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
Childtimes
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.

#ImagineBoston

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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.

How to Quell a Rebellion

I’ve had a child in Boston Public Schools for 5 years now. And every year, the budget that is allotted to the school system is less than the rising costs. This results in painful cuts at the schools.

Parents are becoming a little bit more vocal about the situation.

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So I’ve been taking note of the myriad of ways that the establishment has used to discredit us.

Deny that it is happening

At the State of the City Address in January of 2016, this is what Mayor Walsh had to say about education:

I know we share this priority. Now let’s fund it. Let’s work through the state budget process this year to make it a full investment in our children, our families, and our Commonwealth’s future. Let’s live up to our reputation as the world leader in learning.

Outside of the very hall where he was giving this speech, 150 or so people were marching in 2 degree weather protesting the fact that he wasn’t funding it.

The mayor has repeatedly denied that there are budget cuts at the school level even though teachers have been signing the work release letters throughout the winter. This was further reinforced by the Herald editorial on February 22, 2016 that stated, mysteriously, that the “budget cuts are off the table.”

On February 26, 2016, I called into speak with Mayor Walsh on Boston Public Radio’s monthly Ask the Mayor segment. I was on the phone with him telling him that my daughter’s school is losing 2 teachers. He kept denying that teachers were being laid off, and simply said they are looking at “efficiencies.”

This is a very simple maneuver and boy it works. I’ve had friends get mad at me for calling the mayor a liar but there is really no other way to put it. The mayor isn’t telling the truth, and he is doing it to deliberately confuse the public about what is happening in BPS. Furthermore, the press never calls him out on this and in fact, parrots his lies.

Bore them into compliance

Now, you actually have to interact with the school department to see how this one works. But if you go to any of the budget hearings, you will be subjected to an hour-long presentation about HOW the budget is being cut. Now, it doesn’t take too much emotional intelligence to understand that what parents want know is WHY the budget is being cut but that question never gets answered.

I’ve also seen this dynamic with Supt. Chang (a man’s whose job I do not envy.) When asked a question about why this is happening or even how can you let this happen, he will launch into a long recitation of the mechanics of taking dollars and cents away from the high schools and special needs programs.

You know your question isn’t really being answered but you’ve fallen asleep by the time he’s gotten to the end of it.

Divide and Conquer

On February 25, 2016, Farah Stockman threw down the “Blame the Teachers” narrative. Boston’s has the largest income inequality of any big city in America. So this is an easy and classic way to stir up resentment. People are genuinely suffering in Boston so it’s easy to shame people who are making a living wage.

BTW – the Director of Families for Excellent Schools in Massachusetts enthusiastically cheered this column on.

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Families for Excellent Schools is the group promoting more charter schools in Massachusetts. This is also the group that has ties to Eva Moskowitz in New York. Does that name sound familiar to you? Her Success Academy Charter Schools have been in the NY Times recently for their abuse of kids.

As an interesting side note, Farah Stockman is leaving the Boston Globe to go work for the New York Times.

Ignore Us

This is the governor’s tactic. He just doesn’t say anything about the school districts’ budgets – ever. It’s pretty darn effective to tell you the honest truth. I guess that’s why he’s Mr. Popularity.

Hyperbole and Misinformation

Before I start in, I want to say that I’ve had a lot of interactions with a lot of reporters in this city, and the vast majority of the interactions have been good. This includes several staff reporters from the Boston Globe.

But when it comes to the editorial departments, let’s say I have some concerns.

Because the mayor has chosen to not fully fund BPS at a level that accounts for rising costs, the schools are experiencing devastating cuts. $50 million dollars in cuts to be exact.

So how do the editorial pages of the Athens of America respond?

First up, we have the Boston Herald on Monday editorializing that the “cuts are off the table.”

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Now this is simply mystifying to me. A very simple google search would inform the editors of the Herald that the cuts are not off the table. Alternatively, they could have picked up the phone and called BPS to find out that the cuts are still very much on the table. But apparently fact checking is not within the purview of the editorial board.

Now today, we get something interesting from the Globe’s Farah Stockman. The cuts are happening – but they’re the teachers’ fault! And then she accused me of hyperbole and misinformation on Twitter.

Now, that was an interesting to say to me. Because honestly, I can’t once remember seeing Ms. Stockman at a Budget Hearing, School Committee Meeting or Town Hall. Not once. Now if she had gone to Monday night’s Town Hall Meeting, she would have heard a few things. Such as:

The O’Bryant, the city’s STEM school, has a $340,000 cut. They are losing their computer science program.

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Our Town Hall meeting at BLS

The Jeremiah Burke has a $300,000 cut and will lose their Spanish teacher. The school will have no foreign language instructions.

A librarian who serves as the only librarian for four schools has lost her job.

Boston Latin School is losing 7 teachers.

My daughter’s tiny school, the BTU k-8, is losing $250,000 which results in the loss of 2 teachers. In last year’s budget cuts, we lost our Spanish teacher.

And on and on. There isn’t a single high school that hasn’t been affected. Very few schools have not been affected by this round of budget cuts.

