Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teachers in Mexico latest target of extortion

Schools are shutting down across Mexico, as teachers have become the latest targets of extortion:
Since the anonymous threats began last month, when students returned to classes after summer break, hundreds of schools have shut down.
“This isn’t about money, this is about life or death,” Alejandro Estrada, an elementary school teacher, said as he marched in protest with thousands of other teachers down Acapulco’s seafront boulevard last week. “If you don’t pay, you die.”
The word here, in the tough neighborhoods that tumble down the far side of the mountains lining the once-splendid bay, is that everybody is paying protection money: doctors, taxi drivers, local stores.
The latest report from Acapulco is gruesome.
Am I alone in feeling that we ought to be doing something in solidarity with educators in Mexico around this?

Seeking a waiver: we're in

Massachusetts will be seeking a waiver from the federal government on No Child Left Behind.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not wa(i)ving but drowning*

Besides getting University Park Campus School's designation wrong, just what was President Obama announcing on Friday?
If you remember your Schoolhouse Rock, the executive branch is there "to see that the laws get done" (to execute them, thus the Executive branch). What the Obama administration is doing is basically NOT executing No Child Left Behind, or giving waivers to particular parts of the law. Most notably, the waivers will waive the provision " that schools ensure that every student be proficient in math and reading by 2014 or risk escalating sanctions." For most schools, that will be most clearly demonstrated in no more measures of Adequate Yearly Progress, that ever-increasing line on the chart towards 100% in 2014.
One should also note that the President specifically said that he is doing this partly due to concerns about narrowing of curriculum and teaching to the test.
This does not, of course, come for nothing. The real news is in what the federal Department of Education led by Secretary Duncan will expect of states applying for a waiver. You can see the Ed department's public briefing here. The letter to state officials is here. The expectations are more or less what was required to apply for Race to the Top funding.
  • College and career readiness: as the fed has already said that the Common Core is what it's looking for, and 44 states have adopted it, like it or not, that's the standard.
  • "Systems of Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support": instead of declaring all schools that don't make AYP a particular number of years "underperforming," instead we get the bottom 5% ("Priority" schools) and the bottom 10% ("Focus" schools). This more-or-less parallels what Massachusetts has done with Level 4 schools (and, as has been noted, is going to get silly when we do the bottom 5%, and another 5%, and so on, year after year).
  • new teacher and principal evaluation systems: and yes, "including student progress over time." It doesn't specify test scores for that, but unless someone comes up with some funding, they're going to look like the cheap answer.
Applications for waivers for this year are due in Washington on November 14, and will be subject to peer review.
A few other points worth making. Both the Secretary and the President have repeatedly said they're only doing this because Congress hasn't reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (of which NCLB was the last go-round); in other words, that Congress has not done its job ("passin' laws" per Schoolhouse Rock). Several Congressional Republicans have accused the Department of overreaching its powers. (Interestingly, Republican governors seem to be lining up to get waivers.)
This doesn't rollback grades 3-8 testing. It doesn't take the emphasis off of reading and math (to the detriment of everything else) and it doesn't give states any particular incentive to use anything other than a comparatively cheap standardized test to judge students. Moreover, as states are now expected to have "measures that are comparable in a district" for all subjects, it could well lead to the nightmare some states are already experiencing, of standardized tests in art, music, and elsewhere.
Any state that applied for and got Race to the Top dollars probably already has done most of what the Secretary is asking, anyway--Massachusetts has--so they have no real reason not to apply for a waiver.
I did get a message over the weekend that Secretary Reville is considering it.
*with apologies to Stevie Smith

Saturday, September 24, 2011

He got it right today

 "Yesterday, I was with Ricky Hall, the principal of a school in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Every single student who graduated from Ricci’s school in the last three years went on to college.  But because they didn’t meet the standards of No Child Left Behind, Ricci’s school was labeled as failing last year."
You can see the transcript of the full Saturday address here

Friday, September 23, 2011

A few notes from Wednesday's forum

One can hardly pretend to be unbiased on such things, and you can get a holistic (if abbreviated) view of answers in the article by Jackie Reis.
The format was a one minute opening statement for each candidate, and a one minute closing statement for each candidate. In between, 15 questions were asked, each answered by two candidates. The questions (paraphrased from my notes) were as follows:
  • Worcester is in the fifth percentile statewide when it comes to municipal contribution over the required contribution to the schools' foundation budget. Please comment. (This to Salmonsen & Biancheria)
  • Massachusetts has now adopted the Common Core. Thoughts? (to Colorio & O'Connell)
  • The new teacher evaluation system calls for incorporating "student outcomes." What are your thoughts? (to Monfredo & Mullaney)
  • What would be your priorities for Worcester Public Schools facilities for the next five years? (to Trobaugh & Novick)
  • What technology needs do you see for the Worcester Public Schools over the next five years? (to Foley & Ramirez)
  • No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Ed Reform II...how do you see the balance of all of these with local control? (to Mullaney & Trobaugh)
  • Looking, for example, at 3rd grade ELA and 7th grade math scores, what would you say is the community part in supporting our students? (to O'Connell & Colorio)
  • Some parents have expressed concern with disciplinary policies and how they are implemented. Please comment. (to Monfredo & Biancheria)
  • Given the great varities of people in Worcester, what is your plan to reach out to constituencies and neighborhoods? (to Novick & Ramirez)
  • What affect would you say the changing demographics of the city have had on the policy, culture, and teaching and learning in the Worcester Public Schools? (to Foley & Salmonsen)
  • What would you say are the three most pressing issues to the Worcester Public Schools? (to Colorio & Foley)
  • What, in the Worcester Public Schools, are you most proud of? (to Biancheria & Ramirez)
  • From your own educational experiences, what would you like students to have, and what would you like students to avoid? (to O'Connell & Salmonsen)
  • Some parents have been concerned about all students having access to a demanding curriculum, particularly as it pertains to sorting of levels in middle schools. Please comment. (to Monfredo & Novick)
  • What balance do you strike between management and School Committee? (to Mullaney & Trobaugh)

Thank you, Mr. President, but...

Mr. President,
We really appreciate your inviting Principal Ricci Hall down to Washington, D.C. for your speech today on reforming No Child Left Behind. We here in Worcester are also very proud of University Park Campus School, of the work the students there do, of the teachers who inspire them, and of the administration that guides them. We also are always grateful to Clark University for all the assistance they render us there.
That said, Mr. President, you and your administration revealed your perspective today when you called UPCS a charter school.
UPCS is not a charter school.
While UPCS is now among Worcester's five innovation schools, the things that have made UPCS excellent are things the school achieved as a Worcester Public School: answering to a central administration, having unionized teachers, and much else that public education is often beat up about.
Guess what, Mr. President? They've done it, and done it well.
The school has had a vision--not only about kids going to college, but about kids having a well-rounded education on the way there-- and had some leeway from central administration to get there. With a strong assist from Clark, the school is now, as you said, " in the top quarter of all schools in Massachusetts" with a student body that has many of the struggles of urban populations everywhere.
You see, Mr. President, you don't need to toss out publicly accountable school boards, transparent finances, and bargaining rights to get there.
You do, though, have to have a vision, and it has to be for more than test scores.
Respectfully yours,
Tracy Novick

More on the President's plan once I read through it

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The accidental Worcester educational film festival continues Monday with a viewing of "Teach: Teachers Are Talking, Is the Nation Listening?" sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools.
Clark University, Sackler Science Building, Room 122

Follow by a discussion with the filmmakers, and the educators;

Nancy Carlsson-Page, Tracy Novick, Gladys Rodriguez-Parker 

Moderated by Citizens for Public School’s members, Ruth Rodriguez-Fay and Ann O’Halloran

Spread the word and bring a friend!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You can't make this stuff up

Remember Charlotte, NC? How they added 52 tests? How they then used some of their Race to the Top money to try to sell the idea to parents?
Secretary Duncan says “Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a model for innovation in urban education.”
And sure enough, they're this year's winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education.

MCAS numbers

The district level and school-by-school MCAS numbers are out today. The individual student reports are still being sorted (over 7000 Worcester Public Schools students who took the MCAS are at a different school than they were last year); schools will be in touch once they're ready.
Additionally, this means we have the current "accountability list." You'll notice that this includes no new Level 4 schools; that's because that list hasn't come out from the state yet.
I haven't seen the school-by-school data, specifically, but the T&G is drawing some interesting conclusions from it.
and h/t to Dave Perda for the helpful chart

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who are those guys?*

Yesterday at stART on the Street, a parent came over, sat down next to me, and said, "What do I need to know about Stand for Children?" This one's for you.
The fall issue of Rethinking Schools has an article on Stand for Children for which I was interviewed. While the specifics of the Massachusetts implosion of Stand for Children in the sidebar are crucial reading, particularly now, as Stand pursues signatures for a ballot measure to require 50% of teachers' evaluations to be student test scores, the full article bears reading, as it demonstrates the nationwide flip that has taken place in Stand. On message board, blogs, Facebook, parents from across the country who had been members of Stand are finding one another and processing what the heck happened to an organization that went from empowering parents to speak out to overruling them and browbeating them into silence or acquiescence.
It happened nationwide. And it happened, as Libby and Sanchez point out, right about the time the money changed (as I've posted previously). You might look again at the memo that came out last spring from national headquarters, which laid down the new premise that all decisions regarding state and national positions would not be made by members; members were relegated to local-only issues. And what, nowadays, are local-only issues? Most issues are linked, in some way, to national or state policy. With no power to influence that, how does a member have any voice?
They don't.

*Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Five things you could do for kids this weekend

There are a plethora of chances to do good things for kids in Worcester this coming weekend:
  • The first (that I know of) local screening of "The Inconvenient Truth about 'Waiting for Superman'" which is a community-generated response to the well-funded film is happening Friday evening. It's at Community Reality, 101 Highland Street at 7pm, and it will be followed by a discussion.You can find the Facebook event page here.
  • On Saturday morning, you can help build Union Hill's new playground. That starts at 8:30 at the school (which is 1 Chapin Street).
  • Alternatively, you can help fix up Chandler Magnet's library, also starting at 8am on Saturday (this is for adults only). That's at the school (which is 525 Chandler Street).
  • There's a one day conference on Saturday at Worcester Tech on "Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline" (FB event page here), sponsored by The Black Legacy Coalition, Mosaic Cultural Complex, and the Willis Center. That starts at 8:30 am and runs until 3pm; it is free, but you are asked to RSVP so they can get a good count for lunch.
  • This Saturday also is the Food Drive for Why Me? and Sherry's House for families with children fighting cancer. They currently have two families in residence at 1152 Pleasant Street, and they could use help! Needed items include:
    Non-perishable canned foods
    Macaroni and Cheese, Pasta, Sauces, Beefaroni
    Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Fluff
    Juice Boxes
    Paper Goods such as paper plates, towels, napkins, cups and toilet paper (septic safe)

Boston School Committee tonight

The Boston School Committee meets tonight for several items of enormous controversy (and apologies for the lack of links; I wouldn't know any of this were I not on list-servs. Globe? Herald? Where are you guys?). At a meeting where the time was changed at the last minute (or beyond it? Is that a time change that's kosher under the Open Meeting law?), the Boston School Committee will take up the District-Charter School Compact (see Jim Horn on this, as well as for a posting of the agenda). Citizens for Public Schools has a pertinent question:
This looks like a one-sided agreement benefitting charter schools at the expense of the district students. The public needs to know what financial arrangements have been made in order for these changes to take place. The Gates Foundation has given grants to other school systems in exchange for similar compacts. Is this the case in Boston? How much money has been promised? And for what purposes? Where is the public oversight and accountability?
(Does Boston approve all grants publicly? The agenda implies they do. Watch this one.)
They also are taking up their new rules to forward, it is said, "civility" in their meetings. It includes the following provision:
No demonstration of approval or disapproval from members of the public will be permitted in the chamber or meeting space (including signs, Banners, prolonged Booing, props etc.). And if such demonstrations are made the meeting will be stopped.
Recall that Boston does not have an elected School Committee. If the members of the public do not like the actions of the School Committee, they have no power to vote members off.
So now they're restricted from demonstrating "approval or disapproval"? And we're still calling this a public meeting?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Buying your good opinion

It seems that Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) has decided that it isn't that little matter of 52 new tests; you just need some convincing!

A school district that is a finalist for the soon-to-be announced $1 million 2011 Broad Prize for Urban Education is embarking on a public relations effort — funded with U.S. government and Gates Foundation money — to end public opposition to its school reform program, which includes a slew of new standardized tests.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina is using Race to the Top money — which wasn’t intended to fund public relations efforts — and $200,000 in Gates Foundation money for the campaign.
Sure doesn't sound like what it was supposed to be for, does it? Oh, but wait:
Hamilton said in a subsequent e-mail that he understands the role of the public relations specialists to be “to provide supports to stakeholder groups re: what the content and different elements of the new teacher evaluation system is… what the components are, how it will be used…”
Right, because that's the highest and best use of $150,000 a year for the next three years.

As for the Broad Prize, yes, Worcester's superintendent will be out of town this week for that award, for which the finalists this year, along with Charlotte-Mecklenburg, are Broward County in Florida, Miami-Dade County in Florida, and Ysleta in Texas.

I can't better the closing Strauss has:
So, here’s where we are: Lots of money for standardized tests, so that teachers can be evaluated by the results, and lots of money to convince the skeptical public that that bad assessment system is really a good one.
Behold the face of modern school reform.

What we're actually testing

Alfie Kohn with an example from the MCAS of what we're actually testing.

Who's cheating who?

Glen Ford with a report on who's cheating who in the high-stakes testing scandals.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

security cameras

Biancheria asks for a report coming back to the full committee before referral to F&O
"once we have established what the needs are, we can move it onto Operations, or perhaps to Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports"
concern that it might take months to come before F&O
"would prefer to know up front"
working with partners, working with city, police
"missed opportunities...looking for School Committee to be onboard with this, be on the forefront of what our schools need"
"safety is always on the first page"
asks for a report for the latter part of November
"and if there are cameras, perhaps we need more"
Boone cautions on the amount of information we can make public
O'Connell reminds us all that we can discuss this in executive session
Foley: could ask for the report to be done and through subcommittee by the first week of December
(as he's chair of F&O, he sets the agenda there)
Biancheria: as long as we take it in this timeframe

Long-term suspension reports

...from the last few years are going to TLSS
Novick asks if we track kids who have had a long-term suspensions (reference to the school-to-prison pipeline)
There was a big study coming out Texas (which I'll link up to) demonstrating some frightening data around what happens to those kids long-term

site council training

to come from Mass Association of School Committees
wait til you see the power they have!


Looking here for administration to assist in getting every school to CPPAC every month
This is our congress of schools, with EVERY school represented
School Committee sends items there, they send items here
HUGELY important
sharing the position is entirely possible (so you don't have to go every month)
if you're a parent, and you don't know if your school has a CPPAC rep, ask!
Monfredo suggests having PTOs or site councils attend
reminder that communicating back to the schools is important as well.

National Walk to School Day

National Walk to School Day is October 5!
You should try to walk!

Governance and Employee Issues

sponsorship arrangements for athletics
bids out in October for sign at Foley Stadium
naming rights for banners and signs: is there interest?
request for fundraising guidelines from city legal
school of choice: brochures to describe special programs in WPS
asking for the results of parent survey
open houses for 5th graders in middle schools

agreement between WPS and Mass Association of School Committees
comprehensive policy system: codification of system

Kindergarten-4 programs (K4): question about splitting kindergarten
setting up a meeting with legislators
Springfield and Boston are working on K4 programs as well, so Finance is working with them

Yes, we will have small animals coming into Tech for the vet program (how cool is that?)

TLSS standing committee report

cell phones: phones having a possible curricular use, now that they're smartphones
consulting with principals "who we trust will consult with teachers"
Gates Foundation grant: Literacy by Design grant not renewed next year
what can we thus take from it?
service learning: feasibility of requiring a service learning project at secondary level, also at elementary level, middle level, and Challenge and Reach Academies, alternative schools
five year comparison of trends in APs

City Solicitor needed for disciplinary hearings
"a very significant concern for those of us who watch this area closely"

Questions from members

O'Connell asks if we're ready for these "bumps" going through the system
Boone: capacity is challenge at K-6 level
classes that are larger are due to lack of classroom space in particular schools (this is a vital point)

Opening of school report

We're leading with a list of people in new positions: from director of career and vocational education, wraparound zone manager, athletic director, staffing coordinator, instructional support personnel, and several department heads.
New principals at Elm Park, Wawecus, Sullivan, Tatnuck Magnet
New assistant principals at South, Tech, Challenge & Reach, Belmont Street, Grafton Street, LakeView, Lincoln Street

Worcester School Committee: opening of school

We'll be starting our "opening of school" meeting with several honors shortly.

Where Massachusetts stands on education funding

This came out a week ago; sorry for the late posting!
The Mass Budget and Policy Center has published an analysis of where Massachusetts is on education funding, using the FY09 funding numbers (the more recent available). A few things of note:
  • Massachusetts continues to rank high in terms of both nominal per-pupil spending, ranking 7th in the nation, and cost-adjusted spending, ranking 10th 
  • education spending in Massachusetts as a share of the state’s economy essentially mirrored the national average in FY 2009 
in other words, in terms of what we have, we spend an average amount on education

For all that this sounds like a report only for the ed funding geeks (I know who you are!), it's very accessibly written and raises some interesting points. Well worth reading the whole thing (about four pages).

Commissioner Chester on opening of school

Last week we got a letter from Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester on the opening of school. I'll include the whole of the letter after the jump, but a few highlights, with commentary:
The work that lies ahead this year will build upon several key milestones that we achieved last year, including: (1) the award of a $250 million Race to the Top grant; (2) the first year of turnaround efforts in the 35 lowest performing schools in the state; (3) the adoption of new Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in English Language Arts and Mathematics, Incorporating the Common Core Standards; and (4) the adoption of new educator evaluation regulations.
You'll note that all of these are lockstep with the priorities of the national administration. Nothing here on well-rounded education, thoughtful measures of learning, or educating the next generation of the Commonwealth.
Yesterday, the Department released the statewide spring 2011 MCAS results. Our high school results continue to be remarkable. I was also encouraged to see good gains in grade 5 English language arts (ELA) and mathematics and gap narrowing in ELA at several grades. While the results continue to edge up, the pace of improvement is not as consistent and strong as I would like it to be. 
Accelerate, accelerate, accelerate...here's the problem. We now are dealing with three years out from 100% proficiency. We are approaching, but never reaching, zero.
The destruction caused by Tropical Storm Irene in late August caused the delay of many planned school openings.  In New England, more common cancellations due to inclement winter weather are not unexpected. As you work with your school committees or boards of trustees later this year to develop the 2012-2013 school calendar, I encourage you to keep in mind the importance of planning appropriately for meeting the required 180 days of school by building sufficient flexibility into your calendars.  More and more school districts are beginning the school year before Labor Day, which is one way to maximize opportunities for making up cancelled days.  Many districts are clarifying that February and April vacation dates are subject to change as a result of cancelled days.
aka: I don't care if there's a state of emergency; I'm not giving out waivers.
Several high profile national stories last year about alleged cheating on standardized tests in other states served as a reminder of the importance of understanding and abiding by proper test security protocols when administering MCAS tests. School principals are responsible for the integrity of the testing that takes place in their buildings, and must train all test administrators each year in advance of the spring testing. School superintendents and charter leaders set the tone and expectation for your district:  that MCAS must be administered according to rules and that that cheating or compromised administrations of the test will not be tolerated. I know that you take security as seriously as I do, and I thank you for your efforts to ensure that appropriate expectations are set and that training occurs in each of your schools prior to each new MCAS administration.
(emphasis added)  in other states?

The entire letter after the jump:

As LA joins the cheating scandal list...

As Los Angeles joins the cheating scandal list, the Answer Sheet has a good summary of what's going on with cheating nationwide.

More on tonight's School Committee meeting

The report of the superintendent is now up on the agenda.
Coming back are reports of the Standing Committees on Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports, and Governance and  Employee Issues.
TLSS has the cell phone suggested revision (allowing carefully defined use of smartphones in classrooms), one of the periodic updates on the Gates Foundation grants (we've bowed out of one), service learning, and our asking the city when we're going to get a solicitor back to handle disciplinary cases (the answer: not anytime soon), and a suggestion on updating report cards.
G&EI has a report back on outsourcing of funding of athletics, the continued pursuit of making WPS a choice (some interesting stuff here: the parent survey, better marketing, open houses at middle schools for 5th graders, and college internships), the savvy text messaging the district is using (hello, Twitter!), policy manuals,and funding a Kindergarten-4 step.

As I said, this is also the agenda when the new hires come through, so the list of those positions is in, as are transfers and retirees.
We've got responses back on using food as a reward, and National Walk to School Day (October 5th!).
We have items going to administration and various committees on training site councils, helping CPPAC get reps from every school, reports on security cameras and long-term suspensions, and an update on the district testing plan, which is a response to the state's looking into procedures surrounding testing at Goddard.
7pm, City Hall!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Report of the Superintendent

We got the backup on the report of opening of schools this afternoon. I've posted it here.
More to come at tomorrow's meeting, no doubt!

Poverty grows

I'm behind on posting all sorts of things, but I did want to call your attention to the news that:
 Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.

Certainly not good news on any front: devastating to children living in poverty.

My remarks to the Council on the expansion of the School Committee

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for allowing myself and my colleagues to address you this evening on an item that is of such consequence. While I imagine nothing any of us say here this evening will sway the opinions of the councilors, as the matter lies before the voters, it is important that a realistic assessment of this proposal be heard.
While I will readily admit that I was not paying attention in 1985 to the rewriting of Worcester's charter, as I was twelve at the time, it does seem clear that the intent of the commission was to broaden representation. At the very least, the commission was concerned with broadening geographic representation across the city. It may interest you, therefore, to learn that every district in the city is currently represented on the Worcester School Committee, save Councilor Clancy's district, which Mr. O'Connell misses by the width of a street. Mr. Eddy's district has multiple members on both bodies. I submit to you, Mr. Chair, that this has more to do with other aspects of Council and Committee work--the designation of the position as part-time with corresponding pay, yet the need for flexible work hours--that cause public service in this city to be, to some degree, a luxury that can only be afforded by some.
I suspect, however, Mr. Chair, that this item stems less from geographic concerns and more from identity concerns. Both bodies are entirely white, are overwhelmingly male, are largely over the age of fifty. We can all agree that the City of Worcester does not look like that.
If, however, it is this that concerns the Council, and it is this that led to the charter being changed in 1985, we have only to look at the composition of this body now and over the 26 years since charter change to see if this proposed solution has a potential for success.
I submit to you, Mr. Chair, that it does not. Twenty-six years after charter change, the numbers on the Council are stark: the body remains overwhelmingly white (and historically so), overwhelmingly male, and largely over the age of fifty. Further, Mr. Chair, former Councilors who are people of color won at-large, not district, seats.
District representation has not changed this.
While I share the concerns of the Council on having elected bodies that reflect the composition of the city, I am appalled to once again have a proposed solution be one that has already demonstrably failed.
I also find it of grave concern that the Councilors proposing this give no consideration to the difference between our two bodies. There is a difference in our jobs. While both bodies hire and evaluate the chief executive, and both bodies have financial oversight, the Worcester School Committee has further authority in setting policy for the Worcester Public Schools. The Worcester Public Schools are a single, functioning system, which must have a single-minded policy direction.
This also, Mr. Chair, ignores the representative ground-level bodies that serve the Worcester Public Schools now. The Citywide Parent Planning and Advisory Council by its bylaws serves as a congress of schools. Every school has a seat at this Council and it provides a voice for each and every school--not just some schools, as would be inevitably the case with district representatives. As it is an ongoing challenge to ensure representation for each school, I have put an item on Thursday's School Committee agenda, requesting the administration assist CPPAC in ensuring representation for all schools.
Further, Mr. Chair, it ignores the site councils required by the Education Reform Act of 1993. Far from being window-dressing, the site councils of elected teachers, parents, and community members. It is empowered with reviewing the budget, often including capital spending, and with advising on policy for the school. As many members of site councils are not aware of the power vested in them by the laws of the Commonwealth, I have put an item on Thursday's agenda calling for training of site councils, so members are aware of the power they hold.
This is, one should note, remarkably similar to the neighborhood councils called for by the 1987 revision of the charter--a part of the charter never fulfilled.
I'm also horrified by the prospect of making capital decisions based on political clout rather than district need. When this Council voted additional, badly-needed capital funds for the Worcester Public Schools, the School Committee turned to the administration and asked for a list reflecting NEED, not political pull. It would poorly serve the schoolchildren of this city to have roof repair, window replacement, and classroom repainting apportioned by who owes whom what.
It is that prospect, more than anything, that has made me feel I needed to come and speak before you tonight. To have a proposal before the voters of this city that would create new inequities, set up new competitions for resources, within the schools of this city is something that I cannot be silent on.
I ask you, therefore, Mr. Chair: if you and your colleagues are indeed concerned about representation in this city, do not present a ballot question that will not solve the problem and will make inequities worse. Look at comprehensive resolution to why people do and do not run for office in Worcester, and set out in a direction that will create a government that looks like its city.
This proposal does not do that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Council on School Committee

O'Brien cedes the chair to Lukes
"I'd like to start by..proposing an advisory question...having discussion in the community first"
don't use advisory questions enough
"clearly what the intent of this item is...putting an advisory question on the ballot"
apologize for not doing a better job of communicating with my colleagues
"how do we start a conversation in this community"
have abysmal voter turnout
"we have remarkably dedicated on the School Committee...care passionately about the city"

School Committee before the Council

Mullaney before the Council: finding out from the paper about this item "a breech of the professional courtesy that should exist between two co-equal bodies"

This week in meetings

Tonight, the Worcester City Council again takes up its proposal to expand the School Committee by five district committee members. I and several of my colleagues will be there to speak.
Thursday night at 7 is the regularly scheduled meeting of the Worcester School Committee. You will find the agenda here. The bulk of the physical agenda is resumes for new hires. We will also be getting (I haven't seen it yet) a report from Superintendent Boone on the opening of schools. We're also having two subcommittees report back in, a few reports back from administration, and new items filed by members (of which more anon).

Friday, September 9, 2011

President Obama's money for schools

I did not get to watch the President's speech last night, as I was off being a parent at one of the many Know Your School Nights in town, so I'm playing catch up on the proposal today. It appears on the education side to boil down to about $30 billion in aid for education jobs, and $140 billion for infrastructure. The infrastructure money will include (as it should) roads and bridges, too, so the amount for schools is unclear. That's worth keeping a close eye on, particularly as (if this goes anywhere) it's decided who gets to decide.
Valarie Strauss is completely right that the infrastructure money is needed, and that it's probably only a start of what we do need. Andrew Rotherham is right when he says the temptation is going to be to give everyone a little bit, rather than give the sorts of chunks of money that get real things done. We've seen that locally with the capital boost the city gave the schools this past year; if you need more than a lick of paint, it isn't cheap.
So far so good on the capital side.
I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Rotherham further on the jobs side. He's completely off-base in terms of what reforms are needed in education funding at the state level (let's please get over the "bargain-basement teacher" mentality, already; fresh-out-of-college grads are not the best educators we can find), but he's right that there are reforms needed in funding.
This past year, Massachusetts was among the states that managed to weather the FY12 budget with fewer layoffs. Across the country, there were cities that laid off thousands of teachers, schools that are now seeing class sizes of over thirty across the board for lack of staff. Yes, that's because the economy is doing poorly and revenues are down BUT it's also because the funding mechanisms for K-12 education vary widely across the country. A number of states simply slashed education funding, and then left it to the districts to deal with. Because of the (greatly underappreciated) foundation formula and the commitment the Governor and Legislature made to stick to it, Massachusetts didn't face that.
This is not to say that education jobs money isn't appreciated. We used it for the years we had it and were grateful for it. With a sudden drop in tax revenues, needing to level out the schools is a good idea. But there is a chronic funding problem in education (see, just for starters, Bruce Baker here), and it's at the state level. Kids deserve to have their education sheltered from economic twists and turns.

UPDATE: Schools Matter has a suggestion of where the money can come from.

I should also point out that all of this supposes that the proposal goes anywhere, which does not at all appear certain.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Our kids were the ones whose education was stilted..."

Amazing piece on No Child Left Behind by Superintendent of the Pelham City Schools in Georgia, Jim Arnold:
Our kids were the ones whose education was stilted by our submission to the belief that one test could effectively distill and determine the depth and extent of an entire year of a child’s education. They are the ones whose time was wasted by “academic pep rallies” and “test prep” and by the subtle and insidious ways we told them the test was “important” and put pressure on them to “do their best because our school is counting on you.”
They were the ones that did without art and music and chorus and drama because we increased the amount of time they spent in ELA and Math. They were the ones that had time in their Social Studies and Science classes cut back more and more so schools could focus on the “really important areas” of ELA and Math. They were the ELL’s that couldn’t speak English but still had to take the test. Their teachers were the ones that were told “your grading of the children in your classes doesn’t count any more because standardization is more important to us that the individual grades you provide.” This told them in effect that their efforts at teaching were important but only if they taught using “this” methodology or “this” curriculum, then, when things started to go badly, they were the first to be blamed for the failure of public education. They were told to teach every child the same way with the same material but make sure to individualize while you’re at it. Hogwash.
No excerpt could do it justice. Read it all.
And boy, do we need more like him in administration.

who said what

If you're tracking education in the 2012 presidential race, you may be interested in this HechingerEd blog post on who said what during last night's Republican presidential debate.

If they had a million dollars...

The Philadelphia school district is now having to come up with the full $905, 000 cost of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman's buyout package, as the donors have now backed out:
The furor prompted the donors who had originally pledged their support to withdraw their contributions, according to a statement from the Philadelphia school system:
From the start, the School Reform Commission sought to keep the public cost of this agreement to a minimum. But the public concerns about the use of anonymous private donations led almost all donors to withdraw their pledges to contribute to the Philadelphia's Children First Fund. The SRC, accordingly, asked the Philadelphia Children's First Fund to return any donations it has received in connection with our request of it to accept funds on behalf of the district for this purpose. As a result, the payment to Dr. Ackerman does not include payments from anonymous private donors. Instead, all funds to Dr. Ackerman are public dollars from the Philadelphia School District.
In a statement, Stalberg said "It's good that the public doesn't have to worry who is anonymously underwriting this deal and why." But, he added, "Philadelphia has been tarnished by a controversy that stems from a secret deal that should never have been attempted in the first place."

Different tone at the top on NYC

There's a mixture of good news and bad news in the profile piece on Dennis Walcott, the new Chancellor of the New York City public schools. He's concerned--rightfully--about publishing test scores by teacher in the newspaper, and he's looking to talk to parents, principals, and local groups. He seems a mite short on specifics, though.

Obedience and negotiation

Really interesting article in the New York Times over the weekend on Catholic teachers negotiating a new contract. It's a whole different universe when the management with whom you're negotiating is one to which you profess a measure of obedience.

CPPAC meeting tonight!

The first meeting of the Citywide Parent Planning and Advisory Council is tonight at 7 pm at Worcester Tech (in the all purpose room; follow the signs).
If your school does NOT have Know Your School Night tonight (or if you get out early), stop by! They're brainstorming for the year tonight, and representation from all over the city is needed!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Race to Nowhere: Coming to WORCESTER!

The film Race to Nowhere will be at Holy Cross on October 3 at 6:30 pm.
There are a limited number of (FREE!) tickets available, which you can get here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

but we use Student Growth Percentiles!

and they aren't any better at measuring "teacher input."
Unfortunately, while SGP*s are becoming quite popular across states including Massachusetts, Colorado and New Jersey, and SGPs are quickly becoming the basis for teacher effectiveness ratings, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of specific research addressing these potential shortcomings of SGPs. Actually, there’s little or none! This dearth of information may occur because researchers exploring these issues assume it to be a no brainer that if VAMs suffer classification problems due to random error, then so too would SGPs based on the same data. If VAMs suffer from omitted variables bias then SGP would be even more problematic, since it includes no other variables.
Unfortunately, indeed, as we're doing it, anyway.

