Friday, February 28, 2014

Remember how I told you that you could understand the budget?

The Association of School Business Officials International agrees: the Worcester Public Schools have been awarded the Meritorious Budget Award for our FY14 budget! Among the comments from the reviewers was this:
The budget is a fine document, which includes a wealth of information in graphic and narrative form. The document is user-friendly for the average taxpayer with lots of data presented in different forms to meet the needs of varied users. 
Congratulations to Mr. Allen, Ms. Consalvo, and the WPS budget staff! Nice work.

MSBA windows projects

It looks as though Columbus Park and Tatnuck Magnet's windows are before the Historical Commission on Thursday, March 13.

A bit more on last night's meeting

Sorry, I am realizing in  retrospect that I did a pretty atrocious job of live-blogging last night's meeting.
 It wasn't a heavy agenda: a number of items were held (including all of Miss Biancheria's, as she wasn't there due to her mother's illness), and much of what we did have were approvals and requests for reports.
There were two amendments on referrals:
Mr. O'Connell, speaking of Mr. Monfredo's item regarding the Providence Reads program requested that administration specifically look at the "Making Learning Visible" program when reporting back to TLSS on this item.
Mr. Monfredo, speaking of the approval of the Staples' grant to Worcester Arts Magnet, requested that the materials created be shared across the district for more writing in the classrooms.
Beyond, as Ms. Reis reports this morning, grant approvals, those were the big items.

And  reminder that we meet AGAIN next week, as it's the first Thursday of March.

Ravitch on the DESE opinion

thanks to the wonders of Twitter...

DESE legal opinion: no parental opt out of testing

We received the following last night (I only have a hard copy, so I am posting photos. UPDATE: scanned here):

Posted without commentary
Ok, ok...since I was asked:
The legal opinion--which is not the same as a state law; it's just their lawyer's opinion of what the law says--is depending on Mass General Law chapter 69, section 1l, specifically on state testing, which says:
Section 1I. The board shall adopt a system for evaluating on an annual basis the performance of both public school districts and individual public schools... The board shall develop procedures for updating, improving or refining the assessment system.
There's nothing in there about requiring that updating or improving to involve all districts or all students (and, in fact, the PARCC pilot does not). The argument in the legal opinion essentially says that the Board is required to update assessments, and, since the Board needs a pilot, the students need to take it (see the penultimate paragraph).
What I find fascinating is that this legal opinion ignores what the state is actually doing with the PARCC pilot. Bluntly speaking, the state is conducting a research project regarding the efficacy of the PARCC test. They are attempting here to compel student to be part of that research study, something which is objectionable by all standards of research with which I am familiar. See, for example, Human Subject Rights put out by the National Institute of Justice.
They also are ignoring (I hope they aren't ignorant of) the case law at both the state and national levels regarding parental rights to direct the education of their children. Largely, these cases fall under the 14th Amendment; see, for example, Meyer vs Nebraska, often cited in cases regarding homeschooling, and Pierce vs. the Society of Sisters, with its oft-cited passage:
The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.
In short, the state has not dealt with the central question: what right does the state have here to compel students to take the pilot?
As always, all of the above is just my research pulled together.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

to meet with the delegation on the FY15 budget

Monfredo: essential that we meet with our delegation as soon as possible
full funding of the circuit breaker
full funding of charter schools
support of projects before the MSBA
correct the assumption of the special ed students out of district
foundation budget review committee


is next week! So go Read Across Worcester!

Worcester School Committee: contracts ratified

with the parent liaisons
with the OT and PT assistants

Myths of the WPS budget: BUSTED!

As we head into March and the schools  hear a bit more about how the district budget will affect them, I suspect we'll begin also to hear some of the myths about the Worcester Public Schools budget that come back every year.

Let's take care of those now.

Myth #1: "Every year they say that there is a HUGE gap and every year it is magically taken care of by June."
To begin with, we don't always start off with a deficit: this time last year, we didn't have a structural deficit, and we were close to break even in 2012; the last time we had a structural deficit was in 2011.
More importantly, we are required to pass a balanced budget: our expenses must equal the money coming in. Any deficit does not magically vanish: it is made up by cuts. So, for example, back in 2011, the structural deficit was filled through cutting teaching positions, skilled trade positions, 2 finance office clerical staff positions, a school plant manager position, and merging two vocational admin positions.
It doesn't just happen. We as a Committee don't have the power to increase the funds coming in; we can only reallocate what we get, and administration has the harsh job of making recommendations that will make the budget balance.
This is why I'm concerned not to be hearing more from parents and community members about the FY15 budget. As presented to us in January, we have a deficit of $27 million. That isn't magically going to vanish. It's going to mean cuts unless the money coming in increases, which can only happen through advocacy with the state and city (more on that to come).

Myth #2: "Worcester spends too much on education already."
For FY14, 35 cents of each tax revenue dollar went to the Worcester Public Schools. This is not a substantial amount compared to other communities. Moreover, as my colleague Mr. Monfredo points out in Worcester Magazine today, Worcester remains far behind the rest of the state when it comes to covering the real costs of education by funding above foundation: we're in the bottom 2%.

