ANNALS OF POLITICS IN AMERICA : THE NEXT PHASE

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^ the new unionism : SEIU members raising up

 

The first significant signs of a new alignment of American politics are already apparent.

Even as the Tea Party and its corporate enablers roar through many “red” states, and even as marriage equality takes hold as the law of all states, new civil rights battles are coming to the fore as well as new economic urgencies.

Free-for-all banking is crashing to the ground as huge financial institutions rely, almost always unsuccessfully, on low level staffs with huge turnover that precludes learning the intricacies of customer service in the age of investment by hedge fund pools and pass-throiugh securities. The future of banking is “go small” : no big bank of today comes close to matching the efficiency and customer service smartness of medium-sized and community banks.

The needs of high-tech and cutting-edge employers for entry-level hires fluent in the basics of programming, math, and reading are pressuring public education to sacrifice common ground for small-unit specialization. This is the motive force behind charter schools, and also the inspiration for opposing common core curriculum standards. Supporters of small, experimental eduction don;t want common standards or a one size fits all school. they want individualized schooling.

 

that entirely individualized schooling cuts children off from the other great educative principle — citizenship in a common community, Horace Mann’s ideal — is less important to these folks, entirely fixated on securing their children a good career.

I oppose their single mindedness, as do many other Americans in the new politics. It’s a battle that will divide old alliances and is already creating new ones. Witness the coalition that opposes “common core” : right wing Republicans and teachers’ unions.

Income inequality in America has reached a level where it threatens the sustainability of the entire economy. Many states are already taking steps tp remedy this imbalance. Some are raising the minimum wage radically; proposals to raise the minimum wage even higher are taking hold in the most progressive cities. Unions, too — until recently dubbed “obsolete” by some “conservatives” — are finding themselves newly popular and powerful. in the service work world, unions are winning huge wage increases — with more to come — and new unions are being organized for the most basic of worker demands : a living wage and basic benefits.

At the same time, many public sector unions are losing popular support, as more such unions are seen to protect wage packages that bust city budgets, packages for six-figure earnings that look to fall on the tycoon side of income inequality.

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^ SEIU leaders : economic power AND women power

Nor does it help public sector unions that they often stand in the way of system reforms. Big changes are coming in how public education is delivered. Many teachers unions are fighting all these changes rather than getting aboard them; and the larger public — much the same public that supports service worker unions — is noticing and not liking.

American living arrangements are shifting radically. Millerites want to work, live, shop, and play in the downtowns of big cities, and in many cases to do so without cars. Almost all the well-paid young techies live this way; few if any have any interest at all in living in suburbs enduring hour to two-hour commutes to work. Meanwhile the less well paid have no choice bit to move away from Downtown — the farther away, the cheaper the housing — and to endure commutes, while shopping in malls along Interstate highways and socializing via online social media. Meanwhile, within the big cities, neighborhoods are reshaping as mini Downtowns, complete with boutiques, nightclubs, leafy restaurants, and young activists, many of them members of education/commerce co-operatives.

In all of these new living arrangements, personal diversity is the norm. Gay, lesbian, transgender people participate as regularly as anyone else; for millennials, personal lifestyle is no more an issue than one’s hair color or choice of beverage.

These changes read like “blue state America,” but they are also occurring in “red’ states. The difference — if it is one — is religion. In most of “blue” America, religion embraces, or tolerates, people’s choices rather than condemn them; the churches of big cities mostly look outward to the whole world as much as, or more than, they look inward into the individual soul. This orientation has big consequences, and a large future. The same, more or less, is true of churches in “blue’ state suburbs. But even if the churches of “red” stares orient opposite, the economies , education, and living arrangements of “red” states are changing in much the same direction as they are in “blue’ states. nd this too has consequences.

One consequence is that the “angry, old, straight white man” who has embodied right wing populism is fading from the scene, like the hippies of 40 years ago. In his place we find nerdy think tankers, big-stomach gun toters, and — ba-da-bing ! — women and people of color. Because, yes, even the South is becoming less nativist, less male dominant, less white.
The Hispanic population of practically every deep Southern state is growing fast. Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, even Alabama will be 20 percent Hispanic soon — or higher than that. Texas will be majority Hispanic by 2030 at the latest. The populations of these states will be younger, too. And more female, because women are the glue that holds immigrant families together.

Thus we arrive at the biggest change of all : America is rapidly moving toward having a majority of its people being of color. This matters in every way, but right now it most matters because the rights of people of color, and of women, have not been achieved as thoroughly as lifestyle civil rights. After all, gay, lesbian, and transgender people are just as likely to be Caucasian as not. Identity civil rights are this mot a matter of skin color or immigrant status.

