Sunday, June 27, 2021

Putting some national context on local fervor

 I had already posted to this piece by NBC News about the wave of national emotion over claims around critical race theory in schools; I now want to point you towards this Time cover story around what effectively is more of a debate over how we teach history--though not solely history--in schools. 

What happened in Loudon County, VA earlier this week is not a thing that is isolated. This protest (I guess it's a protest?) that took place in Medway this weekend is similarly motivated; I assume that the questions being raised in Dudley-Charlton may be as well. This was also on the floor of Congress this week, when Secretary Cardoza spoke. 

As we talk about this, I want to emphasize this from the Time piece: 

It’s a debate between people who think children shouldn’t be burdened with the past, and those who want kids to learn how the legacy of that past shapes American society today. Is our national history merely a tool to inspire patriotism, or is it, as historians argue, a valuable lesson in the good, the bad and the ugly? As this new front in the culture wars shows, our understanding of the past is a key factor in how we envision our future. This is a story about the story—and the myths—America tells about itself.

If you never talk about what really came before, and if we are not honest about what is broken, we cannot do better. To not tell the truth to our students is to disempower them as the next generation that will run our democracy. It is, in short, to not do our job as public educators, which is to equip children to grow up to participate in democratic governance. 

And I also want to say that we cannot and should not run from this as policy makers. We have a responsibility to continue to assert calmly that we teach to state standards in history, that we uphold equity in our work, and that we continue to work to ensure children are able to take up the work of making a more--yes, emphasis mine--perfect union. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

June Board of Ed: budget!

 Bell: budget is in conference committee
pretty much know what it looks like from a state education aid perspective runs through the numbers
$40M for enrollment return costs: student enrollment increasing in a district could seek reimbursement
House $15M COVID-related summer remediation
Senate $6M social emotional behavioral health needs
(thus needs resolution in conference committee)
state aid for rural school districts: rural state aid account (either 3 or 4 M depending on conference)
continuing commitment to adult learners

federal side: outside of usual federal funding streams
COVID relief funding: ESSER
$2.9B in three programs: spend through 9/30/22, 9/30/23, 9/30/24 (I,II,III respectively)
applications: all have applied for I, 43% of districts have applied II, 2 have applied for III
process of investing and using this "generational funding"

West: ARRA districts faced a fiscal cliff
we're in a period where we expect increments of increased funding in the coming years? is there then a smoother transition?
it depends on if your district is one that gets those increased funds
Have we done any modeling on what districts can anticipate?
can we provide guidance for districts to avoid that adjustment
Bell: guidance issued was to the question of districts being thoughtful on use that it does sunset
the SOA on aid you can anticipate
"actual financial modeling...we're available to assist"
"can't actually get out in front of what the Legislature will appropriate"
not to say that districts can't model; "districts that are thinking about it are already down that road"
"certainly happy to be a partner if districts run their own models"
want to be respectful of appropriators 

June Board of Ed: regulation amendments

 accountability regulations passed
This effectively is a freeze

charter school regulations passed
again effectively freezes the list

teacher regulation passed
this is the staffing flexibility

sending holding in place the MCAS standard for passing at the high school level out for public comment
Hills: connection with pandemic?
Riley: allow work of group to continue (in setting of new standard)
Curtin: do work and allow for adequate notification of new high school class
West: recommend work to be jump started
Peyser: timeline needed for bringing work back to 
sent out to public comment 

June Board of Ed: Kaleidoscope Collective

 and there's an intro here

Komal Bhasin
Michelle Ryan
Sam Ribnick (innovative assessment)

deep engagement with standard in school

now there's an alarm going off? I think? or a siren?

