Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What's going on elsewhere in the state...

I don't mention nearly often enough Jim Gonyea's Notes to Leicester blog. Jim is a former neighbor of mine, and now he serves on the Leicester School Committee.
Here's his report on their meeting last week, and the conversation they had around Race to the Top.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Predictions for 2010

...from NYC, but we should pay attention:
Just last week, Mr. Klein had announced the closing of the last remaining public high school in the city. The DOE had been closing more and more "underperforming" schools, with students from each one flooding the few non-charter schools that were left. It is unclear just where the 253,763 students from Alfred E .Neuman High School in Queens will go next year, but the chancellor had a reassuring message for concerned parents. "The good news," said Mr.Klein, "is that with virtually no schools left, the high school application process has been considerably simplified."
(and yes, these are in jest. We think.)

Reading the Constitution

...the Massachusetts Constitution, that is.

It turns out the School Committee swears to uphold the US and MA Constitutions in the oath of office. I'm certainly familiar with the US version ("We the People of the United States...") but I must admit to a lack of familiarity with the state version.

As you might expect from John Adams (who wrote it), there is some great stuff in there! Besides the quotation from Chapter V that you will find at the bottom of the page, in which Adams makes Massachusetts the only state to include education in the original constitution, there is this:
The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: it is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a constitution of government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation, and a faithful execution of them; that every man may, at all times, find his security in them.
A bit of a different way than most of us think of government, most of the time, I think.

Regional transportation funding restored

Big news for the regional districts: the substantial amount of money for regional transportation cut from their 2010 budget by the state has been restored. As the districts have no choice but to keep those buses running--it's how their students get to school--they were cutting elsewhere, most notably in the classroom.

Now the state just has to come up with somewhere else to cut $18 million...

To do on the week between Christmas and New Year's

(I know you're out there just looking for educational policy issues to tangle with!)

All comments to the Massachusetts DESE on the state's Race to the Top plan are due next Monday, January 4. Read through the PowerPoint and send in your comments to .

School Committees and superintendents (and teachers' unions, come to that) around the state are considering the state's MOU. Signatures are due January 13. Worcester's new constituted School Committee will meet next Tuesday at 5:30 pm in the Durkin Administration Building. This is an informational meeting to answer the questions the School Committee had regarding the MOU. It is on the agenda for a vote at the January 7 meeting (7pm, City Hall). Consider getting in touch with your committee members with your thoughts on the MOU.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Paging George Orwell...

It’s time, once and for all, to make teaching the revered profession it should be,” Secretary Arne Duncan writes in the current issues of “NEA Today” and AFT’s “American Educator.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

City of Worcester Inauguration

The City of Worcester's Inauguration will take place on Monday, January 4, 2010.
It will be held at Worcester Technical High School at 5pm.
The inauguration is open to the public.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Florida's union says no thanks

..which raises a good question.

Could a state get Race to the Top dollars and have no districts on which to spend it?
Note, by the way, that Florida's MOU is different than that of Massachusetts, particularly in its language around teacher contracts.

This is what school closing looks like

Last night in Queens:
You can read about it here.

UPDATE: More from New York here

Gates in charge of education?

(and not the Secretary of Defense, either)

I was reading this analysis of states' chances for Race to the Top funding yesterday when it occurred to me: since when did Bill Gates become an educational guru?

The column in essence says (and I've read this elsewhere) that if your state didn't get funded by the Gates Foundation to pull together your application, well, then your state's chances of getting funding aren't good.

Since when was this country's educational system run by Bill Gates and his foundation? When exactly did he and those he's hired become the top educational experts in the country?

As far as I can tell this (like much else) has to do with who has enough money to boss other people around. There are supposed to be other values in a democracy.

And the irony of the man who was sued by the federal government for a monopoly now endorsing competition in public education hasn't escaped me, either.

Duncan talks to students

I haven't had a chance to watch it, but Secretary Arne Duncan had a town hall with students across the country on Tuesday. You can watch it through here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Race to the Top goes to standing committee

so the MOU goes to standing committee on curriculum for consideration prior to the January 7 meeting. Any questions around the MOU should be forwarded to the superintendent.

Soliciting questions

Boone asks that questions be sent in prior to the standing committee meeting.


"return to 1993"
new money coming along with additional requirements
"not a lot of dollars"
holding to Jan. 7 meeting
"concerned there won't be many answers forthcoming"
won't know how many schools are Level 4 or 5 until MOU is coming in?

how much time do we have before we have to take the actions required here (as the state is now providing support on underperforming schools rather than punishing them)?
students that stay in our schools for a period of time do well

possible of dollars coming in for some of student steps

agree with some points of Race to the Top; don't agree with others (mention of charter schools)
When would we get the money? for next year?
Boone thinks so.
What takes precident: MOU or collective bargaining? MA has developed language saying that the MOU doesn't override contracts.

If we have no choice on January 7, we need additional dollars, but need additional dollars.

O'Connell, the Rubicon, and gift horses

"crucial that we look this gift horse in the mouth very carefully"
quotes Commissioner Chester on "difficult conversation"
mentions of webinar again tomorrow.."raises a number of concerns"
"crosses the Rubicon" in a way that would not be in the best interest of our students
commitment to an as yet undevelopment plan
consequences if we don't care out the plan
key factor of what happens to Level 4 and 5 schools...1 of 4 school plans
refers to the models as "draconian"
How much money is this really going to provide us?
What sort of (I paraphrase) mess are we going to end up with in reorganizing schools?

