Review of First School Quality Working Group Meeting
It's taken me a while to get to this, but here's my review of the first SQWG meeting which was held on May 1st. First a little background. One of the EAC recommendations to the School Committee was the creation of a group to focus on measuring and improving the quality of BPS schools. The Superintendent agreed and the group was appointed by the School Committee. BPS has created a new site, http://bostonschoolquality.org, to keep the public informed during the process.
The group has 21 members, including me. Bios should be available on the members page soon. As a member of the group, I've spent some time thinking about whether it's appropriate to blog about our work here. During the student assignment reform process I wrote extensive reviews of each meeting which were a mix of both factual information and my opinions on the proceedings. I have decided to go ahead with blogging about the SQWG, but I expect these posts to be somewhat different. The most significant difference is that I will try not to express an opinion in these posts. I will express any thoughts I have, including any disagreement with other members, during the SQWG meetings. I also expect these posts to be shorter and less detailed as I won't be able to take as many notes during the meetings.
However, I do hope that readers will feel free to discuss the work of the group in the comments. I think there have been some great conversations on previous posts and I hope that continues.
The first meeting started with introductions, then moved on to some discussion of the group's charge. The stated goal of the group is "To design a school quality accountability framework that includes public oversight." The groups chairs presented a proposed list of objectives to achieve this goal, which are listed in the meeting agenda. There was some discussion of whether these objectives were clear or comprehensive enough. I believe that a revised proposal will be discussed at the next meeting.
The next item on the agenda was a presentation on the new student assignment plan by Carleton Jones of BPS. There really wasn't anything new here, it looks pretty much like what has been presented in the past.
Next was a presentation by Nathan Kuder, Director of Performance Management at BPS, on work the district has already done on measuring quality. He spoke about efforts by BPS to develop both an School Performance Index and a School Opportunity Index. The SPI looks at measures like test scores and school climate. The SOI looks at things like teacher quality, equitable funding, and the range of learning opportunities. There was some confusion on the difference between these and how they should be used. Superintendent Carol Johnson attended the meeting and spoke of the importance of looking at opportunity gaps. She handed out copies of an article from the National Education Policy Center about the opportunity gap. Reading this, it seems to me that an opportunity index should be used to better understand why schools aren't meeting children's needs rather than to determine whether a school is meeting needs. I'm sure there will be further discussion on this at future meetings.
The meeting ended with public comment. Only a small members of the community attended. One person spoke on her concern that no current BPS teachers were included in the group.
The meeting schedule can be found in this document. Meetings will generally be the second Wednesday of the month from 6:00 - 8:30 pm, but the next meeting will be held on May 29th, location TBD.
Thanks for reading and please post any thoughts or questions you have in the comments.
Quality objectives + implementing the new assignment plan
Thanks. Good approach.
1) I'd suggest that what we really need is this, objective #2:
"Review and validate the district’s actions and strategies to improve school quality."
and that everything else is in support of that.
Also, it's not clear - but is there a data- and knowledge-building piece planned? A review of the data and research to try to develop a shared understanding (in the committee, and the City) of where we stand; what has been proven to work; etc.
For example, there's so many sparks around charters vs. no charters, when it seems what the research shows is it's the specific things that are done - early childhood education, longer day, supportive services to address out-of-school factors, etc - that are really making the difference - charter or not.
2) The other critical work, in the short to medium term, is tracking the new assignment process. I'd hope there are more substantive updates on the assignment process over time. While the plan that was adopted is very good, there are of necessity still many things to be worked out.
For example, using driving distances. As-the-crow-flies was a reasonable approximation for the EAC's work. But for implementation - well, when school buses fly (or they start using Duck Boats), it may make sense. Until then, the plan should use as-the-bus-drives. At least in areas like East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End.
Another critical area is implementation issues. While BPS does much already - there's more that can be done to communicate simply and clearly, support parents' decisions and provide sharply relevant info to families, get as many registrants as possible into the first round, etc.
Always kind of interested when this comes up.
Maybe I am being naive, but how does funding not end up being equitable in a single district like Boston? Salaries and benefits is the main expense (75%) and there is one scale that is negotiated with the union, right? So one would think the teachers are paid the same in all the schools by definition. Is there evidence that facilities money is not given out in a fair manner or something? I would think that the student to teach ratio is probably a union contract thing to, so is that not done fairly?
I guess some schools, especially Latin, have donations coming in that can drive funding, but it would surprise me if the fundraising at elementary schools can be that big a factor in a almost 1 billion dollar budget.
I guess this goes back to some degree to my surprise at seeing how far up Boston is on the per student spending list:
Obviously Boston is going to be an expensive district to run, but if anything is grossly underfunded at 17k per year per student that I have to wonder where all the money goes.
Equitable <> equal
The main idea there is that equitable doesn't mean equal - higher need students need more funding.
BPS has moved in that direction. But the State and federal governments need to help as well.
You raise some good questions, questions that many have. It would be great if as part of the quality process they could try to develop good answers to these and other questions. If we don't have a shared view of the factors that drive and affect quality, we won't be able to agree on what to do.
Or to put it another way - the stronger the consensus about what we need to do, the better chance it will finally get done. It certainly worked that way for the EAC and the assignment process.
I don't have any problems with them funding schools with higher need populations at a higher level. I guess sometimes when I read these presentations it is not really clear that what we are talking about is how much higher the funding level sound be, not that is is less or anything.
Regardless of what the formula is for funding schools it does not seems like it would be a driver of differences in school quality within the district as long as the formula is being applied equally. It is certainly open for debate weather a high needs student should be worth 10, 20, 30 percent more in funding, etc, but as long as the formula is being applied equally then its not like any one school can get a bad deal, compared with all the others.
More good questions
I have some of the same questions, and I'm sure many do. Another great illustration of some of the work that needs to be done before we can really have a good conversation about quality.
The funding is higher, but I'm under the impression it's not that much higher. That's on my list of things to find out.
Also, if the main drivers of educational performance are out-of-school factors - there's an additional layer of services that it's in our interest as a society to make available at school.
But at the same time - we can't do it all at school. Let's figure out where to draw the line, or at least what to add next. That's another critical area we need to reach consensus on as a City, so we can actually get it done. So the question is, how to we get to that consensus?
By the way, I know you know most of these things, so I'm not so much saying them to you as making them part of the discussion for all to take part in.
thinking about quality
Recently my husband and I went to a welcome session at the Jackson Mann School.
One thing I noticed was a focus on supports. I was wondering what do the supports do? How useful are they? Do the parents find them useful? Would parents be happier with more focus on free or very inexpensive surround care for their kids, or a better student teacher ratio? I am wondering if the supports are taking away funding from other areas that would be more effective.
The other thing I was struck by was that the classroom I visited at the Jackson Mann was in the basement and had no windows. The room had lots of posters with text on them around but no posters with pictures on them or fun objects to examine. Outside time was only 30 minutes a day. When facilities are considered for what makes a school a quality school I think issues of windows and outdoor time should be considered. Also if the classroom is an inviting place with lots of things to examine. I think if an adult wouldn't want to spend hours and hours in a space a child certainly would not.
So those are my thoughts for the day! Thanks for continuing to blog Josh-