Tag Archives: Public Education

The race from reading

keep calm and read a bookThe Parent Imperfect just received a web link that has led to this harried post. It is “21 young adult books for those who are “so over” dystopias.” This great list comes from Sarah Ang, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. I want to share that before I go off on another PI tangent.

The list came to me just after a long session of going over old photographs in hopes of collecting a few for dear Liz on Mother’s Day. Among them were a surprising number of images of Vince or Connie sitting or laying somewhere reading a book. Sadly, those feel a bit like my dog-eared photos of myself playing baseball or tennis…memories of a bygone era.

It’s hard to imagine that I ever took for granted the tendency of both kids to disappear into books for long periods of time. It wasn’t that long ago when Connie would quite often come to me saying, “!Papi…TIENES que leer este libro!”  I’d smile and say that I would surely read whatever book she had just devoured so that we could talk about it, but I seldom made the time to do so. (Too much time blogging…)
Want to hang out

What used to be a family of voracious readers-for-fun has become Liz, still reading a couple of books a week, mostly before going to sleep. While Liz must be careful that a book doesn’t keep her up all night, they have become the PI’s NyQuil. Vince and Connie still read quite a bit, but reading has become exclusively part of the ongoing torment of too much homework that stands at the center of the teaching philosophy at the nation’s oldest public school (Yes, we knew that the place worships at the altar of homework when we sent them there). At about 11PM one night this week, Connie said much too loudly (screamed, really), “I can’t stand it! They give me so much fricking (chosen advisedly) homework…why are they doing this? They take away from you any interest in learning or reading because all you have time to do is so much homework!”

Now, Connie’s protests happen in a context, a context in which she refuses to let go of interests that she developed when schoolwork was a minor irritation. Her insistence in continuing to pursue these interests means that she often doesn’t get to her homework until 8PM.

overscheduledAnd the parental guidance? The parents were clear that she was going to do less extra-curricular stuff this first year at BLS, but this past week she had a soccer game, two soccer practices, two softball games, softball practice, dance class, piano class and piano practice (another casualty). She somehow also found time to babysit once and spend a little time with friends. We often look longingly upon those families whose children have each decided that they are going to focus on doing one single thing outside of their schoolwork, and do it very well. Connie rebels against this idea and, to date, her parents have yet to be willing to storm the barricades.

The other factor in the race from reading is, of course, the turn to screens of all sorts. We vigilantly kept Vince out of this world well into his teen years, but his life is now fully backlit. The limits we fought for years to maintain have slowly faded away as he approaches the time when he, alone, will need to decide if he ever wants to stop playing that game or watching that movie.  Connie, the future litigator, has argued that allowing technological parity is the only just path for her beleaguered parents. We have not caved to that level, but she has access to much more of the wired world at age 12 than her dear brother had when he turned 16.

Soccer games and piano practice are not, therefore, the only reason that homework is delayed and books gather dust on cluttered shelves. Given even a few minutes of free time, both Vince and Connie turn to that bizarre world of “constant, but not quite” communication, in which a student this week made a “generic threat” against the nation’s oldest public school (After letting us know this troubling news, the Headmaster’s robo call went on to assure parents that “at no time was any member of the Boston Latin community in any danger…”). All in a week’s work…

And so it is that we continue to scatter books around the house and then pay library fines when the books slip beneath the piles. We continue to rage against the machine, even as more of them appear in our midst. What evil demon keeps bringing them in here?

Through it all, these kids get up at 6AM (almost) every day to, once again, drink from the fire hose. It doesn’t feel right, and complaints abound, but no one seems willing to force a discussion about making a real change.

 

 

 

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The School Culture Vulture Swoops

Hennigan School collageSince the identity of the Parent Imperfect is now well-known to many around the BPS, a good number of people contact me offline with questions about things. I seldom have the answers, but can occasionally connect people with someone who can answer their question.

Very occasionally, someone reaches out on the blog for help with something they are trying to deal with. Today, I got a comment in the “PI Reviews” section of the blog that contained just such a question (even though there was no question mark on it). “Virginia from Roslindale” said:

I need help creating healthy culture at the hennigan .
Virginia in Roslindale

Those few words have been the stuff of many conversations, over the years. This is, of course, THE question for parents who want to be engaged with our kids’ schools. It says that the culture, or the patterns in the way people live together (or don’t) within a school determines how our kids and everyone else will experience the place. Since we want our kids (and all others, presumably) to have a positive experience in their schools, we want to do what we can to contribute to a respectful and positive in-school culture at the schools our kids attend.

