Thursday, March 31, 2011

No makeup day required

A teacher (yes!) pointed me to this letter from Commissioner Chester dated February. The pertinent passage (highlighted) reads as follows:
All days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies between April 1 and June 1 must be made up to ensure a 180-day school year or at least until the district has reached its previously scheduled 185th day, whichever comes first. If all five snow days have been used prior to this point, the district is not required to schedule additional school days.
(emphasis added)
Worcester, for those who have lost count, has had seven snow days.  I don't know how the Superintendent will handle it--I haven't asked--but no makeup day is required by the state.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

She ran away to avoid the test

Parents whose daughter disappeared over the weekend in Orange, CT, were relieved to find her down the road this morning. Why did Isabella run away?
After she was found, she told her parents she was stressed about the Connecticut Mastery Tests being given at school, her father, Roman Oleschuck, said.
So, think they'll force her to do the make-up?

Yes, there are problems with standardized tests

I've been following with interest USA Today's series of investigative articles* regarding cheating (and potential cheating) on standardized tests nationally. The latest article regarding Washington, D.C. not surprisingly raised questions about the tenure of Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor. What was surprising was how she chose to respond to those questions:
"It isn't surprising," Rhee said in a statement Monday, "that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved ... unless someone cheated."
USA TODAY's investigation into test scores "is an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels," Rhee said.
Rhee, who said Monday night that the investigation "absolutely lacked credibility," had declined to speak with USA TODAY despite numerous attempts before an article ran online and in Monday's newspaper.
Matt Yglesias calls her on it, but then (as usually with Yglesias on education; what's up with that?), draws the wrong conclusions, and is lambasted by his readers. Salon points out the defense is...lacking. Dana Goldstein on the Daily Beast rightly links this to education policy gone amuck, and brings us back to Campbell's Law.
Meanwhile, Rhee aside, D.C. schools are going to look at the allegations more closely.

*I can't find a link that will give you the whole series, but you've find a drop-down menu on the next link that gives them all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A few notes

Interesting mix of tone today. The MASC leadership was very anti-state, anti-federal, anti-mandate. I think the AYP "ever going upward" is finally hitting home, as are the crunch of unfunded mandates. Plus there's a general cluelessness abroad about education and how it works at the local level.
The revenues for this quarter are up! The House is trying hard to fully fund Chapter 70! They would love us to come up with things they can do for us that don't cost money!

Notes from Mass Association of School Committee Day on the Hill

Notes from the Mass Association of School Committees Day on the Hill

Dorothy Presser: "you know about're lobbied all the time"
"we are constituents and we have good information to offer them"
"when we come to the State House, we have information to they can help our students and our communities"

Monday, March 28, 2011

A familiar name to the rescue

You may have wondered what happened to Tom Payzant, former superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. In addition to a position as professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he is now a "Superintendent in Residence" at, yes, the Broad Foundation.
One assumes that it's in this latter capacity that he felt the need to write a rousing defense of the recently fired Maria Goodloe-Johnson, dismissed from the Seattle Public Schools. This is heartily countered by those closest to the action over on the Seattle Education 2010 blog.
Fascinating comments about management style, in particular.

McDuffy, Hancock, and education funding

As it was raised more than once in yesterday's editorial page, I thought it wise to remind us all:
  • the reason that education funding is going up in Worcester is because the city is legally required to do so (this managed to not make it into the City Manager's budget presentation last week, either).

Worcester was among the communities that brought suit against the Secretary of the Executive Office of Education (in McDuffy) and against the Commissioner of Education (in Hancock), charging that the state was failing to meet its constitutional obligations to provide education for the Commonwealth's children (per the passage cited at the bottom of the page). In the first case, the court found for the plaintiffs; in the second, the court recommended an adequacy study. In both case, the charge was that the state was not adequately funding education. (Good summary here)
However, an upshot of the McDuffy case was the 1993 Ed Reform law (signed just three days after the case was settled), which provided for foundation funding. This not only obligates the state around education funding; it also obligates local communities around levels of education funding.
Worcester is legally required to increase funding this year for education.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"you can't spin the story when you stand before God"

I mentioned the Alamo letter of Superintendent John Kuhn from Texas regarding the proposed education cuts for FY12. He's interviewed by Anthony Kuhn on EdWeek, where he says the following:
The assumption that the school reform movement doesn't permit negative outcomes requires you to believe that they fix kids when the hard, unmentionable truth is that they cull them. And I take the culled ones and do the best I can with them. And I'm good with this arrangement because you can't spin the story when you stand before God.
(To which one can only add "Amen!")
He also addressed a rally of educators in Austin:

We need more administrators like this one.

