Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Midland Street principal

For those of you keeping track of the summer principal changes, Michele Sullivan, who served as acting principal at Belmont Community School during the last year (previously she was the assistant principal), has been named to the position of Midland Street School principal, effective tomorrow.
If you're interested in meeting her, you can do so Thursday, August 5 from 9-10:30 am in the school library.

Union Hill has a flower bed

Pretty proud of this, I must admit...
With high praise for the school plant guys who put it in, filled it with gravel (for drainage) and loam, for Frank in Millbury (Union Hill alum!) who donated many of the plants (and much advice), for Dee in Quinsig Village for the irises and more, for the Oak Hill CDC gang for watering, and for Marie Morse, who thinks that more green on Chapin Street is a good thing.
Oh, and my kids, who were enthusiastic planters.

Should anyone wonder, it's mostly prairie grasses and flowers of various kinds, as I have it on good authority that those are what stand the best chance of surviving the oven it's going to be.

The value of a kindergarten teacher

If you read this(that $320,000 per teacher is fairly eye-catching, isn't it?), also read this about what skills a kindergarten teacher imparts. It isn't just the letter and number skills.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New members named to the MA Board of Ed

...and there's a Worcester member again!
Professor James McDermott of Clark University, along with Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, Chief Executive Officer of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, has been named to the Massachusetts Board of Education by Governor Patrick.

While I know neither of these people, I'll say that having a recently-in-the-classroom representative and someone (or two!) who are working in urban schools with a variety of kids is an excellent direction.

Anyone local worked with Professor McDermott? I'd be interested in hearing about him.

MA is in for Round 2

Massachusetts is a finalist for Round 2 of Race to the Top. Round 2 of the dog and pony show starts August 9 in D.C.

Winners will be announced in September.

UPDATE: I should note that there are 19 finalists this round, and Duncan "expects" to award money to between 13 and 15 winners. Much better odds this go round.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Educating Arne

...or trying, anyway. Isn't that all teachers can do, in the end?

Race to the Top finalists announced tomorrow

I'm not certain that we know how much money is actually around for it, but the finalists (that's a correction) of Round 2 for Race to the Top will be announced tomorrow at 12:30.
(and yes, then they go present in Washington, and get culled further from there)

(as for the "Quiet Revolution"? I'm beginning to think that he really doesn't leave his bubble. It definitely isn't quiet out here. And revolutions don't start from guys who have ".gov" as their email address.)

Who will guard the guards themselves?

(Yes, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? H/T Juvenal)

The excellent question raised by the Hechinger Report today perhaps would better go "who will hold accountable the accountability officers?" in light of Michelle Rhee's firing of 241 Washington, D.C. teachers. Their terminations were under D.C.'s new evaluation system, which, for teachers of grades 4-8, is 50% based on their "value added" or how much their students' test scores go up over the year.

Professor Aaron Pallas has an excellent summary of how this trend--and it is a trend, make no mistake about it--misunderstands at its base what tests evaluate and how they can legitimately be used:

Among the key critiques: the tests were neither designed nor validated for use in evaluating teachers; a teacher’s location in the value-added distribution can bounce around from one year to the next, or from subject to subject; students may be assigned to teachers’ classrooms in ways that invalidate the assumptions of the value-added models; a teacher’s value-added score may be sensitive to which student and school factors are included or omitted in the model; and the value-added models produce estimates that are riddled with error or uncertainty, yet are often treated as though they’re precise measurements.

What is troubling to me is that, to date, districts using these complex value-added systems to evaluate teacher performance haven’t made the methodologies known to the general public. New York City’s Department of Education has produced Teacher Data Reports for several years running, but technical reports on the methodologies used haven’t been released to the public. Not so serious when these tools are being used for internal diagnostic purposes, perhaps, but there is an important set of policy goals that are compromised when these methodologies are not fully disclosed.

We continue to have this conversation as if the tests are, in and of themselves, a solid measurement, which they aren't, and then extend the error by using them to judge something they were never designed to judge. To compound this further by refusing to make the process and reports public? A disaster.

