Massachusetts Association of School Committees

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education had their final meeting of the school year on Tuesday, June 27 in Malden. The agenda can be found online here.

In opening the meeting, Chair Katherine Craven welcomed incoming student member Ella Gardner of Wellesley, and announced the appointment and welcomed new Board member Professor Ericka Fisher. Professor Fisher lives in Worcester, where she chairs the Education department at the College of the Holy Cross. She replaces Tricia Canavan on the Board.Dr. Ericka Fisher was sworn in as a member of BESE in the State Library of Massachusetts.

Dr. Ericka Fisher was sworn in as a member of BESE on Wednesday, June 21, 2023 in the State Library of Massachusetts.
Photo via the Executive Office of Education

Public comment largely focused on the proposed health and physical education standards that were before the Board to be sent out for public comment, updating state frameworks from 1999. A number of representatives of youth health organizations spoke in favor of the revised standards, noting that they are medically accurate, age appropriate, consent based, and LGBTQ+ inclusive. They observed that an entire generation has passed since the current standards were passed, and that passage of these standards would be  “a huge step towards ensuring the students of Massachusetts have the freedom to be themselves…no exceptions.” Surveys have shown, it was stated, that parents, regardless of religious affiliation or background, want their children to have access to comprehensive information, and it is important that this not be based in fear or scare tactics. Two people spoke against the proposed standards, one urging the Board to let children “believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus” and characterizing as “a groomer” anyone who voted in favor of the standards; the other from Mass Family Institute, read what he said were excerpts of a curriculum he found objectionable, and said that passage would increase the number of parents opting out and the number of children leaving public schools.
There was further testimony regarding education gaps–“My charge to you is I don’t want to see another report with excuses for what we haven’t done…It’s racist at its highest level, and it is irresponsible at its lowest”–and the updated contract for MCAS, including a plea that the Board request funding in FY25 for study of a competency based system.

Member Michael Moriarty, at the invitation of Chair Craven, lauded the word of the late David M. Bartley of Holyoke, who was influential in the passage of Chapter 766, regarding education for children with disabilities, and who was the longtime president of Holyoke Community College. He died earlier this month.

Secretary Patrick Tutwiler thanked students, educators, and parents for their work this year. He thanked outgoing student member Eric Plankey for his work this year, welcoming Ella Gardner who will replace him. He formally announced Professor Fisher’s appointment to the Board. He said that a Supreme Court decision on race-conscious enrollment was expected shortly, and, while the Healey-Driscoll administration hopes very much that the decision is to keep it, they are “amply prepared” if the Court does not keep it. He said they “want to be mindful of the potential chilling effect…on historically marginalized communities” and wanted to assure all such students: “their presence is not only welcome; it is in fact incredibly necessary.”

Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, after likewise thanking many for the school year, said he was “blown away” by the concrete falling in a stairwell at a school in Somerville, and thank Tufts University for stepping in with space for the school to meet.
He then spoke at some length on the Boston Public Schools. He said, “in general DESE remains concerned about lack of action plans.” There is as yet no inclusion plan for special education, he said, and there is not a “chief of special education.” Only some parts of the plan for English learners has been met. Regarding student safety, BPS has created an office of emergency management and is working on an MOU with the Boston Police Department. There is a revised timeline for bathroom renovations. There are some bright spots: there has been work on data as required, and the district is making progress in hiring drivers and monitors, though they are not yet hitting a the 95% on time rate required by the agreement. Riley said he has regarded this year as “a time to set the table.” He said he was “blindsided by the plan for high schools that seems half-baked at best” and it “may have merit…but hard to understand it without the financials.” He said the proposed building updates to Madison Park could “cost up to a billion dollars” plus millions more for proposed new O’Bryant location. He also wondered how students will get to the proposed new location, given where many of them live. He also wanted to know “which high schools are going to be closing” to allow for a “super Madison Park.” He said that one year ago Boston and DESE signed a document: “at best their grade would be incomplete,” while he felt the Department had upheld their end of what was agreed to. He said that the Board should expect, should the buses not be running on time, and people be hired, and bathrooms not be done, for there to be significant conversation at the Board level regarding this in the fall.
Moriarty said that he didn’t hear “one word about academic achievement” and asked, “Is it that bad?” Riley said that the above issues must be dealt with first. Craven said it is “kind of a misnomer that the inclusion plan was due in November; it was due in 1972.” Both Vice-Chair Matt Hills and Member Mary Ann Stewart urged considerable time on the agenda in the fall, with Stewart suggesting a Monday evening meeting be devoted just to Boston.