Union/management relationships being shaken by state action

There is a lengthy article in last week's Education Week discussing the impact the actions taken by the Wisconsin governor and legislature are having on local negotiating relationships. (The article is here, behind a paywall.) In sum, the point is: these are relationships of some standing, and in many cases, they are good negotiating relationships. After all, these people have to live with each other; many of the examples given in the article are from small towns. The school committee has children in the local schools; the teachers often live locally; and contracts come up for renewal every three years. Whatever animus develops through negotiations, at the end of the day, you need to have a livable relationship between management and the workers.
That's been put in some jeopardy by the actions of Governor Walker and those around the country taking other similar stances. As a result of what's happening, school boards have put their negotiations on fast forward before the law takes effect. At last note, there's now a bar on enforcement, giving boards a bit more time.
Limiting negotiations to only salary necessarily makes them more difficult. If you've watched any contracts settled, usually there's something given by one party in one part for something they get in another part. If all there is to talk about is money, there's no flexibility in the negotiations.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Social studies MCAS

DOA for this year at least, as the Governor didn't fund it in his budget, and the Board of Ed went along with this at their Tuesday meeting.

Darling-Hammond: US out of step with successful nations

Linda Darling-Hammond (whom I've taken to thinking of as the Shadow Secretary of Education) posted a thoughtful piece reflecting on the international education summit held last week in New York. You can also find it (with introduction) on the Daily Kos.
The first ever International Summit on Teaching, convened last week in New York City, showed perhaps more clearly than ever that the United States has been pursuing an approach to teaching almost diametrically opposed to that pursued by the highest-achieving nations.  
Well worth reading.

Research and Accountability

As to the research and accountability position referenced in yesterday's T&G editorial (and Mr. Rosen's column of earlier this month), I'm told the position has been filled and the new person started work yesterday.
No word on salary, 'though it should be on the April 7 School Committee agenda.
There was a discussion of this position when it was first posted in December. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I've got a giant backlog of things I've been meaning to post on. Here's two quick ones:
UPDATE: Make that three:
  • Debunking Bill Gates: "...his specific prescriptions, and the urgency he attaches to them, are based on the misrepresentation of one fact, the misinterpretation of another and the demagogic presentation of a third."

    Upstairs at DAB

     You might remember a bit ago I made it up to the 4 1/2 floor of the Administration Building and took some photos. Today, with a custodian escorting me, I saw the fifth and sixth (yes, there are six floors) of the Administration Building.
    First, here's the view out the windows on the fifth floor. This is out the front of the building, looking towards downtown (you can see City Hall's tower if you look closely):

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    City Manager O'Brien's fiscal State of the City presentation

    For those looking for liveblogging, I should note that WordPress is down, so Worcester Magazine is offline. Also, the internet connection is SLOW. UPDATE: Cover It Live is now up.
    Updating as I go; hit refresh!

    City Manager cites North High construction as a sign of fiscal progress

    Revenue declines, including excise taxes

    Local aid reduced 40% since FY08 (note that the bar graph starts at $30,000,000; this exaggerates the size of the drop)

    MCAS testing week one

    You may have seen in the Telegram and Gazette that the MCAS test starts in Massachusetts this week.
    Of course, if you're anywhere around schools, as a teacher or a parent, this comes as no surprise. You've probably received countdowns, reminders, explanations, and lots and lots of tension.
    We've done this now in Massachusetts for ten years, and frankly, it was bad enough when we were only putting tenth graders through it. Now it starts with third graders--that's the age of eight.
    And every year, I hear the stories:
    • of the kid who throws up every single morning before coming to school, because he's so tense about the test.
    • of the kid who wakes up with screaming nightmares the week before.
    • of the kids who wander out to the kitchen at 11 pm and ask, "what happens if I fail? Will my teacher lose her job? Will I have to leave school?"
    I honestly think that we as a society have a lot to answer for in doing this to children. There are those who claim it's for their own good. We might like to think so. I think it's for our own convenience, because we can't be bothered to do the hard--and expensive--work of evaluating students properly.
    We have a lot to answer for.

    Upcoming meetings

    • The Worcester School Committee and the Worcester City Council will hold a joint meeting on Tuesday, April 5 at 7 pm at City Hall.* Expect there to be talk about the budget! (This will be preceded at 5:30 by a joint executive session around negotiations, so no guarantees on the public session start time.)
    • The next meeting of the Worcester School Committee is next Thursday, April 7 at 7 pm. This is the session that will include presentations by all five of the innovation school teams: Goddard School, Goddard Scholars (at Sullivan Middle), UPCS, Chandler Magnet, and Woodland. This precedes public meeting(s?) that will take place during April before the School Committee votes on them in May.
    • A reminder that due to April vacation, the second School Committee meeting of the month takes place on Thursday, April 28.

     *note that this conflicts with CPPAC which meets at the same time at the Worcester Public Library

      Monday, March 21, 2011

      Lecture on School Food

      The Cyrus Topol Memorial Lecture at Worcester State this year will be on the topic of school food. The speaker is Janet Poppendieck, Ph.D., sociology professor at Hunger College, City University of New York. Respondents include: Donna Lombardi, Director of School Food Services for Worcester Public Schools, Justine Kahn, Director of Child Nutrition Outreach for Project Bread and Maureen Binienda, Principal of South High Community School. 

       Tuesday, April 5th
      11:30-1:00 p.m., Blue Lounge 
      Student Center, Worcester State University 

      Thursday, March 17, 2011

      updated status report on MCAS action plan

      Biancheria: request that tonight we receive an update on the action plan on MCAS
      "six weeks have passed...we have not received an update"--too long to be updated
      "this is all relative to the importance of student achievement"
      professional development for all staff members by administration


      • for a report on homeless students
      • CORI requests being sent earlier (so parents can fill them out earlier)
      • student representative to Mass Association of School Committees Day on the Hill (Beacon Hill)
      • consideration of a "Young Man of Consequence" award
      • congratulating Doherty on "The Music Man"
      • congratulating students who won the citywide science fair

      Kindergarten enrollment

      Disaggregating MCAS by birthdate (prior to August 31/post September 1)
      Does having a kindergarten entry point that's August 31 (versus, as surrounding areas do, December 31) make a difference in MCAS scores?

      request that we look at foundation funding for four year olds

      O'Connell points out that the biggest gap for BOYS under five when they start kindergarten

      Mullaney: children who have needs into school as early as possible
      kids spending two years in kindergarten

      Monfredo: would lose half a million dollars

      Spirit of Knowledge profile (and Seven Hills, too)

      so, let's all remember: New charter schools were to serve UNDERSERVED students to close the achievement gap.
      So we asked about Spirit of Knowledge...
      You can find the charts here. Admin has included information about Seven Hills, as well, as we had an outstanding motion on that as well. Go look at the numbers!
      Spirit of Knowledge serves 31.2% low income students; WPS serves 70.1%
      SoKA serves 11.9% special education students; WPS 20.9%
      SoKA serves 15.6% ELL; WPS 24.3

      STEM initiatives: science. And CW, I got the start of an answer

      Two pages on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) initiatives in Worcester Public Schools
      Biancheria: list of projects
      "consideration of family science nights and parents math nights"

      Novick: Colleges of Worcester Consortium college and career night: debriefing (possible annual event? CW, to answer your question: we don't know yet, but I put in a good word for it!)

      enormous numbers of partners that make all of this run, from field trips to robotics
      March 26: Women in Science program at the Ecotarium (middle school)
      April 2: Men in Science

      O'Connell speaks of the enthusiastic participation in the robotics tournaments (but not all our high schools)

      Innovation Schools in Worcester

      have to be submitted (to School Committee) by March 31 (Superintendent gets them on March 24)
      put into effect for this fall
      public hearings throughout April prior to a School Committee vote in early May
      at April 7 School Committee meeting, each team will briefly present their plans to the committee (and the public)
      second School Committee meeting hosting public hearing around the innovation plans

      School Transformation Grants

      And for those who, like me, were wondering about the federal funding for the School Transformation Grants, it appears from what Superintendent Boone said tonight, that the money for the currentl Level 4 schools has already been allocated by Congress (so when Congress cuts STG, it doesn't change the money for Union Hill or Chandler Elementary).

      Level 4 redesign work update: Report of the Supertintendent

      Superintendent Boone: mention that five potential innovation schools/programs were funded for planning today by the state
      Chandler Magnet, Woodland, UPCS, Goddard Scholars (and..I'm missing one. We haven't seen these yet. Sorry.)
      total amount is $67,000: range from $12,000-15,000

      redesign plans: district and school interviews with state
      "what we've not talked about is what the district requirements are for redesigns"

      Worcester School Committee: Technical high admission

      Looking for the admissions policies around the state (what ones that are different?)
      (came up at last meeting, as well as with our Legislative delegation)

      Monfredo questions why we'd change policies for a successfull school.

      Mullaney: "obviously this school is doing very very well, because they are taking the best students that are there"
      "Until we are providing some sort of trade education at our other schools, we are" not being fair to those kids.

      Innovation school grants announced: All five in Worcester funded

      At today's press conference at Chandler Magnet School, Lieutenant Governor Murray announced the funding of innovation school planning grants.

      All five schools moving forward in Worcester are funded for planning, for a total of $67,000.

      Wednesday, March 16, 2011

      Innovation schools announcement?

      I just got an email that Lieutenant Governor Murray and Secretary Reville are going to be at Chandler Magnet (!) for an announcement on innovation schools.
      More to come...

      Value-added: not ready for prime time

      Professor Bruce Baker has an excellent breakdown on so-called "value-added" evaluation of teachers and why (Race to the Top and measures around the country aside) it isn't ready for use...and maybe never will be:
      I often explain that if we lived in a society that walked everywhere, and a new automotive invention came along, but had the tendency to burst into a ball of flames on every third start, I think I’d walk.

      Duncan in favor of local control, unless he's the one weighing in

      EdWeek points out that our federal Secretary of Education, who has repeatedly commented on his dislike of federal interference when running the Chicago schools, has over the course of his tenure weighed in several times on local issues:

      In February, Duncan got involved in the heated battle over collective bargaining in Wisconsin. And he also told the Atlanta School Board, whose high schools were put on probation by a major accrediting agency, to get its act together.
      In January, he urged new Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to keep interim schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson in that job for good. (And that was the outcome.)
      Also that month, he criticized the Wake County, N.C., School Board in a letter to the Washington Post for ending its busing-for-diversity policy.
      Last summer, Duncan urged the Detroit City Council to put a question on the November ballot that would turn control of the city's schools over to the mayor. (The council decided against it.)
      And that's not counting this week!

      Tuesday, March 15, 2011

      Grant fees legal opinion

      Legal opinion on grants:
      Rushton: think it's probably right. Open communication. Hoping that it continues.

      Mayor O'Brien comments on the difficult times and pulling together.

      Lukes: process the city has gone through at the federal level, prior to the grant even being conveyed.Hoping that this process had to be followed in all prior years. "only became an emotional one when we increased our request from 1% to 3%"
      Manager: "yes"
      Lukes:"did the School department have notice of this process then?"
      Manager: "yes"
      Lukes: amount of money, rather the process. Asks that the legal opinion that School Committee requested be forwarded to the Council as well.


      I'm at City Council tonight. The liveblog is in the trustworthy hands of Worcester Magazine, but if there's anything school-related (say, on grants), I'll post.
      UPDATE: and, without stealing a scoop from anyone, I just met a brand new School Committee candidate!

      (Completely off-topic: just left a PACKED gathering of Worcester bloggers at Nu Cafe)

      MAP testing?

      I've heard some local discussion recently on the utility of MAP testing for kids. It might be worth pointing out that Seatttle, which recently brought MAP testing in, is having an intense discussion over whether to keep them.

      Innovation, anyone?

      High school students in New Marlborough, MA, taking responsibility for their own education. There's innovation!

      Monday, March 14, 2011

      Detroit...Good news/bad news

      Insightful article on the good news and bad news around the Detroit Public Schools. The good news?

      The school, surrounded by vacant lots and abandoned houses, serves some of the city’s poorest children. Thieves who broke into the school last year escaped by disappearing into what the police call “the woods” — the blocks and blocks of vacant houses.

      Yet Carstens students perform well on state tests, repeatedly meeting the federal standard for adequate yearly progress.
      “We try to fill in the holes in our children’s lives,” said Rebecca Kelly-Gavrilovich, a Carstens teacher with 25 years’ experience. Students get free breakfast, lunch and — if they attend the after-school program — dinner.
      To have more money for instruction, teachers sit with students at lunch, saving the school from having to hire lunchroom aides. Teachers hold jacket and shoe drives for children who have no winter coats and come to school in slippers. At Thanksgiving every child goes home with a frozen turkey donated by a local businessman. Twice a year a bus carrying a portable dentist’s office arrives, and a clinic is set up at the school so children can get their teeth checked.

      But this is Detroit. Detroit is run by the financial manager Robert Bobb, and so on to the bad news:
      Mr. Bobb has set off a vicious cycle undermining even good schools. The more schools he closes to save money, the more parents grow discouraged and pull their children out. The fewer the children, the less the state aid, so Mr. Bobb closes more schools.

      Carstens has also been harmed by poor personnel decisions made by the district. Last year, 1,200 teachers took the retirement buyout, and Mr. Bobb laid off 2,000 others in the spring. Then in the fall, he realized he needed to hire the 2,000 back, and chaos ensued.

      Two things to mention about Bobb: he was brought in as a business-oriented expert (he's Broad-trained). Also, this is the sort of system that is on the road to being allowed statewide in Michigan due to the new law passed by their Legislature: the all-powerful emergency financial manager, answerable only to the Governor.

      City Legal Opinion on Grant Asssessments

      You'll find the opinion of City Solicitor David Moore on the assessment of grant fees here (this is attached to tomorrow night's City Council agenda, Item 8.20A.) The short (and unsurprising) answer is that he thinks the city gets to decide what fees to assess.
      However, how he gets us there is...interesting. It starts with the comment that the Office of Management and Budget has allowed the city to take 3%. This is true. They would also, one presumes, allow the city to take 1% or anything in between.
      The schools have cited M.G.L. ch. 44 sec. 53A regarding the acceptance of grant funds by municipalities and school committees. Allocation of grants (aka: how they're spent) is governed by the city council for municipal funds, by the school committee for school funds. Solicitor Moore argues (in his final paragraph):
      Section 53A does not govern the allocation of costs against federal grants. That subject, as discussed above, is governed by federal law and is made a part of every federal grant accepted.
      This would be fine, except A) there is no federal law above cited (there's a budget circular, as I mentioned, which just accepts things as they are on the ground, making no arguments one way or the other), and B) the opening lines of M.G.L. ch.44 sec.53A read:
      An officer or department of any city or town, or of any regional school or other district, may accept grants or gifts of funds from the federal government and from a charitable foundation, a private corporation, or an individual, or from the commonwealth, a county or municipality or an agency thereof...
      One assumes that there's an attempting being made here to split the specific allocation of fees off from the general allocation. That sure doesn't seem to be what the Mass General Law actually says, though.

      Worcester School Committee this Thursday

      The Worcester School Committee has its regularly scheduled meeting this Thursday (St. Patrick's Day) at 7pm at City Hall. You can find the agenda here. Topics include:
      • Update on the Level 4 schools, particularly in light of the reception of School Turnaround Grant funds, but not at the amount originally budgeted. This is the report of the superintendent.
      • a report back on science and tech initiatives at Worcester Public Schools
      • a report back on the demographics of Seven Hills Charter School
      • motions including the PTO Guide to Success, disaggregating MCAS scores by birthdate, admission policies at the Tech school, report on homeless students, various congratulations and recognitions, consideration of the policy handbook for next year, and a suggestion for a "Young Man of Consequence" award. All of these are either going to administration or to subcommittee.
      • motion for an immediate update on MCAS training.
      • motions to consider several policies now required by the state: on admission of transfer students, on animals in schools, and on head injuries.
      As always, if any of these are of interest or of concern, please get in touch with a school committee member.

      Saturday, March 12, 2011

      EAW vote links

      In addition to the Telegram and Gazette's story today on the EAW vote of no confidence, you may want to read the Worcester Magazine blog posts. In fairness, one should also point out that those on 508 broke the story.

      More Gates astroturf

      ..coming soon to a community near you!
      The plan includes campaigns to reach out to parents, teachers, students, business and civic and religious leaders, and to build “strong ties to local journalists, opinion elites, and local/state policymakers and their staffs.” The plan explains how the organization will ensure “frequent placement ... in local media coverage of issues related to teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers” in accordance with the Gates approach.
      The proposal calls for supporting local groups that promote the value-added evaluation systems, and who even get involved in unions so they can demand this approach in collective bargaining for teachers contracts.
      But in a section entitled “Risks,” the proposal says that one big risk “is that Teaching First will be characterized as a tool of the Foundation.” To avoid that, it says, “Teaching First will need to be very careful about the national partners it brings into the work” and should “maintain a low public profile” and “ensure publicity and credit accrue to local partners whenever possible.”

      (This would perhaps be a good spot to point out that a recent review of the L.A. Times value-added study found it fundamentally flawed. Good summary here. We continue to have research showing this.)
      You'll find more on the mega-funding of the Gates Foundation in media management here and this excellent article.

      Thursday, March 10, 2011

      WEDF annual fundraiser

      Students from the Worcester Public Schools will present a concert on March 20 at 2 pm at Mechanics Hall.
      The program will include American folk tunes, from traditional pieces to songs from the 1960’s.  This is the sixth annual concert that has been organized by Worcester Public Schools music teachers.

      Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the following Worcester Credit Union branches:
      315 Main Street, 520 West Boylston Street, and One Skyline Drive.

      Proceeds benefit the arts and other educational programs of the district.


