Wednesday, March 31, 2010

FY11 WPS budget proposal

So, you might recall, we've been left with about an $8.6 million gap (a $16 million gap, down to $8.6 after using $8.2 million in stimulus funds).
How is the administration moving to close the remaining space?

  • $350,000 in the special ed bus contract. The new (yet to be approved) special ed bus contract came in under what it was expected to.
  • $500,000 in utility savings. Those programs to shut down the computers and the new boilers are paying off.
  • $2 million in one time revenue. That's some school choice money and some additional stimulus money.
  • $250,000 in operations and finance. This is bringing all such functions, including Title I, under the CFOO. There a loss of 4 clerk positions lost in that.
  • $300,000 in central office positions and moving other positions. This is some clerical, some facilators, two administrators, and at least one liaison
  • $1.3 million in tutors. That's a cut of 72 tutors.
  • cutting one secondary assistant principal and 12 teaching assistant principals. The teaching principals who are at elementary schools below 400 in schools without STEP programs will no longer have assistant principal duties and will no longer receive that stipend.
  • 12 school secretaries

For teachers, the administration proposes that 37 secondary teaching jobs be cut. The positions focused on are based on student population: moving all teachers to a full (125 student) load, where are there positions that can be cut? This was done in consultation with principals.

The administration is proposing an addition of 8 elementary teachers, 9 special ed teachers, and 6 ELL teachers. The last two are to address compliance issues (that's the state telling us where we aren't following the law again).

Again, remember that this is an administrative proposal. This isn't even a formal budget (it's a memo right now). It's a place to start talking.

MASC Day on the Hill

Sorry about the lack of posting yesterday; I spent much of the day at the State House. Yesterday was the Mass Association of School Committees Day on the Hill. Over the course of the morning, we heard from the chairs of both Ways and Means Committees, both Education Committees (that'd be House and Senate), and both the Secretary and Commissioner of Education. A productive morning.
We heard, of course, how bad the budget situation is from Ways and Means. Note also, that no one is expecting that it will be better next year. There was some pushback from regional systems on busing--recall that the state funds that, except when they cut it, as the Governor tried to last year--and some talk of trying to regionalize more of the state. Also, there was some talk on special education tuition, which continues to go up.
The talk continues to be of a 4% cut in local aid, except where such a cut would bring a school system below the foundation budget.
On the education side, much talk of last fall's ed bill (mixed feelings on the part of school committee members, I'd say) and an upcoming special ed bill (anyone know anything about that?).
From the Commissioner and the Secretary: much talk about Race to the Top, of course. They will not (I asked) be going for further legislation before re-applying. There simply isn't enough time.
There's a funny sort of thing going on with Massachusetts' application which came out in the words of both the Commissioner and the Secretary. Many of the places where Massachusetts lost points--not jumping on the Common Core before it's written, using student test scores as a set amount of teacher assessment, lifting the charter cap entirely--are places where, it seems, our state ed leaders don't wish, and know that there isn't the political will, to go. The Secretary's exact words were "We may have to hunker down" on some of these issues. My suggestion (and yes, I said this)? We should put our foot down, rather than hunker down.


Just a reminder: I've posted the dates of the reorganization meetings to the right--->>>>

Please come!

Administration asks that those interested in secondary/middle schools attend the meetings at those sites; elementary parents (and those interested) at the elementary schools.

Please spread the word!

Monday, March 29, 2010


Here's a link to the score sheet on Race to the Top.
A few things that caught my eye:
  • Massachusetts came in 13 (out of 16 finalists).
  • What did Georgia do in their presentation to lose 0.8 points?
  • And what did Delaware do in theirs to gain 16.2?

Education on the Takeaway

Listen to this and tell me that we wouldn't have been better off with Linda Darling-Hammond as Secretary of Ed.
Notice also the difference between what we're teaching and testing on and what we need to teach in order to do better on international tests AND do better on getting our kids a solid education.

Delaware and Tennesee?

Secretary Duncan is scheduled to announce the Race to the Top winners this afternoon at 1 pm, but the Twitter feed of the press secretary is announcing it's Delaware and Tennesee.

UPDATE: Here's the press release. It sounds like TN and DE's nearly universal sign-on rate were a factor in their getting the money. That's about $600 million spent; that leaves $3.4 million for Round 2.

And oh, yes, Commissioner Chester says: MA is in for Round 2.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

This week

Note, first, that the Worcester City Council meets on Wednesday of this week, in deference to the celebration of Passover on Tuesday.
Also on Wednesday, Michael J. Widmer of the Mass Taxpayers' Association is speaking at a Community Forum on the FY11 state budget. The forum is at Worcester Technical High School and it starts at 6:30 pm.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who's making money on "Ed Reform"?

Pearson, for one.

Not so fast, says the court

A New York judge has voided the closing of 19 NYC schools, commenting that the NYC Department of Ed has “trivialized the whole notion of community involvement …” As required under (new) state law, the closings must take place after community involvement which (despite that long meeting I blogged about) did not, in fact, happen. The court also called out the DoE for the thought that “…rather than being ordered to comply with the Education Law, they should be permitted to develop their own guidelines for compliance…”

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stand's stands

or, Follow the money.
(cross-posted on Blue Mass. Group)
A few days ago, a commenter asked why Stand for Children came out in support of taking the federal turnaround funds that would require Worcester to implement one of the four federal turnaround models. My response was they want the federal money. It's a bit more complicated than that.

Stand for Children has two arms: the Leadership Center is a registered non-profit 501(c)3, and the advocacy arm (which goes by just "Stand for Children") is 501(c)4, which means that they [unlike 501(c)3's] may lobby for and against legislation. However, that arm is not a charity, and so donations to that arm are not tax-deductible (they also don't have to be made public).

The Foundation Center has online the 990--federal tax forms--of many non-profits. Stand for Children's forms (they file two 990's each year, one for each arm) tell the money story.

In 2008, the 501 (c) 4 advocacy arm brought in $564,095 in membership dues (if you're a local member, you sent in a check) and spent $498,465, largely, interestingly, on fundraising and office work (That's all on page 1 of the form; you can see the breakdown by state for Washington, Oregon, and Massachusetts on page 2. The breakdown on "other expenses is on page 10) In other words, about as much was spent on bringing in the money as money that came in.

The members are not funding the organization.

So what money is the organization running on, if it isn't donations from members?

The Stand for Children 2008 annual report lists the major donors to the charitable arm (p.10). The list of donors of a quarter of a million dollars or above reads as follows:
  • Joshua and Anita Bekenstein
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • New Profit, Inc.
Moving over to the 2008 990 form, you'll see (page 1) that the charitable arm brought in about $3.6 million that year, and spent nearly all of it. So even if we assume that each of the above donors gave only $250,000, it's clear that just those three donors gave nearly a quarter of the funding for Stand's work in 2008.

So who are these donors?

The Bekensteins, who a quick Google search will turn up on plenty of donation lists, are best known otherwise for Mr. Bekenstein's position in Bain Capital, founded, among others, by Mitt Romney. If you look farther down the donor list for Stand, you'll see Bain's charitable arm on there, too.

Bain Capital got a great deal of press during Romney's presidential run for their history of leveraged buyouts that led to layoffs. They also took a number of previously public companies private.
Bain also has an educational and governmental consulting business, where, as they say, "
Recently, the use of stimulus funds and regulatory reform has further blurred the lines between public and private entities." (This gets us into the Bridgespan group, which is more than fodder for another post, as they're connected not only to Bain, but also to the Broad Foundation and elsewhere.) Yes, they stand to make money on everything from Race to the Top to School Turnaround Grants.

New Profit refers to itself as a "social entrepreneurship" organization and speak of "advancing a national social innovation agenda."

I think we all know who Bill Gates is, but what you may not know is that the Gates Foundation was the funder of grants for states in writing their Race to the Top applications, largely because the policies of Race to the Top, from expansion of charters to tying of perceived
teacher proficiency to student test scores, lined up with the Gates Foundation vision of education.

Steve Ballmer, next on the list, is the CEO of Microsoft (who, interestingly enough, has been donating in Portland's school board race, too).

The Denherts founded Hanna Andersson.

Michael Krupka is with Bain Capital, as is Jonathan Lavine. Lavine serves on Stand for Children's Leadership Center Board of Directors. (A number of people associated with Bain have previously served on Stand for Children's Board.)

Reuben Munger manages Bright Automotive, but has a history in investment.

Farther down, Paul G. Allen is a co-founder of Microsoft.

There's a great deal of money here coming from two places: Microsoft and Bain Capital. All of it can be declared as a charitable donation by the giver. And added together, it's a large piece of the operations budget of Stand for Children.

It's corporate money.
It's a corporate vision.

Education, however, is a civic endeavor. Corporate influence in education, whether it's an insistence that education be measurable on charts that go eternally up, or that those whose numbers don't go up be fired, clouds what ought to be a common endeavor.

The places where Stand for Children in the past has stood for what is clearly in the interest of Worcester's schoolchildren--the push to raise investment in education, the work against Question 1--undoubtedly are grassroots endeavors. Local people worked on issues that clearly mattered greatly in the education of our local children, and they were representing their own, and local children's interests, in doing so.

The places where Stand's public advocacy has been confusing locally--raising the charter cap, pushing federal policy--it's worth looking at where the money and the influence come from.

It isn't Worcester (or Gloucester, or...)

Internet censorship

..and how it harms schools
One teacher wanted to show students some pictures that would illustrate the effects of atomic testing. "However when I went to bring the Wikipedia page up at school during class, it was blocked by our internet filter, BESS. The name of the islands? 'Bikini Atoll,'" said Doug Johnson, quoting the teacher. Johnson, a director of media and technology at a Minnesota school district, put out a call in July for stories about how Internet filtering hobbles education, and got an earful.

(interesting point being made in the comments about teaching kids to elude bureaucracy...'though I don't think that's quite what anyone is intending to teach them.)

Race to the Top announced Monday

Secretary Arne Duncan will announce the winners of Round 1 of Race to the Top on Monday.
The press release should go up at 1pm, if you want to plan your day around it!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Turning the money--and the label--down

The community of Houlton, Maine has refused the federal turnaround money and the label for their school (in Maine, they're calling them "Tier 1" schools):

Superintendent Steve Fitzpatrick advised the school board to reject the money. He said that if the district accepted the federal money, the school would have to continue funding the new educational model after the grant dried up. He added that he was “proud” to be superintendent in the school district, saying that the high school is an accredited school that has a talented student body and staff. School officials pointed out on Monday evening that in this past year Houlton High scored 65th of 127 high schools in the state as measured by the Scholastic Aptitude Tests used by Maine as the high school assessment. They also pointed out that many schools that did worse than Houlton students did on the SATs were not labeled “persistently lowest achieving” schools. Officials also said that 70 to 80 percent of Houlton High graduates go on to pursue a postsecondary education.

Speaking on behalf of the high school staff, Joseph Fagnant, a music teacher at the school, said that the staff reacted with “disbelief, shock, and anger” upon hearing news of the ranking. He said the school was told a month ago that it was on track to making Adequate Yearly Progress, as defined under No Child Left Behind.“The next month, we are told we’re a failing school,” he said.

The label has hurt the staff, students and community, he added, before urging the school board to “say ‘No, thank you’ to the state and let them know we won’t accept the label of a failing school.”

Yes, folks, you can say no.

Comments on ESEA

..can go to
If anyone has a similar address for the Senate committee (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions), I'd appreciate it!

Letter to the Committee on Education and Labor

I'm currently fighting my way through emailing this to the entire committee...
March 24, 2010

To the Honorable Members of the Education and Labor Committee:
I have deep concerns about the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act now before you. As proposed by the Obama administration, this re-authorization would not only continue, but deepen, many of the devastating errors of the No Child Left Behind authorization. Speaking as a current School Committee member here in Worcester, as a parent, and as a former teacher, I know that we as a country cannot afford this.
No Child Left Behind equated academic achievement with standardized test scores. Imagine, if you will, having all of your education judged on the basis of your SAT's; surely some of you had a bad day? Or perhaps were not good at that sort of test? Yet we now are judging entire school systems, making decisions about children's futures, and firing educators based on nothing more. It is an absolutely insane system, and it must stop.
Here in Worcester, a city of 175,000, we are facing the labeling of two of our schools as "Level 4" or underachieving. I am certain that any of you can guess what sort of school I will describe: the children are poor. Many are recent immigrants. There's an enormous rate of turnover in population over the course of the year. In short, there is much outside the doors of the schools that have much to do with what happens inside the schools.
The high degree of correlation between standardized test scores and rates of college educated parents, socio-economic class, and race should give anyone who truly cares about children pause. But so long as we want an educational system that lends itself to neat graphs in the paper--and judgments about property values--we will not have one that serves our children. We simply must reverse this trend.
Further, the remedies proposed for the schools deemed underperforming are entirely unproven. The administration is demanding that we experiment on the 5% of children in public school who can least afford to be guinea pigs in some mass educational experiment. There is solid research out there on how best to help children achieve, but none of it is in any way referenced by the models proposed by the administration. Instead, they demand that we fire principals, many of whom are doing yeoman's labor in being in these schools, creating greater turmoil in schools that can least withstand it. The rest of the model--closing the schools, firing teachers, turning charter--don't serve the neighborhoods that most need it and continue the hemorrhaging of caring professionals out of education. There is no evidence that this in any way improves education for our children; in fact, there is evidence that some of these models do real harm to children.
If we wish to serve the children most in need of our assistance, which was, I believe, the original idea behind the federal government having a role in education, then it must not be punitive. No child should, as some Worcester students did this week, sit to take a test fearing that his low score could lose an adult his job and close the school. This does not improve academic performance, let alone give that child a decent education. Federal funds should be there to make sure that our neediest children get no less of an education than their better-off peers. Their education should not become little more than test prep, as has happened in far too many urban districts already under NCLB. Education is about getting every child a well-rounded, complete, imaginative education that makes them life-long learners, who know that education does not end with graduation. This must be as true--and as funded--in urban districts as it is in suburban ones. Federal funds should eliminate that distinction, rather than exacerbate it.
To pretend, incidentally, that this is some sort of a "race" that districts can "lose" or "win" is to fundamentally misunderstand the promise of universal public education. The United States provides free universal education to all children because we understand that it is how we ensure ourselves a future educated citizenry and a continuing democracy. Literacy is the bedrock of our democracy, and adults who can understand and weigh information leads to informed voters. The children of Worcester's votes will, in 20 years, count just as much in elections as those of the children of our neighboring suburbs. To "race" against our neighbors for funds devalues education. Every five year old deserves a fully funded kindergarten.
I ask you, first of all, to pass legislation that builds on the premise of the next generation of citizens: not workers, but citizens. What do we need of those who will be sitting in your seats in 30 years? What of those who will vote for them? I am not so cynical, and I hope that you are not, as to think that those well-drilled in multiple choice questions are who we want making decisions in several decades. If we truly are concerned about the future economy, then look to those nations moving away from standardized testing for their children, because they noticed that innovation, historically a great American strength, was lacking in their thinking. That should be the place we start in thinking nationally about education.
I ask you also to face the hard truth that education costs money, and those most in need require greater assistance. Again, much of the American strength has come from schools that weren't the suburban model. Let's ensure that those children are getting the best education we can give them.
Finally, do not turn the country into a place where poor children are experimented on, while those with parents who can afford it escape turmoil. Our children don't need that.
I'll be watching your deliberations with great interest.

Tracy O'Connell Novick
cc: Senator Scott Brown
Senator John Kerry
Representative James P. McGovern

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Ada Lovelace post goes out to...

...the Burncoat Robotics team, which was dominated this year by GIRLS! Way to go, ladies!

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging dedicated to the achievements of women in technology.

A few things you can do about ESEA

Yes, it's very far away and seems beyond influenced, but if you have any concerns about the general direction this administration is taking in education policy, weighing in on the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is wise.

A few things you can do, from quick to more time consuming:

  1. You might want to join teacher Jesse Turner's Facebook group "Children are more than test scores." Mr. Turner plans to walk from Connecticut to D.C. this summer to raise awareness of the harmful consequences of NCLB.
  2. Two petitions you can sign. The first, from Americans United for Educational Opportunity, asks that the Congress fix the failed NCLB law and gives a series of principles they should use in redrafting it. The second asks that the "unintended but likely negative consequences of the proposed policies be considered" in redrafting the law. Both will be sent to the Committee on Education and Labor.
  3. Ask your representative to support H.R. 3384, put forward by Rep. Joe Baca of California, which would eliminate the use of yearly assessments to calculate AYP in evaluating schools.
  4. Finally, write to the members of the Education and Labor committee (and cc your representative and senators) regarding ESEA. Remember that the policies of Race to the Top and School Transformation Grants are those being pushed forward for the lowest 5% of schools (and there's always a lowest 5% of schools) in this re-authorization.

String pulling

The news that Arne Duncan had a 40 page list of those seeking special treatment in admission to the Chicago Public Schools when he was in charge there certainly gives one pause. After all, why keep track of the requests if you have no intention of trying to fulfill them? In that case, you politely point out that you have "no influence" over the decision, and hang up the phone.

Rick Hess points out, though, that if you're willing to use what you have for political ends, then you're willing to use what you have...whatever it is.

Including, perhaps, $4.2 billion in federal aid?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Independent auditor's report

There will be more on this, as the School Committee also gets the independent auditor's report, and it will come up over there, too.
  • There's a few items related to the disbursement of grant funds. In most cases, it's a question of turnaround time, to which, in all those cases, management responds that this has been changed.
  • There's a straightforward disagreement, from what I understand, about periods of eligibility for the federal stimulus funds. Dates were changed, new reports were'll hear more on this.
  • While in most ways, the schools run their funding on the fiscal calendar, in electricity, the bills were being paid on the school calendar. This is the $800,000 you may have heard mentioned. This was allowed by the state (and there is case law to that end). However, starting this year, the schools will pay the electricity on the fiscal calendar.
  • There's an item regarding the student activity fund at South High--signatures and other record keeping items missing. The oversight called for is moving forward and management has changed.
Those are the items having to do with schools. Again, this will come up on the School Committee agenda and go to the Finance and Operations subcommittee for a full report.

FY11 budget

In the Council discussion and attachments for tonight's meeting, a few things of note:
  • The city's $14 million deficit went up to $15 million with the 4% cut projected by the Legislature last week. The city lost a total of $1.4 million in that change, but $400,000 got added back into the city budget, as the loss of state aid to the city lowered the amount required for the foundation budget.
  • Several parts of the City Manager's list of ways that he's projecting cutting that down to $5.5 million depend on Legislative action: a change in the pension schedule (something which was rejected last year), the early retirement option. Thus the asterisks.
  • We only get the airport money once.
  • FY12 is projected to be worse. Or at least not to be better.

And you thought you had a trip to school...

You could take the zipline.

Good summary

The United Church of Christ (yes, that UCC) has a summary here of the pros and cons of the president's plan to reauthorize ESEA. Back to my main point (last time today, I promise!):
The "Blueprint" incorporates untried turnaround plans for the bottom 5 percent of public schools. The Obama proposal requires extremely punitive interventions for 5 percent of public schools that have been unable over time to raise their test scores. These are the schools that have, under NCLB, been commonly called "failing" schools. Because these schools are located primarily in highly segregated, big-city districts, the children most affected by these radical plans will be primarily very poor urban children, many of them children of color. These "Challenge Schools" will be required to implement one of four prescribed turnaround plans, none of which is supported by research, as a way to improve public education. This proposal is, therefore, the latest in a long series of experiments on our nation's most vulnerable children and their schools. Very few parents who have the political power to affect what happens in their children's schools would accept this sort of radical experimentation.
(emphasis added)

And from the superintendents...

I haven't heard if this is something our superintendent is doing, but it seems that the superintendents are pointing out how arbitrary some of the "turnaround" limits are:

San Francisco schools superintendent Carlos Garcia voiced the frustrations of many in the room, asking Duncan why two years was set as a target, noting that he has some principals who are making great progress at turning around their schools, but have been in place longer than two years.

"They are doing phenomenal things," Garcia said, as his colleagues in the packed ballroom cheered him on. "I'm supposed to fire them."

Garcia, citing his own experience as a turnaround principal, said it took three years before he saw real change at the school he led, which became a Blue Ribbon school. Making changes in staffing and programming took time, he said. The new regulations, he said, may make it harder to recruit principals for high-needs schools.

"If it's going to be two years, how are we going to get people to do that work?" he asked.

Duncan responds in part by saying what he wants " is get the best educators in the country to go to the toughest schools."
Hello, Secretary Duncan? Cogitative dissonance? I know educators have a reputation of being self-sacrificing, but if you really think that teachers are going to line up to work at schools at which they can be arbitrarily fired, schools, by the way, which are already incredibly difficult workplaces, then you think the teaching profession is made up of martyrs.
It isn't.

Ravitch on our Level 4's

Most troublesome to me, however, are the draconian "remedies" that will be imposed on the 5,000 schools at the bottom in test scores. These schools must be "transformed" or "turned around" or closed. Their principals may be fired, their staffs may be fired, they may be turned over to state control, they may be turned into charter schools or private management organizations.

Although it is certainly possible to "turn around" a low-performing school, none of the administration's remedies have proven successful on any large scale. In effect, the administration is threatening a death sentence to 5,000 schools this year (and thousands more next year?) because the schools have low scores on tests of basic skills. You can be sure that the next 10,000 schools up the list will double the time for test prep to try to escape that giant sucking sound that could devour them, too.

Wouldn't it make more sense to encourage states to create teams of expert educators to visit each low-performing school and find out why it is low-performing? One school may be overloaded with students who don't speak or read English; another may have disproportionate numbers of students with disabilities; another may be struggling because the district office assigned it huge numbers of students in 9th grade who were reading on a 4th-grade level. Why not analyze why the school is in difficulty and try to solve its problems? Wouldn't it make more sense to send help instead of an execution squad?

You can read the rest here.

Free history DVD

For principals (and you lurking homeschoolers!): you can get a free copy of the History channel's new 12 hour series on American history American the Story of US.
(one per school, and no, they aren't giving me anything to share this. I do like the book series with the same title, though.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

There's something else in there

You may have missed it, as the big news was obviously about health care reform, but in that same bill was a reorganization of the federal student loan program, as well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And one more thing...

There are going to be third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders taking the MCAS next week at, among other places, Chandler El and Union Hill.

If anybody has any suggestions about how we can make sure that they aren't walking in the door with this on their minds, I'm open to suggestions.

And I'd be happy to help.

