BOSTON MAYOR RACE : THE SCHOOLS ISSUE GETS DIVISIVE

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^ John Connolly : SFCs $ 500,000 guy

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The cat is out of the bag now. Big-time.

About a week ago we mused, on our Facebook page, that there would soon be huge money entering the Mayor election on behalf of a “major” candidate. As Marty Walsh had already said, “and it won’t be for me,” we concluded that the money at issue would go to John Connolly.

Today’s Boston Globe confirms it. Stand for Children (SFC), a non-profit, school reform advocacy group based in Oregon, will spend at least $ 500,000 to promote John Connolly’s candidacy. And why not ? His schools agenda conforms almost exactly to SFC’s. He, like SFC,supports a longer school day, more stringent teacher performance standards, counseling for all children, and — yes — an increase in the number of charter schools. None of this should have been fire-storm news.

Still, no sooner did the Globe article appear than all hell broke loose. The brother of candidate Felix G. Arroyo attacked SFC on his Facebook page as “anti-teachers union, pro-privatization …group ‘Stand ON Children'” and linked to an article about SFC headlined “profiteering and Union-busting repackaged as school reform.”

Nor is Arroyo the only candidate who supports the Boston Teachers Union in opposing authorizing more charter schools. So do candidates Charles Clemons, Rob Consalvo, and Michael Ross.

Meanwhile, candidates Barros, Conley, Connolly, Walczak, and Walsh support lifting State law’s current limitation on how many there can be of charter schools. Of these five, SFC picked Connolly as its “most aligned with us” candidate. That is what advocacy groups do.

Of course a hue and cry also arose about “outside money” coming into what has paraded itself as a locally funded, “people’s pledge” campaign (the pledge refers to an agreement made between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren in their 2012 Senate race, not to accept outside PAC money.) Candidates opposing SFC’s schools position cried the loudest; Consalvo even asked all Mayor candidates to take that “people’s pledge.”

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^ Rob Consalvo : people’s pledge not to accept SFC money …

It is a given that big money is spent on big elections, and in Boston there’s none bigger than an open election for Mayor — especially now, with the City in the midst of a construction boom and a Downtown revitalizing as a place to shop, work, party, and live. Connolly has latched onto the downtown wave, and his schools agenda hews close not only to SFC’s but also to that of Governor Patrick, to legislation adopted in 20120 and to a schools agreement concluded in 2012. It signals that he absolutely means to see the agreements enacted in 2010 and 2012 adopted throughout the Boston School system. Also that he, if elected, will powerfully push for more charter schools and for a longer school day. Radical ? Not at all. most voters agree with all of it. Anti-union ? only if the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) sees it that way.

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 Marty Walsh : Labor’s guy supports lifting charter schools cap

Fascinating it is, to see how far out of step with voter sentiment the BTU has become. Forty years ago, Boston teachers were being elected to the City’s School Committee simply because they were teachers. the profession had that much respect. The schools of that day were racially segregated, and that was wrong; but to most parents they provided an education that comported well with what parents then expected : preparation to enter the then industrial and public-employee workforce.

Today public employee jobs still exist aplenty, but industrial employment mostly does not. If your child is going to be hireable into the technologically savvy economy — even into public employment — he or she needs more than just to pass an MCAS test or three. He or she needs to become computer fluent, conversant with mobile technology, program languages capable; failure-free in spelling, grammar, technical writing, Windows, Unix, network administration, mathematics, and, yes, current events; as well as able to create an Adobe PDF document, not to overlook all kinds of other forms and formats that today’s businesses create and modify every minute. These skills and arts cannot be mastered in a school that settles for average achievement in a short school day. The children of 40 years ago needed to know mainly how to respond to a boss and to concentrate on tasks repeated over and over. Today’s child needs to master work teams, social graces, how to take and respond to criticism and give it; how to book travel and negotiate airports; to speak and read more than one language; and such like.

