SCHOOLS REFORM : WE SUPPORT THE COMMON CORE INITIATIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring it on.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATED March 31, 2014 at 9.50 AM

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

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

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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

“A KID FROM TAFT STREET IS NOW MAYOR OF BOSTON !”

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^ taking the three-part oath as Boston’s 48th Mayor :Martin Joseph Walsh of District 3

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So said Marty Walsh after being sworn in as Boston’s 48th Mayor. Chief Justice Roderick Ireland swore Walsh in. Walsh’s Mom and brother and his gal-pal Lorrie Higgins stood by to watch the “kid from Taft Street” official become His Honor. It was a moving moment no matter which of the 12 Mayoral candidates you wanted. Walsh grew up without a big name, on a three-decker street, surrounded by temptations, some of which befell him. And now here he was, the City’s leader, holder of perhaps the most powerful elected office in Massachusetts.

Other men have traced the same kind of path from bottom to top. One thinks of Diocletian, Roman Emperor, yet born a slave, who rose, who educated himself. Or of Abraham Lincoln. Or Fiorello LaGuardia and Al Smith. It is, in fact, a commonplace of politics, that those on the bottom often believe in the system more truly than many on the top and who, aspiring, steel themselves to rise within it, no matter how long or painful the climb, and to become the steward of it and of all it represents. There have been innumerable Marty Walshes in history. And yet…it is still moving to see an actual Marty Walsh actually become Boston’s Mayor and to see the gathered thousands of Boston’s elite and non-elite actually there, in Conte Forum, to witness his becoming Mayor and to cheer it.

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^ Senator Elizabeth Warren delivering her remarks to “my friend Marty”

The powerful did not hang back. Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke eloquently about the passion that she and Walsh, so she said, share for alleviating inequality and the achievement gap. Governor Deval Patrick, choosing a light comic note, told Walsh that he would wake up from “a day of blur” but to savor the moment anyway. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston also sat on stage. Yo Yo Ma performed the “Danny Boy Serenade” with dominant intensity and equally masterful delicacy. The entire City Council, all 13 members, sat on the other side of the podium and took its own oath. The front rows of the Forum found a seated multitude of descendants of former Mayors : Flynns, Whites, Fitzgeralds, Hyneses, Collinses — lending depth to the occasion’s topside.

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^ the gathered thousands included a huge segment from Dorchester, all of whom cheered loudly when their Councillor, Frank Baker, was sworn in.

Walsh then delivered an inaugural address sturdy and point by point clear. All the themes of his campaign took a turn : collaboration, diversity in staffing, improving education, ending the achievement gap, attacking violent crime, and assuring full equality to all Bostonians no matter what their sexual orientation, lifestyle or origin. He thanked “,my sisters and brothers in labor” — was roundly cheered — and almost in the next sentence said “let it be known that Boston is open for business.” Here he spoke of “innovation in every neighborhood, not just downtown” and of small business, start-ups, and businesses big.

It was a firm speech, confidently delivered, steady as she goes. Which may well be the defining tenor of Walsh’s administration.

And so you have it. Marty Walsh is your Mayor. Yep.

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^ from Chelsea, with what mission ? new corporations counsel Eugene O’Flaherty, currently chairman of the State’s House Judiciary Committee

Hardly two hours had elapsed after that “yep” when an announcement was made at least as portentous as the inauguration itself : State Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, of Chelsea, is giving up his House seat and his House Judiciary Committee chairmanship, moving from Chelsea to Boston, and becoming Walsh’s chief corporations counsel : the city;s top lawyer. I admit that this choice surprised me completely. It was easy enough to believe that Walsh wanted O’Flaherty, who was first elected to the House in the same year as he (1996). The two men share much heritage. The difficult part for me was, why would O’Flaherty take the job ? He isn’t just a State Representative, he is one of the chamber’s key leaders. And also have to move house. There has to be a big story going on, and what it is, I can only speculate. It may involve the Steve Wynn casino project : O’Flaherty represents Charlestown, which Walsh did not come close to winning on election day and which will; be heavily impacted. Is O’Flaherty being asked to use his particular knowledge of the area to win the best mitigation package possible from Wynn, including — a top Walsh priority — construction jobs ? or perhaps to sue the Wynn project, or the Suffolk Downs Revere-only casino project if needed ?

We will soon find out.

We will also find out who Walsh chooses to head the other City departments. Of only one such did he say there would be a “nationwide search” : schools superintendent. Of course so. No Bostonian would want the thankless, frustrating job. (One of his two school committee appointments has already caused comment : replacing charter school principal Mary Tamer with labor lawyer Michael Loconto.) As the school committee appointment shows, not many Bostonians Walsh might name as superintendent would avoid raising an outcry from one interest group or another. Compared to schools superintendent, it’ll be easy to pick a Police Commissioner and one for the Fire Department. No nationwide search needed there.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON SCHOOLS REFORM : THE ROLE OF PEDAGOGY

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^ the teacher overseeing “learning in community”

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In Part I of my look at how Boston should reform its Public Schools mission I focused on curriculum. I asserted that employers and citizenship must be accorded primary status in curriculum, and also must be the decider about competition among teachers and between schools.

Now for Part II, in which I discuss pedagogy — the means and methods by which teaching is done — because pedagogy is the province of teachers and only teachers. It is they who must use them. It is teachers who innovate teaching method. Teachers lead by example. They are the souls in which passion for knowledge lives.

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mathematics pedagogy : Building the Habits (Love) of Learning

As in so much of the world of thought and in the practice and theory education, Augustine (354-430 AD) was the first to write comprehensively about pedagogy. I cannot think of any writer then or since who has contributed more — even as much — to our understanding of what a teacher does, how, and why. It is well worth your time to read the following long passage from Wikipedia’s extensive biography of Augustine, who was a teacher all his adult life, a brilliant thinker, and (if anything) an even more brilliant writer :

“Historian Gary N. McCloskey ( says a passage in Augustine’s Wikipedia biography) finds four “encounters of learning” in Augustine’s approach to education:

1.Through Transforming Experiences;
2.as a Journey in Search of Understanding/Meaning/Truth;
3.Learning with Others in Community; and
4.Building the Habits (Love) of Learning.

“His emphasis on the importance of community as a means of learning distinguishes his pedagogy from some others. Augustine believed that dialogue/dialectic/discussion is the best means for learning, and this method should serve as a model for learning encounters between teachers and students. Saint Augustine’s dialogue writings model the need for lively interactive dialogue among learners.

“He introduced the theory of three different categories of students, and instructed teachers to adapt their teaching styles to each student’s individual learning style.

“The three different kinds of students are:
1. the student who has been well-educated by knowledgeable teachers
2.the student who has had no education; and
3.the student who has had a poor education, but believes himself to be well-educated.

“If a student has been well educated in a wide variety of subjects, the teacher must be careful not to repeat what they have already learned, but to challenge the student with material which they do not yet know thoroughly. With the student who has had no education, the teacher must be patient, willing to repeat things until the student understands, and sympathetic. Perhaps the most difficult student, however, is the one with an inferior education who believes he understands something when he does not. Augustine stressed the importance of showing this type of student the difference between “having words and having understanding,” and of helping the student to remain humble with his acquisition of knowledge.

“Augustine introduced the idea of teachers responding positively to the questions they may receive from their students, no matter if the student interrupted his teacher.

“Augustine also founded the restrained style of teaching. This teaching style ensures the students’ full understanding of a concept because the teacher does not bombard the student with too much material; focuses on one topic at a time; helps them discover what they don’t understand, rather than moving on too quickly; anticipates questions; and helps them learn to solve difficulties and find solutions to problems.

“Yet another of Augustine’s major contributions to education is his study on the styles of teaching. He claimed there are two basic styles a teacher uses when speaking to the students. The mixed style includes complex and sometimes showy language to help students see the beautiful artistry of the subject they are studying. The grand style is not quite as elegant as the mixed style, but is exciting and heartfelt, with the purpose of igniting the same passion in the students’ hearts.”

Augustine knew well what teachers today know and apply every day in the classroom : that different students require different means and methods. Augustine’s insight can thus be extended to Special Education as well. There are only two ways to apply Augustine’s individualized teaching. either you can separate the three categories of students and teach them apart, or you can bring them into the same classroom and work each group as they are. As Augustine counted highly the community setting, he would seem to favor the integrated classroom.

Can this work ? Augustine was the first education theorist to suggest a variety of teaching styles, each geared to a category of student. It must have been an exciting classroom, with Augustine teaching one way to one group of students and another way to another group, and all the students observing — even participating — in the diverse program. But Augustine did not confine his teaching to classrooms. He loved company at meals, and it is not unlikely that he had many of his students to dinner, thereat to instruct them, probably by improvisation upon the various pedagogic styles he wrote about (and certainly used).

I make the following additional observations to this examination of the greatest educational theorist’s pedagogy ;

1.None but a teacher could have conceived the pedagogic challenge as creatively as Augustine did, or as insightfully
2.certainly the employer of that time, the Roman imperial bureaucracy, could not have done it. Nor did it care to try. That was why it hired teachers. It was the teachers’ job to figure out how to educate students to the needs of Imperial administration.
3.assumed in all of Augustine’s education manual is that all teaching must met a standard of effectiveness. In his time, that was determined by the employer. The ineffective teacher lost Imperial favor, or students, or both. It was a self-evaluating system.

What we teach today has changed — though not as hugely as we sometimes assume — and schools now answer to a million employers, not only one. But Augustine’s pedagogic rule remains : that it is teachers, and only teachers, who must devise the means and methods by which will be taught the curriculum that the society and employers pay to have taught.

Teachers in Augustine’s day had no choice but to excel. They were not paid by the state. Their pay came from students’ fees. If a teacher had imperial favor, the fact was known, and he drew students; and these students paid. If he lost favor, the students’ parents saw that and sent their children elsewhere. Tenure ? There was no such thing. Every day, a teacher risked all. While it worked, it was the finest education system our civilization knew until modern times. Of course I do not suggest that we abolish tenure. far from it. That’s too much to ask of teachers who practice under the current system and have career time invested in it. But I do want to assert that tenure comes at a cost. A non-tenure system such as Roman education is self-evaluating. Evaluations in our tenure system depend upon who is doing the evaluating and answering for them to whom. Most of the evaluators are middlemen, not the society — and not the employers. But I suppose that, as in so much, inefficiency is the precious price that democratic government pays to a complex society of human fallibility.

Today we educate every child, not just the next generation of imperial administrators. We teach for a hundred different careers; we teach dozens of subjects. Scientific method was unknown. All students, of whatever  origin, learned in Latin. A unified administration was the rule then; diversity is ours now. Then, the stylus and tablet ruled; today, the digital device. Yet for all the differences between Augustine’s late imperial state and our always changing polity, teaching remains what Augustine knew it to be : teacher and student, teacher and students, learning for a purpose, a career, a better life and — perhaps — the love of learning for its own sake.

For Augustine, teachers ruled. So too for most of the educational theorists whose impact has been paramount since. Some theorists emphasize the school administrator — the principal. Some, the grading system and promotion from grade to grades. All these Augustine’s school took into account as well. The teacher yet ruled.

If the members of teachers unions could only accept their mission, embrace it as their unique contribution, risk all, and apply it within the larger context of society, competition, and employer curriculum, we would move a long way toward deploying education’s variety of means, methods, subjects, and standards in a context of challenge, innovation, and struggle as opposed to job security, curriculum debates, and one size fits all. It doesn’t. If Augustine knew that, why not us ?

