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)

BOSTON MAYOR FINAL : BOTH MEN WIN 1ST DEBATE

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^ John Connolly — Marty Walsh : first face off of three

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Boston’s first face to face between John Connolly and Marty Walsh was a winner for both men. John Connolly was the clear winner on presentation and policy discussion. Walsh, however, also won, by simply showing up and holding his own, most of the night, and occasionally on top. He benefited by being the lesser known of the two. It’s always that way in a first debate. the underdog always wins; and with 18 to 23 percent of Boston’s voters undecided — so say the recent polls — Walsh almost couldn’t lose. and as he was always articulate and quite knowledgeable during the Forums held before Primary day, it was pretty clear that he WOULDN’T lose.

That Walsh won last night we see by twitter follower numbers. Since the debate began, Walsh has picked up 64 new twitter follows, Connolly 40. (Numbers as of 10.40 AM today.) Small evidence, but palpable. Last night Walsh increased his support more than Connolly did.

Still, Connolly did gain. He stayed reasonably close to Walsh only because his policy presentation commanded the night. The first five questions were about education, Connolly’s issue; education came up again later, and often. He also dominated Walsh on city finances and budget issues. How could he not ? It gave him the opportunity to raise “the union issue,” Walsh’s riskiest attribute, in a context that emphasized its risk. But there was more. Walsh exhibited a lack of understanding of admittedly technical finance matters. He tried to attack Connolly for not being present during a certain city union contract negotiation ; Connolly pointed out that by law he was not allowed to be there, in the negotiating room. Responding to a question about raising City revenue, Walsh talked about bringing in new businesses — but on a regional basis. How would bringing new businesses to Somerville — a city that he specifically cited — add revenue to Boston ? The question was not asked of him.

My observers pointed out that, in discussion of the bill that Walsh has filed to remove City Council review power over arbitrators’ union contract awards, when pressed on its effect, he said “no comment.” It was the big talking point for most journos. Myself, I found it a proper answer. That hill, House 2467, is one that hangs over Walsh’s campaign like a storm of belfry bats. Far better to shut up than to talk of it.

That bill will come up again, though. two debaters remain. Walsh will no longer be the lesser known man. Unless Walsh quickly finds a way to master the details of city finances, and to deflect the effect on them of higher city worker pay awards, and to explain away House 2467, the contradictions in his campaign will stand out for all viewers to grasp, much to his detriment.

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^ Pastor Bruce Wall, Meg Connolly, John Connolly, Pastor Minyard Culpeper, Pastor William Dickerson

Meanwhile, Connolly is deepening his connection to Boston’s Black community and widening it, to people not often reached by anyone, and in ways I haven’t seen since John Sears ran for Mayor in 1967. That was before the huge social and political split that took place during the fight over Boston school segregation and school busing, a crisis whose passions took almost two generations to abate. Connolly’s achievement — worked at over many, many years — seems to me to have entirely swamped Walsh’s endorsement by Charlotte Golar-Richie. In campaigns as serious as this one, years and years of hard won trust and connection, on a very personal level too, can not be turned aside by a two-month embrace, no matter how noble and sincere the outreach.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere