Monday, February 25, 2019

Looking back on Tinker's anniversay

Des Moines Public Schools Twitter wins today:

Not familiar with Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District? Read about it here.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, February 28

And the agenda is here. Much of it, the--finally!--report of the superintendent on FY20 included, is items held from last meeting due to the three hours of public testimony on sex ed.

Relatedly, if for some reason you didn't read Bill Shaner's comprehensive cover story in last week's Worcester Magazine on Worcester's long and winding road to not getting anywhere on sex ed, you really should.

That FY20 report appears also to be the only place as yet that anyone has compared actual impacts of the three (as yet) bills proposed in the Legislature on reforming the foundation budget, 'though of course it only does so for Worcester. Scott O'Connell asked Secretary Peyser about the lesser funding in the Governor's bill in his interview covered in yesterday's T&G, to which Peyser gave the meaningless response that he thinks "people should wait to see how these proposals unfold,” before responding. Not when we have actual analysis in front of us, thank you.


A number of the other items that have been held from the prior meeting are related to transportation, responded to here.  Also of note: going to subcommittee is this:
To review bid specifications for student transportation services and award contract to lowest responsive and responsible bidder for a contract term to begin in June 2020.
That's the bid for school buses! If you haven't been happy with the WPS bus service, now is the time to speak up (and keep an eye out for that Finance and Operations subcommittee meeting)! Goodness knows I plan to.

There are an array of recognitions, thanks, appointments, and such.

There's also still a prior year payment (of $48 to Learnwell Education) and I am curious if anyone at any point is going to bring up that this is not good practice.

There is...I wouldn't really even call this a response...an acknowledgement of the request for information on how the district plans to implement civics education ("we're going to pilot some things" is not an answer). The bill is much longer than quoted, has many more pieces than referenced, and this should reassure those asking not at all.

There is a muli-part response to an item on a specific dyslexia program (the link goes to the part that actually responding about the program; there is a summary of district sped literacy initiatives here, a summary of the dyslexia screening law here, a dyslexia evaluation checklist here, and what appears to be a copy of an individual's discussion of types of dyslexia here), of which the upshot appears to be no, we're not going to do anything with this.

I am going to interrupt myself for a moment here to call attention to how little sense the amount of time and attention being given to those items. Should there be a response to the second? Maybe, although evaluation of the appropriate models of learning ability is precisely why one has professionals; responding to a multi-grade requirement imposed by the state that may well require additional funding should take more than a sentence, on the other hand.

Mr. O'Connell and several other members propose to comment on the state health education standards (which won't be set out for public comment for a bit as yet).

Several members wish to support HR 141, which would make those who get a government pension, currently not eligible for Social Security eligible; you can read the argument from those in favor here. 

There's a request for an update on bringing down school suspensions.
There's a request to administration to change policy in the handbook regarding headwear (as that's under policy, the committee can just do it).
There's a request from Mr. Comparetto and others to use some of the taxes from marijuana for schools, and also to increase school funding "in light of new revenues coming into the city."
Five members have co-sponsored an item to support the PROMISE act (Note that this will go nicely after a presentation that shows that easily being the best of the bills for WPS of those thus far proposed.)
Mr. Comparetto also wants to reduce state spending on prisons and spend money on schools.
Miss Biancheria wants an update on the use of the Shannon Grant.
She also wants an update on lawsuits.
Mr. Monfredo, who is under the impression the school districts bans cell phone use in school (it does not) wants to consult with "secondary school principals" about their use. Perhaps we're missing several groups of people there?
Miss McCullough is asking for an update on graduation rates by ethnic categories.
Mr. O'Connell wants an update on a court case.
The Committee is being asked to approve:

There is also a posting for an non-specific executive session, which is not something that one can do legally under the Open Meeting Law.

Parenting style and its connection with public policy

Good piece in the Washington Post covering how a country's income inequality appears to correlate with what we might otherwise think of as parenting "style":
...we have found in our research that varying parenting styles among nations are rooted primarily in economics — specifically, economic inequality. The common denominator in countries where intense, achievement-oriented parenting abounds is a large gap between the rich and the poor. Conversely, where inequality is low and governments provide safety nets, a more relaxed, permissive parenting style holds sway.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What are we doing with Doherty?

Thanks to Steven Foskett for getting in today's Telegram and Gazette that the Worcester City Council is getting updates on the building projects at South High and Doherty (not North, as the headline has). It's in the ridiculously-difficult-to-navigate City Manager portion of the Council agenda for Tuesday; check page 32 and following.
South has actual dirt being moved around, so clearly something is happening over there. But what's going on with Doherty?
You might remember that I asked this back in August, as well, when it had been six months since the school had been accepted to Feasibility. Well, now it has been a year.
The Feasibility phase of the program requires that the city:
...document their educational program, generate an initial space summary, document existing conditions, establish design parameters, develop and evaluate alternatives, and recommend the most cost effective and educationally appropriate preferred solution
And what is it that we're told the City is going to be doing now?
The City of Worcester has selected an Owner’s Project Manager to assist in the oversite of all aspects of this project. In December, DPW&P’s Architectural Division issued a Request for Design Services to secure an architect to conduct the Feasibility Study. The MSBA and the City of Worcester has scheduled a Designer Selection Panel Meeting on March 12, 2019 to review the five submittals received. The MSBA will also schedule interviews for the selected firms in early April. The City and MSBA anticipate an architect to be under contract for this work by May 1, 2019. 
The selected architect will begin the Preliminary Design Program immediately after contract execution. This study will determine the required program needs for a comprehensive high school with an enrollment of 1670 as determined by the MSBA and Worcester Public Schools. The Preliminary Design Program will establish the needed infrastructure required to meet the program. It is anticipated the Preliminary Design Program will be completed and submitted to MSBA by August 1, 2019. Along with the development of the Preliminary Design Program, the City, architect, and OPM will begin to study options that will lead to a Preferred Schematic Report. This Report exams the condition of the existing facility and the requirements to upgrade it to design current standards. This Report will also study the existing building’s ability to accommodate the design program or the existing building with additions. The Report will also examine building a new facility at the current site or at an alternate site. The MSBA has established the June 2020 Board Meeting to act on the Preferred Schematic Report and authorize Schematic Design.
That's...everything in the Feasibility phase, save selection of the Owner's Project Manager, which maybe you should have mentioned the name of. So what has the city been doing for the past year? As far as this report reveals, nothing. And the school website doesn't even having a building link on it.

There's a few reasons why this matters. First, nothing else is moving until Doherty does. Want a new Burncoat? Not til Doherty moves. Noticing we have some aging elementary schools? Not til Doherty moves. Doherty is the bottleneck in the system.
Also, notice that there have been no meetings and no notices about what is happening. This tends to be the way the city operates, so it can then spring a "deadline's looming, we have to do this" option. The obvious version of this is the city says, "sorry, the only option we have is to take Newton Hill." The less obvious version of this is the city has brought to their attention that most of the unbuilt space within Doherty's quadrant is preserved open space, parkland or otherwise. Because the city seems stuck on the notion of a suburban campus, they're looking for acreage, just like they did for Worcester Tech.
It's useful to note that Worcester Tech took as long as it did (once we started trying) because the city was sued over the project. I would assume the same would happen if the city tried to take other preserved open space for the program. There are other options; we could convert buildings. We could build up.
The first thing we have to concede, though, is that Doherty isn't in the suburbs.
I will also reiterate: This is public funding for a public project of major concern. There should be regular public meetings happening. There are not.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Leading where?

I think of the February and April vacation weeks as two of the most unequal weeks of the school calendar. While some families head off to warm beaches or ski slopes, and some school districts sponsor trips to see and experience international locations, many families struggle to ensure their kids will be fed these weeks with no free and reduced lunch. There are few weeks (all of summer is certainly another) where the gaps among all those receiving a "free and adequate" education in Massachusetts is visually so vast.

I'm thinking of this as I read this piece on Commonwealth Magazine on why we've seen a change in leadership in the Senate side of the Joint Committee on Education:
“Education reform was the reason I ran for the Legislature in the early 2000s,” she said as she walked to her office from a midday event at the State House. “As chairman of Ways and Means, we implemented the ed reform, the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations, three times in the last two sessions. Clearly it’s a top priority and it remains one.”
Asked whether she thought her appointment last week of Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester as the Senate chair of the Education Committee (replacing Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain) was a key step in moving the legislation forward, Spilka said: “I believe so.”
Since what separated the House and Senate bills in the last session was that the House bill didn't include funding for English learners and poor kids, one has to wonder, at least where I sit in Worcester, what this means for the negotiating position of the Senate.

And also, this.

Monday, February 18, 2019

So how ARE we funding charters in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts public schools, both charter and district, are funded through a combination of state and local funds, with the split of how much of each based on the local capacity to pay for an adequate education.

This is the principle underlying the state's calculation of Chapter 70 aid to districts.
The state gives at least 17.5% of the foundation budget to every district, regardless of that district's ability to fund its school system, and regardless of the level at which it does fund its school system.

To that, the state generally adds--though there is no Constitutional requirement to do so--that no district receives less aid than in a prior year, and every district receives a per pupil increase of prior years.

Charter schools--whose students are counted in their sending district's foundation budget--are funded on a per pupil basis at the same level (at or above foundation) as their district's students. These funds are entirely taken from Chapter 70 aid, regardless of the proportion at which their district is funded by the state.

The sending district is reimbursed for the amount of the per pupil funding for the first year a student attends a charter school; theoretically, there is also supposed to be funding in subsequent years, but that never happens. Any positive increase in charter funding triggers a state reimbursement. The principle here is that there is a transition as the district readjusts to not having that student's funding.

The model is presented as "the funding follows the student," that is, if the student attends the charter, the funding of that individual student goes with that student.

We now, however, see several other rules being presented:

  • The Governor's funding bill argues that only districts that see positive real change in students over five years, not any single year, should get reimbursements. Thus this is no longer, it appears, about transitions, which do happen every year, but about sustained charter growth being recognized as a funding issue. Changes every year are, in fact, a funding issue, still. Sustained charter growth is also a funding issue, but transitional funding doesn't deal with the issue at scale.
  • The Governor's budget and the PROMISE bill both add concern for the amount of funding a district gets from the state. That this funding is not a matter of constitutional need has been set aside to a principle of every district has to get their bit and further that the bit must reach the district schools. Thus the question of the money following the child, and the principle of funding at least in large part being based on district need, has been moved over due to the demand of every single district getting and retaining Chapter 70 aid. 
I, perhaps obviously, have opinions on this. Setting that aside for the moment, however, I want us to recognize that we are changing our conversation around charter school funding here. I don't want us to be fooling ourselves around what it is that we are doing. 

On Abby Kelley Foster Charter and the poster removal

...reported over here, two thoughts:
  • while we've certainly seen plenty of examples of this being an issue with charter schools, let's be cautious about an assumption this doesn't happen in district schools.
  • if you think that the school's namesake's position on Black Lives Matter and the disproportionate death of young black men by police officers wouldn't be that of Colin Kaeperneck, you don't know much about Abby Kelley Foster
Go where you are least wanted, for there you are most needed. -motto of Abby Kelley Foster

We can't ignore this, Worcester

I've already tweeted this several times, but note that this is the demographic makeup (and trending) of the Worcester Public Schools:

This is WPS data reported to DESE; the chart is from this report shared with the Mayor's Commission on Latino Educational Excellence (and which I want to talk more about!).

That got me wondering: if our largest and fastest growing portion of the population is Latino students: how is Worcester doing with graduation of Latino students?
Note that you can click on these and they'll get bigger and you can zoom in. Last year here is '17.

This is the four year (non-adjusted) graduation rate for the Worcester Public Schools taken off the district profile page. This isn't, note, all groups of students; I haven't broken out Asian students (6.7% of WPS in 18-19), Native American students (0.2% in 18-19), or multi-race non-Hispanic students (4.3% in 18-19). I did also add English learner students (yellow) to all students (blue), Black students (red), Hispanic Latino (green), and white students (white).
Those green and yellow lines look rather flat to me these past few years, particularly in contrast to the years prior (look at those gains by English learners starting in '11, for example), and even in contrast to the other portions of the population and to all students.
UPDATE: Here's that same chart with a data table:

Has anyone been talking about this? Or doing anything about this?

Lest it look as though I am cherry-picking my data, here's the five year data ('17 isn't here yet), which looks a bit better for Latino students.
Five year rate so far has only been released through '16. You can click to make this bigger.
No student group here is reaching 90%.
Note, also, though, that "a bit better" still looks like 1 out of every five Latino kids, themselves about 43% of the full enrollment, not graduating in five years. And the English learners rate fell this past year.
UPDATE: And with a data table:

Those kids are not only the future of the district; they're the future of the city. We can't ignore this, because this is Worcester.
And I haven't seen this discussed by the administration or by the school committee.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Governor Baker submits a school funding bill: H 70

note that for the most part, the Legislature doesn't as yet have bill numbers for what is filed; thus everything is "SD" and "HD" until they have numbers, which is for "Senate Docket" and "House Docket." Somehow the Governor jumped the queue and already has a bill number, which is (as some have pointed out, an appropriate) H.70.
(I always wonder about these things and there never seems anyone to ask, so I try to include them.)

