BOSTON MAYOR RACE : EDUCATION WILL PLAY A HUGE PART, AND THAT MEANS…

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^ John Connolly : says he’s the “education Mayor.”

The big talk in this year’s 12-candidate Boston Mayor race is education. Sure, there’s much heat being spoken of casinos, griping about traffic — especially in the new Seaport District and in Charlestown — and alarm at what candidate Marty Walsh calls a “heroin epidemic in the city.” Still, the really big talk is about education : what to do, to improve all Boston schools, thus to graduate a work-force capable of doing the highly technologized jobs on offer at most Boston companies ?

It’s the education issue that has raised candidate John Connolly to the top in recent poll. It’s also John Connolly who has lifted the education issue to peak pitch. He was the only City Councillor to vote against the current Boston Teachers Union contract because it offered not a minute more of additional school time. Connolly’s campaign slogan is “education Mayor.” Alone of the twelve — so far — he has a slogan that matters.

So, what does the “education Mayor propose ? It’s well worth quoting from the Schools page of his “Ideas for Boston” platform (delivered, let me add, in seven languages including Viet Namese and Albanian).

With regard to extended time school days, Connolly says this :

“A Longer School Day with Full Enrichment — Currently, Boston’s school day is one of the shortest in urban America, leaving hundreds of hours of potential learning time untapped. We must use every strategy available to extend learning time in the Boston Public Schools. Along with more time in school, every child in Boston should have access to science, art, music, social studies, and physical education taught by qualified and talented professionals. I have called for a “Quality Baseline” to establish a list of courses to be offered at every school and the amount of instruction time in each course, in order to guarantee that all students have access to full academic enrichment.

“As Chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, I held hearings on the Boston Teachers Union contract where families and students called for extending the school day. During BPS budget reviews, I advocated for creative partnerships that could extend learning time at our schools. When the new teachers contract came to the Council without a single additional minute of instruction time, I was the only Councilor who voted against it. As mayor, I will negotiate a contract that extends the school day at every Boston Public School.”

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^ BTU President Richard Stutman : showdown coming in this mayor race

That’s pretty detailed, and bold, and sure to confront the Teachers’ Union (BTU), a group often stubborn and no more so than on the variety of school improvement proposals on offer now. The BTU has set itself against all kinds of innovation and experimentation in curricula and staffing. It is likely to not like what Connolly says about assuring teacher excellence :

“Finding and Keeping the Best Teachers and Principals — Excellent principals are the key to excellent teaching: a highly effective school leader can transform a struggling school or keep a strong school on track. Talented and qualified teachers need to be recruited, supported, and retained in the Boston Public Schools. In the City Council, I pushed to pass a resolution supporting state legislation that strengthened teacher and principal evaluations. As mayor, I will establish partnerships with local graduate schools to develop a principal pipeline that can prepare and train new innovative school leaders.

“Empowering School Leaders and Communities — Highly qualified principals and dedicated teachers are professionals who should be encouraged to innovate and improve their practice. Our new evaluation standards can ensure quality across the board, so as mayor I will use every possible strategy to get more funds and decision-making power directly to our schools. Our Pilot, Turnaround, and Innovation Schools have demonstrated that well-resourced schools that have strong leaders and site-based autonomies provide excellent instruction to our children and are highly sought by families. I will work to create more such schools across our city.”

Nowhere in Connolly’s statement on teacher excellence does the term “charter school” occur, but it’s on everyone’ s mind. (And not only in Boston.) The BTU fiercely opposes lifting the current “cap” on the number of charter schools allowed. Chiefly, that’s because teachers in a charter school need not be union members. The Union also dislikes the extended hours and curriculum intensity of charter schools. The BTU has good reason to fear charters. They have a solid record for graduating students much better prepared than in many “traditional” schools. Parents will, if given an option, often choose a charter school.  The charter school movement isn’t waiting; advocacy groups are pushing amendment of state laws to eliminate the “cap.” If they are not already aiding the Connolly campaign with money and advertising, they are strongly rumored to have such plans fully in place and ready to launch.

In today’s Boston there is no room for kids graduating poorly prepared. There’s no economy for them either. Rents all over Boston range from $ 1400 for one-bedroom apartments in the outer neighborhoods to $ 5,000 and up for 2 to 3 bedroom places in the Downtown area. eating out in most parts of Boston rings up a $ 20 tab per person — at least. Parking is expensive. So are the “ultra lounges” that today’s young adults socialize at. Sailing — indeed, all water sports — is not cheap at all. And, most of all, there are no jobs — other than janitorial — in much of Boston that do not assume complete literacy in laptops, i-phones, social media, and website usage. Even a waitress or bartender needs know how to enter an order into a pc or laptop. these are the facts no matter who you are, what your last name is, or what neighborhood you come from.

It will be entirely OK in the new Boston — as it always was — to have a city or state job, or to work for Boston Edison, or to work a bar or restaurant in the “neighborhoods.” Rest assured on that score. In the new economy, however, people traveling this route will be constantly outgunned in elections by the six figure salaries, the technology people, the developers and investors, the CEO’s of education, hospitals, and finance — all of whom are spending aggressively to keep themselves on top and to promote the economy that has made them.

Their spending, and their demands upon employees, assure that no Boston Mayoral candidate is going to get there without an education plan that addresses these facts of modern city life. Right now, John Connolly appears far, far ahead of his competitors on this battlefield.

UPDATE : This compliment to John Connolly does not mean that he’ s home free. Marty Walsh, who seems running a very close second to Connolly, may be a voice for union workers — whom Connolly seems to have cornered on school issues — but as the political voice of Boston’s unions, Walsh credibly tell Boston voters that there’ll be no path to reformed schools that fights the BTU every step of the way.

Others of the twelve Mayoral hopefuls have yet to take hold of the school reform issue. Its time has come. The school busing crisis of 40 years ago — transporting kids all across the City to achieve “racial balance” in a school system which in the late 1960s was highly segregated — has scant provenance in today’s Boston, in which people of color live everywhere in it and are thoroughly respected politically. School reformers’ work now is to move beyond school assignments based on “deseg” guidelines; to rekindle neighborhood schools: flexible, innovative, and committed to the technology world.

Doubtless we will hear useful policy suggestions from at least a few of Walsh’s and Connolly’s rivals, and soon.

—– Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE 08/23/13 : the school issue has indeed exploded to prominence thanks to an advocacy group’s statement that it would inject $ 500,000 into John Connolly’s campaign. Connolly had not choice but to reject that money, and the issue faded; but school improvement issue now tops every Mayor candidate’s agenda.

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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