House leadership has released the draft of the education bill that will appear on the floor next week. The bill is available on line as House 4410.
The bill is narrower than the wide ranging bill that the Senate passed after debate in November. It is also narrower than the bill that was originally reported out of the Education Commitee. The bill is no longer styled as “The Education Reform Act of 2009”, but more narrowly styled as “An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap.”
The basic outline of the bill remains unchanged — provisions to allow aggressive measures to turnaround ‘underperforming’ schools and districts; expansion of charter schools in underperforming districts; general facilitation of ‘innovation’ schools.
The current draft would basically allow the state to take over schools and districts with the lowest test scores (among the lowest 15% statewide). The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, through the Commissioner, is given broad powers to change personnel and procedures, even overriding collective bargaining agreements with teachers. These powers are, however, limited in some very important ways:
- Not more than 3% of public schools and not more than 2.5% of school districts (by count, not population) may be under supervision at any one time.
- The Commissioner must conduct a public planning process laying out a full plan including proposed personnel and procedural changes, a plan which may be appealed to the Board of Education.
- The powers reside in the Commissioner, not in the school superintendents (although the commissioner may delegate plan execution to district staff). This responds to the concern raised by teachers unions that superintendents would be able to override collective bargaining agreements under the original committee draft of the bill. Lodging these powers in the Commissioner means that they can only be exercised sparingly (the Department of Education and Secondary Education has very finite resources) and also means that they cannot be used without heavy state-level political scrutiny.
The bill allows for the expansion of the number and size of charter schools in the communities whose MCAS scores are in the lowest 10 percent of the state: The percentage of district spending drawn to charter schools in those communities may rise to 18% from 9%. Further focusing the expansion of charters, the law provides that not less than 2 of the charters approved in any year must be in the lowest 10% of communities by test score — under existing law, not less than 3 must be targeted to communities below the state average. Outside those communities, the basic statewide cap (a maximum of 72 Commonwealth charters) remains unchanged.
The bill also includes a number of measures to respond to concerns that some raise about charters.
- The bill requires charters to work very hard to recruit a student body that resembles the district(s) that it serves demographically and on a host of performance dimensions. This is not a philosophical change — charters are already prohibited from being selective academically. But it imposes new requirements to recruit lower performing students.
- The bill adds procedural protections in charter approval, expanding hearing requirements and disclosure of materials related to the new charter.
- It eases the unionization of charter schools by lowering from 60% to 50% the share of teachers in a charter that most vote in order to create a bargaining unit. This a change from both existing law and the original committee draft.
- It adds controls on the accumulation of financial reserves in charter schools at the expense of district schools.
“Innovation schools”, under the bill, would basically be schools approved by a local district and by the local union that would be freer to undertake new approaches to instruction. Given the 2/3 union vote required for approval of a conversion, this tool may or may not turnout to be a popular approach to innovation.
I do not believe that personnel and control changes, which is what this bill is fundamentally about, are likely to make a radical difference in educational outcomes. I tend to feel that labeling a school “underperforming” is a bit unfair — the school may be doing a great job against formidable odds. The schools with the lowest test scores sit in communities that look weak on every other statistic — income, employment, crime, health, housing quality, etc.
But some improvements may be possible and are certainly worth striving for. The voices that represent the affected communities speak in unison in calling for these reforms and — subject to hearing new concerns over the next few days — I expect to hear their call and support the bill.
Below is the Committee’s Section by Section Summary of the Bill
An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap (H 4410)
SECTION 1. Underperforming schools and chronically underperforming schools and districts: This section strikes and replaces sections 1J and 1Kof chapter 69.
SECTION 1J – Underperforming and chronically underperforming schools
Subsection a. Provides definitions.
Subsection b. Describes how a school is designated as underperforming or chronically underperforming. Schools that score in the lowest 15% statewide shall be eligible for underperforming or chronically underperforming status. No more than 3% of all schools in the Commonwealth may be labeled underperforming or chronically underperforming at any given time. Before a school can be labeled as chronically underperforming, it must first be deemed underperforming and fail to improve.
Subsection c. Requires the commissioner of elementary and secondary education to create a turnaround plan for the school. This subsection further describes the creation of the stakeholder group that the commissioner must consult before developing such plan.
