Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Opportunity delayed is...

MassBudget nails it in their analysis of the Governor's budget in a report entitled "Opportunity Delayed" (The common phrase is "opportunity delayed is opportunity denied) regarding the lesser implementation of the low income rate:
...not all of the SOA reforms are consistently or equitably phased in by the Governor’s proposal despite this goal being outlined in the law. One critical area that is not on track — increased support for students from low-income families through Low-Income Rates. In his FY 2021 budget proposal, the Governor only delivers on 4 percent of the progress towards the SOA target. This leaves 96 percent of the change left to be accomplished over the next six years.
According to a preliminary analysis of the funding proposal, slowing the low-income rate progress down to 4 percent from 14 percent, results in a reduction in aid of $73.6 million.4 This reduces the capacity of districts educating children who are economically disadvantaged, to enhance services, expand opportunities, and promote achievement. The Commonwealth would need to increase Chapter 70 aid by $377.1 million (24 percent more than Governor Baker proposed) to phase-in low-income rate increases at an equal pace as the other components (see chart below).
The Governor’s proposal to increase low-income rates 4 percent towards the target in the first year, while leaving an average of 16 percent each year to follow, does not meet the objective of consistent implementation. This is particularly true when the other areas are moving an even 14 percent towards the goals of the SOA.
The Boston Globe covers this report today. The Mass Taxpayers' quote is interesting as they, as I mentioned earlier, agreed with the MassBudget analysis when they presented for the Connecticut Valley superintendents.
And school committees? A good thing to pay attention to and weigh in on.
PS: Worcester? It's on next week's agenda.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

About paper towels

This is a blog post about paper towels.

I spend a lot of time in schools.
I see a lot of school bathrooms.
I see staff bathrooms and student bathrooms. I see bathrooms in buildings that opened last year and in buildings that have been open for over a century. I see sinks at various heights and rooms that don't have mirrors and not as much graffiti as maybe you'd think.
And paper towels.

While we've been having this attempt to switch to hand dryers (despite the impact on student hearing and their possible ick factor on bacterial spread), most school bathrooms still have hand towels.

If you're an adult and you think "school paper towels," you probably are thinking what I am: they're brown and they come on a roll and they probably come out of a dispenser that has a crank on the side.
And what do we all know about the brown paper towels?
If the point is to dry your hands, they're not very good at it.

What I have been noticing is that I very rarely see those paper towels at all anymore. What I see more often is what the photo is above: the towels are white and softer and they actually absorb water.
Paper towels, like a lot of things in schools, are more complicated than they look; we should be weighing cost, and environmental impact (white = bleach), and ease of use, and many other things.
At the end of all of that, though, if the kids' hands aren't dry, we haven't achieved what we set out to do when we bought the paper towels.

I've been thinking about this as we head into budget season not only because Worcester does still use brown paper towels*, but because we have, I think, a lot of things like this in education. We do things because they sound good or we argue that they sound good or they are appealing, but we don't ask if they actually work for those we're educating.

As we go through the budget process in districts this year, I hope we all are asking if things work and if they actually serve our students.
Otherwise, it's brown paper towels.

*not surprising when you've been funding facilities at 60% of foundation

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A few things to watch from last week's Worcester School Committee meeting

I mean, I always tell you to go watch the budget presentation, literally. It starts about 15 minutes in.
  • There was some updating of minutes necessary, but the upshot is that there will be, going forward, a standing item on the Finance and Operations subcommittee agenda on transportation, a form for families and students to fill out to report late and missing buses, and reports on that weekly posted online and sent to the School Committee until we get an app and can report from that. So far, no sign of the form. 
  • the meantime, let us know...
  • This was coming out of Miss McCullough's subcommittee, but, as was noted in the T&G, there's some revision going on around admission to Worcester Tech. Note that there is also a larger state effort around equity in admission that may require further revision. 
  • Mrs. Clancey's item to provide social media updates in multiple languages passed for implementation, so watch for that.
  • I asked for a report on all fees paid by families of Worcester Public School students for classes. When this comes back, I'd appreciate some reflection on if we've missed anything, as we are supposed to be offering a free public education.
  • The dress code is back in Governance, but we've also sent this to the Student Advisory Council. This needs student and family input!
  • My request that we pass a resolution, calling on the City administration to not attribute work on Duffy Field or Foley Stadium's fields stemming from Doherty's construction to the Worcester Public Schools' capital budget passed, 5-2, Monfredo and Biancheria opposing. Here's why that matters: the School Committee does not pass the schools' capital budget. As with all municipal committees, it is passed on the city side. For both North and South, we had to make allowances of various kinds to get athletes to practice space during school construction. For Doherty, it was proposed back at the December meeting that the back field at Foley and Duffy Field (which is a city park) both be astroturfed, to a cost of $5-$7M. As I noted last month, funding this work from the Worcester Public Schools' capital budget of more or less $3M a year would zero our other capital work out for most of two years if not more. We simply cannot afford to have absolutely NO capital work done in our 50 buildings, which have 86% of the delayed maintenance on 60% of the city buildings, for multiple years.
    This was a view shared by most of my colleagues. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

So what's the deal with the low income measurement?

Why is there discussion/controversy/activism about the low income implementation in school funding in the House 2 budget?

As I mentioned when I ran through the Governor's proposed budget back in January, most of the sections of the Foundation Budget Review Commission's recommendations and the Student Opportunity Law that had to do with funding were implemented at 1/7th of the goal, under the general understanding that this will be phased in over seven years.
Not low income.
What did happen with low income was this: the law provided for a one year "best option" count on students: for each district, the state looked at the direct certification count--the one we've been using, through the matching of students via the databases--and also ran the FY16 percentage of students that were low income then (the last year that everyone was being credited on free/reduced lunch, 'though some districts had already switched), and each district got the higher of those two counts.
Note that if you download the FY16 spreadsheet, you can double-check your number by calculating your percentage of low income students that year. I assume that there were business offices that did this ahead of time. And each of the FY21 preliminary foundation budget sheets has, in the bottom right corner, a comparison of the FY16 percentage applied to this year's enrollment and this year's direct certification:
Here's Worcester's. See the blue box? 

That "best of," as has been widely noted, added about 46,000 students statewide to the count of low income. Those students, of course, were not all in one district, and, as with any such count, there were districts that benefited more than others. Worcester picked by 2000 more students for this year; as Mike noted, Northbridge actually lost kids even with the FY16 count being used (it would have gone lower if it were only direct cert) and so on.
However, as a result of the the increased count of students, the state of course had to increase the amount of funding going to that line. In order to keep to the overall $300M or so planned--the overall 1/7th--the rate change was only implemented by 4/100ths, not the 1/7th of the other sections.
This was part of the Mass Taxpayers' Foundation presentation yesterday
to the Connecticut Valley Superintendents' Roundtable.
We were told it is a slide that DESE doesn't like.

This isn't a thing that I or anyone else cooked up; you can find it right on DESE's page on FY21 under "Foundation Budget Rates."
As noted in the above slide that you probably can't read, this means the rates for low income will then have to pick up the difference over the next six years in order to meet the seven year generally understood goal.
It also, as a side note, means that some of the money gets postponed having inflation applied by a year.
The slide also notes, however, that the final section of the law says that the changes are to be implemented in "an equitable and consistent manner."
Thus the question is: is this equitable? is this consistent? does it line up with the intent of the law? is in line with what was fought so hard for?

A number of us are arguing that it doesn't.

