Friday, February 26, 2021

Worcester School Committee legislative breakfast on FY22

 The agenda including presentation and link to the online meeting is here
though it looks like Mr. Allen updated the presentation again, so this isn't the actual presentation; I'll get a link to it  I've put it over here and I've updated this now with some screenshots.

Binienda: focus on the October 1 enrollment
Kindergartners who took a gap year
support hold harmless for FY22
About $11M shortage in our budget if we're held to last year's count
children did not come because of the pandemic
very important item, especially for Worcester

Allen: presentation will use the House 1 version of the budget
one legislative ask around hold harmless and enrollment 
framing: unprecedent enrollment decline
lower than average inflation rate
important how we plan for preK and K enrollment for next year

FY22 budget less than FY21 before budget cuts
pandemic related enrollment decline

restarts SOA enactment
1/7th of target goal rates for next year

federal and state stimulus funding

new staffing and resource changes

enrollment 1058 student enrollment decline 4.2%
of that 24.3% is prek and K (746 students)

2.8% decline in grades 1-6 (316); not clear if that is a one year thing or sustainable
secondary levels essentially flat

state saw 37,363 (3.9% decline)
8200 students over prior ten years "obviously this is a pandemic related decline)
17,197 was prek and K
17,332 grades 1-6

decline significantly in enrollment of Worcester students in local private schools
St. Paul's 32%
St. John's 17.7%
Nativity 6.6%
Worcester Academy 34.4%

WPS enrollment decline costs $9.5M

inflation is an increase of $6M
SOA adds in $18M
nets $15M increase

drop of SOA funding was balanced out by one time cuts which now need to be added back

baseline budget for next year $386M
increase of only $180K
need about $11.6M

really should have seen an $25M budget increase over last year

biggest change for us is low income enrollment based on 185% of federal poverty level
state needs to figure out how capture low income of students going forward
we had more students counted under our low income count because of the pandemic related enrollment decline
one seventh phase in in House 1
two biggest changes are low income, both in count and in rate phase in

would expect to see a $24M annual increase over seven year phase in, holding enrollment flat

of that $10M is inflation and $14M in SOA
instead we're just seeing $11M due to enrollment drop

hold harmless enrollment and hold harmless funding
enrollment decline effecting many communities across the state
bubble of student enrollment next year, but funding is declining instead
enrollment decline is causing a $9.5M drop in budget
puts it back to $24.8M as needed
holding enrollment harmless allows for districts to absorb the return of students 
then reconciles the budget for FY23

at a minimum, there should be a pothole (foundation reserve) for coverage of that shift until foundation budget catches up following year

Sen. Chandler: having a bubble; what about staffing?
Allen: that's why hold harmless enrollment is so important
may need staffing additions; otherwise may possibly need cuts
"it's to not have the foundation budget...we won't have the resources to support [students coming back]"
Chandler: "it's a statewide problem, and it's one that we should be considering in our statewide budget as well"

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A letter to my delegation regarding the Commissioner's drive back to buildings

 Good morning, Senators and Representatives,

I'm writing to you today from my seat on the Worcester School Committee, to plead with you as members of the co-equal branch of government to intervene in Governor Baker and Commissioner Riley's warping of executive branch authority in the drive back to school buildings.

I awoke this morning feeling ill that the executive branch, which has so mismanaged nearly every aspect of the state response to this pandemic now believes it has both the authority and the knowledge to push children back into classrooms in clear defiance of both local best practices and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

As you may be aware, the Commissioner plans to base his request for this authority on the time on learning regulations; those are 603 CMR 27.00, which have already been revised twice during the pandemic: once to call for the three part plans that were due in August, and a second time to require specific amounts of live instruction for both remote and hybrid models of learning. In both prior cases, the Commissioner did not consult with the field ahead, and both the Commissioner and Board ignored the objections of those on the local level that such regulations did not best serve the health and educational needs of their students. It appears clear that he is poised to do so again with this next revision.

I would note that 603 CMR 27.00 is based on Mass General Law Ch. 69, sec. 1B, which generally outlines the authorities of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and sec. 1G, which simply states: "The board shall establish the minimum length for a school day and the minimum number of days in the school year."

There is little in these sections that appear to give the Board the authority to regulate the method of instruction, let alone that it must be delivered in person in school buildings during a pandemic. I find it difficult to believe that this was the intent of the Legislature in legislating this authority to the executive branch to carry out via regulation. 

Moreover, the notion that education is only proper in such settings is belied by the Board's authorization of two virtual schools that have been operating in Massachusetts for some years. The Board not only recognizes remote instruction as valid; it has created and authorized such methods.

I could speak at length about the ways in which the Governor and the Department have mismanaged the state's response to the pandemic, but I suspect your inbox is filled with such emails; nonetheless, please call me if you'd like to hear more. I will say, though, that the state has never recovered from the weekend nearly a year ago when every single superintendent in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts closed their schools before the Governor made any announcement. Districts moved to feed students, to get connections to students, to ensure their well being, and the Commissioner demanded plans, and changed course, and asked for things that were patently impossible.

It is not physically possible, even at three feet--a policy explicitly not in line with CDC guidance--for Worcester to return all of our elementary students back to buildings. And I do not want an exception from a new regulation for Worcester. I want regulations that recognize the realities of my districts and districts like mine; I want plans to include us from the beginning.

I know that I do not need to remind any of that a year and a half ago, both chambers unanimously passed the Student Opportunity Act. That explicitly recognized that the needs of students in cities like Worcester are different and greater than those in our wealthier suburban neighbors. The experiences of our students during this pandemic--the losses of family members, the struggles with illness, the fears over job losses and homelessness--have explicitly not been part of this administration's response to the pandemic, however. Had we started our response there--with Worcester, with Chelsea, with Lawrence--we would have had a very different result. 

