Saturday, January 30, 2010

Parent-Guardian Roundtable

Hearty congratulations due to all who pulled together the WPS Parent-Guardian Roundtable this morning!
About 200 people packed the room and eagerly conversed about hopes and dreams for our children's education, currently challenges, and possible solutions. A few notes from me:
  1. I'm always impressed how, if you pull together a group of parents of Worcester Public School students, you'll get tales of great education happening: the teacher who stays after, the principal pulling together a day that gets everyone excited about math, the IEP that gets a kid the help he needed...there's good stuff happening out there! The conversations I heard included a lot about the solid education their kids are getting.
  2. The conversation about challenges in my group began with a grandmother saying, "Well, it all comes back to money!"
  3. Several of the challenges I heard expressed today had as much to do with blanket policy enforcement as anything. Making room for the individual might sum it up nicely.
  4. The relative welcome parents feel in buildings varies widely.
  5. The first parent to share with the entire group stood up, expressed some concern about the potential popularity about what he was going to say, then firmly said, "Until we parents say that we will pay more taxes for education, we won't have the resources we need. I am willing to pay more taxes." He was warmly applauded.

Well done, Dawn, Eric, Deb, and all!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Civics 101

Somebody please get the Secretary of Education a copy of the U.S. Constitution, and read him Article 1!

In K-12 education, the President will propose a $4 billion increase, including the previously announced $1.35 billion request to make Race to the Top a permanent program. Of that increase, $1 billion would be made available through a budget amendment when Congress completes an ESEA reauthorization consistent with the President’s plan.
Did you get that last part? He's got it right at first--the President "will propose" funding--but then loses it at the end. Congress appropriates funds. The President does not appropriate funds. Therefore, the Executive Branch cannot make available (not even in the passive voice) funds through a budget amendment or any other way. And Congress can choose to reauthorize ESEA when and how it wants to, education funding or not.

Separation of powers, anyone?

A Teacher Remembers J.D. Salinger

I'm pleased to share with you this post from Bill Schechter, honoring two men we've lost this week.

The deaths of Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger removed from the planet two men–and two minds–that I relied on during my 35-year career as a high school history teacher.

Passages and quotations from Zinn's People's History were sprinkled throughout my 20th Century course. Meanwhile, in my Postwar America class, I would assign Catcher in the Rye as part of a discussion about the immediate post-WWll years. We would have wonderful arguments about whether the book was intended as an evocation of a typical "lost' adolescent or as a critique of postwar American culture. One year, I decided we had to step out of the book and onto the streets that Holden had walked during his runaway days in New York. And so began the tradition of "The New York Trip in Search of Kerouac & Caulfield." After a few Kerouac stops, we'd catch up with Holden at the Museum of National History, by that giant war canoe and later by the display case with the Native American woman of naked breast fame. We'd stop, pull out the book, and read the pertinent passages, all the while watching those New York school kids on their field trips, holding hands. and looking just as if they had fallen out of one of the pages. Then it was down to the Duck Pond in Central Park, and, as we left the city that night, we'd stop at Grand Central where Holden had come into the city from Pencey Prep. Into the rush hour madness we ran for a group picture at that iconic gold clock-topped information kiosk.

Oh, I almost forgot. We also paid a visit to the Central Park carousel with its "nutty music." We'd stand outside and read aloud from that touching scene where Holden waits for his sister, "Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield," to complete her ride on the carousel and have her chance to grab the gold ring. When we closed the book, fifty stressed-out Lincoln-Sudbury students would run to get a place on the wooden horses, so that they too could have a ride and rediscover the days of innocent and carefree youth.

I'm so sorry President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

There was no standardized testing on this day. No "assessments." No "accountability." No wayto tell what or how much they learned. No, there was only the sublime.

Anyway, so where do the ducks go?

When an increase feels like a cut

The Quick and the Ed has a bit more on the federal budget, pointing out that, post stimulus, a bump up in funding could well end up feeling like a cut:

When the stimulus bill passed, everyone knew that the state fiscal stabilization funding was certainly a one-time occurrence, and that states should thank the federal government for the funds, and spend it wisely on one-time things. Many in the education community felt differently about the $13 billion in Title I funds and $12.2 billion in special education funding in the stimulus package. This funding was also technically one-time funding, but there was immediately speculation as to whether some of this funding would effectively become the new base for those two programs. Assuming that this funding was spread over the 2009 and 2010 federal fiscal years, that would mean that schools were spending $12.5 billion more Title I and special education funding in 2010 than was officially in the 2010 budget.

Ed Week says that the President’s new budget will increase education spending by 6.2 percent on a $63.7 billion base. I am not sure where the $63.7 billion comes from. A quick look at the 2010 Budget shows:

Total discretionary appropriations – $63.7 billion
Title I $15.9
Special education $12.6
School Improvement $5.2

But, these numbers do not include any of the Title I and special education stimulus funds. I am assuming that the Title I and special education stimulus funds did in fact not get folded into the education base budget as many in the education community originally hoped, and that there may be a fiscal cliff coming instead of a large increase.

I'm not as sanguine as what "everyone knew" about the fiscal stabilization; the other part of what was clear about it was that it was to "stabilize." In Worcester, as in many other communities, this meant, in part, that we didn't need to layoff teachers last January.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


And you think that I rant!

Oh, and read this one, too.

State budget

I've only got a bit of preliminary information on the state budget, released yesterday, but I thought it worth passing on:

  • The state is fully funding ch. 70 to the foundation levels.
  • The state is funding education this year through state money (not, like last year, federal stimulus money)
  • as we discovered Tuesday, the governor is providing funds for a commission to study adequacy in education funding
  • regional transportation is down by 55% of FY10
  • the special ed circuit breaker is down to $135 million (from over $200 million in FY09); I guarantee you'll hear more on this one.
I'll post more as I have it!

Attorney General is looking into Gloucester

The controversy around the approval of a charter school in Gloucester isn't going away:
Ferrante told the News Service she is awaiting word from the mayor's office
to determine whether the city, the local school committee, or the taxpayers
have standing to sue. Word should come by next week, she said.

Ferrante, Tarr and Sullivan, a former Democratic state lawmaker, urged the
board to rescind the school's charter, adding that if members felt - as
several have contended - that they lack the legal standing to do so, that
they consult the attorney general for an advisory opinion. Board chair Maura
Banta indicated that the board had no intention to make a decision on
referring the matter to the attorney general.

After the meeting, Chester told the News Service the board had already
received outside counsel's opinion that they had no authority to revoke the
charter. Asked why there was no push to seek the attorney general's opinion,
Chester added, "I think the vast majority of the board members here don't
feel they need to know the answer to that question. They're satisfied with
the charter that's been authorized."

Reville told the News Service he'd be open to the attorney general's opinion
but that even if the board has authority to revoke the charter, most board
members appeared to feel "satisfied" with the approval process.