Two additional notes after the jump:

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Worcester School Committee hears the first presentation on H2, the Governor's budget, for FY21

Allen: Worcester a leader in the foundation budget gaps identification
90 teachers a year needed through FY27 in order to close the 720 teacher gap (non-special education)
that would be $6.8M a year
in FY20, we hired 84 so close...
  • benefits and fixed charges
  • guidance and psychological services
  • special education
  • English learners
  • low income students
expect $14M each year for each of next seven years
$15.7M increase in FY21
$10M of inflation had been built into the online assumptions (totalling $75.9M over the seven years)
really only $98M, then would be SOA (if what you've seen online was $173M)

enrollment decline (of almost 400 students)
modest inflation growth (2%)
overall foundation budget growth of $19.2M
$7.7M increase in inflation
enrollment change: LOSS of $4.2M
thus the base foundation change is $3.4M
it's the SOA funding bringing in $15.7M

enrollment is back down to 2017 levels (the 400 students went in and out last year)
thus it's hard to predict from one year to the next what enrollment is

low income count responsible for $10M
low income rate change $2.4M
benefits $2.1M
EL $581,301
Guidance $304,679
sped $246,940

no longer having carry forward state funding hurricane assistance $1.6M
no ELT $1M the Governor cut this in his budget
innovative pathways grant $275K
HEARS grant $100K
down by $2.9M in total, then
federal grants are not yet known and could also be reductions
thus $16M available

level service budget 3.8% or $14.1M increase
plus new positions added $1.3M

remaining available fund for budget priorities $1.9M
But the Commissioner thinks we can spend $8.9M on new priorities

low income count could DROP again next year, if DESE plans on collecting forms (on top of eligiblity)
could lose $33M next year

school allocation meetings going on right now
House budget April 15
Senate budget?
WPS budget expected May 15
SC does budget June 4 and 18

Allen to Q from Mayor: can get within $2.5M of what Department requires
Q: what would have been the budget cut if we hadn't had SOA?
"a fairly significant reduction in the budget" There would have been layoffs "significant layoffs"

Foley: it's rather sobering to see the dollars that are there
seven year phase in
hopefully over next six years will see some significant dollars
plans should be over those years
preschool down? are we doing anything on that?
Allen: preschool kids age in: fluctuations in enrollment thus
159 in Head Start: state's minimum wage is disqualifying families from Head Start
Petty: we should have a conversation with Congressman McGovern
need to keep advocating low income rate phase in
state is using 2.4% for inflation; ours is 3.8%
"that really makes no sense from an operational point of view"
why dollars cut?

McCullough: was our loss of students due to Puerto Rico responsible
Allen had already identified a slight decrease in enrollment
are our cost needs covered in Commissioner's list?
Binienda says yes, now facilities is in there

Biancheria: concern around collecting forms; staff time for low income count
Binienda: no reason for students to bring form back
Biancheria: importance of adding facilities to the list

Monfredo: discussions are about the next six years not this year
importance of small class sizes
so many needs that we do have, it is going to be difficult to pick and choose
do we have room for adding preschool classes? motion to ask 

Clancey: could the increase in the minimum wage depress our count?
Allen: it could
Clancey: if a student is low income and special education, can funds be used for the other?

Petty: important to look long range over multiple years

On reporting on the Student Opportunity Act funding

Section 1S of the Student Opportunity Act says the following:
(a)The commissioner shall establish statewide targets for addressing persistent disparities in achievement among student subgroups in the aggregate and within subcategories, including, but not limited to, subject matter and relevant grade levels. The targets shall include annual benchmarks on the progress expected to be achieved in the aggregate and by subcategory.
(b) Each district shall establish targets for addressing persistent disparities in achievement among student subgroups consistent with the targets established by the department. Each district shall develop an evidence-based 3-year plan to meet its targets. Each district’s plan shall be developed by the superintendent in consultation with the school committee and shall consider input and recommendations from parents and other relevant community stakeholders, including but not limited to, special education and English learner parent advisory councils, school improvement councils and educators in the school district.
The sequence thus is supposed to be:
  1. the Commisssioner establishes statewide targets for addressing academic disparities
  2. those targets should include annual benchmarks
  3. districts then are to establish their own targets in line with the state's targets
  4. districts are to write a plan on how they're going to get to the targets
Guess what we don't have?
State targets.

Nonetheless, the Department released the guidance around reporting on Student Opportunity Act funding earlier this week. Districts receiving more than $1.5M over FY20 will need to fill out the long form; those receiving less than $1.5M will need to fill out a short form. Everyone's forms are due April 1 (that last in the law).

So all of this input and all of the subsequent budgetary planning is supposed to be subject to the targets we're supposed to be aiming for: it is literally written into law. But that section--the target section--is the section the Department has decided that we're holding off on until later, once we have this year's data.

You might think, therefore, that we'd then hold off on the plans until we have the targets we're going to reach for, but no:

We're going to--and I am not making this up--write up plans on how we're going to reach the targets WITHOUT HAVING THE TARGETS.
And the plans are due April 1.

Thus keeping always in mind that this is the underlying premise of this exercise, let's talk about what the expectations beyond that are.

Both the short and the long form are designed around four commitments, which fall somewhat in line with the intent of the law:
1. Intentionally focus on student subgroups who are not achieving at the same high levels as their peers;
2. Adopt, deepen or continue specific evidence-based programs to close opportunity and achievement gaps for student subgroups and allocate resources to support these programs;
3. Monitor success in reducing disparities in achievement among student subgroups over three years with a small number of metrics and targets; and
4. Engage families, particularly those families representing student subgroups most in need of support, about how best to meet their students’ needs.
The plan descriptions also focus on "doing a few things well" and "focus on implementation."
The cover letter from the Commissioner says DESE "will focus primarily on the extent to which districts are implementing evidence-based programs that will close these gaps in their communities."

Now, you might remember during the work of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, MassBudget did a series of reports on what kinds of things helped close the opportunity gaps, particularly for kids who are poor: early childhood education, wraparound services, extended day, and smaller class sizes were four of the areas looked at. This and other research then made its way into the Commission's report.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as though much of that made its way into the hands of those putting together the reporting requirements for DESE, as the only one of those things that gets mentioned is preschool. In particular, the Commissioner says that he is interested in, and intends to put the granting power of the Department behind:
  1. expanded early childhood and evidenced-based early literacy, together as a single item. Others will no doubt note that this isn't really as much of a thing; you can be a good reader and read late; you can have great early childhood education that isn't literacy-focused.
  2. early college programs, which is definitely all the rage right now, definitely still something we're working out how to do, and isn't necessarily hitting the students who might benefit the most
  3. diversifying the educator and administrator workforce, which is certainly important, but is something that most are still working out how to do.
While those are definitely the focus of the Commissioner, to make those three things the driving force in how Massachusetts spends new funding, quite apart from the items that are within the law itself is abrupt and moves us away from the ongoing conversations we have had around equity and meeting actual needs over the past several years.
In other words, these are the Commissioner's priorities: does that make them the priorities of K-12 education in Massachusetts, which is much much larger than that?
The Commissioner closes his opening letter by calling the law:
a historic opportunity for Massachusetts to propel our state to become a national leader, not just in overall achievement, but for all children in the Commonwealth.
...because if we aren't beating New Jersey, where are we?
Quite seriously, though, we can lead and BE AN EXAMPLE to others who we could hope COULD ALSO DO WELL FOR THEIR CHILDREN.
Education isn't a zero sum game; our state doing better doesn't mean others have to do worse.

The law, you might recall, actually has ten options for evidence-based programs (still in section 1S):(A) expanded learning time in the form of a longer school day or school year; 
(B) increased opportunity for common planning time for teachers;  
(C) social services to support students’ social-emotional and physical health; 
(D) hiring school personnel that best support improved student performance; 
(E) increased or improved professional development; 
(F) purchase of curriculum materials and equipment that are aligned with the statewide curriculum frameworks; 
(G) expanding early education and pre-kindergarten programming within the district in consultation or in partnership with community-based organizations; 
(H) diversifying the educator and administrator workforce; 
(I) developing additional pathways to strengthen college and career readiness; and 
(J) any other program determined to be evidence-based by the commissioner there's a "you can argue with the Commissioner" allowance.
Those, of course, are more largely reflective both of the research of MassBudget and of the larger discussions that surrounded the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

The Department has now converted that list into seventeen items, divided into four parts:
Enhanced Core Instruction
1. Expanded access to full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, including potential collaboration with other local providers (SOA categories D, F, and G)
2. Research-based early literacy programs in pre-kindergarten and early elementary grades (E, F, and G)
3. Early College programs focused primarily on students under-represented in higher education (I)
4. Supporting educators to implement high-quality, aligned curriculum (E and F)
5. Expanded access to career-technical education, including “After Dark” district-vocational partnerships and innovation pathways reflecting local labor market priorities (I)
Targeted Student Supports
6. Increased personnel and services to support holistic student needs (C and D)
7. Inclusion/co-teaching for students with disabilities and English learners (D and E)
8. Acceleration Academies and/or summer learning to support skill development and accelerate advanced learners (A and E)
9. Dropout prevention and recovery programs (I)
Talent Development
10. Diversifying the educator/administrator workforce through recruitment and retention (D and H)
11. Leadership pipeline development programs for schools (D and E)
12. Increased staffing to expand student access to arts, athletics, and enrichment, and strategic scheduling to enable common planning time for teachers (B and D)
13. Strategies to recruit and retain educators/administrators in hard-to-staff schools and positions (D)
Conditions for Student Success
14. Community partnerships for in-school enrichment and wraparound services (C)
15. Parent-teacher home visiting programs (E)
16. Labor-management partnerships to improve student performance (E)
17. Facilities improvements to create healthy and safe school environments (J)

The Commissioner's priorities (in red above) are ones he says he "encourages" and "will likely offer multiplier funds" in, again, despite those not being shared priorities across the process.

Plans must make the four commitments above, focusing on subgroups, choosing three metrics for measurement and monitoring. If DESE metrics are chosen, the Department will update the plan for districts in the fall when they set targets; otherwise, districts will need to update their plans with targets in the fall.
But the plans are due April 1
Districts not only need to describe how families were engaged in this process; they also need to describe their "ongoing plan for engaging families." This despite clear and repeated directions from the Department that this plan is not to be a large scale new plan; how many districts already have family engagement plans?
Do note (bottom of page 7 of the long form description) that a school committee vote is required.

The Department has decided what it believes to be "new Chapter 70 revenue" and has provided a spreadsheet to the districts receiving the largest amounts of how much they are expected to expend in as "new" funding. This is based on an assumed 2.44% inflation rate (this is the 15 year average foundation budget inflation rate, lowest and highest eliminated) applied to the funding; all the rest counts as "new" aid.
As I noted online earlier today, this ignores the actual functioning of the foundation budget. Yes, the budget is subject to both a 1.99% inflation rate for most and a 2.43% inflation rate for health care. It is at ground, though, a student-based, enrollment-driven formula. Changes in student count and demographics drive changes in the formula. Some of the changes--some of the Gateway cities increases--are enrollment changes, not formula changes. To ignore that is to ignore the fundamentals, and it does a real disservice to the districts that are working through changes in both. It leaves them unable to use the funds intended to serve those students for those students.

There were several places where I was torn on the right reaction; this was one(p.8):
We also encourage districts, to the extent possible, to allocate other new or existing resources to evidence-based programs, sufficient to significantly improve student outcomes and close achievement gaps over time. miss the entire prior discussion? What "other new or existing resources"? The ENTIRE reason we are doing this is these districts DO NOT HAVE ANY OTHER RESOURCES and they haven't had enough from the state for years!
I would note the same for the districts that are receiving incremental minimum per pupil changes, 'though it appears to me that it is largely conceded that explaining you'll be doing some of what you're already doing will suffice.

The Department then provides a sample plan, First, please tell me that no district serving majority students of color uses "majority minority" in describing itself. This created district not only has MCAS scores; it has recently done a student survey and it has had the funding to be tracking the college persistence of graduates.
...this doesn't sound like a district that is receiving a boost in state funding.
Not surprisingly, this district has decided that two of the Commissioner's priorities are swell, so they're doing preK and early college, plus adopting acceleration academies (which is what the Commissioner ran in Lawrence, so while DESE may not be funding them, you're good there, too).

And then we get into the math. This made-up district, we're told, has "a minimum" of $2.8M of "new funding" in FY21, to which the district is adding $100,000. This puts it a bit over Holyoke, which, just to give you an idea of how this works, is having HALF of its increase in state funding attributed as new funding. Again, this is without regard to how the district is in fact getting to that funding level.
This district is going to create eight new preschool classrooms, implying (as there is no facility cost) that they have eight classrooms standing open in their district (is this true in any of our cities?). They are hiring enough staff for a 1:10 student ratio. There is a great deal of eliding of teacher and staff time towards training (the principals are paid for PD; don't the teachers need it?), not only in the early childhood section, but throughout the entire report (not all of which is budgeted). The early college section will have "intense academic coaching" which requires staff and time; faculty will "work with their college counterparts to align curriculum" which is staff time; buses will take students to the colleges, which is a transportation cost. We're told that "[r]obust, individualized academic and guidance supports will then be developed and provided" BY WHOM? WHEN?
...I could go on, but the whole of the plan is like that. There is tons of eliding of staff time and resources without accounting for the ACTUAL COST OF THINGS.

This is not a good use of our time.
This is not a good accounting of resources.
This is not a good process.
We deserve better than this. 

We need to talk about facial recognition technology in schools

Some schools are doing it.
And the research is clear on the biases in the system:
The systems falsely identified African-American and Asian faces 10 times to 100 times more than Caucasian faces, the National Institute of Standards and Technology reported on Thursday. Among a database of photos used by law enforcement agencies in the United States, the highest error rates came in identifying Native Americans, the study found.
The technology also had more difficulty identifying women than men. And it falsely identified older adults up to 10 times more than middle-aged adults.
Another group it isn't good at? Children. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

DESE update on February MASBO

Rob O'Donnell
Powerpoint is here
walk through House 2
$303.5M increase in Ch. 70
changes in Health insurance, guidance, special education out of district, EL, low income students
all others getting increased by inflation
the law doesn't specific the rate of implementation
"needs to be an equitable manner"
low income headcount expansion "up to 185%" of poverty is in the law

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday: FY21 discussion starts NOW

I mean, at least publicly it does...

If you want the one thing on Thursday night's agenda that you should note, it is the report of the Superintendent, which will be the first look at the FY21 budget numbers. The backup is not yet posted. Do note that this is, of course, the Governor's proposed budget, which is not usually--certainly never in this administration--where the numbers end up.

