Thursday, November 30, 2017

Board of Ed in sum

Crossposted from MASC 
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met on Tuesday, November 28. The agenda is posted here. 
The meeting opened with updates from Acting Commissioner Wulfson, who spoke of the recently signed LOOK bill on bilingual education. He commented that it was "designed to provide additional flexibility for English language learners," and he told the Board that they would receive a complete update at their December meeting. He also spoke of the results of the first school climate survey, which students took after completing the MCAS this past year. He said it was a "first attempt to quantify some qualitative measures." He noted that the influx of students coming from Puerto Rico not only has continues, but appears to have picked up, with the state having passed 1400 new students last week; the state continues to monitor that and is discussing what is to be done with and for districts both this year and next. Finally, he warmly praised East Boston's McKay School, which he recently visited and was among the schools positively profiled in a recent Boston Globe article.
Secretary Peyser gave a brief update on the administration's interagency opioid work.
Public comments included opposition to wireless internet access and testimony from the head of the two virtual schools in support of the proposed tuition increase (see below).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Not in the habit of linking to the 74, but Massachusetts

You should probably read this interview with Russell Johnston. I want to call your attention to two things of note (beyond the Commissioner Chester hagiography).
First he says this:
Within special education, we have a challenge in our state that we have the second-highest rate of identification of students with disabilities in the nation, and it’s been fairly unmovable for many years now. Particularly what we see as a concern is that we’re overidentifying children from poverty.
Whoa, hang on a second...yes, we have a higher rate of identifying kids with special ed needs than elsewhere. Why are we assuming that we are overidentifying rather than others underidentifying? Given what we know about other states, expenses, attention to what works in education, and the like, shouldn't we err on the other side? Yes, there is a danger of just sticking kids in special education who might have other needs, but I've also seen too many parents having to fight to get their kids actually needed services to think that's all that much of a thing.
Also, on the "from poverty" bit: poverty can in fact cause special education needs. Lack of adequate nutrition, exposure to environmental impacts, and other associated risks of childhood poverty in fact impact brain development and growth in very particular ways. That does in fact raise the rates of special education needs among kids who are poor. There's a reason why Flint, Michigan is about to undergo a special education crisis, and that isn't due to overidentification.

Second, the 74 is the ed reformers newsletter. Are they backing an internal horse in the race for Massachusetts Commissioner? It's a little odd to profile a Senior Associate Commissioner in a national publication.
And no, I don't know things. Those applications are confidential, and I don't know who is applying, either. 

Article on OML complaint on the strategic planning process

Scott O'Connell writes about the Open Meeting Law complaint around the strategic planning committee. The only comment I'll make is this:
People are generally free to attend the committee meetings as well if they ask to, Mr. McGourthy added. “We’ve never said no to anyone who wants to participate.” a pointless offer if nobody knows when or where the meetings are!

I did speak to the AG's office before Thanksgiving, so they're working on this, still.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

November Board of Ed: standards updates

History and social studies
ELA and math implementation
also coming: arts and health

Wulfson: update on review of history and social sciences curriculum framework
getting field involved "has been very much a part of this process"
"this team has really provided for a lot of public input"

Peske: appreciate educators who have served with us; panel review process
what is a standard? What a student should do and be able to do, and should be measureable
curriculum? content standards and other materials to support instruction

what teachers should teach and students should learn

Buchanan: multiphase process
public survey, "one of the strongest responses we've seen...there's a lot of interest in this"
convene review panel: six meetings
drafting and reviewing proposed revisions
plan is to present draft of revision to Board to vote to invite public comment in January
Board to vote new standards in June

Priorities were to emphasize civics education and to deepen understanding
improve also rigor, clarity, and coherence
"major concern by demographic group" and engagement

New full year civics course proposed for grade 8: "centerpiece around which we drew a through line"
civics standards integrated into every grade
"middle school is a place where the first really deep look" into our system of government happens
revised U.S. Gov and Politics standards for grade 12
emphasis in supporting sections: introduction: "A Renewed Mission: Education for Civic Life in a Democracy"
guiding principles: studying current events, data analysis, media literacy skills
history and social science practice, prek-12
research, process, analysis, evaluation of credibility of sources
sample guiding and supporting questions

Grade 8 to include: philosophical foundations of US political system; institutions of US government; rights & responsibilities of citizens; Constitution, amendments, SCOTUS decisions; state and local government

"8th grade seen as a launch pad for the work they'll do in US History in high school"

Q from Fernandez on integration of social emotional learning
A from Susan Wheltle of the guiding principles, also overlap in curriculum with early grades in what is required
in older grades shifts into how institutions are formed
democracy in the classroom: "every day democracy...then democracy within every larger groups of society"
comes with discussion of how we're always wrestling with interpretations of history
Buchanan: having students do more independent research
students be reviewing primary source documents
"investigating these questions actively"
"What historical interpretation involves"

(this in response to Moriarty) grade 12 course designed to be leading students to what they'll be doing in college
research, digging into practices, what they're learning on the national stage can be applied locally
maintaining content from 2003 framework in revised document

Peyser: "it's more like a Rubik's Cube than a stone in a pond" to revise the standards while retaining the core of 2003 standards
"we obviously haven't seen it all yet, so let's not get ahead of ourselves"

Sagan: what are your thoughts on what we'll measure?
"I am reluctant to talk more assessments"
Wulfson: we know there's a question of assessment before us; we've just started to do some thinking on what a history and social science assessment would look like
chance to integrate some new models, perhaps some project based
Sagan: don't want to do it serially
Wulfson: hope to have some resources in FY19 to flesh that out

McKenna; applaud all of you getting to this point
all students will have civics
having it integrated, students with more resources would get it and others would not

Sagan: have draft education from Legislature, which is unusual
Wulfson: at this point, have not filed a formal bill
some things that would be helpful for us, some things that we suggest might be a pilot
"we are providing..."
Sagan: "but they wrote to us, not to you, so we as a Board need to respond"
McKenna: suggest sending them the draft standards in January
"I think the nervousness has been that DESE won't move this ahead"
Sagan will respond with plan and schedule

arts and health standards haven't been revised since 1999
arts: group to be created in January; back to Board with final revision by spring 2019
health a few months behind that

and adjourned! 