Monfredo: sent to subcom

"the state is still grappling with Ed Reform"
mention of Ed Reform 2216lot of questions and no answers so far
motion for standing committee on curriculum review Ed Reform and the MOU

How many schools are Level 4 and 5

...asks Mrs. Mullaney.
We don't know. The state hasn't told us. We may not have any level 5, but may have as many as 13 Level 4 schools.
"Certainly don't support signing anything tonight..."
Frustrated by the lack of information..."nobody gives you this kind of money without strings attached"
What does the performance mean? for teachers she asks..."need firmer answers to a ton of questions..."
"What specifically will we do with this dollars that we haven't been done before?"
if the union doesn't buy into it, it's a moot point.
And when will we have a meeting that gets into the specifics?
(mentions the number of people here, and that it's the mayor's prerogative to take comment)
borrowing this $4 billion "from China"
enthusiastic round of applause from the crowd

RTTT presentation by Boone

Race to the Top presentation by Superintendent Boone
going through the four core areas: assessment of teachers, use of data, recruiting teachers, turnaround schools...
forgive me for the parts of this you've seen before

MA eligibility up to $250 million "that's could be"
funds cannot supplant state funding, may only supplament
at least 50% to districts under Title 1
remaining funds may be distributed or may be retained by state for their work

States apply, submit plans to fed
signing the MOU does not ensure that they will receive funds; districts must align with state plan
(MOU as received yesterday?)
"by 2020 we aspire to have a public education system where all students recive a world class education and graduate ready to succeed in the 21st century and those most in need of additional support accelerate to meet that standard"...from the state's MOU
graduate ready for college and career
cutting-edge instruction aligned with standards
lead by teachers and admins of quality

Five core MA areas:
  • P-12 teaching and learning system
  • increase college and career readiness
  • improve teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance
  • ensure effective teachers and leaders in every school
  • turnaround schools
Three requirements for all districts:
  1. teacher and princpal effectiveness
  2. effective teachers everywhere
  3. use of data
  4. REQURIED OF Level 4 and 5 schools--priority schools are no longer called that (what number of change is this?)--have to use the four change models (turnaround model, restart model, school closure, transformational model)
  5. may opt in to a statewide p-12 teaching and learning system

Districts have to submit the MOU by Jan.13 if they want to participate

State application due Jan. 19

Grants announced April 2010

Specific grant applications including scope of work due July 2010


School committee must decide tonight if they want to vote on this now or vote on this on January 7.

Specifics on Worcester proposal have not been determined as yet.

"We don't have an option anymore to not improve student achievement...whether we do (these other things), that's the journey that we're on"

The Mayor runs through the numbers and asks "Isn't reform a way to avoid the supplant issue?...probably I shouldn't even ask this in it possible that this issue of supplanting is avoided if we do the reforming that the state is asking for?"

We won't have the sustainability on these funds, ssys the superintendent. "In four years we won't have these funds; these won't be there."

The chairs are packed

Each of the outgoing members are getting a WPS chair (which are still packed in boxes for easy transport). They're in the mayor's office.

The Bridge Builder

Here's a link to the poem that the Superintendent quoted tonight in speaking of those leaving the School Committee.

Full house

I should mention that it's a full house tonight. Lots of teachers are here. I'm assuming it's for the superintendent's presentation on Race to the Top, as there isn't much else on the agenda.
The meeting started with an amazing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the Doherty madrigals.

100 years of experience

...nearly, says the mayor, between herself, Hargrove, and Bogigian, with WPS (counting working experience and years on School Committee).
"our greatest economic asset"

Late start to laudatory remarks

The School Committee got a late start coming out of executive session (Mr. Foley remarks that there was cake, too). They've now started, and the first item on the agenda is laudatory remarks for those who are leaving this evening; this is the last meeting for Bob Bogigian, Dottie Hargrove, and Mayor Lukes.

Why you should get in touch with school committee members today

The Race to the Top Memorandum of Understanding is in the backup for tonight's Worcester School Committee meeting.
In order for Worcester to apply for Race to the Top funds, the superintendent, the chair of the School Committee, and the president of the teacher's union all have to sign this memorandum. In doing so, they are agreeing that Worcester will do several things.

While the item on the agenda is a superintendent's report (recommended action: "accept and file"), whether or not the School Committee actually votes tonight on the MOU is anyone's guess.

Here's what's in the MOU:
  1. Worcester agrees to "improve teacher and principal effectivenes based on performance." At base, this means some sort of (unspecified) assessment system, which pays "significant attention to student growth." Also, our professional development programs have to be based on this model.
  2. Worcester agrees to ensure effective teachers and leaders in the schools. The state is working on some sort of "pipeline" for this; Worcester largely is agreeing to use it.
  3. Worcester agrees to turn-around lowest achieving schools....let's come back to that one, shall we?
  4. Worcester agrees to use data to improve instruction. This talks about getting data (they don't specify; one assumes MCAS) to teachers in a timely fashion, and letting the state have data from the district to study (not sure about legal ramifications there).
  5. Worcester agrees that, if the MOU is signed, the state can "take appropriate enforcement action" if they feel Worcester isn't meeting goals, timelines, budgets or targets. This means that they can demand that Worcester pay money back out of local funds or can deny Worcester further funds. Unilaterally.
To go back to number 3, "turning around underperforming schools" sounds innocuous, until you realize what they mean. They are requiring that districts signing the MOU use their four choice "turnaround" model. Your choices are:
  1. replace 50% of staff. That means, in plain English, fire at least half the teachers.
  2. restart model. That means close the school, fire all the teachers and the principal, and make everyone reapply under new leadership, which could also mean turning the school into a charter.
  3. close the school. Period.
  4. "transform" the school, though districts can only use this option for more than half their schools if they have more than 9 schools underperforming. This means fire the principal and then have "other interventions."
Where do these options come from? Why, Chicago, of course, where the parents at a school that was closed under this model had this to say yesterday:

