Friday, September 30, 2016

Excellent school governance piece by Joshua Starr

Many school system leaders pay too little attention to formal policy, which is a mistake since you can draw a straight line between a policy, subsequent rule changes, and resource allocation. Equity, school assignment/admissions, and curriculum policies can form the backbone of a leader’s efforts to improve outcomes for children. Policy changes should be made transparently with the public, and they should be based on data. An open discussion about a proposed policy gives the leader opportunities to lay bare the issues that may be preventing improvement. If done properly, the process for creating a new policy or changing an old one can be a powerful engagement tool for the public. Once a policy is set, the school board is bound to uphold it, and the leader has an opportunity to align resources to the desired state.
The full piece is here.

Should it be of interest...

The presentation I did yesterday was on the role of the school committee, specifically for school business administrators.
It's in my Dropbox here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

DESE update from Jay Sullivan (school finance) at MASBO

reorg at DESE in finance: Roger Hatch's last day was September 1
"I'm the last man standing"
as soon as all the plans have been finalized, let everyone know what the situation is
has sent out emails to everyone who has requested an extension on end of year reports by today
had a conference call last week: a number of resources out about Erate
"pretty exciting situation"
you can get free consulting on if you have infrastructure capacity
Municipal modernization act
"help clarify and ease the burden on local officials to some degree"
some of it related to procurement: OSD going around the state doing check-ins
sped stabilization fund: helpful to schools
some issues regarding regions: a number of issues
DoR submitted a twenty page summary; will link on website
"a lot of this stuff is cleaning up language"
Section that requires OSD to create procedures for lessening cost of textbooks, through (among others) bulk purchasing
working on school data reports (acronym apparently is RADAR?)
meeting with districts over the summer whether we need to expand the chart of accounts, whether it's sufficient as it is
one of the things that came out of the FBRC was the need for more data
ELL and low income, in particular
Economically disadvantaged "a huge political football"
kinds of spending that is necessary to help serve that population
framing things such that if we ask you for more detail on this "is it feasible? how difficult is it to provide" but don't think we asked "how useful it is"
talked about expanding detail on Schedule 19, but essentially there's one line in the 2000 series (that's teaching) "that's got to be 70% of your expenditures"
"we're not asking districts to submit updates" "analysis by paralysis"
"we have to have rules for the 10% that cover the 100% of the districts" to protect those "who fund the minimum as maximum"
"when you build a house, you don't build a foundation and put a roof on it. The foundation is the base; it's the minimum that you need. Then you need to add to that."
updating chart of accounts in 2001
question on if the information would be published
Title I; to issue a report card for every school in the Commonwealth that calculates school spending, school by school
continuing looking to cleanse our data
"what should be charted where" by accounts
tells of a district that spoke of their one-to-one technology program, and they'd spent no money within their chart of accounts on technology for several years
if the data's no good, what good is it?

Legislature keeps hearing need for more services for low income kids: how do we determine what it gets spent on?
Is it just additional staff? How do we articulate that?
thinking of changing the chart of accounts, adding a program column to demonstrate where low income funding goes

9C cuts?
no pothole account
earmarks all in DESE's main admin account
sending anyone who had an earmark through the grants process, so they'll get paid monthly
"it's because they don't want to send all the money out the door"
every two months we get a 1/6th allotment of the yearly allocation
"they're not going to give all that money to us to send out to districts"
circuit breaker at 70% not due to 9C cuts; "totally underestimated indicator claims"
came in substantially higher this year than it did in the past
"we didn't get everything we asked for" in the budget
"still holding $5M for extraordinary relief"
"thinking that it might occur; I don't know. We're waiting to hear what happens with revenues."

Looming financial disaster (and why you should vote No on Question 2)

Let's start with this excellent and petrifying chart from the Boston Public Schools administration:

The Boston finance office notes that this is a 25% increase over time which they thought was "reasonable." So it could be even more severe than that.

School spending increases in Massachusetts isn't tracking at anything close to that steep line. It isn't even tracking at the 3 new schools a year line.
And that's just Boston.

There's been this tennis match on claims on school funding during this Question 2 debate: increase funding to district/pull money away from districts. If you're interested in how it works, I'd recommend MassBudget's post on that (and that probably needs a post, too), but here's what isn't entering into that assertion from the cap lift side:  

If in fact the cap lift proponents intend no change other than removing the cap on charter schools (which is what the ballot language actually says), the state is going to need money for up to twelve new charter schools a year. That's facilities money (charter schools aren't eligible for the Massachusetts School Building Authority, so they have an increment for that), and then, after they've redirected the per pupil amount to the charter, there's the state reimbursement, allowing the district time to make the coming budget cut.

The state already isn't funding that amount in full, and it hasn't for several years; the last calculation I saw estimated that we'd see 54% this year. That means that maybe they'll get to all the first year 100% reimbursements (after they do the facilities amount), but they won't get much, if any, farther. So, as others have pointed out, the reimbursement isn't some windfall of money, anyway, and it also isn't being funded.

If we already can't fund the reimbursement with the number of new and expanding charters we have, how are we going to fund 12 new ones a year?

Vote no on 2.

