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.