Friday, October 31, 2014

More on the proposed teacher licensure

In response to the MTA letter of October 27 on proposed changes to teacher licensure, Commissioner Chester today sent this response (as always, I'm assuming this will be up here on Monday).

Also, today School Committee members were informed that they are adding a forum just for us at the MASC/MASS conference in Hyannis next week. It's on Thursday, 2:30-3:30 pm.

Public comment on proposed waiver for charter in Brockton

Public Comment Session on Charter Waiver:
There will be a public comment session on the waiver requested by the New Heights Charter School of Brockton applicant group from 5:00-7:00 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 75 Pleasant St., Malden. The session will not be a full meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and it will not involve board discussion or deliberation.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Here's what undercalculating the foundation budget looks like

I understand that it is possible that you didn't read the entirety of the backup or all of my notes from our F&O meeting on Tuesday. If so, you may have missed some vitally important numbers that we talked about in the meeting.
As the state moves towards reconsidering the foundation budget, we thought it important to establish some priorities that Worcester has on this question. In doing so, Mr. Allen pulled together some calculations that are, I'd say, eye-popping.
  1. Health insurance: By WPS estimation, our foundation budget is undercalculated on the health insurance assumption by $25 million each year (actual spending is $55 million; it is assumed at $30 million within the foundation budget).

  2. Special education: By WPS estimation, our foundation budget undercalculates the cost of special education by more than $35 million each year (through underestimating the number of children served as well as the cost of special education; actual spending is $61 million; foundation budget is $31 million).

  3. Inflation factor: in FY10, the state moved what quarter they used for the inflation factor, costing schools statewide more than $300 million that they never made up. The current inflation factor is based on spending by local and state governments, creating a vicious cycle: should states and cities spend less, the inflation factor is less, resulting less spending the next year, and so forth. Currently, the Worcester Public Schools are unfunded within inflation at $10 million each year. The inflation factor needs to be tied to something that doesn't result in this ridiculous cycle (and the missing year should be accounted for, as well). 
Note that in these cases, this is a straightforward incorrect calculation of actual costs by the state, a calculation that--because the Worcester Public Schools are funded right at, or just below the minimum--results in our having to move money that should be allocated towards other accounts to these. It throws off the entire budget.
We need, as Mr. Allen put it on Tuesday, "a fundamental recalculation" of the foundation budget. 

Regarding test refusal (in Massachusetts)

Just over the wire: DESE is now telling districts that students who refuse the MCAS or PARCC are not coded as "Not Tested Other" but as "absent without medical documentation." I do not know if this is a change of procedure or a change of story. As this category includes more than refusals, the state does not keep records on test refusal.
In any case, there are also districts that are continuing to cite MGL that there is no right to not take the test (whatever it is called), and it appears that some are preparing to argue this with parents, rather than the relative merits of the test(s), as they have been directed to do by the state (edit: possibly even Worcester, though I haven't seen that yet).
The best place to come back to on this is the Commissioner's memo to districts of October 15. Again, that says the following:
If the building principal has provided this information to the parent and student and the student still refuses to participate in the state assessments, the principal should see to it that the student is engaged in an alternate educational activity and is not distracting other students during the testing period. In some cases it may be appropriate for the student to be removed from the testing room. The test administrator's manual will include instructions for reporting a student's refusal to participate.
I'd also recommend that any parent planning this discover just what the district plans with their child: will the district require that the student be put in front of the test and say 'no' him or herself in order to count as a refusal? And then what will the school do?
And while you can certainly cite me as a source, I'd recommend just citing the Commissioner directly.

"...of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country"

It's the birthday of Worcester schoolmaster John Adams today. In his honor, here's a passage regarding public education from A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, which Adams wrote in 1765, in response to the Stamp Acts:
It is true, there has been among us a party for some years, consisting chiefly not of the descendants of the first settlers of this country, but of high churchmen and high statesmen imported since, who affect to censure this provision for the education of our youth as a needless expense, and an imposition upon the rich in favor of the poor, and as an institution productive of idleness and vain speculation among the people, whose time and attention, it is said, ought to be devoted to labor, and not to public affairs, or to examination into the conduct of their superiors. And certain officers of the crown, and certain other missionaries of ignorance, foppery, servility, and slavery, have been most inclined to countenance and increase the same party. Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood. And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees. And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.
(Adams of course also wrote the passage at the bottom of the blog, which is from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

And speaking of changes to Mass teacher licensure

Curmudgucation has a post.
I would point out to the people pushing this that it's a great way to chase people away from teaching in Massachusetts ever. I would point out that young people interested in starting a teaching career might favor a state where that career can't be snuffed out because of random fake data that's beyond their control. I would point out that this is one more policy that will almost certainly make it even harder than it already is to recruit teachers for high-poverty low-achievement schools. I mean, most states are settling for evaluation systems that punish inner-city teachers with just losing that particular job; it takes big brass ones for Massachusetts to say, "Come teach in a poor struggling under-funded low-resource school. Take a chance on the job that could end your entire teaching career before you're even thirty." Who on God's green earth thinks this is a way to put a great teacher in every classroom?

Also, go read Janice Harvey.

Does it matter if no one shows up for a primary?

And what does it cost?
Third, it must be remembered that many the costs of election administration tend to fall on the state’s municipal governments, many of which have been forced to cut back on a variety of services over the past decade.  Here in Worcester, it is easy to draw a connection between the cost of administering an election where no one votes and the loss of a teaching position in the public schools.  This may be an unfair linkage – after all, cities have many responsibilities that they must juggle – but citizens do make these connections, and this translates into resentment of the primary process in general.
 from this guest post by Clark University Professor Robert Boatright over on the MassPoliticsProf blog (which I highly recommend in general).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

FY15 first quarter

projected deficit of $192,459
added two classroom teachers due to class size and 21 secondary sections
surplus in IA account as some services have been migrated back into district (hasn't happened yet; balances out with contracted services, not happening yet)
added six literacy tutors to provide some assistance to address class size
custodial has a balance overset by overtime
deficit in nurses; change in essential health grant reimbursement
transportation showing "significant savings" ($175,000) use of appropriately sized vehicles
health insurance showing a $176,000 balance as the off cycle retiring plan actual effect
workers comp showing deficit fo $198,000 (better than some years!)
trade-off mentioned above in personnel services
unemployment comp: will change as we get better enrollment numbers (greater than what is budgeted, which is always an estimate, and offset in health insurance)
utilities showing a $300,000 deficit; demand surcharge on natural gas
excluding charter school change, we'd have a balance
due to charter school change, instead a $200,000 deficit

so far only 11% of the FY15 budget has been spent

Foundation budget calculations

Special education based on actual enrollment figures
priorities on state's reconsideration of foundation formula
Allen: state underfunded special education from the beginning
ten years in, circuit breaker for particularly expensive students
special education is the only category that uses an assumed enrollment rather than actual enrollment (as is done with others)
what would the funding model look like if the state were funding special education appropriately?
calculated the full-time equivalent of the students who receive special ed
using those numbers alone is a combined gap of $29M that the foundation budget is underfunding the number of students that are being served
the per student value of the foundation budget is also underfunded
WPS spent more than 50% more on special education together for the past several years
of that $29M is the underestimation of the number of students
plus the rate is not adequate

adding up to $35M of special education costs that are not funded

"this is not particularly unique to Worcester"
Foley: reflects the problem the state is facing
begin to pit one set of students against other sets, which is never good
Allen: particularly true in the lowest quintile districts, which are spending right AT foundation

reconsideration of the foundation formula:
Allen: timely, as the committee has just met for the first time
" suggest that there really needs to be a fundamental change in the foundation budget"
doesn't mean much to communities spending 117 or 120%
others aren't looking at this level of detail
all of the urban districts need to coalese around this issue
"this is not a discussion about how much the state funds the foundation budget...this is a fundamental reconsideration of the foundation budget"
change to assumption of the formula which is urban districts

  1. full time preschool funding (is not currently counted in foundation budget)
  2. health insurance assumption: estimate that WPS is underfunded by $25 million (note that this is after reforms that have been made that state has pressed)
  3. special education not based on assumption
  4. use actual inflation; need to better capture actual cost increases: state ignored inflation factor in 1994 and 2010 (that one year put every district back; cost WPS $4M); rate used is prior year spending state and local government; catch 22
  5. adjust low income increment (extended day or extended year): 
  6. assumed teacher salary: assumed at $65,482; actual $71,620; with assumed growth $74,513
  7. assumed class size average: particularly for preK-3; assumes 22 students to 1; should be lower, particularly at primary grade 
FINAL REPORT DUE JUNE 30 from the state

Foley: easier to see in concrete terms
$60M difference in special education and health insurance alone
"to see what's happening because of 21 years of underfunding the budget"
are you presenting this to the committee? 
Allen: if there is a hearing, certainly can be shared 

Ramirez: how close are we to other districts in these gaps?
Allen: most other urban districts are in that lower quintile
very similar numbers for their comparable size
urban school business managers: number one agenda item

Novick: should make delegation aware of other changes that will be suggested and impact on Worcestser

renumber items 2,3,4,1,5a,5b,5c
send to delegation (and meet with them) and send to commission
host commission meeting

Closing out FY14

Foley: giving back 48 cents this year
cannot overspend the budget,, but don't want to leave money behind
Allen: final report is in a different format to provide you with the adopted budget from last year, compared to final expenditures
memo is here
"really what happened from June when the School Committee approved the budget to when the fiscal year closed"
closure of Spirit of Knowledge balanced out by increase of autism services
spent more on transportation (via on McKinney-Vento), thus increasing the city's NSS gap
put that in context with the answer from the previous meeting
Novick: bring some realism to the notion that we're saving money on utilities due to ESCo, as we are not
Foley: ESCo quality of life repairs
Allen: chillers, leaking roofs; avoided having to use MSBA for those repairs
actual savings: still working with the city on how those can be quantified
can we attribute a reduction of what we would be paying otherwise?

Finance and Operations: bus contract

Allen: not complete, hope to complete in mid-December for bid in January
provided what we're working on at this time
(also current bus specs: both large and special ed)
SBC looking at different bus scheduling; also consolidation of routes; not done yet
also will offer as a single contract (due to market conditions), rather than split of special ed and regular buses
thinking about changing in the technology that have occurred: real time GPS and real time video
looking at drop-down tire chains, given weather conditions
(WPS buses have drop-down tire chains now)
also block heaters to be sure buses will start
updating fuel adjustment clause: still monitoring what price will be over next five years
adding language around fingerprinting
use of buses during school day for athletic transportation
change specification of what a special education bus is
requesting today that School Committee authorize the bid for five years (needs both School Committee and City Council approval)

Foley: "you may be able to save money as a district, but it may not be advisable"
"at what price?"
there are implications to some of the cost savings measures

Ramirez: do you take into consideration population trends?
Allen: under current structure, it isn't necessary due scheduling, to look at shifts in enrollment
but if we changed how we scheduled buses, we'd need to
once you've entered a fiscal year, if you use the per trip rate, you'd be stuck, essentially

