The Parent Imperfect is not convinced. Tonight is the very last in the series of meetings about “Enroll Boston,” Mayor Walsh’s plan to bring charter schools into Boston’s school assignment system. It’s your last chance to be convinced, or not. These meetings, hosted by the Boston Compact, have been one of the city’s best kept secrets over the past few weeks. Last week’s meeting in Jamaica Plain was the first one at which curious parents outnumbered the paid reps of the City, the BPS, the charter schools and the Compact, and that was only because QUEST, the City-Wide Parent Council (CPC) and other concerned parents spread the word and got people there. I was among those present, and I was very happy to hear about this idea, first hand, and to hear people’s questions about Unified Enrollment.
For the first hour, attendees listened quietly to a parade of speakers including the Compact staff, charter school principals, Boston Public Schools (BPS) management and Mayor Walsh’s Education Chief. The idea was to introduce the Compact to the many people who didn’t know it, inform people how enrollment happens now, in both charter and public schools, and then lay out the unified Enrollment proposal. The presentations were uneven and the day had already been long, but people sat and listened politely. Only the infants and toddlers in child care at the back of the room protested, a first act of rebellion against the school time in their future.
Then, mercifully, the presentations ended and the facilitator announced that, while comments were not welcome, the speakers would take questions. Thankfully, the people paid no attention. If you wanted feedback on your plan, why would you prohibit people from making comments on it? I wish I had recorded all of the questions/comments. They made for a fantastic window onto the way that at least some BPS parents think about their schools.
What people wanted to know
- One Special Ed parent asked if parents would be able to review a real list of the services offered at each school, or if the would get the typical “phantom” lists of all the things a school would like to offer or want to advertise that they offer. The Chief answered that “we would like for there to be real lists of services offered.”
- A woman asked if the Compact would be transparent about its sources of funding. The Compact staffer described its big operating grant from the Gates Foundation ($3.2 million) and said that they were in negotiations with the Walton Foundation and others for additional funding. Members of the audience expressed dismay that these foundations might be driving Boston enrollment decisions.
- Another woman expressed her extreme disappointment that BPS had done no outreach to parents about these meetings. “I hear about everything from te BPS, but I didn’t hear anything about this. Why?” Not satisfied with the answer, she reminded the BPS reps that, “You work for us!”
- A man (yes, there were men at the meeting) asked if Unified Enrollment meant that charters would be adhering to BPS discipline policies. “We’re not there yet,” came the answer. The Compact rep had suggested that an important part of UE would be that “everyone will be playing by the same rules,” but every time that she was asked about some set of rules, it was clear that the charters who join the UE system will continue to play by their own rules.
- A local parent activist asked where was the data that would allow parents to do their own evaluation of the current Home-based system, even if the BPS’s MIT connection refused to do so before three years of operation. The BPS’s operations chief came to the front of the room and blurted out a two sentence answer that left everyone wondering what was being said. “It’s coming,” might be the best translation of the answer.
- A charter school parent was upset that, after going through a lot to find a charter school that worked for her children, UE could limit her charter school choices and even put her back in the BPS.
- A Special Education teacher wondered why we would set up a system that could put more Special Needs children into schools that we know are not ready to deal with them. The speakers pushed forward a charter leader to respond and he immediately made clear that he had no idea how the BPS serves Students with Special Needs.
- Finally, a cranky mother said that her problem was that so much of this plan was being worked out behind closed doors. Why couldn’t the Compact be more transparent about its meetings and all the discussions going on around this proposal? She got what was, for me, the answer of the night from the Compact staffer: “The Compact is a private entity, so we aren’t required to make public our internal discussions.” Say no more…
Small, Vocal, Entrenched?
I’m sure that there were people in the room at the JP meeting who think that Enroll Boston is a wonderful proposal that should be implemented immediately. None of those people expressed that opinion. What people did express were a lot of questions about how this is going to work and, if charters can opt out of Enroll Boston, whether this would really be more simple for the city’s parents. Charter parents who seemed satisfied with their current schools were justifiably concerned that the Enroll Boston proposal could limit their options to choose alternatives to the BPS. I shared all of that skepticism, and, as the night wore on, I wondered more and more why anyone thought that a private entity like the Boston Compact should be developing and analyzing this proposal.
In its internal discussions of its communication strategy around Enroll Boston, the Compact Steering Committee noted that the idea would need to overcome the opposition of “small, vocal, entrenched” groups in some neighborhoods. Those groups may well exist, but what Enroll Boston encountered in Jamaica Plain was opposition that was “numerous, thoughtful and very much out in the open.”
Why the Boston Compact?
If they had allowed me another question, I’d have asked, “What I’ve seen here tonight confirmed my sense that the Boston Compact is competently staffed, lavishly funded (and about to be more lavishly funded when they convince the Walmart people that Enroll Boston is consistent with their ed reform agenda) and well-connected to that sliver of the “education practitioner” community that has had direct contact with the Compact’s programs. At the same time, the Compact has no apparent experience addressing system-wide school assignment challenges, is entirely disconnected from two key constituencies (parents and students) that are critical to school assignment and operates in a closed, opaque way that is inaccessible to the people who rely on the Boston Public Schools for the education of our children. Why would anyone think that the Boston Compact was the appropriate group to facilitate the discussion, let alone the implementation, of a new assignment system for our children?”
Listen to what the Boston Compact has to say and decide for yourself. Tuesday, November 17th at 5:30 at the West End Boys and Girls Club.