But here we are.

I do not trust, and I have been given no reason to trust, the executive branch on education during this pandemic.   

I ask that you as co-equal partners in government step up for the students, the families, the educators in my district. 

Thank you for your time. As always, I would be glad to give any of you time to discuss this further.

Tracy Novick


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Board of Ed February meeting: the budget

 Bell: funding schedule for SOA implementation
$198M "if you round up" increase in Ch. 70 aid 
especially for schools with high concentration of low income, for students learning English, with special ed needs
circuit breaker: increase the state's commitment
lowered reimbursement ceiling at which the state starts paying
along with funding transportation: increase of $22M in appropriation
increase of $26M in charter school tuition reimbursement
up about 2 1/2% increase in appropriation overall
$25M in Feb; $25M in April for state COVID aid
big news between first fed stimulus and subsequent COVID aid have made over $1B in ed grant aid to districts; formulaically distributed to districts, weighted to those with higher need students
much discussion of ESSER III coming through Congress
foundation charges increased also increased local contributions, so Gov allows municipalities to use district ESSER II grant funds towards their local contribution
"suffice to say there's been some confusion among municipal and school leaders"
"continue to have dialogue" with local districts on that
spending down first federal stimulus grants
award authority for emergency assistance to non-public schools from second stimulus

Stewart: long terms costs not only learning loss, but also reopening costs
what have you identified already?
Bell: not sure I have the answer to what is available
Stewart: mostly the buckets of what is need
State commitment to making resources available 
listing off what has been offered
Stewart: when you're looking at older schools and ventilation
Bell: theme is those with biggest need will be getting largest support

Board of Ed February meeting: time on learning regulations

 and they're back

Riley: "mental health visits have skyrocketed"
coming back for asking that this be permanent 
have "taken a multi-pronged approach" with mental health supports
"have only asked districts to take a 25% approach"
impact suburban districts more than urban ones
"it's a band-aid to get us through"
"read all the comments, particularly the kids' comments, and what it said to me is that we really need to get our students back in schools"

Morton: waivers?
Curtin; 24 requests for waivers, 16 approved, 9 were just for a delay
were asking for the switch at a quarter
in other 6, cited evidence from community, came up to meet us
remaining 7 did not meet standard and were rejected

Fernández: what has been submitted since February 1? What is the status?
Curtin: coming back at future meeting with what was collected

Stewart: many links on mental health; how much has the field been engaged in the issue since December relative to mental health in schools
Johnston: wellness, well being, outlining how we can support students along with families
funds used alongside stimulus funds received
have visited "a number of schools and classrooms, in person and remotely" and sees ongoing checks with well being and efforts to reach students in crisis
Stewart: gaps?
Johnston: "not everything can be created in a remote environment"
engagement with each other, "so important for development"
"harder to form a friendship over Zoom"
Stewart: "I wish we could have had a 'both and' on this vote"
"very challenging to make this...have this be separate things"
"I find this a very uneven answer, and I'm not really's not the best approach maybe...I still think it's important for teachers and students to see each other. I think it's important for schools and teachers to be prioritized in a way they haven't been"

Fernández: where are we with compliance now that a month has passed?
Curtin: in the midst of finalizing that collection
overall we are approaching full compliance based on the new regulations that went into effect
Fernández: if they are doing this on their own, why are we talking about this?
Curtin: they are in compliance of the regulations that have come into effect
"not necessarily on their own, but because the regulations are in effect"
Fernández: "I think that's important to consider in the vote"

Couglin: hasn't necessarily impacted student mental health
I don't know that having students online more helps that
concerned that about the pressure that this places on teachers
concerned that students were on consulted
"consulting with students as they are the ones most impacted"

Hills: students concerned were those in districts "way in compliance"
"I just want to say thank you for stepping up and doing this in December"

Lombos: "I just don't see the through line of the problem being mental health for students and the answer" being more time online
"the people most impacted by those issues should be driving" the discussion
still don't have a clear answer on why the state thinks the regulation would be good when there are educators who think it would not
"important points that I really don't see the through line"

Peyser: Commissioner has rightly raised mental health but it is educational as well
whole days or part days asynchronous "just getting some worksheets"
"not getting the whole educational experience"

Rouhanifard: wouldn't this be asking districts to change their plans
Craven: applicability? How long will this be in effect if the Commissioner plans to move ahead on buildings
Rouhanifard: shifting plans is hard, and this would be asking them to shift their plans again ahead of a much bigger shift
no, it would not

Moriarty: "I believe we took the best step available to us"
"to at least do something"
shifting the regulations over and again

Coughlin: in response to the Secretary, I think it is a misconception that fully asynchronous students are not in contact with their teachers
That is not the case
Not every school has the same resources when it comes to mental health

Regulations pass with Coughlin, Stewart, Lombos, Fernández in opposition

Board of Ed February meeting: charter schools

 Holyoke Community Charter School and Marblehead Community Charter seeking to become regional charters

Stewart: can't see that...supporting this expansion at this time

Both pass

Lawrence Family Development Charter and Lowell Community Charter looking to expand to take more off the wait list

Both pass

Board of Ed February meeting: school opening/reopening discussion

"have continued to inform schools and districts of new developments"

pool testing: 157 districts and schools signed up
"important additional layer of mitigation strategy"