This is "An Act to Ensure Equity and Excellence in Education," which demonstrates that the Senate has better acronym writers. It has been referred to the Joint Committee on Education.
It's also probably good to note that there is at least some indication that this isn't a popular bill. 


The thing that is most important to know about House bill 70 is that is the product of more than one author and more than one motivation. There is a Governor Baker-oriented school funding bill with some Foundation Budget Review Commission implementation with some additional funding pieces including a draconian (literally?) funding consequence for underperforming schools, on the one hand. There is also a bill that combs through the school funding law as it currently exists and updates it to the way that we actually operate; that part comes to us, I believe, from the school finance people at DESE.
That last part is fine. We could argue over if this is really how we want to run things or if we want to make other changes, but making the actual law reflect reality on the pieces behind the calculation (not the foundation budget itself) is a reasonable thing to do.
These two pieces are intermixed, though, so disentangling the parts is necessary.

The Governor sends along a filing letter presenting his argument and his perspective on what he is doing. I don't know who wrote it--it sounds like Secretary Peyser, but that could mean nothing--but certainly expresses what I have seen of Governor Baker's view on education.

The piece that I want to wave a giant red flag on is the piece expanding the Commissioner's power, which of course has nothing to do with the foundation budget at all:
  • the first bit is that currently a turnaround plan created by a described stakeholder group (MGL Ch. 69, section 1J, subsection e) is issued by the superintendent: "the superintendent shall issue a final turnaround plan for the school and the plan shall be made publicly available." The union or the school committee may then appeal the plan to the Commissioner. This bill would have the superintendent submit the plan to the Commissioner and only after his approval would the plan be publicly available. This would, obviously, render moot after that any appeal to the Commissioner by school committee or union. This is a big deal. 
  • not only the superintendent, but also the commissioner will conduct an annual review of any school deemed underperforming; this is a change from what is done right now. It's not clear how that would be possible. The kind of review done by DESE is a comprehensive, time consuming endeavor by all involved. 
  • the actions of the commissioner if a school substantially fails to meet goals, the commissioiner can appoint an examiner, require changes, or appoint an external partner; all of these are provided in the law already, but this section puts it together.
  • the big issue is the funding piece of this, as the bill allows the commissioner if he "determines that the district is taking insufficient steps to implement changes to the turnaround plan" to take away the district's Ch. 70 aid at the beginning of the school year (if you were looking for evidence that whomever behind this is missing how school budgets work, there you go!) up to an amount equal to per pupil allocation times the number of students in the school--this in essence means that school's foundation budget. That funding would be set aside in a "Public School Turnaround Fund" of the state "until such time as the district implements the changes as determined by the commissioner." In turn, the district could not lower the school's funding, but could only be taking out of non "direct access to students." If we did this, Massachusetts would join the ranks of states that have made the grave error of taking away funding from underperforming schools. This builds on the myth that districts are overspending or spending ill on administration--most are not--and that services that don't directly access students don't serve them. This is, to give but one example, the reverse of what the state itself found in Southbridge, where it found the district was under-administered. We absolutely should not do this.
About the foundation budget piece
  • while it keeps being said that the bill fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, it does not in a very specific way: while the bill does implement changing the assumed in-district special education enrollment from 3.75% to 4% for regular districts, it does not shift vocational schools/districts from 4% to 5%. Those from DESE whom I have heard speak to this have argued that the needs of special education students at vocational schools were not as high as the fully population of students in special education elsewhere, thus the shift was not warranted. That wasn't the argument put forward by the Commission. 
  • the bill does, as of FY21, boost out-of-district special education to three times the state average per pupil foundation budget
  • the bill does, as of FY21, tie health insurance inflation to the GIC rate annually. It resets the rate for FY20 at about a 30% increase over the actual proposed budget for FY20. Offhand, I don't think that gets us where we need to be in terms of the current gaps between spending and foundation budget allotment.
  • it keeps English learner as an increment, as added by the Senate this past year, and makes the increment between 27 and 33% of the base rate, progressively weighted to the higher grades (the bill uses the same numbers actually proposed in the FY20 budget). As the Foundation Budget Review Commission gave an actual dollar amount in 2015, it isn't right to make that comparison, and the progressive funding (which is the way these bills seem to be going) is a positive step. 
  • it includes additional funding for poor students, keeping the decile ranking system and current direct certification counts, and using the same dollar amounts in the first five deciles that are used in the FY20 budget, but weighing the latter increments more heavily, with decile 10 topping out at $500 per pupil more than the FY20 budget does. What this doesn't do is break more than 50% of the base rate per pupil, however, save in high decile younger grades. It takes the smallest step possible within implementation, which recommended between 50-100%. They do also (as in the FY20) add the "high needs" category for decile 9 and 10 and 20% EL.
  • there is not any inclusion of a data commission. This, to me, more than anything, says that someone (DESE?) thinks that work is done; see below for more on that. It was, however, a Commission recommendation.
  • Note that on all of the places where it includes a dollar amount effective FY20 that is different than the actual budget for FY20, the budget is what would happen, but the bill then would become the goal rate towards which implementation was moving. 
Pieces that are neither of the above:
  • The bill creates two trust funds, one for further regionalization encouragement and another for to stash the above money that would be taken from districts with underperforming schools at the Commissioner's discretion. 
  • The bill requires spending reporting by foundation budget category and can require it by enrollment and by program area, which is kind of a way of wrestling with the question of if we have enough data without requiring a data commission (this is a super DESE way of handling this, by the way; they know the data exists, so they're just requiring that it get reported).
  • The bill creates a regionalization assistance program and creates at Regionalization Fund for grants for planning and implementation. It gives priority to rural areas (without defining them) and other districts with persistent enrollment declines. 
  • It changes the charter funding in a couple of ways. First, it boosts the facilities component that all charters get to $938 and then indexes it to inflation (that number has been the same for quite a number of years). It shifts back to 100% for the first year, 60% for the second, 40% for the third year of what they are calling transitional assistance. Most importantly, the bill changes who gets tuition reimbursement: transitional assistance funds the difference between the current charter enrollment MINUS the highest enrollment of the previous five years, thus only districts where charter schools are actively growing will receive this funding. It also creates and codifies "supplemental charter assistance" for districts that have low Ch. 70 and high charter numbers; this year, that means $6M for Boston and two towns on Martha's Vineyard (please tell me how THAT is the highest and best use!) It also ties both these sections together to be funded at the same pace.
  • The bill creates a commission on rural schools to come back with trends, projections, and recommendations for rural schools in the state, and their report would be due June 30, 2020. 

The wonky "we do this but it isn't written down" bits are as follows:
  • it spells out the components (and only the components!) being currently used in the foundation budget (in section 11). Note that this is part of what caught those who wrote the House bill (which we'll get to eventually, as well), as they used old language on preschool and "bilingual" students. This includes definitions of combined effort yield, excess effort, effort reduction, municipal revenue growth factor (in fact, it spells out how to calculate it!), minimum aid, net school spending, and so on, which in many cases were not codified. Note that this would put into the law something which was done this year, which is requiring that districts with a combined effort yield equal to or greater than 175% of its foundation budget be responsible for the full 82.5% of its foundation budget.
  • it eliminates a bimonthly recalculation of the ch. 70 formula so that it can work with the state budget cycle (section 12)
  • it gets rid of the idea of "overburden aid" which we haven't been doing in years (section 13)
  • it codifies net school spending as a requirement and requires the Commissioner let districts know of their minimum local contributions by March 1 (which happens now through the Governor's budget, 'though that isn't necessarily where it ends up). It also drops a 30 day waiting period on preliminary estimates, and drops an old method of calculating regional vocational funding (section 14) 
  • it repeals an automatic reduction in local required appropriation if the final state appropriation is reduced (section 15)
  • it codifies taking school choice and charter tuition from a district's Chapter 70 appropriation. (section 17) Did you know this wasn't in the MGL? I didn't!
  • it repeals the original phase-in of the law from 1994 (section 18)
  • it codifies that in any year in which there isn't enough funding to do everything, foundation aid gets funded first (section 19)

And the bill states that it will go into effect July 1.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Do your homework

I'm intentionally not doing anything with this on any other platform, but I do want to note that Pioneer Institute demonstrates that they don't understand charter funding, school budgeting, or special education in their latest.
The idea that somehow only the districts that are suffering if they are majority locally funded for charters is patently false. The reason that districts are majority state funded is those are districts that lack local resources to pay for education. In a number of the districts that "only" receive minimal amounts of state aid, the state aid is a fairly minimal part of their funding. Districts receiving 17.5% of their foundation budget in state aid in some cases could entirely fund their school budgets themselves. And then some. It is ridiculous to point to such districts as the "only" ones suffering from charter reimbursement, when the minimum funding model is generally regarded a political necessity more than a budgetary one.
All general fund funding for schools is pooled in a school budget; state aid isn't something that is dipped into when the inclination takes a district. This is a silly framing of how this works. The charter tuition "only being paid for with state money" doesn't mean it hurts the district any less to lose the funding.
And charters, exactly like district (non-vocational) schools, get 3.75% of their enrollment as assumed in-district special education. That is it. No one counts anything, and the assumption for the charters is the same as it is for every non-vocational school.

Learn something before opining.

Local accountability?

A new report from Mass Inc walking through some thinking on local accountability for Gateway school districts was released yesterday; it's available for download here. You may have caught yesterday's Commonwealth Magazine article essentially arguing that there hasn't been any.
While I, too, greeted the notion of some new version of something called accountability, particularly for Gateway districts, with a sigh, there is a shift that could be happening worth talking about.
I was on a panel about this yesterday at the State House, and for me, part of this was putting it into context: we've replaced No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act federally, around which much of the conversation was in sum a sort of "Back off" message. That doesn't, of course, mean that testing isn't still very much the largest part of school and district measures from the federal level to the state level. But putting other things in for accountability and making the school report cards broader would seem--we hope--to open a conversation around what we want schools to do and be.
I don't know that we have those conversations.
I think it's also worth highlighting how poorly Gateway school committees reflect their student bodies.
And how competitive those races have been.

Mass Inc argues that this means we need new models of school committees--not, they propose, mayorally appointed committees, of which a review of the research reveals no real advantage--but of hybrids with seats set aside for local organizations. The answer, though, to not enough democracy, as revealed by who serves, is not less democracy; it's fixing the democracy we have for it to function more representatively.
The report talks about site councils, which I agree are one of the great unfulfilled items of the 1993 ed reform law. Reading through the law, it's striking how much time and energy and money have gone towards the other parts--the funding, state standards, MCAS, charter schools--with none on site councils. The model, though, was clearly to take the authority that famously was devolving to the school level and not put that solely under the judgment of the principal. Having then parents who are elected by other parents at a school who have done policy and budget at the school level creates a pipeline to school committee candidacy.
It would mean, though, that we have to want it: we have to genuinely create a table for this converation that is everyone's table for these conversations. Is that something that Gateway city leadership is really ready to do?

Worcester and sex ed. Or lack thereof.

Worcester, you should read today's Worcester Magazine cover story on Worcester's long and winding road to (not having) sex ed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

How should charter schools be funded, anyway?

We seem to have a solid pushback happening on this charter funding issue. The first place that happened was Vice Chair James Morton's argument on the expansion of Excel Academy, which Katie Lannan of State House News captured well:
Morton, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston, said he was "deeply troubled by the dilemma that I think we get placed in every time there's a charter proposal in front of us."
"We find ourselves in a position of diverting resources from one opportunity to another without ever really addressing the underlying issue, which is finding some other source of funding for charter schools so that we can have both our public school children getting what they need and our charter school children having an opportunity to attend charter schools that might be a Montessori school that addresses the way they particularly might learn," he said. "It's going to get pretty close to the moment where I vote against anything until we deal with that underlying issue, and I think that moment is today."
Morton was among the four opposed.

On the same day, the Local Government Advisory Commission had their regular meeting with the Lieutenant Governor, and their reaction to the state's funding of education ended up in a similar place:
Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith said he hoped that the dialogue could continue with the administration and the Legislature, and that both would consider "integrating in a more aggressive way a solution to the charter school problem as a way to bridge the severe fiscal challenges of the largest school districts in the state and the smallest school districts."
And note the quotes from Sandwich and from Northampton. The Governor's budget's "smoothing" of charter reimbursement plus the "supplemental" funding on charter reimbursement going to high wealth communities hits many communities hard.
Don't forget: the House and Senate budgets are still to come. If this doesn't work SPEAK UP.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

February Board of Ed: FY20

notes on budget
Riley says Governor's budget "meets the recommendation of the foundation budget review commission"
it does not; no voke increase in sped
Bell introduces
O'Donnell: notes there is the budget and a funding bill
Ch.70 is a 4.1% increase over prior year ($200.3M increase)
Governor's bill codifies how running local contribution requirements and cleans up sections of chapter that are no longer in effect
"it's a pretty big moment"
sped: goal of 3x statewide foundation budget per pupil
benefits: goal based on GIC updated annually
economically disadvantaged: 1-5 constant and increasing only by inflation; 6-10 more progressive, wider gap
high needs concentration: decile 9 or 10 plus 20% or more EL students
"would be about $100M more over the phase in period"
then more differentiation
did try to distribute costs across more categories functionally
"trying to get at some staffing assumptions that we thought made sense" particuarly in guidance and staff support
economically disadvantaged matching with same state services for qualification
Peyser comments that it is relative share not total number (so I think he's saying it doesn't matter as much?)
early college: new rate $1050 higher than high school rate
EL : differentiated by grade span, higher funding for later grades; also all who meet or exceed exit requirements are no longer counted in the foundation budget
"we do that really to try to improve equity" as districts are counting students differently
statewide, reduces by about 6100 students
new goal for gudiance and psych starting in FY21
assumed in-district special ed to 4% for all
vocational schools don't have higher need special ed students, so do not include change to voke to 5%
$1B in current dollars; increase of $3.3B by 2026
aggregate wealth model in effect; 100% gap reduction; combined effort yield greater than 175% of foundation require local contributions set at not less than 82.5%

charter reimbursement: enrollment growth over a five year period, not just one year
"do you have more students going to charters now than you did five years ago"
Wulfson: trying to target the aid to where it was intended to be "you had a new school opening, or you had a school growing"
West refers to this as "correcting the treatment of enrollment"
Peyser: current method takes inflation into account
one reason that this has not been fully funded with respect to inflation
McKenna: it has not been fully funded
Wulfson: "the past couple of years, we haven't even funded the first year, never mind the others"
six years "just was very difficult for districts to plan for"
Peyser said it was hard to plan for the drop from 100% to 25% (I think most districts assumed they weren't getting the 25% so...?)
Boston, couple of Martha's Vineyard districts getting "supplemental aid": $6M high charter tutition costs and low Ch. 70
charter tutition in excess of 9% of NSS
this argues a broken understanding of why the state funds some districts more than others
facilities tuition up to $938/pupil tied to inflation

circuit breaker: $323M in House 1; $4.5M increase, but is tied to Dept. of Developmental Services
70% reimbursement
regional transporation level funded, would be 76%
homless student reimbursement 37%
non-resident vocational transportation 6%

new trust funds for low performing schools ($50M) and school safety ($30M)

increasing retained revenue for educator licensure
"would fully appropriate the revenue for a year"
adult basic eduation increased by $4.27M (outside earmarks) includes more workforce development  and adult basic education
assessment and curriculum maintains FY19 (higher, post supplemental budget) rate

McKenna notes that there had been funding accompanying civics implementation
fund is approved by there is no allocation
don't talk enough about the achievement gap: summer learning, 4 year olds, English learners, kids not getting what they should be doing
"I get concerned, like this morning we spent most of our time talking about charter schools...this achievement gap, and how are we focusing our money on that"
don't hear talking about access for four year olds, I don't hear about summer learning

Stewart asks about joint meeting with Higher Ed?
Sagan: tried, were unable to coordinate a date

Bell resources for English learners rolling forward from last year's level


February Board of Ed: science MCAS competency

Stapol: science is the final test to transition
interim standard for first two classes to take the test
removal of types of tests, not removing tests
motion carries

February Board of Ed: arts standards

backup is here
Peyser feels...something...isn't embodied in standards that follow
art appreciation, arts history, vocabulary
"more guidance, expectations for how broad, how deep"
McKenna: timeline?
plan is to send for public comment, back for Board approval in June, next year as a planning year, implementation in the following year
"significant burden on teachers throughout our system"
no funding for implementation or PD
"created a standard and then not provided the support to get to that standard"
"this is very important, I'm very enthusiastic about it, but it is A LOT."
discussion of how a standard might apply across disciplines
Moriarty: what kind of lead time do you need for implementing new educational training
McKenna: the rules change, they're already in the program...the lead time usually isn't long enough
"this is a road far to travel here"
"look at these...could you do these?"
Riley quips members "could present in June" following up "I'm looking forward to the interpretive dance from the Secretary"
Stewart: could we put on the agenda next month? critical point on funding
"where do we want to go"

VOTE to go to public comment

February Board of Ed: charter schools

new applicants conclusion
Riley: has expanded charters and has closed charters
"have one of the strongest charter school sectors in the country"
decision made on
  1. faithfulness to charter
  2. academic program success
  3. organizational viability

three prospectuses over the summer: invited two for full review
Equity Lab in Lawrence withdrew
Wildflower in Haverhill not recommending "at this time" due to concerns about governance and special education
is invited to a detailed debrief
"no new charters going forward" as the only one remaining as of February 1 did not meet criteria
some believe Q2 did not allow for further expansion; did not reverse current law
Sagan wants to talk about Wildflower, what worked and didn't work
staff notes that they had not been invited to submit a final application last year; this year they were
composition of applicant group has changed; it is not the same applicant group as last year
only two remaining members from prior group
Chuang: none of the area of evidence are tied to Montessori model; charter is awarded to Board of Trustees
insistence on the founding group apart from management organization
need to see that group has capacity to operate school and oversee contract
far fewer applicants who are able to put forward applications
"we now know more about what does lead to success and what does not"
West: so you don't think we've created a process by which an implict requirement is three years of work with the Department
Chuang: no, but we won't lower the standards
Peyser: trustees don't have sufficient capacity to manage the school
"at one level that's a...straightforward thing to solve"
model of distributive one room schoolhouses where the teachers are highly empowered
"is there something about that in particular...that makes this particularly problematic? Or is it that just need to get their model in order?"
Chuang one of the most attractive parts of application
because of unique model, clarity of board and management is that much more important
teacher leadership all the way down to the classroom level

Chelsea campus of Excel Academy
recommended for 56 seats
Stewart: looking at financial information; explain the unqualified audit opinions
projected cash flow looks to be on the rise, cash balance
Chuang: long track record of managing their funding well, are in middle of building
Doherty: speak in opposition
notes letter written to Board from Chelsea superintendent Mary Bourque
"I close with this plea that now is not the time to expand Excel Academy. It will only hurt our students more than they have been hurt these past few difficult years...by diverting additional funds."
Doherty: there is no other district in the state that faces the challenges that Chelsea does
McKenna: think it's encouraging that the school's suspension rate has gone down
concern continues to be the suspension rate
was taken aback by discipline system; students given a particular color shirt to wear which is "humiliating"
"for a whole school to allow that, to think that is okay, that's startling"
know some kids at Excel, high school needs to beef up guidance to students applying to college
"when we see these sorts of things happening in classroom, that it's a red light that says 'professional development, professional development'"
restorative justices, good professional development programs
"it makes me nervous here...'in class restitution'...maybe they've created a new name for it"
"needs to spend more time on professional development for their teachers and supporting them in their efforts"
Riley: thanks McKenna for her comments
schools are always looking to improve
eyes would never glaze over at anything (Doherty) would say
doing good things for kids
Morton: dilemma placed in every time a charter is placed before them
"children who have to stay in public schools...have no choice"
"finding some other source of funding for charter schools"
"it's getting pretty close to that moment when I vote against anything...and I think that moment is today"
Sagan: the funding issue has been before the Legislature
"many difficult and, I would say, false narratives...have never gotten an answer of what districts have done with" tuition reimbursement
Morton "we cannot just sit by and let the issue hang there a cloud...we have a mortal imperative to push the issue"
Peyser: there's no difference from a student moving from one district to the next
"minority of funding comes from district"
"personally feel that those are taxpayers in Chelsea, and they have a right to those funds as well"
note that this is no way constitutional
"if we can't vote for an incremental increase, then I don't think we understand what we are here for"
Moriarty " will vote for this transfer"
hits "those least like to take that blow"
Stewart: "Mr. Chair, I don't think 'holding students hostage' helpful language...20 years on, it is time to take on the funding"
Chelsea has 14 charter schools to which to currently pays out over $14M...this will put it over $15M
"we have to hold the equity of all students in our decision making"
Sagan says his language was accurate, thinks would be turning back on all those families
Doherty: questions Sagan's perspective of the mission of the Board
if we think the decision is going to help 56 students and potentially hurt 6000 students, then we are within the mission of the Board to do that
vote is 7-4 (Stewart, Doherty, McKenna, Morton opposed)

