Friday, December 31, 2010

Shanghai knows better

NPR did a good follow-up to the news that Shanghai had topped the world in their first outing on the international PISA tests. As sharper news organizations mentioned when the results were released, the PISA is just the sort of rote memorization test that the Chinese educational system excels at prepping students for. The NPR follow-up caught that Chinese educators know that this puts their country at a great disadvantage, however:
Liu is very frank about those problems — the continuing reliance on rote learning, the lack of analysis or critical thinking — and he says the system is in dire need of reform.
"Why don't Chinese students dare to think? Because we insist on telling them everything. We're not getting our kids to go and find things out for themselves," he says.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A bit on the travel funds

..per the article regarding the use of WPS funds for traveling, for those wondering.
The Focus on Results conference in Boston was funded from professional development funds. There is no specific budget line-item for PD--it's funded from a variety of grant sources, including the much-discussed Commissioner's district funds.
The recruiting trip cited to San Diego was funded through our federal Title I grant. Worcester receives (for FY11) about $11 million in federal funds for our low-income schools.
And, yes, I believe that more will be coming on this.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Twenty things I've learned since I was elected

As this week marks the final one of my first year in office...In no particular order:
  1. It's very humbling to try to explain to a class of first graders what a school committee member does.
  2. There are murals on the entryway walls at Worcester East Middle School and a double fireplace in what used to be the library.
  3. Sometimes a 2-5 vote is a victory.
  4. Never underestimate the imporance of knowing and being able to use parliamentary procedure.
  5. There are lots of theories and legends, but no one really knows what's up with the smaller gym at Doherty.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"New Normal" or not

If you were intrigued by Robert Reich's list, you'll want to read Bruce Baker's take on it.

How about a little online research, Mr. K?

Sorry: between sick kids and Christmas, I'm a bit behind on my newspaper reading. This is from Sunday's paper. And sorry the budget links don't go straight to the page; the budget doesn't allow for that.
In a rather rich irony, it appears that Nick Kotsopoulos in his Sunday column lauding the city's transparency in putting the checkbook up online, neglected to do much WPS online research for the rest of his column. In saying, for example, this:
Believe me, there is some eye-opening stuff in the travel account alone.
Based on a quick perusal of that account, it does not look as though any of the public school or municipal employees who attend out-of-state conferences, workshops, seminars etc. are staying at Econo Lodges or other discount hotels in their travels.
...he never bothered to check this (page 86):

which shows a zeroed-out Worcester Public Schools out-of-state travel account. (There is out-of-state travel, but it is always required and thus covered by grants; aka: we have to send people as a condition of the grant, and the grant pays for it.)
As for WPS in-state travel (page 107), it was funded by city funds at $81,619 for FY11. There's a couple of things in this that you might not expect. For example, itinerant teachers (teachers who teach in more than one building) are paid 50 (now, as of last week, 51) cents a mile in their travel between or among schools. That's not exactly a jet-set expense, but it's a real one. This also covers in-state conferences (including one I went to; the Mass Association of School Committee conference in Hyannis came out of this account), which means that it covers a lot of mileage (and probably some Pike tolls), but not a lot of hotel rooms.

As both the city budget and the WPS budget are up online, a minute or two to check accounts would have cleared this up, but I suppose that would have made for a less-dramatic column.

Rep. Jason Lewis: adequacy

It seems that Rep. Jason Lewis has read and absorbed the main points of the Boston Foundation's report on education funding in Massachusetts. In a letter to the Winchester Patch, he writes:
It is time that we reform education funding in Massachusetts to ensure that all our public schools can count on funding that is adequate, equitable, and sustainable.

In the meantime, I am planning to file a number of bills related to education funding when the new Legislative Session gets underway in January. The first piece of legislation calls for the state to conduct an Adequacy Study to update the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget. This study would determine the true programmatic and financial resources required to provide a quality education for our children. It would also consider opportunities for achieving greater efficiencies and cost savings within and among school districts through such means as consolidation of smaller school districts and online/distance learning capabilities, particularly for high school students. The second bill calls for changes in the Chapter 70 formula to make education funding more equitable across middle income and wealthier communities.

I'll be looking for what he comes up with!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Far too true

Professor Shaun Johnson's piece on the culture of test prep in elementary school is far too true, as I know firsthand:

Throughout January and beyond, social studies, science, and other expendable subjects stop. That's right, they stop, for months at a time. Schools become mobilized as math and reading academies. And no, it's not this idealized culture of inquiry and intellectual curiosity; students are not reading and discussing literature of their choosing or building mathematical models to simulate concepts. Students as young as eight years old read endless short passages about random topics like dolphin echolocation or volcanoes. They answer multiple choice or short essay questions for just about everything. Any and all pieces of paper are evaluated. Cassette tapes play excerpts of larger texts and are followed by an unyielding stream of worksheets and questions.
What you call math is simply a line-up of procedures and algorithms. Packets and worksheets teach the procedures. Packets and worksheets reinforce and assess the procedures. There is no discovery. There is no modeling, simulation, building, or anything that I can define as solidifying conceptual knowledge of math. No chance that a struggling reader is going to find any solace in math; half the subject now requires almost as much reading as reading itself.
Some, in fact, are doing it year round.

Who's getting hit by the recession?

Robert Reich offers this state-by-state list of education cuts.
UPDATE: And be sure and read  Bruce Baker's take.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Compounding the error

You may have caught that the Massachusetts Teachers Association has today proposed that teachers be in part evaluated based on their students' tests scores. (The full brief is here; as you might guess, it's significantly more complicated than that headline.)
On one hand, this isn't so surprising. As part of the Race to the Top application, Massachusetts had to agree to tie teacher evaluation to student test scores in some way. Thus, when the MTA signed on to RTTT, they were signing on to this.

Gloucester Arts keeps its charter

Demonstrating once again that it doesn't really matter how a charter runs afoul of the law in Massachusetts, Gloucester Arts is off probation and keeping its charter (with two votes dissenting; anyone know who they were?).

If you heard the live WBUR broadcast, the Commissioner's list of what requirements were met was just sad: it has a permanent building, kids 'appear to be learning,' there's an organized dismissal and arrival this really the superior standard that the Board wants education to be striving for?

Federal ed spending to continue at current levels through March

The Senate has reportedly agreed to a deal that would continue current federal spending levels through March 4. That means, incidentally, no increase in RTTT or Investing in Innovation funds.


And it fell at just the wrong time, so there are problems all over the city. I've heard of at least two school buses that are stuck; the dispatchers know, so they're on it, but it might be awhile.
(And spare a thought for the drivers, particularly if they've still got elementary school kids on there!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sustainability of Level 4's

As of last week, the district received a response* back from the state (DESE) on the Level 4 school Turnaround Plans for Chandler Elementary and Union Hill Schools. Commissioner Chester is "submitting one proposed modification" to the plans. To quote:
1.The Redesign Grant is a competitive process and there is no guarantee that Worcester will be successful in securing Grant funding. To better understand how Worcester is planning to sustain the Turnaround Plan if STG funding is not secured, please describe:
a. The expectation, strategies, and outcomes that the district will hold the school accountable for implementing and attaining if Redesign Grant funds are not secured.
b. The supports and resources that each school can expect to receive from the district if Redesign Grant funds are not secured.
Further, as part of the suggestions for redesign planning, the state asks that the district "identify the features of the plans that will need to be continued beyond the three year grant period to enable sustained improvement and how those features will be funded."

In other words: you may not get this money (amazing how often the state has been saying that of late; that's a bit different than the message we'd gotten a bit earlier that the state was going to work with districts to get them where they needed to be in their applications). What are you going to do then? And further, as has been pointed out from the very beginning (including back when the vote was taken in April), the money goes away in three years; what are you going to do then?