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the voice & face of change in the Democratic party : Senator Elizabeth Warren

The rights of people of color, and the rights of immigrants, continue to be an issue. But these will be solved by the change in our population. As for the rights of women, these too may well be secured, finally, as women become more powerful politically by way of their primacy in the newly powerful service worker unions. By far the majority of service workers are women; and as service worker women acquire higher pay and greater political power thereby, so will they — as women and as union leaders — secure the personal, body rights that men take for granted.

It was noted that Hobby Lobby, while denying to its women employees health insurance coverage from some contraception, made no such detail for men’s Viagra. In the new era of financially and union empowered women, that kind of discrimination will become unlawful no matter what the excuse.

Our two political parties are only now beginning to adjust to the new America. The Democratic party has adjusted more quickly ; the new unionism unifies Democratic politics in some places, even as the huge change in education is dividing it. The GOP has changed less ; yet even in the GOP, new voices are working out new responses to the change in education, income inequality, and population shifts. The difference is that change in the Democratic party arises from activists and large interest groups, whereas so far in the GOP it is coming mostly from think tanks. Curious, the asymmetry. We live in a democracy, where voters rule. the Democratic party operates on this principle; the GOP doesn’t — yet. My guess is that the GOP will have to change its ways as radically as the nation is changing — will have to start acting like a party of voters, not of researchers; and to trust the voters, not disdain them — or its recipe will fade from the new America.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MAGOV14 : CHARLIE BAKER’S BEST POLL NUMBERS YET SEND A MESSAGE

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^ being a Massachusetts governor means speaking Massachusetts language : Charlie Baker speaking Massachusetts-ese to voters at a meet and greet

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The Boston Globe’s new poll of Massachusetts’s Governor election yields Charlie Baker his best numbers yet. He now polls 36 percent, while his likely Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, draws only 39 percent.

Last week, the same poll had it Coakley 40, Baker 35. And that poll was a better Baker result than the previous Globe poll, which showed Coakley at 40, Baker at 32.

Clearly, Baker is amassing support, and doing so the best way : slowly, gradually, one voter at a time, so to speak. He is doing it as it should be done : by increasing his own support, not by taking support away from an opponent.

The strongest campaigns take care to run themselves : not to negate the other guy or gal, but to create a Yes and add many Yes’s to it. Positive support is hard to lose. Voters voting against one candidate can be swayed easily; their loyalty is to “dislike,” not to a candidate. Baker will surely take votes from people disliking his opponent, but he much prefers — or should much prefer — votes that want him no matter who the opponent is.

Baker seems to understand that in Massachusetts, voters for offices other than national do not vote party, they vote the man or woman. And though in November, there’ll only be two candidates, it’s much wiser for a candidate to run against all of his or her rivals than to pray for the “right” November opponent. Baker is doing that. He is running as if he, Coakley, Grossman, and Berwick were all in the same primary. This is how one wins in Massachusetts.

One runs for Governor of Massachusetts not on a party basis, because the issues aren’t party issues. 80 % of Massachusetts voters know what they want : a positive agenda, progressive but not pie in the sky, well managed, reformist, sensible and flexible, on issues economic, administrative, judicial; on energy policy, criminal justice, immigration. The one issue that almost all Massachusetts voters agree should be uncompromised is civil rights. A governor must voice passionately full rights for every sort of person. A governor candidate who trims on civil rights is in trouble; one who opposes them is toast.

Because 80% of Massachusetts voters agree on what they want and to what degree, the deciders become (1) who can do the job the best (2) whose priorities do we want and (3) who can best work with the Legislature to get them done.

None of this is a party matter. Baker gets this. His campaign has been devoid of party bias. He is campaigning in Massachusetts language and doing so convincingly.

Baker is quite lucky that none of his three opponents matches his command of Massachusetts-speak. Berwick cannot do so because his policy agenda is too radical. Coakley cannot do so because she speaks vague rather than competence. Steve Grossman can’t do so because his support rises from the Democratic party voters who insist on being Democrats first. The party Is their agenda, as it is not for at least two-thirds of Massachusetts voters. Only of late — probably too late — has Grossman begun to sound less like a Democrat and more like a Massachusetts. He remains far, far behind Coakley in the new Boston Globe poll.

But now to the Poll and its message about Baker.

Baker’s favorable-unfavorable-not well enough known numbers are 47 to 18 to 35.
Coakley’s numbers in this regard are 54 to 37 to 9.
Grossman’s numbers here stand at 33 to 14 to 52.
Don Berwick’s numbers embarrass his progressivism : 10 to 5 to 85.

Head to head, Baker gets 36 percent to Coakley’s 39; 37 to Grossman’s 29; and 42 to Don Berwick’s 18.

On the issues, Massachusetts voters differ hugely from voters in “red” states :

Do you own a gun ? 66 % say no, only 30 % say yes.
Should we have stricter gun control ? 47 % say yes, 35 % say we have enough; only 15 % say we should have less gun control.
Should the casino law be repealed ? 51 % say no, 41 % say yes.
Do you feel safe at night ? 96 % ay yes, only 4 % say no.
Do you feel safe walking your neighborhood at night ? 84 % say yes, only 13 % say no.

Clearly Massachusetts voters are not ruled by fear and thus are not obsessed by guns. Indeed, far more people (37 %) have a very unfavorable opinion of the NRA than the 17% who have a very favorable opinion of it.

28 % of our voters identify as liberals, 28 % as conservatives, although of the 39% who identify as moderates there is a 26 to 39 lean toward conservative. Query, however, what Massachusetts voters mean by “conservative.” i doubt that they mean Tea Party or Koch Brothers. Probably more a state of mind than a political agenda.

Massachusetts voters are optimistic about themselves and their community, pragmatic, open minded, wanting reform but not repeal — a way of saying “decided questions should remain decided” — and ready to think as citizens, not loners. Thinking as citizens, Massachusetts voters want a governor who knows what he or she believes in, who can articulate an agenda authoritatively, who speaks the phrases of flexibility, open to new facts and situations, able to change his or her mind if need be, to walk back inadequate remarks without hedging; a shrewd dealer and a good guy or gal who treats everyone as a friend and neighbor.

As you must already have surmised, that is a description of Charlie Baker.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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

OUR VIEW : TEACHER TENURE IS NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL !

California teachers case

Three days ago a California court ruled that California laws addressing tenure for teachers is unconstitutional. We disagree in part.

Laws regarding tenure may be overturned and may be ruled unconstitutional. But for the most part, tenure is not a matter of statute but of contract. Already the ruling by Judge Rolf Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court has generated big ideas from those groups who want to break teachers’ unions, and one can surely expect cases like the California instance to be brought in many states. It’s not a development I welcome at all.

Before i discuss my own opinion, I invite you to read Judge Treu’s. Follow the link below :

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/us/california-teacher-tenure-laws-ruled-unconstitutional.html?_r=0

Judge Treu is correct that California has handled teacher tenure in a discriminatory way. I applaud him for seeking to undo the harm caused. But the problem, as I see it, is not tenure. the problem is its misapplication. Granted, that tenure by state statute opens the door to misapplication, where tenure by contract negotiation does not.

In Massachusetts, teacher tenure is a contractual covenant. Both the MTA and BTU unions have such a covenant in their collective bargain agreements. as such, the provision is a fairly dealt deal and appropriately implemented. Tenure by contract does not require the imposition of bad teachers on students in the classroom. In boston the contract includes a provision — which Superintendent McDonough is now using — that enables principals hiring autonomy and to slot replaced teachers into other school jobs. this isn’t ideal — it would be more effective simply to terminate incompetent teachers, by buying out their tenure if need be — but it’s not scandalous. Covenants bargained for cannot be pushed aside.

Every time a teacher union contract comes up for negotiation, because the public is the payer, the public gets to opine on what should or cannot be in the new contract. it’s a kind of referendum, that legitimizes the agreement eventually agreed to. call it democracy in action — a good thing.

Tenure by state statute seems less democratic and much harder to administer. Still, there are answers even to tenure by law that fall short of declaring them unconstitutional. The law can be spelled out in state regulations issued thereunder that authorize (1) buyouts of tenured employees not performing to standard (2) a longer period before tenure is granted — in California the period is two years, much too brief (3) a board of monitors to oversee teacher assignment, so that poor and minority school districts do not become dumping grounds for poor teachers.

Life is complex. No part of it more so than public education, an institution vast and heterodox to the max. But : you want to have public education, you learn to live with heterodoxy. it’s not beyond our pay grade.

That California has failed, Judge Treu makes clear. His remedy however seems more like a hasty rant than a wise ruling.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SCHOOLS REFORM : THE BOSTON SCHOOL FOOD SCANDAL

 

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^ answering questions, as here at a recent Mayor Walsh town hall, will be something that Superintendent John McDonough will have to do a lot of, with a big food scandal on the menu

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That the Boston School department’s food operation was seriously flawed, we already knew, well before the Boston Globe’s recent front page story. John Connolly, in last year’s Mayor campaign, made an issue of finding spoiled food in the Department’s food works. The issue didn’t commandeer the campaign because much larger forces rolled into the arena; yet it forecast something we now are paying large attention to, an issue that Mayor Walsh has to deal with whether he likes it or not.

Thanks to a full review of the School Department’s food operation commissioned by interim Superintendent John McDonough, what seemed the entire story was fully bruited. Yet it proved not to be the entire story. Only a few days ago we learned that the Boston school department has eliminated its salad bar, healthy food program from those schools that had it, citing costs. In its place, snacks — the very snacks we don’t want to see kids eating in school (or at all).

Costs matter a lot to John McDonough, who was the Department’s chief financial officer for 20 years, before he became interim superintendent. They do matter. Still, diet seems to me a poor place to economize. Parents already pay for school lunches, if they can. Surely the department can give them value for their money.