Do also note that the Department's requirements around reporting out on Student Opportunity Act spending was shared yesterday. I would say that they have rather aggressive definitions of what constitutes the "new" funding on which districts need to report. More on this to come

There are of course recognitions, retirements, and such...

Also on the agenda: not one, not two, but three subcommittee reports! The only one we're missing is Governance, which meets next Tuesday at 4:30 pm at the Administration Building (the agenda isn't posted yet; I'll share once it is).
Reporting out is the standing committee I chair (School and Student Performance; agenda here), TLSS chaired by Ms. McCullough (agenda for that here), and Finance and Operations chaired by Mr. Foley (agenda here; my notes here). As F&O had the second quarter report, there's about half a million dollars in transfers coming through there (transfers by cost center require a vote of the School Committee).

Reports coming back:
We are being requested to accept donations :
‑ $66.00 from American Life Insurance Company
‑ $79.60 from Box Tops for Education
‑ $500.00 from Big Y Canterbury Street
‑ $118,200 from the Worcester Technical Skyline Fund to support the Innovation Pathways Program
‑ $2,000.00 from Worcester Historical Museum/Pow Wow Worcester to WPS Visual Arts
‑ ‑ $700.00 from Scholarship America/Target Field Trips to Flagg Street School to help with the cost of field trip expenses
‑ ‑ $1,514.00 from fundraising efforts to Lake View School
‑ ‑ $1,000.00 to Lake View School from donors
‑ ‑ $452.90 from Box Tops for Education to Tatnuck Magnet School

We are being requested to approve prior year payments  (and hey, we're getting actual explanations for why they're late now):
--in the amount of $367.50 to AA Transportation Company because the invoice "was not received or misplaced this summer when school was not in session"
--totaling $13,010.98 for JROTC instructors for whom no monthly minimum instructor payment for March through June 2019
--totaling $1103.02 for a teacher and an instructional assistant

We are being asked to approve grants:
--for Teacher Diversification for $74,482
--from UNUM for Strong Schools for a total of $20,000 ('though it's a bunch of different projects; check it out)
--for Targeted Assistance twice: one for $150,000 and one for $200,000 (aside from it being spent on professional time, it is difficult to figure out what is going on here)

New items:
  • Mrs. Clancey is requesting updates on CPPAC, ELPAC, SPED-Pac meetings and ways to include parental participation
  • She is also requesting that social media be translated (I co-sponsored, so I think I'm cleared to say HEAR HEAR!) and that we make certain Connect-Eds are going home in home languages
  • Ms. McCullough is requesting an update on what the impact of the merger of St. Peter-Marian and Holy Name will have on our buses (yes, Worcester students who attend those schools ride WPS buses)
  • We're being asked to DECREASE the mileage rate in line with the IRS (from 58 cents to 57.5 cents; no I am not kidding)
  • Miss Biancheria is requesting what new Ch.74 programs there are going to be
  • I've asked the City Solicitor to advise us on the legal "hey this is a public document" boilerplate to go on the bottom of our emails (No, I didn't phrase it that way)
  • I've also asked for a list of all fees associated with coursework in the schools
  • I've asked that we discuss this proposal of the City Council's that they move polling places back into schools without discussing with the School Committee
  • I'm sending the dress code not only to Governance but to the Student Advisory Council (This is going to be another one that only works if folks show up once it is being discussed in subcommittee; I'll let you know.).
  • I've also asked that we pass a resolution calling on the City Manager not to supplant our capital allocation for FY21 or future years with whatever work is done on Foley Stadium or Duffy Field as was discussed at the Doherty building committee meeting. We still need to be able to fix schools!
There also is an executive session at 6: 

  • To discuss strategy with respect to litigation if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of the public body and the chair so declares – Janie Lanza Vowles, Personal Representative Estate of Suzanne F. Miville v. Worcester Public Schools, MCAD Docket No. 1785CV00162
  • To discuss strategy with respect to collective bargaining if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the bargaining position of the public body and the chair so declares – International Union of Public Employees, Local 125 - Plumbers and Steamfitters. To discuss strategy with respect to collective bargaining if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the bargaining position of the public body and the chair so declares – International Union of Public Employees, Local 135 - Tradesmen
  • To discuss strategy with respect to collective bargaining if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the bargaining position of the public body and the chair so declares –Massachusetts Laborers’ District Council for and in behalf of Worcester Public Service Employees Local Union 272 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, AFL-CIO, Unit D, Computer Technicians
  • To discuss strategy with respect to litigation for Worker’s Compensation- Instructional Assistant, if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of the School Committee and the chair so declares.
  • To discuss strategy with respect to litigation for Worker’s Compensation- School Nurse, if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of the School Committee and the chair so declares.
  • To discuss strategy with respect to litigation for Worker’s Compensation- School Secretary, if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of the School Committee and the chair so declares.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

"What’s the point of having a bus system if it can’t be trusted?"

A part of the ongoing "is this happening/is it just us or is this actually a larger management issue?" check in on Durham Bus Services across the country.

When we last checked in on Charleston, SC, they had accepted a HIGHER bid from First Student  as a result of their current issues with Durham; Durham protested. The district has denied the protest, saying it did not come in on time. Durham has now filed an appeal. As noted by WCSC:
Durham has provided bus services for the school district for more than a decade and has faced criticism from some parents for poor service. This school year alone, Durham has faced a number of problems with late buses and a bus driver shortage.

Heading closer to home, Framingham isn't the only district that has had it with Durham--their meeting this Wednesday will focus on transportation--as Wallingford, Connecticut reports similar problems. Asked about drivers shortages, the superintendent responded:
Menzo said he understands some drivers will be out sick, but wants to see a return to “normal.” 
“Families can’t tolerate this any further, I can't tolerate this any further as a superintendent,” he said.
Wallingford's contract is up this year--the decision is expected in May or June--but the local editorial board opined:
What’s the point of having a bus system if it can’t be trusted? 
The situation needs to be corrected as soon as possible, and shouldn’t wait while the school system goes about the process of awarding the next five-year transportation contract.
 ...a sentiment with which one can only agree.

Sunday reading

Here's some things I've been reading that I'd recommend:
  • I struggle to choose what passage to quote in this interview with Paul Gorski, which I really just want you all to read all of:
    All these practices are alluring because they avoid the harder work of equity—because they don’t require that we identify inequities, how they are operating in schools, and how we’re complicit in them. I want to clarify: I do think that—in the context of a robust systemic approach to equity—some of these practices can play an important role. I wish my own teachers had access to trauma-informed classroom practices, for example, because I grew up with a lot of trauma and generally felt like I was repeatedly punished for the impact of that trauma. But what none of these approaches help us do is identify and eliminate inequities that are deeply embedded in our educational systems. When we’re not eliminating inequities, we’re instead trying to help students adjust to inequity-laden institutions—we’re feeding that classic deficit ideology.
    We challenge deficit ideologies by learning how to spot them in all their forms. Educational leaders have a big role to play here: they simply cannot allow deficit narratives and assumptions to live in their school or district cultures. On a more interpersonal level, when I hear somebody make a deficit-oriented statement, I like to ask a question that invites that person to look through a more structural lens. Somebody might say, “These low-income families just don’t value education. They never show up for anything.” In this case, I might ask, “I wonder if there are any other possible explanations for why those families are less likely than wealthier families to attend family-engagement events? Could there be an explanation other than they don’t care or they’re irresponsible?” In this way, I’m inviting somebody to try on a different lens.
    Ultimately, we challenge deficit narratives by making an intentional choice: equity efforts should never be about fixing anything about students who are marginalized in schools. They should always—always—be about fixing whatever is marginalizing students in schools. 
  • Similarly, this piece on the trap of hiring a woman of color as a diversity officer without ensuring she has full leadership support to change the culture of the organization is a challenging but necessary read:
  • I asked how that was going.
    “Not great,” she said. “The trouble is that they don’t actually want me to do my job.”
    This is a complaint I heard time and again from the six women of color CDOs I spoke to for this essay, and it is a complaint I have made myself.

  • If you have some time, try out this tool that tracks school by school demographics back over the past several decades. Worcester, try out the high schools!
  • I learned a lot from this New Yorker piece on historic preservation and Black history, including of the existence of the Rosenwald schools, which says a lot, really, that someone who reads about education history as much as I have still hadn't come across them.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

of office referrals

When I sit in a session like yesterday's at Worcester's North High on student discipline, I think about Kurt.
His name wasn't actually Kurt, and, usual round of disclaimers: 
I taught in a well-resourced district. 
This was twenty years ago. 
An anecdote isn't the singular of data.

I taught English, mostly freshmen and sophomores. Kurt was in one of my midday sophomore classes. He played defense on the football team, which mattered, because, during the season, you had to have a passing grade in each core subject in order to play each Friday. 
I don't remember what day of the week it was, but it was well after football season. It was into the part of the year where we'd all settled in, the course changes had long been made, and this was where we were for the duration. 
And that day, for whatever reason, he just couldn't settle in. As I was trying to get through the work of the class, he kept pushing back and not doing it and getting in the way of others doing it. 
And I spoke to him and I spoke to him and I spoke to him, and eventually he snapped.
I can still remember him getting up out of his seat, outraged with me, and yelling back at me.
I sent him to the office.
My classroom was next to one of the sets of swinging fire doors that all schools have, and as he left, and went through the doors, he hit the window of the door hard enough that it shattered. 
His hand went through it.
And so he came to the office, furious and bleeding, and he went to the hospital.
And I sat down at my desk that afternoon and filled out the office referral form. 
And he was suspended for a few--two? three?--days for the damage to school property.

While he was gone, the assistant principal came to my classroom during my prep period with the referral, and he asked me to talk him through it. This didn't always happen, but, after all, this one had ended with stitches and a broken door. 
And so we sat and talked through it.
My assistant principal--and as teachers know, you need the secretary and the custodian to like you, but an assistant principal can make or break you--never questioned my judgment and he never argued with me. What he did do was make me think about how it could have gone differently.
Kurt had, clearly, been having a rough day before he got to me. I had even seen it in how he carried himself as he came in. This, like so much of what happens in school, wasn't about me or my class at all. 
Was there a point at which a choice that I, the adult in the room, made could have meant that Kurt didn't end up in the hospital that afternoon?
In retrospect, there were several.

When Kurt came back to school, he came by my room and apologized before school. There are many ways I messed up as a teacher over that part of my life, but in this case, I didn't: I apologized to him, as well.

None of this is to absolve a fifteen year old from breaking a door or even from being disruptive in class.
Schools are not just about English and math and history, though; they're about becoming people. 

As a teacher, I had the luxury of time with someone wiser than me who wasn't accusatory but who asked what happened in terms of what the adults, the ones who have the most agency, can do.
To that question, we need to add: what resources are needed to create institutions that support, rather than hurt, the young people in them?

Friday, January 31, 2020

Worcester budget input sessions

This only works if you come!

  • Monday, Feb. 10 at Claremont Academy 
  • Thursday, Feb.13 at Burncoat High School 
  • Monday, March 2 at Doherty Memorial High School 
  • Wednesday, March 4 at North High School 

 ...all at 6 pm.

 As Mr. Foley said yesterday, site councils should also plan to weigh in, there is a section coming on the district website, and you can, of course, always contact a Worcester School Committee member.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Worcester Finance and Operations subcommittee

And the agenda and backups are here.
The big thing, to preview, is the second quarter report, which gives some perspective on where the budget will end up by the end of the year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

January Board of Education: Student Opportunity Act and the budget

Riley: funding is progressive, "so some of our most needy school districts" are getting greater resources
how to we now ensure those funds are spent in a way that closes persistent achievement gaps
85% of additional dollars in 35 or so districts
bifurcated plan: long form or short form
short form does not take away need for focus on these issues
plans themselves "are fairly bounded by the statute"
evidence based or evidence informed practices
"that doesn't mean a district can't approve another evidence based practice" but Commissioner has to approve it
either next week or next week, template going out
parent and community feedback
"we're also asking all school committees to approve these in March"
"we want to make this an inclusive process, where everyone gets to weigh in"
outcome metrics whether state or your own
"this is not meant to be a bureaucratic exercise"
"even if this were a longer process, we wouldn't want this to be a compliance-driven exercise"
law does provide select examples to chose from
possible re-arrangement of DESE grants: early literacy, early college, diversifying workforce for multiplier effect
have set up a hotline; doing webinars with superintendents
what if the new money is being used for contract requirements?
"operating under the assumption that we're going to carve out an inflation factor"
plans need to be accepted by Commissioner
Concern that cities and towns that already fund over do NOT pass along additional Ch. 70 to their districts
"may need to be regulations that need to be proferred" by Board
will be working closely with districts that may not be on the best fit of this bill
Peyser: this can't be a one and done process
Eisenhower said plans are worthless; planning's indespensible
work over time on implementation is what is important

budget: about a 5% increase in resources to education
overall increase of 2.3% to state budget
this is a run through the account by account; I think I missed an update on staffing; I'll have to go back and listen again And it answered my question! The increase in 7061-9200 is for an increase (overdue, I'm told) for the data work, in part that required by SOA for targets, but also to staff the data requirements elsewhere in the Act...which means the Governor DID provide for that section of the Board's request. 

$1.8B over seven years; $1.16B will be in low income students
both increase in 40K count
even implementation over seven years is 14%
impact on individual district varies very much according to local district capacity

January meeting of the Board of Ed: educator licensure

the backup is here
Riley: there are some unintended consequences for a one-size-fits-all-model
would find that two applicants for openings: one who had passed MTEL but was unsuccessful in multiple districts; one who was successful but missed the MTEL
"keeping a robust system, but also potentially allowing for alternative pathways"
"value of the human talent on your team"
critical importance of teachers in front of students
set the standards and then the assessments for educators to be licensed
repeatedly hear the same concern: teachers who are successful in the classroom but cannot pass the test
importance of teacher content knowledge and skills
pilot to allow for content knowledge
MTEL reflective of teacher eval and of student success
educators on waivers that are meeting students needs; waiver educators who are top performing are disproportionally teachers of color
proposed regulatory language change allows for the pilot option
It appears as though this is the path considered. The regulation allows for pilot options (the MGL requires tests in subject matter knowledge and in literacy)
— Tracy O'Connell Novick (@TracyNovick) January 28, 2020

request for public comment will not only include regulation but also include insight into pilot proposal
Board approval sought in April; plan to launch in summer

West: would want to look at relative success of those who come in through these alternative pathways
review allowed by subset of educator evaluation programs
Peyser: do we have data of prior Praxis/MTEL scores to do comparisons?
don't have Massachusetts Praxis data
Moriarty: "I've never had anyone say 'thank you for regulating me'"
have to factor in that mindset
"I am very very skeptical"
regulation sent out for public comment

January meeting of the Board of Ed: Brown University and MCAS competency assignments

..who apparently were supposed to be a the joint meeting in December that got cancelled
Commissioner: research showing that MCAS results tracks closely to life outcomes
"should lay to rest the claim by some advocacy groups of its irrelevance"
"there are some Luddites in this world that would rather see no change ever, or they would rather throw sand in the gears of progress, or would rather have no" accountability ever

January meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education: opening remarks

The agenda is online here.
You can find the livestream here.