Myth #3:  "Too much money goes to administration."
We've now heard this one so often that it got its own slide last year. The vast majority of the money spent on administration--for FY13, the budget is $11.3 million--is for school-based administrators. That's principals and assistant principals.
As far as I know, no one is actually complaining that we have too many of those, so I assume that the complaint is actually about central administration, which for FY13 is budgeted at $2.5 million. That's somewhere around eight-tenths of a percent of the entire budget. It's also, if you see the chart above, a number that puts us right in the middle on administrative spending, and that's when we include the cityside administration costs over which we have no control.

Myth #4: "It's a black hole: I don't know where the money goes."
The whole FY14 budget--every last nickel of it--is here online.If you want to know how much each specific school costs, it's in there. If you want to know how much we spend account by account, it's in there. If you want to know what comes in as grants and how that's spent, it's in there.
I have a sneaking suspicion that in some cases this is really a bit of "math is hard" at bottom. The numbers are big, no question. How some of it gets figured out can be, at your first time through, pretty overwhelming. But there are lots of us, myself very much included, who are happy to go through this with anyone who wants some help figuring it out. So please don't give up: give it a shot.

Next up: what you can do!

Research never dies (UPDATED) just goes off to another state...
Look, it's our old friend Stephen Eide (formerly of the Worcester Research Bureau) with a piece on how charging rent to NYC charter schools would be a VERY BAD IDEA.
Oh, but when you play in the big leagues you have people like Bruce Baker to come along and point out the things you missed in your research.
Baker’s review explains that the report consists primarily of “a handful of poorly documented tables and graphs listing potential budget deficits, speculative layoffs, and average proficiency rates of co-located and non-co-located charter schools, few if any of which actually validate the author’s conclusions regarding the impact of charging rent on the growth of ‘good schools.’”

UPDATE: Diane Ravitch picked up Baker's argument here. Baker comments on the larger issue here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Does your child play an instrument?

Is your child looking for new challenges? Please see the below invitation from Holy Cross:

The College of the Holy Cross Band Program is pleased to announce that we will once again be opening up membership in our Spring Symphonic Band to members of the Worcester community. Do you have a high school aged child that plays a brass, woodwind, or percussion instrument? Perhaps you yourself are a musician looking to find a new ensemble in which to play? New members are now being accepted, and the group's next rehearsal will be held on Wednesday, March 12th at 6pm in the Hogan Campus Center at College of the Holy Cross.
I will be frank: This journey is not an easy undertaking. The musical selections that have been chosen represent a wide variety of musical styles and themes, and will require students to put much individual practice time into their music in order to excel. Should students choose to join this ensemble, they will find themselves accountable not to a Director, but to themselves; In order to truly succeed, they must learn to identify where they are having difficulty, seek out assistance from instructional staff, and be prepared to say “am I doing my very best?” It is my fervent belief that it is this combination of high-expectations and individual-accountability that leads our students to report year-after-year that being a member of the Holy Cross Band Program was one of the greatest decisions they ever made.
Holy Cross’ symphonic season began with our first rehearsal two-weeks ago, to which we had the strongest sight-read in our history. Resuming our rehearsal schedule on March 12 (after the College's Spring Break,) we will rehearse twice per week: Wednesdays from 6-7:45pm, and Fridays from 5-6:45pm. This twice-a-week rehearsal schedule will continue for the remainder of the season, culminating with a dress rehearsal on Saturday, May 3rd. Our end-of-the-season performance will take place on Sunday, May 4th at 6pm.
If you, your son or daughter, or a friend have interest in becoming a member of our symphonic ensemble, I encourage you to send me an email and introduce yourself; I am sure you and your child must have many questions, and I would be more than happy to answer them all. I can be reached at , and online registration for our ensemble can be found at
Our program exists not to create professional musicians, but to provide members with life changing experiences, both educationally and socially. Through developing the character traits of dedication, self-discipline, and teamwork, each student learns what is required to be successful on and off the stage. More than anything else, this guarantees that your student will have one amazing season.
With Pride, ~Nicholas J. McKenzie, Director of Bands College of the Holy Cross

Ten elementary schools without playground access

As part of some other work that's going on around playgrounds throughout the city, I was taking a look at school need and playground access. Here are ten schools that don't have access to playgrounds:
  • Woodland Academy
  • Goddard School
  • Chandler Elementary
  • Belmont Street
  • Grafton Street
  • Canterbury Street
  • Elm Park Community
  • Chandler Magnet
  • Columbus Park
  • Rice Square
All of those are also schools that are above the citywide average rate of poverty (72.7% for WPS), as well. There are only five schools below the city poverty rate that also lack playground access.
Feels like something to work on, doesn't it?

Joint Committee meeting March 10

There will be a joint committee meeting on Monday, March 10 of the City Council Education Committee (now Councilors Economou, Toomey, and Rosen) and the School Committee's Finance and Operations Committee (Foley, Novick, Ramirez).

5:30 pm
4th floor conference room at the Durkin Administration Building

And yes, the FY15 budget is on the agenda

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Peter and the Wolf FREE Concert this Sunday!

This Sunday afternoon is the Worcester Chamber Music Society's annual FREE family concert, and this year, it's Peter and the Wolf!
The concert is at 3 pm this Sunday, March 2 at Mechanics Hall.
A perennial favorite for children of all ages, Prokofievs' Peter and the Wolf is a favorite introduction to classical music.  Also on the program: Thomas and His Imagination by local composer Serena Creary. Visit the Art Gallery where there will be a display inspired by the music, created by the students at the Woodland Academy. Meet and greet the musicians following the concert.
Receive a $2.00 discount coupon at the door for admission to the ECOTARIUM. Bring a new or gently used book to be donated to Reliant Medical Group Foundation's Reach Out and Read program and be entered into a drawing to win a free family membership to the ECOTARIUM. Reception treats by CocoBeni Confections and the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts.

