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.


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