Thursday, July 28, 2016

DFER in Philly with their eyes on Massachusetts

So while the Democrats are having their national convention in Philadelphia, it might seem that attention has shifted off the other things on the fall ballot, like the four ballot questions.
Not at all!
In fact, those supporting the charter school ballot question are attempting to woo support for it among the Democrats who are in Philadelphia by sponsoring their breakfasts:
So one of the groups advocating to raise the cap on charter schools, Massachusetts Democrats for Education Reform, has sponsored two of the convention's breakfasts to help win over the party faithful.
My guess is that most of the elected officials probably already have an opinion on this question (I suspect most of the Legislature knows they can't afford it), but it's the rank and file Democrats who have no idea who DFER is that presumably are those they're hoping to convert. Also, this is a healthy reminder of who has money in this issue!

They also had a "Camp Philos" event, well covered by Molly Knefel in TruthOut, which is particularly interesting for several things. First, Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education House Chair Representative Alice Peisch was there and was quoted regarding the future of education reform:
Both Ruiz and Massachusetts State Representative Alice Peisch suggested that education reform had a PR problem. To fix that, they argued, reformers have to emphasize that they're not just about testing and closing schools, but about addressing educational inequality.
Second, when the discussion on school integration happened--specifically, if integration should be forced-- Peter Cunningham (who worked for Secretary Duncan in both Chicago and D.C.; he's now at Education Post) had a fairly dismissive perspective:
Maybe the fight's not worth it. It's a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it's been a long fight, we've had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. It's a good question.
Also, the perspective of the person DFER had interacting with Knefel is weirdly hostile:
During the lunch break, interestingly enough, a DFER staffer asked me if I was with Ravitch or the unions. I don't believe Ravitch was at the gathering, so I have to assume that she meant "with" Ravitch in the ideological sense. I told her that I was attending the event as a member of the press. In addition to being an after-school teacher, I am a freelance journalist and regularly cover education. She suggested that I wasn't actually with the press, but there just to tweet. Just for the record, I had not tweeted or retweeted anything critical that day, and I said again that I was with the press. She replied that it was totally OK that I was there, but that I should just "be honest." The interaction betrayed the thinly veiled sentiment beneath the morning's oft-repeated message of harmony with unions. The assumption was that if I attended the event in a critical capacity it must be because of a secret union affiliation. I am definitely not a union member, but I was still unsure of how welcome I was at the proverbial table.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Education-related overrides of Governor Baker's vetos

The veto overrides are in the "bill history" section of H.4450 (scroll way down). There were a few Senators and Representatives that were helpful and tweeted out some of the big items (thank you!), but we can dig through the rest.
A few things that help to know:
  • the K-12 education accounts largely start with 70xx, beginning with the Secretary of Education's 7009-1700 . There are a few other education items squirreled away elsewhere, but starting with the 70xx's will get most of them. 
  • the House and Senate both met on Saturday, so start with the 7/23 postings.
Here's what I've found. 
  • The special education circuit breaker veto was overridden (that's being funded at $277M).
  • The veto of the Bay State Reading Institute ($400,000) was overridden.
  • The veto of the funding for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment ($350,000) was overridden (which bodes well for the Legislature's thoughts on having an alternative to the MCAS).
Note that both the House and Senate are coming back in session this weekend, and they are expected to pass more overrides. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

There's an important point lurking in the 74's ballot article

You may have seen this article about Massachusett's ballot question on the charter cap making the rounds yesterday. Let's start by pointing out that this is where this article is coming from and these are not friends of public education.
That said, it's worth reading the article, which seems to be struggling to be fair, even as it can't resist making snide remarks about teachers' unions or districts thinking they are owned money. The bit about how "good" Massachusetts districts have it on charter reimbursements compared to the rest of the country is particularly rich.
I want to call attention, however, to their analysis--which could of course be wrong--of where the decision is going to fall on this:
Ironically, the fate of the referendum will probably come down to a unique set of swing voters: the suburban centers along the I-495 ring outside Boston that have no dog in this fight. Their schools are unaffected by charters. To put the question bluntly: Will the well-off white residents of Wellesley, Lexington, Newton, and Hopkinton vote to open up more charter school seats for low-income black and brown students from Roxbury, Dorchester, East Boston, and Mattapan?
First, it's really important to note that the middle sentence--"Their schools are unaffected by charters."--is completely inaccurate. For an easy visual, you can use the MTA's map, or, if you don't trust that, you can use what the MTA did, which is the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's information (that's to the overall page; you'll need to download spreadsheets for more). Yes, suburban schools are absolutely losing funding, and seeing educational inequities, as a result of charter schools. Ask the 495 suburbs about AAMS or the 128 districts about Mystic Valley, for example.

Second, any district that has students going to a charter school loses out when there is expansion of charters. The reason for this is simple: the number of charter seats continues to go up; the amount of funding in charter reimbursement does not. (That's why, incidentally, this was in the Senate's RISE Act.) You have the same pie being cut into more pieces; each piece is smaller. None is fully funded.

Thus if the above is true, it's crucial that parents in every public school district realize the cost to their own district if the cap is lifted.

So about this Worcester Public Schools strategic plan: some questions

Today's article on the Worcester Public Schools' possible strategic plan is revealing. Read the responses of (what certainly seemed like the) two major partners in this efforts to Superintendent Binienda's announcement that the plan is to hire Robert Antonucci:
But Ms. Davis Carey said she has only had one conversation with school officials about the plan so far, and described the project as being “really in the embryonic stage.” She added she didn’t have a lot to say as of Tuesday about the direction of the effort that Ms. Binienda laid out last week, including the choice to hire Mr. Antonucci as a consultant.
Timothy McGourthy, executive director or research bureau, also said he wasn’t sure about the level of interaction so far with Mr. Antonucci, but said he supported the possible selection of the former commissioner. Like the WEC, he said he also anticipates the research bureau will continue to be involved in the development of the strategic plan if given the opportunity.
The clear impression given at the meeting was that there had been some sort of ongoing conversations with those who had suggested the plan in the first place. It appears that isn't the case.
So who suggested Mr. Antonucci? Who has been having these meetings? And where did the estimate on cost come from? Who is it that's going to be doing the fundraising to cover this cost?
The cost, note, puts us into the realm of sealed competitive bids, if this is going to be a contract with the school department. But is it?
A strategic plan falls into the realm of the school committee, which gave its (conditional and "needing more information) assent last week. If there's a committee set up to create the strategic plan, they'll be advising the school committee on something under their purview, which makes them subject to the open meeting law (they fall under the definition of "public body").

None of the above is to say that a strategic plan is a bad idea. And having it public sooner rather than later is good. This does, though, seem to have a lot of open questions at this point.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Southern Poverty Law Foundation challenges (state) constitutionality of Mississippi charter school funding

It's worth watching this case that the Southern Poverty Law Foundation has filed in Mississippi regarding charter school finances.
The lawsuit calls for the court to strike down the funding provisions of the Mississippi Charter School Act (CSA). The Mississippi Constitution requires schools to be under the supervision of the state and local boards of education to receive public funding. But under the CSA, charter schools receive public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the state Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, and local boards of education.
Charter schools in Mississippi are accountable to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, a body that receives 3 percent of the public funding that goes to charter schools.
There's coverage of this from the Hechinger Report here.
Clearly, the way that Mississippi does this is different than Massachusetts, as the authorizer is independent of both the state and the local districts, while in Massachusetts, the authorizer is the state. However, the argument that the state constitution requires the oversight of both the state and the local authority does bear out in Massachusetts.
Good one to watch.

Worcester Public Schools strategic planning meeting

I know no more than what I put in my notes from Thursday, but just to give it its own post:

Tuesday, August 23
9 am
Durkin Administration Building
Room 410

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Worcester School Committee: Bastille Day edition

probably mostly notes on budget, once they get there.
Oh, hey, I'd missed that this is on here! 
To accept a donation in the amount of $2,500 for student scholarships from the Voya Foundation in recognition of the Worcester Public Schools being the 2016 recipient of the Donald Johnson Operational and Cost Efficiency Award from the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials. 
 Verdolino (quoting Brian Allen): "we believe that this collaborative budget approach has brought millions of dollars" in cost efficiency
Allen "is an exemplary business official, as I'm sure you all know"
Worcester gave the best testimony to FBRC; hope for a resolution to bring a better resolution for Worcester

Monday, July 11, 2016

Jointly passed budget leaves Worcester $1.1M short (and School Committee meets Thursday)

