Saturday, October 19, 2019

Continuity in governance

On the general blogging principle of anything that I've been asked more than once, even more people are wondering.
You aren't wrong to ask: continuity in governance is a basic element of political stability.

Under the section 4-6 of the Worcester municipal charter (starts on page 92 over here) regarding vacancies on the Worcester School Committee:
If a vacancy shall occur amongst the six at-large members of the school committee, said vacancy shall be filled in the same manner as provided in section 2-10(a) for the filing of vacancies in the office of councilor-at-large, from among the candidates for election to the office of school committee at the preceding regular municipal election
To be clear, section 2-10 says:
(a) Councilors-at-large - If a vacancy shall occur in the office of councilorat-large, the vacancy shall be filled in descending order of votes received by the candidate for the office of councilor-at-large at the preceding regular municipal election who received the largest number of votes for the office of councilor-atlarge without being elected, provided such person remains eligible and willing to serve. The board of election commissioners shall certify such candidate to the office of councilor-at-large to serve for the balance of the then unexpired term
That would be the November 2017 election, in which the results were:
School Committee election results from November 2017: O'Connell, Foley, Monfredo, McCullough, Comparetto, Biancheria, Colorio. The first six serve on the Committee. 

The seventh place finisher was Donna Colorio with 7,534 votes (behind sixth place Dianna Biancheria with 7,824). Colorio is not running for Worcester School Committee at this time; she is, however, running for Worcester City Council at Large and has left her name on the ballot for mayor.

It does, note, take a meeting of the Election Commission to certify the filling of the vacant seat.

There are no Worcester School Committee meetings remaining before the municipal election on November 5. There are two meetings in November and at least one in December. The newly elected Worcester School Committee will be sworn in the first full week of January (January 6th, if memory serves).

And yes, the municipal ballots for the November election already exist; in fact, absentee ballots have already gone out to voters.

Friday, October 18, 2019

"I shall not look upon his like again."

He was a man, take him for all in all.
I shall not look upon his like again.
                                          Hamlet, Act I, Scene II

When the "motion to file" the minutes at last night's Worcester School Committee came from Jack Foley, my ear knew something was wrong. The "motion to file" and other procedural motions always, always came from Brian O'Connell.

That will no longer be the case.

While not the motto of any of the institutions he attended. the Latin phrase I associate with Brian is "semper fidelis," always faithful. He didn't graduate from institutions so much as become part of them: a trustee of Worcester Academy, on the board of Holy Cross, a lector at St. John's Parish, a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, and I know there are many more.

Brian also was a child of Union Hill and a son of Worcester, and that, too, was a core part of his being. His decades on the Worcester School Committee are a testament to his being of Worcester and of Worcester being part of him.

Brian was not only renowed for his floor speeches on the Worcester School Committee; he was also the most broadly read. For many years, this led to a host of items from across the country of ideas and endeavors from elsewhere that he thought Worcester should consider or discuss. It was often a race to keep up with him. Race I did, and I am grateful to him for that.

True to his surname--I think I can say this, as one who shares it, though we are not, as we both noted many times, related--he was also very sure and unshakeable when he thought that he was right.

One did not serve successfully on the Worcester School Committee with Brian O'Connell without getting a thorough education in parliamentary procedure. It was an extended executive session in my first months on the Committee with him in 2010 that sent me off to learn it thoroughly myself.
I have Brian to thank for that.

Brian was a Worcester institution.  To paraphrase Hamlet speaking to Horatio of his own father: we will not see his like again.


Requiescat in pace

A budget exchange that may matter later

I didn't blog this last night (as I was out of battery), but there was a discussion later in the meeting that may matter later: Mr. Comparetto spoke to his item on the need for wraparound services and staff in every school, and of their being allowed to do their actual job rather than other things. Mr. Monfredo, responding, rather oddly remarked that while the Student Opportunity Act would get the district more money, it wouldn't be enough to get wraparound coordinators in every school.

...er, what? If the School Committee decides that's the most effective way of working on the issue of poverty in the schools, yes, there will absolutely be enough money for wraparound coordinators in every school. That's a pretty out-of-touch remark.

Mr. Foley said that he had been planning to wait to make a motion on the budget until the bill passed (wise), but since it had come up, he made a motion that either the full committee or the Finance and Operations subcommittee plan on holding a public hearing early on regarding use of the funds. Mayor Petty deflected it back to Foley, saying that it should probably be done by the subcommittee.

Miss Biancheria then stood to insist that it had to be done by the full committee, 'though her argument seemed to be about every member being included rather than about, say, public transparency.

I should note that Mr. Foley has brought this up more than once, most recently at the Legislative update held by the Worcester Educational Justice Alliance last week.

Anyway, as I've said elsewhere, we are going to need a more thorough and inclusive public budget process, and that was stepped towards last night.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Worcester School Committee periodic liveblog

On the agenda tonight is the state presenting on accountability and discipline, but there are also a good number of people presumably in reaction (of various kinds) to the student suspended at Forest Grove.
Petty: work together, and we can do better
"my understanding is the data has gone in a good direction...we have a pretty good school system"

Associate Commissioner of Accountability Rob Curtin
and the presentation just was shared with me and I have shared it here
who leads with his time at Clark
"all that I am presenting for you tonight" is under my purview
notes that he is also in charge of Comprehensive District Reviews, which was done in Worcester in 2017 and was never heard from again
"for the betterment of you all, I did not make this an 100 slide presentation"
"there's a lot of different ways to slice this data"
"that will allow you ask more questions of our office to provide you with information or to ask those questions of the superintendent as well"
will show most recent data that we have
data certified as of July, accountability data in September
all publicly available save the discipline data, not yet released
"won't see any comparison with state" as yet as it hasn't yet become public
"there are more MCAS slides as on other topics...the reason for that is we have a lot of different tests...it's a little difficult to fit it all on one slide"

