey letterhead and address, it says: 
Dear Ms. Novick: I'm enclosing a copy of our response to the Open Meeting Law Complaint Form which you prepared and which is dated September 19, 2017. Apparently, you have not yet filed this Complaint with the Attorney General's office.
As you will note, the so-called "Worcester Public Schools Strategic Planning Committee" is not subject to the Open Meeting Law.
Very truly yours,
Michael P. Angelini

Thus, before we get to the enclosure, we have at least two issues: the time is overdue, and the responding attorney does not know the process of how open meeting law complaints are handled in Massachusetts (it goes to the body before the AG). 

Here is the page and a half enclosure; I'll type up the text below. 

Re: Complaint of Tracy Novick regarding alleged violation of Open Meeting Law

Dear Attorney General Healey:
We represent the Worcester Educational Collaborative ("WEC") and the Worcester Regional Research Bureau ("WRRB"), which are the organizers of the so-called "Worcester Public Schools Strategic Planning Committee," the subject of an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Tracy Novick.
WEC is an operating division of the United Way of Central Massachusetts, an independent and qualified 501(c)(3) organization. Its mission is "to engage the community in fulfilling its responsibility to ensure that excellence is education is available to all public school students and that they are prepared for success in college, career and life." WRRB is a 501(c)(3) organization which "conducts independent, non-partisan research and analysis of public policy issues to promote good governance and informed public debate and decision making."
Neither WEC nor WRRB are controlled, managed or affiliated with any political or governmental body.

WEC and WRRB have organized a strategic planning exercise, which includes various members of the Worcester community, to review public education in Worcester and to formulate a plan for excellence. This "Strategic Planning Committee is not a public body, is not advisory to a public body and has no power to implement any plan or action. It is not subject to the Open Meeting Law. It receives no financial support from the City of Worcester or any other governmental organization. The Committee's work has been funded by contributions from local individuals and organizations and by a grant from the Barr Foundation. It operates with complete independence.
The Committee's findings and recommendations will ultimately be presented to the Worcester community, including the Worcester School Committee, the Worcester City Counsel [sic], the Superintendent of Schools and the City Manager. These findings and recommendations will be advisory only.
Please contact me with any questions regarding the Complaint or this response.

(signature and so forth)

Public bodies are what are required to abide by the Open Meeting Law. Here--in full--is how Mass General Law Chapter 30A, Section 18 (the actual Open Meeting Law) defines a "public body" (emphasis mine):
''Public body'', a multiple-member board, commission, committee or subcommittee within the executive or legislative branch or within any county, district, city, region or town, however created, elected, appointed or otherwise constituted, established to serve a public purpose; provided, however, that the governing board of a local housing, redevelopment or other similar authority shall be deemed a local public body; provided, further, that the governing board or body of any other authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose in the commonwealth or any part thereof shall be deemed a state public body; provided, further, that ''public body'' shall not include the general court or the committees or recess commissions thereof, bodies of the judicial branch or bodies appointed by a constitutional officer solely for the purpose of advising a constitutional officer and shall not include the board of bank incorporation or the policyholders protective board; and provided further, that a subcommittee shall include any multiple-member body created to advise or make recommendations to a public body.
Both the Worcester City Council and the Worcester School Committee are public bodies.
And here's, again the last line of the final full paragraph:

These findings and recommendations will be advisory only.
A body created to advise a public body on something under its purview is itself a public body, subject to the Open Meeting Law.

It will take me a few days to write up the history here, but I'll be appealing to the Attorney General.