in summer 2009, CPS "turned around" Fenger, firing all personnel incuding teachers with long-time relationships with students. Most who really knew the students and their families are gone, creating more instability and internal displacement... parents are very concerned becaue these same policies are now part of the national plan for education.
These policies have caused great disruption in Chicago: neighborhood schools have closed, teachers who knew their kids have been fired, parents have been in an uproar. (And remember, they don't elect their school committee in Chicago, so they don't have much recourse, either)

The state says that it's requiring these models of "level 4 or 5" schools, 'though just how they're measuring that isn't clear. We can safely assume, however, between the subgroups, the level of poverty, the level of ELL students...we're covered here in Worcester. This is going to be required of us if we sign.

If any part of this bothers you AT ALL, get in touch with school committee members, current or future, TODAY. It's on tonight's agenda, but they may hold the vote until January 7.
With a decision of this magnitude, we need to consider fully just what we are signed up for.
This isn't free money.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Standardized tests are politically neutral?

In all talking about assessment of students, teachers, and principals surrounding both Senate Bill 2216 here in Massachusetts and Race to the Top, one thing we aren't hearing enough about is assessement instruments. So far, the default in Massachusetts--and it's largely unquestioned--is the MCAS exam.
But basing the entire structure of how we evaluate everyone on such an exam presupposes that the exam is a good instrument of evaluation, that it accurately tests skills and knowledge rather than anything else.
I've spoken of this before, but I bring it up now, because what is on the exam, and how it is presented, has everything to do with results. Take a look, for example, at this from New York's Regents exam.
Someone decides not only what is going to be on the test, but how it is going to be tested. Those decisions are not politically neutral. And, as those decisions about the test are made by the enormous testing companies that most benefit from the millions of dollars (are we up to billions yet? Probably) sent to them by states, are those decisions made on the basis of educational accuracy or on the basis of making more money?
Let's at least ask this question, shall we?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joint meeting

"Well, you have the questions...the answers you can have in April sometime," comments the Mayor in introducing the item.

Councilor Toomey says this needs to be an ongoing conversation...$26 to 28 million looming deficit...Boone meeting with groups of councilors..."as a body need to be working in a public fashion, being very transpartent" Need to "see a collaborative approach with each other" Meeting didn't accomplish anything in answers

Mayor thinks should have a meeting every month

Motion for City Clerk to contact School Committee clerk for a meeting in January

Toomey says "for several hours" ..."open communication...know that some of my colleagues" don't think it's necessary

Clancy rises for clarification. Doesn't want a new meeting yet..."our side was a very clear presentation; their side was all educational gobbledegook..." wait for answers before having another meeting..wait for those reports back from school department" (his questions are here)

Mayor says they are waiting for Governor's budget

Amended to wanting the answers prior to the January meeting

Grant writing

Councilor Toomey was citing the grant writing staff in the School department in working on getting grants for the city (for the police department)...asking if we should be training more people to write grants.

The City Manager says that with the large number of staff cuts, grant writing is very much a "cross training" endeavor.

Add-ons on North High

There's a report on North High on the agenda tonight.
It's coming in on time and should be opening for fall of 2011. (I had this wrong last night)

Councilor Clancy wants to know who decides on the "add-ons" for the school; Commissioner Moylan says that he makes the final decision, keeping it "on time and on budget."
Clancy cites the Tech School, and six "other grammar schools" that have been rebuilt recently.

Councilor Palmieri wants to know if there are any other significant changes that will be taking place at North High. Moylan says no.
Staying within budget for FF&E; if there is more needed, it will need to be raised within the school budget or private funding. (Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment)"They have to go out and identify" other source of funds.
Says it's "almost 25 years late."

This has nothing to do with education

...but I don't see another laptop in the chamber.
Germaine is holding the charter change item, on what happens if a district councilor leaves midway through a term, under personal privilege.
Eddy is speaking on the item, anyway, but it's officially off the table until next week.
He points out that running for at-large and school committee is significantly different than running for district councilor.

It will be the first item next week.

At City Council

Liveblogging as needed.

Will Local Teachers' Unions Sign off on RTTT plans?

A good question here.

The federal government is weighing whether local unions sign off on district approval of Race to the Top plans: more union president signatures count in the state's favor. Some states have explicit language in their MOUs regarding teacher evaluation by student test scores.
While Massachusetts does not have that in their MOU (it's more vague on that point), it does have, in those four ways of dealing with underperforming schools, some models that won't rest well with the rank and file (I'd think; I should note here that I know nothing of what unions are thinking on this; this is me riffing as a former teacher). As those will only impact districts with schools deemed underperforming (mostly urban), there may be a split along those lines.

The Race to Nowhere

Ravitch responds:
I don't know about you, but I am getting sick of the rhetoric of the Race to the Top, as it implies the very opposite of "equal educational opportunity." But "equal educational opportunity" is so...yesterday, so now we shall all "race to the top," to see who can get there first. Who can privatize the most schools? Who can close the most public schools? Which district can replace the most public schools with charter schools? Who can compel their teachers to focus intently on those pesky math and reading test scores? Who can boot out the most teachers whose students didn't get higher scores than last year? Who seriously believes that this combination of policies will produce better education?
Well, I don't.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Or maybe not...

