On the death of the Boston Olympics

LHMOjgYV_400x400I know that there are people who are disappointed that Boston won’t be holding the Olympics, not the least of which are my 9 and 5 year old, who had dreams of watching the Olympic torch run through our streets. But the two of them also believe in Santa Clause, and damn, sometimes dreams need to die.

I think public school parents can learn a lot from the No Boston Olympic activists. They asked hard questions and demanded to be taken seriously. Some called them bullies but I recognized their behavior as people who were refusing to be silenced.

When I heard about the bid, and the city’s potential to underwrite billions of dollars for cost overruns, I was outraged.

A couple of years ago a group of BPS parents went to our legislators in the state house to ask for more money for public schools. We were not well received. We told them about the teachers who were being fired, and no books, and no water, and buildings that were falling down on our heads.

And our duly elected officials, shook their heads, and guffawed and scolded us for taking up their time. Then they reached into their pockets and turned them inside out and said, “We’re broke! The Commonwealth is broke! No money for you!”

Mind you, the state legislature has a constitutional obligation to fund the schools.

Not a month later, the legislator approved a billion dollar expansion to the convention center. That is where I saw that there may be no money for schools but there was money.

So how dare you even talk to us about a taxpayer funded billion dollar sporting event. How dare you talk about equestrian events in our parks when the social workers have been fired, and the teachers have to buy pencils, and the schools are without computers.

How dare you talk about temporary stadiums when our MBTA is held together with staples and duct tape.

How dare you.

You want an Olympics? I, the taxpayer, reached into my pockets and turned them inside out.

No money for you.

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About those charter school wait lists

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Who will help these children as they wither on the charter school wait list?

Here’s a true story:

You’re a mom, and your son is four years old and you want him in full day kindergarten. In fact, you need him in full day kindergarten because you are just out of school, and the economy is bad, and you cannot afford childcare.

You want to register him for the fall but Boston Public Schools is really confusing. You like the school down the street but you find out there is a lottery, and you have to tour schools, and rank them and make sure you get your application in the first round or else everyone tells you that you are toast.

You do everything you are told but then you are informed there is no guarantee that you will even get a seat. This would be very bad.

You then hear, you are not sure where, that there are charter schools that are also public schools but they have a separate lottery. You don’t know anything about charter schools but you really need a K1 seat so you apply to one.

On the day that the charter school has a lottery you call to find out the result. The really harried secretary cannot give you any information. She tells you that if you get in you will receive a letter. That is the last that you hear from them.

But it’s ok because you actually get a seat at the BPS school down the street and your family loves it. There is a great community, and the kindergarten teacher is excellent. You feel lucky.

Years go by.

You are completely settled into your new school and look forward to your daughter attending as well. You have also learned more about charter schools such as their effect on local schools, their high attrition rates and their rough disciplinary practices. You are really glad you didn’t send your son to a charter school.

Then one day you get a letter informing you that if you do not respond you will be taken off the charter schools wait list. You are more than a little surprised because you applied years ago and hadn’t ever once heard from them.

You didn’t even know your name was on a wait list but turns out politicians are really concerned about your name on that wait list.

Charlie Baker just slashed millions of dollars from kindergarten, but he can’t sleep at night thinking about your name on that charter school wait list. He’s willing to do anything to help you get your name off that wait list that you didn’t realize you were on.

Secretary of Education Jim Peyser simply cannot go on knowing that your name is on that wait list. In fact, he’s pushing the mayor of Boston to be less protective of BPS in order to help you. He hopes to destroy the school that you love to get your name off that wait list you didn’t know you were on.

Point is, politicians make hay out of the charter school wait list as if the families on them were making a political statement by applying to a charter school. I’m sure there are families that do reject BPS and only want a charter school, but most families are just looking for a school. They aren’t rejecting anything. They aren’t making a statement in the education wars. If they are like I was, they didn’t even know a war was going on.

Stop politicizing our actions. Stop threatening to destroy the schools that we love and that we are committed to for your own political agenda.

We do need Accountability in Education

I’ve been hearing a lot about ACCOUNTABILTIY from the pro testing crowd. We have to test children within an inch of their life because if we don’t we aren’t holding teachers ACCOUNTABLE. And what would this world be without ACCOUNTABILITY?

