Thursday, July 31, 2008

Business Subcommittee

It's still open for final confirmation, but it looks as though the Business Subcommittee will be meeting next Wednesday, August 6 at 11:30 am.

Subcommittee meetings are held in the Durkin Administration Building, room 410.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Letter from a teacher to Governor Patrick

When Governor Patrick comes to town, perhaps he'll hear from people like this, a teacher who came to the meeting in Milton, reprinted here with her permission:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good Morning, Governor Patrick,

Thank you for putting so much time and effort into the Town Meetings. It was really informative and enjoyable to listen to you and the other speakers. I was grateful for the opportunity to address the crucial high-stakes testing issue in response to the Readiness Report.

You mentioned Monday evening those teachers who really get involved in the lives of their students. Sadly, one of the losses of MCAS is the mindset that students should be seen as unique. Much as we would hope never to see neglect in our schools, it is neglectful when teachers are expected to get those scores up and let everything else be secondary. Many teachers are still valiantly trying to keep education as a child-centered endeavor, both here in Massachusetts and nationally.

The effects of MCAS testing began concerning me as the numbers of tests increased, up to nine for fifth graders, the media attention became frenzied, real estate values were advertised on the basis of test scores, the tests came earlier and earlier in the school year (now beginning in March), and the MCAS requirement for graduation came into effect.

An unsettling "new reality" came into most Massachusetts schools. I realized I needed to know much more about NCLB, high stakes testing and the "realities" of "reform."

Since then I have read over twenty books on school testing, educational history - including various "reform" movements and vast amounts of research, attended lectures and followed schooling in America as newly-defined in the media and on the internet, and spoken with dozens of teachers. So when I speak of issues, it is from the perspective of a student of high stakes testing, as well as professional educator. My concerns are the issues of high stakes testing as general phenomena here and in America's schools.

If you could just sit in a room with ten or twenty teachers - those of us who actually have to participate in the MCAS process, you would be very shocked to hear what the testing actually means "on the ground." Speak with those of us who have no "horse in the race" - no agenda of self-advancement - and listen to the reality of what is happening in the schools, in general. I'm speaking of a conversation with those of us who have been giving these tests for the ten years since they began.

There is so much more to the high-stakes testing saga. The narrowing of the curriculum is a reality in many schools and it is most intense in those communities which are struggling with education and poverty and discrimination. The effects of the pressures on teachers to produce scores are palpable, at times crushing. There is often injustice for students with special needs, challenging home or health situations, or from racial or ethnic groups which have not had open access to educational opportunity.

To maintain focus on real learning in the classroom when schools must basically "shut down" for so many days of testing during the months of March, April, May and June, is a challenge in itself. By "shut down" I would cite as examples, libraries, offices and other spaces closed for service so that students with special needs can receive proper accommodations such as one-on-one testing, extended time for testing, etc. Specialists such as special needs teachers, speech/language, occupational therapy, literacy staff must be utilized to provide those special accommodations. Since they can't be two places at one time, other special education services may be compromised.

Perhaps the very worst effect is portraying to children that learning is not about seeking knowledge for understanding. It is not about curiosity and problem solving. It is not learning to change the world. Rather the false image of learning as successful scores on tests has taken over many schools.

Again, a heartfelt thank you for your respect and time at the meeting in Milton. I have attached a copy of my statement.
Ann B. O'Halloran

The Governor's coming to town!

Next Wednesday, July 30, Governor Deval Patrick will be bringing his cabinet to Worcester to hear from the public.
If you have something he needs to hear, on education or otherwise, this is the place to do it!

The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy-Worcester
Fuller Conference Hall
25 Foster Street, 9th Floor

at 3pm

A principal apologizes

For those who may have noticed some differences in the public schools under NCLB...this principal is in Ohio, but what he says applies in Worcester, too:

He's sorry that he spent thousands of tax dollars on test materials, practice tests, postage and costs for test administration.

Sorry that his teachers spent less time teaching American history because most of the social-studies test questions are about foreign countries.

Sorry that he didn't suspend a student for assaulting another because the attacker would have missed valuable test days.

Sorry he didn't strictly enforce attendance rules because all absences count against the school on the State Report Card.

He's sorry for pulling children away from art, music and gym, classes they love, so they could learn test-taking strategies.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What just happened?

The allocation of that money gets sent to Business subcommittee (their next meeting isn't up...I'll find out)
The City Council gets notified that discussion of the money is up on the agenda.
The administration comes up with a recommendation on K-3, 4-6, and middle school program allocations.
The subcommittee comes back with a recommendation to the full School Committee for the August 21 meeting (that's again at 4pm here at the City Council chamber).

Where is that money?

And here's 8-169:
(co-sponsored by Monfredo, O'Connell, Hargrove, Foley)

Mr. Monfredo: "we voted to place the $445000" in the teacher account...We did not discuss the middle school.
"The question remains: what will be our priority: can we ensure that our elementary classes will be small enough to be effective?"
"I ask that we consider the $200,000 for K-3...if we can even get our numbers down from 29 to 24...we know what works by what we's not a great budget, but it's better than we've had in seven years...we need to do all we can in our primary grades"

Motion: use $200,000 for K-3 in numbers over 27, then 4-6 classes over 27, then address the middle school recommendation. Further, asking that it not be referred to subcommittee.

Mullaney: "absolutely opposed voting on this now...far more study...we have kids in 4-6, 7&8, even in high school...fine to talk about children now in K-3...large number of students no longer in K-3 who need to be remediated...people making'll see a revolt..vehemently oppose...Mr. Foley needs to weigh in...cannot balance the budget on the backs of one group of kids"
Lukes: "not just taking a vote...without causing a whole lot of trauma...troubled by having this kind of motion this late in the season...his logic is appropriate...I have a difficult time supporting it."
O'Connell: "is it possible to bring this back with a recommendation at our August meeting?"
Caradonio: "It was our understanding that this is what we were going to do...refer to Business...have a 41% mobility rate...31% of buildings foreclosed are 2 and 3 family homes...When this was brought up by the City Council you were change this needs some sort of recommendation by the City Council...they (did this) to (forward the middle school)...consider some sort of communication with the City Council...I think that's only fair to do with the City Council...would give us the time that we thought we had...don't really assign a lot of the teachers until school starts."

Motion: refer to standing committee on Business and notify the City Council

Bogigian: "When the City Council appropriated this money for the school committee...I don't recall having the Council vote on how the School Committee uses funds...all I'm saying, is I support the motions...I don't think that money was given to us with the express purpose with doing the the things that are listed here."
Lukes: "The legal oversights..."basically, yes, it's our authority, but what does it do to our political negotiations? Conflicted.

Motions all passed

on blogs

Should there be a policy regarding posting of material on blogs through school system equipment?

(of interest only because, well, I'm blogging here, aren't I?)

FY10...yes, already

Looking ahead...item gb#8-159 from Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Monfredo:
"To begin preparation for the FY!) Budget, with discussion of school system needs and priorities with interested school and community groups"

That means you!
This usually goes up in January; we're working on this early next year.
"what we all anticipate to be a particular rigorous" year next year
Referring to the standing committee on business

WPL and WPS working on reading

Suggestion that some money be put into the fund of the Friends of Worcester Public Library to fund coupons for children. The kids would get the coupons as rewards, and the coupons would be good at the Friends' bookstore.
Referred to subcommittee.
Getting kids to the library!


On School Plant: the administration insisted and the subcommittee followed the recommendation that playgrounds only be installed by professional installers.

Attention, Nelson Place and Thorndyke Road! So much for saving money...

Superintendent Caradonio is up and waxing eloquent about the dangers of using volunteers. "The key thing is get volunteers to maintain it, not to build it."

Coming out of the community and employee issue subcommittee

Problem-free Playgrounds recommended for expansion
Recommendation for an additional health teacher for middle schools, for anti-bullying programs; held, as we have an additional health teacher

And Mayor Lukes just came in.

Liveblogging the School Committee

liveblogging the School Committee: Mayor Lukes, Mr. Foley out today, so Mr. O'Connell is chairing.

Right now we're going through the subcommittee reports.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Midsummer School Committee meeting

The agenda for the midsummer meeting of the School Committee is up.

In addition to the usual rash of midsummer personnel appointments and some items for next year, there is one item of budgetary interest:

gb #8-169 - Mr. Monfredo/Mr. O’Connell

(June 26, 2008)

To discuss the manner in which the $445,000 in the teacher account will be utilized.

You might remember that there was some question as to whether additional money coming in should go to continue to keep down the size of elementary school classes, or to fund middle school programs. The School Committee was pretty strong in recommending the former.
But it wasn't clearly said in a vote.
It looks as though perhaps it will be made even clearer on Thursday.

Congratulations, Belmont Street!

Congratulations to Belmont Street Community School on their newly renovated library! The school received a revamped library with additional books and computers through the READesign program from the Heart of America foundation. Always good to see more books heading into a school!

Not in any way to rain on their parade, but it would be behoove us to remember that the revamped library will not have a librarian.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What I Learned At School This Year

Good column from George Wood in the Forum for Education and Democracy

His list of what he'd learned from the Forum's report, Democracy at Risk, is most interesting:

What I learned from looking at these far-from-perfect numbers is that the nations that do well on these comparisons do things I wish we did, including:
  • Funding their schools equitably, often nationally, and refusing to allow the disparities we see in this nation;
  • Taking care of their children by providing national health care, early childhood education, safe neighborhoods, and quality housing;
  • Supporting a professional teaching corps by providing financial support to become a teacher, ensuring mentoring programs, and investing in ongoing professional development;
  • Making sure there is a supply of well-prepared and well-supported teachers for every child and every school;
  • Relying upon performance assessments, and assessments of learning at the school and classroom level, to gauge how schools are doing;
  • Using assessments that engage students in higher order thinking processes to solve real-world problems; and
  • Refusing to use standardized assessments for high-stakes decisions.

Every time I mention this list to policy-makers they seem astounded. What I have learned this year is that we have a mythological notion of what is going on in schools around the world. We believe something like this: In other nations kids go to school all the time, study primarily math, take tests almost daily, and are subjected to a great deal of drill and memorization work. In fact, nothing could be further from the case and to pursue a policy agenda based on this mythology will deeply damage our schools.

And, as he says in closing:
What we need is a system of national policy supports for schools that insures every child, regardless of condition, has equal access to a good school, with good teachers, where what they learn is judged by what they can do on complex tasks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

what to do with those research bureau reports?

A quick discussion here on what we should do with the Research Bureau's latest report: send it to the Education sub-committee? or (as suggested by Councilor Clancy) just let the School Committee take it?

(This report is on the search for a new superintendent.)

Councilor Toomey (chair of the Education sub-committee) says she'll take it, so it gets referred.

on closing Providence Street station

Rep. Fresolo raises a point I hadn't considered in the conversation over closing Providence Street station:
There's a huge number of schools up on that hill (public and private). Do we want them waiting for a fire truck on the other side of a passing train?

It's a thought.

Be careful what you vote for

There's been some online discussion of this already, but it looks as though the City Council isn't missing the impacts of the proposed rollback of the state income tax:

Item 12i. Request City Manager, in conjunction with the City Auditor and the Worcester Public Schools, prepare an impact report concerning public services that would result from the ballot initiative to eliminate the state income tax. (Clancy)

(live-posting from the City Council meeting)
Councilor Clancy says he wants projections..."we're a creature of the state. Our schools receive a tremendous amount of money from the state...that's going to have an impact...We at least have to roll out what that impact would be...certainly significant on the school side...far great repercussions on the school side."

The councilor stresses that he'd like conservative projections, saying the schools "like to have their finger on the scales sometimes."

(The proposal would rollback the tax 2 1/2 percent in 2009, and 2 1/2 in 2010.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stand for Children article in the T&G

Front page of today's local section

Encouraging words from some public officials!

The disappointing thing is that the mayor apparently still doesn't understand the foundation budget formula:

"The bizarre thing was, even though we had effectuated savings from our health insurance reforms...because it wasn't new money, they weren't going to recognize it..that means there's no incentive for reforms."

That's one you'll want to take up with the state, Madame Mayor. They set the foundation budget formula.