next gen MCAS grades 3-8 look kinda flat over three years

"in the top half of partially meeting expectations"
"almost a meaningful difference in terms of improvement" in ELA
"more sort of neutral" in math over the three years
how does Worcester compare to other urban districts?
higher than a point, green
"the news is quite positive" for African-American students compared to the urban districts
"some really good news there"
"I would generall portray this as a difference between subjects" however
ELA "primarily overall" positive
"whereas in math Worcester does not compare as well" to urban districts across the Commonwealth
how have things changed over three years?
"meeting or exceeding...have increased" ELA and math
"where we'd like to see more movement" in not meeting expectations
ELA 1 in 5 not meeting
math between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5
the top has increased from the middle, not increase from the bottom
some really good news and some areas of concern:
grade 3 ELA: has increased by six over three years
no movement in 7th grade ELA
"across both subjects there are pockets of good news and places to ask questions"
"particularly good news is sixth grade math"
"data are made to lead to questions"
achievement gap has widened in both ELA and math but for different reasons between subjects
gap has widened in ELA because the top group has done exceptionally well
gap has widened in math because BOTH the top group has done well AND the others have fallen
science: "here is where there is certainly room for improvement"
grade 8: more than 1 in 4 not meeting expectations on the science test
first year in grade 10: right on par in ELA, in math "again the results are slightly lower"
"questions and room for improvement"
"achievement is important, but growth is important, too"
"our growth statistics are done compared to their academic peers"

"across the board...for the most part...the growth numbers are on the lower side of typical or the low growth category"
this is not good...growth should be where we're good
"a lot more low growth across the board in subgroups...compared to their academic peers...across the Commonwealth"

"MCAS are the primary driver in our accountability system"
BUT THERE IS MORE as any of you who follow this know: new system
44 schools included in the accountability system
31 schools not requiring assistance or intervention
13 require assistance or intervention: 10 because they are in the lowest 10% in the state; 3 due to a subgroup or more
"there's always going to be a lowest 10%"
the three "had one of the lowest performing subgroups in the state"
"on the extreme positive side" two schools of recognition: West Tatnuck and Belmont Street
"very interesting trend among the schools in Worcester"
there are 10 schools in the lowest ten percent: there is a range of schools across the district,
a range of performance across the district
er, I fear this may be as a result of our not having particularly integrated elementary schools
17 had a higher percentile in 2018 than in 2017
"in addition to thinking about schools...we also do the same for subgroups"
"a real range of performance among your subgroups across the district"
"there are six schools where the Hispanic students in that school are among the lowest performing in the state...but eight schools in which the Hispanic students in which they're the highest performing subgroups in the state"
"a real testiment ot what's happening"

"a core component is how the school is doing compared to itself"
3/4 of schools either are making substantial progress towards their progress or meeting targets in 2019
though I am going to observe that the number of schools that MET progress fell 2019 versus 2018


disciplinary data:
"please, there's a lot of different questions we could have answered here"
"I understand there is a clamoring for additional information, and I'd be happy to answer those questions either with the district or on behalf of the district"
discipline: in school, out of school, emergency removal
at highest level, it is lower than it has been at any point over the past five years
gaps among students being disciplined by race and ethnicity
"those are still significant numbers, and I am sure there are still discussions to be had" about the rates
still over 1000 Hispanic students being disciplined in the 2019
"certainly improvement, while still concentrating on high numbers of students who are being disciplined across the district"
lower numbers than in 2018 by subgroup
"you have improvement from 2018 but there are still major difference that exist between groups even between the types of discipline"
the 1.4% of students who had an emergency removal, a decrease from 1.8% from 2018
"represents a very high percentage compared to the rest of the state"
0.2% for the state in 2018
someone just said "Daaaamn"
chart now shows numbers sorted out on why students are being suspended
"while my main goal here is to present the facts to you without a whole lot of conjecture"
the number of non-criminal non-violent non-drug reasons
most of them are "some sort of...violating school rules" and such
"but it seems to me that there's at least room for examinating a very high number of non-violent non-criminal non-drug offenses in Worcester"
interrupted here by applause
"and whether or not there's other forms that don't involve removing a student from instruction"

real interesting story on chronic absenteeism
missing at least 10% of their days
just under 15% of students were missing at least 10% of their days in a given school year
"students missed less instructional time than other urban districts across the Commonwealth"
the numbers are actually improving
"quite high but lower than other urban districts across the Commonwealth"
"less than 10% of students in elementary school are missing 10% of their days" and those numbers have come down
"and you've seen dramatic improvement across the races"
"but you have a very different story in high school"
while the numbers have come down
"you have more than 1 in 5 students" missing 10% of their days
"attention can be really focused on the high school"

"My mantra is if we can make it public, we should make it public"
"if there are additional information...my email is there"

Petty: non-drug non-violent non-criminal offenses "we should really dig into"
asks for comparison with urban districts
"look at programs later on"
"have this on a semi-annual...have this again and invite you back!"
things we're doing well but we "can't ignore those things that we have to improve"
Petty: not sure how to do, maybe have a special meeting

Foley: this really warrants much more discussion at future meetings
"you can cross-tabulate a lot of this on the website"
"would love to see breakdown by poverty and is that an overriding factor"
"seeing a movement of a cohort" through "is a trend sometimes"
"students with disability, their performance is very very low"
"challenges we're still facing"
Curtin: something to be investigated here and what's happening among different subgroups among different schools
Foley: "we need to have a conversation about emergency removals...what constitutes an emergency removal, why are we so much higher than the rest of the state"
"I don't know what is occuring to cause the removal of a student from school"
"large number of non-drug non-violent offenses...how can work as a district to keep more of those students in school"
"we have to find a way to keep those students in school"
to applause
The superintendent is referencing a change in the law...there was no change in the law
high rates in October and in May and she's...inventing reasons why?
Superintendent's Advisory Council is making welcoming school books, she says
every school is planning an additional event in October to make school more welcoming
"and we had a tremendous decrease from '16-17"
Foley: "there's a difference between the way Worcester is applying the protocols than other districts across the state"
Binienda: "we have repeated school violations..and that tends to be a catchbasin...so this year, we're being more specific" about the reason for the suspensions
so like cutting class and then they're suspended for that

sorry Monfredo spoke there and he wanted to know about poverty and homelessness and then he was pleased by ELA scores but not in math

Comparetto: see two school systems here
look at implementing alternative practices in discipline

McCullough: one of the things I'd like to see is consistency across the district
"it's been a concern of mine...so we're not seeing disparities across the district"
see students removed from the environment but not the school
"and work towards that goal"
"perhaps part of the strategic plan is to hold policy forum" and perhaps get additional data from the state

Biancheria: why are schools recognized as a school of recognition?
both were for high growth
and I think she just suggested we should teach to the test for science

Petty "have a meeting to really dissect" the non-drug non-violent non-criminal offenses
"maybe we can get a report on that"

Binienda "really feel that was an excellent report on progress"
"with that I want to thank my staff that's here"
thank the School Committee

student rep: asks why there are fewer subgroups than schools (essentially why every school doesn't have them)
Curtin: not enough students in tested grades
asks about seventh grade: follows it down
"I'd hestitate to comment on specific grades"
asks why detentions aren't included
Curtin: first, we don't collect it
"we also don't think of it as a loss of instruction"
"I tend to focus my remarks around the instructional loss"

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, October 17

The agenda is here.
I've somewhat piecemeal posted on this already: there's a response on district technology, which I wrote about here, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is coming to present, which I noted over here.
Besides the recognitions and the administration forwarding the hirings, resignations, and retirements of staff (this looks like the opening of school list), on the agenda is:
There are two prior year payments: $4,659.53 to Stetson School Inc. for services rendered from June 1, 2019 through June 30, 2019 and $84,985.56 to The Learning Center for the Deaf for services rendered from July 2018 to June 2019.
There is a request to approve the following donations:–

  • $300.00 to the George and Marie Maloney Scholarship Fund from various donors
  • $10,000 to Rice Square Elementary School for the Seena Levy Reading Fund from Steven & Andrew Levy in memory of their mother, Seena, former 2nd grade reading teacher at Rice Square Elementary School. The donation is intended for the purchase of books for the Rice Square library.
  • $320.00 to Worcester Technical High School from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation/Thurston E. Solomon & Everett J. Morter Memorial Fund designated for the Skills USA Program.
  • $560.00 to Worcester Technical High School from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation/Saul A. Seder Fund designated for participation in the Skills USA.
  • $5,985.00 to Worcester Technical High School from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation/Sarah Daniels Pettit & William O. Pettit, Jr. Fund.
  • $40.55 to the Worcester Public Schools from a donor

Miss Biancheria and Mr. Monfredo request "that the Administration investigate ways to market the accomplishments of the Worcester Public Schools by more media press releases and by encouraging schools to forward outstanding events taking place at their schools to the media."
They also want the district to look for more parking.
Also, information on sex trafficking
And, a report on Worcester Tech's evening courses
And, a report on "collaboration between the unions and the Worcester Public Schools in the formulation and execution of various articulation agreements that lead to the awarding of certificates to the students "

Mr. Comparetto and Mr. Monfredo are requesting reports on wraparound services, school health clinics, Family Resource Centers, and Mr. Comparetto further requests a homeless liaison, wraparound coordinators at all schools, a CityConnects program, and policy forums on homelessness.

Did I mention that the DESE department coming out to do the report is the same department that does the Comprehensive District Review that observed and called out the requests for reports from School Committee members, how time intensive they were, and how much they were entirely not concerned with the central work of district governance? It is. 

There is a request to approve nurses.

There is a 6 pm Executive Session for litigation with Steamfitters and Tradesmen.

Yes, I'll be there. Blog to come

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Not this week

...looks like the school funding bill isn't coming up this week:

Worcester Citywide Parent group calendar for the year

For those who don't get the CPPAC emails, the first meeting is tomorrow night, and here's the calendar for the rest of the year:

  • October 16th Parent Agenda Items and Open Time for Candidates for School Committee to speak
  • November 13th State of the Schools Address at Durkin Administration Building, 20 Irving Street Worcester, MA 01606 5:30-8:30 PM 
  • January 8th Guest speaker Sarah Kyriazis presenting on Technology Plan 
  • March 11th Guest speaker Brian Allen presenting the on Budget 
  • May 13th Guest speakers Dr. O’Neil and Superintendent Binienda presenting on the year end review
November is interesting: there hasn't been a State of the Schools in some time.
Also, not the fault of CPPAC, but at least two of the comprehensive high schools are having their parents' nights tomorrow. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

The questions we don't ask

Among the items coming back on this week's Worcester School Committee agenda (on which more to come) is a response to a multi-part (and all over the map) item on technology. This ranges from the entirely non-scientific fear about wifi to a query on the district's plans on expanding access.
One bit referenced is a survey that was sent home to families during the first few weeks of school about technology access, a partner, it seems to a survey that was given to students during school.
We should note that after five years, it would seem time to update the report on technology from 2015, 'though that here and elsewhere is not mentioned. The focus there was updating building access to allow for one to one access, something which curiously still is not planned at the high school level, which would seem to need it most urgently. Also, at that time the district cell phone policy was revised in line with bring your own device, something on which the district still depends, though students now often are disciplined for having their cell phones at hand, even for classwork.
Both the report and the district's digital learning Twitter show the heavy push that has gone on towards teachers using and requiring digital work. That has been so widespread that much of secondary school homework is now online.
But the district has never asked if that was actually possible for families.
We know from elsewhere that it widely is not (also here and here and here and there are many more).
In other words, the requirement came before the provision that meets it, which means the district is not following the state requirement that what is required must be provided (covered in terms of technology here).
The news that 26% of students surveyed do not have access at home--without asking how those that  have it acquire it, note--and that more than half use a cell phone for homework should concern us. It is convenient to assume, as was done in the article covering this report this weekend, that this is a "choice" students make. It is of course the "choice" one makes if one has no other device and no internet access at home.
Having students use cell phones ON DATA to do their homework is charging their families for their homework.
And it is easy for those of us who sit at home with our (self-purchased) laptops and Chromebooks using (self-purchased) home internet access to assume that students can simply go to the library or elsewhere for access. We have 27,000 students in the Worcester Public Schools. If even a tenth of those students need access at a library, we do not have enough. And that's without the opportunity cost of a family needing to figure that sort of access into a family lives that we know, in a district that is predominately low income, frequently mainly speaks languages other than English, and has too little time and money already, and has far too many stressors already.
For a middle class family, adding enough bandwidth to cover the devices and picking up another Chromebook may be manageable; it's what my family did as soon as we had more than one child in secondary school, as it because clear that this was the expectation from the school. Further, we even upgraded one child to a smartphone when it became clear that "get out your phones" was how some teachers are handling the push to go online without a district provision of devices. I have been asked exactly once if we had access at home. And the suggestion that teachers should, by a show of hands, ask who has access at home, puts onus on the students that should not be necessary (who's going to admit that their family cannot afford it?).

Such was my frustration with the survey which came home: it likewise missed the main issue of the Worcester Public Schools right now, that access is expected but not provided.
Families were asked:
  • if they barred access--how can I if access is required to complete schoolwork?
  • if we limited access--not if we want our children to complete their work
  • if we'd like access outside of school at home--when secondary school students regularly complete work late into the night in order to get it done?
  • if we wanted the district to provide devices--yes, but ALSO ACCESS
  • if we wanted the district to teach us about technology--this is not the greatest need!
We have students who stay up until a parent gets home in the evening late shift to use their parents cell phone ON DATA to do homework which is required BY THE DISTRICT. There is no provision in the family survey for answering questions that give that information.

We have students who have their cell phones taken when an adminstrator walks into a classroom in which the teacher has asked students to use their phones--because the high schools continue to not have one to one access--and confiscates phones that are out. There are no questions that get that information out in the family or student surveys.

We have families that are paying for internet access because it is required by the district that their children have it. There are no questions that allow for that, and the cost, to be provided.

Writing a survey that genuinely elicts the information that is most important requires having room for responses that reject the premise and the framing of the survey; it is always possible that the surveyor got the framing wrong. A short comment section at the end does not do this.

The massive inequity that the district has itself created thus goes undiscovered.

Note that while the issue is not uncommon, this is also one that many districts are themselves solving; there are lots more links for that, too. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

It's hard to miss

...what's missing here.
On Friday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced the districts and educators selected to participate in:
....Influence 100 launched Friday, October 11, the same day that DESE began the second cohort of InSPIRED fellows...Both Influence 100 and the InSPIRED fellows aim to diversify the Commonwealth’s educator workforce. Approximately 40 percent of the Commonwealth’s public school students are students of color, but only 8 percent of teachers and 4 percent of superintendents identify themselves that way.
Influence 100 thus is intended to add to those working towards a superintendency in Massachusetts, while the inSPIRED fellows work to expand the teaching force.
The Department stressed:
To be selected for Influence 100, district superintendents and school committees had to demonstrate a strong commitment to the program and its goals.
The districts participating?
Athol-Royalston
Boston
Cambridge
Framingham
Holyoke
Lawrence
Leominster
Malden
Natick
Revere
Salem
Somerville
Springfield
Waltham
Weston

That's it for the W's.
This is the Worcester Public Schools' student body:

Here is the Worcester Public Schools' teacher corps:


Worcester does have a single teacher (out of the teaching staff of over 3000?) participating in inSPIRED.
One doesn't expect the district to participate in every initiative the state creates, but it is difficulty not to see this as connected to the same resistence to working on the lived reality of students and teachers that was also expressed at Thursday's Legislative breakfast.

And speaking of Durham

The "saga"as the local press is calling it in Roanoke, Virginia--who have just started using Durham--around busing continues. Durham's efforts to get drivers has now launched a bidding war with the County now offering hiring incentives after Durham (driving for the city) did.
More telling--and a greater contrast with our own situation in Worcester--is in how the local Roanoke City school board has handled the situation:
Durham School Services vice-president John Ziegler was grilled by a number of the board members at the meeting and said the company has come up short.
"As Durham, and myself, we ended up in this situation because I didn't get the job done," Ziegler said. "I'm honest enough to say that."
The board had asked Durham to be at every one of their meetings until the bus saga is over, and Ziegler said that would be soon.
They spent 20 minutes on the issue at their latest meeting, and it will be a re-occuring item until the issue is fixed.
Why? Because:
...for five parents who spoke before the board Tuesday, it's too little, too late, saying that this has been their living nightmare.
"Are the standards you set for us not standards you are willing to apply to yourself and to the companies you hire for us?" parent Heather Lawson said. "The lack of communication, transparency and accountability so far has been beyond any form of acceptable."

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Questions I'd like to ask the Worcester City Council candidates

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a candidate seeking a Worcester City Council seat must act as if they are running for Worcester School Committee.

However, there are questions that one legitimately can ask a Worcester City Council candidate about matters under their purview that are related to education and the Worcester Public Schools. As a parent of children in the Worcester Public Schools and a Worcester super voter, here are some of mine:
  • In the FY20 budget, the Worcester Public Schools were funded at the smallest amount over the minimum required in three years. 
    Note that this was budgeted: it may well be less than this by the time we get done.

    The Worcester School Committee voted to continue their transportation contract with Durham for at least two more years, and this year, that contract will increase by $1M. That increase cannot be absorbed by state dollars. As this increase will further erode and possibly entirely erase the amount the city funds the schools over required, is it your intention to support funding beyond the net minimum, more in line with other districts?
  • Should the House support and the Governor sign (or the Legislature pass over his veto) the Student Opportunity Act, Worcester is among the districts that will most benefit. However, Worcester is also among the small number of districts that will, due to its slender voluntary funding, be required to increase local funding for schools. How do you intend to fund that increase?
    (Pro tip: it will be necessary before the ballpark is projected to bring in much, so that doesn't work as a answer.)
  • In May of 2018, the Worcester Public Schools, after years of requests, finally received a facilities master evaluation. It found that there was, at that time, a $75M backlog of urgently needed repairs in the Worcester Public Schools. The report was never taken up by the full Worcester School Committee nor by the Worcester City Council. As the body charged with captial funding, how do you plan to address this issue? 
more as I have them! 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Don't shoot the messenger

As I noted in my post on the last Worcester School Committee meeting, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is coming to present on the Worcester Public Schools' accountability and disciplinary data at the invitation of Mayor Petty and the Worcester School Committee at the School Committee meeting on October 17.
This invitation, of course, is as a result of the work around equity that has gone on from the Mayor's Commission on Latino Education and Excellence, but also the organizing work by students, and others, including Worcester Interfaith who has hosted the Worcester Coalition for Educational Equity.
Tomorrow the Coalition is hosting a convening about the state of the schools. The Coalition is also suggesting the community turn out to hear the report of the Department regarding Worcester's data.

