Friday, December 20, 2013

What's real message of urban district scores?

Before we all break for the holiday, I wanted to pass along some interesting posts on this week's "nation's report card"  tally of how 21 urban districts fared on national reading and math exams.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools rated high compared with the other districts on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress,  though proficiency rates remain frustratingly low across the country,  especially for low-income and minority students.  As I noted in my article,  CMS' large numbers of white and middle-class students compared with most other districts contributed to its high rankings.

Paul Hill of the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education elaborated on that issue in a Friday blog post.

"It is tempting to squeeze the urban NAEP scores for evidence about what city is doing better or worse than other cities. But the big messages are that everyone's scores are very bad, and that cities with the highest concentrations of low-income and minority kids do the worst,"  Hill writes.  "Some cities have gotten unstuck from the bottom and are regressing a little bit to the mean. That's better than staying stuck, but unless those cities increase a lot faster, and keep improving for a long time, most of their disadvantaged students will not be ready for higher education or good-paying jobs."
"The deep message here is that nobody knows how to educate large numbers of disadvantaged kids successfully. A new curriculum or teacher training initiative can move the needle for a while, but results then level out. A great school can do wonders for a few kids, but efforts to replicate are seldom as successful. As a country, we still haven't accepted the core fact that this problem remains unsolved."
Andy Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute also took a dim view of the results and the cheerleading that ensued. He blogged that  "today is a day to be sad for millions of disadvantaged kids,"  not to celebrate.  He also noted that winners and finalists in the Broad Prize for Urban Education competition fared poorly  (though he didn't mention CMS, the 2011 winner).
Robin Lake of the CRPE called for expanding the data,  especially on cities that have some of the most innovative approaches to urban education,  including extensive use of charter schools. 
"The NAEP TUDA has effectively focused our attention on cities, where reforms are most urgently needed, but the data don’t tell us what mayors and civic leaders across the country need to know: which cities are most quickly and equitably increasing students’ access to high-quality public schools,"  Lake wrote.  "Our cities have long since moved past the notion of districts as the sole provider of public education. It’s time that our assessment and evaluation systems do, too."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

No NC winners in district Race to the Top

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the other 14 N.C. districts that applied for millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top money all fell short,  the U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday.

The five winners,  who got $10 million to $30 million each,  include a coalition of four rural districts in Clarendon County, S.C.

Race to the Top is the Obama administration's signature program to drive education reform. North Carolina got almost $400 million in 2010,  when the education department awarded grants to 12 states. That money has supported the state's new testing program and the push to use those scores to rate teacher effectiveness,  leading some to argue that the money creates as many problems as benefits.

The feds have held two rounds of competitions for school districts,  with the focus on personalized learning strategies.  In 2012,  Iredell-Statesville Schools was awarded $20 million and Guilford County got $30 million.

The 2013 round,  with less money available,  drew 194 applications.  According to the rankings released this week,  Winston Salem-Forsyth Schools actually outscored two of the five winners,  coming in fourth in total points.  It's not clear from anything I could find why Clarksdale,  Miss.,  and Kentucky Springs,  Ky.,  edged them out.

CMS ranked 83rd,  right behind Wake County  (read the ratings and commentary for all applications,  or go straight to the CMS report).  Cabarrus County fared the best of the Charlotte-area applicants, at No. 16.  That was good enough to make the finalist list but didn't bring money.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teachers cite techbook challenges

After a recent article about the move toward digital  "techbooks,"  I heard from a couple of teachers who talked about challenges they're facing.

Sherri Garside,  a history teacher at Alexander Graham Middle,  said the social studies digital programs created by Discovery Education remain incomplete.  Sixth-graders have a full curriculum,  but whole centuries are still being developed for seventh- and eighth-graders,  she said.

"To say teachers are frustrated is an understatement!"  she said.  "What they have is great, but useless unless it is updated."

I also heard from a teacher at a high-poverty middle school,  who asked not to be named for fear his principal would take offense.  I visited Community House Middle,  a low-poverty school in the southern suburbs,  for the article.  This teacher said his students are far less likely to be able to do the techbook work from home.  They may have smartphones,  he said,  but they're not likely to have laptops or home computers that are conducive to moving among multiple items and doing online work.

Both teachers said a shortage of classroom devices poses challenges.  Unlike Mooresville Graded Schools,  which provides each student with a MacBook they can use in class and take home,  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools relies on classroom laptops or carts of devices that can be rolled between classrooms.  The teacher at the high-poverty school said that doesn't provide enough consistent access for students to get comfortable with the digital programs.

"The more you use Discovery Education,  the better you get with it,"  he said.  "Discovery Education itself is great."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Academic growth formula: Not secret, just complex

I recently referred to the EVAAS formulas used to calculate North Carolina's school growth and teacher effectiveness ratings as secret. Turns out I'm behind the times.

The Cary-based software company SAS,  which created the formulas and markets them across the country,  initially kept the specifics a proprietary secret.  That's probably why Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials have voiced wariness about having teachers' careers and school reputations depend on a formula they can't review.

It's because of such concerns that SAS released the formulas,  which have been tested by groups such as RAND Corp. and UNC Chapel Hill,  says Jennifer Preston of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

But that doesn't mean most educators, citizens and journalists can run the numbers themselves. I'm comfortable with Excel spreadsheets, education data and basic calculations.  But when I see lines like  "KTb + MTu is BLUP of KT + MT provided KT is estimable,"  I'm out.

The calculations turn each student's performance on prior exams into a prediction about how they'll do on the next ones. The actual score is compared with the projection.  Teachers'  "value-added" ratings compare their students' progress to that of other teachers across the state. Those ratings form part of the state's teacher evaluation;  persistent low ratings jeopardize a teacher's job,  while strong ratings may someday lead to performance pay.

Schools are labeled as meeting, exceeding or falling short of growth targets based on how their students did compared with projections.  For many,  2013 growth ratings provided a counterpoint to the bleak picture painted by low proficiency rates on new exams.  In 2014, proficiency and growth will combine to create a state-issued letter grade for all public schools.  For charter schools,  growth ratings are a key factor in determining whether a low-scoring school stays open.

There are,  of course,  people who say no formula can turn student test scores into meaningful measures of school quality and teacher effectiveness.  But given that our state legislators and many national policymakers believe otherwise,  it's important to be able to check the validity of those ratings.

Anyone who works with data,  even on a much simpler scale,  knows how easy it is to make a mistake -- and for that mistake to be compounded as you run it through further calculations.  I've caught plenty of errors  (my own and those of institutions I cover)  by seeing that numbers don't jibe with what I know of reality.

It worries me that such crucial numbers aren't subject to an obvious  "smell test."  But Preston said the state is building in backstops.  For starters,  teachers get a chance to review the roster of students being used in their ratings,  to make sure they're getting credit or blame for the right kids.  Schools and districts review the raw data before it's sent to SAS.  And the state has been reviewing dozens of questions that came in after the release of ratings,  Preston said.

Preston,  a former high school teacher,  says the real value of EVAAS numbers comes from teachers who use student data to craft teaching strategies and principals who use them to make good use of their faculty.  She said her numbers showed she was helping low-scoring students make big gains,  while the students who came in strong stayed flat.  Her principal assigned her to a low-performing class the next year,  while a teacher who got better gains from higher-level students took that group.  "We were both teaching to our strong points,"  she said.

Friday, December 13, 2013

CMS watching the clock, making its list

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials are hustling to name the 25 percent of teachers who qualify for small state raises by the June deadline,  but they say they expect  --  even hope for  --  last-minute changes.

This summer,  the state legislature ordered school districts across North Carolina to select 25 percent of the teachers who meet experience and proficiency standards and offer them four-year contracts and $500-a-year raises.  It's part of a plan to phase out teacher tenure,  or career status,  by 2018.  (Read the CMS presentation here.)

CMS recently polled teachers on options for making the selection and plans to analyze the results before winter break.  In January,  Superintendent Heath Morrison will bring the school board his plan for making the cut,  and in May he'll bring them the list of names as required by law.

Meanwhile,  CMS lawyer Jonathan Sink said he's been talking with legislators about some of the unintended consequences of the mandate,  and they may be willing to tinker and clarify in 2014. But the session doesn't start until May,  which means any state changes would come as local districts are wrapping up their process.

For teachers there's another time pressure:  If they're offered the four-year contract,  they have to decide whether to sign away their rights to career status.  The law passed this summer says that protection will go away for everyone in 2018,  when those four-year contracts expire.  State lawmakers have appointed a task force to look at performance pay and other compensation and recruitment issues. But for now,  nobody knows what will replace the current system.

"I've seen many programs come and go.  This is going to come and go just like the others,"  said board member Joyce Waddell,  a retired teacher.

Several teachers have said it would be foolish to sign away career status protection for an uncertain future.  The N.C. Association of Educators is reportedly planning a lawsuit to challenge the elimination of tenure.

Morrison acknowledged the likelihood that a significant number of teachers who get the contract offers will say no.  He said the district's interpretation of the state mandate is that once the teachers who make up the 25 percent are chosen,  the list can't be expanded.  That means the actual number getting contracts and raises could end up well below 25 percent,  he told the board.

CMS has more than 10,000 employees who qualify as teachers under the state definition  (which includes licensed support staff such as counselors and librarians),  and almost 6,000 who meet the state eligibility standard of proficient job ratings and three consecutive years of employment.  According to this week's presentation,  that means CMS will be able to offer contracts to about 1,500 people.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

N.C. 25 percent law: Headaches, costs and questions

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board spent an hour last night hashing through the state law that phases out teacher tenure.

The gist boils down to three words:  What a mess.

The law,  passed this summer,  requires school districts to offer four-year contracts that include $500-a-year raises to 25 percent of teachers who have worked three consecutive years and earned  "proficient" job ratings.  Teachers who accept those contracts have to voluntarily sign away their  "career status"  rights,  which will disappear for all teachers in 2018.

Districts across the state have spent the ensuing months grappling with how to put that into practice,  looking at everything from who qualifies as a teacher to how you choose one in four without getting sued,  Superintendent Heath Morrison and CMS lawyer Jonathan Sink told the board.  (Read the presentation here.)

"It is one of the most complicated pieces of legislation I have ever seen,"  Morrison said.

" 'Complicated' is being very nice,"  responded board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart.

Ellis-Stewart is a Democrat,  and the 25 percent law is a creation of the Republican-dominated state legislature.  But frustration on the local board was bipartisan.

Vice chair Tim Morgan,  a Republican,  noted that teachers have vowed to fight the law in court.  "I hold no animosity toward the teachers who are going to be bringing the lawsuit,"  Morgan said,  looking at a handful of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators officers in the audience.

Morgan noted that CMS will likely be forced to spend county tax money defending a system that local officials didn't create and don't support  --  "dollars that would be better spent in the classroom."

Morrison repeatedly told the board he believes lawmakers'  intentions were good,  but said the plan is rife with confusion and unintended consequences.

Sink said several lawmakers have told him their intent was to reward and motivate classroom teachers.  But the state attorney general has ruled that the legal definition of  "teacher"  includes other certified people in instructional roles,  such as counselors,  social workers,  media specialists  (aka librarians)  and deans of students.  In CMS that's more than 10,000 people.

Once you rule out those who haven't worked three consecutive years,  you're looking at more than 6,000.  CMS currently has 5,789  "teachers"  who meet the three-year requirement and have no rating lower than proficient,  HR Chief Terri Cockerham said.

The district calculates that 25 percent of eligible teachers will come to about 1,500 people who will be offered the contract and raise.  And that poses the central question:  How do you sort the 25 percent who get the offer from the 75 percent who don't?

The obvious method,  taking those with the highest ratings,  won't work.  The district calculated that 45 percent of teachers have no rating below  advanced  or  distinguished,  which are higher than proficient.  Morrison noted that a literal reading of the law,  which says no teachers can get the contract offer unless they've shown effectiveness  "as demonstrated by proficiency on the teacher evaluation"  might eliminate those who are above proficient,  though the legislators clearly intended proficiency to be the minimum.