Hennigan MuralThat seems pretty straightforward, but it is anything but simple. The culture of a school reflects both the cultures that everyone (kids, teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, etc.) brings to school with them, as well as the idiosyncratic patterns of behavior that the school community develops, all on its own. School leadership (the Principal and his/her administration) has a lot to do with the school culture, but they certainly don’t make it alone. Each of the groups in the school influences what goes on inside, and a pretty small group of people who really want to change school culture (the principal and his/her allies a the school, a determined group of teachers, an organized group of parents, etc.) can occasionally make that happen. Anyone who has been watching the Boston Public Schools has seen examples of schools whose cultures have changed pretty dramatically (for better or for worse, depending on your perspective) over a short period of time.

Changes in culture pretty quickly change the way the school gets talked about in the community, and, before you know it, the composition of the school community begins to change, too. A few years ago, something about the culture at the Hennigan began to send a message to the Somali community in Boston that it was a place to send their children, and one began to see more mothers and girls wearing head scarves in the school. In a school system with complex dynamics around race, ethnicity, gender and class, these changes in culture and community can come with lots of emotional baggage. They can also create tension in the school and the larger community. Whether or not I feel that the changes in my child’s school culture are “positive” depends a lot on my own culture and what I want for my child’s school.

Hennigan libraryWhen Connie went to the Hennigan, we hoped to be part of a school community like the one we had experienced at the Hernández, and to contribute what we could to that community. I started “showing up” at the school, trying to connect any way I could, and to find a way to contribute. Liz immediately volunteered to be on the School Site Council. Nobody ever said, “No, thanks,” but, even in our blissful cluelessness, we began to get the message that we were not going to be part of the social network that really influenced the way things happened at the school. Since we were very likely going to be at the school for one year, that reaction to our efforts to insert ourselves into the school community wasn’t that hard to understand.

There was definitely a school community at the Hennigan, but it was completely different than the one we experienced at the Hernández. The Hennigan community had its culture, some of which seemed quite positive, while other aspects of the culture seemed pretty negative to us. Other aspects of the way the school worked were completely mysterious to us, and we never figured them out. In any case, we came to focus on connecting to Connie’s teacher and some of the parents of her classmates, in an effort to make her own little world at the school a better place for her.

Hennigan AWCIn the two years since we were at the Hennigan, things seems to have changed quite a bit. The BPS website still says that the school is a K-5 school, but I understand that the BPS has decided to make it a K-8 school, which will include adding a Grade 6 Advanced Work Class. If implemented, this will mean a HUGE change in the school culture. Incorporating Grades 6, 7 and 8 into the school will make it a completely different place. The composition of the school has not changed a lot (still has large Somali, African American and English Language Learner populations), but the composition of the AWC class does seem to have changed as the program has become more popular among a broader group of West Zone parents.
Hennigan high five

Virginia is asking for the thoughts of others about how to contribute, as a parent, to building positive culture at the school. I know that some readers of the PI know a lot about the Hennigan, and others who don’t know the Hennigan have done a lot of thinking about changing school culture. Are you willing to share some ideas with Virginia? I’m sure she’d be happy to see comments from people here, on the blog, or to be in contact with people offline. I’m not going to share her contact info here, but I can probably facilitate contact if you have ideas about parents building school culture that you’d prefer to share privately. Just let me know, here or privately. I think the “contact form” below is set up to allow you to do that.

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Not just another April vacation

QuitoIt’s been some time since the Parent Imperfect answered a phone call with such anticipation. At 7:09 this morning, Vince called from the airport in Houston to check in. That was the first we have known of him since he boarded a United flight in Boston nine days ago for a trip to Ecuador organized by the Spanish program at the nation’s oldest public school. After saying hello, he immediately reported that he’s “still alive.” He must know what was on the mind of his always calm and confident father. Hearing his voice was reassuring, even though the first thing he told his mother was that the only problem on the trip was that he had caught malaria. Where did he get this sense of humor? Otovalo

He’s been away from home for extended periods several times before, but this one was different…really different. He was going to be in Quito, in Otovalo and then in the Ecuadorian Amazon, seeing sights and spending a few days helping to construct a school in a small, indigenous town. The school did this with an educational tour business that exists, first of all, to make a profit, but also to keep kids safe and stimulated doing travel that just might change their lives. This is a serious operation that gets paid serious $$$ (cause for parental pause) for what it does, but, having organized such trips in El Salvador for a couple of years, I’m too familiar with the dangers inherent in the best planned trips.

