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

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

SCHOOLS REFORM : THE “ACT TO FURTHER NARROW THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP” — WHAT WE LIKE AND WHAT WE DON’T

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^ stalling the huge reform, maybe for good reason — one hopes ; St Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz

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Much energy from the usual suspects in schools reform matters has decried the exquisitely named “Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap” that now sits “stalled” in the legislature’s Education Committee. To find out why, and to assess the opponents’ arguments, one need first to actually read the proposed bill.

Please do so before going on to read my words. Here’s the link : http://www.bostonfoundation.org/uploadedFiles/Sub_Site/web_specials/Race_to_the_Top/An%20Act%20to%20Further%20Close%20the%20Achievement%20Gap%20(1.17.2013).pdf

You will have noted that the proposed new school law is twelve (12) pages long and has twelve (12) sections. Each has its points; some merit more discussion than others. As for the Bill in its entirety, you will have noted its language to be procedural. This is a law for administrators; not a law for teachers.

Were it a law for teachers, it would give some guideline, at least, for what teachers are to teach, and how, and in what spirit. This, the law does not do. It’s a law for superintendents, evaluators, testers, commissioners of education. All of which limits the law’s reform reach and thus details the devils.

The more a law clings to details, the more opposition it will draw. Each detail of an administrative directive inconveniences those who administer. From mastery of the process, they return to being beginners, having to re-learn all over again what it is they are supposed to do. Of course they don’t like it.

It would have been far wiser for the reform bill to set general goals and empower generally. Then the persons affected could work out for themselves how to devil the details; and all such work-out discussions would have given the affected persons personal input into making it work. This new law denies them that. It’s a directive — a tsarist ukase. Little wonder that the established interests are complaining and that key staff are opposing.

That said, the law commits to some very useful tasks :

It grants a superintendent strong power to make the administrative, staffing, and curriculum changes that he or she sees fit, the objective being to improve the performance of so-called “underperforming schools.”

It allows for additional charter schools, above the 140 charters already allowed by MGL c. 71 : but, unwisely, only in districts that fall within under-performance results specified in section 4 of the bill.

It identifies what school performance falls short of stated standards and thereby gives the superintendent a flash point at which to intervene comprehensively.

Let me note right away that everything the reform bill grants to superintendents, John McDonough is already doing as interim superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. This part of the reform law would be difficult for even the most change-averse teachers union to object to.

Much more controversial is Section 4’s creation of an under-performing school district exception to the 140 charter school limit in the current MGL cl. 71, section 89. In the context of the law’s drastic superintendent takeover of under-performing schools, this charter school exception feels like punishment : not only are the personnel of an underperforming school district to face an entire, superintendent make-over of everything they do, including keeping their jobs, but, with the charter school creation possibility, they are put in the position of losing students notwithstanding how they might improve performance under direct superintendent management.

It would be far wiser for the proposed school law to choose one or the other — superintendent takeover, or charter school creation — but not both. Superintendent takeover threatens the jobs of poor teachers; charter school establishment threatens all the affected District’s teachers.

The consequences of this provision in the proposed law leads it almost inevitably to its most objectionable provision : Section 2(g), in which superintendents are given the power, when confronting an under-performing school or district, to alter the compensation, hours, and working conditions of school staff. I don’t think it wise to threaten the pay of the very people whose enthusiastic support the law needs if it’s to work. as for hours of work, everybody agrees the school day should be extended; but i there any reasonable objection to the teachers’ insistence that they be paid for working longer hours ? I think not.

I’m also not a fan of that provision in Section 9 which, in case the Commonwealth is approaching its “net spending cap,” gives preference to charter school providers who operate in more than one municipality. Why so ? No charter school should be like a bank’s branch office, understaffed maybe and offering fewer services. I trust the proposers will explain ?

To sum up : the reform bill contains many valuable provisions, assuming that a bill almost purely administrative is advisable, and that micro-managing the administrative requirements is realistic. The charter school exception, however desirable, makes its entrance on the wrong foot and in the wrong way. it should be the subject of separate legislation and should NOT be tied to under-performance issues and administration. Heck ; if charter schools are good — and I strongly support them — why should only children in under-performing districts have extra access to them ? Has no one learned anything from the Special education experience ? parents, seeing that special need children could claim an individualized curriculum, did everything in their power to get their children designated as special needs so that they too could get an individualized curriculum plan. I can easily see, under this proposed law, parents seeking to have their kids’ school designated as under-performing so that their kids would have a better chance of winning a charter school placement lottery.

This is what happen when you try, by laws, to do too much. You end up with laws that work opposite to the intention, or which can’t get enacted at all because they coalesce many kinds of opposition.

