Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Assessing the unmeasurable

Great article by Malcolm Gladwell in this week's New Yorker drawing an unlikely (but apt!) comparison between evaluating who will make a good NFL quarterback and who will make a good teacher: briefly, both are skills that are nearly impossible to evaluate any way other than to see the person actually doing it. 
I was a bit shocked, when I started teaching, at how few assessments were done of new teachers. Somehow from seeing me, what? Three or four times over the course of the year, they felt they had some idea of how I was doing. Being in there, though, is the only way to find out!
Give it a read.

The Obama Administration is "Open for Questions"

If you've been following the presidential transition, you may already have heard about, the website that allows anyone to weigh in with the Obama administration. Over the past few weeks, they've been opening up questions: anyone can post a question, and then anyone can vote on the questions posted. The top vote getters get answers, or at least considered.

"Open for Questions" is now open again, and there's one on NCLB making the tops. If you'd like to see NCLB getting some attention and reconsideration, head over to and weigh in!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Secretary of Education nomination

I'd been trying to pull together something to post on President-elect Obama's choice of Arne Duncan as his nominee for Secretary of Education. Better than my telling you, though, why not ask the people of Chicago, whom he has been serving as commissioner of education.

Yesterday, when the temperature in Chicago was 25 degrees Farenheit, a group of parents and students braved the cold to blow bubbles.
Bubbles, you ask?
Yes, bubbles, as bubbles have become the end-all and be-all in Chicago Public Schools (something which may sound familiar to Worcester Public School students and parents):

Today a hardy group of parents and teachers stood out in Chicago's Federal Plaza and proved that you can indeed blow bubbles in 20 degree weather!

We were there to send a strong message to President-elect Obama and Secretary of Education nominee Arne Duncan that overuse and misuse of standardized "bubble" tests is bad for our children, and we want change.

In fact, we want the same thing the Obamas want – a high-quality education for our children that is not focused on standardized "bubble" tests.

Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education shared information about the high-quality educational standards at the schools the Obamas have chosen for their children, University of Chicago Lab School and Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C. These schools avoid the kind of test-prep that is so prevalent in the Chicago Public Schools.

Parents want what the Obamas want for their children, and teachers want to teach that way.

Wade Tillett , a Chicago Public School teacher and parent, is planning to opt his third grade child out of the state tests this spring.

He was supported by Jim and Sue Gill, Oak Park parents who have actually opted their children out of the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests for several years. Sue talked about the struggle
they had with the school district last year over the issue. Ultimately the district changed their policy to accommodate parents who want to opt their children out.

Here's the Oak Park district policy.

CPS teachers representing the Caucus of Rank and File Educators discussed their group's opposition to the misuse and overuse of tests, including their use in closing schools under Renaissance 2010.

This "bubble" group has established a web site,, where you can get more information and join the campaign to stop the misuse of bubble tests.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How many is too many?


The Washington Post today reports that some school districts around D.C. are already forecasting higher class sizes for next year, as they look at a bleak forecast for FY10:

Nationwide, the average number of students in elementary classes dropped from 29 in 1961 to 24 in 1996, according to the National Education Association. In 2004, the average elementary class nationwide had 20 children, the U.S. Education Department says, with about 25 in the average secondary class.

And Worcester? You'll remember that we've had officials pleased that we have no elementary classes higher than 27. And that was after we fought to get extra money in the budget.

While it's often cited that there is no replacement for having a qualified, well-educated, well-trained teacher in the class, class sizes matter. As you'll see in the article, optimal size for elementary classes are 15 or 16 kids. Our local elementary school just had a class that had been 30 from kindergarten split (due to the aforementioned additional teachers) in half. The parents are raving over what a difference they are seeing their children's education. Same teachers, same kids, better ratio.
It matters. Get ready to battle it out on this one.

Say it's not so, O!

Continuing with my references elsewhere this morning, Greg Palast atHuffPo has a good handle on why Joel Klein and Arne Duncan would not be good choices for Secretary of Education: READ IT! And then send a message at

It's no coincidence that the nation's worst school systems are run by non-experts like Klein and Duncan.

Obama certainly knows this. I know he knows because he's chosen, as head of his Education Department transition team, one of the most highly respected educators in the United States: Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University.

So here we have the ludicrous scene of the President-elect asking this recognized authority, Dr. Darling-Hammond, to vet the qualifications of amateurs Klein and Duncan. It's as if Obama were to ask Michael Jordan, "Say, you wouldn't happen to know anyone who can play basketball, would you?"

A good post

I just had forwarded to me a good post on the MCAS and its real-life effect on students.

The woman (we shall refer to her as Ann) was asked to attend an IEP (individualized education plan) meeting about her twelve-year-old daughter and one of the recommendations was to move her daughter from her small-group math environment back into the main classroom. When Ann mentioned that this was attempted before without much success, the teacher’s comment was that her daughter was not being exposed to enough of the material that would be appearing on the MCAS. Period. Ann, never having been a supporter of MCAS, took the bait. When she continued to ask questions about the move and made the comment that the move was being made to accommodate the test, not her daughter’s needs, one of the meeting participants commented, “That’s where we are right now.” Ann’s final rebuttal was that her daughter’s grade might suffer. Her teacher piped up again that, “her exposure to the material is, to me, more important than the grade.”

Ann thought about that logic for a moment. First of all, what the hell does ‘exposure to’ in educational terms? Does it actually mean ‘teaching’? From Ann’s perspective, it was nice of her teacher to award her daughter a theoretical pass on the grade but, unfortunately her school very much cares about her daughter’s grade. Two failing grades in one year will result in the student having to repeat the grade. The long and short of the story is that Ann ended up agreeing to the switch and now she was unsure about that decision.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where the money really goes

A comment made in passing by Ms. Thompson during her presentation at the CPPAC meeting jumped out at me, as one who so closely followed the allocation of money last spring. She said (and I am paraphrasing here) something along the lines of, she didn't have enough money to save positions, so she moved money around to put money towards people rather than other things.

Now, I've got no problem with "people" as a priority. The problem is, this isn't Ms. Thompson's call. The School Committee is the body invested with the power to allocate funds along these lines, not the heads of departments. She said this (in the presence of at least one School Committee member) and no one blinked an eye.

To parallel: can you imagine Commissioner Moylan coming into a group of citizens and saying, "I didn't agree with the allocation the City Council made, so I didn't buy a new snowplow but instead funded another DPW position." No? This is the same thing.

The School Committee has oversight, but in order to truly have oversight, they have to use their oversight. It isn't happening. And that's a problem.

Notes from CPPAC: finished!

(CPPAC, for those of you without a running list of abbreviations in your head, is the Citywide Parent Planning Advisory Council. In theory, every school has two representatives to this body; in practice, many parents, even those active in PTO's, have never heard of it. It meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7 pm at the downtown library, and all parents, in fact all community members, are welcome to attend.)

Two numbers jumped out at me from a length presentation by Judy Thompson (who head the Child Study office):
  • 65% of Worcester public school students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. That's last year's number; it's expected to be higher this year.
  • 10% of Worcester public school students are homeless (by McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act standards, which include kids in foster care and in transitional housing). That is September's number.
I don't know that there's anything to add to that but "wow."

The Curriculum Subcommittee of the School Committee is waiting for a report back from the Administration on requiring four years of math in the Worcester Public Schools.

There's hope that we'll have hired a new superintendent by the end of the week. We're "getting some language straightened out."

And, here's something to look forward to: the Worcester Public School's contract with teachers expires in August. Negotiations, here we come!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Worcester Educational Development Foundation fundraiser

This Friday and Saturday, December 5 & 6, Barnes & Noble in Lincoln Plaza will be devoting a portion of all proceeds to the Worcester Educational Development Foundation. Gift wrapping will be offered by Girls, Inc. and Habitat for Humanity. MENTION THE FUNDRAISER WHEN YOU CHECK OUT TO GIVE THE WEDF CREDIT!!

Performances by:

Friday December 5 from 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.,m.