That corporations might just have an interest in seeing that Boston’s school graduates can handle strongly all these skills and arts may seem like “corporatism” to some. To us it seems only common sense. Corporations hire a large number of those graduating. If they cannot fill that large number of hires in Boston, why shouldn’t they relocate to cities whose graduates can fill them ? The same is true for start-ups. Boston has far more than its share of these because we care about education. we will not settle for the out of date or the average. Teachers Unions, like all institutions, develop an institutional undertow of their own; the Union is led by those who began in it decades ago and then rose to power inside it, notwithstanding the huge societal and economic changes going on outside. Because Teachers’ Unions leaders must respond to its membership, and because its membership goes by seniority just as it insists on seniority as a job securement, so the Teachers’ leaders fight to hold on to bargains already won — even as these bargains lose their cogency to what is needed of schools. And thus the Teachers; union has lost a great deal of the solid support and respect that it once had among Boston voters.

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^ Felix Arroyo : advocate for Boston Teachers Union

The BTU seems not to understand how cornered it is in the arena of public opinion. While the MTA (Massachusetts Teachers Alliance) has heard the message and opted into the State’s reform process, it is not clear that the BTU has faced the music. Until charter schools, it was the BTU way or no way; public schools, or off to the suburbs or to parochial school. The coming of charter schools, however, which operate something like parochial schools, in which teachers are paid less but have much more input, along with parents, into curriculum and administration, parents now have choices. No wonder that they are exercising those choices.

It is no way a bad thing that Boston school parents now have choices. Heck, they want even more choices ! Why should they not have them ? It is their children who are going to school, after all; and schools exist for their students, not for their employees. School employees only serve. SFC’s backing of John Connolly’s campaign puts the ball of school improvement and school flexibility directly into the Teachers’ court — and to the voters.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE : Because of today’s release, by the BTU, of a poll purporting to show that few voters support more charter schools, we will be posting a follow-up to the above story. This story is likely to grow even bigger as Primary Day approaches.

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : EDUCATION WILL PLAY A HUGE PART, AND THAT MEANS…

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^ John Connolly : says he’s the “education Mayor.”

The big talk in this year’s 12-candidate Boston Mayor race is education. Sure, there’s much heat being spoken of casinos, griping about traffic — especially in the new Seaport District and in Charlestown — and alarm at what candidate Marty Walsh calls a “heroin epidemic in the city.” Still, the really big talk is about education : what to do, to improve all Boston schools, thus to graduate a work-force capable of doing the highly technologized jobs on offer at most Boston companies ?

It’s the education issue that has raised candidate John Connolly to the top in recent poll. It’s also John Connolly who has lifted the education issue to peak pitch. He was the only City Councillor to vote against the current Boston Teachers Union contract because it offered not a minute more of additional school time. Connolly’s campaign slogan is “education Mayor.” Alone of the twelve — so far — he has a slogan that matters.

So, what does the “education Mayor propose ? It’s well worth quoting from the Schools page of his “Ideas for Boston” platform (delivered, let me add, in seven languages including Viet Namese and Albanian).

With regard to extended time school days, Connolly says this :

“A Longer School Day with Full Enrichment — Currently, Boston’s school day is one of the shortest in urban America, leaving hundreds of hours of potential learning time untapped. We must use every strategy available to extend learning time in the Boston Public Schools. Along with more time in school, every child in Boston should have access to science, art, music, social studies, and physical education taught by qualified and talented professionals. I have called for a “Quality Baseline” to establish a list of courses to be offered at every school and the amount of instruction time in each course, in order to guarantee that all students have access to full academic enrichment.

“As Chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, I held hearings on the Boston Teachers Union contract where families and students called for extending the school day. During BPS budget reviews, I advocated for creative partnerships that could extend learning time at our schools. When the new teachers contract came to the Council without a single additional minute of instruction time, I was the only Councilor who voted against it. As mayor, I will negotiate a contract that extends the school day at every Boston Public School.”

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^ BTU President Richard Stutman : showdown coming in this mayor race

That’s pretty detailed, and bold, and sure to confront the Teachers’ Union (BTU), a group often stubborn and no more so than on the variety of school improvement proposals on offer now. The BTU has set itself against all kinds of innovation and experimentation in curricula and staffing. It is likely to not like what Connolly says about assuring teacher excellence :

“Finding and Keeping the Best Teachers and Principals — Excellent principals are the key to excellent teaching: a highly effective school leader can transform a struggling school or keep a strong school on track. Talented and qualified teachers need to be recruited, supported, and retained in the Boston Public Schools. In the City Council, I pushed to pass a resolution supporting state legislation that strengthened teacher and principal evaluations. As mayor, I will establish partnerships with local graduate schools to develop a principal pipeline that can prepare and train new innovative school leaders.

