Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hey, Pittsfield

Good coverage of a thing I did last night.
"The commonwealth of Massachusetts is not doing its fair share in making sure our children are having the best education," Council Vice President John Krol, an avid supporter of the city's school system, said of the current situation.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Worcester school meetings this week

Two meetings for Worcester schools this week:

The subcommittee of Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meets today at 5:30. On the agenda is a review on AP programs (not the scores, if you look at the backup); a discussion of the possible $20-$30,000 per year funding of Worcester Tech membership in SkillsUSA; a report on last year's summer programs; yet one more report on wifi (citing actual science); a report on "day-to-day PEAK-like instruction" in WPS elementary schools (in response to a request that the PEAK gifted program be re-established); and a discussion of citywide wrestling.

The full school committee meets Thursday; you can find the agenda here. After recognitions, there is a report on the Worcester HEARS initiative. There are citizen petitions requesting public hearings on the FY18 budget (required by state law) and on standardized testing.
There is a report back on elementary summer programming (18 days, four hours a day, at nine schools); there is a note regarding the decreased funding available this year. The committee is being asked to approve the innovation plan for the Goddard school (the link isn't to the plan, but to a summary; the full plan isn't posted).  Administration is asking that dates be set for FY18 budget hearings (really, budget sessions, unless they change this to take public comment).
Among the recognitions being filed this week is year four of ASBO recognizing the Worcester Public Schools' budget with its Meritorious Budget Award.
Mr. O'Connell wants to request funding for the science AP exams from the state; to submit nominations for awards to MASC; to possibly file items with MASC for its annual Delegate Assembly; and to pass an FBRC petition.
Ms. McCullough requests that the No Live Lice policy be reviewed.
There's another round of schools receiving grants for Breakfast in the Classroom from the EoS foundation.
The committee is being asked to accept a donation from Scholastic to Woodland Academy, and from Andy's Attic to South High for marketing.
Mayor Petty has filed a plan on PCB cleaning (still no money mentioned).
Miss Biancheria wants an inventory of playground equipment.

There is also an executive session scheduled: PCB's, negotiations with the teachers (still), and a grievance from an HVAC worker.

No liveblog; I have a presentation on Thursday. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April Board of Education in sum

On April 18, the Board of Elementary and Secondary met in Malden for their monthly meeting. You can find the meeting agenda here. The video of the meeting is posted here.
The meeting opened with comments from Chair Sagan and Commissioner Chester. Chair Sagan began by announcing that member Roland Fryer has resigned. (Members of the Board of Education are appointed by the Governor.) Sagan also opened a discussion regarding remote participation by Board members, something the Board will be returning to.

Chester mentioned the recent Nipmuck High public forum he attended, of the upcoming civics literacy conference in May, and of an expected report from the Office of the Child Advocate regarding private special education services. He informed the Board that the Department had, as planned, submitted the state's ESSA plan to the federal government on April 3, that they had already taken some questions regarding it on long term goals and on measurements of interim progress, and that they expected a peer review in mid to late May. He spoke of the ongoing MCAS testing, and he updated the Board about negotiations with Rhode Island around their possible adoption of our state test (which they would call RICAS).

Public comments were made regarding civics education by a civics teacher who spoke from examples from his own practice, in particular of having students engaged meaningfully with administrators on school policy as legislators, and of the groundwork this lays for active citizenship. A panel spoke of the need for the development of educators of gifted students and the need for measurement of students beyond grade level, noting that one of the top resources in the country is at UConn, but Massachusetts alone among all states in measuring no dimension of giftedness.

The Board heard a report on civic engagement plan (note that the link is to a Word doc). The three prongs moving forward (to quote here from the report) are:
  • Develop a communications strategy about the importance of civic learning and engagement in students' success 
  • Increase visibility of civic learning and engagement offerings and highlight best practices using data 
  • Strengthen the teaching and learning of civics
There also was some engagement in the six working strategies from this "The Civic Mission of Schools" report. In particular, students need to discuss current, even--especially--controversial issues in the classroom. There also was agreement with earlier testimony on the need for active and meaningful engagement for all students in actual school governance not just "designing the prom." The example of Berlin-Boylson's global studies curriculum, developed by the district and running through the grades was discussed. Superintendent Ekstrom said, ""it's about being citizens"
This also involved a discussion of the timeline on redrafting the history and social studies standards, scheduled to be out for public comment next year. Secretary Peyser expressed concern about that becoming a long, drawn-out process, with member McKenna commenting that such reviews grow heated. Secretary Peyser also related this to the planned history state assessment (referring to it as a "test"), asking if it would be possible to be field-testing questions next year, concerned there would be "a loss of urgency." The answer (in sum) was no, with one panelist later responding, "in terms of assessment, I don't think there was any appetite on the task force for another test." Deputy Commissioner Wulfson later responded that the state would be looking at best practices in such assessments as part of the Department's FY19 budget planning process. Several members of the Board emphasized active civic engagement being the focus.

The Board heard an update on Level 5 schools, most specifically UP Holland in Boston, where they're focusing on deepening student understanding, working with students on managing their emotions, and increasing partnerships with parents and families. Asked for larger lessons from the Level 5 schools, Senior Associate Commissioner Johnston spoke of the focus on student improvement.

Finally, the Board was asked to vote on an amendment to regulations to allow for a year in which school and district accountability levels would not be impacted by test scores. This grew out of concerns over the multiplicity of test histories districts now have, given the past several years. The amendment passed unanimously, but not before an extensive, and later returned to, discussion not of this year, but of next year. In particular, the Commissioner proposes to have this year's MCAS scores be averaged in with next year's scores when setting the accountability levels after that round of testing. The Board vocally (and nearly unanimously) rejected this interpretation of their direction, which repeatedly has been that this year's scores will not harm a district (or school)'s level. After a recess, Secretary Peyser express concern that not incorporating scores from this year in some way with incentivize districts to score artificially low this year, so as to have room to move up in future years. This was not disputed, but the matter will be taken up again later once the Board has to set future years' leveling systems.

Finally, the Board received an update on the House Ways and Means budget.

The Board meets next on May 22; as is its practice at its May meeting, it will meet at the home school of their student representative, which this year is Nathan Moore, who attends Sciuate High School.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

April Board of Ed: accountability reset

backup is here
Sagan: if we don't change the regs, all our talking will be meaningless since the Board said they wanted districts and schools held harmless with regard to test scores

April Board of Education: Level 5 (focus on UP Holland)

backup is here
Russell Johnston speaking: careful planning from teachers
emphasis on students persist with their learning
Tim Nicolette from UP is presenting

April Board of Ed: Civics education

backup for this is here
and the civic engagement plan is here
Student day at the State House where students role play parts of government

Three recommendations coming out of the task force today:
  • Develop a communications strategy about the importance of civic learning and engagement in students' success
  • Increase visibility of civic learning and engagement offerings and highlight best practices using data
  • Strengthen the teaching and learning of civics

Mass Board of Ed April meeting: opening remarks

You can find the agenda here.
I'm posting remotely today via the livestream, so please excuse any hiccups. 
Chair Sagan announces that Roland Fryer has resigned from the Board of Ed.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Erie, PA is relevant

schools in low-income communities in many states don't have the resources to give students access to opportunities that are available in wealthier areas. This well known fact is most often talked about in the passive voice, as though it’s a “new, unavoidable normal.” But it’s important to know who to blame for the financial calamities. "The problem is high reliance on local funding in the state," Michael Churchill an attorney at the Public Interest Law Center, told me in a phone interview. "Places with a poor local tax base like Erie can't generate enough revenue."

Sound familiar?  

Massachusetts Board of Education meets Tuesday, April 18

You can find the agenda here.

They are again foregoing the Monday evening meeting.
After comments by the secretary, the chair, the commissioner, and the public, they'll be hearing an update on civics engagement and the review and renewal of the history and social studies standards. You can download the civics learning and engagement plan here.
In the ongoing updates on Level 5 schools and districts, UP Academy Holland is giving an update. There are also written updates from the Dever School (going from Blueprint to Boston Superintendent Chang in oversight), Parker Elementary (from New Bedford Superintendent Pia Durkin), the Morgan school (provided by Holyoke receiver Steve Zrike).
The Board will discuss and vote on the proposal to reset school levels this coming year; as the accompanying memo says:
Schools enrolling students in grades 3-8 would not be placed in Levels 1-3 of the framework for district accountability and assistance for the 2016-2017 school year, provided that the school maintains at least 90 percent participation for each student group in each subject on the spring 2017 assessments and, if the school goes through grade 12, the school does not have persistently low graduation rates for one or more student groups.1 Elementary and middle schools with a participation rate below 90 percent will be placed in Level 3. Assessment results for each school still will be reported publicly. The 2017 next-generation MCAS results for grades 3-8 will serve as the baseline for future accountability reporting.
The Board is being asked to delegate their authority to approve charter school contracts to the Commissioner for the Old Sturbridge Village Charter School (to contract with Old Sturbridge Village) and Community Day Charter (to contract with Community Day Charter Management Organization). May want to keep an eye on this one; the Legislature gave this authority to the public entity for a reason. 
Finally, they are hearing an update on the FY18 budget, now that the House Ways and Means budget has been released.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Do go read

this Commonwealth Magazine piece on vocational education in Massachusetts and who it is and is not serving. Definitely a conversation that needs having.

FY18 House budget

...which you can find here (though irritatingly, they're still making you download PDFs).

Really, really briefly:

  • it increases Chapter 70 OVER the Governor's budget, both by increasing the health care calculation within the foundation budget (even more than Baker did) and by including a $30/pupil minimum increase per district; the first is an FBRC h/t; the second isn't progressive BUT is less than they tend to do... 
  • regional school transportation up by $1 million (to $62 million) from the Governor's budget
  • circuit breaker up by $4 million over the Governor's budget
  • METCO funding by $500,000 over Governor's budget
  • adds a pothole account of $12.5 million for districts that have been hit the economically disadvantaged calculation
  • Same funding as Governor's budget for McKinney-Vento, school lunch, and charter reimbursement
  • does NOT combine grants like the Governor's budget did (round...two? At least?)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

What's an adequate education? And who decides?

Here's something I've been thinking about as I've been running Gateway city comparisons on funding:

I've been posting this chart, or its equivalent for--quite literally--years. Close to a decade at this point. Generally, my point is something like "Jeez, Worcester, get your act together!" as we slip farther and farther behind the level of funding that most communities are putting towards their schools.

I'm not letting Worcester off the hook--I still think we could do better--but I want to point out something different this time.

The vast majority of districts in the state are funding their districts over foundation. In fact, the majority are funding their districts at well over the minimum the state requires. The foundation budget is supposed to be adequate, yet district after district after district has said that it isn't.

They're doing that with local tax dollars, and in most cases, they're doing that themselves; most of the districts funding over foundation (since that leaves out the Gateways, in particular) are doing so by town meeting votes.

Citizens are voting tax increases to fund their schools at more than the state requires.

Doesn't that effectively argue that Massachusetts citizens are asserting with their local tax dollars that the foundation budget isn't adequate?

Maybe they're right.

Not everyone benefits from a per pupil increase

As we head into the House budget (it comes out Monday at noon), just a reminder: Not all districts benefit from a minimum per pupil increase.
The following districts will get no benefit:

  • Fall River 
  • Fitchburg 
  • Gardner 
  • Haverhill 
  • Lynn 
  • Lowell 
  • Lawrence 
  • New Bedford 
  • Southbridge 
  • Springfield 
  • Taunton 
  • Worcester*
(that was my quick scan of the usual suspects; it may not be all)
Why no benefit? Because their foundation aid increases already are more than $50/pupil.
OH, comes the response! Then they already are getting a benefit.
No: that's the aid they need to HIT THE MINIMUM.

Per pupil increases are over that.

Should we hear "no money to fix the foundation budget"--when its being broken hits the neediest districts the hardest--remember where money has gone. 

*a few that are this year? Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Holyoke, all due to enrollment not being in their favor

Thursday, April 6, 2017

McDuffy redux: Worcester starts talking

motion from Jack Foley tonight (coming out of F&O) to interact with Brockton and other urban districts regarding possible legal action on school funding.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Worcester School meetings this week

Two meetings this week:
The Finance and Operations subcommittee meets on Tuesday at 5. The agenda is here.

The part to watch on that (and arguably the most important thing that will end up on Thursday's meeting's agenda) is the second quarter update on the FY17 (current year) budget.

A $375K gap is a lot of ground (yes, non-Worcester readers, even in a $300+M budget) between now and June. You can see that the City Manager's partial filling of the hole left by the Quality Kindergarten grant helps; the city's contributing $280,000. Since the Quality K grant for Worcester was $750K, though, that doesn't get us all the way there.