Novick:survey of parents would be great, could we do that?
where are we at with WRTA? still talking. Suggestion of if we need to send someone into Boston to buy CharlieCards from the MBTA

Foley: real time GPS tracking would be great
starting buses in colder weather

wifi access

report here
Allen: growing pains
Erate cut for telephones, more for broadband
"you'll see on the operational budget a decreasing rate of 20%" each year
Walton: an evolving process
eligible service list hasn't been released yet
funding will open in January, some of picture isn't clear
"good news/bad news story"
eliminating outdated services: some like paging, but also web hosting, telephones, cell phones
web hosting goes away this year
telephone phased out $42,000 a year; cell phones drop by $31,000 a year
lose 3% due to citywide eligibility
making improvements for infastructure: $3.4M
if you apply for that money, you're locked into the pilot program for five years
Erate is not guaranteeing that money, however; they may not have money after first year
have said that they can fund year one and two; no predictions after year one and two
problem with $3.5M is we have to come up with 20% match
look at applying in year one and year two
apply for $1.5M year one and $1.5M year two
"I view this as a once in a decade opportunity"
some is from 1998
"wouldn't have the same router in your house that you had five years ago" needs updating
for part we will lose: could host our own website; going research hosting our own website
prices for cellphones range: could switch to a different provider
telephones: some are going to VOIP; that takes on a lot of infrastructure
for $154,000, what is the tradeoff? think telephone is an expense we'll just have to absorb

Foley: thought of districts all taking money in year one?
Walton: almost gambling here
have allocated an additional billion for two years; thus expect to be able to fund it
money that is left over from prior years
one time money that will go away

Novick: measurable impact on classrooms?
Walton: background stuff will get improved
demand for wifi in schools is so high
even schools with building-wide wifi, need more

Finance and operations: custodial staff

Allen: report is here
industry standards with levels
Level 3 the norm for most school facilities
suggests that we need 144 custodians working 8 hours just on cleaning
we have 138 assigned; senior custodians don't spend all their time doing cleaning (so lose half time), other custodians do likewise; added back overtime for when students aren't in building
short the equivalent of 22.3 positions
"many of the schools look very good, despite this gap"
"work that was done this summer was exceptional to get things ready for school"
"we can make this analysis for any area of our budget"
Novick: part of larger question of what an underfunded budget looks like
collecing a sheaf of reports to share with delegation, foundation budget commission
Allen: numbers available for school plant and maintenance as well
(request for report)
Foley: version of student/teacher ratio
"we may be doing well but we aren't prospering"
Ramirez: difference of new buildings?
Martin: new equipment in new schools
ride-around, rather than to have custodians mopping floors
Foley: foresee legislative breakfast

Finance and Operations: grants

Allen: may have noticed the number of grants included in the budget document
full budget reconciliation report for when the city does their tax recap process

  • changes to the final state budget
  • changes to charter school assessment
  • final state grants
  • impact of city free cash
  • net final position for FY15
Novick: concerns
Allen; unfreezing of sequestration
if it comes back, could be another significant reduction to grants
Lombardi: extra 1/2 cup of fruit and vegetable mandated for breakfast
concerns with others doing breakfast in the classrooms
Ramirez: are the kids eating?
Lombardi: it depends. Vegetables at breakfast don't go over very well.
Foley: still budgeting 1%
short $800,000, then, as city takes 3%

Finance and Operations: auditors' reports

The full agenda is here
The auditors reports are here
Allen: these are the FY13 reports
Mr. Hunt: internal controls
relates to federal award programs; have to check if spend over $500,000 in federal funds
threshhold for compliance auditing is 3% of city total of federal grants
"overall eleven findings:
condensed down into similar findings
additional review of applications of eligibility guidelines: child nutrition
indirect costs: city takes 3%, we have passed 1%
RTTT: spending of funds within 30 days of receipt
"not an exact science, don't expect it to be perfect, would have liked to see less time"
suspension and debarrment: contractors have to be checked
none of the vendors tested were suspensed or debarred; need to have a check in place
Head Start: charging of salaries, breakdown of salaries in terms of what they are ccharged to
need distribution reports (time that person spends on various grants)
"I can tell you that we're in the review process of FY14; will see indirect costs again"
Foley: could be found again
Hunt: report in January, finalized in March; could have been resolved
Foley: as long as we're aware again
indirect cost recovery...grants come through the state to the district?
confused as to why the city says their agent is HUD
Hunt: agency through which you receive the most direct funding is the cognascent agent
Novick: saple size of school lunch?
Hunt: 25, 40 or 60 are sizes
Allen: DESE recommended the centralization of meal application process
initially approved at central level
state believes that will cut down on the error rate
about 16,000 students are eligibility
11,000 through other state eligibility
remainder through income application directly through 6000 (and those are what were check through audit)

Agreed upon procedures
(are the rules being followed)
essentially, a few lines cleaned up
"encountered no difficulties"

Joint Committee: captial budget

Zidelis: FY15 capital budget as voted by Council
"self-supported projects"
what we have is what our projects
$27M is city borrowing
required to pay the debt
Novick: proportionality of a budget that spends $26M while allocating $4M to the WPS
Zidelis: master plan will point out work going forward
Foley: annual take a look at facility plant needs going forward
build a budget that reflects that on an annual budget
Allen: being very deliberative around facilities master plan
Zidelis: joint maintenance program of new boilers, etc
maximize new resources: may make more sense to contract with the school department
Toomey: any financial impacts through DEP and EPA?
Zidelis: underlying cost of water and sewer is calculated into net school spending
Toomey: ESCo has really paid off
Allen: looking long term, expecting to see savings

Joint Committee: transportation

report here
Allen: looking at contract specifications at this time in F&O
nothing final at this time
re-engaged School Bus Consultants to look at differentiated payment plans and consolidation of routes
Foley: subcommittee looking at recommendations tonight
Economou: do you see any savings?
Zidelis: you can make modifications, but it's still subject to bidding
"if I could predict savings with certainity, though, I wouldn't be sitting here"
Allen: other districts seeing increases of 10% largely due to health insurance
"market is going to be bear"
five year advantageous as bus company can amortize costs over longer period time
Rosen: could we consider running our own bus company? greater use of WRTA?
Allen: we do operate our own sped buses (some of them)
have looked at in-sourcing whole operation
have discovered (as borne out by report) current balance seems to be right; no recommendation to further in-source or futher out-source
midday route cheaper to do in-house
will keep open possibility of doing sped further
big bus contract: have not yet proven to do ourselves; not first step
use WRTA "as much as reasonable"
used primarily for home to school transporation when a yellow bus doesn't make sense
also used for after school activities (transport home)
"try to work within a fixed route system"

Joint Committee: Facilities update

backup is here
Allen: $8 million matched by $32 million from state on facilities updates (windows, roofs, and boilers)
can tell updates as you drive by the building
in schmematic design phase for Nelson Place
"project is moving right on schedule"
South High has had a senior site visit; MSBA has toured the school
reviewing 108 projects for the core program, we're told
facilities master plan: joint effort between schools and city
internally have done two schools to get a baseline to see what information needs to be collected
pilot contracted out Doherty
what's the best way to proceed?
hope to have by end of FY14
Toomey: creative funding; some question around private funding; is there the same type of investment in technology?
Zidelis: a sale/leaseback: "we continually look for non-conventional ways to fund projects"
Economou: WPI and Doherty: could WPI build a new technology wing for Doherty?
Allen: has been conversation with local colleges from school side. not sure to what extent in facilities, but would pursue if available
Foley: would be difficult for a college to build something for a public school; can bring students onto campus
Toomey: state sells bonds, where are we on that?
Zidelis: that's what we do
Toomey: do we have a breakout of that process?
Zidelis: yes, have that information as of end of FY14; also in auditor's report
Novick: Boston building a new Mattapan High without going through MSBA; bonding out entirely (though possibly not most needed facility at this time)

Joint Committee (City Council Education/School Committee Finance and Operations): Budget update

You can find our (the SC side) agenda here.
updating once we're under way
Foley: updates on some discussions that we've had
Allen: current status relative to Net School Spending
you can find it here

Link fixed on the exam/IB report

For those who have been looking for the exam/IB report, sorry that the link was broken. It's working now. The report is here.
And, while this is what was sent to administration, I don't know that this is what they are proposing. We'll find out during one of our November meetings.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nelson Place Schmatic Design Update

not a lot of people here at Nelson Place here tonight
presentation is here

What fresh hell is this?*

*Dorothy Parker. Amusingly, the reaction, verbatium, of a number of people in response to the state's proposals around teacher licensure. 

When we last left you, we were heading into several sessions in which limited numbers of teachers could, if they pre-registered and filled out a profile, give very targeted feedback on the state's teacher licensure proposal. I have since received numerous communcations (of various kinds) about what happened in Worcester and in Boston, for which I am abundantly grateful. With the various (generally anonymous) notetakers' permission, I am pulling together here what they sent me, along with a bit more that I've discovered since.
Massachusetts is one of seven states (the others are Louisiana, Idaho, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, and Washington) doing this project on teacher licensure; together those states form the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation (NTEP, because it doesn't count unless it has an acronym). It is being paid for by a grant from the Council of Chief State School Officers, who wrote a report on teacher prepartion back in 2012, as well as through Race to the Top funds. The grant is $100,000 for two years.
The proposal, note, has been pulled together by the Keystone Center, who appear to have been subcontracted to do it by The New Teacher Project (which, yes, is an organization that was started by Michelle Rhee; is that why they seem to be going by their initials these days?). From the state's report on this
DESE asked TNTP to conduct research and assess available information to support the development, testing and refining of key elements of a performance-based system for licensure. DESE identified the need to engage with stakeholders as a key component of this work. TNTP engaged The Keystone Center (Keystone) 4 to work with DESE and TNTP to design and facilitate a process of engaging stakeholders to ensure the perspectives and experiences of Massachusetts educators inform this effort.
Does it strike anyone else as odd that the state feels it needs to subcontract out talking to teachers on a project about teacher licensure?
The report states that "over 300 educators" were involved in the initial effort to discover what was thought about current licensure requirements. Who were they? Check footnote 5 at the bottom of page 3:
A total of 322 stakeholders contributed input via formal focus groups convened by Keystone (169 individuals) or DESE (20), the electronic questionnaire (39), a meeting convened by Teach Plus(66), and internal DESE focus groups(28).
You can get a list of the roles of those who attended in Appendix F of that same report; if you take all of the "teachers and principals" categories and assume that they are all teachers, you still get fewer than 100 teachers asked.
The concern, it appears, is that current licensure is "not meaningful" and "focuses on inputs and prescriptive requirement." Thus the state is determined to do something about this by Spring of 2015. They're proposed new pathways (which, among other things, are tied to student performance, in which it appears we'd be following Idaho) to licensure, renewal, and then system leadership, by which, so it was said, teachers could "add value" in the "District Based Marketplace." 

So, about those sessions!
I know that teachers were put off by a) the pre-registration, b) the questionnaire you received after registering, c) the combinations of people in the room (it's a bit intimidating to say what you think if your principal or another administrator who may well hold some power over your job is there, listening), and d) the tightly strictured conversation, in which only responding to the proposal was allowed. Kudos to the teachers who started right away with asking questions (as they did in both Worcester and Boston) during the initial presentation (from which the above is pulled).
Once that had been reviewed, those in attendance could respond to proposals from by hand-held devices. Based on notes taken at the meeting, here are the results from Worcester:

... 50% of the people were teachers, 28% principals, 6% primary support people (guidance counselors, nurses, etc).
 1.  To enter the profession, teacher and principal candidates will have strong knowledge of content, demonstrated classroom skills and ability to advance student learning, and the skills and disposition required to meet the needs of Massachusetts students to ensure our students are ready for success after high school.
33% strongly support
17% support
17% could with change
33% can’t support fundamentally flawed

2.  To continue in the profession, educators will show evidence that they have made an impact on student learning, evidence of strong knowledge of what they teach and demonstrated pedagogical competency to deliver content. The requirements for advancement and renewal will support the continuous growth of educators.
20% Strongly support
0% Support
20 could support with some change
60% strongly oppose, fundamentally flawed 
3 voters abstained

3.  The licensure process will permit knowledgeable, talented, and dedicated aspiring leaders (teachers and administrative system leaders) the opportunity to make a positive impact on Massachusetts students. The process will add value and create advancement and pathway opportunities for aspiring leaders (teachers, school and system leaders). As professionals continue in the licensure process, the requirements for advancement will support the continuous growth of educators.
13% strong
12% support
7% neutral
67% can’t support it, fundamentally flawed

4.  To ensure an accessible process for all that helps to get effective teachers and principals in classrooms, schools and school systems across the Commonwealth, licensure needs to be efficient and utilize resources effectively. The system must be sustainable and allow flexibility to meet and adapt to changing conditions in the profession and across the Commonwealth. 
25% strongly support
13% support
13% could with specific changes
50% can’t support, fundamentally flawed
While I do not have this level of specific notes from Boston, my impression is that results were similar.
Finally, those attending were broken out into groups with a Keystone facilitator and a notetaker. Again, note that discussion was not free; participants could bring up "pros, cons, problems, and solutions."
Specific points raised that I haven't heard elsewhere:

  • The gap in the number of teachers of color we have, and concerns over this making it more difficult to get a more representative teaching population. 
  • (including but beyond) This being a very "privileged" road to teaching.
  • Young teachers burning out over state requirements (already) and this making it that much more difficult. 
  • The connection of outside of school markers (grit, perserverance) to in school performance.
  • Inclusion of student performance into teacher licensure (despite ongoing problems with student growth or value added formulas, and despite the inappropriateness of this inclusion).
  • Renewal of licensese being even more often and thus that much more expensive and time consuming
  • The utter disconnect between actual issues in teacher licensure and renewal and the state's proposals.
  • The state's refusal to respond to questions or concerns either together or individually.
While there are still two forums left (11/19 and 11/20 in Malden and Bridgewater, respectively), the state says that these are full. They do also say this:
DESE will also conduct discussions with role- and specialty-specific focus groups, and will reach out to educators in the coming weeks about those meetings.Participants will be asked to share their thoughts on the pros and cons of multiple policy options that could advance those guiding principles for a new system of licensure. For more information about these specialty-specific focus groups in the meantime, please contact Brandy Fluker Oakley
I would also recommend passing along concerns to state and local officials of all types.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Two finance meetings on Tuesday

Quick post to make sure you do know that there are two finance meetings on Tuesday.
  • There is a joint meeting of the City Council Education subcommittee meeting with the School Committee Finance and Operations subcommittee. This is at 5:30 pm in the Levi Lincoln chamber (north chamber) of City Hall. The agenda for that is here. Largely, budget updates, facilities updates, and a bit on transportation.
  • Following that meeting, there will be the first quarter meeting of the Finance and Operations subcommittee. It is posted for 6:30 that night, but it will start after that if the preceeding meeting runs long. Note that it is at our usual location on the fourth floor of the Durkin Administration Building. The agenda for that is here. We're closing out FY14, looking at the first quarter of FY15, considering transporation bid specs, talking about ads on buses and repaired gym floors, and getting an update on playgrounds. PLUS there's some really important numbers in those special education estimates AND the significant work of the foundation commission is up for conversation. Those last two are really important stuff moving forward!
As always, they are public! 

Flu clinics coming up!

There are a series of flu clinics coming up in Worcester Public Schools.
Please, do get a shot. It's not just for yourself and your children, but for those in our community who are immuno-compromised.
Children must have their parent/guardian present to get a shot.

Union Hill School
October 27, 2014
4:00 – 6:00 P.M.

Goddard School of Science and Technology
November 5, 2014
4:00 – 6:00 P.M.

Worcester Arts Magnet
November 6, 2014
3:30 – 5:30 P.M.

DPH, Meade Street (WPS Staff)
November 10, 2014
2:00 – 4:30 P.M.

Elm Park Community School
November 13, 2014
3:30 – 5:30 P.M.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday reading

A round-up of some worthwhile reads.

  • City Paper of Baltimore has an interview with the new head of the Baltimore Public Schools, Gregory Thorton. Dare I say it sounds hopeful? (And I'm glad they're getting the bubblers fixed. It matters.)
  • Rev. John Thomas has a good post on the loss of democracy around public schools, which were created to serve democracy. And yes, a quote from John Adams!
  • Valerie Strauss at the Answer Sheet points out another rebellion on PARCC: Chicago's CEO of public schools doesn't want to do it. 
  • In Politico's story on rebellion against the Common Core, Massachusetts is the "only state" allowing districts to do a Common Core test or not--" and they're doing it in violation of federal law." Not exactly true, as MCAS is Common Core-aligned as well, but the bit about violating the law makes us look rebellious!
  • Interesting column on race, class, and Whitey Bulger as part of WGBH and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism's series on the 40th anniversary of Boston busing. 

Boston Public School Police considering use of pepper spray

Yes, really
They are "inviting families to join a conversation" about it: 
  • Monday, October 27, 6 PM – 8 PM at English High School Auditorium, 144 McBride St., Jamaica Plain
  • Wednesday, October 29, 6 PM – 8 PM at TechBoston Academy Auditorium, 9 Peacevale Rd., Dorchester
  • Thursday, November 6, 6 PM – 8 PM at Hyde Park Education Complex Auditorium, 655 Metropolitan Ave.
  • Thursday, November 13, 6 PM – 8 PM at West Roxbury Education Complex Auditorium, 1205 VFW Parkway
You can also send an email to

Don't know much about pepper spray? Read this. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Speaking of teacher licensure...

...enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down:
Nationwide, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have fallen by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to federal estimates from the U.S. Department of Education's postsecondary data collection...Separate state-by-state enrollment data collected under Title II of the Higher Education Act, meanwhile, suggest that the decline in teacher-preparation enrollments has accelerated in recent years, particularly since 2010. 
California lost a full 53% last year.

You can still sign up for the forums in Worcester & Boston

Sorry, I should have pointed this out yesterday!
It appears that there is still space at the forums in Worcester (tonight) and Boston (Saturday morning at Simmons). The link to do so is here:
They are stressing that you have to be signed up to attend and that you have to be a teacher to attend.
So, speaking of stakeholders, DESE, when are the forums for parents and for school committee members? And what about students?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Did you sign the Less Testing, More Learning petition yet?

We the undersigned parents, caretakers, students, teachers, community members and taxpayers petition our governor, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Massachusetts legislature to:
  • Place a moratorium on the high-stakes uses of state-mandated tests and 
  • Begin a state-wide effort to design a better assessment system that can help our students reach their full potential in our democratic society.
Should you agree, you can sign the petition here

Yet one more thing in education that the state has decided to change RIGHT NOW

I was tipped off this evening to a hearing that's being held just for teachers, and only for 75 of those (pre-registered) here in Worcester tomorrow by DESE regarding educator licensure. Those hearings are:
  • Tuesday, 10/21 – Western MA (Springfield College) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm
  • Thursday, 10/23 – Central MA (Worcester Technical High School) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm
  • Saturday, 10/25 – Boston (Simmons College) 9:30 am-12:00 pm
  • Wednesday, 11/19 – Metro Boston (Malden High) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm
  • Thursday, 11/20 – Southern MA (Bridgewater State University) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm
And you can sign up for them here: 
You can read the letter explaining it here; the explanation of where this is coming from is here. The short version is that the Council of Chief State School Officers (aka: the Commissioners of education) are running a two year pilot in six states, and, lucky us, we're in. This is being run by the Keystone Center ("established to independently facilitate the resolution of national policy conflicts."), which it appears is paid for their work. They set as their three principles (from their 2012 annual report, which is the most recent one online): 
  • dialogue and consensus building
  • public engagement and outreach
  • leadership and capacity building
Someone may want to tip them off that they're failing at number 2 already.

Frankly, the amount of lingo in this is so deep that you need one of their 'buckets' to bail it out, but basically they're deciding that making educator evaluation complicated, "data driven," and tied to student results was such a swell idea, that they should do the same to licensure. The executive summary of their report looks benign, until you realize:
  1. that there are thousands of teachers in Massachusetts (heck, there are thousands of teachers in Worcester!) and they talked to...63? teachers and principals statewide.
  2. the focus groups were Keystone-moderated (hard to tell what that meant without being there)
  3. ...and from this we are drawing conclusions. Except, it's not clear that the conclusions are bearing out even the limited input that they received.
If you go back to the link on the letter, the pages following sketch out what the plan is. The trick? Teachers showing at these limited-admission, tightly moderated hearings can only make suggestions ABOUT THE PROPOSALS; they can't say, "hey, this is a bad idea." I hear "stakeholders" and "collaborative working environment," how about you? 
Their proposals: just to get a chance to student teach, you have to do some version of this: 
 To enter the classroom, candidates must complete an approved prep program, show content knowledge (BA + MTEL), demonstrable evidence of perseverance, grit, and demonstrable evidence of consistent high achieving results. During preparation, candidate must have experience working with diverse student populations.
Let's remember that generally speaking, we're talking about 22 year olds that have just graduated from college. What precisely is the state expecting from them in "demonstrable evidence of perserverance"? Finishing college? Marathon running? How about "grit"? A summer doing hard labor? Escaping a life of penury? And "demonstrable evidence of consistent high achieving results" (sic; I assume they mean "consistently")? They scored a lot of goals for the soccer team? They have a high performing investment porfolio?
New graduates are great, but for most, this is a silly list of requirements for them; it's a silly list of requirements for anyone who's not coming back from some sort of military assignment overseas. This is not a practical requirement, and it has too many silly buzzwords.

I'm not even going to get into the three different ways that a teacher can renew his license once he has it; suffice to say that 'student impact' is all over these, 'though the MTA did
AND the remarkable thing is that this is being touted as simplification of the licensure process (check the last page)!

Were I back applying to MAT programs, planning on teaching, one look at these and I'd go sign up for the LSAT.
The state keeps expressing concern over people leaving the profession. They express concern over top quality candidates choosing to do something else. Here's the thing: people realize that they can get other jobs that don't have to deal with this level of nonsense. They're going to go take those jobs instead.
This is the sort of nonsense that drives people out of the profession.

Foundation budget review commission public hearing dates

Just came over the wire:

Public Hearing Schedule & Notice:
As discussed at our first meeting, the commission plans to hold six public hearings across the state.  The tentative dates for these hearings are listed below.

MondayNovember 17 @ 4:30PM  North Shore
Monday, December 15 @ 4:30 PM South Shore
Saturday, January 10 @ 11:00 AM Western MA
Saturday, January 24 @ 11:00 AM Central MA
Saturday, February 14 @ 11:00 AM Cape
Monday, March 9 @ 4:30 PM Boston

Locations all TBA and I'll post them once I have them. 

Tweets from yesterday's Board of Ed meeting

Not everything made it into the liveblog. Most ('though not all) of the tweets (mine and others) from yesterday's Massachusetts Board of Education meeting.

And, should you decide this all sounds like too much fun, and you'd like to join us:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Greenfield Virtual charter probation

Chester: previously an innovation school under Greenfield Public Schools

update on PARCC at Board of Ed

McKenna: "This is yours, Commissioner"
Chester: "This is ours, this is OURS"
PowerPoint here

Update on Level 5 Schools (Board of Ed)

five schools statewide: UP Academy Holland & the Dever, in Boston; Morgan in Holyoke; John Avery Parker in New Bedford

Speaking of Greenfield Virtual Charter probation

...made the Globe today, including a comment from me.

Testimony before the Board of Ed

I come before you today full of hope--
Not only did Commissioner Chester open our school year with the assurance that he looked forward to hearing from us, but you and your colleagues have made it clear that you already have been listening.
You have been listening to students like Mr. Willyard describe the time lost to test prep,the curriculum narrowed to the push on ELA and math scores, the lockdown conditions during testing.
You have been listening to teachers lament the loss of elementary science and social studies instruction, deplore watching their children struggle with items on tests that make no sense, and protest the non-research-based tying of teacher evaluation to student test scores.
I could go on, but I hope that this will be just the beginning:
I hope that you will listen when students tell you the richness of what they imagine for their futures.
I hope that you will listen when teachers point out that having a licensure system evaluated and designed by an organization that has been explicitly anti-teacher since its earliest days makes no sense. I hope you will listen to teachers when it comes to professional questions around evaluation and licensure, as we would in any other profession.
I hope that you will listen to administrators protest the unfairness of the sword of Damocles--Level 5 status--that could fall at any time, as there is no concrete calculation and it (and Level 4 status) are apparently imposed by whim.
I hope you will listen to parents exhausted by budget fights every spring, who just want what our state Constitution guarantees: a full, rich education for their children. Too many of us are not doing that due to budgetary constraints. They and we need an appropriate Chapter 70 formula.
I hope you will listen to school committee members describe meeting increased need with decreasing resources; we are well beyond the point of “doing more with less.” I hope you will hear us clearly when we tell you that what our schools DO and the growth our students show is more than a “technicality” or a political game. Stay strong on student growth, or just fess up and start ranking us by parental income and education level. It would be more honest.
I hope that you will each make a point of listening, not only to those who can afford to come before you at 8:30 on Tuesday morning in Malden, but to so many who cannot.
It is you who bear the Chapter 5, section 2 charge of the state Constitution to “cherish the interests of literature and of the sciences” “for the preservation of our rights and liberties.” When John Adams wrote those words in 1779, we did not yet have a country. The Worcester schoolmaster recognized that ultimately we would not keep a democratic republic without a full, rich public school system available and accessibile to all.
Ultimately, the vision of public education in Massachusetts goes back not to the oft-cited 1993 ed reform law, nor to the 2011 Act relative to the achievement gap: it goes back to the state constitution that you and I both swore to uphold and defend. That should be the touchstone of this Board. That is where your accountability ultimately lies.
No less than democracy depends on you.

Public comment at the Board of Ed

as per usual, I'll do my best on names or at least associations on speakers

Posting from the Board of Ed today

You can find the agenda here.  I'll post as there is reason to, and also I'm livetweeting here.
And sure enough, the charter supporters are out in force. I've heard that it was announced last night that there will be a hearing--date and time TBA--on the Fitchburg and Brockton applications.