It seems that the Race to the Top Memorandum is NOT on the Worcester School Committee agenda for this Thursday (the agenda isn't on the website yet, but I've got it; I'm sure it will go up soon). The superintendent is giving a presentation on RTTT, but the vote on the MOU won't be on the agenda, I'm told, until January 7.

For a January 13 deadline.

If this were your every day, average, nothing new MOU, then I can see perhaps having it up on an agenda the week before the due date with the expectation that it will just pass. Maybe.

But for something like this? That commits the WPS to all sorts of actions around assessing teachers and principals, using data, taping into a teacher pipeline, and, most important for Worcester, radically changing the way that we deal with schools deemed chronically underperforming?

Not to mention has an expectation that we are going to do all of this with short-term, limited funds that run out in four years?

More time is needed. Badly.

Who's in? UPDATED

You can find the list of states that expect to apply for Race to the Top here.
Who's out?

Alaska, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Washington

What I want to know is: what is the thinking in our New England neighbors of Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine in deciding to skip it? Are they going for round 2 or just not participating at all?

Let's see...Maine is applying in round 2

Vermont may be sitting it out

I'm not sure what happened with Rhode Island.

UPDATE: It seems Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Michigan are also in.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Research Bureau on RTTT

I was going to give you a whole rundown on the Research Bureau's report on Race to the Top, but then I got to page 4 and discovered a quote from the American Enterprise Institute (take a look at their Board of Trustees) advocating that stimulus funds should not have been used to fill gaps in public education funding, because that kept public education from reforming.

So, by that logic, we just should have let all of the financial sector collapse last year, because that would have caused necessary reform? Or would it, perhaps, just caused the collapse of the economy?

I know what laying off several hundred teachers last January would have done, and I don't think anyone would call it reform.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Senate Bill 2216

The big news on Senate Bill 2216 (aka: Ed Reform '09....'though is it still '09 if it passes in '10?) is that the House Democrats are caucusing on Beacon Hill on Wednesday ON THE BILL.

If you haven't yet gotten in touch with your rep (and you're represented by a Democrat in the House), DO SO before Wednesday! If they have concerns to raise, this is their chance; you need to let them know your concerns about the bill before they get there.

A few concerns of mine that you might share:

  • it lifts the cap on charters in underperforming districts (for which one might well read "urban districts"). This is being presented as "better than having no cap at all" while we all run screaming from the threat of a ballot question on charters. This is no way to make law. Also, this directly penalizes the districts most at risk already; does anyone really think that Worcester can afford to lose 19% of their annual budget to charters? We already know that charters are actively discouraging parents of students with special needs from applying and staying in charters; the attempt made by the Legislature to reverse this, while commendable, has no more teeth than the rest of the requirements currently ignored by many charters (that their teachers be certified or pass state tests, for example).
  • this continues the aggregation of power by the Commissioner of Education who answers to...who, exactly? The governor? Chronically underperforming schools would be answerable in their turnaround to the Commissioner, who is far away from the schools. Moving decision-making power away from the community in question is the wrong direction.
  • this continues the direction of using the MCAS as either the sole or most important method of evaluating students. Until we get away from this, we are going to have "underperforming" (or insert most recent lingo here) urban districts.
  • it puts the superintendent, an employee, in the position of negotiating contracts with other employees. As most superintendent contracts contain language that give them comparable benefits with other employees, this is a conflict of interest.

You might have your own concerns; feel free to add them in the comments. Whatever you do, make sure your rep hears from you!

What you might be signing up for

The Memorandum of Understanding for Massachusetts' Race to the Top application is out.

What does the district sign up for in return for its $102 or so per student?
  • a different evaluation system for teachers and principals, yet to be designed, using "multiple measures of effectiveness including significant attention to student growth." (Yes, the student growth is on MCAS.) They further have to use those evaluations to inform professional development, then measure that professional development, then report the date from all of that.
  • use timely data to improve instruction...this would mostly seem to mean getting MCAS scores out to teachers sooner, and also includes the above on teachers and principals.
  • turn around the lowest-achieving schools. This is the one that makes the biggest change. The MA MOU requires that lowest-achieving districts that take this RTTT money use the Duncan four choice turnaround model. These would be the same models we saw in Chicago--replacing 50% of the staff OR turning charter OR closing the school OR replacing the principal with other interventions.

Districts need to sign--or not--by January 13. That means all districts are going to be looking at this over the next few weeks. If you have an opinion, you'll want to express it NOW.

This will be on the Worcester School Committee agenda on this coming Thursday, December 17.

Senate Bill 2216 meeting

I'm heading out this morning to a Mass Association of School Committee's meeting on Senate Bill 2216, aka Ed Reform 2009. I'll post what I learn.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Here comes that joint meeting...

On Tuesday's council agenda:


Request the City Council and the School Committee meet in a joint session at City Hall to discuss the latest information regarding the school budget. Said meeting should be scheduled as to provide sufficient time for questions and answers. (Toomey, Smith, Haller)

Just how much will Race to the Top get your child?

Inspired by a posting on the Parents United for Responsible Education (out of Chicago), I did a little math:

Assuming that Massachusetts is awarded Race to the Top funds, and assuming that Massachusetts gets as much money as it possibly can, $200 million, how much would the education of each of the 980, 459 public school children in Massachusetts get?


