Saturday, March 26, 2022

Joint Committee on Ways and Means is taking written testimony

 ...until April 1. If you have something to say about the state budget for FY23, now's the time to say something?

Posting in part for me, as I hope to write something up this week. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

March Board of Ed

 Bill Bell on budget
Federal side: pleased to report as of this morning have approved pretty much all of the ESSER applications
overall have seen tremendous work that districts are doing with this
"districts are creative, ready to track this good work that's taking place"
Bell: ESSER I funds: 86% has been claimed
ESSER II funds: 29% has been claimed
ESSER III funds: 9% claimed (good for another 2 1/2 years)

supplemental budget for workforce retention and recruitment as spoken of earlier $140M
already working on $70M

working with House Ways and Means committee on their FY23 budget
in conversations with Senate as well
working on a bunch of FY22 supplemental appropriations

nothing on the $40M in enrollment funding 

March Board of Ed: accountability

 vote today is to send it out to public comment 
publish all data
lowest performing groups published
proposing not issuing targets this year

Hills: in memo: is there an expectation that beginning with next year, traditional targets would be published
Curtin: yes
gives Commissioner authority to refrain from certain reporting this school year
back to using this year's data as a baseline for next year and going forward

Stewart: how is the Department looking at accountability more broadly speaking in terms of the equity lens?
Curtin: we are always looking at ways in which we can improve the accountability system and will continue to 
in terms of equity, strong focus on student groups and try to draw attention to where there is low performance among student groups where that is
Stewart: MCAS and the way it exacerbates problems, tie to socio-economic factors
while I think I am supportive of what's happening here, I just think it's really critical that we look at that
Curtin: "I would agree with you, Member Stewart"
give us a good baseline for what's moving forward

March Board of Ed: pandemic response

 Commissioner's message is here
Riley: "I'll be quick"
Fauci says likely to see levels rise but not a surge
but obviously will continue to monitor 

expect to see a recommendation to lift competency determination
SOA districts required to submit plans by April 4
then will get feedback; plans will be posted publicly

investigating history curriculum for middle schools, piloting

March Board of Ed: renewal of virtual schools

 Commissioner notes that both have conditions included in proposed renewal

Moriarty: last time, finding data not what it needed to be
schools able to step out
"Thank God we didn't overreact"
"been made very clear to districts, do not fall back into remote...along with these...may be time for conversations about what the future of technology is going to look like going forward, so we aren't throwing the baby out with the bathwater"

and renewed

March Board of Ed: Springfield Empowerment Zone

 Backup is here
Springfield appears to be coming in remotely? Superintendent Warwick and Mayor Sarno on camera
Sarno: "the empowerment zone has been a success here in the city of Springfield"
"I think hybrid is key, what your system does well"
"it's all about relationships"
Warwick: and there's a whole long thing here about MSBA
"it's good to have options"
"We definitely needed more flexibility with" our unions
"we needed fast action for our schools"
"part of it is our governance framework" (which is not having the school committee as the governance board)
"model that engages the community" put "in collaboration with the community"
flexible model made a difference for our schools

Craven: really wanted to have this discussion today "in stark opposition to other topics"
place where we're working together

co-executive directors of the partnership board
Matt Brunell, Colleen Curran co-executive directors of empowerment zone
"productive impact"
seven years in 
school-level autonomy
"transparent benchmarking"

They have this image:

Launching nine new schools
"of the eight original principals, only two remain" and they now manage multiple schools
example of data being used: lifetime learnings
early adopters of diversification grant: gap on Latinx educators and leaders
variability among schools: pathway to equitable leadership
corrective actions given by state on special ed students
multiyear approach to improve outcomes for students: four special education director-level hires added
building educator capacity
school-based model for developing IEPs
fifth year programs for a sheltered college experience (how can they fund that?)
Discovery High School: long term diversification program and for science
freshmen in college classes 

Caris Livingston: exciting to hear about putting students at the forefront
ask how trust was developed: "I think it begins with courage"

Hillst: how decided which schools are in the Zone?
and whose approval is needed?
Curran: primarily Level 4 designation 
High School of Commerce added
Woo adds superintendent allows for non-profit to run schools
West: is the bargaining unit just those at the school?
Curran: contract is bargained with SEA
carves out a "terrific amount of conditions that can be set at the school level"

West: question I want to ask is 'what's the end game?'
"and if it is a better model of governance, why not turn the whole district into the empowerment zone, or would that raise matter of scale"
Brunell: says his Jesuit education is going to come out in his answer
larger policy questions not for him
"But for us the work is the sixteen schools in front of us"
Sarno: having gone through financial receivership in city
"we sort of incorporated it with the flexibility; it works"
Warwick: to take away contractual flexibility would be difficult
"and there's no public demand"
Moriarty: looking at state data with caution
a challenge
comparative analysis of what is happening with your graduating students
Sarno notes Springfield has universal pre-K, Warwick says launching this year

March Board of Ed: Opening comments

 The Board of Ed meets at 9; the agenda is online here
There's been much online discussion of the Commissioner notifying Boston that he's doing another review. This has been--again, online--been seen as a step toward state receivership (which I am much less sure is accurate), so expect to see public testimony on that. However, NOTHING ABOUT BOSTON IS ON THE AGENDA TODAY. 

updating as we go

Craven: gratitude to National Guard, MEMA, and Other Partners (first item on the agenda)
speaks about Springfield "a great shining example" of the state cooperating with districts
"knowing that we've turned the corner" on the pandemic (what?)

Reilly: board has asked for a meeting to update on Boston (Two year anniversary)
Cassellius has made significant progress: MassCore, bathroom upgrades
concern about special education, English learners, on time bus arrival data, graduation data
"not on the agenda today" but later this spring
meeting with superintendents later this week 

Peyser: eight new early college programs
up to fifty statewide
STEM summit on April 28; online, in person, mostly the morning
supplemental budget: note $140M to Ch. 766 special ed schools to support workforce to maintain capacity and staff

Craven: haven't had a joint meeting with Higher Ed in two years; want to have one before the end of the fiscal year

Public comment:

Mayor Michelle Wu: notes her position as both the Mayor and as BPS mom
thanks to partnership 
see DESE's review as progress we've made as well as places for follow-up
lifting up young people across state and city
"I have seen firsthand dedication and commitment to achievement"
commitment of our families and educators
have seen places where we fall short
"we must do better"
tomorrow Boston School Committee takes up budget
pushing for a "whole of government approach"
notes work of city in "what ends up showing up in our schools and classrooms"
excited to work on search for superintendent
"It is with all of this in mind that I firmly oppose receivership"
would be counterproductive

Councilor Julia Mejia
"good morning, everyone: y'all ready for this?"
humbling to be back as chair of education, as have come as a parent in the past
conversation is as much person as it is professional
stood alongside parents in Holyoke opposing receivership "and we all know the outcome of this"
"every single time that we advocated for dollars we were met with opposition"
receivership "is the wrong move"
has voted to place three districts in receivership
Southbridge and Holyoke worst and second worst performing
Lawrence, following an uptick, is now in the lowest ten percent
wrong time when 77% of voters are seeking an elected school committee
"that kind of thinking lacks innovation and intentionality"
show what is possible "when we lean into discomfort"
"let's all take responsibility and accountability around this"

Marcela Sliney speaking about her son who has dyslexia
asks for help for students across the state

Lisa Guisbond on update on accountability
call on you to stop the harm caused by your current inaccurate rating system

Vice-chair of the Lawrence School Committee Jonathan Guzman
here to oppose putting another district into receivership
strip rights of own elected body that support the needs of the people
"why do you still think that takeovers are saving...when you've been in control of the Lawrence Public Schools for ten years"
all have made a commitment to be anti-racist, but to do so must first show some respect for communities of color
current back in bottom 6% of districts
invest in teachers year after year, can get a job in a community with higher pay and better working conditions
Students passed from grade to grade with attainment; standards lowered 

Greater Commonwealth Virtual School Board member Jennifer Reynolds on renewal recommendation
Salah Khelfaoui, executive director
"do our best to offer" students what they need 
students who in some cases choose to go back to their schools
Patrick Lattuca, superintendent of TEC Academy also speaking on renewal

Jessica Tang, BTU President
educators and families on the ground are increasingly concerned about discussion about receivership
upends teachers' plans to have this second audit
further frightens families and staff
"receivership cannot and should not be part of any BESE conversation" if your goal is to support the Boston Public Schools
citing experiences of those who have experienced school-based receivership
parent is now giving testimony
notes inaccessibility of meetings of the Board
Packets sharing data on why receivership isn't the answer
Samantha Laney: fifth grade teacher
now teaches in Boston, did teach in Lawrence under receivership
"keeping high needs students out keeps test scores up"
says she had no business being in Lawrence as a young white teacher who was new
turnaround DESE seeks doesn't work
notes vote of Boston for elected school committee
"will we not allow Boston to suffer the same fate as our sisters in Lawrence"

Secretary Peyser is allowed to then give a small lecture responding to public comment
Riley notes this is not on the agenda
Craven pushes him to give timelines and such; Riley continues to note that this is not on the agenda
Lombos wants to know about timeline; Riley says he doesn't have it in front of him.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Quick Worcester superintendent search update

Stack of rainbow colored folders; how I organized my review

Tonight the Worcester superintendent search committee met in executive session reviewed the confidential applications submitted for the position. Those selected--the semi-finalists--will be interviewed in executive session by the search committee next week. 

