Sunday, September 30, 2018

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, October 4

The agenda is posted here.
The report of the Superintendent is on "Innovation Pathways" (and it's impossible to miss that someone else put this PowerPoint together and got it scanned), which looks like an extention of the vo-tech paths within the district; non-Tech kids are being bussed to Tech to take four sorts of vocational programs after school.
There are resignations, hires, transfers, as per usual this time of year. There are also congratulations of various sorts.
Mr. Monfredo is requesting a report on Buddy Benches, the Middle School Kindness Challenge, and a comparison of Worcester with other Gateways and Boston on financial aid, assessments, dropout rate, graduation rate, chronic absenteeism. With the exception of financial aid, if one assumes he means college aid, that would more or less be the report that Mr. O'Connell should probably request instead. 
Mr. O'Connell is requesting a report on 2018 MCAS scores; two thoughts: one would expect that to be this week's report of the superintendent, and one might do better requesting a report on accountability results
Miss McCullough is asking for a report on ALICE training to include I'm not Scared...I'm Prepared programming.
Miss Biancheria would like a report on transportation that was moved to Fremont Street (the new full-size buses run from there, as the WPS-operated special ed buses always have), a report on those ten new buses, and a report on snow removal equipment (is this going to be a list of snowblowers at every school?).
And Mr. Foley has the following:
Request that the Administration consider the implications of excessive heat and humidity upon the learning environment in the classrooms and the schools without air conditioning and the adverse conditions for students, teachers and staff. The Administration should develop a policy to be followed when the city has experienced consecutive days of excessive heat and humidity and the conditions in many of the schools are intolerable.
There is a request to approve a prior year payment $2,060.20 to a parent for transportation of a McKinney-Vento student.

There is a request to accept:
  • a Project Lead the Way grant for $7500 (for "higher-order thinking") at Jacob Hiatt Magnet
  • $399.21 from Lifetouch to Lake View School - 
  • $50.00 from American Income Life Insurance Company to Belmont Street Community School 
  • $24.50 from American Income Life Insurance Company to Tatnuck Magnet Elementary School  
  • $515.16 from Lifetouch to Woodland Academy 
  • - to Worcester Technical High School: - $5,920.00 from Sarah Daniels Pettit & William O Pettit, Jr Fund/Greater Worcester Community Foundation - $560.00 from Saul A. Seder Fund/Greater Worcester Community Foundation for participation in Skills USA - $291.00 from Thurston E. Solomon & Everett J. Morter Memorial Fund/Greater Worcester Community Foundation for participation in Skills USA - $500.00 from Air-Tite Products Co., Inc./Mr. & Mrs. Neil Garnache to be used as a scholarship for a student who will be furthering their education beyond high school in memory of Donald P. Garnache, graduate of Boys’ Trade 
  • - to Worcester Arts Magnet: - $100.00 from various donors to be used for Chromebook licenses - $500.00 from JMH Solutions 
  • - to support the Exhilarate Worcester Initiative at Woodland Academy: - $4,414.65 from various donors - $125.00 from On the Rise Baking - $500.00 from Blaine Warren Advertising - $750.00 from Commonwealth of MA Mid-District District Attorney’s Office
The administration is also requesting the school committee approve a five year lease for Chromebooks and a six year lease on desktops and such.
And there are some new nurses to approve the hire of.

They've also once again posted a non-specific executive session, which isn't cricket.
7 pm, City Hall. If an item is on the agenda, members of the public may request a suspension of the rules in order to speak to the item.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Quick note on the Chandler Elementary invalidation

I'll do a longer post with some thoughts (and maybe explanations?) on the new acccountability set-up, but note that the state also has invalidated Chandler Elementary's 2017 MCAS scores:
This year, in comparison, not only were Chandler’s scores lower, but students who left the school after 2017 did much more poorly on the 2018 MCAS; the mean student growth percentile for those test-takers fell from 72 to 21 on the English portion of the exam and from 70 to 15 on the math.
The superintendent's response is puzzling, to be polite:
Ms. Binienda said she also doesn’t know what violations occurred, saying the district has largely been uninvolved in the state’s investigation.
″(The state) hasn’t shared what they are,” she said, adding she still hasn’t seen evidence Chandler broke any rules in its administration of the MCAS in 2017. “There’s nothing I can say about that.”
Ms. Binienda also said the school didn’t do anything different during the latest testing period, aside from assigning a central office administrator, Marie Morse, to oversee the process at the school this spring. She also believes the situation at Chandler is an isolated incident.
The state clearly thinks that something was broken, if the scores are invalidated. If we don't know what violations occurred, we can't say that they're isolated.

UPDATE: Okay, to briefly talk about Clive's column on this (and continuing the theme that I don't know anything beyond what I read): any time spent at all with this new Commissioner would tell you that there's no way he's making anything a charter.
Also, he can't just do that! Chandler would have to go back to underperforming, get stuck, get declared chronically underperforming...and even then, this wasn't a recommendation the prior Commissioner, who was much more actively interventionist, ever made!
Let's keep our fears within the bounds of this system.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

September Board of Ed: in sum

You can find my Novick Reports over at MASC.
I also did a little post-meeting ranting over on Twitter, starting here:

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

September Board of Ed: Foundation budget review commission

backup is here

Wulfson: thought it would be useful to give you a quick refresher course on what the foundation budget is
Massachusetts one of first states to adopt such a budgetary plan
"one of the key measures of if we are meeting our constitutional obligation" to provide an education for all students
rises to the top of the list as it is a constitutional obligation
FY19: total foundation budget a little under $11B; a little over $11K per student
funded through a combination of state aid and required local contribution
excludes several significant items: transportation, construction, extraordinary sped costs, pensions
those run about $2.5B on top of foundation budget
pretty much untouched from its initial adoption in 1993
2015 commission established to review assumptions in foundation budget
"despite a lot of effort by staff in legislature and the conference committee...with a lot of support from our school finance office here...a major rewrite is quite an endeavor"

important to note "despite news coverage to the contrary, none of those discussions had anything to do with the current fiscal year"
fiscal year '20 budget isn't over: "it's just starting"

many districts choosing to spend over foundation
others held harmless well above the current foundation budget
an increase in the foundation budget for a particular district does not translate into a dollar-for-dollar increase in state aid and "in some, it may not translate to any increase in state aid"

Wulfson notes that "what tools and levels are we thinking about that will translate increased spending to increased student achievement" was discussed at the end of the Commission ('though he fails to note that those who wanted such things tied LOST)

Craven: important for Board to look at four issues and look at how their weighted
"the only one here that could be translated into achievement gap closure" is poverty
that...isn't true at all
"as a veteran of minimum aid"
Peyser: the districts that benefit are the ones that are spending right at that level" of foundation
"even if you're increasing a factor that effects all districts equally" in terms of state aid it leans most to districts that most lack local capacity
Wulfson: fiscal distress is two catagories: Gateways, where enrollment is growing; and rural districts where districts are tiny and shrinking
Craven: would preferred something that's more targeted
"I don't know how it helps achieve our goals over time" with the other issues isn't about that?
Peyser: how do we ensure those funds are being used to have a larger impact on student outcomes?
potential of thinking about other parts of the state finance system
Sagan: budget as a process that happens "to us"
Craven: generally think that anything that puts money into the system is a good thing, I do think that the Legislature will run out of money on this at some point, "that's a balancing act, as well"
Riley: unintended consequences: if the average municipality spends 20% above foundation, in theory districts can divert money to police and fire and stay above foundation
McKenna: sometimes I wonder if we're in a bubble
"there's highly documented data on how to attact the achievement gap...but that budget doesn't target those things"
high quality early childhood, full day kindergarten, summer learning
"we're not going to change the achievement gap until we target them"
Wulfson: money put into for programs mentioned are being put in for health insurance and special education which have to be paid for
Moriarty asks if the Medicaid reimbursement still goes back to the general fund
Wulfson: you're correct, there's no legal requirement that it go back

Bell: spending plan for this current year (FY19)
review process for administration and finance
implementation for spending this year
working with Commissioner for FY20 ask
no withholding, no vetoes, implementing budget as Legislature passed
have money for implementation for history/civics standards and assessment
FY19 just awaiting final approval for ANF on spending plan
"from a budgeting perspective, we're onto FY20"
federal side: "despite all of the last few years...Congress has pretty much continued to fund federal education programs at a baseline program level"

September Board of Ed: MCAS competency certification

backup memo is here
Wulfson intro's, praising the assessment group for all the juggling they've done
Stapel: update on MCAS and on competency determination
two years of next generation testing in grades 3-8 in English and math
this spring (2019) is first tests in grade 10
adding science as well in spring of 2020
participation rate (has a chart) "really happy to see that" rate over 99%
89% of students grades 3-8 tested on a computer
continued phase-in of computer-based testing: grades 3-8 in all three subjects; grade 10 in ELA and math; high school science in 2020
official embargoed data to districts on 25th
planned official release is Sept 27th
parent guardian reports get to superintendents on the 28th
Sagan asks if they only get their own results or get everyone's "so if they leaked it, it would only be their own results" which clearly takes many aback
been two decades since we've set a bar for high school
plan is to vote in winter of 2019-20 for standard beginning with class of 2023
"they will be entering high school next fall" so want to make that decision while they are still in their ninth grade year
advisory committee in summer/fall 2019 to inform that decision

West: hope competency determination could be informed by where kids end up
(aka after graduation)