(higher in some communities, lower in some, depending on Title 1 status)

UPDATE: It's been called to my attention that this supposes that the state doesn't keep any money for "administration." They're allowed to keep up to half, in which case we're looking at more like $102.

What I'm reading

For those of you who get this in the RSS reader, I'm posting this to let you know...I've added in the sidebar here a list of some of what I'm reading. If you've ever wondered, "Where does she get this stuff?" that's a beginning of your answer.
(I'm also on a number of list-servs.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Urban education

Every so often, something comes across the transom that reminds us of the potentials and wonders of urban education. This one is from New York City:

Nothing could dim the fact that those kids were all colors and creeds, all jazzed about their schools. And the schools looked ready to launch them on the right path.
Read it. Good stuff.

I was at North High today for a visit, and I was, as I always am, amazed at the huge variety of kids we're educating every day. Sure, there are kids that look like and have been raised like mine: white, middle-class, Worcester girls. And then there are the boys I met in the office from Kenya, talking about their first snowball fight.
Amazing, really.

outsourcing education

The latest missive in the Ravitch/Meier conversation is in:

While K-12 education was made universal because it seemed important that every single potential citizen be well-educated if democracy was to flourish, we have substituted the idea of democracy with the idea of the "marketplace." The less regulated, the better—ditto for charters. "Good" charter states are those considered by their allies to be those that are least regulated. Does it sound familiar?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

That's a wrap

And that is it. The committee adjourned after a short executive session (and some praise for the superintendent on her handling of her first snow day).

Weighing in: FY 11 budget

Mrs. Mullaney asks what the mandated non-negotiables (hours, curriculum, special ed, ELL, transportation at elementary level)
(oh, dear heaven, the handout quotes Henry Kissinger: "Leaders must invoke an alchemy of great vision.")
Superintendent describes the circles as a wedding cake: the "mandated non-negotiables" are the top layer that we set aside, uncut; the other layers we have to carefully cut to make things fair for everyone

Mr. Monfredo says we could, for example, have a low teacher ratio in the primary grades.
He'd also like a breakdown of all professional staff positions,including which ones are grant-funded; the mayor would like it broken down by building/ salary/ responsibilities for a point of reference (amended) it on the website, Mr. Foley asks?
FY10 budget does, Brian Allen says.
Mayor says that she doesn't recall it being specific; Mr. Foley says it's specific, may need a more cursory look for updating.

Mr. O'Connell: 5 areas (this bears a close resemblance to what he said when he was asked during the campaign, incidentally): classroom instruction (What do our students truly need...low teacher ratios, supplies and materials, libraries, technology, virtual instruction); staff development; special needs education (including gifted kids); buildings and maintenance; student wellness (nutrition, art, music, fitness...can be neglected if we focus on academic achievement)

The superintendent applauds his "big picture feel" and says that (basically) this is what we're looking for

The mayor didn't understand what direction he was going in; he explains that those are his priorities; the committee asks that they be read back

Mr. Foley: 5 attributes: teacher/pupil ratios (esp. in primary grades); professional communities (peer professional development, common planning time); relationships with teachers; high expectations for students/academic rigor; keeping a broad view academically (not only ELA and math; arts mentioned)

the administration urges further input: "you don't have to have five"
Hargrove: literacy
Monfredo:support services
Monfredo: says that parents distinguish us from others

superintendent urges that they call or email her with further input
I'd also urge anyone who has an answer to this to either email the superintendent or a school committee member (or two or seven)

FY11 budget working session: Mulqueen

CAO Mulqueen : circles of mandated non-negotiables--then quality teaching and learning--then what Worcester values in education
The administration is asking the School Committee to:
  • "give voice to the diverse ideas of what quality teaching and learning" is in Worcester
  • "historical perspective and context" from school committee
  • "affirm priority outcomes" (what does that mean?!)
  • caution is to stay at the outcomes level; not "in the weeds" of particular processees; "stay on the balcony" of "outcomes"
  • "can generate a lot of emotionality" (you could just say "emotion"...urgh)...not the final decision
"Parking Lot" for things that are not the three to five big picture items that are there in developing the budget:
  • What attributes matter most to students/parents/teachers/community in schools?
  • What makes us different?

FY11 budget working session: questions to Allen

Mr. Monfredo: what are the chances of any of the state changes being made?
freezing special ed tuition is going through: could be $500,000 in savings
pension schedule adjustment we might have a chance at
Superintendent says "don't hold out hope" that the new charters won't go through (reminder: write in to the DoE about Worcester charter applications!); moving fast in January

Mr. Foley says "not that logic should ever play into this whole thing"...asks why the inflation rate applied to out-of-district tuition should be different than that applied to the foundation formula (this is recognized as a rhetorical quesiton by Allen)

Allen says any new charter school requires 100% funding from state; that's a danger; the state may not fully fund the 100% reimbursement rate (this is ch. 46 reimbursement, BTW)

Mrs. Mullaney wants a bottom of the range that we're in danger of being in the red--best case scenario: $10 million deficit
That's the best case scenario (Let's say that again--the BEST case scenario)

the Mayor wants to know his "drop dead date" for having a budget
priority session with students, central office, principals, now with School Committee (did anyone ask the teachers?)
the Mayor points out the teachers' contract is being negotiated; how does that work out?
the budget was based on status quo in health insurance and zero percent raise (60% of those covered by health insurance in WPS are at 75/25; not having the other 40% at 75/25 costs $3.3 million)

