Friday, October 30, 2020

On this, the 285th anniversary of the birth of John Adams

 ...and the Friday before the national election...

...and the year SOA was to be implemented and hasn't been so far...

A passage (I added paragraph breaks) from A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, 1765, which Adams wrote in response to the Stamp Acts:

It is true, there has been among us a party for some years, consisting chiefly not of the descendants of the first settlers of this country, but of high churchmen and high statesmen imported since, who affect to censure this provision for the education of our youth as a needless expense, and an imposition upon the rich in favor of the poor, and as an institution productive of idleness and vain speculation among the people, whose time and attention, it is said, ought to be devoted to labor, and not to public affairs, or to examination into the conduct of their superiors. And certain officers of the crown, and certain other missionaries of ignorance, foppery, servility, and slavery, have been most inclined to countenance and increase the same party. 
Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood. 
And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. 
Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees. 
And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Three to read on school reopening

 I am finding this year that I rarely have time to sit down and write. Here are three to read on school reopening:

  • "Why reopening schools has become the most fraught debate of the pandemic" by Rachel Cohen in The American Prospect walks through what we do and don't know, walking through the studies that keep being oversimplied and some of what isn't being discussed. One of the best things I've read on this.
  • A note from Chalkbeat New York City by Reema Amin on parents of color by majority choosing not to send their children back to school buildings, even as they are more dissatisfied than white parents with remote schooling, and some thinking on why that's applicable far beyond NYC
  • An opinion piece by Melinda Anderson in The New York Times on the racism that Black and brown students are not having to deal with by not being in school buildings. It opens: 
    “You’re out of your mind if you think I’m ever going back to school.” 
    Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, a Black mother of two who lives in Florham Park, N.J., initially laughed off the pronouncement her 13-year-old made in March after the Covid-19 pandemic closed the state’s schools. But it became clear that her daughter, Saige, was serious. So Ms. Aryee-Price started to revisit the things she’d heard her daughter say in response to her daily “How was school?” queries. 
    “Whether it was other students saying that she’s too loud, or people saying she has anger-management issues, it was always something,” Ms. Aryee-Price said, describing the subtle bigotry that Saige experienced but was unable to articulate and name.
You can, of course, contrast the above with the remarks of the Commissioner, the Secretary, and Governor Baker yesterday, as covered here, here, here, and here

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Joint Committee on Education Informational Oversight Hearing

 You can find the livestream here; note that testimony today is by invitation, though anyone is welcome to send in written testimony to the co-chairs at and

updating as we go

Conditions of education in the Commonwealth

The Joint Committee on Education is holding a public hearing on conditions of education in Commonwealth this morning. They're accepting public testimony through Friday (email it to and who are the co-chairs). I don't know yet if I will submit this as public testimony--it may be the weather or late October, but I'm feeling rather like I'm screaming into a void lately--but I did want to write a few things down from where I sit on the condition of public education in the Commonwealth.

I think it's important to note, first, that kids are learning. They're learning in school buildings, they're learning at home, they're learning at alternative sites outside of either of those. The public education system in Massachusetts is actually functioning. I think we're seeing coverage that too often suggests otherwise.
Second, it's been interesting to me how much the idea of "education" is for many--including some adults in some pretty important positions!--really closely tied to other things like large brick buildings and yellow school buses and sitting at desks and so forth. There's a lot talk of "back to school" and "reopening" that is really about having buildings that are schools have children in them, regardless of what else might or might not be happening. I think that has a lot more to do with the adults involved than it does what constitutes education.
There has been lots (and lots and lots) of coverage of what students are losing by not being in school. I have, please note, no general argument of the losses that are happening particularly for special education students who learn best (or at all) face to face; for the youngest students; for students who find their connections at school; for students who are missing an atmosphere that is better for focusing than the one they are in; and so forth.
But I also really want to call out the substantial gap between that, and the general push I see to get kids back into buildings (too often termed "back to learning") from those who frequently talk a great deal about the achievement gap and kids who are poor and kids who are brown.
And very very frequently they are talking about kids who are pretty far removed from their own experiences, and in a lot of cases, are talking over and around the families of those same children. I including much of our state K-12 education leadership--at least those who have spoken publicly--in that group.
It really feels as though we've never recovered in state educational leadership from mid-March, when the state's directive to schools was to keep closing for a few days and cleaning and reopening, and the superintendents over a weekend shut the entire state public school system down. I would have hoped that this would have made at least the Commissioner think that clearly he's missing something, and really sit down the superintendents and district leadership and LISTEN. Instead, he effectively has doubled down in issuing directives, often late, frequently out of line with what much of the science around the illness has been, and lately has resorted to issuing threats for those who don't follow.
Meanwhile, I'd be remiss in not noting the good work being done by sections of the Department, quietly have weekly calls with districts on grants and funding and special education, getting P-EBT sorted for families, and otherwise directly offering support.
That hasn't been leadership's message, however.

