Tuesday, October 23, 2012

0 Final Thoughts on the Quality Choice Plan

For parts 1 - 5 of this series regarding the Quality Choice Plan, please go to October 2012.

Is the Quality Choice Plan offered by Councilor John Connolly et al really the answer to Boston Public Schools' assignment and quality issues? 

I began this series not only to answer the above question for myself, but also to review the Quality Choice plan in a comprehensive way in the hope of answering the questions I and others were asking regarding the proposal. Please read the earlier articles to see the complete list of questions and concerns I raised, plus some answers from John Connolly's office.

Let me state again: at this point, I am not for or against any of the proposals, whether by Boston Public Schools or community members. Apparently, my asking questions translates to mean that I am against this plan to some folks. I am not. Yes, I ask hard questions, but after 20 years of studying education law and school districts, especially BPS, I have knowledge, insight and experience about how things generally get done, and it does not always benefit our students. Our students are the ones I care about. 

The fact that no one was prepared for the level of questions that myself and others are asking about this plan, as well as others, is concerning given BPS' history. Without answers to the questions and concerns raised, how can I or others possibly support any of the proposals? This is true of ALL of the proposals. 

Being fortunate enough to have worked with Councilor Connolly on several education related matters over the years, I do know that he wants quality education throughout our city and I believe his co-creators do also. I think the Quality Choice plan has some great suggestions and ideas for how to improve our Boston schools and move us forward.

According to the email sent out on October 3, 2012, John Connolly states: 
However, we are convinced that our plan, the Quality Choice Plan, presents a creative alternative that focuses on improving school quality and bridging the divide between those who want schools close to home and those who want broad choices.
Reading that line, I am sure many, like myself, expected a detailed step-by-step plan outlining how Boston could accomplish the task of improving every school and revamping our assignment process. Unfortunately, this plan did not live up to my expectation above, but instead led to questions about the demands it makes for BPS to create and implement a plan.
  • How do the creators think the above will happen?  
  • What time line for creating and actually enacting such a plan would BPS have, if they chose to pass this plan?
  • What would the deadline be for all schools to become quality schools? 
  • Again, who would oversee this process?

Still, comparatively, the Quality Choice Plan is well-written and easier to conceptualize, to some extent, for me given my knowledge and experience with BPS. However, a well written plan does not always mean it is a plan which can be implemented and become reality. Though the QC plan is well written with links to where data/ideas came from, as far as I know, per my conversation with John Connolly's staff a couple of days ago, we have yet to receive any of the nitty-gritty details laying out the steps and resources necessary or the time-lines and no one has run the actual numbers for this plan, or told us, besides "transportation savings" and "increased enrollment", where the funding will come from. The proponents of any proposal should have had all the detailed plans, data and budgets run prior to release of a proposal, not expect BPS to do it for them. I urge the QC creators to provide the above on their website as soon as possible.

As it stands, any transportation savings will not be realized immediately (more like 5 -8 years from now) and even then it is questionable whether those savings would ever be enough to make a true impact on our schools. Increasing enrollment is a long-term goal, so again, no immediate impact for our students. Putting a plan in place without a guaranteed funding source from the beginning, especially given possible government tax cuts ahead of us, would be irresponsible and potentially disastrous for our students. This means we must have other funding sources that are guaranteed and immediately accessible. I know BPS would be appreciate more funding to help improve the schools!

If we do not have a plan which clearly lays out all the relevant details, time-lines, and especially funding, there is the potential for failure and our students are the ones who will pay the price. Despite not being an accountant or even liking math, I can read and use a calculator, so did some rough math utilizing BPS' 2013 budget numbers which showed me that this would be an extremely expensive proposal to put in place even when only "converting/transforming" current schools. As this is something I know the creators are well aware of, I urge them to let the public know how and where this funding will come from, whether the funding is guaranteed and how it is guaranteed.

Additionally, the plan's proponents seem to either be unaware of or have forgotten that, in order to transform schools into Pilot and in-district Charter schools, that must be approved by 2/3 of the voting members of the BTU at that school. That alone can take years to make happen, despite the teachers wanting the same thing families do: quality education for every student. There is no way anyone, whether BPS central admin or Boston politician, can guarantee that this can be done. 

At the October 9th community meeting at Mildred Avenue, I did speak with Representative Russell Holmes, one of the supporters of the QC plan, and asked him if they had run the numbers for this plan. Rep. Holmes told me that the creators/supporters have not run the numbers and that they felt it was up to BPS to do that. I also asked Rep. Holmes what his thoughts were regarding the segregation issues that have been raised and he informed me that it did not bother him whether schools were segregated as long as they were quality schools, to which I honestly did not have a quick response as it concerned me to hear him say that. No matter which plan is put in place, segregation is a real possibility for some of our students and will occur as soon as the plan is implemented, whereas a school becoming a mid-high level quality school may take several years, so how do the creators feel about that? Segregation is about more than ethnicity, it is also about ability levels, language barriers and economic status to name the three constants which BPS struggles to help students overcome every year.

