Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Duncan at AERA

And if you're looking for insight into what our rank-and-file educational researchers think of our Secretary of Education, you might hop over to Twitter: Secretary Duncan has just finished a speech and Q&A at AERA (American Educational Research Association), and Twitter is erupting.
A few examples:

Principals' Day!

May Day is also Principals' Appreciation Day, so as we're heading into our week of saying thanks, please thank a principal!

It's spring Walk/Bike to School Day!

Tomorrow is spring Walk/Bike to School Day, and it looks as though it should be GORGEOUS! Plan to walk or bike if you can!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Vote tomorrow

I realize that many of you already know this, and so posted with apologies to those of you who have already had several phone calls this evening asking if you have "a voter plan" for tomorrow.

It is an Election Day in Massachusetts tomorrow.
There is a primary for one of Massachusetts' two Senate seats.
If you are a Republican, you can vote for Gabriel Gomez, Mike Sullivan, or Dan Winslow.
If you are a Democrat, you can vote for Stephen Lynch or Ed Markey.
If you are registered with the Green, Libertarian, Pirate, or other party, you do not have a primary tomorrow.
If you are unenrolled--in Massachusetts, this means you are registered to vote, but not registered to a party--you may vote in EITHER primary. Just tell them when you come in which ballot you would like. It does not change your unenrolled status.
If you live in Worcester, that's it.

If you live in a Massachusetts town, though, there's a pretty good chance that you have town elections, as well. I know I have said this before, but it's important: you should vote in these elections! It is not unusual for these positions to be determined by very narrow margins; your vote really matters. Plus, these are the people who decide how much your water bill is going to be, if they're going to repave your street, if that development down the street can go in, and (quite possibly) how you're spending money on schools. In terms of most of us, our local officials have the most to do with most of how we live.
And ALL REGISTERED VOTERS can vote for these positions.
Go choose them tomorrow.

Surveys (Accountability)

Third consecutive year of administering surveys
Parent and student surveys are nearly the same as last year
Teacher survey is based on state survey...only received info for schools that have more than 50% response rate (which wasn't that wide)
What would you like to be asked? What do you have no other way of getting to administration?
Good questions to teachers: needs better PR. This isn't another piece of paperwork from admin; this is how you get your opinion to people who need to hear it!
Parents: are they listened to at school? is their voice welcomed? school leadership
Students: how relevant is your homework? How much time is spent on tests/on getting ready for tests?  How much time do you spend outside at school/what are you allowed to do outside of school?

Perda: challenge in getting responses back from parents, in particular. Need to hear from all parents not  just those pleased with system
Biancheria asks that question be dropped rather than just added (if one goes in, one goes out); concerned about length of survey
Last year's survey results were reported out via Governance in February

Arrested Futures: Accountability

This is the Citizens for Juvenile Justice report sent to us from the ACLU.
Number of students arrested during school time.
Worcester came out very well compared to the other two major urban city centers, particularly when it comes to "disruption of school assembly."
School resources officers...as opposed to school police liaison officers, not full-time stationed in the schools
"most of them have to do with deterrence and not arrests"
Police in a building are leaned on too heavily to provide discipline for schools that have them there all the time.
"disruption of school assembly" has to be during classtime "very rigid" law
"we have trained teachers to be knowledgeable in verbal deescalation skills"
assistant principal intervenes if the teacher is unable to deescalate; WPD is only called if the student is still beyond reach after being removed from the classroom
Juvenile Detention Alternative in Massachusetts to break the school-to-prison pipeline. Get kids out of that (not detained upon initial arrest if possible; avoid court system with elementary students by having intervention including Child Study department; school safety center 3 days, for students who threaten others)
Recall that the salaries of these officers is paid by the Worcester Public Schools,partly directly, and the remainder through city funding that counts towards net school spending.
Biancheria: "safety, for our students, is something we can't ignore"
"the arrest is the last choice"
Biancheria wonders if we have sufficient training for our staff
asks for recommendations from administration: Pezella speaks of security in the school (facilities): "when people enter our buildings, they know they're being watched"
coordination with WPD, DA, DYS, and so forth
alternative schools
"public safety is questioned after the fact"
Perda stresses looking at the data that we have as well

Item on transfers: Accountability and Student Achievement

...also including protocol for notifying system if a student is arrested and detained. While we no longer have truancy officers, we do have people in the system who are "attendance officers." They can stop students on the street or go to the door; there is a protocol for students who are absent more than five days...moving to fifteen days, for those students to be tracked down, essentially.
We've also got a list of the number of students who have transferred (for 2011-12):
once 549
twice 82
thrice 13
four times 1

(this is only high school students)
Ms. Biancheria is asking for this information for the whole system, K-12.
Biancheria is also asking if the wraparound services staff have any responsibilities on the question of attendance.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Accountability and Student Achievement meets Monday

The Standing Committee on Accountability and Student Achievement meets Monday evening at 5:30 (at the Durkin Administration Building, 4th floor). You can find the agenda here.
We're taking up three items on Monday. The first is the ACLU's Arrested Futures report. We're also being asked to give input on the student (4-8, 9-12), parent, and teacher surveys for this spring.Please get in touch with us with your suggestions! Finally, we are looking at quarterly high school transfers.
As always, all are welcome to attend, and it will be broadcast live on Channel 13 as well.

Friday, April 26, 2013

FYI: No meeting next week

FYI for our regular attendees and viewers: the Worcester School Committee meeting for next week has been cancelled.

Embattled Common Core?

It's been an interesting couple of weeks for the Common Core standards.

