Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Board of Ed (laterblog): reopening school

Riley: review of where we've been and where we're going
"I think we grounded everything we did first and foremost on collaboration"
used health community "to ground every guidance we put out"
"this is an issue that transcends education"
have worked with group of stakeholders from what started in the spring

Board of Ed for September: budget update

 Bill Bell: spending through October ($16B)
"just reading the news" sounds like plan is to finalize budget plan by end of October
revenue hearing a week from tomorrow
"which should lend some light" to where we are
most districts using relief fund to cover extraordinary expenses
districts have a decent overall idea of their revenue from the Commonwealth this year
FY22 is the question
Craven: there's a sea of unknowns
Bell: good sign is that state was able to close FY20 without dipping into the rainy day fund
Keeps spending intact for this current fiscal year
"a lot of things happening to try to get districts the infrastructure needed" for technology

and adjourned

Board of Ed: update to regulations on learning time

 Riley: amendments adopted on an emergency basis "were very useful to us"
regulation for grading and for tracking attendance
10 day period for training
Deb Steenland (Deputy General Counsel) Public comment: some recommendations were adopted
Heard that it would be helpful to have definitions for synchronous and asynchronous
felt definition of remote learning was too broad: could allow for a remote learning plan that was only asynchronous, so updated to include "opportunities to regularly interact with teachers"
teachers and administrators regularly communicate with parents; "what about students?" so updated to include
Did not adopt changes mostly related to remote learning
heard from advocates requirements for providing accommodations for students with disabilities and English learners
the provision already covers all students; will be monitoring districts on how they're doing with these students and if their needs are being met
sympathize and understand underlying concern
concerns about tracking attendance; strengthening it such that students who cannot participate in remote learning through no fault of their own
did not change "habitually truant" as it is in law under DCF; even beyond that, "if there's an issue with attendance, we don't want to lose sight of that issue...really it's an issue with provision of services to that student, and it's a family engagement issue"
Johnston: working with DCF to be sure we're aligned around habitual truancy and how we prevent it
know information about our families before a student might be deemed habitually truant
offered workshop for districts and DCF together this summer
tip sheet for teachers on what to look for coming out
shifted document in draft document around family engagement, getting to know families, getting to know students
materials provided to districts
"don't want to put something in regulation that would oversimplify"
want absence to count, want attention given to that
"that student that's absent a lot, doesn't mean that you need to necessarily file with the Department of Children and Families"
much more nuanced than that

Hills: issue I have with this...why should the Board give up its responsibility to approve any modifications to target of hours and days?
"looking at this saying this should be a Board decision"
to just waive that doesn't strike me as something that is required or good policy
Would appreciate a consultation
Struggled a lot with how much should be in plans; would usually never say how many hours should be required for synchronous
"of course that's up to local districts, of course we don't have the ability to ram anything through"
but watching what is happening
while DESE doesn't have the ability to mandate anything "what districts should be considering" is a use of the platform
initially thought there are some changes I'd like to propose to be in here
consequences are that if it cannot be done today, the 90 days expire
"nor am I looking for superintendents to suddenly do redo plans that they did over the summer in good faith"
asks that it be put back on the agenda in November
"look if there are some more specifics we want to put in"
example of teachers only having a handful of minutes being offered
"if political leadership is failing at district levels" while Board cannot mandate, of concern

Stewart: incumbent on districts to do outreach on family engagement
Want to acknowledge the challenge that school committees have risen to
engaging with families, making plans
"tremendously challenging time"
Thank all of those people on committees for their work and time 

Morton would encourage voting in favor of what is in front of us with a 60 to 90 day review

Moriarty agrees entirely
a lot of decisions out there at the local level that I wouldn't support right now
"do want to be mindful about not overregulating the situation"
"think of a term of art legally" like truancy is of concern
"don't want fast track students into criminal court" or families into 51A

motion then is approval at the board meeting in the November

passes, as does change to regulation on collaboratives

Board of Ed: September opening remarks

 The agenda is online here

we're coming in late with someone complaining about Newton High not being opening full time and a parent from Andover complaining about schools not being open full time and in person
suspend bus guidance (or suspend requirement bussing requirement), six feet requirement for lunch, and desks facing front
claims it will not increase contagion
"refer to the neighboring states, Rhode Island and New Hampshire"

Pat McQuillan, Boston College professor, Lynch School 
speaking on behalf of other professors of history and social studies
"hoping to give you an easy thing here"

suggests using civics project as a replacement for the MCAS exam
"there are notable funding gaps across the state"
Sends most needy students to the most underfunded schools, least able to meet their needs
"takes what you've already done and starts to move forward with it"
help multilingual learners
"has real world relevance and is an opportunity to empower learners"
"I think you've got this thing knocked if you take a look at yourself"

Chair Craven: welcome to the new year
understand the angst as a parent of four children: a preschooler going in person, a son with special ed needs going four days a week (the other day "a disaster"), and two going remote
"talked to a lot of you on what we can actually do"
"each community in its own data and it's also unique in its ability to bargain with its teachers"
one thing we agree "is that the achievement gap is not going to be improved by this crisis"
"I think that the work of this year"
"can't let the work" that was being done slip
"we have a big year ahead, and again, it's going to be important that we keep going"

Commissioner with housekeeping items
STEM grants
early literacy grant
people have asked about the 21st century grant dollars: DESE applying for a waiver around how they can be used: could be used for pods
ESSER: equitable services issue from DeVos; challenged in court and won; DoE will not appeal; will have guidance going forward
MCAS: Fed has signaled not allowing a waiver for any testing, do anticipate administering
likely will be pushing back date of make-up test usually in fall to January
Hills: not difficult to predict a torrent of advocacy for cancellation in the spring
"last spring was different; we had a pandemic out of the blue"
"I think it would be horrible, terrible policy if were not going to have MCAS whatever the situation is"
"one way or another, I'd like to think that DESE will develop contingency plans" to hold the MCAS whatever the situation
"I don't know how we do our jobs" if we don't give the MCAS
would not announce any hold harmless in advance
Keep Board appraised of planning as it goes

Secretary praises DESE and Commissioner for "continuing to drive" 
"not losing sight of longer term issues"
Thank educators for doing work that is being done
doing while also juggling personal challenges that we are all balancing as a result of the pandemic
"I also want to thank those superintendents and school committees who have responded to the data in their local communities to work as hard as they can to maximize in-person learning."
and goes on about how the state data says this is many places, etc etc
looooong thanks to Governor
argues that the "resources are there"
time to "step up and get smarter about the work we are doing"
"make sure we're doing everything we can for our children"
essential that we not give up on our students

and I need to get off to talk to college students now

Peyser also notes that Moriarty has been reappointed to a second term

The Board also nominated and elected James Morton as vice chair of the Board

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Board of Ed meets Tuesday, September 29

 ...for their regular meeting, which is back in Malden, but adhering to limited capacity. You'll be able to find the livestream here

There is not a ton on this agenda.

bee on native aster flowers

The Commissioner is (of course) going to report on back to school. As this also includes another presentation from Quincy on how they did summer school in person, one can only assume that this will include yet another round of "I told the school committees that I would support their plans, but I didn't mean those plans. Or those either." As the Board was been on their summer break, and the Secretary had disappeared off the radar screen entirely until this past week, this is the first time for them to weigh in on any of this. Given what we saw back in June...I'm not particularly hopeful.

The Board is also voting to make permanent (since the time for the emergency authority is up) the change in regulations around time on learning. This was out for public comment. These are the regs that included the three plans for the fall that were due back in August; what they do not include, despite being cited in those letters the Department has been sending out to what they deem 'low risk' districts, is any mention of the Department 'auditing' district back to school plans. I wouldn't necessarily say this is overreach--I've heard it framed as 'of course we are taking an interest'--but it does use what certainly sounds threatening in questioning local judgment on safety, which is not under their purview, by using educational oversight, which is. It isn't, for example, as if they went through the plans and sent out letters to the districts that had what they thought were lousy plans, just the ones that were going not going to school in person and had town bounds not turning up red or yellow yet. 

There is also a vote on changes in regulation on collaboratives

And there will be an update on "budgetary matters."

Attached to the agenda is also the items the Commissioner dealt with under his summer delegated authority which are:

I have a 10 am meeting, so I'm going to be on and off, but I'll catch up over the course of the day as my blood pressure can take it.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

MASBO: DESE update

Rob O'Donnell:
coronavirus relief funds (102): working through applications now; have received 341 as of August 31; have reviewed about 75% of those received. If haven't heard about approval yet, chances are that it has been approved; just waiting to be set up in system to send out payments; have issued payments for 162 so far; about 80 or so working on still reviewing; 
Some are purchasing Chromebooks through the state; total is just north of $5M; using Remote Learning Essentials grant for that (state is applying those funds for it; if that isn't enough, it will come out of above); will need to reduce value of grant by value of purchase
EOYR for grants; will be needed to be added to revenue sources for FY20 report if used in FY20
There is more grant funding beyond DESE; municipal funds coming from cities and towns (also "other federal grant" line in reporting)
Might towns receive more funds before Dec. 31? Don't think they've gotten it all already; was coming in two phases

Local contribution study: collecting public comment to inform study (had intended to do public forums); open through October 16
You should comment!

Jay Sullivan: a comment was made on the regional call that municipalities (with the exception of cities that are real hot spots) have more money than they can really spend; some may not be sharing because they are hoping to use it for revenue replacement; heed advice and keep track of all COVID-19 expenses; ex: paying school nutrition workers despite building being closed; those taking leave due to COVID-19
reporting piece on grants due on October 30 to walk through what that requirement would be
Student Opportunity Act and how it relates to 
SOA was to make budget more realistic on special education and health insurance, but also to increase funding EL and low income students; phased in implementation over 7 years would be ch. 70 increase over 7 years; bulk of increase in state aid would have gone to districts with largest number of low income and English learners; also changed circuit breaker, phasing in circuit breaker, and froze circuit breaker threshhold (was 4x statewide foundation; froze at FY19 level $45793); made more expenses eligible; BUT have to reimburse instructional costs BEFORE any transportation; "I have no idea" what will be paid this year "because we don't have a budget"; will be basing what we do on level funded circuit breaker
"If SOA isn't being implemented for those districts that have high need students...then should we really be implementing the circuit breaker side?"
"If we're not giving you the medicine, should we be giving you the spoonful of sugar?"
The FY20 threshhold if NOT frozen would be raised ($21M statewide at 75%)
"we're supposed to be making payments next week" but we don't know what we're getting
not exactly sure what's going to happen with that

MASBO Fall Session: Joseph Allen

 Allen is from the Chan School of Public Health

"a lot of science to show that the building matters a lot"
ventilation related to better test taking results, better health for those in building
"over 200 scientific studies" showing link between building and student health
"something like temperature" just looking at test scores on exam days
12% more likely to fail the test on a warm day
"one of the factors it was a hot day and whether or not it was a comfortable environment"

"this is not something that is a new phenomenon"
we've underinvested for decades
"an investment in the school building is an investment in students"

you can't "just open" schools
there needs to be preparation of buildings ahead of time
building a culture of health and safety: masking, distance become the norm
"the idea of a hybrid plan never made an sense to me"
manage transition time; make lunchtime safer
rethink transportation
modify attendance

designing buildings with infectious disease in mind
overheating old buildings to force windows to be open for air exchange
"opening windows in November?" sure if it gets kids in school

most deaths related to temperature swings in shoulder swings; bodies are acclimated, buildings aren't ready
what are buildings built for? What are people accustomed to? 

start by getting a handle on what's working and what's not
what systems are working and what are on

improvements will help with other health impacts
"I know it's resources, but I think it's less about resources than about prioritization"
um...it's about resources...

...which as I've listened to this, I am realizing is a major issue in his presentation and argument: saying, as he did that kids and teachers should just put on sweaters and coats and we'll open the windows is to ignore that many of our kids don't have additional layers to come to school with (and they may not have bodies adjusted for cold, either). Utterly ignoring the impacts of poverty (and institutional racism, for that matter) both of our students and their families and of our districts means we can't have a realistic conversation about these things if we don't recognize that aspect of it.

 I do wonder how much this has to do with DESE's push to get students back in school.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Yes, we send state funding to districts that aren't in need

The Mass Business Alliance for Education along with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce today released a report about the shares of state funding that go to districts that aren't in need, presenting this as a contributing to the growing gap among districts, and one we can ill-afford during the pandemic. You can read WBUR's coverage here and State House News Service's here.

The funding streams here being discussed are hold harmless and minimum aid, the 17.5% minimum state contribution towards district foundation budgets, and below effort gap funding (which is both less of an issue and mainly ends up being progressive, so less here about that).

To take these entirely out of order: the 17.5% minimum aid I have always heard argued as "this way everyone has some skin in the game." But, here's the deal: 

...it's really tough to argue that Cambridge getting 6% of its budget from the state makes it particularly interested in how the state funds, say, Holyoke (save Cantabrigians being interested out of the goodness of their hearts, of course). And it's also hard to argue that anyone is being particularly well-served by the state being required to fund that portion of Cambridge's budget.
I'm picking on Cambridge, incidentally, because Cambridge can fund their foundation budget entirely out of local resources more than twice over. That puts Cambridge in a very rare class, but there are many districts that can fund their foundation budgets and more entirely through local resources. As the report says: 
Of these 157 municipalities, 104 can fully meet their foundation budget obligations from local revenue; the other 53 can fund between 82.5% and 100% of their foundation budget from local revenue, according to the state’s calculation
As a result of the state funding what they do, those districts simply have additional resources to spend on schools; local communities don't reduce their local funding due to the state aid.

As I have discussed when we have talked about Boston before, there are districts--add here Cambridge and Somerville--that are both well-resourced and have lots of children in need. As I note in that post, contrary to the footnote in the report, the needs of the district are included in the calculation of the foundation budget just as they are for every other district, so to calculate from that is the calculate from an equitable place. 

That's the one that's a little more straightforward, to my mind, that the other big one here, which is hold harmless and minimum aid. As I mention in the above post, there's no district that is a greater beneficiary of that than Boston (not a surprise: it's the largest district, but also not a poor one). It's also, though, what has been keeping many smaller, rural (and not as rural) districts with declining enrollment afloat. I've shared this slide from Granby before: 

That big space over the line is the amount of required spending over the foundation budget; the reason a district ends up being required to spend more than its foundation budget is if it's getting that additional money as state aid. That would be hold harmless and minimum aid. This is how we end up with districts that are required to spending 125% and such of their foundation budgets.
It's been well covered here and elsewhere, of course, that a decline in student enrollment doesn't lead to a decline in costs in any sort of a straight line. Losing, for example, ten or twenty students from across the entire enrollment doesn't mean you can cut a teaching position, let alone close a building. 
At the same time, smaller districts carry some of the same costs as larger districts do==you still need a building and custodians and a superintendent and school nutrition staff--and that can make smaller districts expensive, on a per pupil basis to run. 
There isn't a neat and tidy answer to this--and anyone who thinks there is may not realize quite how much space some of our districts in western Mass already occupy. There is, of course, the report due (do we know if any of that work is actually still happening?) that looks at rural schools as part of the Student Opportunity Act. 
I do, though, want to issue a preliminary warning to any who would argue that you can't possibly operate only on a foundation funded budget that some of us already do, which is not to say I recommend it. 

The main point here, of course is that:

  • Massachusetts prides itself on a progressive funding system for schools.
  • These are not progressive funding streams.
  • The state says it doesn't have enough funding for education (or anything) right now.
  • These are luxuries we as a state can't afford.
That doesn't mean that this would be popular. That doesn't mean it wouldn't be right. 
I should also note that this was the final of the recommendations Bruce D. Baker, Mark Weber, and Drew Atchison wrote of back in June in Kappan. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

For those who don't teach (but do)

This afternoon, some of the members of the Worcester School Committee went for a bus ride. We're in negotiations with the drivers who drive directly for the district, and they invited us to come experience riding a bus now, and several of us took them up on it.

We started at the WPS bus yard on Fremont Street (seeing some great innovations going on there; more no doubt to come on that!) and went down past City Hall, down Grove and then back up the highway. And there were discussions of masks and spacing and cleaning, which is why we were there, after all. But the talk from the drivers and monitors kept coming back to one thing:


The ones who can't sit still.

The ones who haven't had breakfast.

The ones who bounce around in their seats.

The ones who look for their driver every day.

The ones who listen to their music. 

The ones who are quiet.

The ones who aren't.

I was thinking of this as I was reading this Atlantic piece on the load that has been shouldered by school nutrition workers during the pandemic; that even as school buildings closed, they kept coming to work. And now that numbers of children being fed has fallen--which is an emergency of itself--federal reimbursements for school nutrition have fallen, as has the work, and districts are laying off nutrition staff.

There are a lot of people who work in school districts who aren't teachers. And even while our teachers are scrambling to get connected with students online, some of those people are still not going to see kids.

That matters. 

Sometimes it isn't the elementary teacher or your math teacher that makes the connection with you. Sometimes, the adult that matters to a child is the custodian (do you remember your elementary school custodian? I do!), or the librarian, or the lunch lady, or the bus driver.

Today I saw how some of them miss their kids.
I know that some of the kids miss them, too. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

All are welcome in this place

There's a hymn with lyrics by Marty Haugen that we sing sometimes at Mass for which the lyrics of the last verse (which, being Catholic, we never get to) are: 
Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

It rang through my head as I walked this Friday past the Mission Chapel on Summer Street in Worcester and took the above photo, which seemed rather a metaphor to me. 
How well are we maintaining all being welcome?

It continues to be something I question on how well we in Worcester do as a city: a city which prides itself on welcoming immigrants and numbers of languages spoken, but which too often denies there is any work to be done on inequities by race or ethnicity or language; a city of neighborhoods, where a neighborhood can be a benefit or a barrier; a city where both the shiny new buildings downtown and the shiny new ballpark going up absorb attention and resources but are and will be out of reach for many.

Are all welcome? 

The Worcester School Committee voted 6-1 again this past week to move forward with athletics, and by our code of ethics, that means I'll work to make it work, though I was the vote against it. That means asking how students are to get to practice and to events without cars, and asking if they have enough time to use public transit, and asking how this is constructed so as to make all welcome.

Are all welcome? 

As with much else, the pandemic is of course only making the inequities that already existed worse. If we are truly systems that serve all--which, as rocky as the history of public schools has been and as uneven as it continues to be, is the charge of public schools in the United States--we have to start with that question. It is much more difficult to troubleshoot and run circles to fix issues after the fact. We need to be constructing whatever it is we do from the perspective of those who might struggle the most.
Online school? How does it work for the family with no internet at home, no adult familiar with technology, no adult in the house comfortable speaking in English?
Attendance? How does it work for the family in which all adults have to be at work during the day and the children are left on their own, and no one can ensure they've logged in at particular times?
Food? How does it work if the family has no car, no one free during the day, and there isn't a safe way to walk?
Special education? How does it work for a student who can't engage through a screen? 
And on an don...

In all our decisions, what are the ways in which structural inequities create additional obstacles for some students and their families that aren't there for others?

This is not, of course, just a Worcester thing.
Too often, though, we seem to start from the child who is, at this point in Worcester, least common: we assume a white middle class kid with two parents at home who have flexibility to be at their beck and call with access to cars and food and internet and computers. 
That simply isn't most of our kids.

We need to be constructing and reconstructing our systems to serve those who most need it.
Until we do, all won't truly be welcome in this place.