2011 CPS Fall Conference Top Issues and Notes

[Note: This page is organized in two parts. The first section has summaries of the top issues identified by each workshop at the top of the page. The second has more detailed notes for four of the workshops.]

 

PART I: SUMMARIES OF TOP ISSUES

Your Public School Under Attack: Organizing to Fight Back

MORNING WORKSHOPS:

A. ORGANIZING IN YOUR COMMUNITY FOR MCAS REFORM – Lou Kruger, Ann O’Halloran

1.      Need to develop a clear message

2.    Encourage others to go to website

http://www.facebook.com/pages/MA-Test-Reform/176499372389131

 

B.  REFORMING CHARTER SCHOOL FINANCING – Paul Dunphy, Bonnie MacFarlane, Valerie Gilman

1.      Separate costs from charter schools out of Chapter 70, call it Chapter 70A.. Or fund charter schools separately – not from Chapter 70 (address initial reimbursement formula)

2.      Local approval (H 1067 Smizik bill)

 

 

C. WORCESTER SCHOOLS & IMPACT OF STAND FOR CHILDREN – Ruth Rodriguez Fay, Alain Jehlen, Tracy Novick

1.      Positive platform for improving education

2.      Reviving the bilingual PAC in Worcester

D. THREATS FACING PUBLIC EDUCATION –  Deborah Polin, Chris Herland, Julie Johnson

1.       We need to find ways to redirect and get past our anger and disappointment with the current situation:  bringing people together in organizations like CPS, and conferences such as this one can help do this.

2.       We need to REFRAME the current erroneous and unjust messages about public schools and public education;  this will require work on messaging and a long-term strategy to get our message out to the public, starting with a focus on our natural allies (labor, progressives, Democrats, students, teachers, parents, civil rights and religious organizations, including the Occupy movement).

AFTERNOON WORKSHOPS

 

A. BOSTON SCHOOLS: PROMOTING & PRESERVING THE DUTY TO “CHERISH” – Barbara Fields, Sandra McIntosh, Jose Lopez

1.      Show struggle of Boston Community to save children/education (address racism)

2.      Publicize the struggle/video

 

B. CAMPAIGNING FOR PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION — Alex Kulenovic

Fund public higher education so it can serve the Commonwealth

Make higher education affordable (goal of free tuition)


C. INSIDE THE EDUCATION LEGISLATION PROCESS – Julie Johnson, Rep. Frank Smizik

1. Increase state revenue (in a progressive manner), by supporting An Act to Invest in Our Communities, but also by speaking out in support of increasing revenue (i.e., taxes) and supporting increased state funding for public education (preK-through graduate school), through the state budget process, and by supporting legislation to require an Adequacy Study, in order to determine the resources necessary for schools to provide a quality education for all students.

2. Reform the MCAS Appeals process so that all students will have the opportunity to graduate from high school

D. ORGANIZING PARENTS AND COMMUNITIES to INFLUENCE SCHOOL COMMITTEES – Sharon Guzik, Larry Ward, Ann O’Halloran

Organize parents in general – phone calls, face to face effective, emails a little less. Educate larger groups by bringing in outside speakers. Forward things you get from CPS.

School committee should appoint a legislative liaison  – SC members are most effective lobbyists to legislators because they are elected officials, so their lobbying state legislators gives them more power because they have a constituency behind them – parents (constituents) should also speak directly to their legislators.

PART II: NOTES FROM THE WORKSHOPS

1. Organizing for MCAS Reform

Facilitated by Lou Kruger and Ann O’Halloran 

Students Denied Diplomas

DOE puts out data on “competency determination” in math, English, science every year. Latest figures show about 1000 African American students ineligible to get diplomas because of MCAS, 1600 Latinos, 2900 students with disabilities. LEP actually had lowest pass rate. (Lou will send out the statistics to the group.)

Top Frustrations with MCAS

Workshop participants were asked to list their top two frustrations with the MCAS. Some of the many that were expressed:

–using MCAS as a high school graduation requirement; prevents kids from graduating, has profound impact on their future;

–effect on curriculum (narrows, strangles, ruins, distorts were all words used to describe what it does to curriculum);

–effect on kids: terrorizes many students, damages their self-esteem, causes some to drop out, others to spend endless hours of mind-numbing test prep;

–distorts the intent of education, which should not be teaching kids to find “the one right answer;” stifles creativity and exploration;

–not an accurate accountability system, very narrow measure, need multiple forms of assessment to find out what kids are learning;

–exacerbates inequalities in schools: students in exam schools or higher-income communities don’t have to spend hours in drill-and-kill classes; other kids do, and their education is impoverished;

–in particular, special education students are subject to more of the above, and a higher percentage are kept from graduating.

Organizing to Reform MCAS: What Works? 

–look for local solutions that help mitigate the effects of MCAS, e.g. in Gloucester, pushing for opening up project-based learning in the schools;

–need to engage parents: reaching out through PTAs, churches, organizations like Neighbor-to-Neighbor;

–reaching people at Open House Day or Head Start Day;

–organizing events at the schools;

–Brookline: clear indication that they are trying to minimize the impact of MCAS (SC and Supt as well)

–Facebook Page; use internet and social media; leadership of students; best way to reach young people (and others as well);

–focus on Legislature: current Education Committee is one of most sympathetic in years; organize local groups to put pressure on their legislators;

–media: more questions are being asked now (except for The Globe); more writing to local papers!

–leafleting and raising questions at events organized by the “reformers” e.g. Michelle Rhee;

–emphasize: work in coalition with other groups;

–don’t just focus on the negatives; also the positives: how can we promote true accountability?

–for example, positive is also improving high school graduation numbers; for students that fail the MCAS in high school before graduation time, dropout rate has gone up;

–increase in cheating: find ways to talk about this issue;

–first step is raising awareness in our communities!

–Jackie Dee King

2. Charter Funding Reform Workshop Notes

Led by Paul Dunphy, Val Gilman, chair of Gloucester School Committee, Bonnie McFarland, Medford

Attendees: Sharon Guzik, Rep. Frank Smizik, Kathy Clancy, Gloucester SC, Barbara Fields, Vicki Halal, MTA, Marilyn Segal, Lisa Guisbond, Medford Superintendent Roy Belson

Problems with Charter Funding

  • Charter funding formula structured by Steve Wilson, who founded 2 charters taking advantage of formula he crafted.
  • Jim Peyser saw way to hurt public education. Not a mistake. Charter funding comes off the top of Chapter 70, so charters don’t have to fight for funding.
  • See growth in dollars: $98 million to $300 million, a 300% increase in 10 years.
  • Paul produced handout with breakdown of every district and how much $$ going to charters. $63m coming out of BPS.
  • 2010 Achievement Gap bill by Walz, 2/3 of act is bestowing favors on charters. Unused building space shall be made available to charters.
  • 31 charter bills at hearing on following Tuesday, including Rep. Smizik’s bill to allow local communities to approve or deny.

Discussion

  • How to make more transparent? Separate out charter school cost. Call it Chapter 70A. This would eliminate the disguise.
  • Step 2 could to be break down by individual students, special education, etc.
  • House 2722 would require more specificity in charter school accountability, including facilities aid money. They get $893 per pupil in facilities aid. Don’t have to use it for facilities. They argue they’re not eligible for SBA.
  • Local approval (Frank Smizik’s bill). Indirectly related to finance.
  • What about the diversity piece they’re supposed to meet?
  • Charters used to be able to roll over all their funds, now there’s a limit but it’s not enforced.
  • Jeff Wulfson, DESE, coming out with guidelines on finance. Entry point to debate. Mystic Valley built $5.5 million sports complex with some of their surplus. They didn’t want to compete for SBA $$. You have to get in line.
  • 3-year probation period instead of 5 years for charter approval.

Possible Solutions

  • Separate out charter school cost. Call it chapter 70A. This would eliminate the disguise.
  • Local approval (Rep. Frank Smizik’s bill). Indirectly related to finance.
  • 3 year probation period instead of 5 years for charter approval.

–Lisa Guisbond

3. Organizing Parents and Communities P.M. Workshop

Led by Sharon Guzik, Ann O’Halloran, Larry Ward

Attending: Chandler Creedon, president of FEA; Norma Shapiro, Jonathan King, Jenna Quilty of NU, Bruce Ditata, Val Gilmore, chair of Gloucester School Committee; Christine Rafal, Scott Mehlenbacher, Instructor of Mathematics at City of Haverhill; Tom Grover, Mendon, Val Gomes, Boston principal

How to Organize Communities, Discussion

Sharon Guzik:

* Phone calls, face to face effective, emails a little less. People drift off it they don’t hear. Educate larger groups by bringing in outside speakers like someone from CPS or Noah Berger. Forward things you get from CPS.

Valerie Gilmore

* Appointed legislative liaison, Kathy Clancy, as important as School Committee chair. Keeps school committee abreast of legislative agenda. SC takes a stand immediately. Uses that to rally the community. Sends things to MASS/MASC. Also each SC member takes a member of the BESE with whom they have something in common, e.g., Val takes Maura Banta because they have a similar business background.

Ann O’Halloran

* CPS will be part of statewide coalition to fight Stand ballot question.

JAK: Ann finds local leader to bring people together for film, petition drive, etc.

Sharon

* School Committee members don’t have a lot of power. Organize parents to influence legislators.