Mr. O'Connell asks about Race to the Top funding: are we going after it? how are we spending it? do we need time to approve?
the superintendent mentions at the Dec. 17 meeting, there will be a draft MOU; intial presentation to School Committee then (though the mayor has already seen it, as has the president of the teachers' union, in a "state-led" meeting)
state will file an application under the 4 areas; if MA gets it, the districts have 90 days for a specific plan to access money; currently have general plans for how Worcester would use money, not specific

FY11 budget working session: Allen

fiscal update from Brian Allen:
a review of the slides from October
can't address a $26 million gap by going line-by-line
we began this year (FY10) with a $24 million deficit
state has unfunded ch.70 by $15.9, ch.70 is down $3, city contribution is down by $1.3, grant charges are up (which means we lose) $900,000, state grants are down $1.5, federal grants are down $1.2 (all million unless otherwise noted)
FY11: revenue change of $15.5 million, plus expenditure increase of $10.4 million; luckily the money is UP at the state level
state still has somewhere around $150-170 million of stimulus money; we thought they would have used it already, but they haven't. 82% of that is earmarked for education, not the rest.

This year is different; we can't predict our revenue and our costs like previous years. Our budget model assumes a positive inflation level (right now it's NEGATIVE; they're still talking at the state about what to do about that), a level funded ch.70, a fully funded foundation budget (charter school reimbursement and other grants may be in jeopardy; sped has probably reached the floor, as the state is facing maintanance of effort questions from the fed).
Looks like the state will redistribute ch. 70 to get urban districts to foundation (note that this will hurt suburban districts)
THINK THAT THE NUMBER WILL BE LOWER THAN $26 million, as the state is going to work to get urban districts up to foundation. As we're 3/4 dependent on state revenue, our budget depends on theirs.
"We think that the state is going to try, through the governor's budget, to get us to foundation" BUT it has to get through the House and Senate first, and that change would hurt other communities
DANG. That's big news!

FY11 budget working session: Boone

(that's what the superintendent called it)

This is a joint presentation from Boone, Mulqueen, and Allen; Boone begins.

FY11 budget session
dismisses the idea of any discussion of which mandates we have to fulfill (our responsibilities) (in other words, we just have to do them all)
what priorities do the School Committee have?
"the big bucket items"
grants are part of this conversation, too
"everything is a possibility when we look at a zero based budget"
city council wants to know the numbers; numbers are shifting..."going to be wise for us to hold off on a specific presentation until" the governor's budget in January
"ready us for that direction"
"have to think about where we put our resources"
This session is more of a dialogue than a presentation

The more we get together...

The Mayor mentions that the City Council wants to meet about the budget with the School Committee again.

Questions and comments from the members

Mrs. Mullaney asks if the 10th grade MCAS scores are first time test-takers (it's off the DoE site); yes, they get better over time (so, good point implicitly made by Mrs. Mullaney, do we want them to do it once only and make proficient? Yes, the superintendent says.)
Students tell her that they want to pass the MCAS sooner rather than later, so they can move forward

Mr. Foley says it makes since it makes sense to talk about this first; budget will focus on achievement of these goals
part of the question is where do they start, even in kindergarten? Front-loading literacy...especially in large class sizes moving forward into FY11
curriculum now all under CAO; early childhood now part of same curriculum as the rest of the district; seamless approach to the curriculum, says the superintendent
Mr. Foley comments on the high success of Head Start kids; partnerships with families and pre-K programs

Mr. Monfredo trend in primary grades--70% of kids needing improvement--something needs to be done. Head Start and preschool needs to expand; reaching out to not only parents, but teachers. "somehow or other" talking to staff to get them on board

Mr. O'Connell refers to "the compact which you've proposed for our consideration" (!: was it for their consideration?) says it's achievable, parents base decisions on whether their individual child is doing well (not MCAS scores) starting at teacher level
cultural issues within the school: are teachers setting as high standards as they can and should? are we supporting those who do? are the principals and admin supporting those teachers?
if day begins and ends with a level of excitement and children are excited about learning, the scores will follow (interesting theory...or do the two work against each other?)
"good plan, a good direction"
"You've just captured what we know makes a difference" --successful relationships--engagement with teachers(we then should make sure that keeping those teachers and keeping their excitement level up is central to what we are doing)

Ms. Hargrove: highest rates of illiteracy is in prison (? is that right?)
professional development of teachers talking to teachers, rather than a speaker coming in preschool and K development; critical time
interface with our service providers
How much do we have to say about what happens in our critical schools? A great deal, the superintendent says. MOU coming in January; "allows us to develop a plan for those support and develop our plan" (that'd be RTTT $) Someone from the state sitting in on our "leadership team meetings" (the administration meetings)...state partner at the table with us on a regular basis...a lot of latitude on what we do. Ongoing professional development
School committee will see plan for critical schools at January meeting

Mr. Bogigian "you have instilled confidence in the ranks and in the public...never said 'I don't think we can maintain the status quo, nevermind move forward' People...will fall in line."