CMS administrators and teachers are looking at other criteria,  such as National Board Certification,  attendance records and the difficulty of filling the positions.  Morgan,  who is on the board of the N.C. School Boards Association,  said some districts have considered offering the contracts to the most experienced eligible teachers,  while others say it makes more sense to offer them to the newest and lowest-paid in hopes of enticing them to stay.

Board member Tom Tate captured the general sense of confusion and frustration when the discussion began.  "My question is how is this helping us?"  Tate asked.  "How much time and energy are we putting into this that we ought to be putting into other things?  Is it going to be a net gain or a net loss?"

So what comes next?  This post is running long, so come back tomorrow for a look at the race against the clock.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

CMS introduces Grade 13

Four college-based high schools that are expected to get school board approval tonight introduce a concept that's new to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:  Grade 13.

Students at middle college schools on three Central Piedmont Community College campuses and an early college high at UNC Charlotte will be able to stick around for a fifth year of high school in order to build up two years worth of tuition-free college credits.  Because that's part of the structure of those schools,  the CMS on-time graduation rate won't take a hit if those students graduate a year later than their peers.

All high school students can take community-college courses for free,  and Cato Middle College High introduced the concept of campus-based high schools to CMS.  That school always promised that successful,  highly motivated juniors and seniors could earn an associate's degree along with their high school diploma,  but the reality was very few found time to accumulate that many college credits.

When the 2014-15 application season opens Jan. 11,  rising 11th and 12th graders with at least a 2.5 GPA will be able to apply for middle college high schools at CPCC's Cato, Levine and Harper campuses.  Rising ninth-graders can sign up to pioneer the district's first early college high school at UNCC's Energy Production and Infrastructure Center.

UNCC EPIC building
CMS is still working on 2014-15 admission requirements for magnets and other choice schools, but the UNCC-EPIC school won't be  "highly selective,"  said Akeshia Craven-Howell,  executive director of CMS' new transformation office  (it incorporates magnets,  career-tech and virtual learning).  The goal is to recruit first-generation college students and female and minority students who have traditionally been underrepresented in high-tech and engineering fields, she said.

Students at all four schools with grade 13 will have the option to graduate at the end of 12th grade,  but Craven-Howell expects most to be motivated to stay for more free college classes.

Some are bound to see the extra year as a CMS bid to game the numbers and boost graduation rates.  I'm as skeptical as the next person,  but I don't think that will be the case.  Cato has consistently logged four-year graduation rates at or near 100 percent,  hardly surprising given that it caters to highly motivated students who are on track to graduate when they're accepted.  These small college-based options aren't likely to become a place where CMS can hide low-performing students while they take an extra year to master basic requirements.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How will CMS magnets screen students?

If CMS sticks with the test-score requirements that are posted on the web site,  a whole lot of students could find themselves shut out of IB,  math/science and world languages magnets next year.

Those magnets require grade-level scores on end-of-year state exams.  In years past,  that screened out a relatively small percentage of students who weren't ready to keep up with advanced academic programs.

This year a whole lot more students, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and across North Carolina,  fell below grade level on new tests designed to measure more complex skills. If the 2013 trends hold for 2014,  about three-quarters of black and low-income students could find themselves ineligible for some of the most popular and rigorous magnets.

There's no way CMS will let that happen.  Some cities have highly competitive academic magnets,  but CMS magnets have always been designed as an open system, serving the largest possible number of students who can do the work.

The new iMeck Academy magnet at Cochrane plans to give students who fall short on the state exams the option to be admitted with high grades in core subjects,  technology facilitator Kim Leighty told me.  I'm guessing other magnets will have similar backstops,  but I couldn't confirm that Monday.

CMS seems to be scrambling to get ready for the Jan. 11 start of the 2014-15 application period.  The school board,  which normally has its work done by November,  gave itself an extra month to approve new programs for the coming school year,  and will vote on 12 of them Wednesday.

Magnet director Jeff Linker retired this summer and has been replaced by Akeshia Craven-Howell, executive director of the CMS transformation office.  She didn't respond to my request for information about the admission requirements Monday.

