Saturday, January 31, 2009

Here's the first of the numbers

Thanks, Colleen! You are incredibly valuable!

Last year's (which, remember, means FY09) required local contribution:


This coming year's (FY10) required local contribution:


Unfortunately, inflation, heating costs, health insurance, etc., are not going backwards.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Now back to the state...

A few things on education funding from yesterday's press conference (and various released documents) by Governor Patrick:
  1. The state is really counting on the federal government to come through with increased Title 1 funds (Title 1 is the federal money that goes to poorer schools; most schools in Worcester qualify). While they are not planning, per se, on that, much of the rest of their calculations do revolve around it, let's say.
  2. The recalculation of cities and town's responsibilities are indeed happening (as intimated by the City Manager at Tuesday's City Council meeting). The wording goes like this:
We propose to recalculate the required municipal contribution for cities and towns based on updated fiscal year 2010 municipal revenue growth factors. These growth factors calculate a municipality’s ability to provide funds toward education. In this current fiscal downturn, it is not reasonable to have cities and towns with declining growth factors contribute funds at levels in previous years. The Administration recognizes that revenues have declined and budgets are tighter which is why it promotes the changes to municipal contribution as provided for by the Executive Office of Education and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

That means downward growth means downward funding--a straightforward calculation that will send us backward pretty dramatically, when combined with level-funding Chapter 70 aid (from the state) for next year. Remember that level funding means "no inflation increase."

This brings us back (as it so often does) to the foundation formula. Remember that the formula was in answer to a lawsuit brought against the state, charging that education was being inadequately funded. The state's answer was the 1993 Ed Reform law, which brought us not only the MCAS (about which I harp so much), but also the foundation formula. The MCAS was supposed to measure that this minimal level of funding was being correctly spent. But will the state be in violation of the settlement if they allow cities and towns to drop below foundation funding? The possibility is certainly there.

In honor of the ice

We'll go back to talking about the federal money, the state cuts, and other serious things in a moment here, but I did want to share this entirely frivolous piece from Minnesota, in honor of the weather here today:

Each January, when ponds and lakes freeze thick, Tim Graf passes on what he knows about the days before everyone had a refrigerator, when ice was harvested like a winter crop to keep food cold all summer long.

Using stories and tools passed on to him by his grandparents, who ran an ice business in Worthington, Minn., Graf teams up with naturalists at Three Rivers Park District to teach students and park visitors some living history by showing them how to harvest blocks of ice.

Thanks to Charlie for passing this, as so much else, on to me!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An official announcement

  • How many children will be in my child's classroom next year?
  • What teachers will still have jobs next fall?
  • Why can't my children play on the playground at their school?
  • What after school programs do we have available?
  • How much time and money do the schools spend on the MCAS?

What difference will the state budget cuts/the change in the foundation formula/the federal stimulus package make on the Worcester Public Schools and on my child's education? What is being done about these issues?

I have yet to meet a citizen in Worcester who doesn't have some question about the Worcester Public Schools. The dismaying thing is how infrequently these get answered or how long it takes to get answers.

That's why I'm running for School Committee.

For too long, we've had a school administration that has given answers to the Worcester School Committee when and if so inclined. They have not been held accountable. In facing the budget cycles ahead, the citizens of Worcester, parents and taxpayers, need good and timely information to give meaningful input. It is the job of the School Committee to make sure the public have it.

We need a spirit of mutual cooperation and sharing between the city and school administrations. We need information about budgets and programs going out to all parents, not just those few who can make meetings. We need an up-to-date and updated website for the schools. We need a better idea of what money is going where and why.

Right now we don't have that.

We should.

That's why I'm running for School Committee.

Tracy O'Connell Novick

Wake-up call

No, literally this time!

Nice job this morning by the Superintendent's office in using the Connect-ED system to call all Worcester Public School parents before dawn (!) to let them know that school was cancelled for the day. As the snow didn't really pick up until the buses would have been on the roads, it was a help.

(Anyone else wondering why it's never the Superintendent herself that gives the message?)

I'm afraid, folks, that we probably just lost either Good Friday or a day in April vacation off, though. We've already had March 13 turned from an in-service day to a regular school day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This just in...

If you were watching the City Council meeting or read Worcester Magazine's blog, you got some of this, but here are some points from what the City Manager told the Council this evening regarding the state budget and the city budget(s) moving forward:

  • among the items in the emergency relief bill is a proposed change in the foundation formula. As this is being touted as "relief," you can bet that this will require local communities to spend less on education. Watch this one!
  • State aid under chapter 70 (education funding) would not be reduced for FY09 and would be held steady for FY10
  • the governor is proposing a budget tomorrow, which the Manager's office will be looking at and will be reporting back to the Council on by the end of the week (should we get anything on this, we'll post it here)
  • the Manager is proposing that the city operate under an 18 month budget, running from January 1 of 2009 through June 30 of 2010.  I (and other budget-watchers) have no idea how this would work; it boggles the mind.

Item 11a held

Councilor Haller held 11a. That means no discussion this week, and it goes on next week's agenda.

Rosen on repetition

Rosen on repetition of services, looking on the city side and seeing business department, and one in the School Department, personnel both places..."Isn't it time to do one department of human on"
"It seems we could retain those departments and maybe save teachers in the classroom"
"If there's any overlap, could we eliminate that?"

The Manager says, "Everything's on the table." He mentions the Ed Reform, which separated school and city side, and points out that they would "serve two masters" (answering both to the Council and the School Committee). In other words, there are some requirements that we need to follow here. We are, he says, in "emergency operations."

Rosen wants it under advisement, and he wants the Manager to be talking to the school administration (mentioning the current interm superintendent and the new incoming superintendent) about it. He also suggests that if this is against the law, then the law needs to change.

NCLB funding

Councilor Toomey is looking for clarification on whether NCLB will be fully funded under the relief bill. The answer, as it happens, is no (but no one on the floor knows this)
(See below for details on what is in it.)

Defending recess

Coming to the defence of recess is a study showing what any elementary teacher could tell you: that children are better students when they have recess. You can read all about it here in the Washington Post, but allow me to call to your attention a few things:

  1. it requires more than 15 minutes of recess a day
  2. kids least likely to have recess are minorities, in urban public schools, and in the Northeast (and elsewhere)
  3. NCLB has cut recess time

Question 1 comes back

Councilor Rushton is mentioning Question 1 in speaking of the Council needing to "stand up and act" on the emergency relief package, crediting the Council for speaking out on it.

state budget

The Manager is up now, talking about the state cuts. He's recommending that the city do a revised city budget, running this year through next year, to figure out how to make up the difference. He says the governor is having a press conference tomorrow, and they're expecting details on what the governor plans to cut by midday tomorrow. The governor is also coming out with an emergency relief bill.
The City Manager plans to get the city budget in to the Council by March this year, to get to work on it early.

More from Worcester Magazine here


Councilor Toomey just suggested that the Department of Education's lease is up and would be better located in Worcester.

City Council liveblog

Looking around the chamber, it's clear that the alarm bells went off in a lot of quarters on the aforementioned item: the teachers' union has representatives, as well as others from city departments. Heads are up; attention is being paid!

Monday, January 26, 2009

2010 contract negotiations

The Worcester Public Schools' teachers contract is up for renewal this coming year, and from glance at tomorrow night's City Council agenda it looks like negotiations have now officially gotten under way:
That the City Council of the City of Worcester hereby supports the City Manager in seeking 0% increases in the FY2010 collective bargaining contracts; and be it further resolved that the City Council supports the City Manager in seeking the previously detailed 75/25 contribution rate and the co-pay changes.(Lukes)

UPDATE: It's been pointed out, rightly, that the City Council does not negotiate the teachers' contract. This is technically correct; it is negotiated by the School Committee. However, it is not done in a vacuum. And let's remember where the money comes from!

You know you want to sign up! Citizen Board Openings

This is not related to education in Worcester, except insofar as public service and education are related.

Advisory Committee on the Status of Women 4
Affirmative Action Advisory Committee 5
Airport Commission 2
Cable Television Advisory Committee 4
Citizen’s Advisory Council 1
Commission on Disabilities 1 Regular/ 3 Associates
Community Development Advisory Committee 2
Conservation Commission 3
Cultural Commission 2
Elder Affairs Commission 2
GAR Hall Memorial Board of Trustees 2
Health Board 1
Historical Commission 2 Regular / 2 Alternate
Hope Cemetery Board of Commissioners 4
Human Rights Commission 2
Memorial Auditorium Board of Trustees 1
Off-Street Parking Board 1
Parks and Recreation Commission 1
Planning Board 2
Trust Funds Commission 3
Worcester Redevelopment Authority 1
Zoning Board of Appeals 1

Candidates should send a letter of interest along with a resume, if available, to: Citizens Advisory Council, C/O Human Resources, Room 109, City Hall, 455 Main Street, Worcester MA 01608
OR E-MAIL: Deadline for receipt of letters of interest and/or resume for current vacancies is February 20, 2009.

