Wednesday, August 31, 2016

On the question of if charters are public...

...the National Labor Relations Board has just decided "no":
In its recent decisions, both issued Aug. 24, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Hyde Leadership Charter School in Brooklyn and the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School are — like other government contractors — private corporations that receive taxpayer dollars. 
In the New York case, for example, the board found that even though state law describes charter schools as existing “within the public school system,” the schools were not directly established by a government entity and the people who administer them are not accountable to public officials or to voters. “Hyde was not established by a state or local government, and is not itself a public school,” reads the board’s majority opinion, signed by Democrats Kent Hirozawa and Lauren McFerran. 
The decisions mean that the schools’ employees must organize under the National Labor Relations Act, which applies to private-sector employees, rather than under state laws that apply to public-sector employees.

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Count me among them."

John E. Walsh, former chair of the state Democratic party, on why he's voting no on Question 2:
When a parent hears from a friend how much their community or a neighboring district already loses to the state charter funding formula and then how Question 2 allows unlimited expansion with no local control, the weakness of Question 2’s approach will become clear. Parents, educators, local taxpayers, and the local elected leaders who must balance school budgets each year are organizing against a state mandate that would allow state bureaucrats to approve 12 new charters schools a year, every year, forever, with no limit on how much money a single district could lose. This would nearly triple the number of charter schools in just 10 years – each year taking more and more resources from local district schools that are educating the highest performing students in the nation.
Well worth reading and sharing it all. 

Worcester School Committee meets September 1

The agenda is here (and note they're back to meeting at 7pm).
The report of the superintendent is "Worcester Comes Together," which I assume (as there's no backup) might be about the staffing kickoff last week (?).
From her week's schedule, I see that Treasurer Goldberg is planning on attending this meeting, so look for the item on $eedMA to be taken out of order.
There are the usual opening of school lists of retirements, resignations, transfers, and new hires.
Clark Street wants uniforms.
Cotey Collins has two citizen petitions in on civics/voter registration and a municipal government day (look for those to go to subcommittee).

Of most import to most parents is a consideration of a new elementary report card.

There's a response on including chronic absenteeism in school improvement plans. Likewise a response to Mr. Monfredo's request for an absentee awareness month (it involves a marching band).

There will be a response on the level of participation in summer school (not posted).

Ms. Colorio had asked for the testing schedule; it's here. Worth noting: it's also in the student handbook.

Mr. Monfredo has a request around the mentoring of principals.

Burncoat Middle has a $90,000 21st century Learning grant for the School Committee to accept (remember that these rotate now).

There are also three prior year fiscal payments.

There's also a request from administration that account transfers be made. There's no backup as yet, but I'd assume this has to do with the news from last week that half the money for kindergarten assistants and four teachers is found.

The School Committee also has an executive session for negotiations with bus drivers, custodians, teachers, IAs, nurses, and computer techs.

No liveblog this week

Malden cuts all school buses

Kind of a big deal:
Yellow school buses, as much a staple of elementary school as backpacks, blackboards and lunch boxes, will roll no more in Malden, after city officials made the unusual decision to completely eliminate bus service for most families. 
City officials said the cancellation was a painful but necessary step to help the School Department, which was facing a $2.5 million budget gap, save $400,000. 
The decision, which affects about 120 of Malden’s 6,500 students, has sent parents scrambling to make other arrangements to get their children to school.
It's worth noting that some of the concern from parents is when the district let them know, which was the end of July (why the article now?).

Here's what I find odd: "all buses" is 120 kids out of 6500. That's like two or three busloads of kids. So mostly school choice kids? Maybe?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Kindergarten aides are saved! (But pay attention to the details)

I keep telling you that finance departments are crucial...
Brian Allen, chief financial and operations officer for the Worcester schools, said health insurance savings following the city’s open enrollment period, as well as special education cost reductions created through in-sourcing services, have helped cover about half of the roughly $750,000 cost of retaining the positions. Financial staff will comb the budget for additional savings, such as through deferred spending or position attrition, to pay for the aides for the entire year, he said.
"about half"
It isn't all there yet, so pay attention to that.

On the other hand, the schools aren't going to be as short as they were going to be on kindergarten aides, which is excellent news, as is the saving of four of the secondary positions (that's also part of an answer to two of the outstanding questions).