On Science: (this is Katie Bowler) some of same considerations
which science tests are/have been taken: 75.8% in biology, 20% in physics, 3.3% in tech/engineering, 0.6% in chem
"definitely the sequence"
"the chemistry is usually a grade 10 or 11 tests...typically have already taken a biology test"
Tech/engineering "has just not increased"
Peyser: chemistry test-takers have already taken bio? Yes, most have already taken another
number is first time test takers: transfers or others missed, usually taking chem and others
Peyser: what would we expect those students to do?
bio or introductory physics still offered
Sagan: just following this: "we're not creating a cul de sac of failure for kids"
Peyser: is there a way of students to meet the competency determination that is sufficiently aligned and sufficiently rigorous by taking another test?
would like to keep that on the table
Wulfson: portfolio review is successful for most students
adding a mid-year physics assessment, so students entering will not have to wait until the end of the year
Peyser: computer science added "I think the next question people are asking is 'what's our assessment strategy?'"
interest in the exception to the rules; and what message is being set to the room
Morton: having portfolio reviews is going to be important
need to be figuring out how we're going to introduce kids to STEM earlier in life
ensure we aren't creating an unintended consequence
Wulfson (to question) engineering: "the built world rather than the natural world"
Matthews: when tests are phased out, I wonder if it's more cost effective if students would be expected to take tests outside of schools and would that be covered
Wulfson: this is being driven by budgetary considerations
"is it a good use of our limited resources" to provide a test for only a few students
"we certainly can't expect students to pay for something that's required"
ESSA requirement that we "give all students the same test"
argument to date is all are under the MCAS umbrella; same intention
McKenna asks about how hard it is to recruit good biology and physics teachers to high poverty schools
Riley: always in high demand

continuing to investigate ways to reduce the testing time
and turn around time on results; working to make that closer and closer "so while those students are still in that classroom, the teacher can have results"
lots of opportunities around computer-adaptive testing

September Board of Ed: arts standards update

the backup is here

Riley: revising arts frameworks which have not been touched since 1999
did put a 1.0 position in for an arts coordinator
there's a powerpoint here; I'll see if I can get it if it's needed
Ron Noble and Craig Waterman
"woe unto the state bureaucrat who follows Mr. Siddiqui"
notes Commissioner has long held that arts are part of a rich education
informed by feedback on state ESSA plan
Four goals:
  1. emphasizing importance of arts education
  2. include media arts and other emerging forms
  3. align to current research and resources
  4. align to structure of other frameworks
preparation was stakeholder outreach, panelist recruitment, and faciliator training, which went through May
now in writing and revising with panel meetings, content advisor input, and drafting of frameworks
intent is to be back in December or January with drafts to be released for public comment
intent is to be voted out in May

asked: what are elements of excellent arts education, current strengths and shortcomings of framework, suggestions for organization
standards should be specific and measurable
asked that discipline not be merged
identify common practices across disciplines
grade pairs in standards

had five full day meetings this summer: identified key learning, started with standards that needed revising, deletion, moved
final review meetings in September with feedback from content advisors
developing standards with an appropriate amount of time in mind
balance and options for districts
consistency to build across all frameworks
Stewart follows up on mention of arts position: it is Riley's intent going forward
How do you say everything is going to be a practice?
Noble: What we would ask a first grader to do, a fifth grader to do, a high school student to do...
what skills support these broad concepts
frequency and duration is also important; know that arts are an answer to improving schools
Moriarty: "this has always cut against the grain of the mindset of the subjects tested matter" as opposed to all disciplines on an equal footing
time is a resource as is money; merging arts into other subjects
is there any intent to use that, and if so, how?
Noble: standards across five disciplines that allow integration with content or just integration in the arts themselves
increase access to the arts even where we don't have time to do it
McKenna asks when they'll know about arts position; Peyser says next few weeks

September Board of Education: Commissioner Riley's goals

the backup is here; worth checking out

Riley: "we've done 25 years of education reform; there's been some good things, there's been some things that haven't been as good as we've hoped"
goals are reflective of that
day to day work
as well as assessing department as a whole
communication and outreach strategy to bring people under one tent to try to work together on a way forward
"I've asked that we take this year to celebrate and support our teachers"
"getting back to our bread and butter and focus on quality instruction"
"I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the foundation budget and the needs of our students...we contine to believe that we need to do better by our students"
will be providing "whatever help we can" to Beacon Hill as it moves forward
"can support their work in coming to a good resolution"
coming from Lawrence, felt we didn't have the resources our students needed, particularly affecting the Gateway communities
40% our students are students of color; only 8% of our teachers are
"have to do a better job of attracting and retaining our teaching force overall, teachers of color in particular"

Stewart: particularly enthused by final note (on equity)
wonder about institutional racism; never seen any education institution take that on in any appreciable way
Riley: did work internally with Courageous Conversations
focusing exterally next
"typically a monitoring and compliance organization" this will be different
recruiting aggressively on college campuses; offering incentives

Fernández: on communication and outreach
need for multi-lingual and multicultural strategy
achievement gaps and focus in ways
Riley: I will put achievement and opportunity gaps

Craven: things we can do before FBRC (I think that's what she said)
Riley: waiting on this supplemental budget; it's a moving target at this point
"will have more opportunity as this budget passes"

West: feels it would be "stronger if tied to an explicit problem statement"
history/social science: development of assessment

Moriarty: saw early literacy "lurking in the lines," I think explicit would be better

Morton: have us come in to support

McKenna: model the behavior that you want others to follow
"having somebody who looks like you" not a bad thing to have when recruiting

Matthews: echo Morton on getting students getting involved
"in many cases, the answers are going to lie with the students"
foreign languages?
Riley defers to Peske: in process of reviewing standards
doing outreach to stakeholders (including students)
will not bring revised standards to the Board this year
last revised in 1999

Sagan: tweak the memo, send it back around
"as you know, we're from the government, we're here to help"

September meeting of the Board of Education: opening remarks

The agenda is here. The livestream is here. Posting starts at 8:30 or thereabouts

Meeting called to order at 8:34 by Chair Sagan
"Happy New Year, as several of you have said"
"I actually got one email from somebody saying, 'I can't wait til you're all back!'"
(laughter as Sagan denies that it came from a member of the Board or from his family)
Sagan welcomes Maya Matthews as the new student rep of the year
Sagan notes that this will be Riley's first full school year
goals not only for Commissioner's report card but also priorities that he wants us to focus on
have been talking to Early Ed and Higher Ed on "more evidenced-based policy making"
"great deal more data that will look" over a long period of time
"we're not really sure a lot of the time" when making policies
"look at some set of outcomes in a new way"
other states are doing this "and may even be ahead of us"
do an outside study on what else is going on in the country; will come back and let you know what we've learned
work with other boards in an interdisciplinary way
"link some of at least economic outcomes with what experiences you had and what schools you went to"

Commissioner Riley:
update on explosions in the Merrimack Valley
"could have been a lot worse...we did lose a student" could have been even worse
thank those who have contributed
Eversource went school by school and cleared the schools
shelters have been closing as families have been able to go home
"difficult week or so and a lot of work ahead to fix the problem"
update on case on Holyoke case on translation; optimistic on progress
school resource officer model MOU; being well-planned for all contingencies
superintendent, police chief, fire chief being coordinated with response to emergencies
MCAS results end of September
"asked Board to reserve judgment" on new accountability system

Peyser: pending supplemental budget (for FY18)
"turns out there were some additional resources available in FY18"
Governor has asked for "some significant new dollars" to be put towards education; $70M to school safety
of that $20M to physical plant; $40M to behavioral and mental health services
"to prevent the kinds of school shootings we've seen in other parts of the country"
$30M for targeted assistance; at discretion of Commissioner
"that's pending"
"this will happen over the next couple of weeks one way or another"
visits with Commissioner, Higher Ed to districts on early college high school
pathways programs: "expand careerways in comprehensive high schools"
Connecting activities has been part of Mass STEM at Work

Public comment: Emily Ruddock (?)
director of policy and public affairs for MassCreative
"so delighted to see there is an update on arts curriculum framework"
worked closely to ensure that arts participation "featured in that dashboard" on school and district report cards
"passion, professionalism, and dedication" of those reviewing updated standards
make sure all of this good work is actual implemented
need for staff person at DESE to coordinate professional development and implementation

Monday, September 17, 2018

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, but there's a report they aren't receiving

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday for their regular meeting--the agenda is here--but there is a report they aren't getting.
Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports was scheduled to meet last week on Wednesday, in which case it would report out this week, but the meeting was cancelled. And why is decidedly odd:
Earlier this week, the administration withdrew the plan for further review, and the standing committee’s meeting on Wednesday evening at which it would have reviewed the proposal was canceled.
That's from Scott O'Connell's coverage (and good catch, Scott) of the proposed middle school health curriculum update, which Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Monfredo then describe in what might be politely phrased as florid terms.
The curriculum, however, was never reviewed, because, as we read above "administration withdrew the plan" before the meeting and cancelled the meeting.
It certainly appears as if two members of a three member committee objected to an item on an agenda, let the administration know, and got the administration to withdraw the proposal all without ever holding a public meeting, a clear abbrogation of their responsibility as elected officials.
And if you think two members of a three member subcommittee somehow both called expressing the same concern that got the meeting cancelled, well...

The follow-up article, incidentally, does a much better job of characterizing what is a national model for sex education, something which Worcester is well overdue for updating, as the city's commissioner of public health points out:
Ms. Castiel sad the relatively high rate of teen pregnancies in Worcester is evidence that families cannot be expected to handle sex education in every case, however.
“It isn’t being taught at home,” she said. “I raised two kids myself – it’s a tough issue to talk about with your kids.”
Early adolescence is ultimately a critical period for teaching students about many seemingly adult issues like sex, drugs and relationships, she argues, because it’s when they start to become exposed to them on their own.
“All this stuff starts to happen when they are kids,” she said. “This kind of education has to happen at this age.”
More on this as I have it. Also, contrast with how Martha's Vineyard is tackling this conversation

As for the agenda items that do exist this week, it's a fairly light week. Beyond recognitions and congratulations, the report of the superintendent is on early college high school.
There are the usual beginning of the year retirements, transfers, and resignations.
There are a series of grants to be accepted:
There are also donations: 
-$446.13 from Lifetouch to Chandler Magnet School
-$385.06 from Lifetouch to Belmont Street Community School
-to support the Exhilarate Worcester Initiative at Woodland Academy:
  $800.00 from various donors
  $100.00 from the Specialty Sandwich Co.
  $250.00 from C2 Skin Bar
  $250.00 from Yoga Health Concepts Inc.
  $250.00 from Eagle Cleaning Corporation
  $500.00 from UNUM

Miss Biancheria would like a report on Manufacturing Day (October 5).
Mr. Comparetto is requesting a report on before-school care charges.
There is a single prior fiscal year payment of $71.

There is a posted executive session for "re: IUPE Local 135 and Worcester School Committee, American Arbitration Association No. 01-17-0005-2729 and related administrative agency litigation."

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Education debt to our nation's children of color and their schools

Well worth a read today is this from the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools on what they're calculating as $580 billion owed schools of primarily low-income children of color. The full report is here.
What's interesting about this is they're focusing in opening on the federal level. Title I began as 40% more funding for low income kids. IDEA was to fund 40% of the needed special education services.
And neither happened.
The report also connects it to the falling off in the level of progression in our federal tax code, in the increases in spending in prisons (and the school-to-prison pipeline), and the push towards privatization. There hasn't, in my view, been enough attention on which schools get pushed away from their democratic representation and which schools never do, so this is a solid addition.
Worth your time!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Board of Ed meets Tuesday, September 18

Back to their regular schedule; their agenda is here.
After opening comments, they're starting their year by voting in a new vice-chair (the chair is a Governor appointment).
Commissioner Riley is presenting his goals for the coming year. There's some good things here (I'm summarizing)!
  • implementation of the history/social studies standards and development of the new arts standards
  • communication and outreach on celebrating teachers, creating a working committee on diversifying the teaching force, convening major stakeholders in the spring to discuss a path forward, visiting 100 schools
  • HEY! "I will collaborate with the Governor's office, Legislature, and stakeholders to promote and advance necessary changes in the foundation budget that will ultimately lead to an accurate reflection of the needs of all students in the Commonwealth." !!!!
  • targeted intervention of underperforming schools BUT look at what that looks like to him: "may include improvement of instructional practices to accelerate learning, culturally responsive teaching and learning, and increased engagement opportunities for students." 
  • analyze and refine the new accountability system
  • "lead the promotion of racial equity, diversity, and cultural proficiency" at DESE
  • "assess the responsibilities and functions of the agency"
There's an update on the arts curriculum framework, which is in the "writing and revising" phase.
There's an update on what we are still clunkily calling the "next generation MCAS" and the high school proficiency standard. Participation this past spring was over 99%. This year's sophomores will take the high school version of the new MCAS, and next summer, their scores will be scaled to a standard held to passing as now, which will hold for two years. The Commissioner is likewise recommending that a parallel path be established with the new science high school test. The class of 2023 (this year's eighth graders) will be those first held to a new standard, which will be developed starting next fall; watch for public input sessions. Note also this language in closing: 
I am committed to investigating ways that we can reduce the amount of time that is spent on testing, while maintaining the quality of the tests and the validity of the results. I am also interested in ways that we can return results more quickly, especially to teachers.
There's also (will the wonders never cease!) an administration-generated update on the foundation budget, including the bits implemented in the FY19 budget (an update I've been meaning to do myself), and a note on DESE involvement in the conference committee, which I think is worth quoting in full:
This past July, the Department staff were actively engaged by the legislative conference committee that was considering statutory changes to Chapter 70 in order to provide technical support and financial projections needed by the committee to inform their deliberations. Ultimately, the conferees were not able to resolve their differences, but it is clear that there is a high level of interest in exploring long-term, statutory changes to the foundation budget in areas that had been addressed at varied levels of detail by the FBRC.
During the course of this consultative work, the Department modeled the impact of four types of changes to the formula:
Raising rates for employee benefits and fixed charges toward goals based on FBRC calculations
Raising special education rates and increasing special education assumed enrollment percentages
Raising rates for out-of-district special education toward FBRC goal rates to close gap with Circuit Breaker, which we modeled by setting the goal at 3 times the statewide foundation per pupil
Increasing percentages for assumed in-district special education enrollment toward FBRC goals of 4 percent for non-vocational students and 5 percent for vocational students
Establishing ELL student increments consistent with the increments outlined in the FBRC report. The new ELL increments that we were asked to model for all grade levels was based on the difference between the ELL middle school rate and the non-ELL middle school rate that existed under the rate structure used through FY18.
We were also asked to model various approaches to substantially increasing the increments associated with economically disadvantaged students based on the relative concentration of low-income students being served by particular districts.
Given our experience at the end of the legislative session and our continuing conversations with the Administration, we anticipate that we will be asked to provide substantial support to both the legislature and the Administration as they work on their respective legislative proposals as part of their FY20 budget development process. Most immediately, DESE will be actively working with the Executive Office of Education to model the impact of various possible changes to foundation budgets and related school finance programs and provide input on any related statutory language that might be required, as needed.
There will also (why is this always at the end?) an overview of the FY19 budget and a look ahead to FY20.
That's Tuesday at 8:30 and yes, there will be liveblogging.

The Berkshires aren't happy

Pittsfield has organized a letter to be sent to their delegation regarding the inaction on the foundation budget; thus far, they have been joined by Berkshire Hills Regional. From yesterday's Berkshire Eagle
The bill's derailment has frustrated, even angered, local school officials, who are trying to keep up with costs within a rural economy and diminishing student populations.
"The [school] committee deplores the failure of the General Court ... to revise the foundation budget," reads the Pittsfield Public Schools' resolution, also unanimously approved by its School Committee.
In related coverage in the Berkshire Edge:
The resolution passed by the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee reads, in part, that, in passing the most recent budget, the state legislature “has violated the public trust by failing to revise the foundation budget funding for Massachusetts public school districts.” Furthermore, that inaction compromises the district’s programming and “constitutes a failure to recognize the ever greater financial pressure on all communities such as our member towns of Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge.”
Note that the Edge has links to lots that's relevant. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

On spending $100M

Tangetially education related, as spending $100M on this baseball stadium in Worcester means, well:
But does that come across to the public, I ask? Or do people not attuned to the nuances of stadium economics just hear “no new taxes” and leave it at that, even if it’s siphoning off tax money that might otherwise be available for less sportsy purposes? 
“I think the point has come across really well,” says Zimbalist. But, he adds, “you ask, do people understand this? I think in Worcester, they don’t even want to understand it. There’s a tremendous amount of excitement about bringing the team there.”
The article doesn't understand how Worcester schools are funded; otherwise, the stadium plan is categorically taken down.
It's completely irresponsible.

Worcester plans for in-house transportation

If you're interested in this plan Worcester is making to bring school busing in house, you can watch that section of last week's School Committe here; it begins at about an hour in. The longest exchange (which Scott chose not to include I assume because it didn't really go anywhere) was a lengthy expression of concern from Miss Biancheria over the length of twenty years for land rental.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Jill Lepore writes about Plyler v Doe in the New Yorker

There's a thoughtful piece from Jill Lepore in the New Yorker magazine on the Plyler v Doe decision, affirming the right of undocumented immigrants to an education. It considers the wider implications of it, as well as what it might mean for a court that includes Brett Kavanaugh.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

On getting less money from the state (and running your numbers)

I'm always hesitant to do this, because I want to encourage local reporters to cover education issues including funding, and I'm always a bit concerned that this will come off as hammering them, when in many cases they're really trying. In a lot of cases, though, it's less the reporter than the local official(s) who are either not understanding or are willfully misrepresenting what's happening, and clarity, when it comes to education funding, is really important.
In this case from Foxborough, I think there's just more that needs to be explained. When we're talking about a print paper, I'm well aware that space is an issue; it's why this blog exists, for example. The online universe, though, allows for more room, and I would really encourage local papers to take advantage of that.
In Foxborough's case, let's first specify that their Chapter 70 aid is about 19% of their foundation budget. Their foundation budget for FY19 is $28.6M; their combined effort yield--what I'd call "what can the town afford to pay"--is $23.5M. I can't find the FY19 budget online (I hate that), but the district spent $38M in FY17, so I'll venture they're spending well over $28M for this coming year, as well.
Foxborough for FY19 is a minimum increase district; they're not seeing an increase due to changes in their enrollment and such, so they're getting $30/pupil as an increase, which is $79,680.
That isn't the only place the district gets state aid from, however, and this is where the catch comes in; the town is speaking of net aid, and they're adding in the charter reimbursement, as well.
And here's where I raise an eyebrow:
The town has received $77,940 less for fiscal year 2019 compared to last fiscal year, and assessments have increased by $29,059, according to data on the state Department of Revenue website.
“The net state aid went down by over a $100,000,” Town Manager William Keegan said. “It was unfortunate, and we didn’t anticipate this.”
The Department of Revenue report discussed is here; if you type in Foxborough, you'll see Foxborough receives $9.3M in aid this year; there's $375,815 in charter reimbursement added to the Chapter 70 aid.
Last year, though, Foxborough received $531,275 in charter reimbursement, added to their $8.8M in Chapter 70 aid. So there's a net loss.
But...they didn't anticipate this? Remember, charter reimbursement comes for CHANGES in charter enrollment (charter kids getting more kids or more expensive kids), and it's supposed to be 100% the first year, and 25% for three years after that. Now, the out years have never been funded, so please tell me Foxborough wasn't counting on that, but even so, unless their local charter schools were getting significantly more pupils, Foxborough was always going to receive less in charter reimbursement than they had the prior year.
The one thing that is a wrench in the deal is the state is only funding the first year reimbursement at what looks like 90.9%, so if Foxborough (and others) were counting on 100%, there is a difference. It's a difference of only $37,605, though.
Once Foxborough had its spreadsheet on aid and knew it would only get a minimum increase, and once it had the projections DESE shares on charter enrollment...they could have figured this out.
And this line:
He added that efforts at the state level to get reimbursed for 100 percent of charter school costs, including a bill filed by state Rep. Jay Barrows, had been unsuccessful.
...muddies the issue, as currently, districts aren't, by law, even promised reimbursement of 100% of costs, just 100% of reimbursement of changes in the enrollment. 

Remember: you're a better advocate if you can accurately represent your complaint!

If you decide to go to Worcester School Committee tonight

It's been really hot, and people are beyond irritated about how it's been in the school buildings. A few tips if you decide to take this to the School Committee tonight (7pm, City Hall, yes, there's AC):
  • The Worcester School Committee (unlike the City Council) does not have a public comment period on the agenda. They will as a custom suspend the rules to allow a member of the public to speak to an item on the agenda, however; it's a good idea to tip off the clerk (that's Dr. Friel; she sits to the Mayor's right as you look at the dias) ahead of time that you'd like to do that. If you're going tonight, you could address school building conditions under the Finance and Operations Subcommittee report coming back, which had many facilities items on it, or under item gb #8-123.4, which has a section dealing with repairs. 
  • Do keep in mind that under Mass General Law, public comment at School Committee meetings is ALWAYS at the discretion of the Chair. If he's in a good mood, the Mayor will give you three minutes and not stick to it.
  • Worcester does have school buildings with AC (largely those constructed after in the past several decades); it largely does not have buildings that have been retrofitted with AC (Forest Grove being the big exception that comes to mind; it got it as part of the city-funded rehab in the 1990's). 
  • It isn't as easy as getting a whole bunch of single units and plugging them all in (even setting aside the cost of those units); air conditioning units are a huge draw and Worcester has a lot of classrooms. The additional electrical load would be staggering (plus the fire department gets techy about lots being plugged in). 
  • Yes, the administration building does have AC, but (as I keep pointing out on Twitter) most of who works in the admin building are clerks and secretaries and they work year round. (Plus, DAB is of the same era as the buildings that are the worst right now; it was built in 1890) You can of course ignore this, but I suggest that line of argumentation won't work.
  • So what ARE good arguments? I'd start with messaging, as having leadership that talks about buildings being "comfortable" is not helpful; also, parents haven't heard from the district at all since last week. Certainly, one can point out what choices other districts have made (cancellations, dismissals, rescheduling). You could note that by Worcester's own analysis, operations and maintenance was underfunded by $15M in FY17:
    ..and while that's a foundation budget thing, it also isn't happening places where districts are funded over foundation. You might also note that the city has been funding captial expenses at a flat $3M a year for...some time now, and while the new high schools (and replacement windows and such) are great, it isn't taking care of basic capital needs of the buildings.  As I mentioned yesterday, the district is already having to postpone needed scheduled boiler replacements to replace ones that have simply failed. Capital funding is something School Committee could better advocate for, and it's also an issue to take up with your city councilor. 
  • If you can't make it tonight, contact information for the School Committee is here, for the City Council is here, and the superintendent's office is here

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Two pieces on kids and race that you should read (plus books)

Two on target pieces that I've seen in recent days on kids and race and schools that you should read:

Ijeoma Oluo was interviewed by School Library Journal on confronting racism in schools.
“I encounter more resistance from educators than just about any other sector when it comes to talking about race,” Oluo says. “I don’t think teachers want to be a part of the problem. Teachers are underappreciated, often very selfless people working very, very hard for children. To then have someone say, ‘You know you’re probably perpetuating some racist things in your classrooms? Do you know you’re also probably contributing to the oppression of students of color?’ That doesn’t sit well with people who genuinely love children.” 
When faced with denial or defensiveness, Oluo presents the facts, citing statistics such as the racial gap in test scores, the rate of suspensions of black preschoolers, and the number of arrests of students of color in high school which are not correlated to the amount of violence, drugs or truancy in schools but to the number of black and brown students in schools, she says.
Oluo wrote So You Want to Talk About Race, which has a chapter on the school-to-prison pipeline and race in schools. Note what she says is the first thing white teachers should do in schools:
I need educators to be less afraid of acknowledging race. You start by acknowledging the students of color. [For example], even if you don’t have Asian students, but especially if you have Asian students, you need to be looking at your lessons and finding examples of Asian Americans doing great things in society. Then you need to say, ‘This was an Asian American.’ And the look of shock on their face—‘Wait a minute, you want me to just say Asian American? ‘
Yes, actually say it. They’re stunned. In fact, a college professor actually guffawed at me the other day when I said he needed to acknowledge great black people in his field when talking to students. ‘You want me to just say black? I would get written up. I would get in trouble.’
Because white people think noting someone’s race is racist.
Yes. But what people, especially teachers, don’t realize is white is the default in this country. Just because you don’t have to say white, doesn’t mean you’re not saying white.…We have to understand when we’re teaching our students and we’re not acknowledging race, we’re saying white all the time.

Also this week: this Atlantic interview with Margaret Hagerman, author of White Kids: Growing Up With Privilege in a Racially Divided America, which has connections even to our advocacy at the state level:
I really think—and this might sound kind of crazy—that white parents, and parents in general, need to understand that all children are worthy of their consideration. This idea that your own child is the most important thing—that’s something we could try to rethink. When affluent white parents are making these decisions about parenting, they could consider in some way at least how their decisions will affect not only their kid, but other kids. This might mean a parent votes for policies that would lead to the best possible outcome for as many kids as possible, but might be less advantageous for their own child. My overall point is that in this moment when being a good citizen conflicts with being a good parent, I think that most white parents choose to be good parents, when, sometimes at the very least, they should choose to be good citizens.
Read the interviews; read the books. 

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

Sorry, late posting on this
The Thursday agenda (back, note, to its regular 7 pm time) is mostly a Finance and Operations-related agenda, even setting aside the F&O report from the meeting today at 5.

Today's F&O meeting has the final account summary for FY18, an excruciatingly literal referral of page 415 of the budget book (on indirect costs), and a single page response to a list of queries from Miss Biancheria regarding facilities.
There is also an extensive update on summer work. There is A LOT (and this includes an update on South High construction!). Of concern: note in particular the list of failed boilers that have had to bump other projects; I'm counting Flagg, Wawecus, and Tatnuck Magnet as either failed or "of concern," which, along with the Claremont controls project, are bumping boiler replacement at Chandler Mag, Rice Square, Lincoln Street, and Burncoat Middle. Also, we're replacing boilers at Doherty and Burncoat High, too? And I imagine we' maxed out our accelerated repair projects or something, so these aren't split with MSBA? There is a LOT there; go look at it!

On Thursday's agenda, there are some recognitions. There is NO report of the superintendent. There's a posting of a non-specific executive session.

A series of reports are back, cleaning up from the budget:
There is a response on the reduction of outside vendors (specifically looking at applied behavioral analysis).
There is a (much less extensive) response on summer work PLUS a note on Harlow Street School.
There is a response on snow removal (in sum, it's in more than one acccount because it needs to be).

There is a response to an item on tutors which summarizes all action stemming from the final FY19 budget being larger than the House budget (THIS IS WORTH REVIEWING), and including a nice little summary of where we're at on FBRC. This also notes that the district budget isn't really done until the city sets the tax rate in the fall.

There's a list of which positions are funded how in the Teaching and Learning section of central admin.
There's a past year's positions list in the maintenance department.
And there's a list of where there are security personnel.

There's a somewhat vague update on Doherty High: design firm to be selected in November, then review process with community (hey school committee members: INSIST ON SEVERAL PUBLIC MEETINGS! Make the process more like Nelson Place and less like South). The exact same backup accompanies the following item on Burncoat.

Apparently, the Committee is discussing the "Cultures of Innovations" section of the strategic plan. I hadn't realized this--had anyone?--but apparently they were discussing each section (quickly) during the summer. The plan is to adopt the whole thing Thursday night as well. What connection this has with having referred the plan for review to subcommittees, I don't know. Clearly, someone just wants to get it through without an extensive review process.

For reasons that are unclear, the administration is proposing what it is calling a policy on absence, though it appears to me to be language that pushes a notion of truancy. The administration's worrying focus on bringing back draconian (and unsupported) language, and, one supposes, action, around student absences I imagine stems from the state's change in the accountability system. It strikes me, though, that this is going to do nothing more than run more families (what to guess which ones?) into state oversight, more students into conflict with the school system, and won't actually keep more kids in schools.

There is a suggestion for a Municipal Government Day.
There is a request on for an update on the CPR training.
There is a request for an update on South High (which if someone is paying attention, will be filed, since they got one).

Finally, reading between the lines on administrative requests: TRANSPORTATION:

gb #8-259 - Administration (August 28, 2018)
To authorize the Administration to enter into contracts for the lease of property for a term of up to twenty years for the operation of student transportation for a contract term to begin in June 2020.
gb #8-260 - Administration (August 28, 2018)
To authorize the Administration to enter into contracts for the lease of school buses, special education school buses, and wheelchair buses for a term of up to five years for the operation of student transportation for a contract term to begin in June 2020.

Leasing buses and finding space for them...this is bringing transportation back in house!

No promises on live blog. 

What does last night mean for school funding?

While the big news (rightfully) this morning is Ayanna Pressley beating Michael Capuano in the Congressional race, the state rep races have implications for next steps on school funding:
In a stunning rebuke to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and his leadership team, Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez and Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing, both of Boston, lost their re-election campaigns, according to multiple Democratic sources.
(that's from State House News, so it's paywalled)

The races--particularly Nika Elugardo's race against Sanchez--have turned to a large degree on House inaction. The Safe Communities Act was certainly a big part of that, but lack of action on school funding was also part of it. The question these districts asked of Sanchez and Rushing was "great, you're in leadership, but what good is that doing your constituents?"

How this shakes out with the rest of the House turnover and what impact that has on House leadership next session remains to be seen. But losing seniority wasn't an argument that concerned people last night. we saw from soon-to-be Congresswoman Pressley.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Foundation budget editorial in the T&G calls out the Legislature

Good editorial today in the Telegram, calling out the Legislature on their lack of action on the foundation budget:
What’s painful is that this issue didn’t happen overnight - it’s been building for years. Any excuses that the Legislature “ran out of time” during this two-year session ignores warnings going back a decade. The 1993 Education Reform Act, with foresight, includes a mechanism for a periodic review of the formula. A foundation budget review commission, headed by legislative and state education leaders, and incorporating a wide variety of participants that included teacher unions, began meeting in 2014 and issued a report in 2015, more than a year before the just-ended legislative term began in 2017. And if that weren’t enough, there were the threats of new suits against the state emanating from cities such as Worcester and Brockton.
I think it's a little hyper-focused on the revenue end--if anyone was, that was the House--but it hits the main points well, particularly that it isn't as if this snuck up on the Legislature all of a sudden.