Eligibility requirements: 1) be a registered voter; 2) be a resident in the district for one year.
Applicants from under-represented groups in the City are encouraged to apply.

Please be advised that you may submit an application at any time and be notified by mail of the ongoing vacancies that occur on the City Boards/Commissions
Please contact Jeannie Michelson at 508-799-1030 for more information.

You knew it was happening...

but this time it's rather blatant.

There are plenty of places that try to encourage needy kids to go elsewhere...whether it's kids who need special education services of one kind or another, kids who are poor, kids who are English language learners...dealing with any of that costs time and money, and there are districts that work--hard--at getting rid of those kids.

This is the first time I've seen it be quite so blatant, though. Wake County in North Carolina is reshuffling its schools in hopes of getting more affluent kids into a magnet program. To do that, though, they have to bump the kids that are already there.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More on the stimulus money

Here's a bit more information and explanation about the proposed uses of the stimulus money. Please note that this is all from the bill before the House, as the Senate has not yet weighed in on it.

The bill would try to keep state funding of schools and colleges up to FY08 levels, and then puts $15b (over 2 years) into improvement, focused on three things:
- equalizing distribution of well-prepared teachers (interestingly, does not use the term 'highly qualified';
- improve the collection and use of data;
- and improve assessment

FUNDING FOR ESEA PROGRAMS (all of this money is evenly split between Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010 (money for school years 2009-10 and 2010-11):

· $13 billion for Title I. It's important to note that $2 billion of this $13 billion is for the School Improvement grant program. That program is currently funded at $491 million, so an additional $1 billion per year more than triples funding. These funds are used to help schools that failed AYP improve and make AYP.

· $1 billion for education technology state grants

· $25 million for charter school facilities

· $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund

· $250 million for "States to enable them to design and develop statewide longitudinal data systems that use individual student data for reporting and improving student achievement and to facilitate research to improve student achievement and close achievement gaps".

(I've also got a lot more on the policy stuff around the data collection systems, if anyone out there is interested)

Education law for the year

I received an update recently of what actions were taken on various bills before the state legislature last year. While a number of bills were sent to committee, only one was signed into law in 2008.

SB 2766 was signed into law by Governor Patrick on August 14, 2008. This law

makes tools available to school districts for accurate reporting of high school graduation and drop out data. The law also establishes the “Graduation and Dropout Commission” to study dropout prevention and dropout recovery programs throughout the state. This commission will make recommendations on certain issues, such as raising the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18. The new law can be found in Chapter 315 of the Acts of 2008.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Watching that stimulus money

In the continually evolving stimulus package, it looks as though some may be headed for schools. There are, of course, some strings, and we should keep an eye on them.
  • Training and retaining teachers in the nations weaker schools. A good idea and a hard one to execute.
  • Fixing buildings. No complaints here!
  • Improving state tests under NCLB. Huh. What does that mean, exactly?
So far the only place I've seen this is this short mention in USA Today; I'll keep an eye out for more details.

Monday, January 19, 2009

History in the making

No official word from the Worcester Public Schools on Inauguration Day activities, but you can bet that any teacher with a minute to spare is not going to let tomorrow pass without something to say or teach about history being made. Here are some of the reports from around the country:

Witcha, Kansas has a number of teachers incorporating the inauguration, including a suggestion to use King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail with Obama's Philadelphia speech on race. At least one teacher has used Obama as an example in character education.

The Milwaukee School Board was considering urging suspension of regular curricular activities in light of the inauguration.

Fort Worth was forced to reverse a stance they'd taken against children watching the inauguration in class after an outcry from the community.

Howard County in Maryland will be working to make up for the loss of many teachers and students who will be heading to Washington to see the inauguration in person, but nonetheless plan to "make the most of the teachable moment."

Schools in Florida are using it to teach "everything from vocabulary to economics"!

Both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune have reports from across the nation.

Enjoy tomorrow!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

State cuts, continued

Yesterday, as expected, the state legislature gave the Governor the power to cut the FY09 state budget, aka, money we thought we already had.
IF, as expected, there is a significant drop in local aid, the city MAY cut the school budget. A significant point:
When state aid drops, so does the local responsibility under the foundation formula.

Remember all the wrangling about 102%? Those numbers all go DOWN if the state gives Worcester less money! Plus, of course, the city could look at the amount OVER foundation and decide to cut that.

The ultimate nightmare? Midyear layoffs. Yes, that would mean that possibly your child's teacher would no longer be teaching that class anymore.


Here's the list

The list of the schools projects (which is in addition to the projects that would fall under the mention below of 50+ public buildings) is on the later pages of the City Manager's memo to the City Council this week. Remember, this is proposed uses for money that doesn't exist yet. For those who would rather not fight your way through Laserfiche to page 5, here's the list:
  • Belmont, interior renovation $1 million
  • Burncoat High, roof, window replacement, interior renovation $6 million
  • Burncoat Middle, interior renovation including auditorium $3 million
  • Burncoat Prep, interior renovation $.5 million
  • Canterbury, roof replacement, interior renovation $1 million
  • Chandler Elementary, interior renovation $.5 million
  • Chandler Magnet, window replacment, int & ext rehabilitation $4 million
  • City View, interior renovation $.5 million
  • Claremont/Woodland Academies, chiller/boiler replacement $1 million
  • Clark, window replacement, interior renovation $1.5 million
  • Columbus Park, window replacement, int & ext rehabilitation $3 million
  • Foley Stadium, Phase II Field Replacement $2.5 million
  • Doherty High, window replacement, interior renovation $6 million
  • New Citizen Center, boiler replacement, interior renovation $1 million
  • Durkin Admin Building, window replacement $1 million
  • Elm Park, HVAC upgrade, interior renovation $2.5 million
  • Fanning, int & ext renovation $1 million
  • Flagg, window replacement, interior renovation $3 million
  • Gerald Creamer Center, interior renovation $.5 million
  • Goddard Street, window & roof replacement, interior rehab $5 million
  • Grafton Street, (it says #1 and #2)? $1 million
  • Harlow, roof replacement, interior renovation $1 million
  • Heard, int & ext renovation $1 million
  • Jacob Hiatt, HVAC upgrade, interior renovation $2 million
  • Lake View, window replacement, interior renovation $2 million
  • Lincoln, window & boiler replacement, interior rehabilitation $1 million
  • May, window, roof replacement, interior rehabilitation $3 million
  • McGrath, interior renovation $2 million
  • Midland, interior renovation $.5 million
  • Mill Swan Head Start, HVAC, roof replacement, interior renovation $6 million
  • Millbury Head Start, window replacement, interior renovation $2 million
  • Nelson Place, window replacement, interior renovation $1 million
  • Norrback, Chiller/boiler replacement $1.5 million
  • Parent Info Center, int & ext renovation $.5 million
  • Quinsigamond, chiller/boiler replacement $1.5 million
  • Rice Square, interior renovation $1 million
  • Roosevelt, chiller/boiler replacement $1.5 million
  • South High, interior rehabilitation, classroom consol, electric service $7 million
  • Sullivan Middle, HVAC upgrade, interior renovation $3 million
  • Tatnuck Magnet, window & roof replacement, interior rehabilitation $4 million
  • Thorndyke, window & boiler replacement, interior rehabilitation $3 million
  • Union Hill, window & boiler replacement, roof replacement, interior rehab $6 million
  • University Park Campus, interior renovation $.5 million
  • Vernon Hill, interior renovation $2 million
  • Wawecus, window replacement, interior renovation $2 million
  • West Tatnuck, window replacement, interior renovation $2 million
  • Worcester Arts Magnet, window & boiler & roof replacement, int rehab $4 million
  • Worcester East Middle, window & boiler & roof replacement, int rehab $ 10 million
Plus various schools need asphalt ($2 million) and various high schools are looking for wind and solar panels ($6 million).

The requirements included that the projects be "shovel ready."

The reality in the confirmation room...and the reality on the ground

There was a lot of press yesterday about Arne Duncan's confirmation hearing. A favorite quote from the Chicago Tribune coverage: "as much of a kumbaya moment as any appointee to Barack Obama's Cabinet is likely to see..." The Trib went on to mention the lack of details the nominee offered on changes he'd make in federal education policy, particularly to NCLB (beyond letting more special ed kids take a modified version of the tests, something which will, I'm guessing, send any parent of a special ed kid who has every wrangled their way through the inanities of dealing with NCLB right into the stratosphere).