Thursday night, October 18th, at the Condon school community meeting, John Connolly presented again, but this time with a power-point and about 30 minutes of floor time.  I urge John to put that power-point on the QC website for the public to review. I have extended an invitation to John Connolly et al to a community meeting which would be open citywide where he could present this plan and have a real question and answer session, something which has not been possible at BPS meetings. I am told his schedule would not allow for this through the first week in November, so asked about anytime after that, but the short answer seems to be no at this point, which is disappointing. 

We know that the EAC will most likely propose a hybrid plan made up of the best of all the different proposals to Dr. Johnson. I do believe that the Quality Choice Plan has some great ideas for how to improve our district and I urge the EAC and BPS to incorporate some of them into any plan BPS finally decides on. 

That said, myself and others are still awaiting responses to other questions raised both through these articles and those brought up by Anne Walsh's email. 

Maybe once I receive those answers, which will be shared with everyone, I can be more supportive of the QCP, but until that time I stand where I started: concerned about some portions, especially funding, segregation of certain populations and the possible impact on our most at-risk students.   

Update, October 23, 2013: To date, none of the questions beyond the email from Ann Walsh in my prior article have been answered though many have asked them!

Monday, October 15, 2012

0 The Quality Choice Plan: Some Answers to Questions Asked

For parts 1, 2, 3 & 4 of this series regarding the Quality Choice Plan, please go to October 2012.

Yesterday, during the Roslindale Day Parade, John Connolly asked if I had received the answers about the Quality Choice plan yet. At that time I was unaware that his assistant, Ann Walsh, had just emailed them to me. I finally saw the email this morning and am including it here, with permission, for everyone to review. First, I would like to thank John, Matt, et al, and of course Ann, for responding.

My thoughts regarding certain responses will be indicated by KKM: as just in reviewing it I had further thoughts and questions.

Hi Karen,
Thanks for your questions regarding the Quality Choice Plan.  I have provided responses below.  Feel free to contact me directly with any additional quesitons or concerns.
AW:   The financial solutions definitely won't be easy, but can happen.  Transportation cost savings will be limited at the outset, since grandfathering will continue and the plan would be implemented gradually, beginning with kindergarten students in September of 2014.  Over time, the savings will increase as more students attend schools closer to home. 
KKM: 1) When do you project busing of "grandfathered" siblings to end absolutely? We need this date to estimate when any savings, if any, from transportation might be allocated for other pieces of the plan.
          2) You are saying the plan will be implemented "gradually" starting with the children who enter Kindergarten in 2014:
              a)  Specifically, which pieces will be implemented first?
              b)  Can you give me a list of dates of implementation for all the suggestions in the priority you plan to implement them and your deadline for full-implementation of your plan?
              c)  Does this mean that the majority of children currently in BPS will see little to no benefit from this plan? If you do think current students will reap the benefit of this plan despite not being part of the Kindergarten class of 2014, please explain with specifics and details.
AW:   By converting more schools to Pilots, Innovation, or In-District Charters, we are encouraging more site-based management of funds at schools.  Current pilot schools and charters have this autonomy and most are demonstrating academic outcomes ahead of the district average while managing their own per pupil budgets.  Site-based management of funds is a critical element of implementing a truly effective Weighted Student Funding formula, and we hope the district will do more of it and allow schools to efficiently spend their funds.  We are continuing to do financial analysis, but with a $1 billion annual budget currently, we strongly believe that this is feasible with some creative re-allocation and strategic partnerships with universities, hospitals, libraries, health centers, and community-based organizations.
KKM: Site-based management of funds does not answer the question of where funding would come from for the conversions, additional supports, etc. No matter what type of school it is, more funds than are currently allocated for the majority of our schools (who have consistently had budget cuts each year), will be necessary under this plan. Creative re-allocation may help with some portion of the funding for your plan, but what assurances do you have that the rest of the funding necessary will be approved by the city council, state, feds, etc?  
Have you sought the input of the BTU on the proposal to convert so many schools to pilot, charter, innovation? As the newest BTU contract, if accepted by SC, is through 2016: what is your expectation that a proposal like this might keep another contract from being ratified? Are you aware that according to BTU rules, 2/3 of the BTU voting members at a school would have to vote to approve the conversion to one of the models you are suggesting? 
At a time when universities, hospitals, etc are cutting their partnerships, pro-bono work etc are you sure this can be accomplished? Do you have written assurances of such from our biggest and best of the types of organizations listed?
Something to think about: if you are planning on utilizing hospitals to provide some of the support services you suggest, this generally means utilizing residents/post-docs. etc with little experience. How will you ensure that our students needing these services will get the quality services they deserve? IEP objectives and goals are constantly rolled-over year-to-year with little to no improvement for the students as families are not always able to sufficiently measure progress or advocate effectively for what their child needs. 
AW:    Please note that all of the "new" schools listed (with the exception of the downtown school) would be the result of transforming existing schools, so cost increases would be minimal.  Those schools are serving students already and  in 2014, we would propose that the new magnet programs begin with the entering kindergarten children.  If school leaders and staff are ambitious and want to extend programming to upper grades, that would be fantastic, but this plan is intended to be phased in over time.  Our ELLs and students with disabilities are currently in schools across the city, so the creation of these magnet schools will require reallocation of funds, but not an enormous investment of new dollars.  The same is true for AWC or Honors, which can be done in place with strong differentiated instruction or some level of separate classrooms, at the discretion of each school community.  In the case of providing a quality baseline at all schools and additional resources and supports at high-need schools, a reallocation of funds through adjustments to the Weighted Student Funding formula would be required to get those resources to the schools with the highest needs as soon as possible.
KKM:  Even transformation of current schools = more funds necessary (usually):   What is your projected cost/savings and "reallocation" of funds for each of the schools you propose "transforming"? Would you please share the exact numbers/budgets you are projecting?
Are you proposing moving special ed strands again after BPS just did so? Same question re: BPS' ELL changes over the past year. Also, how do you propose ensuring Least Restrictive Enviroment (LRE) pursuant to special ed laws are not violated under your plan? How will you ensure that our SWD & ELL students are not segregated?
Please see Part 3 of my QC analysis for earlier thoughts pertaining to AWC proposal., but additionally, some of our older schools have no space availabile for modular classrooms (or will you take playgrounds away?) or building higher i.e. - Mozart (as the neighbors would lobby against it - ask Carleton Jones re: roposed Bates-Mozart merger issues that squashed that plan), which means those schools would not have the ability to have AWC or Honors classes. How do we ensure those students have the same quality education? (Personally I wouldn't trade our 5th grade tchr for AWC anyway - she is even better than AWC)
AW:    Please realize that cost cutting is not why we created this plan.  Our goal was to draft a plan that would finally give all parents and students access to quality schools.  If giving every child access to a quality school ends up costing a little more money, then we can’t think of a better thing for the City to be spending its money on.  This isn’t about cost; this is about values.  If we truly value giving every parent and every student access to quality schools, then we need to fund it appropriately.

KKM:  Personally, I don't care if we have to increase the budget 100% as long as the $$ is actually impacting our students DIRECTLY instead of non-school personnel, consultants, research, etc, that is not the issue I have. The issue I have is that no one can guarantee that you can fund this plan or any of the others proposed right now.  Yet, families are stressing out over the thought of their children possibly going through upheaval and losing schools THEY feel ARE quality schools while also being asked to "vote" for a plan (QC, BPS or other) without any guaranteed funding which could lead to disaster if the economy tanks due to all the turmoil at fed level with tax cuts up in the air. How can anyone get behind a proposal without a funding plan clearly laid out? 

Does anyone remember that they appropriated funding from special education to fund NCLB years later because it was passed with no funding plan and was failing? This cut special ed funding which means families have an even harder time getting their children the help they need now. And then there is the issue of expecting BPS to run the numbers for this proposal instead of working on actual school business (as it currently stands), which the proponents should have done prior to releasing it.

Questions I have:
          1)  Realistically, by what year do you expect all BPS families will be able to access quality schools district-wide? 
           2) With the possibility of Education cuts at the Federal level of about 8.2%, which will trickle down to state/city level, how will you fund everything that is needed?  
           3)  Do you have the commitment of entire BCC & Mayor to add additional funds to the BPS budget, no matter which plan is passed?

AW:   Regarding grandfathering, ALL current students and their siblings would be grandfathered using the same sibling priority in place at BPS right now.  Currently, a child receives sibling preference at a school if a sibling will be attending the school at the same time.  If the first child has graduated from the school before the second (or third, etc.) would arrive, sibling preference does not apply.  That is current practice and would remain.  The goal of sibling preference is to keep children together, so when that can be done, it should be done.

AW:   Since we are calling for the guarantee of a K-8 school or pathway (in which schools are paired to cover grades K-8, similar to the Beethoven-Ohrenberger or Roosevelt Schools,  NOT multiple schools feeding a middle school without capacity alignment), and an AWC or honors program at every school, cases of older siblings leaving a school "early" are less likely.  The premise of a sibling "bumping" a new student from having a seat at one of his or her four closest schools is unrealistic because the plan guarantees a seat, even if that means using modular classrooms, much in the same way suburban communities manage short-term enrollment increases.  If families in other communities can count on that level of predictability for their children, the families of Boston deserve no less.

KKM: Please see Part 4 of my QC Analysis regarding the question of who might end up in modular classrooms.
I respectfully disagree regarding the likelihood of "bumping" seats - saying that it has to happen because the plan guarantees a seat does not make facilities appear (pleas see above re: Mozart example of not having space for mod classrooms or adding floors to the current school building) and if this premise were true, wouldn't every child who has special needs get everything they are supposed to instead of only what a school will give them? Talk to myself, Carolyn Kain and other special ed attorneys and advocates about this premise, because if this truly did happen at any level, then we would all need other jobs. 
I do agree that families in Boston deserve no less than other communities, the problem is most of those communities have higher income brackets and also more space for their schools.

AW:   The suggested schools for citywide magnet status were selected using a variety of criteria, including proximity to a language-specific community, capacity, and potential for academic and programmatic "renewal" through citywide status.  Providing school leaders and teachers the opportunity to work towards an innovative curriculum with an infusion of energy can provide a "fresh start" for many schools and may increase enrollment at those that are currently underselected.

 KKM: Please see questions above re: converting schools.

AW:   Parent compacting DOES happen already and can happen more often with the guarantee of this plan.  Families want their children to attend school with friends from their neighborhood, house of worship, childcare center or nursery school, etc.  They often don't pursue parent compacting because the risk in the current model is too high that some children will not be assigned together.  By compacting, they apply together and only get assigned to the underselected school if there are enough seats for all of their children.  Otherwise, they will be assigned to one of their four closest schools or a citywide school, via their preferences.  Schools including the Trotter, Hurley, and Murphy have all seen some type of compacting in the past and this plan allows more families to make this choice without the current risks.