After a further vetting, the search committee will choose finalists the week before April vacation. Those finalists will be publicly announced, and the school committee will take the process from there. The intent is to have the new superintendent named by early May.

All of the work of the search committee--the review, the interviews, the deliberation, the names of applicants and semi-finalists--is confidential and remains so. Only the finalists will be made public once the work is complete.

So: stay tuned. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

on the audit of Temporary Emergency Impact Aid for Displaced Students

 There's nothing quite like a front page article to focus the mind...

Let me observe that this was reported as long as two weeks ago in the Boston Globe, and then last week by both NEPM and WBUR. I've been a little distracted, and administration did not share anything with the Worcester School Committee until last night, so I haven't delved into this until now. Mea culpa

I've posted the audit itself online here, though the federal posting is here. You can also track the degree to which the Department has resolved the findings of the audit here

First, what are we talking about? If you cast your mind back to 2017, you might remember Hurricane Maria? And then fires in California? There was federal aid that came in, as families in some cases fled and in some cases sent their children away from the disaster areas. Massachusetts received $15.5M, which was (per the audit) the fifth largest award to any state; of that, Worcester and Springfield received (together) almost a third of the state award (Worcester: $2M; Springfield: $3.1M)

This is a federal audit of Massachusetts' expenditure and tracking of those funds. 

Like most federal grant funds, this Temporary Emergency Impact Aid for Displaced Students came from the federal government to the state to disburse to districts. The audit then--and this is really important!--is actually of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, with the two districts involved in this audit, Worcester and Springfield, being what was sampled (as they were the biggest recipients of the aid). 

The audit--and my compliments to the Office of the Inspector General on this!--is readable, so if this is at all of interest, do just go read the audit

What was found? Well, the Globe headline was "slams local districts and Mass. education department’s oversight of emergency aid," so nothing good, let's say. The audit has two main "findings," as they're called (this is my rephrasing of them): 

  1. Massachusetts didn't make sure that the student counts were accurate and complete and that districts spent the money correctly;
  2. Massachusetts didn't make sure that districts used the funds for students with disabilities for those students and didn't make sure that employees paid with these funds were actually working with displaced students. 
Now, again, there's actually two layers to these findings: the audit is of DESE, but some of the findings are about district practice, as well. 
On the first finding, part of what the audit takes issue with is DESE decided to use displaced student data from a state aid program, rather than have districts replicate the count. On sampling student data, the audit found some students who "were inaccurately counted as displaced," either because they'd been enrolled prior to the year in question or because there was not sufficient documentation to support their status as displaced. From the Inspector General's perspective, this very much is not a district level issue only; there are extensive requirements of the states to ensure student counts like this are accurate. Massachusetts, per the audit, did not verify data, did not provide an opportunity for districts to check data, and did not monitor the districts (on this last, the state argued, as MGL ch. 15, sec. 55A requires that the state not do multiple comprehensive audits or reviews within a 9 month period).
On the second finding, some of the aid provided was specifically for students with disabilities, yet the state did not separate out which aid was specific to that, so districts could not ensure that funding went to providing services to those students. Also, employees who may have been paid with this aid were not all at schools serving displaced students. 

While the articles made clear that there was no expectation at this time that funds should be repaid, both the audit itself and the open recommendations on the Inspector General's site make it clear that the expectation is that either the funds would be repaid or the state would (effectively) show that they didn't need to be. 

The part of the report that I think is actually most damning is that the draft was provided, as is customary, to the Department last June. The state only responded:
it will work with the two LEAs (Springfield and Worcester) to resolve issues noted in the draft report and will establish alternative procedures that are more conductive for future funding opportunities that occur after the close of the fiscal year to ensure that all students claimed are eligible and that all grant data requirements are met.

Among the (several) requirements of the audit, however, were that the state review the other 67 districts that received funds under this grant to see if they likewise have such issues (as one might expect!). The state has made no such provision; nor has it responded to most of the other findings.

From a Worcester perspective, Superintendent Binienda sent the Worcester School Committee the audit on Tuesday evening. We had not received any earlier notification that the district was part of a federal audit on these funds. Moreover, in Worcester currently, the grants department is not overseen by the finance office; it is under the Deputy Superintendent. The School Committee has expressed concerns about this managerial decision several times, most recently at some length during the last budget deliberation. The superintendent nonetheless has maintained this arrangement. 
The School Committee has been told that the administration is meeting with the Department on Friday. I've asked that we be given an update after that meeting, as there may be additional steps necessary in terms of policy and oversight. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

What's the big fuss on reading?

 This is not intended in any way to be exhaustive: this is a quick catch up.

If you're curious as to why Worcester's TLSS subcommittee was talking about their reading program for early elementary, Fountas and Pinnell, you maybe have avoided hearing about the latest round of the "reading wars." Without (as I said above) going into too much detail, the question over how young children are taught to read, and what works and what doesn't, is at question here.

From a Worcester perspective, the district has been using F&P in at least some schools for some time; you can, for example, find it cited in this 2015 document about district assessment. There's been a heavy investment in the program under the current administration; you might recall the deliberation and the School Committee's subsequent movement of funds away from such training (Irene Fountas is at Lesley University) during last year's budget. 

While the backup for the subcommittee only references the 2020 EdReports review of F&P, finding that it didn't align particularly well with the Common Core (or Massachusetts state, for that matter) standards, what's more core (I'd say) to the concern is what's discussed in the 2019 APM Reports piece on cued reading and related strategies: it's that it literally is not how our brains work. If you're going to read one thing, read that. Lucy Caukins (if you hear "Columbia Teachers' College" in this issue, it's probably Caukins) subsequently responded, while F&P doubled down. The backup for subcommittee quotes from F&P in conceding that some phonics might be necessary, but even that seems to make it clear that the question over cuing students as a strategy that (in layman's terms) teaches them to guess is one that they're not moving on. 

The motion coming out of TLSS this evening is for an updated report in June; there may well be further discussion Thursday night. 

Friday, March 4, 2022

On my mom


My mom, Annie O'Connell, and me 

My mom died a week ago today. 
Here's what I said yesterday at her funeral.

Mom often reminded us that her nickname in high school was “Mouse.” A good student who was president of the Future Homemakers of America, who was a member of 4-H, and who sang in the school choir, Mom was such a good girl that when her guidance counselor told her she wouldn’t be happy in the big city at art school, she instead went to SUNY Oneonta and majored in elementary education.

When Mom married Dad after college and joined him at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, it was their apartment that became the hang-out for many of my dad’s colleagues, and that continued when Dad was moved to Hanscom Air Force Base here in Massachusetts. Mom included people; she made them welcome.

So much of what Mom did was about making sure people knew they belonged. Many of my sister Kelly’s and my friends have shared memories these past few days of coming with us to the fireworks, to the Big E, to our grandparents’ farm, to Easter dinner (or in the case of some of my college friends, to those early Easter breakfast setups), to a cookout, or to swim. Mom made circles bigger, whether at school or church or family. 

There are, I know, many here who have stashed away handmade baby clothes from Mom. There was no baby in my mom’s circle who wasn’t welcomed with something made just for them. 
And Mom loved her grandchildren; she was never happier than when she was surrounded by all eight of them, nearly all of them already taller than she, as she’d proudly tell you. She was very proud of each of you, and I hope you always know that.

When I was in elementary school, McDonald’s stopped serving root beer. When I complained to Mom about how they had stopped serving the soda I liked, she told me to “complain to someone who can do something about it.” While my letter to McDonald’s headquarters got me coupons, and not a restored root beer, her direction has, as may be clear, stayed with me. 
To Mom’s credit, when I took her advice and applied it to things like city panhandling regulation and state education policy, she never took it back.

Mom was never satisfied with simply accepting things as they were if they could be better for other people. The list of Mom simply making things happen is lifelong: Kelly’s preschool, the Sterling Education Association road race, interim Christian education director, fellowship chair, Flowers by Ann, Haven of Hope…Mom was not one to see a need and let it be. 

And from being “Mouse,” Mom became someone who asked local businesses to support a road race for the local school district, asked people to teach Sunday school, organized shared meals around common tables, ran a business that brought beauty to celebrations and times of mourning, and wrote to strangers facing cancer, all so that people would be less alone. 

This past weekend, when we were watching the invasion of Ukraine, facing the continued toll of the pandemic, and seeing so much of the continued wearying injustice of the world, I read something online about how so much injustice is interconnected, and that the good news was, then, that by unraveling our own little corner of it, we each are helping to unravel it all. Or as the Mishnah has it “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Mom didn’t desist from her work until the end; she was still spinning her proverbial distaff, sending notes for others suffering from cancer, until very recently. 

To do justly
To love mercy
To walk humbly with our God.
Micah 6:8