Public Policy Updates: January Board of Education

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met for their regular January meeting on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. The agenda for the meeting can be found here; the video of the meeting is available here

The meeting opened with brief remarks from Senator Jason Lewis (who represents the area around the Department) regarding the Student Opportunity Act. Chair Katherine Craven thanked him and the Legislature for their work; he in turned thanked the Department, singling out the finance department in particular, for their work supporting the legislation, commenting "we lost track of how many models we ran" during the deliberation in committee. 

Much of the ensuing public testimony was in favor of the charter school items before the Board on the agenda. The two challenges to the recommendations of the Commissioner came from the Education Law Task Force, which raised concerns regarding City on a Hill Charter's out-of-school suspension rates of 13 and 14 percent, and from Boston Green Academy, which requested they be given conditions, rather than be put on probation. 
There was also a concern raised about proposed changes to Chapter 74 regulations and the time requirements, particularly the possible impact on comprehensive high school programs.

The Commissioner noted in his opening remarks that the state review of Boston Public Schools would be complete and available to the district in draft in mid-February, to the public thereafter. Vice Chair James Morton spoke with enthusiasm of the work of the Springfield Empowerment Zone, of the support of businesses and community leaders, and of the Department having a seat at the table. While, he said, he wasn't necessarily advocating for that model for Boston, he did hope the involvement would be similar in governance. Member Amanda Fern├índez said, "we're at a plateau; it matters what the atmosphere and climate it is in schools." She noted the foregoing testimony supporting the charters up for consideration as supporting the need for change. Member Matt Hills said that he has had many different people reach out to him about Boston, expressing very different kinds of concerns. In making a decision, he said, "I wouldn't spend a lot of time waiting for rose petals to be thrown in your way." He said, "everything from receivership to doing nothing and everything in between should be on the table." Member Michael Moriarty said,"the only people I'd be willing to see embarrassed in any policy decision are the guardians of the status quo." 

The Board voted to adopt the extension of the current competency determination through the class of 2023. 
The major presentation before the Board was the first round of results of a research partnership with Brown University that will last five years, making use of the nearly two decades of data that the Department now has. This is in line with the commitment of the Department, Higher Ed, and Early Ed to evidence-based policy making, which all Boards will pass parallel motions supporting, as BESE did today. The work with Brown is motivated by the following:

  • how can evidence of 18 years of high school assessments inform next steps for Massachusetts education policy?
  • are scores predictors of long-term success?
  • are students scoring at different cutoffs having success in labor market?
  • what is the impact on competency determination on students at-risk?

Due to the data available, they can can now track a student who took the test in 2003 through the rest of high school, through college, and currently. Those students are now in their mid-thirties. 

In introducing the report, Commissioner Riley said it "should lay to rest the claim by some advocacy groups of [the MCAS's] irrelevance," adding "there are some Luddites in this world that would rather see no change ever, or they would rather throw sand in the gears of progress, or would rather have no" accountability ever. 

Today, 92% of 10th grade test takers graduate from high school, 74% enroll in college, and 48% graduate from college. They have found that the MCAS tests "do reflect underlying skills that pay off in the labor market." Evidence is mixed on if "meets expectations" is a score that indicates college and career ready. MCAS scores predict earnings even if they compare students with the same educational attainment, demographics, and high school attended. When students with similar 8th grade scores are compared, those with higher 10th grade scores go on to earn more 15 years later. The current standard for "meets expectations" is the 35th percentile, but the current competency determination is somewhere around 8%. 

Saying "there are some unintended consequences for a one-size-fits-all-model," Commissioner Riley proposed a pilot of an alternative licensure path that would not involve the MTEL. The regulation change required for such a pilot was sent out to public comment by the Board for a report back in April. This recognizes that there are teachers that are otherwise quite successful who have been unable to pass MTEL, and they are disproportionately teachers of color. 

 The Board then received a brief update on the Student Opportunity Act and the FY21 budget. Commissioner Riley noted the funding is progressive, as designed, so about 85% of "additional dollars" will be going to about 35 districts. The Department then is implementing a bifurcated reporting system: most districts will have a short form to fill out, while the districts gaining more resources will have a longer form, reporting on the items in the list in the law or providing evidence otherwise. The template will be going out by next week; it is expected that, after gathering public input, school committees will vote these plans in mid-March, as they are due to the Department by April 1. They are considering a possible re-arrangement of DESE grants to create a multiplier effect in early literacy, early college, and a diversifying workforce. The Department is operating under an assumption that they will include an inflation factor in what is not considered new funding.The FY21 budget overall includes about a 5% increase in resources to education, while overall budget increases are about 2.3%. The Department does note that overall increases vary quite a bit with district capacity and enrollment. 

At the close of the meeting, Commissioner Riley noted that Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson had announced his retirement at the beginning of April, and spoke of all of his work, much of it behind the scenes in support of Massachusetts public education.