Because this has now happened in Lowell and Fitchburg, as well as Worcester, I suspect the lesson being drawn some places on Beacon Hill is "well, see? They didn't need it anyway."
Instead, the question should be "What are they NOT doing to save this?" In every community, there are sacrifices of other things being made in order to make this choice. That shows how important early education is, but it doesn't mean the things sacrificed aren't important. I hope to hear the "what did we lose to do this?" question asked.
And yes, this has everything to do with the foundation budget needing reconsideration.

Brockton New Heights charter school renovation still shut down

The ongoing saga continues (apologies for the lengthy quote, but wow!)
Casieri said that city officials were doing a routine inspection on Tuesday at the 1690 Main St. building when they discovered work that was going beyond the scope of permits that were given for the project.
“They had a permit for an HVAC and a back door, but that’s separate from the work going on there,” Casieri said. “They were fitting out for a school (on the first floor), putting up walls and doing sprinkler system with no permits. The wiring permits were not adequate for scope of job. We are waiting to see what they come up with.”
Casieri said another major problem is that the city's building department needs to be informed of the fire rating for walls that are being installed to separate the charter school from another section of the building being used for storage.
“When you separate one use from another there is a fire separation wall,” Casieri said. “That has to be adequate. There is going to be kids in the school in there.”
On top of that, the proposed charter school building has zoning issues for parking that will require a lengthy Brockton Planning Board process to solve, Casieri said. The building is in a “C2” classified zone, which by city ordinance doesn’t provide preset parking regulations, he said.
“There’s nothing in the parking table that speaks to a private school,” Casieri said. “In the zoning ordinance, it says that if the table doesn’t mention the use, it has to go to the Zoning Board for their approval. ... That’s not a speedy process. That’s a three-month ordeal.”
"There is going to be kids in the school there."

I can't help but wonder if there's a bit of a "the rules don't apply to us" in the thinking here. No doubt at some point the charter defenders will come out with some accusation of overreaching; point them to the fire code.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Charters may be good on test scores, but maybe not so much on everything after

No doubt you saw the coverage swirling yesterday of the NBER paper raising some serious questions about what charter schools are long term doing for their students. To quote from the abstract:
No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.
This of course raises some really troubling questions on what we're doing with charter schools, then, since test scores aren't intended to be the end all of education; it's supposed to prepare you for the rest of your life!
Obligatory interruption here to point out (again) that the Massachusetts Constitution in fact creates public education in the Commonwealth for something EVEN MORE IMPORTANT than "earnings."
It's for the preservation and continuation of a democratic republic.

Okay, so far, so...lousy, actually, because that's pretty horrifying, but at least we know where we are. I think it's crucial to point out a few things that didn't get a lot of attention yesterday, though.

First, one of the authors of this paper is Roland Fryer, best known around here for his seat on the Massachusetts Board of Education, but here in his professional capacity at Harvard. Fryer's a charter supporter, no question, so the research that is negative on charters coming from him is unexpected.
There have, however, been some questions raised about some of Fryer's work in the past (see, for example, this from Vox on research released earlier this year on police shootings), in terms of methodology, sample size, and so forth, and those can be issued here as well: the study doesn't have exact matches on the public side for the charter students; it only looks at Texas, and so on.
It's also worth nothing that this isn't a completed research piece: what comes out this way isn't a peer-reviewed piece of work, analyzed by others. There are reasons for that having to do with the work Fryer does, but it also is worth nothing.
This isn't to take away from the conclusion drawn, within its parameters; just note the parameters.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hey, speaking of school finance lawsuits

Washington state's legislature owes $36.5 million in fines, as it's been a year, and they haven't fixed the state funding of education.
Interesting to note what the court said the state couldn't use in funding education:
The McCleary opinion reminded the legislature of a rule in Washington law that school funding must be drawn from “dependable and regular tax sources.” The Supreme Court has said that these sources can’t be local property taxes.
Why is that? In the words of the opinion, Districts with high property values are able to raise more levy dollars than districts with low property values, thus affecting the equity of a statewide system. Conversely, property-poor districts, even if they maximize their local levy capacity, will often fall short of funding a constitutionally adequate education. All local-level funding… suffers from this same infirmity....

Still wondering in Worcester...

So, after last night's opening of school report (covered by the T&G here), I still have a lot of questions, as someone who is going to be putting three kids on buses in a week. If you do, too, let me know, and I'll add them. I can't promise we'll get any answers, but we can at least get the questions out there.
In no particular order and updating as there are more:
  • Are there enough secondary teachers to teach classes that students have signed up for? In July, the School Committee was told  "there are courses with full enrollment without budgeted teaching slots" as of that time. Have more teachers been hired, and if so, with what funding? If not, what is being done about these students and their courses?

  • Likewise, what's the updated count on elementary classes of sizes over 27? And how many of those are kindergarten classes? And do any of those now lack aides, due to the zeroing out of the kindergarten grant?

  • Has anyone talked further with the city about these gaping holes in the teaching staff, as is being done in other districts across the state

  • This whole thing about a new position

  • The opening of school report talked about a districtwide focus on literacy; what exactly does that mean? Is there a new curriculum? Is there a shift in which standards will be stressed? Are teachers being required to do particular things? What else is going on with this besides a book read?

  • Relatedly, was there any summer work on curriculum in the district? Seriously. 

  • What's going on with the international baccalaureate program? The commitment was made to have that ready to roll out at the end of this year, and there is a staff position which is supposed to be writing up an innovation plan now. Is that still happening? And if not, why not?

  • None of the MSBA summer window projects are completed (so all are going to have to be finished during the school year) come? as work being done during the school year is both more disruptive and more expensive

  • How is the next round of the safety audit being funded and how are the schools being chosen?

  • Given that the additional $250,000 in capital is going to "safety equipment" (which is looking like walkie-talkies and cameras), what are the long-term plans for the increasing number of buses that can't be replaced? And if there are going to be increasingly more buses rented (cough, which doesn't count towards net school spending, cough) out of operational dollars, is there a plan to increase those dollars? And is any of this a long term plan of any kind?

  • How is the district preparing for a test that no one has seen and we don't seem to know much about, other than how much it is costing us

John Oliver on charter schools

Hey, did you watch John Oliver on charter schools yet?
(if you don't watch Oliver generally, do know his language may not be your choice)

After you watch that, you should also read this from Chris Faraone on if you should believe John Oliver or the Boston Globe.

Oh, and vote no on Question 2 in Massachusetts. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

New position in WPS administration

Among the things I thought we might hear about in the Worcester opening of schools report was this new position:
This came out the last week of July. If you're saying "wait, I don't remember hearing anything about this when the School Committee talked about changes during the budget!" you'd be right. This new position wasn't in the budget. 

It appears that what has happened is this: Al Ganem, who handled professional development (and AP courses and a bunch of other stuff) has left Worcester to be superintendent in Hampden-Wilbraham. Rather than fill that position, it appears that responsibilities were shuffled (not quite clear how) and this position was created instead (which would seem to be taking some of this responsibility off of Bertha Elena Rojas, who manages supplemental support along with ELL). 
Social-emotional learning is hip right now; it is looking as though the state is going to be pushing that to the fore as a measurement for schools, so it is perhaps understandable that focus would go there. I'll say I'm a bit dubious that an administrative position was the biggest need in improving that.

As for adding the position: these salaries all would fall under the central admin budget account, so the superintendent can pay this position without having to go through the School Committee. As to if the position ought to be created without at least a notification...? Probably not best practice. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

discussion of warrants

for what the heck this is about see here
O'Connell: MGL provides with school committee with statutory authority over finances
all school department bills must approved by the school committee (1995 finding)
"at best, a rather cumbersome initiative to undertake"
"it is in fact a requirement that we have some means of approving bills"
strict enough in fact that checks are not to issued
asking that it be referred to administration for a warrant approval process
have a means of distributing warrants and signing by means of technology
warrants on the school committee agenda in Haverhill, most cumbersome but "possibly most transparent"
"harmonize its own convenience...making information for those who do choose to look at the information in detail"
asks that it be referred to administration
Foley: interesting item from Mr. O'Connell
asks that it be sent to F&O
"what this means operationally, what it means from a budget perspective"
ensure school committee fulfills their responsibility, while not encumbering the administration
O'Connell: asks that the state be contacted as well
what the state recommends for a community the size of Worcester
that the discussion is focused on a recommendation that is reasonable

referred to F&O

A word about warrants

fair warning: this one will get wonkish!
As I mentioned in my agenda preview, there's an item on the agenda for today's Worcester School Committee that brings up something not seen in Worcester: warrants. The item is from Brian O'Connell and reads:
gb #6-281 - Mr. O’Connell (August 10, 2016) To implement the provisions of the November 1995 letter of the Commissioner of Education, and the Advisory on School Governance which accompanied it, that "the school committee remains the body responsible for approving and transmitting school department expenditures to the municipal accountant for the drawing of warrants. The Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services has advised that all school department bills must be approved by the school committee. When the superintendent, or principal and superintendent, have statutory authority to incur expense, the Department of Revenue advises that the bills must be approved by them as well as by the committee."
  School committees in Massachusetts are the ultimate authority of the their budgets. This derives from M.G.L. Ch. 71, sec. 34:
The vote of the legislative body of a city or town shall establish the total appropriation for the support of the public schools, but may not limit the authority of the school committee to determine expenditures within the total appropriation.
In other words, yes, the money comes from the city or town, but they can't tell you how to spend it.

