SCHOOLS REFORM : THE SENATE KILLS A BAD CHARTER CAP LIFT BILL

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^ State Senator Sonia Chang-diaz : her Senate version of Russell Holmes’ charter cap lift bill was amended with poison pills, and as intended, these killed it.

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Yesterday, the Massachusetts State Senate killed, by a 26 to 13 vote, a charter cap lift bill much changed from the proposal that the House voted for by 113 to 33 a few months ago.

The bill voted down in the senate included, if i am to credit the Globe’s cot Lehigh, who wrote of it, many provisions that made no sense and were rightly voted down. Its transportation formulas, funding compensation,  attrition rules, and equivalents guaranteed that charters enabled under this law would not really be charters at all, or would fail.

Much of the Senate bill’s content was put in because of protests by teachers’ unions and groups allied therewith. My friend ed Lyons has called these provisions “poison pills,” and he’s right. they were meant to kill, and they did.

Undoubtedly, the teachers’ unions will view yesterday’s charter cap lift vote as a victory. It isn’t. Yesterday’s vote will only anger charter school supporters and assure a huge issue for this year’s Governor race — except that almost certainly both candidates will voice strong support for increasing the number of allowed charter schools, this assuring that yesterday’s vote will be a defeat for the teachers’ unions.

Ever since i began my in depth coverage of last year’s Boston Mayor race, it became apparent to me that teachers’ unions were going to take the route, not of spearheading reform, but of intransigence in opposition to the school reforms that almost everybody in Massachusetts wants. This is a shame and quite beside the real point, which is that public schools in low income neighborhoods and most communities of color do not work because of deep-seated racism and class bias. Poor people have almost no political power, even in supposedly progressive Massachusetts; and people of color have not much more. Almost all the problems besetting our public schools arise from this.

The charter school cap lift bill arose from the state’s communities of color, whose district schools are among the worst in our state. We need to assure, probably by legislation,l that public schools are funded equally, regardless of income level of the district or the racial composition of the student body; and we need to assure that schools especially in low income and COC districts are accorded the best, most committed teachers. Today these schools often get the worst. Let me repeat : this is a matter of institutional, cultural racism and class. it can be broken by assuring full hiring autonomy to the superintendent AND to the individual school principal. Raising the charter school cap does nothing to solve this cultural bias; indeed, raising the cap — for “underperforming districts,” mind you — aggravates it, in two ways ; (1) by taking the most ambitious students out of low income or COC public schools and by taking funds away from those schools, thereby assuring they will continue to draw the worst teachers. Of course my solution will probably not work, as the poor have no political clout at all in a Citizens United America, and COC people have not much more. All the clout lies in the upper income suburbs, whose people have zero interest in improving the schools that other kids go to and thereby increasing the competition (with the high income kids) for college admissions and, eventually, good jobs. Heaven forfend that low income or COC kids should actually compete with Johnny from Belmont and Mary of Wellesley !!!
Charter schools — innovation schools generally — should be accorded all respect and opportunity, both as laboratories for reinventing how we educate and as best practices alternatives. I support their existence. But reform of schools — transformation of them, as John Connolly eloquently said — must arise from within the public school environ, not in opposition to it. he Horace Mann idea, that all kids of a community larn together and grow up together,. and thus become a more positively bonded community, is a noble one, a democratic ideal that fulfills our nation’s most basic premise : that all kids matter equally and must be given the same level of primary education.

Innovation education may allow kids to grow their own life missions, diversely and more : but schooling is also about citizenship, and the common school teaches it by demonstration and example and does so better than any alternative method. It must be maintained and cherished. Looking to charter schools as an escape from bad public schools is an act of desperation, not improvement. looking to charters as a way to bust unions is an act of selfishness. And in such a con text, charter schools will look more and more, to teachers’ unions, as a threat rather than a boon. we are traveling the road of education disaster if we do not stop and recalibrate our political GPS.

Yesterday’s Senate vote should be taken as an opportunity to do just that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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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