Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top ten (plus?) read posts of 2019

As we close out the year, I did one of my periodic checks of the analytics to see what you all have been reading around here in 2019.
As always, far and away the most read is the front page, whatever it happens to be. I'm still stunned/amazed/impressed at how many of you simply swing by to see what is on the front page without coming in from anywhere in particular or to see anything in particular. Frankly, this is what pushes me to be faithful in posting (and makes me feel guilty when I am not!). I will continue to endeavor to make sure you have something to read when you come by!

So to the top ten actual posts:
  1. It sometimes happens that someone about whom I have had reason to blog hits the news for some other reason, and the magic of Google will take people here. So it was when Rhode Island selected one of the finalists for Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Angélica Infante-Green, for their own new Commissioner of Education back in March. Google turned up my liveblog of her interview for the Massachusetts position in January of 2018, and Rhode Islanders came here to read what she'd said then. While the big news out of Rhode Island has been the state takeover of the Providence schools, she hasn't held back on other (in some cases, related) issues, including teacher diversityracism, and the needs of English learners. One hopes she is heard on the need for accompanying resources

  2. I am still angry about this, particularly as I see victory laps from his office, so let's not forget this post from October 3, calling out Governor Baker's blatant attempt to sink the Senate's passage of the Student Opportunity Act. It's the second most read post this year. Thank you to everyone who read it, everyone who shared it, everyone who got it, and everyone who remembers.
    This is why the Senate for certain and this year the House (and prior years, everyone in the House who fought for full implementation) gets credit from me, but short of the single "proof it happened" photo, you're not going to see me given Governor Baker credit for his signature. He tried to sink the bill. I will not forget that.

  3. Demonstrating that those interview liveblogs just keep on giving, Tennessee appointed Penny Schwinn, who had been the third finalist for Massachusetts Commissioner, Education Commissioner in January, and her interview liveblog was the third most read blog post. Schwinn was told by lawmakers to slow down changes in Tennessee's accountability system; I am confused how this would work: "Schwinn has mentioned a 'best-of model' as one option, allowing schools to choose whether they want to be evaluated mainly on growth or on proficiency." Tennessee til now had emphasized student growth in their measures.
    This coming year, Tennessee will be among the states implementing a voucher program (do read Jennifer Berkshire on this!). Gosh, best wishes, Tennessee!

  4. Back in February, the Worcester School Committee--finally--took up sex ed after twists and turns in which the only positive upshots were that Bill Shaner's coverage of it got an award and the entire field of candidates for the Worcester School Committee committed to comprehensive sex ed* in the new term. My post on reviewing the then-proposed Michigan model is here.

    *whatever that means, as I said on 508: A Show About Worcester back in May. I guess that is part of what we'll find out this coming year!

  5. This was--hurrah, hurrah!--the year we finally, finally, finally got the foundation budget overhauled, and so the filing of Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz and Representative Aaron Vega and Mary Keefe's Promise Act is the "five golden rings" (da-da-da-dat) of this year's top ten. I have to be honest: the Legislature made me work for it this year, what with explaining how the Boston piece worked here, what the possible holdup was on negotiations around the bill (it looks like maybe I was kind of right?), and chasing down the pieces of the final Student Opportunity Act (see number 10). I know I learned a lot: I hope some of you did, too!

  6. Bringing us back to the reason why I started the blog in the first place--you're never going to get everything in a newspaper article!--the sixth most read post was the liveblog of the Worcester Doherty building committee meeting at which they were to vote a preferred option and didn't. This was the one at which the Chandler Magnet community showed up and reminded folks that that wasn't empty space over on Chandler Street.
    Don't forget that lesson.

  7. One of the things about which I was reminded this spring was this: Worcester, for all that we are sometimes insular, plays on a pretty big stage. When the second largest city in the state, with the third largest public school system, has sustained public concerns expressed regarding systemic bias that then impacts the negotiation of the superintendent's contract renewal, the state (not just DESE, though that's true) pays attention. The seventh most read post was just my running through the released student disciplinary data from the district and comparing it to the student disciplinary data that the state had posted from the district, following an earlier post.I did find myself for much of April attempting to at least share what was happening in Worcester.
    We shouldn't forget that, either.

  8. The Boston Globe's new foundation-funded education shop did a long piece on the Boston Public Schools' bathrooms, which left me with decidedly mixed feelings

  9. Thankfully, it isn't often that we have a crossover into public education of the ongoing fight for transparency and accountability around sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, but this year we did, and it hit Massachusetts. I am still very very concerned about how the Department did not, frankly, choose to handle this, from my seat as a mother and from a district policy level. There should have been an open call from the Department for anyone with any concerns or history to contact someone outside the Department; that should have gone out to every district with a request that it be shared through every district channel.
    DESE officials have a lot of implicit trust around children that comes with their positions, and I really don't think the Department did what it needed to in order to keep and maintain that trust. 

