The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) serves over 400 school communities, more than 70,000 educators, and nearly 1 million K–12 public school students each year. We also oversee the education of more than 20,000 adult learners.
The first several months of the 2019-20 school year saw us build upon our efforts to spread deeper learning through the Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning, build a more diverse and culturally responsive educator workforce, and continue to support students, educators, and administrators through initiatives as varied as curriculum ratings and resource allocation analysis. When COVID-19 arrived in March, causing the governor to close schools for the rest of the academic year, DESE turned to students' immediate needs, such as food; then to providing resources for an unprecedented period of remote learning; and finally, to determining how schools could safely provide in-person services in the summer and fall of 2020.
The 2020 annual report of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is below, with opening letters from Board Chair Katherine Craven and Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley .
DESE works to support the success of all students after graduation. We promote student success through a statewide approach to strengthen standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment; promote educator development and diversity; support social-emotional learning, health, and safety; enhance resource allocation and data use; and turn around the lowest performing districts and schools.
Through the Center for District Support, DESE began implementation of the Student Opportunity Act; continued its work with the Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge public schools; offered professional development opportunities related to tiered student supports; and supported districts as they work to address gaps in access and equity. Highlights included Governor Baker signing into law the Student Opportunity Act (Chapter 123 of the Acts of 2019), leading DESE to draw up guidance for districts' Student Opportunity Act plans; completing a district review of the Boston Public Schools and mapping out priority areas for the district and DESE to work on to address persistent challenges; and hosting the second annual Leading with Access and Equity Convening in October, giving district teams free professional development designed to help them meet students' holistic needs.
During the 2019-20 school year, the Center for Educational Options worked across several offices to expand, enhance, and ensure equitable access to high quality educational options for learners of all ages, especially for those who have been historically underserved. Highlights included the approval of 25 new Innovation Pathways, 17 new secondary and postsecondary Chapter 74 programs, 4 new After Dark CVTE partnerships, and six new Early College partnerships; the finalization of the Prenatal through Young Adulthood Family Engagement Framework; hosting the Sharing for Success Dissemination Fair; and the addition of a new Adult and Community Learning Services service delivery model that will increase education, training, and employment services to more than 500 additional adult learners. In addition, the center's Problem Resolution System investigated a record 816 complaints filed by parents, advocates or attorneys, conducted 18 general education alternative dispute resolution mediations (a new process), and, through proactive outreach, supported the resolution of 114 concerns without a formal complaint needing to be filed.
The Center for Instructional Support focused on increasing the review, selection and skillful use of high-quality instructional materials; evidence-based early literacy; and working with educators across the state to increase their efficacy and diversify the profession. Highlights included: educators participating in CURATE (Curriculum Ratings by Teachers) produced over 15 curriculum reviews and helped add two products to the master service agreement that streamlines districts' procurement of high-quality instructional materials; more than 800 educators at 43 elementary schools participated in DESE's Early Grades Literacy Grant program; DESE supported, through the creation of the Civics Project Guidebook and in other ways, the hundreds of educators who implemented civics projects for the first time in the 2019-20 school year; and the Commonwealth saw an 84 percent rise in the number of districts participating in the State Seal of Biliteracy, with 97 districts awarding a total of 1,790 seals.
The Center's work during FY20 included diversifying the educator workforce and supporting proven programs to accelerate student achievement. Highlights included welcoming 26 aspiring superintendents from 15 districts to the first year of Influence 100, a four-year pilot program designed to work with individuals and their districts to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of superintendents, create more culturally responsive districts and leaders, and promote better student outcomes; continuation of the Teacher Diversification Pilot Program Grant, which issued 144 vouchers to 20 districts to help future teachers get the preparation they need to pass the Massachusetts Tests of Educator Licensure (MTEL); and the awarding of the Sontag Prize to 80 teachers, a recognition that included the chance to teach in an Acceleration Academy during February vacation. (Although the April vacation Acceleration Academies were canceled due to COVID-19, most of the districts involved ran summer Acceleration Academies instead.)
The Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning launched in fall 2019 as a pilot program designed to support Massachusetts schools and districts in implementing Deeper Learning. The pilot provides professional learning on the implementation of Deeper Learning for cohorts of schools, elevates best practices and artifacts from the field, and examines the district- and state-level enablers that both currently exist and are needed for this work. In November 2019, Senior Associate Commissioner Komal Bhasin and Implementation Director Michelle Ryan began developing the foundational tools and guidance documents for the pilot program. 493 schools and districts expressed interest in joining Kaleidoscope's inaugural cohort, and in February 2020, after an application process, school visits and student and staff focus groups, Kaleidoscope admitted 20 schools and districts to Cohort 1. Each of these schools and districts worked closely with the Kaleidoscope team to identify specific goals and program action steps, build a Deeper Learning team, and engage in regular Kaleidoscope professional learning sessions. The Department will continue to work with this Cohort through the 2020-2021 academic year.