Pare down the bill, make it less administrative, put its page after page of do-this detail — especially the per pupil tuition reimbursement formula ; my goodness me ! — into a regulation, and give the statute some room to flex and develop. Then offer it for enactment. Until then, I think not.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE SALLY CRAGIN REPORT : WHAT TRI-TOWN’S UP TO IN MID-MARCH 2014

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Still here! On the sphere…. Which is increasingly snow-covered.

Here are some bullet-points from the North County. Where you can ski. Cheaply or for free.

Wachusett has their end of season deal where you get a full pass for $139. I was there with my kids last weekend skiing on a senior pass (hey, it works) but a good friend who works there is adding my crew to her friends and family pass for the rest of the season and now I’m out of my mind with frustration because since then it’s rained, or I’m busy. We got 3 inches last night so the hope is to GET THERE sometime this weekend. We’ll see. . . .

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In other news, our friend Representative Stephen DiNatale just sent out a reception card for an April event. He was the first person to speak out against a group trying to impose a charter school here when we had public hearings at the library. Yes, I know. Many of you are in Boston and have a different view of charters. Out where we are, the formula is such that cities like Fitchburg, Lawrence and Lowell, Fall River, Holyoke and Springfield and Worcester have a lot of English language learners, special education, transience and poverty and special ed.

Guess what ? by the way the state currently reckons things, we’ll ALWAYS be in the bottom ten percent. Senator Patricia Jehlen of Somerville is working on a communication to go to the Commissioner requesting that district scoring methods be altered to reflect a more accurate assessment which includes GROWTH versus ACHIEVEMENT.

What does that mean? Growth means that a student who comes in September with all those needs (ELL, SPED, etc.) and works hard with talented and dedicated teachers and rises from “failing to the lower end of “proficient” or even the upper end or “exemplary” will be judged on that. Not on whether he had a good day with the MCAS. That’s achievement and that measures one day, not 180 days.
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What else ? Time to take my daughter to school.

NOTE : the file that Cragin refers to in this portion of her report could not be opened with our software. Wen we locate a program to o[pen it, we will embed the file in this story. Thank you for your patience — the editors.)

Here’s Hector and Theresa and Bear. (sorry if pic is fuzzy! Everyone moves quickly…)

This is a picture of Bear (the little pup), his owners Hector Vargas and CNA Theresa Neuhaus. These three have joined our ACE in the Schools program as Bear is a service dog. ACE stands for Animal Care and Education. We help shelter animals, animals in need and educate school children and families about pet care responsibility.

Hector was born with spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair his WHOLE life. Bear alerts him whenever a seizure is coming on OR tries to get him to revive from a seizure AND alerts Theresa, who is Hector’s live-in CNA and a friend of his from high school. It’s an extraordinary story. Bear was at Fitchburg Animal Shelter last fall, and Shelter Manager Amy Egeland knew that Bear had a “special purpose,” but she didn’t know what that was until Theresa called looking for a service dog for Hector.

Hector grew up in Fitchburg, and is currently 37 years old. He had troubles in school but eventually received his diploma and every day fights some really serious health battles.

This morning, Bear, Hector and Theresa spoke to two groups of kids at Memorial middle school today and kids got to meet Bear afterwards. All told, more than 600 kids!! Thank you Hector J. Vargas and Theresa Neuhaus for sharing your story. It touched a lot of kids and Bear was really great in an unpredictable environment. The kids asked great questions including how many cats and dogs the Shelter saves and what food to feed their pet.

We are encouraging ALL the kids at ALL the schools we speak to to start an ACE club!! The sad part of this visit was hearing from too many kids about neighbors who tether a dog on a porch or outside. However, it is great to get clear information to kids — that their pets will live LONGER if spayed and neutered and that if you can’t take care of an animal it’s okay to surrender to the Shelter rather than turning it out. Smart kids, smart questions, a great morning for all.

And enormous thanks to Hector and Theresa who took the Mart bus to Parkhill Plaza and then hoofed it all the way to Memorial. They are a great team and the kids who heard their story were very affected by it.

— Sally Cragin / The Tri-Town Report

#16TH SUFFOLK DISTRCT : WE INTERVIEW TODD TAYLOR

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On March 4th the Democratic Primary voters of the 16th Suffolk State Representative District chose Revere’s Roselee Vincent to be their nominee. Observers commenting on her primary victory seem to assume that it’s election. It isn’t. On April 1st, Vincent faces Chelsea businessman Todd Taylor, the Republican candidate.

Taylor — who grew up in Arizona and has lived in Chelsea since 2000, and owns a staffing company at which he started many years ago as a waiter, working his way up — hopes to disprove the common perception of a Vincent victory. “We’ve been door knocking for two months now,” he told me at the Kow Loon restaurant in Saugus last night. “Lots of doors.”

“Have you door-knocked all the super voter doors,” I ask him ?

“By election day we will have done so, yes.” Taylor smiles a confident smile, a full shoulder smile.