  10. And then we had a bill! And I had all sorts of people tweeting me gifs of their waiting for me to read it!
    And lo and behold, it actually passed and was signed.
This did not make the top ten, but it came close, and it's making me laugh, because it may be that kind of a year again: you gotta make up snow days.
And seniors? You can't get out earlier than the 168th day of school (sorry!). 

And in 2020?
Locally, yes, I'll be blogging the Worcester School Committee and other meetings; as per past practice, I don't tweet from the floor, but blogging is my taking notes, so that you'll have.
At the state level, we have the Student Opportunity Act to implement (with those district spending plans due in April!). The Board of Ed is considering vocational schools admissions, we're still implementing the ESSA plan (will there be alterations?), and I, anyway, am still wondering about the vision of K-12 education coming out of Malden now.
And, nationally, we of course have a president to elect!

I feel very, very lucky to do what I do. Thanks for reading, but thanks also for asking questions, for pushing me on policies, and for all, named and otherwise, who answer my sometimes repetitive and often inconveniently timed questions.
I couldn't do it without you. 
For the coming year, I can't say it better than Molly Ivins:
So keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doing it. Be outrageous... rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. 
And when you get through celebrating the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was!
Happy 2020! 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

First Worcester School Committee meetings of the new term (and a few notes from me)

The first Worcester School Committee agendas of the new term are posted, as the first meetings of the year take place over the course of the inauguration evening:
  1. The Committee meets before the meeting to draw seats and to take a straw poll on the position of vice chair (the Worcester School Committee elects their own vice chair each year). The seats, for those not familiar with Worcester's arrangement, are assigned for the two year term in the Esther Howland Chamber at City Hall, where the City Council also meets: 
    Because the Council has eleven members including the mayor, there are ten desks (the Mayor chairs all meetings from the dais), of which the School Committee uses six.
    The straw poll for vice chair is a dry run for the actual vote which takes place during the ceremony.
  2. During the Inauguration, the Committee votes for vice chair for the year. The rules of the Committee say:
    A Vice-Chairperson shall be chosen for the year ensuing from the members of the School Committee by a vive voca vote, each member present answering to his name when called by the Clerk or other proper officer, stating the name of the person for whom he votes, or that he declines to vote. The Clerk or other proper such official shall record every vote. 
    In Worcester, the School Committee vice chair has no independent authority; they simply run the meeting when the Mayor isn't there (which, to his credit, isn't often under Joe Petty's mayoralty). 
  3. After the Inauguration, the Committee votes to accept "the policies and by-laws of the previous School Committee to be in force until changes are accepted," so they have something under which to continue to meet. 
As it happens, we'll already be violating the rules, as they also say that the organizational meeting is to take place on the first Monday in January. Instead, of course, the meeting is on this coming Thursday; it's less of an issue as the meeting will simply have taken place already. 

As the School Committee members get an email when an agenda is posted, my plan is to post links to those on my School Committee Facebook page as well as on Twitter (as I did here); I've missed more than one subcommittee meeting in the past due simply to not knowing it was scheduled, so I'll do my best to help with getting that information out.

While I do plan to continue to post a gloss of at least the full Committee meetings here, as I have for...years, at this point, there may be a bit of a change, as I began to note over here, and I want to talk a little bit about why.
The code of ethics under which school committee members in Massachusetts operate, found in full here, has two pieces that, in my mind, particularly are relevant around social media and serving as a member: 
  • under "relations with administration," one is to "[r]efer all complaints to the administrative staff for solution and only discuss them at Committee meetings if such solutions fail." I frame this as "don't stick it on an agenda if you can do it with a phone call," but it also means that complaints, as a member, go to those who can fix them, not to the larger universe, unless that becomes necessary. Frankly, I'd always rather have things fixed than make it a point that I had anything to do with the fixing, so you may see fewer public Worcester concerns here and elsewhere online. Please know that doesn't mean they aren't being voiced, which may well include from the floor as needed. 
  • under "relations with fellow members," one is to "[r]ealize that they should not make statements or promises of how they will vote on matters that will come before the Committee." This can be a tough one to hear and a tough one to do. What it does, however, is respects the role deliberation during a meeting is to have in the public process of making decisions. New members are told--and thoughtful long-serving members know well--that there will come a time or more when you come in thinking you'll vote one way, but the discussion or information presented shifts your perspective. That's how public deliberation is supposed to work!
    That is going to mean, however, somewhat less opining on matters on upcoming agenda items, as my discussion of them and deciding on them as a member should be happening during the public meeting. 
I'm also just going to note: at this point, this blog has almost twelve years of my thoughts on education, so...lots is out there, in any case. 
I am acutely aware of the space that I fill.
I'm going to do my best. 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Six vocational schools asked by the state to look at admissions

This story from the South Shore from mid-December was shared out again this morning, and in re-reading, I noticed what I hadn't the first time: it wasn't just Diman (which is Greater Fall River) and Greater New Bedford being queried:
Riley wrote to leaders at six schools, including Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School and Diman Regional Vocational Tech High School in Fall River.
What were the other schools?
 In all of the letters (per Ashley Cullinane's reporting):
Riley asked the schools to work with the state to "identify ways that your district can address any policies or practices -- including those related to admissions, recruitment, and retention -- that may be impacting equitable student access to the strong vocational technical programs your school offers, and to voluntarily enact changes."
Let me note here, that, despite this being a policy matter, this is the first I've seen of Worcester being asked to deal with it; it has not appeared on a Worcester School Committee agenda. Update: but I did get the letter, which you can find here

Thursday, December 26, 2019

City of Worcester Inauguration

Yes, it's open to the public, and please do come.