Learn Launch on relationship mapping: critical to have connections between teachers and students

substitute teachers: work with Department of Career Services
districts are asked to email Brian Devine by Friday, March 12

learning loss: summer acceleration academies
alternative way for seniors to meet competency determination
Biggest Winner Math Challenge being expanded
start over the summer and continue over 

singing guidance: interest to resume singing in schools
proposal went to health board, which was rejected
going back after reworking

will be coming to Board in next week or two
with "how best to come out of this pandemic" and "back to the traditional school model"
Biden focused on majority of schools K-8
"we agree with President Biden it is time to get our students back more robustly"
"at some point, we will need to take remote and hybrid options off the table"
will ask Board to give him authority to take remote and hybrid NOT COUNTING as time on learning
would work as phased approached
ideally plan to bring all K-5 students five days a week by April
phasing in middle and high school
would allow exceptions in spaces

Hills: support, asking to move quickly including high school "not even talking about this issue going into the next school year"

Lombos: resource allocation particularly for schools that are older?
Riley: will address the resource allocation
purchased air purifiers

Couglin: gratitude for Commissioner
trust in Commissioner for running forward

Stewart: learning loss, long term costs going back into schools
Riley: ongoing work

Board of Ed February meeting: opening remarks

 The agenda is here. The livestream will come up here. Updating as we go

we appear to be coming in partway through some public testimony which seems to be a parent arguing that her school building should be open
"We simply have to change our mindset when it comes to risk tolerance."

Next on music in schools: Foxborough parent
music programs provide much for students: "why they come to school each day"
not an even playing field: sports are resuming, so music should be able to practice inside, too

Superintendent Lynch of Whittier Tech
ongoing engaging collaboration with the Department "to work together to increase the access to all students"
increasing access for ALL students
awareness gap among students: would welcome chance to present data of parent and student survey

Charter school: association speaking in support 
spells out what charter schools have been doing: food, wifi, financial support

Education Law Task Force
supports conditional renewal on UP Academy given history
recommend language should be parallel to that of Roxbury Prep
"exclusionary disciplinary policies" of concern
ask also that the education be improved by an independent authority doing the review called for

Boston Green Academy speakers (up for renewal and report on probation; it's a Horace Mann)
invested heavily in improving areas of concern
improved academic performance in strategic plan
ask that the Commissioner's recommendation be approved
Have resolved all concerns from previous reports
"share the Department's desire" for continued improvement

Chair's report from Craven:
Early College joint committee (with Higher Ed) met
a convert to this
pathways for becoming an educator
allowing new districts to come in this year

Peyser: seeing early college succeeding at scale so far
collaborative work with Early Ed: strengthening remote learning and ongoing collaboration during the summer and beyond

Commissioner will speak on reopening

Monday, February 22, 2021

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education special meeting on vocation regs

 which I am going to need to duck out of early as it is superintendent search season. I will eventually watch the whole thing!

The single item agenda is here. The written update is here

Riley: first run through tonight, coming back with proposed regulations in March or April or so, public comment period, then vote by June

Associate Commissioner Bennett: starting with an overview of pathways: innovation pathways, early college, three shifts of career tech ed (after dark, adult tech, expansion of ch. 74)

regional blueprints connected to labor market demand; experience in work
"students are able to choose their program of studies" through 9th grade exploratory
engagement in deeper learning
expanded option of going into workplace and/or going college
44 programs in 11 clusters in  chapter 74 programs in Massachusetts; tied to business and industry demands

current admission regulations:
Two types: Chapter 74 programs (state and federal funding, regulations and laws); Perkins programs (receive only federal funds; outside scope of this)
MGL Ch. 74, sec. 1: "conditions of admissions" is under Commissioner's authority
603 CMR 4.03 is the regulation
"selective vocational technical secondary school" can either do a lottery or use selective criteria
must include grades, attendance, disciplinary record, recommendation from sending school counselor, may include interview; nothing can be worth more than 50%

Phase 1 reg changes last year
now Phase 2; collecting and analyzing waitlist data
plan then is bring proposed reg changes to the Board in March or April, public comment period, vote in June 

Stewart: asks how many schools are using lotteries?
Either none or almost none

West (I think): curious about supply of programs
70 new programs in past years; is that new seats?
A: new programs can be both, can have new seats or can be attrition, replacing programs
looking at waitlists are the number of students over the number of seats that districts have available
West: at what pace do we expect the overall supply of seats to increase going forward?
A: "pursuing a multi-pronged approach"
using time and space more creatively as well as waitlist data collection, in addition to adding programs
Peyser: has been growth, harder to assess future trends
Hills: do people who graduate go on to careers in these programs?
A: as part of Perkins reporting there are follow-up surveys 18 months out
Hills: are we accepting students these programs are designed for? Or a wide range of students?
A: "I think the answer is the latter"
some also going on to further education in their trade (nurses, for example)

in 2019, DESE looked at overall enrollment, statewide and at schools
compared to catchment area and individual municipalities
"generally reflect the communities in their sending districts" but room for improvement, especially in Gateway cities
charts now showing economically disadvantaged, with disabilities enrolled at vocational schools slightly higher rates than statewide numbers
also for students of color and English learners enrolled at slightly more than their representation in statewide overall enrollment 
75,808 9th graders statewide; runs comparison with percentages
nuance at the school level; schools don't always match state trends
schools may have gaps over and under
most extreme gaps are in a handful of schools
Peyser: do the seats go by community or a single pool? Depends on regional district; some may proportion out by sending district
may then reflect community demographic community by community
Lombos: is the trend getting wider?
A: not sure can speak to analysis of overall schools
Moriarty: not sure the clusters that are offered are going to have same profile from one to the next
A: this is just admission at ninth grade
and not every area offers the same kind of programs
and work with industry demand
further analysis is warranted and actively being pursued
Morton: will there be that breakdown later? Yes, more coming
West: demographics of communities PLUS who applies PLUS who makes it through process

