Don’t give me Common Core and call it Advanced Work

Here is a metaphor that I’ve been telling everyone that I can get to listen to me. (The number of people willing to listen to me dwindles by the day.)

Say there is a café that you love, and you stop in every day to this café because it’s special. Unknown-4It gives you exactly what you need from a cup of coffee in the morning. And then one day, you see a sign from management saying that the café has been bought up by a chain. It makes you nervous, but you comfort yourself by saying, “More people will get to enjoy this special place.” So you watch the chain come in and scale the model, and replicate it, but the next time you go in, you realize that whatever it was that made that coffee shop special, is now gone. It’s just another chain.

I’m bringing this up because I believe that is exactly what is happening with Advanced Work Classes right now.

I absolutely believe that Advanced Work should be expanded. I absolutely believe more kids need access to this wonderful program. I don’t believe that is what is happening.

Let me tell you about my son’s class where he is one of three white children. All of the other kids are children of color. Here are some of the books he has read this year. Note, they read the entire book not just passages:

Bud not Buddy
The Search for Delicious
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Johnny Tremain
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple
The Number the Stars

They then do in depth discussions about the books that they have read and have project based learning activities to tie in with the readings.

He has had a remarkable year. A visiting professor told his teacher that the discussions the children were having are so sophisticated they could be in high school. They are in the fourth grade.

So I was excited to hear that the new superintendent wanted to expand the program because I think the children of Boston should have access to this high quality of programming.

I want to acknowledge that is difficult to scale things. But I’ve grown concern because the teachers in the expanded advance work classes are not being given the same level as autonomy as my son’s teacher. They are being directed to use the Engaged New York curriculum. The Engaged New York Curriculum is not advanced work. It is Common Core curriculum.

I had a somewhat intense conversation with a BPS administrator where I pointed out that it was the autonomy that gave my son’s teacher the freedom to craft the curriculum to the class’s needs. She said that they wouldn’t be able to manage that for all of the BPS classes because they had to make sure that what the teachers were teaching was aligned to the common core.

And Engaged NY is fully aligned.

I pointed out to this administrator that Common Core and Advanced Work were not the same. That the district had decided to push Common Core and stick an Advanced Work label on it.

And she said,

Well, we aren’t calling it Advanced Work anymore. We are calling it AccesstoEducationExcelllenceGobblySmookySmookNonsenseWeHopeYouDon’tNoticeTheSwitchandBait.

So this is maddening. The district is NOT expanding AWC. They just aren’t. In fact, they are closing down the AWC classrooms in an attempt to standardize the instruction across the district. Because they don’t trust the teachers enough to use their judgments about what is best for the kids in their care. And they aren’t being honest with us.

You can’t differentiate and standardize at the same god damn time. Standardization and differentiation create friction because they are forces in opposing motion. You need to trust the teachers to teach. And you need to trust the students to learn.

The reason why Advanced Work is such an amazing program is because it gives the classroom space that is rare in today’s public schools. The fact that more children of color will not be able to experience this is a shame. And the fact that is being done in the name of Equity is just too much.



I can imagine a new Boston. I can imagine a new day for public schools. We just have to believe in it, collectively.

Boston has the wealth. We can fund our schools.

We must vote in leadership that supports public education. We must make education the single most important issue when we vote. We must press every single elected official for details on how they will support the schools.

And more importantly, we have to vote people out of office when they break their promises to us.

I’ve been invited to the table but I don’t want to eat with wolves. I refuse to entertain relationships with people who clamor to close our schools on the one hand, and then turn around advocate for more charter seats on the other – as if the two weren’t related.

I don’t want to hear about structural deficits when 56% of our Chapter 70 aid goes to charter schools that only serve 8,000 students in the city.

I want to imagine a different Boston.

One where there are charter schools, yes, but not at the expense of the public schools.

I can imagine a Boston where our schools are joyful centers of learning. Where there is art, music and plenty of recess.

I can imagine a Boston where restorative justice is used and not suspensions to help children learn to modulate their behavior. I can imagine a Boston where children are allowed to be children and are given space to develop self-discipline.

I can imagine a Boston where teenagers are not spending their precious time going to school committee meetings to beg for crumbs but are engaged in active learning opportunities, sports, internships and stem activities.

I can imagine a Boston where our elected and school officials are true partners with us, where we have developed trust and treated each other with respect so that if we do fall upon hard times, there is a well of good will to draw upon.

I can imagine a Boston where parents aren’t laying awake at night wondering if they made some horrible mistake staying in the city and not leaving for the suburbs.

I can imagine a Boston where your zip code does not determine the quality of your education. I can imagine a Boston where any high school in the district is a solid choice for your child.

I can imagine a Boston where schools are opening in beautiful buildings not being closed or constantly threatened.

We don’t have to live like this. But it really doesn’t come down to us. We must defend and support pro education candidates. If pro education candidates do not present themselves, we must be willing to put our hat in the ring. Because we really do have a structural deficit. And that is a structure that promotes the interest of the vested and powerful over the vulnerable. But the big secret is that there are more of us than there is of them. We have the power to change things we just don’t know it.

I can #ImageBoston with no more tears at our school committee meetings.