REFORMING BOSTON’s PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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^ a Roslindale parent has a schools decision to make. Will the system allow her the best decision, or not ?

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Is there anything in the new contract agreement fore Boston school teachers that moves the system toward reform ? Not really. Teachers get a two percent pay raise ? Nice, but teacher pay is not a reform item. The system will hire 22 new full time school nurses, and another 22 aides will also be hired : these will be good news for parents of children in need of mental health monitoring and for the kids, too. Still at issue is the request, made by some, that classes for English language learners be staffed by two teachers each.

Yet these small adjustments do not equal school reform. The so-called achievement gap — the disparity between kids of various skin colors and national origins wit.h respect to test results and graduation rates — will likely remain. Nor does the new teacher contract alter, in the slightest, the two fundamental misdirections impacting Boston’s public schools : first, the school committee is appointed by the people; and second, that kids are still being transported all over the city, per school assignment lotteries established under a Federal Court desegregation order issued 45 years ago.

There is much talk about “the community” in various Boston neighborhoods these days, but you cannot have community without community schools. Community schools bring the kids of a community together. They encourage parent-teacher involvement. The Federal Court order destroyed the PTAs that governed Boston schools, that monitored their excellence and required teachers to not just teach their hours and go home. The old PTAs ensured that the local school community would continue after the school day and during school vacations. This was community  for real. The school community powerfully motivated parents to stay in the community. Just the opposite is the case today for parents seeking neighborhood schools. If you’re not lucky enough to get your kid into Boston Latin School or the Latin Academy, and you are not chosen by the charter school lottery, you will almost certainly move to the suburbs, or strongly consider doing it. (The exception that parents make for the Latin and charter schools results from parents’ confidence that at those schools  their kids will be rigorously well educated, diligently enough that they’ll trade  community for excellence. Correctly or not, parents have no such confidence in Boston’s standard public schools despite the City’s  $ 1,270,000,000 FY 2020 schools allocation.)

I think that parents are right to opine that community schools are the only workable alternative for kids who do not get into the Latin or charter schools. Community, at least, assures that the standard school — funded by fully one third of the entire annual City budget — will not settle for a default minimum, or tolerate teacher failure — the new contract “makes it easier” for teachers unassigned because no school will have them to work their way back to being hired. Community PTAs might well be what they once were, a bulwark of teacher diligence.

It is certainly time to move beyond the 1974 Federal Court order. The City’s neighbor hoods are no longer racially segregated. Residential diversity isn’t uniform, but there no more neighborhoods that are 99 percent Caucasian — nor 99 percent people of color. Door knocking in District Five this year, getting past the Federal Court order — and the $ 99,000,000 that it costs to transport kids — is by far the most frequent schools demand that voters make. It is time to do it; to eliminate the assignment lottery and recreate community school districts.

Taking this step would make an even stronger statement of reform if it were accompanied by City charter change re-establishing an elected school committee. I have proposed an elected  committee according to a district election system which gives five  committee seats to the current large assignment district, four seats to the next largest, and three committee seats to the small district. The Superintendent would then be the 13th member, or else the Mayor ex officio. Granted, that an elected school committee would bring political considerations into the mix : but school issues ought to be a major subject of politics and election. The $ 1,270,000,000 budget requires direct citizen involvement, and sol do major school decisions : curriculum, staffing, administrative autonomy for each school. The Mayor, who appoints the present committee, is chargeable, but he is equally charged on every other major City administrative matter. It is almost impossible to make his re-election depend upon his schools decisions, nor is it a best practice to do so. Best is to elect school officers whose focus is solely schools.

It is time to reform our public schools.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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