Public Policy Updates: May Board of Ed

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held their regular May meeting at the Malden Public Library on Tuesday, May 21. The agenda can be found online here

Chair Katherine Craven told the Board that there is a plan, as she had said last month, to take the meetings on the road; the Board plans to meet next month in either Holyoke or Revere. Vice-Chair James Morton said that the subcommittee appointed to evaluate Commissioner Jeffrey Riley would be reporting out at that meeting. 

Commissioner Riley noted Teacher Appreciation Week, which included the announcement of 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year New Bedford English teacher Takeru Nagayoshi. There also were signing ceremonies across the state recognizing those high school students who intend to become teachers. The Commissioner updated the Board on the planned expansion of Alma del Mar Charter School in New Bedford; the legislation for it to be a neighborhood-zoned charter school and take possession of the former Kempton Elementary is in the Rules Committee. Riley said that his first priority is for students and families, and he reminded the Board that they have voted for the charter's larger expansion should he find that the home rule petition is not moving. 

The Commissioner also announced to the Board that he will be releasing a larger report on moving forward in education in Massachusetts, saying that he found this focused around four themes:

  1. renewing focus on the classroom, particularly around deeper learning
  2. replicating what works while also allowing room for innovation
  3. providing holistic supports for every student
  4. providing partnership from the Department to districts for change

The Department next provided an update on initiatives on diversifying the educator workforce. Opening with a reminder to the Board of the disparities among groups of students in graduation and other measures, Senior Associate Commissioner Ventura Rodriguez further noted the growing body of evidence that students of color, who now make up 40% of the Massachusetts statewide K-12 public student body, see positive impacts from having educators of color, who now make up less than 10% of the educators in the same schools. As a result, the Department has four initiatives currently to expand and retain educators of color. First, fourteen districts across the state have received funds for pilot programs; the number is limited as both time and funding were limited. These are focused on paraprofessionals who already have bachelor's degrees, district graduates, provisionally licensed teachers, and other grow-your-own initiatives. Second, the Commissioner has met with approximately 300 students and faculty members from Bridgewater State, UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth, and Holyoke Community College about becoming educators. In response to a question from Vice-chair Morton, Rodriguez commented that in speaking to hundreds of educators, it is "hard to tap into current students in K-12 [to become teachers] if they aren't having positive experiences in K-12." The InSPIRED Fellowship began in January and runs through June; it has current educators of color working together and speaking to students they think would make good teachers. That involves both relatively new and longstanding educators who have also supported each other while speaking to a thousand students. Finally, Influence 100 is intended to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of superintendents in Massachusetts, in part by creating more culturally responsive district leadership across the state. 

Member Amanda Fernández noted that simple demographics said that if we do not diversify the teacher workforce, we will run out of talent; she also asked for a further demographic breakdown of when we are speaking of Black teachers, and when Latinx teachers, further suggesting the Department work with other organizations with the same goal. Member Margaret McKenna reflected on the decades of parallel work that many have done, finding in some cases limited success with some of what is being proposed. She also said "a lot of schools of education are demoralized...DESE has put rule after rule after rule on schools of has been very hard for those who are committed to creating very good teachers." She argued that instead the Department should be finding and working with those who want to do this as a profession and do it well. Member Maya Mathews observed that many applicants are lost as they go through the application and certification process. Member Mary Ann Stewart called for more families to be included at the table. Member Michael Moriarty, noting the number of teachers with ties to Puerto Rico in his city of Holyoke, said, "we shouldn't wait for the next natural disaster to poach teachers from Puerto Rico" and urged recruiting of teachers from other states.

The Board was next updated on Departmental efforts over the past year on the implementation of the new history and social studies curriculum standards by History and Social Science Content Support Lead Michelle Ryan. The Department has framed implementation as three pillars: the new standards for history and social studies, the content standards at each grade, and the literacy standards for history and social studies practice. Since last summer, the Department ran a two day civics institute, following with regional instruction networks and webinars, taking the framework on tour across the state from Pittsfield to the Cape, and supporting implementation in 33 districts with $200,000 in planning grants. There is a civics literacy conference and professional learning institute coming in June, plus Departmental work on further documents for parents, for quick reference, and for vertical progression. In response to a later question by Member McKenna, Ryan noted that the next work will be on serving as a dependable source of documents for teachers in the field. 
Administrators from North Reading, Cambridge, and Boston then spoke of the work their districts are doing on implementation. North Reading Assistant Superintendent Patrick Daly spoke of the shifts in requirements at various grades with civics coming in for eighth grade, of working to view history through a world citizen lens. He also spoke of district discussion of assessment, saying "no one wants another bubble test" and it is important to have "not just have another assessment, but a new way of assessment." Cambridge history instructional coach Jenny Chung spoke of the work the eighth grade teachers in her district have done with the Democratic Knowledge Project around lifiting up the hidden narratives in history; in Cambridge, for example, eighth graders will be viewing the philosophical underpinnings of the country through the life and experiences of Prince Hall. Boston Director of History and Social Studies Natacha Scott noted that history and social studies starts with the youngest learners; the work is not immediately diving into content but looking at a higher level, with a focus on civics and collaboration with civic organizations. 

Finally, the Board received an update on the FY20 budget; the presentation can be found online here. The Senate Ways and Means budget, being debated this week, was released since last month's Board meeting. The Senate Ways and Means budget sets Chapter 70 aid at $5.176B, a $268.4M increase over FY19. Accepting the goal rates set in the Governor's H.70 bill on health insurance, it closes 1/7th of the gap (House Ways and Means closed 1/6th); likewise, it closes 1/7th of the gap for out-of-district special education. It sets a different goal rate for English learners, not shifting ACCESS performance levels in defining (as the Governor's budget did) and does not set progressive rates advantaging higher grades. It sets new goal rates for low income students in deciles 6-10, with the decile 6 goal equaling 77% of the statewide average foundation budget per pupil and decile 10 equaling 100%. The other change of significance in the Senate Ways and Means budget is a restructuring of charter reimbursements: the Senate Ways and Means committee returns to the 100/60/40 schedule for transitional aid, but does not make that dependent on charter enrollment being higher than the prior five years; it also does not add supplemental aid. The circuit breaker account is estimated to reimburse at 75%, regional transportation at 78-79%, with both homeless transportation and non-resident vocational accounts being level funed. The Senate Ways and Means budget does not include the trust funds proposed by the Governor. 

The Board is next scheduled to meet on Tuesday, June 25, with an evening meeting on the 24th if necessary.