In response, it seems, some who have been most allied with Superintendent Binienda are calling faith communities, arguing that this is an attack on the Superintendent, and proposing that they withdraw their support for Worcester Interfaith.

Deep breath here, folks.

Setting aside for a minute the relative propriety of such proposals, can we understand what this actually says? Organizing around the state of the schools and asking people to hear the state talk about the data the district itself reports on the schools is not an attack on the leadership of the schools.
Unless, of course, the leadership of the schools doesn't like what the data says and has no real response to it.

The importance of anti-bias work in education

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who has been clear in his prioritization of equity in the school system since he came in, this week called anti-bias work "a matter of life and death."
Referencing rhetoric from federal and local officials “that students are hearing all the time about who they are, where they come from, what their parents are,” Carranza suggested students are internalizing harmful messages.
“So, the idea of implicit bias training, the idea of having culturally responsive and sustaining curricula and pedagogy is not a matter of just educational practice,” he said. “In many of our communities, it’s a matter of life and death.”
Carranza’s comments are striking because they underscore his belief that those policies will have dramatic ripple effects in students’ lives.
This article on how the work was approached in the Gardner Pilot Academy in Boston from the latest issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine is, I think, a good insight into it:
Mann and Wilkerson immediately recognized that other members of the school community needed access to these conversations. But while Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity represented a great opportunity, the six evening meetings were often late. For those who could not find childcare or who worked late hours, opportunities for access were limited. So Mann and Wilkerson considered their options. Instead of leaving with an answer, Wilkerson says, they left the program with a question:
“Why don’t we make it our first goal to figure out what the community needs?”
So, in conjunction with the equity-focused management consulting firm Kingston Bay Group, Mann and Wilkerson developed an audit to get feedback on how the school was doing on the equity front. They solicited the views not just of teachers but also of paraprofessionals, students and families.
It's hard to find a framing quote: please go read it all! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

On spending over required

One of the "don't panic" messages from the deliberation on the Student Opportunity Act has been to note that the statewide average for districts is spending 130% over foundation.
I thought an illustration of actual dollars might be useful.
Remember, FY18 is the last completed fiscal year we have information on (district reports on FY19 were due to DESE last week; we usually see those numbers in January).
In FY18, when the foundation budget spreadsheets came out, here's what the state committed to spending in Chapter 70 and what it required districts to spend in turn:
So the blue is the state Ch. 70 aid; the yellow is what the state said districts had to spend from local sources.

Now we've said at length that many districts basically pay no attention to this: they know how much they need to spend to do what they need to for their kids, and they pass budgets that attempt to do that. So here's what the districts actually spent: 
I know the difference between the two yellow sections can be hard to see, so here's the comparison next to each other: 
That's a $2.3 billion--yes, with a B!--difference between required and actual! 

So while the state is requiring higher levels of spending, in many--most, I'd venture--places, it isn't going to be the massive increase it looks like, because of how much districts are ALREADY spending over. 



Monday, October 7, 2019

Joint Committee on Education hearing: charter schools, genocide and other matters

The agenda is here.
The room is packed.
Lewis: Peisch is finishing up a meeting on transportation
will allow elected officials to testify out of turn, then will take testimony in order on the docket

Saturday, October 5, 2019

And in Roanoke City, Virginia, Durham

...has just bumped their driver sign-on bonus to $2500:
As the news coverage notes:
The transportation company's debut in Roanoke has been rocky, including late pickups, late drop-offs, personnel changes, and a slew of parent and driver complaints.

Meanwhile, this week in Cumberland, Rhode Island:
The latest chapter in the never-ending saga over whether Durham School Services will ever be able to properly deliver Cumberland students to school and home again left school officials shaking their heads.
School Committee members expressed consternation last Thursday, Sept. 26, after Supt. Bob Mitchell shared that preschool students who were dropped off for a visit to Adams Farm earlier that day, and were supposed to be picked up at a specific time, were left at the farm for significantly longer than they were supposed to be.
Member Ray Salvatore said he’s not one to nitpick over individual issues, but “this one’s really concerning.”
... As Durham representatives again blamed ongoing issues with staffing shortages and other issues, school board members tore into them, saying they’re tired of the same excuses being offered year after year.
Certainly there are some staffing issues and other matters of concern, said Mitchell, but he would also argue “that organizationally there are some issues as well.”
As would I.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets tonight

Yes, I know, extremely late posting on this one...the agenda is here. A bunch of it is carried over from the prior meeting, including the report of the superintendent

There are recognitions of various kinds.
In response to a request for a report of the number of homeless, there is a single page (multi font?)...not even a report. We've hit a new low on reports here. 

The report of the superintendent is a cursory survey of each of the departments; I really hope the report as delivered goes into greater depth than this. Each of these honestly (particularly those that recently have undergone or are undergoing standard revisions) are grounds for their own report. Many districts, for example, have asked for in-depth reports on the revisions to social studies with the addition of civics. 

Ivonne Perez, principal of Chandler Magnet, has been appointed Chief Diversity Officer; you can find her resume here.

There is a response to a request for a report on the course of studies for English learner students.

In response to a request from the Mayor that the administration "discuss the findings of DESE for the MCAS results at Chandler Elementary School," the administration has submitted this:

Yes, really. That is all that the Superintendent has turned in.

This request for a report on interacting with the Worcester Red Sox has more in it.

The update on the hiring of the Chief Diversity Officer refers back to the earlier item.

There is a response to a request to consider expanding services to homeless students, which takes all of half a page.

The response to a request for an update on Ch. 222 from the ENTIRE COMMITTEE elicited:

really. that's the whole report.

There is a response to a request for more information on trauma informed care of students.

There is another single paragraph response on controlling legal costs.
There is a report on how students with dyslexia are being provided services.

Mark your calendars: DESE is coming to report on district data on October 17.

There is a five page report on school drop off and pick up, looking specifically at West Tatnuck, Roosevelt, and Thorndyke.

There is a "we've asked" response on paying for parking tickets with school supplies.

The district is hiring a health educator.

There is a report on the opening of school "Jump Start" programs

There is a response on a half day of PD on student trauma 

There are several prior fiscal year payments:
  • Richard G. Boulanger, Arbitrator in the total amount of $10,541.52.
  • Real Time Court Reporting in the amount of $679.50.
  • Shred It in the amount of $420.00.
  • a travel reimbursement to the Chief Human Resources Officer in the amount of $147.92 for in-state travel to Boston for EAW hearings.