“Empowering School Leaders and Communities — Highly qualified principals and dedicated teachers are professionals who should be encouraged to innovate and improve their practice. Our new evaluation standards can ensure quality across the board, so as mayor I will use every possible strategy to get more funds and decision-making power directly to our schools. Our Pilot, Turnaround, and Innovation Schools have demonstrated that well-resourced schools that have strong leaders and site-based autonomies provide excellent instruction to our children and are highly sought by families. I will work to create more such schools across our city.”

Nowhere in Connolly’s statement on teacher excellence does the term “charter school” occur, but it’s on everyone’ s mind. (And not only in Boston.) The BTU fiercely opposes lifting the current “cap” on the number of charter schools allowed. Chiefly, that’s because teachers in a charter school need not be union members. The Union also dislikes the extended hours and curriculum intensity of charter schools. The BTU has good reason to fear charters. They have a solid record for graduating students much better prepared than in many “traditional” schools. Parents will, if given an option, often choose a charter school.  The charter school movement isn’t waiting; advocacy groups are pushing amendment of state laws to eliminate the “cap.” If they are not already aiding the Connolly campaign with money and advertising, they are strongly rumored to have such plans fully in place and ready to launch.

In today’s Boston there is no room for kids graduating poorly prepared. There’s no economy for them either. Rents all over Boston range from $ 1400 for one-bedroom apartments in the outer neighborhoods to $ 5,000 and up for 2 to 3 bedroom places in the Downtown area. eating out in most parts of Boston rings up a $ 20 tab per person — at least. Parking is expensive. So are the “ultra lounges” that today’s young adults socialize at. Sailing — indeed, all water sports — is not cheap at all. And, most of all, there are no jobs — other than janitorial — in much of Boston that do not assume complete literacy in laptops, i-phones, social media, and website usage. Even a waitress or bartender needs know how to enter an order into a pc or laptop. these are the facts no matter who you are, what your last name is, or what neighborhood you come from.

It will be entirely OK in the new Boston — as it always was — to have a city or state job, or to work for Boston Edison, or to work a bar or restaurant in the “neighborhoods.” Rest assured on that score. In the new economy, however, people traveling this route will be constantly outgunned in elections by the six figure salaries, the technology people, the developers and investors, the CEO’s of education, hospitals, and finance — all of whom are spending aggressively to keep themselves on top and to promote the economy that has made them.

Their spending, and their demands upon employees, assure that no Boston Mayoral candidate is going to get there without an education plan that addresses these facts of modern city life. Right now, John Connolly appears far, far ahead of his competitors on this battlefield.

UPDATE : This compliment to John Connolly does not mean that he’ s home free. Marty Walsh, who seems running a very close second to Connolly, may be a voice for union workers — whom Connolly seems to have cornered on school issues — but as the political voice of Boston’s unions, Walsh credibly tell Boston voters that there’ll be no path to reformed schools that fights the BTU every step of the way.

Others of the twelve Mayoral hopefuls have yet to take hold of the school reform issue. Its time has come. The school busing crisis of 40 years ago — transporting kids all across the City to achieve “racial balance” in a school system which in the late 1960s was highly segregated — has scant provenance in today’s Boston, in which people of color live everywhere in it and are thoroughly respected politically. School reformers’ work now is to move beyond school assignments based on “deseg” guidelines; to rekindle neighborhood schools: flexible, innovative, and committed to the technology world.

Doubtless we will hear useful policy suggestions from at least a few of Walsh’s and Connolly’s rivals, and soon.

—– Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE 08/23/13 : the school issue has indeed exploded to prominence thanks to an advocacy group’s statement that it would inject $ 500,000 into John Connolly’s campaign. Connolly had not choice but to reject that money, and the issue faded; but school improvement issue now tops every Mayor candidate’s agenda.