General business

Belmont School donors: $500 or above invited to attend on April 15: great list

The big read this year is Edgar Allen Poe

Soliciting book donations for the "Give a Book" program

better information for parents both on web and at Parent Information Center about magnets, other programs

outstanding three year review from the Federal Office of Worcester Head Start

meeting with federal delegation about ESEA re-authorization

WEDF 2pm on Sunday at Mechanics Hall


TLSS Subcom report

including, of course, the report on reorganization

TLSS subcommittee report
new dates for meetings : innovation schools: collaborate around redesign in South Quadrant
other quadrants: flexible staffing, community partnerships (for increased programming)
Level 4 schools: adding a meeting to the process (state doesn't include a meeting, we thought it should)

Mullaney: what does the flex-time do to athletics? When she asks is this a done deal, the Superintendent shakes her head and says "no"
looking to free up the schedule: so kids don't have to make the choice btn AP and band...will they have to choose btn AP and sports? (asks Mullaney)
a zero bell: time before school, virtual class, after school
Mullaney asks how staggered time will work in elementary: community partnerships, says Mulqueen
If some teachers come in at 8, and some come in at 9, what happens with the kids?
tutoring in the morning before the school starts, for example, says Mulqueen
what about people who don't need services? asks Mullaney
Boone says we "heavily laden our day" with remediation
foreign language, says Boone, should begin in young grades, for example
"well planned and specific" requests Mullaney
on summer reading, Mullaney says that the reporting requirement is touchy-feely

Novick: question about what summer reading is for? Get the kids reading
get that TLSS meeting easily accessible : the 4th floor of a locked building is not a public meeting
motions from Mr. O'Connell going back to 2004 all moving forward all of a sudden
don't lose the good in chasing the better: we do good work, don't lose it

EAW encourage more participation with teachers, right now subject to rumor
Boone says EAW has been at the table
"our investment in our people is the best investment we can make" says Boone

Foley: it must be a deliberate process

Boone envisions the groups breaking up into smaller groups by school
elementary parents should go to elementary school for conversation around elementary ed; likewise secondary ed
"to get initial conversations in a larger group forum"
agenda: 20 min explanation of why we were here, 20 min to have groups of parents to talk, 20 min to share together
not one-on-one conversations, but scale for conversation

"the message is not 'this is what the central office wants' this is a conversation starter"
"a way of bringing out good thinking in the district"
one "non-negotiable that I'm bringing to the meeting...we have to improve results, and I need your help to do it""these are conversation starters"

CPPAC roundtable presentation

with excellent graphs!

CPPAC presentation on Parent/Guardian roundtable

what are your hopes and dreams for your children's educational experience?engaging, well-rounded and rigorous education which prepares them for college and career

what is your school doing well?
communication with parents on academic progress of child
community enrichments

what are the challenges?
increase resources
parents accountable for their role in their child's education

"If it takes a village to raise a child, we should be in the business of raising villages."

Federal grants

this is in response to the STG/RTTT/Title 1 growing tangle of federal grants: how do they relate, which ones share requirements, do we have to take their money?

Federal grants
stack of papers that we just got at 7 pm
state board takes action on 3/23: Level 4 schools
explaination of how state figures Level 4 schools:
Composite Growth Performance Index, MCAS Failing, median student growth percentile (also on MCAS). It includes dropout and graduation rates for schools that graduate students
CPI figured by grade, school, district
redesign plan has to be submitted to Commissioner for approval by the stakeholder group of each Level 4 school
stakeholder group addresses wraparound services that students may need
transformation model makes the most sense to her (Boone)
statutory assurances that appear in federal grants are going across the board
entitlement grants consolidated and carry more restrictive requirements
information that we know to date: state board votes on March 23
Foley: we don't know everything yet, hold off on a vote until the mayor returns
O'Connell wants to have this information again when we do vote (mid-April); MAKE IT SHOW UP ONLINE

Report back on the Commissioner's district funds

You might remember we had a presentation on the accountability plan, and I asked about where the money came from and how it was being spent. This is in response to that.

Monfredo: is Focus on Results required? no, put together with state in cooperation
Novick: fleshes out that in essence this money is not ours to spend, largely is determined by the state
disconnect between four core district priorities and how it is spelled out on the ground
chief accountability officer: do we have to hire one? paid for by WPS funds
Boone: it was and has been part of the conversation with the state
how does this work with the accountability people we already have?
O'Connell: strength deployment plan for instructional systems improvement
"investing with our our classrooms"
"it's only through professional development that we can improve as teachers and leaders" says Mulqueen
O'Connell asks what parts of this we should fund ourselves in house, if need be
use of grants to support PD so we can free operating funds to keep people in place
Biancheria asks for costs detail on how much is ours: $108,740 (from federal grants: ARRA, says Boone. In fact, it's from a Teaching American History grant)
Chief Accountability Officer: will it complete four silos? Boone: only position requested as she came into the district
cost detail on Acct. Officer? In the FY10 budget already
not infriged on this year (FY10), and she plans to include it in the FY11 budget


You know how you thought those dates were coming up too quickly? You've been heard! Here are the NEW dates:
All meetings are from 6-7:30 pm
  • South Quadrant: April 26 @ Sullivan Middle
  • South Quadrant: April 27 @ Gates Lane

  • Union Hill: April 13 @ Union Hill
  • Chandler Elementary: April 14 @ Chandler Elementary

  • April 5 @ North High
  • April 7 @ Roosevelt Elementary
  • April 12 @ Doherty Memorial
  • April 28 @ Burncoat
  • May 3 @ Clark Street
  • May 4 @ Flagg Street

A few early Committee notes

No vote on federal grants tonight: the report is being filed pending the Board of Ed meeting (and the return of the chair!)

amazing CPPAC presentation tonight on the results on the roundtable in January

there are NEW DATES for the school reorg meetings! I'll send them out, but get our your eraser!

Notes on the Race to the Top Summit, Round 2

After presenting in Washington this past Tuesday, Commissioner Chester believes that only a few states (3,4, or 5) will be funded under Round 1. "I don't at all take for granted that we will be funded."
If MA is not, they will reapply in Round 2, due in June, with notification in September, and funds by the end of the year.
Should MA get funded, districts will have 90 days from the notification to submit plans (say, end of June).
There was speculation (from the armchair quarterbacks, as Chester says) that MA was weak on the "teacher/principal effectiveness" measure on the application, as MA did not, as some states did, lay out a particular amount for which they would value test scores (one state said 51% of any teacher's evaluation would be test scores). The commissioner says they are enlisting teachers, administrators, school committee members on board in reworking teacher measures. "The strength of our application is that we've given local authorities a seat at the design table," he says. "We see this as a strength, not a weakness."
(Just as a sidenote: does anyone else see the irony here? This is the same Commissioner that used that same single measure to designate Level 4 schools.)

He then walked us through the choices of how districts might allocate their funds. Everyone has to do something around teacher effectiveness, whether piloting a new program or weighing in on those who do (and eventually reworking their own), but beyond that and the Level 4's, you can choose from six options, allocating resources across four years as the district deems responsible for those projects.

Brands and grants and post-NCLB

in no particular order

I spent the morning in another statewide Race to the Top summit with the Commissioner of Education (on which more later), so I didn't get right to this morning's news. There was a bit on the branding/reorganization/redeployment idea (which may or may not include meetings next week? They were passed by the subcommittee.).

You might have seen that there was a press conference called yesterday around the federal school improvement/transformation grants. There's some more information coming back on this tonight, but I was told earlier this week that it wasn't enough to vote on. As of nearly 2 pm today, we haven't received any information; no backup, no numbers. You might remember that heavily amended motion that was passed asked how the money could be spent (no signs from the state it could be spent, for example, on the enormously useful expansion of ELL), how it interacted with Race to the Top, how the state came to the decision on Level 4 schools, and what has to be done, federal money or no. It looks like that information will land on our desks tonight at 7? Maybe?

There's an interesting interaction here with the item I mentioned earlier, the Commissioner's district money. There's nearly half a million dollars reported out there, yet the classroom impact is minimal. The state doesn't have a good record of coming in and doing what we know works: providing outside services, getting class sizes (particularly kindergarten!) down, getting parents in the building and involved. They're very good at hiring contractors to come in and talk at roomfuls of adults. If the federal turnaround money is more of the same, what good will it do our kids?

Which brings us to today's On Point show on NPR on the re-authorization of ESEA. As I've said before, the Obama administration is proposing to the Congress that it be reauthorized along Race to the Top/STG/etc, lines. That would be the four part turnaround model, and much else brought to you from Chicago.

The superintendent on the show had one of the best suggestions I've heard yet on this. Susan Gourley, who is the superintendent in Lincoln, Nebraska, proposed that a fifth turnaround model be added. The federal administration has proposed that "Reward" districts be allowed a "research-based innovation model" for their schools. Gourley, along with the American Association of School Administrators, is proposing that this model be added to those proposed for schools deemed underperforming, thus giving them one that is based on actual research. A novel concept.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Agenda for School Committee is UP!

Find it here.
We have not one, not two, but THREE Superintendent's reports for this week, 'though two are reports back on requests for more information: the Commissioner's district money use, and the School Transformation Grants (federal funding tied to Level 4 schools; this is a partial report, so they'll be no vote tomorrow on it, and, as yet, I don't have an information on it).

On the Commissioner's district money--that's that $420,000 that came up two weeks ago, though apparently it's more like $490,000--you might find the bottom of page 3 (from the link above) a place to start. It spells out what the state and WPS agreed would be the four part focus of this grant. You can find the breakdown of where the money went starting here.

Monday, March 15, 2010


SOUTH QUADRANT: Monday, March 22 6-7pm @ Sullivan Middle School

UNION HILL: Tuesday, March 23 6-7pm @ Union Hill
CHANDLER ELEMENTARY: Wednesday, March 24 6-7pm @ Chandler Elementary

NORTH QUADRANT: Tuesday, April 6, 6-7pm @ North High
BURNCOAT QUADRANT: Wednesday, April 7, 6-7pm @ Burncoat High
DOHERTY QUADRANT: Monday, April 12, 6-7pm @ Doherty Memorial

THESE ARE ABOUT REORGANIZATION: for South Quadrant, innovation schools; for Union Hill and Chandler Elementary, Level 4 status; for North, Burncoat, Doherty Quadrants, 2011-12 K-12 grade reworking.

THIS IS THE FIRST MEETING. There will be others, but this is the first chance you'll get to hear what the administration has decided, what they are thinking, and THERE WILL BE A CHANCE FOR PUBLIC COMMENT!



information ahead of any policy development
  • recess daily, not spent in study, spent outside, time of a particular length, not subject to punishment (can't be taken away)
  • above all should be a priority for the system (above floors being clean, pavement being injured due to plowing, or lawsuits)

Mulqueen points out that the city has a variety of facilities for recess

MOTION: that the admin come back with a draft policy

Summer Reading List

The stress on summer reading continues to be about getting kids reading and letting them pick the books
Mulqueen wants to change his own item "to include some more rigor in the item...something more substantive, something more complex"
"something around college or career...more complex items"

Monfredo wants to up the number of books required to five, wants to have a summer reading launch, also he wants summer math work suggestions

Mulqueen thinks "everyone doesn't have to read War and Peace to read"

Mr. O'Connell is suggesting the additions of Dickens, Twain, Melville, Wharton, and Homer to the list.
Miss Biancheria wants to see what is done in September and is it brought back around? Summary of what is expected, how those books are brought back in the next year
Ms. Delsignore says don't we already have that in place, where teachers have to tell principals how they are assessing the summer reading? The children do projects on the books that they've read, which is reported to the principals.
Maybe something on the brochure?
Huge dilemna on the teacher's part from children that don't have family support, says another teacher

Possible partner

Also, Mr. O'Connell added the idea of asking Worcester Academy to meetings about Union Hill.

School reorganization

We're doing what the admin is calling the "Strength Deployment Plan for Instructional Systems Improvement." (SDPISI? This is why I'm saying 'reorganization.')

"a description of what we are actually going to be doing and a timeline"
"pulling back on a whole redesign of the whole system" as the budget is in better shape than originally thought

For next year:
in high school, focusing on reducing class size in gr. 9, focus in high schools "more in-depth programming," phase in community partnerships (virtual and real-time) in various ways, flexible staff patterns for before and after school options (classes that run outside the traditional school day), community listening and learning
"teachers and parents and students have lots more ideas that make this a better plan"

readiness schools>>>>innovation schools, talking with Clark, South Quadrant already has partnership with Clark, and teacher "readiness" is there
Much more specific about the programs that we offer to do the things we need
"each innovation school will evolve in their own way"

Monfredo suggests an orientation program, and small learning academies, asks if the grade configuration would be different. Mulqueen says possibly, especially as Sullivan and South more or less share a campus. "Decisions made in conjunction with faculty and community"

Biancheria asks how many meetings they've had with staff, what was reaction: some early meetings in fall, suspended as shift went from readiness to innovation...faculty wants to know detail. "time is right to begin those meetings again...working out details around innovation schools" Asks if we have looked at what is available for those small learning communities (arts, health careers, etc),,, feeding them back into the community
"Not really for me to decide, not really for me to direct" says Mulqueen
district's decision to move forward with innovation schools is a structural issue done at School Committee, but how it plays out is done by teachers

Delsignore asks what the flex time it optional? Innovation schools language (as in the law). Mulqueen would prefer optional, voluntary
When is the union going to be in the discussion? Now, more or less

Monfredo asks for models from across the country

Delsignore asks if there's any plan to eliminate extended day at the three elementary schools in the South Quadrant that have it. How to continue it without increasing the workday for the teacher? Dependant on state funding and WPS funding

Essential conditions of Level 4 schools: Commissioner requiring weighed budget dollars pulled out of FY11 budget...not sure how that would work yet, says Mulqueen

Schedule of proposed meeting times : as I typed up previously

Biancheria says she thought we'd agreed to two or three meetings at several sites. Short time frame, all held at a school...Mulqueen looks back at the motion...happy to do more...
Larger time frame needed to coordinate notices out to parents and staff
Mulqueen says that he thinks we're on the same page...initial introduction..
She asks for at least an additional meeting.."we have to work at partners and parents participation"
Looking at an additional meeting for at least the South Quadrant, possibly the others as well.

More nights, different days, clearer and more digestible presentations, 20 minutes of feedback isn't long enough (Novick)

Make sure that everyone gets the same information, "if it takes a little longer, that's necessary" says Monfredo
O'Connell says what if we do this first, then offer others, perhaps?
Suggestion from a parent that there might be a daytime meeting also those for whom that would be more easy to make

Biancheria: MOTION that we have a minimum of two meetings for each quadrant (both for innovation and for elementary/secondary redesign) "We're going to be making some changes here" wants to address questions..."has to be something that people are comfortable with"
for Level 4, figure out if an additional meeting is needed

TLSS subcommittee meeting:alternative education

...starting a bit late and short Miss Biancheria.

They are talking first about reorganizing the alternative programing, as Dr. Gribouski is here (this is Annex B of gb #8-174, which is the school reorganization plan). She's talking about reworking the alternative programs, of which currently in Worcester there is the Creamer Center (about 250 11 & 12 graders, largely; plus 65 at night), Juvenile Resource Center (25 students), Fanning (60 seats for 8, 9, 10), and the 9th grade recovery (40 students).

Reworking to have a principal who is doing oversight for all students. Change to 7-9 grade students (80 or more) who are overage and undercredited at Fanning, 10 and 11th at Creamer Center (250 kids) focusing on MCAS, Ed Resource Center for kids who have passed the MCAS and have most credit requirements done (100 students). Partnering with the Simon Foundation (that'd be the mall) with some work in the mall but some around it, with focused internships.

Then by 2011-12, it would be gr. 7 and 8 at Fanning, 9 and 10 at Creamer, 11 and 12 at Ed Resource Center, as well as returnees (kids coming back who had dropped out). Assistant Principal at the larger sites, a Lead Teacher at the smaller sites.

Bringing the kids back into the district would save us money. Might potentially reallocate teachers. There is funding associated with the Simon Foundation, as well (1/3,from them, 1/3 from us,1/3 from other foundations and volunteers, she says). Need a School Committee letter of intent in order for this to move forward.

Here's the information about how this works.

Monfredo went to the meeting with the Simon Foundation. Cost savings: asks for a breakdown on savings. Additional narrative in writing, as well.

O'Connell: major change for next year is that the night program goes into large prgram, Fanning comes under direct WPS oversight, and one administrator over all of the programs.

Mulqueen says not so much adding on as reconfiguring.

Cheryl Delsignore asks if the alternative evening program would be gone? No, it will be in the mall, but will continue. Possible flex time working schedule? Staff at Fanning don't work for WPS right now.

O'Connell asks for timing. Letter ASAP. Mulqueen says before the end of March for this to work for next fall.

Delsignore asks how long this lasts: three to five initially, but they have a long term support mechanism in place.

Biancheria wants to know if this is going to go out to the community before there being any vote of the School Committee. This will be part of the meetings held at each quadrant.

TLSS meeting

The Teaching Learning and Student Supports meeting is at 5:30 pm at the Durkin Administration Building.
The agenda is now online.
The reorganization plan starts on page 67.

ESEA Reauthorization

You can find President Obama's address from Saturday here:

NY Times on it here. here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

School reorganization and possible meeting dates

Here's hoping the whole agenda is up online Monday; there's stacks of stuff in the printed backup here that's relevant. I'm going to give you the best summary I can based on what I have.

Secondary Redesign: Year 1 (2010-11)
  • adjust class size to help gr.9
  • "refine school focus to develop district branding leverage"
  • community partnerships to extend school day, "maximize student access to core instruction, early college, and career readiness"
  • flexible staffing patterns
  • engage community with listening and learning
Followed in Years 2 and 3 by "refinement" based on data, "use brand measures to improve brand equity," expansion of partnerships, and reconfiguration of grades

Innovation Schools currently targeted for the South High Quadrant: Year 1 (2010-11)
  • "improved precision of instruction using Content and Language Instructional Model, Implement targeted programming to address needs of students" (here there's a reference to an included list of "Instructional Acceleration Phase Deployment Organizations" Phases A-C, which seems to include basic literacy and number skills, digital and communication skills, and inventive thinking and high productivity, all with too many capitals.)
  • flexible staffing patterns to extend the school day, capitilizing on community partnerships
  • "refine focus to develop district branding"
  • increase common planning time
  • partner with higher ed
  • engage the community with listening and learning
Followed in Years 2 and 3 by more of the first two, measuring brand equity, strategies recommended by instructional teams, extending partnerships

Elementary Redesign: Year 1 (2010-11)
  • flexible staffing patterns to extend the school day
  • strengthen and protect core instruction
  • recapture system efficiencies
  • community conversation regarding possible grade reconfiguration
Followed in Years 2 and 3 by reconfiguring grade levels, flexible staffing patterns to extend the school day, increased community partnerships, refinement of instructional planning and delivery

Level 4 Schools (Union Hill and Chandler Elementary): Year 1 (2010-2011)
  • Monitor and adjust improvement strategies
  • Eleven Essential Conditions for School Success (put together by the DoE, regrettably not online, characterized as "required" by Level 3 schools unless they "provide a compelling rationale for alternative approaches designed to achieve comparable or superior results" and there's just a slew of stuff here that probably deserves its own post)
  • targeted instructional model to support student success (back to Levels 1-3 above)
  • increased common planning time
  • flexible staffing and increased community partnerships
Followed in Years 2 and 3 by more of the first two, with the targeted instruction continuing in Year 2, replaced in Year 3 by increase supports for teaching and learning

Still with me?

There is a proposed schedule for public "administrative listening/learning sessions" as follows, all at 6-7 pm:

Monday, March 22, at Sullivan Middle on the South High Innovation Quadrant
Tuesday, March 23, at Union Hill on Union Hill
Wednesday, March 24, at Chandler Elementary on Chandler Elementary
Tuesday, April 6, at North High on grade reorganization
Wednesday, April 7, at Burncoat High on grade reorganization
Monday, April 12, at Doherty High on grade reorganization

That's what I've got for tonight. I am planning on being at this meeting tomorrow, and I have lots of questions. If you do, you might consider forwarding them to the members of the subcommittee (Mr. O'Connell, Ms. Biancheria, and Mr. Monfredo) before tomorrow's meeting.

Subcommittee meetings: edited

There are a couple of Worcester School committee standing committee meetings this week which may be of interest:
  • The Committee on Teaching, Learning and Student Supports meets tomorrow, Monday, at 5:30 at the Durkin Administration Building.The agenda isn't up online, so I'll cut to the chase: the items being dealt with tomorrow are the summer reading list, school reorganization including Union Hill and Chandler Elementary (on which I'm going to post separately), recess, dual enrollment, Tech and post-18 year old special ed students, and program use by students in alternative placement. If you have anything to say about any of these issues, you should come!
  • The Committee on Governance and Employee Issues is meeting Tuesday at 6:30 at the Durkin Administration Building on new smokeless tobacco products and a priority list for the next meeting with the Legislative delegation.
And if you can't make it, get in touch with School Committee members ahead of time!

Congratulations to the Burncoat Green Reapers!

When I visited Burncoat High on Thursday, I was waylaid in the hallway by Kevin Cox, and next thing I knew, I was off in the catacombs of Burncoat High, admiring robots. After that, I practically had to go to the robotics competition at WPI yesterday, didn't I?

The Telegram and Gazette unfortunately missed the real local story in the robotics competition. Of the over thirty teams competing yesterday, three were from city of Worcester public schools (plus Mass Academy also had a team). Many of the other teams are significantly better funded. They came in from out of state on motorcoaches, some were from tech schools, in some cases they combine their efforts across a district. The WPS teams were the underdogs in that respect.
Doherty, South, and Burncoat all individually fielded teams. Both South and Burncoat made the semi-finals. Burncoat made it to the finals, and they are now heading to Atlanta, Georgia in mid-April for the World Championships.
I'll quote Mr. Cox, their (volunteer) coach on this:

This Saturday, the Burncoat Robotics Team, 1735 Green Reapers, achieved what no other city school of Worcester (barring Mass Academy) has ever done, make it to the finals in WPI, FIRST Robotics Competition. These students demonstrated problem solving, cooperation, resourcefulness, creativity and hands on math and science. These technoletes need to be celebrated and have brought honor and were the epitome of academic rigor. They also won the Industrial Award for the best engineering design of the competition. They are Brian Kincaid, Alex Cornwell, Sam McNeal, Tristen ODonnell, Anna Brill, Carolyn Goldschmidt, Alexandra Zanca, Amy Maldonado and Katie Hennigan. Special thanks to our WPI Mentor Nick Galotti. After a few repairs to our broken wheel, it is on to the World Championships in Atlanta, GA Georgia Dome April 15-19. To those teachers, parent, administrators, and School Committee members that have supported us, we are glad to say you were part of the team’s success. This was a great success of an inner city school over many well funded other teams and undeniable proof that math and science is alive and well in the Worcester Public Schools.
Well done and good luck in Atlanta!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Aha! and Whew

A bit down in this AP article today is the key piece of news for Worcester Public Schools. While cities and towns are facing cuts of 4% in both local and education aid:
[t]he reduction in education funding would be lessened, though, if a 4-percent cut meant a city or town would fall below so-called per-student “foundation” levels established in a 1993 school reform law.
Thus, Worcester's ch. 70 aid will not be cut by 4%, as that would put Worcester substantially below foundation.

Not much help for the city budget, unfortunately.