      I get it.
      We'd all like to save money, and we'd all like to save money in a way that doesn't change core services. Whether you're talking about the work the city does or the work the schools do, we'd all like the streets plowed, the birth certificates issued, the parks open, the trash picked up, the libraries open, and oh, yes, the children educated, all with the money we've got.
      I understand where Councilor Lukes is coming from then, when she makes, as she has in the past, another suggestion around merging departments. It sure seems like it would save money, right?
      It doesn't work out that way.

      Wednesday, March 9, 2011

      82% labeled "failing"?

      According to Secretary Duncan's testimony before Congress today, 82% of schools in the United States could be labeled failing this year:
      Duncan pointed out, however, that current federal law requires states and districts to implement the same set of interventions in every school that is not meeting AYP, regardless of the individual needs and circumstances of those schools.
      Duncan explained that, in generating the estimate, the Department assumed that all schools in the country would improve at the rate of the top quartile. Under this assumption, and factoring in four years of data, the percentage of schools that are not meeting AYP could rise from 37 percent up to 82 percent.
      Education 101: if 82% of the class failed something, there's a decent chance it's the assessment that's got it wrong.
      UPDATE: Looks like Duncan's estimate (which was conservative, by the way) may have finally lead to a difference with the DFERs.

      Call the Senate on Title I funding: UPDATED

      The appropriations bill passed by the House that cut (among other things*) $700 million from Title I will be considered, along with an alternative bill, sometime soon (it's unclear when) by the Senate.
      Title I is one of the good guys in federal funding. It doesn't come tied to a lot of dubious politics or flavor-of-the-week educational theories. It goes right to poor kids. It gets used in their classrooms for teachers, for instructional assistants, for anything that would "supplement" their education.
      The Worcester Public Schools get $13 million a year in Title I funds, and that's what we use it for.

      This is a hit we can't use this year. Please call your senator (the main line is 202.224.3121) and ask them to oppose HR 1 (or cuts to Title I).
      *Additional programs that would be impacted by H.R. 1 include:  School Improvement Grants (a $336 million cut); Head Start (a $1 billion cut); Striving Readers (proposed for elimination – a $250 million program); Teacher Quality (more than a $500 million cut);  State Education Technology grants (proposed for elimination – a $100 million program); Career and Technical Education (a $100 million cut); and School Health (more than $450 million in proposed cuts to multiple programs within the Department of Health and Human Services). Worcester currently gets SIG funds (that's the level 4 schools, but I think the ones we have are fully funded) and Head Start about which I've written previously.

      Update: The Senate voted BOTH bills down. Now they have until March 18 to come up with a compromise (or another short-term spending bill).

      Tuesday, March 8, 2011

      Chandler Elementary and Union Hill updates

      I won't be able to make these due to other commitments (including Ash Wednesday), but I pass them along for those interested:
      If you're wondering what the latest is with Chandler Elementary and Union Hill Schools, Worcester's two Level 4 schools, you can learn that tonight--for Chandler--and tomorrow--for Union Hill--at 5:30 at the schools. Dinner will be followed by an update by administrators.

      Monday, March 7, 2011

      It's going to get weird out there

      So while we're all worrying about level 4 status and AYP and MCAS scores, back in Washington, let's remember, they're still trying to figure out how to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Elementary Act (aka: NCLB) before the clock strikes midnight, it's 2014, and nearly every school is underperforming because no school has 100% proficiency. And remember, the NEW whatever-we-want-to-call-it is going to involved the new common assessments, which may or may not look anything like what we have now.
      Cue Kansas.
      According to Ed Week:
      Kansas has applied to the U.S. Department of Education for permission to hold its testing targets at 2009-10 levels until 2014-15, the year the common assessments are supposed to be up and running...

      One district in Kansas, McPherson, actually has won a rather unusual testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, we are hearing today. The waiver lets the district dump state tests in grades 6-12 for federal accountability purposes, replacing them with the ACT's series
      That's a major waiver, there.
      It would do us all some good to realize that everything is going to get tossed up in the air in the next few years. We're running up against the edge on AYP, so more and more schools aren't going to make it. We're looking at an assessment system on its way out. We're bringing in new standards and new assessments, which, be warned, are going to throw test scores into major turmoil for a number of years.
      And that's just based on what we do know. Who knows what the reauthorized federal law is going to look like?

      USA Today and "too good to believe" test scores

      USA Today published a big article over the weekend after looking at test scores in Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, California, Florida, and Washington, D.C. on "Test Scores Too Good To Believe."
      Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, says test gains of 3 standard deviations or more for an entire grade are "so incredible that you have to ask yourself, 'How can this be real?' " Haladyna says such a spike in scores would be like finding "a weight-loss clinic where you lose 100 pounds a day."
      In the past decade, similar score spikes uncovered by The Dallas Morning News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, using the same methods as USA TODAY, led state officials in Texas and Georgia to conduct major probes of hundreds of schools.

      A useful read for those wondering just how they figure such things out.

      Ravitch on Stewart

      If you did not see Diane Ravitch on Jon Stewart, here you are:

      Friday, March 4, 2011

      More Level 4s?

      In answer to several rumors I've heard swirling around...
      I asked today what the latest news was with another round of Level 4 schools. I am told by administration that the state is planning a new list in the fall. That would be include this spring's MCAS scores.
      You should also keep in mind the cuts in School Transformation Grants considered by Congress this week. What happens if there's a list with less money?

      Thursday, March 3, 2011

      Report on dropouts and graduation rate

      "And after they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" says Superintendent Boone
      two of eighteen level 4 schools that have gotten money
      entire Level 4 process was extremely emotional for this community
      "agree that every child should have a high quality education, but I don't agree with all" has happened
      thanks all that were involved in the level 4 school process
      "an example of what happens when a community rallies around what it believes in"
      Mayor echoes thanks to community

      Public comment:

      Tim Garvin, United Way, presenting "a community response"
      he stresses that it is a community response (not THE response)
      United Way, Stand for Children, Jewish Family Services, Christian Community Church
      He comes around to pass out copies

      Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports standing committee report: much on Fanning

      Mr. O'Connell on the report from Tuesday's session, taken out of order, due to the presence of students from the Fanning Learning Center.
      Periodic review of curriculum, specifically mentioning mathematics
      Application for "Health Assisting" program Ch. 74 status (that gives us vocational reimbursement for this program) at North High School
      dropout decrease/ graduation increase which includes reorganization of the system, including an administrative recommendation of closing of what is now the Fanning Learning Center
      (which I'm still figuring out, to be honest)

      supporting statutes requiring CPR and AED training and medical emergency response

      Worcester School Committee

      ...starting a bit late tonight due to a long executive session.

      Level 4 schools funds

      I see from the WPS website that the Level 4 schools have been awarded School Transformation Grant funds by the state: $1,350,000 to Chandler Elementary and $1,200,000 for Union Hill over three years.
      That works out to $400,000 a year for Union Hill and $450,000 for Chandler Elementary.

      Good reason to be sleepless in Seattle

       I know...that's the second Nora Ephron reference in a week. Sorry.

      Last night, the Seattle School Committee voted unanimously to fire Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson (a quick Google of "Seattle Public Schools" for news will give you more than you can read today). Goodloe-Johnson, Broad class of 2003, is being brought down by a financial scandal that has cost the school district $1.8 million. It seems that a well-intentioned attempt to employ minority-owned business became a training center and also an opportunity for the director of that program to embezzle funds (he's left the state). The Seattle Public Schools Community blog has a good summary here (and is well worth reading overall). Full timeline here. The financial officer has also been fired.
      Further, it appears that the Superintendent did not know what was going on and had created a system that ensured the public and the school committee didn't know what was going on.

      Wednesday, March 2, 2011

      Worcester School Committee Thursday

      The regular meeting of the Worcester School Committee is tomorrow night at 7pm at City Hall. You'll find the agenda here. (or not...the page isn't loading. To be fixed)
      Up this week:
      • the Superintendent's report is on the dropout rate, which, as you may have heard, went down this past year. The backup has charts and graphs with more information.
      • we've got recognitions for Dr. Leonard Morse for his work as the Public Health Commissioner. We've also got Bank of America coming in in honor of their $50,000 donation.
      • Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports subcommittee report is coming back.
      • a response to a question on summer programs
      • items asking about the special education parent survey, the STEM initiatives, and Poem in Your Pocket day.

      The birthday of Dr. Seuss

      And I'd not be true to the name of the blog if I did not point out that today is the birthday of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. The spoof that gives the blog its name is here. It is also celebrated as Read Across America Day.

      In hopes that we can say, as Miss Bonkers does:"We've taught you that the earth is round, / That red and white make pink, / And something else that matters more - We've taught you how to think."

      (And showing that Seuss spoofs are alive and well comes this from Canada.)

      Level four schools money: up for grabs?