There is a proposal to revise the policy on alcohol, drugs, and tobacco; I'm not clear on why?

There is a request for receiving donations:

  • $250.00 Staples gift card to Jacob Hiatt Magnet School from Country Bank for their participation in the Savings Makes Sense School Banking Program
  • $250.00 from a donor to the Patricia Falcone Memorial Scholarship

And there is an executive session for a grievance, a collective bargaining strategy session, and four lawsuits

Apologies for the late update!


Liveblog of Senate deliberation of S 2350 "The Student Opportunity Act"

The Senate opens its session at 11 am.
The bill is here.
The amendments are here.
The session can be viewed online here.
I was here early enough that my polite request for permission to take a photo was granted. Newly redone!
posting as we go

The Governor takes an early Halloween

Word got out late yesterday that the Governor had leaked numbers prepared by DESE for the Joint Committee in their deliberation of what has been released as the Student Opportunity Act.
This was, of course, an attempt to derail the bill.
I took up in this thread from last night why it is that this is a concern; it boils down to two things:

  • The DESE doesn't--couldn't, in fact, as it didn't even get submitted to the Department until yesterday!--actual local spending data. Thus all that is reported is local costs going up, without a reflection of what local costs currently are. Grafton, cited by the Globe this morning, is a perfect example of this, where their local required spending is projected to increase to...less than they current spend (check page 33).
  • The projections can only be so good. Next year's, DESE themselves warned, should not be used for budget planning. For one, they're using a zero enrollment change model, which works for the state, but it doesn't work for individual districts (rare is the district that isn't either growing or shrinking). We don't yet know what low income looks like (DESE would have built some sort of model, but we don't know what). And this also doesn't include all of the interations of the bill, which includes other BIG items, like out-of-district transportation costs.


I recommend reading the State House News report on this.
Also, do read Senator Chandler and Moore's op-ed today.

Liveblog coming as soon as I get over to the State House!

Monday, September 30, 2019

It's FBRC week (again) in the Senate

And just in time, we have a barn burner of an op-ed from Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz:
None of the big accomplishments in our Commonwealth’s history were easy at first. All of them required resilient advocacy and courageous commitment from people across our state. But we proved they were possible. That’s what we do in Massachusetts.
Fulfilling the promise of public education as the great equalizer is our next big goal. Bay Staters believe in it. It’s a goal our constitution anchors us to. Now, that collective effort in advocating, crafting policy, and working together has given us a chance to deliver on it.

Do districts really want teachers and leaders of color

And what happens when they get them?
It was interesting to read this piece in EdWeek this morning, a reflection from a Black male teacher:
I was tired of being looked to as a disciplinarian. I was exhausted by the mandates of no-excuses and the confines of a curriculum and instructional techniques where I had little to no say. I loved my students, but it wasn't enough.
Valuing and supporting teachers after they are hired is often more important than simply hiring them in the first place. Too many districts instead offer little to no support for Black teachers, overutilize them for disciplinary purposes, and do not respect them for both their content knowledge and instructional skills.
...with this piece from the Washington Post discussing implicit bias in school climate reports.
In a Dec. 28 memo to the county school board, Smith said he looked at an elementary school climate survey showing the percentage of employees who said “staff morale is positive in this school.” This was after the Montgomery County Education Association teachers union told him the district should do more about schools with low morale.
“I became concerned because of the racial makeup of the principals of both lists,” Smith said. “I determined that 15 of the 18 principals with the most positive ratings were White/Caucasian and 11 of the 15 principals with the lowest rating were Black/African American or Hispanic.”
He told the board that “cultural proficiency and implicit bias” should be considered in creating future surveys. “To use an instrument that results in the over-identification of any race, gender, age or culture is unacceptable,” he said.
Recruiting isn't even half of the issue. Retaining and valuing teachers of color is a long-term, sustained need. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Senate amendments on the funding bill

...which was reported out of Senate Ways and Means as S.2350, An Act Relative to Educational Opportunity for Students (AREOS?); the amendment are online here.
Note that a significant number of these, including the first ten, are from Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a prolific writer of amendments.

I'll include the numbers, but I'll cluster these by topic, as there are overlaps:

Regional Transportation reimbursement:
  • 1 reimburses regional transportation at "not less than 85%"
  • 2 creates a commission to study 100% reimbursement for regional school transportation
  • 11 sets regional transportation reimbursement to 85% but takes out "subject to appropriation"
  • 36 removes the "subject to appropriation"
  • 43 would add any municipality over 95 square miles to transportation reimbursement; they must be using a different list than I, because I have Barnstable as the largest and it's less than 60...if you check the sponsor, you'll be shocked to find this would, it appears, apply only to the town of Plymounth, which still encompasses much of the original Plimouth Plantation. 

Minimum per pupil increases:
  • 3 increases mimimum per pupil aid to $35/pupil
  • 4...to $40/pupil
  • 5...to $50/pupil
  • 6...to $100/pupil

Reviews of the foundation budget:
  • 7 amends to review every five years (the bill proposes 10)
  • 8 does the same but with different language
  • 14 bumps labor representation to two
  • 35 also sets the foundation budget review commission to every 5 years
  • 36 requires a foundation budget adequacy study

Circuit breaker:
  • 9 boosts circuit breaker reimbursement to 80%
  • 10 sets the approved reimbursement threshhold to $34,345 from $45,793. 
Reports:
  • 15 requires school level reporting on mental health supports
  • 17 makes more specific the reporting out on use of funds and specifically bars the Commissioner from decreasing them
  • 24 requires than any new reporting be considered in light of other reporting the state already requires
  • 31 requires sort of "workforce preparedness" reports
  • 34 ties the district's improvement plans much more closely to declarations of underperformance 
  • 38 makes it clear that the district (not the state) is to determine what changes are necessary
  • 39 would add "college completion" to the report the Secretary would give each year
  • 52 adds student growth to what is being considered in the plan of how funds are used
  • 65 requires that the report from districts including reducing disparities (rather than student achievement) 

Phase in:
  • 16 provides for the annual consensus revenue agreement on implementation that was in the Promise Act and earlier bills
  • 25 requires phase-in be equitable but also allows for a phase-in extention to 2030
  • 53 requires proportional phase in of the recommendations
  • 59 requires an annual report on phase-in as well as an annual hearing 

Special education:
  • 28 bumps the low income assumption to 5% across the board

Recess:
  • 12 mandates 100 minutes of recess a week for K-5 and forbids making it shorter

Charter schools:
  • 19 requires that the financial impact of charter schools be considered when considering their applications
  • 29 creates a charter school policy commission 
  • 51 deducts charter reimbursement from net school spending calculations (huh?)
  • 60 creates a working group on charter school funding and reimbursement 
  • 61 would take any charter reimbursement not funded out of the charter school's allocation 
  • 62 includes minimum aid in the provision of Ch. 70 (so a district can be funded over foundation due to state requirements) and locks the out-of-district transportation reimbursement in as part of the full provision of the act (I don't think I entirely understand that one)

Athletics:
  • 13 requires that each district with an athletic program have a licensed athletic trainer
Other commissions:
  • 18 specifically DROPS "expanding use of technology to deliver instruction and enable operating efficiences" and switches " encouraging ways to reduce costs and improve educational outcomes" to "encouraging ways to improve fiscal health and educational outcomes" and "reorganizing" to "optimizing" from the recommendations to come from the rural schools study
  • 20 creates an Unfunded Mandates Task Force
  • 22 would have the report on Rural Schools only report out on low-income districts unless warranted by the study
  • 23 would add an appointee of the minority leader of the House to the 21st century advisory committee
  • 27 requires that the commission reporting out on municipal wealth specifically consider the impact of Prop 2 1/2
  • 33 would require a study of the circuit breaker and out-of-district special education provision
  • 63 creates a commission on debt-free higher ed
  • 64 adds some members and some new reporting requirements to the Rural Schools Commission
  • 66 would create a special education commission to study provision of services 
MSBA:
  • 21 prioritizes "school safety" funding in MSBA considerations
  • 44 would further bump the MSBA funding cap to $800M
Parent engagement
  • 26 requires that such parental engagement required by the bill specifically considers specific subgroups in doing so and report out on it
Homelessness
  • 30 requires reimbursement of homeless student transportation, less federal reimbursements by November 20
Municipal calculation:
  • 31 is intended as a sort of smoothing of municipal wealth calculations, requiring that in towns of less than 6000 people, the bottom and top 5% of residents be dropped from both the income and property values 
Recovery high school:
  • 40 would allow for creation of a reserve fund locally for recovery high schools
  • 41 would add reimbursement for recovery high school transportation
  • 42 would study the costs of sending students to a recovery high school 
Early college high school:
  • 46 would recognize early college programs for the same level of funding as vocational programs
  • 47 would add early college to the spreadsheet at an increment above high school but below vocational (that was the Governor's plan)
Random other things:
  • 45 requires a "school-based threat assessment team" at each secondary school that would create a threat assessment policy
  • 48 creates an innovative health partnership
  • 50 would add Easton to the Cambridge labor market adjuster 
  • 54 allows 71B (out of district special education) schools to apply for the grants in the bill
  • 55 mandates that each high school student must meet with a guidance counselor at least one each year
  • 56 would create a certification for autism services
  • 57 would bring back a full-day K grant specifically to get it everywhere in the state
  • 58 creates a certification bonus for districts running programs leading to vocational certification
  • 67 would set "(a)strong institutional leadership, (b) active student engagement in their education; and (c) differentiated instruction" as what is considered in awarding 21st century grants
  • 68 would require financial literacy instruction
  • 69 would creating a "Learning Innovation for Tomorrow" (LIFT) fund for funding innovation in education in districts 
The Senate takes this up for debate Thursday! 

And how are things in Pflugerville under self-operated buses?

Update from Texas:
“It was Durham School Services and they managed our routes and the employees. The bus drivers were all their employees, so they acted like any other contractor,” said Spence. “We told them what we expected and what was in our contracts, but they were the ones who implemented that. With that system, we were unable to really get that customer service that we want to stress here in Pflugerville ISD.”
Durham did send a letter parents at the time, saying they were experiencing an "unprecedented driver shortage" and had to combine many routes.
The district said it has improved that by adding 30 more bus drivers this year. With owning and operating their own fleet of buses now, the district has already seen a difference.
“So far, we've got positive feedback,” said Spence. “There's always a few learning curves along the way and starting the school year, but I spoke with our transportation department and we are now at a 99% on-time rate for all of our campuses, getting our kids to school on-time so things are going really well so far.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

DESE at MASBO: Student Opportunity Act

Student Opportunity Act : Rob O'Donnell
higher health care rates based on the GIC: 3 year average
separate inflation index for health insurance
fully funding those goal rate by 2027
starting point disparity: do we actually ever catch up with it?
you'll get to the GIC rate, you'll not just get there right away
are the rates in the bill going to move over the implementation
goal rates will change in each subsequent budget cycle
FY20 reflected an incremental increase towards the goal rates

4% in district, 5% vocational district
"this tracks pretty close to actual that we see"

English Learner: similar to what was proposed by the Governor
increases rate and redistributes to have higher rates to high school students
goal rates are expressed in FY20 dollars; they'll also be increased by inflation over the life of the bill

decile system in low income currently
moving away from deciles (about 33 districts in each group) to groups (there are twelve)
setting hard breaks between them
counted up to 133% for econ disad; couldn't reliably count up to 185%
"likely that the economically disadvantaged match will still be the core"
likely some additional counting that will have to take place
possibly further data collection
if you've moved to CEP, you're not collecting forms
DESE may need to come up with some other method of collecting data
until they come up with a new method, authorizes going back to FY16 low income counts as of October 1, 2014, some those numbers together as a percentage of your enrollment in for FY16
that would be your FY21 accounting method
"would use that as the basis to augment" the count
"there are some districts that we're counting more through the econ dis match than we did through the free and reduced lunch count"
"we wouldn't lower your count; this would only increase your count"
jumps about 6% between the lower groups, then goes up more like 10% in the higher groups
would we go back to a form collection or some other method?
"That's the big wild card to the bill"

charter school reimbursement fully funded over three years
don't talk about if it would be done on a six year schedule or a three year schedule
or if it will only be for high enrollment growth
increasing foundation increases charter tuition rates which increases charter reimbursement (if it isn't only tied to increased enrollment)