This is why, as I've said before, the school committee has more authority over finances within the school system than the city council does within the budget; they can move money (not just cut budget items).

The reference above is ultimately in reference to M.G.L. Ch. 41, sec. 56, which reads in part:
The selectmen and all boards, committees, heads of departments and officers authorized to expend money shall approve and transmit to the town accountant as often as once each month all bills, drafts, orders and pay rolls chargeable to the respective appropriations of which they have the expenditure. Such approval shall be given only after an examination to determine that the charges are correct and that the goods, materials or services charged for were ordered and that such goods and materials were delivered and that the services were actually rendered to or for the town as the case may be...The town accountant shall examine all such bills, drafts, orders and pay rolls, and, if found correct and approved as herein provided, shall draw a warrant upon the treasury for the payment of the same, and the treasurer shall pay no money from the treasury except upon such warrant approved by the selectmen.
What this means is that in most districts, the school committee designates some members (it has been three for most payments; it's now one under the municipal reform bill) to review and sign a warrant for every expenditure of money that the school department makes, and then the full committee must vote approval also for every expenditure the school department makes.

Worcester doesn't, and it hasn't.

Now, my understanding had always been that this was because Worcester has a municipal auditor, who is independently appointed, and thus the secondary review of the school committee isn't legally required. It's also been pointed out that the above passage refers to a "town accountant" and Worcester has no such position.
On the other hand, the DoR has admitted no exceptions to the above, and Department of Revenue guide to municipal offices says this about town accountants (see page 40)
The General Laws provide for the election of one or more town auditors. The role of this position is to review the municipality’s financial books and ensure that proper procedures are being maintained. The laws also provide for the appointment of a town accountant. Towns that have made such an appointment have the option of abolishing the position of auditor. All but the smallest towns in Massachusetts have appointed town accountants and abolished the position of auditor. The town accountant automatically assumes the auditor’s duties upon the abolition of the auditor position.
Thus if the duties can flip in one direction, one might think they could flip in the other. And it's certainly the role filled by the city auditor.

In any case, that's what the item is about tonight in Worcester.

Worcester Public Schools opening of school report

"Teachers have to be leaders and leaders have to know literacy." Regie Routman
is the opening quote

Binienda: to know literacy is the focus this year

MSBA report: Grafton Street, Flagg, Jacob Hiatt, McGrath this summer
Grafton Street work going on through October
Flagg and Hiatt going on through December
window work still to be scheduled in McGrath
hmm...wonder why it wasn't completed over the summer this time?
HVAC at Hiatt
new flagpoles (!)
and an extensive list of new boilers which is too much for me to type and I wonder how the heck it's being paid for

staffing going on still
new teacher orientation
bus schedules are being posted 
new space and renovations at YMCA (remember, more space had to be rented as the school buildings weren't rotated)

Micronet installing Genetech cameras at doors
15 schools of the safety audit met with; 15 additional schools being audited (is that being outsourced and how is it being paid for)
41 walkie talkies distributed
five oficiers at big high schools
two rotating across the district
school safety center going back to alternative school
grades 5-6 going to Central Mass Academy
so that "there's no need to wait for an available spot"
Temporary Learning Classroom: expanded to three classrooms (from two) at Goddard
oh, man, Goddard didn't have space already...

Liz Murray opening the year with teachers this year
"Everyone will be a teacher of literacy" numbers on class size, no numbers on nutrition, transportation, curriculum, no answers on if the secondary classes got filled...I'm stunned. For context, here are my notes from last year. 

On later start times in Worcester...

I just saw this, as the agenda wasn't posted ahead of time. 
Here's administration's response regarding earlier start times:
The research on the benefits of a later start time for secondary schools is clear and indisputable. For the Worcester Public Schools, a change in the starting time for the secondary schools is operationally impossible, considering the many starting tiers of our schools. In addition, consideration has been given to other important factors such as afternoon athletics training and competition, students’ after school employment needs, and taking care of siblings while parents are at work. After much consideration on this issue, the Administration recommends filing this item. 
I don't know this, but that sounds a lot like "the new superintendent doesn't want to do this." This wasn't the message that was being given the last time there was discussion of this.