Coakley, during an appearance Monday on WGBH's "Greater Boston," volunteered
the Gloucester school as a topic her office is involved in now that she's
back from the U.S. Senate campaign trail. "Were right back in, with things
up in Gloucester, charter school issues, there's a lot of stuff going on
that I'm happy to get back to," she said.
(sorry, this is from State House News, which requires a subscription to sign in)

It also appears, o readers who are on boards themselves, that the BoE engaged in "serial communication" in which how one person would vote was communicated to others, thus violating the open meeting law.

Update on Belmont St

The Belmont Street Community kids are back today.
I know a lot of you are asking what you can do to help. Beyond what I've posted below (and no, there isn't a list yet; I've asked!), you might also be interested in a fundraiser, hosted by city and state officials next week:
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Coral Seafood
5:30 to 7:30 pm

The event is free; there will be food, music, and a silent auction; donations are welcomed.

Eight years later...

Post on how NCLB has changed the culture of schools:

You might argue that creating a high-stakes environment based around testing is essential for these failing schools. But that assumes that 1) these schools have been failing mainly because a lack of effort and 2) the high-stakes culture benefits the students. Both assumptions are false, but still they allow the general degredation of public schools and the educators who work in them.
Recall, by the way, that Massachusetts entered the test prep earlier; we've been doing MCAS since the graduating class of 2001, who took the exam as sophomores.

You want liveblogging?

Wow. Here's GothamSchools liveblog of Tuesday's/Wednesday's NINE HOUR meeting of the NYC Panel for Educational Policy on the closure of 19 NYC schools. The meeting finished at 3:30 am!

Federal funds for FY11

As the Obama administration has proposed a freeze on federal funds (with some exceptions) for the next several years, there's been some stirring in education circles about if this includes education programs like Title I.

It looks like it doesn't. The Washington Post reports:

To grease the legislative wheels, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, the administration will reserve $1 billion to fund programs that may emerge through a revision of the 2002 law. In addition, he said, President Obama is proposing to raise elementary and secondary education spending by $3 billion in the fiscal year that begins in October.
As Education Week points out, "But $1 billion would be contingent on Congress passing a reauthorization of the ESEA. That's highly unusual, as Duncan acknowledged on the call."

In addition to that clash--recall, after all, that Congress, not the President, holds the purse strings--the Post points out that state revenues are declining, and there's a growing need from states for federal aid:

Prominent education advocates said they welcomed more funding. But state budgets, which account for far more of education spending than the federal share, are under enormous pressure because of declining tax revenue. There is huge demand for federal aid for special education and programs for the disadvantaged. And Obama is pushing a raft of initiatives on charter schools, teacher performance pay and other issues.

"Obviously, you're no longer talking about a freeze, and that's moving in the right direction," said Joel Packer, director of the Committee for Education Funding, which represents dozens of education groups. "But there are still going to be a lot of unmet needs that education advocates are going to be working with Congress to try to address."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

District response to Belmont Street vandalism

...and what you can do to help.

The plan is up, and the district is surrounding Belmont Street with lots of support and celebration tomorrow as the kids come back. If you want to help out, you can do two things:
  1. Send a check made out to Worcester Public Schools, attn. Brian Allen to 20 Irving Street, 01609.
  2. Wait until the end of today, when the list of what the teachers need donated goes up on the school website. Those donations will be coordinated by Jeffrey Mulqueen.
And thank you in advance!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kids outside during the winter

Councilor Eddy pointing out that kids last week were outside during the bomb threat at Doherty for over an hour. They're supposed to be transfered to another facility (in this case WPI) if they're out for more than 30 minutes.

He wants the Mayor to get together with the security, police, superintendent to go over protocols for this.

Fundraising for Belmont Street

Councilor Palmieri is addressing the City Council now under suspension, speaking of the community leaders pulling together to fundraise for the school (again, more coming on this).

He is also asking that a group raise money for a reward for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the vandalism. He is pulling together this effort, hoping

Councilor Toomey speaking of the wish list for Belmont Street which will be on the WPS website (there will also be an article in tomorrow's paper).

Request for a detailed list of how much was destroyed and also a question about what insurance does and does not cover from Councilor Petty. Petty stands to point out that the building was alarmed.

Councilor Lukes wonders what security measures they have, requesting a report, referencing that cameras were not working.

A bunch of these are referred to the superintendent.

Legal funding

are there any means avaliable for saving money on the system's use of legal?
last year was about $200,000
previous years was about $150,000, but we're in negotiations which requires outside counsel
The short answer is no, there really isn't, and much of what is done by legal saves us plenty of other money.

Wind turbines

wind turbines at schools?
we'd need more data to understand if this would work for us
Holy Name has had a 150,000 KWH/year shortfall from what was expected

City is evaluating appropriate sites through ESCO

sites studied (question from Novick): Worcester Tech. They looked at South, but it won't work.

Five year bus contract

bus contract
bids opened on Jan 8

recommend reg ed awarded to Durham
recommend rebid on sped: believe we can get more competitive prices through a rebid

studying doing midsize sped in-house (then contracting out wheelchairs)
rebid then with two options (one with midsize, one without)
award to Durham for regular ed
rebid for sped

question from Mrs. Mullaney: do we look at alternative means of transportation for athletic teams to save money?
it doesn't happen often that we need smaller vehicles, and they or we don't save money


self-insurance fund: timely item

City is not interested in self-insuring buildings; would take too long to see any gains
self-insurance has saved us $5 million since FY03, $700,000 a year
there would be no savings by purchasing building insurance; the City does insure several of their high-cost buildings
WPS has so many buildings, that adding school buildings onto the city insurance doesn't save money (than if we just bought insurance ourselves)
annual premium quotes of $220,000 to $245,000 with LIMITED coverage ($250 million a year)

recommend staying with self-insurance

question from Foley on where we would put students if we had a catastrophic failure; emergency support from city?
Yes, we'd need it
should some of our newer buildings be insured? Foley asks
perhaps we look at buildings that the city still has bonds on, requote based on that

Advertising on school buses

advertising on school buses?

Three concerns from admin:
1. content
2. legal challenges on content restrictions
3. safety consequences
"unique features" of school buses make them particularly noticable to drivers
contract with bus vendor does not cover this issue

state allowed it, then outlawed it, and now is establishing a commission to study it again
has this study come back? Is this bill still alive? Mullaney asks

motion to file
(This means that we are doing nothing with it, for those who might be concerned.)

FY10 budget update

One of the biggest responsibilities of the former Business, now FO committee is a quarterly update of the current year budget.

FY10 budget update (as of Dec. 31, 2009)
30.7% of the budget has been expended so far this year (teachers get paid through the summer, which counts on this fiscal year, which is why we've spent 30% of the budget at 50% of the year)

saved money on final actuarial study from city $386,000

lower sped tuitions $350,000--placements that didn't happen
cooler than usual summer; warmer than usual winter= savings on utilities

more outside legal (sped and regular legal) than past years; collective bargaining up (which costs money for the attornies who negotiate)

Health insurance (we hired a few more teachers) and we have less grant funding

plant maintenance (that fat, oil, grease ordinance from the city)

day-by-day substitutes; we assumed a vacancy factor, but it has not panned out this year (or last, come to that)

unemployment comp has been extended by fed and state; we aren't being reimbursed for this.
So far it's $127, 136 over

Have not spent fiscal stabilization funds so far this year ($15.9 million), asks Foley; how are we doing this?
State has not yet gotten the money from the fed; they're supposed to get them during the third quarter, and can spend them retroactively if needed, back to July 1 of this past year.

"worker's comp is the School Committee's snow account", says Foley

Power to Save program through National Grid

National Grid "Power to Save" program : improves energy performance plus curriculum
if the city doesn't continue with Honeywell, we could do this with National Grid, but as it is, this is on a backburner

Finance and Operations Standing Committee: Hancock and adequacy study

Hancock case (item is from 2007) being filed.
While the S2247 did not include an adequacy study (it includes a report from the Commissioner at the end of 2011), the Governor's budget DOES include $250,000 for one for next year.

This is big news! While the Legislature periodically does call for an adequacy study, getting one actually funded has been a challenge. The governor's budget doesn't formally come out until next Wednesday, but parts of it come out piecemeal ahead. This is one piece--a study of whether or not the existing foundation formula is adequate for the education of a child in Massachusetts--that we need to push to keep in the budget as it goes through the Legislature.

Belmont goes back

The teachers at Belmont Street are going back tomorrow (Wednesday); students are coming back on Thursday.

Donations are still being fleshed out within administration.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Finance and Operations

The first standing committee meeting of the new School Committee is tomorrow afternoon: Finance and Operations (which was Business, but now includes School Plant) meets tomorrow, with an impressive 83 page agenda.

(there's a lot in the backup)

On the agenda: the second quarter update, opening the bus contract bids, and a question regarding reopening the Hancock case (that last is equitable funding for education; watch it!).

Destruction at Belmont Street Community School

By now you may have seen this at Daily Worcesteria or the T&G; in case you have not, over the weekend, vandals broke into Belmont Street Community School and destroyed a great deal.
Damages included broken glass strewn throughout the building, broken trophy cases and computer monitors, paint on the floors, cereal and milk thrown around the cafeteria and water damage from running faucets.
I don't know much more than what is here, other than Worcester is self-insured, so we pay for this, and it isn't going to be cheap.
School at Belmont Street is canceled for tomorrow. The kids left the building at 10 today for Worcester Tech, from where they were dismissed.

UPDATE: They're asking that people stay away from the building--which is a crime scene, after all--and there is an effort by the administration to coordinate the offers of help coming in. Stay tuned!

This is what closing schools looks like (cont)

Here's another round from NYC on the school closings.

One of the most vexing aspects of this administration’s frenzy to close schools is its absolute willingness to accept and propagate explanations like this one. While the much-ballyhooed statistics are outrageous and inaccurate, it appears true that no one’s actually planning to bulldoze Jamaica High School, as far as I know. Of course, that’s only as far as I know.

Still, even if the building will remain, does that mean residents will still get what they’ve always gotten? Right now, if you live in Jamaica, you have the option of attending Jamaica High School. That would certainly change once Chancellor Klein places new schools in the building and stops admitting new kids to Jamaica High School.

This probably doesn’t much worry politicians. For one thing, highly publicized school closings tend to take the spotlight away from the spectacular failures of administration. Queens high schools are short 33,000 seats, and Jamaica’s neighbor, Francis Lewis High School, is already massively overcrowded. While the state and city make grand public gestures about school closings, they’re doing nothing of substance to address the space issue.

If new schools were truly the panacea they’re made out to be, they’d embrace troublesome, learning disabled and non-English speaking students, and magically make them graduate in four years no matter what. In practice, such students are far more likely to be sent to endangered comprehensive high schools. In the case of Beach Channel, it seems to have been sent the toughest of Far Rockaway’s kids even before Far Rockaway closed. After its closure, the trend continued, leading many to ask whether Beach Channel was set up for failure. Does anyone really believe newly created schools will embrace these kids? More likely, they’ll load up remaining neighborhood schools with them, causing even more closures.

Expect to hear more on this.
Many of the critics see the closing as emblematic of what they do not like about Bloomberg's education policies: what they see as an over-reliance on numbers, a failure to consult with the community and neglect of some of the system's most challenging students. With the mayor seen as having lost some of his luster -- and with a new teachers' union president whose rhetoric, if not action, is more combative than that of his predecessor -- teachers, parents and some elected officials have been willing and even eager to speak out.

That's a few more zeros...

Putting Worcester's numbers in perspective (nationally): New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is warning that NYC may have to layoff 8500 teachers next year.


And if you wonder if people still think the MCAS isn't the best idea'll want to read Tamar Meiksin.
(note that twice the state has had reports calling into question the very basis of the MCAS, and twice has ignored them.)

And I'm going to bring Children Left Behind to Worcester sometime this spring.

How transparent is RTTT?

I got this link through my reader this weekend: the sentence sent along is "The grant process for this historic $4 billion program has been strengthened to ensure maximum integrity and transparency."

No, it isn't you: the link gives you a 404 error.

Darkly ironic when you consider this article from Ed Week on the identity of the judges of the applications, or rather, the lack thereof, as their names are not being released:

The rationale for not releasing the names, according to spokesman Justin Hamilton: "Race to the Top peer reviewers should be able to conduct their work without having to worry about inappropriate pressure, lobbying, or other attempts to influence the competition. To protect both the peer reviewers and the contest, we will release their names in April after their work is done."

Is the department afraid the judges will be inundated with fruit baskets, free tickets, and other tools of bribery?

As this is the same DoE that was presenting "panels of experts" that were employed by those with most to financially gain from this process, let's say that some of us are not sanguine that these are well-vetted experts.

Oh, and you can find the transparency link here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gifted? Talented? Bell to bell?

Or another option.

Under suspension

Yes, somebody's been to too many City Council meetings, where anything can happen under suspension...

Novick: mention of the 32 annual Valentine contest sponsored by the Worcester Historical Museum. Kids in grades 3-6 in WPS or those who hold a Worcester Public Library card can enter. Entries are due January 29 at 4pm at the Museum.

More info (including rules of entry) here.

You should enter!

School lunch

School lunch programs: free/reduced lunch comparison to paid lunches
we're an award winning program: involvement of Wellness Group
admin recommends that it go to Business and Operations
(I think she's asking if we lose money on free and reduced lunch?)
reimbursement of free and reduced lunch and actual cost (from O'Connell)

The timing on this is interesting, by the way, because today the local Mass in Motion group met today and had what I hear was a stellar presentation from the WPS school nutrition program. We use local produce, we've been going above and beyond in training our people to process (so we don't send our chicken to Tyson to be made into patties), and we've been bargaining with our milk people to get HFCS out of our flavored milk.


