Why would anyone enroll their kid in Boston Public Schools?

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Five years ago, my wife and I decided to put our son into Boston Public Schools. This was against everyone’s advice. But we found BPS to a warm, supportive environment for our children’s education.

Our kids have been consistently engaged and supported by hard working teachers. Today, I believe our choice to have our kids receive a public school education is under attack from politicians who underfund our schools to well heeled hedge fund managers determined to privatize education.

I want to chronicle what we lose when we agree to turn public schools into charters. This is our story.

And the fight goes on

A Boston Herald opinion piece recently compared the fight for charter schools to same sex marriage. I do believe that there are some parallels to the two political movements even if the gentleman came to completely the wrong conclusions.

Ten years ago, I couldn’t sleep. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had declared in Goodridge vs. the Department of Health, that gays and lesbians had a right to marry under the Massachusetts state constitution.

That decision garnered quite a bit of interest to say the least. The legal maneuvers are somewhat complicated to explain. But essentially, the Christian right mobilized and money came pouring in from out of state to try and convince Massachusetts to change its state constitution. At the time, I believed that this would head to a statewide vote.

I couldn’t believe that voters were going to be able to vote on something that so intimately affected my life. It had a happy ending. The vote was stopped in the legislature but I’ll never forget the experience.

Now, a decade later, I’m again pacing the halls at night. I love my children’s BPS schools. But a statewide vote on charter schools threatens their school communities. Statewide, voters will decide on whether or not to allow 12 new charter schools a year, every year. If Question 2 passes, up to 45 BPS schools could close in the next 12 years.

The question is being funded by wealthy, out of state interests, who want access to our education dollars. This is exactly what fighting for gay marriage felt like. The campaign for Yes on 2 is trying to convince voters to vote yes. And that yes will hurt my family. All of our families.

I hope Massachusetts will again reject out of state interests, just like they did before, and vote No on 2.

In the meantime, please watch this video that the unstoppable Krissy Cabbage made about the fight to save our public schools.

Venture Capitalist Tweet at Me

In my life, I have not had much occasion to interact with the fabulously wealthy unless a Beacon Hill lady has stumbled into an AA meeting I’m attending. But something odd has happened in the last week where Massachusetts Twitter is being inundated by out of state Tweeters who are imploring us to #LiftTheCap on the number of charter schools.

These people are often tweeting from places where education reform has been a complete disaster like Chicago, New Orleans and New Jersey. But they are not interested in cleaning up the mess that they have made in their own backyards. They are fixated on getting more kids into more charter schools.

One gentleman in particular likened me and Boston activist Eli Gerzon to Nazis and White Supremacists, and himself to Freedom Riders in the South.

I believe this is really important because Freedom Riders put their own bodies on the line and faced arrests, violence from mobs, and a few of them even lost their lives fighting segregation in the south. They so believed in desegregation that they literally paid in blood.

Mr. Melhorn, a white venture capitalist, trolling Boston parents from an air conditioned room in between his social engagements in Washington D.C. believes he is a freedom rider. He is not facing mobs, or police dogs. He has no skin in the game.

So this is where I start to have a little bit of an issue. Those of us who have been working on equity in the system have given countless hours to this work. We have attended untold number of meetings, written emails, op-eds, and protests. Closer to home, we have volunteered in our schools, raising thousands of dollars for our underfunded schools, we have attended parent council meetings and parent teacher conferences. This is the price we have paid to make our schools what they are.

Are they perfect? Hell no. But Massachusetts is the highest performing state in the nation. If MA were it’s own country, it would score in the top ten for math and science. Boston Public Schools is the second highest ranking urban school district in the country.

Ten years ago, Detroit lifted its cap on the number of charter schools and since then, DPS has been completely decimated and the entire system is in chaos. DPS had problems but the problems it had were not so acute that it deserved to be destroyed. And the reformers solution made everything infinitely worse just as they have brought destruction to Chicago and Philadelphia.

Impervious to self reflection, this does not interest them. They are still donating 18 million dollars to convince Massachusetts voters to lift the cap. Because this is about demagoguery and not the real lives of children and families.

These people will bear none of the cost or consequences of lifting the cap in charter schools. Their children’s schools will not close. Their children’s schools will not lose funding. Their lives will not be disrupted. Their taxes will not fund these schools. There is literally no risk to them whatsoever.

We will be left to pick up the pieces of our disrupted school district, and they will be tweeting at the next city, going to sleep and dreaming of all of the freedom they are riding.

I storied some of the tweets coming from folks out of state:

 

When it comes to charter schools, Charlie Baker is all wet

Slow clap for Governor Baker. He managed to keep talking in the rain yesterday at the kick off of the Great Schools MA rally to lift the cap on charter schools.