  • The Republican National Committee, meeting in Los Angeles, voted to oppose the Common Core standards. You can read the entire resolution here. While it--not surprisingly for a partisan organization--spends some time attacking both Secretary Duncan and President Obama, it also get the rushed timelines and the outside funding bits right.
  • This lead to Secretary Duncan urging business leaders to defend the Common Core. There's some concern that the RNC position will make sticking to the CCSS difficult for Republican governors up for re-election. 
  • Then, earlier this week, Indiana's legislature reached a deal which "pauses" implementation of the Common Core. 
Now, while there's been a real attempt to paint this as a far right conspiracy-fearing position (thank you, Secretary Duncan), Valarie Strauss points out that opposition to the Common Core is coming from both the right and the left. There are even some parallel arguments: that this weakens educational standards, that states were effectively forced into it, and that its creation didn't include those closest to the classroom. Paul Horton posts an excellent takedown of Duncan's position today. 
Meanwhile, as we heard again last night, Massachusetts rolls forward with implementation. 

What did they do to Ways and Means

As usual, the Mass Budget and Policy Center has a rundown on what changes the House made in the Ways and Means budget as they passed amendments. Of most concern? They did it again:
Under the House plan, this extra funding would help further phase-in a reform planned through the FY 2007 budget that recalculates the amount of local revenue required of communities to contribute towards their foundation budgets. Specifically, for districts that are currently above their new target local contributions, the House plan would allow them to reduce their local spending by 15 percent of the amount they're above their target. Reducing required contributions often leads to greater Chapter 70 aid. Distributing extra funding this way disproportionately provides greater funding for wealthier communities, since they tend to be above their target contributions.
It really is troubling that there is such a poor understanding of what Chapter 70 is designed to do. More work to do there, clearly.

What was that about school lunch superheroes?

I depend on Mr. Monfredo for tracking the various appreciation days and weeks, so it was his item that I piggybacked on last night on announcing this.
Children's book author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka has created "School Lunch Superhero Day" on May 3. As he explains in the video on that page, he chose the date as a tribute to his own Gates Lane School lunch lady growing up, Jean Carigilia.
I also discovered this morning that Mr. Krosoczka is going to be celebrating the day here in Worcester:

...which is pretty cool. You can also nominate your school nutrition people for the "Cafeteria of Justice" over on this page.
School nutrition staff are sometimes the "invisible" staff that we don't think of. Please take a chance to thank them next week!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Really pleased

...that the concerns around student privacy and data security are shared by my colleagues. Our next Accountability meeting is Monday; I'm not sure if it will make that, but we'll know tomorrow.

Classes to be considered for next year

Going off to TLSS for consideration:

  • Three Dimensional Design
  • Advanced Three Dimensional Design
  • Photography
  • Digital Media Research
  • African American Studies
  • Financial Literacy
  • Forensics
  • Arts Appreciation & Critique
  • Class Guitar
  • Community Arts Internship
  • Dance for Fitness
  • Introduction of Music Theory
  • Introduction of Music History
  • Introduction to Theater
  • Percussion Ensemble
  • Songwriting

Center for Living and Working

"strong relationship with Center"
transition for students with disabilities
Boone requests that we file...and it goes to committee

Alternative programs

Number of referrals
enrollment academic support
Biancheria speaks of students at alternative programs who are asking for their siblings to go to it, because it's working so well for them: "no longer a school that you don't want to go to"
stories that students present at graduation "bring tears to your eyes"

9th WPD annual youth summit

May 15 at 5 pm at North High School
Biancheria asks that we encourage people to attend (request is for a Connect-Ed)

Opinions on the teacher, parent, student surveys?

Think there's something we should include?
Let us know by MONDAY, as we will be discussing this at our Accountability and Student Achievement meeting on Monday at 5:30!
Or come to the meeting and let us know.

On crew access to the lake

Boone: Gate will be open late during the week for crew practice
access to a key for the crew races on weekends
trailer stored right at the park
long-term solution for the fall season before the extended hours

Vote to accept a truck


O'Connell on having a public hearing on slots parlor

regarding a public hearing, regarding a report from the superintendent
"direct educational focus on the slots parlor"
"some of the schools that struggle to retain an interest in academic"
two of the schools in that area are our Level 4 schools
inform our parents of potential impacts
"does it change the cultural and the tone and the tenor of this community"
"does it pollute the affect of hard work leading to success" rather than taking a large chance at great odds
refers request to administration
HOLDS his item on a report until we have a report back

Foley: I think asking the superintendent to give an administrative viewpoint, enters into a controversial topic
look at other communities with slots parlors: "that kind of data may be available in that community"

regarding inBloom

Sorry: no notes on introducing my items. You've read much of this before, though, from me. 
Colorio: "I'm just going to say this: it's creepy, it's creepy"
infringement on parent privacy
Oklahoma unanimously passed a student privacy
Colorio looking for an opt-out for parents
Listing health information, income levels, blood types
O'Connell: very protective of student privacy in Massachusetts
references 603 CMR 23.00: holds schools to a different standard
concerned about rising to privacy levels required of private companies
rejects the opt-in (rather than opt-out) within the bill
requests a roll call on those two items to file them

Two on roll calls: all pass to appropriate committees


Teacher Appreciation Week: May 6-10
Nurses Appreciation Week: May 6-12
National Principal's Day: May 1
School Lunch Superhero Day: May 3

It's official: Budget dates

We'll be deliberating the WPS FY14 budget on June 6 and June 20. Deliberations will start at 4 pm.
And HOORAY! We don't have a graduation on June 6, so there's no conflict!

Accountability: committee report

Perkins funding report
  Motion made to explore an agricultural program
also consider adding more Chapter 74 funding
PARCC (is coming); report made by Mr. Walton on technology needs
this is staying in the committee so we can continue to receive reports on PARCC as this rolls out
O'Connell: "not tamper with success" of Goddard Scholars program

TLSS: committee report

presentation on curriculum
"very significant change" in how students are taught and what they're taught
report was on ELA and math

School choice hearing

Monfredo: we've collected $2.7 million
motion to allow based on space and availability
Hearing closed.

Report of the Governance and Employee Issues

Novick: Question around suspensions: community meeting happening on May 8 at Worcester State regarding this. Grave community concern around our suspension rate. Fairly standard output: do this, ten days; do that, ten days. Essentially a zero tolerance policy. Don't let the conversation around suspension die; far too important
O'Connell: need more information to establish an appropriate disciplinary policy; doesn't explain context or where or what happened
Boone: reports to have meaning: table? total number? On at least a semester basis perhaps a quarterly basis
O'Connell: anything that provides more information

And as a side note: electronic readers (Kindles, Nooks) are allowed in the Worcester Public Schools. Confirmed again tonight. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Comments regarding the proposed slots parlor

I was asked by several members of the community to post my testimony before the City Council on Tuesday. It here follows.

My name is Tracy O'Connell Novick and I serve on the Worcester School Committee. It is in that capacity that I am before you tonight.
The petition I have placed before you tonight mirrors an item placed on the School Committee agenda for Thursday. It is my grave concern over an apparent rush to negotiate that I placed the item here as well.
I would further call your attention to the fact that I represent a constituency unable to vote.
Mr. Chair, you and this Council know me--I do not appear before you without doing research. When I learned that Rush Street Gaming was proposing a slots parlor for Worcester, I naturally looked at slots parlors and at Rush Street Gaming.
Regarding slots parlors--
Teenagers have an addiction to gambling at 2 to 4 times the rate of adults. Due to their still developing pre-frontal cortex, teenagers are uniquely in danger of developing an addiction to gambling, as they are to other addictive behaviors. It is ironic, Mr. Chair, that at a time this city is considering the creation of a high school for those in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol, we would be considering a facility that will allow for the creation of new addicts--gamblers. As addiction to gambling correlates with other addictive behaviors...let's just say, Mr. Chair, that if we open a slots parlor, we're going to need that high school.
Of course, teenagers are not allowed in a slots parlor. Rush Street Gaming has a history, however, of allowing underaged gamblers into their facilities. In multiple facilities in mulitple states, they have been fined, repeatedly, for underaged gamblers.
They don't, Mr. Chair, respect the law
I've been asked--wouldn't you like to see the tax base increase? I would--and this won't do it. Every slot machine removes the equivalent of a job from the local economy, with the discretionary (and non-discretionary) money it vacuums up and sends out of state. For this proposed facility, that's 1250 jobs per year that Worcester will be losing.
Moreover, an increase in the tax base assumes that Rush Street Gaming pays their taxes as assessed. But, Mr. Chair, they don't do that anywhere else--why do we think Worcester would be any different?In every single city in which they operate, Rush Street Gaming has appealed their tax assessment. In Pittsburgh, the casino had barely opened their doors when Rush Street filed for an appeal. They have done so in every subsequent year as well.
These cities have to go to court, time and again, against Rush Street's well-funded lawyers to collect their taxes.
This has a particular danger in Massachusetts. Should a slots parlor open here, its assessment will be added to the aggregate wealth of the community.
That means our Chapter 70 aid will be cut.
...which would be fine, except that our aggregate wealth won't be higher.
The city will be on the hook for the difference, but won't have the money to pay the school budget because we have made a deal with someone who does not pay his assessed taxes.
The same is true, Mr. Chair, unrestricted lottery aid. It has already fallen for FY14; it will, we know, fall further with a slots parlor. To tie our local tax base to a bad dealer is folly.
This is just a glimpse, Mr. Chair, of the economic instability and detrimental impacts of a slots parlor. It has been said by those who study them that there is nothing so destabilizing to the local economy as a slots parlor. Mitigation is not possible--it is too destructive.
I ask, Mr. Chair, for myself and for my constituents--who cannot vote--do not enter into these negotiations.

Worcester School Committee meeting tonight!

The Worcester School Committee has its regular meeting tonight at 7 pm at City Hall. You can find the agenda here. The first agenda is just a hearing on school choice, which we are required to have every year to confirm that we want to allow students from other districts in the system (space available).

  • We are starting our meeting by honoring Patricia Ryan and Kevin Chviruk, who received the Thomas S. Green Awards last month.
  • We're being asked to open negotiations with Locals 125 and 135 (plumbers and tradesmen).
  • We don't have a report of the superintendent, but we do have three subcommittees reporting out: Governance and Employee Issues; Teaching, Learning, and Student Support; and Accountability and Student Achievement.
  • We are setting dates for budget deliberations: June 6 and 20 at 4 pm.
  • We've got lots of people to appreciate and thank: donations, awards, and plenty of good news!
  • We have four items tonight on inBloom: requesting our delegation look at a New York state bill on student privacy; a request that we abide by 201 CMR 17.00; a request that parents know who is getting their children's information and how to refuse to allow it; and a request that we report on who gets our information, why, and how it's protected.
  • We're being asked to accept a grant from the state on setting up a career academy at North.
  • We're being asked to accept a grant from the state on financial literacy for Worcester Tech. 
  • We're being asked to accept a truck for our summer food programs (!).
  • We have an item requesting that access to the DCR area be reviewed on behalf of our crew team.
  • The administration is asking us for input on the 2013 student, teacher, and parent surveys. This is going to Accountability, so please plan to weigh in!
  • There are three items on the proposed slots parlor: one requesting a report from the City Manager on impacts on schools and youth; one asking the superintendent for a parallel report; and one setting a public hearing on the proposed parlor as to its impacts on youth and schools.
  • There's a number of items going to administration: summer reading kickoffs, the Worcester Police Summit (which is May 15 at 5), rail safety education, science kit use, alternative ed use.
  • We have a prior year fiscal payment and overtime account transfers. 
  • And some proposed new classes are going off to subcommittee.
It all starts at 7 pm at City Hall!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Superintendent Carol Johnson, Boston Public Schools, is retiring

In a video message today, Superintendent Carol Johnson of the Boston Public Schools has announced that she is retiring.
Carol Johnson has informed the school committee that she expects to retire in July. Her contract runs through June 2015, so she will ask the school board to accept her retirement and appoint an interim superintendent, the school system said in a statement.
As this comes at the same time as a wide-open Boston mayoral race, well...it's anybody's ballgame!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On second thought

Apologies: it seems consolidated amendment A that passed last night had the education amendments. You can find them here:

FY14 Budget House Amendments

The House last night had a number of amendments to the House Ways and Means budget proposed. Ones that are of particular interest to Worcester are:
  • Amendment 323, filed by Rep. Peisch (D-Wellesley), and Amendment 860,
    filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge). Increase funding for
    income-eligible children for preschools to FY13 levels.
  • Amendments 627, 628 and 633, filed by Rep. Tony Cabral (D-New Bedford).
    Provide additional funds to schools in Gateway Cities for early literacy,
    English language learners and career academies.
  • Amendment 465, filed by Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley). Revive the
    Foundation Budget Review Commission to determine the adequacy of
    educational programs necessary to achieve state education standards and to
    assess how resources can be used most effectively.
(That last is our perennial favorite, the adequacy study!)

The first two are of direct budgetary interest to Worcester; they're an attempt to try to make some of the additions that Governor Patrick had proposed in his budget. They would, if funded, make a real difference to the Worcester budget.
I'm going to be contacting our delegation today to urge them to support these. I'd ask that you do the same. And do it SOON: these will be moving!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Louisiana's out of inBloom

h/t to Diane Ravitch

You may have missed this with so much else going on, but on Friday, Louisiana state superintendent John White announced to his Board of Education that he was pulling all student data out of inBloom. His memo to his board, which you can read in full here, reads in part:
We have protected student information for decades and take security very seriously. Given the concerns expressed by our most important constituents -- students and families -- I'd like a chance to discuss our policies and procedures with you before we enter into new relationships with partners providing this service
So, students and families: keep the pressure on!  You're being heard!

Note that Worcester's items regarding inBloom are on this week's agenda:

gb #3-114 -  Ms. Novick/Mr. Monfredo
                   (March 28, 2013)
Forward to our Legislative Delegation and the State's Joint Committee on Education the New York Assembly Bill #A06059 regarding student privacy and urge that they submit and support a similar bill in the Massachusetts Great and General Court.

gb #3-115  - Ms. Novick/Mr. Monfredo
                   (March 28, 2013)
Request administration ensure that the Worcester Public Schools' is abiding by 201 CMR 17.00 Standards for the Protection of Personal Information of Residents of the Commonwealth and further request administration share student information only with those who can demonstrate that they comply with 201 CMR 17.00.

gb #3-116 - Ms. Novick/Mr. Monfredo/
                  Ms. Colorio/Miss Biancheria
                  (March 28, 2013)
Request administration notify parents of any organization or agency with whom student or family information is shared and procedures for parents denying the sharing of their child's information.
gb #3-117 - Ms. Novick/Mr. O'Connell/
                  Mr. Monfredo/Ms. Colorio/
                  Miss Biancheria
                  (March 28, 2013)
Request administration report on the agencies and organizations with whom student information is shared, the circumstances under which it is shared and the measures taken to keep such information secure.

If you're concerned about this, people of Worcester: let us know!

Thursday, April 18, 2013


With the ongoing community chatter regarding the siting of a possible slots parlor in Worcester, I started to wonder what one could figure out about the changes such a facility might make on the public schools. As the first thing that keeps being argued is what a great community benefit the financing would be, I thought I should look at that first.

And, sure enough, there's quite a bit to find: specifically, there's quite a bit about the impact that the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh--owned by the same group proposing a slots parlor in Worcester--has had on their school system's finances.

Most specifically, it lead me to this settlement in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The Rivers Casino, owned by Rush Street Gaming, has appealed their property assessment every single year that they have been open.The casino opened in August of 2009; they have appealed their property taxes in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
As pointed out by a local columnist, it's difficult to feel much sympathy for a facility that has brought in $1 billion in revenue since it opened. The facility has repeatedly claimed that parts of their mitigation agreement should be counted towards their tax assessment. As schools in Pennsylvania are largely dependent on property taxes, the appeals hit the school budget directly.
While the court settled the past years, for 2013, the casino is appealing their tax assessment again.This again puts their school budget in jeopardy. It also means that the city and schools must spend more time--and money--to try to get what was touted as being a boost to local tax revenue to pay their assessment.

Now, this gets even more interesting when you apply the school finance system in Massachusetts. Should any such facility open in Worcester and make any money, it would increase what the state uses to calculate community wealth.
As Worcester would, to the state's perception, be wealthier, the state would lower our Chapter 70 aid.
The expectation would be that the city would be able to pay for more of the school budget out of the tax levy.
That only works, of course, if your taxpayers pay their taxes. If they instead take the city to court, then the city would be on the hook for the increased proportion of the school budget and would not have the funds to pay for it, as the facility wasn't paying taxes owed.
If you think we have a net school spending gap now, agree to sign a deal with Rush Street Gaming.
THEN you'll really see a gap!

"most disappointing": House Ways and Means budget update

Late yesterday, we received this update from Superintendent Boone regarding the FY14 House Ways and Means budget. As expected, the news isn't good. As posted last week, the House budget does not adopted the Governor's proposed increases to Chapter 70 on preschool enrollment, nor does it include the additional special education funds.
This budget also, due to a decline in lottery funds, cuts the local aid to the city, which will change the city's piece of funding.
House Ways and Means also does not fully fund charter school reimbursement; it comes in at 68.6% of what regulations require, less that what the Governor's proposed budget included.
The circuit breaker and kindergarten grant are essentially level funded; McKinney-Vento transportation is funded at the reduced FY13 amount (and remember, that goes into the city's general fund; while the schools pay for it, it has not been appropriated to the schools as a reimbursement).

This is the budget on which the WPS FY14 budget, due out in a few weeks, will be based.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

'Tis the season

Swiped from Upworthy:

And speaking of testing and gaming the system, it looks like there's an interesting report due out later this week that shows that most of what have been touted as the successes of "ed reform" in the big three cities--New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.--aren't. The executive summary is posted here; the full report will be up here later this week.

FY14, where are you?

The cherry sheet numbers for the House Ways and Means budget came out late on Friday, so we weren't able to get our numbers crunched before the long weekend. A quick glance shows some lousy news: charter reimbursement is down a million dollars from the Governor's budget, and in total, education aid (of all types) is down about $4.5 million.
There's more to this than that, as local aid is also down, which will mean rejiggering the who-pays-what piece of our budget. Administration is out for a long weekend, so I'd say we might get these Tuesday?
Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Newark students WALK OUT

Sorry, late posting on this one!
Hundreds of students from across the city walked out of Newark high schools on Tuesday to protest school closings and budget cuts.(You can get some idea of what happened from the #npswalkout hashtag on Twitter.) For some facts you Newark school funding, see here.
The part I found most impressive (besides that many students risking suspension for what is an act of civil disobedience) was the student testimony before the budget committee.

Clearly, these students have done their homework, and they know their stuff.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Letter of Resolution

Sharing this letter to Arne Duncan from Christine McCartney, because it expresses much of how I feel about serving on School Committee right now:

I do all of this despite the fact that during this time, you remind me repeatedly that I need to be patient because we are “crossing a bridge as we build it” –an unbelievably ineffective metaphor that is worrisome at best and at worst, absurd.But I thank you for it.And not because it isn’t inane. It is. But it made me recognize something that has reignited my commitment to my students into a flame that even the most ineffective and watered-down standardized assessment can’t extinguish:This impossible, hap-hazard, horribly thought-out metaphorical bridge my colleagues and I are on right now, it also contains (in my metaphorical pockets, if you will) my students, their parents, our community, and our collective future as a society …and I refuse to stand by and watch while you let us fall into the abyss because you are too busy catering to private industry rather than listening to what your own Equity and Excellence Commission advises you to do.

House Ways and Means budget day!

The House Ways and Means budget comes out later today...

Monday, April 8, 2013

More on inBloom (including just what's in those data fields!)

I know I'm posting a great deal about this, but the more I find out, the worse it gets.And thanks to Josh Golin from Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, who keeps these coming!

Last week in an exchange of emails with Deputy Commissioner Wulfson of DESE, Mr. Golin had confirmed that there will be a costs to districts for the services of inBloom:
We've heard that the Jefferson County, Colorado school district (the pilot district in Colorado) has been told by inBloom that, starting in 2015, inBloom will charge $2 to $5 per student for data they are storing.  Can you tell me if a similar storage charge is anticipated in Massachusetts or has been discussed at this point?
The response from the Deputy Commissioner:
There will be a subscription charge for participating districts to use the service, after the pilot phase is completed. I don’t believe the final fees have been set yet, but what you’ve heard is in the ballpark of what’s been discussed.
 For a district of 24,000+ students, the size of Worcester? That's on the order of $48,000 to nearly $100,000 per year for this "service."

Digging further into the information out there on inBloom, among the things that have turned up are a field (under "Enumerations") that would include information on why a teacher has switched schools or no longer worked for a school. It also includes:
  • disciplinary records (including whether a minor is accused of breaking a state law)
  • where in the school building an "incident" occurred
  • the type of classroom a child is in (including special education categories)
  • the type of medical disability a child has (including hearing loss, emotional disturbance, mental retardation...)
  • why a child's length of discipline was different than that of others (including that the child was incarcerated)
  • under what circumstances a child changed schools (including expulsion, death, or transfer to "an institution")
  • whether or not a child is eligible for IDEA (special ed) funds
  • reason a child was physically restrained (including harm to self or harm to others)
  • whether a child is eligible for free or reduced lunch
  • characteristics of the child's home situation (including "displaced homemaker," homeless, immigrant, migratory, foster care, "unschooled refugee")
And remember: this will all be in a SINGLE database with the child's name and identifying information, and it will be in the cloud and hackable.

Also relevant is this post from Diane Ravitch on the weakening of federal protections of student information. 

We need a sharper look than that.

I was going to write up a post critiquing former Secretary Reville's assertion in Clive McFarlane's column today that what schools need is more time, but this post looking at the research on extended learning time covers that ground pretty well. I'll only add that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education under Mr. Reville required that Level 4 schools add time, and Worcester schools (I can't speak to if this was true statewide) added extended blocks of math and ELA, which is not the sort of time that is found to most make a difference.
I'm more troubled, though, by what he says about the MCAS and other such measures:
“With the wrong leaders and poor professional development people often mistake the means for the end, but the fundamental logic persists,” he said. “We ought to have goals. We need to measure progress, and we ought to hold people responsible for their share in the production of progress. Good teachers know how to keep this in perspective.” 
"...know how to keep this in perspective..."
The teachers are keeping it in perspective, and they know just how important it is at their schools.
Teachers have seen three principals in Worcester lose their positions due to MCAS scores, more statewide, and even more around the country. Teachers have spent hours in professional development analyzing, charting, discussing, plotting what the MCAS (or MAP or Dibels) numbers are and how they could go up again this coming year. Teachers have sat in lectures from those higher up as they hear the "bad news" of what's coming. Teachers have seen their union cave on the use of these numbers in their own evaluations, even as there is no data available to demonstrate that this (whether it's done through value added or student growth formulas) is an effective means of demonstrating their abilities. Teachers walk into school every day past data walls that chart how each child did on MAPs (or MCAS or Dibels) this past fall, this past winter, this spring, and know well that each point is watched, statistically significant or not. Teachers have to show to their principals how what they are doing in their classes contributes to the all important numbers game that the state (and nation) is playing...or teachers know that they might well lose their jobs.

It isn't the teachers that have their perspectives out of whack; it's the national culture on education that has their perspective wrong. It just has hit the classroom.

And for more on this, I would suggest reading this column in The Atlantic on the need for a new code of ethics in teaching. 

It isn't just about extra time

A good post over on The Answer Sheet about extended learning time. Just tacking on more hours (and more test prep!) doesn't work.

A report back from Occupy the DoE

Here's a bit on the Occupy the DoE event over the weekend.

Still lying with graphs

...you should go read Bruce Baker on how.

Where are we at with the budget?

As you saw on Thursday, right now we're awaiting the House budget, due out on Wednesday. That is the budget off of which the Worcester Public Schools administration will base our budget for FY14.
A few things of note right now:

  • we entered this budget season without a structural deficit. That means that our projected increases in funding (due to enrollment and inflation) could meet our projected certain increases in costs. That's the first time that's happened since I've been on the committee--and since longer ago than that--and it's worth mentioning, because it implies that we're coming out of the worst of things.
  • that, however, was before sequestration. Sequestration is projected to cut up to $2 million in grant funding from the Worcester Public Schools. That's the equivalent of 23 teaching positions. There's not much sign that the federal government is going to come to any sort of agreement in time for us to save what we need to save, and our grants fund programs that aren't really optional. For more on what that looks like, see my post from February here. I would say that this is my largest concern going into this budget.
  • while the Governor's budget proposed expanded funding for preschool and increased funding for special ed, there's been no indication so far that those will pass the Legislature. While both sides appear to remain faithful to funding of Chapter 70, they all seem a lot more concerned with funding for communities that don't, under the foundation calculation, need the support, than with following through on fully funding the circuit breaker (special ed) or charter school reimbursement. That means that the highest need communities are the ones that lose.
  • needs in Worcester continue to increase. You'll notice on page 11 of the administration's presentation from Thursday at we're projecting a need for 30 additional special education positions and 11 more ELL positions for next year. Even setting aside for a moment what we ought to do: those are needs that we are legally required to meet. Those have to be funded somehow. 
  • that's also all before we get into our losing tech support on our operating system this year, additional special education buses, new graduation requirements under MassCore...
What this means is we're going to need to do some internal reallocation: cut here to add there. I don't yet know what administration's recommendations are going to be on that (we'll know in a month or so), but that's what this budget is going to be about.

So: while we've been in worse spots, this isn't as great a budget season as it looked like a few months ago.
We'll know more later this week.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A bit on my priorities for FY14

Besides the question (below) of administrative costs charged against Net School Spending, I had a few other priorities that I set out last night:

  • When we talk about class size, we have to talk not only about teachers; we have to talk about space. We are out of space, and our enrollment is growing. We're projecting 6 classes of 30 or more at Chandler Elementary next fall, none of which we can currently split, because we have nowhere to put them.And that's just at one school. We have to find space, and we have to be clear to the Council and the City Manager: rental or acquisition of space does not count towards Net School Spending. We need to do it anyway.
  • Facilities spending, we learned last year when we did the comparison, is 67% of where the foundation budget says it should be (and that number is probably outdated). We're holding the system together with "bubble gum and bandaids" and that only works so well. While spending money on spackle and light bulbs is not glamorous, it is absolutely necessary. Not only is it necessary for us, it is the Mass School Building Authority who asks, as part of our moving to feasibility  what we spend on facilities. If we want 80% reimbursement on new and rehabbed buildings, we have to start spending more on the buildings we already have.
  • Facilities aren't just about the buildings: something that this administration (thankfully!) is recognizing as a responsibility is playgrounds. Right now, our playgrounds are undergoing a full review for safety and repair needs. Fixing them is going to cost money.
  • Likewise, technology needs to be seen as not just an "extra," but viewed (as was said at the MSBA board on Wednesday) as another utility, like heat and lights. It needs a constant level of spending.
  • While we are tackling MassCore for the life of the mind, the life and health of the body concerns me. We need gym class to be not a quarter here or there in high school, but something every student has year round.
  • Libraries and librarians. They aren't optional. Moreover, there are districts, I am told, that are facing challenges by the state when it comes to getting their buildings through, because they don't have staffing for their libraries.
  • Finally, it's shameful that we have people who work for the schools full time who have to be on public assistance to get by. Our IA's deserve to be better paid for the valuable work that they do. 
We'll be getting the budget in the next month or so (first week of May-ish). I'll do a post later today on what we know of the budget at this point.

