A bold move by two Boston City Councilors and four state Reps (all in Boston districts) could lead to huge improvements in the so-so city schools. It might also come to little.
Councilor John Connolly, who heads the body’s education committee, stands up to be shot at on this. The backing troops are Councilor Matt O’Malley and Reps Nick Collins, Ed Coppinger, Linda Dorcena Forry and Russell Holmes. When the citizens’ advisory group, in which they participated, re-dealt the school-assignment deck with minor revisions — redrawing zones or avoiding zones — this gang of six in effect said that was not enough.
The Quality Choice Plan they put up against the tweaks is just that. It stretches toward major education improvements as well as guaranteeing K2 seats close to home and setting up 16 citywide schools with more parent-desired features. It’s gutsy.
Speaking today on Left Ahead, Connolly stuck mostly to the big ideas. Click below for his half-hour show. He has kids in BPS and the last of my three just finished. We’re devoted to public education, but I feel pale indeed in the light of his passion as well as his belief that major improvements are possible in a short time.
He cites schools that have turned around in within two years. These shared methods and philosophies that can give teachers’ union pols the shakes — longer school days, principal/headmaster powers to pick and clear out teachers, and a lot more Innovation status schools.
Nominally,the city and school department are with a program of improving quality system-wide, as described on their related website. Perhaps it’s over two decades of performing stupid parent tricks to get my kids in the better schools in the system, but I am not expecting wholesale adoption of Quality Choices.
I also await the waves of not-invented-here reactions. So far, neither the Superintendent, nor the unions, nor even the Mayor has openly derided Connolly’s plan. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that didn’t happen soon on several fronts. Connolly says he’s girded for diplomacy and worse if necessary.
Connolly knows his plan is vastly superior then yet another NEW, IMPROVED, SOCKO assignment scheme. He’s had numerous meetings with Superintendent Carol Johnson and various others pushing for his vision. He thinks he on the verge of getting endorsement for it from the citizens’ advisory committee (which should carry a lot of weight). He wants the works and at the very least hopes for and expects a plan that is a hybrid incorporating many of Quality Choices’ proposals.
Part of his vision includes inspiring people like himself to enroll their kids in BPS. Today’s system is over 80% poor and over 80% kids of color. While there are pockets of schools, such as in West Roxbury, that the current walking-distance and sibling assignment rule keep majority white/middle-class, he is well aware of the composition of the student body on average. Families put their kids in parochial and other private schools, moved out of Boston or signed up their kids for METCO to go to distant, tony, largely white schools. Here not-native-English speakers and recent immigrants join the underprivileged in most schools. Boston remains the primary staging ground for many.
As a public-school parent and in his Council position as well hearing from many in the city, Connolly know what distresses and annoys parents. Not being able to get into any of 10 school choices, being put on random waiting lists and having kids sent across the city to low-scoring schools are up there. The long-term goals are what parents have demanded for decades — very good to excellent schools of all levels in every neighborhood. Meanwhile, getting there may include such innovations as letting parents of from 2 to 11 total kids apply as a group to any under-selected school. These parent compacts would represent up to half a traditional kindergarten class, for example, under the assumption that they would work together to ensure higher quality classwork, as activist parents so often do.
Listen in as Connolly describes schools that have gone from the lowest rankings to ahead of 70% of the system within two years. He wants a lot, as in all schools to do that. Coupled with the 16 citywide schools with concentrations of the features most demanded by parents, he sees dramatic improvements in relatively short periods.
The man is impatient…with the right goals.