Friday, August 31, 2012

Update on the exam school/IB school ad-hoc committee

per request and sorry it took the whole week!

The ad-hoc committee on a possible exam or international baccalaureate school for Worcester met again on Monday. As you might remember, we split up over the summer into a (sub)subcommittee on each, with each group to look at potential benefits and drawbacks to their respective school idea based on research and on the discussions each group had. We came back together and each group reported out  their findings. The following are my notes from the discussion:

In brief, an international baccalaureate school, on the positive side, has an already created program. The evidence that we've seen (we need more, as most of what we have is from IB itself) is that students that have gone through such a program are stronger candidates for college admission, do better in college, and have more significant rates of college completion than similar students who do not complete an IB school. It also can be done in a current school.
On the negative side, it is a "off the shelf" purchased program, with associated costs, contracts, and limitations. It also requires a multi-year implementation, with significant required staff training.

An exam school, on the positive side, does improve the perception of the public school districts that have them. They include a "critical mass" of serious students who create a culture of academic success as the expectation. They meet a community need for programs for gifted and talented students. They are wildly popular in the districts that have them. They may also give a boost to the revitalization of the city of Worcester.
On the negative side, there is no evidence that we have seen thus far that exam schools improve the academic success of the students who attend them when compared to similar students who do not. Their demographics are not reflective of their sending districts, but a quota system mires a district in legal issues. Some exam schools have higher per pupil funding due to active alumni networks that are generous to their alma mater. In concentrating academically gifted students in a single school, what is the impact on all other schools and on all other pupils?

We have a number of questions that we've forwarded to administration for further information: a need for more information about the Goddard Scholars program, questions around tracking at the middle schools, a need for more research (if it exists) on international baccalaureate schools. We've also requested visits with Abby Kelley Foster Charter School's IB program, with High School of Commerce in Springfield, and with Boston Latin (and there may be more).
Also outstanding at this point is what other options are out there: are there things above and beyond exam schools that deal with some of the same challenges and benefits? This, as well as the questions needing more research, are what the committee is working on for the next meeting.

We are also pulling together a brief presentation of much of the above as a preface to public hearings coming up in October. We want to give the public a chance to be heard on this, but we also want to give a bit of context to the conversation. We're scheduling those meetings at several times and locations around the city to be as accessible as possible.

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Friday, September 21 (in the early evening). I will post definite times for this and for the hearings once they are hammered out.

If this is of interest, please plan on attending! Also, public comments are welcome at any time.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Slate on recess

Great article in Slate on recess:

Recess may look problematic to the grown-ups, but for Pellegrini, the value of recess is that the children, not the adults, are in charge. It may not look pretty, but that’s the point. “A very important part of what kids do on the playground is social competence—that is, they learn how to get along with others,” he says. “You have to cooperate, you have to use language, you have to compromise. And that’s not trivial. That is huge, in terms of both academic success and success in life.”
And despite the fears of many administrators, who talk about recess as if it were a Lord of the Flies sequel, studies have shown that there is surprisingly little violence on playgrounds, says Pellegrini: “It accounts for less than 2 percent of all behavior.”
A number of conclusions the article points to: even if your number one priority is raising test scores, you still need more recess rather than less; kids don't need to be "taught" to play; "structured" recess isn't a recess at all.
Read it, and pass it on!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Read the policy handbook!

Somewhere in that stack of stuff coming home over the next few days is a Student Policy Handbook (last year's is online here; I'm checking into where this year's is). If you're a parent of a student younger than high school, you're supposed to sign the back and tear it off (students in high school do this themselves).
Two things you should know:

  • The reverse side of the back cover has a couple of "opt in" statements, largely in terms of publicity (can your child's work go up on the WPS website? can your child be in the press?). If you wish to say  "no" to any of these statements, you need to check the appropriate box. Otherwise, your agreement is inferred.
  • More importantly, read the book. This is how the schools are--or are supposed to be--run. Along the same lines, if you have classroom policy statements coming home that don't agree with the policy handbook*, the classroom policy cannot supercede the district policy (and yes, you should politely point this out). 
*yes, I've heard of this happening. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

School starts tomorrow!

Grades 1-12 in the City of Worcester start school tomorrow!
Kindergarten and preschool begin on September 4.

Have a great year, everyone!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bus routes are posted!

Bus routes for Worcester Public Schools (and the buses run by our system) are now posted here.

Proposed social media policy

If you're looking for the proposed* Worcester Public Schools employee social media policy, I've posted it online here. 
*It stays proposed until 48 hours have passed without a filing for reconsideration.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

September has a weird meeting schedule

Just a bit of a warning for those who following such things: September's meeting schedule is odd.

The state primary is on September 6 (yes, Thursday), so we are not having our first Thursday meeting then. It is getting bumped to the following Thursday, September 13. At that meeting, we will get Superintendent Boone's Opening of School report (as per usual).
The second meeting is on its usual third Thursday, which happens to be the next week, September 20.


...asking for a report on how many elementary libraries are open, how many hours, and who's doing the staffing at this point
(We employ one and a half elementary librarians districtwide right now.)

New staff

included in Personnel reports tonight or at the next agenda

Claremont staff

Luster: there are no displaced teachers. All either have new jobs in the district, have retired, or found other jobs within the district.


Biancheria asking or the painting of crosswalks at school locations
"as a city we are lucky to have construction every where we turn...adds to general wear and tear on the streets"
PLUS a list where we have crossing guards

review of Family Involvement Plan

...going to administration for referral to TLSS

General business, including the audit of the collaborative

Going off to subcommittee:
the annual "changes to the budget"
resolutions for MASC's annual delegates meeting
a Title 1 Parent Advisory Council
more intensive standards for PE
update on implementation on Common Core
...and a bowling club (no word on candlepin or otherwise, though Mr. Monfredo tells me he's a candlepin bowler)
Going to F&O is a meeting with the special ed collaborative to discuss the state auditor's findings: Foley "have an obligation as a school committee under our fiduciary responsibilities..audit to help refine our practices"
Boone: "a number of changes in terms of the governance structure...first board meeting"
updates from our perspective
Allen: "certainly support these audits..." annual audits extensive lists
internal controls
one on retirement contributions will have a financial impact at some point; collaborative reviewing
"excessive fund balance" transitioning their old, cash, basis, to an accrual basis: an accounting issue is being corrected, recreating their FY11 statements now based on modified accrual accounting, unbalance was based on summer salaries
"we insisted on the tuition freeze which saved us a million dollars" (FY13)
"essentially reducing the balance by $1.2m, $1m is a trust fund account, $1.5 tuition freeze ($1m for us)...expenses of (SS) liability will go to the member districts"
"no further action other than the $1m tuition freeze...we want to know what the retirement liability is going to be"
financial statements will be created for FY12 after finished with FY11
"How to best use...the fund balance?"
"don't want to receive the benefit one time...smooth tuition freeze going forward...collaborative does need some balance going forward"
"don't want to be in the situation of a midyear tuition increase"
O'Connell...focus should be collaborative exists to charge what it needs to provide its programs
board needs to be watching this
suggests that F&O consider requiring regular copies of budget, minutes of board meetings,
should we revisit the agreement with the collaborative: is the role of Webster disproportionate to the size of Webster in this collaborate? What should we be doing with this collaborative? Is it meeting our needs?

Worcester School Committee: committee reports and new principals

Sorry, chairing for the beginning of the meeting; I'll catch up with public testimony on standing committee reports...posting as we go
Accountability and Student Achievement: which you've seen as I was there...
Taking a break to introduce the new (and moved) principals:

  • Joanna Cackett to Grafton Street
  • Deb Catamero to Burncoat Prep
  • Paula Gibb-Serverin to McGrath
  • Kendall Grigg to Goddard
  • Ricci Hall to Claremont Academy
  • Charles Healey to Rice Square
  • Patricia Jordan to Jacob Hiatt
  • Daniel St. Louis to University Park Campus

TLLS: reporting back on gaming, anti-bullying...
We've also got a report back on the use of sports to fulfill the gym requirement (not a lot of students taking us up on it, actually, except at North in the fall)
(there's also a bunch of clean-up items being filed)
Claremont Academy now has a full-time librarian; this was a NEASC concern in that building

G&EI: social media policy is on here for approval (sorry, I can't find it wasn't a backup for the agenda of either this meeting or the subcommittee)
filing federal legislation item
missing trees and shrubs at Durkin (concern from the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association)
Novick: concerns with social media policy: basically this is a new area of interaction between students and faculty/administration
What about subscriptions? what about groups on Facebook? What about students following to teachers on Twitter or vice versa?
motion to send it back to subcommittee to consult with teachers and students
Monfredo: no problem taking it back to subcommittee
Colorio: very intrusive, how much does this go over the line?
Luster: held to same standards when acting in professional capacity
O'Connell: clear statement by the school district on the behavior expected by the school employees
wishes approval
Foley: "basic policy...state standards that are there
Colorio: "that we are now asking our teachers that they are now working 24/7...when they're home...going far beyond the means"
Boone: "is a realistic statement that teachers do end their workday when the times that they leave the school site...involve contact with students...adopted a policy of students"...sorry, missed this...basically that students can be held responsible for actions in the community
passes 5-2
TLSS (yes, again; they've met twice since we last met): anti-bullying policy, special education review (some question here regarding costs for the next budget), summer programs: what is their impact on testing, and can we join forces with other providers of summer programs, and crew (the answer came back that crew costs are minimal and optional)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Save Play

Just came across this Pledge to Save Play from Kaboom!
It'll take you to this useful pdf on saving play in your school and community, including links to the solid research on why play matters (and why homework isn't all its cracked up to be).
A bit of a Kaboom sales pitch in there, but it's hard to complain when they gave us Union Hill's playground!

Worcester School Committee meets tomorrow

The Worcester School Committee meets tomorrow afternoon at 4 pm. You'll find the agenda here.
On the agenda:
  • We have local citizenry coming in to discuss the ACLU's arrest report and the WOO card.
  • Reporting out are TLSS (twice), Governance and Employee Issues, and Accountability and Student Achievement (links to come).
  • The usual August boatload of people retiring, resigning, and taking a leave of absence. I assume that we're getting all of the summer hires at the first September meeting.
  • The Mass Association of School Committees proposed resolutions are up for review, before the fall delegates' assembly. 
  • A number of requests for reviews or reports (demonstrating that it's been awhile since our last meeting!)--more stringent phys ed requirements, an update on the Common Core implementation, painting of crosswalks, the family involvement plan, staff assignments, staff summer training, elementary school libraries, charter school reimbursement, dual language immersion programs...
  • Also, we've got a grant coming in for Chandler Magnet School.
Tomorrow, 4 pm, City Hall!

Send these around!

From this month's Mother Jones comes two items that need to be read, shared, discussed, and passed on.

First, reporter Kristina Rizga spent 18 months at Mission High School in San Francisco, which generally makes the lists of "lowest performing" schools. What she found is that pretty much everything you hear (casually) about such schools is wrong.

 At Mission High, the struggling school she'd chosen against the advice of her friends and relatives, Maria earned high grades in math and some days caught herself speaking English even with her Spanish-speaking teachers. By 11th grade, she wrote long papers on complex topics like desegregation and the war in Iraq. She became addicted to winning debates in class, despite her shyness and heavy accent. In her junior year, she became the go-to translator and advocate for her mother, her aunts, and for other Latino kids at school. In March, Maria and her teachers were celebrating acceptance letters to five colleges and two prestigious scholarships, including one from Dave Eggers' writing center,826 Valencia.But on the big state tests—the days-long multiple-choice exams that students in California take once a year—Maria scored poorly. And these standardized tests, she understood, were how her school was graded.
This article includes the best yet breakdown of what it's like to take a test as a second language learner.

And as a follow-up, here's six myths of modern education; read the whole thing here for the myth-busting. All scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

  • Myth 1: kids don't know as much as they used to. Nope, scores are (and have been) steadily increasing over time.

  • Myth 2:...but we haven't made as much progress with black and Latino kids. Black and Latino kids have been making unheralded progress for quite some time, and, most tellingly, the progress was faster before NCLB.
  • Myth 3: Private schools are doing okay, but public schools are still a mess. Nope, improvement's across the board.
  • Myth 4: There's still a big gender gap. Not so much. The reading gap--girls leading--has been closing, and math is about even.
  • Myth 5:...but the kids who really struggle are still far behind. The lowest decile--the kids who really struggle--is actually going up faster than the highest scoring kids. And again: improvement has been steady over time, so it is not a consequence of NCLB.
  • Myth 6: Everything's fine. Nope, all those gains? Mostly gone by high school.
To quote (possibly) Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "You're entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Changes at Broad

Hat tip to Ken Libby and Stan Karp for their rundown of the latest Broad Foundation changes, coming from a board meeting memo (obtained under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act). There's a lot here, most of it horrifying, so go read it; the part that particularly leapt out at me is the changes planned for Broad Academy training:

In addition to drawing from a larger pool, the memo proposes significant changes to the training program. In the past, roughly two-thirds of Broad Academy training was dedicated to “core knowledge” (e.g. “instruction 101” and “school operations”). The remaining third was divided into “reform priorities” (including “educator effectiveness,” “innovative learning models,” “accountability,” and “school choice”); “reform accelerators” (“change management,” “political navigation/stakeholder management,” “public contributions,” and “communication”); and “systems-level management” (“providing strategic frameworks,” “theory of action,” “applied learning projects”).
The proposed plan greatly reduces the time spent on “core knowledge” of school systems to less than 10% and instead puts much more emphasis on “reform priorities” (40%), “reform accelerators” (30%), and systems-level management (nearly 20%).
Remember, what Broad purports to be training here are superintendents, state education commissioners (whatever they're called), and other people who run school systems. They are now going to be required to have even less educational experience than they do now, and spend less than 10% of their time learning about education before being "qualified" to run a system.
The only way to stop this is to insist on hiring people with educational backgrounds and experience. Broad can train, but at the end of the day, it's the states and the districts that hire.

And speaking of Wachusett...

The Wachusett Regional School Committee met last night, and there's some indication that they may not accept Superintendent Pandiscio's resignation:

Though school committee member Norman Plourde, of Sterling, put forward a motion on Monday to give a vote of confidence to Pandiscio and not accept his resignation, the committee was unable to vote on the matter due to a rule preventing action on new business the same night it was presented.
The committee voted 8 to 7 against suspending the bylaws to vote on the motion, with some citing concerns that five members were absent and would not be a part of such a vital decision.
They next meet September 10.

Monday, August 20, 2012

God bless Vermont

You really have to admire Vermont: when the federal government says, "We want to give you flexiblity as we approach 2014 under NCLB," Vermont actually takes them at their word:

They wanted to move away from what they saw as the “shaming tactics” of the federal law, which labeled schools as failures if they didn’t make adequate yearly progress toward the law’s gradually increasing performance targets. And they wanted to de-emphasize standardized tests by only giving them every other year.
“This was really stepping out of the box,” says John Fischer, Vermont’s Deputy Commissioner of Transformation and Innovation.
Vermont officials spent months developing their application last fall and winter.
So, those who work for Secretary Duncan get the preliminary application, and...?
 But soon after submitting a draft to the Education Department in February they learned they’d have to make a significant change: The Education Department would not let them give up on mandatory annual testing. “That was further than the flexibility they were willing to go,” says Fischer, who oversaw the state’s application.Vermont scrambled to revise its plan, but when the Department raised further concerns about the plan’s academic standards, means of holding schools accountable and plans for turning around struggling schools, the state ultimately decided in May to scrap its application. “When we got down to it,” Fischer says, “there weren’t a lot of benefits.”

So much for flexibility, folks.
Worth reading the entire article, which you can find here.

Subcommittee today at 5:30

There is a meeting of the Standing Committee on Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports this evening at 5:30. You can find the agenda here.
Coming up on it:

No live-blog from me tonight (it will be broadcast, as always, live on Ch. 11 and online via

Note that the full School Committee meets Thursday at 4 (I'll do a post on that agenda later this week).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Multi-episode comic on ed reform

This just today came across my desk: Truthout has been publishing a series of carefully constructed comics dealing with the ed reform message. Episode 1 covers "Disaster Capitalism" and episode 2 focuses specifically on what's happened in New Orleans since hurricane Katrina.
If you've got friends and family who need a quick but complete overview, this is a great place to start. And the authors promise more to come!

Tenure dying in NYC

Today's report in the New York Times shows a categorical shift in New York City public schools: nearly half of the teachers up for tenure last year were denied it.
Again, just so we're all defining our terms, tenure gives one due process before firing; it does not guarantee a job.
The reason that it was so hard-fought for originally (and remains what is dismissed as a "sacred cow" in the article) is education is a profession particularly vulnerable to abuse of power, and, should your administrator not like your politics, your personal choices, or, indeed, the fact that you keep insisting on speaking up on behalf of your students, well, how very easy it is to give you a bad review and get rid of you.
Given the amount of pressure that's come from upper levels of NYCPS, it isn't surprising that the principals have caved. It was Mayor Bloomberg, after all, who said that he'd "end tenure as we know it." The article indicates that there have been very heavy amounts of guidance from central administration on their teacher reviews this year. Principals have to, by virtue of their position, be keenly aware of political and policy shifts; their numbers had to look different this year.
And of course NYC is using those notoriously changeable value-added scores as one-third of their decisions, which means it's a decent bet that at least half of those teachers would have gotten a different result next year.
This is a good way to end up with a profession of people who no longer speak up, certainly. Do we really want that in our schools?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Post to come

I have been asked not to live blog the presentation on the NCLB waiver and the changes this means for Worcester, largely because the first round of scores come out later this week. I am taking notes (strictly on the presentation) to post later. I'm also told that upon the release of the MCAS scores, we will be getting a presentation at School Committee on the new way this all works under the waiver.

Ron Ferguson speaking at Worcester Tech today

This post has been removed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Yes, we really are getting a piano from Barry Manilow

And furthermore, Mr. Manilow would love for you, too, to donate instruments to the Worcester Public Schools. Should you donate a new or gently used instrument between now and September 14, you'll be given two free tickets to his concert that night at the DCU Center.
He came and he gave without taking...

More news from Wachusett Regional

A few new things in the ongoing Wachusett Regional news:

  • The chair of the committee, Duncan Leith of Holden, has now said that he does not plan to run for re-election. His term is up in May. 
  • One of the members, Cynthia Bazinet of Holden, has filed an Open Meeting Law complaint in relation to emails that have been circulating from board members to their various list servs. Not surprisingly, there's some overlap. Keep in mind for it to be a violation of open meeting law, it must involve a quorum--which for Wachusett Regional, a board of 20, is 11 members--and it must involve deliberation of an issue under the purview of the board.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bet you thought budget season was over?

But no, not everywhere. For Quabbin Regional, for example, is still in the round robin of getting enough communities to agree on a budget for FY13. Should Barre, Hubbardston, Hardwick, Oakham and New Braintree not agree on a budget by FY13, Commissioner Chester gets to decide. 
This doesn't sit well with several in the towns, who are openly speaking of rebellion. Much of the concern coming out over the past several months in the Quabbin district have been around decisions that are made elsewhere; obviously, having DESE decide on the budget--and simply bill the towns--would only add salt to the wound. 
Stay tuned on this one. If they go for a showdown with the state, we may well have more fodder for the question of foundation budget adequacy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

District level Race to the Top

There's $400 million on the table for districts of 2000 students and up. Districts have to notify the fed that they plan to apply by the end of August, with applications due in October, and awards being announced in December. As EdWeek posts

In addition to meeting the 2,000-student threshold, to be eligible to compete a district must also implement evaluation systems for teachers, principals, and superintendents by the 2014-15 school year.Districts must also address how they will improve teaching and learning using personalized "strategies, tools, and supports."In fact, this personalized learning component makes up 40 points on the 200-point grading scale. The rest of the grading scale is:
  • Prior academic track record and how transparent the district is (such as if it makes school-level expenditures readily available to the public), 45 points;
  • "Vision" for reform, 40 points;
  • Continuous improvement (having a strategy and performance measures for long-term improvement), 30 points;
  • District policy and infrastructure (such as giving building leaders more autonomy), 25 points;
  • Budget and sustainability, 20 points.
Ten bonus points are available for districts that collaborate with public and private partners to help improve the social, emotional and behavioral needs of students.After districts firm up their applications, states and mayors must be given 10 business days (up from 5 days in the proposed rules) to comment on the proposals. However, the contest rules don't require districts to make any changes with the feedback they're given.

Yes. Really.
It's been said before that they're asking a lot for very little money, not to mention that this is all rather vague and has all the same problems that the state RTTT did--namely, has anyone read a lick of research on what works and what doesn't?

From City Council...UPDATED AGAIN

...from where I will post should anything of note be said or move forward on WPS/education items.

UPDATE: The revolving fund was sent, on a motion from Councilor Lukes, to the Education subcommittee. AGAIN: Councilor O'Brien brings it up under reconsideration and it passes tonight.

UPDATE 2: "I'm assuming that surplus has to be applied somewhere," says Councilor Lukes on the state auditor's report. Sent to administration.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Governance and Employee Issues meeting tomorrow

There is a meeting of the Governance and Employee Issues standing committee tomorrow afternoon at 3 pm at the Durkin Administration Building, and they have a very full agenda:

On the Council agenda

The Worcester City Council has a lengthy agenda tomorrow night. Several items reference the public schools:

6pm at City Hall!

Wachusett superintendent resigns

Tom Padiscio , Wachusett Regional School district superintendent, resigned via email this morning. He will stay on through the end of his contract, and he has offered to stay until a replacement is found.

Yes, we are a pilot district

And, yes, Worcester is a pilot district for the ELL teacher training. We'll have a group of 25 teachers, and it will be the equivalent of a college course, with half the training taking place in person and half online.
(and, as a side note: administrators who answer their emails on weekend are excellent)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Changes in English Language Learning coming in Massachusetts

There's an article in EdWeek this week covering the upcoming changes in English Language Learning in the Commonwealth, in answer to a Department of Justice investigation finding ELL programs to be inadequate. Much of what this is going to mean is a requirement that teachers in all four "core" (English, math, science, and social studies) take a course on language acquisition, something which will be required of all core-content teachers being licensed after 2016. Administrators who supervise such teachers will also be required to have the training.
This obviously hugely important to do.
It's a massive undertaking to train this many teachers in this amount of time, in addition to all the regular things we do PD in, in addition to the changes in the teacher evaluation, which is also requiring teacher and administrator training.I have yet to hear exactly how we're handling this; I'll update when I do!

"School is not about you...schools exist for the benefit of me"

"I am better off in a well-educated world"

Thursday, August 9, 2012

And for you ed funding geeks

...if you aren't just reading Bruce Baker all of the time, at least catch this post on the use of property taxes in ed funding.
If someone could please, please get the Massachusetts Legislature to read this, so they could knock off the nonsense with the $40/pupil increase as some sort of "equity," I'd appreciate it greatly.


Having Michelle Rhee and Kevin Johnson lecture on "Ethics and Education" is like having______ lecture on______.

Tip: they couldn't be less qualified.
Wondering how that whole D.C. cheating investigation went? It fizzled.

"Lesson number one:

"... Don’t underestimate the other guy’s greed.”*
From the world of "how can we best make a fast buck?" we bring you the following scene

The investors gathered in a tony private club in Manhattan were eager to hear about the next big thing, and education consultant Rob Lytle was happy to oblige.Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they're as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math.They'll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it."You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up," said Lytle, a partner at The Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting firm. "It could get really, really big."
 Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that no one is going to be in this for the good of our kids?

*Scarface. Yes, I know.

Jonathan Kozol in Cambridge on September 19!

Jonathan Kozol is the  Mary Ann Hardenbergh Memorial Lecturer this year, speaking on September 19 on "Fire in the Ashes: Public Schools Under Siege: Victims and Survivors."
Citizens for Public Schools is sponsoring this lecture at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, Cambridge.
Tickets are for sale here.

Anyone want to ride in together from Worcester?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Check your comparisons

My sympathies to my compatriots on the Wachusett School Committee on what I can only describe as a gruesome school committee meeting last night, that ended with cuts of over $1.2 million. What positions (because it will be positions) will be cut will be determined at their next meeting on Thursday. Proposed is cutting all library staff and fifteen teaching positions, plus an elementary principal, and a number of service cuts, including athletic transportation. The teaching cuts will result in some classes of 28.

I was thinking in this light of Worcester's FY13 budget and also this list on "hidden costs" in public schools...most of which don't apply to Worcester:

  • We don't expect kids to buy their summer reading 
  • We don't charge sports fees. 
  • We don't charge bus fees. 
  • We don't charge technology fees. 
  • We don't charge for extracurriculars 
  • We don't charge parking fees. 

We fought to bring down class sizes this year (and you'll have to hunt to find one as high as 28).
We have free, full-day kindergarten in every school in the district.
We're bringing back elementary librarians, and we have librarians in our middle and high schools.
Every elementary school has either a full-time or teaching assistant principal.
We added school nurses this year, so we're completely staffed (finally!) at the elementary level..
We've never gotten rid of art or music, and students across the district can get free instrument lessons in elementary schools.
We raised our student supply budget this year.
We offer (without charge) dual language immersion programs at three elementary schools in the city.
We expanded (again) the number of Advanced Placement courses we offer (and we don't charge for them).
We've added Mandarin Chinese to the high school, so kids who started in middle school can continue.
We've added to the engineering program at Doherty and the health sciences programs at North.
We offer a huge number of chances, places, connections to get kids into everything from the UMass Medical School to local colleges to local businesses for everything from college credits to work experience to internships.
...And this is a list literally off the top of my head.

I say none of this to run down our neighboring districts; we're a larger system, we have more options in some ways, and we get more of our support from the state.

At a time, though, when way too many decisions about who's doing "well" and who's not are made by this chart right here, it's useful to consider other ways we could be looking at what we're offering kids.

Monday, August 6, 2012

And today in "we don't read our own paper" editorials

...we bring you the New York Times, who, alas, it appears have already forgotten this article from February and this article from November on the enormous problems with new teacher evaluation systems that use student standardized test performance to how their teachers are perceived to be doing.

The Times' own reporting only scratches the surface, of course, as I've posted countless times before.
 As Diane Ravitch points out this morning, this also gets it entirely backwards in terms of what actually motivates people, plus continues the fallacy that merit pay does anything.
It does not.

That one of our nation's "papers of record" would know so very little about teacher evaluation is not, unfortunately, surprising. It is saddening. It is also alarming that they would so freely opine about something, having done so little research.

Update: and the comments are priceless.

Every SINGLE thing?

Tangential, as the point of the article is not this, but I gasped aloud this morning when I got to the end of this comment in an article on extended school years:
“It is true that we have an unfair society, and it is true that kids who are coming from the poorer backgrounds and whose parents don’t do a lot of reading are losing reading skills over the summer,” said Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College. “But let’s look at other solutions.” He added, “Whatever job we give to the school system, they ruin it.
(emphasis added)
I will resist the temptation to toss some psychology into why we'd have a professor of psychology making such a generalization, but...really, Professor Gray? Every single thing? Ever?

And regarding summer learning loss, be sure to read Alfie Kohn on just what it is we're losing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chester Finn has an opinion about exam schools

With thanks to the indomitable Jackie Reis for catching the Education Next report before I'd seen it!

I see that we're getting a report in tomorrow's paper on a new article in Education Next on exam schools (which itself is a summary of a forthcoming book).
Well, Chester Finn has an opinion on exam schools, doesn't he?
Let's see...he's compared the population of exam schools to the population of students in the country, not in their sending population. Yes, Mr. Finn, that would give us a population higher in minority students than that of the country, as most exam schools are in urban areas...with higher proportions of minority students. What an atrocious excuse for analysis!
Dear me, what a use of quotation marks: "affirmative action," "special ed," "elitism," and--shudder--"contract scale"...
In sum, though, Mr. Finn is forced to come to the same conclusion that the other (few) research articles on exam schools have come to: we don't know that we add value for the kids who are there, 'though they do improve the perception of the district.

Auditor Bump on Central Mass Collaborative

Speaking of audits, you may have seen the report that State Auditor Suzanne Bump has come out with her office's audit of the Central Mass Special Education Collaborative, of which Worcester is a member.
I'll put all of her office's press release below the jump, and I've put up the full report here.
The press release and the article give you the jist what what they found and what has subsequently happened. Those of you who follow School Committee closely may remember that we voted a few months ago on a designee to sit on the Collaborative's board; Superintendent Boone now sits on their board. We also saved a million dollars this year in contributions.
Many of the rest of the issues have already been fixed.
There's an item on the upcoming School Committee agenda, requesting that the Collaborative board meet with the Worcester School Committee, which should sort more of this out publicly.

Wachusett subcommittee proposing a forensic audit

A motion  for a forensic audit from Juli Kelley at the Business Finance subcommittee of Wachusett Regional passed earlier this week. This is in response, of course, to the news last month that several years of projections were off, with this past year's running more than a million dollars under.
Since the term "forensic audit" brings to mind some sort of CSI: Finance Office with a bunch of guys in suits running around with spreadsheets and adding machines*, I did some checking into definitions. A forensic audit goes back through the books and the finance history with an eye to legal culpability and legal recourse.

*Yes, those are still around.

Can you help Goddard Scholars buy clarinets?

Mrs. Lord over at Sullivan Middle has submitted a project through DonorsChoose for 10 clarinets for the Goddard Scholars band. The band is expanding next year due to the addition of sixth grade. You can find it here.
If you can help, they'd appreciate it!