Mayor asks what we do with this item: she says it's setting the stage for future work...superintendent reports will be under this catagory

Underperforming schools under a superintendent report: "this is a road map for us"

Mr. Monfredo asks how we're going to change what's going on with our primary grades (in MCAS scores); wants a report
Mr. O'Connell wants to approve the plan in concept; report back to SC at its disgression and as needed; asks that this plan be forwarded to CPPAC, SpedPAC (and I didn't catch who else)...approved
Superintendent says that this will be a foundation to evaluate her
Ms. Hargrove wants a very structured phoenics program in the lower elementary grades (from the national reading panel); this will be in the instructional audit

Boone on what's next

Action steps between now and June:
engage district in development of accountability/ strategic plan
benchmarks "outside of MCAS" for student achievement
building relationship with School Committee (not mentioning the high turnover in a month)communication plan
instructional and operational audits
establish accountability dept
FY11 budget that reflects district's alignments and community's values in education
"the status quo is not acceptable" (from CREW)
"Focus, will and courage will lead our steps for the rest of the journey to become a great school system"

The Worcester Public Schools Compact

WPS COMPACT (based on Mayflower Compact..."a bold statement of commitment")
Delivering on high expectations and outstanding results for all students:
  • 100% of students guaranteed a rigorous core curriculum resulting in measurable gains in student learning
  • By 2012, 80% of 3rd graders proficient in reading and math (repeats oft-repeated notion that states use this to determine # of prison beds); 80% of 8th graders proficient in reading and math...are we going to do anything other than make them "proficient"?
  • By 2013, 100% of graduates successfully complete high school coursework (does this mean she intends to eliminate high school dropouts? entirely?); that's this year's 9th graders
Boone presents this as the centerpiece of what she's planning in Worcester for the next three years.

A very non-liveblog of School Committee: superintendent's report

Apologies for the late posting on this: DAB does have wifi, but it's password-protected (maybe they'll let me have a password after I get sworn in?).

Jumping right into the meeing--there is no flag in the conference room, so we couldn't pledge allegiance, anyway. Taking out of order the superintendent's report, as she's using that as a setup for the budget talks that will form the major part of the meeting.
She's reporting on her progress this fall in meeting her goals under her entrance plan:

list of meetings over the course of the fall
"huge goal of school committee": greater parental involvement
meeting quarterly with Worc Interfaith
"never finish reviewing" practices, programs, resource alignment
districtwide communication plan: how do we tell our own good news?
redesign of monthly principal meeting for leadership improvement
"held most accountable" in issues around student achievement
governance practices--future retreats with School Committee

Current state of WPS:
19 of 44 schools designated as underperforming based on 2009 MCAS results (Jim Collins: Good to Great)
13 are priority schools
39 of 44 schools failed to meet AYP benchmarks for 2009 (again by MCAS results)
benchmarks go up every year (ELA is 90%; math is 84% pass rate)
2008-09 dropout to 5.1 from 4.7%
50% of students met growth targets on MCAS for 2009; good news and bad news
Let's note for a moment how many of these things have to do with MCAS as a measure of the schools. Aside from the mention of dropouts, there is no other measure of success used here for WPS.

MCAS comparison chart over past 3 years (note that this is comparing three succeeding classes):2007 33% ELA proficient or above; 2008 30% proficient or above; 2009 35% proficient or above
(then several succeeding slides doing the same thing or 4,7,8. 10th grade MCAS mention that these are different kids, much talk of "showing growth...direction we want to be going in...progress")
make sure that the 10th grade improvement isn't as a result of the dropout rate (those kids leave and the grades go up)

"moving from a compliance system to a performance based/results system
"doing what we ought to be doing and checking those things off...compliance isn't enough anymore; have to get the associated results, some of which we just reflected on"
cohesive leadership team "so the public has confidence in choosing the Worcester Public Schools
"working through how we work together as a team...still a work in progress
seeing our efforts within standing committees to move forward pending agenda items; "to clear the slate"
increase student achievement while closing achievement gap...ultimate goal...ongoing report...superintendent reports at every meeting
focus on common framework for improvement
improve public trust:regular and ongoing meetings with various stakeholder groups
key reports on WPS website to improve "understanding around the thought processes we're engaging in"
climate focused on improving student achievement (continuous improvement model):leadership and learning (gets everyone involved so everyone knows what we're doing)
contract with the Leadership and Learning Center (each department to move forward with student achievement): this is a hired consultant, apparently (website is sort of boilerplate; I'll keep poking on this)

School Committee is ON!

While there is no school today, School Committee is ON!
Remember, this meeting starts at 5 in the Durkin Administration Building, 4th floor conference room.

I know it's not a nice night to leave your warm house, but this is on the BUDGET.

School Committees and RTTT

Much of this is what I've posted before, but here's a good summary (for school committees) on how applying for Race to the Top works at a district level.

How effective is restructuring schools?

There's some question about that.

The Center on Education Policy released a study on Monday that took a look at the restructuring that has been taking place under NCLB. After looking at 23 districts and 48 schools in six states, they found that NCLB did little to help schools that were trying to improve. This led Jack Jennings, the Center's president, to wonder if the restructuring plan under Race to the Top was based "on a hunch rather than evidence" in the four plans for restructuring schools under NCLB.
(take a look at Catherine Gerwertz's very good coverage here and summary here)

As versions of the four models required under Race to the Top have not been proved to work, Jennings (and, I think, many of us) are concerned that we are now requiring an unproven system for our most at-risk students. Much of the argument for RTTT is "you guys blew it; now you have to do it our way" but it isn't clear that "their way" is anything that has worked in the places it's been tried.

