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