McDonough notes that next year’s school budget includes lots of layoffs from the Department’s central administration. These we approve. reports abound of mismanagement, duplication, even no management at all. Problems are reported, then not dealt with. Sometimes it seems as though the managers working under McDonough have but two job goals : first, keep the “super” unaware of the problem and (2) make sure they don’t become news. Surely that mindset will not survive the layoffs, or the story now on every Boston school parent’s reading table. I doubt that the Boston Globe is going to back off at this point, simply because the story is so ripe.

Meanwhile, as my own State Representative tells me he thinks school nutrition is a local, District-level matter, I ask the thirteen good folks on the Boston City Council : can we not pass an ordinance requiring healthy foods at school lunches and banning sugar snacks entirely ? And funding the ordinance, if need be ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SCHOOLS REFORM : THE HOUSE SAYS YES TO CHARTER CAP LIFT

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^ triumph day in the House for State Representative Russell Holmes

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Debate on the charter cap lift legislation began at 2 PM yesterday and, according to my best source, who received the news by e-mail, the bill was adopted by a vote of 116 to 35. According to my source, the bill — styled “an act to further narrow the achievement gap,” and first filed by Dorchester State Representative Russell Holmes, was adopted with no amendments. And there were plenty on offer.

Earlier this year I opined at length on the goods and bads of this legislation. In particular I disliked that the bill lifts the cap on charter sc hools only for “underperforming’ districts,’ as state education laws define the term. To me, this was an invitation to shaky, but not disastrous, school distticts, to slack their efforts, so as to be designated “underperforming” ; because parents a with children enrolled in such districts would now have an alternative very much desired and currently not availoable to them. This was what happened when our state adopted Special education’s school plan for children so designated. Parents fought to win “special needs” designation for their children so that they could get the one-on-one curriculum offered by the program.

That said, it is most significant that this legislation was offered by Russell Holmes, who represents one of the economically poorest districts in the state. charter schools are intensely wanted by parents in such neighborhoods, which have had to bear with some of the worst performing schools in the State. It’s hard not to conclude that the money and talent goes to school districts with higher income, more influential parents. Those without money lack power; that;s a fact. One doesn’t like to see low-income districts lose confidence in public schools, but that’s how it is; and who are we to tell such parents that no, you can’t have a chance at something better ?

It was argued to me, by my own state Representative, that the teachers and staff in marginal districts would fight NOT to be designated as “underperforming” because it might mean layoffs and the imposition of principals’ autin hiring new staff. This is a powerful argument; I think that my State Rep has it right.

If so, then the House’s 116-35 enactment vote yesterday will be on balance a good thing. Reimubursement, for pupils lost to charter schools, to the school districts so affected remains an issue both ways. The formula seems arbitrary. But it’s also a way to get more State funds into the budgets of affected school districts. As State education funds aid to local school systems has all but diusapperared, the reimbursement money will surely be very welciome at the district level.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SCHOOLS REFORM : PROCEEDING DESPITE ALL

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School reform will happen — in Boston. It is already happening, quietly, surely. Statewide, not so sure. Issues of curriculum, funding, and school innovation divide in several directions. But let’s look first at Boston.

Last year, few could have predicted that Boston school reform would proceed at all. Mayoral candidate John Connolly made “school transformation” his big issue. As schools are by far the largest budget item in Boston, and school parents the largest identifiable city-wide interest, Connolly’s choice of issue seemed a sure winner. It wasn’t, because Boston’s schools aren’t a single interest group. It’s administrators, teachers, custodians, parents, school buses, a school construction authority, and several types of schools dictated by State Law. The complexity of school interests sliced Connolly every which way, and he lost.

The teachers’ unuon badly misplayed its part in the Mayor campaign. The smart move would have been to endorse Connolly — for maing education his key issue and thereby gaining an inside position in the next mayor’s school policy discussion. Instead, the union backed two candidates who lost in the primary; only on election morning of the Final did it send out an endorsement of Marty Walsh, who, being a charter school board member, the union had not much wanted.

The Mayor has said very little about schools, but he did allocate the school department a four percent increase in funds; and Walsh’s two appointees to the School Committee have voted “yes” to three significant steps taken by John McDonough, the “interim superintendent” who doesn’t look like a reformer but is..

What are these three steps ? First, layng off about 100 central office administrators. Second, giving each Boston school principal full authority to hire, or replace every member of his teaching and support staff. Third, using public transportation — the T — to bring seventh and eighth grade studebts to school, thereby saving money (and acquiring a back door budget increase, as the T has agreed to transport students at its own cost) and somewhat lessening the impact of labor wars between school bus drivers and the company they work for (and who can forget the wildcat strike last Fall that stranded so many students for an entire school day ?)

These are significant reforms. Giving school principals complete hiring and replacement power changes the entire character of the principals’ job. No longer is she simply a high level monitor and a scapegoat for bad performance, now she can demand performance and see that it is given her. Using the T to transport students saves tens of millions of dollars that can instead be allocated to classrooms. Eliminating central office positions moves the burden of performance to the actual school where learning is demanded.

All of this is being put in place — though some say it’s not happening as thoroughly as McDonough’s office claims — by a man who speaks softly and looks even softer; a man who makes everyone involved feel liked and wanted even as he puts his very transforming agenda into place inch by inch.. Where John Connolly seemed to run at the school system like Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan hill, John McDonough gets every hill he faces to be on his side.

Example :

At the March 26th Budget vote, after two hours of “public comment” by parents and advocates enraged by the proposal to use the T to transport seventh and eighth graders — and with teachers’ union president Richard Stutman sitting grimly in the audience — the School Committee voted unanimously to do that and to approve McDonough’s staffing autonomy for school principals. “Shame on you !” shouted one activist, who then stormed out of the room.

McDonough’s response ? In that soft white-haired voice of his he applauded the parents and activists : “You’re the most involved parents I’ve seen in forty years,” he told them. “You get it.”

Yep.

McDonough is also preparing his schools for the newly adopted PARCC tests (PARCC stands for “partnership for assessment of readiness for college, a state-based initiative that will be ready for the 2014-15 school year) and is implementing the Common Core curriculum standards that have of late generated some controversy. No one that I am aware of is trying to stop him.

The controversy now attaching to the Common Core initiative is acting out chiefly at the State House. It comes chiefly by right wing Republicans who object to nation-wide anything, much less national education standards; some teacher groups are also critical. These do not like the significant instruction changes that common core standards entai, and they especially dislike that Common Core’s testing tends to dominate classroom instruction. I find these objections anecdotal only. Change is always hard for micro-managed institutions.

In Boston, much of the rancor about school change has come and gone. “We have had some difficult conversations,’ says McDonough, in his humble way. “Change is difficult.” But as he summed up the March 26th Budget meeting, “This is not about public schools versus charter schools. it’s about making all schools better.”

McDonough cannot have been happy to see Orchard Gardens school princiopal Anthony Bott quit his job for the coming year, for Bott has been one of the Boston system’s most successful turn-around leaders. Bott’s leaving has given McDonough’s critics — who think he’s not acting quickly enough, or comprehensively, to change how the school system operates. Nor could McDonough have been thrilled to see John Connolly reappear, after months of silence, at April 9th’s School Committee meeting, on behalf of his fellow Trotter School’s parents, who, as Connolly eloquently told the Committee, are upset about losing their Families Engagement Co-ordinator, a Mr. Alward, who, as Connolly said, “makes the school work.”

Mr. Alward is one of the 230-odd school personnel being cut in this year’s department budget — cuts that McDonough said “involved trade offs.” Schools are losing coaches, teacher aides, even, at the Curley K Through 8, a school nurse. And several families engagement co-ordinators. Few of these have available a spokesman as eloquent — or powerful — as an almost Mayor. In Connolly’s words : “We’re a turnaound school, the Trotter,” he said. Level four to level one. We’re now one of the best schools in the city, we knock the socks off those tests. That’s not going to happen if can’t keep families engaged — if we whittle away what works !”

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Connolly is only the best known, though probably the most moving speaker, of the many Boston School parents who are angry about the layoffs of field personnel. As Heshan Weeramuni, of the Curley School parents group, puts it, “we’re losing school staff even as we’re gaining more students.”

Weeranmuni isn’t that impressed with the four percent budget increase provided by Mayor Walsh. “Over the years, as we’ve lost Federal funds and thus State funds,” he says,” we’ve actually seen a ten percent cut in funding, not an increase.

Weeramuni is active with a Boston school parents group led by karen Kast of Roslindale, who worked the Mayor election for candidate Rob Consalvo and, after Consalvo was eliminated, managed City Council candidate Marty Keogh’s campaign. Kast is an imaginative advocate for what parents call “full funding.” A “$ 61 million bake sale” that she helped organize recently drew much attention, as it took place on the back side of City hall, across the street from iconic Faneuil hall.

Kast is a leader in Boston Truth, a parents-and-teachers coalition militantly opposed to state legislation increasing the number of charter schools authorized in Massachusetts. A bill to do that sits stalled (as of this writing) in the legislatiure’s Joint Committee on Education, chaired by Wellesley State Rep Alice Peisch and by Jamaica Plain’s State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz. The proposal — submitted by Boston State Rep Russell Holmes — seems unlikely to be enacted in its present form. Nor should it be. Titled “An Act To Further Narrow the Achievement Gap,” the bill calls for increasing the number of charter schools in “under-performing districts” — but not elsewhere. Yet the principals of under-performing schools get, by this legislation, exactly the powers that John McDonough has already established in Boston.

The bill also proposes a reimbursement formula, compernsation to Boston for students who choose to go to the additional charters, of IRS-like complexity.

For Boston, the proposed bill is otiose in one respect, contradictory in the other : why give a principal power to create the school that she wants, only to take away the effect of that power by putting more charter schools in competition ? Either the legislation wants under-performing school districts to do better, or it wants them to lose students. Which is it ?

I’m not sure the State’s administrators can answer that question. Certainly their take-over of two under-performing Boston schools, the Holland and the Dever, after these schools had already undergone a full year and more of McDonough-led “turn-around,’ suggets that the proverbial one hand doesn’t know what the other is up to.

Almost all of the State’s GOP, and many Democrats too, want more charter schools. That in itself is not a bad idea. The greater the availability and diversity of innovative schools, the better it should be for all the public schools. But many who advocate the loudest for more charter schools do so as a means of breaking the power of teachers’ unions. This cannot be a goal of education policy. Of course, schools do not exist to give jobs to teachers; still, teachers, there are; and the job we ask them to do is a difficult one, and vital. Union member teachers earn a good living; what benefit do we think we get if we block teachers from earning more ? Certainly not an economic benefit, and proabbly not an educational one. And if, as is true, the teachers in charter schools need not be union members, and thus cost less, is that a good ? I have never been convinced that asking workers to earn less is a benefit to anbody in any way.

If our state is to expand the allowed number of charter schools, it must be done generally — never only in “under performimg” districts, for that is to guarantee, even aggravate, their under-performance — and the expansion must benefit the performance of all schools. A diversity of school types must lead to the adoption of best practices, as these are experimented with; to an optimum length of school day; to courses beyond the Common Core basics : courses in civics, history, philosophy, the arts, sports, and more, such as emotional education and foreign languages. (One ‘Best practice’ that I like a lot is ‘dual language learning,’ in which students are schooled, daily and all day long, in English and another language. Chinese, French, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic — you name it.) And all of this must become the mission of all schools, of whatever type.

Until the legislature can forge an achievement gap-narrowing bill that sets forth a path to this end, without detours into special interest pleading, the Joint Committee on education should defer to act. Flawed legislation is always hard to repair, especially enactments that misdirect an institution as flex-averse as public education.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON SCHOOLS : REFORM MOVES FORWARD THROUGH THE BERMS

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^ street theater at City Hall & Faneuil  : the “$ 61 million” BPS parents’ bake sale yesterday

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As just about everyone knows who is involved in it, moving the Boston Public School system forward is almost a combat challenge. Berms galore face the advancing warriors ; severely decreased Federal funding; unfunded State mandates; administrative change, including to staffing and work rules; figuring out a workable relationship between charter schools and “standard schools”; layoffs; teacher salaries. Doubtless I have left out many more.

That said, the army of school reform Is moving forward. Some even of the opponents of reform are actually assisting it by highlighting the difficulties. One such highlight took place yesterday, at the back of Boston City Hall, across the street from Faneuil Hall : a school parents’ “$ 61 million” bake sale.

The $ 61,000,000 they refer to is, as they see it, the dollar amount by which the Boston School department’s FY 2015 budget falls short of what is needed. Superintendent John McDonough agrees that the new school budget has “at the end of the day…only so much revenue,” as he put it at the March 26th Budget hearing. Whether McDonough concurs that the shortfall amounts to $ 61 million, I do not know; there is no disagreement, however, that the budget foes come up short. as McDonough put it, “trade offs” were needed. The trade-offs included eliminating abort 200 position : 100 of them from central school department administration, another 100 or so from the staffs of individual schools.

Hard hit was the Mary Curley K to 8 school in Jamaica Plain ; a school that has, since the late 1970s, occupied a central place in Jamaica Plain’s re-invention as a gentrified neighborhood. Parents of Curley School children cite losing a coach, support personnel, and a school nurse. Other parents, with children at other schools on Boston’s western edge, report the same.

it may well be that McDonough chose to layoff staff in these schools rather than in poorer neighborhoods because he knew that Curley parents would organize and protest loudly, and that those responsible for cutting Federal and state school funding would hear ; and that their protests would matter more to these officials than if he himself were making them. McDonough is as shrewd as they come, and I find nothing that he does to be without well placed purpose. In this case, if his intent is as I suggest, he has planned well indeed.

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^ shrewdest guy in Boston : School Superintendent John McDonough at the “$ 61 million” bake sale

The bake sale drew at least four City Councillors, several Boston teachers, and much media attention. Less attention has been paid to what McDonough has done to school administration. He has made major moves, chiefest of which is to give every Boston school principal full authority to choose every teacher and staff at the school of which he is principal; and to do so by early hiring, when the best teachers are still on offer, and to count diversity as a criterion. The effect on future teacher union work rules can only be revolutionary.

Mayor Walsh, too, has made school improvement moves. his new appointees to the School Committee both voted for McDonough’s propos;las (which were adopted unanimously); and today, at the City Councils’ FY 2015 Budget Hearing, orders presented by the Mayor were adopted unanimously, as follows:

Order # 0637, to borrow $ 72,848,295 for constructing the Dearborn 6-12 STEM/Early college Academy, on Dearborn Street in the Cape Verdean part of Boston : the City’s first new school building in many, many years.

Orders # 0588 through 0593, statements of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, for six more new projects, in West Roxbury, South boston, Jamaica Plain , East Boston, Hyde Park, and the South End.

It would he hard to make a case that thee projects are moving forward without an accompanying commitment by the mayor and City to set these new schools up in any way but under the McDonough reforms.

Now all that is needed is for the State and Federal governments to do their part in funding the goal that McDonough states best : “this isn’t about charter schools or standard schools. It;s about making all schools better. we must cloze the achievement gap.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE 11.30 PM 04/09/14  : Mary Tamer, who was a Boston School Committeewoman until her term ended on January 5th, questions the viability of the Dearborn STEM project — citing what she calls the “poor results” at the current Dearborn as a turnaround school — and also some other school moves being made around the City. Tamer asks how the City justifies the Dearborn project. It’s a good question deserving an answer that was not given at today’s Council hearing.

WITH THE MINIMUM WAGE NOW RAISED, HERE’S WHAT’S NEXT FOR MASSACHUSETTS

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^ the Democrat with fewest weaknesses : Juliette Kayyem

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^ the best potential governor, on an across-the-board basis : Charlie Baker (with Nightline’s Dan Rea)

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Two days ago, the Massachusetts House passed a big rise in the minimum wage, to $ 10.50 in 2015 and $ 11.00 in 2016. The House legislation included, however, a provision that the Senate bill does not : a give back of five percent, on the unemployment compensation portion that employees pay. That portion will rise from 15 % to 20 %.

Because the two bills do not mesh, a conference wil be held at which the two bills will be reconciled. Almost certainly the reconciliation will adopt the House version: because Senate President Murray is leaving, whole Speaker DeLeo is very much staying.

Such is the way of things in the Massachusetts legislature. The big result, however, is that the base wage for every Massachusetts worker now earning minimum wage will rise by over $ 3.00 an hour. Minimum wage earners will no longer need as much public, taxpayer-paid assistance as before; taxpayers will get some relief; and workers will have some money to spend into the discretionary economy. In Boston, $ 10.50 to 4 11.00 an hour is still nowhere near enough; not with  rentals costing $ 1,600 and up; but in outlying cities such as Worcester, New Bedford, Holyoke, and Fitchburg, the new minimum wage will provide a real boost to many, many families and thus to the economy of those cities.

There were 24 votes against the Raise. Their message was the same : the higher wage would mean fewer jobs.

Businesses that have been able to short-change employees and pass them off to taxpayers will now not have that taxpayer subsidy. Will these businesses close ? To ask the question is to answer it. What then will they do ? Easy. They will change their business model.

These businesses will be operating in a very different economy, one that will grow quite quickly at first as the boost in wage checks gets spent into the economy. And this is good all around. But it is far from being enough. Massachusetts needs much more reform in how it operates ; some of it economic reform, a lot of it structural.

Here’s what we would like to see happen ;

1.economic : expand the earned income credit to childless families who qualify on an income basis.

2.economic : give Boston granting authority over its liquor licenses. A home rule petition, by Councillor Ayanna Pressley now sits in the legislature awaiting action.

3.economic : enable innovation districts in neighborhoods of Boston, and in outlying cities, on the model of those currently operating in Cambridge and Seaport Boston. Local aid funding can help here.

4.structural : reconfigure the website interface and interactivity of every State department, from health connector to DCF to Secretary of State and permitting. Publish the State Budget online. Embed a mobile phone app into the State’s most-used Department websites, such as the DCF, RMV, DOR, and Transitional assistance.

5.encourage and establish the full range of public school reforms now being put in place in Boston by Superintendent John McDonough

6.human rights : eliminate mandatory sentencing; establish a prisoners’ bill of rights that would provide for legal remedies — including assigning public defenders to each state or county lock-up — to prisoners who are abused by incarceration personnel; pay minimum wage to prisoners doing work they are required to do by the institution; assure re-entry procedures that are fair and helpful to the released prisoner; restore voting rights to convicts who have finished their sentences;.

7.civil rights: extend the state’s transgender rights law to include places of public accommodation. grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and pass the Trust Act

8.gun control: require owners of guns (other than antique) to purchase liability insurance, as we now require owners of vehicles; require smart gun technology

9.transportation : review all transit and road budgets and cost-cut administration where feasible; repair and replace MBTA cars and buses, lines,a nd equipment; expand Green Line to West Medford; complete new stations on Fairmount Line; finish the South Coast rail Connector

10.DCF : hire sufficient case workers so that the state-mandated maximum case load is never breached; pay social workers a professional salary; require the DCF chief to circuit-ride from DCF office to office and to use mobile phone and ipad communication as a regular feature.