AVID program:how increased funding has increased student opportunity
Boone highlights an item that came through earlier this year on AVID, which answered a bunch of these questions already
end of year report on expansion due to increased funding (from outside sources)

Superintendent visits

Miss Biancheria is requesting that the superintendent visit schools.
Superintendent introduce herself and visit schools
"including opportunities for students and staff"
report at end of 60 days at schools visited
Boone:"not only attending during the school day" but events at night
says she will continue to report where she's been in her weekly letter to members
superintendent's Open Door Nights, by quadrant, moving forward
not to intrude on instruction happening in classroom, either
attend professional development for our teachers

We're going to have breakfast

...with the Legislative delegation
(here's a fun thing: as a quorum of the School Committee will be present, it will be posted as a public meeting. I wonder where we do that?)

The Superintendent urges School Committee members to get in touch regarding their priorities for the Legislative delegation.

A series of suggestions from Mr. O'Connell

Some research and suggestions from Mr. O'Connell this evening:

  • Ed Reform act forbids tracking but allows "abililty grouping" concerns from Fordham Institute about "detracked" students
  • Diplomas Now: does it duplicate what we already have? might it help out?
  • National certification of principals (by National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for 2011, 'though I can find no mention of certifying principals on the site)
  • minimize intrusions and interruptions inflicted on classroom teachers and on instructional time

Responses to the City Council

The communications last night to Council were as a result of the joint meeting of School Committee and City Council on November 10. At that meeting, Councilor Clancy asked a series of questions. These are the responses from the administration (you can find them in the attachments to last night's agenda).

college partnership list (made in December)

programs that provide services to CoW that are part of the curriculum

plans for set aside of stabilization funds

new Charter Schools: $3.4 mil first year; $6 mil after several years

reform efforts within budget of WPS

busing kids from WRTA: O'Connell stands to respond: question of bargaining for transporation for students (please include history from admin)

Improving student scores

Congratulations to:
Jacob Hiatt Magnet
May Street
Columbus Park Prep
Tantuck Magnet
Belmont Street Community
Rice Square

They are among the 36 schools in the state making "significant gains for Limited English Proficiency students" (on the MCAS).

Questions from the members on ILT

question on bell-to-bell teaching...never a moment that there isn't something to do
how do you get buy in?
"buy in is critical":shared leadership model; by consensus, decisions are made
"nearly every grade and subject is represented" at Clark Street this year
bell work on board once the kid walks in, 20 minute presentation, then differentiated instruction, then review (in each period in each subject)

what are we doing with pre-K, kindergarten, grade 1?
Dibels (formative assessment)letters, reading words per minute, letter and sound recognition
PTO very involved: parents asked to bring a writing prompt to family involvement
double dosing of English and math in middle school? Yes(last year eliminated two English positions and added two math)

creating on improved working conditions for faculty
"now the schools are becoming more cohesive"across grade levels-everyone getting a sense of where the school needs to move
(from teachers presenting)"I can find where the good work is going on"
have someone who is not an evaluator come in and "hone the craft" has been very helpful

"clear focus in teaming and collaborating"
asking if community partners have been involved in getting the focus through the school
Yes, though it varies (Forest Grove doesn't have a community partner per se)

How are ILT's initially set up?
volunteering, cajoling, donuts (!)
what data are we using?
some in house at Clark St, along with MAP, MCAS, Dibles
balance of reflection & introspection with bell-to-bell instruction?
"gives more time" says Boone

Presentation on Instruction Leadership Teams

WPS improvement strategy from the Instructional Leadership Teams
Focus on Results aligning instuction with data
Jeff Mulqueen introducing....Mark Williams and Marie Morse (principals of Forest Grove & Clark Street School, respectively)
Clark Street:
12 members of team @ Clark St: "what do we do well and what don't we do well"
reading critically to respond well in writing ("We read. We write. We learn.") : the kids pledge each day
sharing of ideas does not yield competition between teachers; horizontal and vertical
"data-driven assessments and data-driven.."
exemplars and rubrics
8 am ILT meeting in the library tomorrow

Forest Grove:
reading comprehension
Wristbands, skits, dances, cheers
"Focus on Reading Comprehension Everywhere" (yielding, yes, FORCE)
printed on agendas, newsletters, ConnectED
bell to bell teaching, Cornell notes, and short answer prep
32 different staff members have presented to the faculty
representing district at Focus on Results conference in Pasadena

Boone: break down some of the mystery
observe how the culture shifts when there is collective ownership
sustainable for improving student achievement
"less is more" theory; the less we focus on, the better we do at that.

The belated, very-not-liveblog of School Committee

(but you all read Jackie Reis's article on the meeting last night, already, right? If you haven't, you should, just in case you wonder if covering the education beat in Worcester might cause one to lose one's sense of humor.)

National Anthem from Quadrivium, being honored tonight before they go to Carnegie Hall
Quadrivium is the award-winning chorus from Burncoat High School
"community service through music"

Parent/Guardian Roundtable

Just a reminder that the Parent/Guardian Roundtable for Worcester Public Schools is coming up next Saturday, January 30 from 9:30-11:30 am.

A Morning of Listening

and Learning from

each other on behalf

of our children

The Citywide Parent Planning Advisory Committee (CPPAC)* welcomes parents/ guardians from every school in the Worcester Public School District** to come and share ideas and learn from each other. Come and be:

Ø Inspired

Ø Heard

Ø Informed

Ø An Agent of Change

Together we can make a difference for our children and our children’s schools.

Please register or request more information with Dawn at 508-791-9277 or

Translation will be provided. Light refreshments will be served. Child care provided.

School Committee notes, coming up!

But in the meantime, here's a column that caught my eye this morning, on the drive to standardize and what it does to real learning:

In one district where I served briefly as a consultant, the first question asked by the writing committee was what rate of failure would be tolerated by the community. That question lurks just below the surface of the current push for national standards. It is hard to shake off the suspicion that, in order to show the world how advanced our standards are, some kids (perhaps many) will fail. If they do not, the standards will be considered too low and will be raised. Inevitably, some students will fail.

Advocates of national standards object that it is not their intention for children to fail. All kids will have better opportunities; the object is to leave no child behind. How will this be done? By generously insisting that all kids, regardless of interests or aptitudes, will take the standard academic subjects and be prepared for college. Some even argue that preparation for college and preparation for work should be identical. Pointing out the foolishness of this contention is material for another essay. Here, I want to concentrate on what our efforts in this direction have produced so far.

Students all over the country are now forced to take algebra and geometry. The result has been a proliferation of pseudo-courses in these subjects. I’ve observed these classes, and watched students plod through meaningless exercises manipulating meaningless symbols. As a former high school math teacher, this makes me angry. We could be teaching these kids some mathematics that would be useful in their present and future lives. Instead, we are engaged in pedagogical fraud. Many students who graduate from high school with “algebra” and “geometry” on their transcripts are disheartened to learn that they must start their college work with pre-algebra.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Another take on Brown

Here's someone else's take on Brown:
...if Brown’s election represents a widespread backlash to big government, and in particular big, costly federal government, then this expanded federal role in education could be washed away along with universal health care.