"but what about MCAS?"
state eco system that supports deeper learning
state assessment that embodies deeper learning
relevant, real-world, interactive
mastery, identity, creativity
building knowledge, producing authentic work, developing 21st century skills
tasks with a deep sense of relevance and purpose can foster deep engagement
interactive and foster development of interpersonal skills are important in developing global citizens
"take a deep look at representation in the classroom"
relevance of grade level standard
problems to solve in groups
task adjustment protocol; equity pause: places where tasks may need scaffolds)
focus on facilitation
teach and then reflect on student work

innovative science assessment: was a 9th grade teacher with the MCAS science assessment at the end of the year
"we got to March" and added time and resources to ensure that students would pass
what does the assessment look like at the end of the year?
"building on so much of what we know works well about the MCAS" but making big changes in three areas:
simulations allow students interact with real science work
storyline in a purposeful context that is culturally responsive
diverse characters doing science 
and there's a chart here with a timeline that I don't know that I can represent quickly in words
2023-24 is prepping for statewide use, though; pilot this year was proof of concept
settings students can change as they conduct word
all characters but particularly adults in positions of expertise and positions of power are diverse
storyline told through what looks like a graphic novel format
now there's a video with little swimming fish that simulating a science experiment
Peyser asks about open response questions: draw on science process in the context of that meaningful storyline
teachers on assessment design committee; teachers helped shape these tasks
goal is to listen to those who are most impacted by this: students on how testing impacts their instructional environment and teachers so not just having opinion but listening 
supporting tryouts in classrooms even before pilot
student comments in the survey: interactive, hands-on, simulations, didn't seem as stressful; felt they could show their knowledge
was some concern over open response
teacher: "you can't memorize your way through this one"
will allow to move away from MCAS prep; "students can do so much more"

bimonthly convenings of Kaleidoscope: intro a strategy, study implementation and impact, engage stakeholders, iterate on strategy introduced
found effective and useful
"to produce and calibrate a suite of tools" including "the deeper learning continuum"
teachers "as savvy consumers" of materials
embed in equity: DEI can't live in a separate PD session, but needs to be embedded
educators "want a pathway not a blueprint"
"initiative coherence is more important than 'initiative collective'"

Kaleidoscope: continued evaluation, future cohorts, scalability; larger pilot and new innovative tasks and moving forward on innovative assessment; webinar July 12 at noon
plan for innovative science assessment is 2025

Hills: size of districts? other tests becoming innovative?
Bhasin: school conditions rather and district: small and medium
Ribnick: not yet piloting on high schools
Riley: introductory overview; they'll come back with findings

West: I didn't understand his first comment; something about introducing variation in student
less ineffective test prep if we transitioned to this type of assessment
why do you think that? would there be fewer standards covered?
Ribnick: tasks that have a series of related questions related to same scenario
I missed part of his answer
Peyser: balance in number of standards
cost of these sorts of assessments when you come back

Lombos: other states implementing?
Bhasin: not a lot of collaboration with other states at this point

More coming on this 

June Board of Ed: vocational school admissions

 really long intro here by Riley which doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know

intro document here; strikethrough regs; summary of public comment and responses

asking for authority to intervene if necessary
don't want to see this dragged out into the future and miss another vocational admission cycle

recess while the room was cleared? I think?

Peyser: support in regulations as amended
were some changes made
there was a thing here about the "authority of school committees" which I only partly caught
affirmative obligations on the part of school committees on admissions policies not having disparaty impact
affirmative obligation on the part of the Department
Strict parameters around discipline
"fair...access to this valuable resource"
diversification of student bodies in vocational schools has exceeded diversification of state
presence of admissions policy doesn't itself create disparity impact
as long as school committees are clear on their responsibilities (they aren't, I think)
more information to students and families about opportunities

Lombos: sit in labor seat, and represent labor movement beyond teachers
bottom up policy making on this issue: people most affected work to make policy
coalition has reached out to Board
"important first step" but important to continue to work with these groups

Moriarty: going to support this
think innovation of outreach to eighth graders is most important
"not being able to access your first choice when you move from eighth grade to ninth grade"
and then there's a long thing here about third grade reading

Hills: coming up with what you think the right policy is "not what you think the right political solution is"

those removed are now banging on the windows

Fernández: appreciate focus on equity piece
alignment with equity groups; is it far enough?
assurances of Board, specific timeframes on how vocational schools are doing relative to the policies
"long term, if we don't see the changes we're looking for, lottery should be on the table"
she's nearly being drowned out from by the banging 

Rouhanifard: longstanding policy matter
questions and concerns largely have been addressed in the proposal
old enough to remember when vocational education was disportionally skewed towards students of color
would love to know if schools in high demand are actually connecting students with fields 
(they aren't)
"would like to know if schools are fulfilling their mission"

Coughlin: glad to see access for students of color is something the Board is taking seriously

Stewart: Massachusetts following other states; have not been in compliance of federal civil rights mandates for last twenty years
"bring up a good policy--I don't think we're there yet, honestly"
use of grades already excluding disportionate numbers of protected classes
if more students are applying, would we expect to see more of those students at the school?
A: looking at the vocational school and those protected classes (under both state and federal law)
do they look like the sending districts?
there may be places with protected classes might apply in greater numbers; would Department intervene?
Department "will be looking at all the data...and will be very involved" 
(so, not a yes)
Stewart: I need to see that be more explicit in the regulations
"I don't feel we are there yet" on the strongest regulations possible
"We are past first steps; this is a major next step that it is important to get right"
It would be great to have that clarity; strikes me as divergent on the part of the policy
support work to date
A; this is a big next step; we're not going to be leaving schools and families out in the cold
working actively on guidance of this
Stewart: unhappy that we aren't showing a stronger support
Craven: level of compliance?
A: what the guidelines are in Title VI
legal weight: these are very helpful and illustrative in greater detail
two part test if you use criteria: depended on schools to do that going forward
districts have had to attest when receiving grants (do they?)
in tandem with MOA reviews, civil rights review
gotten more comprehensive between what is in federal guidelines and in Perkins
state has set updated plan to US DoE on how they're going to be doing that (which is on the website and I should go find that)

Morton appreciates years of work


June Board of Ed opening comments

 The agenda is here. The livestream will come up here. 

Public comment
vocational schools: retain doubt that changes in vocational admission changes will make changes needed
data tells a story: admission criteria drives inequitable outcomes
grants stakeholders that don't believe this exist the responsibility of changing it
what admission outcomes need to be fixed? what outcomes are fair? which outcomes necessitate a lottery?

Monday, June 21, 2021

Coming later this week on here--I promise

 ...will be a not-at-all-live blog of the second round of Worcester School Committee deliberations.

But this kind of breaks my heart: 

Even setting aside the slavish devotion of much of our local media to the Woo Sox, it's really a giant miss for there to be literally no coverage of the budget deliberation of a $466M budget.

And it wasn't passed without real deliberation. Not having this covered means that there are many who will not know some substantive differences between the committee and administration and among the committee itself.

Sure, I'll blog it--I started this blog as a response to lack of coverage, in any case--but that's not enough, not the least of which is because I am myself one of the participants in the deliberation.  

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Board of Ed meets Tuesday at 9

 ...and it's a bit of a regulation revision-fest. Much of that is pandemic-related. The agenda is here.

There is the usual update from the Commissioner after public comment and opening remarks from the Chair, the Secretary, and possibly the Commissioner himself.

The big item on the agenda--and what is already getting press--is the long-awaited update to the vocational school regulations. You can read the strike-through version of the regulations here; the summarized public comment and response to them is here
If you're interested in this, I recommend reading the link (in "long-awaited update") above, as it spells out first the changes that already had been proposed in April, as well as the changes made as a result of public comment, which largely clarify language (I'd say) rather than substantively change the proposal. Effectively, what the Department is working to have is regional vocational schools that are reflections of their sending districts and that have admissions processes that at least aim not to drop students in ways that are inequitable. (As a Worcester side note, Superintendent Binienda noted last night that she'd heard from the Assistant Commissioner about these changes; while Tech is not subject to these regs, as it is a district-run vocational, it would be...wise for us to take notice. Turns out I was utterly wrong on that last; they do apply, and moreover, the Committee will have to attest that whatever local changes are made will not/no longer have this disparate impact; aka, you gotta make changes that mean you end up with a student body that looks like your whole student body.)
Note that those are up for vote.

There is an update (postponed from previous) on the Kaleidoscope Collective (remember that?).

There is also an update on innovative science assessments (which I have to confess that I didn't realize was a thing they were working on?):

In early 2020, we applied and received approval from the U.S. Department of Education for Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA), with a proposal to create a new assessment for Science and Technology/Engineering (STE). The innovative assessment will feature more in-depth, computer-based performance tasks in which students engage actively with simulations of authentic scientific phenomena by applying science knowledge and practices. Our initial work is focused on the tests for grades 5 and 8, and we plan to evaluate similar approaches for high school science tests in future years.

There is a change in the accountability and charter school regulations also up for vote. These are the two that were sent out for public comment in April; you might remember this is more clean-up on this being a weird year and the state not using the MCAS things this year: the first is the Department not creating accountability statuses this year; the second is the state using the current lowest 10% list, rather than re-calculating it with pandemic MCAS scores.

There is also a change proposed and going out for public comment (assuming they vote for that) on the competency determination. You might remember that they set an interim standard for passing for high school when we switched tests; that interim standard ends with the class of 2023 (rising juniors). Noting the gaps in testing that have happened recently, this would extend that interim standard for another two years. 
Noe that this is being sent out for public comment. 

There is a budget update (no backup).

There's also the evaluation of the Commissioner (and no, that doesn't have backup as yet, so we'll all just wait to see what they say).

There's the annual delegation of authority to the Commissioner, as the Board doesn't meet over the summer.

There are some information items, but those are the action items. 
Tuesday at 9 am! 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Three longer reads (that are worth it)

 I've not been doing a great job of pushing shares over here (they're mostly living on Twitter or Facebook, sorry), but here are three that have recently crossed my desk that are worth a read: 

Climate change is here and it's hitting our schools

 With schools closing across Massachusetts last week due to the heat wave, we're now getting the periodic realization: lots of Massachusetts schools don't have air conditioning. And those that do, as Haverhill illustrated, often have incomplete and outdated systems.

This isn't, as this column from Andrew Ahern of Sunrise Worcester noted last week, a problem that is going to go away:

Ninety degree Junes. A year's worth of extreme heat in the matter of two spring months. Individual day records and annual average temperatures smashed. People staying indoors to avoid the heat, with businesses, community, and the liberating feeling of summer suffering as a result. More air conditioning, using more energy, making it harder for us to transition to a clean and renewable economy in time to stay within safe levels of warming and avoid days like these.

This piece in Grist connects climate change explicitly back to school buildings and--not a shock--inequitable impact: 

In looking at the schools that need the most work to prepare for climate change, Schifter saw a familiar pattern. “The need is greatest in low-income communities and communities of color,” she said. These school districts have a harder time getting the money to pay for upgrades, she told Grist, and so instead they end up frittering away dollars on the maintenance of long-outdated systems.

...see that A/C system in Haverhill. 

Lest this all seem hopeless (though do read the Grist piece for a bit of hope), I have been taking some hope as well from this Rethinking Schools editorial on the New Green Deal.

Friday, June 4, 2021

A note on Worcester and net school spending

This is far enough down in my Tuesday live-blog that it may well be missed, so I am giving it its own post:

As part of the discussion on police in the schools, Councilor King asked about the municipal contribution on policing; that, of course, is represented on our favorite, the municipal contribution calculation:

Noting that the amount being credited against the school contribution appears not to have changed for this coming year, Councilor King asked how this could be, if in fact the police were being removed from the buildings. 
City CFO Tim McGourthy said that this wasn't the number, noting that actual school spending gets reported at the end of the year. WPS CFO Brian Allen agreed that this was "a placeholder."
The city CFO, though, said two other things worth noting: 
  1. The drop in this municipal contribution will drop the city's net school spending. Quick math says that if it's actually cut in half, we'll drop below net school spending, something which would not be an issue if we weren't running this so close to the line. Rarely are districts having this discussion anymore. 

  2. McGourthy said that some federal funds can count. That answers the question on if the city has been counting on the allowance in the Governor and Senate versions of the budget, providing for up to 75% of a district's ESSER II spending to count towards the increase in local contribution. Three-quarters of Worcester's ESSER II award of $34.8M obviously more than covers the $3.7M increase required of the city for the local contribution, so I'd been wondering if they planned to actually increase local spending. It appears they are, but will claim?--I'm unclear on how this is going to work; is the state simply going to state that 3/4 of a district's ESSER II award is local contribution? Because that's ridiculous--to be over due to ESSER funds.
    ...which is just useless for anything other than the state being able to wave its hands and declare district contributions fulfilled. I mean, really. 
Anyway, to watch for this year. 

Worcester housing, racial lines, and schooling

 I really found this Worcester Business Journal piece interesting, as it delved into the neighborhood differences of our schools:

In Worcester, what ends up happening, McNicholas said, is public schools in the city’s lower-income areas, which disproportionately house its residents of color, end up disproportionately responsible for students with greater needs, whether because they are English Language Learners, have disabilities, or experience the myriad of challenges low-income students often have.

For reference, 2018 graduation data from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shows the four-year dropout rate in Worcester schools among English learner students was 10.2% and 6.3% for those considered high needs. For low-income students the dropout rate was 5.9%, and for Hispanic/Latino students, the largest nonwhite population group in Worcester schools, that rate was 7.9%. For white students, the dropout rate was 3.4%.

Put another way, a 2012 report from the Brookings Institution found, for students attending Worcester’s average top quintile school, 87% lived in owner-occupied housing. In the average bottom quintile school in Worcester, that number was 40%. Some schools, McNicholas said, don’t have a higher proportion of students who need greater assistance, allowing those schools to become high achieving easier.

“And then,” she said, “We have plenty of teachers who are really struggling to get through a lesson because they have to adapt to so many different levels of need within one classroom.”

And those challenges, McNicholas said, are absolutely more prevalent in Worcester’s lower-income – and more diverse – communities.

Because the Worcester Public Schools' budget is done through a district formula--and, in particular, staffing for English learners and special education follows need--we don't largely have the district disparities in funding weighted towards greater affluence. What we do have is affluence meaning less need with the above results, and also greater affluence leading to greater support through PTOs, or, in the case of Worcester Tech, the Skyline Technical Fund (and this is reminding me that those donations still aren't going through School Committee, which is legally required). 

There's a fair discussion to have about if enough greater resources are driven to student need, certainly. I'd also say we're overdue for a discussion of how we decide which students go where. We need to be willing to have some vision for that discussion, though.  

What did you propose at last night's Worcester School Committee meeting?

 As we opened budget deliberations last night, I shared the following with my colleagues on the Committee: 

June 3, 2021

FY22 WPS budget transfers and additions of Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds

Thursday, June 3, 2021

What you need to follow today's WPS FY22 deliberation

 The Worcester School Committee has our regular meeting today BUT first we start with budget! The proposed FY22 Worcester Public Schools FY22 budget is found online here.

To follow that discussion, you'll need the proposed sequence of accounts, which is linked there, but also here: 

That's just the order it is proposed we discuss things in. Note that the grant programs includes the federal ESSER funding, and that's at the end (not today). 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The City Council and the Worcester Public Schools budget

 This is your annual reminder of two things, as the Worcester City Council takes up the Worcester Public Schools budget in Finance Committee:

  1. The Worcester City Council, as the appropriating authority for the Worcester Public Schools, has no authority on internal allocations of the budget per MGL Ch. 71, sec. 34: 

    In acting on appropriations for educational costs, the city or town appropriating body shall vote on the total amount of the appropriations requested and shall not allocate appropriations among accounts or place any restriction on such appropriations. 

  2. The Worcester City Manager has recommended to the City Council an allocation for the Worcester Public Schools that is $14,182 over the minimum legally required. That's from page 430: 

    By my calculation, that puts Worcester at 0.003564% over their legal requirement. Yes, that decimal is in the correct location.