The Office of Planning and Research continued to partner with outside researchers, explore innovative opportunities, and refine the federal grants process. Highlights included a report that Brown University issued in partnership with DESE that found that MCAS scores predict long-term educational attainments and labor market success; federal approval and a $2.9 million, four-year competitive federal grant for an innovative science assessment to be given in 2021 to grades 5 and 8 and which will be aligned to Kaleidoscope's deeper learning focus; continuation of the "Spending Blending" pilot program to explore ways districts can blend federal funding streams to more flexibly serve students; and revisions to DESE's Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical grant application to meet the requirements and equity considerations in the recently reauthorized federal law.
In December 2019, news of a new respiratory virus in China began to circulate, and on January 20, 2020, the U.S. identified its first case. On February 25, DESE sent a message to all districts from the Department of Public Health with basic information about the disease, and on March 6, Commissioner Riley and the Department of Public Health held the first of several conference calls for district leaders. Four days later, on March 10, Governor Baker declared a state of emergency, and on March 15, he ordered schools to close from March 17 until April 6, an order that was later extended through the end of the school year.
Faced with the unexpected closure of schools and all that they provide, DESE's first efforts were to help schools address student wellness, including through school meals. Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and partners such as Project Bread, DESE supported school districts as they created distribution systems aimed initially at feeding the more than 400,000 Massachusetts students who qualify for free or reduced-priced school meals. By mid-April, DESE was also working with the Department of Transitional Assistance to connect those families to Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits.
The Department's other first moves included bringing together a coalition of partners, including teachers' unions, superintendents, school committees, and parents, around remote learning guidance focused on student wellness. The guidance was issued on March 26 with the notable support of all parties.
When it became clear that schools would be closed for an extended period, DESE turned its attention to remote learning in greater depth, compiling more resources and drawing up more specific guidance for districts, even while keeping an eye on how things could change for the summer and fall. On April 24, DESE released updated remote learning guidance focused on two major areas: the prerequisite standards most critical to student success in the next school year and increased attention to student engagement.
By early July, DESE had released guidance for in-person summer programs and fall school reopening guidance that prioritized in-person learning, especially for the most vulnerable students.
Starting with the Department of Public Health in March and continuing through collaboration with experts from Massachusetts General Hospital, the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and others, DESE has worked closely with medical experts to ensure all of its guidance is grounded in the evolving medical knowledge of COVID-19.
DESE helped distribute $6.2 million in federal funds related to the pandemic to schools and districts. An additional $55.4 million will be distributed next fiscal year.
In the spring, DESE convened a Return-to-School Working Group of teachers, administrators, public safety officials, school nurses, parents, students, building experts, and others whose insights helped inform the reopening guidance.
With help from the Board, and after receiving flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education and the state legislature, DESE did not administer MCAS tests in spring 2020 and mapped out an alternate route for members of the class of 2020 to earn their competency determination through coursework if they had not already met the requirement through MCAS.
The Department worked with health experts and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to safely reopen schools using social distancing, mask-wearing, frequent hand washing, and other measures. The guidance emphasized in-person instruction but, in recognition of the virus' unpredictable course, asked districts to develop plans for three learning models: in-person, hybrid, and fully remote. With those plans, districts would be prepared to change models depending on the virus' changing presence in their schools and community.
After years of facilitating technology investments inside school buildings, DESE supported districts as they began to turn toward equipping students with what they would need to learn from home. This started with gathering information from districts about their students' needs and grew into partnerships with other agencies and private entities during the summer and following school year.
Our teachers faced unprecedented circumstances and expectations, and DESE compiled resources and outlined expectations, first to focus on wellness and reinforcing students' skills and then, as the closure extended through the end of the school year, identifying which content and skills elementary (download) and secondary (download) school educators should prioritize.
As parents and caregivers came to play an increasing role in their children's day-to-day education, DESE provided letters and resources for districts to share with parents and worked with public television stations WGBH and WGBY to broadcast educational content designed to reach even those students who didn't have an internet connection.
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Photos feature Boston and Medford public schools
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