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NOTE : You should read Augustine’s Retractiones as well as Peter Brown’s almost on-the-scene biography of Western Civilization’s most insightful social and psychological thinker — not to mention brilliant punster, superb speaker, and dramatic lecturer.

BOSTON : SCHOOL REFORM SLICED DICED AND…BLAND ?

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^ curriculum revolutionary : Irnerius of Bologna (1050-1125), who introduced new studies of law and so won the competition to draw students to his lectures

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“Today’s lesson, boys and girls, is ‘school reform : its history, its heroes, and its opponents.”

Thus sayeth the teacher. This shall be Part One of a Two-part course. Let the lecture begin :

No societal institution is harder to reform than schools. it has always been so. To take one huge example, when Greek began to be studied by European scholars in the 13th Century, its introduction, as a taught course, into the universities of that day — which taught all in Latin only — occasioned actual riots. Another example : teachers in medieval Europe were independent contractors, competing with each other (often viciously) for students (and student fees) — not collegial at all. Witness the revolutionary curriculum innovations — and career — of Irnerius of Bologna. Only when the advantages of coming together as a faculty showed themselves fatal to independent teachers seeking students did the faculty, collegial system become the standard. It took almost 300 years to make the point. One thing did NOT change : teachers worked on the margins, never far from wipe-out. If students did not sign up for their lectures, their teaching career ended. Something like that is still the case. Courses that attract too few students to pay the teacher’s salary get dropped from the curriculum.

You will of course notice that I am talking about “higher’ education. The situation with primary education was different and still is. Students in primary school learn the basics. These have hardly changed at all since Roman days — because the basics of civilization scarcely change. What does cahnge is the WAY in which the basics are taught, and, again, changes in method have come about only with much controversy and almost always far too late. Thus it is no great surprise to see that, today, in Boston, school reform movements meet big resistance, even counter-reformation.

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^ Cassiodorus (ca 485-585), the Arne Duncan of his day, as chief aide to Theodoric the Great and later, educational reformer. When he retired, his library of over 2200 books stocked a monastic school that he founded on his estate at Vivarium, near Catanzaro in the “boot” of Italy.

There have always been four major constituencies on the battlefield of school reform : parents; students; teachers; employers. it was so in Roman times — but the Roman system was a ducal, bureaucratic one in which schools prepared for only one career : oratory in the senate, oratory as a proctor (litigating lawyer), oratory in imperial administration. Parents fought to get their brightest children into a school well connected to imperial circles; teachers fought to get the imperial approval without which they could not teach in an imperially sanctioned school; students were force-fed and even beaten, learning by rote, marine-drill-sergeanted into a mindset sufficiently bureaucratic to win them a coveted post in the imperial or Senatorial circle. (if you want to taste something of the flavor of late Roman schools, read chapters 3 through 6 of Augustine’s CONFESSIONS.) To sum up ; in the Roman world, the employer entirely dictated what the school would teach, to whom, and how.

Is it thus so odd that today, in Boston, employers want a major say in how the City’s schools teach future employees ? Is it not a huge concern of theirs, that graduating students be able to meet the entry-level prerequisites, at least, of their hiring ? Kids do not graduate from twelve years of primary and secondary schooling just for graduating’s sake. They graduate to employment. Some may, it is true, go into the military — where they will be trained as forcefully as the Roman world trained its legions. A few may move directly to entrepreneurship. but for 80 to 90 percent of graduating students, employment awaits, just as it awaited the graduates of Roman academies.

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^ John Dewey : “learn by doing” — implanting the culture of apprenticeship learning into school methodology

As for employers dominating, even owning our schools, keep in mind that imperial or Senatorial patronage funded and staffed all the Roman world’s schools. Today we would not accord employers such dominance of our schools, partly because we have thousands of varying employers where Rome had only one. But we cannot, and should not, decry substantial employer involvement in the content and method of what our schools teach. We should invite it.

Our schools also teach one other major ethical learning : citizenship. In Rome, citizenship belonged to all, and it bestowed important rights. But citizenship imposes duties as well, and so long as the Roman world held together its schools taught what they taught not just as skills necessary to imperial employment but also as a responsibility of citizenship. The two obligations were not separate. In our world and our schools, citizenship is not so obviously an integral part of employment knowledge. It involves knowing history, the law, cultural diversity, tolerance, inquiry, participation in politics. Yet are employers not concerned that their employees be good citizens ? Young people who cannot accept diversity, or display good manners, or lack social graces, often make poor employees.

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^ Horace Mann : Massachusetts Congressman and education reformer — citizenship / civics as part of a core curriculum

I present this lengthy background as a platform upon which I now offer the education reform plan posted by incoming mayor Marty Walsh. Here it is as posted on his website :

“Marty’s plan is to immediately build on current strengths within Boston Public Schools, and simultaneously develop and implement a long-term strategy based on equity, access, accountability, transparency and collaboration to provide a top-notch education for all of Boston’s children. Success will require taking a hard look at current practice, the political will to make tough, necessary changes, and the collaboration of families, educators, and partners across the city to realize a shared vision.”

“In addition, Marty recognizes the achievement of students with disabilities can be accelerated by participation in inclusion classes with their differently abled peers. The Walsh Administration will continue support for current plans to expand the number of inclusion schools, and will increase support for principals and teachers to learn about co-teaching models, Common Core Standards and differentiating instruction.

“Embrace and Support the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards – The Walsh Administration will ensure each and every school has a plan to integrate the Common Core State Standards into daily instruction, prepare teachers to teach the standards, and help students demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

“Selecting the next superintendent is one of the most important decisions facing the new administration. It is critical that the superintendent fully embraces the Mayor’s vision and is committed to its success.

“Maintain a Mayoral-Appointed School Committee – Marty supports an appointed school committee. This is the best way to ensure a body that fully reflects all the stakeholders in quality public education, including those with direct experience providing education, and those who understand the importance of prioritizing the needs of the whole child in an urban school setting.

“Central office departments will be redesigned into streamlined cross-functional units and held accountable for how well they provide support and service to schools. School supervisors will closely monitor schools in order to know which school leaders to support, which to push, and which to grant autonomy so that each and every Boston Public School is among the very best schools in Massachusetts.

“The Walsh Administration will focus on “deepening the bench” of potential school leaders who know how to work with teachers to improve instructional practices tied to the Common Core State Standards.

“Strong partnerships with local colleges and universities, and support for accelerated programs that prepare teachers for urban schools, such as those offered at the University of Massachusetts Boston, will be developed to supply qualified candidates. Systems and incentive will be implemented to retain strong principal and teacher leaders with appropriate compensation.

“The Walsh Administration will be aggressive in working with federal elected officials and agencies, the Massachusetts State House, and corporate and non-profit partners to increase revenues for targeted programs.”

— so sasys Marty Walsh, officially.

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^B George Perry, Jeri Robinson, and John Barros — Walsh’s Schools team. Is there a Cassiodorus in this triad ? Or just smiling faces ?

The Walsh plan has aroused plenty of opposition from anti-Common Core advocates. (Even though Massachusetts school standards are stronger than Common Core, which is thus irrelevant to Boston schools.) it also disappoints many who want a much more comprehensive overhaul of Boston Public School methods, curriculum, student assignment, and partnering. For me, the plan’s face is its blandness. It is cardboard. It avoids all of the difficult issues. It hardly mentions the most controversial or necessary. you won’t find in it the terms ’employer,’ “charter school,” “teacher evaluation,” “teacher selection,” “school competition.” It really is not a plan for reform at all. What I take from it is a message that we should TALK about reform. This, the City is doing. But then what ?

