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.

Chester was the longest-serving state education commissioner in the country when he died in June.
Commissioner is appointed by the state Board of Education; Wulfson was asked to serve, has been with DESE for more than 20 years
Board searching for new commissioner
"I'm not an applicant; that's what allows me to sleep at night."
Now running through the setup of state education in Massachusetts.
Wulfson notes that the education secretariat has PreK, K-12, and higher ed aspects
Department answers to a Board

going back to eighties, great gap in resources and in outcomes
"it was not a pretty picture"
"Brockton's really where education reform began"
city was almost bankrupt, "one year we literally laid off 25% of the teaching force"
an educated workforce is what our state has
"if we were going to thrive in the twenty-first century" we needed to step up
"and given a swift boot in the rear of the McDuffy case"
Commonwealth has an obligation to ensure that all children have an adequate education
Ed reform law anticipated outcome of court case
set the direction we've been on for past twenty years
no state funding formula: previous left to local resources
funding done "in a needs based way" both of students and of muncipalities
have since been adopted by many places in the country
"but back then quite an innovative idea"
along with that came a very expanded state role: presented as tripartate role for funding, oversight (learning standards, "measuring student achievement," targeted assistance), state authorization of charter schools

"We've done surveys and I don't think it's well known...but it's well known nationally" how well Massachusetts does
This leads to a great chart in which we're 1st in all categories
"even things like being welcoming to transgendered students...Massachusetts, I think, acted like adults and tried to make change in a quiet and professional way"

preparing students for what comes next
despite high rate of passing MCAS, high number of graduates in state and community colleges being asked to take remedial courses
"doesn't mean that jobs are going just means the unskilled jobs are being replaced by the programmers that design the apps"
"we need to make sure they have the skills that keep up with the changing workforce"
"talk about citizenship as well...not just economic...but being a good citizen as well"
"make sure the next generation of political leaders and community leaders are prepared to lead"

early college high school
innovation pathways
"anything that keeps kids engaged"
"shortsighted strategy" to have kids only take English and math
will do best if they enjoy school, are engaged in school

ELL: "a real challenge"
provided training for teachers in past years
Legislature looking at legislation providing districts flexibility to best meet needs
"very much one of the challenges we're facing"

digital literacy
"computers are becoming omnipresent in our lives and in our society"
"if we do not teach our students how to use computers...and how to use them responsibility...we have done them a disservice"
"this has been a stretch for districts"

MCAS 2.0
"our own test designed by our own teachers with expectations for that test set by our own teachers"
revamp in line with curriculum frameworks
put online
"and we're raising the bar, what can I say"
when scores are released next week, students that were proficient under old system may be partly meeting expectations
"nothing happened to your child"
"we've changed the test, we've changed the standards...we don't want folks to get too concerned about one particular data point"
relied heavily on educators in the field
teachers looking at student work
next test given in spring of 2019 (this year's freshmen)
"we'll still see very high passing grades in those first two administrations" as scoring will be in line with prior test

on to money!
$18B a year spent on K-12 education in total
health insurance and special education "really have gone up over time"
"having a lively debate over whether schools need more money"
report "several years ago"
"saw first small increases this year"
"not clear that our current revenue structure will allow that"
if we believe that schools need more money, "we have to engage in where that money's going to come from"

1 to 1: investment in resources (from Weymouth School Committee member John Sullivan)
Wulfson: will happen over a number of years
have focused on infrastructure
devises are coming down enough over time
 full day K? Need space in Weymouth (this from Kathleen Curran)
Wulfson: looking at funding needs and space needs now
going in direction of full day PreK on funding
"I would think it's certainly possible we'll see that happening"
capital projects "are a little tougher"
bursting at the seams some places
west of Worcester "I have empty school buildings"
"it's a need but it's a need that I'm not sure is getting the same attention right now"
"not every problem has a solution, unfortunately"
Q: what plans are there at the state level to get that message out to the community as a whole: what they're still seeing is a high level of expectation from the state
Wulfson: doing what I can, but people at local level are those that are believed
"this test is a new's only one data point"
"we can not do the testing and not release the scores and pretend it's not happening, but again, these scores were set by today's teachers"
why the state Board placed a pause on state accountability system this year for most schools
Q: Common Core is being eliminated?
Wulfson: "Massachusetts never fully adopted Common Core"
then in most recent revision, probably moved even further away from it
"there's a lot in curriculum standards...some things you're going to find in every set of standards"
"got caught up in too many political debates"
Q from Kathleen Smith, Brockton Superintendent
"I understand what a great educational system we have"
"when you talk about these initiatives...a lot of this has to do with how we fund education and support our kids...are we going to be out there...and start to talk what a great educational system we have in the state of Massachusetts?"
Wulfson: was easier in some ways in 1993, as system was crisis
not the case today
"going to take a collective resolve to do that...tough choices"
"are we going to say that where we are is good enough?"
hardest work in public policy these days is teaching kids, as we're preparing kids for the next century
Q from Brockton business manager: federal impacts?
Wulfson: hard not to think that there will be some diminution of federal funding
"one can only hope that any" drop in funding would be accompanied by an equivalent drop in federal requirements
"we wouldn't necessarily be giving the MCAS every year, were it not for the federal requirement"
Q from teacher: finds educator evaluator system
"to my eye it reads like a tax code"
Wulfson: teacher evaluation has been a thorny issue
"have had some false starts on that"
principals have to have time to do these evaluations; demands put on building principals..."we need to rethink how we can free up time for principals to be educational leaders"
Q on social emotional: what can we do as a state to deal with kids in trauma?
Wulfson: would love to see thoughts from the field
think we need more time with kids in schools: twenty minutes of recess "shouldn't come at the expense of classroom instruction"
Q on gap among student performance
Wulfson: students behind grade level need more time
"those numbers...mask some real have a lot of students who come in as older students...a lot of movement in and out of the district...sometimes comparing those numbers across districts can be misleading"
"how to control for that"
sometimes if you look at students who have been there for a length of time, they're doing well
make sure we're comparing apples to apples
and that is it.

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