Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Notes from DissemiNATION Fair

DissemiNATION Fair was offered by DESE's Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign a couple of weeks ago. Held in Devens, it was a major event, two years in the making, built on feedback and input from people in the field (both charters and public schools), as to what to offer in the way of sharing best practices from all types of public schools across the Commonwealth. Based on conversations I had with participants, and my observations and experience within panel sessions, I found this to be an energetic networking and high-quality, well-attended professional development event.

Presentations were relevant, engaging, and of high quality. Panel Session presenters were seated at long tables on a dais in the ballroom. I was struck by their non-jargon-y command of presentation material, enthusiasm to share their expertise, and professionalism overall. The format greatly contributed to this and to the elimination of perceived or real contentiousness or defensiveness that can be evident between "types of schools" sometimes.

While people were getting registered and getting breakfast, I sat at a table off to the side of the ballroom and was soon joined by a core public school guidance counselor and a charter school executive director. Both described some of the challenges they face at their schools, noting master schedules, in particular. They were looking forward to the session, "Designing Teacher and Student Schedules", in hopes of gleaning some useful insights with which to attend to their particular challenges. Along with some other topics of interest, each was optimistic about leaving Devens that day with some good ideas to discuss with colleagues (and possibly implement) back at their respective schools.

Welcome and Logistics from DESE Staff:
Ruth Hersh, Assistant Director, Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign; Mitchell Chester, Commissioner, attended via video message; Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner, Center for Educational Options; Ventura Rodriguez, Director, Office of Strategic Transformation and Commissioner's Liaison to Boston Public Schools; Ellie Rounds Bloom, Coordinator of Access and Equity, Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign. There are very many additional staff from the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign's Office of Accountability, too.

Participants were asked to think about the practices and the processes being shared. To make the most of the day, Cliff Chuang invited participants to:
  • Enjoy the day away from students - return on Monday feeling refreshed from a day of professional learning;
  • Take one concrete idea back to your school;
  • Make at least one deeper connection with someone outside of your school.
Three Panel Sessions were offered, each for an hour. Between each Panel Session, 15-minuted breaks were offered as opportunities to transition to the next session and for viewing school displays upstairs. At lunch, networking table topics were arranged across the space; participants got their lunch and chose from an list of topics to be discussed at one of the tables, for about 30 minutes each. Participants wrapped up the day in "School Specific Meetings" (see below), which took place in the final 75 minutes.

Panel Session 1:
  • Introducing Project-Based Learning into Core Subjects
  • Recruiting and Retaining Talented Teachers
  • Effective Academic Behavorial Interventions: Elementary School
  • Effective Academic Behavior Interventions: Middle and High School
Break and Display Viewing
Panel Session 2:
  • Evaluating School Systems, Curriculum, and Initiatives
  • Reducing Chronic Absenteeism
  • Designing Teacher and Student Schedules
Participants Get Lunch and Join a Table
Lunch Table Networking Options (choose 2, each for 30-minutes):
  • Integrating Digital Learning into Lessons
  • Creating Teacher Leadership Opportunities
  • Introducing Project-based Learning into Core Subjects (A)
  • Introducing Project-based Learning into Core Subjects (B)
  • Introducing Project-based Learning into Core Subjects (C)
  • STEM (Elementary School)
  • STEM (Middle School)
  • Teaching Students to Craft High-Quality Thesis Statements
  • College Access
  • Designing Teacher and Student Schedules (Elementary)
  • Designing Teacher and Student Schedules (Middle School)
  • Parent/Community Engagement
  • Recruiting and Retaining Talented Teachers
  • Better Differentiation Techniques
  • Reducing Chronic Absenteeism
  • Effective Academic Interventions (A)
  • Effective Academic Interventions (B)
  • English Learners
  • Social-Emotional Learning (A)
  • Social-Emotional Learning (B)
  • Students with Disabilities (A)
  • Students with Disabilities (B)
  • The Use of Data for Student Achievement
Break/Get Dessert and Panel Viewing
Panel Session 3:
  • Social Emotional Learning: Elementary School
  • Social Emotional Learning: Middle and High School
  • English Language Learners
  • Students with Disabilities
School Specific Meetings:
  • Expanded Learning Time
  • Charter School Leaders
  • Innovation Schools
  • Turnaround Schools
I left after lunch. Here then, notes and take-aways from what I attended:

Session I: Introducing Project-Based Learning into Core Subjects
Moderator: Karyl Resnick, Coordinator 21st CCLC Programs, Office of Student and Family Support, DESE; PanelistsPaul Niles, Executive Director, Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School; Nina Cullen-Hamzeh, Head of School, Marblehead Community Charter Public School; Rachel Kuklinski, Title I Interventionist, Wareham Public Schools; Colin Gibney and Rebecca Schwer, Middle School Teachers, River Valley Charter School.
  • Paul Niles: also 8th gr science teacher; founding teacher of this school, 21 years ago; taught in the era when just doing PBL was enough to engage kids, before the standards-based setting environment; buy-in from staff - teachers really didn't like to be directed, but we got by because we were a project-based learning school; had to think through professional development. His presentation focused on his school's gradual transition from students doing cool projects to rigorous, integrated project-based learning with protocols, projects assesssments and tools used to vet, scaffold, assess, and create rubrics for PBL that is validated across disciplines.
  • Nina Cullen-Hamzeh: Nina described Marblehead's mind shift over time to create standards-driven project based learning, while ensuring students are learning deeply and remain...small steps...taught in South Central LA - Crips, Bloods, razor-wire - - taught them PBL and they thrived. Her presentation described Marblehead's mind shift over time to create standards-driven PBL, while ensuring students are learning deeply and remain fully engaged. She discussed some of the systems and tools that have been most successful, including rubrics, collaborative validations of projects among teachers, and the school's culminating Exhibition where PBL is celebrated across the school community.
  • Rachel Kuklinski: presented on the evolution of a PBL/service learning exemplar she's created with her students -- emphasizes student voice. Student-run newspaper was generated by student interest, addresses community concerns of her students, and brings in community awareness by her students. Time management, flexibility in lesson planning and involving students in project evaluation. Encourges risk-taking. Small steps to get there. One student's feedback to her: there really is a reason for writing!
  • Colin Gibney (Science teacher) and Rebecca Schwer, (Humanities) shared an actual project (SciManities: general tenents - project and place-based education ("focuses learning within the local community of a student. It provides learners with a path for becoming active citizens and stewards of the envirionment and place where they live." from Antioch University: center for Place Based Education) Essential Questions get them thinking big about what they can do about it. Their presentation on one of River Valley's place-based project themes: How have humans and the natural environment shaped and changed our place in the Merrimack River Valley? Presentation demonstrated how lessons and tasks develop academic skills and a strong sense of place/community, as well as a discussion of the tools and rubrics used to assess student progress.
Panel Session 2: Evaluating Schools Systems, Curriculum, and Initiatives
Moderator: Erica Chanpagne, Director, Office of Effective Practices in Turnaround, DESE; Panelists: Shira Decovnick, Program Manager, Office of Trunaround and Transformation, Boston Public Schools; Joretha Lewis, Principal, Baystate Academy Charter Public School; Paul Hays, Chief Academic Officer, City on a Hill Charter Public Schools
  • Shira from BPS: focus is on Technical Assistance Teams (TATs), which include liaisons from 10-15 central office departments who provide coordinated support to BPS' Turnaround Schools (if a school is in Level 4). Rather than an ad hoc response by individual district departments, TATs are designed to systematically address a school's challenges, which then allow principals to spend more time on instructional needs. TATs monitor and responsively support the implementation of the turnaround plan. Done correctly, the school isn't feeling that they're under a magnifying glass, but being attended to by a "pit crew".
  • Joretha from Baystate Academy Charter Public School: presented on shared leadership and the functionalities of a sustainable instructional leadership team (ILT). A sustainable shared leadership design promoting a positive school culture and effective operational leadership. "Be stubborn on vision and flexible on journey ~ Noramay Cadena" Leadership Team Representations -- no more than 10 members. Learn to let go. Use data and then the ILT makes decision about instruction together.
  • Paul from City on a Hill: One of the original 13 charter schools, chartered in 1995. One of the few charters that is a high school (no feeder middle school). Raise standards and embraced difficult convos; get assessments. 40% of students on IEPs. As they were growing: How do we know that the grades produced have integrity? They're in the second year of using interim assessments to track student growth on Massachusetts Common Core standards, which will be used as a factor on its teacher impact rating. Discussed the promotion of teacher leadership in this process to ensure equitable and uniform application, including having teachers plan assessments and monitor growth across City on a Hill's three high-school campuses. He will emphasize his school's "sensitivity to the importance of balancing essential teacher voice in this process" with the need to "expeditiously arrive at a process for implementation". Bottom up. ALL students can learn - the philosophy first, systems second. Have the difficult convos you need to have.
Lunch Table Networking Option #1: English Learners With Hali Castleman, ESL/RTI Coordinator, Lawrence Family Development Charter School
  • The discussion opened (about 15 minutes) with how LFDCS has leveraged the school's Title III funds to increase both parent engagement and EL achievement in students' early childhood years. LFDCS chose strategies (based on analysis of internal benchmarks and other data), including math nights and workshops for families, PD in sheltered English immersion (SEI) for educators, and introduction of an EL Summer Academy to stem summer learning loss, that also incorporates opportunities family partnership. Then, folks at the table asked questions of Hali and also shared stories from their own schools. About two-thirds of the people at the table (12 people) were from charter schools.
Lunch Table Networking Option #2: Effective Interventions for Students with Disabilities
With Jeanne Powers, Associate Academic Programs Director, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School (South Hadley, 7-12). Also at the table: Patricia Lampron, Principal, and Amyu Gailunas, Director of Inclusion, Henderson K-12 Inclusion School, Boston
  • The discussion was teed up within the context of providing access to the curriculum and excellence for all students at PVPA: has about 400 students, ~16% on IEPs and require academic support in addition to support in the classroom. Students with 504 accommodation plans receive additional homework support. Para-professionals are apprentices assist in the support classrooms. Delivery of the plan is the most important. In Boston, Pat and Amy use a "team" approach at the Henderson: Always asking "What does good planning look like?" Are they planning thoroughly enough? What do you need to do as the general educator and special educator to deliver the curriculum. They use "OnCourse" to share lesson planning between general and special educators. "We are all looking for the silver bullet. It's not in the curriculum, it's in the standards and we provide the access." If I understood Amy and Pat correctly, they think the planning through for each student using Bloom's Taxonomy and also develop an "expectations" document for all educators.

Monday, December 5, 2016

FY18: BESE Budget Committee Recommendations*

The Board unanimously approved the following Budget Committee Recommendations at its Regular Meeting Tuesday, November 29, 2016. The budget that the Board approved has been sent by Memo to the Secretary of Education; work is underway to develop the Governor's House 1 recommendations, to be announced in January.

Education Aid Accounts
The Board recommends the Department's education aid accounts be funded at the highest level possible based on available revenues for FY18. The major focus for increase should be the Chapter 70 -- Education Aid and Special Education Circuit Breaker accounts. The Board recommends that any additional funding made available in Ch. 70 after the state's contribution to foundation aid is met, be directed to districts with identified achievement gaps in student learning to support reforms that have evidence of narrowing achievement gaps. The Board recommends the Commissioner work with the Secretary to review other Chapter 70 increase factors including formula equity reform, minimum aid, and recommendations from the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

The Board also recommends that funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker account be at a level to fund as close to the maximum 75% reimbursement level as state revenue permits. This increase would acknowledge the increasing pressure of high-cost special education services funded in our districts.

Targeted Assistance - Achievement Gap Mitigation Account
The Board recommends the Department have a new account designed to fund reform/targeted assistance initiatives in our schools and districts to invest in educational practice areas that can leverage improved student learning. The account would be used to support best practices focused on providing growth and achievement for all our students. This account would fund work based on the Department's knowledge of those districts where student achievement and learning lags and where investment can be leverage[d] with local and third party resources to support gap closure.

The account would be focus[ed] on areas to directly improve student learning. These would include:
  • Early Literacy Programming;
  • Curriculum & Instruction Initiatives, including arts, humanities, history & social studies;
  • Time & Learning Initiatives (including summer, extended day and afterschool instruction time).

Next Generation Assessment
The Board recommends that the second school year of the Commonwealth's new assessment program be funded at a level to support the direction approved by the Board in November 2015. Funding would include the continued development of the ELA, Math & Science assessment in grades 3-8, as well as the development of the new grade 10 test to be first delivered to the class of 2021 in the spring of 2019.

Civics Education
The Board recommends that the Department prioritize that all students experience a robust civics education program in their K-12 instruction. The Board supports the work of the Civic Learning and Engagement Task Force and looks to build upon the recommendations in the development of a strategic plan to promote civic learning.

Interagency Resource Coordination
The Board recommends the Department work with the Secretary's Office and with other MA executive branch agencies, through interagency agreements and intergovernmental service fund transfers, to address students' non-academic educational needs. The increased coordination of the Education secretariat with Health & Human Services and Housing secretariats could identify additional resources that could be coordinated to assist students and families with services designed to improve a student's ability to be successful in the classroom on a daily basis. For example, resources within Executive Office of Health & Human Services agencies could be identified to provide critical social, emotional, and health supports to improve students' learning ability.

*See this post for discussion of the development of the Board's FY18 Budget priorities.

Board's Budget Subcommittee

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education exists, primarily, to administer state and federal education laws, of which the State's Education Budget is a part. And, while the education budget is a line item within the State's total budget allocation (as is a local education budget within a Municipality's budget), the appointed State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education exercises no budgetary authority (which is unlike locally elected School Committees who have actual budget oversight); BESE maintains policy and regulatory oversight.

Of the ~$5.2B allocated to DESE in FY17, only a tiny amount is actually discretionary:
  • ~91% passes directly through DESE and goes to local districts in the form of Chapter 70 funding
  • ~5% is for federal entitlement programs (IDEA, Nutrition, Perkins, Titles I, II, etc.)
  • Of the remaining ~4%:
    • ~3.9% is discretionary for the purpose of assigning FTEs to new programming (Civics Education, e.g.)
    • less than 0.001% goes to the Department's staffing needs
The Budget Subcommittee* met for the second time this fall to help with the development of Board priorities within the FY18 State Budget. The meeting was held Tuesday, November 29 at 7:30 AM, an hour before the Board's regular monthly meeting. We had previously identified numerous interest areas, including, but not limited to: SEL, civics education, educator resources, Chapter 70 funding, extended learning time, updated health standards, reading and third grade literacy, updated arts education standards, Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations, and full funding for MCAS 2.0. Given the State's continuing revenue challenges, Chair Craven brought forward the idea of "enforced collegiality via intergovernmental service funds", which has the potential for interagency collaboration on shared, non-academic education challenges via Section 2B of the Budget and with the Education secretariat in collaboration with Health & Human Services and Housing secretariats^

The Subcommittee brought forward its recommendations to the full Board for a vote at our regular November meeting (11/29).
- - -
*Members of the Board's FY18 Budget Subcommittee: Katherine Craven (Chair), Margaret McKenna, Michael Moriarity, Ed Doherty, and yours truly. We meet with the commissioner and DESE financial staff. I'm pleased to have been appointed to the Budget Subcommittee each year since my appointment to the Board in 2014; this was my third time through the Board's prioritization process.