Daytime SpedPAC meeting on the PQA report

Please join the PAC for a daytime meeting to discuss Worcester’s Coordinated Program Review (Compliance required by Federal & State Law)

March 18th 10am - 12pm **Thursday
Worcester Public Library Salem Sq. - Saxe room 3 Salem Sq. Worcester, MA 10608
(all library events are public)

Was your child's school or program cited in the report? (Link below for full report)

Did the report find problems specific to your child’s special education program; were you told your child could not attend a specific school or the Vocational Technical High School; did you experience IEP violations or discrimination? Join us to learn answers to these other pending issues. PAC members and guests/parents are encouraged to attend and to ask questions -- We look forward to seeing you there!
If you are unable to attend but wish us to ask a question on your behalf please forward the question via email to

Guest Speakers: Dr. Delores Gribouski, Manager of Student Support Services
Mr. Stephen Gannon, Director of Special Education

Worcester Public Schools Dr. Gribouski along with Mr. Steve Gannon (Worcester's Special Education Director) will talk about the results of the Coordinated Program Review report released in October 2009. They will explain what action has been taken so far as well as planned action in order for Worcester to be in compliance with current regulations. They will also be answering audience questions.

What is a Program Quality Review or PQR? The state comes to Worcester every 6 years to run a review programs and services that are mandated by Federal and State law. As one part of its accountability system, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education oversees local compliance with education requirements. The following areas are reviewed: Special Education, English Language Learners (ELL), Civil Rights, and Vocational Education. In preparing this report, the PQR team reviewed extensive written documentation regarding the operation of the district's programs, together with information gathered by means of the following Department program review methods

The full report can be found here:

National standards?

You may well have seen some of the news earlier this week on the latest drive for national education standards. I know this is an idea that is renewed every so often in education, and I hadn't weighed in because I hadn't read enough yet to know what this version entailed.

A few points:
  • the standards are "voluntary" but the quotes are intentional. There is every indication that the Obama administration intends to tie federal education funding to these particular standards (like them or not, Article X or not). Yes, like STG and RTTT
  • the standards include only English and math. This avoids the sticky issues of history and science (on which getting states to agree might well be politically impossible), but it ups the ante on states to focus only on those two things to the detriment of, well, science, history, art, music, or anything else.
  • there have been some pretty radical about-faces on this issue over the last few months, about the same time that the Gates Foundation started giving grants on this.
  • they don't appear to be very good standards. There are parts that are fine, but this seems to head us right back down a road that includes little understanding of how children actually learn
  • it's not often I find anything to agree with the Pioneer Institute about, but you could read their take, as well
Take a look, weigh in, and let me know what you think. Comments close the first week of April.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Read Meier

Deb Meier writes back to Diane Ravitch today.

Democracy itself is never an easy path to take. But we cannot nourish what we don't practice, so the fearfulness of teachers (which is actually an old trait which unionization did not cure—it just meant teachers relied on the union to be outspoken) is enemy No. 1 of serious school reform—and democracy. What we're engaged in now is "de-form"—an intensification of the old factory-style ideal with the advantages of modern technology. (In some states, teachers get their daily lesson plan by way of the computer which they must check each morning.)

In the Indiana school I visited, the principal was powerless to prevent her teaching staff from following the absurd "pacing guides" in every academic subject. (There are only two: language arts and math.) They must literally be on the same page regardless of whether their students do or don't understand what they're being taught. Enforcement involves both regular "formative" assessment tests and "coaches," who are obliged to act like spies for the central administration. The staff's respect for their principal and each other remains high, but it is wavering as they face her powerlessness to preserve innovative practices that the school was built upon or protect the staff when they do what they believe in.

This is completely insane.

FY11 budget Community Forum

Join Senators Michael Moore and Harriette Chandler at a Community Forum

Wednesday, March 31st at 6:30 p.m. at Worcester Technical High School

The forum will feature remarks from Michael Widmer, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and will include a discussion of the state of the economy and its impact upon state and local budgets here in Massachusetts, followed by a question-and-answer session. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is a non-partisan public policy organization that specializes in analyzing state and local fiscal, economic and tax policies.

If you have any questions, you can contact Amy Frigulietti in Senator Moore's office at 617-722-1485. Directions can be found at

ESEA re-authorization COMING UP

otherwise known as NCLB the past few times it's been re-authorized

The Obama Administration's Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Re-authorization Blueprint
Full Committee Hearing
2:30 PM, March 17, 2010 2175 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC
On Wednesday, March 17, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will appear before the House Education and Labor Committee to discuss the Obama administration's blueprint for overhauling the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind. The committee is currently working in a bipartisan and transparent way to rewrite the law.

You should start contacting your representatives and senators now. There is every indication that the Obama administration intends to re-authorize using the strictures (and lack of researched-based plans) they are now using for both Race to the Top and School Transformation Grants.

Incidentally, WPS gets 12% of their budget from the federal government.

CFOO online wrap

If you're following the Chief Financial and Operations Officer raise story, you'll want to read the T&G coverage and Worcester Magazine's mention.

And while we're talking about Worcester Magazine, there's a fun cover story on the local blogging scene. Thanks for the mention, guys, and I'm sorry that I apparently forced you to rewrite a paragraph of the cover story minutes before press time!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boston looks to close schools, $50 million gap

The Boston Globe is reporting today that the Superintendent in Boston is looking to close schools for next year, as Boston is facing a $50 million gap (no word on if that's based on Governor's budget or otherwise, but so far, the Governor's number is the only one we have).

It does not appear that the schools labeled "Level 4" last week are among them (I'm not sure they can get STG funding if they close, so those might well stay open).

Boston Public Schools have a $817.9 million budget for FY11. Worcester? A $333 million budget.

And a $6 million budget gap.

The dog and pony show goes to D.C.

And I just can't possibly equal the written raised eyebrow of this post, as the Race to the Top finalists go to Washington next week.

As one former federal official noted, not for attribution (because criticizing RTT is not a great career move in Washington these days), "Apparently ED [by which I'm assuming this official means the Education Department...or is he mis-abbreviating Arne Duncan?] has never met a governor or other elected official. The chances that a governor will feel constrained by these schoolmarmish rules are about nil. These folks are going to go all out. Lots of theatre, lots of bells and whistles."

Speaking of bells and whistles, word on the street also has it that an anonymous donor is paying the Aspen Institute to hold prep sessions for the RTT finalists. I've been told that the sessions are already underway and include feedback on state mock presentations from a whole additional layer of consultants and administration allies from organizations such as New Leaders for New Schools. Mmmmm, can't you just smell the relentless focus on substance?

The Scarlet Letter no more?

It's getting into spring testing time (I believe the resident third grader had the count below 10 days 'til MCAS), and so it may be time for a bit of classroom redecorating:

Just seeing the letter F before an exam may make a student more likely to fail, while seeing the letter A can enhance a student's chance of success...The researchers found that the A group performed significantly better than the F group, getting an average of 11.08 of 12 answers correct. The F group on average got 9.42 answers correct. The researchers found the same pattern of results in two more studies, and even when they labeled some papers "Test Bank ID:J" to introduce a more neutral third condition. The performance of students whose exams had that label fell somewhere in between those with the A and F test papers.
How about a big "A" on the whiteboard in class?

Ravitch lays it out

I don't want to over-post on Diane Ravitch, but her editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal lays out the problems with NCLB quite well:

In short, accountability turned into a nightmare for American schools, producing graduates who were drilled regularly on the basic skills but were often ignorant about almost everything else. Colleges continued to complain about the poor preparation of entering students, who not only had meager knowledge of the world but still required remediation in basic skills. This was not my vision of good education.

From yesterday's Globe

So, why did you vote in favor?

You'll see in today's paper the outcome of last week's long executive session: Brian Allen, the Chief Financial and Operations Officer for WPS was given a raise last week by the School Committee.


The short answer is the one alluded to by Councilor Rushton in last night's Council meeting (scroll down to 9:09): Mr. Allen had gotten another offer, and we'd rather keep him.
Mr. Allen oversees a budget of $333 million dollars. Last year--in part at the urging of state officials--he took on overseeing the operations side of WPS (something which in most systems of our size is an additional executive job). He's kept our numbers, which have never been the kind we'd like to see on a balance sheet, from being tragic. You might recall that the budget gap went from $26 million to more like $6 million? That had a lot to do with Brian Allen and his management. And he's done that year after year.