Taylor’s literature spells out the same old “policies that spur job creation…reducing burdensome regulations” mantra that I see from every GOP legislative candidate these days; but when questioned on the issues, he sounds like an actual candidate.

“We’ve gotta get people working again,” he says. And concentrate on quality education for our kids. We have to lift the charter cap.”

I remind him that teachers unions an d public school advocates oppose lifting the cap, that they’re concerned about losing funding from their budgets, that they feel that charter schools are trying to replace them. Taylor rejects these arguments.

“Charter schools are a supplement, not a replacement,” he says passionately. As for the argument that charter schools don’t serve special education kids of English language learners (so called “ELL”‘s), he says, “Look. My kids attend the East Boston Br0oks school. it serves the ELL community well and special education kids too. Example : we have two Ethopian adopted kids at the school who have made made fantastic progress acquiring English. Brooks does the job !”

Is this a State wide issue, I ask Taylor, or is there a need in his Chelsea – Revere – Saugus district ? He concedes “not so much here as in the state’s underserved communities.” He gives Chelsea city manager Jay Ash “great credit turning Chelsea schools around. But state wide we need to anticipate problems, not play catch up. Charter schools force other schools to improve. It’s that simple.”

Taylor talks of arguments between “conservatives and liberals”; so I felt a need to ask him : for Governor, does he support Charlie Baker or Mark Fisher ? “I’m a Char;lie Baker supporter,” he says — firmly. “Charlie Baker is what we need.”

But Baker is running quite a progressive campaign, I remind Taylor — noticing, too, that Paul Craney of Mass Fiscal Alliance (MFA) is in the room, and that MFA opposes the minimum wage raise that Baker strongly supports.

Says Taylor t0 me, “by ‘conservative,’ I mean smaller and more effective government. Effective, efficient.”

Fair enough. So I ask Taylor another question that often outs GOP conservatives : “your district is filled with immigrants of all statuses. Moroccans, Brazilians, Hispanics. What do you feel about that and them ?”

Taylor’s answer surprises me. “Diversity is us’ he says. “My business employs 1000 people of all cultures, languages. Our nation is waves of immigration. We need to welcome people here. Both parties are responsible for the immigration problem, it’s not the immigrants’ fault.”

Taylor says that he’s “not a professional politician” and decries the system of people staying in politics all their lives; but his answers to my questions sound properly political to me. Thus I ask him, “OK, you sound like you hear your district’s voice” — he smiles that shoulder smile — “so tell me ; how are you, a Chelsea guy, going to beat Roselee Vincent, who was chief of staff to State Representative Kathi Reinstein (whose resignation occasioned this vacancy) and who has the entire Revere political establishment behind her ?”

“That’s exactly the problem,” says Taylor. “If we keep electing the same people, we’ll keep getting the same results. I have plenty of Revere support. You’ll see.”

I’m looking at Taylor’s staff — young and think-tank conservative, quite off to the side of a Massachusetts electorate, eighty percent of which supports raising the minimum wage and few of whom (including most GOP voters) want anything to do with the Party platform that Taylor’s campaign staffer just voted for.

There is disconnect between what he tells me and what the make-up of his support group suggests.

Taylor can’t miss the look of skepticism on my face. “I am going to surprise you,’ he grins. “I’m going to surprise a lot of people on April 1st.”

I believe that he means to do just that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON SCHOOLS, PART 2 : SEEKING A COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION POLICY

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^ we first suggested it, now others are joining us : John McDonough as Boston’s new school superintendent

—- —- —-

Note : what you are about to read is my re-write of a column that I posted to Here and Sphere a few days ago. This is why I’m doing it:

1. In the days since I first wrote, the Boston Globe published a full page editorial addressing the complexity of school reforms now taking shape as state legislation; and Globe columnist Larry Harmon added his opinion that current Boston interim superintendent John McDonough should be given the permanent position. (Two months ago, I posted the same opinion. I was glad to see others taking up my suggestion.)

2.The Globe editorial arose in response to a strong push by public schools advocates that the state’s current limit on charter school numbers not be lifted. As I wrote in my original article,

“It pains me to read news recently that the chief reason why Massachusetts got busy creating charter schools was that 250,000,000 Federal dollars were at stake. I had thought that the creation of charters — schools privately run but publicly funded — was a matter of policy, not purchase. But now we read that bills in the legislature to expand the number of charter schools allowed is stalling, not because the policy has changed but because the Federal dollars aren’t there any more.”

Charter schools cannot be seen as replacing standard public schools. They were never intended as such and aren’t used as such now. Teachers unions and their allies want to push the notion of replacement because they somehow feel that education reform threatens their jobs. Their fears have some basis. In many states there’s been much legislation cutting back on public employees’ bargaining rights; and some corporate interests, backed by right-wing think tanks, want to use charter schools as a wedge to eliminate public, taxpayer-funded schools for all children. That agenda has some presence even in Massachusetts. Some business interests want aggressively to control the education of their potential future employees and are determined to get as complete control of the process, from K to graduation, as they can — and if not, to move operations elsewhere.

