Blogs

What the MA Democratic Committee Said about the Charter Issue

Two days ago, the Massachusetts Democratic Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing Question 2, which seeks to lift the cap on charter schools.

Massachusetts teacher and daily reader Christine Langhoff expands on my early report (which she kindly sent to me as soon as the resolution passed). Thanks to Christine, I was able to circulate the good news before the daily press. It is kind of amusing seeing the complaint by the representative of DFER, the hedge fund managers’ group. Hedge funds are not generally viewed as champions of those without power; they lack numbers, but they are loaded with money and power. Parents and educators anticipate that the hedge funds and corporate interests will pour close to $20 million into their campaign for Question 2. Supporters of public schools can’t match the dollars, but they can knock on every door and alert every parent that the real goal of this deceptive campaign is privatization, not helping public schools.

She writes:

On Tuesday evening, August 16, the Massachusetts State Democratic Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution, by voice vote, in opposition to Ballot Question #2, which would eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools permitted in the Commonwealth. Here is part of the text of the resolution, which was offered by Steve Tolman, President of the MA AFL-CIO:

Democratic State Committee Resolution Regarding Question 2

WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform states that “Massachusetts Democrats are committed to investing in public education”; and

WHEREAS, the national Democratic Party platform states that charter schools “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools”; and

WHEREAS, more than $400 million in taxpayer money was diverted to charter schools statewide last year from local school districts, forcing cuts to programs that families and students value; and

WHEREAS, charter schools typically serve far fewer special needs students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students than the traditional public school districts they are located in and use hyper-disciplinary policies and suspensions for minor infractions to push out students; and

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Vermont State Board of Education responds to the ESSA proposed rules

Dear Secretary King,

The Vermont State Board of Education thanks you for the opportunity to respond to the ESSA proposed rules. Our Board is proud to represent a state where the people support a strong state funding system, enjoy schools that foster high student performance and register narrow equity gaps as compared with the nation. Nevertheless, the opportunity gap is our most pressing concern and is the number one goal in our strategic plan.

With these traditions and values in mind, we have strong concerns and reservations about ESSA. Fundamentally, if we are to close the achievement gap, it is imperative that we substantively address the underlying economic and social disparities that characterize our nation, our communities and our schools. With two-thirds of the score variance attributable to outside of school factors, test scores gaps measure the health of our society more than the quality of the schools.

Consequently, the continuation of a test-based, labeling and “assistance” model (broadly seen as punishment) has not only proven ineffective, but has had a corrosive effect on the confidence of the people. The encouragement of privatization has been harmful to local democracy, has further segregated a too fragmented nation and has diluted rather than focused valuable resources.

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Educators, Not MBAs, Make Brookline Schools Great

As Brookline parents, we know the School Committee members are all honorable people.  They are our neighbors and friends. Yet thoughtful citizens have a right and duty to question their agenda. It is not necessarily a problem that there are three corporate MBAs on the Committee, and only one schoolteacher.  It is not necessarily a problem that two of those MBAs work for Bridgespan (Bain & Company). It isn’t even necessarily a problem to bring corporate thinking to the difficulties facing our schools. A diversity of perspectives is valuable.

But it might be a problem.  Brookline schools didn’t become great because business thinkers drove them.  They didn’t become great because they were measured, analyzed, tested, and corporatized.  They actually became great because of creative leadership at the schools, excellent and committed teachers, and a community that supported and funded them.  We still have much of that, but we may lose it if we continue to subject our schools, teachers, and students to trendy testing and analytic demands.

One example: some School Committee members believe that new measures of assessment and incentive will help close the ‘achievement gap.’ But there is abundant social science research (see 2014 NEA Report on Teacher Diversity) to suggest that achievement gaps close most significantly when teachers come from the same backgrounds, ethnicity, and/or gender as the students they are teaching.  Thus, as in many school-related things, closing the achievement gap will require deep, creative, soul-searching work, work that’s best left in the hands of experienced educators.

Democratic Process Challenged in Pittsburgh Schools

Don't Let Big Money and Sold-Out Media Ruin Pittsburgh's Progress

by Jon Parker

I’ve grappled for a few weeks with Pittsburgh’s superintendent dilemma on a number of fronts. I’ll assume that my readers are basically familiar with the situation, but here are the Sparknotes.

Chapter 1: Pittsburgh has a democratically elected school board.

Chapter 2: Pittsburgh’s citizens vote for pro-public education candidates.

Chapter 3: A+ Schools’ (a.k.a. Bill Gates’ employee) candidates lose.

Chapter 4: A+ Schools doesn’t know what it feels like to lose and becomes upset.

Chapter 5: Pittsburgh’s democratically elected school board selects a pro-public schools superintendent without allowing A+ Schools to railroad the process.

Chapter 6: A+ Schools becomes more upset and elicits the support of local media in a witch hunt against the new superintendent.

So that’s where we are. I’ll admit I don’t envy the school board in making its decision, not because the decision is unclear, but because the board is going to have to answer to media outlets and rich, powerful foundations that have already revealed their intentions.

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Four Thoughts about Education

“What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.”

Henry David Thoreau (one -time public school teacher)

 

“Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”

William Bruce Cameron (sociologist)

 

"If you insist on measuring everything you value, you will end up valuing only what can be measured."

 

“You go to school at the age of twelve or thirteen; and for the next four or five years you are not engaged so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism. A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours that you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from lost illusions. But you go to a great school, not for knowledge so much as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual posture, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the habit of working out what is possible, in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and mental soberness. Above all, you go to a great school for self-knowledge.”

Words of an Eton master, William Johnson Cory, 1861

Beloved Brookline Teacher Quits

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Commentary: Why One First Grade Teacher Is Saying Goodbye

If you're lucky, then at least once you have a teacher who makes all the difference. My firstborn — who's now on his way to grad school — lucked out when he was 6, with Mr. Weinstein.

David Weinstein has taught first grade at the Pierce School in Brookline for 29 years. He's gifted, dedicated and beloved — so I was stunned to find out that he is retiring, early.

In his early 50s, he's leaving as the Brookline schools are immersed in contentious contract negotiations, largely about the data and documentation workload for teachers. This isn’t just a Brookline issue -- it’s part of the national story of education reform.

Weinstein says it’s the main reason he’s stepping down. Even in a progressive town with an acclaimed public school system, he says, the paperwork is overwhelming.

And this is not a guy with an aversion to detail. For instance: Every year, since 1987, he has mailed a birthday card with a personal note to every student he's ever taught.

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Why Are Brookline Schools Being “turned around”?

By Katherine Stewart
and Matthew Stewart

June 09. 2016 2:28PM

Guest commentary: Why Are Brookline Schools Being "turned around"?

In 2010, the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury was named as one of a dozen “turnaround” schools in Boston. On almost every scale —test performance, teaching quality, and school culture — it counted as one of the poorest performing schools in Boston at the time.

The “turnaround” designation gave the school’s newly appointed principal exceptional managerial power, which he used to dismiss 80 percent of the teachers. The “turnaround” label also attracted the attention of education reformers across the nation, keen to prove their theories and flush with money to do so.

 

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“Third Way” Is Not the Answer

CommonWealth Magazine

IS THERE A “Third Way” to close the charter-district school divide? A recent CommonWealth article suggested there might be. I’d like to add my two cents concerning that possibility and even suggest there might be a fourth.

As a retired public school teacher, I was grateful for the opportunity because our main local forum, the Boston Globe, has largely ignored dissenting op-ed views about school reform for the past two decades. The absence of critical reportage about the charter movement and of vigorous public discussion has helped create the divide.

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Charters, Brookline and Bridgespan

By Bill Schechter

June 04. 2016 11:57AM

Charters, Brookline and Bridgespan

In the past six months, some 40 Massachusetts school committees or town governments (or both) have stated their strong opposition to the lifting of the charter school cap in next November’s ballot initiative. The Brookline school committee is not among them. I have now written two letters to the committee trying to find out why, but have received no reply.

Why should Brookline care about the charter question?

 

A Call for Transparency on Brookline School Committee

 

By Katherine Stewart and Matthew Stewart, Brookline parents

May 20. 2016 8:31AM

Guest Commentary: A call for transparency on the Brookline School Committee’s education reform agenda

The conflict between these two very different approaches to education management will be familiar to those who have followed the clashes between the advocates of the Common Core program and its critics across the nation over the past six years. Here in Brookline, it is vital that we approach this debate about education policy with the interests of families and voters of Brookline foremost in mind.

 

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