Do we, by state statute, have to do something with Union Hill and Chandler Elementary, regardless of the federal funding? Yes.
Do we have to meet the stringent requirements under the STG application if we don't have the money? Well, no. The four federal choices, the list of what you had to hit under the turnaround plan (including extra learning time), much of that goes by the boards without the funds. And much of that is based on questionable (if exeunt) research, in any case.
My concern here is that the district is being boxed into saying, "yes, we're somehow going to magically come up with the funds for all of these (required by the state) additions" at the same time that we're also trying to figure out how we're going to close an $8.2 million budget gap after a large number of years in which budget gaps have already been closed by cutting services and positions.
Or, if we get the funds, how we're going to continue extra services after the funds go away in three years.
No one doubts that these two schools are needy. In Worcester, though, we have lots of schools that are needy, and I'm cautious taking the state's decision that these were our greatest need schools, and being forced to make it what our budget lives and dies by.

*sorry, no link. The School Committee got a hard copy of the letter and back-up.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

No federal consolidated spending bill as yet

The Senate failed to act last night on a consolidated spending bill; there'd been a move afoot to get one through at FY10 levels (for FY11), but that apparently lost support as the week went on. There's a murmurings that the new Congress may try to fund some parts of federal programs at 2008 levels (a move which, for example, would cut $600 million out of special education, which is federally mandated and underfunded already).
If you're interested in what the current funding levels are and where some proposals have gone, the National School Boards Association offers this chart.
Note that nearly every single line on this chart would hit the Worcester Public Schools budget.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

All Clear on Coordinated Program Review

As of this past week, the state ed department has said that all corrective action called for under the Coordinated Program Review (the PQA report) has been fully implemented. The corrective actions were recognized as implemented in special ed, civil rights, and English learner education as of October 15; in vocational ed as of December 10.
Note that this is a periodic review; no one is under the impression that this solves everything for all times. And if you have particular issues, do let us know, please.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tis the Season

Instrumental performance by students at Chandler Magnet Elementary's holiday program

Upcoming budget dates

I didn't take notes on everything in the budget presenation last night (I'll go back and clean up my notes in a bit, maybe post some of the charts), but here's the next part of the timeline:
  • the Governor's budget comes out in late January. That starts the conversation at the state level around funding. Pay attention at that point not only to the funding level of ch.70, but also to if there will be redistribution of ch.70, and how they're funding grants,the circuit breaker, and charter reimbursement.
  • The House budget comes out in March. With smaller districts to represent, the House are really where the rubber will hit the road on funding that hits particular communities harder than others. Ch. 70 redistribution comes to mind here.
  • The City Manager presents the city budget to the City Council in April or May. Two things of import here: where are we in terms of the foundation budget? what sort of hit is the city taking on local aid?
  • The Senate budget comes out in May. The Senate tends (as the senators represent larger swathes of territory) to be a bit more big picture. Once that gets voted, and the House has voted theirs, it goes to committee to have the differences resolved.
  • Final state budget is due by July 1.
There are as yet no dates for School Committee public hearings or budget presentations, but I'd expect hearings at least sometime in early spring (and it's never too early to let members know your concerns and priorities for the coming year).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Testing and Assessment Specialist

what's up with the position? This from a supplementary agenda, which includes an item sponsored by Mullaney, Foley, and Novick to discuss the position.
(we're having a retirement: how much is this going to cost? what are we looking for?)
Boone: greater requirement that we use data
"what we have to monitor, track, and report on has grown"
can no longer be a one person position
"closing the loop on the data"
"testing requirements, protocols, training..."
PhD is not a requirement for this position; either a master's degree, or significant experience
salary has been restructured.."a specialist position, not a manager's position" (aka, salary will be lower)
Biancheria: are there requirements for licenses? rumor going around that the former person is coming back as a consultant, and a part time person?
Boone says that's news to her
there's no licensure requirement for the existing job, either; none for the new person, either
reports come to superintendent; she then sends them out

TLSS subcommittee report

wellness policy
recess policy
bullying prevention
and recess
Request that the waiver portion of the recess policy be voted separately (from Novick)
(also that the policy be sent to CPPAC, that it be reviewed by parents, teachers, and students prior to spring review, and that site council be included in the budgeting decision for recess expenses)

Monfredo rises to defend the waiver: for "flexibility"
The mayor says that he doesn't find an exception for Gates Lane that compelling (as it abuts a state park)
Biancheria points the subcommittee meetings were standing room only (packed with principals)
Mullaney rises to clarify the objection: it seems like most schools aren't getting kids outside for 30 minutes

Mayor O'Brien reviews the list and counts five schools not able to implement recess and doesn't find it a compelling list
Mullaney says you can't count the time before school as recess
"I don't see what the fuss is about..."

Foley quips that we may find ourselves eliminating recess due to the budget gap
"strong supporter of school-based management"

Mayor says he's concerned by purported academic focus
Boone says that this is the principal voice, as requested; "continuing to work through...some potential solutions...not having recess is not one of these" options

Monfredo rises "importance of recess and academics"...engage in conversation around recess
Novick withdraws motion on exception clause pending a report back to the full committee

Nelson Place rolls on...

It is the only application of the Worcester School Committee for state funds for building renovation or replacement.
Heading next to Council

Mullaney: student enrollment

isn't there a demographic reason? a general flux in the population (there are fewer kids of high school age; there are more kids of elementary age)
Allen agrees that it's a wave of the demographic projection
"people don't always make decisions that aren't always rational decisions"
just because you're paying for it and they're wearing uniforms, there's a thought that it will settle those kids down; it isn't the case
existence of school choice has made it very attractive to go to Wachusett, Auburn, and Shrewsbury (all of which have new high schools)
brings up football teams of surrounding communities and how many of those kids are from Worcester
losing parents whose kids don't make it into the Tech school (through school choice)

Biancheria; questions on the budget

why is transportation going up? It's in the contract, plus we've had to add buses
enrollment doesn't sustain across the grades: lose kids at middle and high schools. She's concerned by this. Boone speaks of keeping those students in the system. (Allen further points out that there are more choices for middle and high; captive audience for elementary)
federal grants are unknown: and come with strings
$8.2 million: 156 jobs is a way of measuring it, it doesn't have to be jobs
"it affects everything that we do every day in our schools"


question on whether the T&G editorial board reads their own newspaper
money from state and fed comes with rules around how we spend it: we are required to spend money in particular ways
Boston School Committee voted last night to close 18 schools
that will save only $10 million of a $63 million deficit that BPS is projecting
we're now above enrollment level we were at in FY07 when four elementary schools were closed (painful, long term planning)

what effect does a cut in local aid to the city have on the foundation budget?
the state (if it fully funds foundation) has to make up the difference (the part the city can no longer fund)

redistribution of ch.70: some districts have been held harmless (despite drops in enrollment) and/or have had minimum levels of aid increase ($25 per pupil); that's put some communities (largely suburban) over foundation
not surprised to see that redistributed this year (that will keep cities above foundation, but cut suburban districts)

We don't know federal grants (Title 1, IDEA)
We don't know, for certain, cost centers

O'Connell questions the city commitment

"level of commitment from the city"
31% of the budget comes from the city
"very real possibility that the city will fund only the minimum allowed" for education
charges "bear no resemblance at all" to the amount of work borne by the city for grants
Medicaid (I should mention that this was Mr. Monfredo's main point)
"city does not spend significant dollars that it has to spend for the school system"
uses system "as a cash cow" to take money out of the school system and use it for non-educational uses
time to draw the line

need to have a discussion with the Legislature
"more revolving accounts" (to carry funds)
carrying money forward (as Rhode Island is allowed to; Mr. O'Connell's day job is in RI)

Foley on the T&G editorial

Foley points out that the T&G editorial board would fail the MCAS writing portion 
"tracking this very carefully"
"stimulus funds were meant to level of the funding...when the economy fell apart"
"we've been tracking this thing very carefully"
runs through the federal numbers..."to keep our schools from falling apart"
"saving jobs is not bad...means that children in the classroom are receiving instruction"
"insulting comment to make for those of us in the school district"
"targeted nearly $40 million over the next five years"
"the stimulus money that we've had has gone directly into the classroom"

The mayor applauds Mr. Foley's comments.

FY12 budget update

the superintendent turns it over to Brian Allen (You'll find the presentation here.)
review of the FY11 budget
71% of our budget is spent on salaries and health insurance, if you include charter schools; if you exclude charter schools, it's 78%
50% of our budget is for fixed costs; Mr. Allen points out that this 50% rate has been a part of the presentation since 2005 (aka, it shouldn't surprise anyone).
Spending history since 1994: all growth since 2002 has been in charter assessment, tuition assessment, and health insurance (slide 10; worth a look)

2000-07: ch. 70 rose by $700 million, while employee benefit spending rose by over $1 billion
same period: adjusted for inflation per pupil spending fell by 11.3% (you saw this; from the Boston Foundation study)
in spite of a $5 billion increase in education funding 1996-2007, there has been almost no increase in the number of teachers and average class size is no smaller
actual costs of running schools exceeded the foundation budget by 16%
21% below foundation in 1993
came within 3% in 2000
back down to 16% for 2010


We're starting tonight with honoring the Tech school for their selection by the MetLife Foundation and the National Association of Secondary School Principals as a Breakthrough School. Mr. Coughlin points us to the new website for soliciting funds for the school around this.

Acknowledgement tonight of the donation (first year) of $13,000 in total to Vernon Hill and Quinsigamond Schools from Millbury Savings Bank.

TimothyWilliams, network administrator for WPS, is being deployed overseas with the US Navy, and is, as Superintendent Boone puts it, receiving our version of "manning the rail."

Race to Nowhere: Medford, January 25

Those who have been waiting to see the documentary Race to Nowhere will have a chance in Medford on Tuesday, January 25.
If anyone wants to get a group together, let me know!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Secretary Reville hosts FY12 state budget forum

Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville will be hosting a forum on the FY12 budget in Worcester next Tuesday:

Tuesday, December 21, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Worcester State University, Blue Room of the Student Center
486 Chandler St., Worcester

There's also one farther east:
Thursday, December 23, 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.
English High School, Auditorium
144 McBride Street, Jamaica Plain

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Boston school closures and the charter school connection

I haven't gotten to posting about what's happening to our east, but there's a good summary, along with some weirdness around the charter school connection, over at Blue Mass Group. It looks like Boston is going to have its own version of those painful meetings we saw in New York, where a non-elected board votes on the future of the schools in the community.

A few notes from Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports

I was not there for the whole meeting, as I wanted to see those school buses get through City Council tonight...a few notes from the earlier part of the meeting...
The room was packed, as there were a number of people there to speak to the Gates Foundation item, plus many elementary school principals to speak to the recess item. The recess item was taken first. I should point out that the Academic Office offers this chart as part of the item's backup, which has a response from each building on the implementation of 30 minutes of recess this year.

FY12 preliminary report

The first round of the FY12 budget report is the report of the superintendent for Thursday night's School Committee meeting. The summary is now online (colorful version now up; you can find the full presentation here; you'll also note that there's now an FY12 folder added on the Finance and Operations budget page; scroll down. All links now updated.)
And the answer is $8.2 million.
So far.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The money is where?

Very sorry I couldn't make it to the Worcester Educational Collaborative's budget presentation tonight. Duty called elsewhere. If anyone has notes, I'd be interested!
Before you utterly panic about the future of funding of public education, you may wish to read Bruce Baker.
You know, there are actually legitimate researchers and organizations out there tracking the condition of state and local revenues. And while these have been some tough times, their findings are somewhat less apocolyptic than the comments of Rotherham and Petrilli above… who don’t actually look at state budget data when making these claims. Here are the findings from the most recent quarterly report from the Rockefeller Institute:

a few notes on Finance and Operations

F&O met at noon today. The main reason for the meeting was to get our renewed application into the state for funding for Nelson Place. This went through with some discussion around the crumbling of the structure. It turns out that when the building was built in 1927, we were between technologies; it was built with masonry and steel, and we didn't quite know how to do that well yet. While the building is currently stable, it was built in a way that's going to continue to require ongoing "shoring up"...thus the application to the state to replace the school.
Also on the agenda: administration came back with a response to Mrs. Mullaney's item regarding students accessing their course schedules prior to the start of school.
From the tech side, they can get this ready to go by August 2011. They're working with the academic side.
So here's the thing: the Worcester Public Schools is a big system. 24,000 kids, 3,500 staff, 44 buildings...huge. Getting things changed/done/fixed sometimes seems a lot like turning the Queen Mary. And then sometimes an item gets filed, and admin comes back and says, "Yeah, we can do that, and by the time you need it done."
So to Bob Walton, Brian Allen, and the various tech people working on this system: kudos.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TLSS Standing Committee, including RECESS!

There will be a meeting of the Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports Standing Committee on Tuesday at 5:30 (at the Durkin Administration Building, 4th floor).  You will find the agenda here and (head's up!) it includes RECESS.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sanders on education

I don't know if you're watching Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont filibuster the tax bill (he's been going four and half hours as I type this); he had this to say on education:

..that we as a people said, no matter what your status is, that we are going to provide you with a great education...that's great. ../does anyone believe that we here in the United States take intellectual development seriously? ..that we reward people who do child care? What are we doing as a nation?
If we are not going to become a third world nation, we have got to start our educational infrastructure...
Are we nuts? What are we saying to all of these young people?..when you invest in your kids, you invest in the future of America. How are they going to become productive members of society?
If you don't invest in your young people, they are not going to become productive workers...contributing their fair share.

Sputnik. Or not.

I never thought I'd see the day when the Telegram and Gazette was citing Yong Zhao. Nice one, Clive!
Here's Professor Yong Zhao himself on the same test results:
I don’t know why this is such a big surprise to these well educated and smart people. Why should anyone be stunned? It is no news that the Chinese education system is excellent in preparing outstanding test takers, just like other education systems within the Confucian cultural circle—Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong.
Also here.
For more on waiting for Sputnik, see here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How Firm a Foundation

Today's Boston Globe carried a front page article on the Boston Foundation/Mass Business Alliance for Education report on how and if the foundation budget has worked over the past several years, particularly in terms of health insurance. While both the Globe and MBAE have spun this (no big surprise) as a sort of hammer the union piece, the author of the study Edward Moscovitch actually does studies for just about everyone, including the National Education Assocation, and his own opinions are across the board.
The main point of the study--that, while the foundation budget calculates in inflation, health care costs have risen significantly faster than inflation--is entirely true. The foundation budget grew at the inflation rate of 3.4% per year from 2000-2007, while health insurance coverage grew at 13.6% a year. Thus the costs of health coverage have more than eaten up the growth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Finances comin' up!

