My testimony before the Board of Ed regarding PARCC and MCAS

You are asking a multiple choice question when in fact it should be an essay question.
The question before us is not “MCAS or PARCC?”
The question is how to assess students in a way that “strike(s) a balance among considerations of accuracy, fairness, expense, and administration.” It should “employ a variety of assessment instruments on either a comprehensive or statistically valid sampling basis.” “As much as is practicable…such instruments (should) include consideration of work samples, projects and portfolios, and (should) facilitate authentic and direct gauges of student performance.”

Mr. Chair, none of that is my idea. That is what you are legally bound to do. That’s Mass General Law chapter 69 section 1L which has been sitting on the books since the education reform law passed 20 years ago.

This does not by any stretch of the imagination describe the MCAS. Nor does it by any stretch describe the PARCC.

There is no way around it, Mr. Chair: we are not following the law, we have not been following the law, and, should you indeed limit yourself to the “either/or” of tests, we will still not be following the law, whichever way your vote goes in the fall.

Thus while I would urge you take seriously the concerns that have been raised by those who have tested the PARCC– from questions of age appropriateness (third graders don’t write essays) to technology issues (which, no, cannot be dismissed with ‘you should have magically already done this with an underfunded foundation budget that doesn’t include technology’) to sequencing and time (the amount of time an individual student may spend on a test does not well measure the impact it has on the school or the class)–the main problem of your choice will still remain.

While I have heard many of these concerned parried, and quite a few simply dismissed, what I have not heard is any attempt made to justify a system that continues to, at ground, measure nothing so well as parent income and education level. The exceptions to this are too often the result of school practices that none of us here would tolerate for our own children, and of attrition rates that I would respectfully suggest should have schools thoroughly investigated. As Deputy Commissioner Wulfson told you a few months ago, the SAT most reliably reflects parent income and education. That is no less true with our own standardized tests. So long as students, teachers, schools, and indeed entire communities stand or fall based on family W2s and diplomas, you will continue to have gaps, whether you refer to them as gaps of achievement or of opportunity.

As a system of assessment, that’s unacceptable. The massive infusion of investment that came as a result of the McDuffy lawsuit deserved a better partner than the current system of assessment. This is an opportunity to finally right that wrong. Adopting PARCC will not do that, Mr. Chair.

We could finally follow the law regarding assessment of our students. I would urge this Board to adopt neither of the assessments offered and instead adopted “authentic and direct gauges of student performance” that “include consideration of work samples, projects and portfolios.”

That is absolutely do-able.

And it is, Mr. Chair, the law.

Regarding the city capital budget

cross-posted from who-cester

In looking at the city capital budget regarding the schools, well, there’s some okay news and some not great news.
Schools are right up front in the cover letter from City Manager Augustus to Council:
Okay, so we’re off right away on the numbers here. This year, we have accelerated repair projects at four schools–Clark Street, Goodard, Union Hill, and West Tatnuck. That isn’t nine schools. I’ve turned our list around every way I can, and I don’t know where they’re getting nine. These four make it thirteen schools in which we’ve had accelerated repair projects. Both of those may sound like quibbles, but they’re easy to find–check page 126 of our budget [page 137 online]–and it shakes one’s confidence in the rest of the information to have that wrong.
On to major renovation or rebuild:
Nelson Place of course broke ground last week; we’ve had survey work this weekend, and the work will really pick up this summer. As with all of our projects, this is majority funded by MSBA…
…which is the piece that’s missing on the South High line: the feasibility study costs $750,000 total; MSBA will reimburse $600,000 of that, so the city will pay $150,000 of the feasibility study.
In total on those, the city is spending about $6 million; the state is funding over $20 million.
And for the actual capital spending, setting aside the state-sponsored major renovations?
Right. Half a million for a system of 25,000 students in 50 buildings.
Put another way? We’re spending as much on the entire school system as we are on Hope Cemetery renovation or tree planting, and not quite as much as we’re spending on upgrades to the DCU Center*
In line items, that looks like this:

The $65,000 for Facilities will go for new radios (as you’ve heard us talk about during School Committee meetings more than once) and new equipment to the extent it can be squeezed out. That is the line item that basically is “everything else.”
The $315,000, put together with some of our regular budget, will be the $425,643 of local match for the technology upgrades, leveraging not $1.8 million of Erate funds as it says in the capital budget, but $5.1 million (and again, I don’t know where that other number came from).
The transporation line will buy a single new school bus and upgrades to the radios in the buses. As we’ve been on a three year, three bus replacement schedule, this year is going to be a real setback.

And that’s it. No replacements for the aging facilities vehicles. No new plows or snowblowers or lawn mowers. No replacement of HVAC systems. No replacement furniture. No work on athletic fields or sound systems for theaters or repaving of parking lots.

And that’s it, really. It isn’t that we don’t need repaved parking lots at the Senior Center or a sound system for the library or new plows for the DPW. The schools, though, need those things, too, and because the city has it that the match for MSBA accelerated repair has to come out of the $3 million that has been the hard and fast figure for some time for schools, it doesn’t. And it won’t. We simply can’t do that out of $500,000.

And that’s really a problem. And it can’t continue.

*No, that isn’t saying I disagree with any of those. It’s a useful sense of perspective, however.



Not entirely surprising news from the EAW

I’m not entirely surprised to tell you that tonight I was told that, on a split vote, I did not get an endorsement from the EAW for this year’s election.

I say I’m not surprised, because the closing question was if I’d vote in favor of a buyout of the superintendent’s contract. That would be a $300,000 buyout on a four month old contract (plus needing to pay an acting superintendent, a search firm, then a new superintendent). This is unwarranted and unwise.

I also, among other responses, said that firing the principal of North High was not the School Committee’s job or decision and was not warranted. The spotlight on North was not a result of student violence but of a media maelstrom.

I share this, because I think it’s useful to keep in mind what sort of answers might have garnered endorsement this year. I also share this because, given the sorts of challenges facing urban education right now, that these were the focus of questions was disappointing to me.

I appreciate and thank those who voted for me on the committee.

And I’ll be up early tomorrow, to continue to work for the Worcester Public Schools.

Doomed to repeat McDuffy?

cross-posted from Who-cester

You know what Santayana wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
After today’s Foundation Budget Review Commission meeting, I am very concerned that we may be heading that way with the Commission.

It’s been clear since the last meeting (at least) that there’s a bit of a split among some on the Commission between those who just want to get this done in some fashion and those who want to be sure that all of the foundation budget is fully investigated and covered. This led to the “it has to be done by June/we need to get everything in” compromise at the last meeting. And we certainly saw more of this today: from Francomano’s motion to amend the minutes to be certain all would be included in the June report, to the attempted pre-positioning on where the special education number came from, to an outsized reaction on possible preschool funding, this back and forth happened several times. I think that both Madeloni and Jehlen expressed this well at different times, asking the question of what makes for an adequate education–something the Commission is charged with but so far has not considered–and how that is best addressed by the state.

The lone citation of McDuffy today came from Tom Moreau, who represents Secretary Peyser when he is not there. In response to Francomano’s concern about the removal of local control on spending, he noted that McDuffy found (as the state constitution says) that responsibility for education lies with both “legislatures and magistrates,” that is, both the state and the local government. His argument was that it was in keeping for various accountability ties to be imposed by the state.
That is not, however, what largely is being argued in McDuffy, nor the primary concern in the follow-up case, Hancock. It is the FUNDING mechanism that the court found was failing children in Massachusetts, not an accountability system. While the act that was intended to remedy the court’s finding for the plantiffs did bring in various standards and measures (which, as I’ve pointed out before, we aren’t really doing, either), it is the funding formula with which the Commission is charged, just as it was the primary concern of McDuffy.
The state hadn’t and still hasn’t fulfilled its FUNDING obligations. That remains to be done.

In finding for the plantiffs, McDuffy also found that the language of the Constitution is”not merely aspirational or hortatory, but obligatory.” Thus I was very concerned today to hear several statements that the special education rate should be “aspirational.” First, this is also not in the law, not in the charge to the Commission (no, not even in the “efficient and effective allocation” section), and not within the purview of the consideration. I assume the recommendation is made based on some assumption that districts are over inflating  special education costs. This is a serious charge and one that should be made straightforwardly if it is the basis of the recommendation. I would argue that districts are doing no such thing. Thus an “aspirational” special education rate leaves us in districts with the impossible choice of either under diagnosing special education needs in our student population–unethical as well as illegal–or not having those charges fully recognized. Neither is a direction I think the state really wishes us to go in. This is just another attempt at corner-cutting.

