Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Teaching after Charlottesville

I was going to do a post, as I sent my own kids back to school this week, on the implication of teaching a majority children-of-color student population after Charlottesville. I had hoped that I would have something to share from local leadership.
Thus far, here in Worcester, both at the district level and at the school level, it has been business as usual. With what I can only hope are exceptions at the classroom level, the notion that we are experiencing anything out of the ordinary has not been communicated to pupils.
And yet the reality is that our students are, and it is a luxury of those who hold power to pretend it can be ignored. That is not the reality of most of our pupils.
As it says above this notion that we must "keep politics out of the classroom" ignores both what politics are and what education is. Should teacher be indoctrinating students? No, but that tends not to be the problem. The problem instead is pretending that what surrounds classrooms doesn't impact them.
I'm reading Jack Schneider's new book Beyond Test Scores, and I was struck by this passage I read yesterday:
For low-income families and families of color, this kind of segregation poses a far more serious problem. Often lacking the resources to send their children elsewhere, these families are dependent on schools that bear outward signs of abandonment. Students at such schools are well aware of the fact that the privileged are educating their children elsewhere. They feel all too acutely the stings of segregation and resource scarcity.
 That relates to Melinda Anderson's piece in the Atlantic last month on how the myth of meritocracy hurts children of color:
The findings build upon a body of literature on “system justification”—a social-psychology theory that believes humans tend to defend, bolster, or rationalize the status quo and see overarching social, economic, and political systems as good, fair, and legitimate. System justification is a distinctively American notion, Godfrey said, built on myths used to justify inequities, like “If you just work hard enough you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps … it’s just a matter of motivation and talent and grit.” Yet, as she and her colleagues discovered, these beliefs can be a liability for disadvantaged adolescents once their identity as a member of a marginalized group begins to gel—and once they become keenly aware of how institutional discrimination disadvantages them and their group.
We do a serious disservice to children and to their education when we ignore what surrounds them. This is true not only of racism, but of the increased marginalization, discrimination, violence, and fear that other groups of people have faced since January: immigrant groups, people in the LGBTQ community, women, the disabled, and so on. Those challenges must be faced as well.

We shirk our core reason for having public education if we just go on with vocab words, multiplication facts, and geography quizzes.
for the preservation of their rights and liberties

Monday, August 28, 2017

Not out of the woods yet on a bus drivers' strike in Worcester UPDATED

While we were all (most?) relieved to see the buses hit the road today in Worcester, please note carefully the words of Mayor Petty on this:
It is my understanding that the Durham Bus Company ended negotiations today. I asked Shannon George of Teamsters Local 170 not to implement any job action for at least three days and he has agreed to do so. Shannon George has also agreed to return to the bargaining table in good faith...I have offered to work with both sides to find a fair and equitable solution to this ongoing contract dispute. Schools will be opening Monday morning as scheduled and Local 170 members will be there to transport our students.
Reading the coverage, it sounds as though the two sides are pretty far apart. I'm making contingency plans for Thursday.

UPDATE: Well, shows what I know! Keep your eyes on the Wednesday ratification vote.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Worcester, we have an open meeting law problem

No, it's not with the City Council's weekly items "under suspension" that aren't time sensitive and should be put on an agenda, 'though that is absolutely a problem.

It's with this strategic plan that was announced with little information at the end of last school year. Other than the single public input session in July, there has been not a peep, not a posting, about it. The scuttlebutt is, however, that they've been meeting.

And that's not only procedurally a problem: it's legally a problem.

The Open Meeting Law requires posted public meetings not only of public bodies (like the school committee) but also of committees appointed to advise those public bodies. Thus the strategic planning committee should be meeting in public, posted sessions, and, as evidenced by the clerk's postings, they are not.

"But there's an exception!" someone will object: a individual officer may have an advisory committee that does not meet in public session, so long as the body is advising on something under that officer's purview; the AG's FAQ gives as an example a superintendent's advisory committee on the appointment of a principal. Appointing a principal falls entirely under the purview of the superintendent; a committee can meet privately to advise a superintendent on that.

The strategic plan is quite explicitly not under the purview of the superintendent, however. School committees in Massachusetts:
... shall establish educational goals and policies for the schools in the district
That setting of direction is what the strategic plan does.
This is an advisory committee to the school committee. They have no business meeting privately.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

How ESSA's requirement on school level finance reporting may miss the point

I just read a new paper out from Bruce Baker and Mark Weber entitled "State School Finance Inequities and the Limits of Pursuing Teacher Equity through Departmental Regulation" and if you're a funding wonk type, I'd recommend it.
The upshot--and I'm oversimplying here--is that the requirement that ESSA has that school by school level finance reporting be done misses the real problem of funding inequity, which continues to be one of district by district. The district by district funding inequities are the issue we see driving the Foundation Budget Reform Commission in Massachusetts, the hangup over the state budget in Connecticut and in Illinois, insecurity as the new school year begins in Wisconsin...and I could continue. As Baker and Weber point out in the paper, equity in funding lies with the states, not the fed, and until district by district inequities are dealt with, we're missing the crux of the problem.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chat with Nat on education video is up

Last night's "Chat with Nat" presentation from Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster was live-streamed over Facebook. You can now watch anytime. It's well worth watching all of it: Natalia Berthet Garcia regarding her own experience in the Leominster Public Schools, as well as her work on the No on 2 campaign is compelling, and Barbara Madeloni is, of course, encouraging us to ask some different questions about what we think of and ask of our schools. There was also a really solid Q & A with the audience for the last half hour.

If you want a  speed version of"how does the foundation budget work" primer, skip to about 4 minutes in and listen to me for ten minutes. You can find my PowerPoint here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Worcester School Committee this week

A quick post as there are two posted Worcester School Committee meetings this week:
  • There's a posted executive session for this evening in the Mayor's office to discuss collective bargaining for teachers. One assumes that this is to update the committee on the tentative agreement that was announced yesterday; the teachers vote on it on Thursday. It appears the outline is 7% over the next three years, plus 1% for last year, with the health insurance changes that other units cityside have taken.
  • There's also a regular meeting of the school committee on Thursday night. The executive session is for teachers (possibly to ratify the contract, I'd assume), custodians, nurses, and computer techs, plus a grievance. They're honoring Dave Perda, who was recently appointed the superintendent of the Roman Catholic diocesan schools. They're hearing the reports from Governance and TLSS earlier this month.The first item looks like an effort towards a consent agenda, though that falls apart over the course of the rest of the agenda.There are a series of donations and prior year payments, including one "in the amount of $2,082.59 for the Secretary to the School Committee," and I don't know who that is (the School Committee has a secretary?!). Mr. Monfredo suggests updating the staff cell phone policy in light of changes in school safety procedure; he also wants the City Manager to discuss bus passes for students involved in activities with the WRTA. Mr. O'Connell is requesting energy audits for non-WPS-owned buildings (so...St. Casimir and the YMCA?), would like a list of Know Your School nights and site council meetings. Miss Biancheria is looking for another round of advertising, plus possibly lights at Belmont Street School (that's the one that has the pedestrian bridge). Miss McCullough is requesting consideration of the use of work at home during snow cancellations; you can read more about such efforts here.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hey, central Mass! Want to talk about education and funding?

Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster is hosting a "Let's Talk" session at the Leominster Public Library at 7 pm on Tuesday, August 22. It looks like a good program, and I don't say that just because I am among the speakers!
UPDATE: you can see the full list of programs here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Board of Ed in sum

crossposted at MASC
On August 17, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held a previously unscheduled summer meeting, due to the untimely death of Commissioner Chester the morning of the June meeting. The meeting was called largely to discuss the process for hiring a new Commissioner.

In opening the meeting, Acting Commissioner Wulfson acknowledged the significant support he is receiving from all of DESE staff, most particularly the senior staff. All recognized the passing of Kathy Kelley, former president of AFT-MA (information regarding services can be found here).

Taking advantage of the Board being together, the Department gave an update on the state's ESSA plan (notes here). Matt Pakos reminded the Board of the process to date; Rob Curtin then reviewed the feedback received on the plan and the Department's planned response. The Board also received the proposed accountability indicators to date, with the repeatedly emphasized caveat that these will change once results from this spring's assessments are available. At this point, the major difference between the US DoE and the state is the measure on assessments for the academic achievement indicator: US DoE has insisted on grade level proficiency (that is, the percentage of students getting a score above the proficient cut off on testing), while the state has proposed the use of the average scaled score (averaging the scores of all students against a proficiency standard, which relates to where schools are starting at and increases over time). The state does not plan to change this in their submission later this week. Late yesterday, Connecticut received approval for their state plan that used a similar measure, which may indicate that a more positive direction for Massachusetts is possible.

Russell Johnston, serving as interim receiver of Southbridge, gave an update on work in the district (notes here). After reviewing the work that had been done on curricular alignment and work with technology and ELL students, he spent more time discussing the work on budgeting. In particular, he spoke of the centralization of purchasing, as too much authority had devolved to the schools on purchasing; the district was not, he said, "following best practices." The Department directly supported finishing the FY17 budget, such that the close of year balanced. Currently, the Department is in negotiations with a contractor for business management services; due to the previous high rate of turnover in the business office, Johnston felt that hiring an individual would not be best. The search for a new receiver will take place after local input on the characteristics needed in a new receiver. Johnston said the emphasis would be in "quality over speed." He will be reinstating the curriculum and budget subcommittees of the school committee in an advisory capacity. The district currently is orientating new teachers; this year, 70 teachers are new in a district of about 175 teachers. As part of their orientation, new teachers are touring the town on buses, meeting with parents, business owners, and other community members to be introduced to the strengths of the district.
The Board received an FY18 budget update, as the Governor signed the budget after their June meeting. From the Department's perspective, beyond flat staffing, the main concern is the conference committee's decision to budget the assessment line at $4 million less than the Governor's budget. DESE does not, at this point, plan to cut their spending; they are "moving forward assuming we will have that (higher) level." The federal budget picture remains, of course, unclear.
Chair Sagan then took up the search for a new Commissioner.  The Board is required to operate under the Open Meeting Law in their search; as such, final interviews, deliberation, and voting will take place in public session. An initial round of interviews will take place with an appointed subcommittee of the Board in executive session. The Department will be sending out an RFP with the intention of hiring a search firm to assist them in the search.  In response to a question from student representative Trimarchi regarding public input, Sagan proposed a small advisory committee, as well as encouragement of public input through their regular meetings.
Finally, the Board voted a 10% raise for Acting Commissioner Wulfson for the duration of his service as acting commissioner. Wulfson does not intend to apply for the permanant position.

The Board next meets on September 26.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August Board of Ed: Acting Commissioner

Sagan: wanted to give Wulfson a raise while he is in this role
raise by 10% (to $184,827.50)
"my only cavaet is I wish I could pay you twice for two jobs"
retroactive to when he started

Passes unanimously.

August Board of Ed: Commissioner Search

There's no backup on this one.
Sagan: "maybe the most important work the Board does"
Chief state officer turnover "at crisis level"
"covered almost half of the reform effort in the state"
"so much of that work is left to be done"
"challenge to find somebody equally great"
"really energized by this task before us"
entire process is subject to Open Meeting Law
final candidates will be interviewed in public
has heard that there are two main problems to confront: ability to apply anonymously, which they will provide for; question of current acting
Wulfson has no intent to apply, so clears second

Getting some third part help from a search firm
"that's pretty much an administration function, so I'll handle that with staff"
discussions on what Board sees as position qualification
sharing former description with Board

Subcommittee of Board to cull down to finalists; keeping confidentially in preliminary round
Commissioner recommendation requires 8 of 11 votes
Sagan hopes will be unanimously choice
candidate recommended to Secretary, who makes actual appointment
hopes that if Peyser votes yes to recommendation will also approve candidate
"getting decision made by end of (school) year seems reasonable"

McKenna: think choice of search firm is quite important
candidate you choose is not someone who presented themselves but someone the search firm sought out
concerned about firms that only go to Roledex; ability to go beyond that; bringing forth diverse candidates
"there are a lot of firms that cannot answer in the affirmative"
"there are firms that do superintendent searches where you're only going to get someone who was a superintendent"
Sagan: "we don't know where this person will come from; I'm very open to in state, out of state; I just want a good person."
Morton: "would go back to something Russell said earlier: 'quality versus speed.'"
Sagan: have a competent person in the role, hope we're making another ten year selection
Trimarchi: how input from community at large will be gathered?
Sagan: can have informal advisors, could put into advisory board, ten years ago there was a 25 person advisory board
think if there are areas where we want ongoing input
possible public comment in the fall
"small advisory board"
are some examples, and can pick and choose from recent history

From here and September, posting of RFP with hiring of search firm
hope is to have person in place for start of new (2018) year

August Board of Ed: budget

Wulfson: budget signed by Governor
update is here
Bill Bell: "in the process of actively implementing"
conference committee did not fully fund testing fund; continuing to pursue that funding
"doing our plan assuming we're going to have that level"
Sagan: not going to weaken our assessment program
Bell: staffing staying the same moving forward:
Wulfon: even looking carefully at backfill "there are some areas that just might not be staffed"
Bell: keeping an eye on federal funding

August Board of Ed: Southbridge

Russell Johnston on Southbridge
Wulfson: he'll be giving the same update at school committee and town council
and we have a PP here, too that isn't online...
"if I'm a new third grade teacher in this district, would I know what to teach?"

  • a lot of work on curriculum
  • a lot more access to technology
  • a need for more leadership and support for ELL students
  • ELA curriculum units done this summer
  • school improvement plans worked on this summer; "principals own it at the school level"
  • budget improvements make this summer

FY17: Southbridge is 61% state funded; 22% locally funded; 10% grant funded

practice had been a lot of decentralized purchasing; "not following best practices"
DESE support on reconciling FY17 budgeting; training to improve business practices
"high rate of turnover of the business officer"
put out a bid for a contractor to manage the business and finance functions
finalizing contract now with an outside contractor

Receiver search: community input on qualities and characteristics needed on new receiver
emphasis on quality over speed
Chiefs for Change is funding a project manager to oversee recruitment of new receiver
have created a structure where current model can continue as long as necessary; additional personnel in central office

looking for greater involvement of school committee; looking to re-instate curriculum and budget advisory committees
similarly want union to be in cooperation
anticipate ratification vote later this month with teachers
teacher career ladder in place for the first time; "a lot of interest and a lot of appeal"

new teacher orientation week: will include time on buses to spend time with community
parents, business leaders "the strengths of our community"
teachers start on the 22nd; "real emphasis on school-level change"
starts on August 28

about 70 teachers who are new (in response to Q from Stewart); district is 175 teachers
Morton: town reaction?
Johnston: concern. parents have asked that particular initiatives would continue
relief for stabilization

August Board of Ed: ESSA update

The backup is here; there's also a PowerPoint, which I'll see if I can get my hands on.

Rob Curtin and Matt Pakos
review of process to date

Pakos: peer review and department staff reviewed submitted plan
in July, DoE provided feedback; revisions requested; plan is to resubmit later this week
requested revisions around accountability and assistance system plan; additional details on some specific ESSA programs

Curtin: majority on proposed accountability plan      
main unresolved issue: MA wants to use the average scaled score; fed wants a measure of grade level proficiency
Wulfson points out that MA isn't alone in taking this position
Curtin: taking the full scale score shows full range of all students; "I think it's really easy to not focus on all students" if only use grade level proficiency
Wulfson: not clear they are taking this position as a matter of policy
"a little bit of a legalistic position that they're taking"
Peyser: depending on the measures being used "it doesn't matter how non-proficient you are"
"to the extent that students are getting, or bouncing around below the proficient level, it's not clear that they are prepared for college success"
"I think the emphasis is well meant"
Sagan: "I don't think they're trying to do the wrong thing, though there's sometimes plenty of evidence to worry"
incentives cause behavior
McKenna: averages always mask: "all you would need is a group of high performers to average number of students who have not reached proficiency"
Sagan: if what we want is a balance of both, why isn't the answer both?
Curtin: that's what we want to do, actually: have schools advance the average over time
"we just haven't made that convincing argument as of yet"
McKenna: consistent concern from DoE on gap closing
Curtin: haven't had any conversation with them so far on closing gaps

Curtin: had had a conversation at March meeting about an indicator of successful completion of broad and challenging coursework
a bit about weighting: we told you that we weren't submitting any weights with our plan
"in order for us to be reviewed, we had to submit weights"
weights are in accordance with our present system, "but they are not final" and will be revised under new testing/accountability system
how to deal with schools without a minimum n size and with untested grades
still working on it

additional detail on schools that are in need of additional support (nothing new)


For those seeking resources on Charlottesville:
  • First, do read Jose Vilson on it not just being enough to change curriculum and resources. "A curriculum is only as good as the accompanying approaches and the conscientiousness of the adults in charge of its intent."
  • Xian Franzinger Barrett has "Seven Ways Educators Can Respond to the Evil of Charlottesville, Starting Now":"As teachers, our job is not solely to pour mathematics, science, language arts or any other knowledge into the heads of our students. It is our duty to our profession, to our society and to the students to lovingly teach them to learn and grow as complete humans." 
  • You might check out what NPR and the Chalkbeat have posted.
  • And the UVA Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation has put together this Charlottesville Syllabus. 
  • And more is being added all the time via Twitter at #CharlottesvilleCurriculum.
I'll add more as I see it. 

August meeting of the Board of Ed: opening remarks

The Board of Ed begins meeting at 9 am; you can find the agenda here. This is not a regular meeting; there will not be opening public comment, though the Acting Commissioner, Secretary, and Chair may address the Board. No live video today, we're told, but they'll post video later.
updating as we go
It looks as though we have a member taking advantage of remote participation this morning: Hannah Trimarchi, the new student representative.

Sagan: special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education; main item that we're going to talk about is the search process that we have to undergo to find a new permanent Commissioner. Acknowledges passing of former AFT president Kathy Kelley (details on services here)
Also Tim Nicolette, new head of the Mass Charter School Association is here
Present: McKenna, Peyser, Sagan, Morton, Noyce, Moriarty, Stewart (Craven on her way)

Wulfson: "want to publicly acknowledge the support and help I'm getting from everybody here at the Department; everybody has been pitching in to keep things going at what is obviously a difficult time"
Condolences to Kathy Kelley's family and her larger teacher family

Peyser adds his condolences on Kathy Kelley's passing

Sagan: will resume public comment in September

Monday, August 14, 2017

Worcester School Committee: Governance this week

There's a Governance subcommittee this Tuesday at 4, with a largely policy agenda.
They're reviewing a series of recently updated policies, largely required by changes in regulation or law.
They're doing sections C (administration),  D (financial), and E (student supports) of the district policy review. Oddly, there appears to be a significant drop in legal references (not sure why)...For anyone out there still wondering what happened with Worcester and warrants, there's an implicit answer in section DGA, which mentions the superintendent, the city manager, the city auditor, the city treasurer...and not the school committee; likewise, section DJA specifically references no other authority being necessary. All of the references are to the municipal charter.
In response to the question about ESSA, there's a section of the student handbook (?), which hasn't been substantially redrafted under the new law. As there have been a number of presentations on what ESSA means for school districts, I'm not sure why this is the answer.
In response to the questions about safety and a principals' meeting, there's ALICE:
Changes in school safety are in response to the new ALICE Training and related protocols: 
1. Over 3,500 employees will take e-learning training on ALICE. 
2. In addition to lockdown and medical drills there will also be ALICE drills. 
3. Teachers will have their phones in their possession and on vibrate when school is in session to receive system safety notifications when necessary. 
4. School Resource Officers (SRO) and school administrators will receive training on school law. 
5. The WPS continues to work to enhance security systems in the schools.
It's disturbing to see "e-learning" with ALICE, as one thing that is emphasized over and over on emergency training is muscle memory. Unless you're training someone on typing, you're not getting muscle memory on a computer.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The applications for new charter schools and for new charter seats are in.

The full DESE press release is here. The applications are:
The applications for new charters are
Lynn, Equity Charter, 640 seats, grades 5-12
Haverhill, Wildflower Montessori, 270 seats, grades K-8
New Bedford, Cheironeum, 1008 seats, grades 6-12

Phoenix Charter is applying to open a third school with students from Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen, with 250 seats in grades 9-12.

The following schools are seeking to add seats:
Holyoke Community, seeking to add high school with 439 seats
KIPP Lynn, seeking to add 1014 seats
Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion, seeking to add 452 seats
Veritas (Springfield), seeking to add 108 seats
Full applications are due November 1; any recommended new charters or expansions will go before the Board in the spring.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Worcester, let's talk about principals for a minute

Yes, "-pals," not "ples."

Way back in May, we had an announcement of vacancies and replacements at several Worcester schools:
At Forest Grove, where current principal Mark Williams is retiring, the school department has hired Kareem Tatum, who was most recently the assistant principal at North High School and previously worked at Union Hill School, where he was involved in that school’s turnaround efforts. 
Maureen Power, the assistant principal at Jacob Hiatt School, will take over at Lake View for the retiring Margaret Bondar. 
Fjdor Dokor, the lone outside hire announced Friday, who comes from the Boston Public Schools, will replace Patricia McCullough at Clark Street. 
Finally, Ellen Moynihan, who has been acting principal at West Tatnuck since the retirement of Steven Soldi in February, will stay on as the school’s permanent principal. 
In addition to filling those principal openings, the school administration on Friday also announced it is reassigning a couple of current principals to new schools. Ellen Kelley, currently principal at Roosevelt School, will take over at Elm Park School, the district’s lone level 4 school. Elm Park’s principal, meanwhile, Joany Santa, will become principal at Vernon Hill School next year.
Let's be clear that for a district the size of Worcester, this isn't an unusual number of principals in a year; the district does have 44 schools.
Let's also note that we're now two and a half weeks out from school starting, and we have yet to have an announcement on a new principal at Roosevelt (and yes, I know this because I'm a parent there).

Here's what I find interesting: under MGL Ch. 71, sec. 41, superintendents hold the hiring authority for principals. They don't, under that section, have to consult with anyone about the hiring of principals. It's pretty clear, given the way that the retirements and appointments were announced in some cases together, that this is what is happening under Superintendent Binienda: she's simply appointing principals without a public process or consultation.
That is absolutely her right.
But take a look back at how often principals came up in Worcester School Committee meetings under the previous administration. I don't know that there was a single round of hiring that didn't have at least one, and sometimes more, round of School Committee items asking what the public process was for hiring. In most cases, there was one: there was a screening committee of teachers, parents, community members, and (in some cases) students who did the initial evaluation, sending finalists on for superintendent selection. Had there not been--and even when there was!--there would have been an outcry from members of the School Committee.

Now? No public process.
And not a peep.
Do we have less of a commitment to public process? Or did something else change?

Possible federal tax code changes and the impact on schools

While we can't (particularly with this administration) know what direction a revised federal tax code would take with regard to education, EdWeek gives five areas to watch as that comes up for discussion (possibly). The state and location deduction, particularly given that it's been modeled, is the one that would have the biggest financial impact.

An (unusual) August Board of Ed meeting

Given the circumstances of the previous Board of Ed meeting, it's not that surprising that, contrary to usual practice, they are choosing to meet in August. The meeting is next Tuesday, August 15 at 9 am; the agenda is posted here.
So far, the only backup is one that says, in essence, Russell Johnston will update on Southbridge, so no great details yet.
There's also an update on ESSA (remember, Massachusetts got some feedback, plus there's been lots of discussion online, some of which was poorly informed; I'll be interested to see if that comes up!)
There's also a budget update (for one, DESE didn't get all the funding for testing they were looking for).
There's a first public discussion on a new Commissioner.
And they have to pay Jeff Wulfson as Acting Commissioner.

I'll be there and blogging!