School Committee meets Thursday

The Worcester School Committee meets this Thursday at 7 pm. You can find the agenda here.
(If you skim down to the end of the agenda, you'll see that we are indeed meeting in executive session beforehand, for several collective bargaining items and for two disciplinary hearings.)

We've got a two-fer on South High: recognizing Maureen Binienda for her 2013 Woman of the Year award, and recognizing the good work of Andy's Attic over at South (and they are always looking for donations!).

We've got a request for negotiations coming in from EAW over district determined measures (on the new teacher evaluation system).
We'll have the report from tonight's Accountability meeting.
We have one retirement and two appointments.

Ms. Biancheria is requesting a report on the Family Academy, one on the Temporary Learning Center, and one on secondary teacher ratios.
Mr. O'Connell is referring the Gateway Cities report to subcommittee.
Mr. Monfredo is looking for dates to meet with the delegation about the FY15 budget (good!), and to have administration consider the Providence Reads literature.
Mayor Petty would like to know if we can add private, Catholic, and charter school families to our ConnectEd messages.
There's a prior year payment of $12,676.99 for two teachers for sick bank days.
And administration wants to change our July meeting from the third to the fourth Thursday.

There are also a slew of setting dates for recognizing: Superintendent Boone's being awarded the Odd Fellows' Community Leadership Award; our All State Honors Music Festival students; WPS Valentine award winners; Paula Harrity and Sandra Bobone for the Thomas S. Green Award; Michael Lyons for the Msgr. Edmond Tinsley award.

Donations, too! $53 for library materials for Norrback; $5000 to Worcester Tech from Worcester's Best Chef; and $75,000 for another summer food truck (!)

Grants! $10,000 from the state for alternative education (of which the bulk is going to a consultant for evaluation...); $120,000 from the state for innovation schools (profession development for Chandler Magnet on literacy and Goddard Scholars on Lincoln and Worcester Tech on externships with industry); and $2000 for a writing program at Worcester Arts Magnet.

Oh, yes, they did

Northampton is requesting an opt out of the PARCC pilot for their entire district.

Accountability Subcommittee meets today POSTPONED

Accountability and Student Achievement meets today at 5:30. You can find the agenda here.
First up, we have a report on MCAS appeals over the past several years.
Then we have a report on the professional development given on the use of data.
We're getting an update on the use of data walls, something which has been in the state and national news of late, and violates federal law.
Also, it looks as though we're going to work out some sort of a system for reviewing school accountability plans. 


Monday, February 24, 2014

So what happened with Nelson Place?

We have to send three options off to the state. One has to be to renovate the current building. 
The other two being sent to the state are rebuild on the current site and rebuild with additional land purchases. 

Those are being submitted next week. The architects then have until the April 10 meeting to fully flesh out those three plans, and at that meeting, the building committee will support one to forward to the state. 

Note again that there is a public meeting next Monday, March 3, at the school at 7 pm for questions and concerns. 

Nelson Place building committee

and there's a PowerPoint!
If I'm reading this right, the building committee is voting on the preferred schematic program study tonight (UPDATE: It is), which doesn't appear to be up online...though I just found out that we have this website and the agenda is online
Introduction by Mayor Petty, Commissioner Moosey says this (that being the preliminary design program) will be submitted to the state next week.
posting as we go
Julie Lynch, DPW architect, "to get a vote, to hand this information over to the state next week"
three alternative solutions to the school
Eugene Caruso, Tishman Construction (who is the owner project manager)
After tonight's vote, MSBA reviews the project, comes back to us, on April 10, vote by building committee on preferred schematic design (aka: where they'll put it)
presentation by Lamoureaux Pagano on program "the big picture program for the building itself"
Here's the slide on the square footage, much discussed:

Paul Gervais Memorial Music Scholarship concert

Saturday, February 22, 2014

PARCC public meetings

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is having a series of community meetings across the state on the new PARCC exam. As they say:
Please join us at one of these important community meeting to learn more about PARCC, this spring’s field test, and what it means for you, your students, your child, and the entire community.
Dates and locations are:

  •  -March 3, 3:00-5:00--Bridgewater State University, John Joseph Moakley Center, 131 Summer St., Bridgewater, MA, 02325
  • -March 10, 3:00-5:00--Greater Lowell Regional Technical High School, Auditorium, 250 Pawtucket Blvd., Tyngsborough, MA 01879
  • -March 13, 5:00-7:00--Boston Teachers Union Hall, 180 Mt. Vernon St., Dorchester, MA 02125 (entrance is off of Day Blvd.)
  • -March 18, 6:30-8:30--Framingham State University, Dwight Hall Performing Arts Center, 100 State St., Framingham, MA, 01701
  • -March 20, 3:00-5:00 and 6:30-8:30--Holyoke High School, 500 Beech St., Holyoke, MA 01040
  • -March 26, 6:30-8:30--Tahanto Regional Middle/High School, 1001 Main St., Boylston, MA 01505
  • -March 31, 3:00-5:00--Berkshire Community College-Main Campus (Room TBD), 1350 West St., Pittsfield, MA 01201

More information and RSVP link here

Friday, February 21, 2014

EdCamp is coming to Grafton!

The above is a link to the site; click to register!

NEASC report on Doherty

...can be found here, as part of today's Friday letter from Superintendent Boone.

They have lots of great things to say about Doherty! Looks as though their main concerns are accessibility and computer access (which should be improving with the new investment).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Upcoming meetings

  • The Nelson Place Building Committee meets Monday, February 24 at 6 at the school.
  • The Standing Committee on Accountability and Student Achievement is meeting this coming Tuesday, February 25 at 5:30 at the Durkin Administration Building. For those interested: I hear we may talk data walls.
  • The Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, February 27 at 7 pm.
  • The Standing Committee on Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports is scheduled to meet Tuesday, March 4 and Tuesday, March 18 at 5:30 at DAB.
  • This hasn't been posted yet, but it looks as though there will be a joint committee (Finance & Operations from School Committee; Education from City Council) meeting sometime the second week of March. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Proposed changes to charter school regs in Massachusetts

At their March meeting, the state Board of Ed is considering  proposed changes to the charter school regulations here in Massachusetts
You can find the current regs with proposed changes here. The Commissioner's summary of them for the Board of Ed is here. While I somehow got the deadline wrong on this--it closed on the 24 of January--(why is it TWO MONTHS before the meeting!?), comments can be directed to, and it's good to cc the Board itself at
I also plan to go to the Board of Ed meeting in March to testify before this vote.
So what's proposed?
Let's first be blunt: a number of these changes are in direct response to the closure of Spirit of Knowledge in Worcester this past fall, most particularly everything in 1.12 having to do with what happens when a charter school is placed on probation. Any such school now "may be required" to establish an escrow account to pay for closing costs; it also provides for appointment of an outside party to oversee closure, should it be deemed necessary. Further, it adds that a charter school may be placed on probation for "lack of evidence of academic success," which, believe it or not, is not currently among the reasons. The state may also withhold payments to any such charter and is now changing the bit about what happens to the property of any closed charter school: it ALL goes to the Commonwealth in the changed regs, without any language around purchase by other entities.
Things that are missing here: there should be a clear bit about reconsidering the foundation budget and the student population of sending districts when a charter school closes. Worcester managed this, but, from what I can tell, it was largely through sheer determination on the part of our finance office. It shouldn't be up to them; it should be part of the regs. If a district gets 150 kids in late October, they should count on that year, and they should be funded as the school closes, deadlines be what they may.
And the "may"s around escrow and outside parties should be "shall." There were a number of panicked phone calls that went back and forth to Malden in the weeks after SoKA closed (and not all from WPS!); there needs to be a clear authority who picks up the pieces.
What else is going on here?
Along with some languages changes that are more tweaks, the state is proposing change the "shall" to "may" on the two step application process (see the beginning of 1.04); I can imagine someone coming back with a "streamlined" process which probably isn't good. There's a bit more clarity of notification of district superintendents on applications for charters (and such) throughout the changes. They've also broadened--and I see SoKA in this one, too--what is required in the application for a charter.
But goodness gracious, look at what is going on in section 6 of 1.04!
(d) Should the Board elect to award fewer than the number of charters specified under M.G.L. c. 71,  § 89 in any given cycle, the Board may grant those charters not awarded in subsequent  application cycles in addition to the number of charters scheduled to be awarded and  notwithstanding any limitations on the number of new charters authorized in such year.  
(e) The Board may award any charter revoked or returned to the Board in subsequent application  cycles in addition to the number of charters scheduled to be awarded
So, they could not grant any this year, but "save" those charters to be granted next year. This sounds to be like a face-saving move; if they have only applications they don't want to grant, they don't have to go the route they did with Gloucester Arts and SoKA and give them to the "least worse" of the applicants, but just save those charters until the next year, without--heaven forbid!--looking somehow anti-charter school.
Likewise, it looks to me as though (g) in that same section is to give clear guidance around applications like the one from Lynn the same year as SoKA that smells a lot like a private school conversion.

Here's the bit we REALLY need to pay attention to:
Section (9) of 1.04 deals with the very important question of where new charters go. They're proposing a switch from a straight math/ELA MCAS calculation to one that uses MCAS CPI for math/ELA/science, percentage advanced, percentage failing, and student growth.
Yes, it is all MCAS scores. And one assumes we're going to be scrambling like mad if we make a switch to PARCC.
Good news, first: it isn't a silly "who does best on MCAS" ranking, which is, and will always be, a great reflector of "who has the highest income," thus telling you little about the school system. They're actually including student growth!
But--bad news--only as a quarter of the measure, with the rest of it remaining plain ol' MCAS lists.
Thus, in the interest of not making the perfect the enemy of the good, here's a good place to praise the inclusion of student growth--which still reflects family income, but not as exactly--but push the Board to make it more than a quarter of what is considered. It would, from calculations I've seen, substantially change what communities are targeted.

Also, new requirement for charter schools:
 A charter school must develop a plan that includes deliberate, specific strategies the school will use to attract, to enroll, and to retain a student population that is demographically comparable to similar grades in schools from which the charter school enrolls students. Charter schools shall submit recruitment and retention plans for approval by the Department that meet the requirements of M.G.L. c. 71, § 89; 603 CMR 1.05; and any guidelines issued by the Department.
I'd be interested in how they're going to enforce those.
There's also a long section on the responsibilities of the Board of Trustees (1.06) and staff. Also  a proposed change in funding to monthly rather than quarterly payments, and those will be in line with monthly enrollment reports from the charter school (only the initial payment will be based on projected enrollment).  They're also pushing hard on solid numbers on enrollment, which is overdue.
Regardless of dates, you can always write to the Board, and, should there be anything you hope I'd include, please let me know!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Good luck, New Bedford!

With all else that is going on in New Bedford, funding at foundation isn't going to help. Glad to see their superintendent is pushing the city to fund the schools at 4% over foundation for FY15.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Let's take a look at Boston's budget

Okay, Bostonians: I'm breaking out of my bailiwick a bit here in hopes of giving you a hand! 

Thanks to Twitter, I've recently been hearing a great deal about the Boston Public Schools budget. There's much concern among parents about the BPS budget this year, which in many cases is cutting positions at schools.
I've started to become concerned, though, at both the lack of information and (in some cases) misinformation that is out there, so I've done some digging to see if I can pull some things out.
You can read Interim Superintendent John McDonough's update to the community from January 15 here, and his update to central office staff from February 5 here. I had to dig a bit more for this, but his PowerPoint given to Boston's School Committee is here (warning: you have to download it. If you just want to skim it and don't mind the odd way it came through, I've put it here.)
I'll first say that these are better than previous years; McDonough is the BPS finance officer, filling in as interim, and, whether he finally got to say what he wanted or what, the budget communications are clearer.
That said, there are just loads of pieces of information that aren't being put out there, and what is out there obscures some things that are useful and important.
First, there's not a ton here in terms of actual numbers about where the money comes from. For that--and I had some help on this--you can start with this chart from DESE

(yes, that's a photo. You can click to make it bigger.)
You'll see that for this fiscal year--that's FY14--Boston got $209,414,985 in Chapter 70 aid from the state; that's the top left highlighted number, as well as the same number on the right under FY14 for Chapter 70 aid. The remainder of the budget (save grants) was paid by the city of Boston.
For this coming fiscal year--FY15--Boston is projected to receive $210,991,435 in Chapter 70 aid, a slight increase over last year.

But here's the bit that isn't getting mentioned and should be: WHY is Boston getting that amount?

The BPS budget for this year (FY14) in total is $937.4 million. Now, that number is nowhere on here, because the state counts most, but not all, things in the foundation budget; mostly notably, DESE doesn't count transportation costs towards this calculation, and transportation is 9 % of the BPS budget. That's something the local community is simply expected to fund.
Most of the rest of the budget, though, is required spending, and is regulated by the Ed Reform act of 1993. The state has set a minimum amount that it costs to educate a child in Massachusetts (with breakdowns according to need); multiply that by the number of each type of student you have, and you have the foundation budget; this is also how Boston is setting their Weighed Student Funding, 'though the numbers are different.
Once that amount is calculated, the state then figures how much the local district can afford to pay of their budget. This is based 50% on local income and 50% on local property wealth.
The agreement here--and it helps to remember we only had an Ed Reform act because the state was getting sued over inequitable aid--is that needier, less wealthy communities get more state aid for education. It's one of the most progressive funding systems for education in the nation, recognizing as it does that education is a state responsibility (per Chapter V of the state constitution) and that children should be funded equitably across the state.
And here's where it gets interesting for Boston.
By the state's calculation, Boston can afford to pay for all of its public school foundation budget save for 17.5%, and that 17.5% is the "floor" that the state has set for all communities.
Essentially, by the foundation calculation, the city of Boston doesn't need much--any?--state Chapter 70 aid. 
This is why the percent of the BPS budget funded by the state, as shown here:
City budget impact over time
...with some seriously weird percentages...
...has been falling over time. Boston WAS receiving significantly more aid, but the state, rather than bumping everyone down to wherever the calculation puts them, is slowly requiring that more of the proportion of school funding come from the local community for those communities that can afford it.
For FY14, Boston was receiving 27.91% of their foundation budget as state aid; for FY15, they're projected to receive 27.04% of their foundation budget for state aid.
(and that includes the $25 minimum increase per pupil that the Governor budgeted for)
Thus, the touting of a $36 million increase in local funding for FY15 doesn't really answer the question. The cityside funding not only needs to track with actual cost increases (which it isn't, as McDonough says those are running $60 million) but also with the progressive and planned lowering of state aid.
It isn't as though it's a surprise.

SO, what to do? I'd start by pointing out to the city that much of what the city is doing is simply what the state minimally requires (Boston's tending to be about 8% over foundation, consistently; the state average is about 15%). While the numbers are always going to be big in a Boston budget, the city does have significant community wealth, which it has a responsibility to use to fund education appropriately. The FY15 budget puts 35% of the city budget into schools; last year it was 36% (in both cases save capital).
There's a local budgetary conversation to be had here, should anyone be willing to have it.

If I lost anyone anywhere above, send something along and let me know. And, yes, not my community, but I hate seeing parents not have the information they need to advocate.

NO SCHOOL, Friday, February 14th

There will be NO SCHOOL for the Worcester Public Schools for Friday, February 14th.

This brings the last day to Friday, June 20.  

And have a great vacation!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Budget at CPPAC

I'm not going to liveblog the entire budget presentation as you had that here. You can also see that presentation here.

Posting as we go

Allen: show what the budget looks like at this time, but no recommendations at this time; those will come over the next month or so

NO SCHOOL on Thursday, February 13

School is CANCELLED for Thursday, February 13

And that'll put the last day at June 19

KABOOM playground grant

Super news on this joint use agreement grant from KABOOM!
It's going to be used to fix playgrounds.

So the Mayor of Boston took questions on Facebook...

As we're keeping an eye on what's going on with Boston's new mayor and education we should note: Mayor Marty Walsh took questions about education on Facebook on Tuesday.
Let's first of all break to thank him for doing so!
Chris Faraone over at DigBoston has a reasonable ('though incomparably Faraone-esque) rundown of what happened: Walsh got a lot of questions on lifting the charter cap. He came solidly down on an UNCONDITIONAL lifting of the charter cap--aka, no limits.
...which is just insane for any mayor in Massachusetts. Particularly an urban mayor. Particularly an urban mayor who is cutting services to his public schools.
I'd thus say that this blog has it about right: Walsh doesn't get it on public education.
I was particularly disheartened that he had such facile answers to budgetary questions from parents (yes, budgetary ignorance is basically a cardinal sin for me). He had to expect budget questions; every parent in the city is being told that their schools are going to lose something. He doesn't understand his own school budget well enough to understand what charters actually do to it, but he also just doesn't seem to know his own school budget. And that matters more than it would in other places, because he appoints the School Committee.

I know very well that there is big money behind charter schools. I also understand that Walsh was, if education was the main issue on which you were voting, the least bad choice.
I really hope that he starts hearing loud and clear from parents (and maybe from his own BPS finance office) just what the heck he is supporting when he says he wants an unconditional cap lift.
That's supporting poisoning the Boston Public Schools.

Birthday of Abraham Lincoln today

"Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry, shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period."
--March 9, 1832 First Political Announcement

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

And because I haven't reminded you since Friday

CPPAC is tomorrow night.
They're getting the preliminary FY15 Worcester Public Schools budget projections. 
You should go. 
7 pm
Worcester Public Library
If you can't make it, here is the budget presentation from last Thursday:

You're going to hear more about PARCC this week

...and it's because the state--finally!--released the full list of schools scheduled to pilot the test this spring.
It does NOT, however, give the information of which grades are scheduled to be tested and which test they'll be taking, both of which we know they have, as Worcester released that information back in September (scroll down).
C'mon, Malden. Let's give parents the full information about what you're planning for their kids.

Reminder of dates:
Performance-Based Assessment (PBA): March 24–April 11, 2014
End-of-Year (EOY): May 5–June 6, 2014

The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Online Surveillance

Click on the above or on the pop-up for a link to calling and emailing your legislators and to learn more.
And what does this have to do with education? It has everything to do what sort of world we're leaving our children.

Monday, February 10, 2014

New York just backed away from standardized testing, PARCC, and Common Core

...big time.
In a press release issued today, the New York state Board of Regents (their Board of Ed) announced that their full board has adopted several of changes recommended by a working group dealing with the Common Core and new testing regime. Most notably: 
  • "The class of 2022 will be the first to face the new higher graduation requirements, 12 years after the adoption of the standards in 2010."
  • ... guidance will be issued to districts making clear that the State Education Department (SED) neither requires nor encourages districts to make promotion or placement decisions using student performance on state assessments in grades 3-8, but if districts choose to do so, they should make adjustments to ensure students are not negatively impacted by the Common Core transition and should use multiple measures - not grades 3-8 state assessment results alone."
  • "...the Board and SED will support reducing standardized testing by local school districts through "Teaching is the Core" grants that require districts to review their local assessments and eliminate any unnecessary or duplicative assessments"
  • "...New York's participation in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) will be limited to field testing only during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years"
  • " emergency regulation to protect teachers and principals from unfair termination based on 2012-13 and 2013-14 assessment results in districts that did not timely implement the Common Core by providing adequate professional development, guidance on curriculum, or other necessary supports"
  • "... the State has delayed the launch of the data dashboards related to inBloom to allow SED to work with legislators to address concerns about data security and third party providers used by the State and districts."
  • "...As part of the waiver renewal, SED will ask USDOE to allow students with severe disabilities who are not eligible for alternate assessments to be tested at their instructional level rather than their chronological age level, and allow English Language Learners to be tested in their native language for their first two years of assessments"
All of the above taken directly from the press release. 
Somewhat confused by the parental reaction quoted here; I see some real changes above. 
This is a massive change of tune from the Board of Regents, the group that last year was touting the high rate of student failures as evidence that changes were overdue (rather than too fast). They've essentially turned last year back into a tryout year, admitted that they screwed up last year, postponed implementation of new requirements for graduation, added TWO years of piloting PARCC (that's one more than Massachusetts!), acknowledged that there's too much testing (and put money behind it), pushed off inBloom, and are switching their federal waiver.
That's massive.