Finally, the proposal for accountability in funding, which would limit districts to spending their increases in funding to particular areas continues to miss why the Commission is needed in the first place. The state has not–twenty plus years on–fulfilled the responsibility with which it was charged in 1993. Bluntly, the state hasn’t done its job. For the state then to turn around and cast a judging eye on districts, which have been left with a formula that not only has not been realistic, but has left with us fewer dollars (considering inflation) than we had in 2008 is hypocritical, to say the least. The state needs to do its job.
The list also misses entirely the point made (repeatedly) by MassBudget: that districts have pulled dollars from other areas–VARIOUS other areas–in order to fund the overwhelming costs of special education and health care. If you check out various districts at that second link, you’ll find that different districts have responsed to the undercalculation of the foundation budget in various ways. Some who can have funded over foundation. Some have pulled money from teachers and professional development. Not all districts, however, have pulled funds from the areas the Commission was considering today. Worcester, for example, is funding facilities at 47% of the foundation rate. It is outrageous for the Commission to finally rectify its long-standing unfulfulled obligation, only to then require that we spend the funds in areas other than those that have been left underfunded.

As McDuffy closes:

As did these courts, we have declared today the nature of the Commonwealth’s duty to educate its children. We have concluded the current state of affairs falls short of the constitutional mandate. We shall presume at this time that the Commonwealth will fulfil its responsibility with respect to defining the specifics and the appropriate means to provide the constitutionally-required education.

We have “presume[d]” for some time. Time to “provide the constitutionally-required education.”

“But not Novick.”

What was most striking about Wednesday’s meeting is the rather impressive superhero-like manner in which every single School Committee member managed to vanish from City Hall immediately after the meeting.

But not Novick.

She could have bailed. She could have, spying not one, not two, not three but four members of an always-curious and rabid press, said, “Sorry, executive session stuff. Can’t talk.” She could have, but instead Novick sat in her chair, and without uttering one peep of what was discussed in private, nonetheless listened to reporters’ questions – and in some cases, concerns.

Worcester Magazine editorial 

Worcester School Committee FY16 budgetary priorities

Last night, the Worcester School Committee passed a set of shared budgetary priorities for FY16. They are:

  • ​​Class size
  • More teachers
  • Classroom supplies
  • Support Personnel
  • Safety
  • Advanced Academy
  • More secondary classes/fewer studies
  • Facilities

The School Committee will receive the budget in May, and the budget hearings are on June 4 and June 18 at 4 pm at City Hall.


Stop reading press releases and start reading spreadsheets, Mr. Secretary

cross-posted from Who-cester 

You may have caught that Mass Secretary of Education Peyser was onGreater Boston with Jim Braude earlier this week. WGBH has done us all the favor of posting a transcript of the conversation along with the video.
While we all knew that we now have a Secretary of Education who has no experience in teaching, what is apparent from this conversation is we also have a Secretary of Education who has no interest? experience? knowledge? of or in school or budgetary operations, either.

Braude asked: Do you have enough money to do what you think needs to be done to close that achievement gap that Democrats and Republicans want to close?
Peyser responded: So I think we do have enough money.
Then, after conceding that money matters, look what he uses as an example:

Using Lawrence as another example: The state went in there and basically did not spend a lot of new money but reallocated money out of the central office and put it back into the schools, and that’s the way in which we can go forward and get more out of what we’ve got.

As I’ve posted previously, this is simply untrue. The year that the state put Lawrence into receivership, Lawrence was nearly $9 million under required spending. The next year, Lawrence was $1.3 million OVER required minimum spending. That swing of $10 million is certainly “a lot of new money.”  There’s no doubt it would make a difference on a budget of $155 million, which is where Lawrence started.
(And remember: you don’t have to believe me; go download the Chapter 70 profile spreadsheet yourself.)
Above, when responding to the question about enough money, the two numbers Peyser cites are the $100 million increase in state education aid and the $4.6 billion in state education aid total, both of which have been cited in about every press release I’ve seen on the budget. Those are, yes, both big numbers. They also are cited completely without any context.
The context lacking is that of the various thoroughly researched reports that show the gap in funding, like MassBudget’s Cutting Class. It is hardly news in Massachusetts that the settlement of the McDuffy suit is overdue for reconsideration, as it’s undercalculated.
This has also been the subject of hours and pages of testimony from districts across the state before the Foundation Budget Review Commission. Inflation, special education, and health insurance are drastically undercalcuated, and districts are either funding above foundation to cover it or cutting other areas–classroom areas–to cover it. The Secretary sits on that Commission. That he has missed the loud and clear message coming from districts makes it clear that his is an idealogical rather than thoughtful and researched position.