KKM: Can you show me concretely that parent compacting has happened through the normal BPS lottery process? I would like to see how BPS handled it as that means BPS gave special priority to certain families, which we all thought was impossible.

AW:    Most importantly, The Quality Choice Plan is based on an entirely different premise than the existing models.  We do not accept the premise that equitable access is enough, but instead are working towards equitable quality for all.  Sections II and III very deliberately outline what we think must be done to ensure that every school is providing quality, especially those who serve high numbers of children living in poverty.  If we only ensure equitable access to a limited number of quality schools, there will always be children going to low-quality schools and that is unacceptable.

KKM: I agree with the premise of your plan absolutely, John knows it aligns with my decades long battle. I just think it is important to not only have a premise and propose a plan, but also outline in detail how it will become a reality. So, show myself and everyone else how this will become a reality, with facts, figures and detailed specifics and I am sure we could all get behind this plan.

I have sent the above back to Ann Walsh, as soon as I have answers I will make them available for everyone.

My final thoughts regarding the Quality Choice Plan.

0 The Quality Choice Plan Analysis & Questions Part 4

For parts 1, 2 & 3 of this series, please go to October 2012.

Please note that I have sent the questions I am outlining in these articles to all six of the politicians who proposed the Quality Choice plan. To date (email sent on Monday, October 8, 2012; today is Thursday, October 11, 2012) I have received no response to these questions.

Is the Quality Choice Plan offered by Councilor John Connolly et al really the answer to Boston Public Schools assignment issues? This is part 4 of my in-depth analysis with questions about the proposal.

In section three of this plan, "Providing Quality Supports for Schools Serving Large Numbers of Students in Need", the Quality Choice plan states: 
BPS also needs a cohesive and clear strategy to support schools whose students overwhelmingly face the greatest challenges to success.  Social factors, such as poverty and trauma, have an alarming impact on students’ academic outcomes and need to be addressed as part of any comprehensive school quality plan.
I don't know of anyone who would disagree with either of the statements above! So how do we do that?

Well, the QC plan states that it:requires BPS to provide comprehensive quality supports for schools whose student bodies are above the district average poverty rate (78%).  Currently, 59 schools would qualify for these supports, based on poverty level. (BPS FY2013 Average Per Pupil Funding by School, 03.28.12)

Sounds good, of course me being me, my mind went to the budgetary considerations implicated in trying to fulfill this requirement, but I will get into budget issues later.

The first suggestion for providing quality supports is to grant Innovation, 

Pilot, and In-District status to these schools as these types of schools are given increased flexibility to meet the needs of students facing great challenges. Innovation, Pilot, or In-District Charter status gives a school community autonomy in terms of extended learning time, staffing, site-based budgetary decision-making, and curricular flexibility to best meet the needs of the students. 

I think this is a valid suggestion, but one that would be met with some push-back from the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) due to the autonomy in staffing piece, pay-for-excellence and stipend for extended day hours, especially when recommending it for 59 schools in the district. How do the proponents of this plan suggest dealing with this issue? 

Also, again me with the budget issues, we received funding for the Turnaround schools which currently funds Orchard Gardens Pilot school through federal Race to the Top (RTTT) funding, so will that funding still exist for Orchard Gardens and other schools or is it totally gone within the next couple of years (I think that is the case, but will look into it as a quick search did not fully answer this question)? Once the RTTT funding is gone, how will we continue to fund the current schools and another (possible) 59 of them on top of that?

Providing fully staffed student support services, the second suggestion in this section, is an excellent idea in my opinion, though I believe this should be true in EVERY school to ensure access across the district. I urge the creators of this plan and BPS leaders to look at the Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention (AIP) program at the Irving as a way to possibly bring some of these supports into other BPS schools regardless of which plan is chosen. The only issue with this piece is: how do we fund it as the support services are extremely pricey? 

The third suggestion, providing academic coaches for literacy and math support, is definitely something that should be done in all our schools. Teachers having access to additional professional development, common planning time, data analysis, and individualized coaching to strengthen their teaching practice and meet the specific needs of their students is something I believe we can all get behind! I hope we can see this recommendation incorporated into any plan that BPS finally approves, though I am also sure it would mean extending the day at all schools to make happen time-wise, which is also something I believe we should incorporate into all of our schools. Of course, that will become a teacher contract issue, along with budgetary considerations.

As far as guaranteeing after-school programming, I believe this is one of the easiest parts of this plan to put in place. At the Irving we have three program partners: AIPCitizen Schools. Tenacity, as well as City Year partnering with our teachers and working within our school, now throughout the entire school day thanks to extended learning time (ELT), and these partnerships are helping all of our students to succeed. As 75% of BPS schools already have some form of after-school program partnerships, hopefully we can add the other 25% of the schools to see better results throughout the district. These programs do cost though, so there are budget issues to deal with for this piece of the plan also.