Education and prosperity

Deb Meier:

Claiming that higher test scores and more diplomas will lead to prosperity is a sleight of hand for which well-educated reporters should not fall. The assumption that if twice as many people get a B.A. an M.A. or a Ph.D., twice as many higher-paying jobs will appear is a colossal fraud. But even more shameful is the assumption that knowing "right answers" on a standardized test is a way to judge even future employees, much less future citizens.
Read it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brown on education

So, we're sending Scott Brown off to Washington. What are his positions on education?
I grabbed this off of his website:

I am passionate about improving the quality of our public schools. Accountability and high standards are paramount. I support choice through charter schools, as well as the MCAS exam as a graduation requirement. I have worked to ensure that all children have access to a quality education. I am a strong advocate for the METCO program, which provides lower income students with broader educational opportunities.

So, what does that mean?

The first two sentences are basically political boilerplate: everyone wants to improve the quality of our schools, and everyone favors "accountability and high standards." Those two words have been used to support everything from standardized testing to school closures to increased funding (and I'll bet you can find them on nearly everyone's website, too). Charters are pretty broadly supported right now (recall that the Democratic president has the same position). Support for MCAS isn't a big surprise: it came in under a Republican governor ('though this had nothing to do with Brown, as he wasn't elected to office yet), and has bipartisan support in Massachusetts. Supporting METCO (especially in a year when communities are going to struggle to pay for it) is a big plus, particularly if he backs it up with money.

From here, I tracked down his voting record (slim; I take it he didn't vote on the Ed Reform bill? I guess it was during the campaign). We get that he opposed (with, it looks like, the Republicans in the Senate) the reorganization that happened when Governor Patrick came into office.

I also haven't found any public statements he's made on education.

He hasn't taken the Political Courage test.

He served on the Education committee.

I think this boils down to someone for whom this hasn't been a core issue (and I don't, by the way, think that this would be much difference with Martha Coakley). I wonder if that will change in Washington, or if his focus will be elsewhere?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Compounding error

Unfortunately, it appears that neither President Obama nor his education secretary read their hometown newspaper which over the weekend headlined a scathing report on Renaissance 2010, which has morphed into Race to the Top...

...because now they'd like to extend Race to the Top.

The states have only just sent in their applications, not one iota of evidence that this has resulted in a better educational system has been collected, but it is already "a successful venture that [they want] to expand"? Have we collectively lost our minds?

It seems not, if you dig far enough into today's New York Times. While the headlines are about the forty states that have applied, the news is different at the local level (you know, where education actually takes place?).

Thousands of school districts in California, Ohio and other states have declined to participate, and teachers’ unions in Michigan, Minnesota and Florida have recommended that their local units not sign on to their states’ applications. Several rural states, including Montana, have said they will not apply, at least for now, partly because of the emphasis on charter schools, which would draw resources from small country schools.

And Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said last week that his state would not compete for the $700 million that the biggest states are eligible to win in the $4 billion program, known as Race to the Top, calling it an intrusion on states’ rights.

What will be worth watching is if this increases or decreases as the changes of Race to the Top hit the states.

If you're in Massachusetts...


Monday, January 18, 2010

What the Governor signed today: CORRECTED

Today Governor Patrick signed the Ed bill that came flying through the House and Senate last week. I've been waiting to get something more than a summary; now that it's finally up (the Ed bill link, above, takes you to what came out of conference committee, all 73 pages of it), here's what is in it:

  • School districts and/or charter schools can form educational collaboratives for the purposes of purchasing and/or education (Wiser heads than mine: what's the change here? We've already got educational collaboratives.) That's all Section 1 and 2.
  • The commissioner can deem schools chronically underperforming, according to standards (of which there must be multiple measures; keep an eye on that!) created by the Board of Ed and sent to the Ed subcommittee of the Legislature which may hold hearings on it and make changes (watch that one!). Schools have to have had 2 or more consecutive years of not making progress before they are deemed underperforming. Once that happens, the superintendent convenes a group of stakeholders to create a turnaround plan. That plan has to address not only academic performance, but also social service, child welfare, health and other "wraparound" needs of students.
  • There's an exhaustive list on page 10 of what the superintendent can include in the turnaround plan. It includes things like changing the length of day or year, changing the budget, requiring teachers to reapply for positions, creating common planning time, adding kindergarten, suspending parts of the teachers' contract...
  • the superintendent, within 30 days, submits the plan to the stakeholder group, the school committee and the commissioner. Any may ask for changes. Within 30 days of that, the superintendent comes out with a final plan. Within 30 days of that, the union or any school committee member may apply to the commissioner for further change.
  • among the changes made can be turning a school over to an "outside receiver."
  • the turnaround plan has to be reviewed annually. Changes can be made to the plan if it appears not to be working.
  • underperforming or chronically underperforming schools with a significant population of limited English proficiency students may create a "limited English proficiency parental advisory council" (let's watch how that one plays out)
  • the Commissioner has to report to the Legislature annually on how all this is playing out
  • And DESE figures out how a school gets out of chronically underperforming or underperforming status; they can leave in place various measures even after the label has been removed
  • a district can also be deemed underperforming, and the above all also applies to districts: stakeholder group, turnaround plan, parts of the plan, annual review, etc. And so ends Section 3!
  • a district may make a good faith effort to sell extra school space to charter schools (the verb matters)
  • Section 5 is the flag part: schools now must teach flag etiquette
  • A town can vote to get out of a union to participate in an innovation school (Section 6)
  • Section 7 is the charter school section. Among the changes to former state law: charter schools now will be provided with the names and addresses of all current public school students in the district UNLESS PARENTS REQUEST THEIR CHILD'S NAME BE OMITTED (I'll find out who one opts out through);
  • districts with the lowest 10% of student performance may spend up to 18% of their budget on charter schools (that means charter schools will double in the cities);
  • charter schools must have a plan to "attract, enroll, and maintain" a comparable population of ELL, special ed, and low income students to the district(s) they serve; if a charter school ends up with 20% or more students from a district not included in the original charter, their charter must be amended; charter schools must update their numbers with the district by April 1 (for the following year);
  • charter schools can now be given building assistance funds by the state; charter students requiring out-of-district special ed services will have those services paid for by the district; transportation to and from school is provided by the district
  • Innovation schools are run by the district, but with "increased autonomy and flexibility." They may have differences in curriculum, budget, calendar, staffing policies, district policies, and professional development. It can be a new school or a conversion of an existing school. The "innovation plan" can be developed by an outside group, or by faculty and leadership (there's a list on page 63). A screening committee (superintendent, member of school committee, member of union) will review submited applications. An innovation plan committee will create an innovation plan for those approved. There can be a public hearing at this point, and then the School Committee votes on the innovation school. (this incidentally is where some of the state's Race to the Top money may go, as the Commissioner is given responsibility for giving grants for this).
  • And now the amendments: it's 12% (up from 9%) for next year, and then goes up by 1% a year until 2017, when it hits the 18% of net school spending. This still allows for double charters for next year (this is the correction)
  • the Legislature wants to know what DESE is doing with Race to the Top funds
  • the state needs a policy on how to place kids (by grade level) who leave charter schools for district schools
  • even current charter schools have to have a retention plan for the 2011-2012 year
  • districts will be reimbursed for charters 100% the first year, 60% the second year, and 40% the final year (I know that isn't what it said anywhere else, but that's what it says in the bill; check page 71)
  • regional transportation can't be cut by more than Ch.70 is cut in any given year
  • the Legislature wants a report on the current state of education in the Commonwealth to be filed with them by December 31,2011.
  • And they want the Commissioner to report to them by January 1, 2011.
As of this morning, it's the law of the Commonwealth. Keep an eye on it!

