Wednesday, December 21, 2016

ESSA: Updates from DESE

Included at the Board's regular meeting this month, was a summary of the Department's stakeholder outreach(1) from 5 Community Forums and the impact of ESSA's(2) final accountability regulations issued by the US Department of Education (US/ED) this past November.

DESE sought feedback from a broad spectrum of stakeholders on a number of ESSA-related areas. Their preliminary analysis of more than 1,500 ideas for accountability indicators appears to (somewhat) edit and reorganize the previous list the Board received at the September Board meeting. At Community Forums, DESE received feedback* to build on:

  • Modifications to the accountability system
    • Broad support for accountability metrics that:
      • Measure school climate
      • Ensure students participate in a high quality, well-rounded curriculum
  • Programming to provide safe and supportive schools and well-rounded programs of study
    • Broad support for programs that:
      • Provide students with social/emotional/behavioral supports
      • Provide educators with skills to attend to students' social/emotional/behavioral needs
  • Programming to promote equitable access to high quality educators

Final regulations on accountability data for state plans were issued by US/ED on November 29, 2016. The Department is in the process of digesting all 1,100+ pages of that document by January 24, 2017, when the DRAFT State plan will come before the Board. Five accountability components are required:
    1. Academic achievement: based on annual assessments in ELA, Maths, and Science
    2. A measure of student growth or progress for elementary and middle schools
    3. Graduation rates for high schools
    4. Progress in achieving English proficiency for English language learners
    5. At lease one measure of school quality or student success

Under ESSA, states, districts, and schools must establish "ambitious state-designed long-term goals" and measures of interim progress, for all students and subgroups, including a focus on gap closing. Several regulation changes were noted in the presentation (changes in italics):
    • First submission of the State's plan is now April 3, 2017 -- changed from March 3, 2017
    • Identification of schools in need of Comprehensive (CSI) and Targeted (TSI) support is to be completed prior to SY2018-19 -- changed from SY2017-18
    • ESSA maintains the 95% assessment participation requirement, but provides calculation options
    • Quantifiable state goals - based on proficiency - are explicitly required as part of the ESSA state plan
    • A 4-year comprehensive graduation rate must be used for selecting high schools with a graduation rate below 67% -- has removed some flexibility
    • Super subgroups are high needs subgroups that include students who are English language learners (ELL), students with disabilities (SWD), and students who are economically disadvantaged. According to the final regs, super subgroups cannot replace an individual subgroup -- DESE plans to submit each subgroup separately and as a super subgroup
    • Students who were former ELL and SWD may be included in annual accountability determinations for up to four years (ELLs) and for up to two years (SWD)
    • Concrete funding requirements for CSI ($500K) and TSI ($50K) have been removed.

Next steps:
  • January: At the Board's meeting (in Bridgewater), we'll be presented with a proposed model that incorporates feedback received from the field
  • February: Revised model, based on feedback from BESE and the field
  • March: Final review of proposed model with Board
  • April: Submit ESSA state plan to US/ED
- - -
(1). In developing the new state accountability plan, final US/ED regulations identify 16 categories of stakeholders who must be consulted: the governor, members of the state legislature, members of the state board of education, local education agencies, representatives of Indian tribes, teachers, principals, other school leaders, charter school leaders, parents and families, community-based organizations, institutions of higher education, employers, representatives of private school students, early childhood educators and leaders, and the public.

(2). Info on ESSA is housed on EOE's website.

*DESE's survey on suggested ESSA accountability indicators is still open:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

O Schlussel Davids

O Key of David: Come break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

Isaiah 22:22
Jeremiah 13:13
Jeremiah 51:19
Matthew 4:16
Matthew 16:19
Luke 1:79
Revelation 3:7

Monday, December 19, 2016

O Antiphons

Ancient monastics marked the final week of Advent (December 17-23) with a series of traditional antiphons chanted or recited during Vespers, the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. Referred to as the "O Antiphons", or "The Great Os", each begins with the salutation, "O", followed by a biblical name, and closes with a specific petition for the day.