Okay, so now we get into the funding piece of this plan, "Funding Quality" states: The Boston Public Schools have an annual budget that exceeds $1 billion for approximately 56,000 students.  While we believe that better budgeting could accomplish substantial savings for reinvestment at the school site level, we also believe there are three concrete steps to provide funding for quality upgrades across the BPS.

I think we all agree that better budgeting and drastic re-prioritization of what we really need (central admin vs. teachers/school based staff/supplies) for our students to succeed is essential at this point regardless of the assignment plan that is chosen.

The Quality Choice Plan believes the following three steps will contribute substantially to funding quality upgrades: 
  • Direct All Savings From Reduced Transportation Costs To High-Need Schools – Direct all savings from reduced transportation costs to the schools falling under the quality baseline in Section II and the schools receiving the quality supports covered in Section III. 

    • BPS projects transportation savings for its five proposals to range between 7%-27% of the total transportation budget (approximately $83 million).
    • This plan falls somewhere in between that range, projecting savings between $6 and $20 million annually.
The QC plan, which is more like the 23 zone model proposed by BPS as it promises a guaranteed seat at one of the four schools closest to a child's address, this in effect creates at least 20 zones (6 EEC + 48 elementary+25 K-8=79 schools affected by assignment proposals), cuts all busing of regular ed students. We will still need to bus students with special needs and the charter school students per law. 

Though the statement above claims that the QC plan savings is: projecting savings between $6 and $20 million annually, no numbers have been released regarding this proposal. When I asked Representative Russell Holmes directly about the numbers for this plan on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at the Mildred Ave School Assignment community meeting, Rep. Holmes told me that it was up to BPS to run the numbers. 

This begs the question: where did the above statement of projected savings come from? I did send a request in to BPS CFO John McDonough to find out if they had run the numbers for the QC plan, so am hopeful we will have an answer to that piece soon. Until we have the exact numbers, which the proponents of this plan should run for themselves if they have not already in my opinion and then release for review, there is no way to gauge what the savings will really be from transportation under this plan. 
  • Adjust Funding Formula To Provide Additional Funding To Students In Need – Institute a reallocation of the money available to provide an additional lump sum to the schools receiving the quality supports covered in Section III.
This is a suggestion that should be implemented no matter which proposal is ultimately chosen.
  • Increase Enrollment To Increase State Funding For BPS – The State funds BPS based on the number of students enrolled on an annual basis.

    • BPS should be able to increase enrollment, and therefore funding, by reforming student assignment to give families guaranteed seats with options close to home.
This part of the plan, I believe, is a long-term goal which is dependent on fulfilling all of the other pieces of the plan. As someone who is constantly telling folks "send your child to a BPS school", I would love to see this realized. My fear though is that there is now too much competition from charter schools to realistically see this happen, but I will remain hopeful that if we truly ensure quality and equity in BPS it will happen.

And FINALLY, we get to the final section of the Quality Choice Plan: "Quality Facilities" which states that: BPS needs to have a facilities strategy premised on growing enrollment through The Quality Choice Plan.

In October 2011, The Council on Great City Schools reported that Boston had $500 million in deferred maintenance costs, along with $640 million in modernization and repairs, and $1.8 billion in new construction needs. BPS MUST develop a long-term strategic capital plan to address these 
needs while managing enrollment demands in the short-term in a cost-effective way. (http://www.cgcs.org/cms/lib/DC00001581/Centricity/Domain/4/Facilities_Report.pdf) 

Okay, the above statement tells us what the BPS needs are according to CGCS, but not where funding is to be found for any of it. How about we insist that BPS have such a strategy for current students and Mayor Menino and the City Council commit to funding it no matter which plan is passed? Then, if enrollment increases, we can utilize the other suggestions. Just saying.

The Quality Choice Plan believes the following three steps will contribute substantially to improving facilities: 

  • Build or Acquire a Facility for a Downtown School in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill or West End - The Quality Choice Plan aims to increase BPS enrollment.
    • BPS needs to locate and build a school that serves the hundreds of families in downtown neighborhoods who have no close-to-home option currently.
No matter which plan is chosen, if we are truly going with the "neighborhood school" option, this is true whether enrollment increases or not.

My question: How do we fund this?
  • Realign Kindergarten Seats - The Quality Choice Plan aims to increase BPS enrollment.
    • BPS should explore converting current K1 seats in highly-chosen schools to K2 seats to meet capacity demands in those communities.
    • BPS should explore a strategy to expand K0 and K1 seats at high-need schools to provide more seats to the children who can benefit most from early-childhood access. (“Improving educational outcomes for poor children,” Brian A. Jacob and Jens Ludwig, http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus/pdfs/foc262j.pdf)
It is interesting that, at a time when most people believe that the earlier we start educating students the more success we see throughout school and even as adults, the proponents of this plan would essentially suggest cutting K-1 seats at many schools. They also do not seem to understand that the majority of K-0 seats are primarily for children on IEPs, which of course means a number of the K-1 and K-2 seats are held for those students leaving few for regular ed and ELL students as it is. 

Plus, I can already hear the families of hopeful K-1ers at those highly chosen schools saying "You can NOT cut OUR K-1 seats NOW"!