It began to pour during the well choreographed photo op on the state house steps, and Gov Baker seized the dramatic moment and said,

“You know something folks? For too many children and too many families in the Commonwealth of Mass., it’s been raining for a really long time.”

Did you notice what he didn’t say? What he never says?

How much this is all going to cost the taxpayer. He may shed a tear for the fisherman in New Bedford, but he doesn’t cry for the taxpayers of Massachusetts.

Charter schools serve 32,000 (4%) of children in Massachusetts. Yet, they cost 400 million dollars a year. If Question 2 is adopted, within 10 years, it will cost Massachusetts up to a billion dollars a year. The state underfunds public education by a billion dollars TODAY.

But Governor Baker has not said a single, solitary word about how the Commonwealth will pay for these 12 new schools a year.

And he won’t because though he markets himself as a fiscal conservative, he is not. In reality, he is a neoliberal. His interest lie is not in protecting the taxpayer but in transferring public dollars to private entities.

Question Two will be a fiscal disaster for Boston

CnHuCxpW8AQ0s9wI’ve been kicked off the PokemonGo servers without so much as a Weedle to capture so while I wait to have my reality reaugmented, I thought I would write a blog post.

The ballot question line up came out today.

Question 2 would allow for the creation of 12 new charter schools a year.

And you, dear voter, should Vote No on 2. Why? Because it would be a fiscal disaster for Boston.

Don’t believe me? Well, it’s right here in the Executive Summary for the City of Boston budget presentation.

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..unless the State acts to address the charter school cap in a way that protects Boston, voter approval of the proposed charter school cap ballot initiative could have a devastating effect on the City’s future finances. (Page 2 of the Executive Summary for Fiscal Year 2017)

That would be ballot initiative Number Two. The one I’m telling you not to vote for.Note that it says, it would have a devastating effect on the CITY’s finances. It does not say Boston Public Schools finances. This is the city’s finances.

That is because Boston already loses an astonishing $120 million dollars to charter schools each year. That is what is lost with only 34 charter schools in Boston. If Question 2 is passed, there could be 12 new charters schools added each year. They are approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). The chair of BESE has made it clear that BESE should not consider budgetary effects of the charters on the surrounding district when approving charters. BESE will not save us. We could lose hundreds of millions more each year.

Now ask yourself – where is that money going to come from? Really. Where is it going to come from?

I hear your silent objection: But aren’t cities reimbursed for charter school tuition?

On paper yes. But the reality is that the state budget actually has to write in a number that funds the reimbursement. And if they don’t, there is nothing forcing them to. There are no consequences for the state if they do not reimburse us. And they haven’t fully reimbursed Boston in years.

And even if they did reimburse us – where is that money going to come from?

Really. Think about it. Who is going to pay the reimbursements? Where does the state get its money from?

You. The taxpayer. And it is really expensive to fund education. Now, if you go, and you set up an entirely parallel and duplicate system, you will be paying twice as much for the exact same services. You, the taxpayer, will be paying twice for the same services you could be paying once for.

But the state isn’t going to do that because according the Foundation Budget Review Commission, the state is already underfunding public education by nearly a billion dollars.

So there will be no million dollar reimbursement for Boston from. That money will come out of the city’s coffers.

How do you imagine that is going to play out?

We are first

I have literally no connection to Boston Latin School. None. I do not know if the resignation of the administration was the appropriate action to take or not. But everyone else is popping off about it, I decided I might as well enter the fray.

The discussion of the racial climate at the school has broadened into a deeper discussion about why the student body of BLS does not reflect the demographic of BPS.

For those of you who live outside of Boston, admission to BLS is prestigious and based on an admissions test (ISEE) and scores for the 5th and 6th grade year.

Boston Public Schools is 87% minority on the whole.
Boston Latin School is 52% minority.

A significant portion of BLS students come from private and parochial settings. Only 60% of the student body is from Boston Public Schools. However, that is a higher percentage than in the past. As a parent in Boston, I have been advised, more than once, to send my children to a private school for elementary and then try to get them into BLS for middle and high school. You can see how well I take advice.

I believe that a great deal of BPS’s problem is the perception that BLS is the “only” good school in BPS. Not only do I not think that is true, my casual observation is that it is not necessarily the best high school in BPS. But that’s just my opinion. At any rate, BLS is the educational planet that all other BPS schools must orbit.

The new superintendent has promised to expand free test prep for BPS students in an attempt to diversify the school. It’s a start but I think the problem is much broader and deeper than that.

