Saturday, June 1, 2013

Corporate-Back Education Reform Groups and Massachusetts Politics

As a teacher, teacher educator, parent, and resident of Boston, I am concerned that powerful corporate-backed education reform groups and venture-philanthropists are trying to influence both the state legislature and the Boston mayoral race.

In education, Massachusetts is the top performing state in the nation and ranks only behind Singapore internationally on math and science tests. Boston is one of the best urban school districts in the country. It has long been touted as a national model for urban schools. In 2006, Boston won the distinguished Broad Prize for Urban Education as the best city school district in the nation. On the most recent NAEP, Boston 4th and 8th grade students’ gains exceeded the national average for all public schools. Although there is certainly more work to be done, the district has seen amazing educational progress over the past decade and the students, teachers, and parents deserve the accolades. Yet, it is also a district that remains relatively unscathed by market-based reformers. Most students in the district attend traditional public schools, with only 8.7% of Boston students attending a charter school. Only five schools in the entire district are run by outside management groups. There is not a teacher shortage and Teach for America teachers have found placement in only a few schools in the district. It has an active and strong teachers union, all of the district's teachers are in the union, and the teachers are relatively well paid. The vast majority of teachers have gone through university-based teacher preparation programs and hold master's degrees.

Some market-based education reform groups hope to change this. Currently there is a limit to the number of charter schools that can be created in each city or town in Massachusetts. Recently, these groups have begun lobbying the state to eliminate the cap on charter schools and there is currently a bill working its way through the State House that would eliminate the cap on charter schools. What is most egregious about this law is that it only eliminates the cap in the state's 30 lowest performing school districts and would almost exclusively effect the state's urban and rural districts, while shielding the more affluent. In response, the Boston Teachers Union and local parents groups are organizing a press conference and rally against raising the state cap on charter schools this Tuesday. Here is a link to the rally's flyer.

These market-based reform groups have also stated they hope to dramatically reform Boston's and Massachusetts' public schools through the political system, including a recent proposed ballot referendum and the expansion of Teach for America into Boston. With Tom Menino deciding to not run for a sixth term, this is the first time since his election 20 years ago that there will be a competitive mayoral race. These groups have made clear that they intend on supporting and donating to "pro-reform" mayoral candidates (Update: Democrats for Education Reform has officially endorsed John Connolly for mayor). They hope Boston will one day adopt the type of reforms found in Chicago, Philadelphia, L.A., and New Orleans, which focus on increased privatization and decreased teachers union influence. Many of these groups are hosting an educational forum at the Brooke Charter School this Wednesday (6/5) at 7 pm. Consider attending by registering here.

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