Friday, January 31, 2020

Worcester budget input sessions

This only works if you come!

  • Monday, Feb. 10 at Claremont Academy 
  • Thursday, Feb.13 at Burncoat High School 
  • Monday, March 2 at Doherty Memorial High School 
  • Wednesday, March 4 at North High School 

 ...all at 6 pm.

 As Mr. Foley said yesterday, site councils should also plan to weigh in, there is a section coming on the district website, and you can, of course, always contact a Worcester School Committee member.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Worcester Finance and Operations subcommittee

And the agenda and backups are here.
The big thing, to preview, is the second quarter report, which gives some perspective on where the budget will end up by the end of the year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

January Board of Education: Student Opportunity Act and the budget

Riley: funding is progressive, "so some of our most needy school districts" are getting greater resources
how to we now ensure those funds are spent in a way that closes persistent achievement gaps
85% of additional dollars in 35 or so districts
bifurcated plan: long form or short form
short form does not take away need for focus on these issues
plans themselves "are fairly bounded by the statute"
evidence based or evidence informed practices
"that doesn't mean a district can't approve another evidence based practice" but Commissioner has to approve it
either next week or next week, template going out
parent and community feedback
"we're also asking all school committees to approve these in March"
"we want to make this an inclusive process, where everyone gets to weigh in"
outcome metrics whether state or your own
"this is not meant to be a bureaucratic exercise"
"even if this were a longer process, we wouldn't want this to be a compliance-driven exercise"
law does provide select examples to chose from
possible re-arrangement of DESE grants: early literacy, early college, diversifying workforce for multiplier effect
have set up a hotline; doing webinars with superintendents
what if the new money is being used for contract requirements?
"operating under the assumption that we're going to carve out an inflation factor"
plans need to be accepted by Commissioner
Concern that cities and towns that already fund over do NOT pass along additional Ch. 70 to their districts
"may need to be regulations that need to be proferred" by Board
will be working closely with districts that may not be on the best fit of this bill
Peyser: this can't be a one and done process
Eisenhower said plans are worthless; planning's indespensible
work over time on implementation is what is important

budget: about a 5% increase in resources to education
overall increase of 2.3% to state budget
this is a run through the account by account; I think I missed an update on staffing; I'll have to go back and listen again And it answered my question! The increase in 7061-9200 is for an increase (overdue, I'm told) for the data work, in part that required by SOA for targets, but also to staff the data requirements elsewhere in the Act...which means the Governor DID provide for that section of the Board's request. 

$1.8B over seven years; $1.16B will be in low income students
both increase in 40K count
even implementation over seven years is 14%
impact on individual district varies very much according to local district capacity

January meeting of the Board of Ed: educator licensure

the backup is here
Riley: there are some unintended consequences for a one-size-fits-all-model
would find that two applicants for openings: one who had passed MTEL but was unsuccessful in multiple districts; one who was successful but missed the MTEL
"keeping a robust system, but also potentially allowing for alternative pathways"
"value of the human talent on your team"
critical importance of teachers in front of students
set the standards and then the assessments for educators to be licensed
repeatedly hear the same concern: teachers who are successful in the classroom but cannot pass the test
importance of teacher content knowledge and skills
pilot to allow for content knowledge
MTEL reflective of teacher eval and of student success
educators on waivers that are meeting students needs; waiver educators who are top performing are disproportionally teachers of color
proposed regulatory language change allows for the pilot option
It appears as though this is the path considered. The regulation allows for pilot options (the MGL requires tests in subject matter knowledge and in literacy)
— Tracy O'Connell Novick (@TracyNovick) January 28, 2020

request for public comment will not only include regulation but also include insight into pilot proposal
Board approval sought in April; plan to launch in summer

West: would want to look at relative success of those who come in through these alternative pathways
review allowed by subset of educator evaluation programs
Peyser: do we have data of prior Praxis/MTEL scores to do comparisons?
don't have Massachusetts Praxis data
Moriarty: "I've never had anyone say 'thank you for regulating me'"
have to factor in that mindset
"I am very very skeptical"
regulation sent out for public comment

January meeting of the Board of Ed: Brown University and MCAS competency assignments

..who apparently were supposed to be a the joint meeting in December that got cancelled
Commissioner: research showing that MCAS results tracks closely to life outcomes
"should lay to rest the claim by some advocacy groups of its irrelevance"
"there are some Luddites in this world that would rather see no change ever, or they would rather throw sand in the gears of progress, or would rather have no" accountability ever

January meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education: opening remarks

The agenda is online here.
You can find the livestream here.

Senator Jason Lewis is called forward.
"I'm here all the time; this is my first opportunity to come by" a meeting
I believe he may have been teased about turning up today
school funding bill was "many years in the making"
"no organization was more important in our success than the Department"
thanks Riley, Wulfson "and particularly the school finance team"
"we lost track of how many models we ran" to understand the impact of proposed changes
now need to support superintendents and school committees "in making the best possible use" of resources

Tim Nicolette from Mass Charter School Association
supporting charter amendments of Pioneer School of Science and Veritas
also to support reports
"we consider accountability to be the backbone of charter schools in Massachusetts"

City on a Hill Charter School (which is relinquishing the charter for New Bedford and co-locating the Boston campuses)
"was a difficult road from the beginning" in New Bedford
financially unstable and "not serving students the way it should be"
thanks Department for assistance for making transition smooth
"we believe it is an important part of the bargain"
two Boston campuses: 9-10 in one building and 11-12 in another
"fully confidence" in director of school
consolidation amendment to be a single high school in Boston
"a midyear co-location had its share of risks"
"I do believe the best days are ahead of us"
Education Law Task Force: asks for consideration of disciplinary records of schools
13.3% of students out of school suspension, 14.3% at other location
"even higher for Black students and those with disabilities"
over half for non-violent, non-drug, non-criminal offenses
used to enforce cell phone policy
"suspensions are one of the leading indicators of failure to graduation high school and involvement with the criminal justice system"
asks for conditions on renewal around student discipline

Pioneer Charter School of Science student and alum
speaks of his own successes through to college; works as a software engineer now
"forever grateful" for the school
another: freshman in college
"not only a place of learning from textbooks, but is a community that helps you understand the outside world"

Veritas Prep (in Springfield)
founder turns it over to parents
parent who grew up in Springfield, part of adult life has been supporting Springfield Public Schools
wanted to send them to Springfield public schools, did get a middle school magnet seat
son begged her not to send him to his neighborhood school
younger son had similar anxiety, developed migraines
began to think of other choices; he got a seat at Veritas
now she works there, as well
hopeful this can continue through high school graduation
another: have always received communication with administration and teachers
relationships between teachers and parents
"high qualified school for a 6 to 12 grade program"
daughter is "very happy to go to school every day"
"everyone respects everyone who goes there"
"supporting learning more each and every day"

charters renewal: Paulo Freire
students feel the love, feel the optimism in their lives
support Commissioner's recommendation
"building a school like this is a marathon"
met ten of the eleven conditions before us
comprehensive plan, "setting clear and specific benchmarks and deadlines"
monthly leadership teams
"have created and will continue to create thoughtful and meaningful action plans"
"have moved into a new school building"
"has changed the atmosphere and climate...a former factory didn't have very many windows"
bulk of student body comes from Holyoke

Boston Green Academy (Horace Mann)
request that the Board consider academic conditions rather than probation for the school
statewide measures of enrollment, financial health have been spoken to and removed
over the past nine years have worked to grow five year graduation rates, reduce dropout rates, and increase growth rates
submit application in six months; have only been improvements during the years of the school
"drastically strengthened our school...know we have more work to do"
believe work left is a limited set of academic concerns
believe there are two remaining areas of concern: middle school MCAS scores and low accountability rating
"specific academic concern, not a global one"
"we are not in the sixth percentile statewide" but of middle schools
"probation is existential; conditions are not"
Q on chronic absenteeism: charter is for students at risk
strive to focus their effort where they are supported and challenged
similar to Boston schools
home visits, school counselors who are focused on chronic absenteeism
dropout rate is very small, compared to the rest of the district
ingrained as part of the culture of the school

Davis Leadership Academy:
gratitude to Board to provide evidence for progress since being placed on probation
list of ways in which students are involved
93% of educators identify as people of color
cites MCAS scores
has worked hard to establish its as an academic success
highly qualified teachers in front of our students

testimony on Ch.74 programs
Quincy: 1912 industrial school then trade school then part of Quincy High
"very concerned about the impact these changes will have on comprehensive high schools across the state"
hours needed to complete a 74 program vary
imagine all comprehensive high schools will apply for waivers "but is that really what you want"

Chair notes that the December meeting was cancelled due to snow

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Here's one for the school committee members

I've been attempting over on Twitter to share my education-related reading (#amreading is the hashtag, if you search for that and my handle), and right now, I'm reading High Stakes Reform: The Politics of Educational Accountability by Professor Kathryn McDermott of UMass Amherst. I'm in Chapter 3, which traces the evolution of educational accountability, and this passage (p. 37) made me laugh:
Administrative reformers also disliked small, local districts because they forced school administrators to engage with a broad, cross section of the public on school boards. According to the views embodied in Ellwood Patterson Cubberley's textbooks, school board members should be drawn from the elite of society relative few people had the appropriate outlook and skills for board service. If a state contained hundreds of small school districts, it would certainly run out of elites well before it ran out of school board seats to fill. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Board of Ed meets in Malden Tuesday

And the agenda is online here. If it seems like it's been forever--just me?--that's because the December joint meeting with the Higher Ed board was cancelled due to snow and ice, and November was that weird short one that was mostly about Kaleidoscope.
Anyway, this one, after the usual round of opening comments, opens with the consideration of the competency determination for graduation; the recommendation:
I recommend that the Board vote on amendments to the regulations that govern the CD, to extend the interim passing standard for one additional year to the class of 2023.
Redline tracking of the proposed change in regs is here.
On the same item, there's some discussion of a five year research study being done in partnership with Brown: "The grant will fund a study of the state’s high school exit exams the use of performance levels and how they relate to long-term student outcomes, and the CD policy, among other topics." The results so far (again, this is all in that memo) are interesting (and they're an example of why I think more people should read Board of Ed reports):
The initial findings from this research partnership can be summarized as follows: 
• Since the CD policy went into effect, grade 10 MCAS scores and educational attainments have increased despite changing student demographics.
• Grade 10 MCAS scores are an early indicator of long-term success, even among students with similar characteristics and grade point averages.
• Students scoring at the needs improvement/warning cutoff (a scaled score of 220 on the legacy MCAS), do not appear to be college- or career-ready.
• Gaps in later earnings between higher- and low-income students are explained by differences in grade 10 scores and educational attainments.
The second item, tagged as "evidenced-based policy making," appears to be about coordination among and between various departments. There is a proposal that the Board pass a motion supporting it.
There is a vote to solicit public comment on a change in regulation that would allow for alternative assessment for educators.
There is an update on, honestly, it's more a summary of the Student Opportunity Act. Possibly the most telling line:
Implementing this comprehensive legislation will require considerable effort by Department staff and educators in the field.
There's a discussion and a vote on City on a Hill Charter in New Bedford surrendering its charter., as well as an update on the rest of their schools.
There's a vote on amendments of charters, all of which are expansions:
Boston Day and Evening Academy Charter School (a Horace Mann charter school)
Pioneer Charter School of Science II
Veritas Preparatory Charter School
There are also reports on the three charters on probation:
  • Boston Green Academy Horace Mann Charter School
  • Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School
  • Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School
In sum, the recommendations are not much change: 
I recommend that the Board vote to extend the status of probation currently imposed on the charter of [Boston Green Academy]. I recommend that the Board vote to remove the status of probation currently imposed on the charter of [Helen Y. Davis], but maintain a set of conditions to monitor the school’s governance and improve academic performance. I recommend that the Board vote to maintain the status of probation currently imposed on the charter of [Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School]
There will also be an update on the budget; speaking of which, the memo from the Commissioner to the Secretary on DESE's budgetary priorities (why is this dated January 17??) is of interest, particularly as I'm not clear that any of them were fulfilled?
To my point at the end of the post on FY21:
The Department’s programmatic administrative resources to oversee the expected additional responsibilities likely to be called for in the Student Opportunity Act. Resources would be prioritized for data analytics and school finance work designed to support the oversight of district plans as discussed in the Student Opportunity Act.
 And yes, I am planning on being there.

On Governor Baker's FY21 budget proposal

I am sorry it has taken this long for me to get this into a blog post. I did tweet this out when the budget went up online on Wednesday.
The Governor's budget--House 2 in this second year of the Legislative term--is online here. You may also find useful the FY21 Chapter 70 school finance page from DESE (much more descriptive that previous years) and the cherry sheets (the net state aid calculations) for municipal and regional.
As last year, I have started an Excel spreadsheet with the accounts, the FY20 projected, and the FY21 proposed, along with any notes. Please feel free to use and share it, and let me know if there are ways it could be more useful.

It is the first year of the implementation of the Student Opportunity Act, so the first question is, was it implemented?
I think my answer on that is "mostly, but," as I said to Commonwealth Magazine when they called me this week.
  • The estimation was the 1/7th of implementation of the Student Opportunity Act would take an additional $300M in Chapter 70 aid statewide; that was hit. 
  • The new law guarantees $30/pupil minimum increases with hold harmless; that was done. 
  • House 2 does increase health insurance by the GIC three year average increase of 2.34%, rather than the inflation rate for the rest of the foundation budget, which is 1.99% (which is not great at all). 
  • The special education rate does take the 1/7th step towards the goal rate, plus 1/7th of the new enrollment counts
  • Likewise English learners category takes 1/7th step towards the goal. 
  • Low income...does not. Remember that this year, the state was directed to use the FY16 free/reduced count as a percentage to apply to this year (unless the direct certification count was higher). That added 46K kids to the count statewide, which increased the amount of dollars devoted to this category. As a result, the Governor's budget implements only 4/100ths of the goal rate. The state was directed to implement the changes in "an equitable and consistent manner" and I would argue: this isn't it.
    To give some idea of what this looks like, here are the rate charts for FY20 and FY21: 
  • This is FY20, the current year. Note the length of the bottom lines, particularly the very bottom one, relative to the three through six, which are the grade level foundation rates.

    This is FY21, the budgeted year. Note again the length of the bottom lines, the low income increments, relative to three through six. We are to be getting the bottom one equal to that in seven years. Unless not.

The danger in both state and local budgets has always been that the "new money" was going to leave those doing the allocations with the impression that they didn't need to fund other accounts (or to the same level), because schools should just pick up those activities with the new aid. This is certainly the Governor's framing of the budget. Not only are a number of accounts zeroed out--civics education, financial literacy, computer science--but several are severely cut:
  •  extended learning time (7061-9412) is cut by $10M (it's a $13.9M account cut to $3.9M).
  • likewise, the after and out of school grant is cut from $8.5M to $2.5M. 
Given the resources being made available in a single year of a seven year phase in, this is abrupt and not borne out by the resources put forward.

For those looking at other accounts, some of which also had SOA requirements: 
  • regional transportation (which we last saw getting a boost in the supplemental budget) is budgeted at $75.8M, which is where it came out of conference committee last year. That was about an 83% reimbursement level; no doubt costs of grown, and I have yet to hear projections for this year.
  • McKinney-Vento homeless transportation reimbursement is $11M, which is level funded from last year's conference committee budget. The supplemental did add another $2M to that, but unless that is re-appropriated to the schools, that goes to the general fund in municipal districts. $9M was 37%, implying that $11M was about 45%, but I would think that costs have also gone up. 
  • MassBudget projected that the circuit breaker account would have to increase by $22.5M in order to incorporate transportation, as required by the Student Opportunity Act; the account goes up by $23M. However, this means there is not space in the account for the usual growth of costs. It isn't clear that this is appropriately funded.
  • Similarly, charter reimbursement was projected by MassBudget to need to rise $29.4M in order to be at least 75% as required by the new law; the line increases by $19.4M in the Governor's budget. I am told that it is expected that once actual enrollments at charters are known this will be closer to what is needed. 
  • educational data services (7061-9200) is going from $579,786 to $1,078,231, and I have no idea why, and I cannot find any explanation of it. I can't find any explanation of anything; are they not posting any narrative this year?
  • recovery high schools were sent to study in the Student Opportunity Act, as their costs aren't being covered: last year, they were funded at $3.1M, while the Gov's budget has them at $2.6M.
  • rural schools have been added the past several years, generally on a budget amendment from Senator Adam Hinds. Thus it is a bit of a victory for it to be in the Governor's budget this year, even if it is at $1.5M, rather than the $3M that is projected for FY20.
  • (upon consideration, adding this): it does not appear the Governor is requesting additional appropriation for the Department, despite the SOA reporting requirements. Someone has to do the target calculations and review and respond to the reports; it appears that it's going to be the same stretched staff already there. 
It's always important to remember--and particularly important this year--that the Governor's budget is where the conversation starts. Get some idea of where your district is (if you haven't gotten your hands on circuit breaker projections, ask!), and go talk to your reps and senators. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

talking about Boston-area news coverage

As something of a side-effect of reviewing the education news from the Berkshires to the Bay (as I think of it), I have become steeped in Massachusetts education coverage, and, readers will not be surprised to hear, I've developed some opinions about that.
I was interviewed by Jessicah Lahitou for a piece in Phi Beta Kappan regarding Boston-area education reporting. You can find it here.
I'm glad that this piece of my thoughts in particular made it in, as it's not only a gap I see in Boston coverage:
And though Novick says education coverage is “getting better” over all, she sees a pronounced lack of reporting on state policy. These are “real people are making decisions that have a real impact on public education. What are those decisions? What difference will they make?” She credits reporter Katie Lannan with the State House News Service for being an often-lone voice focused on education policy at the state level. 
However, the most commented-on shortcoming in the current education landscape is the lack of what Novick calls “doing school” coverage — stories that foreground the perspective of students. 
“What is it like to be at the bus stop at 6 a.m.? Or have four hours of homework? Or eat all your meals at school? Or feel as though your whole life depends on getting an A rather than a B+?”

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What do we already know will be in the budget?

Tomorrow, the Governor releases the House 2 (it's the second year of the legislative term) budget at 11 am (or so). The big education funding question is the degree to which the changes to the foundation budget outlined in the Student Opportunity Act will be implemented: will it be one-seventh of the full foundation change? Or something else?

There are, however, pieces of the Act that outline year by year changes, and so there are some things we already know:

  • the Act contains $30/pupil increase above the FY20 level (thus a hold harmless provision, as well)
  • the Act includes out-of-district transportation for special education being included in the circuit breaker at 25% (this is a four year phase in); and remember that the circuit breaker is now frozen at the FY20 level, increasing only by inflation
  • the Act includes not less than 75% reimbursement for charter reimbursement (this is a three year phase in)
Thus some of the things that are annual battles don't need to be this year, as the battle has already been waged. 
And again, if you're looking for overall phase in numbers, MassBudget is as always a good resource

Sunday, January 19, 2020

And what were you doing on grants?

If by chance you were watching the Worcester School Committee on Thursday night, at about two hours in (2:14 or so), you saw that I made a motion to hold the grants on which we were asked to vote acceptance. In total, it was about $400K in grants that administration had asked that we vote to accept.
My motion specifically was to hold the grants pending a recommended allocation from the administration for the School Committee to pass, which the Committee had not received.
In other words, all we had was "please say yes to X amount of money" with no "and please vote to spend it here, here, and here."
And the allocation authority belongs to the School Committee, within cost centers.

Now, while I am somewhat tetchy about whose authority belongs to whom (in part because nature and school districts abhor a vacuum), and this is part of the Ch. 71, sec. 37 authority of school committees,  that isn't why I made the motion I did.
Spending money on things makes commitments and sets priorities:
  • Grants may be used to hire staff, who we may need to either keep on or let go when the grant runs out. 
  • Grants may be used for professional development, which develop skills and understandings which may be in line with goals or not. 
  • Grants may be used to purchase equipment or materials, which may need further funding for maintenance or replacement.
  • ...and so forth. 

Grants decide things, and the School Committee needs to know what is being decided in order to do its job effectively.
The Worcester School Committee hasn't been getting allocation recommendations with their grants for, the mayor noted, four years. It had been getting such recommendations before. So this isn't a new request; it's going back to previous practice, allowing for greater transparency and accountability around district spending and priority setting.
My motion failed, 5-2, but the Mayor's motion, to have that allocation information for these grants at the next meeting and for all grants going forward at the time of the vote, passed unanimously, as did my subsequent motions to have grants added to the quarterly reports reviewed in subcommittee and to receive the final reports for all grants going back five years (don't fret: these already exist, as they're filed with the state).
This is really a basic budgeting best practice, and I'm relieved we'll have it going forward. Worcester spends a lot of money in grants, and we need to know where it is going.


Okay, it's House 2 budget week, but still...the Governor releases his budget on Wednesday.
If you haven't already reviewed Colin Jones of MassBudget's preview of what implementation of the Student Opportunity Act should look like, please do. Numbers to note:
On Chapter 70 aid specifically, one-seventh of the new funding from the SOA reforms would have to be added to the typical annual increases. Combining this new funding with the typical increases, the Baker Administration expects $303 million per year in increased Chapter 70 aid from FY 2020 to FY 2027. This is only a rough estimate from several months ago that will be updated in the FY 2021 budget and beyond as economic conditions, student enrollment, demographics, and other factors shift.
The SOA aims to add transportation costs to the circuit breaker over four years. The education committee estimated this would cost $90 million. This suggests $22.5 million in dedicated spending in this line item in FY 2021, in addition to typical funding growth for special education.
The SOA also sets a goal of fully funding the charter school reimbursement program within three years. Fully funding charter reimbursements would cost roughly $75 million in FY 2020 according to current projections. This total will likely rise with the higher foundation budget as the SOA is implemented over time. This suggests addressing gap would cost $29.4 million in FY 2021 if the charter program continues at current levels and the SOA funding schedule is followed.
emphasis mine

Whence sex ed in Worcester?

The article from Scott O'Connell (he did get rather a lot to write about on Thursday) covers the gist of it, but I see that social media has been rather...heated, so I thought it might be useful to sort out a few interconnected things here.
You can't, of course, separate this term's discussion of sex ed from last term's discussion of sex ed, particularly in the context of what Bill Shaner wrote in two articles for Worcester Magazine, one last February and one last April, and which received statewide attention.
At the end of all of that, the vote of the Committee had been to wait on the state. No doubt that was punting, but the state has legitimately been updating the state health standards--which date, incidentally, from the 90's, which is also a problem--as was discussed at the Board of Education in June. However, that report had the new standards out for public comment at the end of last year...and they're not. In fact, the Board hasn't received an update since then.
Thus the Mayor's reaction to their lack of action on Thursday.
I have seen it suggested that the Committee was taking action on Thursday due to the Senate vote in favor of sex ed earlier on Thursday. That doesn't line up.
First, the bill that's being considered only requires "medically accurate and age-appropriate" IF a district offers it at all...which isn't required.
Second, the Senate has taken action on this before:
The legislation now goes to the House, where it has died without a vote each of the past two sessions following Senate approval. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has not committed to taking it up.
This isn't something that is being accelerated by the state, let's say.

It's an authority of the School Committee, incidentally, to review and approve curriculum, so the process here isn't different or somehow set apart. That's done in concert with and generally by recommendation of the professionals involved.

It's in the subcommittee that does curriculum, which is Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports. That's chaired by Ms. McCullough (she finished last year's term after Brian O'Connell's death) and also has Jack Foley and John Monfredo. They do have a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, January 29 at 4:30 (not 4 as on the website), but I do not know that this will be taken up; I'll post once I see an agenda. UPDATE: Ms. McCullough says that meeting will be taking up items from the prior term; she plans a February meeting on this topic.

Student and School Performance Subcommittee meeting this Thursday at 7

The first subcommittee meeting of the new Worcester School Committee term is this coming Thursday, and it's the one I chair, Student and School Performance, on which Dianna Biancheria and Laura Clancey also serve. You can find the agenda with backups online here.

There are three items on the agenda, all of which were sent there last term, all of which we'll be taking up at the meeting. They are:

  • Request that the Administration provide a report on the accountability changes made by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
  • Request that the Administration provide a report on suspensions.
  • To consider establishing a committee, in conjunction with the Administration, to reduce school suspensions.
You may also note that all date back to 2018.
The first item, though it has the 2017-18 data, is (at least from my perspective) more useful as a frame for how the state accountability system works now, and as a starting point for discussions around what the district is doing with the non-MCAS (because we're going to talk about MCAS, regardless) sections of the system.
This pretty naturally flows into the discussion over state reporting over new money, as well, note, and we have an item coming to us from Thursday's meeting to that end; it isn't on this agenda, but going forward, it's a place for that discussion around the reporting on targets and goals to happen.

For the backup for the second item on suspensions, we have this data that I couldn't make heads or tails of in April. Because that release doesn't track with any other way of tracking data, it's...perhaps not the most useful way of framing the discussing. What I've been looking at is the state profile of the district, and then the schools, both overall and particularly, due to the state report last year, non-violent, non-criminal, non-drug-related offenses. Again, that's last year's data, and thus it's timely to ask for a midyear update; I don't know that we'll get that at the meeting (there's no new backup coming in here), but again, we're starting discussions at the subcommittee to continue.

Finally, the committee that was requested has been meeting, and there will be a (verbal) update on that.

I do just want to note a few things: I've intentionally pushed to have this meeting at 7--subcommittees for School Committee tend to take place before 6, but I know that doesn't work for many families, and Miss Biancheria and Mrs Clancey have been accommodating in that. 
This is the data committee, and our charge is get data out, to make it accessible, and then to inform the rest of the Committee so as to inform Committee policy and budget decisions. 
If this is of interest, I hope you'll plan to attend. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

On combining facilities management in Worcester

Did you know we had a report on this? Me, either!
It's here, in the backup to the Worcester School Committee agenda this past week.

The Worcester Public Schools run 64% of the public buildings in the city but they represent 80% of deferred maintenance.
The schools have 55 buildings, of which 40 still need work on roofs. In fact, check out this chart from page 12 of the report:
This would seem to be relevant information in considering future capital budgets.

One of my questions during the meeting about this report was about alignment of departments, something that I thought WPS had well underway. Part of the response mentioned in passing the reorganization the administration undertook the first week of January, putting Capital Projects and Environmental Management together with Facilities under Jim Bedard as the Director; Paul Comerford is Maintenance Supervisor and Building Automation Systems, and Tom Barrett remains Coordinator of Buildings and Grounds. And thus, yes, that wasn't particularly, it seems, a critique of the school department. 
The city, it seems, is running multiple facilities departments, and so they're working to consolidate that before anything beyond possibly sharing the work of tradesmen with the schools.

The piece that I asked the Mayor to pursue cityside--and this is cityside--is consolidate capital planning. We don't have a single process for this, and we should.

The Mayor then raised the reimbursement rate MSBA is giving to the city now; that's out for study under the Student Opportunity Act!

Under the item on Columbus Park, the calling out of DPH of the rest of the HVAC systems' need for a replacement cycle led to the recommitment of the facilities master plan to subcommittee, along with a request for a process for an update on the plan (to include the schools built after the 1990's, not included in the report, because they aren't--or weren't at the time--eligible for MSBA renovation or rebuilding).

Possibly also relevant: the Committee passed the Statements of Interest for MSBA Accelerated repairs for a boiler at Vernon Hill and the roof of Worcester Arts Magnet. In light of all of the foregoing, I suggested--and I'm still honestly figuring out where else we should go with this, so let me know if you have thoughts--that with the increased funding for MSBA, we might suggest a third type of program: something that isn't the strictly boilers/windows/roofs of Accelerated repairs, but provides for projects that also don't rise to the level of full renovation and replacement. It's a thought.

How is Worcester handling the April 1 reporting plan under the new funding?

This is from my last updated version of 70 on 70, regarding the required plans.
If you go to about 1: 26 on the video of the Worcester School Committee meeting from Thursday, you can find, first, Superintendent Binienda shares the presentation the urban superintendents received last week from the Commissioner on the reporting requirements under the Student Opportunity Act, and subsequently, the discussion. These came in, mainly, under items from Mayor Petty about process both until April 1 and then afterwards.

Some of this is still being worked out in particulars, but what we do know is:
  1. The full School Committee is holding a hearing in each of the four quadrants over the course of February. At the meeting, Mondays (save the Presidents' Day holiday) were mentioned as possible dates, stretching to the first one in March. As yet, we do not have that confirmed, nor do we have locations nailed down but I'll share once we do.
  2. Site councils were specifically noted as being integral not only within the act, but also by the state and within the deliberation. Budgetary review is under their purview. 
  3. The act also specifically recognizes the Special Education and English Learner Parent Advisory Councils, which were also specifically referenced in the deliberation.
I also added in passing that our student advisory council (we have one! Did you know?) would be an excellent resource for student input, were they willing. 

While the first hearing, if this schedule holds, will be before the next regular meeting, the next regular meeting should have the FY21 budget as the report of the superintendent, and thus will be the next source of good information on specifics of what we can expect for funding. There's also usually at least some initial deliberation around priorities by the Committee.

The Governor's budget is out this coming Wednesday, January 22. 

Worcester Public Schools' enrollment changes: it's complicated

Today's Telegram and Gazette front page headline: "Worcester school enrollment sees biggest decline in 12 years"


Let's first acknowledge that the main reason this matters in Worcester is that Worcester is a foundation funded district: the district is funded at just above foundation (if that; I expect we fell below it this year), so enrollment changes and inflation = budget changes. Period. Scott O'Connell knows this from covering Worcester, thus the article.
And it will matter that, as Mr. Allen notes:
Specifically, Allen said, the district would be starting off with a net decline of $3.7 million because of the drop in enrollment.

But the headline, and even the article, miss the story of the Worcester Public Schools and enrollment.
Yes, a difference of 371 students to this year from last year is the biggest single year drop since 2008.
It is not, however, the biggest single year change--the district gained 432 students from 2015-16 to 2016-17, for example--nor is the enrollment in the school district dropping year over year over time.

Here's the previous ten years of district enrollment:
FY20 WPS budget, p. 410. Yes, there is a typo in the year.
To give a little more perspective on this, here's a chart that goes farther back from the FY15 budget:
Yes, I am being lazy and taking a picture of the page; it's p. 334 in the budget book.
As Jack Foley noted Thursday night when we were discussing the air quality report on Columbus Park, Worcester closed eight schools in the early 2000's. As you can see in the above chart, the district hit the lowest point in 2007-08, but has climbed back up above the levels at which the schools were closed.
So now we have over 25,000 students in eight fewer buildings.
Nelson Place was built for larger enrollment (in part due to special education), but that only takes on so much.
We were told Thursday night that about half of our schools have classrooms that are in basement spaces.
Also, there are eight classrooms of Chandler Elementary that have classes at the Main Street Y; they aren't even in the building.

And we haven't been talking about this.

On Thursday, the School Committee recommitted the Facilities Master Plan to the Finance and Operations subcommittee and asked that updating it--it only includes schools build prior to 1990, as those would be possible for MSBA renovation and rebuild--be considered as part of the upcoming budget.

We really have to talk about the lack of space, the lack of updates, the lack of funding for regular work on buildings, for our schools. New high schools are great and are needed, but a new South and a new Doherty takes care of 11% of our students.

It is also crucial that we put district enrollment changes in context. This isn't some huge drop of students; this isn't large numbers of students moving out; this is how it nets out over a large number of schools.

I will add, though, that there is one thing that raises a question in my mind, having now run the school by school changes: what happened in Head Start? Why the drop from 551 to 393?
School by school changes (from the 2019-20 and 2018-29 district profile pages) after the jump:

Friday, January 17, 2020

What happened with Worcester schools transportation last night?

Good article from Scott O'Connell this morning, but just to be clear on the School Committee items coming from the discussion:

  1. Mr. Foley sent a standing item to the Finance and Operations subcommittee (which meets at least quarterly) on busing issues.
  2. Once MyStop is running, the School Committee is to receive weekly reports on time performance (how many buses were late or didn't run, which ones had to have routes picked up by the other for lack of drivers, by Durham or WPS).
  3. I added that a simple, smartphone-friendly form be added to the transportation website for families and students to use to report late buses; and
  4. That up until MyStop is running, that THOSE weekly results be shared, including the late bus reports also filed by administrators at the schools (who I urge to keep filing those reports!).

Update: on the video of the meeting, this starts at about 26 minutes in with Mr. Foley taking up the item, the public comment, and the response of members. The ongoing issue, as he says, is that the School Committee has no idea how Worcester Public School bus service really is in the city right now. There was an rejection that this is an issue from a few members--perhaps summed up as how could we bring this up again?--but we should note that this assurance is not based on any actual data. We can't know how this is going if we don't know.
Right now the only people who know this are, to some degree, the schools, and, of course, students and families.

If you're interested in what's going on with Framingham, you can read here, here, and here. And while you're looking, you could read about Cumberland this week.
How vendors with whom we do business conduct their business is our business.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Worcester School Committee first business meeting of 2020

The agenda is here.
I'll update as I am able

There's a number of petitions coming in from Mr. Davis, which are here. Important note: public petitions are referred to subcommittee without comment from the committee (they aren't posted items, so committee deliberation would be a violation of the Open Meeting Law). This doesn't mean you're being ignored! Petitioners are informed of when the subcommittee meeting is on their items, at which deliberation actually takes place.
In this case, the petition includes a number of proposed topics for policies, and the items are being referred to Governance (chaired by Mrs. Clancey, Mr. Monfredo and I are the other two members).
Speakers speak to the school to prison pipeline, the need for anti-bias training, and greater consideration for the ways in which students, particularly those of color are treated
Petty speaks that wellness counselors is something important to be considered under the funding of the Student Opportunity Act.
Items gb 0-32 and 33 are taken out of order, as Teamsters are here to speak to them.
Mr. Foley notes that the School Committee has little idea of how the buses are actually doing at this time; the items are designed to give that information to the School Committee.
The Teamster business manager doesn't believe that the schools should be running buses, that he'd like to see "both sides" held accountable.
Ms. Biancheria objects to the comparison with Framingham, noting its relative difference in size, comments that she doesn't want to micromanage, that a bus being 15 minutes late on a single day happens due to traffic or construction sometimes.
I spoke, adding a motion, which passed, requesting a simple reporting form on the transportation page for parents and students to report buses which are late, asking that we receive that report weekly until MyStop is up and running (we're on the third contract requiring GPS reporting), and urging administrators to report late buses. I also said a lot about parent and student experience of buses. 
Administration says that MyStop should be up and running in the coming weeks; integration with Durham is what is lacking, it appears.
And the morning article on that is here

Report of the Superintendent is an update on the building of the new South High (the backup is here, but it's just photos; the report includes a video, which the Mayor asks be put up on the website). The Mayor notes that it is projected to open at about the same time as the baseball stadium.

Presentation on vaping: you can find resources here
The Mayor's question is requesting clarification of the amount of nicotine: a Juul pod is the same amount as a pack of cigarettes.

The Commissioner shared with the urban superintendents a presentation which Superintendent Binienda presents: Governor Baker's budget is released on January 22, the Commissioner will present at the superintendents' gathering the next day (Thursday).
Plans must be voted by the school committee prior to submission on April 1; the plan then is for the Worcester School Committee to have it at their last March meeting
focus on how funding will be used to reduce gaps
"commit to doing a few things well" built on district improvements
The state is attempting to require curriculum to be on CURATE in order to be approved
required that parents, community stakeholders, the special education and English learner PAC
collaboration with the community groups
"right now we've been told that no district should be talking about any type of number on this"
"they're also in the process of writing an amendment process" which I assume is due to the fact that budgets essentially are never based on the Governor's budget
targets will be calculated using 2020 as a baseline, but many of them don't exist
the thinking at this time is that there will be metrics but no targets
thus target setting would not be required in the initial plan submitted in April.

Mayor: this is probably the most important issue we'll be doing over the
three Mondays in February excluding vacation week, first week in March in four different quadrants
have we're going to operate those meetings
then come up with a report on how those meetings will be run
Foley: also doing something online to solicit feedback
critical importance of adding our parent advisory councils involved
use site councils
Monfredo: one of the groups we need to reach out to is our educators
teachers have a vested stake in our schools
Binienda: just sent out allocation dates to principals for their meetings
I'll update this with more info as we have it. Also note that the next meeting on Feb. 6 will be on budget

report on the question of consolidation of facilities city and school sides
I had some questions on this, which I'll post on.

report on Columbus Park school, which notes that the HVAC systems (outside the boiler)
Foley: we're at 80% of the deferred maintenance in our buildings (of all buildings in the city, WPS has 65%)
"we have a financial problem in investing in our schools"
remember, we closed eight schools: "our elementary schools are bursting at the seams"

We're going to have to come back to the argument over grants...I'll make a separate post...

On Miss McCullough's request for a report the last 7-10 years on the number of students in the WPS who have mastered a particular trade and succeeded in securing a position in it, we apparently only check this one year out because it is hard to find the graduated students longer.

The Mayor's item to send the rules to subcommittee (Governance) raised concerns from Biancheria and Monfredo that, in essence, we might spend less time on recognitions.

After a back and forth in which Mr. Monfredo initially made a motion to hold and then withdrew it, the Mayor's item on sex ed goes to subcommittee. This made me realize that the state is behind where it said it would be on the new standards; they should have been out for public comment by now. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Two worth reading on language learning

I'm catching up a bit on my reading that has been lingering in my inbox. Two on language learning to share:
  • This Kappan online piece around the problematic coverage of English learners points to misconceptions and misframings that often are continued by the media. Important for anyone who speaks about education and learning to read and consider in what it is we say. It is not a static group, and that matters when we speak of things.
  • U.S.A. Today is beginning Hecho en USA about Latinos, and this piece on the expansion of Spanish learning in schools that is not enough for Latinos who are Spanish-speaking, is important. I'd particularly note that as Massachusetts moves forward with expansion of dual language programs under the LOOK Act, we need to be sure that the language expansions don't particularly belong to first language English speakers, thus further perpetrating inequity

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How are we funding this proposed Foley rehab?

I just want to quickly flag this item coming in tonight from Councilor Wally (keying off the commitment made by Mayor Petty at the Doherty High building committee vote):
District 5 Councilor Matthew E. Wally is calling on the city administration to develop plans for making improvements to Duffy Field, located off Newton Square, and Foley Stadium in an effort to increase the availability of athletic fields.
At that meeting, the City Manager estimated that the two together would be $14 to $15M "that we weren't planning on" in the budget.
The funding on Foley would be spent on the Worcester Public Schools as capital spending, a line which in total last year was $4.1M ($3.6M for building rehab and $500K for capital equipment) for a district with fifty buildings, of which the oldest dates back before the Civil War.
That hasn't been nearly sufficient to meet the needs of the district.
If the city intends to do Foley in addition to other capital spending on schools, well, that's a discussion to open with the School Committee.
But watch to be sure this doesn't become this year's entire capital spending. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Charleston planning to switch bus contractors; Durham protests

You might remember that back in September, Charleston, SC was among the districts I cited that has been having ongoing issues with Durham Bus Services. Charleston had ongoing issues last year that were not resolved, continuing into this year. The main issue is very straightforward: the kids simply aren't getting to school on time.
Charleston County's contract with Durham is up at the end of this fiscal year, and the district has awarded the bid to First Student.  Durham is not happy about it:
Two days later, Durham filed an official appeal to the district’s decision, claiming that the school district “inappropriately applied” the bid’s evaluation criteria.
First Student’s five-year pricing proposal was more than $4.5 million greater than Durham’s, according to the appeal. Durham was awarded 60 points for its pricing submission, but First Student was awarded 57.87 points.
“The arbitrary and inconsequential point differential does not adequately assess the cost savings of the bid presented by (Durham),” the appeal read.
Yes, that means the district is willing to pay more money to First Student. Why?
Because the point is to get students to school on time. 

Friday, January 3, 2020

2020-21 Worcester School Committee assignments

Last night, the (newly sworn-in) Worcester School Committee unanimously voted in Jack Foley as vice-chair for the year of 2020. We also drew for seat assignments, which, if you'll forgive a literal back-of-the-envelope sketch, are like this:
This essentially the view from the gallery.
This also puts me with the reporters directly behind me, FWIW.

Mayor Petty assigns subcommittees, and he has just sent out assignments for the term this morning. They are as follows:

Finance and Operations
Jack Foley-Chair
Molly McCullough-Vice-chair
Dianna Biancheria

Governance and Employee Issues
Laura Clancey-Chair
John Monfredo-Vice-chair
Tracy Novick

School and Student Performance
Tracy Novick-Chair
Dianna Biancheria-Vice-chair
Laura Clancey

Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports
Molly McCullough-Chair
John Monfredo-Vice-chair
Jack Foley

The link, by the way, also gives the Worcester City Council assignments.
Seat assignments don't make a lot of difference, but committee assignments definitely do.