Further notes: 165 teachers were terminated due to performance; the remainder were for licensure problems and the like. For what the rest of the IMPACT evaluation is like and the problems therein, see here and here.

Post-state budget passage

Digging out from the flurry that my desk has become (ah, summer!), I see that I have not posted the FY11 final state budget estimates for Worcester. When the governor signed the budget, he made what could be as much as $1 million in changes for Worcester Public Schools for FY11. These are:
  • 11% of the Quality Kindergarten Grant, which would reduce our allocation by $120,000
  • 10% of the Expanded Learning Time Grant (which clearly would hit particular schools)
  • the charter school reimbursement. The estimate was for a $287,600 drop, but that was not a final number.
  • School Improvement Grants (yes, the SIGs) could go down between $243,500 and $414,000 (that's 50-85%).
All together, that would total around $1 million.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Common Core

Massachusetts has been garnering national attention as it joins the rush of states to adopt the Common Core. The Board of Ed voted unanimously ('though it should be noted that several members were absent, one of whom would have voted against) to adopt at their meeting yesterday.
Most of us now are wondering just what this means. The one thing we know is that the door is now open for what should be ADDED to the Common Core in what Massachusetts covers. The Board will be taking those suggestions for the "Core plus" which they will then adopt.
As for the frameworks? One assumes they go by the by. Past practice shows that these changes tend to move glacially, 'though considering the grand rush to earn federal dollars that's gone on lately, that may not be the case. I've also already seen questions circulating about just who is going to PAY for the new curriculum, professional development, etc, etc, that goes along with a major curriculum shift.
Heading into FY12? Local districts aren't going to have the money!

Capital spending

$6 million capital approved by the City Council
$51 million in bonding under the energy audit (but that may well not all be spent)
also a motion to plan how we will spend this money as it moves forward

O'Connell is moving that the School Committee be directly involved in the work (from planning to completion) under the capital plan
O'Brien points out that any plans have to go within the city's self-imposed bonding cap
Allen points out that the projects will not involve additions or anything of that sort, but he agrees with the intent.
"plan is to piggyback on the ESCO money and really do complete rehabilitation" of particular schools
(and sorry, I've had my abbrevation on ESCO wrong...Energy Saving Company, apparently)


O'Connell has a report coming back on the discontinuation of the horticulture program; refers to subcommittee.
Mullaney speaks that this has been discontinued due to lack of interest; asks for a roll call on the referral to subcommittee.

Novick asks where the nearest horticulture program is (we're required under state law to transport kids who are interested in a vo-tech program that we don' t have); nobody knows.

also asks for a report on how WPS is covering their aspects of the settlement agreement with the Green Hill Park Coalition, DEP, and the City (the settlement allowed the Tech school to be built on what was originally park land)

Boone says we face "the evolution of the end of the day, we do have to look more broadly as a district what we're doing to meet the needs" of our city and our state..."the reality is we can't meet every need"

Item carries.

"underpromise and overdeliver"

O'Brien's comment regarding the plan..."we'd better be sure we do it!"

"is it the vision that the redesign team will include the stakeholders?"
various smaller groups, says the superintendent
"arms coming from redesign team...continue all that work"
"they (the stakeholders) have not disengaged at all"
O' Brien says he'd expect that the community members could still be involved
Boone agrees that it will be those folks as well as others

Will the new hires go forward for September? (the stakeholders have called for parent liasions, for example) Boone speaks of the applications for money...if we aren't fully funded, we may have to make adjustments to the plan.
O'Brien asks if we have to submit this with a budget. No, says the superintendent.
O'Brien says we're going to be held accountable for this plan (implicit, then, if we are not funded or funded fully, then how do we fulfill this plan?)

O'Brien asks Allen if we can have a list of what's going to be done this summer at these schools.
O'Brien asks how the $125,000 early implementation grant is being spent...professional development, largely, as flushed out by the principals.
(Note that $38,000 went to a $19,000 per principal stipend, over and above their salary.)