58 schools participated in a waitlist survey; 44 then went on to participate in a waitlist data collection
40 then had them for grades 9, 10, 11
which is what will be run through here 
looking at students of color, economically disadvantaged students, English learners, and students whose first language isn't English
awareness gaps in who knew to apply, had the information
opportunity gaps in who was admitted after applying
is only one year of data, may have been impacted by the pandemic
the Department does have multiple years of enrollment data of years, however, and can draw some conclusions based on that
comparing students in the category to the students who are not in the category
yield gap: who decides to attend after receiving an offer
slightly a greater acceptance of offer by each of these groups than by their (non group) counterparts
English learners in particular accept the offer at the highest rates
West: application gap is what is being characterized as an "awareness gap"? Differences in who has access to various programs; wouldn't make sense for some to apply
A: clarification: there is non-resident tuition process; can study in a district not yours
Stewart: when those programs are offered to the programs that are most needy, they take them at higher levels; they are actually are being offered less, though
goal is to attract, admit, retain students from community

State admission stages:
economically disadvantaged students apply at higher rates than their counterparts, but go through the rest of admission at the same rates as their counterparts
similarly, students with disabilities apply at higher rates, going through the process is comparable
students of colors apply at lower rates, and go process at different rates than their counterparts
similarly (to that) English learners apply at lower rates and go through process at different rates
school breakouts then different again from one another as well as from the state
schools can then consider their breakout in different pieces and consider that in their context
because of the differences in the different stages in the process, a school might consider going about those stages differently in light of this information. 

engagement with the field on this data
working with high demand districts since 2019
webinars to review data with districts earlier this month
plan to draft regulatory language, develop guidance, conduct simulations, and development statewide supports for both awareness and opportunity gaps; statewide information portal

Riley: want to be as fair and equitable in admission as possible
supports that can be given beyond regulations "perhaps to help districts do a better job in tracking"
access to sending districts 
introductory primer on what we're doing and where we're going to go

Craven: schools that are hotly sought after; what about the schools that are not?
there is a disjunction in quality; as the state is the sole arbiter of teachers licensure, why is that?
"I don't understand it"
Riley: I'm not sure demand correlates with quality of program
real variation there
"underlying that is the right question, which is how to we ensure that all schools are high quality and where we want them to be"
have now ensure standardized hours requirement
hopeful that such standardization will help
Craven: would like to see if there districts that have a lot of waivers
Riley: hard to fill areas, may have more as it may be more lucrative to be in the field
Chuang: some of the concern from the schools that are less in demand may not be able to get information out to middle school families as they would like
two way street of awareness gap
Bennett: Framework revision to really strengthen what is provided to students
monitoring processes too
access, quality part of what we see
regional agreement and Ch. 70 calculations means funding varies
about $5100 per student additional allocated in the foundation budget due to size of classes, equipment
but regional agreements then apportion local funds
Lombos: evidence-based policy making
anti-racism, inclusion goals gives a framework for looking at this problem
problem that was identified from the field and then having an equitable process to get us to a better policy
Moriarty: are students who are English learners not receiving translation for access; even before regulation
gap by community by community is enormous
very different manifestation from one school to the next
"what to equip Commissioner Riley with a scalpel and not a chainsaw"
Riley: I think everyone wants the same thing: to serve the kids who want to be there
think this will take more than just regulation
grants, work at the local vocational school level and the sending school level
Peyser: schools not as effective as they needed to be in serving English learners in the past
hopefully better now and word is getting back to school districts

West: appreciate use of data collection in looking at equity and inclusion
interested in current thinking on main takeaways on what went into it from the presentation
would be useful to hear where this focuses attention as head into regulation
Riley: provide multi-avenues to look at data
complicated process
have to take it from multiple levels as we figure out what the process is
all hands on deck approach to this
try to actively figure out how to make this 
Bennett: will be coming back to you with ideas
looking at individual districts on what they show

Couglin: provides a strong footing for students

Hills: would like a sense of where to go based on your key takeaways
focused on improvements
The more I'm concerned about using "a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer"
"the good news it's not the Commissioner's practice to take sledgehammers to things"
still working to understand this

Craven: a primer, a lot more that we need to go through before considering regulation

Stewart: appreciate Lombos comment on equity and anti-racism and approaching through that lens
regulations have to be really looked at clearly and that we understand this very clearly
ultimately looking at not just fair access but high quality schools all around
to ensure our understanding is a lot clearer as we get deeper into the process this year

Riley: opening salvo 
more information to come
proposal to come with more information
"and we'll play it out from there"

Craven: questions that we have on the topic
members take some time to put your thoughts down and collect for questions and answers
regional agreements govern regional school districts

Lombos: one thing in using an equity and inclusion lens
"if it's just grades, attendance, and discipline, we know that each of these three categories have some bias and some problems"
then we're seeing this cumulative of awareness gap, opportunity gap, yield gap
"we know low income folks may not be able to have the most stellar attendance if they move from place to place"
"we know the three categories for admission has bias in and of itself"

Riley: all looking to be as fair as possible on the path forward for our kids
come to a fair and equitable conclusion

Saturday, February 20, 2021

And the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention weigh in

 Yes, this dropped a week ago now, and I have had a screen with about twenty tabs open on it during all of that time, but I knew this would take some time and I kept not having any. 

If you'd find a thread that starts at the beginning and tweets through, you can find mine from last Friday here. Instead of doing that here, I'm going to hit the big themes and push through what I think is probably key to know, while linking to other sources. 

The guidance is called the "Operational Strategy for Reopening Schools through Phased Mitigation" and it's that last bit, phased mitigation, where the first emphasis lies: schools are not viewed in isolation. Schools are part of communities, and communities as a whole need to be actively engaging in mitigation for in-person education to work in this country.
From the end of the opening paragraph:

To enable schools to open safely and remain open, it is important to adopt and consistently implement actions to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 both in schools and in the community. This means that all community members, students, families, teachers, and school staff should take actions to protect themselves and others where they live, work, learn, and play. In short, success in preventing the introduction and subsequent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools is connected to and facilitated by preventing transmission in the broader community.

Note that THIS is the context in which we have been getting "schools can be open!" headlines: schools are parts of communities, and it is up to communities to slow and lower the spread of COVID. 

Now, if we were actually going to do this, we would be seeing a wave of closures of other things; we'd be shutting down indoor non-essential services, particularly in high transmission zones.

And we haven't. And this is, I fear, the main theme of the response to the CDC guidance, which is that doing it is hard and takes sacrificing other things, and people are very not happy about that. 

The recommendations themselves are in keeping with that: they are founded on community transmission and positivity rates. As the guidance says: 

Given the likely association between levels of community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and risk of SARS-CoV-2 exposure in schools1,16,, a first step in determining when and how it is safe to reopen involves assessing the level of community transmission.

The chart for assessing risk is this: 

That is to be used with this county (yes, Massachusetts, county!) data tracker. As of the day that I am writing this, Worcester County is 155 cases per 100,000, and the test positivity rate is 2.51%, in both cases for the preceding seven days. Cases puts us in red, while test positivity rate puts us in blue; footnote 1 says we are to choose the higher of the two, so Worcester County remains in red. That is true of much of the country right now.

We use that with two charts, reassessing weekly, depending on if we have access to screening testing at schools. Most districts do not, so we use this one:

Note that every single level in every single one of these charts emphasizes the need for five layers of mitigation:
  • correct masking (not optional, no age limits)
  • physical distancing (the only place there are any compromises on this is if community transmission and positivity is very very low)
  • handwashing and "respiratory etiquette" (and there isn't a lot on sanitizer; soap and water are better)
  • cleaning and maintenance
  • contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, again, without exception, outside of school, and thorough
Those are each described extensively at the link. 

If we did have screening--and note the Biden administration is expanding access to that--we would switch to this chart:

Note, thus, that the entirety of the guidance is based on the straightforward premise that if we do not have ongoing screening testing in schools, we do not know who actually has COVID, and thus we do not know how safe schools are. Contrast that with the ongoing "we have been open all year and" from some places that simply have not have testing, and thus do not in fact know what the transmission in school or from school has been. 

What does that re-assessment look like?
 If increasing trends persist in or plateau in substantial levels, school should transition to hybrid instruction. Similarly, mitigation strategies and transitions to full in-person instruction should only be relaxed or lifted after improvements are documented continuously for several weeks, such as decreasing to moderate from substantial levels.
I will also observe that sports only come back once you have both testing and lower community transmission. 

The emphasis on who is in buildings is built on two things overall:
  • Those who most need it get it first. The executive summary says this: 
    • Schools that serve populations at risk for learning loss during virtual instruction should be prioritized for reopening and be provided the needed resources to implement mitigation.
    • While it speaks here about learning loss, the guidance is very particular that schools serve many roles in communities, and those losses are why they are so important in the community's response to COVID.

    • When implementing phased mitigation in hybrid learning modes, schools should consider prioritizing in-person instruction for students with disabilities who may require special education and related services directly provided in school environments, as well as other students who may benefit from receiving essential instruction in a school setting.

  • Elementary students are both in need of greater in-person instruction and are at less risk themselves from COVID. One mistake the guidance does not make--unlike other pieces we have seen--is dismissing risk to and from younger children. The phrase they use is "less likely."
Both of these are in keeping with a driving force of the guidance which is about equity. The document specifically and repeatedly notes the inequities of the impact of the pandemic; from the executive summary: 
...essential elements of school reopening plans should take into account the communities and groups that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infections and severe outcomes.
And further:

Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. People who identify as American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic are disproportionately affected by COVID-19; these disparities have also emerged among children11. Conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, play, and gather affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes, such as SARS-CoV-2 exposure, infection, severe illness, and death.

...certain racial and ethnic groups have borne a disproportionate burden of illness and serious outcomes from COVID-19. These health disparities are evident even among school-aged children11, suggesting that in-person instruction may pose a greater risk of COVID-19 to disproportionately affected populations.
They even note:
Studies have also highlighted racial and ethnic differences in parents’ attitudes and concerns about school reopening during COVID-19. Compared with White parents, non-White parents may be less likely to feel that schools should reopen for all students and are more concerned about adherence to mitigation strategies, schools reopening safely, their child becoming ill with COVID-19, and their child bringing home COVID-1921. Understanding racial/ethnic differences in parental attitudes and concerns about school reopening can inform communication and mitigation strategies and highlights the importance of considering risks for severe COVID-19 and family resource needs when developing options for school attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those communities get FIRST, not LAST consideration in this guidance, which is in marked contrast, of course, to much of the national dialogue, which as been driven by parents of privilege. This is about who has more often been getting sick, more often dying, AND AT THE SAME TIME has greater need for access to all services--not just education!--that come through schools.

And I'm not seeing any evidence that we're doing that, either.
But imagine if we did? Imagine if the first thing that the whole state said was: We need highest need special ed kids back. We need kids who don't have quiet places to work back. We need the kids who do better with adult guidance back in buildings.
And then we pivoted THE WHOLE STATE--businesses and families and state and local governments--on that. And we put THOSE kids back in buildings ACROSS THE STATE before we did anything else.

