For parts 1, 2 & 3 of this series, please see my articles on the Roslindale Patch.
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 - 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.
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: AIP, Citizen 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.
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 non-district charter schools to realistically see this happen, so we would need to also fund a massive marketing campaign to draw folks to BPS schools instead of the other options they have. However, I will remain hopeful that if we truly ensure quality and equity in BPS we will increase enrollment.
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"!
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.
Please check back for the final article in this series!