Just discovered in the past few days:
  • there's a meeting of the Finance and Operations subcommittee Monday, December 13 at noon at DAB. This is that meeting to get through a request to the Massachusetts School Buildings Authority so it can be passed by the full committee, go to the City Council, and get passed there, all before the end of January. (Thus the awkward time: it's being jammed into an already scheduled week.)
  • The report of the superintendent at next week's meeting with be the first presentation on the budget for FY12. If you've got any interest--and this is going to be a tough year, as you've probably heard--come or watch.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

University Park Campus School visit

I had a great visit today to University Park Campus School. It's in the former Freeland Street School (built, as it says over the door, in 1885), right across the street from the Goddard School, which makes no sense until you discover that Goddard used to be South High (chalk that up as something I learned today; thanks, Mr.Navin!). Now, of course, UPCS serves grades 7-12 selected by neighborhood lottery, while Goddard is the large elementary school across the street.
I have to admit that I'm a sucker for historic buildings, but that wasn't the big thing that I took away from UPCS.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

You won't find this in the Boston Globe

In fact, I can't find any evidence that any press has covered it in Massachusetts.
Of the much-mentioned 276 districts that originally signed on for Race to the Top in Massachusetts, 19 districts (or LEAs...I can't find a list, so I don't know if some are charter schools) have dropped out of the program.
On the one hand, among the school systems that asked out of the state’s plan, concerns about the costs of implementing it were the “dominant calculus,” said Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of education. Many of those participants, he noted, were slated to receive small amounts of federal money—in some cases $20,000 or $80,000—and some would have received nothing.
This is very much in keeping with a meeting I was at with urban superintendents, in which several--including Worcester's Superintendent Boone--pushed the Commissioner on the lack of administrative support from the state for a very complicated, multiple part program; this is true not only in Massachusetts, but around the country, including Ohio, which has seen 1 out of every 11 district participating drop out. Very little money can be used on administration (I believe it's the usual grant 2%) at a time when administration is already stretched thin on the ground, especially in smaller districts, already. Contrary to Forest Hinton's faux disbelief that this might be about what works, what doesn't, and how much money is involved, it very much is.
Oh, and principles. Here's to Superintendent William C. Matthews for deciding it wasn't enough money to buy out his.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Speaking of dysfunctional...

And if you'd like to feel good about how well your school committee gets along with your council/board, read this.

Nutrition bill passes Congress, off to White House

Congress voted yesterday to approve a new federal child nutrition bill. Among other important things (see a good list here) is it increases the reimbursement of each free lunch by six cents. This is the first increase since 1973.
Speaking as someone who was born in 1973, I'd say that's a bit overdue.

Four things you may not know about the Worcester School Committee

  • We don't get invited to everything. Before I was elected, I assumed that there was a magical list that the Committee members all got of things going on that were education-related that week. There's no such thing. We all read the paper, the website, whatever school newsletters are sent to us, and such, but if you wonder why School Committee members didn't come to something, there's a good chance that we simply didn't know about it. (And if you're in a PTO or something similar and want to let us know, we all have mailboxes at the administration building at 20 Irving Street, so you can send things there, even through pony mail. Which doesn't have ponies. But you probably knew that.)
  • Just because it wasn't discussed on the floor doesn't mean nothing happened. First of all, in some cases, filing an item on an agenda is sometimes seen as making a statement (it isn't, always, but it can be). Sometimes it's easier and you have more of a chance of actually getting something done by just sending an email or making a phone call. Also, there are restrictions around what can be discussed in open meeting: personnel items that are subject to the superintendent, for example, cannot be discussed on the floor.
  • Those chairs are really uncomfortable. Yes, even more uncomfortable than those in the gallery. It's popularly held though that a) the mayor's chair is the most uncomfortable, and b) it's intentional, so the meetings don't run long. You can judge best if that works.
  • We appreciate public comment. And no, I'm not just saying that. The City Council not uncommonly gets overwhelmed with comments on issues; not so the School Committee. But we're in charge of your kids for seven hours a day; you should by all means let us know how you feel about things that affect them, as should the kids themselves.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Online checkbook

The mayor's asked for the district's checkbook to be put online; it already is, because the district does not have a separate checkbook. All Worcester Public Schools checks are written by the City of Worcester.

MSBA list

The Massachusetts School Building Authority has reviewed all our schools and has a priority list; we're getting it back in January.
At the same time, the MSBA is letting us know that our requests are due January 26 (and they have to go through School Committee and through City Council before being sent to the state), so we're not going to have their list before we send in our request. Brian Allen comes forward to note the irony ('though he doesn't call it that) here.
Both off to Finance and Operations, but the latter will be creating a special meeting so we can get it back for December 16.
And here's guessing Nelson Place.

Worcester Technical High School: "a Breakthrough School"

Worcester Technical High School was selected as a Breakthrough School by MetLife and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Report on transfers

Biancheria: 150 students that have been mobile...would like some information on the mobility of our students
"I'm not sure if we have all the information about why they're moving so much..."
..what we can do to help some of the students who have moved three times in one year
"Do I have an answer for this? No. Am I concerned with it? Yes."
Boone: "mobility is a risk factor for school failure"
Biancheria asks for a similar report for quarter, "for a full picture"
Boone suggests that we send it to accountability

University Park Campus isn't here...Novick asks why one knows.

O'Connell asks about the Tech student who moved for curriculuar reasons. We're guessing Horticulture (which was dropped this past year).


Biancheria: thanks for holding...a learning lesson for anyone...can't afford to point any fingers..knows administration will committee members open to questions from public
asks that the item be filed

Goal setting

Core values and operating principals..and goals separated to be approved
"less is sometimes more than five goals (recommended by MASC)"

Len Zaluskas

on Level 4 schools:
(note, by the way, that this is pending litigation...)
"one of their key recommendations was an extended day take place at these schools...we bargained over extending the day at both schools...Joint Resolution Committee..I'm disappointed that there was a decision rendered and this body has chosen not to honor that, as of now...have you asked the city of Worcester..or the state...could you come up with the money for it? Understanding it's not free...if 90 minutes are too expensive, why not extended the day by 60 minutes, which by my math, could be done?...the kids deserve it, the city deserves it...I think that we can come to some sort of a resolution, but we could put our minds together..invitation to bargain is much different than just meeting...did you ask the City Manager for extra funds..did you contact the state...the 60 seems you could afford it."

Clarification on who goes to Tech

Students whose families have MOVED can continue through Worcester Tech...but kids from outside of town beyond that are NOT in Worcester Tech.
Out of town kids aren't taken until we've taken all the kids off the waiting list (which, the mayor comments, would take 20 years).
Monfredo: "a waiting list of over 800 students...there are students that have moved that are allowed to continue their education at Worcester Tech"
the superintendent comments further that having the technical school be part of the city system allows that; it isn't a regional system
Foley: query on checking addresses for accuracy
David Joyce: everyone he knows lives in the city, or did when they were admitted

Report from TLSS: Field trips

reporting out from Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports :
  • review of curriculum for alignment with Common Core
  • anti-bullying
  • ad-hoc committee on mathematics to be developed
  • draft foreign and domestic travel policy to be developed by administration, allowing it but minimizing school liability
The committee thus asks, as per usual, for the report (and motions) to be approved.
The mayor clarifies that we are not approving a policy tonight: we are approving the drafting of a policy. (He further notes that Assistant City Solicitor O'Day, who has served the WPS, has retired, and we haven't get gotten ourselves lined up with the Solicitor's office)

More demystifying

You might remember that the Mass Budget and Policy Center put out a piece a bit ago, explaining the Ch. 70 formula. It's now a video, and guess what city is one of the comparisons?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Using technology in education wisely

A solid post by Scott McLeod on what we'd do if we were serious about edtech:
  • Show students how to edit their privacy settings and use groups in Facebook instead of banning online social networks because they're "dangerous" and/or "frivolous";
  • Teach students to understand and contribute to the online information commons rather than just saying no to Wikipedia;
  • Put a robust digital learning device into every student's hands (or let them bring and use their own) instead of pretending that we live in a pencil, notebook paper, and ring binder world;
  • Integrate digital learning and teaching tools into subject-specific pre-service methods courses rather than marginalizing instructional technology as a separate course;
  • Understand the true risk of students encountering online predators and make policy accordingly instead of succumbing to scare tactics by the media, politicians, law enforcement, computer security vendors, and others;
  • Find out the exact percentage of our schools' families that don't have broadband Internet access at home rather than treating the amorphous 'digital divide' as a reason not to assign any homework that involves use of the Internet;
(and etc)...leads to a post on the real risk of online behavior by Lee Kolbert.

