Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"The progressive funding behind the Massachusetts 'miracle' is a thing of the past."

Professor Bruce Baker, "The Collapse of State School Finance Systems & Why It Matters"
In the flurry of the last week of school, I didn't get a chance to call your attention to information calculated and published by Professor Bruce Baker last week that has direct relevance to the conversation Massachusetts is having about the foundation budget.

Baker every year puts together a list of most financially disadvantaged districts (dating back to 2012); that is districts with:
  • More than 50% higher census poverty rate than the average for all districts sharing the same labor market.
  • Less than 90% of the state and local revenue per pupil of the average for all districts sharing the same labor market.
You can find his most updated post on this here. Now, notice what this means: this means that these communities are not only significantly poorer than the communities around them; it also means that they funding education at rates that are less than the communities around them. As Baker argues in this post and others, and as has been recognized by the foundation budget formula, this is exactly backwards. We know that students who are starting out from greater disadvantage need more resources to have the good chances of success.

This matters for Massachusetts because it is this notion on which the foundation budget formula rests. We all, regardless of what town we live in, have a stake in the future success of all kids; a "commonwealth" is, after all, what we are. That kids who may have had less nutrition even prenatally, may have had less exposure to experiences that develop languages, may have had the myriad of disadvantages that poverty bring along with them need appropriate resources to succeed is recognized by the settlements of McDuffy. Beginning with the Ed Reform Act of 1993, Massachusetts has had one of the most progressive education funding systems in the country.

Which is why this chart is particularly troubling:

We have catastrophically slid downward over the past eight or so years. We are no longer funding education on the same progressive system that we were, and are sliding closer and closer to having a regressive system.

In fact, this has become such a slide that the list Baker compiled on the most disadvantaged districts includes: 

  • Lowell
  • Everett
  • Chelsea
  • Lynn
  • Revere
  • Brockton
The scatter plot is interesting on this:

As Baker says:
Here, the remaining progressiveness of the Massachusetts school finance system is driven almost entirely by funds targeted to the City of Boston (which, by no means, is to suggest that Boston has received adequate support given its needs, but rather, that Boston has been provided relatively more adequate support than some similarly high poverty districts). Other high need districts are left out. Massachusetts has a surprising number of relatively large enrollment districts that qualify as financially disadvantaged in my previous post (and here, by the same measures).  The progressive funding behind the Massachusetts “miracle” is a thing of the past.
To Baker's conclusion, I'd also point out that the minimum aid increases for non-foundation budget systems may be popular, but they aren't progressive.

So what are we to do?
First, let's recognize that the Foundation Budget Review Commission is timely. We need very much to be having this conversation now.
However, note that much of the conversation at the Commission has not recognized that we have and are constitutionally required to fund a progressive education funding system. The overblown concern over what will pass, when the Commission has been asked for a report; the discussion over tying funds that are overdue for payment to various requirements and schemes; the seeming dismissal by some that districts have been starved for aid and have ground to make up; all of these are not focused on the very real issue we have here:
Our neediest kids are being starved of resources.
As the plantiffs in McDuffy argued:
The financing "system,"... is responsible both for the wide disparity in funding among the schools in different communities of the Commonwealth, and for the insufficiency of school funds in the towns and cities in which they live and attend school.
As evidenced above, this is again the case.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

" it’s reasonable to question the accuracy of the new figures."

Props to the Boston Globe for their editorial on the change in calculating student poverty:
... for many complicated reasons, not every family that is eligible for public benefits applies for them, and it’s reasonable to question the accuracy of the new figures. That’s why education officials should go beyond participation in welfare programs to identify poor students. They can tap into self-reported data by asking families to fill out forms like those that were used for free lunches. And they should also use data from the state’s Department of Revenue, provided they can address privacy concerns. Aggregate data on income levels, by community, should be readily available, and would not compromise individual privacy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Districts that don't operate a school system (MA edition)

As an addendum to today Board of Ed agenda, there was a list of towns that don't operate their own schools that are being granted permission to tutition out all of their public school students. This year, that is the following:

  • Acushnet (9-12)
  • Clarksburg (9-12)
  • Devens (PK-12)
  • Erving (7-12)
  • Farmington River Regional (Otis and Sandisfield) (9-12)
  • Florida (9-12)
  • Gosnold: Cuttyhunk (9-12); Naushon Islands (PK-12)
  • Hancock: South Hancock (K-12)
  • Monroe (K-12)
  • Mount Washington (K-12)
  • Nahant (7-12
  • New Ashford (K-12)
A good Massachusetts geography quiz, too!

Foundation Budget Review Commission

Peisch begins by saying that they are "relatively confident" that they'll be able to hire a staff person to support and do analysis for the Foundation Budget Review Commission
Verdolino asks if this means that the Commission is extended
Peisch: we don't know that yet; budget "does not seem to be imminent"
"I have no reason to believe the conference committee will not include an extension"
Jehlen: a lot more opportunity to proceed that we'll be able to analyze these items

Commissioner Chester's annual evaluation

Board member Penny Noyce currently reading highlights of written evaluation. Note that Commissioner Chester is NOT evaluated under the same educator evalation that is used for all other educators in the state. I'll put together some notes from written evaluations; all quotes are taken from that. Chester was evaluated by a subcommittee of Noyce, Morton, Roach, and Sagan. 