There is a major, major gap in the level of comfort that families have with sending their children back into school buildings, and it falls pretty heavily along racial lines. Taking that and adding it to the consistent lack of mention, let alone actual policy, from the Governor about the shocking disparities in impact of the coronavirus by race and ethnicity, and we have a massive looming blind spot in how we're coping with the pandemic as a state.
That's the kind of blind spot that gets people killed. Not speaking of the disparities in the impact of the illness by race and ethnicity and then applying that to systems that work with people is, frankly, not doing your job if you're in public policy right now. 
And I'd note that it is many of these same communities that are most hit by the state's failure to implement the Student Opportunity Act this fall. And that overlap isn't a coincidence. 
We have co-equal branches of government in Massachusetts, and if the executive branch isn't doing what is necessary to keep people safe and provided for, I would hope that the other branches would.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

"I thought we should be the envy of the world with our public schools."

 In 2005, when A Man Without a Country was published, author Kurt Vonnegut was interviewed by David Brancaccio on PBS. In the course of the interview, he said the following: 
...these people don't know anything about anything. They're incompetent. And, so, yes, they are getting a lot of our guys killed. But, also, they've emptied our treasuries. You know, we can't fix our roads. We can't fix the schools. 
It's my dream of America with great public schools. I thought we should be the envy of the world with our public schools. And I went to such a public school. So I knew that such a school was possible. Shortridge High School in Indianapolis. Produced not only me, but the head writer on the I LOVE LUCY show. 
And, my God, we had a daily paper. We had a debating team. Had a fencing team. We had a chorus, a jazz band, a serious orchestra. And all this with a Great Depression going on. And I wanted everybody to have such a school. And, yeah, we could afford it if we didn't spend all the money on weaponry.

The full interview, incidentally, is here, and is well worth reading. 

Vonnegut graduated from high school in 1940. As he notes, he was attending school during the 1930's...the Great Depression. 
What did we do in the Great Depression?

We built buildings like this:

Vernon Hill Elementary
(Providence Street Junior High)
Built 1931

We ran three sessions a day at Commerce High School, ensuring that people who might not have a job were getting education and further training for when jobs were available again.

High school dropout rates dropped.

Enrollment in public education rose. 

While there were initial cuts, by the middle of the decade, the argument that public education was a center value of the country, and one that needed to be supported, had won out.

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means meets tomorrow. I wish I knew what words would convince those in charge of making decisions that the last thing one should do during the economic downturn from a worldwide pandemic is underfund public education.
Needs are rising, not dropping.
And the Governor's budget does not keep the commitment to our kids.
In the middle of a storm, you protect what is most vulnerable. At least you're supposed to. 

I would like us, too, to be the envy of the world with our public schools. 

October Board of Ed: budget

 Bell: "a lot of things happening, but not a lot of closure"
Governor has refiled a budget
"made an affirmative statement in his budget proposal"
have seen legislative leaders that they hope to finalize something next month
Chapter 70 and local aid
wait to see if there's any further federal action
 "a lot of things happening, but not a lot of closure"
remains to be seen
"whole network of folks" supporting districts 
big question is how does this roll forward into '22
working with administration over next months over deadline and timelines

October Board of Ed: update on learning and Commissioner's goals

 Riley: shift from guidance to "more of a support and monitoring position here in the Department"
support districts under cyberattack
Chromebooks shipping
particularly Rob Leshin on food services
Bill Bell on navigating federal dollars
teaching and learning "standing up resources to use"
"also monitoring districts"
Letters to selected districts earlier this fall, concerned "particularly their misalignment with the metrics and the data"
pleased that most districts are either cleared or pending review
two districts that DESE review teams needs more information from
spoiler alert: they're Watertown and East Longmeadow

"other factors as well" will be monitored by the Department
and there's a slide 
in the following areas:
Learning model, learning time, academics, family communication, special student populations all being reviewed  for possible "audits to monitor access to quality instruction" during the school year

districts that are concerned that they have a college, prison, or nursing home
"hoping that when the new metric [from DPH] comes out, it will take that into account"
"have to think about that we have not seen robust transmission in our schools"
"have seen we're able to move on with instruction"
"as we've able to think about that, more letters from DESE will be coming out"
"using the best science and data going forward"

Several members had to leave, so they rushed straight to the next part:
Goals for this year: COVID response; supporting families and students; evidence based policy and practices to strengthen teaching and learning; deepen teaching and learning; strategic planning inside the Department
passed without much discussion

October Board of Ed: STEM week

 and Uxbridge High is talking about their innovation program
high school is grades 8-12
and it's nice!

October Board of Ed: Language Interpretative project

backup is here 
Lauren Woo: establishing ongoing two way communication with families
21 districts selected to participate: 










Springfield Empowerment Zone




Fall River





New Bedford





October Board of Ed: opening comments

 The agenda is online here; the livestream can be found from here.

Among the public comments today is expected to be some from an equity coalition on vocational school admission

updating as we go; sound is very very weak today

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A plea from Worcester

 sent this evening to the members of the Worcester delegation to the state legislature

Dear Senators and Representatives,

In my capacity as a Worcester resident, parent, and school committee member, I have started probably half a dozen emails to you since the spring, not sending any of them as it has all seemed too complicated and exhausting to fight through. Two things, though, have happened in the past 24 hours that have made me determined to get something to you, finally, this time.

Last night, Commissioner Riley sent out his weekly update. In it, he issued updated guidance for brass and wind instruments, which reads as follows:
The Department has updated its Guidance for Courses Requiring Additional Safety Considerations for Fall 2020. When in-person school is occurring, wind and brass instruments may be used indoors or outdoors with 10 feet of distance between individuals. Masks, including instrument masks that have a slit for the instrument, and the use of bell covers are encouraged if possible. Spit valves should be emptied onto a disposable, absorbent pad rather than the floor so that contents can be contained. 
I am the mother of a brass instrumentalist, and so am familiar with what playing such an instrument entails. For the Commissioner to suggest that students can play such instruments indoors with instrument masks and bell covers only "if possible" and with no mention of ventilation during this pandemic that we know to be airborne is beyond irresponsible. This is, though, of a piece with guidance that urged only three feet of distancing in classrooms, that set no limits on students in rooms, that made no distinction among students of various ages (and susceptibility to contagion), that elevated individual town data as determinative, and that has, over and again, ignored that there are adults in our buildings. While we have known for weeks (longer, I'd argue) that this disease is airborne, the Department still has not issued any updates addressing that danger.
From where I sit in Worcester, that is negligence. 

Today, Governor Baker filed his FY21 budget with you. While I had hoped for better than the inflation-only increase that was passed in July, I to some degree was also resigned to it. However, to hear the Governor repeat the deceptive framing posed by Secretary Peyser yesterday, that the funding to schools this year surpasses that laid out by the Student Opportunity Act, is infuriating. I have had reason to wonder if the Governor has any understanding of the school funding formula before this, but this statement has confirmed that he either does not or chooses willfully to ignore the principle upon which it is based.
Pandemic funding is precisely that: it is funding for an EMERGENCY. To have that funding then touted as filling the gaping hole in our basic needs is simply wrong; having to spend money to repair my car does not take away my need for gas money. 
Moreover, the funding for the pandemic has been flat: it is distributed regardless of student need, regardless of community need. Every student in every district, whatever its wealth, received that emergency funding. The state's funding formula, on quite the other hand, is progressive: it recognizes that greater need requires greater resources to meet. 
I would argue, in fact, that the pandemic funding, while I do not begrudge it to anyone, has furthered inequity, by allowing additional resources where basic needs have already been met, which then are allocated over and above that. This shouldn't surprise us, as flat funding often does this, as those who study school finance have told us long since.
In fact, such researchers were sounding the alarm on non-progressive use of state resources as far back as April. Far from being warned by this, Governor Baker has barreled us into just that situation.  
To this point, I attach here my testimony, submitted yesterday to the Department, regarding local contribution for education. While it addresses that in particular, you may also find it informative regarding the current year's budget in your coming deliberations. 
School districts across Massachusetts have had an ongoing case of whiplash from the guidance from the Department, with it frequently coming too late, conflicting with other health guidance or best practice, or contradicting what we know to be safe for our students and staff. Compounding this has been a budget that not only does not meet our needs but is touted as going above and beyond. 
I would urge you to do what you can in implementing progressive budgeting funding, which this is not, but whatever you do, I would ask that you please, please be vocal about the degree to which this administration is being intentionally misleading on framing in the budget and frequently making our local planning more complicated in their guidance. 
As always, thank you for your time and attention.
And as always, I am happy to talk further about this with any of you.
Tracy Novick 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Comments on the local contribution study

 As you may remember, one of the several studies required by the Student Opportunity Act is one on local contributions. Comments for that study are due this week. Here is what I submitted; please do note the opening paragraph.

Let me begin by noting that my comments here reflect solely my own perspective as a single member of the Worcester School Committee, albeit one that spends a significant time on school finance. These comments do not reflect my employer, the Mass Association of School Committees, nor necessarily those of the rest of the Worcester School Committee.

I think it's of utmost importance to stress that the underlying principle of the local contribution for Massachusetts public schools—that communities that have less local wealth contribute less—is sound. This is the philosophy of the commonwealth, that the wealth the state is held in the common good, interpreted through the McDuffy case, requiring that the state's people as a greater body provide for all the children in the state through its public schooling, even when, or especially when, the local community cannot. At least philosophically, Massachusetts holds that zip code should not determine one's education. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Email to a Worcester parent

 While I was on the Worcester School Committee for six years, it's this pandemic that has really brought home (no pun intended) the reality that we have over 25,000 students in over 16,000 families and 4500 employees in Worcester. That can be a lot of email.
I read them all; I respond to those that aren't petition generated (aka: you wrote something yourself), though that sometimes takes awhile. Because we do have the next steps of the move towards buildings up now for a meeting this week, I found myself writing the same thing a number of times today in response to parents, so I thought I would post it here, as well.

brook crossing, Moreland Hill

Thank you very much for your email, and I appreciate your concerns for your children. For our youngest and our highest need students, I am particularly concerned.

While the shape of the pandemic continues to shift, that has not changed in any way the realities of our student enrollment and our buildings and our buses. Districts that are going back full time--even those that are going back on two day a week swings--have significantly lesser concentration of students in buildings. We have noted for some years now that we have more students attending WPS than we did fifteen years ago when we closed eight school buildings. That has the results we are seeing.
Likewise, having both the programs we run citywide, from WAMS to Tech, and serving the student population we do, in a city in which a significant number of our families lack private transportation, makes any transportation shifts both an equity and an access issue.
The COVID relief has gone for the technology to have our students accessing education now and does not run to rental space, and even if it did, those additional spaces, as the administration noted back in August, would need staffing (and furniture and equipment). Far from having funding for that, we instead only avoided laying off teachers this fall because we could cut the transportation budget. And I should add, that August cut was based on the projection of the state at least carrying through the inflationary increase of our budget, something less secure with no additional aid coming from Washington. 
None of this is to argue, as I said, with your concerns. I know that from a parental perspective this can sound like naysaying. As someone deeply engaged with the finances of schools, though, the disparities you and your family note are the consequences of the decades-old funding disparities that brought Worcester to the verge of a lawsuit last year.
The timing of the pandemic, in this year in which the state was to finally begin to implement better funding, would be ironic were it not also so deeply painful.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Quick FYI, Worcester post on back to school

Note that this Thursday's (10/15) Worcester School Committee will have the next round of back-to-school discussions. I'll link to the agenda once it's posted, as there is a backup on it.

UPDATE: I'll post the backup on its own, as the agenda's not up as yet.

The meeting starts at 7. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Worcester joint education and finance & operations meeting

 which is mostly on the work being done on schools before reopening; the agenda, including backup, isn't here
Allen: limitations on return to instruction; used MSBA tool for measurement
spacing allows for bringing students back only a single day a week
district doesn't have the capacity to add more buses (due to cost, drivers, and manufacturing)
limitations on spacing severely cut down on number of students can be on
HVAC: use outdoor air instead of recirculated air and increase air filtration
adjust settings, open windows and doors, prevent or minimize recirculation, upgrade filtration
all basement classrooms "have been taken offline and will not be used as classroom spaces or other multi-purpose spaces until further notice"

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

FY21: Back to the drawing board AGAIN

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means is holding yet another roundtable this morning in hopes of updating what is known about FY21. This is, of course, impacted from last night's round of tweets from President Trump which left the prospects for federal aid for states...unclear? dim? unclear, maybe.
I'll have to jump off (as I'm presenting on Ch. 70, oh irony, at noon, but I'll do what I can here and then catch up later, as needed).

updating as we go
where our economy has stayed steady and where it has fallen off
uncertainty has been frustrating for all of us "to say the least"
particularly frustrating that the President has cut off negotiations
$92B sent to fed in 2018 alone
President "should stop referencing us as a blue state and start calling us a green state"
in past downturn, MA found itself in a strong position; will not be the case this time

Rodriguez: April roundtable gave a clear sense of challenges
precarious position: still no help from federal government, high unemployment, ravaged by health 
revenues up a meagre 1%
"glaring federal dysfunction and ongoing health emergency"
need to "close an anticipated budget shortfall without federal assistance for at least the foreseeable future."

Secretary Heffernan: recently filed close of FY20 (supplemental budget)
"really base a lot of what we do...on what you all have to say for us today"

DoR Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder testifying: outlook for tax revenues for FY21
Forecasting $25.918B to 28.787B in tax revenue, which could be as high as $5.3B
considerable uncertainty in these forecast
"deep recession"
real GDP decreased by over 4% in first Q, 31.6% in second calendar Q
"naturally" resulted in decline in tax revenue
$2.4T: fiscal support from federal gov't
Move of taxation deadlines from April; "actual collections by themselves did not determine" tax revenues; legislation involved
I cannot even hope to keep up with the numbers he's citing here...going to have to wait to have it in writing...
"confronted with an array of unknowns" for tax collection in FY21
"will generate multiple scenarios on which" tax projections are based
Moody's and IHS Markets have created projections
$7.27B collection for September after adjustment (legislation counted some as FY20)
$69M more than FY20
So far, FY21 agreement has not been revised or adjusted
based on recent projections, DoR now forecasts FY21 in range $25.918B to $28....B
Decline from FY20:  4.1% to 12.4% OR $2.67B to $5.233B less than estimate
"disconnect between stock market and real economy"
now running through the subsets of the tax revenue, which I'm not going to write notes on
"there is considerable uncertainty in these forecasts"
"unprecedented challenges in revenue projections for the Commonwealth"
Michlewitz: why are we having projections for a drop when revenue is up?
A: several components of tax revenue
"the question is, is it going to be sustainable"
"a lot of uncertainties on the withholding side" as job market, unemployment
"withholding happens to be one of the major categories"
"so far numbers are good...but great caution of the remainder of the year"
Rodriguez: range of FY21 forecasted revenue: "that's over a 2 1/2 billion delta"
"we need to select a finite number" for the budget; why such a material difference?
And if you had to pick a number, what would it be?
Synder: a lot will depend on stimulus, as it comes
How the national and Commonwealth's economy responds to any amount of stimulus
"I appreciate the consternation, if you will, on such a wide range"
vendors put more weight on higher end of revenue than on lower end
more than 50% probability on higher end (from vendors)
but when did those models come out? Since last night?

Goldberg (in talking about pensions): "the stock market is not the economy"
And then I had to jump off to present on Chapter 70. You might, though check:
State House News Service
Commonwealth Magazine
Boston Globe