Most Worcester moments...

As we head into the close of the year, you might read Bill Shaner's "Most Worcester moments" piece. The schools have gotten much more attention than usual, and not, for the most part, for good things.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A few notes on the superintendent's midcycle review

In response to a question from Ms. McCullough, the superintendent said that they are still working on hiring a new principal for Chandler Magnet--the person to whom they have offered the job is from Costa Rica and has not as yet accepted it--and they will not have that in place until June. Ms. Perez is, as described, going to be doing some of the after school duties of the Chief Diversity Officer position in addition to her principal duties.

Foley notes the disconnect between the upheaval earlier this year and the self-evaluation of the superintendent, in particularly noting:
  • the bidding process for transportation being ethically questionable, at best, while the superintendent gave herself an "exemplary" score in following laws, ethics, procedures
  • the breakdown that sent students and others repeatedly to the School Committee not being heard, while the superintendent gave herself an "exemplary" on two-way culturally proficient communication
  • the ongoing lack of data use and sharing while the data item likewise received a high score
The Mayor said that he'd like to see the School Committee gather in the new year for a several hours retreat to review and set goals and align (he didn't use that word) new funding with the goals.

The Superintendent reported at last week's urban superintendents' meeting the Commissioner told them that he will expect that the report on spending due to him on April 1 must first be passed by the school committee.
Due to timing, Foley said that would then mean it would need to be approved by the Committee at the end of March, so the Finance and Operations subcommittee will hold hearings over the course of February, mentioning WEC and the Research Bureau in particular as partners.

Framingham will declare breech of contract with Durham if no fix over January

As we're into our first deep freeze, when waiting for a late bus becomes downright dangerous, Framingham is taking the ongoing issues with Durham Bus seriously; at last night's Framingham School Committee meeting, the Committee decided there would be a breech of contract unless Durham fulfills a number of obligations by the end of January. Those are:
  • When students return from winter break on January 2nd and everyday following, Durham must have at least 76 drivers show up and drive the 76 routes in both the am and pm. It is solely Durham’s responsibility to provide the correct number of drivers to meet the route requirements. They are falling short of their contractual obligation when they deliver students late to school because of missing drivers and they must remedy this basic breach of contract. It is their responsibility to determine how to do so, but ideas include bringing in drivers from other communities, raising hourly wages, subcontracting work (with written FPS permission per Article 11 of the contract), offering additional benefits, and providing individual case management and support to drivers calling out for work.
  • If the situation does not improve during the month of January, financial penalties will begin for Durham in February. The City should not have to pay for substandard services. The City further reserves the right to seek reimbursement from Durham to compensate the City for all of the untimely services provided to date under the contract.
  • On average, there have been approximately 150 children transported by Durham that are arriving late for school each day. Based on an average per pupil cost of more than $17,000 per year, this results in approximately $2,400 in lost instructional time each day.
  • Durham must remove all snow from the roof of buses before routes commence. Durham must take appropriate steps to have staff in place at earlier times to complete this required safety measure. The Framingham Police Department has already warned Durham, and a second round of complaints occurred since. This must cease immediately or further steps will be taken if and when a third violation occurs.
  • If improvements are not made by the end of January, the City reserves the right and will take steps to issue an invitation to bid in February 2020 for school bus transportation services starting in the 2020-21 school year. This action would mean that the city would be seeking a new bus contract one and a half years earlier than planned.
Framingham's contract with Durham goes through 2021, unless the breech is declared and the district goes to bid earlier.
If the district isn't receiving the service committed to, the terms of the contract aren't being fulfilled.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Doherty Memorial building committee

Liveblogging, but I'm skipping all the parts of people saying nice things about each other
UPDATE to add the T&G coverage is here

Concise review of the presentation from last week, assuming that most have seen or heard it
tonight "marks the beginning" of the preferred schematic design process

