Friday, March 27, 2020

So why did you vote no on the Worcester Student Opportunity Act plan?

writing about anything other than the pandemic is beginning to feel like the "can we get back to politics?/please." exchange in Hamilton

Politically Speaking: The truth about alternative facts and media
So first, you can find the plan (by itself) here and the budget accompanying it here.
Also, the video of the meeting is now posted on the district website. The School Committee deliberation starts about 28 minutes in; if you want to listen to me, I start about 45 minutes in.


First, we are actually in the midst of a pandemic that has our children out of school for an unplanned length of time not seen since, as best as I can tell, the 1918 epidemic (when schooling was already disrupted due to the First World War). This closure, plus the ensuing economic downturn, will only compound the educational disparities we already have.
And of course those disparities are what hit most of our kids in Worcester particularly hard. Those disparities are where we live in the Worcester Public Schools, or where we should. I would argue--and I did last night--that we need to consider and reconsider the entirety of the FY21 budget in light of our kids, quite possibly, coming back after being out of school for five months.
I don't think we even know what that looks like yet, but we'd better start thinking about it.

So, while I understand and appreciate my colleagues looking at the looming April 1 still-hasn't-actually-moved deadline and wanting to ensure we have a plan in, I do think that this is the time we take whatever hit we would need to (assuming there would be one; I really think there wouldn't be) to rework the plan for next year in light of kids coming back with a new level of generational trauma and learning gaps.
And I still think we need an actual zero-based budget that does that this year.

To go on to the plan itself:
As you might remember, the way this is supposed to be working is that we're starting with where we want to go--the district targets--and go backwards from there to where we are now. Except, of course, we don't have the targets yet, so...we're not doing that.
We are, though, still going to get targets based on district data, and that's where we start off very weak. The first page of the report, which is to be the presentation of the subgroup needs that must be met, has disturbingly little actual data referenced; there's really only a single sentence that cites actual statistics on how the district is performing on state testing, graduation, dropout or other such measures.
Again, this is the section that is to recognize the myriad gaps we have right now in order to plan to overcome them. And as I have mentioned, we have them!
We really need more comprehensive district data analysis and, more than that, we need to have an administrative understanding of the importance of data analysis.

Then we get into the planned additions. It's important that the state is requiring "evidence-based programs to close gaps"...remember that, as it comes in later.

The first is preschool, which is fine, but it's focused on early literacy, which, you might recall, is a bit of a favorite with the Commissioner and some members of the Board. While, yes, the district has gaps in that, the district also has yet to comprehensively discuss and plan around what it means to be a district in which the majority of students speak a first language other than English. In fact, you'd never know it from reading this plan. The plan adds two classrooms of preschool the first year, one dually lingual, which is the single recognition of the language strengths--and I mean that--of our district.
The number of students cited in the plan as impacted--7000 overall--is entirely based on a $287K early literacy professional development consultancy (I'm guessing), rather than the number of children who will be afford a quality, full-day preschool program.
Quality preK does have long-lasting benefits, though they aren't cited here; it is something for which the community asked. This proposal is constructed such that the children being served though appear secondary to a particular politically popular educational process.
Also, in general, let's write fewer sentences that say things like:
These programmatic and staffing additions will all contribute to a comprehensive, responsive, system-wide teaching model that embodies inquiry, authentic learning, and discovery through a multi-pronged approach that centers on providing high quality, evidence-based, early childhood programming.

The second proposal is expanding early college and innovation pathways.The argument is that this is focused on "underserved WPS students," but so far, there is little evidence that it is. Mr. Foley has asked for the demographics in particular with early college; as WPS has been using PSAT as a means of determining invitations, I would surmise that we aren't being representative of the district, let alone overrepresenting those traditionally underserved. There is not, despite assertions during the meeting to the contrary, evidence from our own program on admission and--more importantly!!--persistence in college from this program. We simply don't know at all that it works
The innovation program is fine--happy to use the vocational space--but again, it is not clear that this is best serving the students who most need it, given the requirements of funding and time.
Also, so long as we thing handing out bus tickets is supporting transportation needs without ever advocating for improved WRTA services, we just demonstrate that many of us don't ever take the bus.
And in both cases, these are high school programs that are not targeted at one of our most urgent needs, which is improving the dropout rate. We were told that students are asking for early college, but that probably isn't those who are in danger of dropping out. Innovation programs may be intended to fill vocational needs, but frequently those programs don't serve the students who we're losing over the course of high school. In both cases, the dropout and persistent rates are not mentioned, in any case.

The third programmatic focus is on diversify our teaching force. I have no disagreement at all with this priority. The plan, though, falls back on two things: the hiring of the Chief Diversity Officer, a position that already has had the authority it needs to do the job properly never invested in it; and "grow your own" pipelines, that don't create nearly as many teachers needed to serve the district. Having our paraprofessionals be offered the chance to get their degrees and teach is wonderful; Worcester received less funding this year than last on the grant we had been using for that program. It also doesn't come close to filling even the needs of teachers we need in an average year, let alone the additions we should be making under additional funding.
We need to fundamentally reconsider how we hire staff, and we should also consider how we hurt the future of education when we don't consider our children's experiences in school to determine their future interest in teaching.
There is also a section in here on "culturally relevant pedagogy" which appears to be---unfunded in the plan?--professional development which continues to dodge the driving need for comprehensive continuing anti-bias professional development in the district.
Those two things are not the same.

Finally, there is a social and emotional section, which is mostly where the need for guidance and school adjustment counselors fit in. In the coming years, though, the administration continues to put more resources into response--trauma teams--than prevention--boosting support staff in schools. That strikes me as a mistake.

The plan then lists outcome metrics and targets, and it's a list of nearly twenty data points, without a goal set. Perhaps the state isn't asking for one to be set. Having that many data sets isn't, though, a strength; it scatters attention, much in the way the funding is being scattered rather than focused.

The final section, asserting "[m]eaningful engagement with families and other community members is a priority of the district, and listing "specific efforts to engage families" currently done, with no reflection on how very many families, as was repeated over and again during the last election, feel cut off from and discouraged from engagement with the district, is particularly discouraging to me. Many of these efforts are not particularly successful. Family engagement varies directly in this district with race, language, and social class. There is here no reflection here by district leadership on the lack of culturally relevant two way communication, as required by the superintendent evaluation rubric, nor the increased family engagement required of the Student Opportunity Act.

There was praise last night for the plan coming together despite the current crisis. The administration knew, however, that the plan was to go to us last week months ago. Many of the themes of the community priorities emerged early on. Data could have--should have--been gathered long ago. To me, with the practiced eye of a high school teacher, this reads like something that was put together quickly and last minute. It shouldn't have been.

A final note here from me: if it seems as if my standards here are high, well, I spent a long and a lot of time fighting for this. It gave me no joy to vote no last night.
Our kids need better than this.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Schools closed til May 4: Notes from Commissioner Riley

Governor Baker has announced that schools will remain closed through at least May 4; "this is not an extended vacation"

Commissioner Riley, taking questions as I quickly get a tab open to take notes:

Riley: focus...is on the needs of our students, esp most vulnerable
safety
almost 1200 sites to feed our kids
further allows to keep kids safe
building in additional planning time
additional guidance tomorrow morning, speaking with and planning with
"current remote learning plans"
implementing revised plans by early plans
all in together

our advice "we recognize that this is a traumatic time for our kids, then we want to get them in a routine"
"going to offer some structure"
"keeping them in a routine"
reading a book, cooking recipes, starting a garden
supply some resources in addition

MCAS?
respectful of federal and state laws and lawmakers
have applied for federal waiver
then see what state leg does if he'll be allowed to make such decisions

letter to families regarding "this very issue"
not all families have access to computers and broadbands
many districts are doing paper and pencil
districts should do whatever they can to get out to kids "but want to be sure we don't penalize kids who don't have access to the internet"

hearing some have gone in a direction of online learning
remote learning "is learning from home" which could be many things
trying to support them
"as well as pull people together to see what additional supports we can get out to people in the field"

"this could be an amazing opportunity to think about how we educate our kids"
"we won't know, but it's certainly something we're looking at"

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Massachusetts bill that was being awaited

...has now been filed: HD. 4974 was filed by Governor Baker this afternoon. On the education front, it includes measures:
Permitting Regional School Districts to suspend the statutorily-required vote on the approval of their fiscal year 2021 budget and allowing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to certify an amount sufficient for the operation of the district, until a budget can be adopted. 
Modifying the MCAS by permitting the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education upon recommendation of the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify or waive the required competency determination for high school graduation. The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education would also be allowed to modify or waive the MCAS testing requirement. 
Extending a Student Opportunity Act deadline by permitting the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to extend the April 1, 2020 deadline for each district to submit its first 3-year plan to address “persistent disparities in achievement among student subgroups.”
This is of course simply a filed bill, which will need to pass both chambers and go back to the Governor to be signed.
What's interesting is that it doesn't make the decisions, but puts the authority back at the Board and Commissioner. The competency determination is a Board authority already (did we really need that section?), but the MCAS requirement is not; grades 4, 8, and 10 are required to be tested under state law.
The Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday, March 31; should this be passed by then, naturally one wonders if something will be done at that meeting.
And of course, federal action is also necessary.

On SOA deadlines, it also doesn't establish a date, but says:
...the commissioner of elementary and secondary education may set the deadline for each school district to submit its first 3-year plan required pursuant to subsection (d) of section 1S of chapter 69 of the General Laws, as inserted by section 5 of chapter 132 of the acts of 2019, as April 1, 2020, or such later date as determined by the commissioner, in order to address disruptions caused by the outbreak of the 2019 novel Coronavirus also known as “COVID-19”..
emphasis there mine: this thus is "you could keep that deadline OR you could do something else."
The question in my mind is this: does this become even more of a pro-forma exercise now that we've essentially blown up the educational inequities of the system a hundredfold? As Chalkbeat writes today:
All in all, the weight of the research is consistent with common sense: missed school is going to mean missed learning.“The learning loss is going to be large, and almost certainly going to be worse for low-income kids,” predicted Goodman.
Plus, the state budget now is looking "grim" per today's State House News report.

Shouldn't we maybe be going back to the drawing board on this?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The President said *what* about standardized testing?

The headlines say things like "PRESIDENT CANCELS ALL TESTING FOR SPRING"
The key phrase here? "Trump says"
This isn't the case.

No, he didn't.
Seriously, folks, stop trying to get anything real out of those news conferences when he is speaking. It's more serious than if we're going to have MCAS; he's going to get people killed.

Yesterday, U.S. Ed issued the following guidance to states:
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced today students impacted by school closures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can bypass standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year. Upon a proper request, the Department will grant a waiver to any state that is unable to assess its students due to the ongoing national emergency, providing relief from federally mandated testing requirements for this school year.
Emphasis mine: states HAVE TO REQUEST the waiver for ESSA-required testing. It goes on to add:
To protect students' health and safety, a state that deems it necessary should proceed with cancelling its statewide assessments for the 2019-2020 school year. Since student performance, as measured by assessments, is required to be used in statewide accountability systems, any state that receives a one-year waiver may also receive a waiver from the requirement that this testing data be used in the statewide accountability system due to the national emergency.
So it's a two-fer. It's actually a really simple form.

This does NOT, by the way, have any impact on non-ESSA required testing, like SAT, AP, ACT.

Okay, so then we file the form and we're set, right? Well, no.
First, we don't know that Massachusetts has actually filed for this.

Second, testing of students in grades 4, 8, and 10 is written into Mass General Law. Specifically, it's MGL Ch. 69, section 1l:
...comprehensive diagnostic assessment of individual students shall be conducted at least in the fourth, eighth and tenth grades. Said diagnostic assessments shall identify academic achievement levels of all students in order to inform teachers, parents, administrators and the students themselves, as to individual academic performance.
That, thus, would need to be suspended: unless the Governor intends to expand his emergency powers so far (I'm thinking no?), both chambers of the Legislature need to pass a bill and the Governor needs to sign in.
We should note that this DOES NOT, as much as they tend to be the first on our minds, impact graduation, which isn't written into the law, save for any seniors remaining who may have been trying to take and pass a make-up science, math, or ELA test this spring in hopes of passing to graduate.
That, I should note, would be a regulatory change, which is under the purview of the Board of Ed, though the Governor has already once, with his suspension of the days in school, set aside a state education regulation.

Even if the tenth grade MCAS gets cancelled this year, I'll observe, there's nothing to prevent the state from simply continuing to require it and just rescheduling all the tenth graders as juniors. I also realize that this observation isn't going to be popular, but I think it's in the realm of possibility.

And seriously: get your information on this--on anything!--from someone other than the President.

Resources for supporting children emotionally

I just want to share this resource that came out from UMass Med yesterday on supporting children dealing with trauma:
Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, everyday life has changed and will continue to change for most people in the United States, often with little notice. Children may struggle with significant adjustments to their routines (e.g., schools and child care closures, social distancing, home confinement), which may interfere with their sense of structure, predictability, and security. Young people—even infants and toddlers—are keen observers of people and environments, and they notice and react to stress in their parents and other caregivers, peers, and community members. They may ask direct questions about what is happening now or what will happen in the future and may behave differently in reaction to strong feelings (e.g., fear, worry, sadness, anger) about the pandemic and related conditions. Children also may worry about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones, how they will get their basic needs met (e.g., food, shelter, clothing), and uncertainties for the future.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"for all its children, rich and poor, in every city and town of the Commonwealth"

Image: Tweet from Stephanie Murray:
Baker is ordering a three-week school suspension for private + public elementary
and secondary schools starting Tuesday #mapoli 
Please imagine something with me:
  • Imagine for a moment that you are a single mom. You make enough, just, to keep an apartment where the kids share a room and food on the table. Your kids are now home, but you don't have anyone to take care of them while you're gone, so they're pretty much on their own, and you're hoping no one finds out. You're really worried that your job may be cut as businesses are closing, and then what will happen to you and your kids? And what if you get sick and can't work?
    The school district sent home an iPad and a mobile hotspot, but you don't have time or energy after work and making them dinner to get it set up. Plus, having them home all day is already running up the electricity bill, and plugging in more things is going to send your budget, which is barely working already, over the edge.
  • Imagine for a moment that you're a parent of a student with special needs. You've fought, year after year, to make sure that the district is providing what your child needs. This year, you finally, finally feel like things are working: the connections are there, your child is happy and learning, and you're getting into a rhythm.
    And now there's no school for at least three weeks, and you can already feel the progress that your child made slipping away. You're seeing happy posts online of kids connecting with their classes through videos, but that won't work for your child. You see well-meaning friends arguing passionately that their own child for special needs to be met to convert to online learning, that 'progress must go on.'
  • Imagine for a moment that you're a high school student for whom things at home aren't great. You've been moving from friend to friend's house, staying for a few nights, so you won't become a burden. When school's open, you're in clubs and sports, so you're in the school building til late, so you don't have to find places to be elsewhere, and can usually manage to get your homework done.
    You're hearing they're posting things online for students, but with restaurants only doing take-out, your usual practice of buying something off the dollar menu to use the wifi is gone. You've already overstayed your welcome at your latest place; you don't know where you'll go next, since families are shutting themselves in. 
...do I need to go on? 
Do we need one for a kindergartner whose parents are working three jobs and don't speak English?

Do we need one for the rural family that doesn't have broadband and has an income dependent on tourism?

Do we need one for the refugee family that just got here and doesn't even have clothes for March in Massachusetts, let alone resources for students to learn?

Do we need one for the trans child who is now at home 24-7 with a family that doesn't accept them and wonders about their physical safety?

Can we please remember what "all" means here? 
We are responsible for ALL children, no matter their income, their home lives, their language, their family, their race, their location, their ANYTHING.

If your primary concern right now for your own child or the children you teach during this pandemic is their academic achievement, including MCAS, then I am asking you to take a breath, take a minute, and spend some time helping to figure out how we support the above kids and their families.

It isn't through free wifi and Chromebooks.
It isn't through expanded broadband.

We have kids right now whose very existence is threatened.

Am I worried about what this amount (and probably more) of time off is going to do to their education? Absolutely.

Is that my first worry for them right now? Not by a long shot.


from McDuffy, of course

on FY21?

Not unexpected, but this isn't good:
Gov. Charlie Baker filed his spending plan for fiscal 2021, which begins on July 1, in January, and Michlewitz is supposed to release his version next month for the House to debate. That now appears unlikely to happen.
“Were dealing with an unprecedented situation and people are having to put a lot on hold. We’re seeing it all over the country, in all different segments of the economy. The budget process will not be any different,” Michlewitz said in an interview with News Service on Monday night.
“We’re not ready to make a determination, but it would seem highly unlikely that we would have a budget in April at this point in time,” he said.
There is of course national concern over what the coronavirus will do to state budgets.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Massachusetts COVID-19 K-12 FAQ

An updating list of questions I've received and the best answer I can find/get/give at this time. Send them along and we'll see what we can do; please note there is a Worcester-specific one here.
Map of the public school districts of Massachusetts, which hangs over my desk at work

Why are we closing the schools?
COVID-19 is highly contagious, and, as families and teachers know well, children are very effective at transmitting diseases to one another. While there's some indication that children mostly get this mildly (or even asymptomatically), there are of course children who don't, and children who are medically vulnerable.
The real concern, though, is all of the children passing this from one to another inevitably means that they then pass it on to the adults in their lives. And it is those adults--particularly those who are older or with underlying medical conditions--that are at particular risk.
This is a pandemic to which we are not yet immune, and community spread is not a question of if but when (note that link is from late February). Making that happen over as long a period as possible makes it more possible for the medical community to handle those who have gotten sick enough to need hospitalization, lest we, like Italy, have doctors have to make choices about who gets treatment at all. The hope is to "flatten the curve" to stretch out over time when people get it.
And so, we cancel everything, including--really importantly!!--schools.

So who cancelled the schools?
Okay, maybe you don't care, but I also keep this blog to keep notes for myself for future reference, so in it goes!
In other states, the governors have cancelled school for the entire state; as of today, more than half the country had closed K-12 schools in their states as of Monday, March 16; that was up to 37 states as of Wednesday, March 17; this map from EdWeek is tracking that.
In Massachusetts, Governor Baker did that Sunday, announcing all schools would be closed through April 6, but--and here's the kicker--he did so only after every single district in the Commonwealth had already announced that they would be closed this week; the final one, Bristol Aggie, announced at 3:30 Sunday afternoon.
Governor Baker announced at his press conference hours later that the schools would close.

If it's a pandemic, why didn't he do that sooner?
Well, that's the question. Much of the answer appears to lie in the guidance given by Mass DPH, which states that a family member of a student or staff member should trigger only a two day closure (with cleaning), and which states that if a student or staff member is diagnosed as positive, the school, after discussions, if it's deemed that there has been close contact with others, then that school (only!) should close for 14 days.
This when we know there are not enough tests, so there are absolutely cases about which we do not know. And we are about eleven days behind Italy on the curve of this. Time is very limited for us to make a difference.
The superintendents thus made the decisions themselves (in consultation with each other, as only joint action on this is effective) to close the schools.
If the curve bends and we flatten the curve? It's the superintendents that will have done it.

When do schools reopen?
At this point? April 6

Is that realistic? 
Good question. We don't know. The CDC has now updated its guidance to note that closures of more like eight weeks (rather than our currently called-for three) may be necessary. The Washington Post wrote this today:
How long are we going to have to keep this up? The closed schools, working from home, six feet of personal space and zombie-apocalypse empty streets?
It’s the question now preoccupying America as millions of parents silently scream it into the void amid the coronavirus pandemic. But it is an especially hard one for science to answer.
The best and most honest reply, according to epidemiologists and virologists, is simple: “It depends.” It’s not going to be over anytime soon — a matter of months rather than weeks.
So hunker down.

I've seen that some states or districts are shifting school to online. Is Massachusetts doing that?

No. While many districts are offering resources online, there is no provision in Massachusetts education to allow for remote schooling, save for the two virtual schools and the now-cancelled blizzard bag pilot. As the Commissioner said at the time of the cancellation,
“The decision to discontinue the use of Alternative Structured Learning Day Programs is based upon a variety of factors, including concerns about equitable access for all students,”
The phrase "equitable access" here doesn't only mean the massive haves and have nots divide on internet access; it also means access to the curriculum for those who need additional support, like special education.
The way the Governor's press release describes it is this:
Although schools must suspend in-person educational operations, staff should be planning for how best to equitably provide alternative access to student learning opportunities during this period and potentially beyond. Equally important, school personnel should develop plans for ensuring to the greatest extent possible that families have access to essential non-academic services for their children – especially involving special education and food services for students who are most vulnerable.
Note the phrase is "student learning opportunities." These aren't school days for students.

So does this work count?
I like the way that Ludlow Superintendent Todd Gadza, citing the direction given by DESE last last week, has framed this:
According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, all schools should provide alternative academic review and enrichment learning opporutnities so they can maintain academic readiness. The DESE compared this work to a more robust version of the reading lists and enrichment activities that we provide for students over the summer.
Count for grades? No.
Count for learning? Yes, of course.

Do we have to make these days up?
Schools, per the guidance issued last week, will have to be in session through their 185th scheduled day (every district has to have a calendar of 180 days as required plus 5 snow days). The Governor has also promised that no school will need to go past June 30.

What about the MCAS?
I'm always tempted to say, "What ABOUT the MCAS?"As I heard someone say last week, this should be pretty far down on our list right now. 
We don't know at this point, and the state isn't as yet saying, but it has been observed that no school in Massachusetts is going to be in session on March 24, the date of the 10th grade ELA exam.
The federal government has, as Chalkbeat reported last week, offered a waiver of the federal testing requirement under ESSA for which states can apply. Texas announced today that they will be applying for such a waiver.
Should Massachusetts do that--which we don't know--and should it be granted, the Legislature would then have to change state law, as it, too, requires annual testing.
March 18 update: Now that the vast majority of schools have closed, pressure on the fed to simply give a blanket waiver has increased. Sixteen states have now asked for a waiver, suspended, or cancelled spring tests.
March 20 update: Today, U.S. Ed issue sweeping language around their willingness to issue waivers:
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced today students impacted by school closures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can bypass standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year. Upon a proper request, the Department will grant a waiver to any state that is unable to assess its students due to the ongoing national emergency, providing relief from federally mandated testing requirements for this school year...
To protect students' health and safety, a state that deems it necessary should proceed with cancelling its statewide assessments for the 2019-2020 school year. Since student performance, as measured by assessments, is required to be used in statewide accountability systems, any state that receives a one-year waiver may also receive a waiver from the requirement that this testing data be used in the statewide accountability system due to the national emergency.
With schools out for such very different lengths of time, is it really going to be a fair comparison this year?
Setting aside what I know will be the inevitable response that it isn't a fair comparison any year, I would say that we don't, as yet, know that. This was more true on Sunday afternoon than it was Sunday night, though; right now, shy of 6% of the state is out another month, with Boston and Everett both closed until the end of April.

What about the SAT? the AP exams?
Many testing locations across Massachusetts were closed Saturday, cancelling SATs. The College Board has now cancelled the May 2 SAT.
On APs, the College Board so far has offered to extend the testing dates, but it's going to depend on how long schools are closed.
As to what consequence this all has, we don't know yet. But it is happening to the whole country--the whole world!--so this isn't a "just you" situation.
As I saw someone noted today, though, if you're a junior, don't write your essay on the coronavirus, because everyone is going to!

Are kids still getting lunch?
As has been widely observed, schools feed lots of kids. When there is no school, some kids go hungry.
Massachusetts like New Hampshire and other states applied for and received a waiver under the USDA to allow for students to continue to receive meals even as schools are closed, and to receive them in a way that doesn't have them eat on site. That is usually required to ensure the child is getting the meal. Now, we need students not to congregate.
You can find a map here of sites at which lunches are being provided for kids in Massachusetts.

Is the state offering anything for instruction?
The Department tweeted this out today:

Is there going to be any financial support provided to school districts because of this?
So far, the only answer I've heard is that the federal government could be providing aid to the state, but that there isn't any indication as to how that's being directed.
But I also know that districts are saving their receipts!

Are school committees still meeting, and may they?
Yes, they are--many held emergency meetings over the weekend to discuss and hold votes on school closure and the provisions need--but many also are using the options given public bodies by the Governor under the declaration under the state of emergency.

What about students with special education needs?
The Department issued the following general guidance last week:
If a school closure causes educational services for all students to pause within a school or district, then the school or district is generally not required to provide services to the affected students with disabilities during that same period of time. However, districts should be communicating with parents and guardians prior to, during, and after a school closure regarding their child's IEP services. This ongoing communication will help educators, administrators, and parents/caregivers understand any impact of the closure on students' access to a free and appropriate public education. After an extended closure, districts should review how the closure impacted the delivery of special education and related services and convene individual IEP team meetings if necessary. Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston will contact special education directors to hold a webinar related to special education concerns as soon as possible.
That call was held Friday afternoon, 'though I do not know what was said.
The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights today released a webinar and fact sheet. It includes this:
As more schools across the nation shift to distance learning, OCR's webinar reminds decisionmakers of their responsibility in making distance learning accessible to students with disabilities, unless equally effective alternate access is provided. Online learning tools must be accessible to students with disabilities, and they must be compatible with the various forms of assistive technology that students might use to help them learn. The webinar advises school leaders to routinely test their online activities to ensure accessibility.
What should we be doing with our students now they're home?
First, please practice social distancing; we didn't close all the schools to have all the kids gather together, anyway. Don't, please, go to the playground. Don't have playdates. Be thoughtful about what freedoms your teen has.
Second--and I want to write wrote a separate post on this--there's a decent chance that if you're reading this post, you have some advantage. Maybe you're less worried about losing a job; maybe you have space for a child to read; maybe you have enough to eat.
Many, many people do not. And many of those are children.
If what you are worried right now is your children's education, you're in good company. But if that is your main worry right now? You're lucky.
This is absolutely going to have lasting impacts on children's education. It will have less impact on some children than on others. I would ask that we fight for those least advantaged to have their needs met first.
Updates as I have them or I have more to write 

Worcester Public Schools COVID-19 FAQ

An updating post of questions, queries, and the best information I have; please also note the Massachusetts FAQ for further information
You're reading it right: Classical was a different building, and
what's now the administration building opened as English High.


The Worcester schools are closed. What now?
The schools have all been thoroughly cleaned since they were closed last week.
If you are staff, you can report to school today from 8-12 to retrieve anything you need, including class pets (!), plants, food, and your Chromebook.
If you are a student, you can report to school from 10-6 tomorrow to retrieve anything you need from school (and please take any food out of your lockers!).
If a student has medication at school, that can be picked up from the nurse from 8-12 today or from 10-6 tomorrow. Only parents can collect controlled substances, though students over 12 can get their epipens, insulin, and inhalers.

But aren't we supposed to be staying apart?
Yes, which is why we need all those coming to be FOCUSED: get in, get what you need, and get out. No stopping to catch up, as much as it is a temptation.

What if kids are sick? May they designate someone to do it for them?
Yes, please do!

What if I can't get my stuff?
The schools will be locked and it will be locked in a building with no one in it but the custodial staff.

Do I have to go?
No, if you don't need anything from school, you don't have to go. Packets will be mailed to students who don't come to their schools on Tuesday. If you don't need to come DO NOT COME! STAY HOME! PLEASE!

What then? 
The schools again will be thoroughly cleaned, and then they will be closed to all but custodial staff.

I heard that...
Okay, hold up: Worcester gossips like a small town. Please let's be very careful about what we're hearing and from whom. The City is holding daily press briefings which are being streamed online, and every elected official I know is scrambling to get as much accurate information out as possible. Please, don't pass along "I heard that" stuff on social media. Check it.

Okay, what I heard is that the Worcester Public Schools have a person associated with the schools with a positive test.
No. We are still waiting for the results of the tests of those associated with North High and Chandler Magnet as of Monday morning.
UPDATE: as announced by City Manager Ed Augustus this afternoon, those three results are back and they are NEGATIVE

What if they come back positive?
First, we'd be the third or fourth district in Massachusetts to have a positive test. Second, it would trigger a tracing of all those with whom those who tested positive have been in contact, so YES, families would be informed and given further direction.

What about learning?
Excellent question!
First, please note that Massachusetts, as a state, has no statewide provision for remote learning. There is a small, now cancelled, pilot of remote learning, mostly in Franklin County around snow days. There are also two virtual schools. But K-12 public education in Massachusetts CANNOT simply move online.
Thus whatever is given are resources for learning, not assigned work. The WPS website has a section for this, and packets are being sent home to all students, as well, as we understand not all families have online access, and it shouldn't be a priority as all else is being dealt with.

What counts?
Yesterday, principals were told that any work assigned before March 12 will count. The quarter is scheduled to end April 3, which is still true.

Do we have to make up these days?
No. The state has said that schools must go through their scheduled 185th day; as Worcester has already used five snow days, June 17th remains our last day.

Are we going to go back on April 6?
We don't know. Told you'd I'd give you the best information I have. It's important to note that the superintendent--and most superintendents who announced closures!--said "at least" April 6, and if you look at the banner on our website, it says that as well.

Are we going to go back at all?
We don't know. The CDC has now said that closures of eight weeks or more may be most effective in mitigation.

What about MCAS?
We don't know yet. The federal government is allowing states to apply for a waiver for the testing requirement under ESSA. We do not know if Massachusetts has applied, and they're not saying. If Massachusetts does apply and is granted such a waiver, the Legislature would also need to act, because our requirement is written into state law.
As the superintendent noted in the paper, however, we aren't going to be in school on March 24 for the 10th grade ELA, so something will need to change.

What about SATs? APs?
We don't know yet. Many testing locations across Massachusetts were closed Saturday, cancelling SATs. The College Board has now cancelled the May 2 SAT.
On APs, the College Board so far has offered to extend the testing dates, but it's going to depend on how long schools are closed.

Are people being paid?
All full year, school year employees of the Worcester Public Schools are being paid. This includes hourly employees and long-term subs (and yes, even crossing guards!). Per administration, "The Worcester Public Schools intend to treat these days as if school is in session and will continue to pay employees as if days are worked. Given that these are paid days, you may be expected to conduct official work, be assigned to work onsite, or complete professional development on these days."
And yes, payroll will keep working, though they're moving to some of that to being remotely done. Also, note that those who pick up checks at DAB usually are now having them mailed to their homes.

What about feeding kids?
Yes, we are! All those under 18 in Worcester can show up at any of the following sites to get a weekday breakfast and lunch:


Have further questions? Comment, email, or call! 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Worcester Connect-ed coming today to students and staff

This was supposed to go out last night, but there somehow was a glitch and it didn't. Here's the latest:

Good evening, This is Maureen Binienda, Superintendent of Schools. I am calling tonight to provide additional school information.
All WPS schools have been thoroughly cleaned. On Monday, March 16 from 8am-noon, all WPS staff should report to their perspective schools to retrieve their personal belongings, classroom pets, plants, and food stored in their classrooms and faculty areas. Teachers should also take their chromebook, grading materials and text manuals needed for online professional development. 
School nurses will be present to distribute student medications to parents from 8am-noon also on Monday, March 16. Only parents can be given student controlled substances. Students age 12 and above, can be given insulin, epi pens and inhalers. 
On Tuesday, March 17 from 10am-6pm, all WPS are open for students to retrieve their belongings. School nurses are also available to distribute meds to parents from 10am-6pm on March 17. Due to the need to practice social distancing, staff, students and families should plan on a focused retrieval of their belongings with minimal personal contact with each other. 
Students learning packets will be sent home by the end of the week. Students should also visit the WPS website Worcesterschools.org to access extended learning. Spectrum has agreed to provide free WiFI to families. See the WPS website for more details on WiFi. 
The WPS will be providing free meals to students at the 30 sites used during the yearly summer feeding program. Friendly House is partnering with the WPS again and will be providing meals at their summer sites. A list of sites will be posted on the WPS website by the middle of the week. The feeding program is planned to begin by the end of this week. 
The WPS staff want all our families to know, we are thinking of all our children and their families. Teachers will be contacting their students by phone or through media during this shutdown. 
Medical experts advise not using facilities like playground structures, avoiding contact with people outside your family and avoiding group events. 
I will continue to update you as new information becomes available.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Announcement from the Worcester Public Schools

from Superintendent Binienda's call this evening:

This is Maureen Binienda, Superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools with this very important message.
The Worcester Public Schools announce that all schools and programs, including the Parent Information Center, will be closed until at least Monday, April 6, 2020. The Durkin Administration Building will be open to employees and closed to the public but available by telephone. The district is taking proactive steps to protect our students and staff during this current pandemic to prevent community spread of the virus. The district will closely monitor the current situation and determine if the planned opening date needs to be extended.
The district will be updating students and families on the dates and times of access to schools to retrieve personal items. We are working with city and community partners to develop plans to provide meals and other essential services to students during this shutdown period.
All staff should check their employee email that will be sent by 5pm on Sunday for details about work assignments, accessing personal items from the school, payroll, and other information.
I will continue to update you on this evolving national emergency as it pertains to the Worcester Public Schools.

how does social distancing work?

Learn from stats teacher (and Barnstable School Committee member) Joe Nystrom:

If you're looking for Massachusetts K-12 COVID-19 updates

...let me just note that this news section at MASC is updating every weekday:

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Governor Baker, the state of emergency, the K-12 education (with updates)

Yesterday afternoon, Governor Baker held a press conference on the ongoing COVID-19 situation. He has declared a state of emergency--see here for what that means--and, among other things, issued new information about public schools. Essentially, these are suspensions of current regulations:
  • For this school year, the chronic absenteeism calculation in school and district accountability will run through days completed by March 2.
  • Schools will only need to complete days scheduled to their 185th day of school (all school calendars are required to have 185 days scheduled, of which students are by regulation required to attend 180).
UPDATE: The following clarification has come this morning from DESE:
1. Data reporting – districts should not be changing the way they report student attendance to DESE. Student absences should be coded as they have in the past. The announcement yesterday was in regard to the use of that data (see below) and not about how the data should be reported. If schools are open, students should be reported as either being in attendance or not. If schools are closed, then student attendance is not reported for that day (just as student attendance is not reported to DESE if a district closes because of snow day).
 2. March SIMS reporting – the certification deadline for the March SIMS collection is next Thursday, March 18. This reporting should cover all 2019-20 school days as of March 2nd (March 1st was a Sunday) and is no different than any past collection of SIMS in March.
 3. Chronic absenteeism in accountability – this is where there will be some changes as a result of the health situation. For accountability purposes we will calculate the percent of students that were considered to be chronically absent as of March 2nd. Specifically, DESE will calculate the percentage of students that missed 10% or more of their days in membership based on the data provided in the March SIMS collection. To be clear, student attendance data from March 3rd to the end of the school year should be reported to DESE (see #1), but will not be used in the accountability chronic absenteeism calculation. DESE will also calculate a comparable rate from the March SIMS in the 2018-19 school year to serve as a baseline for accountability results this year. Our accountability team will begin this work and get the revised 2018-19 baselines and targets out to you in the coming weeks.
UPDATE: Here is the specific language on make up days per DESE:
180 School Day Requirement: In light of concerns about possible school closings for public health reasons, I have updated DESE’s guidance about the requirement for 180 days of school to provide relief to districts. (Note: The Department will continue to revisit this guidance if the situation warrants it.): 
All days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies between the first day of the school year and March 15 must be made up by rescheduling full school days to ensure a 180-day school year. 
All days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies between March 16 and June 1 must be made up to ensure a 180-day school year or until the district has reached its previously-scheduled 185th day, whichever comes first. If all five snow days have been used prior to this point, the district is not required to scheduled additional school days. 
Districts will not be expected to make up any days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies that occur after June 1. 
This change means that if you have already canceled school for five days before March 15, you do not need to schedule additional make-up days for any days that school is closed after March 15. 
The longest that any school district will be required to go is its scheduled 185th day. No schools will be required to be in session after June 30. This policy applies to the current (2019-20) school year only. 


There are also new rules issued for executive branch workers, which does include the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:
  • All work-related travel, both foreign and domestic, is to be discontinued until further notice. Executive Branch employees are also strongly encouraged to avoid any personal international travel. 
  • Conferences, seminars and other discretionary gatherings, scheduled and hosted by Executive Branch agencies involving external parties, are to be held virtually or cancelled. 
  • Regular internal business shall continue, including but not limited to mandated public hearings and board meetings. Meeting organizers are strongly encouraged to utilize alternatives like conference calls, WebEx and other group communication tools. 
  • Additionally, Executive Branch employees should not attend external work-related conferences, seminars or events. Alternatively, Executive Branch employees are encouraged to participate remotely.

