Friday, January 10, 2014

What did Mayor Marty Walsh say about education?

As education played a big role in Boston's mayor's race this past fall, I was interested to see what the winner in that contest, Marty Walsh, had to say about education in his inaugural address earlier this week.
In terms of issues, he started with public safety and then moved to education as the second thing to address. The segue is here:
We have to make our communities safer to secure a future of opportunity for our kids. But that’s not all. We have to make sure every kid gets a great education.
So far so good...what does that mean?
Every kid in every neighborhood deserves the chance for a pathway to higher education or a good career. Every kid in Boston deserves a great education that will give them the opportunity to get ahead.
Well, someone on his staff has at least been in the "college and career" lingo loop. Being able to make a living is certainly part of what education is about, 'though I do like to see public officials in particular acknowledge that we live in a democracy and the schoolchildren of today are the voters of tomorrow. Narrowly restricting education in this vision isn't healthy for schools or for democracy

The biggest issue facing Boston right now is that they don't have a superintendent. There had been some question if Mayor Menino would try to rush the appointment to be sure it was his to make; honorably, he did not. Thus, it is left to Walsh, who appoints the School Committee who hires the superintendent, to do so:
Tomorrow, I will begin conversations with our school committee to launch a nationwide search for the next Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. Our acting Superintendent, John McDonough, deserves our thanks for his capable, steady leadership in a tough job – he has earned mine.
I want our next superintendent to be a proven urban education leader who shares my commitment to eliminating the achievement gap, universal early education, high school reform, inclusion programs, dual language programs, a new approach to school construction, and expanded, high quality career and technical training. 
A nationwide search is good (and hopeful). I've gotten somewhat leery of "proven education leader" in combination with an immediate reference to the "achievement gap" and "reform," as that reads like our friends from Broad again. There's no indication one way or the other on that, but if you're in Boston, it's certainly something to watch for.
 I'll be interested to see where he goes with early childhood ed, as it's already become the big issue in New York City for Mayor DeBlasio (who came in with a plan to pay for it). Is this going to be another attempt to expand preschool, which is great but not enough? Or is this going to incorporate some of what we know about child development and look at kids younger than three?
I have no idea what he means by "high school reform" unless it has to do with the relationships the exam schools have with the rest of the system; if it is, that'll be a hot button issue.
Inclusion programs--special education? or language?--again, not clear. Dual language programs would be a great thing for Boston to further capitalize on, if they're willing to support them. Let's come back to school construction (as he does). Career and technical training is shaping up to the 2014 political deal; looks as though Treasurer Grossman is going after this one in the gubernatorial race. Provided that his thought is that Boston has the same difficulty Worcester does--kids who could really use the vocational training aren't getting it, due to the way the admissions process for vo-tech ed is now set up in the state--it's worth tackling. Simply expanding without looking a setup is not enough, though.
After giving an example of what he means (from Roxbury), he goes back to early childhood education:
Study after study has told us that universal early education and these other changes can be transformative. They give every child a more equal chance to thrive and succeed. Yes, these things cost money – but we must find a way.
While "study after study" is certainly with him on the importance of early education, I'm not sure which "other changes" he's referencing when he says that they "can be transformative."  And I'd feel a little bit more assured that he means this if he had some reference to how he'd pay for it. While no one (or virtually no one) expects a spreadsheet at the inaugural, he's going to be starting his budget for FY15 now. Someone needs to have a thought.
And speaking of the budget:
Education spending is the biggest piece of our city budget*. So we start with this principle: Every dollar we spend on education must be put to best and most effective use. That’s why I will work with the school committee and acting superintendent to commission a Performance Audit of our school department – a close look not just at where the money is going, but whether it is being spent most effectively and efficiently.
Taking a quick perusal of the budget memos and presentations that the BPS office has been sending to the School Committee, I have some questions myself (mainly, where's the rest of it?). I'll be interested in seeing who he pulls in for a performance audit; if he gets some knowledgeable school finance people in, it could be worthwhile, but if this is one of those "let's learn from business" groups, it could well be a waste of time.
Finally, as promised, back to school construction:
And we can change the way Boston pays for school construction, renovation, and maintenance – another major expense. As a legislator, I supported the creation of the Massachusetts School Building Authority to ensure a fair, transparent and accountable process to make quality school buildings available to every child.
Now, as Mayor, I will work to make sure Boston secures its share of equitable state funding as part of a plan to rebuild its long‐neglected and antiquated school buildings.
Let's quickly clear up that MSBA does not pay for maintenance of school buildlings; he's going to have to tackle that one internally.  MSBA does provide funding for "construction (and) renovation."

Words that strike fear in the heart of everyone west of 128: anyone in Boston talking about "mak(ing) sure Boston secures its share of" anything. You might remember that Boston doesn't have a great record with MSBA right now; that letter spells out a number of school buildings that Boston chose to close in which MSBA had some interest. They don't like wasting their money.
And that was before Boston proposed what would be the most expensive school built in the state. I'd take that as a call for anyone who has any interest in schools being built or repaired anywhere other than Boston proper to keep right on top of this, lest we find MSBA's funding staying right there by the State House.

We'll keep watching.

*for FY14, the City of Boston's budget is $2.6 billion; Boston Public Schools' is $934 million.

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