Monday, October 20, 2014

State of the Schools

Tweeting using #SOTSWPS
Boone: thanks to Worcester Educational Collaborative, School Committee, Mayor Petty, and City Manager Augustus (which is, the first time the City Manager has been in attendance).
"did experience some concern...that there was never a sequel to The Little Engine That Could"
citation of colleges graduates attend
variety of schools available within WPS
CPI goals per NCLB waiver (all for 2016-17)
AP participation in WPS: in 2008, 644 students taking at least one AP
in 2014, 1270 students taking at least one AP
percent of students receiving qualifying scores on exams
nearly doubling number of students earning a 5: maintaining scores
since 2007, South High has increased 137% in number of tests taken, while those earning 3 or above has increased by 110%
from 2007 69.8% graduate in four years; 2014 73.4% graduate in four years
8 schools Level 1; 12 schools Level 3; 22 schools Level 3; 2 Level 4 schools
45% of schools are Level 1 or 2
note that both Norrback and Union Hill are now Level 1 (and Union Hill exited Level 4 status last year)
of 7 high schools, 3 made targets on graduation rates, 2 for dropout rates
28 schools on or above target for student growth in ELA
24 schools on or above target for student growth in mathematics
Both Union Hill and Chandler Elementary both exiting Level 4 status (Chandler Elementary pending state approval of exit assurance plan)
"we don't have to wait for the state to come in to tell us"
West Tatnuck commended for high progress and for narrowing proficiency gaps
Worcester Arts Magnet: Gateway Cities Innovation Award
Burncoat High one of the Washington Post 100 most challenging high schools
GROWTH COUNTS : no longer on the list to get charters
innovation schools: "portfolio of educational options"
magnet schools, health pathways, vocational pathways, now innovation schools
new to WPS: increasing partnership with higher ed
PILOT HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMY FOR Advanced Learners at Doherty starting with at least 9th, possibly 10th grade, 250 students, rigorous admission standards, more to come in November SC meeting
report of the exam/IB here
seeking business support for a Business Fellow to link between K-12 and business
switching from quadrant managers to school portfolio manager and will request from School Committee for FY16 the addition of a manager for career exploration and readiness
(this is a reorganization of the Quadrant office and would add a position there)
Traditional Masai greeting: "And how are the children?"
what would it mean for us all if that were our greeting: close in Worcester to saying all our children are well

Birthday of John Dewey

It's the birthday of John Dewey, the great educational theorist (though I don't think he'd like to be called that) . From Democracy and Education:
Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.

State of the Schools and Board of Ed

Up tonight is Superintendent Boone's annual State of the Schools address. That's at 6 pm at North High, and the public is invited.

Tonight and tomorrow morning, the state Board of Ed has the October meeting. You can find the agenda here. I plan to be there tomorrow, and I'll liveblog what I hear.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Acting Worcester Tech principal Kyle Brenner

We have just this minute received the following from Superintendent Boone:
I am pleased to announce the appointment of Kyle Brenner as Acting Principal of Worcester Technical High School effective November 1, 2014.  Mr. Brenner currently serves as the Vocational Director for the district and WTHS.  These next two weeks will afford Dr. Harrity and Mr. Brenner to engage in transition planning for November 1st. His resume will be forwarded early next week. Information involving the search for a permanent principal will be provided to you in November.

So what exactly is going on with PARCC, MCAS, and opting out?

I've gotten several messages from those confused about a) what happened at Worcester School Committee last night, partly due to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette article, and b) what the memo from the Commissioner does and does not say. Let me give you my best spelling out on all of that. Please note as always that unless I'm citing or quoting from someone, this is just me giving you my best explanation.

As I posted last night, Commissioner Chester sent out a memo this week to superintendents regarding--let's use the term--"non-participation" in state standardized testing. This was copied for the Worcester School Committee in response to an item filed by Mr. O'Connell regarding communicating with parents about opting their children out of the PARCC exam this spring. The School Committee saw the memo for the first time when we got to our desks last night (and I'm told that Superintendent Boone only got this yesterday); we were skimming it as the meeting started.
Thus, when we got to the item on PARCC (and I'll post video of this as soon as it's up), Mr. O'Connell spoke of the dual nature of the memo, which attempts to do two things at once:
  • it continues to cite the state's authority to require that all children be tested*, and thus that no child in a public school may opt out.
  • it deals with the reality that we are going to have children showing up with notes from home, saying that those children are not to be tested.
I venture to say that Mr. O'Connell is not confused (and nor, for that matter, is the Commissioner). There just is an inherent contradiction in the memo. Thus Superintendent Boone, referencing the memo, said the same thing: there's no opt out, both tests count this year, but if students refuse, they are to be given alternative work.
The state is partly asserting that there is no opt out in order to push people to take the test, certainly. Both tests yield student results this year, and the state is depending on this data to make a call next fall on what we're doing going forward.
There also are states where it is codified in the laws around assessment that parents may opt their children out. There is not any mention of that in Massachusetts General Law; thus there is no legal recognition of "opting out."
However, superintendents and school committees last year pointed out to the state that, be that as it may, we were still going to have kids showing up who themselves or whose parents didn't want them to take the test. Given that we cannot physical force a child to take a test, what are we to do with them? 
That's what the second page of the memo answers. The state is calling this "refusal"(shades of "Bartelby"?). That's why I asked last night in the meeting for affirmation, which I received from Superintendent Boone, that students would not face disciplinary consequences for refusing to take the state assessment; generally, disciplinary codes codify discipline for students who refuse direct staff commands. I urge those in other districts to do likewise. 
I'd really suggest not getting too caught up in the language here: if the state wants to call this refusal, well, it makes it that much more like civil disobedience for those who choose not to participate in the state assessment.
So, what is this going to look like for a parent? If a parent sends in a letter, refusing the testing on behalf of their child, they should expect that the principal is going to lay out all the reasons not to refuse. Please note that in Massachusetts that this does NOT include loss of funding, so you won't hear that; if you do, they're making it up. However, if a parent persists in refusing, and--and this is key, and I think we need to flush this out some more--the student, when presented with the test, refuses, the student is to be presented with alternative work, possibly in another location in the school. 
There is no process, no legal groundwork; there is, I would suggest, a sort of realpolitik attempt to deal with facts on the ground, while continuing to assert state authority over assessment.

*as an aside, did you notice that they did it again? They cited, but didn't quote, MGL ch.69, sec.1I? Because it doesn't say that. Longer post to come at some point on what it DOES say in MGL ch. 69 that we've never done.