The latest post on later start times for secondary school is here from EdWeek  is here. 

Clive nails it

a smidge behind on posting this:

Last year, members of the Worcester School Committee hyperboosted their campaign against the stewardship of former Superintendent of Schools Melinda Boone by using a number of student fights at North High to gin up fears around safety in the Worcester public schools.  
Students such as Coralys Dejesus tried to give these committee members a much-needed perspective. In a local article she said, "These past few days have been a nightmare to the North High community because what the media fails to capture, and what the rumors fail to spread, is the brilliance that is North High."  
That didn’t dissuade these committee members, whose fearmongering would suggest to some that they were in charge of a correctional facility rather than a public school system.  
Now that they ran Ms. Boone out of town and have their superintendent of choice, these committee members are singing a different tune.
In a Telegram & Gazette article this week, we found out that the number of students leaving the school district through the school choice program is accelerating. We were told that one of the reasons for that flight might be the perception some parents have that the Worcester public schools are unsafe. 
So, now some School Committee members want to create a video highlighting the school system’s greatness. 
“We could give it out to real estate brokers and other organizations to let people know about the progress going on in the Worcester public schools,” committee member John Monfredo said. “We don’t do a good job selling ourselves. I think we are trending up (as a district), but we have to let parents know.”  
A good place to start, John, is for you to stop manufacturing the safety issues these school choice parents are apparently fleeing.

Time to revise charter regulations

Interesting analysis from Pennsylvania, pointing out that a few decades in, states with charter schools are finding it's time to take another look at the regulations overseeing them:
"A lot of states have found that their laws are lacking. They're old, they're outdated, they haven't kept up with modern practices that we know work for charter school accountability and oversight," said Amanda Fenton, director of state and federal policy for NACSA. 
"The goal of the charter movement was never to create more bad schools. We seek to improve authorizer practices and improve state policy," she said.
Massachusetts is not mentioned in the article.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yong Zhao says to ignore PISA

The idea of nations competing to reach the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) league tables makes as much sense as university students competing to see who can drink the most beer, according to Professor Yong Zhao, from the University of Oregon in the US. 
He told TES: “You’re maybe the best drinker but you’ve got to think, ‘Is it good for you and does it matter?’”
The rest is here.

Democratic State Committee votes No on 2

Here is the text of the resolution passed last night: 

WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform states that “Massachusetts Democrats are committed to investing in public education”; and
WHEREAS, the national Democratic Party platform states that charter schools “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools”; and
WHEREAS, more than $400 million in taxpayer money was diverted to charter schools statewide last year from local school districts, forcing cuts to programs that families and students value; and
WHEREAS, charter schools typically serve far fewer special needs students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students than the traditional public school districts they are located in and use hyper-disciplinary policies and suspensions for minor infractions to push out students; and
WHEREAS, charter schools use public funds, but local communities and their school committees have no control over their design, approval, operation or renewal; and
WHEREAS, Question 2 on the November 2016 ballot would allow the state to approve 12 new charters schools a year, every year, forever, with no limit on how much money a single district could lose; and
WHEREAS, this would nearly triple the number of charter schools in just ten years and take away more than $1 billion a year from our local public schools within several years; and
WHEREAS, the Question 2 campaign is funded and governed by hidden money provided by Wall Street executives and hedge fund managers; and
WHEREAS, the unfettered expansion of charter schools, at the expense of local district public schools, that would occur if Question 2 passes is clearly at odds with the national and state party platforms, and would lead Massachusetts in the wrong direction;
THEREFORE, let it be resolved that the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee opposes Question 2

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

First round charter school applications are in

Do, please, note the "first round" above: the applicants must be invited to apply further. DESE's announcement is here.

Brockton, of course, has a new charter school as of this year that is struggling to fill its seats. The Lynn application has been getting press as it's a national finalist in a competition for funding; it's also familiar, as Jennifer Berkshire points out:
The Old Sturbridge Village application also was turned down last year.

As for expansions: 

The focus, not surprisingly, is again on Boston. The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter was more or less told to do this by the Board, who refused their application for reconsideration back in the spring.