Worcester Public Schools update from Superintendent Binienda

The following went out to all WPS staff last night from Superintendent Binienda: 
I am emailing to share updated information on the coronavirus. Rob Pezzella, Deb McGovern and I are in daily contact with the Worcester Public Health Department. We are coordinating our work with City Departments also.
The WPS response to the coronavirus is to continue to focus on prevention. WPS staff should be using good hygiene practices, especially handwashing procedures. Facilities staff are disinfecting school services daily, and buses are cleaned as needed. All out of state field trips have been cancelled for the remainder of the school year.
The WPS District Office is preparing an education plan of studies if it becomes necessary for students to learn at home. More information will be sent to principals this week.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approved new policies for this school year : 
1. Chronic attendance will be used for school accountability purposes from the first day of school 2019 till March 1, 2020;
2. Schools who have already completed 5 snow days and will have 185 days completed by the end of the school year, do not have to make up additional days;
3. Schools do not have to make up quarantine days if days are assigned after March 16.
At this time, all WPS schools remain open. This is a fluid situation. I will update you as I become informed of any updates.

Back to me: the online guidance on this is here. Worcester has had five snow days, thus the current June 17th end date gets us through day 185. If there is a snow day between now and March 15, though, the state says it would need to be made up.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Consolidated COVID-19 resources for Massachusetts schools

DESE now has a page for it.
It was also reassuring to hear questions regarding the state's possible assistance for schools come up at today's Ways and Means hearing:
During a hearing on the education components of Gov. Charlie Baker's $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget, House Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Thomas Stanley asked state education officials if they anticipate a need for any additional funding associated with the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, or if the costs for schools to respond would "fall on the backs of the districts."
"I'm just thinking there may be a need to hire more people cleaning, and down the road, depending on how bad this gets, how many school districts are prepared to have the kids learn from home for a period of time, things like that," the Waltham Democrat said during the hearing at the Malden senior center.

For those asking about meals, I'd suggest reviewing this memo from USDA School Nutrition, which seems to suggest that feeding kids outside of school is allowed, but doing so and not requiring them to eat on-site requires a Presidential declaration of emergency?

This piece from the Atlantic looking at what prolonged closure of schools would have for consequences is a good start, and I particularly appreciate that they ran with the example of a district that doesn't have widespread internet access. We can't just move school online!

This Twitter thread from Professor Nicholas Christakis at Yale which looks at the impact of school closure on the spread of the 1918 flu is both fascinating and useful. It starts here:

Joint Committee on Ways and Means FY21 hearing on FY21

coming you today from the Malden Senior Center, just down the street from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in downtown Malden, where the Joint Committee on Ways and Means is having their FY21 hearing on local aid and education. These "on the road" hearings are frequently chaired by the nearest rep and senator, so today we have Rep. Christine Barber and Senator Jason Lewis, as Barber reps Melrose and Somerville, and Lewis reps Malden. This hearing, like several of the others, are a bit of a set piece; they aren't open to anyone to testify. That hearing is at the State House on March 24 at 11 am. 
And this decidedly will NOT start on time; I'll start updating once it does. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Official word from Governor Baker recommending international school trips be canceled

There had been some confusion earlier this week as to who was recommending what based on what, so clarity today:
...the administration is urging colleges, universities and high schools to cancel upcoming, organized international trips at this time.
The full press release from Governor Baker is here.  You can find coverage here and here.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Sunday, March 1, 2020

And if you're in Worcester, and have been seeking local Coronavirus information

The Superintendent just sent out a Connect-Ed call which referenced the website. If you're having trouble finding it, it's at:

About>Departments & Offices>Nursing>Coronavirus Information https://worcesterschools.org/about/departments-offices/nursing/coronavirus-information/

It looks as though the fact sheet the City is sharing is only in English, which we're going to need to do better on.

At this point, what is the main emphasis from the Worcester Department of Public Health?
First, there remains a single confirmed case in Massachusetts. The risk of contracting this remains very low.
As for all such illnesses:
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer.  
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

UPDATE: So let's turn this post into a FAQ, since I've seen some queries coming in.
If I know, I'll answer. If I don't, I'll see what I can find out and update accordingly.

Q: We're being told that handwashing is one of the most important things we can do. Do the Worcester Schools have enough soap and paper towels?
First, if you're surprised by this question, welcome to the world of budgeting facilties at 60% of foundation. Second, yes, the district is not going through one of the years where this is an issue, so if you're finding a bathroom or a school that is short, pass the word, as the district does have supplies.

Q: Even though we know coronavirus isn't an issue here as yet, there are other illnesses going around. How do the Worcester Schools handle cleaning during this season? 
What is called "touch surface cleaning" (aka: surfaces that are touched) is common practice at this time of year. Special cleaning happens at the request of a school or nursing department when there is a concentration of illness at a school; that has happened a few times this year, as it generally does.


Saturday, February 29, 2020

There are meetings in Worcester this week!

There are THREE Worcester School Committee meetings this week!
  • Monday night is the third of the four of budget sessions to inform the plan due April 1 under the Student Opportunity Act. This one is at Doherty High and like the others is at 6.
  • Wednesday night is the fourth of these sessions, this time at North High, also at 6.
Do remember that these sessions are open to ANYONE (and have food and have translators! And crayons, for that matter), so please do come.

Thursday at 7 pm is our REGULAR meeting (yes, we just did that last week, but February break always throws off the sequencing, which is usually the first and third Thursdays). While the agenda doesn't yet appear to be up (and no, that isn't an OML violation, as there's still more than 48 hours on business days before then), we do have ours, so let me give you the run through: