Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sometimes being a teacher means...

..singing a song with your kindergarteners to keep them safely flat on the floor during the shootout outside your school:

In awe of Martha Rivera Alanis tonight.

on the budget...

The executive summary is here.
The full budget is here.
The Worcester School Committee meets in budget session for the first time at 4 pm on Thursday (there is a second session on June 16). Public comment on particular budget items and accounts is welcome, as is getting in touch with the School Committee regarding the budget.

Massive testing systems show no positive change to system

Almost a decade after NCLB sent the testing industry skyrocking and put real education across American at risk, a blue ribbon committee at the National Academy of Sciences has found:
little to no positive effect overall on learning and insufficient safeguards against gaming the system
(all quotes here from EdWeek, as the research report is not posted online)
  On the whole, the panel found the accountability programs often used assessments too narrow to accurately measure progress on program goals and used rewards or sanctions not directly tied to the people whose behavior the programs wanted to change. Moreover, the programs often had insufficient safeguards and monitoring to prevent students or staff from simply gaming the system to produce high test scores disconnected from the learning the tests were meant to inspire.
Tests not related to concerns? Check. Testing to the test? Check?
And in fact:
...the report found that, rather than leading to higher academic achievement, high school exit exams so far have decreased high school graduation rates nationwide by an average of about 2 percentage points.
Yes, the graduation rate has been going DOWN since NCLB.
“We need to look seriously at the costs and benefits of these programs,” said Daniel M. Koretz, a committee member and an education professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. “We have put a lot into these programs over a period of many years, and the positive effects when we can find them have been pretty disappointing.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

The budget's up!

You can find the FY12 Worcester Public Schools' proposed (it's proposed until the School Committee passes it!) budget here.
Happy reading, and get in touch with the School Committee if you have comments.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tell us what you really think, Mayor Bloomberg!

And in case you missed it, last week, Mayor Bloomberg let New Yorkers know what he thinks of parents making decisions about their children's educations:
Responding to the filing of a lawsuit challenging his Department of Education’s school closing and charter co-location policies, Mayor Bloomberg let loose a mini-tirade on WOR-AM last week.  “Unfortunately there are some parents who just come from —“  the Mayor said, and then cut off  the rest of his sentence. One wonders about the intended conclusion — did the Mayor mean to say ignorance?  Poverty? Ghetto neighborhoods?   Other countries with little or no public schooling?  “They never have had a formal education,” the Mayor continued, “and they don’t understand the value of education.  Many of our kids come from families – “ again the Mayor cut himself off, and again one wonders about his suppressed conclusion.  Instead, the Mayor finished with an odd observation — “the old Norman Rockwell family is gone.”

School administrators and school boards calling for a hold on sanctions

This just came through from Boston today:
The American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Associations have opened a petition calling for a pause in sanctions under NCLB. As Congress is widely viewed as getting nowhere on rewriting the law, this would put things on hold pending ESEA reauthorization:
Specifically, the two groups would like the law's timetable of sanctions essentially to be put on pause for a year. That would mean schools that have already failed to make progress towards the goal of having all students meet proficiency targets by 2013 wouldn't be subject to further interventions and no new schools would be labeled as "in need of improvement."
It's important to note that the groups want straight-up regulatory relief, meaning a change to the way the law is implemented. They don't want just individual waivers granted by the administration for specific states and districts. Waivers often come with "additional requirements or conditions," the groups say.
 Coming soon to an agenda near you!
And the Secretary...not exactly responds...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Miss Congeniality

Secretary Duncan is offering a consolation prize to the states that were Race to the Top finalists but didn't get the prize: $200 million.
The nine states that will compete again—using their old Race to the Top proposals in some fashion, which the U.S. Department of Education hasn't specified yet—are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and South Carolina. [UPDATE (3 p.m.): Make that eight—South Carolina just said "no thanks".]
States will have to decide on and work with the DoE on which part of their plans they want to implement.

UPDATE: It looks like the governors were caught off guard by this and some are less than pleased.


Superintendent Nathan Bootz of Ithaca, Michigan has a request for Governor Rick Snyder:
Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.
This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Testifying at the Board of Ed

Yesterday David Perda and I testified before the Mass Board of Ed about the Spirit of Knowledge Charter School. This is mostly keying off of these numbers, thought Mr. Perda added a slightly different chart on the MCAS scores of students. Remember, this is a school chartered under the new Ed Reform law, so this wasn't the deal under which they were granted the charter.
More or less what I said is here. It seemed to me that the Board was shaken (as were we) that parents were applying to local elected officials for help in dealing with their own administration--elected officials, remember, who have no power under state law to help them directly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WPS FY12 budget

...at the Worcester City Council.
Boone: "This Friday, I will be releasing the second of balanced budgets in very difficult financial times..with no cut in essential services..aligning the resources to...advance student achievement."
students, principals, parents, businesses, teachers, community
Clear priorities: "high quality teaching and learning, reasonable class sizes, elective course offerings, 21st century technology and professional development..."
all course offerings are preserved
technology level funded
"Budget does NOT include any savings from a settled teachers' contract"
"very difficult choices as we close a seven million dollar stimulus cliff"
administrative savings, reduction in trades and operations
"very little expansion in services other than in cutting of other programs"

reminds Council of $26 million gap in NEED: gifted and talented, expanded voc/tech, librarians, MassCore

Teachers are discussing their contract tonight

The information about it is here.

Reminder: WPS FY12 budget before Council tonight!

Just a reminder that the Worcester Public Schools budget will be before the City Council tonight. Council has an executive session, so I'm told the budget hearing will start at about 7:15.

I am speaking at the Sullivan Middle School National Junior Honor Society induction, so I'm going to be a bit late. If I can pull out my netbook to liveblog it, I will!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Darling-Hammond at Columbia Teachers College

Linda Darling-Hammond gave the commencement address at Columbia University's Teachers College (founded in 1887) last week. The Nation prints her speech in full. Well worth reading.
Then, as now, the creation of truly professional educators was subversive business. As scientific managers were looking to make schools “efficient” in the early twentieth century—to manage schools with more tightly prescribed curriculum, more teacher-proof texts, more extensive testing, and more rules and regulations—they consciously sought to hire less well-educated teachers who would work for low wages and would go along with the new regime of prescribed lessons and pacing schedules without protest. In a book widely used for teacher training at that time, the need for "unquestioned obedience" was stressed as the "first rule of efficient service" for teachers.
No wonder that obedience was prized, when the scientific managers’ time and motion studies resulted in findings like the fact that some eighth grade classes did addition "at the rate of 35 combinations per minute" while others could “add at an average rate of 105 combinations per minute"—thus schools were to set the standard at 65 combinations per minute at 94 percent accuracy. One speaker at an NEA meeting in 1914 observed that there were “so many efficiency engineers running hand cars through the school houses in most large cities that the grade school teachers can hardly turn around in their rooms without butting into two or three of them.”
During that decade, precisely 100 years ago, nationally distributed tests of arithmetic, handwriting and English were put into use. Their results were used to compare students, teachers and schools; to report to the public; and even to award merit pay—a short-lived innovation due to the many problems it caused.
No clip does it justice, though. Go read the whole thing.

This is NOT what transparency looks like

"When this process is complete, at that point, we will be transparent."
"Our policy is to be transparent, when things become official."

The New Haven Public Schools are considering turning over one of their schools to Renaissance Schools Services. As pointed out not only in the report, but also by WGBH, the meeting for parents to keep them updated was barred to reporters.
This is a basic misunderstanding of "transparency," folks (and, incidentally, if this is what having a spokesperson looks like: no, thanks!). Transparency, in a public system, means that EVERYBODY gets to know what's going on BEFORE you make the decision.
Yes, even if you aren't a parent.
Yes, even if you couldn't make the meeting.

The plot, by the way, thickens: the only reason the New Haven Board of Ed didn't vote at an improperly-posted meeting last week is the same reporter pointed out that their meeting was not in compliance with the open meeting law. Apparently, Renaissance has been working in the district, regardless:
Meanwhile, Renaissance President Richard O’Neill  revealed his company has already been doing work in the district without a contract.“I’ve been in the district for the entire last week,” looking at data and meeting with staff and parents, he said Monday.
And it isn't cheap:
If Renaissance continues to take over Clemente, the school would have three top officials, whose salaries are not included in the contract. The three positions—principal, “achievement specialist,” and “operations specialist”—carry salaries totaling about $350,000, said O’Neill.
The achievement specialist would be akin to an assistant principal. The “operations specialist” would take on the task of running the school, including talking to parents and dealing with buses—tasks currently handled by the principal and by some central office staff.
O’Neill said he plans to launch a national search this week for these three positions, in addition to considering any internal candidates.
The contract comes as the city faces a budget crisis, with up to 190 layoffs looming at the school board.
(h/t, Nicole!)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gates-funded astroturf

Excellent--and badly-overdue--article on the far reaches of the Gates Foundation empire when it comes to education research, advocacy, and spin in the New York Times today.

Given the scale and scope of the largess, some worry that the foundation’s assertive philanthropy is squelching independent thought, while others express concerns about transparency. Few policy makers, reporters or members of the public who encounter advocates like Teach Plus or pundits like Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute realize they are underwritten by the foundation.
“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who said he received no financing from the foundation.
Mr. Hess, a frequent blogger on education whose institute received $500,000 from the Gates foundation in 2009 “to influence the national education debates,” acknowledged that he and others sometimes felt constrained. “As researchers, we have a reasonable self-preservation instinct,” he said. “There can be an exquisite carefulness about how we’re going to say anything that could reflect badly on a foundation.”
“Everybody’s implicated,” he added.
Indeed, the foundation’s 2009 tax filing runs to 263 pages and includes about 360 education grants. There are the more traditional and publicly celebrated programmatic initiatives, like financing charter school operators and early-college high schools. Then there are the less well-known advocacy grants to civil rights groups like the Education Equality Project and Education Trust that try to influence policy, to research institutes that study the policies’ effectiveness, and to Education Week and public radio and television stations that cover education policies.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Special education audit

Done by District and Community Partners
Good stuff:
  • staff committed and passionate
  • instructional coaches
  • formative assessments
  • leadership team (from sped director down)
  • reasonable level of related service providers
  • increasing level of student achievement
  • "bold leadership"
Things they think ought to be changed:
  • high rate of identification (Worcester 21.3%; MA is 17.6%): so they think we ought to "refine" the criteria for those below first grade; add supports for young kids; employ expert behaviorists
  • use common formative assessments "to identify effective practices, programs, schools, and teachers" (yeah, that means comparing student data by teacher, folks)
  • focus on core instruction (there's an MCAS chart here); saw variation from building to building
  • lower out-of-district placement; substantially separate classrooms, resource and inclusion (they're suggesting those kids are not held to the same standards)
Results were shared with some on April 29
"no additional funding" necessary from the "vision of the report"

Monfredo: "I want to make sure that everyone understands the good things you said about Worcester first"
asks if we could expand full-day preschool, preventive items

Foley: "I see this as the beginning...strategic plan for the district...restructure and reform..improve services for all children..quibble on...don't use the state average; compare us to other urban districts...kids being identified in first grade; failure of getting the right referrals from pediatricians; Early Intervention is undergoing major cuts...kids entering kindergarten not ready to be in school..working on getting those kids able to be in school...how do we do a lot more with kids zero to five...ready to learn when they hit kindergarten...subgroups to a certain level..modify expectations of substantially separate"

Novick: asks how we paid for it and how much it costs ($45,000, of which the state covered $10,000; our portion was stimulus funding), echoes Foley in not comparing us to the state average (nor the national average), reassessing younger students again (rather than not assessing the younger students), will be paying close attention to tracking by students

Biancheria: setting a trend, rather than best practices moving from California, from us

Six pronged communication plan: report of the superintendent

Superintendent Boone: garner input to a variety of stakeholder groups for the FY12 budget, which will be online the Friday of Memorial Day weekend

"one of the most exciting things I've done as superintendent"
  • Superintendent's Student Advisory Committee
  • teachers (through senior leadership team)
  • principals (who met with the superintendent directly), some with their staff
  • partners (at Ecotarium)
  • Worcester Education Collaborative (business roundtable) I think I'm confused there...those last two seem the same...
high quality teaching and learning, effective class size, 21st century technology, were common amongst the groups
Students: help around reading, a different math preparation program,  question about why they have study halls, arts, athletics, foreign languages, vocational/technical, introduction of foreign languages EARLY (the superintendent here cites the Chandler Magnet innovation program), "zero bell" programs (outside the school day), college course during summer
Parents: high quality instruction, class size, effective curriculum, instructional support, supplies, technology. Comment "I can't fill this out; these are all important." Looking beyond the foundation budget (MassCore, gifted, nurses, librarians)
Teachers and staff: appropriate class sizes, technology (with PD), instructional materials (especially in elementary in guided reading), supports for students within regular ed, collaborative planning time, more electives (of different types), coaches, IAs, better mentoring, support for ELLs, after school programs, interventions. "I know you can't add, but for one year, can you please just not cut?" plea.
Principals: sessions that were scheduled for an hour and always lasted longer; role of principal as an "instructional support person," leveled texts, technology (across all levels; love the ELMO's), middle schools looking to preserve team groupings, coaches (in middle school), high school wanting career and technical programs for new things, wraparound services (hooking up with programs outside of schools)
Partnership summit: five focus areas; three meetings to come (April, May, August) for them to support the district
Business roundtable: variety of industries; core skills: reading, mathematics, science, and critical thinking skills are needed in order to do well

Public comment on evaluation

Jennifer Davis Carey on "appreciate the hard work and commitment that service in the administration and on the School Committee requires"
"support elected and appointed officials in their work"

Mayor O'Brien comments that the School Committee will appoint an ad-hoc committee for development of an evaluation instrument, similar to that which was done by Jim Caradonio during his time as superintendent. Mullaney, Biancheria, and Foley will be working to develop such an instrument in concert with the superintendent for next year's evaluation.
(As the Superintendent is evaluated in June or thereabouts, it's too quick to do for this year.)
O'Brien further explains that subcommittee meetings sometimes need to be scheduled quickly due to the work that is done there, giving the example of the closing of the alternative school program.

O'Connell further points out that the public is always welcome to share their thoughts around the superintendent with the members of the committee

Renaming North

Arthur Tomasotta wants it to be "North John Tivnan"
"it'd be an honor for him"
The mayor comments that the process has been that these are referred to the school site council.
Site council at North has reported back that they would like to keep the name as North.
"There could be some other way of honoring Mr. Tivnan in that building."
O'Connell recommends asking the site council if there is some other place in the building that might honor him.

Worcester School Committee meeting tonight

There will be a meeting of the Worcester School Committee tonight at City Hall at 7 pm (or thereabouts; I wouldn't be surprised if executive session ran long). You'll find the agenda here.
There's something for everyone on this agenda:

  • There are two recognitions on the agenda: one for the South High mini-grant project, and one of Amber Ustinovich, a student at Worcester Tech, who was recently chosen as "Outstanding Vocational Technical Student."
  • There are two public petitions on the agenda: one bringing back a single evaluation of the superintendent, and another (as you may have seen in today's paper) suggesting that North High be renamed in honor of the late John Tivnan. There seems to be a lack of clarity around renaming; while the Council did weigh in last week, only the School Committee can rename--or not--a school.
  • There are two reports of the Superintendent: one on the six-pronged communication plan (postponed from the last meeting), and another on the special education audit. While the back-up on the audit is a single page, I've been told by administration that the report will be more comprehensive.
  • A number of reports back from administration: on retirees, on summer programs, on the Worcester Police Department Youth Summit (held last night).
  • Accepting several donations, including one from Superintendent Boone to support the Student Advisory Committee.
  • Motions looking at closing the gap in college preparation, considering the actions of a community in Kansas around NCLB, reviewing tax title properties prior to auction, reporting on the Skyline Technical Fund donations, revising report cards, recognitions.
  • Reviewing improvements to Quinsigamond's playground and the Bennet Field/Gates Lane properties.
  • We also have to set a date to review the superintendent. This is generally done in June.
Remember, the meeting is live on Channel 11 and online from the WPS website.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

FY12 Worcester Public Schools budget date changes!

The City Council was to hear the Worcester Public Schools budget tonight; that has now been POSTPONED to next Tuesday.
This necessarily bumps the Finance and Operations subcommittee hearing that was to take place then: date TBA.
It does not change the School Committee budget hearings on June 2 and 16, both at 4 pm in City Hall.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Petitioning the School Committee

I'm at the Mayor's Civics Academy tonight. As this was just noted to public surprise, I thought I'd pass it along:
Any local resident (note resident) may petition the School Committee on an issue of interest to them. Simply writing "The undersigned, residing in the City of Worcester most respectfully petition your Honorable Board" followed by your petition, signature, and address and turning it in by noon one week prior to the School Committee meeting to the School Committee Clerk's office will get you on the next agenda.
Remember that the School Committee meets the first and third Thursdays of the month. Public petitions are generally taken early on the agenda.
ALSO: the same process can be used to petition the City Council (with the petition going to the City Clerk...I'm not sure when those need to be in).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Goddard windows

Another in the occasional series of photos of parts of Worcester's schools you may not have seen:
The Goddard School of Science and Technology was, originally, South High School. The auditorium in the center of the original building has stained glass in the balcony windows:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

School Improvement Grants report

(or, ooh, look! a map!)
The American Institutes for Research has a report out this week (that's the summary; full report here) on the recipients of the federal School Improvement Grants. It looks at the characteristics of the schools and the choices they have made on how they're "turning around." The Hechinger Report gives this summary:

Only 2 percent of schools that received SIG money were shut down. Four percent were “restarted” as charter schools, 20 percent agreed to fire their principal and at least half of their teachers, and 74 percent went with the less dramatic “transformation” model, which includes firing the principal and other interventions such as extending the school day. And, confirming a previous analysis here at Hechinger, high schools are disproportionately represented among schools that won federal money for reform. Although 20 percent of schools in United States are high schools, and only 19 percent of schools eligible for SIG grants are high schools, 40 percent of schools actually awarded SIG money are high schools.
Hechinger also notes that Massachusetts was disproportionately represented, perhaps due to what Hechinger calls our "tough accountability system."
If you'd like an overview of where the schools are, what they are, and what choices they've made, the Quick and the Ed have an interactive map on their site.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You may remember that Worcester did not make the deadlines to get our applications in for the Level 4 schools early; that is why Worcester is not included on this list. We'll be on the next one.

Patriots football clinic on Saturday

The Patriots are putting some of their lockout time to good use this weekend: they're putting on a free youth clinic at Foley Stadium from 12:30 to 5 pm. Sign-up is on-site that morning. Full details here.
And if you aren't going to the clinic, I'd advise avoiding Chandler Street between those hours!

Mass Ed Committee considering MCAS bills

Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Education heard testimony on two bills before the state legislature regarding the MCAS exam (timely!). I am told by those that were there that for the first time ever, the legislators on the committee had serious questions, and were clearly considering the testimony they heard (hurrah!).
The bills are:

HO1955 - An Act to improve assessment and accountability to ensure students acquire 21st century skills
Rep. Carl Sciortino and Senator Jamie Eldridge, lead sponsors

Summary: For students to thrive after they have finished school, they need to be educated with a skill set that prepares them for the many varied challenges in the new economy. This bill supplants the 10th grade MCAS exams with state-developed, end-of-course assessments in math, English, science, and history. Students must pass each of these classes to be determined competent to graduate from high school. Additionally, to ensure that our schools are meeting their obligations to properly educate students, every school must be accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and must renew its accreditation every 10 years. The bill establishes steps to be taken to improve underperforming schools.

HO1938- An Act to Expand Access to the MCAS Appeals Process
Rep. Liz Malia, lead sponsor

Summary: This bill would extend access to the MCAS appeals process to all students and requires that students, parents and guardians are given notice of the student's right to appeal and to have an advocate to assist in the appeal. Appeal is available after the first MCAS failure (now, three failures are required), prompting collection of the student's portfolio of class work demonstrating performance and knowledge. The bill does not lower graduation standards, and requires collection of appeals data.
As the Education Reform Act of 1993 actually called for an assessment system (which is not the same as a standardized test), the first bill brings us back into line with the original law. Both it and the second  bill recognize the disproportionate impact the MCAS has on special education students; of the 3000 students denied a diploma last year due to not passing the MCAS, two-thirds were special education students.
You will find contact information for the members of the Joint Committee on Education in the sidebar. I would also, as always, urge you to get in touch with your own legislators as well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some special ed programs not moving after all

After many phone calls and emails from parents, the Worcester School Committee received the following information via email late yesterday:
Questions have been raised recently about the possibility for shifts in the location of special education programs, specifically related to Burncoat HS, Doherty HS, Claremont, and Forest Grove. You may have received letters / phone calls from concerned parents. It is not unusual for services / programs to be evaluated and adjusted to improve outcomes for students. Initial plans for program moves, formulated in early winter, have been postponed due to relevant issues raised by parents as well as recent information provided in preliminary results of our special education audit. Dr. Rodrigues is developing some details to be published to school principals.
I have also been told that some of the results of the special ed audit will be presented at next Thursday's School Committee meeting.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Common Core pushback

Looks like the Common Core just got an organized opposition.
A few things of note: it's a fairly conservative group of signatories (Worcester's own Roberta Schaefer is on there! Actually, so are the Thernstroms and John Silber...it's like a "Who's Who" of the 1990's Massachusetts Board of Ed! ). It largely is criticizes on national curriculum grounds; Hess notes potential parallels with the national curriculum battles of the 1990's.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Education in America

If you've got an interest in education in America, you should read Mike Rose:
You can prep kids for a standardized test, get a bump in scores, yet not be providing a very good education. The end result is the replication of a troubling pattern in American schooling: poor kids get an education of skills and routine, a lower-tier education, while students in more affluent districts get a robust course of study.

Worcester Public Schools FY12 budget hearings

Mark your calendars!
As I posted last night, the Finance and Operations subcommittee will be holding a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, May 24 at 7:30 pm (location TBA).
The full committee will be hearing, deliberating, and voting on the budget on June 2 and June 16 at 4 pm.
The City Council is hearing the Worcester Public Schools budget on Tuesday, May 17, 6-8 pm.
Those last meetings are all at City Hall.

What's up next for the innovation schools?

I've been asked a few times today what happens next with the innovation schools.
For all of them, there is a scramble of work to be done prior to the next school year: curriculum changes, staff development, and so forth.
Goddard Scholars will not be recruiting a sixth grade class this spring--that doesn't happen for another year--but Chandler Magnet will be recruiting students (K and 1) for their bilingual program. There is an information night May 19 at the school at 5:30.
I believe there are other parent information nights being scheduled; I will post them as I have them.
And best wishes to you all!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Budget hearing May 24

Finance Committee will hold the budget hearing on May 24, 7:30 pm, location TBA
Mark your calendars!


Biancheria is asking that they be repainted
The mayor comments that Councilor Toomey has an item filed on this, and we might consult with the City Clerk about that item.

Wellness Policy

...gets sent to TLSS (I'm told it will be at the May 17th meeting at 5:30), for those who are interested.


 Mullaney is arguing that principals' discretion is not included around weather...though now it seems to be around more than that, including whether to have recess at all.
Now O'Connell is back to the waiver, which was around putting together a draft policy.
Boone's concern with the waiver: that principals might think they have to seek prior permission if they are not keeping kids inside.
Boone's doing a sort of summary...
The mayor asks if the term "weather permitting" gives enough discretion to principals in the view of the superintendent.
Monfredo likes the word "preferred."
Mullaney asks that we give...I'm not sure, honestly.

Foley amends it to "outside weather permitting, or in other circumstances for a short period of time..."
PASSES 7-0 at 30 minutes

Finance and Operations report

One thing I didn't mention in my earlier report is that we're seeing an increase of personal services of $44,000 due to eight students enrolling in the Greenfield Virtual High School (they stay home, do work on the computer, and Worcester pays Greenfield). It looks like most of those students are students who were not previously WPS students (homeschoolers, perhaps?). There's a bit of conversation around whether the committee is or is not concerned about this.
And "equity in pricing" means that we are raising the school lunch price for next school year to $1.55 (that's for paid lunch).
Biancheria asks if there is any change in transportation due to the closure of Putnam Lane. Yes, Allen comments that the routes need to change (as some buses use it). Also, students at North High: some students cut through on Putnam, which puts them at less than two miles (and so they walk). With Putnam closed, there is a possibility that they will be beyond two miles. Next year's budget includes a 95th bus. It would cost $6500 for rest of the year, if it needed to be added. Biancheria asks for updates; Novick asks that they be sent to the City Council as well.

Race to the Top budget

Presentation by Mulqueen; you can find the backup here (the budget is spelled out in pages 5 and following)
teacher evaluation
alignment to Common Core
strengthening school culture
teachers getting ELL and sped certification
data warehouse
pre-AP training
STEM early college
innovation schools

A few quick things of note: this continues the Focus on Results contract for another four years (at half a million dollars a year); there's a half-time librarian for Union Hill and Chandler Elementary; there's technology for the Goddard Scholars program. Other innovation schools will be getting money through the wraparound services grants and possibly Promise Neighborhood.

Innovation schools taken out of order

and collectively.
Monfredo recommends approval.
All approved unanimously.

Late start to School Committee

...due to a long executive session.
We DID get to have the National Anthem sung by Quadrivium tonight.
Now we are honoring several people who guided the federal "Meeting the Challenge" grant, including former School Committee member Dottie Hargrove (wearing an amazing hat). Meeting the Challenge trained and assisted 100 special education teachers in getting their licenses.
Mulqueen comments that as so often after O'Connell speaks, there is little left to say.

Lunch at home?

According to my unofficial WPS historian, sending kids home for lunch stopped in 1965-66.
If you even vaguely have a sense of the dates many of our elementary schools were built, this makes lots of things make lots of sense.Why, for example, are so many of our Baby Boomer era schools lacking kitchens? The kids were still going home for lunch (and those rooms they eat in? Intended as gym/auditoriums).
Thanks, Jack!

Teacher evaluation out for comment

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted last week to send the new teacher evaluation regulations out for public comment.*
The arguments made by state officials (as quoted and cited by the Globe) are masterful pieces of illogic. Commissioner Chester, for example, cites that teachers can go several years without being evaluated. Is that a problem? Absolutely! Will that be solved by evaluating them according to test scores? Not at all! Chester further comments, "For students who are behind, not having an effective teacher is going to keep them behind." True? Yes! Solved by evaluating by test scores? No! Secretary Reville says the current system of inconsistent evaluations "borders on negligence." I know of no teacher who would say otherwise. That is best solved, however, by regular evaluations in the classrooms by well-trained, I repeat, WELL-TRAINED, evaluators. This system still doesn't do that well.
If you'd like a rundown on the public comment against these regulations, you can find them here.
I would urge anyone who has the slightest concern regarding this to weigh in with the Board of Ed. Comments are due June 10; the Board is scheduled to vote on June 28.
And by the way, I've been told that Worcester's own Professor McDermott was outspoken in the malpractice being done to education by these regs. Well done, sir!
UPDATE: It appears that the Commissioner is taking his show on the road; he's talking about this system at the Urban Superintendents' meeting tomorrow morning (our superintendent and mayor will be in attendance).

*You can also mail them to: 
Tricia Federico 
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education 
75 Pleasant Street 
Malden, MA 02148

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Most of Providence's teachers are coming back

You can read more here. I have to agree with the assessment of singling out the turnaround schools; making it more risky to work there than it already is? Not a great idea.

Of sacred cows and $660,000

Per the City Manager's budget presentation last night, I should point out that both the city and the state have fully funded the foundation budget for the Worcester Public Schools for FY12.
This is a good thing. It's an incredibly difficult year to keep to commitments, and not having to create the insane budgetary circumstances being faced by school districts in other states is a great relief.
I've already this morning caught a bit of talk of "sacred cows" and some question about why education emerges unscathed (or at least uncut) in what are certainly harrowing budget times. That was the point of creating the foundation formula in Massachusetts: that education would be funded at a minimal level (at least) every year. Faced with a suit by several communities, including Worcester, the courts decided that education would be set aside as an area that would be funded at a minimum level always. As a response to that suit, the Legislature created the foundation formula, by which education cannot be cut below a legally mandated minimum (and, in the process, gave the state a major role in funding education, particularly in urban areas; recall that less that 1/3 of the schools funding comes from the city in Worcester).
In the presentation of the City Manager last night, he touted the $660,000 over foundation the Worcester Public School budget is. This isn't new money: this is the same $660,000 that the city has given the schools the past several years. $130,000 is from the city cable contract, as been the case for several years. The remaining $540,000 is from the (oft-mentioned) Medicaid reimbursement (you might remember that the schools deliver significantly more services by dollar amount; this is the city "giveback"); of that, $400,000 goes back to 1996.

(as I know some are looking at percentages: that's 0.002% over foundation)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CPPAC, May meeting

A bit on CPPAC tonight:
  • there's a quorum of the School Committee here (Biancheria, Monfredo, Novick, O'Connell) tonight
  • presentations from CultureLEAP and Worcester Educational Collaborative
  • consideration of moving the day that CPPAC meets (so as not to conflict with City Council meetings); suggestion that it be moved to second Mondays (need some discussion of where to have it, as the library is closed on Mondays...could it rotate from school to school?) Or could the second Thursday work? Also a request that PTO meetings should not conflict with CPPAC. Second Thursday carries. Location TBD.
  • Parent Advocacy sub-committee report: met with Mayor. Clarifying T&G editorial. Met with Jackie Reis (at the T&G). Plan to meet with editorial board of the T&G. Outstanding meetings with City Councilors. "It's a shame, because we have never funded our schools sufficiently." Ask how budgets impact individual schools.
  • Parent Expo: June 11 at WPI. Also, moving forward possibility of a list-serv or support for PTOs
  • budget report: highest for teaching and learning. Also many comments that having parents prioritize items that are obviously all important is ridiculous.Motion that "this doesn't get lost."
  • recess policy: comments that came back (comments through site council/comments directly from parents). Comment that "preferably prior to lunch" should have been out of the version that was sent out to parents (through CPPAC). Questions around why they can't do it at various schools; some discussion of this, of how site councils ought to run, of funding and infastructure needs.
sorry I didn't get this up until late; they shut off the wifi at the library fifteen minutes prior to closing. 

    Finance and Operations in sum

    It was a brief (three item) meeting tonight, so no liveblog (egregious errors now fixed...mea culpa!). In summary:
    • we made the fourth quarter budgetary moves recommended by the administration. Interesting things to note: we are, per the hope/plan, going to be able to forward $2.4 million of education jobs money from this year to FY12 (that's an additional $500,000 over what was projected; small cheer!). This is figured into next year's budget.Also, we're saving $100,000 in tipping fees in trash removal (we're going to figure out why; somehow we're generating less trash, which is good news). We're pre-purchasing WRTA bus passes, as we did last year. Also, due to the large number of snow days, summer school this year is happening entirely after July 1, and thus entirely in the next fiscal year (and yes, that is figured into next year's budget, where there will be a plan to pay for this and a bit of next year's summer school).
    • the transportation list (see page 16 and following) is fascinating reading. If you know the neighborhoods, you can largely picture why it is that the kids are not particularly safe walking from the places listed. Also, keep in mind that all of the buses that cover these kids are buses that we would need anyway; they are added ROUTES, not added buses. 
    • school nutrition will be seeing a five cent increase in school lunch next year (provided it passes the full committee on Thursday), per the requirements of the federal law. We talked a bit about other requirements and potential impacts.
    There was a post-meeting discussion around an F&O FY12 budget hearing; I'll post it as soon as I have a date for it.

      If you ever wonder if school committee meetings matter...

      ...ask the students in Tucson who shut down their board meeting--including some who chained themselves to the directors' chairs--in protest of a threat to an ethnic studies program.
      The meeting was canceled, but the students have vowed to return until the resolution is withdrawn.

      It's Teacher Appreciation Week

      ...and I'd thought about posting my own response to Secretary Duncan's letter in honor of it, but I'm just going to send you over to Teacher Sabrina, who points out that actions mean more than words better than I could.
      If the policies for which you advocate undermine educators, then, Mr. Secretary, you do not honor teachers.

      Coming up around the state

      A few ed events of note coming up around the state: (Thanks, Lisa!)

      * This Saturday, May 7, 4-6 p.m. Come to a screening of the
      documentary film TEACH, with directors Bob and Yvonne Lamothe, at Food
      for Thought Books, 106 N. Pleasant St., Amherst, MA. For more
      information, go to http://www.foodforthoughtbooks.com/teach-documentary.

      Monday, May 2, 2011

      Worcester Public Schools meetings this week

      Coming up this week:
      • there is a meeting of the Finance and Operations standing committee at 5:45 pm tomorrow at the Durkin Administration Building, 4th floor. You will find the agenda here. In addition to the quarterly account transfers, the other items might be of interest if a) you've ever wondered which kids get bused within the two mile zone around their schools, or b) you buy your kids school lunch, as the administration is, per the new federal law, recommending an increase of five cents for next fall (bringing lunch to $1.55).
      • there is a meeting of the Citywide Parent Planning and Advisory Council (CPPAC) meeting tomorrow night at 7 pm in the Worcester Public Library. As usual, all are welcome to attend.
      • Also tomorrow night at 7, the City Manager presents his budget to the City Council. As this will fund schools at the legally mandated level, there isn't perhaps a tension around this presentation on the education front, but good to keep an eye on.
      • Thursday night at 7 pm is the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Worcester School Committee. You will find the agenda here. In addition to, yes, the recess policy, the school committee will be voting on the five innovation school plans. You might also be interested in just how WPS plans to spend that $6.7 million in Race to the Top money over the next four years.
      •  It isn't a meeting, but the Worcester Public Schools Arts Festival opens at the Worcester Public Library on Friday. There are performances and demonstrations starting at 10:30; the opening ceremony is at noon. Meet the Artists Night is next Tuesday, May 10th, from 5:30-7:30 pm. Art displays will be up at the library for the weeks following.

      Spring on Chandler Street

      As I'm driving around the city, I can't help noticing how many of the schools have flowers coming out. Knowing, as I do, the physical plant budget, I can attest: anywhere you see flowers, it's a labor of love by someone.
      Here's what's out right now at Chandler Magnet:

      There's also a lovely flowerbed in the interior courtyard that I intend to get better photos of. I have it on good authority that the flowers at Chandler Magnet (formerly Chandler Junior High) are the work of retired art teacher John Butke.
      If you've got photos of your school that you'd like to post, send them in!