He still has to get from Houston to Boston, but it was very good to hear his voice. In the middle of the week, Liz’s phone rang one night at about 12:15AM. She arose from a sound sleep and got to the phone, but the Caller ID number was so strange that she hesitated, and then the call was gone. We still don’t know if the call had anything to do with Vince’s trip (he probably won’t tell us, if it did), but it certainly got my attention, as I skated through the week firmly resting on the “no news is good news” theory of travel communication.

It’s all about payback. We insisted that he heed the organizers’ warning not to bring a cellphone with him, which he thought was ridiculous. As we waved the rules at him, Vince assured us that, once again, he would be the only one whose parents paid attention to what the rules said. That seems to have been the case, as he called us from Logan on two different phones and his call from Houston was on a third friend’s phone.

THEN, FOUR DAYS LATER, WHEN I FINALLY GOT BACK TO THIS

Amazon villageSo, Vince did make it back, with a sun tan, a few less pounds and many stories about what seemed to be a really important trip for him. The trip took him from the modern capital city to a smaller, prosperous indigenous city to a tiny village in the Amazon. When asked what he’ll remember forever about the trip, he mentioned three things: the Ecuadorians who guided the trip (“they were so friendly and knowledgeable and you could tell they were people who really cared about their country”), the apparent happiness of the young people in the village living in what seemed to him to be impossibly difficult conditions and the cockroaches, which were at least four times the size of any insect he had ever seen. He also really enjoyed being “on a 10-day sleepover with 15 other kids (and NO parents).” In the midst of it all, he claims that Spanish came to him with surprising ease. The guides who “made the trip” for him spoke only Spanish and (in one case) Quechua.

And, just like that, he’s very quickly back into the pressurized environment of the school that made this trip possible, and now threatens to wipe it from his memory. The relaxed and slightly awestruck young man that stepped off the plane is still with us, but he’s looking more and more like a BLS junior who doesn’t know when he’ll have time to get it all done. I suppose it’s our job to keep that junior at bay, at least for a little while.

 

 

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“Zombie” bill angers public school parents

zombie billThe Parent Imperfect took the time this past Wednesday to write that no deal had been reached on the bill to lift the cap on charter schools in our state. Normally, the failure of a bill to get a positive recommendation from the relevant committee would be the kiss of death, at least for the current session. But this is not just any bill. As many feared, the failure to gain the support of the Joint Education Committee created only a minor annoyance for the drive to create open season on charter school expansion in Massachusetts.

Little did I know that the people in the Massachusetts Legislature who feel that lifting the charter cap is the critical next step in educational reform in Massachusetts wouldn’t even wait 24 hours to resurrect the idea. Before Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz could even communicate with her constituents about what had happened, her illustrious Joint Ed Committee Co-Chair, Rep. Alice Peisch, had done the deed. The State Rep. from Wellesley created a new bill with a new number and without the language on charter reimbursements that so bothered charter growth proponents. Under the new bill, there would be no cap on charter expansion, even if the Legislature declined to reimburse even one cent of its legal obligation to school districts for charter tuition payments. The maneuver made a joke of all of the hand wringing around a supposed compromise on the original bill.

Citizens for Public Schools called the new Peisch bill a “zombie” bill, which I think nicely captures the nature of the legislation. Not only did Rep. Peisch produce the zombie bill in record time (it was certainly being drafted as the compromise charade was underway), but she managed to get it approved by a voice vote at a sparsely attended session of the House of Representatives (is there a roll call in the House?). I disagree completely with what Ms. Peisch did, but you have to admire her cheek.

More and stopPeisch delivered to charter proponents what Sen. Chang-Díaz had refused to give them…legislation to remove the cap on charter expansion with almost no conditions. In less that 24 hours, public school districts and the families who depend on public schools had been “peisched.” That is, outmaneuvered by a legislator with a strong personal commitment to education reform, and little or no sense of accountability to urban public school districts and the families that need them. A reasonable person might ask if Rep. Peisch’s alleged personal involvement with charter and other educational reform organizations might create a conflict of interest, or at least a conflict of conscience for her on this issue.  One might wonder such things, but, in Massachusetts, such questions often go unanswered. Any conflict here would, of course, pale in comparison to the conflicts that abound in our “government by checkbook” at all levels.

The Peisch bill still must clear several hurdles to become law. The Senate must approve it and the Governor must sign it to name two such hurdles. Charter expansion obviously has as many powerful friends in the Legislature as it has outside of it, and the governor has expressed few reservations about creating more charters. That said, the public discussion of this bill has educated many in the community, as well as some in the media and more than a few members of the Legislature about the lack of accountability of charters and the financial and other pressures on public schools that result from charter growth. This is not a slam dunk.