My inclination is to let such corporations go, if they choose to. Massachusetts’s pre eminence in higher education, research, and finance assure that we will always have plenty of enterprises who want to stay here, move here, set up shop here and continue here. This, of course, assumes that our education of all children continues to be the most rigorous and productive in the nation. To that end, I suggest the following :

1. charter schools should be encouraged and their numbers increased on a one or two at a time basis, by application to the State Commissioner of Education. Funding for charters must come from a combination of user fees, local aid, and taxes assessed state-wide for the purpose.

2. charter schools should continue to act as experimental places, innovating curriculum, teaching method, teacher hires, and student homework loads. Charters might even in some cases be boarding schools ; why not ? Charters cannot become routinized in anything or they cease to be what they were created to do.

3. budgets for standard public schools must be separately assured and planned without thought of what alternative schools may cost. Rivalry for funds cannot be permitted.

4. what succeeds at charter schools — the so called “best practices” test — should be applied in standard schools where and as feasible, and no standard school should see its routines written in stone, ever. Teachers in unions cannot be permitted to cling to work rules — including short school days — that impede pedagogic improvement. In this regard, John McDonough has shown the way by imposing a teacher recycling system that has already produced pedagogic improvement in the schools where he has put it in place.

5. School principals must be free to choose every member of their teaching staff — and of their school support staff too.

6. all schools must educate for two goals : employment and citizenship. The reasonable needs of reasonable employers must be met; the employers want capable hires, and the children want solid employment. Citizenship is the role that children will play as adults in community; to that end, schools must teach cooperative study and play, emotional education, social knowledge — including the role and risks in sex play — and basic civics including the role and process of democratic politics and government.

7. Testing is the only way that we can find out where education is or isn’t succeeding and how well or not. Tests should be semi-annual — no more frequent. Tests should include essay writing, reading comprehension, spelling, mastery of concepts both spacial and philosophical; mathematics and computation; American and world history; basic sciences; civics; and social knowledge including manners and dealing with emotions.

8. Tests need not be given as rigidly as the MCAS. Each school course can conduct its own course tests which can then be fed into the MCAS process and added into the total test score.

9. Teachers should be given the lead role in compiling such tests.

10. As many schools as possible — charter schools too — should be dual-language. Students whose first language is not English need it, and students whose first language IS English need to learn another language. It’s vital if we are to encourage cultural diversity and free American kids from cultural isolation.

So there you have it. What follows is the rest of my original article, slightly revised:

Mayor Walsh has added 39.6 million dollars to this year’s Boston Public Schools budget. Most of it will go to fund teachers’ pay raises. There will some millions left over. So, what does the phrase “taking resources away” mean now ? Probably just that the increased dollars won’t be coming from Washington. they’ll be raised locally. And that means that some other local aid funded need will have to make do with less.

Such is indeed the talk. In the Governor election going on in Massachusetts right now, all the talk is of local aid : increasing it; releasing 100 million dollars of it already collected but held; increasing it again. Candidates running for the State legislature or Senate all talk of local aid needs. The Department of Children & Families is in crisis; State transportation repairs and service upgrades cry out for attention; drivers’ licences for undocumented immigrants must be done. All these get mentioned ; but the big talk is, local aid, local aid, more local aid. You hear it whether the speaker is a Democrat or a Republican. Local aid now; the other matters can wait.

Charter schools were meant to be an alternative to standard public schools, not simply public schools with a new name. If charter schools do not do the job they were intended to do — significantly improve student achievement — they shouldn’t be funded, whether the Federal money is at hand or not. And if charter schools do do what they were intended as, they should be funded regardless of money from Washington.

Legislation to increase the number of charters being stalled now, those that do exist are kind of on their own, to prove their worth. Charter parents will have to speak out; to organize. Democrats for Education Reform, the local chapter of a nationwide group deployed to power up the alternative schools constituency, will have to get talking.

Did I mention curricula ? The battle is raging already to reject the national education establishment’s “common core” as being too difficult for children to master and too narrowly tested. Myself, having read through the “common core proposal, I find it a trope, a slice of common sense. Every society with schools at all has had a common core curriculum; it’s how that society prepares its children for the jobs it offers. this was as true of Rome in year 300 A.D. as of western Europe in year 1090 A.D. and 1500 A.D., and it was the basis of the New England School Law of 1634. Children must learn a common basic curriculum in order to do the jobs that will need to hire them; and to be good citizens. Is it difficult ? It always was. Life, too, is difficult. Tears come to one’s eyes as well as joy.

Kids can manage. They really can.

As for teacher pay and standard school budgets, in Boston these look paid for — this year. After that, a lot depends on who the next School Superintendent will be. The “search committee” is already on it, but for me, the best choice is John McDonough, the current “interim superintendent,’ who says he doesn’t want to be considered for the permanent job : but whom all sides respect and who can therefore best steer “standard Boston public schools,” troubled schools as well, into the next phase, alongside charters as they are and all manner of experimental school set-ups that innovators may successfully propose — as they surely will, and should.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON SCHOOLS : IS FUNDING EVERYTHING, SCHOOL POLICY NOTHING ?

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^ stalling on charter schools, ostensibly because the Federal $$$ aren’t coming : St Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz

—- —- —

It pains me to read news recently that the chief reason why Massachusetts got busy creating charter schools was that 250,000,000 Federal dollars was at stake. I had thought that the creation of charters — schools privately run but publicly funded — was a matter of policy, not purchase. But now we read that bills in the legislature to expand the number of charter schools allowed is stalling, not because the policy has changed but because the Federal dollars aren’t there any more.

At the outset of President Obama’s first term, the education bureaucracy was all het up about “race to the top” and such like programs to improve student achievement. Money was gushing, and so were expectations. Now the money is heaving dry, and expectations have taken a skeptical swerve. The talk now is of “taking resources away from standard schoolS,” not of “improving achievement.”

You would think that “Taking resources away from standard schools” is teacher-speak for : the teachers’ union’s next contract won’t have a pay raise equal to raises granted the latest police or Firemen’s union contract. Right now, it doesn’t mean that. Mayor Walsh has added 39.6 million dollars to this year’s Boston Public Schools budget. Most of it will go to fund teachers’ pay raises. There will some millions left over. So, what does the phrase “taking resources away” mean now ? Probably just that the increased dollars won’t be coming from Washington. they’ll be raised locally. And that means that some other local aid funded need will have to make do with less.

Such is indeed the talk. In the Governor election going on in Massachusetts right now, all the talk is of local aid : increasing it; releasing 100 million dollars of it already collected but held; increasing it again. Candidates running for the State legislature or Senate all talk of local aid needs. The Department of Children & Families is in crisis; State transportation repairs and service upgrades cry out for attention; drivers’ licences for undocumented immigrants must be done. All these get mentioned ; but the big talk is, local aid, local aid, more local aid. You hear it whether the speaker is a Democrat or a Republican. Local aid now; the other matters can wait.

But education can’t wait. kids grow up. They graduate from grade to grade. Time delayed cannot be made good. Charter school waiting lists grow bigger, and the once ready Federal money river no longer flows into them. Thus we hear more of the same old arguments that were adduced at the outset for why charter schools shouldn’t be : they winnow their students, eliminating those with discipline problems and unwillingness to adapt; they don’t serve English language learners; they expel kids who don’t shape up academically; they impose rigid discipline.

And so they do. Charter schools were meant to be an alternative to standard public schools, not simply public schools with a new name. If charter schools do not do the job they were intended to do — significantly improve student achievement — they shouldn’t be funded, whether the Federal money is at hand or not. And if charter schools do do what they were intended as, they should be funded regardless of money from Washington. Meanwhile, to look at how rapidly enrollment has climbed, it seems that charter schools have been a smashing success :

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Legislation to increase the number of charters being stalled now — the chief staller being Boston State senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, who serves on the senate Education Committee — those that do exist are kind of on their own, to prove their worth. Charter parents will have to speak out; to organize. Democrats for Education Reform, the local chapter of a nationwide group deployed to power up the alternative-schools constituency, will have to get talking. My own strong belief is that education in America needed badly to reshape itself enormously, to conform to the new workplace, new jobs, new technology and new communities of competitive collaboration. If schools exist to do anything, it’s to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow (and for citizenship : but that’s a more traditional matter and doesn’t require an entire re-think). The best way to get schools shaped for that end is to try out many different shapes — school day lengths, curriculum choices, and out-of-school after-work — and see which one or ones meet the challenge. Charters, partnerships, collaborations, and, yes, standard public schools all have a seat at this particular table, and all should be set upon the task.

Did I mention curricula ? The battle is raging already to reject the national education establishment’s “common core” as being too difficult for children to master and too narrowly tested. Myself, having read through the “common core proposal, I find it a trope, a slice of common sense. Every society with schools at all has had a common core curriculum; it’s how that society prepares its children for the jobs it offers. this was as true of Rome in year 300 A.D. as of western Europe in year 1090 A.D. and 1500 A.D., and it was the basis of the New England School Law of 1634. Children must learn a common basic curriculum in order to do the jobs that will need to hire them; and to be good citizens. Is it difficult ? It always was. Life, too, is difficult. Tears come to one’s eyes as well as joy.

Kids can manage. They really can. as for testing, well : every job that a student is given as an employee is a test, believe me. So don’t complain; just do it. And please, don’t use lack of money as an excuse not to.

Time for Liam Kerr, Richard Stutman, Citizens for Public Schools, and Stand For Children to loosen up, set the past behind,and re-imagine the teaching of knowledge to children grasping at it.

As for teacher pay and standard school budgets, in Boston these look paid for — this year. After that, a lot depends on who the next School Superintendent will be. The “search committee” is already on it, but for me, the best choice is John McDonough, the current “interim superintendent,’ who says he doesn’t want to be considered for the permanent job : but whom all sides respect and who can therefore best steer “standard Boston public schools,” troubled schools as well, into the next phase, alongside charters as they are and all manner of experimental school set-ups that innovators may successfully propose — as they surely will, and should.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON SCHOOLS : CHARTER SCHOOLS UNDER ATTACK AT CPS FORUM

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^ seeking answers to the challenge that charter schools pose to standard public schools : at the Citizens for Public Schools Forum

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For those who believe that competition among educational systems and methods is preferable to one-size-fits-all, the Forum held this morning by Citizens for Public Schools at Madison park High School made for painful listening. For three hours non-stop, two panels of speakers — ten in all — laid out multiple criticisms of charter schools : their performance, their selectivity, discipline, low pay for teachers, lack of community accountability. You name it : if there’s a schools issue, the ten speakers accused charter schools of failing it, and they detaile their indictment with statistics and power point charts.

The Forum attendees, who included State Representrative Liz Malia of Jamaica Plain and State Senator Pat Jehlen of Somerville, attacked charter schools for

1.not accepting their fair share of studebts with behavioral or learning disabkiloities

2.accepting a percehtate of English language Learhers (“ELL”s) far lower than that of the community each serves

3.using teachers who do not meet state certificastyion staheards for public school teachers, and not granting them collective bargaining vrights

4.performing no better, on tests and in graduation rates, than the standard public schools

5.violating, in their governance, the State’s open meeting law

6.imposing rigid discipline and dress codes upon studehts to the point of damaging studebts’ self-confidence and for the purpose of weeding out studehts who do not “fit the model.”

7.drawing millions of dollars away from standard public schools, leaving them under-equipped and lacking vital curriculum components such as arts, language, and technology

8.too great a focus on “teaching to the test” — the State’s MCAS exams, which public school teachers hate.

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“millions of dollars are being drained !” — the BTU’s Ed Doherty speaks at the CPS Forum

Ed Doherty, a past president of the Boston Teachers Union, held back nothing. “85 million dollars are being drained,” aid Doherty, “from the Boston schools budget” — perhaps forgetting that mayor Walsh’s projected school budget will be 39.6 million dollars larger than last year. “Charters send back to public schools misbehaving and underperforming students,” Doherty added, and “Teachers at charter schools should be teacher certified in the usual manner.”

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Roger Rice of META delivered the most effective criticism of charter schools ; that most of them enormously under-serve English language earner students

Of the other speakers, Roger Rice of META convincingly demonstrated that charter schools srve a portion of ELL’s far less than the percentage of ELL’s in the public school system. CPS’s Dr. Alain Jehlen illustrated charter schools’ discipline codes. Jerry Mogul, executive directory of an advocacy group, showed that charter schools sometimes fail special eduaction requuremebtrs. Roy Belson, Superintendent of Medford Public Schools, asked, “if the reason for charter schools is to close the achievement gap, shouldn’t they take kids who ARE the achievement gap ?” School Committeeman Charles Gallo of Lynn — who mentioned twice that he is running for the State Representative seat that Steve Walsh is leaving this month — simply said “we on the Lynn school committeeman signed a letter to the Governor saying, ‘no more charter schools. If only other school committees would do that.”

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^ Lynn school committeeman Charles Gallo : running for State Rep on a “no more charter schools” platform

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Daniella Cook : somebody wins and somebody loses should never be an education result.

One speaker, Daniella Cook, a University of South Carolina educator, complained that with charter schools, “somebody wins and somebody loses” and “schools should not be market based.” She also played the race card : “We cannot talk about the proliferation of charter schools without talking race,” said Cook. “Charters are a racially based political economy.”

Less than 100 people attended the Forum. Many of these were part of the presentation. Does this mean that the anti-charter schools argument hasn’t much of a constituency ? Perhaps so. Charter schools were established in Massachusetts some 20 years ago not because they lacked support but because they have lots of it; nor do charters appear to be losing ground. Both of the final candidates for Boston Mayor were friends of charter school expansion. Those candidates who were not friends of charters finished back in the pack. Clearly the anti-charter argument is a minority view.

I have now attended four Forums since the Mayor election in which anti-charter school forces have convened their numbers and their arguments. Some of their points hit home : Charter schools should accept many more ELL’s. Charters should be slower to dismiss kids with behavioral issues. Charters should establish paent-teacher associations and encoyrage parents to participate.

For the rest of the critique, however, I have scant patience. (1 ) how is it racist to demand students be held to account by strict discipline and dress standards ? that kind of indelible, constant focus is exactly what kids — OK, let’s assume the stereotype for argument’s sake — from homes often anarchic or dysfunctional need. The parents know it and insist on it; the kids mostly agree, if not when they are kids, then long after, as adults. ( 2 ) why should public schools have first dibs on taxpayers’ education money ? The whole idea of charter schools — of school technique diversity in general — is that the standard public school model often does not work. ( 3 ) Why need teachers in schools other than standard public have to be certified “in the usual manner” ? Teaching is an art; many people have the art. Why not ask people beyond the standard to reach in their non-standard way ? ( 4 ) And what was former charter school teacher Barrett Smith, calling for when he said that “we must educate the whole child” ? This is one of those school-argot phrases that sounds good but rankles when a definition is attempted. To me it means that we educate kids to citizenship as well as employment. Obviously schools should do that.

But the “whole child” does not even COME to school. MOST of “the child” lives at home. Kids spend far more of their school years at home than in a school. Schools do not educate the “whole” child, only the part of a child that schools attend for about eight hours, five days a week, about nine months a year.

this is why I find the phrase “educate the whole child” most unhelpful.

I noted above that Mayor Walsh’s Boston Public Schools budget will be 39.6 million larger than last year’s. Yet almost all of this increase is going to pay for BPS teachers’ pay raises. Can there be any doubt that the many speakers who emphasized today the money that charters “draw away’ from standard public schiools are thinking — a lot — of the NEXT teachers’ unions contracts ?

The Boston Teachers Union — several of whose leaders were at this morning’s Forum — would be well advised to step back from its immovable wall of funding and work rules and try to figure out how to accommodate itself to an education world in which many systems and methods are encouraged; in which choice is essential to state education law; and in which innovation, of curriculum, school organization, and principalship, is sure to increase, not retreat ? Some good points were made today; but they’re as likely as not to be overwhelmed by anti-charter arguments fighting a losing battle.

One excellent suggestion was made by Lawrence school committeeman Jim Blatchford, who noted that in his city, some schools were setting up a teacher-management way of doing things. “we will see,’ he said with a smile, “if they’re ready to lead like that.”

Innovation there will more of; standard issue, less of. Yet as Daniella Cook said, quoting John Dewey : “what the best parent wants for his child, that’s what she should want for all children.” Dewey spoke in support of his innovation, that students should learn by  doing — that rote memorization of dates or speeches wasn’t enough, or practical, and too standardized for the varieties of childhood perceptions of the world. As Cook used the phrase, however, it seemed tio me to hang helplessly on the paradox of life and community. We want all children to have the best education, but we also want the ablest kids to receive an education geared to their ableness. And if we do that, we accentuate the “achievement gap” that the Forum participants claim to dislike. How can there not be an achievement gap if we abet the ablest to harness their abilities ? If we do that, the ablest kids will excel more and more and widen the achievement gap. But how can a society progressive, reformist, and innovation-bound — as ours is — not abet the ablest kids the best we can ? We cannot lead an innovation society with average kids alone. Indeed, if kids of average ability — or less than average — are our concentration, they will end up in a society falling behind others more dedicated to innovation : think Germany; think China. And that will have negative economic consequences for those kids and for their kids; and so forth.

There is no way to avoid the innovation challenge. John Connolly staked his entire campaign on facing the innovation world candidly, forthrightly. He refused to temporize. It cost him the election; a majority of voters looked at the education and workplace future that Connolly spoke of and recoiled from it. It’s a daunting prospect. And real it is. No amount of skepticism about —  no matter how many Forums protest against — education innovation, school competition, and system transformation will stop what is coming.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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John Connolly at Raynise’s house party : his stark vision of what innovation will mean to education method and organization scared many

BOSTON SCHOOLS : THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING

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^ Boston public school students lined up to testify and support the issues on order at Mayor-elect Walsh’s education Hearing

—- —- —-

Last night Mayor-elect Walsh’s Transition team held its Education Public Hearing, at English High school in Jamaica Plain. For two hours, from 5.30 Pm to 7.30, three of Walsh’s Transition Team menbers, including his Education Team chairman, John Barros, heard testimony from at least fifty witnesses. Students, school parents, teachers, advocates all spoke.

Less people attended than came to the previous night’s education rally held by Boston Truth. There were at least a hundred vacant seats at English high’s auditorium. listening to the testimony, it was easy to tell why. With hardly any exceptions — more on these later — every witness said basically the same thing : more funding for public schools, downplay charter schools. It was the sound of one hand clapping.