Urban schools across the country are imploding due to a lack of funding. Considering the demographics of urban school children, I have a hard time seeing this as anything but naked racism. Why is it that we have only one school that is considered “good?’ The issue is not the ISEE test. The issue is the elementary schools not adequately preparing the kids to be competitive so they can get into BLS.

After being through a couple of budget cycles now, I now believe that this shit runs deep and it’s systematic.

So I have a few other culprits for the lack of racial diversity and the climate at BLS.

• Mayor Walsh for refusing to adequately fund the school system though we are in a year of unprecedented growth and tax revenue. Does anyone really think our elementary children are going to be better prepared for Latin after the chaos he has put us through?

• The entire editorial board of the Boston Globe for being openly hostile to the students, parents and teachers of Boston Public Schools. Notice how they treat us when we stand up for ourselves as if education weren’t a right that free people should fight for. They spit out the mayor’s talking points as if they were his PR people and not the newspaper of record.

• Governor Baker for not supporting public education and actively seeking to dissolve it through a poorly thought out ballot measure that will only further defund and destabilize us. Massive school closures caused by this measure will only hurt our children.

• The entire school committee for not fighting for our interests even though that is what they have been charged to do by the city’s charter. This includes Superintendent Chang. How are our children going to compete for admission to Latin when they lose teachers every single year? How are they going to be competitive with year after year of resource reductions?

• Boston SPEDPac for not adequately informing and mobilizing its members around the budget cuts to special education. SPED kids are perfectly capable of performing at a level that will gain them admission to BLS. But they must have adequate support all the way through their school years. Access to a 4 week test prep course doesn’t cut it.

• The various foundations, non profits and educational organizations that have decided that Boston Public Schools’ budget is a giant champagne glass that they can jump in and soak up. Read QUEST latest press release and look through the emails, and then ask yourself how much of their involvement is about the children?

If any one of the above had decided that the children of Boston deserved the same

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The kiddos at Pride with City Councilor Jackson

educational opportunities as those in the suburbs, we would not be where we are today. Instead, they have either directly contributed to or played along with the destabilization of our school district. They are just as culpable as the BLS administration.

In short, I think the lack of racial diversity at Boston Latin School is emblematic of a much deeper problem. The city of Boston does not take the education of its children seriously. So I will patiently await for all of their resignations. You can post them right here in the comments.

Off topic

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These are my kids sitting at the edge of the water. You can’t see them but maybe 20 feet away there is a trio of seals that played in the ocean in front of us all day.

This is what I know about sharks.

  1. Shark attacks are rare but not unheard of. Not even on the Cape.
  2. The great white shark lives in the waters by the beach. I know because there were multiple signs telling me so.
  3. Sharks eat seals. So if you see a seal, there is a good chance that their natural predator is not far.

So my kids were sitting on the edge of the water because I was afraid. The signs made me afraid, and the seals made me afraid. But the kids were begging me to let them into the water.

I was thinking a lot about the family that lost a child to the alligator attack, and the family whose little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure.

I relented to my kids, of course, and let them go into the water. Because sitting on the edge of the beach is no fun when the ocean is calling you.

If there had been a shark attack, I’m sure I would have been roundly condemned on the internet. There were multiple warning signs, after all. I didn’t ignore the signs. I assessed the risk, and let my children swim.

Personally, I think the condemnation is a bit of a talisman for some people. A way to convince themselves that they would never be so foolish to let their child wade into a pond marked “Not Swimming” or turn their back on a child at the zoo.

But see, I don’t buy it. Because life is full of calculated risks and we make foolish decisions all the time. I think even people without children know its true. You don’t have a condom but you have sex anyway. After being out drinking with your friends, you get into your car figuring it is probably safe to drive. You just don’t feel like putting that bike helmet on.

And most of the time, it works out. Except for when it doesn’t. This isn’t the way they teach you to think in law school. In law school, you are taught: something bad happened then someone is responsible.

But I think, we’re all just really lucky. Sometimes you jump into shark infested waters because life isn’t about sitting at the edge of a beach.

Not to put too fine a point on it…

The mayor does not plan to close 36 schools

Source: https://www.boston.com/news/education/2015/11/09/mayors-office-calls-esquire-article-on-his-charter-school-stance-untrue-and-unsourced

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Source: https://www.scribd.com/doc/315046292/Boston-City-Hall-internal-emails-released-June-7-2016-by-QUEST

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Source: http://baystatebanner.com/news/2016/jun/07/school-building-sell-/?page=3

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Source: https://www.scribd.com/doc/315046292/Boston-City-Hall-internal-emails-released-June-7-2016-by-QUEST

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Source: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/03/07/bps-students-protest-monday/oxUrL4OG9vnjR2TkmmmcsN/story.html

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Source: https://www.scribd.com/doc/315046292/Boston-City-Hall-internal-emails-released-June-7-2016-by-QUEST

 

 

Why don’t we riot

Dear Reader,

I want you to come with me down a philosophical rabbit hole. A rabbit hole that explores the implications of an important administrative law case that was decided in 1970, and its message for us, the recipients of reformers’ manipulations in our educational system.