Norma

* SC members are the most effective lobbyists to legislators because they are elected officials, so their lobbying state legislators gives them more power because they have a constituency behind them, getting a two-fer

Sharon

Organizing parents in general. Stand taught how to organize parents to affect local level. Organize around an issue that directly affects the community. Funding is a big issue. Take a piece of that Chapter 70. Testing? Is it impacting the curriculum? PARCC testing. Are people concerned about increases in testing, teacher evaluation? SC members have to be educated.

Form core group of committed parents, bring people in to educate the group. Phone tree. Commit to contacting people.

Val

Stand was good at leveraging use of Internet. Setting up conference calls. Get list of those who voted in the last election. Write targeted letters. Resolution for MASC.

Jenna Quilty

* Don’t forget the young college graduates who can’t find work as teachers.

Valerie Gomes

* What about the voiceless people?

Larry

Nugget we’ve left out is students. How to take our platform and include students.

CPS should tap into group of MCAS survivors. Strong way to influence SCs.
4. Workshop on Boston Schools: Promoting and Preserving the Right to “Cherish”

Facilitated by Barbara Fields, Sandra McIntosh, and Jose Lopez

Who’s Looking Out for Tiffany?

We began the workshop by reading “Who’s Looking Out for Tiffany?” a thought-provoking piece by Mark E. P. Roberts that ran in the Washington City Paper in October 1997. The article describes the ways in which eight-year-old Tiffany was excluded from the enriching educational experiences of the author’s daughter in a Brooklyn public school. Both girls are African-American. His daughter, who was in the gifted and talented program, had the benefit of smaller class sizes, experienced teachers, field trips, and participation in plays, while her friend Tiffany’s experience could be summed up in her own words: “We never get to do nothing.” When some parents and staff organized at the school to change the situation, they met stiff resistance and eventually backed down.

In responding to the inequities described in the article, workshop members expressed outrage, sadness, an unfortunate “lack of surprise,” anger, and a determination to keep working for change.

Massachusetts Constitution 

Jose Lopez led us through a brief lesson in the education provisions of the Massachusetts State Constitution, drafted by John Adams in 1780. This is the world’s oldest functioning written constitution—and it became a model for the US Constitution, for constitutions of other countries, and eventually for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The section on education (see below for exact wording) describes a holistic vision of education that goes far beyond current education policies and “reform” measures.

We noted that the Constitution emphasizes education to enhance students’ own rights and development, not just to prepare them for employment; that it speaks to the need to educate all children; that it points the way toward the development of humanistic and moral individuals who will be able to fully participate in a democracy. We agreed that we would have a very different education system if policy-makers were to follow the guidelines laid out by the founders; we noted efforts to move in this direction such as the McDuffy and Hancock lawsuits to bring about equitable funding of schools, and the Bob Moses initiative for an Amendment that would explicitly guarantee the right to a quality education.

Current Struggles for Equity 

Our facilitators outlined ways in which their organizations have been trying to “look out for Tiffany.”  Sandra McIntosh reported on the work of the Coalition for Equal Quality Education. Several years ago, an unprecedented coalition of parents, students, teachers, bus drivers, and community leaders came together to fight a proposal by the Boston School Department to create five school-assignment zones. The plan would have dramatically limited the choice of schools for most families and increased segregation in the system. After a broad leafleting campaign and marches to School Committee meetings, with signs and drummers and police escort, they were successful and the plan was scrapped. In 2010, CEQE organized against a plan to close or merge 20 Boston schools. While most of the schools were indeed closed or merged, the Coalition helped bring the issue into vivid relief. Hundreds of parents, teachers, and students turned out for School Committee meetings and eloquently pleaded for their schools to remain open. CEQE now plans to monitor exactly how well the School Department carries out its promise to place all students in higher performing schools.

Barbara Fields discussed the civil rights complaint filed by the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts (BEAM) and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law about the disparate impact of the school closings and mergers on students and communities of color. The Office for Civil Rights is still investigating the matter. “We feel that the only people who were heard were those who had the ear of the mayor,” Fields said. “They are closing some schools and then handing the buildings over to charters… Meanwhile, our kids are being shuffled all over the city. Where did they end up? Are they in schools that are truly better performing?”

Jose Lopez described the launching of the Teachers’ Action Group (TAG-Boston) last spring. The group strives to give a voice to educators in addition to that of the teachers’ union. They have held: a conference last spring which drew more than 200 people, a “grade-in” event at Occupy Boston, film screenings, and monthly meetings. Their platform promotes: democratic school governance, community-based solutions to school transformation (as opposed to top-down initiatives), equitable educational opportunities for all children, curricula that promote creative and critical thinking, protecting the teachers’ right to organize, and a school climate that empowers students. He urged workshop participants to check out their website at www.tagboston.com.

–Jackie Dee King 

Massachusetts State Constitution 

Chapter V, Section 2—The Encouragement of Literature, etc.  

Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools, and grammar-schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, and good humor, and all social affections and generous sentiments, among the people.