Friday, March 31, 2017

Worcester's loss is Hudson's gain

More from the Metrowest Daily News here 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Joint Hearing on Ways and Means FY18: in sum

There were two main themes that emerged in testimony at the education hearing before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Wednesday, March 29 at UMass-Amherst: the impacts of issues outside the classroom on the classroom, and the need for funding reform in both K-12 and higher education.

March Board of Ed in sum

crossposted from MASC
The March meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education opened with Commissioner Chester speaking of his recent visit to Washington with other heads of state school systems. He reviewed what Massachusetts receives in federal grant funds of the grants proposed for decrease or elimination by the Trump administration: we receive $40 million from Title IIA; $15 million in 21st century grant funds; and $6.7 million in Title IVA funds. Also the staff of DESE is 60% federally funded; 15 or 17 positions in the department are covered by the grants mentioned above. Chester further commented that with Secretary DeVos, "choice is front and center on her agenda."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Joint Ways and Means hearing on education

I'm posting this morning from the Old Chapel at UMass Amherst, where the Joint Committee on Ways and Means (the money committee) is starting shortly. Looking like there are some UMass students here to talk about tuition, among others.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March Board of Ed: MCAS with a sidetrack into test refusal

Backup is here
90% of 4th and 8th grade testing via computer
Moore: descriptors not implemented in for high school yet; new test implemented at high school with current eighth graders

McKenna: there needs to be some clarification or something about what you said or didn't say; "the punitive way it's being interpreted is pretty worrisome, it's pretty gruesome"
Chester: there is not provision to opt out of the test
students who have chosen not to take the test
"just like you can't refuse to take a math class; you can't refuse to take homework"
McKenna: sounds like there were very specific instructions, "making a kid sit down for fifteen minutes"
Wulfson: general guidance
"students are with their class, don't expect there to be any punishment, or any shaming, don't expect that there will be any alternative curriculum"
"It's not intended to be punishment but we have to do something with the kids who don't take the test"
"haven't said fifteen minutes"
guidance they're using is supposed to be for kids who cannot interact with the test (from ELL tests)
"there is no guidance for students who are refusing to take the test"
"we have basically said that it's up to the schools on where that student should be, but should not be a distraction"
Sagan: we should be clear and we shouldn't avoid the question

March Board of Ed: ESSA plan

Chester: will be submitting by Monday, April 3
have been through successive public comment periods
state plan "that we're obligated to submit" and is reviewed by federal government; becomes contract with fed that allows for federal grants
"is not a compliance document"
"reaffirms our constitutional commitment to provide all students with a world-class education"
"very much about our work in Massachusetts"

March Board of Ed: revision of ELA and math

back up is here
Chester: don't want to run right past this moment in time
Massachusetts history of setting strong standards, "envy of most of the nation"
anchoring a state educational system that has succeed in way that no other state has
industry practice to periodically review and revise standards
lots of commentary, lots of discussion of what's working well, what can afford to be clarified
Very "robust process"
standards "are the Commonwealth's own"

March Board of Ed: Michelle Ryan, Randolph High social studies teacher

Michelle Ryan, the 2015 Milken Educator Award winner
theme of equity
role of history in pursing equity for all students
qualifying conviction
"desperately critical sole purpose" to ensure all students move to excel

March Board of Ed: Lawrence update

Jeff Riley with students, stressing arts
"arts don't always show up on the test, but they show up in life"
and I can't liveblog student performances...end with "Children Will Listen"

March Board of Education: opening remarks

The full agenda is here. Posting once they start.
Looks like we're only missing Fryer

Commissioner: "so looking forward to today's meeting...terrific milestones represented by this meeting"
presentation of Randolph educator, Lawrence update
Lawrence has brought students
"particularly excited about frameworks...major milestone in Massachusetts"
submission of ESSA plan
new achievement level descriptors
"take in and not just run past as we get to those items"

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Board of Ed meets Tuesday, March 28

You can find the agenda here.
There are two big items on the agenda: the state standards around math and English, and the state's federal education plan.

After comments by the Chair, the Commissioner, the Secretary and the public, there is a presentation by a Randolph social studies teacher, Michelle Ryan.

As part of the monthly updates on the Level 5 districts, Lawrence receiver Jeff Riley is presenting; that link also has an update on the Dever School in Boston, which is in state receivership but transitioning to being under Boston Superintendent Chang's authority. Note that Lawrence has been in receivership since 2012, and still no word on when that will change.

The Board is having a final discussion and vote on the new revised math and English standards, after their period of public comment. The link goes to the memo which has some discussion of how the public comment period went.

