^ 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.


“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.”


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.”


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


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


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


Lisa Moellman

^ Guest Contributor Lisa Moellman

Editor’s note :

We received this via inbox at our personal facebook page. It was sent, said Ms. Moellman, in response to an article that appeared in Sunday’s Boston Globe, by Christopher and Sarah Lubenski, to the effect that by some measures Public Schools perform better than private ones. As her response addressed the article in question most persuasively and, as well, highlighted a major urban public school set-up as rebuttal, we have decided to publish it as a guest contribution, after which we have posted an essay of our own.

This is Lisa Moellman’s letter :

“I sent an email to Prof. Lubenski sharing my response to the Globe piece highlighting his and his wife’s conclusions about why they found public schools outperforming private ones on a math measure nationally. Here it is:

“I just read the key conclusions of your study highlighted in the Boston Globe piece today (site based autonomy and school competition bode poorly for math achievement).

“I taught in one of the best PUBLIC school districts in North America (approx. 100,000 students)–Edmonton Public Schools–which in fact maintains a portfolio of schools in which EVERY school has site based autonomies, student weighted funding and the ENTIRE district is an open district of choice for families. It is a public district of autonomy and competition–extremely high performing. This flies in the face of your rationale about auntonomies and competition at the core of the differences you found between public and private…take a look at this summary about Edmonton Pubic and take a deeper dive into understanding the developmental histroy of this district–it’s a beacon for districts across Canada and the U.S., as well as some in the EU.

“Further, a 2010 McKinsey report notes that public districts moving from poor to good need to centralize professional development, curricula, etc. but that once districts are at a good level, if they want to become great districts, they must decentralize and provide leadership and teachers with site based autonomies.

“In my experience and reading, your conclusions are not justified by your research findings. It’s troubling because this article was just tweeted by a key advisor to Mayor Elect Walsh in Boston on #Bosmayor. Scaling back our movement toward pilot and in district charter autonomies as Boston Public Schools attempts to move from ‘good to GREAT’ would be a misstep and deeply troubling as we strive to close the Achievement Gap.”

—- Lisa Moellman / Guest Contributor

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Editor’s Note : first, the Lubenskis’ article talks of private schools in general. No distinction or classification is made. This stacks the deck. Because private schools operate almost entirely in competition with one another, the fact of competition becomes the standard, for many such schools, rather than the rigor of the curriculum.  It is unfair to pit ALL private schools, of whatever sort and however set up, against public schools, which must adhere to a common, legislative standard. The argument is not whether public schools do better than ALL private schools but whether they do better than the schools most parents would be comparing to public schools. Most parents would not pay money to send their kids to a poorly performing private school.

Second, by choosing mathematics, the Lubenskis have already made a structural choice as well as a curriculum decision. They do not seem to realize that we school our children to two very distinct obligations : citizenship and the workplace. Mathematics do not get taught at home as often as reading, history, and civics because these are citizenship disciplines, while mathematics is almost entirely a workplace knowledge, at least in our society (to the Greeks, mathematics was as idea-based as te other liberal arts and formed the basis of much of their awareness of the real world).

Much of the otiose discussion going on these days about education arises from the failure to distinguish the prerequisites of citizenship and workplace. For citizenship, we teach reading, writing, argument, the arts, and music; and ethical, societal, moral, and legal knowledege (including history) that does not change — or, at best, slowly evolves — because human nature does not change; whereas for the workplace, everything changes constantly. This has implications for formal education that almost no one talks about. One is that teachers of citizenship knowledge should have long experience of the world — tribal societies used councils of elders to instill such knowledge in their young and to test their mastery of it. Whereas, with workplace knowledge, long experience often impedes instruction. In our rapidly innovating world, the best teacher of workplace knowledge is, likely as not,  to be very young — the younger the better. A career in workplace teaching contradicts the experience of the innovation economy, in which collaborative competition renders career knowledge relentlessly obsolete.

When thinking workplace knowledge, we must never forget that we are educating children for tomorrow. Not for today, not for yesterday.

Much workplace knowledge is most effectively imparted on the job, by apprenticeship. This is what our society used to do, but because apprenticeship was often a form of child labor and indentured servitude, it was given up as immoral or illegal. today it should be brought back, in a new form, as internships.

Unfortunately the huge institutional power of academe has all but monopolized our society’s teaching functions, so that subjects that should be learned by doing (as John Dewey knew 110 years ago), in apprenticeships or internships, are now “taught” in  formal schools by “teachers.” Why should future lawyers go to a law school ? The law, for example, is quintessentially a practiced art. It is best learned by “reading law’ or “clerking’ for a lawyer.

We also ask our schools — public especially — to do too much that isn’t education at all. Teachers are not set up to be day care providers, baby sitters, psychologists, nursers. Parents can NOT simply dump their children at the school door and say, “here, take them, I need a day of quiet.” As long as we allow our schools to be thus imposed upon, schools will be hard pressed to do what schools do. the only way that this “here, take my kids, I need quiet’ system works is with boarding schools. (It’s not such a radical idea. Our first Massachusetts antecedents, back in the 1600s,  often sent their kids at age 12 away to live with a family not their own. It was thought — correctly — that the child would be less likely to fight discipline at someone else’s house than in his or her own. Having been sent to boarding school myself, at age 13, I can attest the truth of this custom.)

At the primary, middle, and high school levels, however, it is fair to ascribe almost all citizenship and work skills education to formal schooling. This we do. But just because we do this, we cannot lose sight of the gulf that separates the two curriculum paths. Citizenship requires learning of one kind, the workplace of a completely different kind.

Of course we could always decide to teach mathematics as a conceptual art, as did the Greeks. The relationship between number and computation as concept, and number and computation in empirical experience, was the first pathway by which Greek civilization developed its sense of what is as opposed to things imagined merely. And it is from Greek speculative research that our civilization’s axioms have developed.

But that is a discussion for another day.

For now, suffice me to assert this education proposition : 1. first is the child — all children, at first.. 2. second is the curriculum : what we agree to teach him or her. 3. third is a teacher we hire to teach it to him or her. 4. fourth is the evaluation of how well the instruction is being done, both by teacher and student. 5. fifth is the site ; where will we teach the student ? (In Athens it was the Lyceum, a building and grounds set aside for that purpose.)

These are important. Everything else in the education discussion is gossip, self-seeking, or house cleaning.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ “Reclaiming the Promise” table discussions at Boston tTruth’s schools-reform meeting last night

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Truth is a risky word for an organization to name itself. Who knows the truth ? At best we can approximate — maybe. So there I was, last night, at Madison Park High school, where a new “Boston Truth” coalition, with at least 200 people on hand — held its first “discussion session” on how to achieve its stated objectives as set forth in a four-page brochure from which I will quote from time to time as I write this report.

200 people meeting on a wintry night made an impressive beginning. As one of “Boston Truth”s key organizers is a dear friend, I was glad for her, proud of her part in the accomplishment. On hand were many Boston Teachers Union activists, students, retired teachers, union organizers, some members of the press, and two political figures at least : Eric Esteves of the Boston NAACP, who intends a candidacy for State representative from the 7th Suffolk District (in which the meeting was held), and Marty Keogh, who ran for Boston City Council this year and finished seventh.

The meeting began with several public school students advocating — from scripts provided them — one or other of Boston Truth’s stated goals. “Public schools are public institutions,” for example; “Our voices matter,” spoke another. A third pupil recited : “strong public schools create strong communities.”

It seemed odd to watch students speaking mission statements scripted, but there they were. They very much enjoyed themselves. One after another they spoke, were applauded; then all took stage together, holding their placards, applauded by all, photos snapped.

The meeting divided into discussion groups of six or seven to a table; I joined the group that included Marty Keogh — he seemed the most likely to say something quotable. This proved not easy to get to, however; it wasn’t made clear what we were to discuss, or what conclusions our “discussion group” was to come to — there wasn’t an agenda, and the table monitor of my group did not impose one. People were reluctant to speak. Two women offered school-parent and teacher experiences; everyone asserted approval of the brochure’s goals. We were getting nowhere fast.

So I decided to speak up. “There isn’t a thing in these stated goals that anybody would disagree with,” I said. “What the City is arguing about right now is, how do we get there ?” A lady sitting two to my right responded. “We need equity,’ she said. “Schools shouldn’t have to compete against one another.”

“In that case,” I asked her, “How are parents to tell if their kids are receiving the education they need ?”

“Oh they can tell,” the lady answered me. “they get a feel for what the climate is. A rigorous curriculum. Parents can tell.”

In other words, parents DO judge schlools competitively.

I then opined that (1) the biggest issue facing schools — the acculuration that kids receive, or don’t receive, at home — is beyond the power of any school to control and (2) one way to encourage the parents of school age kids to focus on home preparation is to have strong PTAs — these were Boston Schools’ glory, back 50 years ago : now, hardly at all. At this assertion Marty Keogh finally spoke up and spoke well : “school assignment designations need to change,” said Keogh. “You can’t have a PTA if kids are transported all, over the city, parents can’t drive such distances to do PTA. Need neighborhood schools !”

Keogh even addressed the issue whence arises school competition — exactly as I had hoped. “Testing ? Yes, testing,” he said. “we need some way of deciding if a school is performing.” He and I discussed the matter — we were getting somewhere, at last.


^ agenda scripts at Boston Truth schools-reform rally last night

Other than Keogh’s unscripted discussion, the meeting, as far as I could tell, dedicated almost all of its words and energy to assertion, not discussion. it was more a rally of the already convinced than a session for persuasion. Everywhere in the room were “BTU” campaign buttions, BTU literature, workers’ rights handouts, organizing fliers. That’s fine if you treat school reform issues as a job action, not a policy debate. But a job action will not do anything to move the debate toward even a partial consensus. It doesn’t seem to me, from last night’s talk, that the BTU, especially, has moved one inch off its insistence on its own program of school future: no competition among schools, no change in evaluation systems, no change in work rules, less testing of kids, of teachers, of principals; and full funding for all schools regardless. All it has done is to gain allies, mostly from union organizings and union-friendly school parents.

Tonight Mayor-elect Marty Walsh holds HIS Schools reform town hall meeting, at English High School in Jamaica Plain. it will be interesting to hear what his transition task force on eduaction has in mind that can move the discussion beyond stand-pat.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere


^ Marty Keogh spoke well, indeed, best in show. (with Angela Cristiani and Jacqui davis)