Growing up, I'd heard the traditional Gregorian chants sung by the religious sisters at the convent of St Ann, one of two convents in our rural mountain town, now both closed (also where I and two of my siblings attended kindergarten). Now, I'm drawn to Arvo Pärt's settings of "Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen", as sung by the Taverner Choir. Even amid the frenzy and hubbub of holiday shopping and celebrating, or perhaps because of it, I find them particularly resonant, falling as they do on the darkest days on either side of winter solstice. Pärt's modern settings are like illuminated Icons: mystical; minimal; personal.

Two years ago I was working in a small Episcopal church in Newton and I created simple slideshows to go with Pärt's antiphons. I posted one each day to my blog there as an aid to prayer in the final week of the Advent season. Technology has changed a bit since then and I've had some trouble cross-posting them here. Had I anticipated this, I would have redone them entirely, as some of the slideshow images are quite fuzzy.

Religious or no, it's important to pause a little each day for meditation and reflection. Giving ears to the tonal contrasts in Pärt's composition is a beautiful way to support doing just that. I've posted three "O" moments to this blog to date; if the technology permits, I'll continue to post an "O" each day through December 23.

We're not all religious; I'm not, particularly. But, perhaps we're all waiting for something to finally celebrate in the deepest darkness of the year.

Blessings & peace as we enter the final days of Advent.

O Spross aus Isais Wurzel

O Flower of Jesse's Stem: Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

Isaiah 11:1-10
Isaiah 52:15
Romans 15:12

Sunday, December 18, 2016

O Adonai

O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel: Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set your people free.

Exodus 3:2
Isaiah 33:22
Isaiah 63:11-12
Micah 6:4
Acts 7:30-31

Saturday, December 17, 2016

O Weisheit*

O Wisdom: Come and show your people the way to wisdom and understanding.

Wisdom 8:1
Isaiah 11:2-3
Isaiah 28:29
Proverbs 8:1-36
John 1:1-5

This post has been edited: a technical glitch prevented the video from uploading, initially, and was thus omitted.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How can being bilingual be an asset for white students and a deficit for immigrants?*

With one tweet, I was linked to perhaps the most on-point question of our time and to information about a dual-language program right here in Massachusetts, in the Mendon-Upton Regional School District:

The link embedded above in Tracy's tweet will still take you to The Hechinger Report article. The Mendon-Upton program (and another one highlighted, from Texas) aims to make all students in the class fully bilingual. The article points out that the Texas program would be illegal in Massachusetts. And, while bilingual education programs aren't part of the ELL construct in the Commonwealth, such strength-based approaches guarantee students who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) access to educational opportunities. These programs allow students to acquire a full command of the English language and employ their native languages to help them master challenging academic standards in all subject areas.

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, as I did until age 10, I noted many wonderful accents in the parents and grandparents of friends, including my own grandparents, who were immigrants from Turkish Armenia, Italy, Poland, or Germany. All of the children I knew spoke English, though I now realize it may not have been their first language.

More than 35% of people whose first language is not English live in my Town today — true in varying degrees of many cities and Towns across the Commonwealth — and many are limited English proficient. It's extremely difficult for children to do well in school who do not understand what their teachers are explaining. Language instructional programs, especially in public schools, should also involve parents in planning, implementation, and evaluation.

It's time to amend the law that came about as the result of an initiative petition that passed in 2002, so that we can do better for our multi-lingual students. Strengthening this area is one key to closing gaps in proficiency.

*Title of an article in The Hechinger Report, and subject of this post.

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, then a charter school executive director. We introduced ourselves to one another and wanted to know about each other's schools and their challenges. Both lauded their teams and colleagues and described some of the challenges they face at their schools, noting master schedules, in particular. They were both 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 were many additional staff throughout the venue and on the floor assisting with the event, including several I recognized from the Office of Charter School Accountability.

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 Panel Session and for viewing school displays upstairs. At lunch, networking table topics were arranged across the space; participants got their lunch and chose from a list of topics to be discussed at one of the tables, for about 30 minutes each (some popular topics were offered at multiple tables). 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 PBL, while ensuring students are learning deeply and remain fully engaged...small steps...taught in South Central LA - Crips, Bloods, razor-wire - - taught them PBL and they thrived. 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. Encourages 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 environment 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 Amy 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 assisting in 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 through the planning 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 absent: Roland Fryer, Katherine Craven, and Margaret McKenna had informed the chair in advance of their unavailability to attend 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)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

ESSA Community Forums: UPdate

If you've registered to attend the first ESSA Community Forum this Monday from 6:00-7:30 PM in Boston, you already know it won't follow a typical "public hearing" format.

As per the email from DESE, those who have registered to attend a session will be seated at tables for facilitated brainstorming sessions, and it looks as though they'll home-in on a few areas, based on the first round of survey and private meetings last spring. An outline of activities was provided in the email:
  • ~10-15 minutes: DESE staff will introduce ESSA and the opportunities for Massachusetts to consider
  • ~30 minutes: Brainstorming - Session 1: DESE will conduct brainstorming activities at each table. In this session, they'll be focused on the opportunity to modify our school accountability system (the measures and leveling systems used by the Department)
  • ~30 minutes: Brainstorming - Session 2: DESE will conduct a second set of activities at each table. For this session, participants will choose among several topics:
    • ideas to improve students' health and safety;
    • ideas to ensure students have a well-rounded education;
    • ideas to ensure teachers have high quality supports
  • ~15-20 minutes: Open Q&A/Wrap up (15-20 minutes)
The ESSA flier has a link to a survey at the bottom of the right-hand column; if you can't make one of the scheduled Forums, you may still provide feedback. As of this post, when I clicked on the link, a message appeared that the "survey is under construction" and to check back soon to provide your feedback.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

ESSA Community Forums

Five ESSA Community Forums/Fora are being hosted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The first Forum is this Monday, November 14 from 6:00-7:30 PM (details for all Forums/Fora below).

Each Forum provides an opportunity for stakeholders to join in a regional discussion and share ideas on how to improve K-12 public school assistance, accountability, and engagement, so that schools receive the supports they need to benefit each and every student. A stakeholder is anyone with a stake in the success of all students in our K-12 public schools, including:
  • Parents
  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Principals
  • Superintendents
  • other education administrators and personnel
  • community members
  • business leaders and entrepreneurs
  • community organizations
  • faith-based communities
  • Statewide organizations and associations
  • post secondary public and private colleges and universities
  • paid or elected public service individuals and committees
Monday, November 14 | 6:00-7:30 PM: Boston Public Schools, Bolling Building, 2nd floor, 2300 Washington Street, Roxbury
Monday, November 21 | 6:00-7:30 PM: Shrewsbury's Oak Middle School, 45 Oak Street, Shrewsbury
Tuesday, November 29 | 6:00-7:30 PM: Brockton High School, 470 Forest Avenue, Brockton
Thursday, December 1 | 6:00-7:30 PM: Holyoke High School, 500 Beech Street, Holyoke
Tuesday, December 6 | 6:00-7:30 PM: Salem's Collins Middle School, 29 Highland Avenue, Salem

Join an upcoming public forum by registering online HERE. More about the Forums/Fora HERE (including a link for giving online survey feedback) and HERE.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Hours*

I've blogged before about my years living at Shim Gwang SaMind Light Temple, located on the outskirts of Boston. It was wonderful community living and a privilege to train zen martial arts under the tutelage of a modern Zen Master. After several seasons I became attuned to temple life and the concomitant seasonal changes in nature, due in part to the tempo of care and maintenance of the temple building itself, its gardens, and grounds.

With the setting back of clocks this weekend, I'm reminded that we revere monastics (and poets) for their moment-to-moment awareness: awareness of subtle shifts in nature, awareness of time.(1) Thinking further about time found me reflecting on the monastic understanding of the word "hour", which goes back to the Greek word, hora.

The Greek notion means "time" or "season", and is more expansive than our notion of a day evenly divided into twenty-four-hour segments. Modern folk come closer to an appreciation of the original understanding when considering the seasons of the year: in which a season is a mood and an experience, not an exact period that starts, say, on December twenty-first and ends on March twenty-first. We sense a difference in the quality of light, the length of daylight, the feel of the air on our skin and are aware that something is changing in nature.