      I was holding off on posting about this, hoping to get more complete information. I haven't, despite asking, so I share here what I do know.
      Worcester sent a delegation off to present Level 4 school plans to state officials just before February break, in hopes of winning School Turnaround Grant funds. "Winning" is the term here now, because the game has changed, yet again.
      The state threw open the competition for those funds to many others--I've heard 70, I've heard 100--more schools around the state. Thus it is not only a question of "did you do what we asked=getting the funds," but now also WPS (and other districts with Level 4 schools) have to show that they are doing better or more than these other schools.
      I don't know how, when, or by whom the decision was made. I also should point out that Boston, due to declaring their schools early, did NOT have to compete for their funds.
      Thus the question of whether we'll get money for Union Hill and Chandler Elementary at all.
      The superintendent has told us that we will know by the end of the day tomorrow.
      I will post here once we do.

      Worcester Educational Collaborative et al statement

      Also presented last night for consideration at CPPAC was a statement from the Worcester Educational Collaborative and others that will be presented at Thursday night's School Committee meeting. Due to the short term around time--members received the statement Monday and were being urged to vote Tuesday--some errors within the statement, and concerns around some of what was being said, CPPAC declined to sign on at this time.

      Tuesday, March 1, 2011

      Continuing spending with ed cuts

      The House has passed a compromise bill to keep government up and running. In the bill, however, are some education cuts:
      The measure also includes significant cuts to education programs that would extend beyond the two-week period, including entirely scrapping the $250 million Striving Readers program, the $88 million Small Learning Communities Program, and the $66 million Even Start program. It also would get rid of the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships, or LEAP, program, financed at $64 million.

      I've got to go back through my grants list to tell you if and how much this would change Worcester's numbers. If it passes the Senate, I'll update.

      Parent advocacy at CPPAC

      Parent advocacy for increased funding to schools being spoken of at CPPAC. Currently the city is contributing .3% over foundation; the statewide average is 15% over foundation. Urban districts have an average of 3.6% over foundation. The goal for the parents is to work the city contribution up to the urban average.

      Sleepless on Vernon Hill

      Some Holy Cross students, led by Christina Kyriakos'11, will be bringing good sleep habits to 270 students at Vernon Hill School. According the article on the college website:

      Sweet Dreamzzz' R.E.M. (Rest. Educate. Motivate.) Sleep Program will be replicated at Vernon Hill where 84 percent of the student body is eligible for free or reduced lunch. The program teaches children how to prepare for a good night’s sleep through healthy eating, activities and bedtime routines. Following the interactive 45-minute program, each child will be supplied with a sleep kit that includes a sleeping bag, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, crayons, stuffed animal and fun sleep educational materials.
      While often overlooked, good sleep is essential to well-being and has a sustainable impact on children’s success in learning, Kyriakos explains. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep has been linked to childhood obesity, academic difficulties, attention deficit disorder, mood disorders, heart disease and other health issues.

      They've been looking for donations for their good work (and I'm sure we can track them down if you're interested in helping out!).

      h/t Nicole

      Board of Ed wrap-up

      Yesterday the Massachusetts Board of Education, after an interesting conversationvoted to grant charters to 16 new charter schools across the state. According to the Herald, "Ten of the 16 schools are in Boston. Two are in Lawrence and the others are in New Bedford, Chelsea, Salem and Springfield." Two of those in Boston and the one in Salem are Horace Mann charters, subject to their local school boards.
      The one charter that was denied, despite the endorsement of the Commissioner, was Lynn Prepartory Charter, which was also denied a charter last year, and for similar reasons:
      The school was proposed by the founders of the Hathaway School, a small, private elementary school in Swampscott, and some concerns had been raised about the distinction between the private and public schools.
      Chester originally recommended against a charter for the Lynn school because it might violate a prohibition against converting a private school into a charter school. He reversed course and recommended approval after assurances that the private Hathaway school would not close if the charter for the public school was granted
      Last year, as you may recall, Chester pulled his endorsement of Lynn Prep at the last minute, leaving only Spirit of Knowledge in Worcester on the table for the Board's consideration.
      Tellingly, all of this is not good enough for the Mass Charter School Association who are now, according to the same report, considering calling for an end to all charter school caps. This despite the repeated assurance (I remember being in several meetings in which this argument was made by Stand for Children staff) that this would be "off the table" if the new ed law passed. I didn't buy it then, either.

      Worcester's Seven Hills Charter was put on probation pending improved MCAS scores. Principal Krista Piazza is quoted in today's Telegram and Gazette as saying that the report on Seven Hills doesn't consider many of the school's successes. I couldn't agree more. That's been true, however, of all schools put on probation, labeled as "failing" or "Level 4," and otherwise considered lacking by the state.
      But if all one looks at are MCAS scores, then that's the answer you're going to get.