Meanwhile, back in the district that Duncan was running, Peabody Elementary School is among 20 Chicago schools facing closure under the city's Renaissance 2010 program. The district is citing low enrollment for the closure, but the school, unlike many schools facing closure, actually passed NCLB's requirements for student achievement. According to the district, such scores were going to be used to determine which schools were staying open. Students will be forced to move elsewhere, and the school will reopen as either a charter or magnet school.

How success has been rewarded in Chicago...coming soon to the entire federal department of education.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January money questions

  • If you saw last night's City Council meeting or read today's Telegram and Gazette coverage, you know that the City Manager was very carefully explicit in excluding school money from the discussion of the 10% cut to this year's state aid money. School aid comes in from the state separately from "local aid," and so far, the school aid money is safe. That means that we won't be laying off teachers midway through this school year so far (no such luck with other departments). Keep a very close eye on this one.
  • And, of course, this is shaping up to be a very bleak spring for the fiscal year 2010 budget.
  • The stimulus money that is much talked about on the federal and state level also had some discussion last night. The memo that the City Manager forwarded to the City Council included (as you'll see here) $20 million for 50+ public buildings for energy conservation. Word has it that's schools; I'm seeing if I can discover what projects that would include.
  • I just caught this from last night's Daily Worcesteria coverage of the City Council meeting: Rushton is saying a lot, but the most relevant point is that the schools need to be involved as much as possible about potential cuts as they will be most effected.

Lost Lessons from 8YS

Gerald Bracey has a book coming out in March titled Getting Out of Education Hell: Moving Past 50 Years of failed Punish-the-Schools Reforms. In it, he writes of the eight year study done by the Progressive Education Association, and how the lessons pulled from it have been lost. To summarize:

1. Like politics, all education is local. Forget state and federal mandates.

2. Education in this nation is, or should be, more about living in a democracy, than about academic achievement.

3. Testing should be a means of learning about individuals, not separating and sorting them.

4. Evaluation should lead to improved curriculum, instruction and decision making, not to the punishment of teachers and administrators.

5. Teachers should teach students, not subjects or, at the very least, not subjects alone.

6. Principals must be democratically-oriented colleagues of teachers, not "bosses." [Principals who have been stupid enough to sign contracts requiring annual increases in test scores should renegotiate them immediately or find another job].

7. Students need to and enjoy taking some responsibility (being accountable) for what they learn (next).

8. Scientifically based education is an oxymoron. (See next lesson).

9. Flexibility and a willingness to change course, to do something different, are critical to the educational process.

10. "When ends are taken for granted and means dominate educational discourse.teachers will rarely be in control of their work, and the reasons given for taking one or another course of action will become increasingly bureaucratic and unsatisfying." This is widely known today as "defensive teaching."

Worthy of some thought.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wavering on waivers

Yesterday's news of the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education's refusal to consider waivers for the communities who lost a large number of days of school due to December's ice storm didn't come as a real surprise, considering the remarkable lack of understanding shown by his office since the storm hit. This certainly give the impression of being a classic "inside 128/outside 128" problem. One wonders if the Commissioner has ventured out to the communities hardest hit.

Massachusetts has two requirements for time in school: the well-known 180 day rule (which also requires districts to schedule 185 days, including an automatic 5 snow days), and the lesser known 900/990 hour rule, which came in under Ed Reform in 1993. This requires that schools spend 900 hours in elementary and middle school, and 990 hours in high school in "time in learning." That leaves out lunch, passing time, recess, etc. etc. (If you've wondered why recess time seems to be getting shorter and shorter, there's your answer, incidentally.)

The motivation of this is undoubtably a good one: the idea that one should spend a certain amount of time in education to get maximum benefit is reasonable.

Unfortunately, this is another one that runs pretty hard into the facts on the ground. There are always going to be kids who just "get it" right away; does the time requirement apply to them as well? Well, yes, if you're educating millions of children. Likewise, there are kids who in some subjects could use more time. The relative fairness of that is debatable, which is always true of an institutional system processing lots of people.

Any teacher who has taught on a nice day in May or June can also tell you that how much education is actually going on in her classroom is debatable in those circumstances as well. You can certainly force the kids to sit there; whether or not anyone is learning anything at all is questionable. With the advent of the MCAS in May, which exhausts kids in grades 3-8 and grade 10 a month before the current end of school, we have already compounded that problem. To further compound it by extending the school year into July (contractually not allowed in some communities) would be a mistake.