Paulo Friere Charter
recommendation to continue with probation with additional conditions
Moriarty: had this been a recommendation to close, I would have voted in favor of that, too
"We can't have this."
"have to have the support of a fully committed" board
10-1 (Morton opposed)

Riley says there is good progress on New Bedford
"hopeful" that MOU will be put together and approved


February Board of Ed: opening remarks

The agenda is here 
Sagan "I am optimistic that we will not use all of the time today"
"hopeful we will get everyone on the road a little early"
Riley: reminder that there is a state education conference in March 19 at UMass Amherst "as we plot our way forward"
email coming out in the next week or so for sign ups

Public comments:
panel of employees at Excel Academy East Boston
speaker was one of first graduating class, now works there
one of eleven children raised in East Boston
youngest brother on the waiting list; was being mistreated at his middle school
"our staff works hard...to build culture"
"have test scores, college acceptance rates...a community of people who will always be there for you"
alum of Excel '08, now PE teacher: "really would love the opportunity to tell you that Excel Academy gave me something to believe in"
went to a private boarding school for high school
giving students opportunity that I didn't have
"the emotional support" provided to students and employees
alum, class of 2007, now teachers there
supportive teachers and staff
homelife made it hard to focus on academics
teachers assisted in keeping her on track
show students they have someone they can trust, someone who has their back
mission does not fall short
want more students to have the experience that I did
Paulo Freire Charter speakers 
executive director, member of the board speaking
thank for renewal of charter for the next five years
"committed and confident that we will be successful"
"believe the recommendations will continue to stabilize our enrollment, our finances, and our management"
moving to new facilities
will be contracting with outside accounting firm, adding accounts payable
review and revise financial policies
partnering with SchoolWorks for PD supported by data
students have performed well in other areas
member of board, was founding member
division and disfunction on board prior
leadership comprised of much stronger team now
critical that the community needs other high school options
arts framework
speaker from MassCreative: important component of a well-rounded education
thanks for dedicating resources of department for updating standards for first time in twenty years
field has come to rely on national standards, as state standards have not been updated; alignment with those thus welcome
75 volunteer framework review panelists work appreciated
"very inclusive process by staff"
very interested in strengthening the frameworks during the public comment process, will encourage feedback on draft standards
speaker on non-agenda item
speaker on treatment of child in her district
"ask that I be placed on agenda at upcoming meeting...to go into depth" on daughter's experience
Sagan notes that this outside the purview of the Board
staff allows for confidential process

Sunday, February 10, 2019

FY20 in Worcester

Due to the length public testimony on Thursday night (livetweeted here, mostly), the Worcester School Committee did not receive the report on the FY20 budget. However, we do have what was to be the presentation, and the T&G followed up to give us a front page cover story yesterday, anyway:


Note that "than last year" is really the key part of the story (and didn't make the headline).
This bumps the actual presentation of the WPS budget preview off to the 28th, which alas, I will not be able to make and also pushes this very close to when the House is going to release its budget, and well into the city's planning season, as well. So a few thoughts from me (just from me, as always):

--If you are from outside of Worcester, please note: 
Worcester's foundation enrollment is 27,800 students; the foundation budget is $374M. 
Don't let the fact that the numbers have a lot of digits throw you!--

First, remember that the only things that traditionally shifts the foundation budget--and thus the Worcester Public Schools budget, which is little more than that--are enrollment and inflation. And, in short, both are working in our favor this year.
My personal rule of thumb is costs tend to go up by 3%, excluding health insurance. That isn't perfect, by any means, but it does mean it's a bit better to be looking at an inflation rate over 3%.

Pretty crazy jump in preschool there.
Also note the needs that increased, as well:
(the orange bars are when it was low income. No one "lost" poor kids.)

The overall Worcester trend line, putting us, as we are usually reminded, over the enrollment Worcester was at when we had more elementary schools makes me wonder: are we talking about where we're putting these kids? Or are we going to continue to pretend that this isn't a facilities issue with municipal-side implications?

And then, this post on the changes in the foundation budget proposed by Governor Baker? This is all working in here, as well.

And Mr. Allen breaks down where the new FBRC-related funding is coming from as well:
(Thus, incidentally, this tweet, because to do this and the following, you have to be able to take apart the pieces of the foundation budget and put them back together again with district numbers and new assumptions. I think I'm in a good position to say that not many in the state can do that.)

Also, before we get too excited:

Something I don't know enough about is how the Governor's proposal on charter reimbursement (not the 100/60/40, but the enrollment over five years) hits Worcester. We don't really have a significant growth in charter seats, so I wouldn't think it would work in our favor.

To put this in some perspective, here is that third-to-last slide from the equivalent presentation last year:
To which my comment was "ouch."
Thus, let me say, I'm not complaining.
At the same time, remember that the entire premise on which the Worcester--and all--budgets are founded is undercalculated by probably at least $2B. And note where most of the bump comes from: a good inflation year! That means not having a tough year is essentially a toss of the dice.
This is no way to run a budget.

So here are my thoughts as a Worcesterite (who sends three kids on buses every morning) about FY20:

  • First, I refuse to let the city off the hook. Only the municipal side can fund a lawsuit, yes, so let's see about that in this budget. But let's also see the city put some real funding towards the schools. I am deeply concerned that the city has done essentially nothing with the $70M backlog in essential repairs in schools. We have a facilities audit that essentially was ignored cityside. We know that every year of an undercalculated foundation budget continues to undermine (almost literally) the facilities, as operations and maintenance runs at 60% or so. INCREASE THE CAPITAL BUDGET. The amount the city contributes towards the schools in capital each year is shameful.
  • On the state side, we need to take a look at charter reimbursement. The Baker budget is doing something philosophical as well as budgetary in this shift in funding. The reimbursement is actually intended to smooth the year to year shifts, not the long term gaps. This is a change in the philosophy of reimbursement. The Legislature should fully fund reimbursement. Honestly, I think the state should just line item charters, but no one is asking me that. 
  • Also on the state side, the health insurance jump (of 7%ish) is a start, as is the shift on English learners. We still aren't recognizing real costs, however, and progress still is overdue. Also, no one appears to be talking about the 6% drop statewide in the number English learners due to the change in who qualifies. Let's talk about if that is a change that should be made (my inclination is to say no, as even those who test out still need some supports in many cases; this is not my area of expertise by a long shot, however).
  • And low income? The recommendation is 50% to 100% of the foundation budget per student. Let's get real on numbers here. We hear nearly daily about the toll poverty takes on families and on children in particular; let's put some resources towards that need. 
I'll follow up this posts with some emails to city councilors and legislators. If you're in Worcester, I'd urge you to do likewise. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Questions I'm wondering about the Worcester Public Schools this week

  • This article about Lowell High School made me wonder: hey, so where ARE we at with Doherty High? There's about half a dozen school building projects where I can off the top of my head tell you more about than the one happening at the school one of my children attends in the city I actually live in.
  • The 2018-19 enrollment of the Worcester Public Schools has now been posted, and we have  57.5% of the student population as first language other than English; the English learner population is down a smidge from last year, but is still around one-third. Is there going to be any sustained, district and city level attention to this beyond adding EL teachers and boosting the translation line in the budget?
  • Does the superintendent have new goals? That usually happens post-evaluation, and they'd need to be deliberated and voted in public session. 
  • I hear we've hired hall monitors now. Really?
  • There was another article this week in The Atlantic about how useless and yet psychologically harmful lockdown drills are. Are we ever going to reverse the trend of doing something regularly for which the only impact is harming our kids?
  • The cancellations and delays of the past few weeks and the ensuing discussion around them ("without any snow!") have me thinking long-term: as climate change brings harsher winters and stronger storms, how are we planning to handle that, particularly in a district in which half the kids walk, a good number of them over a mile and a half? Are we going to expand busing? Shift the day? Change the year? Add blizzard bags? What?

Friday, February 8, 2019

re: local accountability

I'm on this panel next Wednesday marking the release of a new MassInc report on local accountability. I'd tell you to come, but I hear it's sold out! Do check out the report once it's out; it's one of the more heated discussions, I think, in Massachusetts education, and this is an addition to that discussion.

UPDATE: Oh, and speaking of which, check out the school or district report cards, which DESE posted this week, as well as Rob Curtin's thread from this morning. I highly recommend going in and checking out discipline, access to courses, dropout and graduation data disaggregated by race, income, special ed status, and English learner status. We have some things to work on.

The Board of Ed meets Tuesday for February

The agenda is posted here.
As it is February, the agenda is heavy on charter school attention, with a discussion and vote on new charter schools (note that the proposal for Lawrence was withdrawn last week amid an uproar over letters of support that were faked), a recommendation that Excel Academy expand by 56 seats, an update and vote on Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter (which, as it doesn't as yet have a backup, would appear not to bode well, given last month's discussion of their missing documents), and an update on the Alma del Mar deal with New Bedford. (I'll add links to the above once there is anything.)
There is an item to discuss and send to public comment the updated arts standards, so get ready if that is of interest.
As discussed in prior meetings, there is an item to discuss and vote an amendment to the state competency determination (the graduation standard) on the science MCAS for the graduating classes of 2023 and 2024. Also, if you're going to comment: comment on the issue!
There is also an update on the Governor's FY20 budget proposal and his school funding bill.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

"Doing God's work"

The post title is a quote from Associate Commissioner Rob Curtin in talking about these sorts of programs. It has stuck with me. 
I appreciated Molly Boigon's piece today for WGBH on (specifically) Kamary Adams Stokes and more broadly efforts to get young people back into school to complete their high school educations.
"You really have to go and find those kids and really make efforts to actually tailor what you are doing to their needs," she said. "Putting forward ... what they might gain from reengaging in school is really important."
Dupere said no one-size-fits-all approach to bringing students back to school works. "The needs of these young people are totally different. If we focus only on learning problems or school failure, we're going to miss a whole lot of kids who drop out for different reasons," she said.
It's some of the most important things we're doing in education. Give it a read. And reporters, please give us more of this. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Back to the drawing board to await updated state standards

Mayor Petty announced late today that the Michigan model of sex ed would no longer be considered by the Worcester School Committee at tomorrow night's meeting. The district will await the currently underway update to the state's health standards before moving forward.

If you'd already planned on attending tomorrow night's meeting, you could come hear about FY20 instead! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

DESE update on FY20 at MASBO

Rob O'Donnell, DESE
preliminary FY20 Ch. 70 is $5.1B, a $200.3M increase (4.1% ) FY19
"dispel some of the confusion, there are two things to keep track of" both the budget and the bill
targets for changes to foundation over next 7 years
bill moving on a separate track, but reflects what is in the budget

Monday, February 4, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, February 7

In addition to what I just posted about, there is actually a whole agenda for Thursday.

There is actually a SECOND report of the superintendent, which usually would get this week's headlines but won't, which is a first look at FY20. There is, as yet, no backup. Note that what I posted about the foundation budget last week is, of course, super relevent.

There are recognitions, retirements, resignations, and appointments.
There is a very readable report about transportation and proposed solutions to some of the issues involved. What it doesn't tackle is that of the Durham buses that simply don't appear and don't report as running late. As it has seemed as if the district is not being kept appraised by Durham of when they actually have buses running, a major breach of contract would appear to have occurred.
Also, the School Committee had been told an overall report on transportation and future action (like bringing all the buses in house) was coming; this isn't it.
There is a mashup of a policy/procedure/directions on using "Force 911" to call police via app. It is dated October. As only the School Committee can adopt policy, and this has not previously appeared, it is not clear what is going on with this item.
There are request for reports on: online grading (?), substitute pay, having the Parent Information Center open at night, mandated pay (in school projects?), a hiring preference for the WooSox, that new positions be passed by School Committee, that there be a public forum on the sex ed curriculum, that there be a parent engagement plan, and that this report be reviewed prior to recommendation of a sex ed curriculum.
There is a request that nurses be approved.

There is a request that the following donations be accepted:
– $57,346.00 from the Worcester Technical Skyline Fund to support the Innovation Pathways Program.
– $349.80 from Box Tops for Education to Tatnuck Magnet School
– $78.60 from Box Tops for Education to Woodland Academy
– $500.00 from WEDF for Get Fit at Woodland Academy
– $1,000.00 to the Betty Reidy Scholarship at North High School
There is a request that the STARS Residency grant be accepted.
The handbook is going to subcommittee ('though it does not exist as yet).

There are three grievances and three collective bargaining agreements in executive session.
I do plan to at least go for the budget section. 

The only class that can save your life

The Worcester School Committee takes up their sex ed curriculum at this Thursday's meeting.
I haven't posted about this because I'm appalled at how outlandish this conversation is.

Let's begin with a crucial founding point: under Massachusetts General Law Ch. 71, sec. 32A, any parent or guardian must be informed about sex ed taking place in schools ahead of time, must be given the ability review materials, and may, upon doing so in writing and without scholastic penalty to the child, pull the child from that portion of the class. The corresponding policy, as required by MGL 71, 32A, is IHAMA, found online here.
Let us thus set aside any arguments that begin or end with "no child of mine." The Legislature dealt with that objection decades ago.

Let's next tackle this notion that "something is better than nothing." This is quite objectively not the case. We can teach people information that is incorrect, that is actively harmful, that otherwise does actual damage to students under our care.

This is most of concern about students who we know to be most at risk or vulnerable. This includes LGBTQ students, of whom no mention is made in the administration-proposed "Michigan model." Thus it was proposed at the last meeting that a "component" on such experience must be added. The administration's response, backing up this week's agenda, was to print out the section on LGBTQ students from DESE's website, add two pages on "integrating LQBTQ initiatives across the district through increasing professional development for all staff and to develop inclusive curricular content across disciplines" with no specifics beyond links back to DESE, insist that really it's kinda included already, and dismiss suggestions that other curricula should be investigated with the response:
The Administration has reviewed numerous curricula and based on the appropriateness for students, it recommends the Sex Education Unit from the Michigan Comprehensive Health Curriculum.
Yes, that really is all that is said: no list of what was reviewed, by whom, on what standard, or otherwise.

You'll have to go back an agenda to see what it is they're actually discussing which is this curriculum, billed as "comprehensive" and this sample lesson.
It is hard to know where to begin.
One of the most important principles of quality health education is to recognize that people are integrated organisms, that sexuality is not a separate issue with no relationship to anything else in one's life, and that anything about human health involves more than the biology involved. This is one reason that one cannot relegate LGBTQ identity and experience to an "added component."
The sample lesson provided on the reproductive system thus is not a health lesson at all. It is a biology lesson.
It is clear, however, that this is the approach of the module provided, which is not, by its own description a comprehensive sexual education curriculum, but instead is a module on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
Also, note how well it, by its own admission, meets the National Health Standards per scanned page 59:

This is clear from the beginning, as lesson one, rather than a conversation about healthy relationships, decisionmaking, relating to oneself and others, or any of the other foundational discussions of health, it begins with prevention of HIV.
The only two options available to those conducting the lesson in this curriculum are "abstinence-based" and "abstinence-only" discussions. We know from years of research that those options not only ineffective; they are unethical. As the main concern raised in the community is that of teen pregnancy, it would be important to note:
...abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.
Thus, yes, doing something can make it worse.
From lesson one, the curriculum proposed then goes on to lesson two:
 You are reading that correctly: it is a list of sexually transmitted disease handouts. Again, this is lesson 2.
Lesson 3: finding help if you need it. This lesson, quite literally, is now that we've spent two lessons listing sexually transmitted diseases, let's talk about figuring out if you have them; this includes a "healthy or not" card game with symptoms of STDs and a section on using resources like a phone book.

Lesson 4 is on creating a plan "to stay within boundaries" to avoid STDs and pregnancy. Again, this isn't about making thoughtful, informed choices or having healthy relationships; the goal given at the beginning of the lesson (p. 159) quite explictly is avoiding pregnancy and disease. The analogy made throughout is to building a fence.

Let's consider for a moment what that teaches students about relationships: it's about barriers. Note also where that places responsibility: with the fence builder, rather than with two people involved in a relationship respecting each other's choices. This, too, is a theme throughout the curriculum, as students are taught about setting limits and enforcing them for themselves, but not about observing the limits of others.
Again, the reason given throughout this lesson is about avoiding disease and pregnancy. There is no other underlying reason or relationship referenced.
Lesson 5 finally gets to communication, something which a comprehensive curriculum would have as a foundation. It is, however, about communicating one's boundaries, not about having respectful relationships, connecting with other people, or about communicating in any other realm. There is no connection here to the whole person involved.
Lesson 6 is identifying and refusing troubling situations. Discussion of troubling situations and indeed of unhealthy relationships with regard to abuse, mental health, and myriad other realms of student health are enormously important components of this dicussion which should be integrated. It is not. This is entirely an isolated dicussion, which, as above, leaves it to the individual being pressured to escape, rather than teaching students that pressuring others is wrong. This is the sort of teaching that comes from rape culture; it is a victim blaming set-up; it is harmful; it is wrong.
Lesson 7 is more of this: avoiding and escaping such situtations; it includes the following handout (p. 243).


This is a terrible substitution for teaching about the age of consent (which, for the record, is also 16 in Massachusetts).
Lesson 8 is called "Someday, Not Now" actually has students talk through making decisions, 'though clearly with a direction since "not now" is in the title. This also includes condom--but no other birth control or barrier--directions. This of course again leaves out many students, and also utterly fails to give comprehensive information of a kind that is most needed if our interest is truly in avoiding teen pregnancy.

And that is what the Worcester Public Schools administration is recommending to the Worcester School Committee for adoption to teach our seventh and eighth grade students. 
It should be rejected out of hand for the real harm this will do students.


Who is playing football still and what choices are allowed them?

A sobering Super Bowl weekend article via WBUR:
"It's a luxury to worry about these long-term, sort of abstract damages to these kids and their parents," Samaha said. "The risks are all around them — the risks of not going to high school, the risks of not making it into college, or the risks of of falling into kind of the street path that they'd seen other people around them fall into."
Football is their ticket out. But Samaha argues that America needs to reckon with the broader ethical implications of the sport.
"America's dual commitments to football and racial oppression have meant that the danger of the sport will increasingly fall on the shoulders of low income black and brown kids," Samaha said.
Read it alongside this piece from (former New England Patriot) Martellus Bennett about the dreams we allow Black boys:
Our dreams on the field or the court seemed to be the most important ones to those around us. So they became the most important dreams to us, as well. They were the only dreams that those around us made us believe in.
And in Alief, where I grew up — and in places where so many black boys like me grow up — we had to believe in something. In my neighborhood, more than one-third of adult residents don’t have high school diplomas; fewer than 20 percent of black men in the Houston area have college degrees. Nationwide, black students get expelled from school three times as often as white students. Half of all black men have been arrested at least once by age 23. No wonder dreaming up a way out feels so urgent.