Thursday, January 24, 2008

Preliminary Chapter 70 FY 09

The governor's budget has released preliminary numbers for Chapter 70. A quick review indicates the budget follows through on the third year of a five year phase-in to assure that comparable cities and towns receive comparable treatment from the state, using the guidelines and formulas established by the legislature towards that end; as well as using an uncapped price deflator at a little over 5% to realistically adjust the foundation budget, also, I believe, following the legislature's intent if not their ability to fund.

The numbers and formula spreadsheets can be found here.

While the legislature disagrees about the use of gambling revenues to close a structural budget gap, I don't see any reason for major disagreements between the legislature and the governor on this part of the budget this year. The price tag for the chapter 70 proposal is $223 million, about the same as last year.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Deval Patrick proposes expanding the Board of Education

The governor has proposed expanding the board of education from 9 to 13 members, with the goal of expanding his authority over the Department of Education to match his responsibility as a governor who has chosen to make education reform one of his primary objectives.

I don't like this move as a political means to overcome an independent board, but I do support the governor's objective, and there is some historical context to support the move, both very recent (outgoing governor Romney stacked the board with two new appointees on his way out the door), and relatively recent (Governor Weld dissolved the existing board and cut the board from 17 to 9 members in 1996).

It appears that the Massachusetts Senate also supports the objective of shaking up the existing Board of Education, given that the Governor's action was at a committee hearing for an initiative sponsored by the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

A couple of letters to the editor of the Boston Globe this week shed more light on the issues.

Ed board shuffle: a lesson in irony, on how the Board of Ed was restructured in 1996, with the reconstituted board dominated by conservative think-tank appointees affiliated with the Pioneer Institute.

Schools beset by regulations, by the executive director of the Mass Association of School Committees, expressing concerns about the regulatory burden put in place by the now status-quo board of ed.

Last month's newspaper headlines blasting Deval Patrick for appointing a parent representative approved by the PTA and school committees appeared to me to be a preemptive strike in support of the existing board of education and a warning to the governor regarding the appointment of the next commissioner of education.

I think it is interesting to see the Boston Globe at least allowing letters to the editor expressing a more expansive view, rather than a followup editorial chalking up a second strike against the governor in his actions regarding the board of education. "First he appoints Ruth Kaplan, and now this!". Maybe the Globe's Pioneer delegate has gone sailing for the holiday.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

School Committee writes against NCLB

The Hampshire Gazette writes that the school committee of Amherst voted unanimously in support of a letter recommending changes in No Child Left Behind, to be sent to Massachusetts' senior Senator Kennedy.

I excerpt below the quotes of committee members for those who do not have a Gazettenet subscription.

Some of the recommendation in the letter include: the elimination of annual yearly progress goals for schools, calling them "arbitrary" and "unrealistic"; cutting back on the amount of testing and making the remaining testing more diverse with less of an emphasis on "high-stakes" testing; and changing the standards by which English Language Learners and students with disabilities are assessed, which the LAC called "inequitable."

Luschen said that since standards for testing vary from state to state, some states are able to show improvement in their yearly progress, but their students actually perform more poorly on national tests because their state tests have become less difficult to boost yearly progress results.

"One test is not a good indicator of someone's achievement," Luschen said.

Committee Vice Chairman Andy Churchill agreed that there was too much testing being conducted and said that fifth-grade students in Massachusetts spend four weeks of the school year taking standardized tests.

Churchill said that the data provided by those tests doesn't do anything to improve the instruction those students are receiving, because it becomes available at the end of the year after the students are moving on to sixth-grade.

Churchill said it was "autopsy data rather than biopsy data." Testing should "work for instruction, not get in the way of it," Churchill said.

The letter also recommends providing more local control in regards to school improvements rather than mandates coming from the federal level who don't have direct contact with the schools.

Committee member Michael Hussin recommended emphasizing the need for adequate funding for any mandates that are part of NCLB for the law to have any chance of success.

Luschen and Wenk said they hope to have a final copy of the letter sent to Kennedy by the end of the week.

Though the letter is a bit of a committee laundry list, I concur with most of the themes. Below, some of my thoughs. My studies of the arbitrary and unrealistic nature of AYP can be found else on this blog.

Why should the state require 5th graders to spend four weeks taking tests for state and federal mandates, rather than testing at only one or two subjects per grade except in 10th grade? If you're concerned that limited testing might encourage schools to cheat the testing schedule, assign the tested subject randomly to different schools. And why don't parents get test results within a month after their kids are tested, so the testing can do some good for individual kids, rather than getting results six months after the tests are taken?

And why should Washington and Beacon Hill be expected to have a better idea about how to improve individual school systems than local school committees? The current regulations take already limited control over schools away from school committees, and push it up the bureaucratic hierarchy.

Mass Board of Ed revised some of their restructuring regulations last spring to more or less automate restructuring choices - I suspect in part because of the overwhelming workload they anticipated facing, when several hundred schools at a time face final sanctions. But reading the board notes regarding Holyoke's schools gives me little new confidence that the Board of Ed has a clue how to fix schools one at a time, much less on a commodity outsourcing basis. They've been working for years on Holyoke; but since AYP is an extraordinarly poor measure of progress, board members couldn't even get a sense whether their prescriptions have done any good. Some want to fire management; others think management has done a good job and is respected in the community. Some think the consulting firm that has been guiding Holyoke is poorly matched to the city, though no supporting evidence was given.

Can you imagine the chaos if the Board of Ed is charged with restructuring 75% of the schools in the Massachussets at the same time, if they can't even do the job on one district at a time?

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ruth Kaplan, PTA representative on the Board of Ed

Governor Deval Patrick made his first appointment to the Massachusetts Board of Education this week, filling a spot on the board authorized by the legislature two years ago but never filled by former governor Romney. The governor is instructed to select from three nominees made by the state PTA. Governor Romney was not willing to select any of the nominees offered for the past two years.

Media coverage this week was nearly unanimous, castigating the governor for selecting an "anti-MCAS zealot". A different opinion was presented by the Berkshire Eagle and by the Needham Times, which see an opportunity for a more flexible and nuanced path forward. I concur with these two op-eds.

Below is an excerpt from a June 2005 news article in the Boston Globe, when our former governor refused to select any of the PTA nominees offered.

Romney, PTA tussle over appointment

Governor unhappy with parent group's choices for education panel

By Maria Sacchetti, Globe Staff June 8, 2005

The idea seemed harmless: Put a parent on the state Board of Education for the first time, so that parents' concerns would be heard.

But the naming of a parent to the Board of Education has become a surprisingly intense tug-of-war between the state Parent Teachers Association and Governor Mitt Romney. Two weeks ago, the PTA sent Romney a list of three women from which to choose, including two Democrats, and asked the governor to pick one.

Instead, an aide from the governor's office last week told the PTA that the governor wanted three additional candidates, perhaps including a man. The problem with the PTA's list, a spokeswoman for Romney said, was that the candidates opposed the MCAS and charter schools. In the governor's view, the PTA's list didn't include someone who would represent most parents.


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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Deval Patrick Readiness Project Press Release

Can be found here

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Readiness Project

Governor Deval Patrick's speech at the U-MASS Boston commencement was reported as the announcement of the governor's new education plan. The focus of subsequent news articles has been on a couple points made in the speech.

  • Free tuition to community colleges
  • Universal extended day and universal pre-K

  • I don't claim any special expertise on community colleges. It seems like a good idea to make community college affordable. I agree with most of the op-ed in today's Hampshire Gazette, which I quote in some detail at the end of this post.

    I do note that the summaries printed in the news reports appear to be tangential or perhaps even at odds with the speeches a few weeks ago at annual meeting of school committees and in Framingham. Those speeches focused on the other talking point, "the property tax is not working". The summaries of this speech point to new and expensive long term initiatives but do not say anything about measuring the true cost of K-12 ed or addressing the problem of paying for too much of it with property tax revenues.

    Reading the details of the governor's speech, there was more to the speech than was reported, but I paraphrase a news quote from Lexington, it seems impractical to contemplate expensive new initiatives at a time when resources to cover existing needs are scarce. A meaningful shift of K-12 funding away from the property tax would require something near a $Billion of new state funds, which would bring Mass closer to the national average in terms of local/state funding split. The governor's new initiatives appear at least on the same order of magnitude, and no source of new funds has been mentioned yet by the governor, left to a task force to identify. Double or nothing?

    Gazette quote:

    The governor has no price tag for the plan but said it was workable and dismissed, in advance, any naysayers. The governor makes a bold statement about the importance of education, but the financial realties need to be understood in order to fully gauge its impact.

    A study last fall by the state Board of Higher Education estimated it would cost between $25 million and $40 million in the first year to offer two years of free community college to high school graduates who met the qualifications. At a time when many state college facilities are in need of upgrades, free tuition could put physical plant improvements on hold.

    If the state has jobs that require a two-year degree, do the colleges have the programs to develop the right skills for those jobs? Developing new academic programs will also cost money.

    In an interview with the Gazette, GCC President Robert Pura said cost is the commonwealth's "single biggest barrier" to higher education. No doubt cost keeps eligible individuals from attending college, but others can afford it. Is a tuition-free community college the best way to serve the neediest, or does a big boost in scholarships and financial aid work better?

    Other states have experimented with free community colleges - California most notably - only to abandon the idea. A special study group being set up by the governor to examine the idea should certainly look at the experiences of other states.

    Gov. Patrick has offered an appealing vision, but right now that's all it is. We look forward to a vigorous discussion of the merits and affordability of the plan.

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    Thursday, May 31, 2007

    Patrick to lay out Education Roadmap to 2015

    WRPI has an AP report that says Deval Patrick will roll out his ed plan at a UMASS-Boston commencement speech tomorrow, June 1st.

    A Berkshire Eagle report a few days ago was titled Tight Lid on School Plan.

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