Ravitch at Clark

Ravitch was introduced by Professor Tom DelPrete to a crowd of 300 people or more (they kept bringing out chairs!). In the crowd, among many others, I saw four School Committee members(myself, Mullaney, Monfredo, and Foley), one City Councilor (Lukes), Research Bureau staff, and two senior WPS administrators (Mulqueen and Perda).
DelPrete: "tremendous interest in education in Worcester...get it right for the wonderfully diverse children..stimulate and inform our thinking...our actions"

"foremost critic of prevailing education policy"
"unflinching in staking her ground"
"to confront the prevailing remedies"
citing Bridging Differences (with Deb Meier)

Upcoming events

First of all, you are planning on seeing Diane Ravitch this afternoon, right? 4 pm, Tilton Hall, Higgins University Center at Clark (that's the building on the left of Red Square; it's on the second floor)
If you're wondering what's up with innovation schools in Worcester, you will want to come down to the library next Wednesday evening, December 8, at 5 pm for a community briefing on innovation schools.
And you know the budget's coming! There's briefing on the budget on December 13 at the Mass College of Pharmacy at 5:30 pm on the Worcester Public Schools budget. (sorry, WEC doesn't have a link up for that one)

School Committee meeting Thursday

The Worcester School Committee meets on Thursday. You'll find the agenda here. Up this week:
  • goal setting! This time, we narrow them down to a managable number.
  •  a TLSS subcommittee report. Look for much talk of a) the Common Core and b) foreign field trips. I wasn't at this meeting and I haven't seen the backup on this yet, so I don't know what recommendations are coming out of the subcommittee. Look for the foreign field trips part to be lively!
  • mercury, mercury, mercury
  • a few recognitions and donations (mostly setting dates and accepting money)
  • looking at the priorities set by the state on our building replacements
  • a few items around student referrals and special education
There is an executive session preceding, as per usual. I haven't seen an agenda for that, but don't be surprised if the meeting starts a bit after 7 pm. And so long as the wifi is up, I'll be blogging.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gates Foundation Timeline

KEI has a Microsoft/Gates Foundation timeline posted. Everyone will, I'm sure, find their own points of interest. What leapt out at me is how far we are from the Bill Gates who wrote (in 1998):

I am in agreement with my friend, Warren Buffett, when he says that people who are successful in one field should be careful about suggesting they know all the answers in other areas.

"you only get so much time to do something positive with your life."

If you're a regular reader, you know I'm not a huge fan of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I wanted, though, to share this profile of his mother, Sue Duncan, and the work she's done with children in Chicago for decades.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Godfather of Worcester's blogsphere, RIP

Jeff Barnard, of Wormtown Taxi, without which Worcester would have no blogsphere to speak of, has died.
Rest in peace, Jeff. We wouldn't be here without you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christmas shopping?

If you have an alumna/us of the Worcester Public Schools on your shopping list, you might consider this:

From the Vintage Worcester Tee Shirt Company 
(with whom, no, I have no connection)

Blue Mass on education

Two good posts over on Blue Mass Group on education right now:
  • the first responds to Thomas Friedman's New York Times column from earlier this week.
  • the second gives an exhaustive list of people who have recently left the Patrick administration to go work for the Gates foundation...and do read the comments

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Federal grant review

and what are you doing over the holidays?
The Department of Education will reportedly be reviewing its federal granting process over the next few months:
One of the main goals is to see what lessons other competitive grant programs overseen by the department—agency officials say they manage dozens of competitions each year—could learn from the Race to the Top process and i3.
This could affect everything from School Improvement Grants to the Teacher Incentive Fund ('though I notice there's no mention in either report of Title I; there have been some hints that the DoE was considering tying that to particular kinds of school improvement as well).
One assumes this will be taken care of just in time for the FY12 budget.

Monday, November 22, 2010


If you read Thomas Friedman over the weekend, you'll want to read Paul Thomas, who checks Friedman's numbers.

Ravitch at Clark December 1!

Yes, I know I already posted about this, but this is BIG NEWS!
Diane Ravitch, of Bridging Differences, of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, of the Department of Education under the first Bush administration, is COMING TO CLARK on December 1. She's speaking at 4 pm in Tilton Hall on “How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.”
If you have the slightest interest in the latest in so-called "ed reform," in what standardized testing does to education, on how charter schools actually work out--and from someone who's thoughtfully been on both sides--you need to come hear Ravitch speak!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Here comes FY12!

As part of Tuesday night's City Council agenda, City Manager O'Brien is presenting an FY12 budget forecast.

Of note:
  • The city is projecting a deficit of $13.7 million dollars heading in. This assumes a 5% local aid cut. Note that there are forecasts that this could be a 10% local aid cut.
  • This further assumes new growth of $2.2 million and $5.6 million under Proposition 2 1/2.
  • City contribution to WPS under these projections increases $1.76 million, bringing the city contribution to $265.8 million of required minimum contribution under the foundation funding formula.
This chart gives the overview (click to make it bigger):

When does doing more with less becoming doing less with less?*

*I can't take credit for the above title. That's former Superintendent Jim Caradonio. But it fits.
I had really hoped that the federal Education department was at least saving us all the cost of a speechwriter for Arne Duncan, since he and Bill Gates seem to be reading the same lines lately, but Rick Hess says that this isn't the case. Duncan's address to the American Enterprise Institute and Gates' address to (gobsmackingly) the state superintendents of education read from essentially the same script: to quote Duncan, districts should:
leverage transformational change in the educational system to improve outcomes for children. To do so, requires a fundamental rethinking of the structure and delivery of education in the United States.
(sic on that comma, and trying to ignore the violence being done to the English language in that whole first line)

Education Movie Lines

Just for Friday
Currently on Twitter, the meme "education movie lines"

@: You want the afternoon recess duty? You can't HANDLE the afternoon recess duty
@: I coulda been a test vendor
@ "Bloomberg....Bloomberg?

Back to Hogwarts

And Valerie Strauss takes issue with Hogwarts not giving a good education.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jeff Mulqueen's contract

On the consideration of the contract of Jeff Mulqueen, Chief Academic Officer, whose contract expires in July, to extend the contract from then to June of 2014, under the same terms of his current contract (no raise, pension, or transportation allowance), the vote is 5-2, Biancheria and Novick against.

Field trips

Currently field trip policy says students cannot travel outside the state, says the Mayor. Students do travel out of the state on field trips...revisiting the policy.
Mullaney reminds us that we've had discussions within the recent past, and that legal counsel has recommended that we not allow foreign field trips.
Mullaney asserts that it has nothing to do with September 2001.
Monfredo and O'Connell rise to defend the notion of foreign travel for students, as surrounding districts do.
(note that the policy is not in the handbook; you can get a copy through the Quadrant Managers' office, apparently)
Biancheria gets up to question that we have teachers taking kids on trips outside of school coverage.
Luster speaks of teachers asking that the policy be reconsidered.
It's being sent to TLSS for consideration.

Gaming in high school

Item from Miss Biancheria requesting that the administration consider offering computer gaming at the high school level, and figuring out what our students need to be taking to be ready to major in gaming in high school.


The procedural part is, motion from Biancheria, to hold.
Challenged by Mullaney

Class size report

Okay, this time I've got it:
Elementary class sizes

Secondary school population overview

Nelson Place

Nelson Place was looked at in August 2010. It needed masonry work (mortar joint repair). It will be fixed during this month.
Nelson Place continues to be the ONLY building that Worcester has in the Massachusetts School Building Authority for replacement (though we have a pretty clear feeling that they aren't going to jump to do that until we get North done).

Tech grants

We've got two applications into the state for technology for FY11: a Tech Enhancement Grant, and an ARRA Title IID PD grant.
We're getting a Friday letter on what the Administration plans on spending the funds on, should we get them.
The mayor asks further if we can get an idea of what the plan is, moving forward, on tech spending, particularly in light of our not being able use some of the capital funds from the city on that (as it doesn't have a good finance option).

Discussions with the city

In speaking to the F&O report, O'Connell makes a motion that Medicaid and the grant share (that the city takes out of school grants) be raised in conversation with the City Manager.
Mayor O'Brien suggests a joint meeting with the City Council for late January, early February.

Outside security tech audit

Motion for estimates for a security audit of our technological systems. We'll be considering it as part of our FY12 budget.
And if you are a tech geek, you should go look at that report. It really is impressive. Go to the previous F&O agenda, and click on the backup pages for the technology item. I'll link later.

Vocational school exchange?

It came out in the TLSS discussion  that kids from outside the city can go to the Tech school, and, moreover, that city kids are not given any advantage in admission, due to state law.
Mrs. Mullaney is rising to ask how many kids this is, do our kids go elsewhere, do we provide transportation...Dr. Mulqueen will come back with a report. She says she's "astounded" that our kids could be displaced by kids from out-of-town. She asks for a legal opinion, and if this requires legislative action, let us do so.
Mr. O'Connell points out that the Tech school has a waiting list of several hundred students each year.

Sharfman's Jewellers: this year's ornament

This year's ornament (the 25th year of Sharfman's ornaments) is the John E. Durkin Administration Building (the former, as John Durkin points out, Classical High School).
It's pointed out that you can buy them at Sharfman's.

Center for Non-violent Solutions

..being recognized for their work on peacemaking and teaching non-violent solutions in the schools.

Worcester School Committee meeting tonight!

The Worcester School Committee meets tonight at 7 pm in City Hall. You'll find the agenda here.
Among the items of interest:
  • both the Teaching, Learning, and Student Support subcommittee and the Finance and Operations subcommitees are back with reports. TLSS has the innovation school model coming forward; F&O has the latest quarterly report.
  • there's communication back on several grants
  • just what is going  on with Nelson Place and replacement?
  • we're receiving some donations (!)
  • mercury reappears on the agenda (it was held last time)
  • a rundown, school by school, grade by grade, class by class, of how many kids are in each class. Give it a look. Fascinating stuff there. (Try the link again; fixed, I think, though the whole list isn't there. I'll work on it.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Worcester East Middle theater

I was over at Worcester East Middle (the former Grafton Street Junior High) for a meeting today, and I asked permission to get into the theater, which my photos do not do justice and which I think one of the unknown gems in the Worcester Public Schools.
 These are the lights around the outside of the downstairs walls. The bulbs are obviously not original (any guesses on what they were like? Maybe candle flames?)
 A bit blurry photo of the amazing chandeliers in the ceiling. I'll try to get back there with a real camera, as these have really elaborate detailing that this photo doesn't catch at all.
 An even blurrier photo (sorry!) of the center ceiling medallion. All of the detail work is in the plaster.
 Upper right corner
View from the stage:

Among the many, many things I hope is that we can get some money (probably from outside the district budget) to put into this. It's a lovely room.

Social Studies MCAS

Just caught up with yesterday's Board of Education meeting. 
The Social Studies MCAS was reinstated on a highly unusual 5-4 split vote of the Board of Education. (Among those in opposition: Worcester's own James McDermott)
The decision to move forward with the test now rests with Secretary Paul Reville and Governor Deval Patrick. If they do decided to move forward, it then is up to the Legislature to fund the test.
You might remember that the test has been on hold for several years due to lack of funding. Reinstating it in this of all years shows a remarkable tone-deafness, merits of the test or no aside.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quarterly report

Unemployment over at this point, transferring in from teachers salaries. We have a number of teachers still collecting unemployment, more than we'd expect at this point based on past experience (aka: people aren't finding work).
Massachusetts replaced federal stimulus funds with education jobs money, so we're shifting money from special ed tuition (where the federal stimulus money could be spent) to special ed IA salaries (where edu-jobs can be spent).
Added special ed buses bumping up transportation, as is after-school programming transportation for Level 4 schools (for Monday, as the other days they'll run on a parallel schedule).
It was hotter than we expected this summer, so electricity is up.
Clean-up for Grafton Street: mercury.
Workers Comp is up.
The boilers need to be inspected and insured each year.
Foley: doing two year budgeting, projecting for FY12.
Required environmental abatement services: did we expect these? Can we plan for them?
Allen: plan to move them into the capital expenses (building rehab)

Technology security

Firewalls, proxies, data filtering, access attempts...good stuff.
Surprising? Kids denied service mostly are looking at videos, trying to play online games, or get on Facebook.

Finance and Operations: after-school program payments

We're taking out-of-order the item on payment for teachers working in after-school programs. We've got a schedule of payments.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Finance and Operations meets Monday

'Though for some reason it isn't appearing on the WPS calendar, the Standing Committee on Finance and Operations meets on Monday at 5 pm at the Durkin Administration Buidling, room 410. The agenda is here (the first page tells you what will actually be discussed at this meeting; the links to backup pages are found where those items are highlighted in the pages that follow). On this one, in addition to the usually quarterly account tranfers (including mercury cleanup), you'll find progress report and report card mailings, tech security, the education jobs money, and paying teachers from grants.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

As goes Chicago

And how's that mayoral control going in Chicago?

Tell me about your qualifications for this job...

Joel Klein, current chancellor of the New York City public school system, is resigning. He's being replaced by Cathleen Black from Hearst Publications.
Something they have in common?
Black will need a waiver to do the job, just as Klein has, because she is not qualified under New York state law. (Klein's previous experience was as a lawyer in, among other places, the U.S. Department of Justice.) Mayor Bloomberg (to whom the state legislature persists in handling control of the schools back) sees no need for education experience of any sort in running one of the largest school districts in the country.
Klein's going to work for Rupert Murdock's News Corp.

UPDATE (11/16): Turns out she does have a bit of school experience: when she was at Coke, she led the fight to keep soda in schools:
The company unleashed a flurry of lobbyists, donations and advertising to fight the efforts, prompting local officials to describe it as “bullying” and “unconscionable.” Even as other large food manufacturers embraced the public-health measures, Coca-Cola dug in its heels, rewarding schools that kept selling its products and threatening those that would not, officials said.
Well worth reading the whole article.

Does Hogwarts need ed reform?

Samuel Arbesman asks just what sort of quality education those wizards and witches are getting, after all?
As near as I can tell, if you grow up in the magical world (as opposed to be Muggle-born, for example), you do not go to school at all until the age of eleven. In fact, it’s entirely unclear to me how the children of the wizarding world learn to read and write. There is a reason Hermione seems much more intelligent than Ron Weasley. It’s because Ron is very likely completely uneducated.
And even at Hogwarts, while they learn about spells and potions, they completely neglect the fundamentals. They are made to write essays on the history of magic, but are never taught to write. They take Arithmancy, but never learn mathematics.
h/t Kottke
There's some dispute in the comments over the education Ron received prior to Hogwarts, and whether wizards are in need of further education.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How does Tech admit students?

Scholastic achievement, for a maximum of 40 points (every A is 5, B is 4, C is 3, D is 2, F is 0) IS NOT WEIGHED BY LEVEL
Attendance, for a maximum of 20 points (10 or fewer unexcused absences, 20 points; 20 or less, 15; 30 or less, 10; 40 or less, 5)
School discipline  for a maximum of 20 points
Counselor recommendation for a maximum of 20 points

This is a STATE system
A list of all students applying from 100 points down is created; the kids are admitted by score.
Thus the school aims to, but does not, reflect the demographics of the district, as we cannot admit with that in mind.

Monfredo asks if we've looked at getting kids hooked up with information in seventh grade.
can the state allow flexibility in using this admissions process? Not so far, but we'll check
There is no weight made for Worcester/non-Worcester student: can we include a preference?
What if a child opts in through school choice and then wants to go to one of our voke programs?
O'Connell asks that these be looked at closely.

North: more voc-tech programs for the new North

A great deal of conversation from the members here around expanding and improving the vo-tech programs at North, as the new building opens, particularly from Biancheria. Possibly getting chosen as one of the RTTT schools for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Mulqueen speaks of "being practical"
"just opening it may not be enough to get us to where" we want to be
principal is very excited about the early college aspect
early college "it could be that when you graduate, you could graduate with an associate's degree"
Biancheria "for all students"
question around the representation of minority students at Tech
what about computer gaming? Finding out from the state whether that's a vo-tech program

TLSS subcommittee: Horticulture

There's a report back in Teaching, Learning, and Student Support on the cost of recreating the horticulture program at Tech. This quickly turns into a discussion of the other horticulture/agriculture/growing things going on in the city right now, and how this ties into that. Farming is growing, we've got food coming IN from farms to our schools on a daily basis, we've got YouthGROW, the REC, community gardens...shouldn't we have a program for kids who want to do that for a living?
Most of these questions go back to administration for more information.

4 1/2 floors up at 20 Irving Street

It's dark at 4:30 now, so I didn't take any photos of the high ceilinged, built-to-withstand an earthquake, raftered attic; I'll be back in daylight. But here's the window looking out over Irving Street from atop Crown Hill:

 And here's the view out over the city. There's the steeple of St. Paul's Cathedral to the right, and if you look very, very closely, you can see the (unlit) tower of City Hall in the center against the building behind it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Meanwhile back in Congress

Congress comes back for a lame duck session next week, and they still have yet to appropriate funds for (among other things) the Department of Education (for FY11, by the way. That's the current fiscal year). There's a number of questions raised by this:

The administration asked for $1.35 billion to continue the program for an additional year, and Congress is poised to provide some of that (there's $800 million in the House version of the bill, and $675 million in the Senate). Money is tight, but a lot of folks argue that money is likely to stay in the bills if they are presidential priorities.
Still, I can see why the administration wanted Congress to put money into a recent stop-gap measure to fund Race to the Top and i3.
And of course, advocates for school districts and teachers note that there's another huge problem with just extending funding for another year: There won't be any additional money for Title I grants to districts to help educate disadvantaged kids, or for special education.
This doesn't even get into what happens when the new Congress comes in, because yes, they can (in essence) reconsider the appropriation.

Where goes national ed policy?

If you're wondering where national ed policy might be headed after Tuesday's election, you might read Representative John Kline (Republican of Minnesota) on his priorities. As the senior Republican on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, you can expect that he'll be taking the chair come the January changeover. To wit:

pursuing education reform that restores local control, empowers parents, lets teachers teach, and protects taxpayers.
In terms of fiscal policy, keep an eye on the bottom line:
...the same reform-minded legislators planning to tighten Congress’ fiscal britches have also stated plainly that spending in the areas of defense, veterans’ affairs, and seniors will be off-limits. In other words, only the spending that doesn’t encompass the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs, not to mention mandatory Medicare and Social Security spending, is ripe for spending reductions. (This chart helps illustrate how few programs would be left to “reduce” once defense and mandatory programs are removed from the equation.)
So, what does that mean? In short, education funding and other nondefense-related discretionary spending is where Congress will look first to find spending cuts in 2011 and beyond.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

School Councils

Massachusetts Association of School Committees presentation on school councils
Ed Reformers:
  • don't believe what they say about parent empowerment
  • huge measures of condescension
  • at some levels, condescension rises to abject contempt
  • that contempt is extended to local government
"how often have you been told by Doctor somebody who never took anyone's appendix out that this is what's right for your child"

Parent Involvement workshop (national PTA and MassPIRC)

Moving from parent involvement to family and community engagement
"need everybody"
  • From random acts to systemic movement: families across the board are involved, not just the ones that show up
  • events-driven to outcome oriented: doing it all the time, focused on improvement
  • add-ons to integrated: it needs to be part of everything. In RTTT, "where is the family engagement? Don't assume it's a given. Make sure it's in there."
  • compliance to innovative: Title I schools have to do particular things ("we're not so good to make sure they're doing it"), but need to move beyond that. "Social media is mushrooming...we need to be doing that."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Questions on budget monitoring

Open to questions:
projected surplus budget column? yes

what are assumptions? we don't encumber our gas and electricity, but project it (in Reading), for example

one question we should be asking, as a School Committee member? (oooh, good question!)
(there are fors and againsts who does the presentations on numbers--does the superintendent or the finance person answer the questions?)
  • -Are we still okay?
  • -Where do you think we're most vunerable? ("allow your school business manager to confess...where do they have the least amount of certainity about the budget")

Monitoring your budget

The presentation--and remember, these are the finance people--started with this video:

Mass School Building Authority presentation

really glad not to have to come up with what happens if Q.3 passed (1 cent of 6.25 sales tax dedicated to MSBA)

$2 billion backlog in funding when they took over
waitlist of 44 buildings when MSBA took over; last 2 are currently building
auditing has made this a much better, more honest process

1776 schools been reviewed
progress payment system: check is in the mail 15 days after district bill is reviewed ("pay as you build")
last year of $2.5 billion of the first five years of the capital pipeline
$500 million to spend a year

roles of Superintendent and School Committees

What is the role of the Superintendent? from Christine McGrath, Director of Operations for the state association of superintendents (and former superintendent):

Superintendents have a high turnover rate: "have to take good care of your superintendent"
"Superintendents don't lose their jobs because they failed to align the social studies curriculum; superintendents lose their job because people feel they are out of the loop and there isn't sufficient communication with the School Committee"
(emphasis, incidentally, not added)
  • what one SC members, all know
  • faculty and staff need to know
  • parents: "happy people do not dial the phone" of the School Committee or Superintendent

Questions on fiscal crisis

"there's also a terrible problem...steps and levels..those numbers are unsustainable"
8% growth in salary with no raises
"we have got to collective get our heads together and get sustainable public sector salaries"
Widmer: "it's clear to me that from what I've laid out a lot of the assumptions need to really be looked at..all basic assumptions need to be examined"

another member points out that the huge bump in pay goes to younger teachers

state aid and what is the potential percentage in reduction for FY12?
10% says Widmer
he pulls this back to 5%, upon consideration, IF revenues continue to rise

I asked him afterward if he thought the state would hold Ch.70 harmless, or risk a lawsuit by cutting it. He said that he thought that the state would cut Ch.70 only as an absolute last resort FOR THIS YEAR, but that he thought there was a good chance that they'd have to do it--and subsequently get sued--in coming years.