Merely getting peisched one time will not keep these people from continuing to make their views known. I remain hopeful that the zombie bill–or at least the charter cap provision–can be put on hold. For the umpteenth time, I do not oppose charter schools or think existing schools should be closed down. They should be more accountable on many issues, and their number should not be significantly expanded until policymakers understand much better (and address in a policy) the impact of such expansion on traditional public schools and their students. Ultimately, if we want to establish a separate system of essentially independent schools, we should find another way to finance those schools that does not drain financial and political support from public school districts.

If you are concerned about the zombie bill, take a few minutes and contact your State Representative and/or State Senator on the matter. If you’re not clear who this is, it’s easy to find your legislators and their contact information.

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No Deal on Charter Cap

Charter demoThe Parent Imperfect arose to the news that the cap on charter school expansion in Massachusetts remains in place, at least for the moment. Boston. com reports that last minute efforts to push through a compromise crafted by legislators apparently could not gain enough support in the Joint Committee on Education.

The bill will now leave the Committee with a negative recommendation. It is still possible for both the House and the Senate to vote on a bill not recommended by a committee, but this is a rare occurrence in Massachusetts politics. If Massachusetts keeps charter limits in place, it will be bucking a national trend toward rapid charter expansion, regardless of the cost of such growth to public school districts.

While I did not think that the compromise worked out by Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and Rep. Russell Holmes would have been a step forward for public education in the Commonwealth, Chang-Díaz, in particular, deserves credit for holding the line on her insistence that a lifting of the charter cap be accompanied by a State House commitment to fully reimburse school districts for charter tuition payments.

Opponents of lifting the cap will awaken happy that the current limits remain in place, but we have certainly not heard the last of this issue. If it holds, this failure of charter proponents to gain support for further charter expansion may improve the BPS budget picture in the medium run. Even so, the district still faces serious problems with its 2015 budget,  which will be voted on by the School Committee tonight. Many questions also remain concerning the District’s new school assignment process, which has yet to prove that it can provide equitable access to quality education for all the City’s children.

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A “Third Way” or the charter way?

Chicago charter posterThe Parent Imperfect has a strong sense that the fix is in on lifting the cap on charter school growth in Massachusetts. I fear that the fix will leave public school districts with less resources to educate the vast majority of students in the state that will always attend traditional public schools. As always, the kids will pay the price of a bad “compromise.” The Dorchester Reporter reported yesterday that Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and Rep. Russell Holmes have reached a compromise to lift the current legal limit on charter expansion (the charter cap).

It’s important to note that this is a compromise between two legislators intent on raising the cap, and charter boosters in the community, like the Mass Public Charter Schools Association and Paul Grogan of The Boston Foundation. I have nothing against either legislator: It just seems important to be honest about what has happened. Parents, teachers and concerned members of the community who don’t want to see the cap lifted were conspicuously absent from the debate and the compromise.

Charter school growthAs we write here, 2130 people have signed an electronic petition circulated by the Boston parent group, Quality Educaton for Every Student to the Senator and her house Co-Chair of the Joint Education Committee, Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley. The petition does not stake out an “anti-charter” position, but simply says that it makes no sense to divert more money from public school districts at a time when many of the most challenged districts face serious budgetary problems. This year, 42% of state funding to education in Boston went to charter schools educating about 13% of Boston’s students. What will that percentage be when charters have 20% of students in the City? How many teachers will get laid off that year? The compromise apparently gives this concern a nod, but then goes forward to lift the charter cap, anyway.

For now, all we know about the deal is what the dealers say about it. Rumor has it that a vote will come on Tuesday, so we’ll know more then. Sen. Chang Diaz’s office released a statement trumpeting the fact that the deal includes a commitment to pull the plug on charter growth if the Legislature doesn’t fulfill its legal responsibility to reimburse districts for funds diverted from those districts to pay charter school tuition. That’s very nice, but it hardly seems like a stunning victory for schoolchildren that we are obliging the State House to follow its own laws.

At the base of this so-called “third way” is the perception that we need, at all costs, a “safety valve” for families who believe that the Boston Public Schools are not educating their children well. According to this argument, more charters will offer more such families such a choice. I know families in this situation. You probably do, too. They truly believe that a charter school has saved their child (or children), and some of those families definitely want more charters to open. I also know that charters have proven to be a very unreliable safety valve for many of those same families. Proportionally, charters educate way fewer English Language learners and students with special needs than the public schools, who must take everyone. Fully half of the students who turn to these schools as an alternative can’t adjust to the charter environment and end up back in traditional public schools (or out of school, entirely). At a meeting with BPS parents last week, Sen. Chang-Díaz acknowledged these concerns and promised language in her compromise that would demand charter accountability around just these issues. Her statement mentions no such language in the final bill. I hope the language just slipped the minds of those spinning the compromise.

If charter schools are a safety valve, then they make for an expensive and leaky valve at a time when urban districts like the BPS are under tremendous budget pressure. Rather than divert resources to a separate system of schools with precious little accountability, let’s focus our efforts on changing the way business is done at Court Street and on continuing to improve Boston’s schools, one at a time. I just don’t see an alternative if we want to offer Boston’s students great educational choices. Step one along this path will be the selection of a new Boston School Superintendent who understands the problems faced by the BPS, and possesses a vision that can mobilize all stakeholders to tackle those problems.

The Globe reports that charter boosters are unhappy with the Holmes/Chang-Díaz compromise, because it places even weak conditions on the charter expansion fiesta to come. The pro-charter lobby smells blood and thinks it is in a position to get everything it wants. They may well be overplaying their hand.

Make you want to holler? Take a moment to read and sign the Quest petition. Then HOLLER!

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Boston’s Budget Blues

Cuts hurt kidsThe Parent Imperfect joined about 65 other hearty souls at last night’s public school budget hearing at the Hyde Park Educational Complex. BPS proposes filling a “sixty million dollar hole” in the school budget with 89 teachers, 109 paras, 26 administrators, a whole adult ed program and lots of yellow school buses. Sixty million makes for a big hole. No one who dragged themselves out of the house last night did so to express their support for the cuts.

School Committee Chair, Michael O’Neill made a valiant effort to lighten things up a bit in his welcoming remarks, but few attendees were in that kind of mood. A senior financial officer of the BPS went through the now familiar slides. Only through a combination of pink slips, program cuts and transportation service changes could the District balance this year’s budget. If the draft budget presented last night became a reality today, 223 people would lose their jobs, Boston’s unique adult education program would all but disappear and middle school students eligible for transportation would be on MBTA buses, instead of yellow school buses.

Yellow busesAll of these cuts would be necessary, despite a decision by Mayor Walsh to increase City government outlays for the School Department by 3.8%, while asking all other departments to take a 1% cut. The combination of ordinary cost increases, drastic declines in State and Federal support and contract-mandated salary increases had created a budget hole much deeper than what the City could fill.

Upon hearing the news, sixteen members of the audience paraded to the microphones to say, “don’t do it!” They included parents from the BTU School, the Roosevelt, the Philbrick, the Mendell, the Curley and the Lyndon, all schools facing the loss of teachers and valuable programs. Teachers and students of the Adult Education Center spoke eloquently of its importance in their lives, and the members of one class came to the meeting together for a “lesson in democracy.” A leader of Boston’s Special Education Parents’ Advisory Council spoke, as did Tim McCarthy, the City Councillor from Hyde Park who committed himself to fight on the floor of the City Council to avoid cuts to schools now moving in the right direction. Most in the room stood as others spoke, showing that they weren’t there just to speak for their issue.

One parent from West Roxbury cut to the chase quite nicely. “In two weeks of looking at this, I’ve discovered that the real solutions are two: Chapter 70 allocations and charter reimbursements. If I have figured this out in two weeks, you certainly can, too.”

State support downShe was pointing to the real fact that the current State budget limits spending on public education through Chapter 70 and that the formula for allocation this money has been changed in ways that work for some smaller cities, but definitely work against Boston. She was also pointing to the fact the $85 million in Chapter 70 money goes directly to charter schools. The Legislature is supposed to reimburse part of this through a separate appropriation, but they’ve been hedging on that in recent years, and not even this inadequate reimbursement has happened yet this year.

She’s right on about the immediate pressure points, but I hope we can effectively advocate with State officials without losing our conversation about how the BPS is making decisions about the money that is in the pot now.

As the meeting ground to a close, the Chair spoke directly about his own resistance to cutting an Adult Education program that has existed for over 100 years. He also said that he was ready to “join forces” with parent groups and other advocates to go to the State House to ask for more money.

Parent groups in the room seemed ready to join forces with the School Committee to advocate for additional State funds, but they also seemed unhappy with a lack of transparency in how budget decisions are being made in the District as well as with the content of many of the decisions concerning the allocation of existing funds. Joining forces will only work if all are interested in an open partnership, and I still have questions about the District’s openness about its decisions.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks. The School Committee must pass a balanced budget in three weeks, or the scene shifts to the City Council, where a knock down, drag out awaits a very new Council. Very soon, something has to give.

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Re-Inventing Advanced Work Class: A Dozen (+2) Quick Thoughts

3 in AWCIt is the time of year when the AWC program is causing some parents of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in the boston Public Schools to wonder what to do next year. Do they leave their child in the place s/he knows and has friends, or do they opt for the “other track” of Advanced Work?

Thankfully, this is one discussion that Liz and the Parent Imperfect won’t need to have this year. We probably couldn’t survive another round of that. Recently, however, I fell into a very interesting e-mail conversation about AWC among some BPS parents active in their own kids’ schools. I can’t help but share some tidbits from it here, doing my best to obscure the names of parents and schools. My purpose here is not to promote one or another point of view, but to show that thoughtful people have quite different views (and interesting) about this program.

1. At [our school], parents have come together with teachers and the Principal to try to remake the awc/non-awc divide academically and culturally for next year, and we are cautiously optimistic.

So I wanted to have a sense of what schools are doing so we can learn some lessons…

2. We had an tour of our school for prospective AWC parents yesterday. Half of them were genuinely moved and pleased with the ideas we are considering for [changing] AWC. The other half took out their pens and crossed the school off their list… 

3. Your school is similar to one in my neighborhood in that AWC kids largely come from inside the school. Don’t be so hard on outsiders; many of us are turned off by the idea of sending our child into an environment where most of their classmates had been together for years. It’s not exactly welcoming to hear, “We’re full with our own….

4.  I would encourage you to consider the training of a literacy coach at the 3-5 level for your school.  Until teachers have deep and solid skills in a workshop approach to literacy instruction, it will be difficult for them to manage differentiation across the range of learners we’re talking about. The literacy coach provides in-house professional development for their cohort teachers (in this case 3-5, but it could possibly be expanded to 3-6; or train a second coach 6-8), as well as bi-weekly coaching visits – forever. The training happens through the Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University…

This should be a model the district leverages to address equity and differentiation…

5.  From what I can tell kids at our school are on a very broad spectrum of current capacity to handle [the the training on executive function], but they’re all doing it on some level and all learning skills to manage information, plan time, etc.  And yes there ARE kids with IEPs in the AWC classroom at the school…

Advanced Work II6. I wonder if it would be helpful to look at other schools where there is no AWC, very mixed classrooms in terms of academic skills, and where families choose to stay… as maybe we could assume that something is going right in those classrooms. It’d be easy to come of with a list anecdotally, but wonder if the info would also be accessible from BPS.

 It sounds like there are some interesting ideas about how to integrate the classrooms. Our experience at the school that our kids attended, is a bit different, as there are completely mixed classrooms, with a very small exodus for AWC, though a fair number of kids who get in. Thought maybe some of the lessons could apply though…
7. Hearing things like this make me feel better about even staying involved in this equity fight. The awc segregation is so disturbing and everyone tells me it is political suicide to be strongly against it. It is good to know some people are trying to mitigate this…
8.  …whatever AWC is or is not (and AWC classes vary and have their own inequities), it can’t be separated from the exam schools. BPS I think sees AWC at heart as about keeping middle class parents in BPS, and on the pathway to exam schools…
9. …I went to schools to see about transferring my daughter and was astounded at seeing what is basically tracking and racial segregation in several of the school I looked at. It seems to me that it is an unspoken bargain to keep middle class kids in BPS at the expense of poor kids and kids of color…
10. Interesting the interest and increased difficulty of getting into AWC coincided with the recession. Wonder if things will shift again now with housing prices being more fluid as Boston real estate continues to rebound and surpass…
11. The whole AWC thing creates different dynamics for those at schools that have AWC vs. those at a school without it. I have a appreciated the rigorous instruction that my son has received in an AWC classroom, but I have not understood why the curriculum and method of teaching…(teachers seem to have a lot more flexibility) shouldn’t be available for all kids? It seemed like everyone would benefit from the approach…
12. There can be lots of opportunities for all 4th/ 5th graders — regardless of AWC or reg ed or multi-lingual classrooms — to go on the same field trips (including to DC), be in the same chorus, school play or on the same sports team. This was true at the school my kids attended…
13. It is really great to hear about what is happening at the school where the parents are trying to change AWC. I look forward to learning more about this initiative...I don’t think there is a single white child in my son’s AWC class (though there may be one or two in the grades 5-6); his AWC class is under subscribed – only 17 students – and has historically been under subscribed. One child left to go to AWC at another school and I know others would have left if they could have gotten in. That said, there is probably more of distinction in economic levels – with the middle class kids clustered in AWC program.
There you have it, fragments of a back-and-forth among people who care. You can cut the ambivalence with a knife. But it’s great to see that some schools are trying to do something about AWC, rather than just send their kids there and wish it didn’t exist.
Will your child be going to AWC next year? How are you feeling about it?

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A big win for Eastie?

Do your homeworkRound One of registration for 2014 entry into the Boston Public Schools just ended. The most sought after kindergarten seats in the BPS have been filled using a new assignment system. Those who have not yet registered (or won’t register at all) will fill the remaining seats. The District will spin the transition as a great success, especially in the North End, Charlestown and East Boston, where necessary adjustments were made in the system approved by the School Committee. I agree that Charlestown and the North End did quite well in the new system, but East Boston??? I’m not so sure about Eastie.  

You probably remember the news about the meeting last year when the Boston School Committee voted to change its approach to assignment with dozens of demonstrators shouting outside the windows of its Court Street hideaway. It was Boston politics at its chaotic and emotional best. That evening, the Committee voted to accept a new Home-Based system of assignment recommended by the Mayor’s EAC and then Superintendent, Carol Johnson. The new system had many problems, but one thing that at least I liked about the new system was that the School Committee followed the recommendation of the Super to scrap the walk-zone preference as a factor in school assignment.

The BPS has put up a new website that allows parents to go online, see their school choices and, ultimately prioritize the choices in their basket. Despite many bugs, this site seems to work better than I, for one, expected. As is often the case, the problem is not so much the website, but the way the system has been set up to bring children into the system.

Make no mistake, precisely because it is home-based, the new system favors people who live close to quality schools. That said, the new system supposedly avoided the double-whammy of being home-based and then also giving a walk-zone preference. That wasn’t enough for many in the city, who saw the new system as one more example of the operation of institutional racism in the BPS.

Fast forward to November, when the BPS began to prepare parents to register their kids for the 2014-15 school year. Imagine my surprise when, like the monk Rasputin, the walk-zone preference refused to die. First of all, the new home-based model would only be in place for the so-called transition grades (K1, K2 and 6th grade). Assignment of students to all other grades would still take place based on the three old assignment zones (that we thought were gone forever) and, as always, within the assignment zones, the walk-zone would be king. According to the BPS, the new system wasn’t practical for assigning students who weren’t in the transition grades, but why did it make sense to default back to a system that everyone agreed was not working?

But assignment to the “non-transition” grades was not the most maddening re-appearance of the walk-zone preference. East Boston, the city’s island jewel and home of Logan Airport, was the site of the resurrection of a bad idea. Forgive me, this is not an easy story to tell in few words.

Eastie MapIt seems that, because it is an island that faces special transport problems, the BPS had “historically,” given Eastie families first dibs on the neighborhood’s schools (I’d love to know the origin of this preference). This meant that families in nearby neighborhoods, such as the North End and Charlestown, had less access to East Boston schools. People who attended many more assignment meetings than I did assure me that this was never mentioned during the months and months of meetings about the assignment system.

When the BPS launched its Discover BPS website to teach parents about the new system and enable online registration, the site contained the following language on East Boston assignments:

“East Boston Assignments

Due to its unique location, East Boston general education students, K2-12, are guaranteed an assignment in East Boston, if they so choose.

 How does this work?

— Customized lists for East Boston students will include all schools in East Boston. East Boston residents are given a priority over non-East Boston applicants for those seats. These customized lists may also include some schools outside of East Boston, but the priority would not apply for these schools.

— Since this limits access for non- East Boston residents who also may have East Boston schools on their lists, these students will have priority to the remaining schools on their lists over East Boston students.

— Exceptions may include program seats for English language learners, services for some students with disabilities, and middle school-age students, because some East Boston elementary schools have pathways to middle schools in Charlestown.”

So it turns out that the BPS has been sensitive to the transport challenges faced by East Boston parents, but it also sees the need to provide compensation to others who suffer due to the preference given to East Boston families for their neighborhood schools. And who are the suffering “non-East Boston students who may also have East Boston schools on their lists”? They are students from the North End and Charlestown. How many people from Charlestown and the North End would usually choose to send their kids to school in East Boston. Very few, that’s how many.

This “compensation” creates a problem, but it is not a simple problem with a simple answer. Many people in East Boston are happy to have a preference for their neighborhood schools, even though they acknowledge that several East Boston schools are not among the city’s best. North End and Charelstown parents are certainly happy that they will have preferential access to some of the best schools in the City. But what about the East Boston parent who is attracted to the very good schools on the other side of the tunnel in the North End and Charlestown, and willing to have their kid(s) travel to those schools? Sorry, Charlie (or Tina). The new system–which gives North End and Charlestown families absolute first-round preference to schools in their neighborhoods–will make it almost impossible for the East Boston child to get a seat in those schools.

At a recent parent meeting in East Boston, not a single Eastie parent knew that this change had been made. When they found out, they had different reactions. Many parents whose kids were already in the system didn’t think it was that big a deal, but one parent whose daughter is just finishing her first year the Eliot School said that she would have been furious had she been squeezed out of that opportunity. Her immediate concern was whether her younger son would be able to get into the Eliot, given this change. Others whose children are about to enter the system also felt that it was unfair to limit their choices in this way.

And so Assignment, Round One, is in the books. Was it a big win for Eastie? From where I sit, I think that the achievement gap came out better off than our island neighborhood. Unfortunately, the achievement gap is doing quite well in Boston.

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Get off the pot!

Walsh and ConnollyWell, it’s time for the PI to make a decision on his favored candidate for the Mayor of Boston…or not. Last night, a young woman from Hyde Park braved the fall chill to become the eighth Marty Walsh visitor to our door since the primary. She stood on the front steps and read our names off of an iPhone that apparently identified us undecided folks leaning toward Walsh. Can an iPhone ever be wrong? She was not a volunteer, but a paid canvasser with Working America, a labor-created political action group that is supporting Marty. I have no problem with Marty getting support from labor groups like Working America, although I do wonder about some of the late money that flowed into the campaign.

Our visitor arrived shivering, so we invited her into the house to warm up a bit. She had her script, but she quickly went off script to share that she is particularly impressed by Marty’s commitment to get construction jobs for women and minorities and his support for the struggles of people fighting addiction. Liz and I both said that we don’t doubt those commitments and consider them to be very important. But I went on to offer my now-tired questions about Marty’s perspective on the schools, and Liz expressed some of her fears that a Walsh administration might not be able to escape the old politics of patronage in Boston. Our visitor agreed that these were important issues, but hoped that we’d see a way to make a final decision for her organization’s candidate. She brought up the next address on her phone before going back out into the cold.

Strangely, we’ve had no personal connection to Connolly’s campaign, but have a much stronger personal connection to him than Marty Walsh. Campaign visits matter, but so, too, do personal connections…

not cynicalNo Connolly campaigner ever made it to our door, but the candidate, himself, came in after a party across the street (at a house now sporting a Connolly yard sign) in early October. As a city councilor and as a parent, he has taken the time to learn about how the BPS really works. The group, Quest, has some of its roots in a house meeting with Connolly, the councilor, in April 2012. I respect Connolly’s knowledge of and commitment to the schools, but I think his conclusions about what will move the BPS forward are simply wrong. He has hitched his wagon to a national educational reform movement that I believe is doing a lot of damage to urban public school systems around the country and I fear it would have some of the same effects here.

Both candidates have made compelling statements about affordable housing, youth employment, economic development, public health and many other issues that are important to Liz and I. Despite the efforts by both the Globe and the Herald (not to mention many of my friends) to distinguish the two candidates, I don’t see a huge difference between them on policy, including education policy. Much has been made about the class difference between the two of them: Marty, the working class hero and John, the politically-connected, Harvard-educated lawyer. They absolutely do come from different class backgrounds, but Marty has lived a life of social mobility that has put him in a different position today. Class background once would have meant everything to me, but I guess I’ve had enough working-class disappointments to make that less of a reflex reaction today.

Wayne and FrogSo, on the way to Connie’s soccer practice, I’ll go by our polling place at the union hall on Colgate Rd. tonight. Connie will go into the polls with me and she’ll mark the ballot as she always does. We’ll first vote for at-large city council candidates and, perhaps, a council candidate from this district. Then we’ll have one more conversation before I tell which of the mayoral candidates to mark. Connie likes both the candidates, but the fact that Connolly came to our house won her over to the councilor’s side. I won’t be voting for someone who is with me on this issue I’m most passionate about, but I will vote (and assume a measure of responsibility for) a candidate who says he’s committed to making Boston work for ALL its people. At least I’ll be off the pot…

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