If it isn't working for Chelsea, it isn't working.

In any case...
There is also guidance here about vaccinations--not required before buildings are open, but held as highly important--and the new variants, about which they are keeping a wary eye. Even as national and state numbers are dropping, there is ongoing concerns that varieties with greater contagion levels are going to send us all backwards. 

Now, this may not sound like what you read the guidance said. To be kind, I would say that many who covered this were looking for "can schools open?" and "when?" rather than reading for more operational guidance. That is what the guidance is designed to be, however.
It does, absolutely, mean that getting every single student back in a classroom five days a week is very, very hard. Some--and I'm not going to link here; it's easy enough to find--have balked at the guidance itself there. Some of that is fair. 
At the end of the day, though, wanting anything to be 'normal' is going to take controlling the pandemic. We haven't yet. Until we do, we have work to do on that before and while we can do anything else.
And that includes schools. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Some things to read this weekend


Looking for something to read? 

By my count, I'm overdue on at least two blog posts--fingers crossed for this weekend!--but in the meantime, here are some things I recommend reading:

  • This Vox piece on how school funding can be part of the repair for segregation, which even includes some parts about federal funding perhaps being used to push. 

  • This piece from Erica Green in yesterday's New York Times on a program through the National Education Equity Lab that gets students into Harvard's Extension School courses and has shown that they have every ability to do the work. It has now expanded to other universities. The results are not only in terms of what it has shown about the students, but has shown the schools: 

    “We have not traditionally taken students from certain communities and certain high schools,” Mr. Quinlan said, “and that’s generations of work that we need to overcome.”

  • A plea from a New York City teacher that we stop calling this a "lost generation" that speaks to some of the gains she has seen in her students this remote year.

  • This piece from a rural North Carolina teacher where they're running their school on shifts that reflect the local textile mill. 

  • I have talked a lot about the 1918 pandemic in Worcester and how it has been part of what I have reflected on this year, so it was neat to see more of that in this Telegram & Gazette piece this week. 

  • Sarah Hosseini in The Atlantic asked the very reasonable question of why we have ever sent sick kids to school. 

  • And from a not really education related perspective, this piece in The New Republic on our not-exactly-progressive Massachusetts was today's must read. 

And in Worcester news, police to be moving out of schools

 This is coming in from City Manager Augustus on Tuesday's Council agenda (it's item 9.39): 

Remove School Resource Officers from the Worcester Public Schools at the end of the calendar year. In addition, I establishing a working group to develop a comprehensive safety plan for the WPS by the end of 2021, and at the time remove the day to day presence of WPD. A new safety plan will be put into place.

There is of course much behind concerns over police in school, particularly when those schools have a majority student of color composition. There is even Massachusetts data supporting this; that's the report which is current in my subcommittee (which hasn't moved, and this is why). 
There's also more in the Council item, for those in Worcester who are interested. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Don't miss this on hold harmless!

 I have been saying that this is the story of FY22 for Massachusetts schools: 

Implementation of the Student Opportunity Act is having to push against the statewide drop in student enrollment in order to make any headway in the decades' old underfunding of education in Massachusetts.

What would help? Hold harmless enrollment. 
This EdTrust piece talks through (from a national perspective) how that would work, with key emphasis on hold harmless for enrollment categories, too. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

DESE Financial update at MASBO

Circuit breaker: Jay Sullivan

circuit breaker relief email has gone out to districts: this fiscal year costs must be 25% over cost last year for circuit breaker

60-65 districts that file on an annual basis

hopefully by end of this month should be filed

Gov's budget: budget will go through a number of iterations through House and Senate
may or may not use ESSER funds for local contribution
DESE will continue to plan as if that's going to happen; guidance will be available, but not yet
Still not (and won't be) sure

House 1 Ch. 70 proposal: Rob O'Donnell and Rob Hanna

slides are on DESE Ch.70 page (this set is updated as of today)
updated Ch.70 formula workbook, as well, as to how ESSER II funds should be available to regional district members
Ch.70 aid increases over $197.7M over FY21
1/7th implementation of SOA
low income up to 185% threshold (FY16 % of low income student enrollment)
assumed in district sped enrollment percentages (increased to 1/7th)
inflation of 1.48% (2.78% for insurance from three year GIC average)
Hold harmless for 20 districts that would have otherwise lost aid under SOA implementation 
local contribution reduced 100% of gap for those over target
CEY of 175% of foundation or more required to contribute to 82.5% of foundation
House 1 allows districts to use up to 75% of ESSER II funds for their local contribution increases
Members of regional district may deem a proportional share of 75% of the regional district's ESSER II grant toward increases in required contribution 
charter tuition based on same foundation rates
implements 100/60/40 schedule for charter reimbursement (year 1): 75% of total entitlement based on current projections: $143.5M (will be 90% in FY23, 100% in FY24)
charter tuition being reduced by per pupil required local contribution that can be supported by each sending district's ESSER II award (reduction statewide of $7.5M)
Charters then asked to offset with their own ESSER funding
allocations of coronavirus funding $53M statewide just over $50M in funding for districts ($25 per pupil + $75 per low income pupil) 
two equal payments starting this month (later) 
No grant applications needed but for eligible expenses; only for use in FY21 (so by June); thus can go back to July 2020, must be spent by June 2021
to be put in separate account "available to school committee without further appropriation"
will at least need to be reported on End of Year report; may be other reporting requirement
"we're going to have all kinds of pages in the end of year report, starting in FY21"
Federal CvRF next round of reporting due March 5

Transportation: Craig Delmonte:
district that provides own transportation should have heard from recently
how districts are reporting transportation costs on End of Year report
accurate measure of claiming for costs under circuit breaker for districts that provide own transportation 
working on cost per ride across Commonwealth

FY21 rural aid distribution: no info as yet
if my charter reimbursement is going down, what's up? Your tuition must be going down
ESSER funding: available to school committee up to 75% of total amount to cover increase
aid to state and local governments potentially coming in President's bill
150 districts that haven't drawn down CvRF
if you're funding right at net school spending, 
First time in history that a grant will be counting towards NSS
"you're going to spend the money, and then journal enter the money in your EOY report"
ESSER II use is putting off the local funding of the increase in local contribution, which will need to be picked up the following year

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Friday, February 5, 2021

on the reopening of school buildings

 I was asked to write up what I said at last night's Worcester School Committee meeting about our vote to reopen school buildings. I don't write my comments ahead of time--I speak from notes--and in this case, I was partly responding to the public comment that preceded our vote. 
If you'd like to hear it, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Professor Marty West earlier this week said, "I think it is always risky to reach conclusions based on what you hear from the loudest voices."
I am going to recommend to my fellow West Side, white, middle class, Ward 9 parents a podcast called Nice White Parents. There is a very solid history that has been happening over the course this year of urban school systems having conversations over buildings and going back into schools, and exactly the same thing happens--it happened in D.C., it happened in New York, it's happening now in Chicago, it's probably part of why the city of San Francisco is currently suing their school system--and what happens is this: the middle class white parents who are a minority in these communities, as they are in ours--thirty percent of our student body is white--argue that they need buildings open. Obviously, I am generalizing; it's obviously not all white parents. And they make broad-based claims about children, and about children that are not their own. They talk a lot about concerns about equity, they talk a lot about the learning loss that's going on, they make broad-based claims about the safety of the family life of the children that are in our school system, and how they're in danger from not going into schools. And again, we've seen in this in New York, we're seeing it in Chicago, and we're seeing it again here tonight.

And so I'd like to say, as much as this is going to potentially be very unpopular, to my fellow nice white parents that you can talk about your own kids: totally valid, absolutely. 

You don't get to talk about other people's kids until you've actually listened to what they want for their kids. The one thing that we've tried to do here--and it's not easy, because we speak, as we so often say, lots and lots of languages in Worcester; and we have lots and lots of levels being able to be involved--but we've got pretty clear data that not everybody actually wants their kids to go back to school. And a lot of the kids that have been made claims about this evening are the kids whose families have said that they don't actually feel safe putting their kids back into schools right now. 

And again, this bears out across the country. There was a survey that was done by the C.S. Motts Children's Hospital earlier this year about the top ten children's health concerns for 2020. 

Number two for Black parents was COVID--after racism, by the way--COVID was also in the top ten for Latino parents; it didn't even appear in the top ten for white parents. 

Now that's lovely if COVID has only been an inconvenience for you, and frankly, COVID has only really been an inconvenience for my family. We have not suffered greatly from it; it has been inconvenient. My children, who are also learning--one of whom by the way is a high school senior, who thus is going to have the same experience that we've heard from some others this evening--would prefer to be having a normal experience. 

But no one in my family has died. And no one in my family has been dangerously ill. 

And meanwhile, one out of every five hundred people in Massachusetts has died since last March because of this illness. The national rate of death among Black people is one out of seven hundred (worse; it's now of 645). It's estimated that 78% of Black people know at least one person who has died close to them.

So we don't get to make assumptions about what we think is best for other people's children when we're talking as parents about those experiences and are actually differing with those parents about what they think is best for their kids. 

I understand that this is a super uncomfortable conversation that most people don't want to engage--and I notice that most of us aren't--but we are an urban school system. We're not Shrewsbury. We're not West Boylston. We're certainly not Wachusett. 

And I know, because I saw it on my Facebook page, too, that two weeks ago, when the buses started rolling in Wachusett, you got a whole bunch of photos on your page of happy little children in masks who were going off to buses. And you felt sad because your kid was going to open up a laptop and was not going anywhere. And I get it! Because that's the experience in my house, too, and I had the same experience on Facebook. 

But I also know that my kids don't go to Wachusett. My kids go to the Worcester Public Schools. My kids go to a city school system that, as several of the teachers have mentioned, has been underfunded for two decades. 

And you know what? We don't get all of these calls from all of these people, some of whom are pretty dang connected, when we're talking about our budget. I wonder if we maybe would have actually funded the Student Opportunity Act last year if we'd gotten this kind of agitation about that? I think that if we had taken the level of white angst about buildings being opened and applied to the State House last year, maybe we would have, statewide. 

If we had actually taken this level of energy and applied to the fact that half of our buildings were built before 1900? Yeah, that's not true in Wachusett. The last building to be renovated in Wachusett (the longest ago) was renovated in 1990. We've got buildings that literally haven't been renovated aside from having plumbing and electricity installed since 1885. This is're not dealing with the same universe at all.

So, it's nice to be able to look over the border and say, "Oh, my neighborhood looks a lot like Holden! My neighborhood looks a lot like Shrewsbury!" Your school system doesn't look a lot like Shrewsbury. It doesn't look a lot like Wachusett. Your buildings don't. The funding, as we're going to see later tonight, is nowhere in comparison! 

So if all of those parents who were calling up want to then call the City Council and see if we can get funded 110, 120, 135 percent of foundation, then maybe we can talk. I'm pretty dang sure that the City Manager isn't going to be able to come up with 35% more of our school budget in a single year. But that's what's been happening for years and years and years in those school systems that suddenly we're making these comparisons to! If we'd been making these comparisons for twenty years, maybe we would have actually changed something. We don't get to suddenly decide when it's inconvenient that we look like Wachusett, that we look like West Boylston: we don't! We don't look like them! Our buildings don't look like them! Our budget doesn't look like them! This is not the same deal.

This is not, also, about a choice, because as soon as we open the buildings, you know who doesn't get a choice? Our staff. And that's not just teachers. When we send people back into schools, we're sending back IAs, who frankly I don't think make enough money, many of whom work multiple jobs; we're sending back bus drivers; we're going to have to bring back our laid-off school nutrition people. We're bringing back everybody who helps all of our kids during the day, many of whom don't have--and believe me, I say this as a teacher, teachers don't make enough money, BUT--don't have advanced degrees, don't make middle class wages, and don't have the kind of health insurance that people should. Now, that's on us, though we would say, that's on the state in terms of our funding. Those people all have to go back into buildings, too. They don't have a choice. 

And yes, there's always comparisons to front line workers and everything else. I know of very few front line workers--save health care here--who are in a room for six hours with 15, or 20, or maybe 10 people with the kind of ventilation that traditionally that our schools have had. 

Now, we've done improvements; we've done ionization. We said we were doing HVAC, not just ionization. HVAC isn't done yet. So for people who think we're somehow reneging or anything else? Nope, we're not, 'cause the HVAC's not done yet. You want to yell about Honeywell taking too long? That's fine, we can do that. But don't tell me we're "reneging," because it's actually not the truth.

The other thing is that yes, I know: hybrid lowers the quality of instruction. And I'm not just making that up, and I'm not just "giving up." I actually do this for a living; I know what's going on in other school districts. When you go to hybrid, particularly when you go to hybrid when you're instructing the kids in front of you and on the screen at the same time, instruction suffers. 

So, people who want to stay remote? The instruction of their children, yes, absolutely will suffer. I'm telling you that right now, and I'm telling you that as a parent who's planning on sending her kids back to hybrid: it is not going to be as good as it has been remote.

Now maybe you want to make that choice, anyway; that's fine, but I just want you to understand that the people who are staying remote will be making a sacrifice once we move to hybrid even though their children aren't moving. And I'm also going to tell you that, by the way, from personal experience, because I've presented to school committees in a hybrid experience when some of them were on a screen and some of them were in front of me. Guess who suffered? Not the ones who were in front of me. The ones who were on the screen. So the remote kids are the ones who are actually going to bear the brunt of this. 

Our rates right now are where they were at Thanksgiving. Yes, they're heading in the right direction. Were we talking about sending people back into buildings at Thanksgiving? No, because we thought things were potentially going to go up and they also were too high. We're about to have the Super Bowl, and people were actually giving advice about they shouldn't shout and they should do touchless cash exchanges, rather than maybe just not actually getting together. We can hope that maybe New England not being in it makes a difference, but, I don't know, I'm not necessarily feeling very positive about that. 

We are so close to actually getting our staff vaccinated. We are within weeks of getting our staff vaccinated. 

Anyone who tells you that there hasn't been spread in schools is ignoring two facts: kids largely get this asymptomatically, and we have had no broad-based testing, period. The only place that I know that's been doing this are the towns who have been able to afford it on their own--guess who they are?--and there's been some broad-based testing of places in Europe. And when they do broad-based testing, guess what they find? Kids have it! They're just walking around with it. Nobody knows they have it, because they don't have any symptoms.

at this point the Mayor asks me to wrap up

Twenty percent of cases in Massachusetts in the past two weeks have been in under 19 year olds. We're considered a hot spot for the MIS-C variant that is actually causing problems in children. 

The second best way of lower transmission rates in a community is to have school buildings closed. That's from a broad-based survey of multiple countries...across the world. The first, by the way, is to close restaurants, and clearly, the Governor's not going to be any help there

Mr. Chair, I said back in March that my goal in this was not to contribute to people dying. Sending people back when we're this close to a vaccine is irresponsible. 

I am going to oppose this motion. 

We should be conditioning, at this point, when we're this close, we should absolutely be conditioning reopening our buildings on getting our staff vaccinated. And again, that's not just our teachers. That's our IAs and everybody else.

And part of the reason, Mr. Chair, is not just for our staff. It's because we have a city that lives in multigenerational households, and we don't have most of those multigenerational households vaccinated, either. So if we actually start to get our teachers vaccinated and we get farther in, we've got more of the people who are over the age of 65 and 75 who actually have had a chance to be vaccinated, which means that when the little kid comes home and he's actually got it from school, maybe Grandma he lives with doesn't get it from him. Because if we're not actually going to wait for that, then we're going to be contributing to that kind of thing.

I'm not willing to risk people's lives to do this. And it's not just about our teachers, and it's not just about our staff; it's about our kids, and it's about their families. 

Thank you, Mr. Chair.  

Housekeeping notes on Worcester

 What was decided:

Students with complex significant disabilities
All New Citizen Programs of all grade levels
the week of March 15, four days a week

All other hybrid students
the week of March 29, two days a week

Can I still change mode?
Yes, by next Friday

When does staff go back to buildings?
The week prior: so for those who work with the New Citizens and high need special ed (including supporting staff, from assistant principals on through), that's March 8.
For all others, it's March 22.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Quick note on Worcester School Committee tonight

 ...for which the agenda is here:

  • There definitely will be some discussion around buildings, timelines, and so forth
  • Also, it's our first look at FY22; I've posted the presentation we got yesterday here. I don't want to be a spoiler, but here's the slide that is sticking in my mind: 

I'll save my comments for the meeting, which you can join at 6 pm here