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^ plenty of vacant seats : the elephant wasn’t in the room

There isn’t much to learn from a soundless sound and hardly much more from hearing the same message repeated again and again, with only the age, gender, or skin color of the speakers differing (and these aren’t policy matters, although identity issues were raised by some of the witnesses).

photo (17)^ Boston Latin student (and Student Advisory Council President) testifying against charter schools and thus, basically, that there shouldn’t be any additional Boston Latin schools. “Making history,” wrote one activist about my post of this photo 🙂

It was especially odd — unsettling, too — to hear the students who testified. How does a 17-year old Boston Latin student — smart, yes; Chairman of the Studernt advisory Group; but — acquire an interest in curbing the number or funding of charter schools ? Did he learn his view in debate at school ? Was he coached to his position ? Quite possibly, because he read his testimony from a prepared statement. I found his testimony manipulative. Contradictory, too ; after all, Boston Latin, the City’s totally competitive exam-entry school, is the ultimate “charter” school. Was he really telling us, not that charter schools are bad, but that Boston Latin doesn’t like having its exceptionalism duplicated ?

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^ respectful : Education Transition team members George Perry, Jen Robinson, and John Barros (Team Chairman)

The Transition Team members, George Perry, Jen Robinson, and John Barros, listened respectfully to all. Barros, at least, knows all these issues masterfully. At numerous Mayoral Forums during his candidacy for the office he heard, and responded to, all manner of school reform agendas. Last night surely tried his patience. At times I saw a bored look in his eyes. Did he really need to hear the applause given the various witnesses — the louder, the more in agreement — by the Hearing’s audience, heavy with Boston Teachers Union members (including its President, Richard Stutman, and its organizer, Jessica Tang, who testified) and Boston Truth activists, in order to get the evening’s message ?

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^ “I’m a Boston public school parent,” she said, and told of her difficulties getting her child properly assigned to a school convenient to her home. I wondered : Hadn’t she asked Councillor Connolly to help with that — as did so many Boston school parents ? Then I noticed her LOCAL 26 T shirt…

Fortunately for those who might have expected the incoming Mayor’s Education Team to hear a diversity of views rather than a one-hand clap, a few witnesses did offer opinions credibly their own. Jason Williams, an executive with of Stand for Children, hoped that Mayor-elect Walsh would continue his commitment to charter schools, noting that as a legislator, Walsh worked to increase their number. Applause ? None. Another witness, who said that he was a Boston Harbor captain, suggested that BPS should offer 6th grade students a course with sailing experience. Applause ? A few. Karen Kast, organizer of Boston Truth, challenged Mayor-elect Walsh to keep his campaign promises. Aplause ? plenty.

Most interestingly, Mary Pierce, who heads a special eduaction advocacy group, voiced her personal experience of frustrations dealing with Boston School Department administration. This was risky territory : reform of Boston Schools administration was a centerpiece of John Connolly’s education agenda. A door was opened — a bit; but the moment passed.

Sometimes the elephant is in the room; sometimes he is not in the room. John Connolly was the elephant not in the room. Other than Jason Williams, there likely wasn’t a single person testifying (or applauding) who on November 5th stood with Connolly’s 48.5 % of the vote.

Education became a key issue in the campaign entirely because John Connolly made it so. Most of the other candidates would gladly have left it aside — Walsh too — to be dealt with at the State House. Connolly made sure that Boston schools would be front and center — the decider — on election day. The major effort now being assembled by the Boston Teachers union and its allies, to push the schools reform agenda in its direction, would likely not be taking place had John Connolly not forced school reform sharply, radically forward.

This history makes many people wonder why the Mayor-elect even bothered to have an Education Hearing last night. As I was preparing to write this column, I found on my facebook page the following comment (excerpts follow) by friend Lisa Moellman :

“At 5:30 on a school night, just before Christmas — thry are stacked so that BTU representation/agenda dominates. picking up and feeding kids, holiday commitments prevent so many parents from participati9ng. Why would Walsh hold these important forums…at a difficult hour….? Why not the first weeks of January when actual diversity of participation could happen ?”

Why, indeed ? Myself, I think it’s public relations — Walsh’s showing the voters (and the media) that “he will listen to the people.” Nothing more, nothing less. Education is an issue that Walsh wants to put aside as much as possible ; to hand over to whichever poor sucker accepts becoming his new School superintendent, so that Marty can get on with his first priority : keeping the Boston Building boom alive and expanding, so that his building trades workers — including the many new hires that he will insist upon — can keep on earning hefty pay checks.

As for public schools and charter schools, compared to the issue debate that took place the prior evening at Boston Truth’s gathering, and much more so at every Mayoral Forum during the campaign, last night was a complete waste of auditorium heating oil.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE at 3.11 PM 12/11/13 : am informed that during the 20 minutes prior to my arrival at the Hearing at 5.50 PM, other opinions, including from representatives of charter schools, were given. These sure didn’t last long. Still, it’s good to know that the Hearing wasn’t completely one thing. — MF