BOSTON MAYOR RACE : THE SCHOOLS ISSUE GETS DIVISIVE

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^ John Connolly : SFCs $ 500,000 guy

—- —- —-

The cat is out of the bag now. Big-time.

About a week ago we mused, on our Facebook page, that there would soon be huge money entering the Mayor election on behalf of a “major” candidate. As Marty Walsh had already said, “and it won’t be for me,” we concluded that the money at issue would go to John Connolly.

Today’s Boston Globe confirms it. Stand for Children (SFC), a non-profit, school reform advocacy group based in Oregon, will spend at least $ 500,000 to promote John Connolly’s candidacy. And why not ? His schools agenda conforms almost exactly to SFC’s. He, like SFC,supports a longer school day, more stringent teacher performance standards, counseling for all children, and — yes — an increase in the number of charter schools. None of this should have been fire-storm news.

Still, no sooner did the Globe article appear than all hell broke loose. The brother of candidate Felix G. Arroyo attacked SFC on his Facebook page as “anti-teachers union, pro-privatization …group ‘Stand ON Children'” and linked to an article about SFC headlined “profiteering and Union-busting repackaged as school reform.”

Nor is Arroyo the only candidate who supports the Boston Teachers Union in opposing authorizing more charter schools. So do candidates Charles Clemons, Rob Consalvo, and Michael Ross.

Meanwhile, candidates Barros, Conley, Connolly, Walczak, and Walsh support lifting State law’s current limitation on how many there can be of charter schools. Of these five, SFC picked Connolly as its “most aligned with us” candidate. That is what advocacy groups do.

Of course a hue and cry also arose about “outside money” coming into what has paraded itself as a locally funded, “people’s pledge” campaign (the pledge refers to an agreement made between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren in their 2012 Senate race, not to accept outside PAC money.) Candidates opposing SFC’s schools position cried the loudest; Consalvo even asked all Mayor candidates to take that “people’s pledge.”

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^ Rob Consalvo : people’s pledge not to accept SFC money …

It is a given that big money is spent on big elections, and in Boston there’s none bigger than an open election for Mayor — especially now, with the City in the midst of a construction boom and a Downtown revitalizing as a place to shop, work, party, and live. Connolly has latched onto the downtown wave, and his schools agenda hews close not only to SFC’s but also to that of Governor Patrick, to legislation adopted in 20120 and to a schools agreement concluded in 2012. It signals that he absolutely means to see the agreements enacted in 2010 and 2012 adopted throughout the Boston School system. Also that he, if elected, will powerfully push for more charter schools and for a longer school day. Radical ? Not at all. most voters agree with all of it. Anti-union ? only if the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) sees it that way.

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 Marty Walsh : Labor’s guy supports lifting charter schools cap

Fascinating it is, to see how far out of step with voter sentiment the BTU has become. Forty years ago, Boston teachers were being elected to the City’s School Committee simply because they were teachers. the profession had that much respect. The schools of that day were racially segregated, and that was wrong; but to most parents they provided an education that comported well with what parents then expected : preparation to enter the then industrial and public-employee workforce.

Today public employee jobs still exist aplenty, but industrial employment mostly does not. If your child is going to be hireable into the technologically savvy economy — even into public employment — he or she needs more than just to pass an MCAS test or three. He or she needs to become computer fluent, conversant with mobile technology, program languages capable; failure-free in spelling, grammar, technical writing, Windows, Unix, network administration, mathematics, and, yes, current events; as well as able to create an Adobe PDF document, not to overlook all kinds of other forms and formats that today’s businesses create and modify every minute. These skills and arts cannot be mastered in a school that settles for average achievement in a short school day. The children of 40 years ago needed to know mainly how to respond to a boss and to concentrate on tasks repeated over and over. Today’s child needs to master work teams, social graces, how to take and respond to criticism and give it; how to book travel and negotiate airports; to speak and read more than one language; and such like.

That corporations might just have an interest in seeing that Boston’s school graduates can handle strongly all these skills and arts may seem like “corporatism” to some. To us it seems only common sense. Corporations hire a large number of those graduating. If they cannot fill that large number of hires in Boston, why shouldn’t they relocate to cities whose graduates can fill them ? The same is true for start-ups. Boston has far more than its share of these because we care about education. we will not settle for the out of date or the average. Teachers Unions, like all institutions, develop an institutional undertow of their own; the Union is led by those who began in it decades ago and then rose to power inside it, notwithstanding the huge societal and economic changes going on outside. Because Teachers’ Unions leaders must respond to its membership, and because its membership goes by seniority just as it insists on seniority as a job securement, so the Teachers’ leaders fight to hold on to bargains already won — even as these bargains lose their cogency to what is needed of schools. And thus the Teachers; union has lost a great deal of the solid support and respect that it once had among Boston voters.

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^ Felix Arroyo : advocate for Boston Teachers Union

The BTU seems not to understand how cornered it is in the arena of public opinion. While the MTA (Massachusetts Teachers Alliance) has heard the message and opted into the State’s reform process, it is not clear that the BTU has faced the music. Until charter schools, it was the BTU way or no way; public schools, or off to the suburbs or to parochial school. The coming of charter schools, however, which operate something like parochial schools, in which teachers are paid less but have much more input, along with parents, into curriculum and administration, parents now have choices. No wonder that they are exercising those choices.

It is no way a bad thing that Boston school parents now have choices. Heck, they want even more choices ! Why should they not have them ? It is their children who are going to school, after all; and schools exist for their students, not for their employees. School employees only serve. SFC’s backing of John Connolly’s campaign puts the ball of school improvement and school flexibility directly into the Teachers’ court — and to the voters.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE : Because of today’s release, by the BTU, of a poll purporting to show that few voters support more charter schools, we will be posting a follow-up to the above story. This story is likely to grow even bigger as Primary Day approaches.

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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