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^ schools reformers trying not to be left behind by the inexorable demands of every day in a student’s life : (L) superintendent John McDonough and School Committee chair Mike O’Neill (R) incoming Boston school superintendent Tommy Chung (with newswoman and Mayor Marty Walsh)

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Schools exist for the sake of the students who will learn in them. That’s the mission, no more, no less.

This axiom now seems, finally, to be guiding the Boston School District. As is another axiom : more often gets done when there is less to do it with.

Sharply reduced infusions of outside funds has forced Boston school superintendent McDonough to make the kind of difficult decisions that misdirected bureaucracies hate : becoming more efficient at everything, and settling for a Chevrolet solution when one’s appetite lusts for a Cadillac.

The FY 2016 School Budget calls or central office layoffs, greater use of MBTA by 7th and 8th grade students, closure of some under-attended schools, and a narrower school lunch menu.
Not all the downsizing measures seem smart. The school lunch program, for eample, will now offer less choice but the wrong choices. Peanut butter and jam snadwiches don’t seem to represent what kids should be eating. how about veggies and fruits, nuts and breads ? Still, most of the cut-backs remove layers of distraction from the essential job : teaching students the skills and knowledge necessary or employemnt and the moral and civics lessons that will make them good citizens.

But is school reform — McDonough calls it “adjustment” — happening fast enough to outpace the charter school initiative ? I think not. Today’s boston Globe offers the story I’ve linked below, in which a six-year stanford university study shows that charter school studehts enormpously out-perform students in traditional public schools; and that charter students in Boston out-perform by an even larger margin, in both math and reading. the story also shows that the performance difference is greater among students of color.

I have more to say about this matter — much more — but first you should read “Charter school students show striking gains,” the Boston Globe story, here :,d.cWc

I hate to have to say it, but teachers’ unions continue to pose the biggest obstacle to improving the education opportunities for many children of color or who live in low-income neighborhoods. Teachers’ unions oppose giving school principals a free hand gto hire and ire staff. They are only reluctantly acceoting a longer school day (and even then, the teaching day at charter schools continues to be more than an hiour longer than in B oston public schools). They resist assignment to poor-neighborhood schools. It would be nice if more Boston teachers were people of color, and there’s a Court order in place requiring that at least 25 percent be such; yet many years ater the order was made, Boston’s teaching staff continues in violation of this requirement.

It’s not that the teacher unions won;t change their ways. they will. they have to. But who has the time to wait for them to happen ? kids need education every day. They can’t wait ten, fifteen years to get the education that they should have now, and can have now, in charter schools and othyer innovative settings.

As for doing more with less, the median Boston teacher earns $ 88,000; the median Boston charter school teacher earns about half that. I have no problem at all with Boston teachers earning $ 88,000; but I see no justification at all for their not then providing an education twice as effective as the result in charter schools. Shouldn’t pay be directly related to result ?

Otherwise we’re paying teachers for some other reason. (A good example of this is the current “co-teacher” system, by which teachers who no principal would hire for his or her staff are assigned to teach alongside another, hired teacher, rather than simply being laid off. Basically, we are paying these people not to teach but tio be re-trained. that may be OK; but the resources taken up by “co-teachers” — the Boston Herald pegs it at $ 6,000,000 this year alone — are resources not being used for transportation, school lunches, a digital school pilot project, or administrative staff.)

My feeling is that the snail’s pace of Boston school reform — a small victory here, a minuscule improvement there — can’t cut it. All the good intentions in the world, and John McDonough has good intentions and a mind hugely shrewd, can’t get to the finish line in time to outweigh the benefits of charter cap expansion. Authorizing nore charter schools, and a wider array of school arrangements, can spur change to standard public schools that would otherwise take forever to accomplish. Authorizing more charter schools would make McDonough’s task easier. it will give incoming school boss Tommy Chung’s term a weapon to wield against the opponents of radical school transformation.

There are plenty of teachers in Boston’s public schools who can’t stand the stubbornness of their union leadership. I hear from them all the time. Teachers who want to innovate, who want to teach a longer day, teachers who can design a curriculum smarter than what State law requires. Teachers who resent that the union spends so much time supporting the economic agendas of other unions. The way things stand, however, they’ll have to teach at a charter school.

Pedagogy, I was taught long ago, was, as the saying went, me at one end of a bench and a teacher at the other. we need to get education back to basic pedagogy — albeit updated for the digital age as “me at one end of the smartphone or iPad and my teacher at the other.” Add to that, learning in a communal setting, because good citizenship is also a skill students need to learn. All else than these is padding, or puffery, or incompetent profusion.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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