^Departments of Early Education and Care, Higher Education, Developmental Services, Public Health, and Mental Health among them. Section 2B of the FY2017 Final BudgetNotwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the agencies listed in this section may expend the amounts listed in this section for the provision of services to agencies listed in section 2. All expenditures made under this section shall be accompanied by a corresponding transfer of funds from an account listed in section 2 to the Intragovernmental Service Fund, established by section 2Q of chapter 29 of the General Laws. All revenues and other inflows shall be based on rates published by the seller agency that are developed in accordance with cost principles established by the United States Office of Management and Budget Circular A-87, Cost Principles for State, Local and Indian Tribal Governments. All rates shall be published within 30 days of the enactment of this section. No expenditures shall be made from the Intragovernmental Service Fund which would cause that fund to be in deficit at the close of fiscal year 2017. All authorizations in this section shall be charged to the Intragovernmental Service Fund and shall not be subject to section 5D of chapter 29 of the General Laws. Any balance remaining in that fund at the close of fiscal year 2017 shall be transferred to the General Fund.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Board Retreat: Impressions

I'd been under the weather for several days, but was feeling better and made a point of going to the Board's scheduled retreat in Devens* this past Tuesday. I thought I'd share some of my lingering impressions:
  • Elections (and ballot questions) have consequences. Once we were coffeed and seated(1), the Chair opened the meeting with some comments about "company off-sites"(2), the election, and the Board's work. About the election he said (paraphrasing), in terms of Massachusetts, we're "maintaining the status quo" for children in our schools, and members of the Board have a "role to play" and it's more important than ever that we help every student become proficient. Some members said they weren't clear if he was talking about the outcome of the national election or of the charter school ballot question. He clarified that he was indeed talking about Question 2 and was of the opinion that the outcome of that debate had [put] "limitations on this Board". Suffice to say there were several around the table still feeling sour about the outcome of Q2, which was soundly repudiated by voters 2:1.
  • Safety pin solidarity. In light of the outcome of the national election, several members commented specifically about the spike in harassment, hate speech, and bullying playing out, not only in communities across the country, but with students in schools across the state. The Department noted that school superintendents are providing reassurance to support students. I raised the Attorney General's hate crime hotline and asked if either the Commissioner or Secretary had worked/is working in coordination with her on this issue. Both said no. The Secretary was of the mind (paraphrasing) that these incidents were coming on the heels of the election and might be "out of proportion" due to social media sharing. The Commissioner said he'd be meeting with superintendents and "schools as safe places". (Have to wonder who is advising the Governor and his team on this and why the Governor remains silent? As of this writing, many thousands of phone calls have been made to the Executive Office, with a request that the Governor address the issues to which my Board colleagues attest and to which the Attorney General has responded: to openly declare Massachusetts a safe haven from hate). 
  • How many Board members does it take to write a mission statement? There was a good exchange of ideas about updating the Board's mission statement, with a decision to let things sit for a while, as opposed to forming a subcommittee to wordsmith a new one.
  • Actually, the Foundation Budget wasn't on the agenda. There was uneven reference to it, nonetheless, and to the Foundation Budget Review Commission's analysis showing Chapter 70 funding is about $2Billion short. Inadequate education funding was brought up by one member who asked if it's within the Board's purview to advocate for implementation of adequate education funding, including the FBRC's recommendations and the "Fair Share Amendment" proposal to come before voters in November 2018. I said that adequate funding is central to everything we do and that we should be advocating for it. FBRC came up again, noted under the last bullet below.
  • Does the SEA add value to schools and districts? If you're a Superintendent or Principal, the answer is yes, according to DESE data gleaned from surveys since 2009:
    • Asked whether or not ESE provides services in a coherent, well coordinated fashion:
      • Superintendents agreed 57.9% (24.1% in 2009)
      • Principals agreed 65.9% (41.0% in 2009)
    • As to whether ESE is effective in its efforts to improve the overall quality of K-12 education:
      • Superintendents agreed 66.7% (41.7% in 2009)
      • Principals agreed by a whopping 74.6% (58.4% in 2009)
  • The Board and Department didn't strategize, per se. The Commissioner presented his slides: several slides on changing demographics in Massachusetts and the wide variation in school effectiveness; several scatter plots illustrating persistent gaps in achievement, along with the range of achievement at each level of school economic disadvantage. Teeing it up as his most "provocative" slide, the Commissioner displayed a slide with information about students in high poverty, high minority schools:  
     So, there followed some discussion about how to work with this information, and several questions asked by my colleagues: Had the Department looked at thus and such, and the Department responded with their data and engagement with the field. After some discussion, again I raised the fact that the Foundation Budget is some $2Billion short and this time I was met with questions from the Secretary: How does increased funding change the information [in the slide]? How does [increasing Foundation Funding] change the effectiveness of teachers in the face of these facts? I don't know, but I posit that the educational enterprise is an eco-system and everything is connected. If schools and districts had the adequate funding that the Foundation Budget Review Commission's analysis acknowledges they lack (for English language learners, in determining economic disadvantage, special education, and addressing costs of health insurance), who knows what positive impact would be felt in other areas, including teacher effectiveness? And we owe it to our children to find out.
- - -
*The Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign will host the  DissemiNATION Fair in Devens on Friday.