November Board of Ed: virtual schools tuition increase

Wulfson: virtual schools "very much a work in progress"
"still trying to understand who they best serve and how to ensure they're good schools"
review how they're funded

Proposal is to increase their tuition from the school choice tuition of $5000 to $8190
this is, essentially, per pupil average minus the $75 for overhead
rate is pro-rated based on how long a student is enrolled
are paid monthly beginning in October

Chuang: originally created under innovation school law
law was passed then to give oversight to the Board
"not marginal cost operations"
rate setting is the purview of this board
has been no adjustment of rate; creates pressure on virtual schools in operating costs
students who attend to virtual schools tend to be more (on average) disadvantaged than the state average
Klau: Massachusetts imbues board of schools as fully independent to ensure schools are serving their students well
virtual school teachers are required to be certified in Massachusetts
have to provide ELL, special education (paid for by district of residence), must develop steps to attract, retain, enroll target populations
schools know when students have log-in, what activities they're engaged in, teachers can track student progress in real time

December discussion on per pupil tuitition
January/February: review of Greenfield Virtual based on conditions that were placed on their renewal

local school committees can restrict enrollment to 1% of their student population
there could be up to four more; there has as yet been no interest from the field in expansion

students enrolled in a virtual school more likely to be high mobility, disadvantaged in other ways

increases would go to school side not to contractual arrangements

Moriarty: churn rate and retention rate
what do you do?
A: two family engagement staff positions for that
track attendance online

"they come to us with disrupted learning, they come to us somewhat skeptical or jaded" on their learning and their success
Wulfson: one of the potentials here is rolling in time missed
they'll be back in December

November Board of Ed: special education, foster care, ESSA

see backup here and there's a Powerpoint but it's an outline
changes under ESSA on foster care rule
to minimize period of disruption of children's education
any at least 24 hour out of home care
under best interest determination to stay in school of origin
amending rules only as it pertains to foster care
both programmatic and fiscal responsibility
"most of the time, districts can work this out themselves" but do about 400 decisions annually
living in one district, attending in another
looking to promote simplicity
looking for a single rule for all students under foster care
intended to promote stability of students and responsibility

West: what is the plan to be sure students and families understand their options under the new law?
work going through now on that
Wulfson: ESSA is very unclear on who should pay for a student going to original school
Vote to send to public comment

November Board of Ed: MCAS as graduation requirement

backup is here
Wulfson: this year's ninth graders first to take new high school MCAS as their competency determination
because it's new, they haven't seen it yet
more rigorous
"for that class and the class behind them, that this Board set an interim passing standards for the  competency determination set...equivalent to the current passing level of the current MCAS test"
intended as an interim moving: beginning conversation of raising bar for classes subsequent
sending proposal out for official public comment
return in February to adopt them
"have done extensive outreach to the field...superintendent and principals have been very, very supportive of this approach"

West: implicit in this step that we're taking is an additional conversation about where the bar should be set after this transitional period
Wulfson: agrees
Board has signaled to field that over the long run, we are raising expectations
Board votes to send to public comment

November Board of Ed: FY19 budget update

Craven: House 2 is being prepared
where we would like to see emphasis
"the foundation budget formula...we could throw another billion dollars at it this's so huge that I tend to gloss over it"
special education circuit breaker
"want to see the accounts that the state follow through"
regional transportation
civics education
early literacy
working with other agencies
wanted to be sure early breakfast didn't fall off priority list
gifted and talented students; W&M study
"priorities, more than dollar amounts, in front of Governor and Legislature"
McKenna: regulations coming from LOOK bill?
require some professional development in terms of new programs
Wulfson: tight timetable, as well
fiscal distress of rural schools: FBRC won't necessarily benefit rural schools due to declining enrollment
districts are over foundation already
"haven't quite figured out the solution to the problems they're facing"
Note: acutely aware of impact of students from Puerto Rico; this year and next year as well
"make sure districts are not financially disaffected from that"

November Board of Ed: update on Lawrence

You can find the backup here.
Sagan: some announcements of changes in receivership in Lawrence
Wulfson: joined others up in Lawrence; Riley announced he'll step down at the end of this year
recap where we are in progress on this district
after his presentation, will talk more about moving forward on receivership
Riley: "I wasn't sure I wanted to come...I was pretty happy in the Boston Public was very hard to leave"
"best experience of my professional career"
"parents, teachers, kids are amazing"
strong gains particularly in mathematics, science has nearly doubled
"growth scores big" over 50 in new MCAS
Graduation rate now up over 71%, "heading hopefully to 80 in the coming years"
dropout rate has been cut in half
used school funding to fix the buildings
"perhaps one of the most important things we did to parents to buy in"
"we've gone too far in the world of education in just assessing students by a test"
arts, enrichment, "these are things that are valuable"
"I hope that these things will continue"
"This was a home-grown investment...if anything, my role was a facilitator"
still more to do
special education road map for next years: "structure of special education has to be fixed"
"And I would be remiss if I did not talk about the budget"
"The foundation budget is not working for Gateway Cities; we need to revisit that...and the city needs to go beyond the minimum."
"It's incumbent on this Board" to work on foundation budget
"there is virtual nowhere left to cut"
"there is still persistent achievement gaps that aren't being addressed, there are still communities that don't have what they need to address the needs of their students"
"positive first step" to shift to board
look forward to day that schools will be returned to local authority

state receivership seen by some as punishment
take responsibility in Constitution
step in where it is not working
Lawrence in a much better place than it was six years ago
"see it as being a partnership with the district"
next step: will be a board
"really two things that need to happen" to leave receivership: continue progress, ensure there is a local governing structure and climate that the gains will be sustained once the state leaves
"starts to bring more local voices into the mix"
the receivership board will select a new superintendent who will report to receivership board (who will report to Commissioner)
Board will be between five and seven members: good educational policy foundation "regardless of where they live" and some from Lawrence
Board will act as if it is a governmental body: comply with public records law, open meeting law
"important step in re-engaging community and being transparent about its work"
hope and expect that it will meet with school committee, members of community
Sagan: is there a model of moving towards shared responsibility
Wulfson: some school committee members re-elected
Sagan: "I don't know how that's possible with what they did!" (wow)
Wulfson: will engage in conversation with mayor if that's the best structure of long-term governance
(so are we contemplating governance changes? We don't like school committees now?)
saw in New Bedford "a respected superintendent" stepping down as she didn't receive the support she needed
spoke of long-term continuiting of superintendents at MASS/MASC conference (he did, but didn't mention the school committees!)

McKenna on continuing to raise graduation
Riley: a lot of it is bringing students back
now about academic engagement: keeping kids in
kids have internships, work studies, college credits

Craven: lessons learned?
Riley: trust teachers
"strength of our district is our teachers"
"believing in teachers and letting them have a voice"
collaboration: "getting people from all sides" in

West: insight into final step to return to local control
"possibility to make changes to the school governance structure"
"or whether you have an appointed committee"
Riley: I don't think there should be anything taken off the table
"anything to make sure kids in Lawrence are getting a better and better education every year"
structure remains to be seen
McKenna: Connecticut has Commissioner district that are majority funded by state; board is majority appointed by state, some appointed by local

Moriarity on third grade reading
Riley: agree but also need to give students time to learn second language; we know it takes several years to acquiring language

November Board of Ed: Commissioner search update

Sagan: consultant was here yesterday
preliminary screening committee met yesterday for the first time
"we appear to be on the schedule so far"
"we are on an aggressive schedule, but we will take the time that we need"
deadline of December 15
consultant "has been very pleased with the response"
"makes me optimistic that we'll have some great people to consider"
committee will meet again on December 18
screening committee will interview some of those who have applied
then will meet in early January to vote some to move forward
January 17 and 18 are being held by Board to interview finalists publicly
selection made by end of January (Board meets week after interview dates on the 23rd)
homework for screening committee interview and for full Board
Sagan is now distributing what was done by Board 11 years ago
consultant also prepared something that he is also handing out
Sagan to follow up with each Board member
suggestion: implementation of public equity
"get them to tell us about their experience in a way that goes beyond the resume"
Stewart clarifies: Board would vote at regular Board meeting on January 23?
some concern over what else might be on the agenda
Sagan: "But NO ONE should think that that meeting will be a short one: it never is!"

November Board of Education: opening comments

The agenda for today is here. The meeting starts at 8:30; posting as they go once we start. The livestream is here
No comments from the Chair
Wulfson: Governor signed the "Language Opportunity for Our Kids" bill
designed to provide additional flexibility for English Language learners
very demanding timelines
staff developing implementation
will plan on a comprehensive look at that bill at December meeting
also training for vocational teachers
Complaints filed by private schools, under IDEA complain not receiving appropriate funding
schools have now taken appeal to federal DoE
summary of school climate survey: "first attempt to quantify some of the qualitative measures"
provided school level results to principals and superintendents
first time given; still a work in progress
still discovering how useful state and schools will find it
done in partial fulfillment under the anti-bullying act
Students still coming in from Puerto Rico; "if anything it seems to have accelerated"
passed the 1400 mark last week
about 800 in Springfield, Holyoke, New Bedford, Worcester, Boston
still working with districts both for this year and for coming years
had "a wonderful visit" at the McKay School in East Boston
Globe article spotlight on East Boston
"very much engaged staff working collegiality"
McKay "perfect example of a school...doing well and our accountability system recognizes's a Level 1 school"

Peyser: opioid work
curriculum: personal skills and habits to deal with substance abuse and use
ESPERT screening
comprehensive schoolwide systems for information sharing for interventions
schools are organized to ensure that students get the kids of supports that they need not only to avoid addiction but also to deal with those should they happen
interagency effort is ongoing

Virtual schools: first round of comment is the anti-wifi people
as a reminder, here's the science and also here; I'm not using my space for their misinformational fearmongering
The proposal is for virtual schools tuition to increase from the school choice amount ($5000) to $8190
Tech Connections Virtual Schools: proposed allocation
currently 1700 families have enrolled; has implications in how schools are designed to meet the needs of each student
options to families
Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual Schools: "a school of hopes and dreams"
Mental health conditions, debilitating physical conditions, aspiring artists and athletes
change of learning platforms; fully aligned with Massachusetts curricular frameworks
teachers innovate to engage students

Social Studies:
Kerry Dunne: 20 year educator, curriculum coordinator in Weston
President of Mass Council for Social Studies
appreciate the effort to update the standards after 20 years
support for the draft proposed; improvement over current framework
critical to communicate what grade and what content new state assessment will take
"and we would welcome a non-traditional assessment"
clear and firm guidance
"the sad fact is that history and social studies have not been a priority for many years"
a strong statement from the Commissioner that every student needs to have history and social studies on their schedule from a certified teacher
quality, preferably digital resources and quality PD
Haverhill supervisor on history and social studies
also worked on revision
shift from "a laundry list of dates and dead our nation's story" and the world
build lifelong learners of history
"if we teach more history, we will save the English teachers"
"truly go deep into controversial topics...the struggle is real"
"if we are going to continue to strive for a more perfect union, it may as well start with us"
"there is no better place to continue to be the change than in our classrooms"
iCurrulum (? I think?)
we're getting a ream of survey stuff here 
working on how to discuss controversial issues
Mass state coordinator for the "We the People" program
served on the commissioner for civic learning and engagement
dates and facts "has always minimized" the study
"opportunity for students to critically examine what is being studied"
"to understand the conflicting messages they will hear and confront throughout their lives"
"history is often a varying number of shades of grey"
"dispositions that are most essential for a democratic citizenry"
"our democracy is fragile"
"to create a nation of skeptics, not cynics"

Renewal of Four Rivers Charter
superintendent of the Mohawk Regional District Michael Buoniconti
urges not to renew
"this is a rural issue"
"here to speak about a specific case"
"I understand the need for charters where you have underperforming, failing schools"
"our families have good choices in traditional public schools"
"I'm looking for a partner in Malden"

Monday, November 27, 2017

Worcester schools to get $1.1M from free cash (and some advanced placement finance stuff)

The T&G reports today that part of the Worcester City Council's consideration of free cash tomorrow night is a proposed allocation of $1.1 million to the Worcester Public Schools. This follows up on the report from mid-November's Finance and Operations that FY18 thus far has a $1.6 million gap in the first quarter report.
Having now listened to the meeting, it seems that maybe the most relevant comment on this didn't make the article; at about 15 minutes in, you can hear Mr. Allen say the following:

"We have been having ongoing discussions with the City Manager and the City CFO, and we hope and expect some discussions through either the free cash process or through some supplemental appropriation to assist us in that regard so we can balance the FY18 budget."

Thus this comment:

“We continue to work with the city manager on his recommendation to the City Council” to provide supplemental funding or some other solution to the district’s deficit, Mr. Allen said at Monday’s meeting of the School Committee’s Finance and Operations Standing Committee. 
 Should the city not be able to fill the gap, he said, “we’ll figure it out, one way or another.” less prophetic than it appeared in print, perhaps. 
The allocation (which, despite the tone of the City Manager's report, will have to be done by the School Committee) is proposed to be directed to additional staffing and special education tuition. Note that while $1.6 million is a lot of money, adjustment of such size are not completely unknown. Thus the City Manager's comment today:

“Without this additional appropriation, the Worcester public schools will need to make mid-year budget cuts of $2.2 million in order to close the current gap with only half of the fiscal year remaining,” he added. 

...looks a little like overkill.

Also, h/t to Donna Colorio for bringing up the still-waiting-on-the-state question of funding for the students who have come from Puerto Rico. 

For Net School Spending watchers, that's getting us close to 1% over, by the back of my envelope.

Unfortunately, the Finance and Operations subcommittee section of the website is down, meaning we can't reference the quarterly report. In listening to the meeting, however, I'm still puzzling over what Worcester's doing on AP tests. The most recent T&G article lauding Worcester's expansion says this:
Despite Worcester promoting the AP program, it ran into a hitch last school year when a federal subsidy that helped pay the cost of poorer students’ tests ended suddenly.
The school system ended up paying for affected students’ exams – about $80,000 worth of fees, school officials said in the spring – with the expectation that some form of government assistance would become available to cover the bill from the College Board, which administers the AP. According to a recent memo from the finance department to the School Committee’s Finance and Operations Standing Committee, the district did end up receiving nearly $300,000 in Title IV federal aid that it had not budgeted and that will go toward AP exam fees. 

 “We were able to pay our bill,” Ms. Binienda said, as well as put some money toward next year’s test fees.

At about minute 16, Mr. Allen references the article, but that's it. 
Here's the thing: as Worcester expanded advanced placement exams, Worcester also added a policy saying that if students took the class, they also were required to take the exam. This was less of an issue when we had a state-administered grant that covered the fees for all kids who got free and reduced lunch AND we knew who got free and reduced lunch.

Now, however, we've had a vast expansion in advanced placement across the district; kids are pushed (frankly, to the determent of their greater interests) to pack as many AP's into their schedules as possible. Parents and students are NOT, at the time of sign-ups, told or reminded of the policy requiring the test. AND the state grant is gone AND students no longer sign up for free and reduced lunch.
So what happens? If you have a kid in an AP class, in mid-November--long past time when kids could drop or add classes--a form came home that said this:
"Please be aware that AP courses are equivalent to courses taught at colleges. If you are enrolled in an AP course, you are REQUIRED to take the AP Exam and pay the due fees. In order to qualify for a fee reduction for the AP exam cost, parent/guardian must first submit The Fee Reduction Worksheet in order to verify household income. If you qualify for Free/Reduced lunch you will received a reduction of the total fees."
At the bottom of the form, it was note that full price exams are $95; the reduced fee is $59. 
No student in Worcester qualifies for free or reduced lunch anymore, nor have they in years, as the entire district is covered under Community Eligibility. Thus few in Worcester would know the standards.
At no point are parents told how to access this worksheet.
Even if your family qualifies, it's still $59 per test per student. 
And families are told this in NOVEMBER.

Yes, I know all this because I have kids in AP classes, but, no, the waiver was never going to apply to my family. What concerns me is the injustice of the situation the Worcester Public Schools are creating. We're a district in which the vast majority of the kids live in poverty; those same kids are being pushed into these classes, and they are only being told AFTER they've been in class for most of the first quarter that there's, in essence, a charge for participation.
That's not right.
And it doesn't appear as if Title IV is going to fix that, either. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Yes, you care about net neutrality

You may have heard about the FCC's plans to repeal net neutrality in a victory for big telecoms and a loss for...basically everyone else. Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal has a post from a few years ago (addressed to Senator Cruz) explaining why you should care.
There is (as so often is the case) an education angle, and this interview with the president of the American Library Association captures what it is. You might also look at this EdSurge post.

So, what can you do? The FCC doesn't answer to us, but they DO answer to Congress, so go check out BattlefortheNet for resources and contacts.

And, yes, the blog currently has a pop-up giving a countdown clock. It appears once per person per day. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Board of Education meets for November next Tuesday

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets next Tuesday at 8:30 am (note: no Monday night meeting this month). The agenda is here. After the opening comments from the Chair, the Secretary, and the Commissioner, there will be time for public comment.

Sydney Chaffee, Massachusetts and National teacher of the year, will be presenting (as is the tradition. These are usually quite good, and also among the only times the Board hears directly from a teacher on a topic of the teacher's choosing.)

There will be an update on the Commissioner's search (get those applications in soon!)

There will be an update from Lawrence, which is of particular interest in light of last week's announcement that the current appointed receiver Jeffrey Riley will be stepping down at the end of this school year; he will be replaced by a board appointed by the Commissioner (hmm...which one, I wonder?).

There will be an FY19 budget update.

There will be a discussion and vote to solicit public comment on the proposed (and verbally supported by the Board) hold steady standard setting on MCAS for the graduating classes of 2021 and 2022. That is, they'll take the new test, but the passing score will be set equivalent to the current difficulty level of passage with the old test.

There will likewise be a discussion and a vote to solicit public comment on a change to regulations around foster care to bring the state into ESSA compliance.

And there will be a discussion of virtual schools.

There will be an initial discussion on the revision of the social studies standards, and an update on the implementation of the ELA, science, and math standards.

All I want for Christmas

We are coming up on the season of lists, of what we want and of what we have to do. In the spirit of the season, here's my list:

What I would like to see in a Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.

I want a Commissioner who has cried over children not their own.

I want a Commissioner who knows enough about child development to know what a four year old can, can't, should, shouldn't, and might do.

I want a Commissioner who talks to kids like people.
I want a Commissioner who listens when they talk back.

I want a Commissioner who has had to defend a public budget in public.

I want a Commissioner who has had to wrangle policy through a public process.
...and who has seen that policy is meaningless if it doesn't touch implementation.

I want a Commissioner who knows that we have a million kids in our system, and not all of them are going to be the exception.
...and that each of them is.

I want a Commissioner who knows enough education history to know when we've tried something before.
...more than once.
I want a Commissioner who has been the one with kids on the afternoon of the first snowfall.
...and when Halloween falls on a Friday.
...and the day someone in the community has died unexpectedly.

I want a Commissioner who has seen the smile of delight of a preschooler--or a high schooler--who reads a complete sentence for the first time.

I want a Commissioner who knows what they don't know.
..and who admits it.
...and who learns as a result.

I want a Commissioner who knows what data does show.
...and what it can't.

I want a Commissioner who reads state and federal law with an eye to what we can do, not what we can't.

I want a Commissioner who knows that our high schools don't run on a factory model.
...and that our school year isn't a reflection of the agricultural calendar.

I want a Commissioner who knows about different kinds of special education needs and what the best practice is.

I want a Commissioner who has learned about how we acquire language.

I want a Commissioner who knows the state constitution's Chapter V, Section II at least as well as they know M.G.L. Chapter 69.

I want a Commissioner who knows that education is something we do together for all of us and for each of them.

Remember: you can let the Board know what you think by email. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Late on this: Worcester School Committee tonight

I'm late posting on this, and I don't have time to do a full post, but I do want to flag for Worcester residents that tonight's Worcester School Committee agenda does include the first self-evaluation of Superintendent Binienda; the relevant (full) grid is here. The goals on which these are based are here. Note that two of the four are marked in the self-evaluation as "exemplary," Here's what the DESE guide to the evaluation system says about that:
The Exemplary level represents the highest level of performance. It exceeds the already high Standard of Proficient. A rating of Exemplary is reserved for performance on an Indicator or Standard that is of such a high level that it could serve as a model for educators in the school, district, or state. Few educators—superintendents included— are expected to earn Exemplary ratings on more than a handful of Indicators.
One assumes that the committee plans to evaluate in December. 

At some point, I still have a post I want to get to on the F&O meeting that was Monday...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"A solemn Councel forthwith to be held / At Pandæmonium*"

There were a lot of articles on the MCAS circulating this week.
I can't say we're any the wiser.

I saw this one from Bay State Banner getting shared a good deal, with the quotes being pulled from it either being of the variety that asserted that the new MCAS showed we were going to definitely and for sure have a college ready kids or, on quite the other hand, that it showed that we truly have gone down a long wrong road in education. What I didn't see being shared was Paul Reville's blunt assertion that it's a higher bar, or anyone pointing out that it even straightforwardly is a different test.

Likewise, the Fox 25 coverage resisting the emphasis on MCAS was shared a good deal, approving of Superintendent Jackson's comments about deemphasizing test prep. I didn't see anyone link that to something like Holliston's demographics (7% economically disadvantaged, 3% ELL) and talk about what that meant in Hollison versus places where there might be a valid concern of state intervention or of kids not making it through. I suspect it's closer to what it looks like in Pentucket Regional, where the parents are citing a drop on schooldigger (and a reflection on property values) as a reason for concern.

Today, we had a Globe article, which somehow ascribed to parents and districts confusion the Globe itself had fostered in its coverage: comparing last year to this, speaking fearfully of a "drop" in scores, and lending little lucidity to an already fraught issue.

Two things I didn't see get as much attention were Acting Commissioner Wulfson's note (and I'd put money on that being him; it sounds like him) in yesterday's Weekly Update (note that the website is down for the weekend) and an interview with Daniel Koretz, which, contrary to the boosts I largely saw it get, is more about putting standardized testing into perspective than getting rid of it entirely.

I saw a lot of assertions, a number of them false, and I didn't see a lot of attempts to grapple with making good public policy.

Asserting that a single round of a new test demonstrates much of anything other than it being a new test with new systems and materials on which students hadn't been tried is something of a fool's game. You can do it, but it really isn't any different than when I gave my students a test in a format they weren't accustomed to on material they weren't as familiar with.
And we knew we were going to see these results. We've known for months.
Thus I'm frustrated with the idea that, of itself, means much of anything. We can't know that these kids are any better prepared until we get them to whatever we're preparing them for: can they construct more logical arguments? can they reason through a problem? do they write any better than in the past? There are particular things we were told that this test is supposed to do better: does it? I don't think we know that yet.
By the same token, having a harder test itself is no slur against anything. If you as a teacher feel the assessment isn't accurately gauging where your students should be, you create a new one. What I'm not hearing asked enough is if this test is it. If it isn't, how? And what needs to be different?

I'm also deeply and profoundly frustrated by the ways in which the pandæmonium of the extremes is making it impossible to take advantage of openings for conversation. For example: right now, the state is in the process of working through the statewide history and social studies standards. At the end of that, we know, the state is going to implement a statewide history assessment. There have been a significant number of discussions at the Board of Ed that have opened to the door towards this NOT BEING AN EXAM LIKE MCAS. Wulfson and some members of the Board clearly agree that the best way of assessing actual knowledge and skills of social studies and civics is through community and project based knowledge. I have yet to hear or see anyone attempt to work with or on that. If that advantage isn't taken, there are absolutely those who want to see another "run it through the machine" exam, and if you don't think they're already talking, you're wrong. But that conversation is being drowned out by the shouting going on over the changes in the 3-8 ELA and math test.

There's also development a school report card going on, which includes, as ESSA opened the door to, a lot more things on it than test scores. What is that going to look like? What is going to be emphasized? How is the state and how are districts going to highlight that such that an actual variety (however meager in comparison to what we might like) of things are being evaluated? Is that, in other words, going to mean something now? Can we add things? And what is it going to look like to evaluate some schools that maybe are really good at narrow things being evaluated on a wider array of them?

And finally, is anyone, anywhere, going to attempt to have a conversation about what they're looking for in a new Commissioner? We don't hire them often. They have a significant amount of power. Are we just going to shrug and take whatever Chair Sagan and Secretary Peyser decide between them? Because they're absolutely the ones steering that ship.

Some of the above leads back to my perpetual call for better education coverage, yes. Some of it also points to a question of who is actually interested in making public policy versus staking out positions. Public policy means you don't get all your own way, and it means you have to pay attention to things like the $230 million a year we get in Title I funds (that's why we have a federal law to follow) and the 99% (and not shrinking) of kids who took the exam again in a year in which it "didn't count." It means you have to talk to people who disagree with you and maybe get to think they're at least well motivated if wrong.

If we don't do that, decisions are going to happen, anyway, and they're going to be made by those who have the ears of those in power and by those who show up to talk. And that isn't going to serve the kids nor the broad array of--
agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.
...all that well. Nor will it preserve our rights and our liberties.

*lines 755-6, Book 1, Paradise Lost, John Milton
and yes, Milton is talking about Hell

Acting Commissioner Wulfson on assessing districts

Quote in full from yesterday's weekly Commissioner's Update:
It was great seeing many of you at the MASS/MASC conference on the Cape earlier this month. I’m always impressed by the breadth and depth of the panel sessions and presentations on so many vital topics. One session that particularly stood out for me was a presentation by Wakefield Superintendent Kim Smith on the very robust set of rubrics they’ve been developing to measure student growth and learning. MCAS scores are part of it, but so are many other qualitative and quantitative dimensions of student performance. We all know that MCAS does not measure all of the content and skills that we want our students to know. But how often do we hear the complaint that a district is shortchanging some element of the curriculum because “it’s not on MCAS”? I believe it is neither feasible nor desirable for us to expand the state testing program to incorporate every dimension of student learning. So it’s nice to see districts like Wakefield that are willing and able to put MCAS scores into perspective and develop comprehensive local measures to support their educational goals.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

MASS President (and Taunton Superintendent) Julie Hackett at MASS/MASC

I was going to pull from this to write something up myself, but, really, you should read the whole thing. Remarks delivered by Superintendent Julie Hackett last Wednesday at MASS/MASC's Annual Conference:

When I was a kid, I loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved the way he could string a phrase together to evoke an image from words. I loved the heartfelt letters he and his mother exchanged, and I loved his books that helped me imagine and dream. I even named my yellow lab “Gatsby” after the main character in – you guessed it – The Great Gatsby.

 And I especially loved his quotes. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” It’s a quote that’s stuck with me through the years, and I think it’s quite fitting for this time and this place, and for all those who care about education in Massachusetts.

As you all know, there’s a great deal of tension in public education right now. It strikes me that part of this stress comes from the increasing pressure to hold multiple points of view in mind all at once, without ever really having had an opportunity to hash things out together. I think a lack of organized, collective public discourse about our beliefs tends to impair our ability to function in some ways.
 And this pressure is particularly hard on leaders like you - superintendents and school committee members in this room – whose job it is to help your school community sort things out and make sense of the world.

It occurs to me that this “sorting out of ideas” has never really happened in a big way in Massachusetts. Yes, we’ve all probably talked about the direction of our State Department of Education and of our own district’s mission, but when I think about it, I’ve never even asked my School Committee members or Leadership Team, for example, to share their ideas about the purpose of public education. And to my knowledge, it’s not a discussion that's been had by MASS, MASC or the DESE. And so it seems we jump from one idea to the next without ever truly discussing the fundamental question at hand that gets at the heart of our belief systems, and that is: “What is the purpose of public education?”

And so, never having the opportunity to sort things out creates this kind cognitive dissonance for us, which makes us feel uncomfortable. For instance – we are Massachusetts, and while we may appreciate being the best in the nation, we may bristle at the measurements used to prove it’s so. Another incongruent reality we face is that we may fundamentally believe the purpose of public education is to teach students how to live – not how to make a living. However, our new Next Generation MCAS test (or MCAS 2.0) is designed to measure college and career readiness, and not what it means to be a contributing member of society, which also matters to many of us.

And so I think there is a sense that there’s a fundamental disconnect in what we believe and what we do. Education is filled with these internal inconsistencies, and the Greek even invented a word for this – they call it “oxymoronic” or said another way – “pointedly foolish.”

But I, for one don’t think it’s pointedly foolish – or even a little intentionally silly – to simultaneously believe in ideas that may, on the surface, seem incompatible. In fact, I believe that with more intentional public conversation by all stakeholders in Massachusetts – together in the same room – there’s a great opportunity for us to redefine the purpose of public education, bridge the gap, and gain some momentum. And we all know who that’s going to help in the long run.

So, as a first step in this effort, I thought it would be interesting to reach out to some of you with a question tonight, and possibly even encourage some of you to go back to your school communities and do the same. I wanted to sort out what I believe to be the purpose of public education, what you believe, and perhaps more importantly, what we believe together.

Borrowing from a National School Board Association survey based on an informal survey a teacher did back in 2010, I asked a number of you to answer this question in 30 words or less: “What is the purpose of public education?”

I contacted the MASS and MASC Executive Officers, and I posed the question to the sixty or so superintendents and school committee members who attended the Legislative Breakfast we hosted yesterday in Taunton. And finally, I reached out to my “tweeps” – and for the social media neophytes in the room, “tweeps” means “twitter peeps,” which is a term of endearment used to reference one’s followers on Twitter. (And I see the students in the room nodding, and they all know what a tweep is!). I was pleasantly surprised to get more responses to this question than I expected, and here are some that I thought you might find interesting:
  • One of my parents said (and I quote), “The purpose of education is to help my child prepare to be a contributor to society. That’s all I want for her! Go Woodchucks!" (Only the Tauntonians will understand this inside joke - where are my Taunton School Committee members? Woodchucks are from where? That's right - Martin Middle School!).
  •  A former Taunton High graduate said, “I think my public school education made me well rounded. I was well-prepared for a competitive 4-year college, which then prepared me for continued success in both graduate school and now my career. I’ve always been proud of my TPS education.” (I must confess, this one melted my heart).
  • And here's one from one of my current students who said, “The purpose of public education is to teach kids how to function with little sleep.” (Ms. Doherty, I think we'll recruit her to your Late Start Committee).
  •  A retired principal and a son of immigrants said, “My parents shared the importance of caring for your family and community, and the way to do that is to be smarter than anyone else – and damn it – get an education.”
  •  One of my twitter followers who just published a book said the purpose of education is, “to realize the full and complex human potential of each young person who steps through the schoolhouse door.”
  •  A school committee member said, “Public education’s purpose is to educate children providing them the skills needed not only to become responsible citizens but also preparing them for success in whatever career they choose.”
  •  Another school committee member quoted a passage from MGL, and when I asked her to summarize, she said the purpose of education is “for the preservation of their rights and liberties.” • A DESE employee said, “to prepare all students for success in the world that awaits them after high school.”
  •  A superintendent of a regional vocational technical school said the purpose of education is “to prepare students for life and not just a graduation stage.”
  •  And one of my personal favorites? A member of our illustrious MASS Executive Officers said, and I quote: “‘Knowledge is good.” Does anyone know the origin of this quote? That’s right; it’s the Faber College motto from Animal House! (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about which one of the Executive Officers said this!)

And so what does all of this talk about the purpose of public schools mean for us and why does it matter? Like F. Scott Fitzgerald said – smart, intelligent people like you understand that education doesn’t have to be about just one thing, it can and should be about many things to help give our young people every advantage in life. Drawing from your thoughtful comments in response to my question, it appears to me that public education here in the Commonwealth doesn’t have a singular focus, and that’s a good thing. If I had to define it based on my beliefs and your responses, I would say that the purpose of public education in Massachusetts is about college, careers, AND the common good – and not necessarily in that particular order.

As a first generation college student, I believe deeply that everyone deserves a college education. And probably like many of you, I’ve experienced how higher education changes lives. It teaches our young people to think critically, to be civic-minded, and to self-actualize. In addition to all that, a recent study from Georgetown University found that on average, college graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetimes. Now money isn’t everything and all those intrinsic rewards are just as important if not more so, but to me it is undeniable that every child in Massachusetts deserves a chance at a college education.

But here’s the reality: not every child is ready for a college education at the exact moment he or she graduates. So then what do we do? Do we say we’ve taught the young person to be a contributor to society and say our jobs are done? Of course not – the pathway to college and a better life can be through careers, too. We have an obligation to teach young people about career possibilities and prepare them for the jobs of the future. In my school system, 70% of our students take a Career Technical Education course, and I don’t think that’s good enough. It should be 100% - not just for my students, but for all students in Massachusetts. (As a quick aside, soon you’re going to see a white paper published by the Alliance for Vocational Technical Education that defines high-quality education that makes this same recommendation.)

Another important MASS movement involves computer science. In a departure from the top-down mandates that typically occur, MASS initiated a collaboration with the business community and education officials ensuring that all students in Massachusetts develop computational knowledge and skills and the ability – if they so choose – to explore their individual passions and develop the new literacies and foundational skills they are going to need in the future. Equity is an important part of this conversation, and MASS has insisted that all children have access, regardless of their zip codes and whether they live near Boston or in Western, Massachusetts where there’s limited broadband access and infrastructure.

The most compelling reason I believe that every student in Massachusetts should take career technical education courses is because of my conversations with young people. When I ask them what it is that needs to change in their public education, here’s what they tell me: they say that what they study has little or no applicability to their futures. And, truthfully, I have heard this from young people in every school system in which I’ve ever worked. I’ve heard it from students in rural, urban, suburban, less affluent or wealthy districts – you name it. I’ve heard it from the students who take more general courses, to the National Honor Society students who primarily enroll in Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes. If you have a serious conversation with a young person, and you ask them how to improve their public education, they will tell you that there’s no connection between what they’re learning and what they will do in the future. And when they say this, what they’re really saying to you is they need and want contextualized learning opportunities so they can begin to imagine the possibilities for their lives, for their futures. All students in Massachusetts deserve to have more career technical education to help them dream and pursue their passions.

And finally, there is indeed no debate that one of the purposes of public education in Massachusetts is and must be for the common good. We recently heard from the Anti-Defamation League at an MASS meeting, and they reported hate crimes in Massachusetts public schools were said to be in the high 70s and counting in September – and those are just the ones that are known. And the Washington Post just reported that hate crimes in high schools are on the rise due to the national scene. Our young people deserve to grow up in a world where we look out for each other. A fundamental purpose of public education is to teach young people to care about one another, and I think we all can say that our young people deserve a better world tomorrow than the one they're living in today. They need to be active citizens who take collective action in politics and public service so we can preserve the common good.
And let me close by saying that I know with the caliber of superintendents and school committee members in this room, there’s nothing we can’t do together to create better opportunities and life outcomes for the young people we so cherish in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I thank you for your time.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Help is (possibly) coming

Breaking news today that Governor Baker plans to ask the Legislature for additional funding to go to schools who have seen an influx of students from Puerto Rico. It doesn't look like a foundation budget recount, though:
The guidance, which came from Baker's budget office, indicated that the governor will file for additional funding under the Chapter 70 program for fiscal 2018 "to ensure that school districts can draw down additional state aid for these new students, as needed." 
The money, according to the administration, will be dispersed based on school districts' current per-pupil funding levels and account for whether the incoming students need special services, such as English language learning classes. 
"We will continue to monitor these enrollment numbers through FY18 and beyond and seek additional aid for district experiencing significant enrollment increases as necessary," the memo states.
Interestingly, the memo counts 880 students statewide, whereas Politico as of Monday afternoon:
 The phrase "which students need special services" does open the question of if any consideration of students on IEPs will be added in; the foundation budget doesn't count actual students on that.
More as I have it. 

What happened last night in education?

What an election night, huh?

So what happened in education?
  • Close to home, of course, the Worcester School Committee drops Colorio (by 291 over Biancheria) and adds Comparetto. A few things to keep in mind on that: Colorio's two big issues were Common Core--gone because of the standards redrafting and ESSA==and overtesting--which appears to be less of a concern in a state in which the state test is regularly racking up rates of 99%--so she didn't have as much to run on this year. Comparetto, of course, ran as a progressive, though the big issues around education--race, school-by-school inequity, police in school--were never brought up by him or anyone else. I'm dubious about how much of a victory it is for "us" when a newcomer wins a seat by spending (what I believe to be an unprecedented) over $45,000 to win a school committee race. At a time when we're seeing school board seats be bought for big money (don't forget LA), I'm going to say bluntly that if we care about representative democracy locally, this isn't something we'll find encouraging. Note also that McCullough moved up the ranking while Biancheria moved down (in fact, for awhile it looked as though she might be bumped instead). 
  • On the Worcester City Council, Gaffney is out and Rosen replaces him at large. The two newcomers, representing districts 1 and 5 respectively, are Sean Rose and Matt Wally. Rose has kids in the schools, and Wally has parents who were WPS teachers, so at least initially, that looks like possible education support. Aside from general supportive messages for schools, and Wally specifically talking about getting South and Doherty done, we haven't heard a lot on that. Also, someone should ask Rose about a new Burncoat.
  • Farther afield, the big news is from Lowell, where the non-binding question on putting a new high school downtown won by a nearly 2 to 1 margin, and the City Council race went to those who supported that location as well. For those who haven't been following this issue: Lowell's only high school is right downtown, and many students walk to and from school. The district runs a good number of programs that keep kids in and around the building during and after school; it's widely seen as one of the strengths of the district. The school committee has wanted to keep a new high school in that location, in order to keep those programs and that access in place for students; the City Council instead wanted to move the high school out to a more suburban location. In Massachusetts municipal districts, the city (not the district) builds schools, so when the City Council voted to put the high school in the more suburban location, the School Committee balked, and then sued, and then lost. Meanwhile, a group of citizens who wanted to keep the high school downtown had collected enough signatures to put the a non-binding measure on the ballot. It has by far dominated the municipal election, and, last night, the downtown supporters won big. All of which demonstrates that the MSBA was wise to postpone dealing with Lowell until after their election. Also, pro-tip? A major concern of MSBA is the academic program and how the building supports that. Lowell's suburban site was not making good arguments for that.
  • We can't talk about last night and education without recognizing two mayoral races that bring new mayors in from the State House coming out of races that spoke about school funding: Representative Paul Heroux was elected last night in Attleboro, defeating seven term incumbent Kevin Dumas. Note that Heroux himself cites school funding as one of the factors of his win; Attleboro regularly dances on the edge of barely making minimum net school spending. In Lynn, Senator Tom McGee beat incumbent mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy by a 64/35 margin. Lynn, of course, has been the city that has been so far under net school spending for years that the state has had a few rounds of renegotiating how they're ever going to make up ground on it. The outgoing mayor had variously referred to minimum spending as "a thorn in our side" and had spoken of the school budget "swallow(ing) the city budget". Those are weak arguments in a city in which the school budget is funded a full 75% by the state.
  • Framingham elected their first city school committee, choosing a mix of incumbents and newcomers. 
  • In New Bedford (h/t Kat McKiernan), incumbent Josh Amaral (disclosure: Josh is a friend) won re-election, and and the city elected two new members, one of whom, Colleen Dawicki, is an interesting city policy wonk type and becomes the only woman on an all-male board.  
  • In Malden, where a ward school committee candidate had attracted an enormous (for school committees) amount of dark money, the non-dark money candidate Jennifer Spadafora won, and by a fairly significant margin.
  • I put together a bit of a thread last night about school committee races across the state (which does not claim to be everything; let me know if you have additions). 
To peek nationally a bit:
I'll add more to this over the course of the day...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Vote hope, not fear

The cities (whether they call themselves so or not) of Massachusetts have local elections today, including my hometown of Worcester.
I've already posted once in this election season about Worcester, as my district race had a preliminary contest. I'll be going in later today to vote for Matt Wally, with a fervent hope that he steps up to learn more about education funding, and backs way off the policing focus, should he win.

In the at large race, I'll tell you that Mayor Petty has walked the talk on school funding. What WPS most needs, when it comes to budgets, is a mayor who goes to Boston and actively advocates for the change to the foundation budget that has Worcester functioning at something like 4/5ths of the budget it should have. He gets it, he's internalized it, and he's served us well.
On other aspects of other education policy, we don't always agree (check four years of roll calls if you don't believe me), but he came into the mayor's chair knowing that he needed to learn the school committee side. And he doesn't pretend to know what he doesn't, which is one of the biggest drawbacks of many a politician (that's also my other main test of who NOT to vote for).

Overall, though, here's what I'll recommend across the board:
Don't give votes to people who try to make you afraid.

We again this election have had a wide array of people running for office whose main pitch to voters has been fear. The District 5 race has focused largely on policing and taxation, and neither in any way that is positive or moving forward or forming relationships or trying to be constructive. We've seen in on Council over and over in the past two years: we should fear immigrants, or poor people, or anyone who isn't like us. Frankly, I'm not going to vote for very many at large candidates--maybe two? beyond Petty--because so many councilors have, at one time or another, made it clear that they view fellow denizens of Worcester as "those people."

And that's particularly dangerous when it comes to schools.

And it's been particularly pervasive when it comes to schools. I won't walk you back through two years ago--it's already been said, and better, by others--but the mystery of the suddenly safe schools post-election doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to place.
It isn't just school safety (though we saw another round of "the safety budget must go up" as well as "but the policing is working!"). This past two years saw a concerted effort to make parents afraid of wireless internet in their buildings, in defiance of all science. The campaign has seen an effort to make PCBs, after all the testing has come back below EPA levels, an issue again. It also has seen yet another "but the Common Core" push, after two rounds of standards revision post-Common Core.

I'll tell you bluntly that refusing to vote based on fear won't give you many options. But you should never be ashamed of a bullet vote.

Vote hope, not fear.

Monday, November 6, 2017

CPPAC hears about the strategic plan on Wednesday

Last night, families received a connect-ed, letting us know that the citywide parent group CPPAC willl be hearing from the Rennie Center on Wednesday night about the strategic plan. CPPAC meets at 7 pm at the Worcester Art Museum.

Note that there is again no mention of interpretation or childcare. Plus, the art museum is not on public transit (it's a hike to get there from most bus lines).

I can't go because Burncoat is having a session on financial aid that night. If you go, take notes! Also, I've received notice from the Attorney General's office that they've received my Open Meeting Law complaint. 

Friday, November 3, 2017


left for me by housekeeping this week at the conference 

Two years ago tonight, I lost an election.
Like a lot of "clubs no one wants to belong to," it's one of those things that are both different for everybody and not really something you can relate to until you've been there.

We talk a lot in education in Massachusetts about superintendents being the only ones who have public evaluations that can involve their being publicly fired.
Not so: everybody out there who sticks their name on a ballot for a second or subsequent time can also have that same experience.

It stinks. It hurts.

But also like those other "clubs no one wants to belong to," it clears some things up. It makes it clear who values you for what (and who values you at all). It makes it clear what matters, and it makes it clear what doesn't.

There are much, much worse things in life than losing an election.

As the annual Thanksgiving posts on Facebook started to swirl, it occurred to me that I've never really said anything about the past two years, and if this past month has taught me anything, it's that you should say something lest you miss the chance.

Thus, I am enormously grateful:

  • for my family, who made it immediately and enormously clear that this really didn't matter all that much in the larger scheme, who set about finding me a new ('real') job immediately (however...puzzling), never doubted that I would find something that was good and right, and who have embraced with aplomb the idea that now I go to lots of different school committee meetings.
  • for those who fed me that Wednesday. I had support when I was most in need of it. I'll never forget that. 
  • for every single person who said, "But who will blog the Board of Ed now?" You gave me a different perspective on my role in state education policy at a time when I needed it.
  • for every single Worcester person who has said, "I always voted for you!" That never doesn't matter (and don't believe anyone who tells you that they don't care). 
  • for all of the people in all of the various realms of education and politics and policy who didn't change a tick in reaching out for thoughts, analysis, information, explanations and such. You helped show me a path forward.
  • for, of course, the Board, my boss, my colleagues at MASC. Quite seriously, every single person in that office wants every single school committee member (and quite a number of administrators!) to do the best job they possibly can. They are great fun, they are smart, they work hard, and I am so glad to work with them. Seriously: I love my job.

If you're in the above--and many, many of you who read here are--thank you.

Remarks from Acting Commissioner Wulfson at MASS/MASC annual conference

I was (regrettably) on my phone during this, so I'm reconstructing this from my tweets; it is a reconstruction.

Acting Commissioner Wulfson opened by saying that he was going to say what he's been too shy to say for 23 years, and warned that by the time he gets done, no one, including members of his family, may be speaking to him.
  • Real changes and progress in schools takes years, whether it's curriculum changes, school turnaround, or other things. The average tenure of a superintendent is now 3 years. What are we doing to support superintendents to stay longer?
  • Kids need more time in school, particularly those with greater needs.
  • All kids need access to computer science (praising MASS for taking this up).
  • Educator licensure is "way too complicated" and needs pruning. There should definitely be some requirements of what you need to know and to do, but the system needs reworking.
  • Buildings are expensive to build; we should fix them, not keep building new ones.
  • "When did taxes become a four letter word? The original Tea Party was neither anti-government nor anti-taxation."
  • Regarding school transportation reimbursement: It “doesn’t seem right to me that Dighton-Rehobeth gets 80% and Taunton gets zero.” 
  • On charter schools: “When the kid arrives mid year from Guatemala, he’s going to the district schools” BUT ALSO "there are good charters out there and districts should learn from them." 
  • And there is excellent work being done by districts across the state every day.
And I'll close with the same thing I tweeted when he ended: "This is why MASS President (and Taunton Superintendent) Julie Hackett said that if it were up to her, she'd just cross out the "Acting" before "Commissioner." 
I don't always agree with him, and I think he's wrong sometimes, but he never takes criticism personally (at least publicly), he's always up front about what he knows and thinks, and he genuinely cares, not just about kids, but about people doing work in school districts, and sees himself as on the same team. That matters a lot. 

Speaking of student-centered learning

Among the questions asked last week of candidates to the Worcester School Committee was one on "student-centered learning." All spoke, in some fashion, in support of it. Mr. O'Connell, in fact, went on at some length at how this was something that Worcester doesn't do enough of.

Worcester just didn't do enough of it again.

A group of students delivered a set of policy proposals to the superintendent yesterday, having, per the report, first asked candidates to sign off on it. They were, it appears, largely dismissed (including by Mr. O'Connell).

Contrary to Miss Biancheria's comment that this "isn't how you get things done," having candidates promise to support policy proposals is exactly how one gets things done, or at least moving, in an election year. Surely we haven't all forgotten the yearly "lowest residential tax rate" pledge the Shrewsbury Street Neighborhood Association extracted from candidates?

As is clear from the above sequence, yes, it takes more than nice noises to get elected officials to do something. Perhaps someone could remind the students that they have (as required by law) a representative on the Worcester School Committee. Time to start making use of that.