Monday morning links

Should you have missed them over the weekend:

  • You should read this great story from 1839 of how knowing how to read rescued a boy kidnapped into slavery. Also, I love that we have T&G reporters digging through the Worcester Historical Museum files! Nice work, Mr. Caywood!
  • An important read on how the correlation between being married and avoiding poverty may well be for the reverse reason than is being forwarded.
  • Matt Damon did an Ask Me Anything on reddit and tackled education policy. To wit: "We would never let businessmen design warheads, why would you cut out educators when you're designing education policy?" His mom is Nancy Carlsson-Paige, who we are fortunate enough to have as an early childhood ed advocate in Massachusetts, so he does know whereof he speaks. 
  • There was a massive march at the North Carolina state capital on Saturday to support the Voting Rights Act, part of the "Moral Monday" marches that have been held there to protest an array of government actions, including some lousy education policies.
  • I was saddened to learn that education advocate Ted Olsen of Oregon recently died. He was among the first to break publicly with Stand for Children when it became clear that they do not, in fact, stand for children. I share this column about his granddaughter's close friend and how our system continues to fail them in his memory. Thanks, Alain!
  • OUR local education reporter, Jackie Reis, got a second place award  for education reporting in the 2014 New England Newspaper and Press Association awards.Congratulations, Jackie!
  • Finally, more to come on this, but public comments on the  proposed changes to the charter school regs are due next week.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Valentine winners!

Congratulations to the winners of the Worcester Historical Museum's annual Valentine contest!

HISTORIC  (any design in the style of valentines made in Worcester from the late 1840s to 1942)

Grade 3                       Caroline Villa                        St. Stephen  School

Grade 4       a tie        Isabella Christie                     Venerini Academy
                                    Kianna Rodriguez                  Lincoln Street School

Grade 5       a tie        Michaela Ortiz                        Seven Hills Charter School
                                    Isabella Zambrano                City View Sch00l

Grade 6                      Lexi LaFratta                         Lake View School

CONTEMPORARY  (an original valentine using designs and non-perishable—especially green--materials of the maker’s choice)

Grade 3                       Nolan Farrell                          Worcester Arts Magnet School

Grade 4                      K.C. Minton                           Francis J. McGrath Elementary School

Grade 5                       Alena Nguyen                        Chandler Elementary School

Grade 6                      Ines Nieves                            City View School

VERSE  (an original verse by today’s valentine maker)

Grade 3                       Sean Bellin                             Midland Street School

Grade 4                      Marc Hilliard                          Belmont Street Community School                                                                                                                                                
Grade 5                       Kayre Molina                          Belmont Street Community School

Grade 6                      Rita Brederson                      Worcester Arts Magnet School

MASTERS  (students in grades 4, 5, and 6 who have won in previous years must enter in the Master’s Competition.  These entries are judged as a group—not by grade level)  

Grade 6                      Sam Levenson                       Worcester Arts Magnet School

Grade 5                       Kayla Collins                          City View School

Please join the winners at an Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, February 11th,  4:00 p.m. at the Worcester Historical Museum.

Innovation grants

You may have seen that Governor Patrick was in Worcester yesterday to announce another round of innovation school grants. You can find Governor Patrick's press release here.
Awards for Worcester are as possible:
  • Goddard Scholars Academy at the Sullivan Middle School, Worcester, $30,000
  • Lincoln Street School, Worcester, $30,000
  • Worcester Technical High School, Worcester, $30,000
  • Chandler Magnet, Worcester, $30,000
Also, did you notice that Pentucket Regional got five planning grants? The superintendent of Pentucket Regional is former Worcester Chief Academic Officer Jeff Mulqueen, who was part of Worcester's first round of innovation grants.

CPPAC meets next week

And you should DEFINITELY go!

A friendly reminder of next weeks CPPAC meeting on Feb 12th, 7pm at the Worcester Public Library. Brian Allen, the WPS Chief Financial Officer, will be presenting the FY15 budget projections and we will be discussing how we will hold our elected officials accountable to appropriate funding levels for our schools. Looking forward to seeing you there!

OMG Robots!

The 2014 VEX Robotics Scrimmage is tomorrow 9 am - 5 pm at Quinsigamond Community College.
Teams from Sullivan Middle, Claremont, Worcester East Middle, Doherty, North, Burncoat, and (in the afternoon) Tatnuck Magnet, Goddard, Woodland, Quinsigamond, Vernon Hill, and City View.

Superintendent's evaluation standard by standard

As I said last night, I think the indicators are what is really most indicative in this process. Thus I'm posting here--the old fashioned way, as I don't have the presentation!--the performance goals and the standards, with each indicator assessed by each committee member. 
UPDATE: the presentation is now up online here
You can click on each photo to make it bigger. Thanks to Mayor Petty and Dr. Friel for the charts.
Performance goals (which are jointly agreed upon by the committee and the superintendent):

And Standard by standard (standards are set by the state):

Thursday, February 6, 2014

House Bill 414: School Improvement Plans

A bit of background here: School Committees, under Ed Reform, approved School Improvement Plans. During one late night budget session, an amendment to the budget took that power away. House Bill 414 would give that power back to School Committees.
O'Connell asks to separate this item from subcommittee report so he can vote to support the bill, which the subcommittee voted to oppose, citing all of the above
Novick supports, citing tie to Superintendent's evaluation
Vote 4-3 to oppose the bill and thus not work to restore the power to School Committees

FY15 budget questions

posting as we go. All questions answered by Mr. Allen unless otherwise noted
Monfredo: how do Spirit of Knowledge students figure in?
Allen: we worked with DESE to get them counted for this year
adjustment to charter school has happen
grant fee charged by city administration?
Allen: "the city has been willing to listen to the schools"
is not a resolution that this point
"I do suspect that there will be administrative cost on net school spending..current agreement is outdated" based on Board of Ed decision
Superintendent comments that City Manager Augustus have had a number of conversations
resolve over time

educate public at this time
important message tonight for those who care about the schools
"wish I could disagree with Mr. Allen" on sequestration and health insurance
"key budget drivers" are "very accurate"
scope of challenge is "very precise and very well stated"
state is paying 2/3 of costs of education in the city
cherry sheet calculation: drop of nearly $500,000 in school choice revenue
FY14 based on students in FY13
decline of school choice in Worcester
"was a bit of a surprise" loss of about half
Administrative costs of $3.7M on city side in the $7.6M administrative line item from Net School Spending list
Appropriate share of administrative work "person by person review"
declaratory judgement request?

"very sobering report"
"not very surprising in some ways"
need about $11M to maintain level of services
start with $11M deficit when revenue does not keep pace
charter school reimbursement: is this the reduction over time?
represents "less than the full amount":
"only funding 62% of the phase out" of funding
ELL students: are most still in the district? good news for us as they're moving into the district
essentially weren't receiving service anyway "so actually not to our benefit"
"we were at Net School Spending at essentially zero until state disallowed benefits"
"it is a zero sum game for the city"
retirement going up more than previous years? report
sent to joint committee

Biancheria: gone up in Chapter 74
federal grants: are we paying for staff development totally through federal grants?
all have some pocket of staff development
including Level 4 plans
"not all of our staff development is funded through grants"
other budget areas needing funding: is this a "wish list"?
Allen: "I wouldn't label school safety or kindergarten IAs as a wish list"
"when you get funded at foundation level, there are things we can't do. And these are things we can't do in the Worcester Public Schools"
asking for more detail on rest of list
work on school safety and school furniture with community
increase in salaries assumed at 1.5% for all for next year

Ramirez: are we losing those students in ELL?
Rodrigues: as they achieve language literacy, they go up the scale
improved their language

needed broadband is in tech increase
not seeing faciltiies increase, though it's not a year for dreaming
capital budget discussions? Yes, ongoing
concern with Massachusetts falling in progressive education funding
click on Funding Fairness, click on Massachusetts and look at the chart
what can we do productively as a School Committee at this point?
Boone: advocate for items in Governor's budget that would assist us
Allen: inflation factor needs to be tackled long term
national index
"not properly capturing cost increases"

FY15 projected budget presentation

You can find the pretty version of the presentation here.The one attached to the agenda is the black and white scan. 
 posting as we go
Boone: based on Governor's recommended budget ('though it is the House budget on which the recommended WPS budget is based)
"it is going to be a very very difficult budget year"
second straight year of flat inflation growth, minimal student growth
"total revenue is less than the current year"

Summative evaluation of Superintendent Boone

The Mayor is presenting a summative--merged, essentially--evaluation of all the of the School Committee. It's not yet online, but I imagine it will be. Also, we've only seen our own; we just got the summative and each others' now.
Mine is here.

Superintendent prepared a self-assessment, then each school committee member did one
"note that it encompasses the performance team in each department"
aka: this is as much an evaluation of the administration as it is the superintendent herself.

Essentially, the Mayor is here reading a chart so this is not an easy thing to take notes on
Each section has indicators on which every committee member gave a rating of exemplary, proficient, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory. Thus if you multiply the number of indicators times the 7 committee members, you'll get the total number of ratings for each category.

  • in Instructional Leadership (5 indicators) 25 proficient indicator ratings, 9 needs improvement ratings, and 1 unsatisfactory
  • in Management and Operations (5 indicators) 13 exemplary, 12 proficient, 10 needs improvement
  • in Family and Community Engagement (4 indicators) 18 proficient, 10 needs improvement
  • in Professional Culture (6 indicators) 2 exemplary, 25 proficient, 15 needs improvement

Biancheria 2 Proficient and 2 Needs Improvement
Colorio 2 Proficient and 2 Needs Improvement
Foley 3 Proficient and 1 Exemplary
Monfredo 4 Proficient
Novick 1 Exemplary and 3 Needs Improvement
O'Connell 3 Proficient and 1 Needs Improvement
Petty 3 Proficient and 1 Exemplary

5 Proficient (Petty, Monfredo, Biancheria, O'Connell, Foley) and 2 Needs Improvement (Colorio, Novick)
Overall, therefore, a evaluation of proficient

FY15 budget projections

Just in over the transom: tonight's presentation of the FY15 budget projections.
As expected, the news is not good.
School Committee starts tonight at 7 with the superintendent's evaluation. This will come a half hour or more in.
I would urge you to either watch at home or come to the meeting.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Regular day tomorrow (Thursday, February 6)

All systems GO for a REGULAR day for Thursday, February 6!
If you haven't cleared your sidewalk, you still have time! Please do!

Nearly caucus time! 2014 candidates for Governor on education

As much as November feels forever away, it is nearly caucus time for the state races, and so we're due for a look at the education positions of those running for Governor of Massachusetts.
As only the two major parties have caucuses, we'll stick with them, and, as it happens, we can only look at the Democrats, as you'll see in a moment.

Poem for a Snow Day

Thanks to my sister in North Carolina for sharing this today.


by Billy Collins 

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow, 
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness, 
and beyond these windows

the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.

In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news

that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—

the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.

So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.

And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.

Billy Collins, “Snow Day” from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (New York: Random House, 2001). Copyright © 2001 by Billy Collins.