**Drumroll please***

And the LAST item in the plan, but third part of the final section: 
  • Address Supply/Demand Issues - The Quality Choice Plan aims to increase BPS enrollment.
    • If demand exceeds supply, seats must still be guaranteed under the close-to-home option.
    • BPS must provide the guaranteed seats via temporary modular classrooms in the short term and use enrollment projection data to develop a facilities plan to build or acquire new schools as necessary in the long term.
Again, I would love to see enrollment numbers go up. My biggest fear with this part is that if temporary modular classrooms are necessary under such an increase, the students who will end up in the modular classrooms will be our students with special needs and English Language Learners, which in effect means those students are segregated from the rest of the school population. 

This happens quite often, even now, despite the special education laws pertaining to Least Restrictive Environment, though BPS is less likely to do it after all the grief they went through thanks to the BPS SNPAC in the 1980-90s. IF this becomes a necessity for a school, I urge the Boston SpedPAC to do what the original BPS SNPAC did and become true watchdogs for all the students by touring schools often. 

And again, I ask many questions and am awaiting answers. I will do a final wrap up of my thoughts and findings from this review in the FINAL article in this series. 

Part 5 in this series, finally with some answers (and more questions).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

0 The Quality Choice Plan Analysis & Questions Part 3

For parts 1 & 2 of this series, please go to October 2012.
Please note that I have sent the questions I am outlining in these articles to all six of the politicians who proposed the Quality Choice plan. To date (email sent on Monday, October 8, 2012; today is Thursday, October 11, 2012) I have received no response to these questions.

Is the Quality Choice Plan offered by Councilor John Connolly et al really the answer to Boston Public Schools assignment issues? This is part 3 of my in-depth analysis with questions about the proposal.

In section two, "Establishing a Quality Baseline for BPS", the QC plan states the following:
Given the large gap in quality across the district, skeptics are right to fear that BPS will not be able to elevate the quality of schools across the board.
Therefore, the External Advisory Committee must demand that the school department provide a detailed plan on how to make a quality baseline a reality by September 2014. 
Careful review of the statement above makes me wonder: if people are skeptical about BPS' ability to elevate the quality of the schools, how do the "demands" of the QC plan alleviate that skepticism? In my mind, it doesn't because it is relying on BPS to come up with a plan and implement it, which this statement just said people were skeptical of BPS's ability to do. Circular reasoning here, just as seen in BPS' proposals about improving quality in our schools.

True, we can request such a plan from BPS, as many of us are, but the EAC has no power to "demand" that BPS do anything. And asking for such a detailed plan does not actually make the schools quality schools by the deadline in the QC proposal. So, in reality, the Quality Choice Plan does not fulfill the promises it makes in this area either. 

When closely reviewing the QC proposal, the statement above shows that instead of truly establishing a quality baseline within the plan itself, the creators are instead putting the onus on BPS to put something together by listing a few items that should be included in such an improvement plan:
  1. Mandatory principal evaluation*
  2. Mandatory teacher evaluation*
  3. A commitment to eight new fully inclusive schools
  4. A commitment to nine new dual-language schools
  5. Provide full academic enrichment for every student
  6. Provide every student with a K-8 option
The first two items on this list are already in place in BPS pursuant to state law which was actually adopted in June 2011. BPS started implementing the new evaluation system in schools during the 2011-2012 school year. So neither of these items is actually the idea of the creators of this plan, which many may not be aware of. 

With regard to the third item on the list, a commitment to eight new "fully inclusive schools", the recommendation is sound, but the timeline is not as it states that: BPS must commit to make eight current BPS schools fully inclusive by September 2014.

But wait Karen, the first list item under that section states: BPS must provide the External Advisory Committee with a list of eight new fully inclusive 
schools as well as a projected timeline and budget for staffing and programming the fully inclusive models at each school. 
  1. True enough, so which is it? 
  2. And if, as I suspect, the second statement is the actual requirement by the QC plan, does that mean the deadline for providing this will be September, 2014? 
  3. If this is the actual requirement, then what will you expect from them regarding timelines, detailed plans and deadlines for actually fulfilling these promises?
  4. Who will oversee BPS regarding follow-through of these commitments and how will oversight be handled?
I have a unique perspective on this part of the plan as I am an advocate for and mother of three children with special needs as well as a trainer on special education law for the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) who also "certified" me almost 2 decades ago. I also had the honor of Chairing the original BPS Special Needs Parent Advisory Council (SNPAC) for 11 years, so worked closely with the creator, Dr. William Henderson, of the first full inclusion model school in the world, the O'Hearn, now named the Henderson after Dr. Henderson. 

The SNPAC had lobbied for more full-inclusion schools modeled after the (then O'Hearn) Henderson in Boston for over a decade before they created the Harbor Pilot Middle school which is now expanding with a 9th grade class. I am hopeful that we can add the 4 schools modeled after Henderson and 4 more after the Lyon K-8 school as these are truly inclusion schools. This is a great suggestion on the part of the QC plan creators. 

The only part of this section I see an issue with is the "inclusive" model schools based on the 24 BPS claims to have in the district. I know many of the teachers and staff at those schools and, as much as the idea of "inclusive" schools is great, several of these staff members tell me that there is no true support taking place, that the models utilizing RTI and positive behavioral modification is more of a stalling technique to keep children out of special education and off Individual Education Plans (IEPs) instead of truly giving all children an inclusive education and all the supports they need. 

Unfortunately, most people hear "inclusive" and think "inclusion" which can be totally different models. I believe we  need to clarify what an "inclusive school" would look like when we walk into it, not just ask that they commit to implementing the recommendations of the BPS Inclusive Schools Network (ISN) partners as outlined in the plan. The fact that the plan calls for BPS to implement the recommendations of the ISN means they have not been implemented yet in any school in Boston and the claim by BPS that there are 24 such schools in the district rings false, partially because I know some of the schools they call inclusive very well, and they do not meet the criteria.

And that brings me to the fourth item on the list, a commitment by BPS to "make nine current BPS schools dual language", again, the recommendation is sound, but the time-line is not as it states that: BPS must commit to make nine current BPS schools dual-language by September 2014. 

With this section, as with the inclusive schools, we have the same issue as the first list item in this section states: BPS must provide the External Advisory Committee with a list of nine new dual-language schools, as recommended by the ELL Task Force in March 2011, as well as a projected timeline and budget for staffing and programming at each school.
  1. Again, so which is it? 
  2. If, as I suspect, the second statement is the actual requirement by the QC plan, does that mean the deadline for providing this will be September, 2014? 
  3. If this is the actual requirement, then what what will you expect from them regarding timelines, detailed plans and deadlines for actually fulfilling these promises?
  4. Who will oversee BPS regarding follow-through of these commitments and how will oversight be handled?
Again, as with the "inclusive" schools I think this is a great suggestion on the part of the QC plan creators. We should note that of the schools the plan lists as possible dual-language models, all except one are Level 3 & 4 (Turnaround) schools, which is concerning because it will take time for those schools to come up to "acceptable" Level 2 and then Level 1. 
  • Do we want to put some of our most vulnerable students into those schools? 
  • Don't they deserve better?
The fifth section states: BPS must commit to a comprehensive academic experience for every student by September 2014.

My first reaction to this is that if BPS could do that by September 2014 we would not have the issues we currently have within the district. So let's get into this a bit more.
BPS must provide the External Advisory Committee with a list of courses offered at every school, including the amount of instruction time in each course that demonstrates that every child at every school will have access to full academic enrichment.
This is a confusing statement as it asks for a list of what the schools currently offer to prove that every child at every school has access to full academic enrichment, which leads back to my first reaction. So let me assume they mean to ask BPS for a list of current offerings as well as a projected timeline and budget for staffing and programming at each school as that makes more sense. So then we should ask the same questions asked above in relation to "inclusive" and dual-language schools. 

Now let's address the second list item in this section: BPS must provide the External Advisory Committee with a plan to give every school the option to have an “Advanced Work” or “Honors Program” by September 2018 (the first year kindergarten students under the new assignment plan would be eligible for advanced work classes).

The reasoning behind this proposal is sound and I agree with it in theory. As an overall idea though it may sound great, actually in my opinion, it is not really. Personally, I believe we should do away with AWC altogether, put AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) in every class of every school throughout the district and instead use those AWC funds to ensure a more rigorous academic experience throughout the entire curriculum of the district. Why? With AWC and Honors classes we set up a system that ensures unequal access to true quality education as well as a fierce battle over who gets seats where. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that the AWC strands set up an elitist model among our students. I say this as the parent of two children who went through AWC by the way. And I will say this again, all three of my children have special needs. But enough about my personal feelings about AWC.

For those who would want such an option in every school, yes, it is a great proposal. Yet, it is unrealistic because most of our schools do not have any "excess" space available for expansion, so the promise can not be fulfilled. Again, this sets up yet another "have" and "have-not" issue, which is one of the issues driving the current push for school assignment reform and families issues with the BPS proposals. 

As you can see, I keep adding more questions in addition to those I asked in the first two articles, which I will send on to the proponents of the Quality Choice Plan and hope that someday I get a response.

If you have questions or know of further clarification that is available in writing on any of the above, please share it with me so I may also analyze that information as well as providing it to everyone else. :)

Part 4 of this series.

Friday, October 12, 2012

0 The Quality Choice Plan Analysis & Questions Part 2

For the first part of this series, please please go to October 2012.
Please note that I have sent the questions I am outlining in these articles to all six of the politicians who proposed the Quality Choice plan. To date (email sent on Monday, October 8, 2012; today is Thursday, October 11, 2012) I have received no response to these questions. 

Many families think the Quality Choice Plan offered by Councilor John Connolly et al is the answer to Boston Public Schools assignment issues, but is it really? This is a continuation of my in-depth analysis and questions about the proposal.

Throughout the Quality Choice plan, there are sections where it states "BPS must commit to..." or "...requires BPS..." which leads to the following questions (not answered through the FAQ on the plan's website):
  • What exactly does "must commit to" and "requires" really mean?
    • Does "must commit" and "requires" mean BPS only has to say “yes, we will do that” or are these “must commit to(s)” to be accomplished by the deadline you are giving (most in September 2014)?
    • If BPS only needs to agree to the promises you are asking for, what will you expect from them regarding timelines, detailed plans and deadlines for actually fulfilling these promises?
    • Who will oversee BPS regarding follow-through of these commitments and how will oversight be handled?
Knowing exactly what these terms mean to those who wrote them may help us further understand what is expected of BPS by the Quality Choice Plan.