$150 million over five years

That's how much the state will pay for the new MCAS exam.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Worcester School Committee meetings this week

Two meetings for the Worcester School Committee this week: TLSS and the full committee.
The Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports standing committee is posted as meeting tomorrow at 5:30, but there's no agenda posted online. UPDATE: You can now find it here.
The full committee meets Thursday at 4 pm; you can find the agenda here.
There are a number of recognitions, including Al Ganem, who is now the superintendent of the Hampden-Wilbraham school district.
The report of the superintendent is the annual opening of school report (no link as yet, as the report isn't posted).
Goddard would like a voluntary school uniform (consider this your periodic reminder than any such uniform policy in the public schools must be voluntary, as students are guaranteed the right to an education).
As you may have seen in today's T&G, the nearly annual request for a report on school choice students is on the agenda. Something that appears to be being missed in the reaction thus far is the way the numbers skew older. That somewhat has to do with growing numbers of surrounding districts cutting off on school choice students; once a student has choiced in, they can stay until graduation, so in some districts, only older students who were already in would be allowed. However, it does argue that at least some of these are students who have attended the Worcester Public Schools and left. I don't think a video is going to convince those students that they've missed something.
There is a multiple part response to Miss Biancheria's inquiry on Durham, transportation, the new transportation person, and invoices, including the 23-page contract with Durham.
The administration is (again) asking that an items that the administration doesn't respond to within 24 months be automatically filed. Note that this would allow administration to kill an item they didn't want to report on by letting it age out. I'm not saying that they would; but it would be possible. 
Mr. O'Connell wants a program for gifted students, to know if the annual grant assurances document has been signed, if the guard shack at Burncoat should be removed (can they do South's, too?), to submit a grant request to MSBA for technology, and to...sign warrants?
gb #6-281 - Mr. O’Connell (August 10, 2016) To implement the provisions of the November 1995 letter of the Commissioner of Education, and the Advisory on School Governance which accompanied it, that "the school committee remains the body responsible for approving and transmitting school department expenditures to the municipal accountant for the drawing of warrants. The Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services has advised that all school department bills must be approved by the school committee. When the superintendent, or principal and superintendent, have statutory authority to incur expense, the Department of Revenue advises that the bills must be approved by them as well as by the committee."
Okay, maybe we'll come back to that
Mr. Monfredo wants to thank Houghton Mifflin for a book donation, to UMass Med for a donation to Worcester Tech (which wasn't received by the school committee), a report on the summer programs, to include the Heimlich maneuver in CPR training, to participate in Constitution Day in September, and to recognize a WEC donation.
Miss Biancheria wants a report on the new bus routes.
The administration is forwarding the Substance Use, Treatment, Education and Prevention for related policy changes.
They want to file a list of items requesting reports from Ms. Colorio, Mr. Monfredo, and Mr. O'Connell.
They're requesting acceptance of a $10,000 grant for Career and Technology Education.
There are a series of prior fiscal year payments.
There also is an executive session after the meeting for deliberation around collective bargaining for bus drivers and monitors, for custodians, and for teachers.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

"heartbreaking" levels of violence reported by gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth

As the Times reported earlier this week, a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found horrifying reports from gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers:
These adolescents were three times more likely than straight students to have been raped. They skipped school far more often because they did not feel safe; at least a third had been bullied on school property. And they were twice as likely as heterosexual students to have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property. More than 40 percent of these students reported that they had seriously considered suicide, and 29 percent had made attempts to do so in the year before they took the survey. The percentage of those who used illegal drugs was many times greater than their heterosexual peers. While 1.3 percent of straight students said they had used heroin, for example, 6 percent of the gay, lesbian and bisexual students reported having done so.
Dan Savage, in his usual blunt way, wants to know what straight adults are going to do about it:
The LGBT community will do what it can—we will scream and yell, we will give money to GLSEN, we will try our best to let LGBT kids know that life isn't high school and share our coping mechanisms and strategies for getting through it—but if decent and loving straight people don't do something, if decent and loving straight people don't take action, if there aren't social and legal consequences for indecent and unloving straight people (why aren't parents who throw their queer kids out charged with child endangerment?), this won't stop.
 Our kids. Our schools. Our problem to fix.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Update on the Brockton charter school

h/t to Sue Doherty of Brockton for sharing this:
When we last left New Heights Charter opening in Brockton, they were asking for a change to their charter for fewer days, because they didn't have a building that was going to be ready on time. They also didn't have anywhere near the projected enrollment, despite that purported silent need being the reason the majority of the Board of Ed voted in favor of it. This was covered by Diane Ravitch in a post yesterday. 
The Brockton Enterprise has now reported that the shorter school year has been granted (by the Commissioner, not the Board of Ed), and they've come to some rather expensive resolution of the building issue:
Jacqueline Reis, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said on Friday that state officials believe that New Heights Charter School of Brockton will now open at 1690 Main St. The new proposed location is the former Verizon division headquarters, which was sold earlier this year for $960,000, to a company called 1690 Main Street LLC...The charter school previously said that it would open on August 23 at 141 Main St., in the Tuxedo’s by Merian building, following renovation financed by a $575,000 loan to make the property code compliant with Massachusetts education standards...Walker previously said that the charter school would pay $893 per student annually for five years to rent out a 30,000-square-foot school space in the Tuxedos by Merian building in the center of the downtown area. With 315 students expected for the first year, from grades six through eight, the lease could be as high as $281,295 to begin with.
So there's a $575,000 loan for renovations plus $281,295 rent on the 141 Main Street building ('though one would hope that some of the rent might be waived if the school isn't actually occupying the building). They then are renting the 1690 Main Street building (and from whom? Is that group associated with the school?) for some sum of money, a building which, given that it was an office building is probably also going to need at least some renovation in order to be a school. They're doing all of this out of a $4M annual budget, with an additional $250,000 of fundraising from the state charter association.
Here's why this in particular is a concern: financial management has been a weakness of charter schools in the past, and, in particular, buildings and renovations are among what sunk Spirit of Knowledge here in Worcester.

Familiarity with technology makes a difference in testing

See if you can spot the gap in this article from the Herald:
Over the next three years, all Massachusetts students will be taking standardized tests on computers — a transition some school leaders caution may put inner city kids and budgets at a disadvantage. 
“There is a bit of a problem in places like Worcester. Our population is not as economically advantaged as other parts of the state. Some districts have laptops for every kid,” said David Perda, chief research and accountability officer in Worcester Public Schools 
“We’re working very hard to provide the kind of technological support for our students,” said Dan Warwick, superintendent of Springfield Public Schools. “The problem is some of our kids haven’t had enough exposure.” 
But state education officials said the move is appropriate as more students use technology out of the classroom. “It also reflects the reality that students are increasingly using technology in and out of the classroom to learn and to produce written work,” Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in a letter to superintendents.
Some of them aren't, though. That's the point.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The money behind the charter cap lift (Question 2)

I've been sharing these like mad on social media (Twitter and Facebook) BUT I want to be sure that no one in Massachusetts is missing these: Professor Maurice Cunningham of the Mass Political Profs blog has been tracing the money behind the push to lift the charter cap in Massachusetts, which is on our November ballot as question 2.
He started back in mid-July with a close look at the Office of Campaign and Political Finance  of those involved. In sum? "The pro-charters operation is the tool of hedge fund and big finance players."
He then followed up last week with a post specifically on Strategic Grant Partners, demonstrating that the well-publicized $18 million being spent on this effort wasn't the whole story:
First, the privatizers had been raising and spending money toward their goal in ways that did not have to be legally counted. Second, the organizations funding the political battle did not have to report to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance or Secretary of State. Third, the campaign to privatize public schools has not been confined to campaign year 2016 but extends back several years. The key to understanding the deployment of this hidden money is by examining the activities of an Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) organization known as Strategic Grant Partners (“SGP”).
Today, Professor Cunningham is back with a post looking at who is funding the TV ad that urges a "Yes" vote on Question 2.
The Brennan Center for Justice recently reported about opaque entities like those we’ve met here that “There is no requirement that the names of these entities reflect their actual purpose or interests, and many use generic or even misleading names that obscure the nature of their funding.” Also, Brennan reports, the politically savvy operatives backing these organizations use positive sounding local names in recognition that if the true source of the funding was known, voters would consider that information and be less likely to respond positively to the ads.
Jennifer Berkshire then followed this up with a Q&A with Professor Cunningham here.
I urge you not only to read these yourself but also to SHARE THEM. There will be much rhetoric about "teachers unions" this fall: check out who wants to lift the cap on charters. It isn't anyone who has an interest in kids.
Or transparency.
Or democracy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

No Time to Lose: National Council of State Legislatures weighs in on the post-NCLB universe

The National Council of State Legislatures after 18 months of study today released a report on what successful school systems around the world are doing. Their interest is in influencing the post-NCLB, state-focused, U.S. education universe. The full report can be downloaded here.
NPR has a good summary of the first three points in their report:

1: More Help For The Youngest Learners In the U.S., poverty is a powerful drag on the youngest learners, with too many children showing up to kindergarten both hungry and lacking important cognitive and noncognitive skills. Research suggests that preschool, when done well, can have a profound impact on children's lives, but too often in the U.S. it's done badly or not at all...
2: Teachers Need To Be Better And, in this case, "better" is a big tent. The report's authors say it starts when future teachers are still students...Once these top-flight teachers enter the classroom, they also enter a very different professional reality — one that involves as much training as teaching. In some places, the report says, just "30 percent to 35 percent of a teacher's time is spent teaching students, while the rest is spent on activities such as working in teams with other teachers to develop and improve lessons, observing and critiquing classes, and working with struggling students." Too often in the U.S., teachers work in isolation, cut off from their fellow teachers. In contrast, Stephenson says, many high-performing countries have embraced a team-teaching model, where newer teachers are constantly observing veteran teachers and being observed, fine-tuning their skills in real time. Overseas, observation is about improvement — not just accountability. And then there's pay. Yes, other nations have higher standards for their teachers, but with those standards come increased respect and pay, on par with engineers and accountants. Imagine that. 
3: Fix Career And Technical Education (CTE) You know, the classes formerly known as "voc-ed" — auto repair, welding, carpentry, etc. The report suggests that, in the U.S., many schools have failed to adapt their CTE offerings to fit the needs of the modern economy, preparing students for jobs of the past instead of matching them with today's employers. It's strange given the mantra heard often from U.S. policymakers and educators, that today's schools should prepare students to be "college and career ready." In reality, Takumi, the Hawaii Democrat, says many schools "have kind of pushed career to the side." As a result, too often students need college in order to be career ready. To make matters worse, in the U.S. CTE also has a perception problem. Stephenson, the Utah Republican, says "it is considered a second tier for low-performing students. ... That is our tradition in America." . It's a chicken-or-egg problem. Whether that perception created the current reality or was created by it, both need to change.
The fourth item is "reforms that are connected and aligned as parts of a clearly planned and carefully designed comprehensive systems," which is not only difficult to summarize: it's also difficult to do.

It'll be interesting and informative to see which states do anything about any of this at all. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hey, remember that new charter school in Brockton?

The one the Board of Ed approved on a 7-3 vote, over community outcry, last spring? They've just had to ask the state for a change to their charter, as they aren't going to be open on time. And that's not all: after all the talk about the district need for such a school:
Also, as of the July 19 Brockton School Committee meeting, parents of only 170 students filled out the required release forms to transfer student records to the New Heights Charter School. The charter school said it plans to serve 315 students in its first year. Deputy Superintendent Michael Thomas broke down the numbers, stating that release forms were signed for 65 sixth graders, 60 seventh graders and 45 eight graders.
h/t to Diane Ravitch for picking this up

Monday, August 1, 2016

The FY17 foundation numbers

You can see what DESE presented to superintendents the first week of July on foundation budget numbers here. This includes the actual dollar amounts for each category of student, and it also has the deciles of funding for economically disadvantaged.
UPDATE (thanks, Melissa!): If you want to find your district's decile, you can find it on the bottom of your districts foundation budget spreadsheet (which you can find if you download the complete spreadsheet for FY17 from here). Check out line 14:

Overrides of the Governor's budget, part II

Again, you can find these by going to H.4450, clicking on "Bill History" and scrolling WAY DOWN. This time, the Legislature met for two days, so this weekend's updates start on 7/30. Round one post is here

  • The earmarked funds within the DESE line item (7010-005) ($2.1M was vetoed, all of which was earmarked for programs around the state)
  • literacy programs ($600,000 was vetoed from a $1.6M account, $400,000 for Reading Recovery and $200,000 specifically for Hopkinton)
  • school nutrition ($250,000 for the Chefs in Schools program had been vetoed)
  • federal impact aid ($100,000 for Lincoln had been vetoed)
  • targeted intervention ($300,000 had been vetoed: $250,000 for a parent engagement program and $50,000 for the Randolph Public Schools)
  • dual enrollment ($100,000 for Holyoke Community College had been vetoed)
  • after/out of school programming ($935,000 had been vetoed for programs in Brookline, Lawrence, Brockton, New Bedford, Worcester, Fall River, and Boston)
  • JFYNetworks for Accuplacer ($200,000 specifically for them had been earmarked,as best as I can tell from the language)
  • innovation schools (the Governor had vetoed the full $350,000)
  • adult education ($350,000 earmarked for programs in Boston and Lawrence)
  • career to school connecting activities ($400,000 had been vetoed for programs in STEM, the Blackstone Valley Educational Foundation, and South Hadley High School)
If there is more, I will update the post!
Note that the above means that we HAVE A BUDGET!