Monday, January 19, 2015

Coming together is a beginning...

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
           - Henry Ford

In my last post I advocated the position that, if we are to truly change the direction of this top-down mandate, accountability driven education “reform” movement, it is essential that the various groups advocating for change put aside their differences and find common ground where we can speak with one voice. Slowly progress is being made. Union leadership, administrators, teachers, school committees and parents often disagree over the direction public education in this country should take. However, there are areas where agreement is possible; where the problems are such that groups with often diverse beliefs and visions can agree on areas necessary for change. At those times the voices coalesce into a common tune building in strength until its message and power is inescapable. Such a phenomenon is beginning to occur as evidenced by the following statement.

Western MA Education Leaders Coalition (WMELC)

In July, 2014, educational leaders representing ten local school districts met in the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District to discuss their common responses to and concerns with recent federal and state initiatives that are shaping public education in Massachusetts.   

The initial meeting has led to the establishment of the Western MA Education Leaders Coalition (WMELC).  To date, the Coalition has brought together 9 Superintendents and 12 School Committee members representing 10 western Massachusetts’ school districts.  The Executive Directors of 2 Educational Collaboratives have also participated.  The Coalition provides member Districts with an opportunity to share their concerns with the implementation of new curriculum standards, new forms of standardized testing, and a wide-range of federal and state mandates.

The attached statement was developed by the Coalition at its meeting on December 4, 2014. Superintendents and School Committee members of the districts involved in crafting the statement are listed after the signatories.  The Superintendent of the Ludlow Public Schools, the Ludlow School Committee, and the Executive Board of the Ludlow Education Association have all voted and unanimously approved the Coalition’s position regarding the areas of concern articulated in the letter. It is the Coalition’s intention to gather endorsements from other Superintendents, School Committees and local Teachers’ Associations.

The next meeting of the WMELC is scheduled for January 28, 2015

Western MA Education Leaders Coalition (WMELC)
Position Statement
December 3, 2014

The WMELC has met to discuss the reform agenda and framework of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).   WMELC members are collectively concerned with the impact of the following on their Districts: 

1.      Amount, Pace and Cost of Unfunded Mandates:  The WMEDLC is extremely concerned with the amount, unrealistic pace and unmanageable cost of a variety of required state and federal initiatives.  To an already long list of mandates, the DESE has, in the past two years alone, added the following:  requirements to implement Common Core State Standards (CCSS),   a new framework for educator evaluation, a new set of assessments called District Determined Measures (DDMs), a new high stakes standardized test created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). State and federal revenue has not kept pace with the demands created by these new initiatives.   Stark evidence of the alarming number and pace of state and federal initiatives comes from the testimony of Tom Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S), to the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Education Committee on June 27, 2013.  In preparation for his testimony, Scott and the M.A.S.S. conducted an examination of Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) regulations requiring action by local districts.  Scott testified that information gathered from the DESE website demonstrates that from the years 1996 -2008, there were 4,055 (average of 312 each year) documents requiring action of local districts in response to regulations. The same examination conducted on the four year period of 2009-2013 reveals that there were 5,382 (an average of 1077 each year) multiple page documents requiring action by local school districts.

2.      Validity, reliability and implementation of PARCC exam.  This Coalition’s position is that the PARCC exam represents a costly departure from MCAS that is being implemented without adequate funding and technology; without enough involvement from Massachusetts educators, and ahead of Districts’ capacity to implement new curriculum standards.   The Coalition is not convinced that the new exam’s questions are appropriately constructed and properly aligned with new standards.   Finally, the Coalition is asking the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to share information regarding the results of the 2013-2014 pilot PARCC tests that school districts across the state were required to administer.  It is reasonable to expect this information,  given that the PARCC test could have a major impact on public schools across the state and given that reporting the required data, preparing students and classrooms for the new assessment experience and administering the pilot involved significant time and resources.

3.      Amount, Frequency and Cost of Standardized Testing:  The WMELC believes that, while standardized testing provides an important measurement of district, school and individual student achievement and growth, DESE’s reform framework places too much emphasis on standardized testing.   The time and resources devoted to standardized testing are excessive.  Valuable teaching and learning time is lost to standardized testing requirements. Currently, Massachusetts requires the administration of 23 different standardized tests.  Between grades 3 and 10 a child will sit for at least 39 test sessions.   In addition to disrupting teaching and learning at each tested school for 4-5 days, affected administrators spend the equivalent of at least 10 days per school year in scheduling and administering MCAS.   In a report titled “Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems,” the Brookings Institute has estimated that Massachusetts spends about $35 million per year on MCAS assessment.  The same study reports that Massachusetts’ contract with Measured Progress costs taxpayers $64 per child. 

This statement was crafted following significant deliberation and discussion by WMELC representatives.  Our expectation is that Massachusetts’ policy makers and the MA DESE will thoughtfully consider this statement and will develop education policy that is reflective of the important concerns we have expressed.  We also ask that you send a formal response to:

c/o Superintendent Marty O’Shea
Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District
621 Main Street
Wilbraham,  MA 01095

Thank you for your kind attention to this important letter.


Michael J. Kelliher, Chairman
On behalf of the Ludlow School Committee

Todd H. Gazda
Superintendent of Schools

Brian Bylicki
On behalf of the Ludlow Education Association

Western MA Education Leaders Coalition (WMELC)
Member Districts and Educational Collaboratives

Agawam Public Schools
Collaborative for Educational Services
East Longmeadow Public Schools
Hadley Public Schools
Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District
Longmeadow Public Schools
Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative
Ludlow Public Schools
Monson Public Schools
Palmer Public Schools
Southwick Tolland Granville Regional School District
West Springfield Public Schools

After adopting this statement the Ludlow Schools forwarded it to the following individuals: The Governor of Massachusetts, our local state Senator and Representative, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education, the Chairs of the Massachusetts House and Senate Education Committees, the Commissioner of Education, the members of the Massachusetts Board of Education, the Commissioner of Higher Education and the United States Secretary of Education.  I call on those of you reading this to help the message spread from West to East increasing in volume until our policy makers in Boston are compelled to listen.  Share this with your school committee members and Superintendents encouraging them to lend their support to this statement and keep building the momentum for positive change. Individually we are weak, but together we can effectuate meaningful change.