Best I can tell,  some families in southwest Mecklenburg will get letters in January telling them their kids are assigned to an unnamed elementary school.  The board normally names new schools before the application season begins,  but there's nothing on the agenda to name the "Winget Park relief school"  in the Palisades area.  There's an engineering magnet at that school up for a vote, and it's unclear how that will be described on the menu of options.

It's not clear whether CMS will have school data online on time for parents to do their research,  and some schools may be glad of that.  The lower scores on the 2013 exams pose a marketing hurdle for schools like Cochrane  (17.6 percent overall proficiency)  and McClintock  (23.1 percent)  that will be trying to persuade high-performing students to apply for seats.  And yes,  all of us in the public are still waiting for enrollment numbers,  poverty levels and demographic data,  which has been delayed by PowerSchool problems.

We'll soon see how some of these issues are handled.  CMS has promised to have magnet lottery instruction letters in homes the first week of January.

Monday, December 9, 2013

CMS: Much teacher turnover is out of our hands

I figured Superintendent Heath Morrison and his crew would be teed up and ready to respond to the state's teacher turnover report released last week.

It was surely no surprise to district leaders that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' 2012-13 turnover rate of 15.99 percent was a 10-year high,  topping the state average.  And since I had taken a personal day when the report was made public at a state Board of Education meeting,  I figured Morrison's crew would be more than ready to talk about CMS challenges and solutions when I called Thursday.

After all,  Morrison has consistently identified teacher morale and retention as a key issue since he was hired in 2012.  I figured he or his top staff would be quick to note that he brought in a national consultants to talk to principals about ways to keep their best teachers,  that he convened advisory groups to talk about improving teacher compensation and school working climate,  that Mecklenburg County commissioners in 2012 spent $18.5 million to bump up the state's 1.2 percent raise to 3 percent for CMS teachers and other employees.

Instead, you may have noticed we ran a front-page story on Friday with no comment from CMS administrators.  The public information office tried to get Human Resources Chief Terri Cockerham to talk to me on Thursday,  but I heard nothing that day.

It wasn't until late Friday afternoon that the PIO emailed this response from Cockerham:

"The retention rate of quality teachers is an issue we will always focus on in CMS.  The turnover rate released by the State for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is 15.99% for the 2012-13 school year.

A large percentage (44% of the 15.99%) of teachers are listed as leaving as a result of turnover beyond control (retirees, deaths, health, family responsibilities and family relocation) and reasons initiated by LEA (low performance). Another percentage of this total number includes promotions to central office.  

Recent legislation and a lack of pay raises over numerous years has and will continue to have an impact on teacher retention as well.  Teachers have received one raise within the past five school years.  The superintendent is working extremely hard to help correct this issue both on the state level and local level.  We are concerned with any teacher that leaves and want to be sure that we do all we can to maintain quality teachers within the district. The newly released Strategic Plan 2018: For a Better Tomorrow, helps us lay out a plan to create an environment that rewards and encourages teachers to stay in CMS."

Recruiting,  retaining and rewarding  "a premier workforce"  is one of that plan's goals.  In October the school board approved a list of targets for 2018 that includes increasing the retention rate for employees rated "accomplished"  or  "distinguished."  However,  neither the baseline nor the target has been set yet.

Friday, December 6, 2013

McCray and Morgan make a popular team

It's looking like CMS board chair Mary McCray and vice chair Tim Morgan will cruise to re-election at Wednesday's board meeting.

From Republican member Rhonda Lennon:  "They brought out the best in everyone."

From Democratic member Joyce Waddell:  "They complement each other and they complement the community."

From unaffiliated member Eric Davis:  "I think Tim and Mary have done a fine job."

All three were emphatic about their desire to return the McCray/Morgan team to the leadership spots. And Morgan said he and McCray are eager to accept:  "I feel very good about the working relationship between us and with fellow board members.  Mary and I feel very comfortable with the work the board has done."

As Coach Joe White,  a former board chairman,  used to say,  you can't be sure what will happen until the hands are raised.  But I'm not hearing the usual caginess that I get when board members are wrangling over who will get the leadership posts.

I used to think the selection of a chair and vice chair had little impact beyond board members' egos. But I'm starting to rethink that attitude after seeing the difference between the 2012 board and the 2013 version,  which had the same members but different officers.