Burncoat Brass Ensemble

Burncoat High Select Chorus

West Tatnuck School Chorus

Worcester Arts Magnet School Show Choir

Worcester Arts Magnet School African Drummers

Saturday, December 6 from 10:00 – 11 a.m.

Story time with the Cat in the Hat

and a Sing Along Story Time

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So what happened there?

A few thoughts about the tax level discussion after some reflection:

This was not the first, but was the most recently egregious, example of a huge dissonnance between what happened at a City Council meeting that I attended and the meeting I read about in the next day's Telegram and Gazette. It's pretty clear to me that, after so many meetings and so many years of covering it, getting to the point is really all that we're going to get from the daily. Unfortunately, this leaves out a huge amount of very significant information. Last night, it was the number and the identities of those who were testifying in favor of a single tax rate. They were not, by any means, all weathy business owners. There were homeowners, small business owners, a remarkable mix of people, nearly unanimously in favor of the tax rate. You'd never get that from the paper.

By the same token, you wouldn't have gotten that from listening to the city councilors, either. It's sad that public comment can be so unacknowledged. Thanking people for coming isn't enough.

It's clear that there's still a gap between taxation and services even in the conversation (not to say the minds) of the city councilors. I'd expect any conversation about taxation to talk about where that money goes. While it happened last night, it didn't happen nearly as much as I'd expect.

Brace yourself, folks: last night, Councilor Rosen threw in the first call for city layoffs for next year's budget.

Vote on the tax rate

Vote is 9-2 for lowest residential tax rate, Petty and Rushton opposed

Residential rate will thus be $13.50 per $1000
Commercial rate will be highest possible, $28.72 per $1000

That will be an average homeowner increase of $50 for homeowners (Rushton's motion would have raised it an additional $21 dollars, totaling $71 dollars) and $1600 for business owners

Mayor Lukes on the tax rate

The Mayor gives the chair to Councilor Rushton to address the council

agrees with Councilor Germaine: "last minute, an afterthought"

Will "appoint a task force after the Thanksgiving holiday"
"a real issue about how we deal with businesses...colleges as a cushion"
The Commonwealth "isn't bailing out anyone"
"Since 1984, we've been doomed"

The union reps (in evidence tonight) "aren't here out of love for us...this is where the money is"
Health insurance has been a budget buster
"accommodation is needed"
Vote for LRTR
Setting up task force

Councilor Germaine on the tax rate

Thanks people for coming out tonight
will support LRTR

"disappointed in the process" two weeks for "such an important vote"
urges Council to "start the process months in advance, not one month and take a vote on it"

Councilor Smith on the tax rate

We always get "drawn into the same argument...want to stay away from that"
Expand the tax base...arguments tonight

"I don't think we can compare the city to towns around it...added benefits"

Speaks of foreclosures..."businesses and homeowners are hurting"

He's "open to having a conversation about having a single tax rate over an extended time period..over time, shift the burden"

Vote for LRTR
"doesn't preclude discussion"

Councilor Rosen on the tax rate

"I hope our colleges and universities are watching tonight and that this will motivate them to do their part...but I'm not going to beat them up tonight"

"I wish we had many more businesses...I want businesses to stay here, and I want businesses to come we need more? We certainly do. We as homeowners need more businesses...increase the commercial tax base."

Businesses made a "pretty good point"

Hopes they'll be "more vocal tomorrow...trying to educate the city of Worcester"

This "is not a low rate"

(Here's where it gets interesting, folks!)

Need to ask.."do we have too many people on the payroll?"...need to cut expenses...take at the look at budget next spring...he's sure it will be painful, but it's "the only way out of it"..take a look at the people we have working in the city..."maybe we have too many"

Agrees that this will mean a cut in services, but "I don't know that we can afford this"

vote for LRTR

"Please...(homeowners) do pay plenty...they cannot pay any more. That's not a deal they can afford now.'
Vote for LRTR

Councilor Eddy on the tax rate

Makes some opening remarks about this being his first year doing this...running for office last year was an education...we have wonderful neighborhoods. "I would say those those that say 'no one wants to be here' that they have no idea what they are talking about" about the amentitites offered by the city.

"School system has seen an increase in funding"

"a city on the move, because we are a city of neighborhoods"

People are concerned about where their tax dollars go and if the city is being efficient...(so) he can't say other than the lowest tax rate possible

There are a lot of factors that determine where a business goes other than the tax rate.

"I have no problem with this vote, no problem whatsoever"

Councilor Toomey on the tax rate

Councilor Toomey rises to support the lowest residential tax rate (I'm thinking of abbreviating that: LRTR?!?), but she stresses that she wants to continue the conversation on a single rate.

Councilor Clancy on the tax rate

Councilor Clancy rises to support the lowest residential tax rate.

ran out of juice

Sorry about that...the laptop runs for two hours on battery power and the City Council ran over. We kept plenty of notes, 'though, and we'll get you the rest now!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Councilor Petty on the tax rate

Rises to support Rushton's motion (!).

(This is huge. It looked like everyone was going for lowest rate last week.)

It's a tough time for the city. "I'm concerned about small business owners and residents of the city."

"What concerns me...we talk about strategic plans every year at the same time...small business owners as well as large business owners"

"You know the city is sort of a livable place."

Councilor Ruston on the tax levy

"renewed interest in a single tax rate...have to work together, not against each other"
"can't happen overnight, but should happen over time"
asking for public participation (neighborhood groups, colleges, businesses"

"no question that people are suffering...I want to hear more about...bringing in jobs, so we can put people to work"

Asking for line 210 (?), slightly higher for residential: change of $21 for households

Work for incentivised proposals

Councilor Palmieri on the tax rate

Thanks people for coming and speaking tonight

"I don't think there's anyone in the city that doesn't say they need lower taxes...everyone would like to see lower taxes."

Speaks of CitySquare...going to help out
Infastructure: commuter rail, "we need 15" (more trains)..."generate more residents, more business..."
"We certainly need our partners...our partners have been marginally weak...we need a stimulus package to enhance..." Stronger partnership with the state and fed
Parking overlays..."setting a trend that will have a dramatic affect on business"
"Business leaving in droves...facts are facts! That's not accurate! At a minimum, we've stabilized...not fact that businesses are leaving this city without businesses coming in."
PILOT: "This council has been very strong...if we are getting monies for the public should happen"
"There is a fairness to be looked at"
"If we had a single tax rate today...increase on the residential side of $25 million...on commerical side would go down from $59 million to $33 community would suggest that this would help immeasurably in bringing in businesses; I don't agree"
(he's pretty wound up about this)

"I'm just hopeful, that in the future, when you compare apples to apples, there's something that we all can agree to...we are not unique, 'though we are in a place that is a lot better than others...very, very good living in Worcester....want to make sure our residents can remain in Worcester"
MOTION: Lowest residential tax rate

Public testimony, part III

Elizabeth St. John (speaking very quietly) has seen the city deteriorate over the past years. Wants to see the city all thrive. Approves of PILOT, too. Would like to see a single rate, and get druggies off the street, as that would also attract business.

We've had several residential property owners arguing in favor of a single tax rate. That's huge. Usually, there's a barrage of homeowners complaining about their high residential taxes, but tonight there's a large number of homeowners speaking in favor of a single rate to attract and retain business.

Public testimony, part II

Richard Kennedy, Worcester Chamber of Commerce, speaks that we need to cut spending, and also bump up the proportion of the commercial tax base. The way to do that, he says, is to go to a single tax rate. "As the commercial business base shrinks, a great proportion falls on the residential" side. "We have to start down that road...begin to make it more equitable." He reads off a list of local rates for surrounding communities. "important from the residents' perspective as well...a five year time frame is something we should set ourselves."