I storified the entire town hall meeting in case you are interested. It chronicles the severity of what BPS is experiencing.

I have not once seen a Boston Globe columnist question why the city can’t fulfill the teacher contracts that it has agreed to. I have not once seen an editorial questioning why the city cannot fully fund the public schools. I have seen plenty of columnist and editorials promoting the need for more charter schools. But not a single one questioning the state on why it has not taken the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. The FBRC is the state’s own report that it is underfunding public education by billions of dollars. My guess would be no one on the editorial staff of either paper even knows what the FBRC even is.

We deserve better than this Boston. We are taxpayers and we spend money on the newspapers. We deserve fully funded schools for all of the kids not just a select few. And we deserve newspapers that know something about the educational environment before their Opinion pages spout off nonsense.

Actions speak louder than words

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Students, teachers and parents stormed City Hall today, a surprisingly exhilarating activity I highly recommend.

We wanted to talk to the Mayor about the 50 million dollar budget cut to Boston Public Schools, but it seems, our mayor did not want to talk to us. We were knocking on his door but he did not even poke his head outside.

He did, however, have his spokesperson issue a statement to press.

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This was from the Bay State Banner’s excellent article on the Walk In today.

I want you sit back and think about how amazing this statement really is. We DO NOT have a budget deficit because of new efficiencies.

What new efficiencies are there? THEY MADE BUDGET CUTS TO ALL OF THE SCHOOLS.

They are firing teachers! And pillaging school resources. The very reason why we are protesting here in the first place!

This sort of Marty logic makes me lose my cool and GET ALL CAPSIE ON THE INTERWEBS.

I would be shocked by this stunning display of intellectual dishonesty if I didn’t already expect it from our mayor. His mind is almost elegant in its capacity for gobbly gook.

There is no reason for him to address us ->  because there is no problem here -> because there is no budget deficit -> so there is no problem.

CbbceAbXEAERgHlWe can all go home.

And somehow, the fired teachers and the cancelled programs and the run down buildings just aren’t there in the equation. They are nothing. They are will-o-wisps that just float away and dissipate until you question whether they were ever really there in the first place. Maybe that Spanish teacher that used to teach my daughter on Thursday was only a dream. A dream that could have better prepared her for a multi-cultural 21st century.

 

The mayor’s mind is diabolical, actually. It’s also a few clowns short of a circus.

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February Actions for Fighting the Budget Cuts

There is a lot going in Boston right now to fight the budget cuts to BPS. I hope you join us at one of these events.

The Citywide Parent Council has also created a great action tool kit that you can download.

February 17, 10 am to noon
Walk In and Rally for Public Ed
Starts at City All
Ends at State House

https://www.facebook.com/events/1769972156564020/

February 22 at 6:30 PM
Town Hall Meeting: BPS High Schools
w/ City Councilors Tito Jackson and Annissa Essaibi George
organized by Boston Latin School
meeting at BLS 78 Avenue Louis Pasteur

February 24 at 6:00 PM
Boston School Committee Meeting
Boiling Building
2300 Washington Street, Roxbury

February 29 at 6:30 PM
Meeting with City Councilor Matt O’Malley
BPS Budget Cuts and Unified Enrollment
Doyle’s Café
3484 Washington Street, Jamaica Plain

For more information contact me at lewispierce@gmail.com or go to our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/StopTheCompact/

https://www.facebook.com/StopTheBostonCompact/

The Citywide Parent Council has created an excellent tool kit for fighting these budget cuts. You can download here! 2016_BudgetPlan_rev021116

 

Let it be done in love

When I was 8 years old, I witnessed my teacher making another student cry. I can’t remember his offense, but I do remember that she made him stand in front of the classroom and hold out a dictionary until he broke down crying. This wasn’t an isolated incident. It was part of my teacher’s classroom management.

Quiet, obedient and nervous about the world, I was never the child who got into trouble. I was still traumatized watching the teacher victimize other children.

My parents were deeply religious people and chose to send me to a catholic school because they wanted me to learn my catechism. The fact that they chose this school for me did not negate the damage. Though I’ve always performed well academically, I’ve had a persistent fear of people and a general anxiety that has plagued me throughout my life. Watching other children humiliated did not serve me well.

I’m told by younger friends who also attended catholic school that they can’t imagine their teachers acting like this and that the experience is much more positive now. But I bring this up because of the video out of Success Academies showing a teacher berating her student for not knowing a math answer.

I know I’m seen as a little bit obsessive on the charter issue but I have some sense of what those children in No Excuses classrooms are experiencing. The fact thacf15f2e7f34ec74f5e7d81477105ffdft parents are choosing to subject their children to this does not erase the damage that these children are experiencing.

Children do not need to be abused to learn. Black and brown children deserve to be in education environments where they are treated like children and not prisoners. These No Excuse charter schools have proliferated across the country, and we’ve allowed it. We are allowing the abuse of children in the name of test scores. It’s a shame on us all.

The real numbers

To hear the mayor speak of it, there are no problems with his budget for Boston Public Schools. He keeps saying that there is a capacity for 90,000 students in BPS while only serving 57,000 students. But where did he get that number? Does he ever say? The master facilities plan is still ongoing. And the McKinsey report is completely unreliable.

He will also brag, repeatedly, about how he has raised the BPS budget by 13 million. Now that’s only a 1% raise even though the negotiated contracts call for 3% cost of living raise. But it doesn’t stop him from bringing up as a political point.

I want parents, especially parents who have been in BPS a few years, to ask yourselves a few questions when you step into your children’s school.

Do you have the same resources that you had when your children first entered into school?

Do you have the same number of teachers? Have you lost specials: art, music, foreign languages?

Do parents have to raise more and more money?

Do you have the same number of students in the building as you did before?

You do not have to rely on the spin of the policy makers because your own lived experience provides you with the data.

And this is happening all across the city.

00b4dc82b16861c1b7e2bcddee0ee4e4Take for example, Snowden International High School. Snowden International is a non-exam high school that awards an International Baccalaureate diploma after the students complete 4 years of world language study, history science and math.

Its student body is 90% students of color. They are losing $390,000 dollars and will lose 2 english teachers, the math teacher will go down to part time, and like BCLA, they will fall out of compliance when they lose their librarian.

This is a successful school that is being targeted by the Walsh administration for failure. The city is choosing to undermine the education of these young people and not support their school.

The city ended last year with a budget surplus. This is a choice. These are its values. And as important as it is to support early education, to defund high schools is to cut the futures of the city’s teenagers off at knees just before they are set to launch out into the world.

We elect the people who are doing this to our children. We send them into office so that they can sit in their nice offices, with their advisors and their spreadsheets, and then choose to give big tax breaks to corporations but turn their backs on our children.

And as discouraging as this all is there is one thing to remember. They are all coming up quickly on their performance review.

We are not going anywhere

In retrospect, I’m not even sure if the guy who suggested that we protest the State of the City address was being serious when he said it.

12512817_1637139586547416_3917751197146550527_n“Just a few people with signs. That’s all it would take.” We only had a week but we thought we could pull it off. Kenny noted a few days in that the temperature was expected to be 20 degrees that day. But what could we do?

So on the coldest day of the year so far, about 100 of us trudged around in a barricade while the important people of Boston were shepherded into the hall. Some of them cheered, many of them gave us serious side eye, but they saw us. They all saw us.

We were joined by the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee who were demanding safe shelter for their community.

City Councilor Tito Jackson came by for encouragement. And we were honored when 12622313_10156406137155640_1837070534409084866_oRepresentative Byron Rushing marched for a bit. In a tactic that is straight out of House of Cards, the mayor sent us all chicken soup and hot chocolate.

At one point, Superintendent Chang stepped out in the frozen night where he was immediately surrounded by parents who wanted a word with him. He would be forgiven if his thoughts wandered to Los Angeles, the city he left for this job. He may have wondered what he had done in his life to deserve to be thrown in this frigid maelstrom of parental discontent.

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And at the end of the day, we still have a lot of work to do. We aren’t going anywhere. We will be an affliction on the powerful until our children’s schools are funded and their education is valued.

I was going to leave you with a link the Superintendent’s response sent out the next day. But instead, I am going to leave you with a more important letter. This is from a mother in East Boston writing about the impact of the budget cuts on her child’s school.

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How to Stop the BPS Culture of Cuts

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Do you want to help turn things around? There are many things you can do:

A. Sign the Move On Petition:

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-budget-cuts-to-boston?source=c.em.mt&r_by=10237357

B. Join us to protest the State of the City Address:

What: BPS Protest at the State of the City Address

When: Jan. 19th at 4:30

Where: Back of Symphony Hall on Westland Street near the Pops sign. This is where the mayor will be entering the hall.

Why: Boston Public Schools is facing a multi-million dollar deficit resulting in severe budget cuts to schools and services. Over the last two years, Boston Public Schools have seen $140 million dollars in budget cuts. This year, Marty Walsh is proposing $50 million more that will deeply impact High Schools and Special Education services. Some schools are facing a 19% cut in their overall budget.

Join us to let the mayor know that this is an unacceptable way to run a school district. Bring your own sign about the budget!

And bundle up because it is going to be cold.

Email: lewispierce at gmail dot com

C. Email your state senator and representative: 

1. Read whatever you need to in order to understand the issue:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/01/12/boston-schools-face-million-budget-shortfall/dg4Emkps2wD06lNLHqvpJN/story.html

https://redeemthethought.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/what-happened-to-ms-bs-job-the-facts/

2. Go to the following website and look up your state senator and representative:

http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

3. Send them an email like the one below.

Dear Senator/Representative X,

I am deeply concerned about the BPS budget shortfall this upcoming year. Boston Public Schools cannot operate on the limited budget that has been proposed, and it is clear that the calculations in chapter 70 are inequitable. In addition, we need more money allocated via chapter 46.

The district’s needs are urgent. Our children need your help.

Sincerely,

(Your name, phone number, address, and email)

4. Call them and reiterate what the email says so that there is a sense of urgency to the matter.

5. Spread the word. The more people who do this, the more movement we will get.