Public Policy Updates: December 2018 Board of Education meeting

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met for their regular meeting on December 18. The agenda can be found here
In his opening remarks, Commissioner Riley asked that stakeholders hold the date of March 19 for a meeting at UMass Amherst on planning the way forward. He also remarked "many people are hopeful" that action will be taken on the foundation budget during this coming Legislative session, and we will "need to remain more vigilant" in order to see that through. 
The only public comment was one on wireless technology.

There was a lengthy presentation on teacher leadership, divided among three panels. In the first, those who have been working on the redrafting of the arts standards spoke of their work. They plan to present the draft standards to the Board in February, requesting a vote to solicit public comment, with the standards scheduled to come back to the Board in May for a vote to implement them. The arts standards are for five disciplines--music, visual arts, dance, theater, and media arts--from preschool through high school; the four practices of the arts--creating, presenting/performing, responding, and connecting--in turn shape the standards. Chair Sagan wondered to what extent the prior standards had been implemented, to which the panel responded that they had been widely implemented, 'though access to the arts does vary across the state, in particular sinking in high school. Member Moriarty wondered if a specialist was at all needed, particularly in the elementary grades; giving the example of instrumental music, the panel discussed the necessity of specialists for the arts, though districts may additionally, as shared by Member Craven regarding her children's experience in Brookline, have arts incorporated in the regular class and day. Member McKenna expressed excitement about the standards, but reservations about the time and pressure on teachers. Secretary Peyser wondered about the needs of those who might be particularly gifted in the arts being met. Chair Sagan summed up the discussion by expressing a need for greater guidance to provide context if they are "even close" or just "having a really nice conversation." 
A new initiative from the Department known as CURATE, for CUrriculum RAtings by TEachers, was next spoken of. The Board was told of growing concensus around the importance of high quality curriculum for students, particularly for closing the achievement gap. To this end, the Department, partnering with TeachPlus and the Rennie Center, have created CURATE to have teachers evaluate curriculum and share the results. It was stressed that this was "signalling" not taking over the curricular functions reserved to the districts, although Member West asked about additional "ways to nudge decision makers in the right direction." The panel spoke of a "heat map" which will show which districts have adopted which curricula. Chair Sagan closely queried the use of online materials as a cost savings. Member Fern├índez asked about the representative nature of those reviewing, which the panel agreed has been a struggle. Member McKenna, noting that they seemed to be "starting from scratch," asked to what extend the project uses work already done, which has been extensive. 
The third panel spoke of the STEM program ambassadors, who are providing resources to meet the science, technology, engineering, and math standards through tasks which have common rubrics. The group has partnered with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which not only has STEM as its strength, but is also in Worcester, a center meeting location. Students are given real world problems to figure out, filling gaps in the curriculum and further strengthening students in their STEM skills.

The Board next received updates from three schools under receivership (the fourth is in Holyoke and will be reported on when the district next does so). When asked what each found most surprising regarding their schools, each spoke, to in one way or another, about the intensity of need and the need for resources to be shifted and gathered to meet them. The opioid crisis now means kids have absent moms.

The Board next received a report on adult education, which is overseen by the Department. While there are over a million adults in need of adult education (either high school equivalency, English as a second language learning, or both), the Department currently is only able to serve less than 19,000 students, due to lack of resources; there currently is a combined waiting list of nearly 20,000 students. The students are served in a variety of venues across the state: community adult learning centers, transition to college programs, integrated education and training, intergrated language and civics, workplace education, volunteer instruction, distance learning, and correctional institutions. The adult education programs are looking at outcomes, are moving to flexibility, are emphasizing quality of programming, and have shifted from block funding to a per pupil formula that is need and demand driven. The adult education division is collaborating with researchers to look at outcomes, in hopes of driving further investment to the program; last year's additional funding barely kept pace with costs, and the program in real dollars has less funding than it did ten years ago. The panel closed with two student speakers. Audrey Kelly, a student at the Charlestown Adult Learning Center, had only completed eighth grade. Her time in adult learning, she said, "made me realize I was smart enough to complete my education...I can make things better for my family." She will start in January at Bunker Hill Community College, studying psychology. Ana Tizol Cantor came to the United States at seventeen, eighth months pregnant, not able to read in English or in Spanish. She spoke of learning to speak English to understand people on the bus, "to shop online," and to speak with her children when they speak English at home. Her children have asked her what she wants to study; she says she would like to be a teaching assistant or a school nurse.

The final presentation was on the results of the recent survey to stakeholders on the changes in the accountability system. This was a last look back before looking forward, as Commissioner Riley has repeatedly said is interested in what improvements can be made. There were 439 responses to the survey from a variety of stakeholders, with a particularly strong showing from district leadership; the survey did require that those responding include their name. A small majority of those responding expressed satisfaction with the system; likewise, majority in every category said they understood the system either well or mostly. Cross-referencing those answers revealed that understanding the system and being satisfied with it didn't necessarily correlate. When asked about the normative (comparing) rankings of schools and districts, two-thirds of those responding found it either valuable or very valuable. A majority found the criterion referenced system (improvement over same district) likewise valuable or very valuable. The new lowest performing subgroup, among the largest changes to the system, was also found valuable by a majority. When asked about the weighting of pieces, about half said to keep it the same. When asked what they would add, most of those responding either left it blank or said "nothing," although additions suggested include climate, access to art, educator attendance, suspension, school spending, K-2 schools; high school further added broader definition of advanced coursework, postsecondary enrollment, extracurricular participation, 9th grade success. Other topics respondents mentioned included a concern with small sample size and the use of participation; dissatisfaction with standardized testing; dispute over chronic absenteeism; high-performing districts' concern with still needing to make progress; a call for consistency; and the need for funding.

With that, the Board adjourned until January.