Bill Kelleher (you'll recognize his name from realty signs) passes out a single sheet, says "sometimes we lose track of the bigger picture," and now runs through a comparision of apples and apples: a Worcester restaurant to a West Boylston restaurant (O'Connor's, in fact), drugstores, locksmith,'s a huge difference if those businesses are outside the city. He says that the councilors not only have a leadership role, they also have an education role. They need to explain that when a company goes elsewhere, where does the excise tax go? Where does the property tax go? "Inch away from the low rate tonight, and please help people understand better why it is in the interest of the city to bring us closer to parity"

Gary Vecchio, Shrewsbury Street Neighborhood Association, asking 1) for PILOT, 2) that tax classification be held before the election, 3) asking for the lowest residential property tax rate (he says he's been here for six years in a row). He says that only six times in the last 19 years has the Council voted for the lowest residential property tax rate. He goes on to compare tax bills to the cost of living.

Ed Profield (?), lives here, owns five properties in the city, operates a business here. The current business climate is the worst he's seen...a solution to keep businesses here, rather than have them go one town out. "There has to be a more level playing field." Points out that offering a TIFF package is contrary to the tax rate. Pitting the "rich business owner against the poor homeowner" may get votes, but does not solve the problem. "have the foresight to appoint a committee to level the playing field"

Public testimony, part I

We've got six or more people who want to give public testimony.

First up, Ralph Crowley, a member of the Crowley family (that would be Polar Beverages), who is speaking of the disrespect the Council is showing the business community by having their minds made up ahead of time. He's looking for leadership. He's gone through how many he employs (from 250 up to 1200). He urges the Council to get up with the realities of business.

Sumner Tilton, now, an attorney, speaking, among his many hats, as the chair of "Choose Worcester." This would convince business that are here to stay here, and those that are thinking of being here of locating here. He says, "It's a tough job." The split tax rate does not help. Communities surrounding the city have half the tax rate for business. He speaks of the shrinking business tax levy (from 35% down to 19%; he forecasting that it will go down to 10%).

Roberta Schaefer, chair of the Municipal Research Bureau, speaking of what businesses look for: good schools (including MCAS scores), low taxes, a fair permitting process. She's reading off a list of how local communites fall in friendliness to business, putting Worcester down in the 240's (also chastising the City Councilors who are not paying attention to her). She argues that the other communities are benefitting from Worcester's assets.

Roll call on starting it up

They're taking information first

Taking a few things first

Tax rate is up first, but a few things are coming up before first...

  • Resolution on federal fuel assistance
  • the ongoing Flagg Street sidewalk brewhaha (the sidewalk itself, and the idea of a study first): a pro and a con
  • the mayor just announced that there may be some interruption in the broadcast because Charter is having some difficulties tonight

Liveblogging the City Council on property taxes

Liveblogging the City Council debate on property taxes tonight.

Good to have a record of what everyone said when it, say, comes budget time next fall!

Setting property tax rates

The Worcester City Council will be setting the property tax rates for next year at tonight's meeting.
Let's remember where the money goes! There was a rush to assure everyone that many councilors would never, never consider a hike in residential taxes.

Services don't come free, people.

21st century skills

There was an editorial in yesterday's Boston Globe (which for some reason I cannot turn up online) regarding the Task Force on 21st Century Skills:

This sense of urgency comes from our employers, who say that our graduates don’t have the skills required to attain and remain in today’s jobs. They want employees who can make coherent oral presentations, solve complex problems using either creativity or technology, understand the relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the world, work as part of a team, and have the necessary motivation. Instead, they say, our graduates come to them content-rich, but lacking in most of these skills.

The need to integrate these so-called 21st century skills into our public schools is the focus of recent recommendations presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by the Task Force on 21st Century Skills. Our recommendations include sweeping changes to educator licensure, assessment, accountability and standards, and aim to ensure that students learn academic content in an environment that encourages the use of these and other skills.

Two thoughts:
  • Has it occurred to anyone else that having four years of math would be a basic necessity for the 21st century?
  • The list of skills employers want have largely been bumped out of the curriculum by the last set of "needs" the employers wanted, which led us to the MCAS. The skills are a great list, but if you're spending all of your time drilling on multiple choice tests, you don't have a great deal of time for oral reports.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

If you're wondering...

...what's happening with the new (possibly) superintendent: the School Committee is in contract negotiations. It seems they suggested a salary on the low side of the range they'd been given, and Dr. Boone said no.

That's where we're at.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More on a new Secretary of Education

Here's a bit on Linda Darling-Hammond:

Here is her bio from Stanford

"Bureaucratic solutions to problems of practice will always fail because effective teaching is not routine, students are not passive, and questions of practice are not simple, predictable, or standardized. Consequently, instructional decisions cannot be formulated on high then packaged and handed down to teachers."

- from her award-winning book, The Right to Learn

Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University where she has launched the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute and the School Redesign Network. She has also served as faculty sponsor for the Stanford Teacher Education Program. She is a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the National Academy of Education. Her research, teaching, and policy work focus on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity. From 1994-2001, she served as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a blue-ribbon panel whose 1996 report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, led to sweeping policy changes affecting teaching and teacher education. In 2006, this report was named one of the most influential affecting U.S. education and Darling-Hammond was named one of the nation's ten most influential people affecting educational policy over the last decade. Among Darling-Hammond's more than 300 publications are Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and be Able to Do (with John Bransford, for the National Academy of Education, winner of the Pomeroy Award from AACTE), Teaching as the Learning Profession: A Handbook of Policy and Practice (Jossey-Bass: 1999) (co-edited with Gary Sykes), which received the National Staff Development Council's Outstanding Book Award for 2000; and The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Schools that Work, recipient of the American Educational Research Association's Outstanding Book Award for 1998.

* EdD (Urban Education),with Highest Distinction, Temple University, 1978
* BA, magna cum laude, Yale University, 1973.

There is a petition being circulated in her favor.

In addition, the National Network of Teacher Activist Groups has a petition outlining the sort of Secretary they'd like to see, mentioning no names:
...Our vision of educational justice, access, opportunity, and equity includes having a Department of Education whose officials embrace the idea of a quality education as part of the common good. We wish to turn away from a corporate model of education that claims that teaching and learning can only improve by imposing market perspectives and processes onto our public
education system. Education should be a fundamental human right, not subject to privatization by firms whose primary concern is a profit motive and the bottom line. We have all witnessed the failures of this free market system in recent months and do not support this model for our key member of Mr. Obama's education team. We want a person who is a professional, experienced, and knowledgeable educator, not a corporate executive such as New York City's Education Chancellor Joel Klein or Chicago CEO Arne Duncan, who have demonstrated their vision of privatized, corporatized, and anti-democratic schools.

Over the last 20 years in the U.S., education is becoming the business of education, and we emphatically reject that model. We call upon the President-elect to choose someone who will embrace the ideas of civic involvement and public participation. We look forward to
collaborating with that person, as well as with students, parents, and the broader public, in developing a truly meaningful and just education for all students in the U.S.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No back burner for education

I'm only catching up to my national column reading today. I wanted to recommend this column by Nicholas Kristof, on why the new president should not put education on a back burner. He writes:

Quick, what's the source of American's greatness?...a fair amount of evidence suggests that the crucial factor is our school system--which, for most of our history, was the best in the world...The message for Mr. Obama is that improving schools must be on the front burner.

New Education Secretary

Among the many things people are weighing in on through is the new Education Secretary. NCLB gave us all a good look at exactly how much power the federal government has (for good or ill) in our schools. The new federal Secretary of Education needs a good hard look as we move forward.

Among the names floated have been Joel Klein, who heads the New York City schools. For those who think this would be a disastrous appointment, you can sign a petition against that appointment.

There is also a petition supporting the appointment of Linda Darling-Hammond, who has served as an education advisor to President-elect Obama.

I wonder if Joanthan Kozol would do it?

I know that there are other names floating around; as I hear them, I'll post more. If you've got a thought on this, though, send it in! Let them hear it!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


A big cheer today for those who went in and voted to keep the Massachusetts income tax. I'm proud of us! Good for us for knowing that our tax dollars go to support real programs that would have been devastated without the income tax. Way to go!