The "Reforming Student Assignment" section has five pieces. In the first part of this series I reviewed the "grandfathering" and sibling preference questions I have and issues I predict under both pieces of the proposal, so am moving on to other sections of this section of the QC plan.

Under this plan, we are told that every child will be guaranteed a K-8 school or pathway. Is that truly feasible? Contrary to the claim in the QC plan, BPS committed to offering every student a K-8 pathway seat, not a K-8 school seat.

With a K-8 pathway, this promise may actually be feasible, but only if the "landing school" for the "feeders" is a stand-alone middle school. So far this HAS worked with the Roslindale Pathway, with the exception of two groups of children: 
  • we do not have the promised Autism strand so our Roslindale school students on the Autism spectrum must go elsewhere (we are working on this); and,
  • we can not get BPS enrollment to agree to additional AWC classrooms for 6th graders and only have 50 seats available (we had 13 on a wait-list for an AWC seat at the Irving this fall) so have lost students to other schools in BPS or parents take them out of BPS entirely. 
If we are going to go with the feeder model of K-8 pathways, then BPS needs to put any special ed strands within the "feeder" schools into the middle school component of that pathway so that ALL students of the pathway have the same ability to stay with peers from their elementary schools. This needs to be done without the fight is is taking us at the Irving to get our Autism strand added (we already have LD, AIP and Emotionally Impaired strands)! Otherwise, the pathway model excludes our special ed students which is directly in violation of the Least Restrictive Environment laws and regulations. 

Under the current assignment policy, seats for the K-8 schools are highly chosen and rarely does a family pull their child from that school, so there are few, if any openings, for any grade once the 1st grade seats are filled. This means there is no true availability for children who attend another school through 5th grade to have a seat at one of these K-8 schools even if it is promised. Additionally, if these K-8 schools have the AWC classes which is now true at 8 of the 22 AWC schools for 2012-2013, it is rare that any AWC seats are available for students from other schools. 

Additionally, many of these K-8 schools do not have any "excess" space available for expansion, so the promise of a seat for every student at a K-8 school is unrealistic. This sets up yet another "have" and "have-not" issue, which is one of the issues driving the current push for school assignment reform and families issues with the BPS proposals. 

We are also told that under the QC plan, every child will be guaranteed a kindergarten seat at one of the 4 schools closest to their home. In my review of the "grandfathering" and sibling preference in my first article I touched on how those pieces of this plan would impact the ability to fulfill this promise. 

Further issues with this promise are:
  • As a “neighborhood” for 4 schools can encompass hundreds of families, we would not have enough seats for all the students in that area – even allotting for families who chose citywide options;
  • Citywide options could create a similar scenario but citywide – so thousands of families vying for seats;
  • Leads to the same issues we see with current policies and the new BPS proposals:
    • Families with students in several schools
    • Families not happy with BPS schools so leave district
In addition to all the above, for those who want more choice in schools, the QC plan states:
Every child will be able to enter a lottery for seats at a network of citywide magnet schools.
Isn't the lottery issue part of the problem we are trying to rectify with new plans? Granted, there will always be some lottery because otherwise how do you fairly distribute the seats available, but won't this again set up similar issues to those currently causing problems in BPS? 

Of the 16 schools (19 actual - three are K-8) proposed for city-wide status:

One is a Level 1 school
One has insufficient data (new school)
Four are Level 2 schools
Three are Level 4 (turnaround) schools
Ten are Level 3 schools

Levels are 1-5, 1 best, 5 is worst:
Level 3 schools are among lowest performing 20% of schools
Level 4 schools are among lowest achieving and least improving schools
  1. As they stand now, and realizing that it takes several years to improve a school, why would parents chose one of these 16 schools? 
  2. Once these schools are designated Level 1 or 2 through improvement, wouldn't we then have the same issue seen now at the best schools in BPS with not enough seats for all who would like to attend?
Again, doesn't this create the same issues families have with the current system and the BPS proposals?

In the last section of the "Reforming Student Assignment" section the QC plan states that groups of 2-11 children will be able to apply as a group to under-selected schools anywhere in the city.
  • Why would parents do this?
  • What motivates them to pick an “under-selected” school?
  • Under-selected generally means under-performing , which is the current issue – parents are forced to accept a seat at such schools or take child out of BPS as it stands, what makes it different under this plan?
In my experience as a parent in BPS for 20+ years, most families don't find other parents who they may want to do something like this with until their child actually enters regular school as daycare, pre-school, etc do not offer the same type of "community building" that K-12 schools do. And, as my questions above indicate, it is amazing to think parents would chose to do such a thing, so this idea is perplexing to me and others I have spoken with online, in-person and at school assignment and school committee meetings. 

I keep hoping that I can finalize this series in a single post, unfortunately, because I do get into the nitty-gritty, it has not happened yet. However, the third installment is almost done, so it shall be up hopefully in the next day or so! 

As you can see, there are even more questions in addition to those I asked in the first article, some of which I already asked of the group who came up with this plan, others that are new which I will send on to them now, attached to my prior email since they are not responding so far.

If you have questions or know of further clarification that is available in writing on any of the above, please share it with me so I may also analyze that information as well as providing it to everyone else. :)

For Part 3 of this series, please see my article here.


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