O'Brien speaks of the public concern that the money goes to the schools (not to consultants, not to DAB); asks for a budget breakdown of how the money is being spent

asks if the plan will go the state in fall? Yes, after it comes through School Committee
asks that the school communities get together before the plan goes to the Commissioner

30 day comment period

Novick reads from the law regarding the 30 day comment period for stakeholders and school committee members: how is that being handled?

Being sent to stakeholders...sent to subcom

Level 4 turnaround plans

Note that the "turnaround plans" have been created by the administration based in large part on the "stakeholder plans" that came back at last month's meeting. They also have been worked through and with the DESE (the state).

"pushing this out to the Commissioner's office for approval"
continuing conversation with union for pieces that need negotiation
principals then work with redesign teams (as they have been already)

"to date we have not received any information on the bridge grant"
state finalizing processes on School Turnaround Grants, now that they've received the money from the fed

The turnaround plan is required under state law
The redesign team works toward meeting the federal regs for the federal money

"measurable annual goals" have not been finalized yet (we don't yet have 2009-10 MCAS or retention data yet)
(the district is also coming across errors, or at least questions, in the data provided by the state in some cases)

The plan is submitted under a state-required template.

June Eressy speaks of looking forward "with enthusiasm and trepidation"
Marie Morse agrees that "this ship does not sail itself"

School Committee meets at 4

School Committee meets 4 pm today. Coming out of admin is the turnaround plan for the Level 4 schools.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Massachusetts Board of Ed votes on the Common Core tomorrow

If you haven't yet sent in your thoughts to the Board of Ed on Massachusetts adopting the Common Core, today's the day to do it! They vote tomorrow at their meeting at 8:30 am in Malden.
The Boston Globe (no big surprise) weighs in favorably today, as did former commissioners of education Antonucci and Driscoll yesterday. (Driscoll is now on the board that's organizing a national test, so suffice to say he has a vested interest beyond Massachusetts on this one.) You might also note how extensively current Commissioner Chester is quoted in the Globe editorial. Alas for the sharp eyes of the Fourth Estate!

Governor Weld weighs in against today, 'though his concern primarily seems to be protecting the MCAS against all comers. This continues the myth that the teachers' union is in favor of adopting the national standards (I've seen no such indication from anyone; have you?) as it would purportedly weaken...something. As Weld is supporting Charlie Baker's run for Governor against Patrick, there's some election year bluster in there, too.

Unfortunately, most of this misses the central point, which is that Massachusetts has a good set of standards. The Massachusetts frameworks, which cover all subjects, K-12, were prepared over much time, with a great deal of effort, and with much consultation of those who know the subjects, those who teach the subjects, and those who value them. The weaknesses of the current testing regime aside (and you know I don't say that lightly!), to set aside a solid, well-worked set of standards while harring off after national--and weaker--ones, is a mistake.

It's one I very much hope the Board of Education doesn't make.

Monday, July 19, 2010

That's why he gets paid...

Should you be interested, Arne Duncan makes $199,700 a year and is worth between $1.58 and $3.7 million.

You could let people go hungry...

So when asked how the Obama administration would propose funding the education jobs bill if the House did not cut Race to the Top, the suggestion apparently came back: Cut food stamps.

(Via emptywheel, via Schools Matter)

Open Meeting Law changes

If you are among those who follow the deliberations of the School Committee, the City Council, or any other public body in Massachusetts, you'll want to read the city solicitor's memo to the City Council on the changes to the Open Meeting Law.

Millions or Mrs. Irvine

Excellent article in today's New York Times on Burlington, Vermont's decision to remove a popular, effective principal in order to qualify for federal turnaround money:

Ms. Irvine’s most recent job evaluation began, “Joyce has successfully completed a phenomenal year.” Jeanne Collins, Burlington’s school superintendent, calls Ms. Irvine “a leader among her colleagues” and “a very good principal.” ...

While doing her regular job, Ms. Irvine also developed a new arts curriculum. She got a grant for a staff trip to the Kennedy Center in Washington for arts training. She rented vans so teachers could visit arts magnets in nearby states. She created partnerships with local theater groups and artists. In English class, to learn characterization, children now write a one-person play and perform it at Burlington’s Very Merry Theater.

A sign of her effectiveness: an influx of new students, so that half the early grades will consist of middle-class pupils this fall.

Ms. Irvine predicts that in two years, when these new “magnet” students are old enough to take the state tests, scores will jump, not because the school is necessarily better, but because the tests are geared to the middle class.

Well worth reading the entire article, particularly for the fifth grader, a recent immigrant, was certain that the passage on Neil Armstrong was fiction: “He said, ‘Oh, Mrs. Irvine, man don’t go on the moon, man don’t go on the back of eagles, this is not true.’ ”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Does this mean what I think it means?

The Second Circuit federal appeals court has just upheld the decision of a lower court to dismiss a lawsuit over NCLB:
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, agreed with a lower court that the central claim in Connecticut's 2005 lawsuit was premature because the U.S. secretary of education had not taken any enforcement action against the state.

Which would mean...they should skip the testing, and see if the federal government tries to enforce it, and then sue on the basis of an unfunded mandate? Is it not really a mandate if no one has forced the government to, well, mandate it?

Turnaround funds coming...eventually

As well captured by today's Telegram article, the federal funds announced yesterday by the Department of Education are the same funds...that we already knew were coming (the fed has been making announcements, a few states at a time, since the spring). It's the Level 4 schools money. Note that, as mentioned at the Worcester School Committee meeting on June 24 (and my notes from the MASC meeting on May 8), the half a million per school of turnaround funds will not be available this year, as the application deadline is too soon. There are some "bridge" funds for this year.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Of standardized testing, teaching evaluation, and trust

or Heinlein rides again...

If the above are of interest, you should read this.

Teach for America

I'd be remiss in not pointing out the cover story in the New York Times on Teach for America from earlier this week. While plenty of people love the notion of sending out our "best and brightest" Ivy League grads to the inner city and needy rural areas to teach, the article does a decent job of balancing that with a few drawbacks: most notably, the new teachers get a five week crash course before they're in the classroom, and rarely do they stay for longer then their two year commitment. At a time when so much emphasis is on training and professional development, and when it's been widely acknowledged that the longer someone teaches, the better the teacher gets, both are troubling.
You can read a summary of the research on TFA here.
And there's some thought of TFA expanding in Massachusetts.

California adequacy lawsuit

The state of California is facing a lawsuit that their funding for education is not adequate:
Public Advocates, the San Francisco-based public interest law firm and advocacy group that filed the suit on behalf of parents, students and several grassroots organizations, claims that California’s current funding system “fails to provide children with an opportunity to obtain a meaningful education.”

Recall that the Massachusetts ed reform law in 1993 was passed due to an adequacy lawsuit.

Monday, July 12, 2010

shh...don't tell the kids

...but a quick persusal of yesterday's flyers demonstrates that the retailers of America think it's time for back to school shopping.
Should you be heading out to do some early bargain hunting for school supplies, please remember Set for Success, Councilor Kate Toomey's great effort to collect back-t0-school items for homeless kids in Worcester. If your kid (or a kid you know) needs it or has it on a classroom list, count on someone else needing it, too: notebooks, pens, pencils, sticky notes, colored pencils, crayons, markers, binders, folders, etc.
Right now you can drop donations off at Friendly House, or stash them away with your kids' items, and pull them out later in the summer, when there will be donation boxes all over the city.

We now return to our usual summer programming.

Friday, July 9, 2010

There's three kinds of lies...

sorry, obvious title, I know...

The news out of Texas, where the state testing is done by none other than Pearson, has been rather alarming lately. It seems that there's been dramatic improvement in the results of their state tests and the school scoring that accompanies it. Texas State Representative Scott Hochberg has held a hearing regarding it, closing questioning the state's associate commissioner for assessment, accountability and data quality Chriss Cloudt over the results:

Hochberg asked them what accounted for the huge increase in the number of schools and school districts rated as "recognized" and "exemplary" in 2009.

Jones said he couldn't "intelligently answer that question," but Cloudt jumped in.

"Yes, I can," she said. "Performance."

She elaborated that the percentage of schools and districts rated in the top two categories had gone from the teens to the 60s because the state "defined a body of knowledge that students must learn and demonstrate knowledge of, your testing program measures that content and what you want to see is increases in performance on that test over time."

'Projected' numbers

Hochberg appeared skeptical. He noted that the number of school districts given the top rating of "exemplary" based on TAKS scores had risen from 43 in 2008 to 117 in 2009.

He also noted that 73 of the 74 additional "exemplary" districts used the Texas Projection Measure to attain that distinction.

There was an effort this year to count kids who improved, rather than just those who had passed, with this somewhat startling result:

After a couple of examples in which a school got to count a student as "passing" with depressingly low scores, Hochberg asked Cloudt and an associate to see how many correct answers a fourth-grader with barely passing math and reading scores at Benavidez Elementary in Houston needed to be counted as "passing" the writing test.

The unbelievable answer Hochberg had reached himself was confirmed by Cloudt: The child needed zero correct answers for his or her teachers and administrators to get credit for his or her "improvement."

There's also been some question on the growth model used:

Cloudt said the Texas Projection Measure is a "growth measure." To most of us, that would imply that it looked at how a child did this year compared to last.

Hochberg brought out that it doesn't. It looked only at last year's scores and, based on a formula devised from thousands of prior results, projected that children who pass reading or math were likely to pass other tests in future years.

It seems, however, that it wasn't intended to be used the way that the state has been using it, even by Pearson:

Cloudt continued to defend the projections, saying repeatedly that when a failing child was counted as passing it was because "hundreds and hundreds" of other children whose test scores fit the exact same pattern later passed.

But again, Hochberg was ready. He called as a witness an expert from Pearson, the national testing company that devised the Texas Projection Measure.

She explained that the formula used to "project" future success was not made by looking at the records of earlier kids with identical scoring patterns. It was based, again, on aggregate numbers that included the highest and lowest performing students as well as those in the middle.

Reporter Rick Casey has another article in the Houston Chronicle on this coming on Sunday.

Corporatizing education

The book, written by a former military officer, offered us the advice that schools should be run more like businesses. I thought to myself, “Does he mean AIG, GM or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory?”

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Manager of Special Education approved

Tonight the School Committee unanimously approved Marco Rodrigues as Manager (note the title change to make it parallel) of Special Education for a three year contract.

School Committee meets to consider Special Ed director contract

You may recall that at the last meeting, the Worcester School Committee voted to hire Marco Rodrigues for the Special Education Director position. As this position is one of a handful directly hired by the School Committee, the Committee votes his contract.
Executive session is at 6 pm, followed by a public vote.
The meeting is on the fourth floor at the Durkin Administration Building (which, yes, is air-conditioned!).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Obey amendment passes House: headed to reconcilation

The Obey amendment passed the House (you can find the list of who voted against it here). As the amendment was not included in the Senate appropriations bill, it goes to reconciliation. Worth calling your Senators to ask them to support this change.

Quotable quote: Obey

"I didn’t come here to be Arne Duncan’s congressman. Who do people think put the money into these programs in the first place? I did ... Welcome to Washington and welcome to hard choices.”

via The Answer Sheet

It's Independence Day...

The National Education Association has voted "no confidence" in Race to the Top guidelines and in the federal DoE's use of competitive grants. This came after "protracted debate" at their national convention in New Orleans this weekend.
And yes, that went through on July 4.

And if you're interested, Teacher Beat is covering the convention, as well as the AFT convention which comes next.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

School Committee meeting Wednesday

The Worcester School Committee will meet Wednesday, July 7 at 6 pm in executive session to consider the contract for the new special education director. The contract will be voted in open session following the executive session.
The meeting is on the fourth floor of the Durkin Administration Building.