And, in getting back to our regularly scheduled programming, the town of Sharon is continuing their discussion about the focus of education in town:

Salomons has submitted a proposal that seeks community support for allowing
teachers to avoid tailoring their lessons to the MCAS. Instead, she would
like to see teachers directed to instruct students on skills the district
has deemed necessary for survival in the 21st century, including critical
thinking, invention, problem-solving, and multicultural collaboration.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thinking of those who can't vote

Jeff at Wormtown Taxi did a nice job with this one today, so I will only add a bit.

I have a sticker on my car right now that says "Kids Don't Vote; Moms Do!" (I got it from MomsRising.) I know that I am hardly original in keeping in very close mind what would be the best outcome for my kids in voting (thus my opposition to Question 1, for example). I also think about other people's kids (even more opposition to 1 there, but also thoughts on health insurance, day care, a clean environment, etc.).

But what about non-American kids?

What about the kids in Dafur?
What about the kids on Pacific islands who are already losing their homes due to rising ocean levels?
What about the kids who had to flee their homes in Georgia when Russia invaded?
What about the kids in China whose parents can't buy food that says something other than "Made in China" on it, and are being poisoned as a result?

This is just my list, off the top of my head, and it could go on. But I do feel some sort of global parent responsibility since I've become a parent. It's the same thing that makes you keep an eye on that toddler that isn't yours when he's just a bit too close to the curb. You've got a sense on kids.

Use it when you vote today. For everybody's kids.

Friday, October 31, 2008

In the "better late than never" department...

At last night's school committee meeting, the following estimates were given on the possible impact of Question 1 on the Worcester Public Schools, should it pass next Tuesday:

$70 million lost, leading to:

  • closure of 20 elementary schools
  • class sizes of 40 students
  • the end of all athletic and fine arts programs
Pass it along!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Board of Ed weighs in

Continuing the chorus of disapproval on Question 1 (did you see all the letters this week?), the Board of Ed has now weighed in:

VOTED: that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
expresses its grave concern about the potential impact of Question 1 on
the 2008 ballot, an initiative to repeal the state’s income tax. The
recent report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, “The
Enormous Consequences of Question 1,”, states
that passage of the ballot question would result in a loss of $12.5
billion in state income tax revenue. This loss would cause drastic
reductions in support for students in our schools. As the Massachusetts
Taxpayers Foundation states on page 9 of its report:

The large cuts in education and non-education aid would have a
devastating impact on cities and towns that are already facing serious
fiscal problems. The result would be major cuts in services in almost
all communities and ever higher property taxes that would fall more
heavily on low and moderate income taxpayers.

Consistent with its mission to strengthen the Commonwealth’s public
education system for the benefit of the students we serve, the Board of
Elementary and Secondary Education states its opposition to Question 1.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sign up for a stand out!

If you want to do more to help fight Question 1, you can sign up for a stand out in Worcester over the next week.
Sign up and show up!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Presidential Education Debate

Well, it's happening by proxy, but at least it's happening!

Tomorrow night, from 7pm to 9pm (EST)

"Education and the Next President"
live from Columbia University, broadcast only on edweek

Linda Darling-Hammond, education adviser to Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama

Lisa Graham Keegan, education adviser to Republican nominee John McCain.

Let's go for a walk!

Attending the Traffic and Parking Subcommittee of the City Council (on an un-Who-cester matter), my ears perked up at a term not often heard in Worcester:

"walking school bus"

For those of you not familiar with the term, it's what in Worcester used to be patrol lines, which in many cases of have now degenerated into a sorting system of whose parents are parked where. The idea is that kids actually walk--yes, walk on their own two feet!--to their neighborhood school together, at a set time. In many cases with walking school buses, they are accompanied by parents, dogs, younger siblings, etc.

This is something that is being given some attention by International Walk to School. (The "walk to school day" idea was brought before the School Committee last spring and was sent to the curriculum subcommittee by recommendation of the superintendent, who was somehow under the impression that it had something to do with curriculum.) My neighborhood tried it the first week of October, and it was popular enough that we might do it again in November! (yeah, it'd be great if we could do it all the time, but it's over a mile and VERY uphill!)

Friday, October 17, 2008

We have a new superintendent!

or at least the School Committee has decided on someone!

Only thirty minutes after the end of the final interview with Matthew Maline, the School Committee decided to offer the job to Dr. Melinda Boone.

I'm posting this right away, as I know I'm not the only one without a paper delivered this morning.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tim Connors

A bad analogy

After John Paul II died, there was much discussion about not only who, but also what kind of person, the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church would choose for the next pope. In modern times, there's been a sort of "long papacy--short papacy" alternating pattern, and, as JPII's papacy was long, the thought was that the next choice would be for a short papacy. Usually, the short papacy gives everyone a chance to catch their breathe, keep things as they are for awhile, before moving on with another long papacy. The choice of Benedict XVI bore out that theory.

Which brings us to the next superintendent.

We've had a very, very long papacy, if you will. Forty-five years, arguably. Do we want a short papacy, to catch our breath and hang onto what we have, or do we want to move on with a long one?

Tim Connors would, it sounds like, give us a very good short term hold. He'd keep the wheels spinning, probably make few changes, and keep us right about where we are.

Melinda Boone would, it sounds like, do something very different. She'd shake things up, give things a new direction, bring in some fresh air.

What is it we are looking for here?

We've still got one more to go this afternoon!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stand Outs for NO on Question 1

Should you be interested in doing a stand out for NO on Question 1:

On the next three Wednesdays at four pm, there will be people holding signs at the Summit (corner of West Mountain and West Boylston Streets) against Question 1 (and for Rep. O'Day).

On October 30 at 4:30 pm, there will be a stand out at Lincoln Square. The theme is "Vote NO on Question 1: It's a Monstrous Idea" and costumes are encouraged!

No need to RSVP; just show up and be ready to wave!

Melinda Boone

While I wasn't at the forum and interview yesterday, I have to say that I really liked what I saw of Dr. Boone. Anyone who says "Mama didn't raise a fool" to a hostile City Councilor is on the right track!

And as a parent, I respect that she's thinking of her daughter's well-being in timing on a new job. Rather than being a drawback, I'd argue that such a view is a positive. Someone who is that concerned and involved as a parent is someone that I find much worthy of my trust in educating my children.

Superintendent interview week!

So, yesterday we saw Melinda Boone. Today is Tim Connors. Thursday is Matthew Malone.

I'm leaving this as an open thread for comments. If you send something in, I'll post it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Testing the test

(Full disclosure: though I never took a class from this professor, he does teach at my alma mater.)

Guest Column: MCAS doesn't measure up
Standards-based reform fails to address problems

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) is our commonwealth's version of the federal mandate known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). And NCLB is the national version of standards-based reform - which is supposed to be a solution to a problem.

For the most part, the public has taken standards-based reform as the only solution to a problem. The problem being, of course, the deficient quality of our education system and the inordinate number of poorly educated people who emerge, or sometimes never emerge, from that system.

There is a great deal to be said about the complex problems of our education system. These problems certainly have been around for a long time and periodically they become more noticeable, such as when the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite, or our nation is judged to be at risk because of poor literacy, or when good jobs are outsourced to up-and-coming countries. Whatever particular issues people may focus on, most would agree that our education system has problems.

To solve our educational problem, standards-based reform offers the following two steps: First, set high standards. Second, measure progress toward those standards and hold schools and teachers accountable for achieving them.

The original impetus for standards-based reform came from the business community. (Ross Perot was among the more vocal proponents.). After all, businesses set goals (let's sell a million widgets at a 12 percent profit) and then measure their progress toward those goals (how much money have we made?). Anyone can see how well this has worked for business - until lately?

Truth is, it's impossible to argue against high standards without sounding like a fool or a subversive. Imagine a politician who is seeking election coming out against high standards for schools. As for needing to measure progress toward standards, it seems a self-evident and commonsense notion.

