Sunday, May 31, 2020

The line for policing in the Worcester Public Schools budget

I usually include this in my larger review of the budget, but I was asked about it this weekend, so I thought I'd give it a post on its own.
It's not surprisingly that this has come up, of course, particularly as measures have been filed by members of (at least) the Minneapolis and Denver school boards to remove the budget lines for police in their schools and cancel their memoranda with their departments; if you know of others, I'd be interested.

The first thing to know is that the funding for the Worcester police in the schools is actually in two places: it's first in the line item budget of the Worcester Public Schools, which is voted by the Worcester School Committee. This year, you can find that on page 193; it's part of the Supplemental Program Salaries cost center:
The most important point here is that this account has been level funded since 1993 (FY94) at $120,000.
Since that's a line in our budget, and the School Committee (unlike the City Council) can move money, yes, that money could be transferred.

That isn't, though, most of the funding for the Worcester police who are in the Worcester Public Schools. That's on page 417, where the calculation of how much the City spends on schools is; the entire page looks like this:

If you haven't been through one of these before, what's happening here is this: the City is legally obligated to spend a certain amount on schools each year (it can, of course, spend more; nearly every district does, and most spend MUCH more), and this is figuring out if the City has hit it. It has the past three fiscal years, the current year as budgeted, and the upcoming year (that's FY21).
As a side note, if you look at the bottom line, you'll see we've been dropping since FY18 in how much over the City has been spending on schools.

The City can spend money on the schools two ways: it can hand over actual money, which are the funds that are then allocated by the School Committee (which the city doesn't have any say over), OR they can spend money on the schools directly on things the City does. Worcester, for example, has a municipal water department; the water department doesn't send a bill to the school department, but instead tracks how much the water costs, and that "counts" as school spending. You can see that under line 9 above.

That's where police are, too; they're just above water: 

So for those who have asked how much Worcester spends on police in the schools, the answer for this current year was to be $120,000 + $844,421=$964,421 (I don't know if this was changed by the pandemic; it's on my list to ask) and for next year it's $120,000 + $861,309 = $981,309.
Again as a side note: If you go back across, you might note that this dropped from FY17 to FY18, dropped again for FY19, and then has been climbing again since. I don't know why; I plan to ask that, too.

Now, THIS second set of money, the Worcester School Committee does not vote. It is allocated as part of the City Council's budget process as part of their lines for each of these items (and it isn't separated out). The Council, unlike the School Committee, does NOT have reallocation authority; they cannot move money. If they wish to do something different than what is recommended to them, they have to request the City Manager make a different budget recommendation to them, he has to acquiesce and do so, and then they have to approve that allocation instead. 

If the Worcester School Committee, alone, were to move the $120,000 from our budget to a different line WITHOUT any other action, there is nothing to stop the City from simply spending (overall) the same amount on police in the schools, counting it as school spending, and cutting our actual monetary allocation by a parallel amount.
I'm not saying they would; I am observing they could.

If one wished, as I have seen suggested, to spend the above nearly a million dollars on something ELSE within the schools, the following would need to happen:
  1. The City and the schools would need to agree to end the MOU between the Worcester Police Department and the Worcester Public Schools and no longer have police in the schools. Given what it took to create the MOU, I would think this would take both elected bodies, plus the City Manager, and the Superintendent, plus the Chief.
  2. The Worcester City Council would have to request that the City Manager change his proposed budget to move $861,309 from the police department line to the Worcester schools' allocation. (Note that this would not change overall spending on schools, by the way. It would just change where it is spent.)
  3. The City Manager would have to agree and come back with a different budget proposal, which
  4. ...the City Council would have to vote to approve.
  5. The Worcester School Committee would need to vote to move the $120,000 out of line N of Supplemental Program Salaries and move it...somewhere else, like Educational Support Salaries (where the wraparound coordinators and clinicians are) or Teachers (where the adjustment councilors and psychologists are) PLUS allocate the additional funds from the City similarly.
Now, is all of that impossible? No. 

If this is something you care about, two places to start:
  • the Worcester City Council hears the Worcester Public School allocation (remember: it's a lump sum; they have no say over what is done with it, and nearly all of the funding they're spending they legally have to; the city is literally 0.17% over the mandated minimum) on Tuesday, June 2 at 4 pm.
  • the Worcester School Committee begins its budget hearing on Thursday, June 4 at 4 pm, and we're starting with a public hearing.
Both meetings are public, but remote. 
And if you have questions on any of the above, please let me know. 
OH! And if you're not in Worcester, you should know: it's very common to have the school resource officers be a municipal contribution, not a School Committee allocation, so subbing in whatever your town or city allocation process, your answer may well be similar to the above. 

Plans only work if they're funded

Okay, look: I appreciate--truly!--having the thoughtful opinions of health professionals, especially epidemiologists about what we should be doing about schools, so I read the above linked piece in today's Washington Post with interest. Daniel Halpern, who wrote the piece, is an epidemiologist and teaches UNC on global health. And he urges that schools be reopened in the fall, concluding with this:
Although some covid-19 cases regrettably may result from reopening schools, the existing evidence does not warrant inflicting potentially long-term academic, social and vocational disadvantages on millions of children.
Here's the problem: the sentence before, which is the ONLY sentence in which he comments on this, reads:
Adequate testing and evidence-based safety precautions are essential for protecting teachers and other staff.
THERE IS NO PLAN FOR THAT AND THERE IS NO ONE PUTTING FUNDING TOGETHER FOR THAT!

I'm not particularly going after Halpern for that; he's opining from his place of expertise, as he should. To put into operation what he recommends, however, requires that those of us with expertise on the other end note that as yet, what he recommends isn't being organized or funded. I tweeted this out last week:
I'm not saying this frivolously: let's just run Worcester numbers for a minute:
25,000 students plus
4500 staff
times two (masks work for four hours)
is 59,000 masks a day. Plus, these are kids, so some are going to get torn or tossed or otherwise ruined.
A DAY. For ONE school system.

And no one is paying for this, as yet, which is what is being noted by two of the superintendents of larger districts in California this week:

"Operating our schools will not be as easy as separating desks or placing pieces of tape on the floor," Beutner and Marten said in their statement. "A robust system of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing will need to be in place before we can consider reopening schools. Local health authorities, not school districts, have to lead the way on testing, contact tracing, and a clear set of protocols on how to respond to any occurrence of the virus."
The CEO of California School Boards Association has called California's state budget plan "not realistic."

Schools start their 2020-21 school year the first week of August. We need better from leaders then giving us a list, a cut budget, and sending us on our way.

And (Massachusetts note) everything I am seeing coming out of state planning on this--which also note, is only DESE--has been "all systems go! We're going to give you a plan and we'll be set!" WITHOUT ANY PLAN ON HOW TO MAKE THE FUNDING WORK.

We need not to do that. It's irresponsible.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Lest my silence be complicit

some of this overlaps with what I posted yesterday on Facebook

I don't want my wanting to say just the right thing here turn instead into silence.
I also don't want to take up more space when my words are not those that most need to be heard.

I don't think it should escape any of us that the same week that brought us Amy Cooper weaponizing white womanhood in Central Park also brought us the death of George Floyd by the hand she was trying to invoke.
White supremacy is enforced thousands of little ways, and most are not at the point of a gun.

And just as it doesn't take a gun, it doesn't take laws, either. As Clint Smith tweeted yesterday:
We make and enforce policies in schools, among other places. It's also one of the places in America were the disparities in race between who enforces polices and who is expected to follow them is particularly large.
What we have in student handbooks and district policies, what we spend time on in professional development and curriculum, and what we don't say is what matters here.

Policies are also what we spend money on in our budgets.

Friday, May 29, 2020

May Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting: later blog

Due to my own schedule and the Board going for a highly unusual afternoon meeting, I missed this week's Board of Ed. Thanks to the wonders of video, however, here is my blog of the meeting, a bit late.

Craven: values are to be as transparent as possible with the members of the public as we move forward, through this remote learning, working to improve the lives of the almost million children whose lives have been displaced 
appreciate the work of all at the Department and stakeholders working diligently towards this summer and fall with keeping kids safe
Will be letting districts know what plans are as soon as they are developed

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Creating the least bad option

The follow-up to last night's post
Let me preface this (again) by noting that I have next to no say over any of this, in any of my capacities.

And let me add (again) that I am speaking only for myself.

I fear that in the entirely legitimate concerns over what kids are losing by not being in school--food, mental health support, physical activity, along with education--we may have lost sight of the overarching concern of the time:
we are in a pandemic



As of today, more than 100,000 American people--that would be, for example, more than half the population of Worcester--have died of this disease, most of them in the past two months. That is almost certainly an undercount. And we are early in this outbreak in the U.S..

Internationally, more than 350,000 people have died. That's as if we lost all of Anaheim.
The highest risk category for coronavirus includes one-third of American teachers, as well as significant numbers of school staff.

Risks are also particularly high if you are Latinx, or Black, or Native American, or poor
Some people who don't die get very sick.
That includes children.
It also includes particular high risk categories, which also includes children.

Antibody testing, as yet, is unreliable, and we don't know yet if you can get it again.
To create herd immunity, 70-90% of a population needs to have immunity; we don't know for sure yet, but most estimates have us in the U.S. at below 10% exposure at this point.
And herd immunity alone isn't a solution

In short, we are putting the actual lives of children and school staff up against their education.
People who gather together share this disease, and then people die of this disease.
We need to not do that.

What then, are we do to?
I've heard several times lately that there is no good option: there are only bad options, and we should choose or create the least bad option possible.

To start: we need to stop and make an actual plan this time. We went flying out of schools in mid-March as if the buildings were on fire. We needed to do that, and some districts and schools managed better than others, but now we have a chance to take a breath.

We're also going to need resources, and thus, if you're reading this, here's your one ask from me: send an email to Congress and tell them we need funds for public education. Only the federal government has the resources to pull off what is needed here.

I've seen lots of citing of "Maslow before Bloom" over the course of the time we've been out: in essence, that people's basic needs of things like physical safety and enough to eat must be met before their learning needs are. It is what was recognized when the first order of business for schools was to feed kids.

And so, first: we feed kids. Right now, we're missing thousands of kids across the state: Multiply that across the country, and we have millions of kids who are missing meals.
First order of business then is do what it takes to make sure kids are fed. There are lots of models out there: deliveries are happening in some districts, some have added adult meals (without reimbursement), and the P-EBT benefit is also designed to help with that. Nationally, food insecurity is growing during the pandemic. The numbers we had for free and reduced lunch qualification in mid-March are bound to be wrong right now; we should update those numbers, as we can.
But above all: Get food to kids who need food, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever their need.

Then, we make sure they're connected, so we can make sure they're well.
We need internet connections to every kid, no matter where they are. This is now a necessity. This isn't only about schools: it's about medicine, jobs, food...you need connection to do it. Some have made the parallel with rural electrification, in it being a matter of public interest and equity to get such access. Obviously, a federal effort on that would be ideal. Lacking that, state efforts, local efforts need to be organized such that families aren't without or dependent on making a cell phone data payment for access.
I would argue that if schools require it, districts should pay for it, but if it is used beyond that, then that could be broader.
This means, by the way, that we also need to have conversations around things like bandwidth, because some families, but also some communities, are maxed out.
Likewise, no more essays on cell phones or sharing devices. We're not sharing slates or spellers in colonial times: every student has a laptop or something of its ilk to do their work on.
We also need to recognize: kids are going to socialize on these, too. That's also part of school.
We find every kid, though, and we connect every kid.

That, of course, doesn't get us too much farther forward than we are now, save fixing some of what's broken. Next we try being actively constructive.
This takes first noting that the pandemic has hit kids inequitably. There are students right now who need more support than others. This is where our taking a breath comes in: What do those students need? How do we meet those needs?

Most of our students are going to need to feel connected. It's going to be hard to have that connection, starting off a new year with new teachers and classmates. Some have suggested looping classes, having students stay with the same teacher and classmates for another year; this gives the added benefit of perhaps having the teacher coming in with an idea of where students are at as the year begins. That won't work for everyone, though, but each student should have an adult (at least one!) who is their link to the school. Some schools have homeroom teachers for this; some have mentoring groups; with buildings closed, it is possible that this could extend beyond teachers. Students need a home base, though, from which to start. This means taking stock of each student before school starts to base the year off those connections.  For the adults: those are their kids. For the kids, this is their link to the school and district.

Some students need mental health supports. Much like everything else, this is harder to even figure out when we aren't seeing students in person. Persistence in who have we heard from and who haven't we heard from is one way, particularly through their connection with the school. Some of this can be over video, but sometimes the connection may be written. Some may be over the phone. In some cases--and this isn't the only time I am going to suggest this--maybe we are finding a way to get students someone in person, but through a glass door.
This is probably going to take more staff than we have now, too, and it's not the last time I am going to make that observation, either. Student mental health needs are higher than ever during the pandemic, and if we're going to get students through this as healthy as possible, then we need to meet that need.
As a note to this: we also know that some kids aren't safe where they are, making those connections with other adults crucial. 

The pandemic has been particularly difficult for students with special needs and their families. This has been a really hard one for schools, and there is no easy answer at all. It is another one, though, where the level of staffing, and the level of connection with families, makes a huge difference. Some of this can be done via video. Some students, though, don't respond to that. How do we get students their connections with staff members? And how to we actually PARTNER with families--who, after all, are doing much of the lifting on this--to meet student needs? Can we send people to porches and windows? I know of examples of aides moving in with families (and thus becoming part of their 'pandemic pod'). Can we somehow directly support families that are most strained by this? 

We have large numbers of students whose first language isn't English and whose families may not speak English at all. First, we've got to stop sending work home to these children in English; that makes no sense! Translation programs, with all due respect to Google, aren't that strong. Here's another staffing issue: we need more people who work for districts who speak the languages that students do at home, and that can connect with families where they're at. It is difficult to do that well if we don't have people working with them and for us who can speak and listen directly.

Not everything can be done on a computer, and families need to not be trying to scramble to get students what they need for school during a pandemic. Students need school supplies: they need paper and pencils and crayons and art supplies and science kits. If students are learning at home, they need those supplies at home. For little kids in particular, learning means hands-on materials. We need to not assume that families have blocks or markers or whatever else is needed for school. 
Note that for gym class and art class and music class, that may mean something different. Nerves would probably be strained unduly if we gave every student a recorder, but music and art should be made as well as studied (it's in the standards!) and keeping students active is essential. Worcester Hearts Connected has made a start on that last, if you're looking for examples.
That last means a renewed emphasis from the state, incidentally, that outdoor time and recess time and gym time are part of school time. School time doesn't mean you've spent hours in front of a Chromebook, home or no.

One of the disparities for students is a quiet space to work. Here is the one place that I would open buildings, but with strict scheduling for those who live together and limited access and lots of cleaning. Giving students and their families, if needed, space that is quiet to work through their math or read, if that isn't possible with limited space at home is part of attempting to make up for equity gaps. 

Little kids in particular struggle to learn remotely, and for them, we should bring our student/adult ratio WAY down, and flood early elementary with people. Unemployment is up; we have everything from students talking about taking gap years to college graduates looking for work to people sidelined by the economic downturn. CORI them all, get them some training, and create a teaching assistant corps.
Note here: assistant corps. I'm under absolutely no illusions about what it takes to teach elementary school, and that can't be replicated short term (regardless of what particular national programs may have done). But what would be stations in elementary school are not something one can replicate well online. Teachers teach; assistants ensure that students are connected to the learning by getting it to them.

For all students, we always start by finding out where we are. The level of online reaction (to put it mildly) to the not-revolutionary notion that we assess kids as they come back has been...something. Teachers have always need to figure out what kids know and can do before they move forward with teaching them. That is significantly more true than it ever was before this year, as some students will have continued moving forward (and may even have leapt well ahead of what would otherwise have been intended for them), and some have slid during their time away.
I have seen some suggestions, relatedly, that moving to a mastery based system, as Cleveland is considering doing, would be a timely switch. This means each student fully learns the skill or material before moving on. As students are coming in next year in radically different places from one another--always true, but more true now!--they need to start different places. They'll take different amounts of time to get to where they need to be--also always true!--so maybe it is time to make that how this works.

And speaking of teachers and of staff: first, let's get them a break, for sure, as this spring has been exhausting. Then, let's look at their needs, too. Some of them are working from home with their own kids; how do we as districts and as schools effectively work to help teachers and staff balance their home lives while teaching? What does that look like around time and scheduling and planning? If we are going to do this for an extended period of time, we need to actively be seeking solutions to that issue.
Next, what do staff need to be able to do this work well? I've seen a BIG push on tech training, which is understandable, and in many cases, was needed. But we are also talking about a societal trauma on a scale not seen in decades. We're trying to teach students in a way that hasn't been done on this scale ever. We're watching inequities grow vastly right in front of us. We are having to reach students in their homes with their families. What does that mean both for professional development and for staff support? What do staff and teachers need to connect with students, to keep and get students engaged, to actively work to overcome inequities, and to not burn out themselves? That's work that needs to start this summer and continue through the year.
This means that cultural competency has never been more important: knowing and appreciating the strengths of families is crucial to connection.

The above doesn't, of course, solve anywhere near anything. 
It won't, of course, make up for what we're missing by not having school in person. 
As best as I can tell, though, the real push to have school in person is coming less from educators, and more from those who see schools as a way of "restarting" the economy. I'd suggest we need to consider the health and well-being of people ahead of that. 

While the above doesn't fix education, it might, though, keep schools from killing people. 

ASBO roundtable on reopening schools

ASBO (that's the national version of MASBO, thus the international organization for school business officials) roundtable on reopening schools with Mary Filardo of 21st Century Schools as staff to the National Council on School Facilities, and David Sturtz, Executive Director-Assessment Services, Cooperative Strategies
I'm just making notes on the presentation itself

Filardo: reopening plans that are safe, operational, equitable, and affordable
uniform and precise guidance for planning, operation, and maintenance for building, transportation, and school assignments
Complexity 
changing nature of planning
cost as compared to benefit
"the social distancing pieces are really complicated"
Some pieces require long planning period: need for engagement with the community, and procurement may take time

Sturtz: Schools are "intense social environments"
  • main tools of social distancing are space and time
  • improve building hygiene: air quality, cleaning & disinfecting, bathroom improvements
  • personal hygiene
planning staff, community "have to be engaged" in how these issues will play out
community trust and community confidence is "absolutely critical" to how this will play out in the 2020-21 year

capacity for buildings "in an abnormal circumstance" right now; that needs to be determined "quite quickly" to then be able to plan from there; "what would be a reasonable capacity in the room"
ten or less, for example, creates a significant reduction in capacity for face time
Feasibility of staffing at that ratio: what then are the budgetary impacts of that?
Community worries, interests, needs: "making it a dialogue" with the community, further building trust
Capital planning to meet capacity needs
Scheduling for that capacity
Redistricting of students "save that for last"
All of this assumes significant learning loss due to remote learning
the most thoughtful capacity to support safety to allow for face time
"most of them take your capacity and whack by about 60%"
need actual space (not what's on the drawings)
what's the personal space allowance? What are your fixtures? 
how much space does each student need in square footage? (44 to 100 square feet)
what if we spread out further (gyms, cafeterias, libraries) if bumping staff
What about time from 100% online to full in school? 
what are the implications of each? fewer days but longer days?
segmenting groups from groups; mitigating risk between groups fewest number of kids have to quarantine if  exposed
Bein: Facilities driven decisions alongside and interacting with community dialogue


Filardo: 
economic impact of the pandemic; states on average 45% of school funding
capital costs for reopening: HVAC systems, window repairs, portable classrooms, sensors in bathrooms, add humidity to air
When buildings reopen, let everything run (water sitting makes people ill, too!)
signage "is actually a really big deal"
outdoor environments are safer
deep clean when there are times of illness
communication is "essential"
nurse for every school on site
before and after care? and cleaning in between and added social distancing
mental health services and counseling to students
added custodial staffing and scheduling across district to allow for coverage
continued support to community feeding programs
Sturtz: important to advocate on the Hill: reopening schools "is not free"

Note: the National Council on School Facilities has been having weekly roundtables to discuss school reopening; you can find them online here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The pit in my stomach

Let me, first of all, note that I do not, in any of my capacities, have any authority over any of this.
And I am, as always here, speaking only for myself.

Let me, second, note that every time I hear from those who are making decisions, I can feel my stomach drop with the fear that they're simply going to send us back without the massive investment it would take to make that anything approaching safe.

Please make no mistake: having our kids out of school is absolutely catastrophic to their education, and, in many cases, to their physical and mental health. In some cases, this has been exponentially increased by the lack of timely response, or mismanagement, or other leadership lacks.
I'm not under any illusions on how destructive this time is to many.

I also spend a good bit of time in and around schools, and schools of different types. I know what it's like in a suburban high school at lunchtime, and what it's like at an urban elementary school at recess. I've been in the closets that pass for offices for speech therapists and myriad of other support staff, the auto bays and shops of a vocational school at work, the flood of students running for buses at the end of the day.
I've also been in a lot of bathrooms.
I don't of course know it all, but know what a lot of that looks like in schools in Massachusetts right now.

I don't know how we do it without kids touching each other and breathing on each other and their teachers. I mean that, genuinely. I have tried and tried to figure out how you'd do it.
  • How do you get the kids on and off the buses? Ok, once they're on, they sit single seat, every other seat. That's going to take...probably three times the buses, I'm guessing? We already had a bus drivers shortage, so where are those drivers coming from? And it takes months to build school buses, so where are we getting those?
    But you also need the kids to not pass each other in aisle, right? So the first ones to get on have to sit all the way in the back, and they have to be the last ones off. And when you load for the ride home, the first ones to get on, who go all the way to the back, have to be the last ones off. If you're familiar with kids, you know that this is going to be both unpopular--kids wait to be the ones for those back seats!--and hard to enforce. So do we need to staff the buses with monitors?
    And still, every single student has to go past the driver, both in and out.
    And loading and unloading in that sequence, with kids having to wait to be six feet apart, is going to take forever.

  • So then they get to school, and we get them off the bus, and they go...where? Little kids usually head to the playground, but they can't share balls or jump ropes; they can't use the playground equipment; they can't even stand together and talk to each other, right?
    And if not, usually they get sent to a gym or something, where they sit as classes. If you take the entire population of the elementary school and make them all sit six feet apart...where is that space?
    Older kids sometimes are allowed to go straight to their lockers. They can't be at their lockers when the people on either side are at their lockers, though, right? And we can't have kids passing along two lines of kids at open lockers, either. So is it sequenced? Have we arranged for every other one to go to their lockers in an order that keeps them from passing each other?

  • Somehow, we have now made it to a classroom. We've seen the photos of the kids sitting every other desk in other countries. How many kids can we have in a classroom to do that? And if it's only them, where are their classmates? Are we switching off days in and out? How did we decide who was in and out? And how does it work if some of the point is for parents to be able to go back to work with students on a 50% schedule? And what about the vocational schools that already had a half and half schedule?
    Those students who are sitting there, though, have brought us back to having students sit in rows...which we were trying not to do anymore. I taught high school English, for example, and I had students move into a circle to discuss, and move into groups to work together, and pair up to exchange ideas, and...we can't do any of that.
    No circle time on the rug, no tables in the elementary classrooms, no lab partners in science class...
    How do we do special education pull asides? Or how does an IA work with an individual student? Can we do anything other than listen in music? Where will we find space enough for art class?

  • And if you've taught or have kids, you know the reminders are going to have to be constant: 
    • Leave your mask on.
    • Don't touch him.
    • Stay in your desk.
    • Don't talk to her.
    • Back up.
    • Six feet apart.
    • ...and on and on
    • ...which just sounds absolutely miserable.
    Add to that the fact that this is enforcing policies and procedures, and our institutions, schools very much included, do so very inequitably. Which kids are going to get in the most trouble for not wearing their mask/staying six feet apart/etc? The same kids who always do: kids of color, kids who are disabled, and so forth.
    Also, how are we doing this for kids who don't speak English?

  • Bathrooms. I imagine we send kids in one at a time? Will there be warm water in every sink? Soap and paper towels (bad time for the hand dryers to spread germs)? Are we going to give each kid enough time to wash their hands as often as they should? Are we going to allow that much bathroom access?

  • How are we keeping all of this clean? Do we have sufficient custodial staff? Supplies? Are they basically constantly cleaning?

  • How are we feeding the kids lunch? I've heard that kids are eating in their classrooms to prevent overcrowding in the lunchrooms. They go get their food, I imagine? Six feet apart and then they bring it back six feet apart with no one dropping anything and then they eat that way? And then they can't pass anyone to throw anything away, so someone brings the trash around but stays far away?

And again and again and again: where is the money coming from for the buses and the drivers, for the masks and the soap and the newly repaired sinks and the cleaning supplies and the additional custodial staff and the improved ventilation systems and the signs and arrows on floors and walls and all the paper towels? Ones that work, please.

I mean this absolutely honestly: I do not see how this can work.
Second post tomorrow: Not that anyone asked me, but...


And then this came out today

National NPR loop this morning:The Pandemic Is Driving America's Schools Toward A Financial Meltdown
"I think we're about to see a school funding crisis unlike anything we have ever seen in modern history," warns Rebecca Sibilia, the CEO of EdBuild, a school finance advocacy organization. "We are looking at devastation that we could not have imagined ... a year ago."

Monday, May 25, 2020

What I'm reading about what comes next

I feel as though I behind in posting on here about what I'm reading; I'm doing better on keeping Twitter and Facebook updated on that. Here are the latest round of links I've been reading on what comes next for schools during the pandemic:
  • First, a blog post from Oakland teacher Harley Litzelman has rightfully gone viral for walking through what a school day looks like in an urban high school, and what the pandemic means for it. His conclusion is his title: "We Cannot Return to Campus This Fall"
    I’ve often heard teachers respond to suggestions on how to reopen with a common phrase: Have you ever met children? I hope this article leads you to ask the same question in response to politicians’ claims that schools could safely reopen this fall if they implement physical distancing and adequate sanitation. As a high school history teacher, let me show you what it would look like for a school to reopen in the middle (yes, in the middle) of a global pandemic.
    In particular, let me note that I know of many teachers pleading with those in authority to read it.

  • Next, I've backed off linking to EdWeek because their paywalls are rough, but the headline does a lot of the work on this one: "Too Expensive to Reopen Schools? Some Superintendents Say It Is." Note also this piece from Brookings calling for "unprecedented federal aid" for schools.
  • This coming week's edition of The New Yorker has a piece "The Complex Equation of Reopening Schools" which also looks at the challenges of reopening, and adds the equation of the inequities of the system:
    There is a risk that the reopening process will only amplify those divisions, with wealthier districts (and private schools) raising money for infrared thermometers and contract tracers, and poorer ones left to scrounge for bandannas and disinfectant wipes. Before the pandemic, public school teachers spent hundreds of dollars a year of their own money on classroom supplies; they can't just be handed a new, longer shopping list.
  • There are of course countries that run on a different calendar than ours that are sending kids back now. This Learning Policy Institute brief reviews what is being done in China, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, and Taiwan as they reopen their schools. It looks at attendance, social distancing, and hygiene and cleaning. Note that the U.K., where Prime Minister Johnson had announced that schools would reopen on June 1, is now instead having a staggered opening, with only primary schools (more or less our elementary schools) opening then in England, with Scotland and Northern Ireland not opening until August and Wales announcing no date as yet, much of that as a result of a pushback by parents and teachers. Closing note of that article from the Guardian:
    Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of schools in England, told Sky News that implementing social distancing for children as young as five “is going to be like herding cats, it’s going to be really difficult. But other schools are doing it abroad and we should be doing the same.”
  • Finally, there have started to be some attempts to model what is being lost during the pandemic of student learning; see here for one example. 
More as I have it, and if there are things you'd share, please send them along.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Good discussion in Amherst this afternoon

In case you didn't catch in, on COVID-19 K-12 Edu Impact: Policy, Equity, and Implications for a Generation of Students with Professors Michael Lovenheim (Cornell) and Katie McDermitt (UMass) and Amherst Superintendent Michael Morris.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

quick note on today's article on Worcester's FY21

That's here.
Remember, the city asked that the schools' budget be based on the Governor's budget.

...nobody thinks that's going to happen.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

How inequities continue

On this 66th anniversary of the Brown v. the Board of Education decision, might I suggest reading this op-ed about school district lines and how they perpetuate inequality?
Almost two-thirds of our district borders nationwide create local revenue disparities of at least $1,000 per pupil across an invisible line between similar school systems in the same neighborhood.
See also this series of interviews with teachers about zip codes as destiny

Friday, May 15, 2020

It's Worcester Public Schools budget day!

And it is posted online on this page; the full budget is posted here.
Isn't it pretty? 
The Worcester School Committee received the following email from Superintendent Binienda:

The FY21 Budget will be posted on the district’s website at 4:30pm today at the following link: https://worcesterschools.org/about/budget/
Due to COVID-19 workplace restrictions, the budget book will not be available from the printer until middle of next week. Once they arrive, they will be delivered to your house (and left in a safe location outside by the delivery driver).

In collaboration with the City Manager, the budget reflects the budget amounts included in the Governor’s Budget from January. The economic impact resulting from state and national mandated closures makes the 2020-21 budget highly uncertain for federal, state, and local revenues. We expect the final budget to be much different than this recommended budget when revenue estimates become better known. Some indications are that a final state budget will not be available any sooner than July or August. We continue to monitor state budget forecasts and potential federal CARES Act funds for both education and state and local governments to mitigate significant expected revenue losses.
(emphasis added)
Based on this preliminary budget:
The total general fund budget by the City Manager is $388,455,204 which represents an increase of $18.9 million, or 5.1% increase from the FY20 School Committee’s adopted budget of $369,535,330. The budget increase represents a $19.8 million increase in Chapter 70 state aid and charter school reimbursement, $1.1 million increase in city contribution, offset by a $2.0 million increase in charter school tuition, school choice and state special education assessments. Most federal grants assume level funding until actual grant awards are known, although reductions in the Federal Title 1 Grant are expected due to a decline in poverty census numbers. Also, most state grants are level-funded, except the elimination of the Extended Learning Time Grant, and phase out of both the Innovation Pathways and Inclusive Pre-School Learning Grants. The budget reflects the reduction in the Displaced Student Assistance funds from the State (non-recurring assistance funds).

This budget accomplishes the following:

  • Provides 13 teachers (two added during FY20) and 12 educational service positions to support students with disabilities (SWD) in the following areas:
  • 3 Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs) and 1 Speech and Language Pathologist Assistant (SLP-A)
  • 2 elementary special education teachers (both added during FY20)
  • 2 elementary autism program teachers
  • 1 pre-school teacher
  • 1 K-1 program teacher
  • 1 Learning Disabilities / Language-Based Program teacher
  • 2 elementary support positions at the Academic Center for Transition
  • 1 Behavior Specialist
  • 11 instructional assistants to support various programs in the district


Provides an additional 6 teachers (two added during FY20) at the middle and high school levels to address enrollment increases and course offering needs.
Included in this increase are the following:


  • 1 Foreign Language teachers for Burncoat High School to support the dual language program offerings
  • 1 Foreign Language teacher at Sullivan Middle School to support course section needs
  • 1 Mathematics teacher at Doherty High School for course enrollment needs
  • 1 History teacher at South High School for course enrollment needs
  • 1 Health and Safety teacher (added during FY20)
  • 1 Safety Center teacher (added during FY20)


Provides 7 additional teachers (1 added during FY20) to support English learners at mandated service levels based on student language proficiency. (Between FY18 through FY20 the district has provided 41 additional ESL positions to address mandated student instructional services). In addition, this budget provides two English Learner Instructional Assistants (one for Chandler Magnet School and one added in FY20 for Woodland Academy) to support the district’s dual language program.

  • Provides 3 school psychologists (one added during FY20) to support social-emotional learning of students throughout the district. 2 Guidance Counselor (added during FY20), and 1 School Adjustment Counselor (added during FY20).
  • Provides one wrap-around coordinator position to support South High Community School.
  • Provides funding ($291,000 additional funding) for a third-party student information system (including online grading and parent portal) to be purchased in 2020-21 and implemented in 2021-22 school year.
  • Increases the Day-by-Day Substitute Rate by $5 per day (from $75 to $80 per day) totaling a $63,000 cost increase, continuing the Administration’s commitment to phase-in the daily rate increase up to $85 per day by the 2021-22 school year.

The Worcester Public Schools Budget Hearing with the Worcester City Council on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 5pm. We plan to participate in the hearing virtually via the Webex remote access.

The Worcester School Committee will take this up, first with a public hearing, on June 4 and 18.
More, you won't be surprised to read, once I have a chance to review it. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

We're doing this again?!?

Cue this (which even has dancing)
I did this on Twitter this morning

Front page, top of the fold, five takeways from the Worcester City Manager's (proposed) FY21 budget includes this:
3. More than half of the city manager’s $721.8 million budget recommendation is going toward education. According to Augustus, $421.3 million has been allocated for education, representing 58.4% of the total city budget. He said that reflects the priority the City Council and his administration have put on education and the future of the city.

...I cannot believe we are back to this again...
The Worcester Public Schools proposed FY21 budget isn't out until tomorrow, but let's do some back-of-the-envelope math:

As best as I know, the city has no plans to fund the Worcester Public Schools anything (or much of anything) above foundation. We should note here in passing that this is extremely unusual--just about every district in the state funds above foundation, most well above foundation, and yes, most Gateways are several percentage points over--'though this is not my point.
Thus we can pull the state numbers for this: In Governor Baker's proposed FY21 budget, the Worcester Public School's budget is:
$398,714,407 
Of that, the city of Worcester is required to fund no less than:
$105,210,987
Leaving the state to fund: 
$293,503,420
Yes, that means that from a foundation budget perspective, the city funds a bit more than a quarter of the foundation budget.

That isn't all the budget for the schools, though, as transportation (and a few other small ticket items) aren't counted in the foundation budget. 
Last year, the transportation budget for the Worcester Public Schools was about $20.6M. We know that is going up by $1.5M. As an aside, that's a 7% increase, which is about the largest increase the budget is facing, which is due to the new contract with Durham.
That's an additional $22.1M, then, bringing the overall budget to about:
$419M
Of that, the Worcester contribution is about:
$127M
or
30%
And note that the increase over last year is about $23.1M total, of which $18M is state aid, thus 78% of the increase in the proposed budget comes from the state.

Can we knock this off already?


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

JAMA on the need for a panel on schools reopening

A note in the Journal of the American Medical Association calls for:
To help inform states and counties that are struggling to make this enormously consequential and urgent decision regarding the fall semester, an expert task force focusing exclusively on school closure should be convened immediately. This panel should include epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, educational scientists, and child psychologists, among others. They should review the state of the evidence regarding horizontal transmission among children and their families, as well as what is known about the feasibility of distance learning and the psychological implications of children continuing to stay at home. Their recommendations should be developmentally framed, taking into account children’s varying needs and cognitive abilities; kindergarten is not the same as high school or college. Using all existing and emerging data—however incomplete—they should make their best-informed recommendations to help states make this crucial decision, based on science and not politics, as soon as possible. We owe this to our children. Years from now, when they reflect on the pandemic, they will hold us accountable.

Education hearing on remote learning

Video is online here
Chairs Senator Jason Lewis and Rep. Alice Peisch at the State House (and masked); all others participating remotely
Peisch opens: oversight hearing: to inform the committee, the Legislature, the broader public
to inform work on rest of year and next
note difficulty of situation we are; "no roadmap on how to handle this"
thanks teachers, parents, and staff "who have been patiently educating Massachusetts's students" since schools closed
Lewis: thanks colleagues, invited panelists
since mid-March, "audacious experiment in remote learning"
acknowledge efforts and struggles in making change "literally overnight"
"we know it has not been easy"
daughter who is a junior has faced a variety of challenges
laptop, internet, quiet space, two parents home, speaks English as her first language
"many, if not most of our students, do not enjoy these benefits"
have an obligation to provide an education for our students, nonetheless
"we must ensure equitable access to high quality remote learning" to all students

Sunday, May 10, 2020

How Europe is reopening schools

I read this and just...we aren't doing any of this as a country, and I don't see anyone creating the systems to do so.
But teaching in the time of a pandemic comes with a host of challenges: In the high school in Neustrelitz, roughly a third of the teachers are out because they are older or at risk. Germany announced that all children would see the inside of a classroom again before the summer break after a two-week trial run in high schools. 
Germany announced that all children would see the inside of a classroom again before the summer break after a two-week trial run in high schools. 
There are not enough classrooms to allow all 1,000 students to come to class and still keep six feet apart, which means at most a third can be in school at any one time. Teachers often shuttle between classrooms, teaching two groups at once.
And Neustrelitz is testing children every four days.

Chromebooks, Worcester, and civil rights

Regarding today's T&G article from Thursday's Worcester School Committee meeting, as I've noted on Twitter:

  • A. You are reading correctly that the Worcester Public Schools are starting Chromebook distribution this Friday, two months after we left school buildings.
  • B. During that time, a single packet of material was mailed to students early on. This was followed by a second one this past week. All other material was accessible only online.
  • C. I don’t think I need to run through our Worcester stats, but our information on where our kids are at on access has been...slow to create. Beyond individual teacher and school efforts, the district didn’t push til about three weeks ago. This despite a report on access in October of last year which noted that more than a quarter of our students lack access at home (and that report didn’t differentiate how much of that access was via data on a cell phone).
  • D. As I have mentioned here and elsewhere, the lag has much less to do with the city—who it seems simply were unhappy with whatever the plans were to distribute—and much more with it simply not happening at all for weeks and weeks. Thus my example on grass clippings—and yes, Worcester *has* opened our yard waste sites—isn’t a critique of public health but is expressing my disbelief that somehow no-contact device distribution is being barred. In short: I doubt that was what was barred.
  • E. Finally, yes, access to education is a civil rights issue. Providing that access is our job. If that couldn’t be done through technology, it needed to be done otherwise. But providing it only or largely via technology without providing that technology *creates* an equity issue.
  • And PS: while my district has just made itself the example of this, this is a much bigger issue than Worcester. Running our K-12 “public” education system on Mom and Dad paying Spectrum and anteing up for a laptop isn’t our Constitutional mandate.

Friday, May 8, 2020

At my OLD school, we...(Worcester School Committee, May 7 meeting notes)

It feels only right as we complete eight weeks of not going to school and instead...whatever it is we are doing, that we open with some acknowledgement:
Magic School Bus
xkcd 911: Magic School Bus
Title text: At my OLD school, we used Microsoft Encarta 2005.

Last night's Worcester School Committee opened with an executive session that started at 5:30, went to public session around 6:45 which lasted until 9:45, and then continued in executive session until 11.
That's a five and a half hour meeting. 
At administrative request, we took the request to purchase new geography texts out of order (it was late on the agenda). I think it's important to note here that general process is that new texts are sent to Teaching, Learning, and Student Support for vetting before coming back to the full Committee for approval. Curricular approval remains with the Committee in Massachusetts. The administration argued that the item needed to go through now so teachers could receive training in the new texts (which, to be frank, doesn't make a lot of sense to me); I believe there probably also is a budgetary issue here with when things need to be ordered in order to clear the fiscal year. The issues I have with this, and thus why I voted against this, are two-fold: poor time management on the part of administration shouldn't be a regular reason to circumvent process (and it seems to be a habit); and second, why are we buying geography textbooks? Had this gone to subcommittee, processwise, I would have asked that there, but this didn't give time or space for such a discussion.
In any event, it passed 6-1.

We next moved into something we haven't done before, done at student request: we had our student reps and some of those on the Superintendent's student advisory council meet with us. I have put my notes from that section over here. Mayor Petty closed by saying we'll do this again soon; I personally hope they plan to attend our budget hearing (which should be at our next meeting?).

We then had a series of teachers and staff testify about their experiences with remote learning. Let me just note here that the School Committee has been receiving a constant stream of messages from teachers about their working conditions around remote learning, particularly when it comes to the tracking that is being required, the communication, and consistency across the district. The testimony offered last night was of a piece with that, as Scott O'Connell covered in the Telegram & Gazette today. We're actually in negotiations right now--thus the lengthy executive sessions--so I won't say more than that, other than to encourage those concerned to keep contacting us.

The response to Mrs. Clancey's item on special education meetings came in at about 1:25, so for families to which that is of interest, you might pick up there in the video. While there are IEP meetings being scheduled during the school shutdown, they're being triaged, with students in transition (particularly those aging out of the public schools) going first.

The response of administration to a request for clarification on the source of work gave as backup the state's April 24 guidance as well as both the elementary and secondary standards for what is needed for the next grade (I have that all saved here, if that's useful.) That, not surprisingly, led to a fairly lengthy discussion (starts about 1:27) around remote learning in the district at this time. A few things that were repeatedly brought up by more than one of us: 
  • There continues to be a massive gap around access. The district isn't, for example, giving out Chromebooks to any students beyond the handful that have gone to special education and homeless students for another week, despite our being eight weeks into this, and despite more districts that I can name coming up with little to no contact ways of having given out literally thousands of devices across the state. We also have done nothing on access beyond pointing students to Spectrum offers and free hotspots. At the same time, the district has mailed out one paper packet of work over the preceding seven weeks; the work has been pushed out online. . "We have failed our students...We could have found a way to get these Chromebooks into the hands of these kids much faster," is what Mr. Foley said, and I agree.
    As I noted, the response we repeatedly got from administration was that the city said no. However, the city has also provided for (these are my examples) me to be able to eat a hamburger from the Fix, a pizza from Blue Jeans, a McFlurry via a drive-thru, and buy a plant for my mother for Mother's day; plus this week we're opening up the yard waste site. It has to have to do with how administration was describing what was going to happen in pick-up or drop-off of Chromebooks, as otherwise, this doesn't make sense in terms of the health guidance the city has been given.
    To his credit, Mayor Petty said that he'd work with the city to come up with a way to get it done sooner.
    Superintendent Binienda then said it would not be possible for the district organize sooner.
  • Even for those with access, we aren't being thoughtful on use. We have been told that schools will be requiring (!) attendance for particular classes at particular times starting next week. As Ms. McCullough noted, this presents a very big problem for families with multiple children. If you have one device, who gets it if the times overlap (which they well might, if you have students at multiple schools)? And how much bandwidth does your family have? You aren't--I speak here from personal experience, as a parent who has had a college student home doing courses online--going to have enough. Both are why districts are specifically advised against having synchronous lessons online (check page 12 of the state guidance linked above). They create an equity issue.
As a side note, we still have an outstanding item to schedule a town hall, which I know we'll be following up on.

Miss Biancheria noted that the High School Voter Registration and Pre-Registration Grant that we were being asked to vote to accept need to have half of it used by June, which seems complicated with school not meeting. The administration plans to have this organized online.

Miss Biancheria also had filed an item requesting additional information about the acquisition of the property adjoining Roosevelt Elementary for traffic flow.

There were also a series of items that went to administration regarding, in essence, school being closed:

  • Request that the Administration provide a report with a breakdown by high school for seniors regarding reimbursements for all trips, events, graduations and any other costs. In addition, provide an additional report for all student events and trips that have been paid for and need to be reimbursed. This, because we've gotten some uneven reports over if seniors are getting funds paid to schools for senior activities that are not happening refunded to them. Ms. McCullough expanded this item to include all students in the report.
  • To forward a letter to Congressman McGovern to support the Emergency Education Connection Act of 2020 to ensure that K-12 students can be connected and continue online learning and instruction.
  • Request that the Administration provide a report on the district’s plan to enhance extended learning for the remainder of the school year that will ensure students are meeting the standards and are ready for the next grade level. 
  • Request that the Administration report on the number of seniors eligible for the modified competency determination as passed by the Massachusetts Board of Education on April 28 and the process through which their application for competency will be submitted. This is the MCAS thing.
  • Request that the Administration consider the number of Worcester Public Schools’ students in a family in the distribution of district Chromebooks. This is happening, but the second and third rounds of Chromebooks won't go out until the week of May 25 for elementary and middle and the week of June 8 for high school, with the ultimate goal of every district family being 2-1 on Chromebooks. That's at 2:14 on the video, if you'd like to hear that. The Mayor has also put together a group to be working on internet connections. 
  • To clarify the structure of the feedback rubric vis-à-vis district assigned work versus extended work. We have had students being told they can't get a 4 unless they do, in essence, extra work. This item led to the Superintendent clarifying that no points can have been earned toward final grades so far; that is only to be going forward. Students who do not have online access are to take photos with their phones and email them to teachers; failing that, teachers will be calling.
  • To create and administer a survey for students, families, and staff regarding current remote learning, to inform Phase III remote learning planning and work. We sent this to Governance, which meets this Wednesday.
  • To clarify the district’s directive requiring the recording of teacher-student interactions. This has come up a LOT in discussions with teachers. That starts about about 2:38, but takes a substantial sidetrack around recording online interactions, but the crux of documenting interactions starts more like 2:47. 
Our next meeting is May 21, which should include a public budget hearing. 

Notes from Worcester students on remote learning

screen capture from last night's meeting

As was noted in today's T&G, at last night's Worcester School Committee meeting, we met with some of our students. This starts about 14 minutes in on the video, and if it's of interest, you might take a look. I took some notes on the responses to the questions:
  • Will courses next year be scaffolded to take into account what students may have missed this spring? Yes, as the understanding is that most students will be moving forward into the next grade.
  • Does the 1-4 additional points available for students to add to their final grade in the fourth quarter also apply to AP courses? Yes, it does.
  • How does the secondary option of off-campus PE work for fourth quarter? Students are taking it pass/fail. 
  • Students will be scheduled to come get their belongings from their lockers during the second week of June. AP students needing access to their work before then (for example, AP studio art students) should contact their principals.
  • We don't yet know if the beginning of next year's school will be modified.
  • How are life skills students receiving instruction? Packets and phone calls from teachers
  • How are students who don't have Chromebooks and/or access taking AP exams? The College Board is sending out Chromebooks and the district (!) is sending out hotspots.
  • Seniors who paid for AP tests will get their refund with their diplomas. Others will receive them in the mail. 
  • On graduation: Josten's is handling video. All seniors are being mailed caps and gowns, paid for by the district. The graduations will be streamed online. Pickup for diplomas will be arranged by school. 
  • Is there any plan by the state to adjust MCAS score metrics due to the loss of instructional time this year? Good question. They haven't said yet (I don't think they're anywhere near deciding yet.Likewise, how can AP scores from this year be compared to any other year? We don't know yet (and the colleges aren't saying that they will).
  • How does this all impact next year's budget? We don't know yet. Mr. Allen's exact words were "we're eager to see what the state and the city are going to do; stay tuned."
I asked students what we should know about remote learning. Some of what was said:
  • As students are learning something, teachers can't and don't respond immediately, often, which is difficult. There is lack of communication between some teachers and students. 
  • Students are getting multiple assignments from multiple sources at all kinds of different times. 
  • Some students are providing childcare for younger siblings during the day and don't have time for their work.
  • Many families have multiple children sharing a single Chromebook or even phone for work. 

Quick note on the FY21 City of Worcester budget


We'd heard this was what was being done already, but I think it bears repeating:
“What we did was take the governor’s numbers that came out before this (COVID-19 pandemic) and we used those as the baseline with the understanding that there’s a good likelihood they’re going to go down,” he added.
That's City Manager Ed Augustus being quoted in this Telegram & Gazette article by Nick Kotsopoulos, who also (thank you) notes that the vast majority of this year's projected FY21 budget increase is Chapter 70 aid...and as I am going to keep repeating, state aid is more volatile than local revenue.
The city budget, incidentally, is online here, and the schools page is here.

The proposed Worcester Public Schools FY21 budget is out next Friday, May 15.

Have you been reading...

#31DaysofIBPOC? 31 blog posts from Indigenous, Black, people of color in and around education which you can read about here.

It starts here, and you can follow the thread of blog posts from one to another. I particularly encourage you, if you're a white woman in education, to read yesterday's post from Lorena Germán:
I remember in tenth grade when my PE teacher was looking to argue with me because I had testified before the city’s school committee. She figured instigating a fight was the excuse she needed to get me suspended. I knew she’d have administrative support, so I didn’t let her win. She’d make sarcastic critiques about my testimony when I asked to use the restroom, when I wanted to take a break, if I was talking to a peer. Literally, any chance and she stepped right in. 

She didn’t appreciate what I was saying at these meetings because it revealed that the teachers (in general) were not there for us. How could they have never mentioned that many of our bathroom stalls were missing doors? How could they have never mentioned that sometimes the heaters didn’t work and we sat in class with coats, hats, and gloves on (for those who had them) trying to complete class work? How could they not say that the only bathroom in the gym area for physically disabled students also had no stall? How could they have missed that, if they were indeed “for the children?”

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Three to read


  • This, today, from WGBH on the inequities among districts in access to remote learning across Massachusetts, particularly among urban districts
  • This from NPR on remote learning not necessarily going away anytime soon
  • And this from a panel of Latino superintendents across the country about not going back to normal

Schools, the budget, and why we have education, anyway, with Progressive Mass

Last night, I talked with Jonathan Cohn of Progressive Mass about the budget, schools, and why we have education, anyway.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Two quick notes on Massachusetts school funding

First, both from this piece quoting Senate President Spilka and elsewhere, it seems as though we're going to get through FY20 unscathed in terms of local aid and Chapter 70. That would mean that there seems to be a general sense we can get through to the end of June without what are known as 9C cuts, at least to those accounts.
Not so much for FY21, which begins in July, however.

On the CARES Act, the state's application for K-12 funding was approved Monday; district applications should be available by the end of the week or early next week. The rough calculation on this is expect 80% of whatever the FY20 allocation for your district for Title I in FY20 (Worcester folks, that's 80% of $11.7M=$9.36M). These funds can be used for about anything you'd be able to spend money on under a Title program, and they can be used through September 2022.

There are two HOWEVERs on this, though:

  • Title I is expected to be down statewide, both because federal aid mostly isn't going up and because our statewide census for Title I is down (and I don't entirely understand that part myself, so I have asked about it). How much is going to depend on your district, but if the overall state number is down, that's...a problem. (Worcester, the local estimate is down 10%. You will note that the CARES funding is less than that.)
  • PLUS, it has been observed that under ARRA (remember that federal aid in the Obama administration during the economic downturn?), the Legislature backfilled Chapter 70 aid with the federal aid. In other words, your Chapter 70 aid got cut, and they filled the cut with the federal aid. We do not yet know if this is what will happen, but it is a thing that has happened before.
In other words: CARES Act is NOT "go have some fun" money.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

About the state's remote learning guidance

Yes, I'm way behind on things like this...sigh
I finally had a chance to review the state's new guidance on remote learning which came out on April 24. While the guidance is directed at school leadership, it isn't (I think) particularly removed, so it's worth a read if this is of interest.
From our home chalkboard after Governor Baker's announcement
As noted at the Board of Ed meeting last week, the Commissioner has been conceiving of this in four phases: Phase I was responding to the crisis of closing the buildings and getting students fed, Phase II was the response to being closed til May 4, and this guidance is for Phase III, being closed to the end of the school year. Phase IV will be work around reopening. The intent was for districts to be moving to Phase III in "early May," which would be...now?
The Commissioner's opening letter says that this third phase focuses on two areas:
  • further defining the recommended elements of a quality remote learning program, including focus on teaching the content standards most critical for student success in the next grade level
  • encouraging districts to move all students towards successful engagement in remote learning, with a focus on addressing fundamental needs
Okay, maybe some of this is a little lingo-y...the first is basically "what do you need to know and be able do to go on to the next grade?" and the second is "are kids actually being met and are their needs being met?" The "what do you need to know" lists are here for elementary and for secondary, if you're interested.

DESE plans to conduct surveys and interviews to "listen and learn" in the coming weeks, plus share best practices and professional development, issue updated family guidance, and build out their website with resources (That's a completely revamped front page).
They also (in a section puzzlingly called "continuing to address students' and families' technology needs" which I don't think has been done at all) will be working "to identify the most efficient and effective plan to make technology available" to families across the Commonwealth. This--and yes, as a member of the Worcester School Committee, I am well aware of my glass house on this one--isn't, as far as I know, something DESE has been particularly involved in, beyond, perhaps, having had something to do with the additional hot spots that went out to towns two weeks ago.

DESE notes that their initial guidance called for "meaningful and productive learning" for about half a school day, repeating that such time isn't going to be all direct instruction. They also further note that what it looks like will vary by age, individual and family need, access, and "critical wellness and readiness factors."
In terms of grading, the department continues to advocate to promote students, and says "[s]pecific high school guidance on grading and graduation will be forthcoming." Two things on this:

  1. Not actually under DESE's purview (like AT ALL)
  2. It's May. It's a little late. 

And so on to the guidance.
The state notes that this experience involves families to an unprecedented degree; I do wish that we were spending more of our attention on this. When the state issues guidance for education right now, and when a district sends out its plan, it has an impact on families far beyond what any K-12 decision usually does. My sense is that some districts are doing well on establishing a feedback loop on what's working and what's not, but thinking of families as to whatever degree possible co-workers in this would be, I think, valuable.

It's right there in bold:
Equity needs to be a top consideration in local planning efforts, especially as districts and schools make plans to manage an extended closure.
Something that I think is crucial to recognize in all of this is that the students who left our classrooms in mid-March are not the same students that are being reached now: we don't know who has lost relatives, whose parents have lost jobs, who is living with family tensions of new levels, and so on. What might have looked like equity--whether or not it was--in mid-March may not be equity now.

Someone, at some point, needs to write the piece that points out that our K-12 public education system right now is running largely on the ability of families to have spend a few hundred dollars on a Chromebook per child and to keep up with their internet bills.
No Chromebook? No wifi? No education.
Yes, there are exceptions (either through school provided devices and wifi or through paper packets), but they are very much exceptions.
I have yet to see this be written about, let alone managed around, in any real way. Access to public education depends now more than it has in some time on individual (not even local community) resources.
And that's just wrong.

Maintaining connections is what is most important "particularly for the most vulnerable members of our school communities." That brings me back to this post I shared earlier this week, because we must be incredibly mindful in our planning of check-ins that this is done in a way that communicates real concern, not in a way that is another checkbox, let alone one that puts people in further turmoil. Teachers who fear to express how difficult a time they are having, lest there be professional repercussions; parents who are concerned they'll be reported if they speak of their difficulties; students who are worried they'll get in trouble if they note how hard it is...all of these are things I've had shared with me these past weeks. As organizations, we are, to some degree, depending here on relationships already forged in past times. If those relationships lacked trust, these times of remoteness may well make them worse, and expressions of concern and inquiries about well-being can have the opposite effect.

In strengthening--which itself is interesting framing?--remote learning, DESE recommends districts:

  1. prioritize meaningful connections with educators and peers
    These should be "woven throughout core instruction and enrichment opportunities." In other words: BE IN TOUCH WITH YOUR KIDS. I note that all of the examples given involve online access.
  2. providing engaging (important word!) core instruction focused on the prerequisite standards that are most critical of student success for the next grade.
    This is the "are they going to be ready for next year?" bit. Engagement per the guidance is "more important than ever." Also, districts are to offer a "manageable number of lessons and assignments."
  3. offer opportunities for enrichment, exercise, and play.
    I have yet--and I may just not have seen it--seen "play" put forward anywhere as a priority. Can we embrace this chance?
  4. ensure programming is accessible and secure and communication streamlined for students and their families.Give weekly doses of assignments, send ONE email of the assignments and meeting times, provide a weekly checklist, be clear on what is required and what is optional, and align communication, and STREAMLINE. To which I would add "make it accessible and user-friendly."
    Also, it is recommended districts NOT have synchronous lessons, speaking of equity.

For students not engaged, DESE recommends that information be collected, and then that the district provide supports for meeting the student's needs to become engaged. Further along, they note that this isn't necessarily going to be easy, and that it may also be outside the ability of the district: students may lack devices, they may lack wifi, they may be watching younger siblings, they may lack a home...some of this is bigger than us.
There is also a LOT here about not replicating effort: evaluating who has relationships with students, and thinking of outreach beyond the classroom teacher, but NOT having every single (for example) secondary teacher tracking every single student: "split up responsibility" is how the guidance puts it.
And then: 
Collecting data is essential; however, the most important thing is how districts and schools respond to this information.
Considering, for example, WHY students are not engaging and then HOW the district meets that challenge is essential (rather than something to be dismissed). Later on, the guidance discusses this in terms of  tiered instructional support: tier 1, 2, and 3 needs. If a fifth of your students lack online access, that's a tier 1 need, and your district needs to be planning around that, and likewise with whatever the need is.

Note that there are appendices giving some back-up resources.
And so the baton is passed again to the districts, who should, we hope, be taking this chance to consider again what is working and what is not and who is not being reached and why.