I understand that this sounds dubious and possibly boring (and trust me, administrative law is mind crushingly boring) but stick with me.

I have been wondering a lot about what keeps us, the parents of children in public schools, from rioting. Our children go to broken down schools that lose resources every year, our teachers are fired, our field trips are cancelled, and we spend endless hours, endless hours fundraising.

DSC_0267What keeps us from going bonkers on elected officials? Most parents will do anything for their children, and there is nothing more important than education, and yet, we accept this state of affairs. Why are we so well behaved?

Back in the 1960s, there was a disabled man in New York by the name of John Kelly who was on welfare. Kelly was ordered by his caseworker to move into a place called the Barbara Hotel or his welfare benefits would be terminated. He moved into the hotel for a week or so but it turned out to be a drug den, and so then he moved out. His caseworker discovered this and then his welfare benefits were promptly terminated.

A welfare rights organization sued the state of New York based not on the unfairness of the situation to Mr. Kelly but on procedural grounds. This is important. Procedures are a type of system. They are organizing principals. And what they argued was that Mr Kelly’s Due Process rights were violated because he was not given a hearing prior to having his welfare benefits terminated. He was given no opportunity to be heard.

Now when I was in law school, I was taught about Goldberg v. Kelly by an excellent professor and a very good man. This case set up important procedural rights before the government can terminate benefits to its recipients. But this case has always really gotten under my skin. Because Mr. Kelly violated the welfare regulations by not obeying his caseworker. And there was next to no chance that a due process procedure was going to change the outcome.

Now my professor argued that even though it would not change the outcome, it was still very important to give Mr. Kelly a chance to be heard in order to respect the dignity of Mr. Kelly.

Now I am the oldest child of a single mother with five children from Sunnyslope, AZ. And I objected to poor people being treated this way. So I went up to my professor after class, and I said, I think giving Mr. Kelly the illusion that he would be able to change things when he really could not was just about the worse thing that you could do to him, and it in no way respected his dignity.

This professor argued to me that I was missing the point. Allowing Mr. Kelly to participate gave the proceedings a normative legitimacy and people who were allowed to participate in the process had better feelings about the procedure and it’s adverse outcomes if they were given the chance to be heard.

It is a systems issue. People are less likely to riot if they are given the illusion that they had an opportunity to change the outcome.

Not incidentally, my professor had been the clerk to Judge Garrity so I think he knew something about what happens when a procedure does not have the sheen of normative legitimacy.

I have been thinking about this case and this conversation as I think back to all of the budget hearings we attended this winter and spring.

I’ve been thinking about all of the crying, the pleading, the students begging the school committee to help us. I’ve been thinking about the socialist alternative that jumped up in the middle of the meetings to make speeches. The police officers who hovered threateningly by students they thought were too disruptive. The student representative on the school committee who broke down in hysterics discussing this years budget.

I’ve been thinking about the whole circus.

There are people who can change the situation. The real decision makers are old men who hid behind foundations. They do not have children in the Boston Public School system, and many of them don’t even live in Boston. They have seats at the table. They are being heard but you are not invited to that conversation.

Because at the end of the day, the school committee shrugged its shoulders and said, there was nothing they could do.

Because that is not the point of the school committee. The point of the school committee is to give the proceedings a normative legitimacy.

The point of the school committee is to keep us from rioting.

Counting ghost seats

The way Mayor Walsh speaks about Boston Public Schools, you would think that you could walk into any school in the district and find vast empty spaces.

“We have maintained building space for 93,000 students in a district whose enrollment has declined to 57,000,” Mayor Walsh at the Annual Address to the Boston Municipal Bureau in March.

Doesn’t that sound like you could just walk into any old school building and count empty chairs, one, two, three, four….

As if 40,000 kids just got up and walked away from their desks leaving sad, empty seats behind.

But if you walk into any BPS school, you will see that is not the case at all. You will see that classrooms are filled with kids. Teachers often have carts carrying their materials from classroom to classroom because there just isn’t enough space.

Mayor Walsh is getting his number from the McKinsey report that the city paid $660,000 for. It took a lot of effort, but a very persistent hero from QUEST doggedly pursued an FOIA request until the report was released in its entirety.

Now, if you look at the report, you will not see any information about how they calculated that number. That’s because their calculations are a trade secret. There are some hints, however.

If you look on page 115, you will see this statement:

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The current 130 schools could hold over 90,000 students if operating at full capacity without student-teacher ratio limits.

Think about this statement for a minute. If you could just shove kids into a classroom without regard to student/teacher ratio, you could argue that BPS has empty seats.

So there are not 40,000 empty seats in BPS. These seats are theoretical. They only exist if there are no legal, contractual or educational limits to the amount of children you can stuff into a classroom. A reality that does not exist anywhere in this country. You don’t just shove kids into a building and call it a school. Just like hospitals, schools have spatial needs for art, music, special education and playgrounds.

And it is this faulty logic that the mayor is using to make a case for closing schools.

But why? Why is he going to great lengths to argue that we should close schools?

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On slide 24 of the presentation, there is a little gift to developers.

Extremely valuable property in the Fenway and on Newbury Street that could be sold. That would be Snowden International on Newbury Street (a building that cannot be sold because it is held in a trust) and BLS and BAA in the Fenway.

This isn’t about our kids. This is about selling our buildings to land developers. Our children are merely in the way.

Becoming mayor does not give Marty Walsh the right to raid public assets. These schools belong to us, the parents, students and teachers of BPS. We’ve paid for them with the endless hours that we have invested running bake sales, silent auctions, and dance offs. We have paid for them with the time we have spent in parent conferences, sporting events, Parent Council meetings and clean up days. We have entrusted our children to this system. We have checked their homework and signed the blasted reading logs. We have accompanied classes on school trips. We have Opted In or Opted Out of PARCC/MCAS.

These schools are not just buildings. They are not just names. They are the anchors of our children’s lives. They are staples of the community.

You do not get to decide that the real estate is more valuable to you than our children’s education, Mayor Walsh. You have no right to this. No right at all.

Defunding Autism Programs is a heck of a way to celebrate Autism Awareness month

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April is Autism Awareness Month

On April 13, Mayor Walsh and city officials presented the FY17 budget. At the podium, Superintendent Chang remarked, “We believe that a budget is a reflection of our values” during the BPS portion of the presentation. State and local officials so often equate Budget to Values that it is bordering on a trope. But I want to take them on their word and examine what this FY 17 budget values.

After sustained protests that culminated in 2,000 kids walking out of their BPS classrooms, Mayor Walsh backed off generalized cuts to the high schools. However, previously planned cuts to Special Education are still in place.

Special education is being underfunded by 5 million dollars. The Autism Strands and the Social Emotional Strands are being asked to increase class sizes and less money will be given to the special education students in Inclusion Classrooms.

This isn’t a lean year for the city. The city has increased its budget by 4% but the increase given to BPS is only 1.3%. There was an 8 million-dollar surplus in the budget due to a light winter we had that was completely given to the Parks Department.

So what do we value?

Because the budget cuts specifically target the autism strands and the social and emotional strands, the schools that are getting hit the hardest are the schools with high numbers of these children. The schools that service the most vulnerable children in the city are being asked to shoulder the burden of balancing the city’s fiscal responsibilities.

I would argue that underfunding special education is not only immoral but fiscally unwise.

Later on in the budget presentation, Mayor Walsh lamented the high number of children in the city that are given out of district placements. To those who are not familiar with special education law, millions of dollars are spent sending special education children to specialized schools if the city cannot provide them with an appropriate education. This is because all children have a constitutional right to an education. So if a district cannot provide an education to a child with special needs, they are sent to one of these private schools at great cost (anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 per year plus transportation.)

Not one of the bean counters down at 1 City Hall Square seem able to connect the dots.

If you underfund special education, and increase class sizes for the autism and social/emotional strands, you will have more children who qualify for out of district placement because their parents will be able to argue that they are not being given an appropriate education.

The city will be quick to point out that the class sizes are still within state law. But of course they are. The city would be sued if they weren’t. An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Plan. So the out of district placement decisions are on a case by case basis. It doesn’t matter if the class sizes are in compliance with state law. If the children in these classrooms are not making progress, their parents will have an argument that BPS cannot meet their needs, and that they need to be sent out of district.

Thus these cuts are penny wise and pound foolish.

We need to recommit to our children with special education needs and stop trying to nickel and diming the special needs students. It’s wrong to balance the city’s budget at the expense of the students who need special education services. This is particularly true in a flush year where the budget cuts are only happening because Mayor Walsh decided appropriately funding Boston Public Schools was not something he needed to do.