Also, note what else is going on on the quarterly update:
  • rarely do you hear anyone in Worcester talk about special education tuition. That account, though, is now $596K over what was budgeted last June. To interpret this paragraph: "based on student fiscal responsibility" means that kids have moved districts, and we've now sorted out that Worcester has to pay for them. The "approved tuition rate increases for residential placements" means the cost went up for schools kids live at (and this has to be approved the state; it has been). "This account also represents the processing of several necessary prior year payments" means some of this is FY16;  and "as well as new student placements for the current fiscal year" means that new IEPs are still coming through. Remember that the foundation budget only recognizes 1% of the district enrollment as out-of-district special education (and not actual students or costs), and that the circuit breaker, which covers extraordinary costs, is also underfunded (for Worcester, by $294,500 for FY17). It's probably past time to start talking about this.
  • because of the ongoing flat funding of the WPS capital account, the district isn't buying new buses at the rate required, so they're increasing the number leased: they're adding adding a special education route, increasing rental use for the transitions program, adding two midday routes through the end of the year, and "The district is developing contracts for the lease of 10 buses during later this fiscal year." The account is projected at $156K over at this point; watch this for FY18.
  • Workers' comp. Still over.
  • Personal services had some movement due to bringing special education services back to the district, but there's some things going on here besides that: an increase in legal (ok, contract negotiations year, plus the ongoing PCD-ness); translation services (underfunded in about every district serving high numbers of first-language-other-than-English speakers);  security guard contracted rates (has anyone asked why we still have them when we have cops in the schools?); and "nursing services contract rates," (?) as well as "an increase with necessary student services" (and I don't know what that is).
  • A balance of over $500K is still in instructional materials; given the above, I have a sneaking suspicion that the schools aren't going to see their remaining $10/pupil.
  • And hey! Money saved on utilities!
Also on the agenda: bus tracking (hey, pilot testing before the end of the year!) and running totals on how much the state has underfunded charter reimbursement from FY12 on. 

The full committee meets on Thursday; the agenda is here, and it's a long one, because there was an extra week between meetings. As a result, the following is not in agenda order, but re-sorted into one that is a little easier to follow.
The report of the superintendent is on AVID. 
There are a few appointments and a number of requests for congratulations.
There's (apparently? no backup) a report coming back on window replacements. How the district plans to deal with PCB's is also in there, so perhaps it will be dealt with at least partly in executive session. 
There's a request to approve the update of the agreement with the Collaborative.
They're also being asked to approve the innovation plan for Goddard Elementary.
They're being asked to update the policy on physical restraints (the state adopted new regulations a bit ago on this).

The committee is being asked to accept a donation to Clark Street to encourage families to visit libraries over the summer.
They're also being asked to accept a donation to Worcester Tech for their science fair.
They're being asked to accept a donation from Target to Woodland Academy for the annual Freedom Trail trip.
They're being asked to accept a donation from Fallon for SAT testing for all juniors.
They're being asked to accept accept the Secondary Transition Systemic Improvement Grant for $37,000, which is to improve how high-need kids on IEPs are transitioned out of services from the public schools.
They're being asked to accept the Biobuilder grant for $28,000, which builds on the biotechnology programs at North, Doherty, and Tech, and includes a $500 stipend for students who complete the program.
They're being asked to accept a $10,000 donation for a scholarship from DCU.
They're being asked to approve a prior fiscal year payment of $2,066.40 to a parent for transportation.
They're being asked to accept a donation of $3,000.00 from the Patterson Family Foundation & Scholastic Reading Club for Chandler Elementary.
The audit is in! But not yet attached; being sent to F&O.

Mr. O'Connell is concerned about the edge of Tatnuck Magnet's property; truck traffic from CSX; the federal budget; the update on state accountability (for which comments are due April 5).
He also would like the city to consider issuing bonds to replace schools more quickly.
He also thinks we should have a literary magazine.

Miss Biancheria would like to know which schools are using Mass Work-Based Learning Plans.
She'd like to know about the online program being offered Creamer.
And she'd like a schedule of STEM programs. And a report on the bullying conference.


Mr. Monfredo wants all teachers to read "Casey at the Bat" to students during the week of May 29th.
He would also like the committee to express its concern at the federal budget.
He also wants to celebrate "Heart Health month."
And he's accepting donations for his annual book drive.

Ms. Colorio wants to create a task force "to investigate and seek solutions to drug and alcohol problems in the schools." She's also asking for a report on the Massachusetts ESSA plan and what changes that might bring, and a report on the mathematics and ELL (I think she means ELA?) standards, both of which were voted last week.
She also would like to create "a Hotel and Restaurant within a vacant Worcester public school." Which we don't have any of.



There is also an executive session at 6 pm on negotiations with the teachers' union, two grievances, and (you guessed it!) PCB litigation.