This is why we need to have state and local officials having a real conversation about IF this is something for which we want to sign up. The race to Race to the Top is denying a chance to have real conversation about signing away local control, changing working condition, and subjecting our kids to systems that in some places have been shown not to work, and in some places have not given clear results. But the push to have applications for districts in by early January and the state in by mid-January is denying that opportunity. (See the Time principle)

As for Worcester? It's not on this week's School Committee agenda. I've heard the superintendent say in passing that they are putting an application together, but unless it is on the December 17 agenda, the School Committee won't have a chance to fully vet this before approving or not. As this is a budget and a policy issue, that's a problem. This isn't just any grant.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

H1N1 shots and the snowstorm

So I was pleased to see, over on the WPS website, that the possibility of school being cancelled or delayed by snow and how this would wrangle with the H1N1 clinics is being dealt with.

If school is on, the clinic is on.
If school is cancelled, the clinic gets moved to Thursday.

Here's the part that confused me, and so I called to figure it out: if school is delayed, what happens? It says the clinic goes on "as scheduled."

Well, it means just what it says. If your child is scheduled to go at 8 or 9, and school is delayed, the clinic still starts at 8 or 9.

I wish this were a bit clearer.

UPDATE: Then we got a phone call saying that the clinic is postponed to next Tuesday.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Teachers' Letters to Obama

I should point out something I've been reading with interest: blogger Anthony Cody posted an open letter to President Obama about a month ago. He invited other teachers to join him in writing letters (and created a Facebook group to that end) and he's been getting answers (with some question as to if anyone's listening).

Read them, and add yours!

And if you haven't read Cody's Five Good Assumptions about School Change, you should.

"Race to Nowhere"

It is all a race. And races have winners and losers.

View the trailer here.

Charters by the numbers

You've got to take a look at this:
Overall, public schools continue to outperform charter schools. The public schools' performance is significantly better overall and in cities, and among students who are not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (the federal measure of poverty in school data). Among other groups—those eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, whites, blacks, and Hispanics—the test scores of public schools and charter schools are not significantly different.

Hedge Fund Managers and NYC charters

Above-the-fold, front page story in yesterday's New York Times Style section on the involvement of hedge fund managers in New York City charter schools.

Style section...charter schools...hedge fund managers? Enough said.

The realities of the digital divide

An eye opening reminder of the realities many kids are living with: no reliable internet or computer access.

The digital divide has narrowed dramatically in the past decade. About two-thirds of American households report using the Internet at home, according to the U.S. Census. In affluent Washington suburbs, the numbers are higher; more than 90 percent of Fairfax households with children have home computers, according to a recent survey by the school system.

But even in Fairfax, the digital divide lives on in the study carrels of the Woodrow Wilson public library in the Falls Church area. Most afternoons, it is crowded with students from low-income or immigrant families using the computers. Although they live in one of the richest counties in the United States, these students recount skipping lunch to work at school labs or making long journeys to the public library after school.

In a city with 60% of kids on free and reduced lunch, how many do you think have broadband internet at home?
(come to think of it, we should ask)

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Consuming Kids" coming to Worcester

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the National Organization for Women is bringing the film Consuming Kids to the Worcester Public Library next Tuesday.

Tuesday, December 8 at 6 pm
Worcester Public Library, Salem Square

A special guest will be Josh Golin, Associate Director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, who will lead a discussion afterward.

Consuming Kids is billed as throwing "desperately needed light on the practices of a relentless multi-billion dollar marketing machine that's selling kids everything from junk food to violent video games."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Changes in next week's School Committee meeting

Just a reminder: next week's Worcester School Committee meeting is on WEDNESDAY at 5pm at the Durkin Administration Building (the 4th floor conference room).
(That means the date, time, and place are all different than usual!)

Starting early to talk about the budget!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Duncan at Education Week

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on ESEA from Education Week on Vimeo.

Or read the transcript.

You should read Diane Ravitch again today.

Her latest missive in her ongoing conversation with Deb Meier is here.

Our public schools were never perfect. There was never a golden age when everyone graduated high school and learned to a high standard of excellence. Improving education and expanding equality of opportunity have been the slow, steady work of generations.

Yet now, we live in an age when it is the custom to bash the public schools, not to thank them for helping to build our nation. It has become commonplace for the president, the secretary of education, and the leaders of the business community to lament the terrible state of our schools and to demand radical, one might even say revolutionary, changes. We live in an age of data, and the data (they say) are awful. They look at NAEP test scores, international test scores, graduation rates, and anything else that is measurable, and they demand solutions, now.

Note that they never speak of the state of learning, nor even the state of education, because those words connote many intangibles that cannot be measured and converted into data. The politicians and business leaders do not speak about whether young people read in their spare time, whether their reading consists of good literature and non-fiction, whether they know how to write an engaging essay or a well-constructed research paper, whether they can engage in an informed discussion of history, whether they are knowledgeable about our governmental system, whether they perform volunteer service in their community, whether they leave high school prepared to serve on a jury and vote thoughtfully.

No, instead what we now hear from our business leaders is that the schools must be redesigned to function like business. They conveniently overlook the fact that business practices and the ruthless pursuit of a competitive edge nearly destroyed our national economy a year ago.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is soliciting public comment on the state's Race to the Top proposal. YOU NEED TO DO IT TODAY!

Yes, this is short notice, but it seems they didn't exactly get it out in good time. This landed in my inbox this morning (from two directions).

The survey follows the basic outline of the four areas RTTT is looking at (if you read this often, you're familiar with them). Don't let the ed lingo throw you: assessment is testing, data gathering means those charts they put out on MCAS, and the questions about curriculum are generally looking at a top-down approach to formatting. There are questions regarding using student scores to evaluate teachers, private takeover of public schools, and a basic fallback on standardized testing so READ CAREFULLY.

But do fill it out, especially the parts that let you fill in an answer!