(1). Board Members Present: Paul Sagan, Chair; James Morton, Vice Chair; Nathan Moore, Student Representative; Jim Peyser, Secretary of Education; Ed Doherty, Labor Representative; Michael Moriarity; Penny Noyce; Yours truly, Parent Rep. Board members Roland Fryer, Katherine Craven, and Margaret McKenna had informed the chair in advance of their unavailability this day. Staff members in attendance:
Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner; Bill Bell, Associate Commissioner for Administration and Finance; Russell Johnston, Senior Associate Commissioner; Carrie Conaway, Chief Strategy and Research Officer; Heather Peske, Senior Associate Commissioner; Rhoda Schneider, General Counsel; Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner for Educational Options; Helene Bettencourt, Chief of Staff; Lauren Greene, Assistant Chief of Staff; Jessica Leitz, Communications

(2). Retreat off-sites are publicly posted meetings of the Board; we had one member of the public join us at a little before 10:00.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

EOE Presentation

Secretary of Education, Jim Peyser, gave a short presentation at today's Board retreat in Devens entitled, "Education Reform in Massachusetts: From Good to Great". I've recreated text from his slides below, with his permission:
  • Key Outcomes
    • Strengthening the global competitiveness of Massachusetts' workforce
    • Closing the opportunity and achievement gap

  • Getting the Conditions Right
    • World-class standards & assessments
    • Accessible, timely & meaningful information for policymakers, providers, educators & parents/consumers
    • Transparent, predictable, sustainable finance systems, with incentives for performance
    • Effective educators and leaders
    • Authority to act with accountability for results
    • High-quality options and parental choice

  • Focusing, Aligning & Integrating
    • Upgrading Early Education Quality
      • Workforce Development
      • Kindergarten Readiness Screening
      • Rate increases Tied to Quality Improvement
    • Strengthening & Expanding Career Pathways
      • Voc-Tech Capital Grants
      • Workplace Learning (STEM high school internships)
      • Expansion of engineering and computer science courses
      • Early College/Dual Enrollment
    • Improving College Affordability & Completion
      • Reducing/Accelerating Remediation
      • Commonwealth Commitment
      • Alternative Pathways/Models (including On-Line & Competency Based Education)
    • Coordinated Regional Planning
      • Workforce Skills Cabinet
      • Higher Education Capital Investment

  • What Success Looks Like*
    • An early education system that works in partnership with local school districts, while developing and supporting its workforce, to ensure literacy for all by 3rd grade
    • A K-12 education system that empowers schools and offers parents diverse, high-quality options -- especially in high-need communities
    • Expanded opportunities for high-quality career education and workplace learning in both high school and college to better prepare young people for successful careers, especially in STEM fields
    • A focused, efficient higher education system that offers students and families accessible and affordable pathways to a college degree, while providing supports and incentives to ensure their success
    • Integrated regional public education systems that maximize resources and capacity, while responding flexibly to the changing needs and priorities of the state and local economy
*Emphasis as it appears in the Secretary's original (bold red)