Monday, February 6, 2017

Lack-of-empowerment zones

Over the weekend, you may have caught this laudatory piece from MassLive on Springfield's Empowerment Zone. There was a parallel article in the Globe, so clearly the charm offensive is on. Thus it was no big surprise to see an equally laudatory Globe editorial supporting HD445 and SD1209, the bills that would allow empowerment zones across the state, including zones declared by the state by the Commissioner with only a single Level 4 school.
Did you notice what's missing in this push?
Any evidence of success.
As MassLive noted in June:
Only time and data will tell whether the interventions put in place under the auspices of the Empowerment Zone are working.
We haven't had that yet.
As the Globe article (but not the editorial) notes:
...a turnaround could take years to achieve. Test scores at the zone’s highest-performing middle school are in the bottom 9th percentile statewide, meaning more than 90 percent of other similar schools scored better. The worst-performing school is in the bottom 1st percentile.
We don't know yet that this does anything positive. You can see the first year of results, which were not great, on page 18 and 19 in this report here.
We do have other examples of what works in Massachusetts, but somehow those never make it into bills.

It's important to note that the above bills go beyond what have been touted as "empowering" bills in the past, which would have expanded district power (to redo contracts, for example). The bills would allow the Commissioner to declare an "empowerment zone" in any district that has a single Level 4 school, which could include other schools that aren't underperforming! 

Empowerment zones don't answer to their local communities. They bypass the local school committee and create a quasi-private board to run schools.

I thought we knew that was a bad idea in Massachusetts?

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