Councilor Rushton made a reference to Commissioner Moylan, who, you might remember, also received an attractive offer elsewhere. The City Manager with the Council made the effort to keep him.

If Mr. Allan left, the conversation on the council side would have been of how we could let such a person leave, and how could we mount a thousands of dollar national search for a replacement in the middle of the worst budget crisis in living memory? The majority of the School Committee did not want to do that. We already face enough difficulties; we don't need to find a new Chief Financial and Operations person at the same time.

As my colleague Mr. O'Connell says in today's paper, the timing could not be worse, and that was entirely covered in the conversation around this, believe me. We'd all rather that this happened at a time when budgets were flush, contracts were settled, and all was well.

But it's precisely because all is not well that we need to keep Mr. Allen on.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Item under suspension

And unfortunately due to the lack of remaining battery power in my netbook, I did not manage to post the one item that was school-related tonight at Council: an item under suspension from Councilor Clancy.
Councilor Clancy speaking of the raise voted for Brian Allen last week by School Committee (the vote was in executive session, then public session, but you might remember that there was a post executive session that went nearly to 11 last week; that's why we went long. It's also why no one was still at City Hall when it was publicly voted.)
Clancy says the raise is $16,000 (he's got a bad source; it's a bit under $12,000, to take effect in FY11, split between salary and retirement; and five days vacation).
Wonders if it was voted in chambers (it wasn't, but was voted publicly; the lights and cameras were off in chambers), wasn't on the agenda (not uncommon for School Committee to have items coming out of executive session that aren't on the agenda)
Demanding (I think would not be too strong a word) an explanation from the administration and the School Committee. Motion to that effect
Eddy and Haller support him, with Eddy citing the (below) item in today's paper on the possibe budget cuts.
Rushton not rushing to judgment, cites raise given Moylan a few years ago lest he be lost to another city (an apt comparison, as it happens)
Lukes, speaking from the chair, thought she'd voted this down, didn't like the vote on federal funds last week "to increase student achievement" and calls for greater communication
Unanimous motion to request further information from the school administration

Cutting ch.70

You no doubt saw in today's paper the news that the Legislature is warning that there may well be local aid (9C) and school aid (ch.70) cuts.for the FY11 budget. How much, one wonders, would that be for Worcester Public Schools?
$8.9 million

Monday, March 8, 2010

Central Falls update

And if you haven't caught it, indications are that the union and administration will be going back to the bargaining table in Central Falls.
Meanwhile in the rest of Rhode Island, the four other underperforming schools--all in Providence--went for other options.
(And yes, Rhode Island is a finalist for Race to the Top.)

Just for Monday

Remember mitosis?
Here's how one science teacher presents the concept:

He's got it

Clive hits the nail on the head.
And while I haven't said anything about it here, national education circles have been very much abuzz about Ravitch's new book. If you follow my links to the discussion she has with Deb Meier on "Bridging Differences," the views in her book won't surprise you. They're a shock to those who only knew her in NCLB, however.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wondering what they think of the guy in charge in NYC?

Yes, that's Joel Klein running up the steps as the protest starts.

Does this mean the Commissioner won't be here?

The Commissioner of Education has scheduled another Race to the Top summit for March 18 here in Worcester.
He scheduled that before this past week's notification that Massachusetts is a finalist...and will have to present in Washington that week.
I've heard no word on whom will be heading down to D.C., but it looks like they might want to be good.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wheels within wheels

Much of the confusion over the Worcester Level 4 schools is that we're dealing with several levels of rules and regulations at once.
  • There's the here-in-the-city part, which is that the superintendent is the manager for the Worcester Public Schools, and can move--and fire--staff, while the School Committee is the group that evaluates the superintendent.
  • There's the state part, which is the Commissioner of Education declaring two of our schools Level 4 schools, and there being a plan under the new state law for those schools, along with regulations (currently in public comment) about those schools.
  • There's the federal part, which, as the federal government has, under Article X of the Constitution, extremely circumscribed powers over education, and so can only tie federal money to regulations. In this particular case, this is what the Obama administration is calling School Transformation Grants (which were School Improvement Grants), with a tie to the Race to the Top funds.
All of these things are in play at once when we talk about Chandler Elementary and Union Hill.

To start from the fed, if you don't take the money, you're not tied by the federal government's rules. The four part turnaround plan comes from Washington, not Boston (or Malden). The STG money is made available for schools the states have deemed underperforming; if you get that tag, you can apply for the federal money. But you have to play by the federal rules.

The state does have regulatory control over schools. The new ed law said that underperforming schools were to be measured by:
...multiple indicators of school quality in making determinations...such as student attendance, dismissal rates and exclusion rates, promotion rates, graduation rates or the lack of demonstrated significant improvements for 2 or more consecutive years in core academic subject, either in the aggregate or among subgroups of students...
What our schools actually WERE measured on, as explained by the superintendent Thursday night and in explanatory paperwork that went out to the Legislature, is the MCAS exam. MCAS results were crunched a couple of different ways, but it was all MCAS scores.
Further, the regulations now being proposed while including other measures, say that schools will be measured:
1. annual growth in MCAS performance for students at the school as compared with peers across the Commonwealth (for years available, up to four),
2. in the case of high schools, graduation and dropout rates for high schools,
3. other indicators of school performance including student attendance, suspension, exclusion, and promotion rates upon the determination of each indicator's reliability and validity.
which, while it includes some of the same things, is a very different list in terms of importance and emphasis, isn't it? (That last phrase "upon the determination of each indicator's reliability and validity is particularly dismissive.)
If this strikes you as a list that is in any way problematic, you can let the Department of Ed know by Friday by emailing them at . I'd urge you to do so.
Also, if you see any inherit conflict between what the law says and what the new regs say, you might let your legislators know. They did pass the law, after all, with the expectation that the Board of Ed would follow it.

Those schools, again according to the new state law, must have a stakeholder group generated. There's a lengthy list of who gets represented (basically, anyone who's anyone gets a seat: teachers, parents, admin, school committee, city admin, and so forth). That group is to generate the turnaround plan.
Here's the part about jobs: that plan may include having the principal and half the teachers reapply for their jobs. But it doesn't have to. Also, note that this comes from the community, not from either the commissioner or the school administration. That plan then goes through several varieties of approval (from the superintendent, from the commissioner) and everyone gets to give input.
That's where the "who gets fired/stays/rehired" part comes in from the state and that's the part we have to do, regardless of who takes money. The Legislature gave a great deal of power to the Commissioner in this law, yes, but a great deal of power is supposed to rest with the community, as well.

I'll let you sort out how well that's being done.

That said, there is definitely pressure coming from the state to simply use the federal rules in our turnaround models. Since the Commissioner has to sign off on the plans, could he just say "Hey, you have to choose one of these"?
Possibly. I'd like to see him have to say that, as I don't think it was the intention of the law.

As for the city: there was some city oversight being exercised on Thursday night, as the School Committee holds the purse strings for the Worcester Public Schools. Technically, that means they have grant oversight (though, from what I understand, they don't tend to use that oversight). As choosing one of the four turnaround models is required for applying for federal funds, the open question was: do we want to apply for that money if it requires us to use these models?
I've said plenty here in the past (and a bit on Thursday) about where those models come from and if they in fact work. As, in the end, the policy decisions of the Worcester Public Schools rests with the School Committee, weighing these policies is part of the job.

And if you have an opinion, well, you can find our email addresses here.

Again, where it was left: the administration is discovering the relationship between Race to the Top requirements and STG (and the turnaround models) and the due date of the grant application. At that point, the School Committee will vote on whether WPS ought to apply for federal funds.
Sorry for such a lengthy post. I've been flooded with questions on who has to do what the past few days, and I hope this cleared it up a bit.