Reform and the Schools Establishment
One of the principal obstacles to reforming the public schools in our large cities, where the school failure and dropout rates are particularly high, remains the fact that those who are best positioned to carry out any reform, the Teachers Unions and the school Superintendents, are not willing to change their own mostly defensive positions in regard to the schools, and admit that major reforms are necessary.
Now without a doubt, at least for those who are not union members or school superintendents, the most significant public school reform effort within the city of Boston, and probably within the whole country, during the past 20 years has been the Commonwealth Charter School.
It is well known, if not well recognized, that a good number of the charter schools in Massachusetts have been extraordinarily successful. Several of them have all but eliminated the so-called achievement gap between Blacks and Latinos on the one hand, and White students on the other, that which some felt couldn’t be done, given the enormous disadvantages that encumber the lives of inner city Blacks and Latinos compared with their White peers in the suburbs.
What has been the response, or rather the lack of response, of the public school Establishment to these highly successful, so-called “no excuses” charter schools? Has the Establishment contacted these public schools in order to begin to understand their successes?
The previous Boston Superintendent may have visited one charter school once during his ten year tenure, although I’m not sure about that. The new Superintendent, as far as I know, has yet to reveal what she will do in this regard.
As for the Teachers Union, instead of welcoming the “new kid on the block” as friend and partner, it looked instead for a way to compete with the charter schools, perhaps in order to thereby lessen the obvious positive impact of these new schools on kids and families in Boston.
The Teachers Union’s response was to support pilot schools, although only begrudgingly because the pilots were a lot like charters and therefore represented a threat to the traditional way of doing things.
But other than this defensive action there has been nothing else in the way of response, no sharing of best practices, no other contact, as far as I know, between the Boston Teachers Union and the Commonwealth Charter Schools. I find this situation incredible, and I find it even more incredible that no one is even talking about it.
If I could I would ask the Superintendent of Schools along with Teachers Union several questions, all in an effort to better a bad situation. First, is it because they believe that poverty itself does most to explain the achievement gap and that without addressing this “gorilla” there is little that the school could do on its own to be effective?
Another question stems from the common establishment criticism of charters, that they remove good students from the “regular’ public schools to the detriment of these schools. But in fact in this regard who is most at fault?
Which group of schools, public charters or public exam, pilot and magnet schools, such as Boston Latin School, Fenway, and the Arts Academy, do the most “harm” to the non-selective district schools by removing the particularly talented children, not to mention the most motivated parents, from the general admissions pool?
Isn’t the answer is obvious? Clearly the highly selective exam, pilot, and magnet schools are most to blame, although we don’t hear anyone complaining about it. That no one does complain is probably because these schools have important friends, both in the School Department and in City Hall. OK, they are doing good work, but so are many of the Charters.
Two last questions, the first in regard to the most recent school reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which the defenders of the public schools see as a first step in the further dismantling of the public schools by private, usually corporate interests.
Does anyone really believe that Ted Kennedy, George Miller et al. had the undoing of the public schools in mind when they fashioned the law? I don’t think so. Wasn’t it one more attempt to address the problem of failing inner city schools, the problem that the Schools Establishment is loath to admit, let alone address?
Finally, in a series of op-ed pieces about intelligence appearing in the Wall Street Journal in January of this year Charles Murray makes a strong case that we are sending, or trying to send, too many students to four year colleges. For Murray it’s clear that many of them won’t be able to do the work, and will be quickly frustrated and disappointed and probably drop out.
Is Murray right, about there being only a minority of students in the inner city schools that are college material, perhaps no more than a quarter of an entering high school freshmen class?
If he is right wouldn’t it mean that we should be getting behind major structural changes in our schools? Isn’t this a reform that is urgently needed? And about this also we hear absolutely nothing from the Establishment. Do the Superintendent of Schools and the Teachers Union even have a position on this issue?Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized