Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cutting the New Bedford baby in half

Hey, remember this post about how the New Bedford/Alma del Mar Charter expansion wasn't one in which everyone was dealing as equal partners? Sometime between my last look at the Board's agenda on Friday afternoon and the Sunday morning of this holiday weekend, the memo to the Board giving more information on Alma del Mar posted.
And there's a plan B.
Way down at the end of that very long memo on charter schools, the Commissioner says this:
I am recommending two votes in this unique circumstance. In the first motion, the award of 450 seats is conditioned as described above. If the conditions are not met or necessary legislation has not been enacted, this increase in enrollment of 450 would become null and void. I recommend that we establish a second pathway forward for an enrollment increase if this happens. Therefore, I am asking the Board to also vote on an expansion plan that would take place only if the conditions for the collaboration between AdM and New Bedford Public Schools are not met.
Because, it is claimed, the Department lacks space to share the full back-ups (fix this one, people; as a matter of public record, we shouldn't have to ask and wait for this sort of thing), the full backup language isn't posted, but the motion reads as follows (I'm including a screenshot, putting the language in, as well):
Moved: enrollment increase to Alma del Mar Charter School (from 450 to 1044) in New Bedford "if the Commissioner determines that either good-faith negotiations on the memorandum of understanding between the school and New Bedford Public Schools have irretrievably broken down or the necessaary legislation has not been enacted in sufficient time for planning and implementation of the model proposed in the letter of intent among the parties."

This piece from Chris McCarthy at WSBM effectively captures where this leaves New Bedford (and all of us):
The state has weaponized the expansion process.
Mayor Mitchell and City Councilor Hugh Dunn have warned that adding the maximum number of charter seats to Alma del Mar would result in financial devastation to the City's finances. Tax increases and layoffs of police, fire, and teachers will be the result if the state grants the full expansion to the charter school. The vote on Tuesday will place the financial future of the City of New Bedford in the hands of Commissioner Riley.
I'd go further and say that it is already there. In creating a process where Alma del Mar gets the seats either way, he now has tied New Bedford--and every city's--hands when it comes to charter expansion.

MassBudget weighs in...

Today's op-ed in Commonwealth Magazine gives numbers to support the need for action on the foundation budget:
These funding problems affect all districts but are most acute in lower-income communities that rarely have the resources to make up for shortfalls the way wealthier communities can. When state aid and local contributions do not cover actual costs, districts are not able to hire the number of teachers called for in the formula or provide adequate resources for their students’ needs.
As a result, the Commonwealth’s lowest-wealth districts spend 32 percent less on regular classroom teachers than dictated in the foundation budget, the state’s definition of adequate spending. Springfield, one of our lowest-income districts, was only able to spend $12,800 per pupil in 2017, despite having significant student needs. This translates to larger class sizes and fewer specialties like advanced coursework and the arts.
Meanwhile, the highest-income districts can make up for the flaws in the state formula by spending 48 percent more than their foundation budgets using local sources. In FY 2017, Brookline, among the wealthiest communities, spent 82 percent above its foundation budget, at nearly $17,500 per student.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Board of Ed meets Tuesday for its regular January meeting

And the agenda is here.
The meeting, as usual, opens with comments from the Chair, the Commissioner, and the Secretary, followed by public comment.
There's a focus this month on charter schools, although the recommendation or not on the two remaining new ones won't come until next month. Among the items on the agenda is an initial discussion of those two. The first item is the agreement (as announced earlier this week) among the Department, New Bedford, and Alma del Mar Charter School; note that this is not being greeted with universal enthusiasm.
There is also an update on the Paulo Freire Charter in Springfield, of which the upshot appears to be that they aren't fowarding the information they're supposed to be to DESE, and DESE consequently doesn't have enough information to make a decision on their probation.
The Helen Y. Davis Charter in Boston doesn't seem to be meeting what it was supposed to, either, and thus the Commissioner is recommending it continue on probation.

There will also be a discussion of the plan on the shift in assessment in high school (new MCAS, you'll recall).
And there is a discussion on the Board's annual report.

Yes, there will be liveblogging! 

The Governor's budget comes out Wednesday, January 23

...but expect to see some previews when he address the Mass Municipal Conference this weekend.

Also, I am writing this here to remind myself: THIS YEAR, I AM MAKING A SPREADSHEET.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, January 17

and this is a late posting on this...apologies...
The agenda for this meeting is here.
The T&G has already highlighted a few of the big things at this meeting: the report of the superintendent is on the health curriculum, in which it appears the administration has bowed to those on the committee who want a less comprehensive, less researched-based curriculum, contrary to what the Board of Health and many others have endorsed; the October 1 enrollment report is back with the news that enrollment is up, which will bump the foundation budget up, of course, but--important note--not enough to cover costs, and at some point, where we're going to put these kids is going to need to be dealt with; and the Committee is being asked to submit Burncoat High as its number one priority for major renovation/rebuild to the Mass School Building Authority (the T&G hasn't had that one, but do note it). Also note the various facilities-related items below.

I would say, as always, that if any of the above--like the health curriculum?--concerns you, you should get in touch with the School Committee ahead of the meeting.
Also, the School Committee will be voting in a new Vice-Chair.
Beyond the usual array of recognitions, appointments, resignations, and retirements, the following is also on the agenda:
  • a response on how principals are chosen; having had new principals at multiple schools in this administration, it is news to me that parents have been involved. Let's say that isn't being...shared.
  • responses around participation in reading programs
  • a response on participation in Recreation Worcester
  • an update on the use of the facilities master plan, and it doesn't appear that anyone is talking to the city about the woeful underfunding of capital for the Worcester Public Schools...the report had a $72M backlog that were considered "urgent," remember.
  • an update on the 2018 accelerated repair projects, which is the Harlow Street windows, roof, and boiler
  • an response on the use of SchoolDude, giving the dismaying statistics of WPS facilities funded at 50 cents a square foot, or 60% of the foundation budget; in FY17, the district spent $20.8M and the foundation budget was $35.9M
  • a response on family emails
  • the IRS has updated mileage rates, and so the School Committee is being asked to do likewise
  • a reminder that the Worcester Historical Museum's annual Valentine contest is coming up
  • several committee members are looking for a report on any “any case of tort including assaults on teachers and principals, in connection with their employment,” pursuant to the teachers' contract 
  • there is a request to consider raising substitute pay
  • there is a request for a report on Advanced Placement to "include student/parent feedback, guidelines and costs for the exams" and thank you, because some of us have THOUGHTS
  • the audits are coming back! No backup, but they'll be there for the subcommittee
  • there is a request to approve the Parent/Child Home grant for $25,000 through HeadStart
  • there is a request to approve the targeted assistance grant from the Barr Foundation for $150,000, and while it's going to the middle schools, it doesn't say what it's going to be spent on, so maybe someone should ask that
  • there is a request to approve the ArtREACH grant for $3920 for a visiting artist to work in art classes which sounds cool
  • there is a request to receive $2500 to create a scholarship for North High students by the family of Elizabeth Reidy
  • there are requests to approve prior year payments $5,489.78 to Zonar Systems for student transportation GPS service charges; $1,682.00 to be made payable to the CollegeBoard; $430.50 to CliftonLarsonAllen LLP for the 2016 Student Activity Account Agreed Upon Procedures Review; $11,167.82 to be made payable to SEEM Collaborative for services rendered 
  • there are requests to receive donations: $3,086 from Worcester Technical High School’s Tech Pride Club to the ALS Association MA Chapter in honor of teacher James Scanlon; $500 from the Forest Grove Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society to the Ava Roy Fund; $1,000 from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to Chandler Magnet School to replenish non-perishable items for the food pantry; $1,000 from the Special Olympics (The Yawkey Sports Training Center) to the Unified Sports Program at Worcester Technical High School; $15,000 from the Journey Community Church to Belmont Street Community School for Chromebooks; $4,700 from WEDF/CSX Grant to Grafton Street School; $1,495.27 from Mixed Bag Designs to Lake View School; $500 from WEDF for Opera Meets Lake View School; $4,250 from various donors at UMASS to Lake View School 
There is also a completely non-specific posting of an executive session, which is still not okay. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

When the Commissioner goes "Let's Make a Deal" on charter expansion

At the beginning of yesterday's Board of Ed meeting, Commissioner Riley announced a deal that the mayor of New Bedford and the leadership of Alma del Mar Charter School had agreed to around Alma's charter expansion. The school had applied for over 1000 seats in expansion, something naturally opposed by the city. Instead, Riley announced, the school would get over 400 seats, a building that the New Bedford Public Schools have closed, and be assigned an enrollment zone, much as the New Bedford schools have.
I tweeted this out earlier, but I want to be sure it's up and out there: the deal was hailed as Solomonic, but Solomon didn't actually cut the baby in half. As Chair Sagan pointed out last night, the option remains with the Commissioner to move forward with recommending the full more than 1000 seats. He also has a markedly pro-charter board who one assumes would support such a move. It is thus crucial to note that this "deal" wasn't made with everyone at the table having the same agency; the city and school district have this implicit threat hanging over them. It need not be made explicit, as everyone knows how this works.
The charter school gets half the seats they asked for, for now--nothing prevents them from later expansion--a building, and the support of at least some of New Bedford's leadership. The district gets...a pat on the back? And a charter school having assigned pupils, who may or may not wish to attend; I know I would be dubious as a parent, having no local recourse if I had issues with my child's school.
Obviously, I can't and don't speak for New Bedford, but I am also (as one who also lives in an urban district) dubious about mayors cutting deals on behalf of the school system (chair or not). Superintendents and school committees should be those at the table.
The Commissioner also floated the availability of targeted assistance grants for this work: that isn't how those are supposed to work. Any district seeking those should question how those decisions are now being made, if they're instead being handed out in advance.
Let's also recognize that this entirely ignores the underlying issues: of local democratic governance, of local spending decisions (which New Bedford loses, incidentally), of true public education.

And in sum?

Here's the Novick Reports from last night's Board of Ed.

Monday, January 14, 2019

January Board of Ed: update on automated test scoring

back up is here, but there is a PowerPoint
Wulfson: have been studying for some time
interested in potential of computer assisted scoring on MCAS scoring
with potential of being able to return results faster and open more opportunities for computer-adapted testing in the future
"always valued having open response questions on our MCAS"
"five years ago we wouldn't have even been having this discussion" but remarkable advances in artificiel intelligence
one of the areas in which "we are proud to say we haven't been an early adopter" but have taken our time in considering response
not expecting perfection; human scoring is also failable
not expecting in depth feedback, as that is the role of the teacher
is it of equal quality with current human scoring

Stapel: overview of current scoring then overview of automated scoring
1.5M ELA essays scored in spring 2019 in 8 states; about 60% of scorers have teaching experience
scored against two traits: idea development and conventions
"we also look for the unusual responses we might get, so scorers can be trained on those"
have to be trained on each individual item
100% double blind scoring for grade ten; student gets higher of two scores
scorer reliability: exact, adjacent, discrepant
There have now been two pilots, in 2017 and in 2018
in both cases finding parallel results with human scoring
"in particular...tended to show high rates of agreement with scores assined by expert scorers"

avoiding the gaming of automated scoring: text (but not an essay); repetition; length; copying source text

Doherty: at this point, it appears you're presenting that the validity is equal to that of human scoring
agreement from presenters

Craven: you'd mentioned that there might be savings...
Wulfson: there are so many variables, implementation costs, start-up costs
"more likely to kick out a paper that it isn't sure of, have to pay for human scorers to check those"
"if there is some savings, great, but that's not what's driving this"

Stewart: you'd mentioned advisory groups working with
Stapol: working with contractor, doing internal analysis
technical advisory committee "who are fairly skeptical"

Peyser: but is there time savings?
Wulfson: absolutely, "we get machine scoring back very quickly" to schools; this is what takes time
and then to the Commissioner's vision of adaptive testing
"goal has always been to return MCAS scores to schools within the same year...I think we're still quite a ways away from, your driver's test, did you pass or fail"

Plan is to use automated in grades 3-8 as second (double blind) scoring only at least one per grade
all human scoring in grade 10
higher score is always what is awarded if there are adjacent scores
analyzing results over summer; update in the fall

January Board of Ed: New Bedford charter matters

new plan in the best interest of the kids in all the city
letter of intent among all three parties laying out a path forward: New Bedford, Alma del Mar, DESE
Alma expand by 450 students on new building
neighborhood zone to be created by the district to attend this campus of Alma
Alma would gain a city facility would open 2019; gr. 1, 2, 6
will apply for grants
"a deal that has been a long time in coming"
"to be able to provide local control to give folks a chance to work together for something that works best for their community...is what matters most"
still more work to do
"to keep trying to find common ground in these debates" rather than further division
going need agreements to go into greater detail
also will need legislation on Beacon Hill to make this work
asking for the Board's support, as well
will make motion at next meeting; January 22 meeting hope to have representatives from all parties to discuss further
Sagan: this could be a real breakthrough moment
"try to find some third ways forward...bridge some of the divide"
Doherty: teachers' union, parents involved?
Riley: understanding is that mayor has let others know
"and other legislative leaders"
Stewart: speak of legislation?
Riley: will need some legislation to cover this sort of model: variation on Commonwealth
allow city and charter school to talk to each other to get a better more nuanced deal
Stewart: Governor?
Riley: signalled they're supportive
"seems like we've got a local deal and something to go forward"
Moriarty: middle ground in 2019, devil in details
McKenna: after you get this settled, will you get the government open again?
Sagan: notes that if this doesn't go through, still a charter application that he can move on

January Board of Ed special meeting: School and District report cards

Backup for this item is here, though there is a Powerpoint, which I'll see what I can do about. 
posting as we go once it starts...
Meeting being chaired by Vice-Chair Morton; Chair Sagan participating remotely. Secretary Peyser not present

Riley: a real significant effort went into this for families
Johnston: will give an overview on the current report card and why we have them
"important way of conveying school quality to parents"
"required by ESSA...to provide on an annual basis" with particular required components
"never once in my twenty years of being an educator in Massachusetts has any parent come to me and said, 'I was looking at that report card and...'"
showing current report card for Stoneham
"it's not entirely opaque, but I wouldn't say it's particularly family-friendly"
"almost an emotional reaction...what reaction do you get when you look at this information? are you getting a feeling about this school and its quality as you skim down?"
"a lot of work went into this without it really generating a lot of meaningful discussion"
Curtin: started this process over a year ago
"very quickly realised that we didn't necessarily have the capacity do this work well"
"we realized that we speak a foreign language in this building"
work with Learning Heroes on presenting information to parents
"one of the top two or three organizations I've worked with"
here to talk about how parents want to understand data, then work that they've done

Codcast on the foundation budget

I was part of the Codcast on Friday, speaking about the Foundation Budget Review Commission, SD.101, and how it may or may not be done.

LA Teachers go on strike today

Smart look at this in the Washington Post
From 1960 to 1980, white families in Los Angeles with school-age children left the city just as the school district rolled out desegregation plans. According to historian Jack Schneider, “Los Angeles became a city for those without children, for those who could afford private schools and for those who could not afford to leave.”
This didn’t only happen in Los Angeles in the era of desegregation. Education theater of the kind unfolding right now is part of the same comforting narrative that has been told across the country in the decades since: We white suburbanites look on concerned and grateful our children aren’t in those schools. Public education is a public good, but definitions of the public have grown increasingly narrow. From California to Maine, calls for school district secession — “splintering off whiter, wealthier districts from larger, more diverse ones” — have mounted over the past two decades. As one Alabama mayor explained, seceding is the only way to keep “our tax dollars here with our children, rather than sharing them with children all over.”
This “not my fault, not my problem” mentality that underpins education reform has a legal basis. Detroit, like urban centers on the nation, struggled to desegregate its schools during the 1960s and ’70s. Local leaders there turned to surrounding suburban communities as partners to improve city schools. Suburbanites recoiled, posting “This Family Will Not Be Bused” signs in their front windows.
In the 1974 Milliken v. Bradley decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Detroit’s busing plan was unconstitutional because the outlying districts were not responsible for Detroit’s problems.
Since then, though, historians have documented exactly the opposite. Struggling big city public schools cannot be understood in isolation from their neighboring successful suburban school counterparts and the regional and state policies that create separate school systems. Education reform without consideration of federal policies, state funding equations, tax laws and zoning policies will remain ineffective.
 And the L.A. Times looks at the issues being debated.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The PROMISE Act: SD. 101

So what else (besides this) is in the bill "An Act providing rightful opportunities and meaningful investment for successful and equitable education" (h/t to those writing the acronyms!) proposed yesterday?

I first want to point out that bills often start with definitions, and a lot of what I pointed out yesterday (both here and elsewhere) was through carefully parsing out what is said in those opening definitions. The concepts of a "district student aid floor," a "district student foundation budget," and a "district student aid increment" are not ones that currently exist; they would be created by this bill if it is passed as proposed.

The definitions also lay out a lot about the implementation:
  • health insurance is to be tied to the average rate of growth of all GIC plans over the prior three years
  • special education is included (as in FBRC) at 4% in district (5% for vocationals) 
  • out of district special education is three times the statewide foundation budget per pupil
  • low income--which, explained below, can be created via in-district form--is 185% of the federal poverty rate
  • the low income deciles go from 50% of per pupil to 100% of per pupil (I did a model of this for a class project; it's pretty impressive)
  • English language learner is an increment ($2537.49 proposed for FY20), with the portion that is employee benefits adjusted in line with GIC

Also, this is not a long bill! I know I wasn't the only one yesterday who expected something much longer. In some ways, this is because it is built on much that already exists.

The very first thing this does, which I think is really important but doesn't seem to get any attention (it was in S.2525, too) is set up implementation. This isn't set on a five year or seven year or what have you roll out. It sets up an annual meeting, to be held by January 15, at which there will be a joint decision by both branches of the Legislature and the Governor's office on how the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations will be implemented for the coming budget year. While this may sound strange, this is how revenue on which the next budget year will be decided works; there's an annual Joint Ways and Means hearing to which the Secretary of Administration and Finance also comes, and they hear from experts on what the next year's projections look like, and then they decide what the budget will be spending. This is also how the 1993 ed reform law's piece on funding was implemented; they decided each year how it would work. This is, I think, a conservative (note the small "c") way of rolling it out, which I would think would appeal to those most concerned about costs.
It does require that all pieces--and it is including the "district student aid increment" in this, which was of course not a commission recommendation--be phased in at the same pace. In other words, you don't get to peel off the poor kids and the English language learners and do the pieces where everyone gets a benefit.
However (speaking of everyone getting a benefit) it provides that "in any year prior" to the completion of implementation (which the bill requires a bill be passed to mark), minimum per pupil increases will be $50 times how implemented the bill is, as a percentage.

You'll remember we switched to economically disadvantaged in including poverty in the foundation budget when so many districts went to direct certification; this bill would bring back the term "low income" and provide for a form for districts to "certify family income level for the purpose of calculating low-income enrollment." Districts would have the option annually to choose direct certification or form collection as how their low income level was determined. This is a pretty big deal; there was a substantial change, as many remember, with the number of kids included in the category when this changed. Going back to a local process would include more kids in poverty, including that group, much spoken of, that may be concerned about a state or federal program under the current administration. (Note that this also kinda throws all models off, as going back to a local process means the poverty levels would be different.)

The bill sets up a foundation budget review commission to review and make changes every five years after holding at least four hearings "across the regions of the commonwealth"; the review is to "include, but not be limited to, the components of the foundation budget established under section 3 and subsequent changes made to the foundation budget by law." It also includes what the original commission was also charged with: effective resource use and allocation. Those who sit on the commission (which looks parallel to last time) are, it is noted, not in violation of the conflict of interest law if they work for a school district.

Oh, and the "commissioner of elementary and secondary education shall furnish reasonable staff and other support for the work of the commission." That's what happens when the Senator who writes the bill co-chaired the last commission!

And while they're setting up commissions, there is also the creation of the data advisory committee, as in the commission report, "to promote the improved use of school-level data to inform effective resource allocation at the local level." As I've said before, due to ESSA's requirement of school-level funding reporting, I think this may end up being a moot point. It has to report out annually.

And that, plus the "district student aid floor" about which I wrote yesterday, is it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

New Legislative session, new bill (this one gets wonky)

Usual disclaimer here (which lives over to the left on a full screen): this is my work, my words, my views; don't ascribe them anywhere else.
Let's start this off by noting what was in the Foundation Budget Reform Commission report (MASC summary here):
  • update the actual costs of health insurance
  • update the special education assumption (not to actual costs)
  • update the ELL provision
  • update the low income provision
In also requires the creation of a data commission, and notes (but doesn't recommend) the need for preschool and the missing pieces on inflation.

Last session's Senate bill included the four sections on updating funding (the four bullets) and the data commission.
The bill being filed today--SD.101--also does that, but it has quite a bit else going on. 


So what's the change?
Boston, in a word.

Let's back up and remember what determines the amount of state aid any district gets: every district has a foundation budget, calculating the adequate (per current law) amount is for that district to educate the students in the district (as of the prior year). The state then calculates how much of that foundation budget the local city or town(s) can afford to provide. The state fills in the rest.

Cities and towns vary widely in how much they can afford: there are districts like Holyoke and Lawrence that can barely afford single digits amount of their foundation budget. There are also districts that can fund their whole district budget will money to spare.

That includes Boston.
I've said this--lots!--before, but I'll say it again: Boston has a high-need school system in a WEALTHY city. In the current fiscal year, for example, Boston has a foundation budget of $861M; the state calculates that it can afford $100M more than that.
But every district in Massachusetts gets money, regardless of need. Every district gets--and this, too, includes Boston--gets 17.5% at least.

It's important to note that this is NOT part of the foundation budget. There is no equity issue around the wealthy districts being guaranteed state funding, regardless of need. That's a straightforward political calculation.


So what's the issue?
Charter schools in Massachusetts are funded at the level their local district is funded at. Charter school students are included in the district foundation budget; the funding of each student "follows" the student (with 100% of the tuition being reimbursed to the sending district in the first year) PLUS funding for facilities AND however much the sending district funds over foundation.

Now the charter schools don't send the district a bill; the funding for the charter schools, at whatever level, are deducted from the Chapter 70 aid of the sending district; it is netted out of the funding that is sent to the district.

The amount of that required funding is capped (that's the charter cap) at 9% or 18% (for what had been the lowest performing districts) of the foundation budget of the district, 'though if a district spends more on the local district schools, that is added on over and above that cap.

So if you are Boston, and you get 17.5% of your foundation budget in state aid and you have 18% of your foundation budget going to charter schools PLUS whatever percentage over you're spending on your district schools--in Boston, this was19.6% in FY17--yes, your state aid is dwindling, it appears.

Note, however, why this is: it is the nearly unique position of Boston to be wealthy enough to be getting the minimum amount of state funding AND have an 18% charter cap.
The bill proposed today would guarantee that, needed or not, Boston and all such districts would get their minimum state aid of their district foundation budget AFTER charter school funding is netted out.

This is not a foundation budget issue. This is not, I'd argue, even an equity issue. This is a charter funding issue. If Boston wants to reopen that can of worms, they can do that.

What about the other districts that have charter students and tuition?  Let's look at Lawrence as an example, since Mayor Walsh pulled them in this morning: in FY17, Lawrence lost 10% of their foundation budget of $185M to the charter schools that receive Lawrence students. If you deduct that $18.5M from the $178M that Lawrence received in Ch. 70 aid, Lawrence received about $160M in Ch.70 aid. Assuming the district foundation budget is about $167M (that's the same 10% off the foundation; it isn't that, as it isn't exactly, but it isn't a terrible model), this bill would say that Lawrence is guaranteed $145M--their target of 87.16%--in aid. Lawrence, though, net charter tuition, already is receiving $159M in aid, though (well over their target, yes). There's no advantage to Lawrence or any other district that receives aid in excess of their target in this, unless those targets shift, which would require Lawrence to fund more of their budget.

There are districts, possibly even like Worcester, that would see a bump from this. It is not, in those high charter but high poverty districts, anything at all like the main issue at hand.
This issue shouldn't be tied to the equity issue for the districts that cannot afford to fund their district schools. And frankly, it makes me angry to see Boston arguing in any way that this is an equity issue.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Note who says what on foundation budget reform

...and speaking of which, I don't want to miss this from MassLive which got several important players on record around foundation budget reform. Note what is, and what is NOT, said:
After the speech, Education Secretary Jim Peyser said the administration’s proposals will be phased in over time and “will represent a significant new investment in our K-12 education system, while at the same time recognizing that how much we spend is ultimately not as important as how well we spend it.”  Peyser declined to say how much money the governor would invest or where that money would come from. But, he said, “There will be a funding mechanism to ensure that it’s paid for.”
So the "not as important as how we spend it" line, again, which, when we're talking about required services like health insurance and special education versus regular classroom teachers seems like...we should do both.
Also " a funding mechanism" from a Governor who promised not to raise taxes. Hmm.

Senate President Spilka's remarks from earlier in the week are cited.

It's well known that the House leadership is more conservative than the Senate's (I've heard it said that the Democratic House leadership is more conservative than the Republicans in the Senate, but I won't vouch for that; they do certainly get more done on education funding); see this, which is the only comment I've been able to find from the House Speaker:
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said Thursday that education reform was one of the items already on his radar screen for the new session.
DeLeo said he hopes that Baker laying out his position will help move the debate forward. “I’m hopeful that maybe that might make things a little bit better, to see where it’s at, where he’s coming from on this most important subject,” DeLeo said.
...which looks a lot like the House getting cover from the Republican Governor.

And also:
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, who chaired the Senate Education Committee last session and is leading the Senate’s efforts to update the education funding formula, said, “I’m really glad that the governor has come into the table and is elevating the issue.”

But Chang-Diaz said she would have liked to see Baker give a more complete description of the scope of the problem, and she is not happy with the level at which Baker has funded education so far. However, Chang-Diaz said she is “keeping an open mind” and is hopeful Baker will adopt the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations.
At this point, we're all waiting for the Governor's budget, due January 23.
Fund Our Future said the Governor's proposal should be rejected; as far as I can see, the Governor hasn't actually made a proposal, so I don't think there's anything to reject.
Stand for Children goes farther than the Governor did himself, and thus thanks him beyond what is deserved:
“Governor Baker made fair school funding the top priority for his administration’s second term and for that he deserves the appreciation of every parent in Massachusetts who is concerned that their children are not getting the same quality education as students in our wealthier communities,” Aloisio said in a statement.
He...didn't say that. And let's wait to see what he proposes (certainly, with due skepticism) before we get out the ticker tape. 

Calling it like it is

South Coast Today nails what is probably going to be one of the major issues on foundation budget reform:
Our perspective is that cities like New Bedford and Fall River really do have far greater costs in the areas of special education and English language learning and the state as a whole is going to have to face that fact. Yes, all systems need more money for health care costs but the urban systems, in the end, have both the greatest costs and the least ability to pay. And it will in no way benefit the suburbs if their nearby cities continue to decline and become places where working men and women lack the education and skills to compete in the 21st century economy.
Giving everyone more for the sake of giving everyone more, without regard to need, is what will unduly drive up costs. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

"she must continue the means by which her present elevation has been gained"

From her earliest colonial history the policy of Massachusetts has been to develop the minds of all her people, and to imbue them with the principles of duty. To do this work most effectually, she has begun it with the young. If she would continue to mount higher and higher toward the summit of prosperity, she must continue the means by which her present elevation has been gained. 
Horace Mann, writing on "The Ground of the Free School System" from his tenth annual report as Secretary of the State Board of Education, 1846 
This week, we've opened a new session in the Legislature and a new term of office for the Governor. The Legislature was sworn in Wednesday; while we didn't hear anything specifically from House leadership on priorities, Senate President Spilka published a piece in the Boston Globe in which she said this:
Education has always been Massachusetts’ lodestar, beginning with the birth of public education. I’m proud that the Senate successfully advocated for a record investment in education funding this past year. The Legislature can also help ensure every child has access to a quality public education — and therefore a firm footing for future success — by passing a bill that fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission this session.
(thanks to the Senate President, incidentally, for linking to MASC's summary of the FBRC results in the editorial)

Thursday, Lieutenant Governor Polito and Governor Baker were both sworn in. In her speech, Polito said:
We must continue to strengthen our public education, realizing that our work isn’t done until every student in every community has access to great schools.
This sounds good on the surface, but what it means, of course, is not that every community has great schools, but that every student has access to great schools. This is a charter/choice line. It doesn't get every child into a great school--only "access"--and it doesn't ensure that every community has a school that is, as the state Constitution has it, working "for the preservation of their rights and liberties." This is not a line that supports universal public education in every district.

The Governor, whose spokesperson had floated education as a topic Wednesday, said the following:
We have a K-12 education system that, despite its limitations, is the envy of the country.
Ok, fine.
We added 4,000 seats to our superb vocational and technical schools.
Four thousand is a lot; this is the first time I've seen this number. I went back through the enrollment numbers of the past four years of the foundation budget, and I see an addition of 1202 seats in the regional vocational schools. I could use a source. Additionally, I'm always leery on "we" statements of this kind, and, as the state hasn't, until this year, supported increases in operational costs for vocational schools, I don't know what the state had to do with any seats that have been added. Those would be costs that were picked up by the local districts until they were added to the foundation budget (and even then, those are, for most of the regional vocationals, largely locally funded).

Here's the big section on education:
Twenty-five years ago, Massachusetts wasn’t a national leader in public education.
This is one of those statements, without state testing, state-by-state NAEP breakdowns, and the like, that's hard to comment on either way. UPDATE: I am informed that prior to the Ed Reform Act of 1993, Massachusetts was 3rd in the nation on NAEP. That seems like "a national leader in public education" to me.
Since then, we’ve achieved remarkable success by working together on a series of education reforms. As a result, Massachusetts students have scored number one on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams in English and math for much of the past decade. And last year finished first on the Advanced Placement exams as well.
"As a result" is another of those phrases...causation is a lot. I'm not going to argue, per se, but too often "education reforms" don't include school funding (or children's health insurance or high rates of education among adults or aspects of a social net).
But when it comes to the difference in performance between urban and suburban school districts, we can and must do better.
I agree "we can and must do better" on "the difference" between urban and suburban school districts--note that rurals are not mentioned here--but "in performance" is far too narrowing in what needs to be done between urban and suburban districts. What the Governor calls "performance" is a symptom; true change at the state level requires recognizing the the source of the problem.
The Foundation Formula needs to be updated and we’ll propose updates when our budget is filed later this month.
I agree.
However...
That doesn't sound like a Governor who is recognizing that the foundation budget is a billion or two billion dollars underfunded. If he were serious about this, he'd be forced to spend more than a single sentence on this, if only to talk about how he planned to fund it.

But progress isn’t just about money.
And here we go...
Education Commissioner Jeff Riley proved during his time as Receiver in Lawrence that significant progress can be made in improving school and student performance by changing the way our schools operate.
Before that, he transformed the Clarence Edwards Middle School in Boston from the lowest performing middle school in the city into one of the best.
What's interesting here is this dodges the question of if there was increased funding in Lawrence over that time; as we've discussed here before, there was, as the city had been funding the district below the minimum of funding required prior to state receivership.  I notice that now the city is up to a percent over net school spending (which isn't a lot, but is still an increase from what was previously seen). Perhaps, then, we've dismissed that myth; I hope so.
I think the above isn't wrong, but it is fairly sweeping.
With that success in mind, our budget will also include opportunities for underperforming school districts to invest jointly with the Department of Education in proven best practices like acceleration academies, professional development, after school enrichment and leadership development programs.
It is less the list here of additions than the utter lack of comprehension that the phrase "invest jointly" reveals. Communities that are already literally thousands of teachers short don't have wiggle room for additional programs; communities that are funding PD at a third or less of foundation don't have additional funding to "invest jointly" for more. This is so very, very clearly ignorant, which at this point is willful, of the reality in which those urban districts mentioned above live. That's inexcusable.
We all have an opportunity to give our kids their best chance to succeed in a 21st century economy. It’s up to us to come together and seize this opportunity and lay the groundwork for their success.
No argument there, Mr. Governor. Let us know when you're prepared to fund it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The foundation budget doesn't need reform "in combination" with anything

Here we go; this just in via State House News (which, sorry, is paywalled...I'll post a different link if there is one):
"In tomorrow's inaugural address Governor Baker will focus on education, discussing the administration's plan to update the Chapter 70 formula in combination with reforms to improve underperforming schools," Baker communications director Lizzy Guyton said in a statement Wednesday evening.
So-called "underperforming schools" have already been through multiple rounds of "reforms to improve" and there has been a SINGLE foundation budget creation, with no substantive updates.

Don't fall for this one. The Foundation Budget Review Commission made it clear that this funding is already owed districts. They don't get more on this one.

On AP, "advanced coursework," and how budget and policy can't be separated

While I tweeted out some of this yesterday, I wanted to talk some more about this article from Scott O'Connell on Worcester's "advanced coursework" numbers.

Let's first acknowledge that much of the point of having items included in the state accountability system is to have districts have just this discussion ('though it would be useful for the discussion to take place at actual school committee meetings, not only the pages of the local paper). The addition of access to advanced coursework recognizes the long history of access to such coursework being inequitable, with students of color, those whose first language is one other than English, those who are poor, being much less likely to have access to such courses and to take such courses in high school. This is part of the report for a reason: subgroup data is what needs to be focused on here.

It's also important to note that while both international baccalaureate and advanced placement courses are included in these numbers, that isn't all. The state's glossary defines it as:
This indicator is reported as the percentage of all students enrolled in 11th and 12th grade that achieve a passing score in at least one advanced course, including but not limited to Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), dual enrollment for credit, and other selected rigorous mathematics and science courses.
The "rigorous mathematics and science courses" (a limit which makes this humanities person bristle: figure out how to include humanities on that one, DESE!) naturally includes a significant number of courses that are neither AP or IB (it basically includes all math after algebra II, for example; the full list, downloaded from DESE, is here). Such courses "largely fall[ing]" within AP and IB is too sweeping a statement.

It is absolutely the case, though, that Worcester has made a major push in recent years not only to expand AP courses, but to push more kids into them, and I use that verb advisedly. There have been and continue to be open questions around the actual benefits to students of advanced placement courses, and this is something Worcester--and most districts--haven't addressed in any way.

In terms of access, the story is in the subgroups, and the article calls that out:
Worcester’s advanced course-completion numbers were not equal across student subgroups and schools. White (62 percent) and black (61 percent) students, for instance, had higher rates then [sic] Latino (49 percent) students. Economically disadvantaged students (52 percent), high needs students (51 percent), and English language learners (40 percent) also completed advanced classes at a lower rate than the district average.
You can find that data here (scroll down). You can also compare it to the prior year (which makes it look like something weird was going on last year with the students with disabilities subgroup), though a single year change may not be much to go on. This does show, however, what is improving, what is not, and by how much; you don't, as with economically disadvantaged students, want to see numbers getting smaller.

The category including courses beyond AP, however, does make the numbers that much more sobering: only 58% of the entire student body received a passing grade in ANY advanced coursework last year? That's troubling.

The article misses one important piece of information around AP access in Worcester, however; it's this, from the Advanced Placement policy in the student handbook (p. 68 in the PDF):
Students are responsible for costs for Advanced Placement Exams. The cost for one Advanced Placement Exam is $90.00. Scholarships and reduced fees are available for eligible students. School guidance counselors can provide additional information. Students must take the Advanced Placement Examination in their course in order to receive Advanced Placement credit for the course. Students who do not take the Advanced Placement Examination, but pass the course, shall receive honors credit for the course
Students are responsible for the costs of the exams; each exam costs $90. The fee has only been waived for some of the math and science courses in recent years; students have to pay $90 for each exam. Those eligible for free and reduced lunch--a form that is no longer filled out in Worcester under community eligiblity--are assessed half price.
Maybe $50 doesn't sound like a lot to you. Maybe you're not among the majority of WPS students living in poverty, who somehow have to come up with $50 for every single advanced placement course they take in high school.
Because Worcester doesn't fund the test, and because the policy incentivizes taking the test, the policy creates an inequity the budget doesn't fix. The inequity of one only furthers the inequity of the other.

And why does the AP/honors distinction matter? Because an A in an AP course counts as a 5 in a GPA, while an A in an honors course counts as a 4.
I'd suggest that asking our valedictorians how much they've had to pay in exam fees would be a good question around equity in access. Only those who can afford the fee can afford to have particularly high GPAs in Worcester.
And only those who can afford to pay can take AP courses at all in Worcester.

What you read here in 2018

Here's the yearly top ten list, with our usual beyond first place winner: once again, far and away the main landing page got the most hits. I'll endeavor to continue to make that worth your while!

The actual blog posts that got the most hits in 2018:

1-3: This year has lasted FOREVER, so I had forgotten: we got a new commissioner of education in K-12 education in Massachusetts this year! (Yes, that was this past year!) Thus it isn't suprising that the top three posts were what I could find online on the three finalists for commissioner: Angélica Infante-Green, Penny Schwinn, and now-Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. That is in order, and it doesn't surprise me that the post on Riley received the fewest hits, as he was the best known locally (and Infante-Green definitely had people pulling for her). I am a bit proud of managing to dig up quotes from the Globe's archives for that post, though.
I'm also going to note that just missing the top ten list is this post on what we missed in the Commissioner appointment process.

4. This April post about regional transportation came next, which I'm pleased to see: it is one of the things in school budgeting that either really matters to your district or really doesn't, and thus there are many who don't get why regional districts care so much about this.

5. The proposed rule change for what is considered for those applying for immigration to the U.S. came in next, and I'm glad we're finally seeing the way in which all these sorts of things impact our schools.

6. My grandfather died this past April. He was, among many other things, a school board member. This post is about Sam Dawson.

7. On bad ideas that just won't die as the empowerment zone presented--for a select few--in Worcester came in next. Watch for this one to continue to be pushed as we brace ourselves for another Baker term.

8. The Senate voting their foundation budget bill out of Senate Ways and Means came in next.

9. The July House bill giving less than half a loaf of the changes needed in the foundation budget came in next, as we all rushed to figure out what was in the very last minute proposal. Let's do better this session, eh?

10. An appropriate closure to the list: this April post on the conversation Worcester (still) isn't having came in next. Is there going to be a time that Worcester talks about racism's impact on schools?

As for 2019: We have a new Legislature to watch (and harry about not kicking the can on foundation funding). The Board of Ed has a full slate through June.
Oh, and Worcester is in an election year. There will be plenty to cover!