The problem with MCAS - and standards-based reform - is in the details. Standards-based reform sits on the foundation of testing. Yet we never question whether our testing tools are up to the job we need them to do. Instead we put total trust in our ability to measure important educational outcomes. Our trust is misplaced. Testing's state of the art is on measuring narrowly focused skills and specific facts and information. Because we are adept at measuring these things and because measuring progress and holding teachers and schools accountable are core aspects of standards-based reform, we have allowed our standards to be set so that they embody what is easily measured. In doing so, we let the testing tail wag the whole educational dog. Meaningless phrases are often used to obscure the reality of our overly narrow focus. In its Oct. 2 editorial, the Gazette refers to "MCAS as a way of tracking and comparing student comprehension of basic skills." What is comprehension of basic skills? Is that the same as plain old basic skills? Does adding the term "comprehension" impart some special quality to basic skills? Is the term comprehension meant to imply some deeper, more significant kind of learning? A look at the curriculum frameworks and MCAS test items suggests otherwise.

A widely held conception is that students need the basics in order to get to meaningfulness, deep knowledge, and understanding. This simply is not true. The entire thrust of the science of learning informs us that skills, whether those of reading and writing or the ability to perform mathematical calculations, are best learned in contexts where they are used in meaningful ways by student trying to better understand their world. These skills are tools and isolating them from their authentic application will not prepare students for participation in the knowledge age in which we find ourselves.

The Gazette, on Sept. 17, ran an article in which Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts education commissioner, addressed falling scores in reading comprehension. Chester said, "I am concerned that the emphasis in early grade reading may have swung too far toward the mechanics of reading ¿ without enough attention being paid to understanding what you're reading." Exactly. Our tests of skill are imperfect; our tests of subject matter, like history and science, are a disaster. Here testing's state of the art focuses exclusively on specific information and yet we have unquestioningly adopted these tests as the bellwether of our education system. A student may have a growing understanding about aspects of science and how scientific inquiry proceeds; our tests, however, are "either-you-know-it-or-you-
don't." Students do not get a chance to reason with the information they do know. Facts and information are important when they are connected to ideas. Facts and information are best learned and remembered when they are part and parcel of meaning making in schools.

Make no mistake, the emphasis on accountability means teachers will teach to the test. They almost have to. Caught in a system which keeps raising the testing bar - NCLB requires that schools show continual improvement - teachers never get to the point where they can turn their attention to other, more important content. Schools that do not measure up receive funds that must be spent to improve scores and thus are spent on consultant services like those offered by Kaplan.

Kaplan, as a case in point, has gone from a small SAT prep company to an NCLB giant with revenues of $2 billion, accounting for more than half the income of its parent, The Washington Post Company. Much of Kaplan's program doesn't even address content; instead it is aimed at how to outsmart the tests. NCLB is not leaving test makers and test preparers behind; these companies are taking in big taxpayer dollars. By not insisting that our schools integrate academic skills and factual information with meaningfulness, right from the outset, we insure that meaningfulness won't appear at all.

Having said this, it is only fair to note that there are many teachers who manage to achieve much more. They do so despite the tests, not because of them. It is also fair to note that there are teachers who do not belong in classrooms. Giving these inept teachers a script for teaching to the tests is not a solution to the serious problems we face in education. These people should not be teaching. Some people fear that meaningful learning is an excuse for fun and games in classrooms. It is not. Achieving deep learning calls for serious and hard work by students and teachers. Deep learning has the added benefit that students just might find it interesting too.

Proponents of standards-based reform point to particular schools, which for years had been achieving nothing, and are now at least doing something. Perhaps this allows us to think we are doing the best we can with our afflicted, often urban, failing schools. But, if our education system has a problem, it is in our failing schools where the problem is most pressing. And it is the young people in urban schools that most need the kind of education that gives them a chance to be full participants in the knowledge age that will characterize their world.

If we addressed our education crisis with a fraction of the urgency applied to our financial crisis, we might make some significant strides. We need a public debate about education that examines some of our assumptions, most notably that the school experience, which may have worked for them, is not going to work for their children. Education needs leadership that can explain what high standards are and what it will take to achieve them. Education needs the incentives to attract really talented people, educate them appropriately, and support them in all our schools. Setting standards and holding schools accountable for achieving them is a great political applause line and an easy winner on the editorial page. But standards-based reform is reform on the cheap.

Al Rudnitsky is a professor of Education & Child Study at Smith College.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Superintendent search update

You've no doubt read the Telegram and Gazette coverage by Jacqueline Reis on last night's School Committee meeting. Here's a few notes sent to me by a parent who attended; she started by noting that the room was packed with principals:

Jack Foley and Mary Mullaney tried to get Mills added to the list. The search firm guy warned that some of the top 3 might drop out if Mills got an interview, insinuating that they would view it as the inside guy had the inside track and they shouldn't bother. Bogigian and Monfredo tried to pass a motion that would have the school committee interview all 9 candidates that the ad hoc committee considered. That motion passed at first but then failed under reconsideration after the search firm guy brought up his point again.

In the end, they decided to interview the top 3 and after interviewing quickly decide if they needed to go further down the list. This will all happen very fast. Next Tue, Wed and Thursday there will be a candidate in. There are public forums and then the school committee interviews candidates (also open to the public). On Thursday, after the school committee interviews the last candidate, the committee will meet to decide whether to pursue one of the candidates or dip deeper into the pool. All of these meetings are open to the public.

Those public forums are from 3-4:30 at Worcester Technical High School; the interviews will follow at 5-7 pm. The School Committee will debate their choices on Thursday evening.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Superintendent search process

We haven't posted anything here about the release of the names of the finalists for the superintendent's position. The big conversation, even making the Jordan Levy show yesterday (so we hear), is the name that wasn't on the list: Deputy Superintendent Stephen Mills.

I've never heard anyone say anything bad about the deputy superintendent (which is saying something!), and I don't think the decision really had much to do with him at all. I think it had everything to do with timing:

It has been 45 years since the city hired someone from outside to lead its school system, but the School Committee appears poised to do that if it follows the search committee’s recommendation.
(from the above article by Jacqueline Reis)

45 years? Almost half a century? Do you know how many children have gone through the Worcester Public Schools under what has been, in essence, one long continuation of the same administration?

I'm as much of a Worcester booster as anyone, but I find it impossible to believe that we lead the world in educational leadership to such an extent that we need not look outside our own system for leadership in half a century. It is past time that we looked around a bit more.

Jordan Levy said something along the lines of "the fix is in." That phrasing makes it more personal than it is. It's less about personal vendettas and more about new blood. Insisting on a Worcester candidate and disregarding the time and thought the search committee put into this would be a mistake.

Let's throw open some windows up on Crown Hill and get some air circulating in the Driscoll Building. It'd be good for us.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Now here's an idea

(or more than one!)

Imagine a country where no one evaluates teachers, no one evaluates schools, and individual schools' test results remain confidential. You've just imagined Finland, which regularly bests all other developed nations in international assessments of student performance.
How can Finland pull this off without undermining quality? According to Dr. Reijo Laukkanen, a 34-year veteran of Finland's National Board of Education, "We trust our teachers."

n a recent interview with Public School Insights, Laukkanen assured us that this trust is well deserved. Finland draws its teachers from the top 10 percent of college graduates, and teaching regularly beats out law or medicine as a top career choice among high performers. "We can trust that [teachers] are competent," Laukkanen told us; "They know what to do."

It doesn't hurt that Finland's teachers study education at government expense, receive strong professional support throughout their careers, and count on ample time for collaboration with colleagues. This ongoing support creates what Laukkanen calls high "working morale" in schools.

Laukkanen also cited other reasons for Finland's success: Ambitious national content standards guide teachers' work without stifling their professional judgment or creativity. Aggressive, early and frequent interventions keep struggling students from falling behind. And schools coordinate with social service providers to prevent disadvantaged students from slipping through the cracks.

You can read the rest, from "Public School Insights," here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A few quotes from the City Manager's report on Question 1

I posted my notes from last week's City Council discussion on Question 1. I've since gotten the written report the City Manager gave to the Council. A few points of interest:

  • Current estimates of the magnitude of this revenue reduction to the Commonweath's budget range from 11 billion (Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation) to 13 billion (Massachusetts Municipal Association). In any event it is safe to assume that if the referendum passes, the Commonwealth's revenue stream, which funds its annual budget, will be reduced by approximately 40%.
  • (M)any organizations have attempted to model the potential State revenue reductions and the resultant effect on State aid to cities and towns. Each came to the same conclusion: the proposed elimination of the State income tax will lead to draconian reductions in State aid to the Commonwealth's 351 cities and towns on both the municipal and public school portions of local budgets. The City anticipates receiving $258 million in state aid in FY09 to support municipal and school services. This is 52% of our combined operating budgets. Reasonable assumptions result in reductions in the range of 63% for municipal state aid and up to 40% for educational aid for our City. This would equate to reductions on the municipal programs of $40- 50 million and up to $72 million in school spending.
  • It is a fair and reasonable assumption that this level of State Aid reduction will cause us to eliminate core services across the spectrum. These potential realities speak for themselves.
As the Manager said last week, if a department is cut by 75%, they'll just close the department and eliminate that service.

What happens after MCAS

I haven't posted much on the local MCAS scores and reporting because, well, what is there to say? The scores are widely available. The Boston Globe and the Telegram and Gazette are always going to find something to bang the pro-MCAS drum about. But I did think the following articles on what happens after the scores come home to roost might be of interest:

SouthCoastToday points out that the new requirements mean that those who barely passed the MCAS this year (with a "needs improvement") will now have to take remedial classes and pass an additional test in order to graduate. As that additional test has not been designed or designated by the state, there is some question as to how this is going to work in practice.

The Cape Cod Chronicle
explains that in Chatham, the elementary students are losing a gym class a week (they had two; they're down to one now) for added MCAS prep.

And here, from that article, is this kicker that gets us all:
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools must not only improve their scores each year, but they must show an adequate rate of improvement, known as adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

Yes, that does mean that scores have to go up and up and up, forever. Do you know of anything else that does that?
(okay, maybe prices. But test scores?)

Oooh, a map!

The Vote NO on Question 1 website now has an interactive map, showing the projected effect Question 1 will have on each community if it passes.

(And for those of you who were looking, their sources are cited below it.)

Also a good geography check! Remember, Worcester would be a diamond if Auburn hadn't taken a bite out of the lower left corner.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Presidential Candidates on education

or not, unfortunately.

There's an interesting article in last week's Education Week: "NCLB Debate at the Sidelines."

The No Child Left Behind Act has been the subject of intense debate in school board meetings, state legislatures, and Washington policy circles.

Everywhere, it seems, but the presidential campaign—the winner of which may have the most important voice in reshaping the federal role in K-12 education.

As NCLB is the major influence (at a federal level) on American education right now, we can't afford to leave NCLB out of the debate in this big election.

Read it. Think on it. And let's pay attention at these debates!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Massachusetts Municipal Association looks at Question 1

At last week's City Council meeting, City Manager O'Brien cited numbers put together by the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

You can find the entire report here, but here's the numbers you need to know:
  • If it passes, Question 1 would ultimately decrease state revenue by 40% or nearly $13 billion a year.
  • This would result (probably) in state aid cuts of an equivilent 40%, or $2.5 billion a year.
  • Add to that an additional loss of $.5 billion in aid for capital improvements (road construction, highway improvements, school and library buildings).
  • The state pension funding would go down by $1 billion dollars.
  • Chapter 70 school aid (which ensures a minimum level of education funding) would decrease to $1.1 billion statewide (which is 27 percent of where it currently is). Some local districts would lose state funding altogether.
  • State funding for Medicaid and Transitional Aid to Families With Dependent Children would be reduced to the minimum amount necessary to maintain any federal revenue contributions. Cuts to these programs would total about $3.4 billion.
  • After making the basic assumptions, all other accounts would be subject to an “across the board” cut of about 63 percent, according to the MMA simulation. This includes two main municipal aid accounts – Additional Assistance and Lottery distributions – which together would be cut by $822 million.
  • Across-the-board cuts in school transportation, the special education “circuit breaker” program, reimbursements for charter school-related losses (though funding for charter schools themselves would be unaffected), and a wide array of school grant programs...
  • State contributions to municipal and school projects, including Chapter 90 road projects, would be eliminated or sharply curtailed.
We really can't afford this.

Friday, September 26, 2008

If you know it's a bad idea...

You can sign up to show your disapproval of Question 1.

PS: If you sign up, you won't be getting a phone call asking where you stand on this issue.
PPS: Let Who-cester know if you need a lawn sign or a bumper sticker. We can get them!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

School Buses

and stopping for them.
Or not, as the case may be.

This is one that certainly ought to be on the radar screens of every school committee and city council member. We can't have kids in this kind of danger every day, and we can't have the police department not taking the complaint seriously, either.

Heads up, out there! Get on this one, folks!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Item passes

The item passes unanimously.
Daily Worcesteria is raising a good question, though (scroll down to 7:35): what does this mean? Aside from the Council going on record on this, does this do anything? Are they putting a letter in the paper?

Well, at least they think it's a bad idea. Now they just have to convince a majority of voters in Massachusetts before November!

Rosen on Question 1

"have such a devestating effect..risk to public safety, schoolkids"
"we struggled with the school budget last spring and we did well by them"
(remember that!)
"Pools and parks...we'd have to neglect them even more...what would make someone go in and say 'that's what I want for my community'...people are frustrated and angry and upset"
cites federal, state, local "and the waste"

"wrong message coming from all of us...make sure you're doing well by us...can understand the frustration...that people forget their anger and frustration...have heard the message"

Palmieri on Question 1

"probably one of the more serious ones that we've had in some time"
a significant number of people who don't believe this is the case...there is this frustration
People aren't happy with government

People ask "where have the legislators invested? Have they really invested in education?..."
"preaching to the choir is not enough...can't just say 'oh, boy, we have a problem'...have to get a bang for the buck"

(reference to $700 billion passed by Congress)

wants statements followed by action

Haller on question 1

has her full support
"not on the ballot because some out of state person put it there"
result of frustration
Everyday people being priced out of Massachusetts
have to remain committed to driving out waste, sharing resources, partnering with the public
"have to remember that there's huge frustration out there"

63% cut in municipal funding
"destruction of local government as we know it"

Toomey on Question 1

"draconian doesn't quite adequately describe the cuts"
cites people begging for more money last spring
"imagine how many teachers that would many people would be left to educate 23,000 kids in school"
"the lights might go on, but not much else is going to happen"

asking the School Committee to join them in a letter of support to vote no on Question 1
"We can't afford it"

Smith on Question 1

"consequences would be disasterous for Worcester"
it would have to be made up somewhere
sales, meals, property taxes up
credit rating down: "negative domino effect"

wouldn't be able to have kids educated, sidewalks paved, parks maintained
"you pay for what you get"

"Hope people take this seriously"

City Manager's take on numbers

$225 million services provided by city
modeling done makes it look like:
63% municipal state aid cut
it would mean $50-40 million cut for Worc
The city has $140 million in fixed costs
$90-100 million left after cut
"to cut your department by 75%" you're left with a department that can't function

we would eliminate entire departments

Clancy on Question 1

(you'll remember that Councilor Clancy asked for numbers on this back in July)

last July asked admin to forward what we might have as a budget if it passed
points out that it would matter for next year's budget (takes effect Jan 1, 2009)
educate taxpayers of ramification on next year's budget
close up shop the 2nd year

our state aid could be slashed 52% across the budget
(he's creating numbers here, based on 52%):
100 or more police officers
100 or more fire fighters
400-500 teachers not to mention support and transportation costs
doesn't include DPW

only option would be an across the board sales tax increase
(speaks here about costs that cannot be cut: payment of debt, plowing)

"We'd be afloat and on our own"
we rely so heavily on state aid
It's only fair that taxpayers know before they go to the polls
"significant ramifications"

"If we could get a more tangible list of the items we'd have to do without" then the voters would have more of an idea of what we're facing
(here cites the schools specifically, 'though he's also looking for specifics from the city)

City Council liveblog: second item is up!