Senator Jason Lewis is called forward.
"I'm here all the time; this is my first opportunity to come by" a meeting
I believe he may have been teased about turning up today
school funding bill was "many years in the making"
"no organization was more important in our success than the Department"
thanks Riley, Wulfson "and particularly the school finance team"
"we lost track of how many models we ran" to understand the impact of proposed changes
now need to support superintendents and school committees "in making the best possible use" of resources

Tim Nicolette from Mass Charter School Association
supporting charter amendments of Pioneer School of Science and Veritas
also to support reports
"we consider accountability to be the backbone of charter schools in Massachusetts"

City on a Hill Charter School (which is relinquishing the charter for New Bedford and co-locating the Boston campuses)
"was a difficult road from the beginning" in New Bedford
financially unstable and "not serving students the way it should be"
thanks Department for assistance for making transition smooth
"we believe it is an important part of the bargain"
two Boston campuses: 9-10 in one building and 11-12 in another
"fully confidence" in director of school
consolidation amendment to be a single high school in Boston
"a midyear co-location had its share of risks"
"I do believe the best days are ahead of us"
Education Law Task Force: asks for consideration of disciplinary records of schools
13.3% of students out of school suspension, 14.3% at other location
"even higher for Black students and those with disabilities"
over half for non-violent, non-drug, non-criminal offenses
used to enforce cell phone policy
"suspensions are one of the leading indicators of failure to graduation high school and involvement with the criminal justice system"
asks for conditions on renewal around student discipline

Pioneer Charter School of Science student and alum
speaks of his own successes through to college; works as a software engineer now
"forever grateful" for the school
another: freshman in college
"not only a place of learning from textbooks, but is a community that helps you understand the outside world"

Veritas Prep (in Springfield)
founder turns it over to parents
parent who grew up in Springfield, part of adult life has been supporting Springfield Public Schools
wanted to send them to Springfield public schools, did get a middle school magnet seat
son begged her not to send him to his neighborhood school
younger son had similar anxiety, developed migraines
began to think of other choices; he got a seat at Veritas
now she works there, as well
hopeful this can continue through high school graduation
another: have always received communication with administration and teachers
relationships between teachers and parents
"high qualified school for a 6 to 12 grade program"
daughter is "very happy to go to school every day"
"everyone respects everyone who goes there"
"supporting learning more each and every day"

charters renewal: Paulo Freire
students feel the love, feel the optimism in their lives
support Commissioner's recommendation
"building a school like this is a marathon"
met ten of the eleven conditions before us
comprehensive plan, "setting clear and specific benchmarks and deadlines"
monthly leadership teams
"have created and will continue to create thoughtful and meaningful action plans"
"have moved into a new school building"
"has changed the atmosphere and climate...a former factory didn't have very many windows"
bulk of student body comes from Holyoke

Boston Green Academy (Horace Mann)
request that the Board consider academic conditions rather than probation for the school
statewide measures of enrollment, financial health have been spoken to and removed
over the past nine years have worked to grow five year graduation rates, reduce dropout rates, and increase growth rates
submit application in six months; have only been improvements during the years of the school
"drastically strengthened our school...know we have more work to do"
believe work left is a limited set of academic concerns
believe there are two remaining areas of concern: middle school MCAS scores and low accountability rating
"specific academic concern, not a global one"
"we are not in the sixth percentile statewide" but of middle schools
"probation is existential; conditions are not"
Q on chronic absenteeism: charter is for students at risk
strive to focus their effort where they are supported and challenged
similar to Boston schools
home visits, school counselors who are focused on chronic absenteeism
dropout rate is very small, compared to the rest of the district
ingrained as part of the culture of the school

Davis Leadership Academy:
gratitude to Board to provide evidence for progress since being placed on probation
list of ways in which students are involved
93% of educators identify as people of color
cites MCAS scores
has worked hard to establish its as an academic success
highly qualified teachers in front of our students

testimony on Ch.74 programs
Quincy: 1912 industrial school then trade school then part of Quincy High
"very concerned about the impact these changes will have on comprehensive high schools across the state"
hours needed to complete a 74 program vary
imagine all comprehensive high schools will apply for waivers "but is that really what you want"

Chair notes that the December meeting was cancelled due to snow

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Here's one for the school committee members

I've been attempting over on Twitter to share my education-related reading (#amreading is the hashtag, if you search for that and my handle), and right now, I'm reading High Stakes Reform: The Politics of Educational Accountability by Professor Kathryn McDermott of UMass Amherst. I'm in Chapter 3, which traces the evolution of educational accountability, and this passage (p. 37) made me laugh:
Administrative reformers also disliked small, local districts because they forced school administrators to engage with a broad, cross section of the public on school boards. According to the views embodied in Ellwood Patterson Cubberley's textbooks, school board members should be drawn from the elite of society relative few people had the appropriate outlook and skills for board service. If a state contained hundreds of small school districts, it would certainly run out of elites well before it ran out of school board seats to fill. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Board of Ed meets in Malden Tuesday

And the agenda is online here. If it seems like it's been forever--just me?--that's because the December joint meeting with the Higher Ed board was cancelled due to snow and ice, and November was that weird short one that was mostly about Kaleidoscope.
Anyway, this one, after the usual round of opening comments, opens with the consideration of the competency determination for graduation; the recommendation:
I recommend that the Board vote on amendments to the regulations that govern the CD, to extend the interim passing standard for one additional year to the class of 2023.
Redline tracking of the proposed change in regs is here.
On the same item, there's some discussion of a five year research study being done in partnership with Brown: "The grant will fund a study of the state’s high school exit exams the use of performance levels and how they relate to long-term student outcomes, and the CD policy, among other topics." The results so far (again, this is all in that memo) are interesting (and they're an example of why I think more people should read Board of Ed reports):
The initial findings from this research partnership can be summarized as follows: 
• Since the CD policy went into effect, grade 10 MCAS scores and educational attainments have increased despite changing student demographics.
• Grade 10 MCAS scores are an early indicator of long-term success, even among students with similar characteristics and grade point averages.
• Students scoring at the needs improvement/warning cutoff (a scaled score of 220 on the legacy MCAS), do not appear to be college- or career-ready.
• Gaps in later earnings between higher- and low-income students are explained by differences in grade 10 scores and educational attainments.
The second item, tagged as "evidenced-based policy making," appears to be about coordination among and between various departments. There is a proposal that the Board pass a motion supporting it.
There is a vote to solicit public comment on a change in regulation that would allow for alternative assessment for educators.
There is an update on, honestly, it's more a summary of the Student Opportunity Act. Possibly the most telling line:
Implementing this comprehensive legislation will require considerable effort by Department staff and educators in the field.
There's a discussion and a vote on City on a Hill Charter in New Bedford surrendering its charter., as well as an update on the rest of their schools.
There's a vote on amendments of charters, all of which are expansions:
Boston Day and Evening Academy Charter School (a Horace Mann charter school)
Pioneer Charter School of Science II
Veritas Preparatory Charter School
There are also reports on the three charters on probation:
  • Boston Green Academy Horace Mann Charter School
  • Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School
  • Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School
In sum, the recommendations are not much change: 
I recommend that the Board vote to extend the status of probation currently imposed on the charter of [Boston Green Academy]. I recommend that the Board vote to remove the status of probation currently imposed on the charter of [Helen Y. Davis], but maintain a set of conditions to monitor the school’s governance and improve academic performance. I recommend that the Board vote to maintain the status of probation currently imposed on the charter of [Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School]
There will also be an update on the budget; speaking of which, the memo from the Commissioner to the Secretary on DESE's budgetary priorities (why is this dated January 17??) is of interest, particularly as I'm not clear that any of them were fulfilled?
To my point at the end of the post on FY21:
The Department’s programmatic administrative resources to oversee the expected additional responsibilities likely to be called for in the Student Opportunity Act. Resources would be prioritized for data analytics and school finance work designed to support the oversight of district plans as discussed in the Student Opportunity Act.
 And yes, I am planning on being there.

On Governor Baker's FY21 budget proposal

I am sorry it has taken this long for me to get this into a blog post. I did tweet this out when the budget went up online on Wednesday.
The Governor's budget--House 2 in this second year of the Legislative term--is online here. You may also find useful the FY21 Chapter 70 school finance page from DESE (much more descriptive that previous years) and the cherry sheets (the net state aid calculations) for municipal and regional.
As last year, I have started an Excel spreadsheet with the accounts, the FY20 projected, and the FY21 proposed, along with any notes. Please feel free to use and share it, and let me know if there are ways it could be more useful.

It is the first year of the implementation of the Student Opportunity Act, so the first question is, was it implemented?
I think my answer on that is "mostly, but," as I said to Commonwealth Magazine when they called me this week.
  • The estimation was the 1/7th of implementation of the Student Opportunity Act would take an additional $300M in Chapter 70 aid statewide; that was hit. 
  • The new law guarantees $30/pupil minimum increases with hold harmless; that was done. 
  • House 2 does increase health insurance by the GIC three year average increase of 2.34%, rather than the inflation rate for the rest of the foundation budget, which is 1.99% (which is not great at all). 
  • The special education rate does take the 1/7th step towards the goal rate, plus 1/7th of the new enrollment counts
  • Likewise English learners category takes 1/7th step towards the goal. 
  • Low income...does not. Remember that this year, the state was directed to use the FY16 free/reduced count as a percentage to apply to this year (unless the direct certification count was higher). That added 46K kids to the count statewide, which increased the amount of dollars devoted to this category. As a result, the Governor's budget implements only 4/100ths of the goal rate. The state was directed to implement the changes in "an equitable and consistent manner" and I would argue: this isn't it.
    To give some idea of what this looks like, here are the rate charts for FY20 and FY21: 
  • This is FY20, the current year. Note the length of the bottom lines, particularly the very bottom one, relative to the three through six, which are the grade level foundation rates.

    This is FY21, the budgeted year. Note again the length of the bottom lines, the low income increments, relative to three through six. We are to be getting the bottom one equal to that in seven years. Unless not.

The danger in both state and local budgets has always been that the "new money" was going to leave those doing the allocations with the impression that they didn't need to fund other accounts (or to the same level), because schools should just pick up those activities with the new aid. This is certainly the Governor's framing of the budget. Not only are a number of accounts zeroed out--civics education, financial literacy, computer science--but several are severely cut:
  •  extended learning time (7061-9412) is cut by $10M (it's a $13.9M account cut to $3.9M).
  • likewise, the after and out of school grant is cut from $8.5M to $2.5M. 
Given the resources being made available in a single year of a seven year phase in, this is abrupt and not borne out by the resources put forward.

For those looking at other accounts, some of which also had SOA requirements: 
  • regional transportation (which we last saw getting a boost in the supplemental budget) is budgeted at $75.8M, which is where it came out of conference committee last year. That was about an 83% reimbursement level; no doubt costs of grown, and I have yet to hear projections for this year.
  • McKinney-Vento homeless transportation reimbursement is $11M, which is level funded from last year's conference committee budget. The supplemental did add another $2M to that, but unless that is re-appropriated to the schools, that goes to the general fund in municipal districts. $9M was 37%, implying that $11M was about 45%, but I would think that costs have also gone up. 
  • MassBudget projected that the circuit breaker account would have to increase by $22.5M in order to incorporate transportation, as required by the Student Opportunity Act; the account goes up by $23M. However, this means there is not space in the account for the usual growth of costs. It isn't clear that this is appropriately funded.
  • Similarly, charter reimbursement was projected by MassBudget to need to rise $29.4M in order to be at least 75% as required by the new law; the line increases by $19.4M in the Governor's budget. I am told that it is expected that once actual enrollments at charters are known this will be closer to what is needed. 
  • educational data services (7061-9200) is going from $579,786 to $1,078,231, and I have no idea why, and I cannot find any explanation of it. I can't find any explanation of anything; are they not posting any narrative this year?
  • recovery high schools were sent to study in the Student Opportunity Act, as their costs aren't being covered: last year, they were funded at $3.1M, while the Gov's budget has them at $2.6M.
  • rural schools have been added the past several years, generally on a budget amendment from Senator Adam Hinds. Thus it is a bit of a victory for it to be in the Governor's budget this year, even if it is at $1.5M, rather than the $3M that is projected for FY20.
  • (upon consideration, adding this): it does not appear the Governor is requesting additional appropriation for the Department, despite the SOA reporting requirements. Someone has to do the target calculations and review and respond to the reports; it appears that it's going to be the same stretched staff already there. 
It's always important to remember--and particularly important this year--that the Governor's budget is where the conversation starts. Get some idea of where your district is (if you haven't gotten your hands on circuit breaker projections, ask!), and go talk to your reps and senators. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

talking about Boston-area news coverage

As something of a side-effect of reviewing the education news from the Berkshires to the Bay (as I think of it), I have become steeped in Massachusetts education coverage, and, readers will not be surprised to hear, I've developed some opinions about that.
I was interviewed by Jessicah Lahitou for a piece in Phi Beta Kappan regarding Boston-area education reporting. You can find it here.
I'm glad that this piece of my thoughts in particular made it in, as it's not only a gap I see in Boston coverage:
And though Novick says education coverage is “getting better” over all, she sees a pronounced lack of reporting on state policy. These are “real people are making decisions that have a real impact on public education. What are those decisions? What difference will they make?” She credits reporter Katie Lannan with the State House News Service for being an often-lone voice focused on education policy at the state level. 
However, the most commented-on shortcoming in the current education landscape is the lack of what Novick calls “doing school” coverage — stories that foreground the perspective of students. 
“What is it like to be at the bus stop at 6 a.m.? Or have four hours of homework? Or eat all your meals at school? Or feel as though your whole life depends on getting an A rather than a B+?”

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What do we already know will be in the budget?

Tomorrow, the Governor releases the House 2 (it's the second year of the legislative term) budget at 11 am (or so). The big education funding question is the degree to which the changes to the foundation budget outlined in the Student Opportunity Act will be implemented: will it be one-seventh of the full foundation change? Or something else?

There are, however, pieces of the Act that outline year by year changes, and so there are some things we already know:

  • the Act contains $30/pupil increase above the FY20 level (thus a hold harmless provision, as well)
  • the Act includes out-of-district transportation for special education being included in the circuit breaker at 25% (this is a four year phase in); and remember that the circuit breaker is now frozen at the FY20 level, increasing only by inflation
  • the Act includes not less than 75% reimbursement for charter reimbursement (this is a three year phase in)
Thus some of the things that are annual battles don't need to be this year, as the battle has already been waged. 
And again, if you're looking for overall phase in numbers, MassBudget is as always a good resource

Sunday, January 19, 2020

And what were you doing on grants?

If by chance you were watching the Worcester School Committee on Thursday night, at about two hours in (2:14 or so), you saw that I made a motion to hold the grants on which we were asked to vote acceptance. In total, it was about $400K in grants that administration had asked that we vote to accept.
My motion specifically was to hold the grants pending a recommended allocation from the administration for the School Committee to pass, which the Committee had not received.
In other words, all we had was "please say yes to X amount of money" with no "and please vote to spend it here, here, and here."
And the allocation authority belongs to the School Committee, within cost centers.

Now, while I am somewhat tetchy about whose authority belongs to whom (in part because nature and school districts abhor a vacuum), and this is part of the Ch. 71, sec. 37 authority of school committees,  that isn't why I made the motion I did.
Spending money on things makes commitments and sets priorities:
  • Grants may be used to hire staff, who we may need to either keep on or let go when the grant runs out. 
  • Grants may be used for professional development, which develop skills and understandings which may be in line with goals or not. 
  • Grants may be used to purchase equipment or materials, which may need further funding for maintenance or replacement.
  • ...and so forth. 

Grants decide things, and the School Committee needs to know what is being decided in order to do its job effectively.
The Worcester School Committee hasn't been getting allocation recommendations with their grants for, the mayor noted, four years. It had been getting such recommendations before. So this isn't a new request; it's going back to previous practice, allowing for greater transparency and accountability around district spending and priority setting.
My motion failed, 5-2, but the Mayor's motion, to have that allocation information for these grants at the next meeting and for all grants going forward at the time of the vote, passed unanimously, as did my subsequent motions to have grants added to the quarterly reports reviewed in subcommittee and to receive the final reports for all grants going back five years (don't fret: these already exist, as they're filed with the state).
This is really a basic budgeting best practice, and I'm relieved we'll have it going forward. Worcester spends a lot of money in grants, and we need to know where it is going.


Okay, it's House 2 budget week, but still...the Governor releases his budget on Wednesday.
If you haven't already reviewed Colin Jones of MassBudget's preview of what implementation of the Student Opportunity Act should look like, please do. Numbers to note:
On Chapter 70 aid specifically, one-seventh of the new funding from the SOA reforms would have to be added to the typical annual increases. Combining this new funding with the typical increases, the Baker Administration expects $303 million per year in increased Chapter 70 aid from FY 2020 to FY 2027. This is only a rough estimate from several months ago that will be updated in the FY 2021 budget and beyond as economic conditions, student enrollment, demographics, and other factors shift.
The SOA aims to add transportation costs to the circuit breaker over four years. The education committee estimated this would cost $90 million. This suggests $22.5 million in dedicated spending in this line item in FY 2021, in addition to typical funding growth for special education.
The SOA also sets a goal of fully funding the charter school reimbursement program within three years. Fully funding charter reimbursements would cost roughly $75 million in FY 2020 according to current projections. This total will likely rise with the higher foundation budget as the SOA is implemented over time. This suggests addressing gap would cost $29.4 million in FY 2021 if the charter program continues at current levels and the SOA funding schedule is followed.
emphasis mine

Whence sex ed in Worcester?

The article from Scott O'Connell (he did get rather a lot to write about on Thursday) covers the gist of it, but I see that social media has been rather...heated, so I thought it might be useful to sort out a few interconnected things here.
You can't, of course, separate this term's discussion of sex ed from last term's discussion of sex ed, particularly in the context of what Bill Shaner wrote in two articles for Worcester Magazine, one last February and one last April, and which received statewide attention.
At the end of all of that, the vote of the Committee had been to wait on the state. No doubt that was punting, but the state has legitimately been updating the state health standards--which date, incidentally, from the 90's, which is also a problem--as was discussed at the Board of Education in June. However, that report had the new standards out for public comment at the end of last year...and they're not. In fact, the Board hasn't received an update since then.
Thus the Mayor's reaction to their lack of action on Thursday.
I have seen it suggested that the Committee was taking action on Thursday due to the Senate vote in favor of sex ed earlier on Thursday. That doesn't line up.
First, the bill that's being considered only requires "medically accurate and age-appropriate" IF a district offers it at all...which isn't required.
Second, the Senate has taken action on this before:
The legislation now goes to the House, where it has died without a vote each of the past two sessions following Senate approval. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has not committed to taking it up.
This isn't something that is being accelerated by the state, let's say.

It's an authority of the School Committee, incidentally, to review and approve curriculum, so the process here isn't different or somehow set apart. That's done in concert with and generally by recommendation of the professionals involved.

It's in the subcommittee that does curriculum, which is Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports. That's chaired by Ms. McCullough (she finished last year's term after Brian O'Connell's death) and also has Jack Foley and John Monfredo. They do have a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, January 29 at 4:30 (not 4 as on the website), but I do not know that this will be taken up; I'll post once I see an agenda. UPDATE: Ms. McCullough says that meeting will be taking up items from the prior term; she plans a February meeting on this topic.

Student and School Performance Subcommittee meeting this Thursday at 7

The first subcommittee meeting of the new Worcester School Committee term is this coming Thursday, and it's the one I chair, Student and School Performance, on which Dianna Biancheria and Laura Clancey also serve. You can find the agenda with backups online here.

There are three items on the agenda, all of which were sent there last term, all of which we'll be taking up at the meeting. They are:

  • Request that the Administration provide a report on the accountability changes made by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
  • Request that the Administration provide a report on suspensions.
  • To consider establishing a committee, in conjunction with the Administration, to reduce school suspensions.
You may also note that all date back to 2018.
The first item, though it has the 2017-18 data, is (at least from my perspective) more useful as a frame for how the state accountability system works now, and as a starting point for discussions around what the district is doing with the non-MCAS (because we're going to talk about MCAS, regardless) sections of the system.
This pretty naturally flows into the discussion over state reporting over new money, as well, note, and we have an item coming to us from Thursday's meeting to that end; it isn't on this agenda, but going forward, it's a place for that discussion around the reporting on targets and goals to happen.

For the backup for the second item on suspensions, we have this data that I couldn't make heads or tails of in April. Because that release doesn't track with any other way of tracking data, it's...perhaps not the most useful way of framing the discussing. What I've been looking at is the state profile of the district, and then the schools, both overall and particularly, due to the state report last year, non-violent, non-criminal, non-drug-related offenses. Again, that's last year's data, and thus it's timely to ask for a midyear update; I don't know that we'll get that at the meeting (there's no new backup coming in here), but again, we're starting discussions at the subcommittee to continue.

Finally, the committee that was requested has been meeting, and there will be a (verbal) update on that.

I do just want to note a few things: I've intentionally pushed to have this meeting at 7--subcommittees for School Committee tend to take place before 6, but I know that doesn't work for many families, and Miss Biancheria and Mrs Clancey have been accommodating in that. 
This is the data committee, and our charge is get data out, to make it accessible, and then to inform the rest of the Committee so as to inform Committee policy and budget decisions. 
If this is of interest, I hope you'll plan to attend.