The Board is also having their final discussion, but are not==contrary to what has been said for months--being asked to vote on the state's ESSA plan. The full plan was released to the Board on Friday afternoon, ahead of their Tuesday discussion. You can download the Executive Summary here; I've uploaded the full 129 page plan in my Dropbox here. As I know many including myself were hoping for and even seeing some signs of movement towards a more well rounded view of public education in Massachusetts, the plan as submitted represents a shift back towards the emphasis on test scores, and thus on a system that ties students and schools to levels of poverty in their outcomes. In particular, I'd call your attention in the executive summary to page 11:
We heard strong support from stakeholders for the inclusion of certain input measures, specifically access to a well-rounded curriculum including the arts, physical education, advanced coursework, computer science, career development education, and other offerings. At least in the initial years of the new accountability system, such input measures are better represented as indicators in a school or district report card so that the information is readily accessible to parents, policymakers, and the public, rather than as indicators in an accountability system.
...which means it won't count towards actual accountability levels. Likewise, page 12:
Among the accountability index indicators (core measures) to which we are committed are: • Students’ scores on our statewide assessments • A measure of growth to standard (i.e., based on year-to-year gains, whether the student is on track to reach proficiency within two or three years) • Gap closing by accelerating the gains of the lowest performing students • High school graduation rates • English learner progress and attainment of proficiency in English 
Other accountability index indicators that we are considering include: • Student engagement (e.g., attendance, chronic absenteeism) • Dropout rates • Successful completion of a broad and challenging curriculum • Ninth grade success 
These measures would be aggregated into an overall school performance index. Per the federal law, the core measures outlined above would be given much greater weight in the calculation than the additional measures. For certain measures, we may begin by including them in enhanced reporting on our school and district report cards to encourage state and local conversations about programmatic and/or policy changes, such as expanding course offerings and ensuring a well-rounded curriculum including arts, physical education, and service learning.
...but they won't "count."
And this is really disappointing, because there's a lot of work (inside and outside the Department) that went into making this a more progressive assessment system. Our only hope at this point is that we did hear, more than once, that plans can evolve. Here's hoping.

The Board is being asked also to vote on MCAS 2.0 descriptors, which are as follows:
  • Exceeding Expectations A student who performed at this level exceeded grade-level expectations by demonstrating mastery of the subject matter. 
  • Meeting Expectations A student who performed at this level met grade-level expectations and is academically on-track to succeed in the current grade in this subject. 
  • Partially Meeting Expectations A student who performed at this level partially met grade-level expectations in this subject. The school, in consultation with the student's parent/guardian, should consider whether the student needs additional academic assistance to succeed in this subject. 
  • Not Meeting Expectations A student who performed at this level did not meet grade-level expectations in this subject. The school, in consultation with the student's parent/guardian, should determine the coordinated academic assistance and/or additional instruction the student needs to succeed in this subject.

The Board is also being asked to vote out some obsolete regulations on private occupational schools.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Worcester's foundation budget gaps

I'm just breaking into the FY16 end of year report to run district by district comparisons of general fund spending against foundation budgeted amounts. I did a dry run on Worcester. As noted these are general fund, so it doesn't include grants and such. It shouldn't have to, as the foundation budget is supposed to be adequate. 

Health insurance is still about a $29M gap: that means WPS is spending 193% of foundation on health insurance.

Where does it come from? If it's a Gateway, it must be the classroom, as it's the largest category in any school district budget. In FY16, Worcester was $34M short on classroom and specialist teachers.

On professional development, the district spent 45% of what the foundation budget calls for (note that this doesn't encompass all spending on professional development; WPS reported nearly another million out of grant spending. But foundation is supposed to be adequate.)

Nearly $6M short on instructional materials and technology, or 61% of foundation.

And 55% of foundation for operations and maintenance.

Worcester gets 71% of its foundation budget from the state. These numbers aren't enough to "provide an education for all its children, rich and poor, in every city and town of the Commonwealth," as McDuffy found.
We need reform. And we need it this fiscal year.

Why is your district getting an increase in state aid? It probably isn't your foundation budget.

I write this well aware that isn't going to be popular. Nonetheless, more information and clarity is always, in my view, better.

Last February, I wrote a post on how the foundation budget operates and how the state's failure to reconsider it is failing districts.
The foundation budget, though, isn't why most districts get yearly increases in state aid.

Note: as always, all of the following are coming from the fantastic information available on DESE's Chapter 70 page. Bookmark it; download the spreadsheets! I'm pulling here from the FY18 one, which is based on House 1, the budget Governor Baker submitted in January. And also as always, if I totally lose you, let me know.

Less than a third of districts see increases in state aid the way that Worcester does:
  • the foundation budget goes up (due to increased enrollment or increases in categories of need or inflation) 
  • the increase is beyond the increase in the municipal assessment (in Worcester's case, they're aiming for the city to fund 28% of foundation) 
  • so the increase largely falls on the state. 
Thus for FY18, Worcester's foundation budget goes up by $9.3M, the city's assessment is only going up by $227,515, so the rest is coming in state aid.

But that combination isn't true most places.

First, lots of districts have flat or declining enrollment. Statewide, K-12 enrollment only increased by 1200 kids last year, which isn't much in a system handling nearly a million students. Skimming up the enrollment change column in the comparison of FY17 to FY18 sheet, it's mostly places like Springfield, New Bedford, Lowell, and Worcester that are seeing the big numbers (in hundreds) of student increases. Since the foundation budget is, as they say, "student driven," in that it's a by-student count, no student increases = no budget increases.
There can, of course, also be shifts in enrollment: a district could see a jump in the number of ELL students, or an increase in a vocational program. That would also increase the foundation budget, as students would shift to a higher cost category. Some of that is happening (statewide, ELL numbers continue to be up, for example), but not enough to make much of a difference in districts.

We also have a close to flat inflation rate.   An inflation rate of 1.1% isn't going to put much of a jump into a foundation budget.
And if the foundation budget doesn't grow, or doesn't grow enough to get to where the state picks up the difference, then the increase only falls on the city.

Or there isn't an increase at all.

Let's take an example.

Douglas is in southern Worcester county, right on the Connecticut/Rhode Island line. The town has its own school system (it isn't regionalized) and has 1328 students; its FY18 foundation budget is just under $13M. Through the municipal wealth formula, it's expected that Douglas can fund a bit over half of its foundation budget (52%).
But Douglas lost 77 students from last year. That means that:
  • In FY17, the foundation budget for Douglas was $13,394,370
  • In FY18, the foundation budget for Douglas is $12,885,345  
...a loss of $509,025.
Likewise, the calculation of the Chapter 70 aid fell, from $8,644,415 in FY17 to $6,121,390 for FY18.
On the summary sheet (tab 6), that looks like this:

Note that line 5 is phrased as "increase" over previous year; if it were finding the change, it would be a negative number.

And here is where we leave the realm of the foundation budget.

"Hold harmless" means your district will never get less Chapter 70 aid than you got the year before. The state, thus, will send Douglas the $8,664,415 that it got last year, rather than the $6,121,390 that it is, by the municipal wealth formula, supposed to get this year.
(It's worth noting, by the way, that it being such a difference implies that this has been happening for years; there's a lot of hold harmless and minimum increase years in that $8M!)
Note that this doesn't let the town off the hook: they still have to hit their minimum spending level, which for FY18 is $6,763,955. It does mean that what was the foundation budget isn't going to be what is spent in Douglas next year (even before we go any farther).
"Hold harmless" is not part of the foundation budget. It's what happens when the people who decide how we spend money are elected; it's hard for them to go back to Douglas, for example, and let them know they're getting less state aid than last year.
And realistically, of course, while Douglas lost 77 students from last year, their costs haven't gone down. Most districts with either losses of students or flat enrollment are still seeing costs go up by 3% or more a year.

Which brings us to the next step: the minimum per pupil increase. 
I posted on this last April after the House budget came out, as it is something that gives most advantage to the districts that need it least. It is, however, what gets most districts their increases in state aid.
The Governor's budget includes a minimum per pupil increase of $20 per student. That means if you're Worcester, and your state aid is going up by $9.3M over last year and you have about 26,000 students, you're already getting at least $20 more per pupil, so this doesn't include you. But if you're Douglas, and you're only getting what you got last year, you'll get a bump:

You're going to hear a lot about this over the next few months, again, as it's how most districts get an increase. The Legislature usually wants to increase it more (to $50/pupil or more), to ensure that their districts get an increase.
Note, though, that it isn't based on need (of district or community); it's not in any way a progressive funding system. At this point, $450M of the state's school aid is in hold harmless and minimum per pupil aid to districts, due to accumulation over time: districts that get minimum aid increases year after year see those build on one another, such that there's a real separation between the Chapter 70 aid coming out of the foundation budget and the state aid actually being received by the district. In the example of Douglas, there's a significant difference in a $13M budget between $6M in state aid and $8M.

This leads to some interesting consequences.

I tend to avoid Boston examples, because Boston is such an outlier, both in terms of size and in terms of being a high need district in a low need city: Boston is a minimum aid community, getting 17% of their foundation budget in aid because by the municipal wealth formula, they can afford to pay for the whole foundation budget locally.

The box in yellow is what the city could afford to spend; the box in green is the foundation budget.
Note of course that the foundation budget doesn't include transportation, which for Boston tops $100M a year.

I raise Boston only because hold harmless and minimum per pupil increases have real state impact when the numbers get this large:

By the FY18 calculation, Boston gets $142M in state aid; after hold harmless and minimum per pupil increases, Boston gets $217M. That's a difference of $74M.
Again, that's not to pick on Boston--the numbers are big because the system is big. It's simply the calculation writ large.

That also isn't the only consequence. A number of the poorest of the Gateway Cities--Revere, Everett, Brockton, Lynn, just for example--lost out on the change between low income and economically disadvantaged counts. The students that aren't being picked up by the ED count aren't being made up by the increase in the per pupil rate. Their foundation budgets aren't going up, or if they are, they aren't going up by enough to increase state aid. Thus most of those districts are hold harmless/minimum aid districts for FY18. 

And that's why you'll hear a lot about that in coming weeks.
And none of it is in the foundation budget. 

Feeding kids better food leads to better educational outcomes

In a finding which should surprise no one, but has yet to be applied anywhere outside of Margaret McKenna continuing to advocate for universal breakfast*, it turns out that feeding kids better quality food makes a difference:
Test score data from some 9,700 elementary, middle, and high schools found that contracting with a healthy meal vendor correlated with increased student performance by between .03 and .04 standard deviations—a statistically significant improvement for economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, Anderson said, adding that the size of the effect “is not huge … but it is notable.”
Not only that? It's cheaper than other options:
What’s more, he said, districts are almost getting these improvements free of charge. After tabulating the average price per meal in the vendor contracts—and estimating the cost of in-house school meals based on National School Lunch Program reimbursements—the study found that it cost about $222 per student per year to switch from in-house school-lunch preparation to a healthier lunch vendor that correlated with a rise of 0.1 standard deviations in the student’s test score.
To put that statistic into perspective, healthier meals could raise student achievement by about 4 percentile points on average.
In comparison, it cost $1,368 per year to raise a student’s test score by 0.1 standard deviations in the Tennessee STAR experiment, a project that studied the effects of class-size on student achievement in elementary school. The paper notes that established research in the field supports the need for “lower-cost policies with modest effects on student test scores [that] may generate a better return than costly policies with larger absolute effects.” 

Test score data from some 9,700 elementary, middle, and high schools found that contracting with a healthy meal vendor correlated with increased student performance by between .03 and .04 standard deviations—a statistically significant improvement for economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, Anderson said, adding that the size of the effect “is not huge … but it is notable.”

The full report can be found here. LET'S START APPLYING THIS!

*Okay, that's an exaggeration. Districts and schools have been doing this. The state and the fed should be pushing it, though. 

The Massachusetts ESSA plan is posted, and I'm worried

The Board of Ed meets next Tuesday, and you might remember that this is the meeting at which they were scheduled to vote on the state's ESSA plan.
Except there's no vote scheduled: there's a "discussion."
Now I have no idea if this means that they aren't planning on rolling forward with submitting it for the April deadline (thus this would send it back for review again) OR if the Commissioner has discovered he doesn't need a Board vote and it just going to submit it regardless.
I will say that sending it in without a Board vote is contrary to the repeated stress on public consultation that ESSA is supposed to be giving us. It's a bad signal if the administration simply moves forward without some nod to public process, however flawed.

But there is a more worrying thing: I have yet to read the plan, but I have heard from more than one direction that the stresses placed on non-test scores has backed way off in this round. That "test scores ├╝ber alles" Secretary Peyser was pushing? It sounds as though it won out.
Thus if you were hoping/testifying/supporting a plan that was more well-rounded? That emphasized breadth of curriculum and access to the arts and social-emotional learning and basically anything other than "hey, good job on those standardized tests"? Not so much.

Again, I haven't reviewed it (I hope to), but if this is concerning to you, check out the plan and get in touch with the Board.

As always, more as I have it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


One thing from last night's school funding presentation* in Ashburnham (tweet thread here) that I want to pass along: while any implementation is a matter of taking years, and full implementation will require additional revenue, there are discussions happening around what can be done for FY18. That's next year's budget, being discussed now.
Call your reps! And don't take "we aren't discussing it" for an answer!

*which I didn't liveblog, because I thought another round of notes on how Ch.70 works might be repetitive

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let's talk about Worcester Public Schools' facilities

First, let's look at where we are (this is from page 146 of the FY17 WPS budget):

The $3 million "allocated for building renovation projects" is the Worcester-side match on MSBA projects. You'll remember that long list of accelerated repair--window, roof, boiler--projects that the city is doing with state assistance? That city-side comes out of the $3.5 million allocated to the schools.
Once that's happened, and once there's been technology upgrades, and the buses have been replaced, we're left looking at $65,000 for 50 buildings. $1300 per building isn't going to get you far.

That isn't, of course, the only money that's spent on buildings. Capital spending is the big projects: if the HVAC system breaks, that's capital; if a radiator breaks, that comes out of Facilities ordinary maintenance. But here's what facilities OM has looked like (again FY17, this is page 22):

"But it's gone up by one percent!" you note. Yes: it's gone up by one percent for trash hauling. As the EAW noted earlier this week, with four million square feet to cover, that's 33 cents a square foot.

Now, City Manager Augustus raised some hope that he's understanding some of this with his message on school capital funding, though it appears that what he's doing is creating stabilization funds for the projects at South and at Doherty. That isn't a bad idea--it was shortsighted of the Council to cut North High's last year--but all that does it keep those projects moving forward. Important, but it doesn't fix anything else.

And we have some things to fix.
It was of course the Co2--note that is carbon dioxide, like what you breathe out--that got the headline from Burncoat High last week. That's straightforwardly an air circulation issue: people breathing out creates CO2, and it has to go somewhere, and you want it to be circulating out of the building.
Water testing statewide has yielded some results on lead and copper in Worcester schools (that's the report at tonight's school committee). Most of those are the sort that no longer show up once the water has been running.
We've also been hearing a lot about PCBs (there are so many links that I'm struggling to choose one), which have had...varied contacts with reality (check out the EPA here). What I haven't seen get much attention--in fact, I'd missed it myself until Molly McCullough tweeted it out last week--is the history of what Worcester has done over the past seven years (which is when this issue came to anyone's attention). The link is to a January report to School Committee, which I frankly don't remember getting much of any attention at the time.
So what does it say?
The first thing is that Worcester's been talking to the EPA on this pretty much constantly since 2010, and it's the EPA's guidance that's been followed.
The second thing is that, given that PCBs were used during a period of major school construction, this is whole lot of Worcester's schools: 
Oh, but wait: 

Here's where this gets interesting: after the district removes all the light ballast--which is what's widely seen as the biggest health risk--and seals the cauking, works on the air circulation, and creates a regular round of the sort of cleaning that is needed for this, the district reworks the long-term capital plans of the district. And if you compare what schools have had new windows--and it's window caulk that's the main concern at this point--you're going to see something that looks a lot like the above list.

So where does that leave us now? Well, the EAW wants to decide who should do testing to see if there's PCBs. The district has been acting for the past seven years as if there may well be PCBs and pushing those projects through as quickly as possible. We're still only getting $65,000 in capital to spend on building repairs beyond MSBA and $1.3 million to spend on ordinary maintenance.

I'd like to suggest that it's the final sentence that's the most important one. There's a lot more to fix here, and only small parts of it are about chemicals. But we can't do any of it fast or well enough with the funding we have now.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Worcester schools meetings this week

The Worcester School Committee meets on Thursday, March 16; you can find the agenda here.

The report of the superintendent this week is on drinking water quality (as an aside: that's been uploaded as the actual PDF, which I haven't seen happen on a school committee backup). The EAW is rallying ahead of Thursday's meeting for healthy schools, something which began with the PCB issue and has now expanded to air and water quality. Note that the report on Thursday is Worcester's part of the larger statewide testing in schools of water for lead and copper, as this is well beyond being a Worcester issue.
(I've been intending to do a larger facilities post at some point; I hope to get to that this week.)
There are a number of recognitions.
There are subcommittee reports from TLSS and from Governance. Note that TLSS apparently discussed the Burncoat academy (TM), in the only place I've been able to find that actually describes admission requirements--at least an advanced/proficient on 5th grade testing--and its "enriched" course of study. It is procedurally fascinating/problematic that this meeting took place after both the announcement and the first parent meeting; both parent meetings are taking place prior to any action by the full school committee. Also, the request to approve those courses appeared on the school committee agenda without detail prior to any discussion as to where they were going. 
In Governance, after a several years abeyance, it appears as though the subcommittee is doing a policy review!
The Administration is responding to a request for an update on dual enrollment.
They are also responding to a request regarding a Main South soccer team (no backup to link to).
There is a request that the committee accept a STARS residency grant for Elm Park ($4400 for Asian myths and storytelling).
There is a request that the committee accept a$37,292 Mass Commended Schools grant, which is going to the former Level 4 schools to share best practices during summer professional development.
There is a request that the committee accept a donation to Tatnuck Magnet.
There is a request that the committee accept a donation to Lakeview.
Miss Biancheria is requesting an update on the career and technical education grant; an update on summer school; and the enrollment report which the committee received at their January 19 meeting.

While it is not a report of the superintendent, Superintendent Binienda is also sharing her (draft until approved by the committee) goals (which are...vague?). Paraphrased:
  • professional practice goal: to complete the first year of superintendent training
  • student learning goal: by September, to provide intervention for 3rd, 6th, and 10th graders at high risk and not meeting test scores
  • 1 on instructional leadership: to create and sustain excellent instruction through 1) continually evaluating data; 2) adding AP capstone and continuing SAT, PSAT, and college application day; 3) enhancing current literary initiatives
  • 2 on management and operations: a supportive, safe, orderly learning environment through 1) a chronic absenteeism plan; 2) all teachers on the state evaluation system; 3) "implement and monitor strategies to ensure a safe, welcoming learning environment"
  • 3 on family and community engagement: "engage responsively with families and higher education, business and community partners" through: 1) attending community events; 2) "deepen community support for 'Compact for Public Education in Worcester' by partnering with community businesses, agencies, and higher education" to quote; 3) opportunities for family engagement
  • 4 on professional culture: "enhance professional collaborative culture that promote strong ethical leadership and scholarship" through: 1) providing high quality professional development; 2) providing targeted intervention including central admin support for lowest performing schools by monitoring turnaround schools; 3) assist schools in using data

The committee is also being asked to review and approve changes to the Collaborative's agreement; this appears to be a name change throughout (from "Central Massachusettts Special Education Collaborative" to "Central Massachusetts Collaborative"); there are no substantive changes.
And there is a request that the committee approve the AP Capstone Program; there is no backup on this, so I would assume it is going to subcommittee...? 
The Committee is also scheduled for an executive session at 6 on negotiations with the teachers' union and with custodians; and a grievance for an HVAC technician.

There also is a Legislative breakfast on Friday morning at 9 am at Worcester Tech; on the agenda is the FY18 budget and a visit to the new Nelson Place. It also appears they want to have another legislative meeting on March 30 to discuss the new academy, AP test funding, MSBA projects, and the Adopt-a-School program.
no liveblog at the meeting; I'll see about the Legislative breakfast. Maybe. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Credit where due

In skimming the district budget updates, I came across this:
Chapter 70 for fiscal year 2018 increased by $1.9 million to $7.7 million. After years of advocacy from the town and state representatives, as well as collaboration between the School Committee and Board of Selectmen, Westborough saw the largest increase anywhere in the state.
With Wednesday's presentation fresh in my mind, I knew that a $1.9M increase wasn't the largest increase in the state; Worcester increased $9M over last year. As the Commonwealth (God bless her!) shares everyone's numbers online, I checked and Springfield, with a $12M increase over last year, gains the most.
(If you're wondering: download the FY18 workbook, and if pick the spreadsheet "comparison to FY17," you can sort by the Ch.70 increase column. As always, if what I say here makes no sense to you, please let me know.)

It's the beginning of the second sentence that caught me, though, because we hear it a lot this time of year, and I want to parse where we're at with that one. As I heard a legislator say last night, Chapter 70 is "a sacred cow." When cuts come, it--and usually local aid--are the two that are not touched. So let's, legitimately, give credit for that.

When increases do come, though, let's recognize why.

If you're a district that would not see an increase in foundation aid--if you haven't had a gain in enrollment, if your enrollment hasn't shifted to higher need over last year, and if the inflation rate is flatish--then, yes, any increase you see is due probably to the advocacy around a minimum per pupil increase. That isn't part of the foundation budget. That's done at the decision of the Legislature.
And it tends to be regressive in who it helps, but set that aside for now. 

But $1.9 million on a district the size of Westborough's (enrollment 3849) didn't make any sense. I don't want to underplay anyone's advocacy, but the state isn't handing out nearly $500 per pupil increases!

It had to be Westborough's foundation budget.
So if you pull up Westborough's FY17 sheet, and compare it to FY18, here's what you find (I just put the enrollment numbers together on one sheet):

The district enrollment went up by 286 students over FY17's count. That bumps up the special education calculations (since they're based on a flat percentage of enrollment). Also, look where those increases of students came in: the district has 40 more K-12 ELL students than last year; while they have 25 fewer half-day ELL students, the jump on full day makes a bigger difference. There's growth in every category on down, with a really big jump in kindergarten, both full and half day. All together, these are the big pieces of a jump of Westborough's foundation budget by $3M (I'm not adding those spreadsheets here, lest it get too busy).

Because of Westborough's community finances, they're really close to the maximum of 82.5% that the state requires a community to pay towards their foundation budget (of course, Westborough contributes more). A jump of $3M in the foundation budget over a single year thus gets picked up not by the community, but largely by the state.
And that--not the advocacy of anyone save McDuffy--is why Westborough is getting more state aid next year.

Let me add here that I don't say this to pick on Westborough (I have a soft spot for Westborough; I did my student teaching there). Some of what gets said at school committee and other public meetings is political, and I recognize that. We do our best advocacy, though, if we are accurate in ascribing changes to what caused them.
We can only fix the foundation budget if we know what it does.

Someone asked me for an NSS update for Worcester

So I plugged it into a chart (note that the state didn't have FY16 for Worcester at the time; I believe it's either at or a smidge above).
Remember, though: 20% over net school spending isn't the $93M the state has outstanding on the foundation budget just for Worcester. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

FY18 Worcester Schools budget at CPPAC

FY18 is being discussed at CPPAC tonight.
Posting as we go. 
Looks like the presentation is this one.

Brian Allen: first look at budget from Governor's budget; school budget (and city budget) come from House budget
school side "not anticipating many changes" from Governor's budget
enrollment changes--"up significantly from last year"--and low inflation factor
certain costs continue to exceed normal inflation (what's normal inflation?)
school resource needs are "significant and urgent but exceed available revenue"
"our challenge for the next six weeks is to essentially prioritize"

"we're a foundation aid community" one of only 92 districts
(growing demographics is rare in the state)
continued low inflation rate
Governor's budget acknowledges health insurance gap (per FBRC) by $66M ('though $16M is state funding)
$935,000 underfunding for Worcester alone in charter school reimbursement and special education circuit breaker projected for this coming year (subsequently: $635,000 of that is charter reimbursement)

have same number of students as we had in 2003, but eight fewer schools to put them in

To a Q about per pupil spending, "Newton is spending that much...because that's what it takes" pointing to the need for overhaul in the foundation budget

ELL students went down in 729 because the state's guidelines changed (and now have changed, somewhat, back)
economically disadvantaged students is up 543
employee benefits up by $1.7M; "but our gap is almost $30M"
inflation factor is only up 1.1%

city's contribution is only going up by $227,515
in total WPS budget revenue going up by $9M...which is almost identical to how much the WPS Ch.70 is increasing by
level service budget goes up by $10.6M or 3.3%

Q as to what the appetite is for increasing taxes at city "so we're funding locally the way that other communities are"
Rosen..."not much appetite for raising taxes" on City Council
Q on city at a dollar value has gone up over the past years
"for the last six years, we were below the foundation level...this is the first year we're above the required level"
most of that is carryover, "so next year, we'll be above for the first time in years

House budget comes out April 12
FY18 WPS budget comes out May 12

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A bit more information and plenty of open questions on the Hanover Academy (TM)

The letters of invitation to apply to the new academy at Burncoat came out yesterday (I'll note here that I don't have a child this applies to, but I have seen the letter of invitation). Those with at least one advanced and one proficient score on the fifth grade MCAS/PARCC have received an invitation to the two meetings at 6 pm on Thursday, March 9 or Tuesday, March 14 at Burncoat Middle School, though admission will be "tiered."
The letter says that applications are available on the school's website--as yet they are not--as well as at Burncoat Middle and at elementary schools.

Here's some questions I and others have at this point:

  • when and where is the public process around this academy going to be? When is the community going to get a chance to weigh in on if this is what they want to commit district resources--because district resources are involved--to?
  • what is the WPS policy around naming of schools and academies? How much money does it take to achieve the same status of what lifelong educators who have buildings named after them gave to this district? 
  • what precisely is the agreement with Hanover? How much influence does this company have over what will be happening in this academy? Where is that written? Who has seen it and who has signed it?
  • what does this academy do to the rest of Burncoat Middle? to Burncoat High School? What are the impacts on enrollment, class sizes, course selections, other programs? Do the students in this academy have priority within the school?
  • what interaction, if any, has this proposed academy had with the multi-year self-study conducted by the K-12 arts magnet? How will this impact their enrollment, course availability, recruitment, retention, transportation? 
  • what impacts and what mitigations are intended for what this will do to other schools, given that students with high test scores are now being invited to two Worcester middle schools?
  • how does the school committee and administration resolve an admission process based solely on test scores with the continued rhetoric around valuing more than that? How does this align with the purported importance of "parent choice" around state tests, when those who opt not to take state tests are not invited to these programs?

More as I have it. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Great post on Fall River's high school

Today in the Herald Times:
They're fighting a war up there on top of the hill. Fall River is one of the poorest cities in the state, with a low level of education. We are at the center of the heroin epidemic. Homeless kids go to that high school, kids who have watched a parent overdose, maybe even die. 
That's a lot of baggage to carry into algebra class. 
Dropout and graduation rate numbers fluctuate. Durfee's numbers aren't among the best in the state, and they're not what we want to see, but if the school can improve its numbers, it means the battle isn't lost, that improvement can be made and is being made.
Do go read the whole thing. It's a great piece, and it isn't only true of Fall River.

And speaking of which: congratulations to the Worcester Public Schools, which have the highest four year graduation rate--at 81.9%--of any of the large urban districts in the state. A year later, that jumps to 84.4%, with another 1.1% having received their GED. You can find Worcester's full graduation report here.

FY18 Joint Committee on Ways and Means hearing schedule published

The hearing on education is Wednesday, March 29 at 10 am
The Old Chapel
144 Hicks Avenue

Friday, March 3, 2017

The skunks are back

It's March and the skunks are back out. And it's time for a few to show up at this garden party.
I posted some of this on Twitter this morning.

Let's talk about this arts academy at Burncoat. It appears, as it is to be dubbed the "Hanover Insurance Academy," that the Worcester Public Schools are indeed "open for business." We are now raffling off naming rights to, well, it's not even clear that it is to the highest bidder, as no numbers have yet been mentioned.
Our public schools are a public resource. Public goods held in common are only held in common under the public trust. They should not EVER be for sale.
There is always a "good" reason. There is always a need, an emergency, a wish...but once you've sold out, you've sold out.
And it appears we have. In fact, it appears that we aren't even going to have public governance and educator oversight of this project:
"This is about as classic private partnership that you can get," Belsito said "We meet regularly with them. We're not just the financial resources. We want to help develop programs. We want to make sure that the talent that we have at Hanover is helping to complement the great work of the educators here in this building."
emphasis added
By what right and by what training and experience does anyone at Hanover have to "develop programs" in a public school (heck, in ANY school)? Why would Hanover be meeting "regularly" with "them," and who is them? The administration? The site council? The faculty?
Are any of these meetings going to be public? Are any going to involve any elected oversight? Or has Hanover just managed to privatize itself an academy in Worcester?

But that, of course, is only the first problem.

Burncoat already has, and has had for thirty years, an arts magnet. Kids can start in kindergarten at Worcester Arts Magnet, then go straight through Burncoat Middle and High School. It's a program that exists nowhere else in central Mass; I'm not even sure it has a parallel anywhere in Massachusetts. It's among the myriad of underappreciated and too-often-underfunded programs in Worcester that you can't get elsewhere.
The magnet doesn't have an admission policy aside from space (and theoretically, behavior, though that doesn't happen often). The elementary school has a lottery ('though it does take siblings first); the middle and high will take transfer students if there is room.
And magnet students are guaranteed transportation in Worcester.
Thus, kids of all sorts can and do attend the magnet. Does it represent the fully array of Worcester? No. Is it closer than it would be if they used grades or worse yet, test scores?  You bet! And ANY kids who attend Burncoat can be part of the magnet at any point in their schooling, so long as there is room in class and in their schedule.

So how is the new academyTM doing admission? The district is holding...
information sessions for parents whose students were invited to apply for a spot in the academy on March 9 at 6 p.m. and March 14 at 6 p.m. The deadline for parents to apply for their child's sport in the academy is March 31.
emphasis added
This is conjecture, but I'm going to bet here that they didn't comb the record of every child in grade six in the entire district. But there's a very easy report to run off and create a cutoff on: test scores.

And what happens if you use test scores as a proxy for "talent"? You end up with a group that is overwhelmingly middle class and white.
You end up with an academy that doesn't look much like Worcester.

What you do manage is to migrate a bunch of higher test scores to Burncoat, though, And, while Sullivan has Goddard Scholars, and WEMS has the science academy, and Forest Grove draws from the wealthier (and paler) part of town, Burncoat has an arts magnet that doesn't pull based on test scores, so it gets no advantage from its magnet on that count. But only letting kids into their special academy by test score will pull the rest of Burncoat up nicely.

And how do I know this? Because we laid it all out in the report we gave back in 2014 around creating an advanced academy of some kind in the city. Limited admission programs are always, always a problem on this. A school or district not only has to be aware of this; they have to actively plan for this NOT to happen in order to avoid it.
It appears, on the contrary, that this is the end being sought here.

Thus we will have a privatized academyTM for students with high test scores.
What's funny is there's no lack of those around. But those don't dare call themselves public.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

About that spun school safety article...

...I was going to write up a post on how silly that was, but Clive's beaten me to it.

March Board of Ed in sum

posted as a Novick Reports for MASC
The Board of Education met Monday, February 27 and Tuesday, February 28. You can find the agenda here.
While I was not there on Monday night for the testimony, discussion, and votes on charter schools, it was fairly well covered by the press. The Board voted to approve the Plymouth charter (8-0-1),  Old Sturbridge Village charter (5-4), and the Westfield charter (5-3-1), despite concerns around its Gulen ties.  It approved all expansion plans except the plans for the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter, around which there was significant testimony around their lack of serving all students.