Model for Race to the Top not improving education in Chicago

The Chicago Tribune has done an in-depth look at Renaissance 2010 and what it's done for Chicago public schools. You'll remember that current Education Secretary Arne Duncan was Chicago's CEO prior to taking the federal job, and he's basing Race to the Top on Chicago's Renaissance 2010 model...

...which isn't improving education in Chicago.
Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to improve the educational performance of the city's school system, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.
Scores from the elementary schools created under Renaissance 2010 are nearly identical to the city average, and scores at the remade high schools are below the already abysmal city average, the analysis found.

Why should you care?

The architect of Renaissance 2010, former schools CEO Arne Duncan, is now the U.S. Secretary of Education -- and he's taking the Daley-Duncan model national as part of his Race to the Top reform plan.

Duncan is using an unprecedented $4.35 billion pot of money to lure states into building education systems that replicate key Ren10 strategies. The grant money will go to states that allow charter schools to flourish and to those that experiment with turning around failing schools -- all part of the Chicago reform.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Program Quality Assurance Review

(or PQA Review)
You've probably seen many bloggers say that they are only as good as their readers. Here's another example of that. I didn't even know the state did this, let alone ever read a report, and so thanks to Lisa for sending it to me!

The state comes out and visits each district to check their compliance with state and federal law around special education, English language learners, civil rights, and vocational education. Then they write up a report. You can find the master list of reports here. Worcester's is here.

And what does it say on what we're doing? Let me emphasize first that there are plenty of things we're doing as we should.
Here's a list of what we need to work on, according to the state:

  • Under special ed: keeping students in the "least restrictive environment;" following procedures surrounding IEP's (having them implemented and available); communications with home being in English and primary language spoken at home; procedures around out-of-district placement; equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities; and facilities (specifically, from the notes, the isolation of special ed classrooms within buildings seems to be a problem). Also, review of student records; the completion of summaries in written reports; regular ed teachers' attendance at IEP meetings; amendment of IEPs not being done according to regulation; completely filled out IEP's (particularly, again from notes, for students of limited English proficiency, emotional disturbance, or particular ages); age range (all kids in one classroom must be within 4 years of each other); consideration of behavioral needs;
  • Under civil rights: not all students receiving English Language development (and so don't have access to all programs); pregnant students having access to full range of programs (not having PE prohibited, for example); translation of all documents and oral translation not avaliable in all needed languages; PE not required for all students in high school; guidance and counseling available for students in the language they understand; not letting kids who have not completed high school know of programs avaliable to them; staff not trained on physical restraint within a month of employment
  • Under English language learner: not initially identifying all ELL students and having them assessed by qualified staff; students who are sent to the safety center do not have their IEPs implemented; not providing sufficient translation at IEP and related meetings; monitoring of out-of-districts placement not clear in records; pattern of removal not being considered grounds for a manifestation determination; access of ELL students to special ed services not across the board; concern over the amount of and access to lab time and the curriculum district-wide; facilities for pullout services are inadequate
  • Under voc/tech: career assessments of students not always given in their first year; a question of completeness of some compency checklists; program of studies for tech studies needed; translation of admissions policies for Tech school; concern with ELL avaliablity at Tech; admission at Tech*; representation of appropriate industries on advisory boards at Tech; Career plans missing planned academic courses; programs in some areas not aligned with frameworks or with academic courses, missing technological knowledge; linkage with formal apprenticeship programs and assessment of cooperative education; publication of financial assistance for needed clothes, tools, etc, not publicized adequately; career assistance in non-traditional gender careers; licensure and safety issues; not meeting performance level of 70% for positive placement under Chapter 74; missing student documentation
The superintendent's office should, according to the state, have a written response. I'll ask for it and post what I find.

*"Interviews and documentation review indicated that Worcester Technical High School is using an admissions policy and application that were not approved by the Department. Exploratory assessment forms used to determine which students are admitted to the program of their choice sometimes included teacher comments that were subjective and instructions for the final selection process advised students to speak with the teacher in their first choice program to find out if they would be admitted to the shop before they filled out their program selection form. Some interviews indicated that teachers can refuse to admit particular students to their program. There is no rubric for scoring the exploratory assessment nor has there been any training or guidance provided to technical teachers. Most recruitment materials including the admissions policy for Worcester Technical High School are not translated into the primary language of parents in the community. The student handbook supplement for Worcester Technical High School requires students and parents to sign a contract agreeing to voluntary removal from the school if the student violates any provision of the contract."

Ed Reform coming out of committee: UPDATE

It looks like the Ed Reform bill is coming back to the floor(s) today, though not without another technical glitch:
The legislation, however, could run into a technical glitch today that could bar it from being considered. The compromise committee missed a deadline last night to file the bill with the Senate clerk’s office in time for it to be taken up today, because the committee was negotiating changes. That means two-thirds of members in each chamber will have to waive the rule before debating the bill.

The biggest news for Worcester? It includes the Senate version of the charter cap, which means it jumps to double in Worcester for next year.

UPDATE at 4:30: The Senate just voted 23-11 to pass it.
And I don't have the numbers, but the House has also passed it.

Final MOU numbers from Massachusetts

As of last night (when it was due):

144 school districts
53 charter schools
33 regional school districts
15 vocational schools

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ed Week free this week

Through January 21, you can get all of Ed Week for free

Who holds the purse strings?

A reminder from Ed Week as to who ultimately holds the power of the purse:

No matter what happens, Duncan may run into some trouble getting more money for competitive grant programs if folks in Congress don't like the way he's giving it out, Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, and a former lobbyist for NEA, told me.

"At some point this year, it's going to become clear which states and districts are the winners—and which are the losers," Packer said. And some lawmakers may reconsider whether they want to give a lot of discretionary dollars to Duncan, he added. They might say "hey wait, are we giving too much power to the Secretary of Education?"

Inverse corralation on RTTT

Interesting chart up on Flypaper today on the inverse correlation between strength of proposal and amount of buy-in.
Might it be that the districts don't see a so-called "strong proposal" as being in the best interest of their students?

The Governor visits Worcester

Governor Patrick was in town yesterday to visit University Park Campus School. (It even made his Twitter feed.) He's citing UPCS as an example of the "Innovation Schools" that he has put into the bill currently before the Legislature.


  • Let's first of all remember that UPCS teachers actually operate under the EAW contract. In other words, all that stuff about having to throw the contract out the window? Not necessary.
  • Let's secondly remember that Clark is an amazing partner in this: they throw tons of support towards UPCS (including, but by no means limited to, tuition for those who graduate from UPCS). This is not a small thing.
  • Finally, UPCS is another "buy in" school. For a student to attend UPCS, somebody had to care enough and get enough together to get the kid into that school. There's a commitment involved in having a kid there that isn't true at other schools.

Don't in any way misread me: University Park does great work. Those kids are learning and growing, and (more important) they are enthusiastic about it.
But to suggest that this is a model for education reform, as if one can simply replicate this across the state misses what makes UPCS work: somebody bought in.

We in Worcester--and everyone in public education across the state--educate EVERYBODY: the ones whose parents care, the ones whose parents don't, and the ones whose parents aren't even around. Not every kid has a "buy in" and not every kid buys in himself. He needs an education, nonetheless, and we're responsible for that.
Innovation in education would require recognizing that responsibility, rather than holding up as examplary schools that aren't replicable.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Most of this evening?

We now have a protected tennis court.
And there's a whole slew of sidewalks that are going to be fixed this coming year.


Here's Nicole's post.

oh, but wait!

Councilor Petty has a question, after all...
telecommunications loophole..where are we now?

City Budget

...referred to Finance without comment.
Well, you'll all just have to read it, then.

Clancy wants a list

Councilor Clancy is looking for a list of how much money Section 18 has saved the city.
He also quotes the EAW president as asking what good Section 19 would do if everyone is at 75/25.

A well blogged evening

At Council tonight (where the Councilors are lauding Dr. Leonard Morse, the retiring Commissioner of Public Health), I'm seeing not only my own netbook, and Jeremy's laptop, but also Nicole's (that's a link to the blog in general, as it doesn't look like she has anything up for tonight yet).
Should be a well blogged evening!

City of Worcester budget update

I'll be going to City Council tonight, as City Manager O'Brien is giving an update on the FY11 budget tonight.
I'll blog what needs blogging!

The latest round up

...on RTTT MOU sign-ons in Massachusetts: last night, Amesbury, Malden, Wachusett, Salem, Grafton, Newton, Billerica, and Hull's School Committees all voted 'yes' while North Reading voted 'no.'

The latest MASC tally is 37 yes, 7 no; the state's latest is 37 public districts, 26 charter, 11 regional districts, and 3 vocational districts have signed MOU's.

The most recent question is that of an MOA (a Memorandum of Agreement) proposed by the state teachers' union that some local presidents are requesting superintendents sign before the president will sign the MOU. It extends the legal protection (around contracts) of the MOU.

Debunking the Secretary

And here's what happens when you let loose an English teacher on Secretary Duncan's latest.
He reserves his harshest criticism for reformers’ favorite bogeyman, the twentieth century “factory model” of public education. He complains, for example, that students still “study five subjects a day in timed periods.” Except the five subjects he’s talking about are English, math, science, social studies, and a foreign language or some other elective. It’s unclear which ones he’d like schools to eliminate. As for eliminating schedules, reformers haven’t yet discovered how to materialize an adolescent in two places at once. They do agree that students need longer “block” classes to learn effectively, except when they’re agreeing that students can’t be expected to concentrate on anything for very long.

Kohn on the drive to national standards

Well worth reading is Alfie Kohn on the drive towards national standards:

By the time the century ended, many of us thought we had hit bottom – until the floor gave way and we found ourselves in a basement we didn’t know existed. I’m referring, of course, to what should have been called the Many Children Left Behind Act, which requires every state to test every student every year, judging students and schools almost exclusively by their scores on those tests, and hurting the schools that need the most help. Ludicrously unrealistic proficiency targets suggest that the law was actually intended to sabotage rather than improve public education.

Today we survey the wreckage. Talented teachers have abandoned the profession after having been turned into glorified test-prep technicians. Low-income teenagers have been forced out of school by do-or-die graduation exams. Countless inventive learning activities have been eliminated in favor of prefabricated lessons pegged to numbingly specific state standards.

Worcester's in

The Educational Association of Worcester, in a close vote, chose last night to sign the Race to the Top MOU.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How NOT to make yourself popular during budget cuts

Have not one, but two, cars paid for by the district.
Yes, that would be Chicago.

RTTT around the state

The votes are still rolling in. The last sum I've seen is:
Yes -- 23 districts
No -- 6 districts

(that's from a Mass Association of School Committees very un-official tally.)
I've also heard that both Boston and Springfield are on board.

Hull, Salem, and Grafton School Committees are all voting tonight, and so, of course, is Worcester's teachers' union, the EAW. I'll let you know here if I hear what they've decided...

And in the "we could have told you this" file...

Gym class humiliation can ruin exercise for the rest of your life.
(thanks, Brendan)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Teacher evaluation

The leadership of the LA teachers' union have an editorial in Friday's paper on teacher evaluation.
You might remember that evaluation is part of Race to the Top?
(yes, I thought we were done talking about it for awhile, too. But stay with me here.)

No, for those who are not fans of unions, this isn't a knee-jerk "we hate it" reaction. There are, speaking as a person who's been the one in front of the classroom while there's someone with a clipboard in the back, ideas here that really would improve teaching.
  • Having assessment done by people who are trained in it and have an idea of what it is you're supposed to be doing would be a good start (remarkable, the difference that makes).
  • Formal mentorship (as not everyone has, as I did, a thirty-years-in-the-profession teacher next door who answers to your panicked knock; thank you, Kay-Lee!) makes a huge difference on how well young teachers do and how they improve and if they stay.
  • Stopping "the only way up is out" career path is common sense. Let's keep good teachers in the classroom!
And, for a funnier take than mine, read Mimi's post on this.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ah, the irony (corrected)

The Medicaid reimbursement for schools is falling for FY11 by approximately $3.1 million, as the state government moves from a "bundled" to a "fee for service" plan.
So, do the schools get hit with an additional loss for next year?


The city does.
(see page 3, as, annoyingly, the hyperlink goes only the front page)

Since the city keeps the bulk of the Medicaid reimbursement (as you've heard many times from, particularly, Jack Foley and Brian Allen), the city, not the schools, were planning on this money.
And so it's the city, not the schools, that will take the hit on this.

Advice from "Yes, Minister"

Sir Humphrey: If you want to be really sure that the Minister doesn't accept it, you must say the decision is "courageous".
Bernard: And that's worse than "controversial"?
Sir Humphrey: Oh, yes! "Controversial" only means "this will lose you votes"; "courageous" means "this will lose you the election".

Five things you didn't know about the Worcester School Committee

(because it's past time this week for a frivolous post!)

  1. The School Committee votes for vice-chair (unlike City Council, where the vice-chair is the person who comes in second in the mayoral race) and the election is done during the inaugural ceremonies. But, as my eldest said, "Momma, you didn't all REALLY decide then to ALL vote for Mr. Foley, did you?" No (no fooling her!). There's a straw poll taken at the meeting fifteen minutes before the inauguration starts (close agenda watchers would have seen that here), when the original votes are cast, discussion, if any, is done, and a vice-chair is decided upon. The vote taken on stage, then, is unanimous "by custom."
  2. The School Committee had five official meetings this week (and one executive session). There was the pre-inaugural meeting mentioned above (which also included seat draw), the inauguration (that has to be posted as a public meeting, as a quorum of officials are there), the post-inauguration meeting (at which the rules were approved), Tuesday's information session on Race to the Top, and last night's regularly scheduled meeting (which, incidentally, had a rare supplemental agenda. That's the School Committee equivalent of an ivory-billed woodpecker).
  3. The School Committee each week gets what's termed a "Friday letter" from the superintendent (if you are a regular observer, you would have heard it referenced before). In it, the superintendent gives a list of what she's done this past week, and also passes along anything she thinks we ought to know about: upcoming events, items in the news, things we might get asked about. It means that every Saturday we get a large manila envelope in the mail (and every Saturday my kids are disappointed that it isn't for them).
  4. Those numbers on the agenda mean something! For example, last night's item on signing the Race to the Top MOU was "gb#0-13"...the "gb" is for "general business," the "0" is the final digit of the year (last year's items all began with "9"), and it's the 13th general business item this year. Who knew?
  5. Those chairs in the Council chamber aren't all that comfortable. There aren't plugs under the Council desks (alas for me!). And if you ever need to reference a city budget, you might ask Councilor Rushton. He's got them all under his desk!

What ELSE is happening in Chicago?

Last night I cited the Chicago public schools' turnaround model as a failed one. It turns out that there is an alternative to the one pursued under Renaissance 2010 (and now Race to the Top):
But unlike in the plans in vogue with the U.S. Department of Education, (and the approach used in many Chicago schools) the turnaround effort happened without replacing the principal and teaching staff in the schools. Instead, they were given outside support in developing structure, building a leadership team, and giving intentional, targeted professional development not only for the teaching staff, but for the principals as well.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

reworking standing committees

The other big item on the agenda tonight: reworking subcommitees. The proposal, by Mr. Foley, is to cut the six standing commitees down to four.
Theory is to better align with the superintendent's reworked structure.
Motion passes, amended by two things:
  • subcommittees will meet at least once every 8 weeks
  • subcommittees will meet as late as possible in the day

(For those few of you wondering why the mayor hadn't yet made his appointments for School Committee members onto subcommittees, this is why. I'm sure we'll be hearing shortly, now this is through.)

We have an MOU

Motion passes 6-1
Vote for reconsideration voted down 6-1
(That means it moves forward as of tonight)

RTTT MOU: DelSignore

Cheryl DelSignore, president of the EAW (Worcester's teachers' union)
only union bringing it to a vote on Monday
since 2002, we have just made progress
"feel and take umbruge" at the name Race to the Top
no operational definitions
state has not given us the formula for the Level 4 and 5 schools
"coersion for money"
no one has seen the application (135 pages), and no one will
all three parties need to sign on (says the state); federal says that the union doesn't have to sign (weakens if they don't)

RTTT MOU: Biancheria

Biancheria have some concerns as we all do
"putting us up front, at the table, be able to play with the community"
"putting it in motion, not setting it in concrete"

(and for those of you wondering, it's "Be-an-CARE-ree-ah")


Mullaney:one of the best discussions we've had on the school committee in a long time
encouraged by the level of dialogue to begin this new term
funds for kids of Worcester

balk at involvement of federal government in educational lives of the community

"I am not one...we all talk about the worry we have for future generations of Americans...fiduciary responsibility to future generations...$4.2 billion is not chicken feed that we're borrowing from a foreign country, probably...not at all convinced that the federal government should" be this involved in education
"this whole thing gives me great pause"
"a one-size-fits-all"
"that being said, I think I'm convinced by the mayor"
"would like to be a team player on this"

RTTT MOU: Mayor O'Brien

Mayor O'Brien
asks for forgiveness for his voice
a lot that's in this MOU that we have deep concerns about
discussing this at the same time as the state ed bill is being worked in Boston
therefore the decision is "do we want to be part of the discussion"
spirit of partnership
vote yes
motion to send a statement out to members of school community

RTTT MOU: Novick

Can I just say here how weird it is to be attempting to blog something that I myself did in some sort of third person way? Here's what I'm going to do: I'm putting this in as a placeholder, and sometime in the next day or so I'll post what I actually said. Most of the time, I don't write up what I say ahead of time; this time I did.

Here's what I said:
Mr. Chair, many of the concerns expressed by this committee have been met with the assurance that we can always back out later.
Yesterday, at the state Leadership Summit, Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester said that he didn’t want districts to sign on to the MOU with the idea that they would back out later.
He wanted us to regard it “as a commitment.”
While there are many things on which Commissioner Chester and I disagree, I agree with him on this.
We are signing a legal agreement.
By signing, we demonstrate that we agree with the principles and policies of the MOU.

Further, in questions posed at forums in both Baltimore and Denver, the federal department of Ed said that any substantial dropouts after the funds were awarded would result in their reconsidering the awards made.

Mr. Chair, if we do not agree with the MOU, we should not sign on to the MOU.

As we are a budgetary and policy making body, we ought to consider this from both budgetary and policy directions.

As a matter of budget, we were told on Tuesday that Worcester’s award would be an estimated 1.2 to 1.6 million dollars for four years
Commissioner Chester yesterday assured us that federal Title 1G grants were not tied to our signing the MOU. While the state may grant further funds out of their half, we have no idea how much, when, and under what conditions. We have, therefore, to make our decision based on what we know:
1.2 to 1.6 million dollars each year for four years,
a bit less once we subtract the as-yet-unknown percentage taken by the city, perhaps as much as $48,000.
For all of this, then, we are looking a maximum of just over a million dollars a year.

Mr. Chair, this is a lot of work for a million dollars, but it would be worthwhile if we could use it for a piece of our budget we may well need to cut next year: books, or technology, or building repair, something that would last beyond the four years.
We know this is not possible.

From a policy perspective, the MOU is badly flawed.
It states that we will evaluate teachers and principals using “multiple measures of effectiveness.”
This is similar to the language in the Ed Reform of 1993 which states that we will use multiple measures of student performance.
Mr. Chair,some of us are still waiting for that.
I am not sanguine, therefore, that we will in fact be seeing such measures, given the state’s history.
It is far too easy to depend only on the MCAS exam.
The data to be analyzed, under the terms of the MOU, will surely include the MCAS.
It was the first thing put up on the screen yesterday in the state’s presentation.
The simple fact that if anyone truly is curious about a child’s progress has only to check with his teacher
who gives daily assessments of various kinds appears to have escaped the state.

Mr. Chair, the so-called turnaround model, is, however, the part that most concerns me.
This four part model comes to us straight from Chicago where it has caused enormous amounts of chaos.
It has not improved student achievement in the places it has been measured—
by and large, it has not been measured—and yet this is the model we are now to follow:
To close our schools, to fire our teachers, to turn our public schools over to private industry, or to further turn our schools over to the state.

The Constitution of the Commonwealth—which we just on Monday swore to uphold and defend— rightfully places public education under the province of the local government.
John Adams had good reason to mistrust decisions made far away from the people they most affect.
We would do right to likewise be mistrustful of a document which surrenders much of our authority while leaving us with all of the responsibility.

I will, Mr. Chair, be voting no.