Thursday, January 8, 2015

Baker inauguration and education

On the day that Massachusetts inaugurated a new governor, we were also in the national press for once again topping the Education Week "Quality Counts" ratings, which is based on a child's chance for success in the state, the school finance system (both spending and equity in distribution), and K-12 achievement (link's not working). Massachusetts came in tops in the first and last, and tenth on the school finance. Our statistics are impressive on what our children are surrounded with in terms of educated adults, family support, and income, and children do well in education K-12. As for school finance, by EdWeek's measure, inequity between low income and higher income districts is what is holding us back...largely due to the out-of-date foundation formula, which is already being worked on. While I realize that much of this speech was written well in advance, there's some very easy lines to throw in here, which would cover both the "go team!" and the "work to be done" aspect of any inaugural.

Instead, we got this (The Globe has the full text. ):
I’m a proud product of the Massachusetts public schools. And to this day, I can still name almost every teacher I had growing up. They moved me, challenged me and made me feel like my opinion mattered. 
Across Massachusetts, there are many talented and inspiring educators doing for their students what their predecessors did for me. 
First, I have no doubt that all of the above is true and that Baker means it (he graduated from Needham High). I'll also say that this is the obligatory "praise the teachers" section, which then had every person involved in public education in Massachusetts bracing for what followed.
I was in Lawrence yesterday witnessing firsthand the progress that’s been made in just a few short years there. Despite all their issues, and they have many, a renaissance is underway in their public schools. 
Choosing Lawrence means you get a city other than Boston into the speech. It also just so happens to be the only school district in the state under state control. The elected school board lost all power under state receivership; the state receiver runs the show, reporting only to the Commissioner.
This is actually kind of a weird example for Baker to choose. It gets him around the school committees, who I'd say are largely not fans of his ed policy, but it runs very strongly counter to the reason many vote conservatively: local control.
Attendance is up. Dropout rates are down. Test scores and graduation rates are up. The school day is longer. 
All true. All also done, much to the surprise of many, including myself, through direct cooperation and collaboration with the teachers' union.
And Lawrence is hardly alone. There are exceptional schools in many of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth. Proving they can get it done for kids, no matter what their circumstances. 
Makes you what to cheer, right? However, that "no matter what their circumstances" reveals the real heart of where Baker's coming from on education: poor, hungry, homeless, prenatally malnourished, not a native speaker of English, in an underfunded school? CIRCUMSTANCES DON'T MATTER.
Circumstances do matter, Governor Baker. And many of those circumstances are related to things you control or are involved in as governor. Own up. This is shirking.
But other schools really do need to step it up for the children and the families that they serve. Poor performance given the dramatic success of other schools can no longer be tolerated. 
Here's where I miss Secretary Malone already: if you are in schools anywhere in Massachusetts, you will know that the VERY LAST THING that they need to be told right now is "to step it up for the children and the families that they serve." Speak to anyone from the IA in kindergarten to the high school English teacher to the assistant principal to the superintendent to the school committee: we have stepped and stepped and stepped, often poorly supported by the state.
What sort of language is "no longer be tolerated"? This sounds like something your dad says when you stayed out past curfew. Who exactly is tolerating any such thing?
And while traditional public schools will always be the backbone of our education, we need more high performing public charter schools in underperforming school districts to complement them. As I speak, there are more than 45,000 Bay State kids and their parents on waiting lists for these schools. 
This is based on numbers the state warns against citing and the state auditor said lacked accuracy.There's also a presupposition that charter schools somehow are the answer to so-called underperforming districts; there's no actual evidence cited that districts are "complement[ed]" by charters. Quite the contrary. 
It’s wrong for any of us to stand on a front porch or in a city neighborhood sympathizing with a mom or dad when they tell us their child is not getting the education to succeed in life and then oppose lifting the charter school cap or making the changes we need to ensure that every school is great.
This is entirely untrue. MassLive has a good article on the challenges being faced in Holyoke and Springfield, for example. The bit that is missed in the article is that both cities are facing growing charter school population which, as you know, vaccuum resources right out of the public schools while serving a population that does not reflect the school population at large. See, for example, the analysis done by John Lerner on the attrition rates at some oft-cited Boston charters. This attrition thus concentrates a more needy population in the public schools while taking their support away. That's not something that's going "to ensure that every school is great."
Quite the contrary, in fact.

Thus on a day when it would have been appropriate to celebrate Massachusetts and its educational system (which does not exist in isolation), we got...a push to lift the cap on charter schools, mostly. This was the message of the new leader of the Commonwealth that considers itself the cornerstone of public education in America, with a specific dedication to public education in its Constitution, which is nationally celebrated for its leadership in educational excellence, and has in its very name a commitment to the wealth of all.
A push for greater inequity. Heartbreaking.

Let me also say: I would love to be wrong. I'll be watching. 

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