I find especially unfortunate the plan’s entire avoidance of competition. I know of no dynamic school system in which competition between schools — between teachers within those schools — was not an integral condition. Uncompetitive schools teach uncontroversial knowledge. Competition can be imposed upon schools and teachers only by employers — in the Roman world, the Emperor demanded, and that WAS the competition — or by the students and their parents, who, as in Abelard’s Paris and in the teaching city that was contemporary Bologna — pay their teaching fees to the best teachers. The competition then — years 1080 to about 1270 — was brutal, but knowledge advanced daringly and hugely. (we don’t call it “the Renaissance of the 12th Century” for nothing.) Much of the advance in knowledge was brought into those schools by independent researchers, often working in Muslim lands. The same is true today. Innovation Districts and their collaborative competitors are our era’s version of 12th Century’s wandering researchers. They and their knowledge, gathered from everywhere, should inform, revive, reconstitute our City’s public schools — curriculum, evaluation and pay, responsiveness to a rapidly evolving world of employers.

Or we can choose stagnation, blandness, and loss of the innovative daring that made Boston so different a city for so long.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Tomorrow : the teacher and his or her career in a system committed tyo innovation, citizenship, and employment.

BOSTON : ON THE DEATH OF HERB GLEASON

Herb Gleason

^ aristocrat in Boston City hall : corporation counsel Herb Gleason, 1928-2013

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Herb Gleason of Beacon Hill died on December 9th. He was 85 years old and was, as Barney Frank recalls, “a man from the Boston aristocracy who deeply immersed himself in Boston politics in a wholly constructive way.” You should read the obituary that Bryan Marquard wrote for today’s Boston Globe and which features Frank’s quote. It tells Gleason ‘s life story and why — as Mayor Kevin White’s Corporations Counsel, most of all — he was important to the civic minded people of my generation.

My intention in this column is not to repeat that obit but to ruminate on Frank’s words and also on something that Gleason’s son David is quoted as saying of him : “He was very progressive in the real meaning of the word, the sense that government should benefit citizens.”

Today that “old Boston aristocracy” has almost disappeared. Those not yet born in its last glory days — the 1970s — probably have no idea what I’m talking about. No one uses the term “aristocracy” any more. “Child of privilege” — the term pinned on Jonn Connolly by Marty Walsh’s notorious AFL-CIO fliers — comes closest; yet A “child of privilege” can have parents who were themselves born into no privilege at all. The “Boston aristocracy” propagated its values (and its privilege) for many, many generations, one after another committed to the idea that wealth and privilege can never be their own justification; that being an aristocrat requires a man or woman to dedicate to the common good. The best-known Boston example of that aristocratic commitment is Robert Gould Shaw, son of Beacon Hill Brahmins, who coloneled the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of African-Americans and gave his life leading them into battle. Shaw’s life and death, thanks to the movie “Glory,’ now belong to the ages; but he was hardly the only exemplar, even in his own family : Barney Frank himself won his first elective office, State Representative from aristocratic Ward 5, with sponsorship by such as Shaw’s collateral descendant (by marriage) Susan Shaw Lyman.

There was much to criticize in the ways of the Boston aristocracy as it became defiantly snobby during the 1870s-90s. It was often anti-Semitic and hostile to Boston’s Irish. It was cruel to its own. Boys who could not shape up became “black sheep,” rarely forgiven. Its women had to suffer the unfaithfulness of husbands; many turned to hard liquor and spent days in a drunk. There was much ceremony — tuxedos and ball gowns to be worn — for the invited few, balls to be staged. Just as staged was the aristocracy’s speech. You knew immediately a Boston aristocrat by his or her pronunciations — consciously imitative of titled Britons. There was a list, too, of the accepted. Boston aristocrats proudly kept a copy of the “blue book” — the Social Register — on their desks or coffee tables; in it were the names, addresses, and current life status of those who “belonged.” And there was boarding school for every child — the most aristocratic of these quite consciously toff — a tumble into discipline for discipline’s sake which propagated itself all the way to the 1960, by which date  men like Herb Gleason (and women too) had reached adulthood.