Subsection d. Describes the student outcome data on which the plan is based, mandatory components of the turnaround plan and required annual measurable goals in the plan.
Subsection e. Describes the voluntary strategies that the commissioner may include in the turnaround plan, including provisions for the process by which an employee must reapply for a job in the school.
Subsection f. Describes the process by which the commissioner must submit the turnaround plan to stakeholders and consider recommended modifications.
Subsection g. Describes the process by which a superintendent, school committee or local union may make an appeal to the board of elementary and secondary education regarding the components of the plan.
Subsection h. Describes the implementation of the turnaround plan. In an underperforming school, the superintendent is responsible for implementing the commissioner’s plan. In a chronically underperforming school, an external receiver is responsible for implementing the commissioner’s plan.
Subsection i. Permits the commissioner to appoint an external receiver to operate an underperforming school under certain circumstances.
Subsection j. Clarifies who the employer of record is in the case of an external receiver.
Subsection k. Provides that each turnaround plan is authorized for up to 3 years.
Subsection l. Requires, in the case of a chronically underperforming school, a written report to the school committee on a quarterly basis on the progress being made on the implementation of the turnaround plan.
Subsection m. Requires the commissioner to annually evaluate each underperforming and chronically underperforming school and outlines the process for amending the turnaround plan.
Subsection n. Describes the review of the school by the commissioner upon expiration of the turnaround plan and provides for redesignation of the school.
Subsection o. Provides for the adoption of regulations for the administration and enforcement of this section.
Subsection p. Describes the commissioner’s reporting requirements under this section.
SECTION 1K – Chronically underperforming districts
Subsection a. Describes how a district is designated as chronically underperforming. For the lowest 10% performing districts, the commissioner shall appoint a district review team to assess and report on the reasons for underperformance and prospects for improvement. No more than 2.5% of all districts in the Commonwealth may be labeled chronically underperforming at any given time. The subsection further provides for the designation of a receiver for chronically underperforming districts.
Subsection b. Describes the process for the commissioner and receiver to jointly develop a turnaround plan, which shall focus on the school(s) labeled chronically underperforming or district policies that have contributed to the district’s chronic underperformance. This subsection describes the creation of the stakeholder group that the commissioner and receiver must consult before developing a turnaround plan for the district.
Subsection c. Describes the student outcome data on which the turnaround plan is based, mandatory components of the plan and required annual measurable goals to be included in the plan.
Subsection d. Describes the voluntary strategies that the commissioner may include in the turnaround plan, including provisions for the process by which an employee must reapply for a job in the district.
Subsection e. Describes the process by which a superintendent, school committee or local union may make an appeal to the board of elementary and secondary education regarding the components of the plan.
Subsection f. Provides that each turnaround plan is authorized for up to 3 years and the external receiver is responsible for meeting goals outlined in the plan.
Subsection g. Requires a written report to the school committee on a quarterly basis on the progress being made on the implementation of the turnaround plan.
Subsection h. Requires the commissioner to annually evaluate the performance of the receiver and outlines the process for amending the turnaround plan.
Subsection i. Provides for the reevaluation of a district’s status after the period of receivership. This subsection also provides for the adoption of regulations for the administration and enforcement of this section.
Subsection j. Provides for the renewal of the turnaround plan or the creation of a new turnaround plan if the district remains chronically underperforming.
Subsection k. Maintains current law regarding the designation of a district as chronically underperforming as a result of failure to fulfill fiscal responsibilities under chapter 70.
SECTION 2. Charter schools: this section strikes and replaces section 89 of chapter 71.
Subsection a. Provides definitions.
Subsection b. Maintains current law listing the purposes for establishing charter schools.
Subsection c. Maintains current law delineating the differences between commonwealth charter schools and Horace Mann charter schools.
Subsection d. Maintains current law by listing the parties eligible to apply to establish a charter school and allows the board to authorize a single board of trustees to manage more than 1 charter school.
Subsection e. Describes the information needed in a charter school application.
Subsection f. Describes the recruitment and retention plan, which must describe strategies the charter school will use to maximize the number of students who complete school requirements and prevent dropouts and include annual goals.
Subsection g. Describes a process by which charter schools may send mail to eligible students in the district, via a third party mail house, in order to facilitate recruitment.
Subsection h. Describes the application process to establish a commonwealth charter school, includes procedures for a public hearing and requires the availability of materials submitted in support of, or in opposition to, the school.
Subsection i. Describes which districts will be affected by the charter school cap lift and maintains the current cap with an exception for schools in the lowest performing districts. Districts may spend up to 9% of net school spending on charter school tuition, provided that the lowest performing 10% of districts, as measured by two consecutive years of combined Composite Performance Index (CPI) scores, may spend up to 18% of net school spending on charter school tuition. For districts eligible for the increased spending cap, an applicant must have a record of success operating at least 1 school or similar program serving similar student populations; in all other districts, such applicants will be given preference. This subsection also describes additional mandatory components of the recruitment and retention plan for charter schools in the cap lift districts.
Subsection j. Describes the process for final granting of a charter, including that the board of elementary and secondary education shall establish criteria for the approval of a charter.
Subsection k. Maintains current law describing the powers a charter school shall have once it is granted a charter by the board.
Subsection l. Maintains current law prohibiting charter schools from charging public schools for using their curriculum.
Subsection m. Maintains current law requiring that charter schools are open to all students and prohibits them from charging tuition or admission fees.
Subsection n. Maintains current law describing preferences for enrollment in commonwealth charter schools and the priority for enrollment in a Horace Mann charter school and describes the admission process if more students apply to the school than are seats available. This section also requires the department to maintain a consolidated waitlist.
Subsection o. Maintains current law describing the process by which charter schools notify public school districts of the students enrolling the following year.
Subsection p. Maintains current law requiring charter school expulsion policies to be consistent with state law.
Subsection q. Maintains current law pertaining to charter school facilities and prohibits the awarding of school building assistance funds to commonwealth charter schools.
Subsection r. Expands current law relating to the dissemination and sharing of innovative practices and programs.
Subsection s. Maintains current law describing other state laws with which charter schools must comply.
Subsection t. Maintains current law providing that a Horace Mann charter school is exempt from local collective bargaining agreements to the extent of its charter, but that employees continue to be members of the local collective bargaining unit.
Subsection u. Clarifies current law pertaining to charter schools’ compliance with the state ethics law, chapter 268A.
Subsection v. Maintains current law requiring students in charter schools to meet the same performance standards as students in other public schools.
Subsection w. Maintains current law regarding the powers and duties of the charter school board of trustees, including as it relates to the budget of Horace Mann charter schools.
Subsection x. Maintains current law related to how teachers in Horace Mann charter schools may be reassigned to other public schools.
Subsection y. Maintains current law regarding certain laws that charter school employees are subject to and governed by. Amends current law regarding the recognition of an employee organization for the purposes of collective bargaining.
Subsection z. Maintains current law describing how district school teachers may request to be reassigned to commonwealth charter schools.
Subsection aa. Maintains current law providing that the internal form of governance of a charter school shall be determined by the school’s charter.
Subsection bb. Maintains current law requiring charter schools to comply with all applicable state and federal health and safety laws and regulations.
Subsection cc. Adds to current law regarding transportation for charter schools students by requiring that transportation for such students be determined before the approval of a district’s final budget for a fiscal year.
Subsection dd. Describes the renewal process for charter schools.
Subsection ee. Maintains current law describing the conditions under which a charter may be revoked and expands the law by allowing the board to place conditions on a charter prior to revocation.
Subsection ff. Maintains current law regarding funding for commonwealth charter schools. This subsection also provides that beginning in FY11 the facilities fee paid to charter schools shall be no lower than the amount provided in FY10.
Subsection gg. Maintains current law regarding how school districts are reimbursed by the commonwealth if their charter school tuition is increased from year to year, with 100% of the difference reimbursed in the year of the tuition increase, 60% the following year, and 40% two years later.
Subsection hh. Describes the process for a charter school to report the amount of cumulative surplus revenue from tuition held by a school at the end of a fiscal year, and provides for reimbursement to sending districts and the state if it exceeds 20% of the school’s operating budget and its budgeted capital costs for the following fiscal year.
Subsection ii. Maintains current law pertaining to teacher qualifications for commonwealth charter schools.
Subsection jj. Outlines the annual reporting requirements for charter schools and includes a number of financial reporting requirements. The subsection further provides for an annual independent audit of each school.
Subsection kk. Maintains current law requiring the commissioner to collect data on the demographic make-up of the student enrollment at each charter school and file it annually with the legislature.
Subsection ll. Maintains current law describing the process for making complaints concerning any claimed violations of this section.
Subsection mm. Requires the board of elementary and secondary education to adopt regulations for implementing and enforcing this section.
SECTION 3. Innovation schools: this section amends chapter 71 by adding a new section.
Subsection a. Provides definitions, including “innovation plan” and “innovation school”.
Subsection b. Allows for the establishment of innovation schools as a new school or the conversion of an existing school with greater autonomy and flexibility than other district schools. An innovation school is funded in the same manner as other district schools, but may also establish a non-profit to assist with fundraising.
Subsection c. Describes the process for establishing an innovation school including an application and review process and the requirements for developing an innovation plan. In the case of a school conversion, the plan is submitted to the teachers of the school for their approval by at least 2/3 of the faculty. In the case of a new school, the applicant, a local union and the superintendent shall negotiate any changes to the applicable collective bargaining agreement. If, after 40 days, such negotiations have not resulted in an agreement, it may go to an expedited arbitration process.
Subsection d. Describes the process for final approval of an innovation plan. If approved, the innovation school is authorized for a period of not more than 5 years. If a plan is not approved, the plan may be revised and resubmitted for consideration.
Subsection e. Outlines the process for evaluation of an innovation school. The innovation plan may be amended or authorization of the school may be terminated under certain circumstances. This subsection also describes the reauthorization process for innovation schools.
Subsection f. Describes the duties of the commissioner regarding innovation schools.
Subsection g. Provides that innovation schools may: be established within an existing school, serve students from 2 or more districts, establish an innovation schools zone within one school district or be established as a virtual public school.
Subsection h. Requires that the provisions of the applicable collective bargaining agreements be in operation at an innovation school, unless provisions are waived or modified under the innovation plan and subsequently approved.
Subsection i. Requires the board of elementary and secondary education to promulgate regulations for the administration and enforcement of this section.
Subsection j. Requires the commissioner to report annually to the legislature on the implementation and fiscal impact of this section.
SECTION 4. This section phases in the cap lift on commonwealth charter schools in the lowest 10% performing districts. The cap is lifted to 12% of net school spending in FY11, and increases by 1% each year until 18% net school spending is reached in FY17.
SECTION 5. This section requires charter schools approved before January 1, 2010 to have a recruitment and retention plan for the 2011-2012 school year or at the time of its next charter renewal, whichever comes first.
Will, I support lifting the cap on charter schools in underperforming districts, and I hope that your amendment will not have the practical effect of limiting an expansion of school choice in these districts. We have to listen to parents and students in these districts and put the needs of children first. Teachers are not the enemy here, but I am not sympathetic with the union’s opposition to merit pay based on gains in student achievement (the former is based on adult needs, not what kids and America need). I also support any measure that would remove obstacles that prevent innovative school leaders from doing what they know it takes to support high achievement among disadvantaged children: more instructional time (longer days, summer learning), student support, a disciplined school culture and teacher accountability. Where these conflict with collective bargaining, kids should come first. We should be willing to spend more to get more, but additional resources should be targeted to the aforementioned, evidence-based measures that we know work, not just more of the same. I know you represent the suburbs, but here is one suburban, voting mom that knows that the children in urban MA communities deserve better than they are getting, and their success is our success.
As it turns out, for precisely the reasons you indicate — that the amendment would have too broad an effect — it is a non-starter and I don’t expect to press it.
I do expect to support the overall bill nonetheless.
Thank you, Will, for supporting the bill. I don’t want to do anything to harm district schools, but I do think it’s time to shake things up and try something different in urban education, which many Boston charters (and some in-district pilots)are doing to great success. I’d gladly spend more on education if it could be linked to more and better-spent classroom time, wraparound student support and teacher development/accountability. I would go even further and support incentive pay for good teachers willing to teach in underperforming schools and measures that make it harder to grant tenure to ineffective teachers. I think this bill (and the federal dollars that it will hopefully help us attract) is a step in the right direction. Thanks for your leadership in this area.
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