In all, the Board is awarding Chester a 4.9 rating out of a possible 5 in the five areas in which he is evaluated.
"Massachusetts continues to be a national leader in K-12 education."
Included in "significant highlights" is educator evaluation, curriculum, RETELL, PARCC, Lawrence receivership ("producing positive results and attracting national notice"), Holyoke receivership (described as a "courageous step"), and Level 4 and 5 schools (on level 5 "early efforts look promising").
  • Chief State Schools Officer: exceeded expectations, 5 of 5l
"The Commissioner maintained a visible public profile throughout the state...In response to concerns from the field, the Commissioner made adjustments. For example, he meets regularly with the Superintendents' Advisory Council to give superintendents early notice of pending initiatives so they can weigh in...continues to develop and implement a clear and flexible strategy for Level 4 and 5 l schools...lead a successful second year test drive of the PARCC...Nevertheless it must be noted that pockets of confusion and distrust about the PARCC and the decision process remain, and communication about the Board's assessment decision in fall of 2015 will have to be carefully managed."
  • head of DESE, exceeded expectations, 5 of 5
"communicates clearly and steadfastly works to advance the Board and Department's mission and goals...has assembled and leads a Department staff that gets strongly positive reviews from the field for being capable and responsive...receives uniformly stellar reviews from members of his leadership team...encourages dialogue, disagreement, and learning from evidence. He listens. His leadership team appreciates his strategic thinking, his work ethic, his calm demeanor, and his passion for improving education for all students in the Commonwealth...[regarding the end of RTTT funding] The committee encourages the Commissioner to look at this challenge as an opportunity to think about strategic reorganization for cost-effectiveness and efficiency...This will be an area that we will evaluate as part of next year's performance review."
  • manage external relations, fully met expectations, 4.5 of 5
"...continues to engage regularly with schools, districts, and the leadership of statewide professional organizations, including the MTA, AFT-MA, MASS and MASC, among others...Leadership changes in external education organizations have made this year a particularly challenging one for communication with the field...The Commissioner has made a foray into social media this year by launching a Twitter account. For Holyoke parents, he has also instituted an ambitious program of bilingual outreach in schools, housing projects, and community-based organizations...The pending PARCC decision and possible transition to a new testing system presents a particular communication challenge, especially with the rise of constituency for testing bans or delays in other states, and, to a lesser extent, in Massachusetts. The Commissioner and Department will need to continue to roll out a thoughful, multi-pronged strategy to inform teachers, news outlets, and the public about the information Massachusetts will use to make its decision, how the decision will be made, and the impact of any new testing system on Massachusetts students and educators."
  • board support/ effective interaction, exceeded expectations, 5 of 5
"The Commissioner provides outstanding support to the Board. Through his weekly reports, monthly calls, constant availablity, and responsiveness to requests for information, he assists Board members in understanding education issues and carrying out their responsibilities...fully supports Board committees...takes seriously the result of the Board's deliberations and decisions."
  • national leadership, exceeded expectations, 5 of 5
"The Commissioner does an outstanding job of representiatng Massachusetts on the national education scene...He is well respected by his peers...The Commissioner's role as a board member and chair of the PARCC governing board has been important to Massachusetts, ensuring that the test is developed for the benefit of the state and not the vendor. The Commissioner's chairmanship allows Massachusetts to closely monitor test quality, insist on high-quality studies of the test's reliability and validity, provide leadership to other states, and potentially move to a next-generation assessment in a more affordable way than the state could manage alone. The Board affirms its full support for the Commissioner playing this role for the benefit of the Commonwealth."

"We would prefer to underline this endorsement with a substantial salary increase, but budget constraints limit us to recommending an increase of 2.5% effective July 1, 2015."
"...we recommend a mutual commitment, such that if the Commissioner leaves his position in the next three years, other than for cause, he shall continue as a special advisor to the Board and the Department on the work with turnaround districts for a period of six months."

I was not able to stay for the discussion, but I am told that he did receive the raise.

Board of Ed meets at 8:30

And they'll start with opening remarks...I'll post til I need to duck out to get to the Foundation Budget Commission hearing, but Mary Lewis-Pierce (@GoogieBaba on Twitter) will be coming in for later coverage. I'll update this post as the meeting begins.
Sagan comments that it's a very crowded agenda, that he'll move things along.
In introductions Donald Willyard announces he's been elected student rep for next year (again)

Commissioner: a number of comments in the Board book
Teacher of the Year, spring conversation on curriculum and instruction
charter school application round for next year, included 668 seats in Boston
first installment of study from American Institute for Research on student assessment
in-depth analysis in four district that use the full range of assessments, not completed yet, expect by end of month
testimony before Joint Committee of Education on three year moratorium "on accountability uses of assessment" not sure that's what I'd classify it as
notes that Willyard and Stewart both testified as well
small municipalities that don't have schools, certify tutitioning of students
accounting of grants

Secretary: no opening comments

Public comment: first on civics education
two teachers from Needham testifying on power of civics education
interdisciplinary learning, application in civic learning and engagement
"thoughtful, responsible and active citizens of the world"
"concept of change itself"
capstone project "how they can be the ones to make a difference in the community"
"concrete real-world project of their own making"
"we believe that these projects are an undoubted success"
civic learning is an empowering approach to education
Two students who have been through their program up now:
student testifies that she was able to comfortably give a sermon at her church after having been through the program
"attempting to achieve it was enough"
other student: three skills: self-direction, collaboration, communication
CEO of Mass Service Alliance: state commission on service and volunteerism
"clear evidence that a year of service has" impact on long-term attitudes and actions
support recommendations in report, particularly statewide regional advisory councils

Public comment on revision in autism regs
recommendations 'are very thoughtful'
some outstanding issues: require gen ed teachers complete advanced studies in subject before entering endorsement program; concerned lack of foundational knowledge
waive any or all of field work; does not guarantee candidate has received experience in various classrooms
requiring 2 years experience under the pre-req license before endorsement
(another speaker from Lesley University): consider excluding regular ed teachers from endorsement
differences in preparation between regular ed and special ed teachers
"make an evidence-based decision" and restrict to special ed teachers
VP, MTA: propose removing gen ed teacher from endorsement
include that this is a voluntary endorsement
should be clear regulatory language so as to not lead to replacement of special ed teachers who are licensed
inclusion of panel review to demonstrate school-based experiences
issue in regulation so all can see what is required
renewal language: proposal creates a mis-alignment with license renewal

And Mary Lewis-Pierce picks up here with the liveblog, partway through Commissioner Chester's evaluation:

Maryanne Rubric could be made available earlier.
 Woman 1: develop criteria over years, last year we had criteria revised, evolving process, because the work of department evolves, this criteria is comprehensive and demonstrative of work, thanks commissioner for exceptional work,
 Woman 2: Concerned that materials were not made available before meeting. Need more than rubric, what is needed are measurable goals. i.e. high school graduation rates. Communication has gotten better with superintendents but don’t know if they feel heard, tying license to evaluation caused conflict with teachers even though we (the Board) knew that would happen so it caused more work. The Board did the right thing but it was more work. We have all asked to do a self-evaluation. This is a very generic one. Commissioner should do one.
 Man 1: There is a mutually assured destruction clause in contract. There could be an interim commissioner while Chester works as advisor. But we would work it out.
 Motion BOE approved performance rating of Chester as Outstanding. Motion passes.
 Chester: humbling experience, thank you for trust board has placed in him, whatever positives the credit goes to staff. Senior staff and middle managers have done an outstanding job. Great to work with Jim (Peyser) and Gov. Baker and have chance to work with Baker and Peyser is a really neat opportunity.

 II. Strengthening civic learning
Working group's recomendations on civics:
  1. Revise the definition of college and career readiness to include readiness for civic life.
  2. Establish a statewide network of regional advisory councils that will provide the Board with advice and recommendations to improve and enrich civic learning in the Commonwealth.
  3. Convene an annual conference sponsored by the Department and planned in partnership with the many professional organizations commited to effective practice in history, social studies, and civics. This conference should have as its goal the identification and promulgation of promising practices in civic learning across all disciplines.
  4. Initiate the process to revise the 2003 History and Social Studies Curriculum and in doing so, consider developments in the field that, if thoughtfully integrated into our existing frameworks, could enhance the effectiveness of civics instruction.
  5. Establish funding to support district adoption and expansion of the six promising practices in civic learning. a) Offer grants to match local funds to expand and improve local practice. b)Offer grants to existing educational collaboratives to establish dissemination projects c) Dedicate funds to support professional development in these areas.
  6. Develop a strategy to assess each school and district's effectiveness in developing and delivering sound civics instruction, including ample opportunities for community engagement and varied practice in democratic practice in democratic processes to ensure every Massachusetts student graduates from high school prepared for active citizenship.
Working group – got charge last June based on meeting in feb, asked to take a look at what is happening in civic learning in Commonwealth and nationally, and identify opportunities for civic learning and areas of collaboration in higher ed and creation of pathways. The report represents are response to that charge.
 National perspective: 2 reports from Guardian of Democracy (Civic commission in schools). It calls for richer approach to civic learning and follow up report that affirmed that call. Should intentionally pursue civic learning we could strengthen democratic accountability
 Promising practices: reduce drop out rate and school climate
 College career and civic life report: experiential learning, targeted opportunities and informed public action 
Now discussing how to assess. This is happening nationally and a lot to do at state level. Commonwealth higher ed activity: in 2010 BOE passed vision project and 2012 preparing citizens as a goal in vision project. Hasn’t been given enough attention to civic role in preparing citizens.
Study group established to make recommendations. What should that look like?
 Definition had civic learning: knowledge, intellectual skills, applied competencies, and understanding of social and political values in democratic practice.
 Four action steps: 1. Universities should be built into strategic plan so that it is an outcome for student 2. Department of higher ed provide support 3. Develop methods to measure what is going on in terms of what colleges are doing 4. Department of higher ed to collaborate with elementary and secondary ed for seamless learning Civic learning in Commonwealth
current practices: K-16 school systems, implementation for civic requirements and model curriculum and implementation of MCAS history and student engagement.
Civic engagement as PRIMARY aim of schools. 100 model curriculum units. Currently, 25% of schools offer 3 or fewer classes in history and civics, 52% offer more than four. 20% of schools have 3 years of history and social science requirement , community service as a requirement.
80 superintendents rates level of civic learning as insufficient. 30% said it was sufficient, and many said it offered on few opportunities for civic learning
 Done well: Classroom instruction, highlights of work being done well, philanthropy work, kids survey what is good in their community, write for grants, send out RFPs and then decide what initiatives to fund and then go back out and check work. Community service and go onto colleges, many students receive awards, graduate from college and work for companies that value service. Very effective learning.
 Classroom instruction: discussion of current events and controversial issues, solving community problems, extra curricular activities, school governance, some school districts implementing civic learning. Hudson course in civics, service learning component for all students, Braintree requires civics requirement, some districts have 2 year history course. A lot is already happening in classrooms.
When we talk with student advisory groups, we see they don’t read newspaper or watch news because they don’t see relevance. Need to make connection much more effectively. Follow through on commitment that both boards work together on this matter, energize that conversation, expand definition to readiness for civic life, commissioner should establish committee (for what?), and expand membership, first meetings in fall, first report back to this board
 Conference should get going, statewide message to teachers, clear message to establish conference for best practices in civic learning. Raise profile of civic learning, process to quantify practice, professional development of teachers and expansion of promising practices
 Board will come back to recommendations in September. Guy next to Chester is saying that we have to make sure another year doesn’t pass for us to work on this because they have been working for this for 3 years. It is embarrassing that MA lacks in this. Public education is to create engaged civic students.
 New motion: Accept report Thanks working group Direct commissioner to make speedily recommendations Report back
 Motion passes: Accept and endorse recommendations of report

 III. Receivership Lawrence:
 Chester: Work in Lawrence, incredibly pleased with progress, renewed 3 years and extended Riley’s contract for 3 years, no promises about how this will end but need district with strong performance Jeff Riley: largest graduating class in Lawrence history, thousands of people came, special day for Lawrence, proud of work that has taken place, test scores and graduation are up but still work to do. This year, key initiatives, reimagining high school open up family resource center for registration process, Lawrence partnership council, awarded federal preschool expansion grant.
Leadership opportunities for teachers. Very proud of Lawrence teachers. Fundamentally, get them great teachers is what we are doing for kids. Lots of visitors: Duncan, Randi Weingartern, Baker and Patrick complimentary of work.
 Renewed turnaround plan to sustain High school redesign very important, must expand kindergarten Issues with SPED and ELL will be working on that.
 Partnership council with union, career latter, career level 4, hole that needs to be fixed, and provide additional compensation. 59 Non renewals (teahcers), 3 rehired back by district, we take very seriously, number will go down as additional openings arise, 28 were from high school
 New goals: proficiency rates over 55, number of schools over state average on proficiency Decentralize system but district orientation for new teachers.
 Board member: every district has right to non renewals but teachers write to us and say no one was in their classroom all year, did not receive evaluation or received proficient evaluation but all of sudden they were told they are not a good fit, but just because someone has a right to do something doesn’t make it right, these are professionals and should be given a reason why they are not being renewed. Principals made these decisions, but if evaluation as proficient or not given feedback, these cases should be renewed.
 Riley admits it may have more to do with need of school instead of “fit”
 Chester: work at high school critical, no longer tracking students, reinforce the freshman class and entry point, and fully supportive of redesign work. Student climate: art, enrichment and sports really help climate, as well as fixing school buildings. Kids know better than anyone and have discussed issues with them.
 Holyoke receivership:
 Steve: Thanks Board for opportunity.
Talking about Listen and Learn tour. Concerns expressed from community about length of school year. Not extending school year next year.
 Praise from around the Board.
 IV: Budget: CHESTER: conference committee meeting to reconcile so we don’t have a joint agreed upon budget, yesterday House passed 1 month extension
 Key items on budget. Securing funding for assessment account.
Big difference between bodies (4.5 million) proper transition funding in order to implement PARCC. Next priority, education data service, fund our data collection, need House version, legislature had different approach to kindergarten grant, $17.5 m difference, differences in district reimbursement accounts, Senate more generous, charters, and nonresidential vocational transportation and circuit breaker and small difference in chapter 70.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Adding to your Charleston reading

Try Charleston syllabus

Following Worcester politics and endorsements?

I've put a post on it over here.

The invisible poor

As I mentioned in passing last week, the Board of Ed is getting a presentation tomorrow from the administration on a change--as far as I can tell, it's a change? not a proposed one? they can do this unilaterally?--to the way percentage of low income is calculated for schools in Massachusetts. The Globe has an article on it today.
Currently, most districts calculate low income based on free and reduced lunch numbers. Those numbers come from the forms parents send in--which yes, are audited--as well as cross-reference from other state programs. Those are : the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC); the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) foster care program; and MassHealth (Medicaid).  Community eligibility instead uses just the information from the other programs AND, if you're a district that uses it, all students, regardless of income, receive free lunch.
Thus, CEP districts are full free lunch districts. Boston started doing this in 2013.

You may remember, when this happened, we had some discussion about why Worcester was choosing not to do it, and, to be honest, most of that hasn't really changed.

You'll find DESE's discussion of the change here. Let me say up front that I genuinely believe that their motivation is good: they want to feed more kids, and, by making lunch universal, the hope is that any lingering stigma associated with getting school lunch will be removed.

This automatically decreases the number of kids being measured as in poverty. There are kids who legitimately receive free lunch now who are not receiving any of these other benefits: maybe their parents don't want to ask for help, or lack paperwork, or don't have the time to apply. There are lots of reasons why kids might have one sort of qualification and not the other. Yes, they'll have lunch now, but they won't be counted otherwise.
The memo attempts to argue that this is simply another measure--even using a new term, "economically disadvantaged"--and cautions in bold against comparing measurements:
 It is important for users of this data to understand that enrollment percentages and achievement data for “economically disadvantaged” students cannot be directly compared to “low income” data in prior years. 
And what is the first thing the Globe did?
More broadly, the data raise questions about whether some schools should be performing at higher levels if indeed they have fewer poor students than previously thought.
No, it does not. We don't have fewer poor kids; we're just counting fewer of them.

So what, beyond the above sort of nonsense (of which I am quite certain we'll see lots more), is the problem?

  • This automatically cuts the foundation budget for any district with low income kids (which I believe would be all of them). There is a low income increment as part of the foundation budget; fewer kids = smaller budget. Now, DESE immediately pivots to the Foundation Budget Review Commission taking this up as part of their work. As the only mention I've heard at their meetings on this issue was a single one by the Commissioner in passing, that's...optimistic. Also, the low income increment needed to be increased, anyway, as it wasn't covering anything close to what it was supposed to; something tells me that it isn't going to be increased by both the amount it should be PLUS the amount we'll lose through the new calculation. 
  • We get an airy "will provide guidance" on other grants, which is not reassuring when you're talking about cutting our eligibility.
  • No one seems to be addressing federal reimbursement rate for lunches, which, at least when we last talked about this in Worcester, didn't address the real costs of the program.
  • We're losing decades of comparable data on rates of poverty. You can like or not like the current way of measuring, but at least the data set was cross-comparable. Call me cold-blooded, but having a consistent measurement of how many kids are poor matters. 

 I'm concerned, to put it lightly.

We made it!

It's the last week of school, Worcester!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

When we're told we'll never understand

Poem by Columbia, SC poet laureate Ed Madden, 20 July 2015

When we’re told we’ll never understand


Someone says a drug-related incident,

someone says he was quiet, he mostly kept to himself,

someone says mental illness,

someone says a hateful and deranged mind,

someone says he was a loner, he wasn’t bullied,

someone says his sister was getting married in four days,

a newsman says an attack on faith,

a relative says his mother never raised him to be like this,

a friend says he had that kind of Southern pride, strong conservative beliefs,

someone says he made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that you don’t really think of it like that,

someone says he wanted to start a civil war,

he said he was there to kill black people,

the governor says we’ll never understand.




He is not a lone wolf,

he is not alien,

he is not inexplicable,

he is not just one sick individual,

he is one of us,

he is from here,

he grew up here,

he went to school here,

he wore his jacket with its white supremacist patches here,

he told racist jokes here,

he got his gun here,

he learned his racism here,

his license plate sported a confederate flag here,

the confederate flag flies at the state capitol here,

he had that kind of Southern pride,

this is not isolated this is not a drug incident,

this is not unspeakable (we should speak,

this is not unthinkable (we should think),

this is not inexplicable (we must explain it),

he is not a symbol he is a symptom,

he is not a cipher he is a reminder,

his actions are beyond our imagining,

but his motivation is not beyond our understanding

no he didn’t get those ideas from nowhere.


mental illness is a way to not say racism

drug-related is a way to not say hate

loner is a way to not say one of us

we’ll never understand is a way to not say look at our history


Look away, look away, look away [to be sung]


Saturday, June 20, 2015

City capital budget on schools

In looking at the city capital budget regarding the schools, well, there's some okay news and some not great news.
Schools are right up front in the cover letter from City Manager Augustus to Council:

Okay, so we're off right away on the numbers here. This year, we have accelerated repair projects at four schools--Clark Street, Goodard, Union Hill, and West Tatnuck. That isn't nine schools. I've turned our list around every way I can, and I don't know where they're getting nine. These four make it thirteen schools in which we've had accelerated repair projects. Both of those may sound like quibbles, but they're easy to find--check page 126 of our budget [page 137 online]--and it shakes one's confidence in the rest of the information to have that wrong.

On to major renovation or rebuild:
Nelson Place of course broke ground last week; we've had survey work this weekend, and the work will really pick up this summer. As with all of our projects, this is majority funded by MSBA...

...which is the piece that's missing on the South High line: the feasibility study costs $750,000 total; MSBA will reimburse $600,000 of that, so the city will pay $150,000 of the feasibility study.

In total on those, the city is spending about $6 million; the state is funding over $20 million.

And for the actual capital spending, setting aside the state-sponsored major renovations?

Right. Half a million for a system of 25,000 students in 50 buildings. 
Put another way? We're spending as much on the entire school system as we are on Hope Cemetery renovation or tree planting, and not quite as much as we're spending on upgrades to the DCU Center*
In line items, that looks like this:

The $65,000 for Facilities will go for new radios (as you've heard us talk about during School Committee meetings more than once) and new equipment to the extent it can be squeezed out. That is the line item that basically is "everything else."
The $315,000, put together with some of our regular budget, will be the $425,643 of local match for the technology upgrades, leveraging not $1.8 million of Erate funds as it says in the capital budget, but $5.1 million (and again, I don't know where that other number came from).
The transporation line will buy a single new school bus and upgrades to the radios in the buses. As we've been on a three year, three bus replacement schedule, this year is going to be a real setback.

And that's it. No replacements for the aging facilities vehicles. No new plows or snowblowers or lawn mowers. No replacement of HVAC systems. No replacement furniture. No work on athletic fields or sound systems for theaters or repaving of parking lots.

And that's it, really. It isn't that we don't need repaved parking lots at the Senior Center or a sound system for the library or new plows for the DPW. The schools, though, need those things, too, and because the city has it that the match for MSBA accelerated repair has to come out of the $3 million that has been the hard and fast figure for some time for schools, it doesn't. And it won't. We simply can't do that out of $500,000.

And that's really a problem. And it can't continue.

*No, that isn't saying I disagree with any of those. It's a useful sense of perspective, however.

Perusing the Worcester capital budget

I'll put up a post that's on the schools section, but I'm perusing the city capital budget this morning...I'm using the hashtag #itsinthere on Twitter if you're interested.

UPDATE: here's the five year projection, which, if you look at FY20, is...problematic...

UPDATE (2x): Can't say it better than David Bernstein

Friday, June 19, 2015

Proposed change to charter school regs open for public comment

The state has opened the proposed change to charter school regs for public comment. You can find the changes here. Essentially, it shifts which years of test scores are being used in determining the lowest scoring 10% of districts. Per DESE:
The public comment period runs from July 3-24, 2015. Written comments on the proposed amendment may be submitted by mail to: Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA 02148, by fax to 781-338-3220, or by email to charterschools@doe.mass.edu. Individuals with questions or concerns can contact the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign at (781) 338-3227 or Ruth Hersh at (781) 338-3211. 

Meetings next week

Meetings up next week:

  • The Board of Ed has their June meeting at 8:30 on Tuesday morning in Malden. The agenda is here: the big item on the agenda is the annual evaluation of the Commissioner. There's also an update on Lawrence, on Holyoke, on Level 5 schools, on the FY16 budget, on PARCC, on breakfast in the classroom. There's also a presentation on the new definition of low income that depends on enrollment in other programs (not free and reduced lunch) to encourage districts to participate in community eligibility (for universal free lunch); at some point I should do a post on this, because it's going to miss kids, and, while I admire the motivation, I think it's a bad idea.
  • Also meeting on Tuesday morning, this at 10 at the State House, is the Foundation Budget Review Commission. And this is tough, because I can't be in both places at once. Anyone want to liveblog the BoE for me? They should be passing language on special ed and on health insurance and setting their priorities for the remaining time til their final report in the fall. 
  • At 5:30 pm on Tuesday, there is a meeting of the Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports subcommittee. You can find the agenda here. We have an update on the curriculum review process (specifically math);  a report on Safe Routes to Schools; and an update on the new elementary report card pilot.
Also? It's the last week of school! School is out for the summer on Thursday!

Surveying at Nelson Place this weekend!

Good news on our new school project: surveying is happening this weekend! This in today from Julie Lynch at DPW:
Please be advised that the Construction Manager and Civil Engineer have a field crew scheduled to be on site this Saturday, June 20th to stake the property line for Nelson Place School.  They have been asked to start along the Redwing Lane abutter, then run clockwise along the Nelson Place abutters, followed by the Hapgood Road abutters and Assumption College.

A few to read on Charleston

Here's a few I recommend:
  • The history of Mother Emanuel (it isn't just any church, or even any black church, that was attacked)
  • The New Yorker on recent history and the attack. 
  • And a teaching moment: we need to stop teaching children that racism and racial violence is "history" (I would only dispute the "we cannot be certain about his motives." He told us.)

So about Title I

Way down towards the end of our budget session last night, I asked about ESEA reauthorization and Title I. In particular, I'd gotten some alerts yesterday about this amendment that Senator Burr of North Carolina filed, which would end of the "hold harmless" provision of Title I. The amendment was adopted.
As Gregg Bares noted from the floor, ESEA reauthorization is kind of a mess; what the Senate is considering is miles away from anything the House has, and it's not clear that anyone agrees with the President. In particular, the sticky issue of just how much accountability the federal government can or should demand and what that looks like, is very much in play, which is why we're seeing another round of editorials on this now.
Title I, though, is the big carrot on anything in ESEA; most of what the federal government can force states to do is through tying things to that (and other) funding. It's $10 million for the Worcester Public Schools, and, as was mentioned last night, it's what's funding a lot of what's going on with schools that have exited Level 4 status.
So if you wonder sometimes why I talk so much about what happens in Washington and Malden, this is why. It's real money and it's real impact on Worcester's kids.

Capital priority projects for FY15

This list is not exhaustive and does not include MSBA projects; this is from admin responses to items involving the budget.

  • Jacob Hiatt roof top units (this is their HVAC system, which was already supposed to be done, that you might remembering my mentioning at our last meeting. We've had a holdup in the crediting of reimbursement)
  • Worcester Tech compressors (two of them)
  • Boiler replacements for the Taylor Building, Foley Stadium, Mill Swan (none of which are MSBA eligible because of not having students in the buildings) and West Tatnuck (where the boiler broke after this winter and must be replaced before fall).
  • Tatnuck Magnet wall replacement (outside)
  • Parent Information Center paint trim (the PIC is made of brick but has wooden gingerbread trim)
  • Jacob Hiatt front plaza and side stairs (stonework)
  • Lake View wall replacement (outside) 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Change in homeschooling language

At the request of homeschooling families and with the legal guidance of DESE, the 15-16 student handbook will include the language here.
I'm just going to type it up here for reference:
Parents/guardians who choose to educate their children at home, as allowed under Massachusetts general law, can fulfill the requirements of the compulsory attendance statute by having their educational programs reviewed and accepted in advance by the Worcester Public Schools. The notifcications to home-school (elementary and secondary versions) are available upon request from the office of the Child Study Department at (508) 799-3175.
Parents are expected to provide evidence of their child's homeschooling program once a year. Students completing high school through homeschooling programs are not eligible for a Worcester Public Schools Diploma.
A student being educated through homeschooling may have access to public school activities of an extracurricular nature (e.g. sports, clubs) with the approval of the Superintendent or designee.
The district reserves the right to allow enrolled students to have precedence or priority over the homeschooled student with regard to placement on sports teams or activities that have limited enrollment. With approval of the Superintendent or designee, and in consultation with the Principal, a homeschooled student may participate in sports teams or activities that have limited enrollment provided he or she does not displace an enrolled student. Homeschooled students applying to participate in district-sponsored sports must follow the Athletic Eligibity guidelines described on page (TBD). 

Midcycle report on superintendent's goals

Can be found here with backup here
Boone: in July will be working with School Committee on new goals going forward
"good news" on the Worcester Public Schools: professional practice
quarterly Quadrant Newsletter, superintendent's newsletter in between those
proficiency gap closure (based on DESE targets): 2% reduction in the ELA 2015 MCAS proficiency gap
2.7% reduction in the math 2015 MCAS proficiency gap
(in both cases, we won't know 'til fall)
review and revise district accountability system
reports of the superintendent to come on the review of the full arts magnet program and the alternative education program
PSAT being taken by all 10th and 11th graders (expanding National Merit scholar access, indication of AP readiness, and college direction)
attendance rate: district improvement
holistic report of attendence
advanced high school academy: currently working process on hiring the first positions
looking for space to house


Budget account by account (round 2)

Starting with school nurses and posting as we go
Monfredo motion to approve

personal services
O'Connell: principal mentor program part of personal services: not here?
Boone: not in FY15 either
O'Connell: what is admin doing?
Boone: network of principal support system
make sure they're connected with professional development
security guards: level funded
O'Connell asks if it should be revisit or expanded
Allen: that is one of the items that is in the RFP for school security assessment
O'Connell then we'll get a recommendation
Novick: curious if we need the security guards at all
39% decrease in special education expenses due to coming back in house
are we required to use Teachpoint?
Rodrigues: (not exactly) cataloging goals of teachers and the PD necessary to support them
Biancheria: partnerships?
Boone: Children's Friend no longer receiving grant to provide School-aged mothers program
United Way providing services this year; waiting to hear if they have a grant for next year
Biancheria: is there a night shift of security at Creamer?
Allen: yes, thus not listed under day program costs
translation: in different areas of the budget
have we continued to work with new ideas as others across the country?
Rodrigues: yes, we have
continue to absorb more and more families whose first language is not English
all information that goes home has to be translated into seven languages
IEPs into any language that a family speaks
large database of documents reused
have been working with community on translating and communicating with families
different ways that we can provide the services while not being redundant moving forward
Biancheria: have we discussed with other districts how they're handling it?
Rodrigues: yes, the reverse: Springfield has looked to us
Boston, Springfield, us largest in the network dealing with the issue

administrative clerical salaries
O'Connell: change in system administration amount
Allen: all positions in account are contractually approved increases, longevity, step increase
O'Connell: is that due to upgrade in positions in superintendent offices?
Boone: there is no upgrade in those positions
O'Connell: change in salaries structure
Allen: same salary scheduled
No change

non-instructional support
Biancheria: information system, concern that we have an additional 11.5 positions under various grants
Allen: no change in the number of positions in IT position
Boone: last year you asked for a specific report for internship opportunities
internships saves us in terms of the total salary piece
grant opportunity to fill the gap
Biancheria: motion to how we complete the department
have a number of employees that are being paid under grants
Allen: report that compares this year versus last year

support overtime
O'Connell: in some accounts we've increased 2%; in this one, 5%
Allen: in other accounts there is vacancy or attritition to offset; there is none here
closer to align with actual expenditures
O'Connell: do you still anticipate underspending
Allen: no, traditionally underfunded
Monfredo: appears that this item is underfunded, in need of additional clerical help
administration needs to consider going forward

administrative salaries
O'Connell: motion to reduce account by $200,000
message to reduce number of central adminstration
significant number of people under other accounts...number is significantly
"would be a maximum of two people"
Monfredo: believe Mr. O'Connell's heart is the right place
281 out of 320 district
nearly all district spend more
Petty: thought we were just talking about how to support principals, now you want to take them away?
roll call: fails, 5-2

Misc Ed OM
Biancheria looking for $25,000 to move $25,000 from Facilities OM
was approved at last discussion
"I think that we've had a very long year...would like to see $100,000 under school safety so we can do what we can prior to having a large report from an outside company"
asks to open the item again to move the money
Foley: think we're all on the same page in terms of our buildings
we talked about building repair dollars being insufficient last time
"I don't know that we gain a whole lot by moving $25,000 from one account to the other"
safety systems like fire alarms
prefer to keep it as it is
more than $25,000 that will be used over the summertime
O'Connell: support Biancheria's motion
"modest sum"
"drop in the bucket compared to what we will need to spend"
Petty: is $75,000 enough to what's needed?
Allen: it's a 50% increase from this year
not sure if I followed the direction of the discussion correctly: if the intent is simply move money from one to the other...
Petty: the money is there if needed
Bianchera; looking to have the hundred under school safety to provide the walkie talkies that are necessary
instead of blanket hope that it will go there
Boone: can provide to School Committee a report on support provided to security
Novick: $25000 per building from this account for repair: that isn't enough to keep up already
also provides for repair of heat, plumbing, electrical already
Ramirez: should have audit performed before increased investment in safety
"that could change everything that we're investing in today"
Foley: fully expect to be back here in six or eight months with a list of things from the safety audit
probably something over several years
Petty: waited until we had a report before shifting it over
roll call to move $25,000 from repair to safety: fails 4-3
approve Misc Ed OM without F
Foley recused
F (building and parking lot rentals): Biancheria, are we anticipating overcrowding at Chandler El?
Allen: third year of contract, still significantly overcrowded
Biancheria: gym at Y rented for $40,000?
Allen: ten month contract access
Biancheria: any work towards not renting parking lots but owning parking lots?
Allen: do you have a parking lot in mind?
Boone; Gates Lane sign off on shopping center, Chatham Street have been renting for some time
Biancheria: probaby purchasing is going to be more expensive, discussion is if there are any other options of purchase
Boone: parking is a premium particuarly in our older schools
would be interested in classroom space, if we had funds, than buying parking lot
motion to look at buying Chatham St

Instructional Materials
Novick: looking at testing spending through testing audit via Accountability
can we clarify with city that funding us at zero brings us below due to charter tuition
O'Connell: do we know how much we can pull out of here?
Allen: wait til state budget is passed
this account has funding for Abby Kelley's transportation, as its undercalculated by that amount
O'Connell: asks for information from admin once we have them
Biancheria: recommened to fund $68 per pupil, not a change from FY15
why wasn't B spent down?
Allen: frozen during second quarter
Biancheria: that's a drastic dollar amount
Allen: difference is that it's being level $215,000; increase is for special education classroom
Biancheria: who didn't have money to do anything?
Boone: as monitor quarterly, froze some purchases across the district
Biancheria: we only alloted $60,000 for supplies?
Boone: either IAs or supplies after 9C cuts
Biancheria: look at this in the future, difference in the dollar amount
had some concerns with that
"hardship for us"
we went up $43,000 in student support services
Boone: requirements for psychological testing are very specific assessments; we're at least 3 versions behind the current assessments; needed to update those

special education tutition
Novick: breakdown on how that works per student
O'Connell: full circuit breaker?
Allen: full being 75%

Instructional assistant salaries
Monfredo: anything on IAs grants
Allen: either going to be zero or what we budgeted?
hope work of House will prevail; budgeted House amount

teacher salaries:
Monfredo: two more non-teaching department heads?
Rodrigues: positions are result of restructing in Child Study
one for 504s, the other for McKinney-Vento
both department heads for evaluation of personnel
evaluate school adjustment counselors
Monfredo: wouldn't we be better off hiring school adjustment counselors?
Rodrigues: will be working with student in 504s and in homelessness
deficit in supervision and oversight
used to have a PBIS coordinator, coordinator of Child Study (which was left vacant last year)
Biancheria: elementary PE and health: how is time determined for schools
Allen: liaison juggles how to deploy staff to all the schools
Boone: we have a requirement to provide PE to our students
Monfredo: how many adjustment counselors are we hiring?
Rodrigues: hiring 3 more
Monfredo: have 4 people doing 1 person's job
Rodrigues: no, had two department chairs, were already there
two new people will be doing the 504 and the McKinney-Vento
that's one of the roles they'll assume

Child Nutrition
O'Connell: Fruits and Vegetables grant; 14 schools are participating in the program
Lombardi: are requirements for the grants
do apply for schools beyond those in the budget, but they are often not awarded
O'Connell: is there a reason?
Lombardi: it's USDA funds alloted on a state by state basis
state chooses which districts and which funds
O'Connell: is it based on free and reduced numbers?
Lombardi: it's at discresion of DESE
we received one of the highest of level of funding
O'Connell: is there any reason why we're not applying for all schools that are avaible

Novick: Title I; forecast of what's up
Barnes: so much circulating around, forecast is difficult
Boone: watching ESEA closely, will advocate and share as it comes up
Biancheria: vocational director: half funded at Perkins
vocational director for district at Tech
Biancheria: teachers coming off of Chapter 74 funding, not changed on budget
Boone: funding blended between local, state, and federal
still providing bus passes for internship? Yes
O'Connell: adult education: dollars decreased in materials and supplies?
Allen: grant continues to be level-funded, but salary increases, has to come from somewhere
$95,000 is from rest of budget
O'Connell: teachers and instructional coaches increased
Allen: sustainability of Level 4 schools and those coming off into

back to utilities
report came back
O'Connell had made a motion to reduce oil by $5000
motion to take $15,000 from these accounts
look at trends and directions; reflect likely prices in this area
Boone: number two fuel oil is down but have factored in change in gas
Allen: have already assumed a natural gas savings, have not yet locked in
even half a cent difference would eat up difference
after summer months will have a better idea of actual prices
O'Connell: can we hold topic in July?
Foley: small dollars, don't know that we'll know in July
quarterly reports really do look at which accounts may be move or underspent or overspent
perhaps wait til first quarter report, can see what gas pricing then?
O'Connell: could transfer into another account for beginning of school year
Petty: we don't know what it's going to cost us for safety
motion to cut $15,000 fails 4-3
Biancheria: still averaging $245,000 in electrical between South and Sullivan
there's been a change, I don't see a change
Allen: now in MSBA, we'll see a change going forward
Martin: we are in process of design for solar panels at Sullivan, will reduce draw
Boone: city is contractor for that work
Martin: panels across parking lot of Sullivan this summer
Monfredo: any other schools that we're putting solar panels in
Martin: Burncoat High and Elm Park

Motion to approve entire budget
budget approved 5-2

Worcester School Committee starts at 4

back to budget...starting with school nurses

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Common Core, kindergarten, and play

You may have seen the Boston Globe "Ideas" column on the impact of the Common Core on kindergarten over the weekend. I'd recommend reading it, particularly in terms of the distinction between goals to strive for and goals that are developmentally appropriate. It also raises the question of the importance of play, something we're seeing increasingly get shuffled aside.
And it clearly hit a nerve over at DESE, as yesterday, what was linked on the department's Twitter feed but these comments (scroll down to the "Teacher Reflection") regarding how very pleased this teacher is that the state recognizes the importance of play...
...which they did in a comment on what's not covered in the standards.
If in fact the state feels that play is central for young children--and I know I'm not alone in arguing that doesn't end in kindergarten--then they should place it at a much more central place when they talk about standards, child development, and pedagogy of young children. Sticking it in a "what's not here" note just points out that it isn't there.

Good news from IT!

I'm quoting at length below an email we received this morning from Bob Walton in IT. Good news in so many ways!

Two years ago, the average age of a desktop computer in our district was 8 years old.  Our email service was run on several expensive and difficult to maintain servers.  Only about half of our schools had building-wide WIFi and that WiFi is aging and strained in this day and age of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices.  Quite honestly, things were pretty bleak from a technology perspective. 
I am happy to say a new era has begun in the Worcester Public Schools.  We have leap-frogged many of our peers in the state and we show no signs of slowing down.  Two years ago we took the monumental step of replacing every computer in the district with modern desktops and LCDs that run the current version of Microsoft Office.  These desktops are leased, meaning we plan on replacing them with new computers at the end of their five year lease.  This means we will stay on the edge of technology rather than a boom/bust cycle. 

We have also begun the rollout of Office 365 in the district.  Corporations and universities are all moving towards cloud based services and most of them are choosing Microsoft Office 365.  This is because Office 365 provides the same user experience as most of us are used to, as well as providing an un-paralleled level of compliance with medical and other important security standards.  We have rolled out Office 365 to over half of our staff and will roll it out to the remaining staff this summer.  In addition, we will create accounts for all students in grades 7 and higher this summer.  This will allow students to take advantage of the same features as the teachers, as well as allowing them to collaborate with their peers.  In addition, it also allows students and staff to install up to 5 copies of the full version of Office on any of their home computers for free. 

I know people are using the technology in our schools because our Internet traffic is peaking higher than ever.  This is great news but has created a bottleneck on our webfilter.  We are sorry the webfilter was not able to keep up with the demand as well as we would have liked as the year winds down, but we want to let you know there is relief in sight.  Over the next few weeks, we will be implementing dual webfilters that are rated for much higher capacity.  In addition, we are more than tripling our Internet bandwidth for the next school year.   You should see a much more capable Internet connection when you return for the new school year.

We are on the move with a multi-million dollar project to improve the wireless in our schools.  The schools in our district that currently do have building-wide WiFi have WiFI that is now 6 plus years old and was installed before the iPad was invented.  Things have changed dramatically in the mobile world since then.  Wireless no longer just needs to cover a building, it must be able to handle a large number of devices in a small area. Our current wireless simply cannot handle that.  Our funding for wireless projects has always come from a federal grant program called Erate.  Erate funding has basically been non-existent for wireless projects for the last five years.  That has changed this year with the Erate modernization order.  I am happy to let you know we have applied for, and full expect to be funder for, high speed dense wireless coverage in 26 of our schools in this next school year (list below).  We fully intend to apply for the remaining schools next fiscal year.

These are exciting times for the Worcester Public Schools.  We have modern computers, cloud based modern collaboration software, a new filter and Internet connection to better support our increased demand for these services on the way, and modern high speed WiFi coming to over half our schools this year and the other half next year.  I believe it is our responsibility to provide our students with the technology experience they will need to succeed in work or college.  We have come a long way in two years and we have a bit more to go, but our students are now graduating with experience using the same modern technology resources that are used in businesses and universities globally.  The future is looking very bright.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reminder: Department of Justice discussion on youth and education tonight

Tonight is the Department of Justice's community conversation on youth and education. It starts at 6 at Worcester Technical High School. You can find the discussion questions here.

I won't be able to attend, as it's an end of the year program for one of my children. I am looking forward to seeing what comes from tonight, and I plan to see to it that it gets taken up at the School Committee once it's complete. 

To the write-ups on last week's hearing...

...you can now add Chris Fara's irreverent take.
This is the first place I've read that the crowd laughed when Sagan said two days of test preparation. Good to hear, as that was entirely the appropriate response. 

Worcester School Committee meets on Thursday

The Worcester School Committee has its final school year meeting this Thursday, June 18. You can find the agenda here.

We meet at 4 pm for budget. The sequence of accounts is here; we'll start with school nurses salaries this week (and have to go back to utilities, as that was held last time). I would think that we could get through what remains before exec...but then one never can tell.

This week at 7, we're recognizing the Bravehearts for their support on reading, and the Worcester Tree Initiative (and supporters) for new trees at Roosevelt Elementary.
We'll also be recognizing our Teacher and Nurse of the Year (and you're invited to tomorrow night's celebration at which they'll be announced).
And, it's our final meeting with Stacey Luster, who's leaving WPS to join Worcester State.

We have the Superintendent's midcycle report on goals, as required by the state evaluation system. There won't be a particular vote associated with that; it's a midyear check-in.

We have our report back on motions from last budget session, as well as items from throughout the year that were refered to budget. These will probably actually be taken up during the budget session.

We have a response back from administration regarding suggested policy language on homeschooling (including allow students to participate in extracurricular options). We also have the report requested by Miss Biancheria on the number of students currently being homeschooled in Worcester.

We have the held item on funding for crew travel.

Mr. O'Connell suggests honoring Hanover and others for AVID.

We also have the annual "let the administration make transfers to close the fiscal year" item (which gets reviewed in the fall by the F&O subcommittee).

Finally, we do have two items on for executive session: consideration of negotations on contracts for Chief Academic Officer and Chief Finance and Operations Officer. While the renewal of the contract of the CAO doesn't directly fall under our purview, it can be discussed with regard to allocation of resources (renewal is entirely the superintendent's decision). The CFO, per MGL ch 71, does fall under School Committee purview, jointly with the superintendent.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Proposal to tie new funding to particular spending priorities

Apologies for it taking me so long to get back to this; I've been sick this week. Here is the full text of the proposal put forward, we're told, jointly by MASS/MAVA/MARS/MASBO at Tuesday's Foundation Budget Review Commission meeting:
Limit the use of new funding to investments in the following initiatives to be described in a publicly accountable benchmarked school improvement plan. The parameters of those individually crafted plans would invest from the following priorities:
1) Provide greater support for low-income and ESL students;
2) Expanded teacher professional development;
3) Hiring staff at levels that support improved student performance;
4) Purchase and implementation of technology and instructional materials;
5) Expanded learning time (day/year/venue);
6)Add instructional coaches;
7) Provide wrap-around services that engage the entire community and families in strengthening the social emotional support system for students;
8) Provide common planning time for instructional teams. 
As I said on Tuesday: no objection (or little objection) to any of those, but that doesn't represent the full context of where the money needs to go back to.
And it misses the larger point: the state is the entity that needs to be held accountable for school funding here, not the districts/

Joint Committee hearing

I wasn't able to be at the State House yesterday for the Joint Committee hearing on the accountability and testing bills, so I spent some time yesterday doing a lot of retweeting (scroll back through the sidebar for those; when I get a chance, I'll post some highlights below). You can also go over to the Massachusetts Alliance for Educational Justice page for some of the pro-moratorium testimony.
I did get a chance to talk to Peter Balonon-Rose from WBUR's Learning Lab about the hearing ahead of time, though.
The bills won't move until fall, so do weigh in with the Joint Committee if this is of interest.
Also, if this is of interest, remember that there are still two hearings left before the Board of Ed on their PARCC/MCAS decision:
  • Monday, June 22, 2015, North Shore Community College - Lynn Campus, Gymnasium, 4:00-7:00 p.m. 
  • Tuesday, July 7, 2015, Springfield Technical Community College, Top of Our City Conference Center, 4:00-7:00 p.m.

Evening of Celebration!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Doomed to repeat McDuffy?

You know what Santayana wrote: "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."
After today's Foundation Budget Review Commission meeting, I am very concerned that we may be heading that way with the Commission.

It's been clear since the last meeting (at least) that there's a bit of a split among some on the Commission between those who just want to get this done in some fashion and those who want to be sure that all of the foundation budget is fully investigated and covered. This led to the "it has to be done by June/we need to get everything in" compromise at the last meeting. And we certainly saw more of this today: from Francomano's motion to amend the minutes to be certain all would be included in the June report, to the attempted pre-positioning on where the special education number came from, to an outsized reaction on possible preschool funding, this back and forth happened several times. I think that both Madeloni and Jehlen expressed this well at different times, asking the question of what makes for an adequate education--something the Commission is charged with but so far has not considered--and how that is best addressed by the state.

The lone citation of McDuffy today came from Tom Moreau, who represents Secretary Peyser when he is not there. In response to Francomano's concern about the removal of local control on spending, he noted that McDuffy found (as the state constitution says) that responsibility for education lies with both "legislatures and magistrates," that is, both the state and the local government. His argument was that it was in keeping for various accountability ties to be imposed by the state.
That is not, however, what largely is being argued in McDuffy, nor the primary concern in the follow-up case, Hancock. It is the FUNDING mechanism that the court found was failing children in Massachusetts, not an accountability system. While the act that was intended to remedy the court's finding for the plantiffs did bring in various standards and measures (which, as I've pointed out before, we aren't really doing, either), it is the funding formula with which the Commission is charged, just as it was the primary concern of McDuffy.
The state hadn't and still hasn't fulfilled its FUNDING obligations. That remains to be done.

In finding for the plantiffs, McDuffy also found that the language of the Constitution is"not merely aspirational or hortatory, but obligatory." Thus I was very concerned today to hear several statements that the special education rate should be "aspirational." First, this is also not in the law, not in the charge to the Commission (no, not even in the "efficient and effective allocation" section), and not within the purview of the consideration. I assume the recommendation is made based on some assumption that districts are over inflating  special education costs. This is a serious charge and one that should be made straightforwardly if it is the basis of the recommendation. I would argue that districts are doing no such thing. Thus an "aspirational" special education rate leaves us in districts with the impossible choice of either under diagnosing special education needs in our student population--unethical as well as illegal--or not having those charges fully recognized. Neither is a direction I think the state really wishes us to go in. This is just another attempt at corner-cutting.

Finally, the proposal for accountability in funding, which would limit districts to spending their increases in funding to particular areas continues to miss why the Commission is needed in the first place. The state has not--twenty plus years on--fulfilled the responsibility with which it was charged in 1993. Bluntly, the state hasn't done its job. For the state then to turn around and cast a judging eye on districts, which have been left with a formula that not only has not been realistic, but has left with us fewer dollars (considering inflation) than we had in 2008 is hypocritical, to say the least. The state needs to do its job.
The list also misses entirely the point made (repeatedly) by MassBudget: that districts have pulled dollars from other areas--VARIOUS other areas--in order to fund the overwhelming costs of special education and health care. If you check out various districts at that second link, you'll find that different districts have responsed to the undercalculation of the foundation budget in various ways. Some who can have funded over foundation. Some have pulled money from teachers and professional development. Not all districts, however, have pulled funds from the areas the Commission was considering today. Worcester, for example, is funding facilities at 47% of the foundation rate. It is outrageous for the Commission to finally rectify its long-standing unfulfulled obligation, only to then require that we spend the funds in areas other than those that have been left underfunded.

As McDuffy closes:
As did these courts, we have declared today the nature of the Commonwealth's duty to educate its children. We have concluded the current state of affairs falls short of the constitutional mandate. We shall presume at this time that the Commonwealth will fulfil its responsibility with respect to defining the specifics and the appropriate means to provide the constitutionally-required education.
We have "presume[d]" for some time. Time to "provide the constitutionally-required education."