How school district boundaries enable segregation

Not about New England but could be:
In the suburbs today, there appears to be little concern over the racial segregation that was exacerbated by the new district lines. Residents note that Collierville, where 60 percent of students are white, is more diverse than the district serving Memphis, where students are overwhelmingly African American. Even in neighboring Germantown, 1 in 4 students are black, Asian or Hispanic.
“Longtime residents of Memphis and Shelby County have grown weary in many ways of the spotlight on desegregation,” said Jeff Jones, chief of staff for Collierville schools. “People feel, ‘We tried that. We went there, and it didn’t work.’ That’s the resignation a lot of people have arrived at.” Instead, he said, the goal is for each district to do the best job possible with the children it has.
Collierville allows students from other districts in the county to transfer in, but charges about $400 each, with 466 transfer students this year. Germantown has considered charging tuition as well, but so far has not.
Jones added that longtime residents of Collierville are invested in Memphis’s success, but he said newer arrivals hardly relate to the central city, living their lives in the suburbs. “They eat here, shop here, worship here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Doherty draft Preferred Schematic Design

All 864 pages of it are online here, and this is what will be voted on tomorrow evening. I should also note that I was not at the last building committee meeting (postponed meetings due to snow), so I can't vouch for what was and wasn't said then, let alone what has come up in other places.
I'll say that the thing that really concerns me about this is it continues to be framed--including by the district itself, in repeated phone calls to families--that this is a vote on the preferred site.
It is much much more than that. It is a vote on the preferred design of the school, including what's included in what is being requested.

As you'd expect in 864 pages, there's a lot there (this is a report that could do with both page numbers and internal hyperlinks).

How are these credit-bearing courses?

I'm using my snow day in part to read through the Doherty Memorial draft Preferred Schematic Design report, which will get its own post, but this section on page 648 raised the ongoing question I have on this:
How are these courses?
Beginning in the 2018-19 school year all grade 9 students are required to participate in a ten week course focused on college and career readiness, earning 0.25 credit upon successful completion of the course. The lessons in the Introduction to College and Career Readiness course incorporate lessons from Naviance and are designed to assist students in creating and maintaining a plan for their individual and personal educational plans or MyCap. The lessons include time-management exercises, self-awareness activities, interest inventories and college and career exploration lessons. 
Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, all grade 10 students are required to participate in College and Career Readiness II and will earn 0.25 credit upon successful completion of the course. The lessons for the tenth-grade students represent a continuation of the introductory course and increase the breadth and depth of these exploration activities and support the further development of their individual plans for high school while increasing each student’s knowledge of postsecondary options based upon their career interests.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Superintendent Binienda's midcycle review 2019-20

Let me just say first of all that the timing on this doesn't make a lot of sense: superintendents are to be reviewed (unless they've agree upon the DESE pilot) on an annual basis. The superintendent last had a full evaluation in December of 2018. Nothing then happened until she proposed new goals in July--yes, six months later. This, again in December, we're told is her midcycle review, though it is early for that--half the year from the goals being set would be January--and right on schedule for the annual full evaluation, a year after her last one.
Evaluation is the School Committee's job. The schedule should be set as the goals are.

As I mentioned in the July post on the goals, the goals themselves are problematic in several ways:
  • they largely don't focus on the biggest problems in the system, and, where they do, the response is not a systemic one. 
  • they are goals that in many cases are lists of "stuff we'll do" rather than the change that doing those things will make
  • they're scattershot, aligned neither with much of the data we've received, nor of the strategic plan
The School Committee did not exercise its authority to alter, amend, or change the goals, and so the goals as proposed are what we have. As a result the report (a PowerPoint which auto-downloads) is, as expected, largely a list of "stuff we did." Progress by and large is not about students but about staff going through trainings (most of which seem to involve new acronyms, as a side note). 
Impact on student learning and student experience in schools is really difficult to find in this report, and the few places we do find it, it appears in charts of a new round of standardized testing.

In terms of the performance in the four standards of the superintendency--instructional leadership, management and operations, family and community engagement, and professional culture--the marks of 'proficient' and 'exemplary' are given without any supporting documentation. 
The 'exemplary' marks--which, as I've noted in the past, should be particularly scrutinized as they are to be rare--are in:
  • understanding and complying with laws, mandates, policies, collective bargaining agreements, and ethical guidelines
  • addressing community concerns in an equitable, effective, and efficient manner
  • fostering a shared commitment to high standards of service, teaching, and learning with high expectations of achievement for all
  • demonstrates strong interpersonal, written, and verbal communication skills
Right. So. 

This is the first time I will type this here, but this is a thing that is going to happen now: I will be evaluating the superintendent on these goals as they stand unless the School Committee chooses to change them at the midcycle review on Thursday.
As such, rather than pre-deliberate: I'll save my remarks for my summative evaluation. 

And speaking of the city...

...one wonders if anyone at all is going to raise with the City Council Tuesday during their tax classification hearing that the City's required contribution to the schools--set last year for barely over net minimum, and thus probably not going to break it--for FY21 will jump as the foundation budget increases and the state contribution increases?
Someone should. That needs planning.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

...for their final meeting of the year and of the term.
The agenda is online here.
Interestingly, there are a boatload of minutes from executive sessions dating back to 2016 being released. Even more interestingly, the City Council is doing the same on minutes dating back as far as 2010! That doesn't seem random, and I wonder what it is that has happened that pushed this sudden influx of public information?
I am reviewing these quickly, but here's a section from the first executive session of January of 2016 which seems prescient:
The minutes are for the reviewing of proposals for the superintendent search; Jack Foley makes a recommendation which was a recommendation coming out of an executive session of Finance and Operations, that Hazard, Young, and Atea be hired. Instead, Dianna Biancheria makes a motion to cancel the national search, which is approved, 5-2, Foley and Mayor Petty voting in opposition. 

We should note here that the guidance from the Attorney General's office is clear that minutes are to give indication as to what the discussion was, not simply give a record of votes. These on the School Committee side do not do that.

I'm going to loop back around to the report of the superintendent which is the midcycle review in another post.

There is a meeting of Governance and Employee Issues on Tuesday (agenda here) which will be reporting out; the agenda appears to be policy amendments (they're updates from the state).

There are several midyear appointments and retirements.

There is a report coming back on after-school programs, as requested by Mr. Comparetto, though it does not include the attendance and results requested.
There is a list of responses to the question "what is your policy to ensure school safety during arrival and dismissal times?" (note these are procedures, not policies).
There is a response to Mr. Monfredo's ongoing questions around cursive.

There is a request for two prior year payments, neither with any backup:
  • in the amount of $1,144.18 to a teacher.
  • in the amount of $625.00 to MicroNet Associates, Inc.
Regarding fiscal year reporting, the annual memo from Associate Commissioner of District and School Finance says this:
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and I take the accountability requirements of the Education Reform Act seriously. Our ability to track progress toward reaching the goals of the Reform Act depends on accurate and timely data collection and reporting. We must be able to rely on the data that you report to administer Chapter 70 and other state and federal funding programs in a timely manner.
The previous fiscal year of course closed June 30.

The Committee is being asked to approve the following donations:
  • $380.00 from Dogfather Vending, LLC to Worcester Technical High School
  • $100.00 from donors to the George & Marie Maloney Scholarship Fund
  • $100.00 from 495 Truck Center to City View School
  • $27.00 from a donor to the Worcester Public Schools
Miss McCullough is proposing that the Baker/Polito public awareness campaign "RESPECTfully" be included in future sex ed curriculum.

And Miss Biancheria is proposing: 
Request that the Administration consider forming a Committee consisting of School Committee administrators, staff and a representative from the Mayor’s office to discuss plans to initiate a fitting tribute and dedication to Brian A. O’Connell, an outstanding former member of the School Committee who served from 1983 to 2019.
Perhaps I should note here that the naming of facilities remains a power of the School Committee.

The administration is also recommending the filing of six pages of items that are with administration, which are worth reviewing, as there is some interesting stuff here! To wit:
  • the administration speaks of a "human rights" attorney in their response over using in-house verses exterior counsel. My understanding is the School Committee has a contracted special education attorney and one who specializes particularly in contracts; who is handling the human rights aspects?
  • the administration is planning to hire a part-time PR person; they are currently interviewing candidates. One should note that this is a new position, which was not in the FY20 budget and for which the School Committee has neither seen nor reviewed a job description.
  • the district has costed out renovating the modular classrooms. Are we at any point going to talk about the comprehensive facilities plan? Those were never intended to be a permanent solution!
  • to an item regarding increasing recess in kindergarten, the administration responds that they are unable to due to state structured learning requirements. This is of course not the case; so long as the students have 900 hours in elementary instruction, other time can be used for recess. That may, however, require other considerations including lengthening the day. 
  • There is active work going on around parking at the downtown administration building.
  • Discussion of Doherty's vocational programs is being kicked down the road to the final plan for the building 

There is an executive session at 6 to discuss worker's comp cases for a bus driver and a facilities coordinator.

Seven years after Sandy Hook

It's the seventh anniversary of shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.
And what have we done?

We haven't done anything about guns. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Joint Higher Ed and K-12 Boards meet together next week

The annual joint meeting of the K-12 Board of Ed and Higher Ed is this coming Tuesday at 9:30 at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner. That is followed by a meeting of each bard separately. The agenda is online here.
The Joint meeting, from 9:30 to 11:30, has as scheduled updates on early college, on teacher diversity, and on "Evidence Based Policy Making," none of which have any backups posted.
The Elementary and Secondary meeting, which is scheduled to start at noon, after the usual round of opening comments, has:
  • a discussion and vote to amend regulation 603 CMR 30.00. This would extend the interim passing standard--the one set for the classes of 2021 and 20222--for MCAS to the class of 2023. You can find the redline version of the regulations here
  • a discussion and a vote to solicit public comment on a proposed amendment to educator licensure. This would amend the regulations to allow for a pilot alternative assessment to the MTEL test, which is currently required of teachers. As the Commissioner writes:
    During my listening and learning tour over the last year, I often heard from the field about individuals who are or could be great teachers but have been unable to pass the MTEL. As is true for most educator license tests in other states, overall pass rates on MTEL vary based on race and ethnicity, causing concern that MTEL requirements may discourage qualified educators of color from entering the profession. At the same time, we have an ongoing commitment to ensure that teachers know the content they are being asked to teach and have the deep knowledge they need to foster deeper learning for our students. 
  • an update on the Student Opportunity Act, including next steps: "We are in the process of developing templates and guidance for these plans, and I will provide more information at our December 17 meeting" is the update on those plans due April 1.
  • an update on charter schools, which is really all about City on a Hill, as the license for New Bedford is surrendered and the plans for the remaining sites discussed.
The Board is also receiving a copy of their budget request letter, a report on grants, and a report on the chronically underperforming schools, which will not, it appears, be taken up at the meeting itself.

I will be there for the beginning; I'll have to watch the end later on.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

On bathrooms, urban schools, and press coverage

There's a big story in today's Boston Globe about the bathrooms in the Boston Public Schools, and I have to say that I really have some mixed feelings about it.

This isn't just a Boston thing, at all.

First, let's be really clear: kids deserve on-demand (yes, really) access to clean, functional, easily accessible bathrooms where they feel and are safe and comfortable. Bathrooms are and have been a marker in the battle for civil rights. That isn't too much to ask; it's a basic public health issue, and, as is noted in the article, not providing that has real impacts on student learning (which is what we're about, after all).

I also appreciate Bianca Vázquez Toness very appropriately calling out that is communicates to students how much they and their educations are valued:
It is not a conventional measure of success or failure in the city’s schools, but it is a telling one: What does it say to the children of the schools that they are expected, as they strive to learn, to put up with such facilities? Or avoid them at all cost — and great discomfort?

As parent and as a former teacher, the knee-jerk reaction of limiting bathroom access--very much not just a Boston issue--drives me bananas. There's no way it should be happening. Stop locking bathrooms as a measure of student control. That's just wrong.
It is true, again, that parent advocacy has a direct impact on learning conditions. That shouldn't be the determining factor.
And if and when what we have is a custodial issue, then as in any other circumstance of people not doing their jobs OR (and this happens!) not having enough staff to do their jobs well, then we very much ought to fix that. 
(There are national measures for custodial staffing that can be referenced on this.)

It's important to read this, however, in the context of the Globe article from last week on crumbling school infrastructure. For that, the Globe went to Lynn, which itself is interesting, but I know enough about Boston's school buildings to know that one could write the same article about Boston...or Worcester.

Worcester has fifty school buildings.
MSBA estimates a fifty year lifespan for new schools.
Given those two pieces of information, how often should Worcester be opening a new school?

Every. Single. Year.

And Boston has more than twice as buildings than that, and it simply hasn't been rebuilding and renovating at the rate needed to keep up with that replacement cycle. I was in the English High last week for the bill signing, and I used the bathroom (a staff bathroom) while I was there. It was clean, and people were doing their best, but they were doing their best with heavily used, outdated facilities and not enough money.
And that's true there and in Worcester and in Lynn and in Springfield...
Not tying this back to that funding article does, I think, a disservice to those who have been struggling to make it work in the Boston schools, and I know that there are plenty of them.

As this is Boston, let me also note this: the Boston School Committee's ability to advocate for the schools to the city is, in my personal view, hamstrung by their being a committee appointed by the Mayor. For those appointed by the Mayor to go to the Mayor and fight for more capital funding for schools seems...well, not to be working. Again, that's my personal opinion.
Either way, Boston isn't getting schools built and renovated quickly. And if you were parent with a rising kindergartner, what would be your reaction to this article?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Good news on English learners and support for dual language coming out of Chicago study

Important work on the English learning front from a study in the Chicago Public Schools:
“Our students are capable, they have the potential. They’re little sponges and they’re able to do it,” David said.
CPS officials said the study findings show the benefits of the district’s bilingual supports and programming. Macias said Jackson has championed the expansion of bilingual education initiatives. Since 2015, more than 5,500 CPS students have graduated with a nationally recognized designation that they’re proficient in English and another language, according to CPS.
And a way forward:
CPS since 2016 has more than doubled the number of schools that, like Sandoval, has a dual language program, according the district. Students in these programs learn core subjects in both their native languages and English, an immersive approach educators say helps them with literacy, fluency and cultural understanding. Now 41 schools offer dual language programs or are on the path to having one, Jackson said, noting this year CPS allocated $12 million for supports for bilingual education.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

FY21 Consensus Revenue hearing

Every December, the Joint Committee on Ways and Means holds a hearing with the Secretary of Administration and Finance to determine, basically, how much money they agree the state will have next year to spend on the budget. That is then what the Governor and each of the Chambers is supposed to use in creating their FY21 budget. 
"supposed to" because generally each of the Chambers then comes out with budgets that are more than the Governor's...but that's just my observation. 
Also, note that we've had budget surpluses for several years running, which does not do local aid lines a lot of good. 

Sen. Michael Rodrigues opens, noting that tax revenue exceeded expectations by $1.1B, 6.8% over actual FY18 collections.
cites "historic funding increase for our public schools" in FY20
speaks of fiscal uncertanity ahead
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz: while we had a $1.1B surplus this year, "we must remain thoughtful as we plan for the future"
doing this in public, bipartisan way, taking testimony from nongoverment experts "means we're doing this the best way"
national and international changes may mean state needs to respond
tax revenue above benchmarks through October
unemployment below the national average
Secretary Michael Heffernan "this kicks of consensus revenue"
thanks those testifying, calling it "integral to what we will be doing down the road"

first panel: Commissioner Harding, Dr. Kazim Ozyurt, Kevin Brown, all from Mass Department of Revenue
Harding: recap of FY19
notable development has been strong revenue growth in FY18 and FY19
"were preceeded by two years of disappointing revenue growth"
FY18 was mostly from corporate and business taxes and non-withheld income taxes
FY19 similarly
stock market performance and capital gains, important to note now
Standards and Poors rose more than 28%
"highly likely that the changes in non-withheld taxes" related to this growth
tax reform in 2017 may have let itself to the corporate income and personal income tax
strong MA economy: strong and supportive of revenue growth
gains in stock market, tax changes that may have accelerated growth, strong local economy lent itself to FY18 and FY19
first two are episodic rather than trends, however
"may not be repeated in the future"
"financial market performance is also unpredictable"
now in longest growth in US history but all such growth much come to an end
not expecting recession in FY20 or FY21
but being "realistic and prudent in our estimates"
$30.099B benchmark in FY20
potential upside in FY20 $75M to $245M
"less than half over" most years 2/3 of revenue comes December through June
not recommending revision for FY20 at this time
collections reflect growth of 5.4%
FY21: DOR forecasts in range $30.623B to $30.899B
growth of 1.5% to 2%
midrange of 2.3% over FY20 benchmark
I'm skipping some parts of how they got here
assumes decrease in income tax; have passed 4 of 5 triggers
will reduce income tax
that then assumes a part year revenue loss of $62M
full year impact for FY22 could be $300M
main drivers are income tax 57.5%, sales tax 22.9%, corporate and business taxes 11%, and other taxes 0.4%
November numbers to be released later today
$148M up this month
year to date $278M over benchmark but $160M is the estate tax

Q on marijuana revenue and online revenue from Rodrigues
Michlewitz Q on benchmarks and on "newer tax initiatives"
"I'll characterize the last year as a lot of education and collaboration" around the AirB&B and such
Friedman asks if low unemployment will impact corporate growth
(yes, it seems, in sum, though it is noted that it is a single indicator)

Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, Michael Sweeney (lottery)
rainy day fund now $2.85B
MSBA saved $135M present value through a refunding deal
retirement fund has "consistently outperformed benchmarks and its peers"
Goldberg urges people to read massmoney.com
turned over more than $125M to general fund and more than $3.5M to the rainy day fund
becoming less over time as "we are consistently returning more and more money to the original owners"
Lottery has topped $5B in revenues for fifth year in a row
combined draw sales down in first 4 months of year
cashless sales
competitors investing heavily in technology
Alcoholic Beverage Controls Commission: $4.9M in revenue, most from new licenses and renewals
anticipates collecting $5M in FY20 and projects the same in FY21
budget increase lead to 5 additional inspector investigators and faster processing time
"they don't have to wait as long as they used to have to wait to get an inspector in to sign off"
"look forward to working with all of you in order to continue to enhance operations"
Rodrigues asks about meeting with rating agencies
Goldberg concern from them still, noting that "we had a statutory obligation to not spend down in good times"
concern that the message from DC and Fed's reaction (in interest rates) "is not a reflection of reality of how world economies are going"
"a lot of weakness...a lot of people have a lot of credit"

Mass Taxpayers, Eileen McAnneny speaking
increase of $615M or 2% to $31.06B
$240M or 15% decline over 2020 estimates
"every tightening labor market"
forecasts "virtually no [job] growth" in FY21
assumes income tax rate reduction to 5%, loss of $64M in 2021
without that and capital gains reduction, would have seen revenue increase of 3.5%
don't recommend revision to forecast for FY20
sales tax only growing modestly makes us more dependent on more volatile revenue streams

Michael Goodman, Dept of Public Policy at UMass Dartmouth
remarks on broader economic context
"slow but positive growth"
"significant levels of policy and geopolitical uncertainty all of which represent significant risks to the downside"
demographic conditions: aging and slow growing labor force plus immigration limits
"artificial restrictions" of "the most relaible source of new labor at every level of the occupational spectrum"
saying that he left New Bedford 2 1/2 hours before getting to Boston "this is basically my day"
"seizing the opportunity presented by the underutlized capacity of regionals like Western and Southeastern Massachusetts will require more than simply long-awaited communter rail access to Boston, even though improved transit options are sorely needed in most areas of the state"
likewise, impact of international students are a major source of growth in education
"while at this point the measureable economic impact of counterproductive federal trade and immigration policies is relatively modest, their negative effects accumulate over time"

Alan Clayton-Matthews, Northeastern
fluctations in tax revenues over past several years makes projections difficult and uncertain

William Burke, Beacon Hill Institute
healthy near term outlook of US economy
"currently labor market in the United State remains strong"
"agrees that the US economy will continue to see economic growth
MA economy "remains solid"
projecting a revenue increase of 1.9% in FY20 and 3.8% in FY21
Rodrigues notes "we're all over the place in capital gains"

increase political unrest internationally; disagreement among panelists on what kind of economic impact that may have

education reform spending will help boost the labor force as more students complete high school
growing skills and education

Goodman "our biggest threat that we can see to the future trajector of the state economy is our capacity to grow"
"A major step in the right direction was making investment in K-12 education, particularly urban K-12 education, where I think we have the most wasted talent in the talent pipeline in public education. So if those dollars get to where they need to go and we get better outcomes, it will be better all around."

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

The agenda is here.
The report of the superintendent is on the Barr Foundation grant on "reimagining high school." The grant is a second round of a grant received last year--this one for $300K, last year's for $150K--of which little has been said until now. In fact, the first round of the grant, when it was listed in an article on disciplinary disparities, was billed as:
A $150,000 grant – and possibly more – from the Barr Foundation to implement a ninth-grade transition program aimed at reducing suspensions.
The School Committee did not receive a report on the work of that grant, nor did it receive a grant report that specified how the funding had been (or even was planned to be) expended. A ninth grade transition program for reducing suspensions is not the same as work on what Worcester imagines its graduates from high school to be, as this second grant reportedly is being used for, even if, as this report says, this one focus on "9th grade success," along with "rigor and relevance, college planning, and equity."
I say "reportedly" because the request that the Committee vote acceptance on the grant has not a shred of information on how the grant is being expended. This is problematic for two reasons:
  •  it means the Committee can't fulfill its function of keeping spending aligned with the goals of the district (rather than chasing what is shiny)
  •  it means the Committee (and thus the district) isn't fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility in allocating funds. No one is voting where the money is going. 
As the presentation itself also lacks specificity--the strategic plan is mentioned, but not how this aligns with it, with nothing on how this lines up with other work the district is doing--it's impossible to tell from this what exactly is being done, by whom, where, what it is going to cost, and how. The section on work so far and work ahead is the same: stakeholders that are being met with can mean a lot or a little; a "representative sample" of site councils, given how much work there is to be done on site councils in Worcester, is, frankly, not representative. One of course likewise wonders which students have been met with. If it's the usual suspects (as I call them; the kids who get picked for everything), the "portrait of a graduate" is only going to mean a very particular thing.
Also, that diagram on community is from Battelle for Kids out of Ohio and...why are their diagrams being used?
None of this, incidentally, is to find fault with the idea of looking at what Worcester thinks a high school graduate should be. It isn't clear to me that this is necessarily going to do it, nor how the grant funding is being spent to get there.

Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports subcommittee met largely to file things, it seems, as the term comes to a close. Looking through the minutes, it appears that there are a number of requests for information coming back.

There are some resignations and appointments.

The enrollment by course report that is coming back to Miss Biancheria's request isn't the full list of courses; I believe it's the new courses that had been approved.

There are donations and recognitions and congratulations.

The ongoing rash (pun intended) of prior fiscal year payments continue, with $1284,86 to a certified nursing assistant, and with $1721.02 (!) going to Struck Catering. I would think they are probably more prompt in their billing than this, which would mean the district not only is not following proper procedures on this, but it's also holding up paying a local business.

Mr. Monfredo has an item to "increase math scores as delineated in the strategic plan." That's not...how this works.
Miss Biancheria is asking again this year for a list of snow-clearing equipment by school "including the process for clearing snow at each site and the evaluation of equipment." Setting aside for the moment just how far into management this is (the answer is WAY into management!), it's hard to think of responses for "the process for clearing snow" that aren't, er, sarcastic.

Mr. Comparetto closes the agenda with a series of items in response, I believe, to an email from a Worcester principal that was pinballing across social media, which asked students to dress as Pilgrims and Wampanoag on the day school got out for Thanksgiving.

They read:
  • Request that the Administration provide an update on the alleged culturally inappropriate programming at Goddard School of Science and Technology. 
  • Request that the Administration consider incorporating a day of mourning at Thanksgiving time into school programming. 
  • Request that the Administration consider incorporating real American history into the curriculum. 
  • Request that the Administration review recommendations made by the organization Teaching Tolerance for culturally appropriate Thanksgiving programming
The implementation of the history and social studies standards still has, it seems, work to be done. The state standards did extensive work on historically disenfranchised voices, and the standards created and the resources used lead towards a richer understanding, one hopes. If you're struggling to see the issue here, start "A Culture, not a Costume" from the Washington Post; Googling that will give further resources.

There is an executive session, with one item arbitration with the EAW, one item on litigation, and two on collective bargaining.
And yes, I am planning to attend.