Data commission

requirement to report by expediture by foundation budget category (there used to be a section that did this in the End of Year report)
Some question on if this will further require a breakout of state versus local spending

Rural school study

Circuit breaker to include cost of out-of-district transportation
"we will be coming out with what we expect to see on a bill" to verify transportation to the individual student
"circuit breaker is student by student"
going to "blow up the program"
we're going to be a half a billion pretty soon

freezes at last year's circuit breaker number and ONLY GOES UP BY INFLATION after that



Monday, September 23, 2019

Citing my sources on Durham

When I testified at last Monday's Worcester subcommittee meeting on the proposed renewal of the Durham bus contract, I referenced a number of articles from across the country about the service districts aren't receiving from the company. I also noted in my Thursday testimony that an article from that day had spoke of another district planning to move to self-operation from Durham; on Friday, another joined them. I thought it might be useful for others to have those, and other, links.

Roanoke City, Virginia has just started a contract with Durham; they have had a chaotic beginning of the year, which involved the company firing the local manager. Southern schools largely start earlier than we in the Northeast do, so they're a month in and still having issues. The quote that I read was from their school board member Laura Rottenborn, who at a meeting two weeks ago said:
“Wearing my parent only hat, not my board hat, I personally called Durham to find out where my child’s bus was and it took me 30 minutes to get an answer. And I as a parent find that unacceptable. And as a board member on behalf of all of our children in our school division, that is unacceptable,” Rottenborn said in the meeting.
They are now five weeks into school and the issues with Durham have just hit The Washington Post.

 Charleston County, South Carolina had 3000 bus complaints logged with the school district last year. As for what impact that had on students:
“This is the third week without a bus with no explanation of what has happened to the driver,” one bus complaint from a Thomas C. Cario parent said. “Why is the bus just “not coming?”
McCarthy said her daughter has had to miss school because a bus never showed up.
“She’s missed two days of school the whole day this year due to buses not being here on time,” McCarthy said. “I’ve tried to get them to tell me what time the bus is going to be there to pick her up so she can go home or go back out to wait for the bus and they can’t tell you what time. They just want them to wait outside.”
And it hasn't improved this year.

Central Dauphin schools (that's Harrrisburg), Pennsylvania counts this year as a new low.

Cumberland, Rhode Island officials are disgusted enough with Durham's services that they are planning now, two years before their contract is up, to work with other districts towards self-operation.
On Durham’s chronic issues returning this year, Mitchell said school officials are extremely frustrated.
“At some point, things seem to iron out,” he said. “To be honest, the performance up to this point has been disappointing and I think unacceptable.”
And while Worcester was renewing the contract with Durham, the Framingham School Committee was planning to move on self-operation:
School Committee Chairman Adam Freudberg, of District 4, said the district will start to look for bids from bus companies in January 2021. He urged the district to look into “what can be done here to strategically prepare and do all that work to look into bringing it in-house” soon.
“If bringing it in-house is the right thing for Framingham, let’s do that work right now to get ready for January of 2021,” said Freudberg.
Among the districts that has brought transportation into district operation is Pflugerville ISD in Texas:
PfISD officials said the transition will help the district retain quality control and save funds in the long term.
“One of the things we wanted to do as a district was really get a better control of this specific area,” PfISD Chief Operating Officer Ed Ramos said.
This was after videos of overcrowded buses with students sitting on the floor last spring during a contract that had been renewed in 2015 over the protests of parents.

And PS: no, it isn't some sort of magic insider information. I just know how to use Google. 

This one is not about Worcester, but...

Boston is up for the periodic review DESE does of school districts, and the Globe's coverage notes Worcester's review:
A 2017 review of Worcester revealed that many students didn’t have equal access to a high-quality education, or were not receiving adequate academic tutoring or services to tend to their social and emotional well-being.
It also found teachers were not consistently being evaluated with rigor, many school buildings were outdated and overcrowded because of insufficient funding and planning, and the School Committee was overburdening school administrators with too many information requests, noting members “should exercise a great deal more restraint in making motions that are not related to the critical task of improving the quality of teaching and learning.”
Worcester, of course, never did anything with the review, which can be downloaded here.

And nice one on school buses

If you're one of those who like understanding how things work, you might enjoy this from Smithsonian Magazine on school buses and why they are yellow:
“The yellow is not pure spectral yellow,” says Ivan Schwab, clinical spokesperson at the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “The best way to describe [the color] would be in wavelength,” says Schwab. The wavelength of the popular school-bus color is “right smack in the middle” of the peak wavelengths that stimulate the photoreceptor cells our eyes use to perceive red and green. The red and green photoreceptor cells, or “cones” as they are commonly known, are the two most predominant cones in our eyes. Schwab says, “If you get a pure wavelength of one color…and you hit just one cone with it, you’re going to have x amount of transmission of signal to the brain. But if that [wavelength] were to stimulate two cones, you’ll get double the amount of transmission to the brain.” Remarkably, “That color that we are calling school bus yellow hits both peaks equally.” So although they may not have fully comprehended the science behind it, the color Cyr and his colleagues chose at the 1939 conference makes it hard for other drivers to miss a school bus, even in their peripheral vision. “And it’s darned big,” Schwab adds.
And also:
The school bus transportation system is the largest mass transit system in the United States, yet school buses account for less than one percent of traffic fatalities each year. Students on school buses, NHTSA says, are 70 times safer than those who travel to school by car "because [school buses] are the most regulated vehicles on the road; they are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles...; and in every state, stop-arm laws (referring to the mechanical stop-sign arm that swings from the side of the bus when stopped) protect children from other motorists." Kinney, says, “If you look at fatalities, it’s not the occupants of the school bus that have fatal injuries, it’s the people that run into the school bus.”

Sunday, September 22, 2019

S. 2348: "An act relative to educational opportunity for students"

pushed out over Twitter Thursday

LINKS:

it earns the sticker
In terms of process, please note that the bill has come out of the Joint Committee on Education and goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Then it goes to the full Senate. Then it goes to the House Ways and Means Committee. Then it goes to full House.
Then to the Governor.
It is not, I will observe, accidental that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House jointly presented the bill with the Joint Committee chairs. That's a show of unity and support.