Rushton rises to address it:

Question 1 is "an urban lynching"
central Mass dominated by the health and vibrancy of Worcester
"prescription for disaster"
if we take away income tax, we go to property tax...unacceptable
the property tax is a "selective regressive tax" "property owners burdened to the max"
"foolhardy and disrespectful to the max"
sends the wrong message
"strongly urging this council"
"question 1 a no go in the city of Worcester"

Question 1 up tonight!

Just a reminder that today's Tuesday, and, yes, folks, that means it's CITY COUNCIL!
(cue applause)

Item 2 on their agenda is Question 1, the income tax rollback. If you think that it might just possibly make a difference to the city of Worcester if the state loses 40% of its revenue, then let your councilor know it! Links are, as usual, to the right.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New condemnation of the SAT

And there's new recommendations against the use of the SAT in college admissions, this time from the college admissions officers themselves. The part that's especially relevant?

Mr. Fitzsimmons’s group, which was convened by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, also expresses concerns “that test scores appear to calcify differences based on class, race/ethnicity and parental educational attainment.” The report calls on admissions officials to be aware of such differences and to ensure that differences not related to a student’s ability to succeed academically be “mitigated in the admission process.”

Of course, if a standardized test is preventing you from graduating from high school in the first place, there's no "mitigation" possible.

Textbook money after all!

As you might remember, $1.25 million of the health insurance savings from last year was put aside for two things:
  1. Fuel
  2. Textbooks
The ordering of textbooks was held off until the prices for fuel were locked in for the coming year.

I saw a small item (you'll have to scroll down to find it) in last week's paper mentioning that the prices were in, so I asked around to find out more. The prices have been locked in (as it happens, the schools outwaited the city, and so got a lower price!), and there's money left!

$ 1 million!!!

So, the City of Worcester's schools will be getting ONE MILLION DOLLARS in new books this year, due to the health insurance savings from last year!

As we find out what books in particular are coming in and where, we'll keep you posted!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Question 1 before the City Council

It's the second item of business on this week's City Council agenda:

Request the City Council of the City of Worcester adopt a resolution for going on the record in opposition to Question 1 ballot question that will rollback the state income tax

There's always the question (as was seen with Question 2 last meeting) as to whether the Council will decide the question falls under their purview, as the City Council will only discuss those matters.

The relationship is stark on this one: the Commonwealth's major source of income is the state income tax. Worcester's schools receive a majority of their funding from the state.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Here's your scores

The 2008 statewide MCAS scores were released Tuesday, to a variety of reactions across the state.
(The district and school scores are embargoed until next week.)

Globe coverage

This is the first year that science is a requirement, and 7% of the now-junior class (the class of 2010) didn't pass that exam. The other "didn't make it" stats: 42% of blacks, 46% of Hispanics, 15% of Asians, 13% of whites, 53% of those with disabilities, 39% of low income students, and 72% of those with limited English.

There was much from the state education powers-that-be on "an achievement gap to close," "scores indicate we are not there yet," and so forth. The question that wasn't asked (and continues to be avoided) is just what is being tested with the MCAS. Do these scores show us something about the students taking it? Or do they show us more about the test?

Tests are squirrelly things, as any teacher that put a question on a test can tell you. A question can be as clear as daylight to the writer, and be completely meaningless to even a well-prepared student. One can a take a test on a subject one knows well and still do poorly, if the test isn't a good assessment.

If you take a look at those stats above, some things about the MCAS become very clear. It's a test in English, so it's no surprise that those of limited English proficiency would struggle with it. You're testing multiple things at once there: working knowledge of English and whatever the test is on. The piece that is ignored in this state, and shouldn't be, is the rest of the built-in expectations of the test. In addition to your working knowledge of English, there are assumptions made by the test takers. The classic example of this is a test question on snow given to children in a part of the country where it never snows. If the question was designed to test your knowledge of literature, but you don't have the working background knowledge, then your ability to demonstrate your knowledge of literature is inherently limited by the test.

This is a notorious flaw in standardized testing. It warrants discussion in a state where all our educational measurements are based on a standardized test. You'd be hard pressed to find that conversation happening, though.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What's ailing boys

(and it's none too good for girls, either)

The National Center for Health Statistics report is getting plenty of national press: nearly one in five parents of boys were concerned enough about their son's emotional or behavior problems that they called in professional help.
Enviromental pollution, epidemics of autism....I'm with Newsweek's Peg Tyre on this one:

Instead of unstructured free play, parents now schedule their kids' time from dawn till dusk (and sometimes beyond.) By age 4, an ever-increasing number of children are enrolled in preschool. There, instead of learning to get along with other kids, hold a crayon and play Duck, Duck, Goose, children barely out of diapers are asked to fill out work sheets, learn computation or study Mandarin. The drumbeat for early academics gets even louder when they enter "real" school. Veteran teachers will tell you that first graders are now routinely expected to master a curriculum that, only 15 years ago, would have been considered appropriate for second, even third graders. The way we teach children has changed, too. In many communities, elementary schools have become test-prep factories—where standardized testing begins in kindergarten and "teaching to the test" is considered a virtue. At the same time, recess is being pushed aside in order to provide extra time for reading and math drills. So is history and opportunities for hands-on activities—like science labs and art. Active play is increasingly frowned on—some schools have even banned recess and tag.

Recess at our neighborhood elementary school? 15 minutes, twice a day. And the first homework came home from kindergarten last week.

I know of parents who have pulled their sons from school, rather than give them behaviorial drugs. I know of parents who have chosen to homeschool, certain that their sons would be diagnosed with ADHD if they were sent to school.

What I wonder is this: at exactly what point, are we as parents going to draw the line? We're making children miserable and ill--ask any third grade teacher about MCAS week--even drugging them, and we're proving what? That having money means you're better at filling in bubbles? That business in America really does run everything?

These are our kids. We are their parents. They depend on us to protect them, yet somehow we're letting ourselves be pushed around by people who puport to know more about education than we do. Often they know about as much about education as they do about children. Exactly nothing.
Kindergarteners don't need to know how to read, and in many cases aren't developmentally ready for it. Little kids need to run around. History class, field trips, science labs aren't luxuries, but 21st century necessities (and sometimes, sanity breaks).

Don't be pushed around. Do what's right for your kids.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Question 1 and the City Council

This past Tuesday's meeting led the Daily Worcesteria to believe that Councilor Eddy would be bringing up Question 1 (that's the state income tax rollback) at this coming Tuesday's Council meeting. It's not up on the agenda, but that doesn't bar him (or anyone) for bringing it up under suspension. I'll check in and see if we can find out.

UPDATE: The City Council doesn't meet this week (primary election is 9/16). Councilor Eddy assures me that it is up for next week's agenda.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another thing that bug isn't good for

Keep an eye on this one:

“If this were to be requested of Worcester and the surrounding towns, something would have to give. We’d be pitting beetle eradication against public safety. We’d be pitting it against teachers in the classroom,” Mr. O’Brien said.

from the front page of today's Worcester Telegram and Gazette

Tip of the hat to the City Manager for immediately couching this in terms of teachers. Brilliant, Mr. O'Brien. And yes, this does mean that if you want to keep funding levels steady (or better yet, growing), we need to rally around beetle funding.

If you think of a good cheer for this, let me know.

Monday, September 8, 2008

What do these have in common?

If you haven't seen Boston Magazine this month, they're running the ever popular "Top 50 (fill in the blank here)" issue.
This month, it's the "Best Schools," which, given the magazine's focus, means something more like "the Best Schools inside of Route 128." Oh, okay, "inside 495."