All of what we’d like to see is more than enough to challenge two governor terms, much less one. Some of this year’s Governor candidates want still more. That’s OK, for a wish list but not for the campaign, which we hope will be about now and the next four years, not times still over the horizon. After all, our list doesn’t even talk about climate change, alternative fuels, conservation, affordable housing, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant kids, and local aid — any one of which could occupy an entire editorial.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SCHOOLS REFORM : WE SUPPORT THE COMMON CORE INITIATIVE

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^ the apostle of Common Core standards : US Secretary if education Arne Duncan

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We support the Common Core curriculum initiative, both for its content and its suggested teaching methods. We also support it for the nationwide equality inherent in it.

A society educates its children for two lives : citizenship and employment. Education for citizenship is primarily a moral undertaking and does not change, because human nature doesn’t change. Education for employment is primarily economic, and as the structure of a modern economy changes all the time, so must education change as well.

These are axioms of education. There is nothing new about the Common Core initiative. Throughout the history of Western civilization, education has prepared students for employment. Nor is there anything new or shocking about Common Core being nation-wide. Throughout most of Western history, the curriculum was civilization-wide, not just national.

Children should not grow up compartmentalized by national political agendas, much less by states. Children should be educated so as to move, work, live, and communicate everywhere in the world. That’s how it was in Roman Empire times, in the merchant city-state era of Greece, and again in the “Renaissance of the 12th Century,” a time and place of huge intellectual advance in both Europe and Islamic society, and — because the two go together — of big economic advance as well.

The resistance to a Common Core curriculum and practice comes from two advocacy sides that have nothing else in common. That’s often how it is with important progress movements. No one should be intimidated by seeing these strange political bedfellows raise the hue and cry side by side.

On the one hand is the ultra conservative think tank interest, which fears a “national take over” of education, which it holds to be a matter of local control. This despite the Common Core initiative having been put together by governors of states, at the state level, and major employers. Common Core is not a “national takeover.’ it is a coming together of every state and many interests who want to see America’s school graduates ready and able to claim the best jobs of tomorrow. On the other hand are certain teachers unions, and many educators committed to current pedagogy : these interests decry the rigid rigor of Common Core and its emphasis on testing and more testing.

The objections from the Right can be dismissed quickly. Why does it matter whether a curriculum initiative is nationwide rather than local ? If the initiative is beneficial, that’s enough. There is a Constitution, it applies, via its Supremacy clause and the 14th Amendment, to the states, live with it.

More serious are the objections to Common Core being raised by teachers and educators. It is understandable that those who have long personal investment in the current pedagogy should feel that their work is good, and that a radical change of direction will unsettle the process and cast teachers adrift while they adapt to the new standards and method. This will happen, and it will have an effect on teaching during the transition period. That’ always the case when systems embrace large change. The bigger objection is that Common Core practices don’t educate students as well as current pedagogy; that testing, in particular, dominates teaching to the exclusion of course work. One very vocal opponent of the tougher standards say that they were put together “in violation of how education standards are supposed to be decided” — whatever that means. My own thought is that if the new standards work, and employers accept them, that’s game, set, and match/.

The entire anti argument misses the point. Which is that both teaching methods work equally well. How could they not ? Students learn what they are told to learn; and they learn it how they are told to learn it. This applies to EVERY teaching method, rote memorizing included. Every student goes to school in recipient mode; the teacher gives, the student receives. Recipient mode is marvelously adapted to taking in what is received. Students even in my stone age time knew well to listen to teacher and give back what he or she wanted. It was a school survival skill. Somehow we managed to learn what teacher — and the college we were headed to — wanted us to learn. We didn’t sit in class and say, “that’s a bad method.”

The crafters of Common Core know this. Their standards seem designed for students first — should they not be ? We hire teachers to teach not what the teacher wants to teach, or how, but for what the society wants taught. As for “how,” that’s still up to the teacher, but within the guidelines implied by the “what.”

Which for Common Core means lots of testing. Too much testing ? This to me is — with one exception — as red a herring as it gets. The exception : CC testing seems to  begin at too young an age. Kids younger than 3rd grade probably don ‘t have much to test for, other than cognition and other physical issues. But that said, all of life is a test, constantly, in everything. All employment is a testing. Every task that an employee takes up is a test of his or her mastery of what is tasked. When an employee does whatever is in his or her job description, he or she is not in recipient mode : he or he is in performance mode. That, dear reader, is what testing is. It is education’s performance mode.

Bring it on.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATED March 31, 2014 at 9.50 AM

UPDATED again on April 20, 2014 and re-posted.