I'd urge those interested in Worcester education to read the backup to Thursday's meeting regarding the budget. Note that this was prior to Governor Baker's released vetoes, which cuts down circuit breaker further (that's probably the only impact the Governor's vetoes have on WPS, though there are quite a number that hit Worcester in other ways).
The budget passed by both parts of the Legislature leave WPS short by $1.1M from the budget the School Committee passed last month. That's:

  • $736,360 lost for the kindergarten grant. I'd urge you to read the memo, but, in short, there will be schools with simply will not have a kindergarten aide this year. And that's with elementary class sizes growing. 
  • a $63,139 increase over the House budget, as the joint budget adopts the Senate number (again, read the memo for why).
  • a $364,059 loss in charter school reimbursement (this is due to the increase in seats, but not in reimbursements). This means that Worcester is $1M underfunded for charter school reimbursements for FY17.
  • a further loss of $82,000 in tuition assessment change.
The general fund budget is impacted by $383,725. 

But that's not all!
The elementary classes are, of course, bigger in size than last year. You'll remember, though, that secondary positions were cut in the FY17 budget as passed. As course schedules are being filled "there are courses with full enrollment without budgeted teaching slots" (emphasis in the original). In other words, there are classes full of secondary kids for which Worcester doesn't have teachers.

AND because the preliminary estimates showed a significant drop in the count of Worcester's school-aged population, the Title I numbers are expected to be down. No word yet on how much.

As I was saying, there's a meeting of the Worcester School Committee on Thursday at 4 (summertime!). The agenda is here. The big (big) news is the budget update. 

There are several recognitions. There are also a significant number of donations. 
There are responses coming back to budget questions on: what a .8 position is; how other districts handle their McKinney-Vento reimbursements (Worcester isn't the only school district that loses it); and the IA who handles CORI checks
The administration is requesting that the School Committee file this list of outstanding motions (just item numbers given; no motions).  Further, the administration is requesting that all items referred for a Friday letter that have not received a response within 24 months be automatically filed. 
The administration is forwarding these dates as legislative meetings: Friday, November 4, 2016; Friday January 20, 2017' and  Friday, March 10, 2017.
There are proposals to extend the contracts of both Attorney Paige L. Tobin and Attorney Sean Sweeney for three years.

Mr. O'Connell wants to know about each school's substance abuse policy.
Ms. Biancheria wants to know about the new transportation position. Mr. O'Connell is requesting information about the technology capacities of WPS with regarding to state testing (something which has been answered before, when the requirements were heavier; WPS had enough then.).
And Mr. O'Connell is asking about budget impacts.
Mr. Monfredo wants an update on the teacher survey.
Miss Biancheria wants data on MCAS appeals. Miss Biancheria is asking again this month that the grounds of City View and Belmont Hill be trimmed, for an inventory of recess equipment, and for crosswalks, particularly Belmont Hill's, to be repainted, and a list of schools by accountability level.

There is also an extensive executive session, with discussion of litigation, a grievance, and negotiations with most of the unions. The executive session is AFTER the meeting. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

The problem we all live with

Yes, all of us.
If you are a white parent of white children, please read this.

Spending on prisons has increased at three times the rate of spending on education

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released a report comparing rates of spending on prisons to that on education:
Over the past three decades, state and local government expenditures on prisons and jails have increased about three times as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education. At the postsecondary level, the contrast is even starker: from 1989–90 to 2012–13, state and local spending on corrections rose by 89 percent while state and local appropriations for higher education remained flat. 
All states had lower expenditure growth rates for PK–12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections was more than 100 percentage points higher than the rate for education.
No doubt you will hear that Massachusetts was one of only two states (the other was New Hampshire) that had a lower expediture growth rate for prisons than for education. Remember, however, that this measurement goes back to 1979-80, thus including the enormous increase in the years immediately following the SJC finding in favor of the plantiffs in McDuffy. Check out just how close to equal those two lines are:

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

WPS finally getting a facilites master plan!

The T&G is reporting that the RFP is (FINALLY!) going out for a facilities master plan.

Do note, however, that it is not for all schools: per the RFP, "a comprehensive physical and programmatic assessment in twenty-eight (28) schools." The district has 44 schools; I suspect that this has something to do with the $400,000 budget. Given that this money passed two years ago, though, it getting through (and being outsourced, which is the right way to do this one) is a victory!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Fourth!

Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.
Edward Everett, 15th Governor of Massachusetts, who recommended the creation of the state Board of Education