For the majority of us, who were not Social Register, “that government should benefit citizens” was okay enough. It moved men and women to fight for child labor laws, women’s rights, slum clearance, hospital care open to all (there would be precious few Boston hospitals had not its aristocracy donated millions to their founding and expansion), pro bono legal work, libraries and books, the ACLU, racial integration, a city-girding parks system, bequests to the City for public purposes (think the George Robert White Fund), and service on all manner of City Boards. Taking a paid job in Kevin White’s administration, Herb Gleason went further. But so did John Sears — an aristocrat of aristocrats who also ran for mayor in the year that Kevin White won — when he accepted the job of MDC Commissioner. Yet the jobs taken by Gleason and Sears were a kind of civic-minded donation; each could have earned far more money in private law practice than they did as civic administrators.

All of this civic dedication by people born to great wealth or position seems so foreign to how we view the world today. We see people of great wealth now mostly as greedy self-seekers, or as celebrities fronting selfies. We cannot imagine today’s wealthy or famous sitting on library trustee boards, for example, or cleaning up Boston Harbor, or gathering signatures to raise the minimum wage, or protesting vote suppression — as so many did in the 1960s, even. And when we do encounter a “child of privilege” such as John Connolly was dubbed actually taking an interest in reform — in his case, school transformation — we’re not sure what to think.

Today when we hear of “children of privilege” in politics or civic affairs we’re as likley as not to think them out to serve themselves; to “skew the system” in their favor; to disenable, not enable, those in need. Perhaps that is one reason why John Connolly fell short of victory on November 5th. As said the AFL-CIo flier that i have already mentioned : “He’s trying to fool us.” There were plenty of successful people like that back in the day : but in those days they fooled no one — and didn’t try to. Yet always, from the decades of America’s founding right through the 1970s, critical numbers of civic-minded reformers of wealth and standing confronted the self-seekers at all levels. Today, when such a person appears on the urban horizon, he or she should be welcomed.

Civic-minded, progressive reform was never easy even in its aristocratic salad days. Machine politicians and those who kept them going — saloon keepers, contractors, industrialists, stock manipulators, work padrones, even criminal gangs — always pushed back. Only occasionally was urban reform successful. It was spectacularly successful, often, in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and it was, finally, successful, after many failed attempts, in Kevin White’s Boston. Herb Gleason was a large part of that triumph, as were so many people from aristocratic Ward 5 — think Micho Spring,. Kathy Kane, Susan Lyman, Barney Frank, Stella Trafford, John Sears, David Morse, Joseph Lee, Parkman Shaw, Chris Lydon, Oliver Ames, and many many more. Is that spirit having a revival, with John Connolly as its vanguard ? I am hopeful that it will, and that Boston will advance once more, by the commitment to the City’s civic life of many more men and women like Herb Gleason. RIP, Sir.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR : YEAR OF 1000 LEMONS

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^ A 1000 lemons are zooming toward the man who will have to tend the Boston lemon grove….

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Those of us who preferred John Connolly as Mayor may wonder whether our preference was a blessing or a curse. Because the mayor we did get, Marty Walsh, faces an avalanche of problems verging on intractable. Well might John Connolly be grateful to have dodged the 1000 lemons descending upon Walsh’s first year in office, any one of which could derail his agenda and all of which might leave him muttering “why me ?”

Consider : ( 1 ) Boston Public Schools face change in every aspect, from teacher evaluation to curriculum development; from facilities upgrades to a new union contract; from competition for school funds to a revised school assignment plan that, hopefully, prioritizes close-to-home; and the bugaboo of charter schools, loved by supporters (and Walsh has been one), demonized by the Ravitch-ians ( 2 ) a Police Department that miserably failed to administer the City’s taxis, which entirely lacks diversity at the captain level, that has in many cases lost the trust of neighbors in the most violent zip codes, that just won a budget-busting pay raise heavy with money from public works details ( 3 ) a Fire department ready to rumble its own forthcoming contract negotiation; which now lacks both top administrators; is utterly resistant to firehouse and work rule reform even from a Mayor independent — which Walsh is totally not ( 4 ) city finances standing $ 50 million in the red even before the Police pay raise award and which can only redden more deeply as the funding needs of school reform, future union contracts, and public works present their bills — not to mention tax breaks that project developers will demand, and likely be granted, as the price of moving Boston’s Building boom forward (and thus providing continued work to Walsh’s core support, the building trades workers).

Consider also these : ( 1 ) major school reform that will be demanded — not requested — by employers who will either get job applicants who can meet entry-level requirements, at least, or will move to cities whose graduates do meet those requirements ( 2 ) expanding the City’s hubway bike system without aggravating car traffic flow ( 3 ) figuring a plan for Sullivan Square / Charlestown Neck that makes useful space of it, rather than a traffic-clogged jumble of trash, old brick, and rusty rails; and that takes into account the likelihood of a Steve Wynn casino in Everett, directly across the Mystic River ( 4 ) making the city’s parks safer to use, grounds-keeping them, and opening them — Franklin Park in particular — to tournament sport ( 5 ) devising a platform that makes middle-class housing profitable to build and affordable to buy — and deciding where to base it, in the face of neighborhood NIMBY-ism ( 6 ) configuring the BRA to increase neighborhood input (as most voters want) without enabling NIMBY-ism ( 7 ) choosing new hires without succumbing entirely to favoritism (although at a lower level, favors have value to the collaborator that Walsh has built his following by being; and, lastly ( 8 ) hiring a substantial presence of people from Boston’s Communities of Color (“COC”), and seeing many into the building trades : because without strong COC support Walsh wouldn’t have come close to winning and without which he won’t be re-elected.

Then comes the City Council Presidency flap now roiling some commentators and overly mind-busy “progressives.” The last thing that Marty Walsh needs, given the lemon grove of problems zooming at his head, is a Council President who can credibly run against him in 2017. Walsh will almost certainly face a strong opponent anyway. How can it help city governance to box Walsh further than he is already boxed ?

I wrote two days ago that Walsh may have made a big mistake by holding so many public hearings on the eleven issues that his transition team prioritized; that he might have been better served to put a lid on it all until a few months into his actual term of office. But perhaps his public hearings have more value than not. They give issues constituencies opportunity to speak, insist, petition; to feel that this new Mayor sincerely wants to listen. I think he does.

Listening — which he does well — is true to who Walsh has been, as union leader and legislator : a collaborator who works by bringing various interests together for a common purpose. The weakness in his method is that it depends on the willingness of those interests to collaborate with the collaborator. We will find out soon enough if that happens, and with how many lemons.

One asset that Walsh does possess is a wide circle of “wise old heads’ who trust and respect him and whose reputations in the City;s various communities Walsh now commands. He will not lack for good advice or for spokesmen and spokeswomen to argue bis case to the various interests arguing their cases to him. Other than these folks, however, his team looks young and quite all of a kind. He need to diversify his core staff, and soon.

Most of all, he badly need to hire top people now working for the various entrenched interests that now confront him AWAY from those jobs and INTO his administration.

The success of his lemon grove lemonade depends on it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

LISA MOELLMAN, GUEST CONTRIBUTOR : RESPONSE TO “PUBLIC SCHOOLS BEAT PRIVATE SCHOOLS” ARTICLE IN BOSTON SUNDAY GLOBE

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). http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/12/15/public-schools-beat-private-schools/hWLzdKv1x7wwupcjk5zonI/story.html

“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.

http://www.hawaiibusiness.com/Hawaii-Business/May-2010/Best-School-System-in-North-America/

“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.

http://www.mckinsey.com/client_service/social_sector/latest_thinking/worlds_most_improved_schools

“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

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

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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

BOSTON SCHOOLS : ASSERTIONS AT BOSTON TRUTH

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^ “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.

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^ 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

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