The predictable cost of school autonomy

It’s interesting to see the outrage about the 125 unassigned teachers in Boston Public Schools who do not have classrooms of their own. Interesting because this is the predictable outcome of a change in hiring practices made last year.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough was widely praised for finding a loophole in the union contract that allowed the schools to hire outside of the “excess pool” of qualified teachers. Many of the people now criticizing the unassigned teachers were the very people who lauded McDonough.

Supt. Chang getting an earful from parents at last night's CPC meeting.
Supt. Chang getting an earful from parents at last night’s CPC meeting.

I want to be clear. I’m for the change because it allows schools to hire much earlier in the year than before. Before the loophole was discovered, all of the excess teachers needed to find a job before a school could hire an outside candidate. This often meant that schools were hiring in June and July when the most competitive candidates had found their way to Brookline. As a member of a hiring committee, I’ve personally seen this myself.

But the people who were pushing for this, such as the Boston Foundation, knew that there was a teachers contract, and they knew, or should have known, that if schools were given the freedom to look outside of the union teachers, there would be teachers without classrooms. And there would be a cost associated with this (10.5 million to be exact).

The reason why I’m writing this is because it brings me to my biggest gripe about education policy. (Guys, I’ve been a public school parent for 5 years, and my list of gripes looks like a CVS receipt.) And that is the folks making decisions like to view their decisions in isolation. When really, a school district is a system, and there are consequences to every change that you make. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make changes. But I would like to see a little bit more honesty about what the (often quite predictable) costs are to the policies that are implemented.

I would also like to see a little bit more wisdom on the part of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Governor, the legislature and the school committee. True leadership looks at the cost of their policies and grapples with them. But leadership may require a little bit less cavalier attitude towards our education system.

One thought on “The predictable cost of school autonomy

  1. Well said. I remember watching McDonough at the Boston Foundation panel talking about school autonomy and wondering where they were going with it.

    It reminds of the Gates Foundation pushing small schools in the early 2000s. BPS bought in, created many small schools (like 4 at West Roxbury High) and now BMRB is pushing to close schools to save cost.

    The ballot initiative to expand charters has me worried. It’s an entirely new mechanism for DESE to expand charters outside the existing mechanisms controlled by 1) the cap on charter spending as a percentage of district total budget and 2) level 4 receivership, if I’m reading it right. It allows DESE to open new charters in 1 out of every 4 school districts in MA in the bottom quartile of avg test score statewide with a cap based on total budget of all districts. I’ve been able to trace it back to Keyser Public Firm (Baker’s campaign guy’s firm) but not to the true sponsors.

    Shouldn’t we know if tests work before we make them high-stakes?

    Liked by 1 person

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