*SGP: student growth percentiles
VAM: value-added measure

Cell phones in school

We're looking here at the current cell phone policy (which basically bans them in school during school hours). There's been an overwhelming amount of time and energy being devoted to enforcement on this (as we've heard from assistant principals); there's also been a change in cell phone technology since the policy was implemented (they're much more like mini-computers now).
There's a move here towards talking both to assistant principals and to teachers, to get a policy that is enforce-able, but also to see if there is a use to which the teachers can be putting them, and a policy that would allow that.
It's staying in subcommittee for a report back from admin.

Meetings this week

In addition to tonight's City Council, which includes the proposal by several councilors that the School Committee add five members, there are two subcommittee meetings this week on the School Committee side.
Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meets tonight at 5:30; Governance and Employee Issues meets tomorrow at 5:30.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bump says ed collaboratives "a broken system"

Speaking at the central Mass Labor Day breakfast this morning, Auditor Suzanne Bump called the special education collaboratives "a broken system."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

commendation to South High

for their food pantry

Biancheria rises to question changes in breakfast at school
staff telling parents that there is no longer breakfast available
there has been a change--we've changed vendors--which has lowered sugar and increased whole wheat
We still have breakfast, though

Wraparound Zone Grant

Boone: summary of entire RTTT grant was in last week's backup; this is specific to this part
Mulqueen: code 209 for "a comprehensive technology platform...a pipeline for two-way communication system"
It's for Pinpoint, contracted by Houghton Mifflin
connecting schools to community grants
Boone: "what's in this plan is what the innovation schools requested"

Novick asks about the contract (it's for three years), what the plan is for after the three years (reconsider),  if we'd thought about doing this in house (yes, but concerned about time)
Request that School Committee be given a chance to see what this looks like

Principals and how we hire them: cohorts

We've got a report back here on how we hire principals, how we are promoting people in-house, out-of-house
Concern expressed here from Salmonsen on the hiring process: public
also in-house hiring vs. out-of-district hiring
Boone on Elm Park: needed connections with partners, needed experienced principal
community involvement>>>candidates to superintendent
majority of in-district trained principals are elementary
chose an Elm Park candidate for Sullivan Middle (without consulting Sullivan Middle community, which is the concern here)
"with no loss of time...would have taken two months for Sullivan"
(why did it not take two months for Wawecus?)
Luster: everyone who gets trained and credentialed doesn't apply
only about 10% have experience to become a principal

questions surrounding how it is that we have public participation in the process of hiring a principal
we got a rundown from Luster on that: two panels including parents and teachers for reviewing resumes and for the first round interview

Biancheria: funding that engages our community
trying so hard to get community engagement: Sullivan deserved input somewhere along the line; "difference between applying to one particular site and did well there" than with applying somewhere else
"unfortunate that they lost out on that"

O'Brien: superintendent ultimately responsible for the performance of those schools

O'Connell: public attention, public concern
"has told us what the rationale was"
"is an issue of public interest"
"is done on the surface, is done in the sunlight"

Back to school

Boone: "very successful school opening"
implementation grants: $50,000 for all innovation schools, $40,000 for Goddard Scholars
Chester escorted around, "didn't look like the first day"
Data report on the 15th

Also on 15th: update on capital projects

Worcester School Committee: reconsideration

Reconsidering the item regarding gym and sports:
kids will need four years of gym (four quarters) now
can use this outside/sports options for those four semesters
Monfredo: health
O'Connell: students using it "for increased rigor"
make sure the program has standards, goals, guidelines

Mullaney: support this, support even more now that requirement is spread out over four quarters over four years

Novick: concern of how this will be handled, monitored, additional work for guidance, coaches, gym teachers
things done in house that we believe are important

Foley: limited number of students who will take this
additional rigor, coursework

Biancheria: get an update in January
forms that will be completed by those doing this: asks for them in the Friday letter so that "we aren't piecemealing"

Salmonsen: "wonderful idea...in the competitive world of valedictorian..." students who have to take PE or don't have to take PE, and how that figures into GPA
suggests morning calisthenics
 Trobaugh: question on district or state policy

on a roll call
six in favor, one opposed

Worcester School Committee meeting tonight

There are other reasons to be downtown this evening, but there is a regular meeting of the Worcester School Committee tonight. You'll find the agenda is a bit brief this evening; we did just meet last week.
In addition to the aforementioned reconsideration of the gym/sports item,  there's a report back on the hiring of principals, the RTTT grant item that we held from last week (I assume we're getting an oral response on that, as the backup is the same), and the quarterly report on how our automatic email system is doing (apparently the vendors have found it).