Friday, June 30, 2017

Update from DESE regarding the late Commissioner

From today's Commissioner's update:
Message from Acting Commissioner Jeff Wulfson: 
This has been a difficult week here at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. With Mitchell Chester's passing, we lost not only an inspirational leader, but a great friend, colleague, and mentor. Thank you to everyone who reached out to us with messages of encouragement and support and to all those, locally and nationally, who paid tribute to his lifelong contributions to education. As Secretary Peyser said, we were blessed to have had Mitchell with us. 
At his family's request, this week's burial service was private. Condolence cards for his wife, Angela Sangeorge, and his children can be sent care of Helene Bettencourt here at ESE, and we'll make sure that they get to the family. Contributions in Mitchell's memory can be made to Habitat for Humanity, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or a scholarship fund that will be announced at a public memorial service that is being planned for August or September. 
Mitchell is gone, but the important work he led, the work that all of us are engaged in, goes on. Here at ESE, we are committed to honoring his memory by pursuing that work with renewed dedication. At the same time, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will soon begin the thoughtful and deliberate process to select the Commonwealth's 24th education commissioner. As acting commissioner, I will do my best to keep you informed and provide any assistance you need. Please do not hesitate to contact me.
I've added links to the above for donations. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

South High approved for Schematic Design yesterday

Yesterday, as reported in today's T&G, South High was approved for Schematic Design at the Mass School Building Authority meeting in Boston. It is approval for a new building, with a budget (MSBA estimates) of $191M.
You can find what the city (remember, the city, not the schools, build buildings) submitted here, though be warned that it's a big file that takes awhile. That and the preliminary submission from January. are at this point all we have to look at. That page off of South High's main page has no record of meetings--though they have to have had public meetings in order to vote--and no posted agendas--though, again, that has to have happened for the votes to have happened.

In fact, information about what's going on with this building project has been next to nothing, aside from a single T&G article in which Scott O'Connell interviewed Superintendent Binienda who explained that renovation had been considered (as required by MSBA), but:
School officials had been focused primarily on either rebuilding South High or renovating it extensively. The base repair option wouldn’t make any significant changes to the building, only fix existing issues, and Ms. Binienda said in the end, the other two options “were going to cost the same price.”
She also said the renovation option would be more disruptive to students, who would be displaced while the old school was under construction, and take longer than building a new facility, based on the district’s project team’s findings.
This is hardly a surprise, if you follow school building projects, but, outside of the few words here, who would know how this decision was made, or its merits? The relative merits of decisions already made--dropping the pool (suggested in the first round plan), expanding the Ch. 74 programs, adding a piano lab and foreign language labs, and so forth--are ones we have no insight into.

We're about to spend close to $200M on a new high school for the city. It's all public money, even if most of it comes from the state. It's supposed to serve all of our kids.

We should know more than we do. We should be invited to take part.
We haven't been.

EDITED TO ADD: a couple of screenshots of the approved design (thus far) after the jump:

This is two mock-ups from either direction: on the top, Apricot Street is at the bottom of the shot, and we're looking across the street at the campus; on the bottom, Apricot Street is at the top.

This gives an idea of how it all goes together: the ballfield as it is behind Sullivan, a new track facility and a new building. Note that all of this is on WPS property, though (EDITED) the orange triangles are NOT; they're on conservation land. So they're building right out to the line. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

About desegregation

Don't misread the Supreme Court on what is allowed.
“To say you can’t use race after Parents Involved is really misleading, unnecessarily constraining, and may even make districts hesitant to do anything at all,” says Erica Frankenberg, an education policy researcher at Pennsylvania State University. “I think it can be a real disservice to furthering integration.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What happens now?

Yes, I know Commissioner Chester just died. It's also been so long since we've needed a new commissioner--Chester was appointed in 2008--that I'm sure most of us don't remember how this works. Thus, your answer.
We're now operating under MGL Ch. 15, Sec. 1F:
Whenever a vacancy occurs in the position of commissioner, the board shall by a two-thirds vote of all its members submit to the secretary, for the secretary's approval, a recommended candidate to fill that vacancy. The secretary may appoint the recommended candidate as commissioner. If the secretary declines to appoint the candidate, the board shall submit a new candidate for consideration. The secretary may appoint the commissioner only from candidates submitted to the secretary by the board.
Thus, Secretary Peyser makes the appointment but may do so only from candidates submitted by two-thirds of the Board.
In terms of the Board itself, note that currently there is an open seat, to be filled by Governor Baker, due to the resignation of Roland Fryer. The student representative, who does get a vote, will also join the Board this fall. The Board members, with the exception in this case of Chair Sagan (who has a term coterminus with Governor Baker) serve five year terms, subject to a single renewal. I believe--and if you know otherwise, please correct me here--that Member Noyce is currently serving her second five year term and thus will leave the Board in October, leaving another seat to be filled by Governor Baker. With thanks for the correction: member Noyce is on her first term.

There's some history in some of the people currently involved around this: more to come on appointing Commissioners. 

Commissioner Chester has died

Giving this its own post
Appointed in 2008, he was the longest-serving Commissioner (/state superintendent) in the country. He was 65.
More from WBUR here.
Requiescat in Pace 

June Board of Education meeting: ABBREVIATED MEETING

The Board of Education is having their June meeting in Malden this morning at 8:30. The agenda is here. 
Posting as we go.
Chair Sagan just took a call and has gathered the rest of the board (not a quorum here) around him; members of staff coming in teary-eyed and exchanging hugs. 

Chair Sagan opens the meeting by announcing that Commissioner Chester died last night "after a short but difficult illness."
They will conduct an abbreviated meeting.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Feed their stomachs and feed their heads

Two sets of Worcester schedules for you:

SCOTUS finds for Trinity Lutheran; expect to see cases on the Blaine (anti-voucher) amendments

I'll update this post as more comes in. 
The Supreme Court has decided in favor of Trinity Lutheran on a case that involved access to recycled tire scraps (for playgrounds); you can read the full decision here. The case was decided 7-2, Sotomayor and Ginsberg dissenting. The decision was written by Chief Justice Roberts and reads as follows:
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has not subjected anyone to chains or torture on account of religion. And the result of the State’s policy is nothing so dramatic as the denial of political office. The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.
Why do we care? As has been bandied about repeatedly over the past few months, there is some connection between this and the argument over school vouchers; thus allowing access to state grants for a religious institution could clear the argument for state support for religious schools.

As always, I'm not a lawyer, but I'm seeing some disagreement with our reading that direction in the decision itself; note for example this footnote:
This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.
One should note, however, that Justice Gorsuch dissents specifically from that footnote.

The larger dissent, written by Sotomayor, is well worth reading:
To hear the Court tell it, this is a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground. The stakes are higher. This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government—that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church. Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.
Sotomayor does see this as opening up the possibility of further cases; see the footnote:
The principle it establishes can be manipulated to call for a similar fate for lines drawn on the basis of religious use.
And the conclusion:
If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. I dissent.
More as I find it.

Peter Greene comments that churches will "rue the day" of this, as money usually doesn't come without strings:
The separation of church and state doesn't just protect the state-- it protects the church, too. When you mix religion and politics, you get politics. And where federal money goes, federal strings follow. Sooner or later the right combination of misbehavior and people in federal power will result in a call for accountability for private schools that get federal money-- even religious schools. And as the requests for private religious vouchers roll in, folks will be shocked and surprised to find that Muslim and satanic and flying spaghetti monster houses of worship will line up for money, then the feds will have to come up with a mechanism for determining "legitimacy" and voila! That's how you get the federal department of church oversight.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Weekend reading

A lot of this I posted either on my Twitter feed or on my blog Facebook page, but for those who don't go to those locations, some recommended reading:
But, in what is supposedly the age of data, the data on school integration is almost completely overlooked. We have solid evidence of its benefits, and we have over a century of evidence that “separate but equal” is harmful. In everything from the policies that are made to the everyday conversations about school integration, this doesn’t seem to matter. Decisions to segregate are made in the gut or maybe (sadly) in the heart, but not in the head. It touches core beliefs and unexamined social assumptions that are wrapped up in fears of being labeled a bad person or a bad parent.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Board of Education has their June meeting on Tuesday: UPDATED

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets for June on Tuesday at their offices in Malden. You can find the agenda here. 
A couple of things that are not on the agenda, but are coming in as reports:
  • The annual survey of superintendents and principals is back. You can find a lot more breakdown of the results here
  • An update on the revision of the social studies and history standards is included. The short version is we're done with the initial stakeholder engagement and moving on to the drafting of draft standards.
  • The annual non-operating school districts (that tuition out all of their students) report is included. Note that a number of these are small towns that run K-6 and then tuition out their high school students (choosing not to belong to a regional school district).
On the agenda:
  • proposed Early College Program Designation process and criteria for discussion and vote. This is essentially formalizing and creating new versions of the linking of high schools and colleges for high school students to gain college credit and experiences in high school. I continue to feel as though this misses the major point, which is that no one seems to know what to do with high school anymore. Shoving them all into college early misses some growth that ought, I think, to be happening in high school.
  • a presentation on the Safe Schools for LGBTQ students program
  • a discussion and vote on proposed revisions to teacher licensure. The only bit that's particularly new here from earlier discussion is the removal of what was proposed as broadening language around removal of licensure; if you skim down the link, you can see the discussion of what was the section most objected to by the state teachers' unions. Note in particular this comment: " The removal of some of the proposed amendments to 603 CMR 7.15(8) does not affect, change, or narrow the Commissioner's legal authority."
  • There will be an update on the four Level 5 schools, of which two are in Boston, one in New Bedford, and one in Holyoke. With the return of the Dever to operation under Boston Superintendent Chang, three of these schools will be operating under the authority of their superintendents as receiver, though in those cases not reporting to their school committees (with the exception of Holyoke, where the entire district is under state receivership).
  • The Commissioner has his annual performance review, done by subcommittee. You can read the full report here. He is being given a 4.95 rating out of 5. More than anything, this reflects to me just how far removed the Board is from most of education in the state.
  • The Board is being asked to waive the week's notice of charter school lotteries in the case of three schools that had to reschedule due to a snowstorm in March. 
  • The Board is being asked to do their usual summer delegation of authority to the Commissioner. 
  • And the Board is being asked to vote their schedule for next year.
Liveblog/tweet coming Tuesday. 

UPDATE: Today (Friday) they added:
Executive Session to Discuss Litigation Strategy

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

We have a joint committee hearing date!


This is it! The Joint Committee on Education will hold a hearing on July 25 at 10 am on S223, the bill which would implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.


The public hearing is one way the Legislature gauges how important this is to the public. Packing the place is REALLY IMPORTANT!

Also, having well-informed testimony about the actual impacts of NOT updating the foundation budget for this long is also crucial.

10 am
July 25
The State House

Please plan to be there!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Worcester School Committee on FY18 (round three)

I missed a few accounts, but came in just in time for Brian O'Connell's annual professed ignorance about the table of accounts (the "hidden administrators") speech. Mr. O'Connell, of course, is a school business manager.
Mr. O'Connell argues for and makes a motion to cut $150,000 from the central administration account.

Worcester School Committee on FY18 (round two)

Round one notes are here; the sequence of accounts are here; the budget is here. They'll be picking up with special education tuition at $18.6M.
Mayor says they're picking back up with personal services

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

City Manager Augustus and Superintendent Binienda at CPPAC

at least nominally on budget, but we'll see where the questions go...

Supt Binienda: FY17 adopted budget $322M; FY18 recommended $334M
not including grants
increase of over 3%
"foundation budget is really well below what we need for what we need to do."
runs through account by account increases
notes special education increases, translation (which is hard to project and legally required)...
"process we have is a really great process": resource allocation meetings
principals meet with their schools, fill out resource allocation form, meet with district managers
each school has an hour to an hour and half to make their case
priority 1, 2, 3
"try to fill priority 1 for this year"
were able to fill all priority 1 for this year

Monday, June 12, 2017

Worcester school meetings this week

and there are a few...
The Governance and Employee Issues subcommittee meets on Wednesday at 5:30. Of note at this meeting: they're reviewing the student handbook--which suggests no substantive changes--and section I of the district policy manual (that's Instruction)--which I also don't see anything to raise eyebrows on--with one exception: they're about to let vocational students out of the two years of foreign language requirement ('though that's only in the handbook, not in the policy manual...and the two should agree). That would mean that students who don't complete that requirement would be ineligible for admission to (for example) UMass, which is why the MassCore requirements (including the two years of language) were adopted.
They're also hearing about collaboration around the Byrne Criminal Justice grant and discussion of municipal governance and of registering students to vote.

On Wednesday night, the final CPPAC meeting of the year is 7 pm at the Worcester Art Museum, and the guest speakers are Superintendent Binienda and City Manager Augustus to talk about the budget. A good time to ask questions...

The School Committee picks up budget again at 4pm on Thursday. The sequence of accounts is here, and they left off with security guards. There's a lot left to get through. If past experience is a guide, they'll go as far as they can til 6, recess to executive session, come back at 7 for the regular meeting, and pick up budget again once they've completed the regular meeting.

The regular meeting has a LOT of recognitions.
The report of the superintendent is on the ALICE security protocol, which includes training students and staff to fight intruders, rather than lockdown. The presentation is here. It appears, from the presentation, that the administration adopted this protocol without a school committee vote or any public notice.

There are also responses to motions made during and surrounding the budget deliberation two weeks ago: the motion on non-fulfillment of transportation, on leasing buses, on the wall by Tatnuck Magnet School, on Seven Hills charter school and WRTA grant-funded transportation, on McKinney-Vento transportation reimbursment (36% last year), on the Foley Stadium revolving fund, on graduation expenses, on what the crew team needs, on the repair of athletic equipment, and on athletic supplies purchased.

Mr. O'Connell is proposing having public meetings and hearings as part of the development of the new South High School.

He also wants to discuss departmental consolidation with the city.

He also is suggesting two meetings a month in summer (continuing the regular year schedule) and an additional meeting in months that have a fifth Thursday.

Miss McCullough is asking for a report on itinerant special education staff caseloads, specifically referencing Boston, and also a report on "what, if any, orientation, training or ongoing professional development is provided by special education department leadership to principals, as it relates to itinerant special education staff."

The committee is being asked to accept a donation of $19.10 for classroom books, of $1000 for SAT for seniors, of $1000 for a scholarship (due to Mr. Allen's award), of $676 for special education transitions, of $250 for the alternative program (from an award they won!), of $660 from Intel, and of $13,000 from the Quinsigamond Village Improvement Council for equipment. They're also being asked to vote a prior year invoice of $585 and invoices of $7695.

Mr. Foley is suggesting the following:
To ask the Mayor and the Superintendent to develop a new approach to the School Committee agenda that will make the meetings more effective, productive, and deliberative. Suggestions would include the establishment of a consent agenda for items such as routine approvals of donations and recognitions, the development of criteria for recognitions, designated meetings for honoring recipients of recognitions, and the presence on the agenda at each meeting or every other meeting an important educational policy issue facing Worcester Public Schools that school committee members would learn about (through materials distributed prior to the meeting) and discuss with administrators at the meeting.

There is an executive session scheduled for 6 pm on a grievance, contract negotiations with the teachers' union and with non-represented personnel (both non-administrative and administrative), and:
To authorize the Superintendent to negotiate an employment contract for Susan O’Neil, Ph.D. as the Deputy Superintendent, effective July 1, 2017.
...which I assume means that the committee voted in favor of the hire?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Brockton's not kidding

The Mayor has set aside funding to pursue an education funding equity lawsuit against the state:

Carpenter said he agreed on setting aside $100,000 for the cause. “We realize it ultimately will cost more than that,” said Carpenter, speaking to The Enterprise on Wednesday. “We also know we are losing millions of dollars in education reimbursement right now because of the inequities in the current Chapter 70 formula. We can’t sustain that very long. If we have to spend a little bit of money to ultimately compel the state to give us millions more, than we think it’s the prudent course of action. We can’t just sit back and allow this to continue. Our school system won’t survive.” 
Carpenter pointed to a 2015 foundation budget study commissioned by the state legislature, arguing that the state has failed to act on the recommendations, which he said would have benefited Brockton Public Schools financially. 
“Implementing any of these recommendations would mean more state education dollars coming to Brockton,” Carpenter said. “However, to date, the state has not even adopted one of its own recommendations from that commission.”

Friday, June 2, 2017

A couple of observations from the WPS budget before Council

I didn't liveblog the consideration of the Worcester Public Schools' budget before City Council on Tuesday, though I did livetweet it (you'll need to scroll back to May 30). There were a few things I wanted to post on here, though, before it all vanishes into the Twitter backlog. I'm not, incidentally, going to waste either my time or my space on issues that we've long since dealt with
  • You may have seen this article on some Worcester schools adding washers and dryers next year. This discussion coming up led to what was probably Superintendent Binienda's best moment of the deliberation:
  • Rare praise from Councilor Lukes: 
  • There were a couple of back and forths about charter reimbursement and the foundation budget review commission that made it clear that, while Council does understand what we're missing on charter reimbursement, many don't understand what we're missing on the lack of the review of the foundation budget. Not okay for a city missing as much as Worcester is...somewhere around $100M a year.
  • There was, though, one sequence that really worried me: Councilor Rosen asked a solid question on the impact of the proposed federal budget on the Worcester Public Schools: 
  • far so good.
    Superintendent Binienda then went on an extended discussion of her longstanding concern over funding of AP tests and the state's proposal that Title IV could be used for that. The Worcester Public Schools, however, don't get Title IV money (and haven't gotten Title IV money for as long as I've been paying attention).
    She then added school nutrition, but school nutrition funds aren't threatened by the proposed budget. School-based health centers, she added, which possibly could see some impact if there's a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but there's no change in their funding under the proposed federal budget.
    Finally, she added Title III. Worcester does get Title III, which is funding for ELL students; it's used to fund seven instructional coaches and some summer programs. But Title III also isn't seeing an impact in the proposed federal budget.
    (if you're interested in my sources, I read this from EdWeek  and this from the Washington Post when the budget came out, and just double checked that against CNN,)
    So what should the answer have been?
    The two clearest impacts are to two programs which are cut entirely under the proposed budget: Title IIA is teacher preparation, which in Worcester funds 14 instructional coaches and a Manager of Curriculum (that's $1.8M a year); the 21st Century grant is Community Learning Centers which run after school at Burncoat Middle and at Sullivan Middle (that's $181,000 a year).
    It's also worth keeping an eye on Title I. While that's expected to be level-funded, there's no provision in the federal budget for the ESSA language that now funds school turnaround grants out of the Title I line. That could effectively work out to a 7% cut, depending on how states handle it. Worcester gets $11.6M a year in Title I funds, and that covers most of an administrative position, 14 preschool teachers, 12 other teachers, 34 coaches, 7 wraparound positions, 34 IAs, and nearly 15 grant and support positions. That's a big one.

    Yes, it's finance, and yes, that's a big thing I follow. But this is a question that any superintendent in the country should have expected to get this year, but most especially one that gets $29M a year in federal grants. And ours didn't expect to get it, wasn't prepared, and didn't answer the question correctly.

Recommended reading: on college towns and racial stratification in the public school system

...but it applies much more broadly.
Many of the administrators and teachers at these three schools know the research by Oakes and others. But “it’s difficult for school districts to resist the pressure that comes from white, liberal parents with university credentials,” Oakes said. “These parents come with such authority. And it’s hard for parents of color to stand up to the counter-pressure.” Schools in turn often limit themselves to working the edges to address the achievement gap between black and white students, leaving the larger structure intact. “They’re doing the feel-good stuff, but they’re not addressing the political obstacle,” argued UCLA’s Noguera.

This resonates locally, as well, given the pressure to continue to create "gifted programs" without regard to actual impact on student populations.