In December 2011,  Ericka Ellis-Stewart was elected chair and McCray was vice chair.  They were the top finishers in the November at-large election.  Neither had board experience and both were Democrats.  Partisan rifts flared,  especially when the Democratic majority appointed a Democrat to the District 6 seat,  where voters consistently choose Republicans.  Ellis-Stewart,  who had been a powerhouse candidate with widespread support,  built a reputation as a chairman who made decisions without consulting other members.  Tension among board members went public when Ellis-Stewart found herself unable to cover travel costs for a Charlotte Chamber trip to London, which was ultimately cancelled.

In December 2012, the board paired Democrat McCray with Republican Morgan.  Ellis-Stewart stepped into a different leadership role, representing CMS on the national level as a steering committee member for the Council of Urban Boards of Education.  I've been hearing good things about the new team from board members and the community. Lennon noted that McCray talks to her even when she knows they're going to be on opposite sides of a vote,  something that she seldom experienced in her first three years.

The current good feelings stand in contrast to the board's old reputation for bickering.  And, for that matter, to the drama over electing a chairman for the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners or the Wake County school board.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Education advocates get ready for Raleigh in 2014

The 2014 legislative session may be six months away,  but it's very much alive in the minds of people who care about education in North Carolina.

If you missed it during the holidays,  be sure to read John Frank's piece on the prospects for a teacher pay raise.  Frank reports that Republican legislative leaders say it's needed but don't agree on how to go about it.

Meanwhile,  the League of Women Voters of Charlotte-Mecklenburg will hold a forum this Saturday on how the state budget affects education close to home.  Titled  "What happens in Raleigh matters in Mecklenburg,"  the session is from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Dec. 7 at the YWCA, 3420 Park Road.


Speakers include Ann Clark,  deputy superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools;  John Dornan,  former director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina;  and Tazra Mitchell, a budget and tax policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center.

For details or to RSVP, contact Mary Klenz, or 704-542-9858.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Will Santa bring CMS demographic data?

About once a week someone asks if they've missed the story on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools demographics,  poverty levels and school-by-school enrollment.

Nope.  I haven't written that story because CMS hasn't produced those numbers, even though the school year is more than one-quarter over.

As they've explained and I've reported,  the delay is tied to the ongoing problems with PowerSchool, a new data system the state rolled out this school year.  But really  --  we still can't get enrollment and demographic numbers that were tallied in September and poverty numbers from October?

Just before the Thanksgiving break I badgered Scott McCully,  the CMS administrator in charge of that data:  Are you saying CMS doesn't yet know how many students are in each school?

McCully said that CMS does indeed track enrollment on a daily basis.  Those numbers are used for teacher allotments and other decisions.

What CMS doesn't have is the ability to generate the Principals Monthly Report,  at least not at all schools.  Despite weekly requests and multiple  "patches,"  some schools still can't make that system work,  McCully said.  And until they can all generate those reports,  CMS can't produce a districtwide report on the enrollment and racial composition at each school.  The poverty report,  which is based on eligibility for federal lunch subsidies, uses enrollment numbers from the Principals Monthly Report to do the calculations,  he said.

"We're all a little frustrated,"  added Tahira Stalberte from the public information staff.

It's not the most burning issue in public education,  but the delayed details do compound a serious challenge:  At a time when families are facing more choices than ever,  it's unusually difficult to get good data about schools.  Test scores that normally come out during the summer were deferred to November,  and changes in the testing system pose new questions about what the numbers mean.  School-by-school data reports from CMS and the state may not be out by the time the 2014-15 application season starts in January.

Meanwhile,  the PowerSchool problems are starting to seem like more than start-up glitches.  I checked the ongoing list of  "known issues"  the day before Thanksgiving,  and while I don't understand most of the techspeak,  it looks daunting.  I put in a request for an update from the Department of Public Instruction on Nov. 19 and haven't yet gotten a response from Chief Financial Officer Philip Price.

Here's hoping a new month brings some new answers.  McCully wasn't willing to make any predictions, though. "I think I've said  'next week'  for the last two months," he said.