This time of year feels natural to slow down and begin a daily practice of contemplation and meditation. All of this thinking about monastic life has drawn forth memories of extended family who had taken Holy Orders -- and of my first encounters with the canonical hours. A canonical hour is more a presence than a measurement. Benedictine Brother David refers to this sense of time as "a soul measure". He says, even in our busy modern schedules we notice that pre-dawn, early morning, and high noon each have qualities all their own. Mid-afternoon, "the time shadows lengthen", has a different character from the time when it gets dark and we turn on the lights. Each monastic hour issues a distinctive challenge and calls for a unique response; just reading about them invites a sense of calm and purpose:
  • Vigils - The Night Watch: before the day's noises begin; when it is still perfectly quiet
  • Lauds - The Coming of the Light: around breakfast time; nourish your soul for the coming day
  • Prime - Deliberate Beginning: when you get to your workplace and just before you begin
  • Terce - Blessing: a mid-morning prayer break
  • Sext - Fervor and Commitment: a meditation during lunch hour
  • None - Shadows Grow Longer: the needed boost for the last hours of the work day
  • Vespers - Lighting the Lamps: an evening celebration
  • Compline - Completing the Circle: at night just before going to bed
Of course, there are many ways to pray (and not all chose to). It was said of Abba Arsenius, a desert monk from 4th or 5th century Egypt, that on Saturday evenings, preparing for the "the glory of Sunday", he would turn his back on the sun and stretch out his hands in prayer towards the heavens, till once again the sun shone on his face. Then he would sit down.
- - -
Bonus hour this weekend with the end of Daylight Saving Time; clocks back Saturday night.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Modern Lead Learners*

To the Gilbert & Sullivan tune, "Modern Major General":

To model a true Partnership with Fam'ly and Community,
(As leaders of our school it is a key responsibility),
To strive to liberate the barriers with true integrity,
For Stu' success we'engage all fam'lies to our best ability!

We do not hesitate to work hard to improve engagement rates,
Shared vision that we all create will lead us to eliminate
The gaps in learning that exist, the urgency is oh so great,
Our staff is focused ev'ry day, as school improvement demonstrates!

The Partnership needs all of us, it's more than a philosophy,
We take to heart relationships and excellence and equity,
Our strength lies in diversity to re'lize opportunity,
Modern fam'ly 'engagement is a shared responsibility!

We have experience and skill with tools and staff most critical,
Communications ev’ry way from face-to-face and digital,
We build relations big and small, collaborate with one and all,
For Stu' Engagement, most of all, Fam’ly Engagement is our call!
- - -
*A theme song for today's school leaders! "Family" refers to the community of adults in a child's life who provide advocacy and support for them to succeed at school and in life.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Parent Perspective: State Assessments Under ESSA

About state assessment results, parents have said they want to know and understand:
  • How does this information help me and help teachers to provide a better learning environment for my child?
  • What does this mean? Is she doing well or not doing well? 
  • How will teachers get the information they need?
(Note to DESE: Look at, and think about, what you're going to say to parents!)

One of the things ESSA has done is give States more flexibility* in education governance. It's not a perfect system; it's a series of trade-offs and choices.

Those trade-offs and choices begin with the question: What do you want the test to do? If one thing is to spend less time on testing, are we trading-off on content coverage, which may result in less reliable data than a longer test. How well is the assessment aligned to state's standards? Both questions are striking, given Massachusetts is in the midst of developing its 2.0 test.

(I'm told every testing vendor, if asked, can give an analysis of how well the questions line up with state standards. Note to self!) 

B: Align to Standards (ELA/Literacy) Criteria (L) & Evidence (R)
Also important is to understand what a high-quality assessment is. CCSSO criteria outlines principles for assessing a high-quality test, including testing for "depth of knowledge" (B4). Constructing a response, writing, or doing a performance assessment - all of these types of responses are considered high-quality assessments. (They also take more time and cost more money to score hence, the trade-offs!)

It seems obvious to state this, but apparently it's something frequently overlooked until quite late in the development process: To ensure a test is actually assessing higher order thinking skills, some questions should ask students to do the kinds of things we actually want them to do in classrooms.

Questions this parent still has:
  • What information will be reported?
  • How will information be reported?
  • When will assessment results be shared with parents, teachers, and policymakers? (If teachers don't get info on how their students did until November, it really isn't going to do them any good in terms of making changes to their practice or lesson plans.)
  • How transparent and accessible will those results be?
  • Are we monitoring everything we're doing?
  • How?
  • Do we understand the capacity of our local districts?
    • Do they have enough computers/devices?
    • Is there sufficient bandwidth? (Many times parents feel as though the testing sessions go on for weeks and weeks, even though it's not happening to every kid; the perception is no other learning is taking place in the school).
  • Is DESE ready for new reporting requirements by subgroup ("N-size") to include military students?
Upshot: Where state assessments are concerned, DESE can't do it all and can't do it all well. Test developers' decisions are made on which content standards are being prioritized (and the Board didn't establish a list of content standard priorities). Given the fact that state assessments are going to continue, and that the test represents the particular skills and knowledge the test developer has chosen to assess, I'll be referring to the above questions as the Board considers its ESSA decisions concurrent with the development of the MCAS 2.0
*ESSA also provides for additional flexibility under the Innovative Assessment Pilot, but Massachusetts isn't taking this on at this time.

US Department of Education (July 2016): ESSA Assessment Fact Sheet

NASBE (January 2016): The State Education Standard

Ensuring Equity in ESSA: The Role of N-Size in Subgroup Accountability

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Modern Family Engagement

Hands: How often have you experienced "random acts" of family engagement at your child's school, those one-off events to count heads in the building toward the school's family engagement plan?

Research demonstrates that when families are engaged in children's education, student achievement and graduation rates increase. Also? Studies show that effectively engaging families is cost effective, so much so that schools would have to spend more than $1,000 per pupil to get the same results.

So, it's clear that schools need families to help close learning gaps, but few know what good family engagement looks like, and fewer are willing to take the risk.

It's been observed that, in the homes of high-achieving children, the academic climate is in-sync with the academic climate of their schools. Together they generate a series of beliefs, attitudes, skills, and motivations that lead to higher achievement of many kinds.

Modern families play critical roles for student success, raising their children in multiple settings and across time, in collaboration with many others:
  • Modern family engagement is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to engaging families in meaningful and culturally respectful ways - and families are committed to actively supporting their children's learning and development --> where families and schools co-create responsibilities and roles for student success
  • Modern family engagement is continuous across a child's life --> where schools and communities provide opportunities for family engagement
  • Modern family engagement is carried out everywhere children learn - at home, in pre-K programs, in school, in after-school programs, faith-based institutions, and community programs and activities --> where families, schools, and communities take stock to learn and improve
It's important for schools to be intentional in their approaches to build relationships with families, yet many teacher preparation programs provide very little preparation on how to work constructively with families. As the Lead Learner in a school building, Principals set the tone, co-constructing roles based on a shared responsibility and their understanding of complimentary responsibilities.

How family friendly is your school? How do you know? One way to find out is through a welcoming school walk-through. Invite some families, some community members, teachers, and support staff, including custodians, cafeteria workers, and school secretaries. Walk through the building and ask them to look at your school as a new visitor would see it:
  • How inviting is the entrance?
  • Are signs clear and in the languages represented by families whose children attend the school?
  • How welcoming is the front office?
Consider using a guide like this checklist from Beyond the Bake Sale.*

All parents have the capacity to support their children's learning and there are many different kinds of learning. Many times, educators don't understand how they intimidate families, especially those whose first language isn't English. How can you shift culture in a school?
- - -
* Beyond the Bake Sale is a great book for the whole school to read together, but it's even more effective to read it in mixed teams of educators and parents. I've read it several ways and one of the most powerfully engaging was as a virtual book study across 10 time zones using blogs, twitter, and voxer to share learning and challenge thinking.

Too Small to Fail is an initiative of the Clinton Foundation and The Opportunity Institute to empower all parents with tools to talk, read, and sing with their young children from birth. Check out their Programs & Partnerships to see how they are shifting awareness in the media, in laundromats, on the playground and more.

Harvard Family Research Project helps stakeholders develop and evaluate strategies to promote the well-being of children, youth, families, and their communities.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Changes for Student Homeless Populations Under ESSA

According to the National Center for Homeless Education federal data summary, the number of homeless students doubled in less than a decade: public schools identified a record 1,301,239 homeless children and youth in the 2013-2014 school year up from 679,724 in 2006-2007.

New provisions under ESSA seek to increase the capacity of coordinators and liaisons to connect homeless youth to needed services and supports, ensure these students receive a quality education, and hold schools more accountable for homeless student outcomes. While states have until 2017–18 to fully implement most major components of ESSA, key provisions related to homeless students were to be implemented by the start of this (2016–17) school year. Amendments to McKinney-Vento went into effect on October 1; provisions for Foster Care take effect on December 10, 2016:
  • For Coordinators & Liaisons: States must designate state coordinators to monitor local education agencies, inform parents and the public of homeless students' rights, and provide high-quality training for local liaisons charged with building local capacity to implement the McKinney-Vento provisions of ESSA.
  • Stability: LEAs must consider student-centered factors in making the best determination of schools for homeless students to attend, with a presumption that students will remain in their original schools and their wishes will be given priority.
  • Enrollment and Full Participation: SEAs and LEAs must develop, review, and revise policies to remove barriers and create opportunities for homeless students to be identified, enrolled, and engaged in school, including in public pre-K programs.
  • Opportunity to Engage in a Rigorous Education: Homeless students must have full access to academic and extracurricular activities, credit for full or partial completion of coursework, and counseling to help support a transition to post-secondary education and career opportunities.
  • Accountability: States must disaggregate data on state report cards by homeless student category starting in the fall of 2017-2018.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Stakeholder Perceptions on Assessments

Under ESSA, State Boards of Ed are responsible for engaging stakeholders as part of the work to take place to ensure understanding of the new law.

A really interesting report released this summer from Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) who partnered with Gallup on a stakeholder study on assessments. NWEA had planned their survey well before ESEA was reauthorized.

This study engaged five key stakeholder groups: Teachers, Parents, Principals, Superintendents, and Students.

Theory of Change: Information about all students and individual students inform policymakers, teachers, parents to know and make decisions about change (policymakers), practice (teachers), schools and districts (parents).

"Perception is reality": Stakeholders were asked about the changing role of assessment. Some key findings, especially from parents:
  • Everyone is concerned about lack of understanding of purpose of assessments, especially state policymakers.
  • 32% of fathers felt that state assessments improve their child's learning
  • 21% of mothers felt that state assessments don't improve their child's learning
  • Parents felt there was a lack of communication from teachers about their child's performance on the state assessment
  • Teachers do not feel comfortable about interpreting and communicating state testing results to parents
  • 61% of parents said child's teacher rarely or never communicated with them about state assessment results
Key Findings from the study overall:
  1. Education stakeholders value assessments broadly, but views vary by assessment type and purpose.
  2. Parents need more information about assessments.
  3. Administrators are still getting to know ESSA, but superintendents are optimistic about its impact.
  4. Gaps in understanding of the purpose of assessments remain:
    • Most teachers, principals, and superintendents do not believe that state and federal policymakers understand the purpose of different types of assessments, highlighting the need for dialogue around ESSA implementation
    • Teachers are largely doubtful that parents understand formative or interim assessments--the diagnostic tools and practices teachers frequently use to gauge student understanding and adapt the instruction process
    • Parents are skeptical that state tests improve the quality of teaching
  5. Teachers need additional training to maximize the power of assessment data to inform instructional practices
  1. Get ESSA implementation "right" - foster dialogue with stakeholders
  2. Involve students in assessment planning processes - what students gain in understanding them is applied to their personal academic/educational goals
  3. Support ongoing assessment education for teachers - with particular focus on teacher preparation
  4. Change the national dialogue - provide assessment literacy resources for all stakeholders
- - - - - - -
Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) and Gallup Study: Make Assessments Work for All Students: Multiple Measures Matter