I want the readers of this blog to know that I very much believe in ACCOUNTABILITY. In fact, I think there are a few people who should be held to account:

Where is the accountability for Governor Charlie Baker, who has only been in office half a year, for slashing millions of dollars in funding for early education and kindergarten grants? http://www.slate.com/blogs/schooled/2015/07/24/massachusetts_budget_nattle_kindergarten_spending_cuts_raise_concerns.html

Where is the accountability for the ladies and gentleman of the Massachusetts state legislator, who despite their constitutional obligations, continue to drastically underfund public schools sending them into desperate conditions? http://www.telegram.com/article/20150713/NEWS/150719648

Where is the accountability for city officials for allowing Boston schools to fall into a state of disrepair so that many of our school buildings should be condemned?

Where is the accountability for the world class universities and institutions that refuse to pay their fair share of PILOT payments even though they are supported by the city’s services? https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/07/21/many-boston-colleges-fall-short-voluntary-payments-city/D8jVTjEKrPkMOZq8N4q83M/story.html

I want the education reformers to know that I very much believe in accountability. I give all these folks a NEEDS IMPROVEMENT rating.

I, for one, am ready to hold people accountable.

Being programmed not educated

I ran across this article on Edushyster about the way teachers in Lawrence are being coached via ear pieces on how interact with the kids in the classroom. What are they being coached to do?

Don’t talk in full sentences

Don’t be overly enthusiastic

Stand in mountain pose

It has to be said the Lawrence has raised the ever loving test scores for the kids since they went into receivership. But to me this is a nightmare scenario and it gets to the heart of why I fight education reformers.

They don’t really want to educate our kids.

We know how to educate children. Teachers know how to educate children. What they are doing is trying to socially engineer us. They treat our children like widgets or computer programs. And they are trying to figure out just the right code to get the output that they want. What they want are high test scores. What they want is a skilled but highly obedient workforce.

They don’t really want urban children to be truly educated. They don’t want our children educated so that they can think, be creative, and act independently. They don’t want our children educated in a way that might cause them to question functioning paradigms.

Why are music, art and history being cut from the classroom?

Are the Gates children being barked at in their classroom?

Do you think Arne Duncan sends his kids to a school where a teacher is micromanaged via an earpiece?

How about Campbell Brown? Are the teachers in her children’s classroom being told not to be overly enthusiastic about their accomplishments?

This is the way they treat our children. Not their children.

Their children are receiving an education. Our children are being tested.

A Lobster and a Veto

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They had lobsters at the library today. I have no idea why.

Governor Baker has vetoed millions of dollars in grants for early education and expanded kindergarten. These are grants that cities rely upon to provide high quality care at a crucial time in a child’s development.

Personally, I really believe this is where you start to see the achievement gaps begin. Not in high school or elementary school. But here in early childhood. Folks who cannot afford high quality care will opt for substandard care at a vulnerable time in a child’s neurological development.

The legislature is going to attempt to override these vetoes. Strategies for Children has an online tool to quickly let your state reps know that you support overriding the governor’s veto.

As an aside, I don’t know Strategies for Children at all. They could be a front group for Darth Vader for all I know. But the tool is easy to use!

Dr. Chang’s 100 Day Plan

IMG_2847I’m very interested in the new superintendent’s 100 day plan to expand Advanced Work Classes to all who want it. As it is now, AWC is offered to students after they take part in a yearly exam. Superintendent Chang’s idea is to have AWC available to all who want it on a voluntary basis. In other words, you just sign your kid up.

I like the voluntary nature of this idea because I know that there are parents who do not want such an intense schooling experience for their kids at such a young age. I also very much agree with Citywide Parent Co-Chair Angie Camacho who is quoted in the article. Interventions need to happen prekindergarten and not several years later when they are going into the fourth grade.

On a personal note, my son was invited into AWC last year but we were not going to take the seat because we were happy with his current school. But he petitioned to tour the AWC classes and then he made a case for letting him go. My wife and I were really unsure about this because we felt strongly about supporting his current school. But I also felt that he was an intelligent young man and who was I to tell him not to take an opportunity that he wanted.

I later found out that his interest in AWC was very much tied to the fact that his new school has an Olympic size pool. So next fall should be interesting.

You can read the rest of Dr. Chang’s 100 Day Plan here: http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib07/MA01906464/Centricity/Domain/4/100DayPlan_Final%201.pdf 

BPS loses when it wins

The state is set to allow 668 more charter schools seat in Boston. The situation is complicated, but in a nutshell, 18% of the BPS budget is allowed to go to charter seats. Thus, if more money is allotted to BPS, then more charter seats are allowed to open thus further depleting our budget. We lose even when we win.

Part of my issue with the charter school debate is the lack of acknowledgment that when charter schools open up, it puts pressure on BPS to close and consolidate schools to remain viable. But no one wants to talk about that because no one likes closing schools. It’s traumatic for the kids and families, and the neighborhood loses a piece of its character. But there are only so many school age children in Boston.

Sometimes I try to be optimistic. I see all of the construction going on in Boston and I think perhaps more families will move in. But developers seem very interested in 1 and 2 bedroom housing and that is not the type of housing that families are interested in.

No, Boston Public Schools is not spending $20,000 on your kid

Anyone who has been to law school recently knows the difference between median and average. When you think about going to law school and visit different schools websites, you may see a proud statistic: Our graduates average $80,000 salary one year after graduation.

But once you graduate, you realize what that number really means. A few of your classmates make $160,000 plus that first year. And a whole bunch of you make $50,000 or less. No one is making $80,000. The average doesn’t tell you much about how most of your classmates are doing.

I raised my eyebrows when I saw the media proudly announcing that BPS spends $20,000 per student a year. Because, you know, that sounds pretty good. Sometimes, they bothered to mention that it was an average. Sometimes they made it sound like a baseline.

I found where everyone was getting that number, and it came from a census report that tallied up federal, state and local aid and divided by the number of students. It’s an average.

Now, why do I care so much? Because the state vastly underfunds public schools. The Foundation Budget Review came out stating that the state is not providing for the true cost of special education and for health care costs.

But what about that $20,000? you ask. It may be illustrative to see what BPS spends in relation to other schools districts though I think that’s questionable. Here are a few things to consider:

In attempt to stem special ed students being sent out of district to very expensive private schools, BPS has attempted to replicate some of these programs with strands. For example, there are autism strands in BPS that employ ABA specialist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc. These are not cheap to maintain.

The McKinley-Vento education act requires school districts to bus homeless kids back to their home district to help promote stability for the kids.

I’m very much in favor of both special education and McKinley-Vento but they are both underfunded programs. And they skew the data a bit.

So yes, $20,000 a year is a healthy average. But unless you have a high needs child (who has every right to a public education) they are not spending that much on your child.

DFER had a few things to say to me about this. They didn’t quite get my point but they made me a pretty graphic. You can see their response here: http://test-dfermass.nationbuilder.com/_20_502_per_pupil 

Small Pox will come roaring back if you opt out of PARCC

My daughter seeing that experiential learning is for the birds.
My daughter seeing that experiential learning is for the birds.

A few days ago, the Senate rejected a measure to ESEA that would protect parents’ right to Opt Out of state standardized testing. Though I appreciate the efforts of Utah Republican Mike Lee, I do not need the government’s permission to protect my children from harmful testing. That is my right as a parent.

Wait a minute, you may be thinking, you sound an awful lot like an anti-vaxxer! You might think this if you are brain addled or being funded by the Gates foundation.

The fact of the matter is that the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations has a broad scientific consensus. They have been tested and peer reviewed and approved by the FDA.

This is not true for state required standardized tests. They have not been shown effective in closing the achievement gap or improving student achievement. In fact, there is good reason to believe that they are harmful.

Parents and teachers do not even receive the results from PARCC testing until 6 months after the test. Long after such results would be useful. So who does find these tests useful?

You might also consider that the major players behind the Pro Testing movement from Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Campbell Brown have opted their kids out of PARCC. They have done this by sending their children to private schools.

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.