Public records law update (at MASBO) H4333

Rosann DePietro: Now four statutes instead of one
"probably coming your way, because what else do you have to do all day?"
the law takes effect for the most part this January(2017)
put templates in place before it takes impact
law didn't change the definition of a public record
"everything you have as an organization is a public record unless it isn't"
but now if you get it wrong and a requestor sues you, you not only have to proceed the record, you pay their attorneys' fees
part of updating the website goes into effect in July
most changes benefit the person making the request, not the person receiving the request
more timely access, at a reduced cost, with greater electronic access

MGL Ch.4 sec. 7 (26) is where the definition is
exemption C: personnel or medical files, or "unwarranted invasion of privacy"

School district must appoint and publicly identify a "Record Access Officer"
who that is must be "posted conspiciously" on district website and in administration offices
modifications to response timeframes
long all requests, how handled, fees
if producing records is unduly burdensome, must send written response in 10 days with explanation
25 days: need to offer modification to make request not unduly burdensome
provide project charge before moving on
Supervisor of Public Records may grant an extension, not beyond 30 days upon showing good cause
5 cents a page maximum
no fee if no response in 10 business days
population of more than 20,000, cannot charge first two hours
otherwise, can charge up to $25 an hour
municipality may petition state supervisor for exception
must respond electronically, unless records are not electronically or respondant doesn't want them electronically
common records should be posted online; response may not be a direction to the website
all records must be maintained in the custody of a Custodian of Records
requester may petition Supervisor of Public Records for a compliance determination if district has not complied
may compel you to comply, or get AG involved who can take you to court
if court disagrees with supervisor's ruling in your favor, you may not be assessed attorney's fees, BUT requester can bypass appeal to supervisor and go straight to court (so what then?)
recommend setting up a template to track requests
Read the law (it's chapter 121 2016 acts)
consider initial round doing for free to see how long it will take as a test
General response from group is that fees go to general fund and thus don't go to district at all
Maybe a revolving account is needed in future amendments?

Excellent Globe editorial on the foundation budget review commission

Excellent and timely editorial in the Globe this morning:
The ruling holds up an unflattering mirror to Massachusetts, where the school-aid formula, also known as Chapter 70, has remained unchanged for 23 years. In that time, the educational landscape has been profoundly altered by a variety of factors, especially demographics and special-education needs. The formula is designed to have an equalizing effect, with less wealthy districts receiving more state aid than wealthier ones. But the system’s starting point, known as the foundation budget (the funding level needed to provide an adequate education to all students in a district), has been found to underestimate the cost of educating students by at least $1 billion. Per-pupil spending ranges from more than $25,000 (in Cambridge and Provincetown) to about $11,000 (Southampton and Grafton). It is politically difficult, to say the least, for a group of legislators to negotiate a new funding formula, especially if it’s a zero-sum game that will give to some school districts while taking from others. Efforts torevise the funding formula have centered on adding money to the school-aid budget, a politically easier task were there additional funding to be had. But there isn’t. Governor Charlie Baker and legislative leaders face making cuts as budget funding gaps continue to surface.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Why the charter sector "growing at the same rate" as the rest of public education should concern us

So today's much-vaunted study to push the ballot question to lift the charter cap comes from the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation. They've found, they've said, that the spending within the charter sector has grown at about the same rate as spending in the rest of Massachusetts public education. They put forth that charters, with 4% of the student population, are spending 4% of the K-12 education funding.

If that is in fact the case, that's really a problem.

There's often a back and forth about numbers of students with particular needs served by charter schools, 'though the information at a certain level is available online. What's too often missed in this conversation is that special education funding has no relationship to the actual enrollment of kids with special education needs. Right now, special education is funded at a flat 3.75% of kids enrolled in a district or charter school. That is included in the funding whether or not the school has any kids with special education needs. 

What isn't broken out in the state profiles is levels of student need. I think we all recognize, for example, that the kids who have a learning disability who need extra classroom support are different from kids who need a one-to-one aide to (for example) manage their feeding tube and breathing apparatus. Both of these kids and everyone in between are in district schools. That is not the case with charter schools. Yet charter schools, too, get that same flat 3.75% of enrollment for special education.

And special education, as has been recognized for over a decade now (check the footnotes) is costing significantly more than what's in the foundation budget (see page 9) and is rising considerably faster than the increase in inflation. Thus this isn't only a gap: it's a gap that's growing at an exponential rate every year.

Thus if in fact we are spending 4% of K-12 spending on 4% of the population that's in charter schools, we should be concerned.

We should also be concerned that a group that regards itself as a fiscal watchdog wouldn't understand this.

September 27 meeting of the Board of Education: in sum

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met today in Malden. This meeting followed last night's release of the 2016 state testing results and accountability levels, followed by at Monday night meeting on those results.
Today's meeting opened, as usual, with comments from Chair Sagan, Commissioner Chester, Secretary Peyser, and the public. Sagan rarely speaks at any length; today he read a prepared statement regarding his donation to the charter cap lift ballot campaign. He commented that he was "a dedicated supporter of all our public schools," but that none of the Board members "is called on to renounce our position as a private citizen." His statement was praised by Peyser. Chester gave updates on several issues--766 schools, ACT scores, work in Southbridge and Holyoke--and further commented that he felt that press coverage of his visit to Brockton hadn't covered all that had happened there.
Public comments dealt with arts education, Minuteman Vo-Tech's relationship with Belmont, and the engagement of parents in ESSA planning.

The Board re-elected James Morton as vice-chair, and Chair Sagan reappointed the three subcommittees.

The test score and district accountability section focused on a presentation from the Burke school in Boston. There was, however, a discussion afterwards on accountability levels, largely focusing on Boston Latin's drop to a Level 2 school due to non-participation. As I sent around yesterday, Latin was hardly alone. It's worth noting that DESE took the higher participation rate of the 2015-16 testing and the aggregate of 2015-16 and 2014-15 for subgroups, schools, and districts, making declarations of changes only on the basis of the higher rate. Sagan commented that he saw no reason that the Board would overrule the Department on this measure. Ms. McKenna expressed concern that the Board had not spent nearly as much time on the Dever school last night as on the Burke school today, 'though the Dever is in state receivership and "we are their school committee."

The Board also received a report about steps forward under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The department stressed that it maintains the annual assessment requirements, requires the 95% participation that came in with NCLB, requires a system of "annual meaningful differentiation" for all public schools," and requires states to establish "ambitious state-designed long term goals" and measures of interim progress for all students and subgroups. They also were clear that "substantial weight" is required on what we might think of as the standard measures, "much greater weight" than school quality or student success measures. Right now, the department is working off the stakeholder groups they held earlier this year to put together some preliminary (my word) plans to then take back out to the public. This round will include public sessions, something which was met with enthusiasm from the Board. And if you're interested, please do take a look at this section, as I've included where they're starting from, what they're looking for, and where they're going next. 

There was a brief conversation about teacher evaluation, specifically around dropping the impact on student learning measure, which has been met with concern (and stronger) from superintendents, teachers, and others. The department will be coming back to the Board with proposed changes in regulation at their next meeting, which the Board would vote out to public comment.

There was an update on the new MCAS, specifically on the competency requirement (or what's required for graduation). Keep an eye open, as there's a good article from State House News on this section which I hope will get some press.At this point, the proposal is to extend the current MCAS to the class of 2020 (currently, it goes to the class of 2019). There was a longer discussion about what sorts of considerations should be included in the changeover of the high school test (including content and grades).

There was an update on the curriculum framework review, specifically on ELA and math, with some discussion around not only the standards being considered, but also the accompanying material.

Finally, there was a budget update, which included the news that the department has a request for funding for the new assessment that they hope to see go through as part of the upcoming settling of the FY16 budget. September's numbers will determine if there are further cuts necessary this year; FY17 is predicated on 4% growth over last year. They're also expecting that federal grants for next year will, in aggregate, be flat.
As always, errors mine, questions welcome! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Here's the reason I'm voting No on 2

It honestly wasn't until the poll tonight asked me for my "main reason" for my position on this question that I tried to push myself to a "main reason." There are many, many reasons: the financial irresponsibility in this proposal is horrifying; issues of equity and access to education are of overwhelming concern; lack of accountability and transparency and best practice are all part of why I oppose this cap lift.

My main reason, though, is that I think charter schools, as they're currently constituted in Massachusetts, are unconstitutional.

I'm not a lawyer. I don't pretend to be one. No one, to my knowledge, has ever tried to make this case in court, and perhaps it wouldn't succeed if it went there.

The state constitution, however, is very clear about who has responsibility for public education in Massachusetts: the legislature and magistrates.

The legislature is, yes, the Legislature, which in the case of charters has empowered the Board of Ed to act for them through legislation.

It is a shared responsibility, as confirmed by McDuffy (among others), however. And no one ever asked the local school committees--the 'magistrates'--to vote their power away to the Board of Ed.

Let me pause here to acknowledge the lack of agency that many have felt in elected school committees. Many--and it's particularly been an issue for communities of color--have been effectively disenfranchised by the system. And that doesn't even get into Boston, which hasn't had an elected committee in decades.

That's a reason to fix the system, however, not a reason to bulldoze over it.

Under Chapter 76, sec. 1, school committees still have general oversight of the education of children in their districts; it's why they are given the authority to approve new private schools. The one exception, made not in this section but elsewhere, is charter schools.

Yet the responsibility of school committees is not lessened for those children. The committees just aren't given any authority to do anything about the problems they see.

That isn't how the system of public education in the Commonwealth is designed. It's a shared partnership as designed by the Constitution to have the state and local authorities together ensuring that the next generation is prepared to continue democracy.

Charter schools have no local constitutional authority. They should not be expanded; they should be reformed, at the least.

Vote no on 2.

I got another Yes on 2 poll!

super voter with a land line! 

It opened with demographic questions: male/female, voter enrollment information
Do you think the state is moving in the right direction? Yes/No
What grade would you give Mayor Walsh (of Boston)? A,B,C,D,F
What grade would you give Governor Baker? A,B,C,D,F
If you had to vote today, would you vote yes or no on lifting the cap on charter schools?
If you had to vote today, would you vote yes or no on recreational marijuana use?
How important is the economic factor of the impact of charter schools on your decision on lifting the cap? (very important, somewhat important, etc)
How important is the quality of education as an impact on your decision on lifting the cap on charter schools?
How important is the fairness factor (in equity) to you in your decision in lifting the cap on charter schools?
Which if these (above three) is the most important to your decision?
Some say that the funding system for public education must be fixed first before a cap lift is considered; how much would that impact your decision on lifting the cap on charter schools?

Isn't that last one fascinating? 

FY17 budget update and into FY18

process of building next state year budget
busy finalizing FY17 budget over summer
on FY17 had update on next testing program on Ways and Means committee
$8.7M supplemental budget ask
looking to have it attached to FY16 year end so Commonwealth can close its books
hoping to have it added
met with budget leadership last week: "we're hopeful to see that"
October discussion of budget request and priorities
November vote to advance priorities to Secretary
(and then into January and spring budget timeline)

 FY17 predicated on 4% growth over last fiscal year
September will determine if there are more spending reductions implemented this year
(planned savings of 1% already; $638,000 across 17 state accounts)
FY18 "likely to continue limited spending growth opportunities"

expecting flat funding on federal grants (there's movement across the titles, but overall funding expected to be flat)
Expecting to have the same administrative funds "which fund 58% of the agency right now"

Curriculum framework review (Board of Ed)

backup here
Chester: hoping by end of 2016 we'll have a redrafted set of frameworks that we'll send out for public comment

update on new MCAS

written update here
Chester: where we're headed with the competency determination (the graduation requirement)
Wulfson: signed contract with Measured Progress
"well engaged in the work now"

Teacher evaluation at the Board

Backup here
Chester: a lot of discussion on educator evaluation at the end of last year
rating on impact on student learning
a lot of feedback asking us not to go down continuing that path
"have taken that feedback into account"
change in terms of having an independent discrete impact on student learning that gets reported
"paying attention to student learning needs to be a core component of evaluation"
"but it shouldn't be the only thing; I've always been in favor of multiple measures"
worked with teachers' unions, superintendents association
would get rid of impact on student learning rating
but would use as part of overall rating
no recommendation as yet; hope by next meeting to "how we see this playing forward"
DESE to bring recommended changes to regulation at next meeting; vote to send out for public comment
Sagan: pleased that we managed to avoid the Legislature being involved
praises Doherty for his advocacy
"get it right"
Chester: "exploring not eliminating student learning as part of discussion, but eliminating separate rating" of student learning

ESSA update at the Board of Ed

Sagan: several board members have asked "what is it we need to do?" on ESSA
Chester: presentation on process and the Board's role in that process
Chester with some history on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) getting periodically reauthorized, from its start under LBJ

Questions/discussion on accountability and test results

Craven: data for the leveling of schools
data came out less than 24 hours ago; struggling to review online
"have been an advocate for assessment my whole life...staunch defender of exams"
personally disappointed by Latin School
interim headmaster at Latin: students took both MCAS and PARCC
school and district were under impression that MCAS was their assessment
"don't want to see an erosion"
that's a lot of testing "can see parents" making that choice
that's what caused Latin School to fall
"on precipice of a new test, a hybrid test"
"very concerned about the Latin School in particular...are there other districts, other schools seeing drops because of non-participation rates on exams"
"I wonder about this as a practical reality, as we roll out new tests and different tests"
if a district thought that MCAS mattered and it was PARCC, then what?

Chester: "I want to make sure we nail this, right?"

Student performance and district accountability: report from Jeremiah E. Burke High

and there are a slew of people coming to the table here, and there's no way that I know them all...sorry

turning it over to the Burke school

subcommittees of Board (appointed by the chair)

Board re-elects James Morton as vice-chair

evaluation of Commissioner : Noyce, Morton, Sagan

budget: Craven, McKenna, Moriarity, Stewart, Doherty

charter: Fryer, Sagan, Peyser, Moore

Board of Ed opening comments

Sagan opens, introduces Board, comments that his (Sagan) comments will be lengthier than usual this morning
reading this aloud

Monday, September 26, 2016

Schools that dropped to Level 2 or 3 due to non-participation in testing.

I just pulled this together for work, but I thought others might be interested. 
A level 2 means they fell to or below 95% participation; a Level 3 means they fell to or below 90% participation. This is all in the accountability spreadsheet on column W.
(this is in DESE’s usual metro—charter—regional order):
Andover: Sandborn Elem 3
Arlington: Ottoson Middle 2
              Arlington High 2
Bellingham: B.High 2
Boston: BTU School 2
              Manning 2
              Clap 2
              Boston Latin Academy 2
              Boston Latin School 2
              Tech Boston 2
Cambridge: King Open 2
Carlisle: Carlisle School 2
Cohasset: C Middle High 2
Edgartown: E. Academy 2
Gloucester: West Parish 2
Leverett: L. Elem 3
Ludlow: Baird Middle 3
Medford: M. High 2
Milton: M. High 2
New Bedford: Jireh Swift 3
Newton: Brown Middle 2
Scituate: Cushing Elem 3
              Hatherly Elem 3
              Jenkins Elem 2
Springfield: S. Public Day Middle 2
              South End Middle 2
              Balliet Middle 3
Ware: W. Jr Sr High 3
Worcester: Columbus Park 2

Excel Charter Acad 2
Four Rivers Charter 2
Hilltown Coop Charter 3
Martha’s Vineyard Charter 3
UP Acad Charter 2

Amherst: A. Regional Middle 3
Berkshire Hills: Middlebrook Reg Elem 3
Bridgewater-Raynham: B-R Regional 3
Concord-Carlisle: C-C Regional 2
Somerset-Berkley: S-B Reg High 2
S. Berkshire: Undermountain 3

2016 test release

Cutting and pasting from my MASC email: 
There are three schools exiting Level 4 status: the Bentley in Salem, Spark Academy in Lawrence, and DeBerry Elementary in Springfield. Three schools are being declared Level 4: Brighton  and Excel High Schools in Boston and Mary Fonseca High School in Fall River. The Commissioner also says that he is “concerned” about High School of Commerce in Springfield and Mattahunt Elementary in Boston, which already are Level 4.
There are three schools being considered for National Blue Ribbon Status: Morris Elementary in Lenox, Merrymount Elementary in Quincy, and Daniel Butler Elementary in Belmont.
I've put the full accountability level spreadsheet here, 'though I assume DESE will have it up on their site shortly (update: here)
Also, remember that PARCC schools were held harmless "with regard to test scores" and that the state is not posting any sort of comparison between the tests this year.

Hey, this year's accountability levels just got interesting

And h/t to Universal Hub for the masterful use of Boston Latin's motto ("We are first") in the headline.

As always, the first question to ask someone freaking out about this is: how are levels calculated? 

Links that might be useful:
US Ed on 95% participation
DESE commenting last spring on participation
The Commissioner giving direction around test refusal last January
Plus yesterday's blog post directs to how all this works

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ahead of the new state accountability levels

...two reminder posts: here's how Level 4's are calculated (they kinda aren't) and here's how holding PARCC schools harmless messes with levels. Note that this will be compounded this year, as even more schools have moved to PARCC and thus are being held harmless with regards to test scores.

As we know the Commissioner intends to announce new Level 4 schools tomorrow, then, I'd venture to guess this: those schools are either schools that took MCAS (they aren't being held harmless), or they're secondary schools (because high schools have their graduation and dropout rates count towards their CPI, so they could slip for other reasons).

We'll know at 5 pm tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Here's the answer on what's in the question

The danger of not getting to the growing list of blog posts is that you never get to them at all. Thus, at the risk of rewriting what Kristin has already done on what is and and isn't in Question 2, I thought it would be useful to start by taking a look at just what it is that we're voting on, anyway.

The question itself will say this:

QUESTION 2. Charter school expansion. The question, if approved, would let state education officials approve up to 12 new charter schools a year

Voters will either vote "yes" or "no" on that question.

The actual language that would be passed with the measure is an amendment to Mass General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 89. Chapter 71 is an education chapter (the one before it, Chapter 70, includes the education funding section, thus why we call state aid for education Chapter 70t), and section 89 covers commonwealth, that is independent of districts, charter schools. This section came in as part of the 1993 education reform law, and it was amended as part of the 2011 Act Relative to the Achievement Gap. We as voters thus would be amended the Mass General Law (which generally is the job of the Legislature).

I've cut and pasted the actual amendment language here below. I'll break in with comments, amplifications, or explanations as necessary.
SECTION 1. Subsection (i) of section 89 of chapter 71 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after paragraph (4)
So that gets us through the definitions of who is who and who does what, the application process, the current cap (9% of most district foundation budgets/18% in the lowest 10% of districts), how the lowest 10% is determined, charter school enrollment.
the following new paragraph:— (5) Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection (i) relative to the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the commonwealth or in any district,
aka: all that stuff above about a cap? No longer in effect.
the board may approve up to 12 additional commonwealth charters, commonwealth charter amendments to increase authorized enrollment, or a combination thereof per year;
In other words, it could be 12 new schools, or 12 amendments to increase charter enrollment, or a combination.
provided that the total enrollment authorized by all such approvals in a single fiscal year shall not exceed 1% of the total statewide public school enrollment for such year as determined by the board;
While we won't get the new count on students for this year until after October 1, for last year, there were 953,429 public school students in Massachusetts. That has dropped a bit over the past ten years, but not dramatically. The Board could thus approve up to 9534 charter seats (or so) in a year.
provided further, that in the event that the number of qualified applicants in any year exceeds 12,
Thus note: this next part ONLY KICKS IN if they get 13 or more applicants in a year. This year? There were five.
the board shall give priority among such qualified applicants to those seeking to establish or expand enrollment in commonwealth charter schools in districts where overall student performance on the statewide assessment system approved by the board is in the bottom 25%
Student PERFORMANCE, note. Currently the bottom 10% (which have the larger cap) is determined by a combination of growth and performance. This was a major reform passed by the Board a few years ago, as performance has a crazily high correlation with family wealth and education. Growth is what schools actually do with kids. This section eliminates this reform.
At some point I'll do a post on this 25% calculation, but for now, read this post from last year.
And remember, that only kicks in when there are 13 or more applicants, and that only "gives priority" to those applicants. There is no requirement that those "low performing" districts get the charters first.
of all districts in the two years preceding the charter application and where the demonstrated parent demand for additional public school options is greatest;
How is this "parent demand" being measured? Will it be the same silent invisible parents some members of the Board of Ed were citing last year about Brockton?
provided further that the board shall apply to all such applicants review and approval standards as rigorous as those applied to all other commonwealth charter applicants;
Uh, ok.
provided further that the recruitment and retention and multilingual outreach provisions of paragraph (3) shall apply to any commonwealth charter school authorized under this paragraph;
...which has not, let's say, been a great success
and provided further that any new commonwealth charter schools authorized by this paragraph shall be subject to annual performance reviews according to standards established by the board.
currently, charters have their charters renewed every three years. Not sure what an "annual performance review" would look like, or how it would be handled by DESE, which already doesn't have enough staff.
Nothing in this paragraph shall affect the issuance of commonwealth charters under paragraph (3).
So these new charters don't impact the current way of creating charters; this is over and above that.
The percentages of net school spending set forth in paragraphs (2) and (3) shall not apply to or otherwise operate to limit the board’s authority to approve commonwealth charters or commonwealth charter amendments under this paragraph;
Thus, there is no cap on spending on charters anywhere in the state. There is no longer a 9% of foundation budget spending in most districts; there is no longer an 18% cap on spending in the rest of the state.
provided, however, that such percentages shall continue to apply to commonwealth charters issued otherwise than under this paragraph.
...which makes no sense. There's either a 9%/18% cap in districts or there is not. Districts are either over or under that percentage. EDIT: Unless...unless the thought is that DESE would run BOTH accountability rankings: one that includes both growth and performance, for the 9%/18%, and one for just performance, for the 25%. Effectively, that would make for a longer list to be hit first. Operationally, that doesn't seem to make much difference, though, as ultimately, the cap has been removed everywhere.
Except as provided in this paragraph, all otherwise applicable provisions of this section shall apply to commonwealth charters or amendments approved under this paragraph.

So that's what we're looking at with this question.
Vote no on 2.

The Board of Ed meets next week

The Massachusetts Board of Education meets next week on Monday night and Tuesday morning. You can find the agenda here.
On Monday night, the state plans to release preliminary results of last spring's testing. Important note about that:
This year's assessment choices, however, were distributed in such a way that makes it difficult to create a valid representative sample. Approximately 72% of students took PARCC tests in 2016; the remaining 28% took MCAS tests. As a result, ESE will not report aggregate results at the state level for grades 3-8 ELA and mathematics in 2016.
That should make it tricky for headline writers.
Likewise the new school and district accountability levels will be released at that meeting.

On Monday, after the usual round of comments, the Board will elect a new vice-chair and recap Monday night's meeting.
The Board then is getting an update on the state's plans regarding ESSA. Note the following from the updated for September stakeholder outreach plan:
We will work through similar mechanisms in the fall listening phase. We also plan to add several regional listening forums where stakeholders can gather to share input publicly on our plans, as well as to hear from one another about their priorities and concerns.
So, keep an eye out for more to come on that! 
Note also the attachment of suggested indicators of student success or school quality. At first glance, if DESE is really thinking about adding some of this, that would be a very different accountability system. 
They'll also be discussing educator evaluation, specifically the student impact rating. There is significant citation of stakeholder testimony, summed up in:
These stakeholder comments all point to a solution to the concerns of implementation: eliminate the separate student impact rating from the Framework while continuing to use evidence from common assessments in order to provide educators with feedback on the extent to which they are promoting student learning and achievement as well as to incorporate this evidence into each educator's rating.
It looks as though there will be more work to come on that, as the laws will have to be revised if that is to go.

There are updates on the review of the ELA and math standards, as well as the history/social studies standards.

There is an update on the MCAS, including notice that the Commissioner will be recommending that the current test be extended as a graduation requirement through the class of 2020. That backup also includes to-be-explored questions moving forwarding, including those around competency determination (that is, readiness for graduation).
And there's an initial bit on the FY18 (yes 18!) budget.

I will be there to liveblog the Tuesday morning meeting. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Smithsonian free museum day on Saturday!

Hey, it's the day the Smithsonian wants you to know that you have LOTS of museums near you, so they make them free!

DESE forwards 4 charter applicants to next round

And h/t to Kat McKiernan of the Boston Herald who broke this online.

DESE has invited four applicants to the next round of applicants for charter schools, out of those who applied in August. They are:

  • Equity Lab in Lynn (5-12), 640 students
  • Hampden School of Science II (applying for an expansion under its current charter) Holyoke/Agawam/Westfield (6-12), 560 students
  • MAP Academy Plymouth/Carver/Wareham (ages 15 to 23), 250 students
  • Old Sturbridge Village Sturbridge/Brimfield/Brookfield/Holland/Monson/North Brookfield/Palmer/Southbridge/Spencer/East Brookfield/Webster (K-8), 360 students
This means that the Collegiate Charter in Springfield/Chicopee and Entrepreneurial Village in Brockton did not get forwarded. 

Applicants are due in November. The Board will vote in February. 

It's worth noting that under the current law, the Board would have to say 'yes' to two of Equity, Hampden II, and OSV, which have catchment areas in the lowest 10% (yes, that's why OSV's is so large and weird) in order to say 'yes' to MAP. And recall, of course, that the lowest 10% is based on that balance of growth and achievement.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pasi Sahlberg speaking at Wellesley on October 13!

The 2016 Diane Silvers Ravitch series this year brings Pasi Sahlberg! From the Wellesley College posting:
His talk, entitled “The Inconvenient Truth About American Education Reform,” will address some of the problematic and unintended consequences of approaches to reform in the American education system.
 Sahlberg is a Finnish educator and scholar. He worked as a teacher, teacher educator, and policy adviser in Finland and was actively engaged in planning and implementing education reforms in Finland in the 1990s. His research interests include international education policies, educational change, teacher education, and classroom teaching and learning. In this lecture, Sahlberg will discuss the critical importance of teacher professionalism, collective autonomy, and trust, and argue that the most important educational ideas behind Finland’s success are borrowed from American public schools. 
October 13, 2016 at 7:30 PM in the Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Auditorium
Sahlberg spoke at the MASBO Annual Institute in May

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hey, I got a Question 2 poll!

I just got a Question 2 poll (it took long enough, speaking as a super voter!), so typing this up in a rush! 

As best as I got them down in scribbled notes, here's what the poll--which was clearly pro-Question 2--asked (the first batch were favorable/unfavorable; the second batch were agree/disagree):

  • What is your view of Mayor Marty Walsh? Yes really! And yes first! Fascinating in a statewide poll (and I don't think my answer helps you either way, here, folks)
  • What is your view on charter schools (positive or negative)?
  • In your view, is government oversight and regulation of business necessary?
  • In your view, do public schools currently receive enough funding or should schools be forced to stay within their means? (there was also a mention here about "limited tax dollars")
  • Is the greatest problem currently being faced by the public schools "a reluctance to try needed reforms" or lack of funding? (softball!)
(agree or disagree)
  • Should parents be free to choose what school suits their child (paraphase: lots of rhetoric here and elsewhere throughout)?
  • Are the teachers unions opposing charter school cap lift out of self interest?
  • Should parents be able to choose a charter school for their child (yep, rephrase of the first, but specific, with the other option being about being "forced" into district schools)
  • Would you favor or oppose "eliminating the cap" on charter schools?
There then were demographic questions, with the final one being if you saw yourself as someone who supported "progressive values" or "middle of the road candidates."

So, clearly, lots o' spin here: your choices are being stuck in the reluctant-to-change district schools with the self-interested teachers or getting to send your own special kid to the special school which implicitly doesn't have all that nasty government oversight. 

Let's all remember that this is what the questions looked like when they inevitably release the poll results, shall we? 

Vote no on question 2. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

About the Brookings release

...which I have heard best described (thank you, Heshan, for your way with words) as "not a study--a book report about your friends' work"...on Question 2.  None of what they're linking to is new work; all of it has been debunked in one way or another (or several), as a quick Google of any one of those plus "debunking" will give you.
There was some good tweeting about this last night--see, for example, James Noonan, Jack Schneider, and (as aforementioned) Heshan Weeramuni--which I'd recommend, but I want to continue a thought I had addressing a specific direction of the release.
One of the things the Brookings release appears to take issue with is the question of democratic governance, and the electorate's concern around that and their school system. They seem to see that as a distraction and dismiss it as worthy of concern.

This gets the question of education in Massachusetts exactly backwards.
 And forgive me if you've heard this before.

We don't, in Massachusetts, have a democratic system of governance in order to have schools.
We have schools in order to have a democratic system of governance.
Why do we have education?
Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties...
When the Constitution of the Commonwealth was being written, the colonists hadn't won the war yet. There was no United States; there was no "state" of Massachusetts. John Adams and his fellow (men) who participated in the Constitutional convention in Boston were creating not much more of an idea of the state they wanted to exist.
Very basic to that idea of a state for the Massachusetts writers--and this is important, because it wasn't the case everywhere--was the idea that this was something that had to continue. They couldn't just set up a system of governance; they had to ensure that the next generation, and the generation after that, and so forth, could continue to have a democracy.

Now, if closely (or not so closely) questioned, there's no doubt that many (most, possibly all) of those writers wouldn't include everyone in their idea of who should be participating. But they did lay out a system of support for democracy that was set up to be able to include everyone, because it was intended to grow. Note the language:
...and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people...
There's no doubt that, even while their list would not be ours, their list already was revolutionary, including "different orders of the people," and further, charging responsibility of this spread of "opportunities and advantages" very clearly: shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates...
"Legislatures" meant then what it does now (even if Beacon Hill then was still John Hancock's cow pasture). "Magistrates" is the local officials of the communities: school committee members, certainly, but also those who allocate budgets locally.

That democratic system of governance, thus, oversees the system of education which will ensure that the democratic system of governance will continue.
Far from being a distraction, it is the foundation.

All quotes from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Chapter V, Section II. For more on this (and if you haven't see it), here's an ED Talk I did at the MTA Summer Institute two summers ago). 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Worcester School Committee meets tonight

in about ten minutes...sorry for the late posting! 
The agenda is here. The big thing on the agenda is the opening of school report, which is not posted.
There are several recognitions.
Governance and Employee Issues is reporting out. 
There is a substantial list of new hires and transfers.
There are four backups on the response to Miss Biancheria's request regarding a pilot at Sullivan and Burncoat Middle of the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment.
Miss Biancheria has an item on Constitution Day (the week of Sept. 12).
Mr. O'Connell wants to recognize Robert F. Pezzella for being the Columbus Day Parade grand marshal this year.
He also would like a report on the Seeds to STEM program through WPI.
There is a request that several donations be received.
There is a report on how Worcester Public Schools will be testing water for lead.
Miss McCullough is requesting that administration teach responsible social media and cell phone use.
Mr. O'Connell, doubling down on Mr. Monfredo's motion, is concerned about wifi radiation.
Mr. O'Connell would also like a list of school council dates.
He would also like enrollment class sizes and the October 1 student enrollment report (which I assume will come back together, as the two are the same).
Miss Biancheria would like a list of services available at Worcester Tech.
Mr. O'Connell would like to recognize Worcester Tech for receiving a grant.
Mr. Monfredo would like a community service committee.
Administration is requesting approval of several nurses.

There was also an executive session on negotiations with Bus Drivers and Monitors, Custodians, Nurses, Teachers, and Instructional Assistants.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Some updates on Question 2

There's been rather a flurry of activity:
  • Remember way back in January here in Worcester, when Senator Chandler told the Worcester School Committee that the delegation could use a solid position from them on charter cap lift, and they voted at the Legislative breakfast 5-1 against cap lift (Donna Colorio opposed), and then later revoted 7-0? Since then, school committees across the state have been doing likewise; MASC has been keeping a running list here ('though that won't be updated until later this morning with the overnight updates), while the MTA is keeping a running list of all committees and councils.  There's A LOT OF THEM.
  • Worcester officials kicked off the local "No on 2" campaign yesterday in front of Burncoat High. Here's Mayor Petty:
  • "Make no mistake, raising the charter school cap is a cut to our public schools. And cuts do not lead to increased graduation rates and better educated students," he said.
  • Yesterday, Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson debated former state rep (now DFER-associated) Marty Walz regarding the question. You can find the video of that here
  • I still do intend to do a post on Question 2, but here's a solid post on it from Boston parent Kristin Johnson. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

It's a good time to review "Barnette"

Specifically, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, decided by the Supreme Court in 1943:
The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures -- Boards of Education not excepted. These have, of course, important, delicate, and highly discretionary functions, but none that they may not perform within the limits of the Bill of Rights. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes. 
Such Boards are numerous, and their territorial jurisdiction often small. But small and local authority may feel less sense of responsibility to the Constitution, and agencies of publicity may be less vigilant in calling it to account. The action of Congress in making flag observance voluntary and respecting the conscience of the objector in a matter so vital as raising the Army contrasts sharply with these local regulations in matters relatively trivial to the welfare of the nation. There are village tyrants, as well as village Hampdens, but none who acts under color of law is beyond reach of the Constitution... 
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power, and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.
Among the rights students retain at the public schoolhouse door is that of refraining from pledging allegiance to the flag.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty''

254 pages.
From the Hartford Courant:

Moukawsher's dramatic and far-reaching ruling blasted the state's "befuddled and misdirected" education policies that have left cities without adequate resources, denying children their constitutional right to an equal education. 
The case highlighted the inequity between Connecticut's urban and largely poor school districts and the state's wealthier -- and higher achieving -- suburban school districts.

I just read this now. More as I
UPDATE: Go read Jonathan Pelto on the part that the judge didn't get to.
However today, a former Democratic state legislator-turned-judge sought to tread a political and timid path by calling the existing funding system “irrational,” but stopping short of declaring that the plaintiffs were correct in their assertion that Connecticut must both increase its level of school aid as well as distribute that aid in a more equitable manner.
Hmm...maybe. There are some passages that do make one wonder, though. As Jonathan cites, read the Mirror coverage as well.
UPDATE II (with credit to Melissa for posting): Well, this is worrisome:
The excellent decision came, however, containing a very dark poison. Judge Moukawsher proposed that certain children with severe disabilities be denied a public education. He says, "The call is not about whether certain profoundly disabled children are entitled to a 'free appropriate public education.' It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately pro-forma efforts." He claims, inaccurately, that "no case holds otherwise, and this means that extensive services are not always required."
Whoa. Entirely untrue. The federal IDEA law, the civil rights act, and plenty of other legal decisions surround "free and appropriate" and "least restrictive environment." He's just plain wrong here, as is well dealt with in the article. You definitely want to keep an eye on that part, though.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A few Worcester notes

A few things from this past week...

CPPAC, the Citywide Parent Planning and Advisory Council, is meeting September 14 at 7 at Chandler Magnet. As is customary, the superintendent will be at this meeting.

Class size made the T&G this weekend, with Scott O'Connell quoting my tweet from last Monday. It's worth noting that (as Melissa Brady pointed out) this is both a secondary and elementary issue, and it has yet to make it into anything that has been discussed at School Committee. When I spoke with Deb Daigle from WGBH about this over the weekend, I pointed out that (you guessed it!) Worcester is at least 660 teachers short under the failure of the state to reconsider the foundation budget. This isn't just a Worcester issue, and it isn't going to go away until the state fixes the formula.

Did you catch the contradiction between the implementation of the cell phone policy and the intent? At least some of the schools are emphasizing the draconian crackdown consequences under the revised cell phone policy, whereas the technological intent was in the article from earlier in the week: "is allowing high school students to have greater access to their smartphones during the school day this upcoming year," in other words, a Bring Your Own Device policy. How much the fearful response to the cell phones of kids is out of step with other districts is illustrated by this blog post on in-school use of social media by students by the Assistant Superintendent of Burlington, though the examples are myriad. These are the kids that our kids are going to "compete" with (that's what we're supposed to worry about, right?) once they've left the Worcester Public Schools. It's a shame that the policy implementation is so far out of step with best practice. Instead, it appears, the School Committee is going to spend time of the discredited conspiracy theory of the dangers of wifi.

Scheduled Know Your School Nights have been posted on the district calendar.

And while this post from me went up before I heard the suggestion about how Worcester should pay for summer school: yes, it's entirely relevant.

What's cracking me up this morning

This tweet from Michael Petrelli:
...linking to their report giving two stars out of four on how Massachusetts deals with gifted students.
Naturally, I was interested in what we were getting dinged for, so I checked their rating system. Note that all of this is based on our accountability system, and specifically is based on our testing within our accountability system.

A state gets one star if districts get more credit for students achieving advanced.
A state gets one star if "progress of all students" counts.
Those two we get.

A state gets a star if "gifted students" are a subgroup.
Nope, we don't do that.
And a state gets a star if student growth counts for at least 50% of their district rating.
Nope. We use student growth in rating districts, but not for that much. In Massachusetts, student growth counts for 25% of accountability, and we've had to fight the ed reformers to get that far!

Cast your mind back to June 2014: the Board of Education adopted a new measurement for district accountability, which included that 25% of student growth. There had been pressure for as much as 30%. (Their rating system seems to think it counts for 40%; it doesn't. uses the individual school rating system, which uses growth for 2 out of 5; the district rating system weighs growth at 25%. It's not entirely clear to me what they actually want to change here. The Commissioner's memo on this from June 2014 is here.) 
And here's the real kicker on this: this is the system that determines the lowest 10% of districts, and, in term, determines where charter schools can really expand. Let's pause to realize that these numbers can thus be changed, and thus "lowest 10%" isn't at all a hard and fast set of districts; this is even demonstrated by our weighing growth differently for schools and for districts. Also, know that the big battle in Massachusetts behind the scenes in 2014 was the precise amount that student growth would count for. If student growth counts for "too much," Boston leaves the list of lowest performing districts.
And that would severely curtail the rampant charter growth in Boston.

It's one of the big secrets in Massachusetts public education: it's some of our urban districts that are getting the highest rates of student growth.

Be careful what you wish for, there, ed reformers!

h/t to Rob for the clarification! 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

On the "yes on 2" claims from this weekend

I'm having a bit of trouble keeping up with these, and they tend to keep ending up on Twitter as a result. You can see my quick response to the money Big Lie on Facebook here:

(That's the "blogger" page where I also post education links that I might not get to here.)
I'll come back to that at greater length here later.

Today, I saw the "lift the cap" crew claiming that there is district need for cap lift. That doesn't line up with the facts on seats, as below:

(Note that Boston's charters again ran it up against the cap as they do every year. Other expansions, however, were in Springfield and Everett.)
DESE's list, should you be interested, is here. The final column is a very simple "1" if near cap, "0" if not near cap.
More as I have a chance! #NoOn2

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How should we fund education?

also reading tonight:
John Adams, writing to John Jebb in 1785:
In their Educations. the Whole People must take [upon] themselves the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one Mile square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expense of the People themselves
 And why?
...they must be taught to reverence themselves instead of adoring their servants, their Generals, Admirals, Bishops and Statesmen—Instead of Admiring so extravegantly a Prince of Orange, we Should admire the Botavian Nation which produced him. Instead of Adoring a Washington, Mankind should applaud the Nation which Educated him.

From "The Evolution of the Massachusetts Public School System: A Sketch"


They called illiteracy barbarism, and therefore, not for the Church's sake nor for the child's sake, but for the sake of the Commonwealth, they insisted on universal education.
by George Henry Martin (1894)