I posted some of this on Twitter this morning.
Let's talk about this arts academy at Burncoat. It appears, as it is to be dubbed the "Hanover Insurance Academy," that the Worcester Public Schools are indeed "open for business." We are now raffling off naming rights to, well, it's not even clear that it is to the highest bidder, as no numbers have yet been mentioned.
Our public schools are a public resource. Public goods held in common are only held in common under the public trust. They should not EVER be for sale.
There is always a "good" reason. There is always a need, an emergency, a wish...but once you've sold out, you've sold out.
And it appears we have. In fact, it appears that we aren't even going to have public governance and educator oversight of this project:
"This is about as classic private partnership that you can get," Belsito said "We meet regularly with them. We're not just the financial resources. We want to help develop programs. We want to make sure that the talent that we have at Hanover is helping to complement the great work of the educators here in this building."emphasis added
By what right and by what training and experience does anyone at Hanover have to "develop programs" in a public school (heck, in ANY school)? Why would Hanover be meeting "regularly" with "them," and who is them? The administration? The site council? The faculty?
Are any of these meetings going to be public? Are any going to involve any elected oversight? Or has Hanover just managed to privatize itself an academy in Worcester?
But that, of course, is only the first problem.
Burncoat already has, and has had for thirty years, an arts magnet. Kids can start in kindergarten at Worcester Arts Magnet, then go straight through Burncoat Middle and High School. It's a program that exists nowhere else in central Mass; I'm not even sure it has a parallel anywhere in Massachusetts. It's among the myriad of underappreciated and too-often-underfunded programs in Worcester that you can't get elsewhere.
The magnet doesn't have an admission policy aside from space (and theoretically, behavior, though that doesn't happen often). The elementary school has a lottery ('though it does take siblings first); the middle and high will take transfer students if there is room.
And magnet students are guaranteed transportation in Worcester.
Thus, kids of all sorts can and do attend the magnet. Does it represent the fully array of Worcester? No. Is it closer than it would be if they used grades or worse yet, test scores? You bet! And ANY kids who attend Burncoat can be part of the magnet at any point in their schooling, so long as there is room in class and in their schedule.
So how is the new academyTM doing admission? The district is holding...
information sessions for parents whose students were invited to apply for a spot in the academy on March 9 at 6 p.m. and March 14 at 6 p.m. The deadline for parents to apply for their child's sport in the academy is March 31.emphasis added
This is conjecture, but I'm going to bet here that they didn't comb the record of every child in grade six in the entire district. But there's a very easy report to run off and create a cutoff on: test scores.
And what happens if you use test scores as a proxy for "talent"? You end up with a group that is overwhelmingly middle class and white.
You end up with an academy that doesn't look much like Worcester.
What you do manage is to migrate a bunch of higher test scores to Burncoat, though, And, while Sullivan has Goddard Scholars, and WEMS has the science academy, and Forest Grove draws from the wealthier (and paler) part of town, Burncoat has an arts magnet that doesn't pull based on test scores, so it gets no advantage from its magnet on that count. But only letting kids into their special academy by test score will pull the rest of Burncoat up nicely.
And how do I know this? Because we laid it all out in the report we gave back in 2014 around creating an advanced academy of some kind in the city. Limited admission programs are always, always a problem on this. A school or district not only has to be aware of this; they have to actively plan for this NOT to happen in order to avoid it.
It appears, on the contrary, that this is the end being sought here.
Thus we will have a privatized academyTM for students with high test scores.
What's funny is there's no lack of those around. But those don't dare call themselves public.