The Board next turned to the draft of the revised Health and Physical Education frameworks, before them for a vote to send out to public comment for 60 days. The framework is designed to support students to be healthy and well; it is a whole child model in a safe and healthy environment, and it is inclusive, medically accurate, developmentally and age appropriate, as well as comprehensive. Joe Baeta, Superintendent of the Norton Public Schools, speaking as part of the Department’s presentation, said it has been “quite awhile that this document has been sitting dormant” and noted the skills included connect to many districts’ Portrait of a Graduate. He further noted that it was critical, given the struggles students are having with mental health.
Member Moriarty noted that this is the ninth of nine curricular frameworks to be revised; the previous eight all have his, Stewart, and Craven’s names on them. He urged the Commissioner to put framework revision on a timeline that will get their names off again “in a timely fashion.” The frameworks were sent to public comment by unanimous vote of the Board.

The Board then had a lengthy presentation from Professor Thomas Kane, an economist at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, who spoke on an evaluation he had done of NAEP scores, which summed up that education reform since 1993 had been a success, with larger increases in scores for students of lower incomes, with a decline in scores that started pre-pandemic in 2019. Kane has worked with others on what these positive indicators correlate with on life outcomes.  Kane’s conclusion was to urge the Board to work to support experimentation in working to reverse the negative trend, and then to scale successful ventures across the state. To Kane’s note that education reform had required both school finance and policy changes, Craven asked that he explain further the impact of policy; after reviewing the research, Kane responded, “I don’t think the data enables us to show which was more important, but that both were important.” Kane suggested that the role the state could play is set up the things for districts to try, and then let those who had done the experimentation share, expecting that most would fail. He also said the state should invest “substantially” in such experimentation.

A proposed technical amendment to discipline regulations, bringing it back into line with state law, was sent out for public comment.

Revisions to the licensure regulation, coming back from public comment, passed. Those include:

1) amendments to allow Initial and Professional license holders to obtain a Provisional license in special education areas and in English as a Second Language.
2) amendments to create a new grade span, PreK-2, for two licenses: Teacher of Students with Moderate Disabilities and Teacher of Students with Severe Disabilities.
3) amendments to permit Provisional licensure applicants to meet a requirement through a demonstration of knowledge, as an alternative to meeting the requirement by taking a course or seminar.
4) amendment to create a new Provisional license for school nurses.

CFO Bill Bell updated the Board on budget matters. The FY24 budget is in conference committee and is not expected to be completed and passed before Saturday’s start to the fiscal year; both chambers passed and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll signed an interim budget. Nonetheless, the Department does have a good idea of what will be coming, with the third year of Student Opportunity Act implementation leading to $6.7B in chapter 70 aid, plus transportation reimbursement accounts running between 90-100%. On the federal side, 80% of ESSER II has been claimed; districts have until September of this year to spend. A little over 30% of ESSER III is claimed, leaving a little over billion on this to go before September of 2024. The Department is releasing funding for federal entitlement grants.

Outgoing student member Eric Plankey then gave the annual State Student Advisory Council end of year report. Reminding the Board of the make up of the Council–a statewide council of 50 members, with five regional councils producing reports for the larger council–Plankey walked the Board through the work done by the larger Council and the divisions, plus the increase in student organizing these past few years. The statewide council focused on financial literacy, bundling information for districts, including preparing to pay for college and scholarship information. That group also worked on health and wellness, drawing information from the youth risk behavior survey; they noted with concern that a consistent feeling of sadness/hopelessness was reported by 50.1% of girls and by 26.6% of boys; that only 20.4% of students getting more than 8 hours of sleep; and that 40-50% of LGBTQ+ students had seriously considered suicide. The Council recommended up to date advisors, as well as ensuring students aren’t overloaded with work. The regional councils work of the year was as follows:

Plankey also noted the work of the Massachusetts Association of Student Representatives and of the Massachusetts Student Union. MASR has worked to help spread best practices of students getting involved in their local districts and have also proposed an amendment to grant student reps voting rights on their local committees. The Student Union has facilitated student gov reform and has created template policies for local implementation, this year in sustainability.
Plankey closed by advocating for the Department to engage with the SSAC as partners, to use as their “one stop” for student voice.

The Board then turned to the Commissioner’s evaluation, created by a subcommittee chaired by Hills, on which Craven, Canavan, Moriarty, and West served. Canavan and Hills spoke to Board members individually, and Hills wrote a summary. He said there were two conclusions he drew: there was much good work being done, and the Board should create a timeline over the year with periodic checks of the goals they set for the Commissioner. Hills said that there was “universal respect and appreciation for the Commissioner” among the Board, and also a “very strong feeling that Jeff is exactly the leader we need, not simply coming out of the pandemic…but from where we were ten years ago.” There were several comments that the Board needs a retreat to work on goals. After thanking the Board for their comments, Riley said, we “need to move away from ed reform and move towards an education renaissance and figure out what’s next and what’s best for our children.” The Board passed the evaluation.

The Board also voted to accept the schedule of Board meetings for next year. 

The meeting adjourned. The Board will next meet in September.

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