#16TH SUFFOLK DISTRCT : WE INTERVIEW TODD TAYLOR

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On March 4th the Democratic Primary voters of the 16th Suffolk State Representative District chose Revere’s Roselee Vincent to be their nominee. Observers commenting on her primary victory seem to assume that it’s election. It isn’t. On April 1st, Vincent faces Chelsea businessman Todd Taylor, the Republican candidate.

Taylor — who grew up in Arizona and has lived in Chelsea since 2000, and owns a staffing company at which he started many years ago as a waiter, working his way up — hopes to disprove the common perception of a Vincent victory. “We’ve been door knocking for two months now,” he told me at the Kow Loon restaurant in Saugus last night. “Lots of doors.”

“Have you door-knocked all the super voter doors,” I ask him ?

“By election day we will have done so, yes.” Taylor smiles a confident smile, a full shoulder smile.

Taylor’s literature spells out the same old “policies that spur job creation…reducing burdensome regulations” mantra that I see from every GOP legislative candidate these days; but when questioned on the issues, he sounds like an actual candidate.

“We’ve gotta get people working again,” he says. And concentrate on quality education for our kids. We have to lift the charter cap.”

I remind him that teachers unions an d public school advocates oppose lifting the cap, that they’re concerned about losing funding from their budgets, that they feel that charter schools are trying to replace them. Taylor rejects these arguments.

“Charter schools are a supplement, not a replacement,” he says passionately. As for the argument that charter schools don’t serve special education kids of English language learners (so called “ELL”‘s), he says, “Look. My kids attend the East Boston Br0oks school. it serves the ELL community well and special education kids too. Example : we have two Ethopian adopted kids at the school who have made made fantastic progress acquiring English. Brooks does the job !”

Is this a State wide issue, I ask Taylor, or is there a need in his Chelsea – Revere – Saugus district ? He concedes “not so much here as in the state’s underserved communities.” He gives Chelsea city manager Jay Ash “great credit turning Chelsea schools around. But state wide we need to anticipate problems, not play catch up. Charter schools force other schools to improve. It’s that simple.”

Taylor talks of arguments between “conservatives and liberals”; so I felt a need to ask him : for Governor, does he support Charlie Baker or Mark Fisher ? “I’m a Char;lie Baker supporter,” he says — firmly. “Charlie Baker is what we need.”

But Baker is running quite a progressive campaign, I remind Taylor — noticing, too, that Paul Craney of Mass Fiscal Alliance (MFA) is in the room, and that MFA opposes the minimum wage raise that Baker strongly supports.

Says Taylor t0 me, “by ‘conservative,’ I mean smaller and more effective government. Effective, efficient.”

Fair enough. So I ask Taylor another question that often outs GOP conservatives : “your district is filled with immigrants of all statuses. Moroccans, Brazilians, Hispanics. What do you feel about that and them ?”

Taylor’s answer surprises me. “Diversity is us’ he says. “My business employs 1000 people of all cultures, languages. Our nation is waves of immigration. We need to welcome people here. Both parties are responsible for the immigration problem, it’s not the immigrants’ fault.”

Taylor says that he’s “not a professional politician” and decries the system of people staying in politics all their lives; but his answers to my questions sound properly political to me. Thus I ask him, “OK, you sound like you hear your district’s voice” — he smiles that shoulder smile — “so tell me ; how are you, a Chelsea guy, going to beat Roselee Vincent, who was chief of staff to State Representative Kathi Reinstein (whose resignation occasioned this vacancy) and who has the entire Revere political establishment behind her ?”

“That’s exactly the problem,” says Taylor. “If we keep electing the same people, we’ll keep getting the same results. I have plenty of Revere support. You’ll see.”

I’m looking at Taylor’s staff — young and think-tank conservative, quite off to the side of a Massachusetts electorate, eighty percent of which supports raising the minimum wage and few of whom (including most GOP voters) want anything to do with the Party platform that Taylor’s campaign staffer just voted for.

There is disconnect between what he tells me and what the make-up of his support group suggests.

Taylor can’t miss the look of skepticism on my face. “I am going to surprise you,’ he grins. “I’m going to surprise a lot of people on April 1st.”

I believe that he means to do just that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON SCHOOLS, PART 2 : SEEKING A COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION POLICY

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^ we first suggested it, now others are joining us : John McDonough as Boston’s new school superintendent

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Note : what you are about to read is my re-write of a column that I posted to Here and Sphere a few days ago. This is why I’m doing it:

1. In the days since I first wrote, the Boston Globe published a full page editorial addressing the complexity of school reforms now taking shape as state legislation; and Globe columnist Larry Harmon added his opinion that current Boston interim superintendent John McDonough should be given the permanent position. (Two months ago, I posted the same opinion. I was glad to see others taking up my suggestion.)

2.The Globe editorial arose in response to a strong push by public schools advocates that the state’s current limit on charter school numbers not be lifted. As I wrote in my original article,

“It pains me to read news recently that the chief reason why Massachusetts got busy creating charter schools was that 250,000,000 Federal dollars were at stake. I had thought that the creation of charters — schools privately run but publicly funded — was a matter of policy, not purchase. But now we read that bills in the legislature to expand the number of charter schools allowed is stalling, not because the policy has changed but because the Federal dollars aren’t there any more.”

Charter schools cannot be seen as replacing standard public schools. They were never intended as such and aren’t used as such now. Teachers unions and their allies want to push the notion of replacement because they somehow feel that education reform threatens their jobs. Their fears have some basis. In many states there’s been much legislation cutting back on public employees’ bargaining rights; and some corporate interests, backed by right-wing think tanks, want to use charter schools as a wedge to eliminate public, taxpayer-funded schools for all children. That agenda has some presence even in Massachusetts. Some business interests want aggressively to control the education of their potential future employees and are determined to get as complete control of the process, from K to graduation, as they can — and if not, to move operations elsewhere.

My inclination is to let such corporations go, if they choose to. Massachusetts’s pre eminence in higher education, research, and finance assure that we will always have plenty of enterprises who want to stay here, move here, set up shop here and continue here. This, of course, assumes that our education of all children continues to be the most rigorous and productive in the nation. To that end, I suggest the following :

1. charter schools should be encouraged and their numbers increased on a one or two at a time basis, by application to the State Commissioner of Education. Funding for charters must come from a combination of user fees, local aid, and taxes assessed state-wide for the purpose.

2. charter schools should continue to act as experimental places, innovating curriculum, teaching method, teacher hires, and student homework loads. Charters might even in some cases be boarding schools ; why not ? Charters cannot become routinized in anything or they cease to be what they were created to do.

3. budgets for standard public schools must be separately assured and planned without thought of what alternative schools may cost. Rivalry for funds cannot be permitted.

4. what succeeds at charter schools — the so called “best practices” test — should be applied in standard schools where and as feasible, and no standard school should see its routines written in stone, ever. Teachers in unions cannot be permitted to cling to work rules — including short school days — that impede pedagogic improvement. In this regard, John McDonough has shown the way by imposing a teacher recycling system that has already produced pedagogic improvement in the schools where he has put it in place.

5. School principals must be free to choose every member of their teaching staff — and of their school support staff too.

6. all schools must educate for two goals : employment and citizenship. The reasonable needs of reasonable employers must be met; the employers want capable hires, and the children want solid employment. Citizenship is the role that children will play as adults in community; to that end, schools must teach cooperative study and play, emotional education, social knowledge — including the role and risks in sex play — and basic civics including the role and process of democratic politics and government.

7. Testing is the only way that we can find out where education is or isn’t succeeding and how well or not. Tests should be semi-annual — no more frequent. Tests should include essay writing, reading comprehension, spelling, mastery of concepts both spacial and philosophical; mathematics and computation; American and world history; basic sciences; civics; and social knowledge including manners and dealing with emotions.

8. Tests need not be given as rigidly as the MCAS. Each school course can conduct its own course tests which can then be fed into the MCAS process and added into the total test score.

9. Teachers should be given the lead role in compiling such tests.

10. As many schools as possible — charter schools too — should be dual-language. Students whose first language is not English need it, and students whose first language IS English need to learn another language. It’s vital if we are to encourage cultural diversity and free American kids from cultural isolation.

So there you have it. What follows is the rest of my original article, slightly revised:

Mayor Walsh has added 39.6 million dollars to this year’s Boston Public Schools budget. Most of it will go to fund teachers’ pay raises. There will some millions left over. So, what does the phrase “taking resources away” mean now ? Probably just that the increased dollars won’t be coming from Washington. they’ll be raised locally. And that means that some other local aid funded need will have to make do with less.

Such is indeed the talk. In the Governor election going on in Massachusetts right now, all the talk is of local aid : increasing it; releasing 100 million dollars of it already collected but held; increasing it again. Candidates running for the State legislature or Senate all talk of local aid needs. The Department of Children & Families is in crisis; State transportation repairs and service upgrades cry out for attention; drivers’ licences for undocumented immigrants must be done. All these get mentioned ; but the big talk is, local aid, local aid, more local aid. You hear it whether the speaker is a Democrat or a Republican. Local aid now; the other matters can wait.

Charter schools were meant to be an alternative to standard public schools, not simply public schools with a new name. If charter schools do not do the job they were intended to do — significantly improve student achievement — they shouldn’t be funded, whether the Federal money is at hand or not. And if charter schools do do what they were intended as, they should be funded regardless of money from Washington.

Legislation to increase the number of charters being stalled now, those that do exist are kind of on their own, to prove their worth. Charter parents will have to speak out; to organize. Democrats for Education Reform, the local chapter of a nationwide group deployed to power up the alternative schools constituency, will have to get talking.

Did I mention curricula ? The battle is raging already to reject the national education establishment’s “common core” as being too difficult for children to master and too narrowly tested. Myself, having read through the “common core proposal, I find it a trope, a slice of common sense. Every society with schools at all has had a common core curriculum; it’s how that society prepares its children for the jobs it offers. this was as true of Rome in year 300 A.D. as of western Europe in year 1090 A.D. and 1500 A.D., and it was the basis of the New England School Law of 1634. Children must learn a common basic curriculum in order to do the jobs that will need to hire them; and to be good citizens. Is it difficult ? It always was. Life, too, is difficult. Tears come to one’s eyes as well as joy.

Kids can manage. They really can.

As for teacher pay and standard school budgets, in Boston these look paid for — this year. After that, a lot depends on who the next School Superintendent will be. The “search committee” is already on it, but for me, the best choice is John McDonough, the current “interim superintendent,’ who says he doesn’t want to be considered for the permanent job : but whom all sides respect and who can therefore best steer “standard Boston public schools,” troubled schools as well, into the next phase, alongside charters as they are and all manner of experimental school set-ups that innovators may successfully propose — as they surely will, and should.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere