Monday, September 30, 2019

It's FBRC week (again) in the Senate

And just in time, we have a barn burner of an op-ed from Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz:
None of the big accomplishments in our Commonwealth’s history were easy at first. All of them required resilient advocacy and courageous commitment from people across our state. But we proved they were possible. That’s what we do in Massachusetts.
Fulfilling the promise of public education as the great equalizer is our next big goal. Bay Staters believe in it. It’s a goal our constitution anchors us to. Now, that collective effort in advocating, crafting policy, and working together has given us a chance to deliver on it.

Do districts really want teachers and leaders of color

And what happens when they get them?
It was interesting to read this piece in EdWeek this morning, a reflection from a Black male teacher:
I was tired of being looked to as a disciplinarian. I was exhausted by the mandates of no-excuses and the confines of a curriculum and instructional techniques where I had little to no say. I loved my students, but it wasn't enough.
Valuing and supporting teachers after they are hired is often more important than simply hiring them in the first place. Too many districts instead offer little to no support for Black teachers, overutilize them for disciplinary purposes, and do not respect them for both their content knowledge and instructional skills.
...with this piece from the Washington Post discussing implicit bias in school climate reports.
In a Dec. 28 memo to the county school board, Smith said he looked at an elementary school climate survey showing the percentage of employees who said “staff morale is positive in this school.” This was after the Montgomery County Education Association teachers union told him the district should do more about schools with low morale.
“I became concerned because of the racial makeup of the principals of both lists,” Smith said. “I determined that 15 of the 18 principals with the most positive ratings were White/Caucasian and 11 of the 15 principals with the lowest rating were Black/African American or Hispanic.”
He told the board that “cultural proficiency and implicit bias” should be considered in creating future surveys. “To use an instrument that results in the over-identification of any race, gender, age or culture is unacceptable,” he said.
Recruiting isn't even half of the issue. Retaining and valuing teachers of color is a long-term, sustained need. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Senate amendments on the funding bill

...which was reported out of Senate Ways and Means as S.2350, An Act Relative to Educational Opportunity for Students (AREOS?); the amendment are online here.
Note that a significant number of these, including the first ten, are from Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a prolific writer of amendments.

I'll include the numbers, but I'll cluster these by topic, as there are overlaps:

Regional Transportation reimbursement:
  • 1 reimburses regional transportation at "not less than 85%"
  • 2 creates a commission to study 100% reimbursement for regional school transportation
  • 11 sets regional transportation reimbursement to 85% but takes out "subject to appropriation"
  • 36 removes the "subject to appropriation"
  • 43 would add any municipality over 95 square miles to transportation reimbursement; they must be using a different list than I, because I have Barnstable as the largest and it's less than 60...if you check the sponsor, you'll be shocked to find this would, it appears, apply only to the town of Plymounth, which still encompasses much of the original Plimouth Plantation. 

Minimum per pupil increases:
  • 3 increases mimimum per pupil aid to $35/pupil
  • $40/pupil
  • $50/pupil
  • $100/pupil

Reviews of the foundation budget:
  • 7 amends to review every five years (the bill proposes 10)
  • 8 does the same but with different language
  • 14 bumps labor representation to two
  • 35 also sets the foundation budget review commission to every 5 years
  • 36 requires a foundation budget adequacy study

Circuit breaker:
  • 9 boosts circuit breaker reimbursement to 80%
  • 10 sets the approved reimbursement threshhold to $34,345 from $45,793. 
  • 15 requires school level reporting on mental health supports
  • 17 makes more specific the reporting out on use of funds and specifically bars the Commissioner from decreasing them
  • 24 requires than any new reporting be considered in light of other reporting the state already requires
  • 31 requires sort of "workforce preparedness" reports
  • 34 ties the district's improvement plans much more closely to declarations of underperformance 
  • 38 makes it clear that the district (not the state) is to determine what changes are necessary
  • 39 would add "college completion" to the report the Secretary would give each year
  • 52 adds student growth to what is being considered in the plan of how funds are used
  • 65 requires that the report from districts including reducing disparities (rather than student achievement) 

Phase in:
  • 16 provides for the annual consensus revenue agreement on implementation that was in the Promise Act and earlier bills
  • 25 requires phase-in be equitable but also allows for a phase-in extention to 2030
  • 53 requires proportional phase in of the recommendations
  • 59 requires an annual report on phase-in as well as an annual hearing 

Special education:
  • 28 bumps the low income assumption to 5% across the board

  • 12 mandates 100 minutes of recess a week for K-5 and forbids making it shorter

Charter schools:
  • 19 requires that the financial impact of charter schools be considered when considering their applications
  • 29 creates a charter school policy commission 
  • 51 deducts charter reimbursement from net school spending calculations (huh?)
  • 60 creates a working group on charter school funding and reimbursement 
  • 61 would take any charter reimbursement not funded out of the charter school's allocation 
  • 62 includes minimum aid in the provision of Ch. 70 (so a district can be funded over foundation due to state requirements) and locks the out-of-district transportation reimbursement in as part of the full provision of the act (I don't think I entirely understand that one)

  • 13 requires that each district with an athletic program have a licensed athletic trainer
Other commissions:
  • 18 specifically DROPS "expanding use of technology to deliver instruction and enable operating efficiences" and switches " encouraging ways to reduce costs and improve educational outcomes" to "encouraging ways to improve fiscal health and educational outcomes" and "reorganizing" to "optimizing" from the recommendations to come from the rural schools study
  • 20 creates an Unfunded Mandates Task Force
  • 22 would have the report on Rural Schools only report out on low-income districts unless warranted by the study
  • 23 would add an appointee of the minority leader of the House to the 21st century advisory committee
  • 27 requires that the commission reporting out on municipal wealth specifically consider the impact of Prop 2 1/2
  • 33 would require a study of the circuit breaker and out-of-district special education provision
  • 63 creates a commission on debt-free higher ed
  • 64 adds some members and some new reporting requirements to the Rural Schools Commission
  • 66 would create a special education commission to study provision of services 
  • 21 prioritizes "school safety" funding in MSBA considerations
  • 44 would further bump the MSBA funding cap to $800M
Parent engagement
  • 26 requires that such parental engagement required by the bill specifically considers specific subgroups in doing so and report out on it
  • 30 requires reimbursement of homeless student transportation, less federal reimbursements by November 20
Municipal calculation:
  • 31 is intended as a sort of smoothing of municipal wealth calculations, requiring that in towns of less than 6000 people, the bottom and top 5% of residents be dropped from both the income and property values 
Recovery high school:
  • 40 would allow for creation of a reserve fund locally for recovery high schools
  • 41 would add reimbursement for recovery high school transportation
  • 42 would study the costs of sending students to a recovery high school 
Early college high school:
  • 46 would recognize early college programs for the same level of funding as vocational programs
  • 47 would add early college to the spreadsheet at an increment above high school but below vocational (that was the Governor's plan)
Random other things:
  • 45 requires a "school-based threat assessment team" at each secondary school that would create a threat assessment policy
  • 48 creates an innovative health partnership
  • 50 would add Easton to the Cambridge labor market adjuster 
  • 54 allows 71B (out of district special education) schools to apply for the grants in the bill
  • 55 mandates that each high school student must meet with a guidance counselor at least one each year
  • 56 would create a certification for autism services
  • 57 would bring back a full-day K grant specifically to get it everywhere in the state
  • 58 creates a certification bonus for districts running programs leading to vocational certification
  • 67 would set "(a)strong institutional leadership, (b) active student engagement in their education; and (c) differentiated instruction" as what is considered in awarding 21st century grants
  • 68 would require financial literacy instruction
  • 69 would creating a "Learning Innovation for Tomorrow" (LIFT) fund for funding innovation in education in districts 
The Senate takes this up for debate Thursday! 

And how are things in Pflugerville under self-operated buses?

Update from Texas:
“It was Durham School Services and they managed our routes and the employees. The bus drivers were all their employees, so they acted like any other contractor,” said Spence. “We told them what we expected and what was in our contracts, but they were the ones who implemented that. With that system, we were unable to really get that customer service that we want to stress here in Pflugerville ISD.”
Durham did send a letter parents at the time, saying they were experiencing an "unprecedented driver shortage" and had to combine many routes.
The district said it has improved that by adding 30 more bus drivers this year. With owning and operating their own fleet of buses now, the district has already seen a difference.
“So far, we've got positive feedback,” said Spence. “There's always a few learning curves along the way and starting the school year, but I spoke with our transportation department and we are now at a 99% on-time rate for all of our campuses, getting our kids to school on-time so things are going really well so far.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

DESE at MASBO: Student Opportunity Act

Student Opportunity Act : Rob O'Donnell
higher health care rates based on the GIC: 3 year average
separate inflation index for health insurance
fully funding those goal rate by 2027
starting point disparity: do we actually ever catch up with it?
you'll get to the GIC rate, you'll not just get there right away
are the rates in the bill going to move over the implementation
goal rates will change in each subsequent budget cycle
FY20 reflected an incremental increase towards the goal rates

4% in district, 5% vocational district
"this tracks pretty close to actual that we see"

English Learner: similar to what was proposed by the Governor
increases rate and redistributes to have higher rates to high school students
goal rates are expressed in FY20 dollars; they'll also be increased by inflation over the life of the bill

decile system in low income currently
moving away from deciles (about 33 districts in each group) to groups (there are twelve)
setting hard breaks between them
counted up to 133% for econ disad; couldn't reliably count up to 185%
"likely that the economically disadvantaged match will still be the core"
likely some additional counting that will have to take place
possibly further data collection
if you've moved to CEP, you're not collecting forms
DESE may need to come up with some other method of collecting data
until they come up with a new method, authorizes going back to FY16 low income counts as of October 1, 2014, some those numbers together as a percentage of your enrollment in for FY16
that would be your FY21 accounting method
"would use that as the basis to augment" the count
"there are some districts that we're counting more through the econ dis match than we did through the free and reduced lunch count"
"we wouldn't lower your count; this would only increase your count"
jumps about 6% between the lower groups, then goes up more like 10% in the higher groups
would we go back to a form collection or some other method?
"That's the big wild card to the bill"

charter school reimbursement fully funded over three years
don't talk about if it would be done on a six year schedule or a three year schedule
or if it will only be for high enrollment growth
increasing foundation increases charter tuition rates which increases charter reimbursement (if it isn't only tied to increased enrollment)

Data commission

requirement to report by expediture by foundation budget category (there used to be a section that did this in the End of Year report)
Some question on if this will further require a breakout of state versus local spending

Rural school study

Circuit breaker to include cost of out-of-district transportation
"we will be coming out with what we expect to see on a bill" to verify transportation to the individual student
"circuit breaker is student by student"
going to "blow up the program"
we're going to be a half a billion pretty soon

freezes at last year's circuit breaker number and ONLY GOES UP BY INFLATION after that

Monday, September 23, 2019

Citing my sources on Durham

When I testified at last Monday's Worcester subcommittee meeting on the proposed renewal of the Durham bus contract, I referenced a number of articles from across the country about the service districts aren't receiving from the company. I also noted in my Thursday testimony that an article from that day had spoke of another district planning to move to self-operation from Durham; on Friday, another joined them. I thought it might be useful for others to have those, and other, links.

Roanoke City, Virginia has just started a contract with Durham; they have had a chaotic beginning of the year, which involved the company firing the local manager. Southern schools largely start earlier than we in the Northeast do, so they're a month in and still having issues. The quote that I read was from their school board member Laura Rottenborn, who at a meeting two weeks ago said:
“Wearing my parent only hat, not my board hat, I personally called Durham to find out where my child’s bus was and it took me 30 minutes to get an answer. And I as a parent find that unacceptable. And as a board member on behalf of all of our children in our school division, that is unacceptable,” Rottenborn said in the meeting.
They are now five weeks into school and the issues with Durham have just hit The Washington Post.

 Charleston County, South Carolina had 3000 bus complaints logged with the school district last year. As for what impact that had on students:
“This is the third week without a bus with no explanation of what has happened to the driver,” one bus complaint from a Thomas C. Cario parent said. “Why is the bus just “not coming?”
McCarthy said her daughter has had to miss school because a bus never showed up.
“She’s missed two days of school the whole day this year due to buses not being here on time,” McCarthy said. “I’ve tried to get them to tell me what time the bus is going to be there to pick her up so she can go home or go back out to wait for the bus and they can’t tell you what time. They just want them to wait outside.”
And it hasn't improved this year.

Central Dauphin schools (that's Harrrisburg), Pennsylvania counts this year as a new low.

Cumberland, Rhode Island officials are disgusted enough with Durham's services that they are planning now, two years before their contract is up, to work with other districts towards self-operation.
On Durham’s chronic issues returning this year, Mitchell said school officials are extremely frustrated.
“At some point, things seem to iron out,” he said. “To be honest, the performance up to this point has been disappointing and I think unacceptable.”
And while Worcester was renewing the contract with Durham, the Framingham School Committee was planning to move on self-operation:
School Committee Chairman Adam Freudberg, of District 4, said the district will start to look for bids from bus companies in January 2021. He urged the district to look into “what can be done here to strategically prepare and do all that work to look into bringing it in-house” soon.
“If bringing it in-house is the right thing for Framingham, let’s do that work right now to get ready for January of 2021,” said Freudberg.
Among the districts that has brought transportation into district operation is Pflugerville ISD in Texas:
PfISD officials said the transition will help the district retain quality control and save funds in the long term.
“One of the things we wanted to do as a district was really get a better control of this specific area,” PfISD Chief Operating Officer Ed Ramos said.
This was after videos of overcrowded buses with students sitting on the floor last spring during a contract that had been renewed in 2015 over the protests of parents.

And PS: no, it isn't some sort of magic insider information. I just know how to use Google. 

This one is not about Worcester, but...

Boston is up for the periodic review DESE does of school districts, and the Globe's coverage notes Worcester's review:
A 2017 review of Worcester revealed that many students didn’t have equal access to a high-quality education, or were not receiving adequate academic tutoring or services to tend to their social and emotional well-being.
It also found teachers were not consistently being evaluated with rigor, many school buildings were outdated and overcrowded because of insufficient funding and planning, and the School Committee was overburdening school administrators with too many information requests, noting members “should exercise a great deal more restraint in making motions that are not related to the critical task of improving the quality of teaching and learning.”
Worcester, of course, never did anything with the review, which can be downloaded here.

And nice one on school buses

If you're one of those who like understanding how things work, you might enjoy this from Smithsonian Magazine on school buses and why they are yellow:
“The yellow is not pure spectral yellow,” says Ivan Schwab, clinical spokesperson at the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “The best way to describe [the color] would be in wavelength,” says Schwab. The wavelength of the popular school-bus color is “right smack in the middle” of the peak wavelengths that stimulate the photoreceptor cells our eyes use to perceive red and green. The red and green photoreceptor cells, or “cones” as they are commonly known, are the two most predominant cones in our eyes. Schwab says, “If you get a pure wavelength of one color…and you hit just one cone with it, you’re going to have x amount of transmission of signal to the brain. But if that [wavelength] were to stimulate two cones, you’ll get double the amount of transmission to the brain.” Remarkably, “That color that we are calling school bus yellow hits both peaks equally.” So although they may not have fully comprehended the science behind it, the color Cyr and his colleagues chose at the 1939 conference makes it hard for other drivers to miss a school bus, even in their peripheral vision. “And it’s darned big,” Schwab adds.
And also:
The school bus transportation system is the largest mass transit system in the United States, yet school buses account for less than one percent of traffic fatalities each year. Students on school buses, NHTSA says, are 70 times safer than those who travel to school by car "because [school buses] are the most regulated vehicles on the road; they are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles...; and in every state, stop-arm laws (referring to the mechanical stop-sign arm that swings from the side of the bus when stopped) protect children from other motorists." Kinney, says, “If you look at fatalities, it’s not the occupants of the school bus that have fatal injuries, it’s the people that run into the school bus.”

Sunday, September 22, 2019

S. 2348: "An act relative to educational opportunity for students"

pushed out over Twitter Thursday


it earns the sticker
In terms of process, please note that the bill has come out of the Joint Committee on Education and goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Then it goes to the full Senate. Then it goes to the House Ways and Means Committee. Then it goes to full House.
Then to the Governor.
It is not, I will observe, accidental that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House jointly presented the bill with the Joint Committee chairs. That's a show of unity and support.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Board of Education meets next week in Pittsfield

Another "taking it on the road" episode of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, this time in Pittsfield! And thus the meeting starts at nine-thirty. The agenda is posted here.
In part because the big news drop on MCAS/accountability is embargoed until that day, some of the stuff in this meeting doesn't have links, so there's not much a preview here.

word of warning from me: the tweeting and blogging is going to start late, as I have a meeting with a student council that morning first
This also means we get a chance to see the new Taconic High, which is great! 

After the usual array of public and Board comments, the Board meeting opens with a panel on educator diversity in part from Pittsfield. Specifically:
In FY2019, 14 school districts, including Pittsfield Public Schools, received teacher diversification pilot program grants.1 Pittsfield Public Schools utilized the grant to develop and implement an out-of-state recruitment strategy designed to foster new partnerships with students and staff from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In July 2019, the district invited 12 students from HBCUs to participate in a one-week immersion program to acquaint them with teaching and living in the Berkshires.
They're also electing a new vice-chair.
They are receiving a report from the Berkshire County Task Force (no link). For those not familiar, the Task Force has been working for a number of years on the difficulties of educating the Berkshires' shrinking population of schoolchildren over the many (and hilly!) miles. This is a real issue (and honestly, not only in the Berkshires) which doesn't get as much attention as it should at the state level, 'though, to be fair, the state funds the Task Force.

The Commissioner is proposing his goals for 2019-20, and there's no link to that, either.

MCAS and the corresponding accountability results will be released that morning.
Relatedly, the Commissioner is recommending to the Board that the minimum competency standard of the classes of 2021 and 2022 be also extended to the class of 2023; this would, with the vote of the Board, go out for public comment, as it is a regulation change. This is about the switch to the new tenth grade MCAS. This year's junior class is the first class to have taken it, but their scores are scaled against the prior test, essentially, such that the passage rate is parallel. That will also be true of this year's sophomores. This would extend that same to the freshmen class, as well. The argument, from the memo, is:
  • The need for additional time to consider the results from the first administration of the grade 10 tests in spring 2019; 
  • The need for additional time to consult with and gather feedback from the educational community, including students, parents, educators, administrators, policymakers, and community and business leaders, regarding a new CD standard; 
  • and The need to provide adequate notice to students about the state high school graduation standard they are expected to meet. The class of 2023 is currently in 9th grade. This proposed extension of the current CD standard would provide timely notice that the Board is maintaining the interim standard as to their graduating class, and allow time for the Board to consider, adopt, and provide notice of any new standard for future graduating classes.
Finally, there is an overview of this year and next year's budget, which also doesn't have a backup.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"It's in the report."

As you may have noted, I spend a good bit of my time at public meetings: I go to school committee meetings, I go to Board of Ed meetings, I go to City Council meetings...

In all of those meetings, there is one particular seemingly innocuous phrase that chills me:

"It's in the report."

That's the tip off that someone who was supposed to read something didn't. 
That's the teacher noting that you didn't do your homework. 
That's the public official demonstrating to those paying attention that they have not done their jobs.

Now, those who work on the administrative end of these are generally very good at being politick about this, so you may not hear those words particularly. But listen carefully during deliberations, and you can often tell who has done their homework and who hasn't.

We have had a great deal of demonstration of this during this week in Worcester.

The report, again, is here. And, as Tim Murray, speaking for the Chamber of Commercesaid yesterday, "Candidly, it's a no-brainer."
I have yet to see a question raised that isn't already answered by the report.

If some of us seem somewhat frustrated by this, I would say that's for two reasons:
  1. This is a hypothetical issue for every single member of the Committee. Beyond emails, this in no way impacts the daily life of any member. The 13,000 or so Worcester students and their families that depend on Worcester Public Schools transportation do not have that luxury.
  2. This has been discussed since 2010. If this is new or seems sudden to you as a member of the public, that's understandable, as most of us don't follow every angle. But if you're a member of this committee suddenly this week calling for more time or greater information? You haven't been doing your job.
I will also say that I have yet to hear anything from any member of this committee about the Nelson Place students, some of whom are non-verbal, who were on Durham buses for hours last Friday, as their parents grew increasingly frantic, getting no response from Durham and eventually calling the police to find their children. If you read the responses--and note that Durham called in their national crisis manager for this--there's a quick exchange of blame between the bus company and the superintendent. We have seen no apology, no explaination, and no assurances that this won't happen again. A promise of a plan by Friday doesn't fix this.
Never mind the next contract: how is it that no one is investigating the appropriateness of continuing the current one? 

The problem those parents had and that Nick D'Andrea speaks of this evening on Worcester News Tonight are not, ultimately, those of "district communication," as I have seen cited. Yes, it will be nice to know precisely where the bus is when it is late; we were supposed to have the app two contracts ago, so no one gets a cookie for finally getting that done. Currently, the WPS Transportation office can't tell us where the bus is, because frequently, Durham hasn't told them that, nor, frequently, has Durham told the schools.
You can take that from someone who has, multiple times, called Transportation, called Durham, called the schools, and called Transportation back again. Guess which places hadn't heard from the third?
Thus it will be difficult to take seriously administrative and school committee concerns around chronic absenteeism or tardiness, when one of the chief culprits is rehired to continue and at a greater rate. 

While I've been experiencing new levels of sealioning in my own comment threads, my sense is that there are some who are legitimately thrown by the idea of having to figure out how much busing is going to cost over several years. Running budgetary projections (luckily) isn't everyone's job. It's not easy (we were trained in it through MASBO). It is, though, a regular part of business--you'll note, for example, that the Chamber isn't thrown off by this--and moreover, it is a regular part of what the school district already has to do: that's what every single year's budget is. If you as a member don't believe these projections, what were you voting this past year's budget based on?
Yes, that budget includes commodities--we heat buildings and run vehicles including buses already--and maintenance and changes in enrollment and all of the things that can also be concerns of busing.
...which makes sense, because the district is running buses already.

This isn't the district "getting into the busing business" any more than the district is in the "restaurant busines" because thousands of children are fed (yes, in house) each day, or getting into the "custodial business" because the buildings get cleaned (yes, by district employees) each day, or getting into the "facilities management business" because the buildings are maintained (yes, by district employees) each day. It is a basic responsbility of the district to transport children to school so they can learn, just as it is a basic responsibility to feed them, to keep the buildings they are in clean and maintained. They can hire employees to do it or companies to do it. Hiring companies to do it, incidentally, is called "privatizing services." It is the district's responsibility just the same.
And right now, it is not happening. 

I thus find it extraordinarily difficult to believe the professed concern of those who have come out with public statements of their positions (in whatever fashion). Posting of your outrage in a comment thread to parents, telling families that they are "heard," and otherwise sending out sentiments means nothing when you're going to vote to continue the same conditions for another two years.

If you review the report, you will find: 
  • an "apples to apples" comparison with the Durham contract (p. 2). As noted in the F&O meeting Monday, the district has chosen to move away from diesel, for a cost savings, while Durham is continuing with diesel, which costs more.
  • the vehicles being leased to own, including the process and cycle (p. 7, including a link, if you copy the PDF, to a comparative Durham methodology); note that cost is included in the projections and there is still the savings
  • where the vehicles would be housed (the School Committee has already voted on this)
  • collective bargaining issues (see page 7 and 11)
  • the pipeline to driver development (also page 2)
If at this point, you as a member of this Committee are claiming that you don't have enough information or have a need to wait? It isn't due to lack of information, and you had your waiting time. The bid came in in June. 

It's in the report. 

Back to school essentials from Sandy Hook Promise

This has come up time and again when parents talk about back to school.

Video is after the page break because (as Sandy Hook Promise notes): **Please note that this PSA contains graphic content related to school shootings that may be upsetting to some viewers. If you feel that this subject matter may be too difficult for you, you may choose not to watch this video.**

Baker vs. Promise

kind of an interesting concept, isn't it...
Governor Baker wrote an editorial in the Boston Globe in one of those pieces that sends one wondering about how much of such pieces is a performance more than an argument. I sorted through it last night in a Twitter thread that starts here (and if you enjoy gifs, you'll want to click over there), but to briefly outline what's going on with this piece:

He's writing of the same bill proposed in January--the expectation is that something will come out of the Education Committee sometime soon--so everything from this post in January stands.

The bits that are new (from him) are the local financial picture. I really need to put it into a blog post, but the analysis that some districts would receive less state funding under the Promise Act (the much larger bill) than under the Governor's bill puzzled some back in July, which is when I posted this Twitter thread on it. The upshot is this:
 Because some districts have capped out in required local funding already, more isn't required, but some hit new levels under Promise that they wouldn't under the Governor's bill (check the thread for more). So, yes, there are districts--not many, but some--that would receive less state aid under Promise than under the Governor's bill.

Now, to me, this gets into what we're doing here, in any case. We have school districts--largely, but not entirely, urban, and overwhelmingly serving most of our students of color and students who are second language learners--that have been massively underfunded. If our intent is to redress that, than we should do that.
That would mean passing the Promise Act.

Baker's next point, that some districts might actually have to increase their local education funding is, of course, intended to be shocking, but it's really an interesting insight into how the Governor and his staff view state education funding: they don't think it's a partnership, as laid out in McDuffy: they think it's a giveaway.
The increase, of course, is due to this:
...and is just as what happens every year.
What the Governor DOESN'T say and is much more important is that because most districts are WELL OVER their required local funding of schools, in many cases, an increase of local funding won't be required. In essence, you're already doing that.
It appears intentionally deceptive to leave that bit out, doesn't it?

As for the Governor's next topic:
Yup, going to be using that gif all the time
The Governor and those who keep pushing this "increased accountability measures" stuff...aren't making any proposals that are in fact increased accountability. The Governor's bill just expands that power of the Commissioner to take over school districts, including--please don't forget this--to TAKE AWAY PART OF THEIR BUDGET if he likes.
That isn't increased accountability. That doesn't actually hold anyone accountable for their actual actions.
Nor does expanding charter charter schools or "zones" or whatever other sorts of "maybe we could just have less public accountability" options. That would be the reverse of accountability, folks.

In any case: this is brief but he isn't necessarily doing anything new here. It's just framed in what is, I think, intentionally fearmongering (around the funding) and to give another push to giving more power to the Commissioner. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Worcester Public Schools Finance and Operation subcommittee on transportation

My phone blew up with messages about Sullivan buses being late as I was driving here. The report, of course, is here

Present is only Foley and McCullough

Foley: to review the bids and the options of transportation services
received recommendation from the Superintendent, review of the bid process, review of self-operation, note on field trips, comparison of pros and cons
signed MOUs limiting non-service credits to Durham
"the School Committee has the legal and fiduciary to make the best interest of our students, our families, and our community"
three areas:
  • pricing and financial impact
  • service history
  • capacity of district to self-operate
Binienda: recommendation is to award the bid to Durham
have been meeting often
results of that meeting are the MOU attached
"have really worked on becoming great partners; we have the same goal in mind: to provide great service for the Worcester Public Schools"
were charging credits a year after it occured
would be advantageous to not have to go back to a long time ago
says MOU is "a great document...allows us to be a great partner to Durham and them to us"
final amount is $100K
"I find that Durham this year, from my point of view this year has been better"
"last year, my phone was ringing two weeks straight"
"know that Durham has had challenges this year with drivers coming in"
challenges covering routes; WPS is "helping out"
need four more buses; two are coming from Durham and two are WPS
district in process of looking for place for buses
"why not" self transportation?
"still building the school side"
bus driver shortage for the country "that would be a challenge for us"
"I think our readiness for that right now--we're not ready, and I think that's a progression of something we would talk about after the Durham contract ends"

Foley: initial bid represented 15% increase; now revised to 8.3%
but "net to public schools is actually a $1.1M increase given the credits going back and the price increase"
"do you think the only reason they reduced the bid was the self-operating option?"
Binienda: no "Durham really wants to continue to work with the Worcester Public Schools; in my opinion, it didn't really have an effect on that"
Foley: report covers costs completely?
Binienda: "We have great faith in Brian Allen's skill in doing this, so I do think those costs are accurate, but there are things that could happen"
"if we're going to talk about something that might happen three years from now, we should revisit it then"
Foley: what could happen?
Binienda: "there are things that could go wrong with buses...the economy...there are things that could wrong in three years"
Foley: would save $2.1M with self-operation?
Allen: correct
Foley: and we agree that the numbers here are accurate; "if anything, these are pretty conservative" extrapolting out from current service, "would be closer to $3M" a year
Foley: how many teachers is $2.1M?
Allen: "that's about 30 teachers...close to 100 IAs"
Foley: could save 44% to 83% on field trips
"being able to save our schools and our PTOs significant money on field trips"
you mentioned free buses to DCU and Hanover: is that included in the bid?
Binienda: "that wasn't part of the conversation"
"that has nothing to do with the bid"
Foley: do you bring it before the school committee as donation?
Binienda: "Nope, we don't bring it before the school committee"
that would be illegal
Foley; what are the credits?
Allen: is a more extensive list of credits that could be taken
Foley: why are we crediting those back to Durham when they were late?
Binienda: "we said they were late and either we couldn't prove it...some of that, we presented a bill in June, and there wasn't enough time for them to address it, even as we were meeting weekly with us, and so this is some of the money"
Foley: "how are we turning around and giving those dollars back" for late buses at Roosevelt?
Binienda: "that's been the process in the past, too...we knew that some of them were going to be brought back by earlier research"
Foley: seems that it would have an impact on the bid
Binienda: "I don't agree with you"
Foley: "probably won't be the first time tonight we disagree"
Foley: history of credit back
Allen: closer to $250,000 a year
Foley: service is a critical component: "if there were exemplary service in place, I could see spending additional dollars" but there aren't
why is there no information on current service of Durham?
Binienda: "I don't think today is really what today is about...I think we've been working through service with Durham. They come to a meeting every week."
"one of the reason I like working with Durham, they see the problem and they work to correct it...they want to come to the table and talk about it"
Foley: my concern are systemic issues over several years
Foley: having been looking at self-operation over nine years due to lack of competition in bidding process
notes years of service of WPS transportation staff
"we've been moving towards this point for the past several years"
how many buses do we run?
Allen: currently running 36 midsized buses, 13 big buses
Durham 84 big buses going 86; 21 wheelchair buses
Foley: do we do maintenance of the buses?
Allen: yes
Foley: projected budget talks about using dollars involved to hire the staff necessary to support staff necessary
run our own food services, picked up our own autism services, members of a special education collaborative
"when you're looking at contracted vendors versus internal running it, there are pros and cons. But we have already done this very effectively"

have to discuss potential cost savings
"there is a concern at this time at taking away from" educational focus expressed by superintendent
but "we really do have to ask these questions"
comments received from parents and families
"it's never been a reflection of the drivers" but it's a customer service complaints
"hard for us to ignore current service concerns"
pleased to hear the calls are "slightly fewer this year"
"is there a reason to believe that drivers calling out was an unusual situtation?"
Durham: increased standby drivers and "battle the callouts"
"if you look at callouts this week and last week, it's a drastic improvement"
"have a new class starting tomorrow"
RJ Constagno (sp?)
McCullough: given the current nationwide issue with bus drivers, monitor to driver program
anything we can do to work with union and other organizations to get more interested in a career option?
Allen: those are excellent suggestions: central Mass workforce, running NightLife
more avenues are something we would look into a pursue
McCullough: offer jobs to current drivers?
Allen: within civil service regs, yes
McCullough: was supposed to be an app
Allen: anticipate having that operational this school year
McCullough: if we were to move at self-op, what would be the timeline?
Binienda: agree that there is not time
Foley: you're saying that the time between now and June is not sufficient
would it have been sufficient between August and June?
It takes more than a year to do the prep?
Binienda: yes

Monfredo: supports contract with Durham
Biancheria: question about insurance, argues we need to stay with diesel because (she says) it is safer, says turnaround on bus stop changes were too quick
what are we focusing on with education?
Binienda: was getting used to having more routes last year, "was difficult"
"that's one of the reasons I know the reason why we're not ready now"
Allen notes that WPS ran all trips every day year
In marked contrast with the Durham
Biancheria would like to see a report from an outside company rather than one internal wifi went and then I had to get to another meeting...note that this article from WCVB about the terrible time of students from Nelson Place getting home from school Friday broke during the meeting, and here's T&G coverage from Steve Foskett

Saturday, September 14, 2019

'Round and 'round: on district transportation

Back when I was an English teacher, I taught my students the five paragraph essay (yes, I can hear the gasps now; you can find my defending this practice if done appropriately in the January 2001 edition of English Journal, if you like). When my students were still getting the hang of how the essay worked, one of my most frequent comments on essays was:
evidence doesn't support your thesis
And so it is that we consider the report of the Worcester Public Schools transportation options for next year and going forward.

As this hasn't been discussed in Committee since March (on a subcommittee report which oddly did not make the minutes of the meeting), you might have lost track of where we're at. It's taken this long, incidentally, because they've postponed the subcommittee meeting twice.
The direction of the Worcester School Committee, on a 4-3 vote, was not not only send out for bids, but also to require administration to prepare a district-run option for comparison.
It thus is odd that Monday's agenda instead says:
To review bid specifications for student transportation services and award contract to lowest responsive and responsible bidder for a contract term to begin in June 2020.
...which was not the committee's directive back in March.

Nonetheless, the report they are receiving (which only posted Friday morning) does still do both. The conclusion the report reaches is:
Therefore, the Superintendent recommends the award of this contract with status quo arrangement for the next two years. Upon the end of the next contract in June 2022, the Superintendent recommends that the School Committee review all information provided by internal and external groups and made the appropriate recommendation.
 The bold is in the original. Never has status quo seemed more apt. Note, of course, the School Committee would not make a "recommendation,"  but an actual decision.

What then leads us to this conclusion?

It certainly isn't the service we've been receiving, as witnessed again in my own family Wednesday, but countless families across the district daily. Hundreds of families were again impacted on Friday afternoon when buses were late, something shared by school administrations but quickly deleted when it became clear that it was getting attention. Presumably it went down the memory hole.

In fact, the reconciliation of credits document accompanying the report itself makes the argument: the district has claimed nearly half a million dollars in lack of service credits from Durham over just last year! A review of the claims show not only traffic (it is a city) but basic Durham issues like not having the required GPS (or so they said) or forwarding things as needed. Note as well that some of those credits are in buses providing services required under special education plans. That the district now is going to give back over $100K in those credits in order to settle the contract is outrageous; a glance through the parent groups I'm on argues that this is probably well under documented.

Clearly then, it is not about service.

It isn't, despite what some have argued, about the bus drivers. The issues with the busing largely have been ones out of the drivers control. And drivers, whoever is running the system, need hardly fear they'll lack work, as there is a very well-documented national bus driver shortage. This is set up as one (of two) arguments against district-run transportation, but it is no less true of Durham; the district just doesn't have the capacity to do anything about it when it is the contractor.
The report also clearly lays out that Durham drivers, as allowed by contractual and other requirements, would not only be sought after as Worcester Public School drivers, but would have contract and benefits that are the same or better than what they have now (see page 11 of the report). Because they would be driving for Worcester, they also wouldn't be sent elsewhere to drive, as Durham drivers are and have been. It is also important to note the explicit commitment to diversifying the transportation office, not only drivers but also managment; that is the first such commitment I've seen in the Worcester Public Schools, and it certainly isn't something we're hearing from Durham.

Thus it isn't about bus drivers.

One might think, given how much concern has been manifested by the superintendent and others, that it's about a working relationship with Durham management. That would seem to ignore--perhaps it isn't known?--about national concerns that have been raised about the company. Another lawsuit was filed in federal court just last week around the Chatanooga crash; Hamilton County of course sent their contract elsewhere when it was up. To look across the country is to see districts considering other options due to families raising concerns, which has been true for years. Roanoke is among the more recent examples. And I could give lots more links!
Contrast that of course--see page 9 of the report--with district employees who are local, many of whom have worked for the district for years.
One hopes, therefore, that it isn't about management relationships.

Thus, it's got to be money, right?

Nope. It isn't money, either. The remarkable thing about the district-run proposal--which, it is important to note, is something the district has been working on for nine years--is that it would cost less next year than we pay Durham this year. 

And it would cost $2.1M less than it would cost if we hired Durham to run next year.

And it would save us $30M over the next ten years.

For those who pay attention to such things, one might further note that transportation is among the only cost centers that do not count towards net school spending. As the city moves closer and closer back to zero--

tossing another $2M of local funds on top of what is already going to transportation would not appear to be in the city's best interest, let alone the district's. It also means that the argument, as made on page 12 that pursuing the foundation budget lawsuit is somehow a drawback, makes no sense: now is when we most need those resources saved to be used in the system!

Durham, by the way, is a U.S. subsidary of the U.K. company National Express, which has been doing just fine in terms of profits.

The choices before the Worcester School Committee next week thus are:
  • continue to have the same bad service we have had for the past several years, covering up the lacks of that service and misleading the public and families about it, moving drivers around New England, for $1M more than this year and 3% increases after that
  • expand district service to include all students, ensuring that when a family calls the Worcester Public Schools about a transportation concern, they get someone who can fix it, keeping our drivers and our funding local, and saving $2.1M next year and $30M long term
Choose this day who you will serve, Worcester School Committee.

Finance and Operations meets Monday at 5 pm at the Durkin Adminstration Building.
The full Committee meets Thursday at 7 pm at City Hall.
Both meetings are public meetings and testimony is generally taken during both.
And you can always email
Also, if you want to hear me talk about this for three minutes (campaign alert!), I've posted a video about this here

Thursday, September 12, 2019

New Board of Ed member: Paymon Rouhanifard

State House News is reporting that Governor Baker is appointing Paymon Rouhanifard to the Massachusetts Board of K-12 Education. He will replace Margaret McKenna (whose terms are up, and who I will MISS!).
As for Rouhandifard, who moved to Massachusetts this year from New Jersey (when his wife Sara Rouhandifard, assistant professor of bioengineering at Northeastern, began working there), his best-known and most recent connection with education was as the receiver of the Camden Public Schools, appointed by Governor Chris Christie. You can read his reflection on that experience here, which opens with this:
Only New Orleans, which was re-created as a nearly all-charter district after Hurricane Katrina, has a higher proportion of students in charters.
The best piece looking at him and his work is from Eliza Shapiro in Politico; she would tell you herself to ignore the headline. Note his close relationship with the Democratic party chair, the state's adoption of the "Renaissance" model for charters, and consider the recent New Bedford parallel. He also did say to Shapiro: “We don’t know how much right now it costs to educate a student in poverty living in Camden,” which potentially could bear out in terms of the Board's position (or lack thereof) on the foundation budget reconsideration.
His two years of teaching in New York City were with Teach for America and he did go through Broad Center. His position with Propel Inc is as a result of a partnership with John White, the state superintendent of the Louisiana school system.
His speech last year at MIT in which he said:
If life outcomes are indeed what we are about, we should welcome state test scores going down. I think the piece that is perhaps most interesting, which he knew:
As he sipped a green tea at a Starbucks outside of Boston, where he recently moved with his family, Rouhanifard flashes a quick grin when asked about his comment. “That may have been the most provocative thing I said that day,” he says. “It was intentional.”
If you're interested, read the whole thing, but a final piece of interest:
The basic rule, what we would want for our own children, should apply to all kids.
That's a pretty good perspective for a Board member to be using.

Worcester and EEE

We're not in the critical zone of other districts, but I am wondering about this: per the T&G yesterday:
...public school officials have agreed that there will be no organized outdoor activities after 4:30 p.m., Dr. Michael P. Hirsh, medical director of the Worcester Division of Public Health, said Tuesday.
But there has been no notice to parents and students, nothing on the district website or social media, and, as far as I can tell, nothing that has gone to staff or faculty.
Are we calling things at 4:30 or not, Worcester?

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Governor Baker says "Wait til next year" on school funding

Yes, really. From State House News:
In an interview with WGBH’s Joe Mathieu that aired Monday, Baker said he believes the Legislature is working “in good faith,” but that making changes to the state's foundation budget formula is a significant challenge.
“I do believe that there will be an Education 2.0 bill during this legislative session,” Baker said in the interview. "I don’t know if it will be by the end of this calendar year or by the end of the session. For purposes of the next school year, which starts a year from now, I think there will be a bill in place and I think it will basically address most of the issues that people have been talking about."
 If indeed an ed funding bill doesn't come out until January, we of course end up with the same race against the budget that we had this year, and thus the chances of it making any difference for FY21, as for FY20, become that much less.

Also, notice the language Baker is using and the reporters are adopting: they're talking about an "education reform bill." What went into committee, however, was an education funding bill. They have had their "reforms" (and frankly, the further "reforms" being talked about aren't reforms at all); they need to fund education.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Doherty Memorial building committee: vote (?) on preferred option

Tonight the Doherty building committee is supposed to vote on a preferred option. Some of the language being used to describe the meeting is making some of us wonder if that is what is going to happen. 
In any case...posting as we go once it starts. The presentation is not online as yet, but it will be here.
I'd say this is a bit more of a mixed crowd...not only or even mostly current Doherty parents or even near-future Doherty parents. Let's say it is still not representatives of the demographics of either Doherty or the city of Worcester, however. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Why a Chicopee parent joined the funding lawsuit

Good one coming in from NEPR this morning:
“My son needs education in order to make his way in the world,” Fleming said. “If... he's already experiencing differences from his wealthier — and oftentimes white — counterparts, then I have no choice, really, but to fight for him. Or, I guess, the other option is to lay down and do nothing. But that's not what you do as a parent.”

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A few thoughts on tonight's Worcester School Committee

As always, my blog posts are from my perspective, so you can and should of course keep in mind that I'm running for one of these seats. I'd say that tonight again illustrates why. 

I never broke open a blog post, as nothing quite ever rose to that; you can find my tweeting threaded starting here:
I think what we saw again tonight was a Committee that in many ways is casting about for relevance while largely missing major concerns.

The item on Columbus Park, in which Mr. Monfredo noted that it was already being dealt with, yet filed the item asking for a report, anyway, revealed the crucial information that multiple classes of students are meeting in basement rooms because the building is so crowded.
Yet we don't have a facilites replacement plan for elementary schools.

Mr. Foley's relevant and should-have-been-expected question of where the security grant funds are going...the superintendent didn't have an answer to.
We're going to spend $80,000; it would be good if we literally had any idea of where it's going.

Mr. O'Connell, who has been on the Committee since the mid-80's, asking when the audit documents will be available.
The district runs on a fiscal calendar and the documents come at the same time every year.

An intimation as part of a larger item from Mr. O'Connell that cell phones are a health hazard.
This is, bluntly, pandering to those who reject science.

An extended speech from Mr. Monfredo and Miss Biancheria that the launch of school event at the DCU was a marvelous event.
The teachers' union for the second year is collecting information on how the time was wasted, as professional development time is in far too short supply to be squandered.

A sudden interest from Mr. O'Connell in the School Committee's legal authority around school siting. This is the third school to be built in the last ten years, but this one is Doherty.

Even this sudden interest in the School Committee having goals (their policy says they are do perform an annual self-evaluation, as well) led to a list by Mr. O'Connell of a series of things, many of which are not under the power of the School Committee.
The Committee, though, is so far afield that it isn't clear to me that it knows where its job even lies at this point.

In any case, the meeting may have been relatively short, but there was plenty there to argue that you should vote next Tuesday to make changes on this Committee.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Joint Committee on Education hearing: recess, sexual assault, translation and other matters

You can find the bills being considered online here. Posting as we go once we start

Chair Peisch opens the hearing; looks like mostly reps here on the committee
(this is going in the order posted, hearing each bill at a time, skipping any bills on which no one has signed up to testify)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Joint Committee on Education hearing tomorrow

Just an FYI that there is a Joint Committee on Education hearing tomorrow--you can find the posting here--and I'll be blogging and tweeting from it.

"you understand you might have to shoot a student?"

This piece from the Washington Post following a small Ohio school district's decision to allow their teachers to carry guns in school is heartbreaking, and horrifying.
Also read one teacher's letter to his students on school shootings.