BOSTON’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS TAKE ONE STEP FORWARD

1 Walsh announces

^ at a Roslindale High School press conference, Mayor Walsh announces the 40 minute school day lengthening. School Committee chairman Michael O’Neill (L) and Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman (R) stand behind him.

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Yesterday Mayor Walsh delivered — with much fanfare — a deal to extend by 40 minutes the school day for 60 of Boston’s public schools. Walsh, superintendent McDonough, Teachers Union president Stutman, and school committee chairman O’Neill all signed on.

The proposed deal — the Union must still vote to approve it — generated instant wide-ranging discussion on social media — proof, if any was needed, of just how much schools reform matters to so many of us.

The deal orders 20 schools to extend the day net year, then 20 more the year after, and another 20 in the third year. The staggered implementation will lessen the budget impact of the plan’s $ 12,500,000 cost, that being the $ 4,484 stipend paid to each teacher in the schools affected. In addition to the 40 extra minutes of classroom time, teachers will have fifteen added minutes for professional development.

Mayor Walsh can take some pride in accomplishing this step forward : his predecessor had tried but not been able. Without a doubt Walsh’s reputation as a respected powerful labor leader gave him both the clout and the know-how to win Stutman’s confidence. Labor leaders know, too, that if they do not reach agreement with Walsh, a potential 2017 opponent will be able to say — with great effect — “see ? we elected a labor leader on his promise to reach agreenments with the unions, and he couldn’t or wouldn’t.”

Walsh has done so, with the Police, the firefighters, and the teachers : the big three of city labor unions.

I also feel quite sure that the election of Charlie Baker as governor, and Baker’s selection of Jim Peyser, a charter schools advocate, as his Education secretary, made this deal a necessity for the Union. Stutman knows, as we all do, that Peyser and Baker are going to make major education reform a statewide priority — and that Baker owes the Union almost nothing, electorally. There will be school choice, and experiment in many directions, and the one-size-fits-all school will be put to its mettle as never before.

Stutman also knows that, of all the school reforms that reformers want, a longer school day enjoys the widest support.

Hurdles remain. Will the Union membership approve the deal ? That’s not guaranteed. Second, how will the extra time be used ? 40 minutes adds up to one extra month a year of instruction — Walsh said so — but doled out by eyedrop amounts, it’ll be little felt day to day.

Charter schools often feature eight-hours of daily instruction. That’s how it was in the schools that my parents sent me to. This deal extends Boston’s elementary school day to six hours and forty minutes. is that enough to teach English, math, softward coding, history, science, a foreign language, civics, and, maybe, the arts ? I wonder.

Giants steps beckon. If we are to accomplish Baker’s two goals, closing the “achievement gap” and preparing graduates for actual jobs, we need to establish a school culture of hard work, focus, dedication, experiment, and to challenge students to think beyond their comfort zones. we need them to be well fed, properly clothed, physically secure in school, free from bullying, with proper textbooks and equipment; with a curriculum attuned to real world needs; with testing at least once a term; courses attuned to expectations of homeowrk and that that homework will be done. None of these can happen without gaining the full commitment of parents or guardians, nor without equal access for all children in all classrooms.

Those are the steps we must climb. This small step barely begins the ascent. It needs to lead to a next step, and a next, and a next after that.

Will we climb the challenge, step after step after step ? Will we ?

—- 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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