Administrative what? [with Technical Services information included]

Because it's a little unclear what I'm talking about in today's article on budget priorities, let me lay it out here:
Under M.G.L. Chapter 70, municipalities can charge some of their internal administration costs against their required net school spending. This makes sense, as some of the work done in city departments legitimately is work for the schools.
Under the agreement between the City of Worcester and the Worcester Public Schools (which dates back years now), the city charges 54% of the following to the Worcester Public Schools each year:
  • Auditing
  • Purchasing
  • Technical Services
  • City Treasurer
  • Budget Office
The 54% is the percent of the entire budget that the Worcester Public Schools make up for the city, not the amount of work done by those departments for the schools. In each of the above cases, the schools make up a very small amount of the work done by those departments. The City Auditor, as a function of his office, does review school spending; the bulk of his work is done city side. In Purchasing, the only thing the city does in the actual issuing of purchase orders; the bundling, lining up of orders, pricing, and so forth is all done internal to WPS. Technical services isn't used by WPS at all forwards the PDFs of purchase orders, prepared by WPS purchasing, as needed, and forwards the PDFs of WPS deposit to the appropriate place, as needed. They also print the few remaining direct deposit slips that aren't emailed.The City Treasurer does issue the checks that pay our bills, but the rest of the work of managing funds are done by the WPS business office; likewise, the line-item of the WPS budget that the city issues is part of the City Budget office, but the WPS budget is managed by WPS personnel.
What this means is that the majority of our "administrative" costs aren't our administrative costs at all: they're city administrative cost.
To give you an idea of how out of whack this is, here's a comparision with other cities
I have no idea what's going on with Springfield.
Worcester is the second line from the left: of our $9.2 million in administrative spending, $4.9 million is city administration. In no other district is the city administration more than the schools side; in no district is it even close.
There is another way of calculating administrative costs: you can use (as we assume most of the above communities do) a per pupil amount. Right now, though, there's $4.9 million that's counted as school spending that is paying for very little schools work.
And that's downright scandalous. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Worcester School Committee FY14 budget

You can find the back-up here. Posting as we go
Allen: no news on sequestration, Legislature silent on
"...more towards the worst side than the better side; we'll know more next Wednesday"
OPEB: "notified the city CFO that we will not be submitting a budget that contains the $3 million for OPEB"

Ann B. Earle was first

Mr. Southwick has some Worcester--in fact, some state--history for us in his column today:
It is ironic that two Worcester women won political office even before they could vote. Ann B. Earle and Frances Baker were elected to the Worcester School Committee in 1868, the first Massachusetts women to be elected to anything. 
Go read how they got in: a coup in the caucus!
While Mrs. Baker did not serve, Mrs. Earle did, and she won re-election two years later, too. That makes her the first woman to serve in elected office, not only in Worcester, but, as Mr. Southwick says, in Massachusetts.
We should remember her more than we do.

Commissioner Chester quoted on inBloom (and I'm not sure where he's getting his numbers)

Worcester Magazine covers some of the concerns around student privacy in their article today on inBloom.I was interviewed for the article, so some of this wasn't new to me, but it appears Mr. Bird reached the Commissioner, and I have to say that I found this quote, ah, surprising:

Speaking recently with Worcester Mag, Chester says he is “absolutely tuned into concerns” raised by critics such as Novick and Golin. “Some of it is based on misinformation,” he says. “We are absolutely committed to the security of student-level data and protecting the individual students at school districts.”
School districts on their own already contract with private companies, Chester says. “Your readers’ children are using software that’s being done, in 90 percent of the cases, having private companies filter [students’] records and making them accessible. This is ubiquitous.”
Now, maybe Commissioner Chester specified the "misinformation" to Mr. Bird and it didn't make the article, but I have yet to hear any correction of misinformation in this whole conversation (in fact, I need to do a post; I discovered yesterday that among the information being collected is reasons for teacher transfers of position).
Also, this "90 percent" number is news to me. I've sent something out to other school committee members to see if, in fact, data is being somehow widely shared, under contract, for analysis, and, moreover, for use by vendors. It isn't in Worcester (and, as I suspect that's much of Worcester Magazine's readership, the 90% number isn't accurate).That's the part that the Commissioner doesn't tackle: the use of student information in sales. It isn't just that this information is going to be out on the web; it's that it's going to be used for the express purpose of marketing.
And the old "well, it's already being done" line is really lame. If this is a bad idea, we should do it, and if it's already happening and a bad idea, we should stop doing it.
This will be on the Worcester School Committee agenda for April 25. If you have concerns about this, PLEASE weigh in. If you're in Worcester, contact us. If you're elsewhere, contact your school committee. And in either case, contact the Board of Ed.

"...no longer an MCAS booster..."

Professor McDermott lays out why his opinion of the MCAS has changed in today's "As I See It:"
My reform beliefs have been hijacked. I realize now that MCAS is not viewed as a means to a much higher end. MCAS has become the end. 
The consequence? Lower expectations. 
Yes, the focus on testing actually lowers expectations for our children when it takes the focus away from teaching for understanding. 
I’ve seen it happen and it breaks my heart. I’ve seen great teaching and learning suspended in favor of weeks or even months of MCAS preparation. I’ve seen deficit models of teaching writing prevail over proven methods because the deficit models were supposed to be more like MCAS writing. 
Transforming classrooms into powerful learning labs no longer is the focus of too many districts. Treating our children as thinking and feeling human beings no longer is the focus. Helping students understand themselves as young writers and readers and mathematicians and historians and artists and thinkers is no longer our focus. 
Test scores are what count. Many districts funnel all their energy and perform all sorts of subterfuge to get their scores up, too often taking time and energy from authentic teaching and learning. 
...the answer is going to come back, 'Oh, but now we're doing PARCC!" There isn't much sign that it's going to be better with that, however!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Nelson Place

PASSES. We're in feasibility.

Statements of Interest open

so far 103 districts have requested access to system
as of this morning 84 SoI submitted by 50 districts
"only file SoIs that they can financially support in the next two years"
much talk here of districts not sending in as many as previously
Grossman asks if there is "always a rush at the end"...yes, usually close to half
They're due on April 10

MSBA board meeting

Worcester's early on the agenda here at the MSBA board meeting today: Spencer-East Brookfield is being invited to the eligibility period for David Prouty, and then Nelson Place is up.
The Board also has a series of votes on executing project funding agreements for accelerated repairs in Bridgewater-Raynham and in Canton, roofs in Bridgewater-Raynham and windows in Canton.
There's also a series of recommendations for preferred schematic design: for Riverbend Elementary in Athol-Royalston, for Thurgood Marshall Middle in Lynn, for A.E. Angier Elementary in Newton, for Winchester High in Winchester, and for Winthrop High in Winthrop. All but Winchester are new buildings.
Then there are a series of invitations to scope and budget: Auburn, for Auburn Middle; Chicopee, for Chicopee Middle, Peabody, for J.Henry Higgins Middle; and Wachusett Regional for Mountview Middle.

I'll post some notes, and certainly post an update on Nelson Place as soon as there is one!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Projects pass

The Statements of Interest for facility repair and renovation passed the City Council unanimously tonight (and were reconsidered).
Those are:
South, Burncoat, and Doherty for major rehab/renovation
Columbus Park for windows and boiler
Tatnuck Magnet for windows
Worcester East Middle for windows, roof, and boiler
Worcester Arts Magnet for windows

On to the state!

"Race to Nowhere" screening locally

Race to Nowhere will be screened at the First Unitarian Church at 90 Main Street on April 7 at 4 pm. There will be snacks and a discussion afterward!

PARCC assessment update

Perda: PARCC has grown out of some of the RTTT program from the federal government
(the other is SMARTER Balanced..almost all states are part of one or the other)

Chapter 74 and Perkins funded courses

Novick asks about the discontinuation of the agriculture program a few years ago due to lack of interest; with YouthGROW, NOFA conference, community gardens, much farming happening within Worcester right now. Any inquiries for an ag program?
Brenner: not as yet, but sees the need. Willing to explore with community. Would need to look for appropriate placement

Goddard Scholars program (before the Accountability and Student Achievement)

request was for students enrolled and students completing at the end of the past four years
(It's about 95 for each year for both seventh and eighth grade together and it tracks pretty closely in terms of retention)
Jason DeFalco, principal at Sullivan Middle, which housing Goddard Scholars.

Yes, we do have projects

...and I'm told that the City Council will be considering the Worcester Public Schools projects for MSBA tonight, after all, on a supplemental agenda.

They call it racketeering for a reason

As Eugene Robinson noted yesterday, they call the crime "racketeering" for a reason. A racket is a fraudulent solution to a problem, a problem that may not actually exist. Generally, it's been organized crime that has brought people in on charges of racketeering, but this weekend saw a superintendent brought in on four charges, including racketeering, which together could give her up to 45 years in prison.

"Nice school you've got here. It'd be a shame if the test scores fell and something happened to it."

Michael Winerip outlines the lengths to which investigators--brought in by the state, mind you--had to go to break the racket of fraudulent test scores in Atlanta (I would highly recommend his coverage of this). The 96 pages of the indictment against 34 current and former Atlanta public school employees reads (as noted elsewhere) like something out of a crime novel.
But, as Valerie Strauss points out, Atlanta is just the one we know. There have been testing scandals across the country over the past several years, and not a single one has faced the level of scrutiny that  Atlanta has.

They should.

We are all about to change our evaluation systems for everyone--not just, as was done in Atlanta, the superintendent--to tie teachers, principals, just about everyone's evaluations to student test scores. Give a passing thought to just what sort of motivation that's going to give to everyone to raise the scores.

And raise them at any cost.

School admissions age wrangle

If you have an interest in the age at which children are admitted to kindergarten, you might want to read about the current wrangle in Westborough over the news that 13 Westborough kindergartners are attending school in Worcester. In order to attend kindergarten in Westborough, a child has to have turned six by September 1; in Worcester, by December 31.
We have quite a number of families that avail themselves of Worcester's later date (and you might remember, when we asked a bit ago if it was hurting our test scores, the answer--surprisingly--was no). These are school choice students, so their sending districts send Worcester $5000 in school choice funds per pupil.
I should also point out that state law says that you must be allowed to enter grade 1 once you've completed kindergarten.

Taking over education, one school board at a time

Jersey Jazzman has a compelling post today on school board race donations:
Let's stop and put this into perspective: an Oregon state representative and a slate of candidates for the Perth Amboy, NJ school board have managed to attract campaign contributions from the same group of wealthy education "reformers" who live out-of-state.Does anyone find this odd?
And then Jazzman started plugging those same names into donation searches across the country...
Pay attention to this one, folks!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Budget priorities

Send them by email, leave them in a comment, give us a call, but please, let us know what you think!