Fiscal Crisis update

Fiscal Crisis update with Michael Widmer (MA Taxpayers Foundation) JD Chesloff (MA Business Roundtable),and Luc Schuster (MA Budget and Policy Center)
I'll be posting as I go, so hit 'refresh' if you're reading this at 9 am on Friday.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Use of food in schools as rewards

..because, suffice to say, it's inconsistent for the Healthiest School District in Massachusetts to hand out lollipops to kids who do well on their multiplication tests.

Missed notes

apologies: Blogger is acting squirrelly

looking at online payment of school lunch fees

inquiry from Biancheria regarding payment of teachers working in after school programs funded by grants

working towards an electronic system for payroll (I think)

question that a report be prepared on the number high school transfers indicating where they went and why: for the first week of December?

Governance and Employee Issues subcommittee report

mesh backpacks allowed in high schools for 2011-12 school year (if approved tonight)
sponsorship and advertisement arrangement for athletic programs:
  • making money from renting out Foley Stadium
  • sponsorship through naming rights in gyms
  • colleges passing on or donating equipment for sports teams
  • asking for an update in Feb 2011
Senate Bill 245, which would raise the dropout rate from 16 to 18 (there were other bills that were to be considered, but only this one is still pending; the items were initially filed in November 2009)
encouraging National Board certification for principals and teachers
legislative priorities for next meeting with them (on November 19)
"how best to continue to make the Worcester Public Schools the school of choice"
  • a student exit survey for those who have left the system
  • welcoming of visitors, cleanliness and safety in schools, communicating to parents (webpage, Connect-Ed, etc)
  • using Channel 3
  • consider having a WPI IQP on WPS (!)
  • timing of open houses for students in grade 5 (not 6)
  • a public relations plan
letter of thanks to retirees and bringing them into a meeting for congratulations

O'Connell asks that we draw the line at naming things after people..."people who have earned that by what they have done...what they did for the schools"

November 4 School Committee meeting: JROTC

The superintendent's report tonight is on JROTC, in response (in part) to a motion by Miss Biancheria.
We have with us the service members who are teachers for the programs at the various schools.
"to develop citizens of character to serve their nation and community"
"to instill values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, and sense of accomplishment"
(and by the way, there's a little waving flag in the upper left hand corner of each slide)

accessing internet from school computers

I'm in a school law 201 workshop

School Committee meets tonight!

I should (belatedly) point out that the Worcester School Committee does meet this evening. You'll find the agenda for tonight here.
(There's also a one-item supplemental from Mr. Monfredo, congratulating all those involved with last week's excellent Stepping out for the Arts show at the Hanover.)
There is an executive session beforehand, and I do plan to liveblog (once I get back to Worcester County...I'll be heading north and west shortly!)

Jim Braude on the election results

quotes Alice Roosevelt: "If you don't have anything good to say about anybody, come sit by me"
but thrilled to be here with people who serve kids
satisfy his quota of talking to Republicans by talking to MASC exec director
"I was an elected official, and it was the most tortured..two years of my life..the only thing worse than angry, small-minded, uninformed constituents is angry, small-minded, uninformed colleagues"

National School Boards Association President Earl Rickman

presents a devastating critique of "Waiting for Superman"

Social Media: Rights and Risks

I'm in a packed social media workshop down at the MASC/MASS conference (where, ironically, I have the only netbook or laptop...). I should note that the attorney immediately confessed that he does not himself social media
What are districts and employees using now?
  •  blogs
  • personal Facebook, Twitter, MySpace accounts
  • using online for background checks

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New test?

Asked this evening in a Q&A by school committee and superintendents about the new (coming) state test (that will be jointly done with other states), Commissioner Chester gave, as a proposed example, kids reading a variety of articles on a topic and then having to write an editorial letter on the subject. He called it more of an activity, less of a test.
It was just an example, but possibly one of the more hopeful things I've heard around state testing since...oh, about 1998.

I'm off!

I'll be at the Mass Association of School Committees annual conference for the rest of the week. I'll certainly be taking plenty of notes, and if I hear things of general interest, I'll post them. The normal flow of traffic here will be a bit slower until Saturday, however.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why your vote matters for education

I've just been reading this essay by Jane Addams (she of the settlement houses movement) from 1915 on why women should vote (five years before they got the right to vote). It has everything to do with why EVERYONE who cares about education should vote tomorrow:
Chicago one spring had a spreading contagion of scarlet fever just at the time that the school nurses had been discontinued because business men had pronounced them too expensive. If the women who sent their children to the schools had been sufficiently public-spirited and had been provided with an implement through which to express that public spirit they would have insisted that the schools be supplied with nurses in order that their own children might be protected from contagion. In other words, if women would effectively continue their old avocations they must take part in the slow upbuilding of that code of legislation which is alone sufficient to protect the home from the dangers incident to modern life.
Two-thirds of the Worcester Public Schools budget comes from the state.
The state and federal government have EVERYTHING to do with what kids are taught, how much of it they're taught, how they're tested on it, and yes, how we pay for it.
Both levels of government also have to do with how those kids get back and forth to school, how their teachers are certified, how safe the buildings they learn in are (and how often they're repaired and replaced), what kind of food they're served at lunch, and what's in the textbooks they learn from.
If you care about education, you can't sit this one out.

Coats for Kids

The Worcester Educational Development Foundation, Worcester Public Schools Volunteer Office, and the Junior League of Worcester are collecting for the Coats for Kids program this year. As the temperatures fall, it becomes clear to lots of Worcester's teachers that some of our kids don't have winter coats. Making sure that our kids are coming to school (and going out to recess) warm is important, and building principals pass along information to the Volunteer Office of kids that are in need. If you'd like to send in a check, you can mail it to:
Worcester Educational Development Foundation
20 Irving Street
Worcester, MA 01609

If you'd like to have the fun of shopping for a child yourself, you can call the volunteer office at 508-799-3030 and ask for a name and size. Buy a coat (or they'll take gently worn ones), a hat, and mittens, and drop them off at the Volunteer Office (they'll tell you how to do that when you call).

Friday, October 29, 2010

That number is


That's how much the cleanup of mercury at Grafton Street School cost the Worcester Public Schools.
Full breakdown of costs in this week's agenda backup here.

Generous neighbors

Thank you to Millbury Savings Bank for a generous donation promised this morning to Vernon Hill and Quinsigamond Schools. They'll be the schools' new neighbor on the corner of Providence and Millbury Streets.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another brick in the wall

ThinkProgress is reporting that 111 Republicans running for Congress want to abolish the federal Department of Education. Before we all get too excited (one way or the other), it's worth noting that this has been even a plank of the Republican Party platform before, but it's never gotten enough support from actually serving, actually elected representatives and senators to get it passed. No telling if it will this time.
Also, per the comments following the ThinkProgress post, let's keep even this in some perspective. The federal education department was created as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty; that makes it a fairly new federal department. Even if the Republicans did muster the votes to elminate the federal DoE, this would not somehow magically make education in the United States vanish. We did have education in this country prior to the 1960's! Education is largely--though less so now than fifteen years ago--managed, controlled, and even funded by state and local governments. Losing funding would hurt communities with heavy Title I enrollments (like Worcester), but in the scope of education funding nationally, the federal government is a relatively minor player, even after the $4 billion of Race to the Top.
This is not, I hasten to add, to say that I think we cut the DoE off. The original argument for the creation of the department--that national equity in education is lacking, and it's in the interest of the American people as a whole to change that--is still a valid one. I'd say we need to work on how we're doing it, as some of the policies currently being pursued increase, rather than decrease, inequity.