If you know urban education at all, you'll get no real surprises here ('though I would like to know what Lowell is doing: anyone know?). If it's an exam school, it's on there. If it has high property taxes, majority college educated parents, majority white, it's on here. Oh, and high per-pupil spending certainly doesn't hurt, "efficiency calculation" or no.
They did do us the favor of looking into how some districts (Arlington?) are "stretching their dollars," but if this is their prescription, they should be sued for malpractice:

Management consultants, fundraising, PR campaigns—the public school game is changing. Superintendents now have to be equally adept as educators and CEOs. They must understand complex fiscal matters as completely as they do what makes a child learn. Patrick should continue to pursue big-picture reform, but with our schools needing help now, it'll be up to superintendents and administrators to get creative, run their budgets efficiently, and deliver practical solutions.

You heard 'em, superintendents: go out there and...get creative!
Gee, thanks, guys.

Those of you still living in this universe might enjoy Sandra Tsing Loh's interview with about her new book about public education. And when you laugh at her, it won't be the hollow laugh of despair, as it would be with the above selections.

"The Spirit of America"?

The military show "The Spirit of America" is coming to the DCU Center later this month. This year there is some pushback about schools, public or private, sending their students to such a show. You can find Scott Schaefer-Duffy's thoughts here. Scott's tackling it from a Catholic perspective, of course, but Catholics hardly have the market cornered on pacificism. Give it a read, and give it a thought.

If you'd rather not have public funds spent on buses to send public school children to such a show, would rather not have your child go to such a show, or otherwise have a thought on this, you'll find the School Committee member's emails to the right, as always.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Massachusetts senate race

Ed O'Reilly, who is challenging John Kerry for the Democratic nomination for Senate, has an extensive education policy section on his website. He's obviously given a great deal of thought to, in particular, NCLB and the effect it has been having on public schools. Give it a read.

(And Kerry? Here's ALL his website has to say:

"I believe we should meet our responsibilities to our schools and ensure
that No Child Left Behind works for schools, states, and teachers by
rewarding those who meet higher standards and rewarding schools that turn
around and improve."


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An open letter to the presidential candidates from PURE

The Parents United for Responsible Education (out of Chicago) are offering an open letter to the presidential candidates and asking people to sign on. The major things American schools need, from their letter:
  1. Safe and uncrowded schools with more counselors
  2. Smaller classes
  3. Adequate resources and teacher support for a well-rounded curriculum
  4. More parental involvement
If you agree, click the link above to read the entire text and sign on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reflections on last week's meeting

  • If you're going to wrangle with the administration over money, you've got to show up for every single meeting. I could be wrong about this, but I believe that there were no parents that spoke at the Business subcommittee meeting, so the School Committee got an earful from middle school principals interested in getting some of that new money, and those principals carried the day.
  • It's also clear that the School Committee and the administration are feeling pretty good about the lack of over-27-pupil elementary classrooms in Worcester now. I'm not sure why everyone decided that was an okay number to stop at. It wouldn't make me feel very good to be sending my four-and-a-half year old off to a kindergarten classroom next week with 25 classmates, especially if she had no aide. We really need the people making these decisions to spend some time in these rooms once in awhile. Imagine trying to teach that many kids, with all sorts of abilities, to read!
  • We're still choosing between heat and books. The health insurance money is on hold, pending our heating bills for this winter. That money was supposed to go for books. It's been ages since we've had new books, in many cases.
  • It was heartening to hear school district lines brought into the discussion. As much as this is sometimes a bit of a third rail, it's pretty dumb for us to have classrooms that are overcrowded and can't be split for lack of rooms in one school, when the school down the street has either open rooms or less crowded classrooms. There are neighborhoods where it wouldn't make that much of a difference, as the schools are so close together. Even making it a system where kids with older siblings stay in the same school, and the new kindergartener who's the eldest in a family makes the switch would help. We're sacrificing the actual education of our kids on the altar of family convenience and neighborhood comfort. Let's be more sensible about this one.
  • While it isn't clear that the gaping hole between the school and city administrations has been bridged by those parties in any way, it's clear that Brian O'Connell, at least, has heard that there is a hole. He's keeping abreast of what the City Council asks for and is putting straight on the School Committee agenda. That isn't the way it should work--there are people who do this full-time, Brian!--but it's a stopgap, and it certainly is better than nothing. I'd hope that the both administrations would be shamed that this is falling to an elected official, and pick this up to do themselves.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where are the additional teachers going?

For those wondering where the added teachers are heading, here's the rundown, as of July 29th:

(each of the following is one teacher)
K Belmont
K Chandler Magnet
1st Chandler Magnet
4th City View
2nd Goddard
4th Goddard
6th Goddard
K Grafton St.
K Heard St.
4th Midland
K Nelson Place
6th Nelson Place
2nd Norrback
6th Rice Sq
K Roosevelt
5th Tatnuck Magnet
6th Tatnuck Magnet
K Vernon Hill
3rd West Tatnuck
5th West Tatnuck

(pretty excited about the new label, below!)

that's it!

Sept. 4 is next meeting

on North High

on North High
Dr. Caradonio: SBA funding comes from a penny on the sales tax; when there's a tax holiday, no pennies come in
future of SBA funding in some doubt as a result
New way of funding schools? watching it at the legislative level
Mr. Monfredo says 80,000 sq. ft lost; a lot
Dr. Caradonio disputes the number of square feet lost
Reduction of common areas, other spaces
Classroom space kept, even increased
Gym can seat entire school of 1200; auditorium can seat 400 (school is three small schools); pushed for that (both became smaller, but were kept to useful sizes)
solar collector on top of gym
Mr. Foley asking for an update to School Committee: where are we? what have we lost? able to respond to public questions

Going green on North High

energy conservation in the new North High
Tech High cited as an example
wind power and solar power
to incorporate energy efficiencies in the plan (using grants?), assistance of Tech staff and students
Mass Energy grant $375,000; Mayor asks for an update on that

family booklet

Monfredo: recommend Family involvement booklet update by December 2008
booklet has been in curriculum committee for some time

reporting on what we'd lose

(it looks from this and other items as though Mr. O'Connell is closely following the City Council and jumping in to be sure the items they request get on the School Committee agenda)

report on ballot initiative to eliminate state income per City Council request, from Mr. O'Connell
refer to Business
make available to Council and community so they would know before they vote
Monfredo: $12 billion dollars from the state budget lost if it passes

on Readiness, Charter schools

item to "consider varied models of school governance and organization, for possible implementation in the Worcester Public Schools, including, but not limited to, Horace Mann Charter Schools and Readiness Schools" from Mr. O'Connell
Look at if this is something we want to implement, if welcomed by parents, staff, admin
if 'we'd like to be among the first to operate a Readiness School"

Lukes on paying for it all

Mayor Lukes recommending that administration make advisory comment on costs for new programs before referral to subcommittee
hearing that administration is overloaded with reporting on things
would like to do it up front, rather than after subcommittee reports
keep track of what we are demanding of adminstration on a continuing basis

(Mayor Lukes then continued to request a double referral for all items suggesting new or additional programs, both to the appropriate committee and also to the administration for a report on costs. This was periodically disputed by various committee members.)

Mr. O'Connell: question on ratios

Mr. O'Connell
is that the lowest ratio we've had in some years?
is the aggregate ratio down?
Mr. Caradonio answers: foundation budget is 22 to 1; we've been around it, this is below it
Acknowledge hard work of citizens for smaller classes
projection figures when we start planning for FY10 (looking ahead); should we look at that issue early?
how we meet needs of elementary students and secondary students?
Mr. Caradonio: Enrollment projections are about as good as census numbers; impact of foreclosures on enrollment numbers?
99.2% accurate, he'd say, and then people move
planning all year long
State is based on a per-pupil basis; enrollment increasing at lower levels, but not born in Worcester: moving in.
Not national birth registry
Motion: admin review with business projections for enrollment for FY10; take figures into account in FY10 budget planning
motion passes
Committee report accepted