We Can No Longer Do More With Less

Richard Stutman is President of the Boston Teachers Union, and a VP of Massachusetts AFL-CIO. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

Opponents of increasing government investment often adopt the mantra of “doing more with less.” When the fiscal climate grew starker, the mantra became louder. But the economy has turned, and now it is time to begin to dig out of the hole.

For the last 15 years, the education system in Massachusetts has been doing more with less. We need to get back on track. Even the most ardent fiscal conservative recognizes that you cannot build a world class education system while starving it of needed resources.

We have reached that point in Massachusetts and that is why the membership of the Boston Teachers Union voted to endorse Governor Patrick’s investment plan for education and transportation. Let’s look at how our schools have done.

In the last 15 years, Massachusetts education system has done more

Massachusetts 8th grade students ranked 2nd in the world in science and 6th in math in the prestigious Trends in International Math and Science Study (TMSS). (Our 4th graders did not participate in the study because of “budget constraints.”)

We are closing, slowly, the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups, with high school graduation rates among blacks and Hispanics growing three times faster than whites during the last 6 years. The gap is still wide and more needs to be done.

More of our high school graduates are graduating from college, with college graduation rates among Boston public school alumni improving by more than 20% since 2000.

With less…

Investment in early childhood education and care is down 28 percent since 1998, when adjusted for inflation.

Local aid to cities and towns is down 45 percent, creating major financial challenges to local budgets that primarily fund K-12 education.

Support for higher education is down by nearly a third.

Before implementing new tax increases, taxpayers have every right to expect that government get the most out of their tax dollars. With regards to education, this has clearly been the case in Massachusetts during the last 15 years.

If we are serious about closing the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups; if we are depending on an ever-improving, world class education system to drive Massachusetts’ economic success, can we risk the continued path of expecting more for less? After 15 years of budgetary neglect, we cannot expect better outcomes without increased investments.


20 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. State aid

    We only think we have been able to “do more with less” over the past 30 years because of economic segregation. Problems are shielded from the masses because they are swept under the carpet of poor communities.

    A prime example reared its head with this last snowstorm in Springfield. Springfield – highly dependent on state aid due to the impact of Proposition 2.5 and the economic segregation which started with white flight in the 60′s, kept pace with Proposition 2.5 in the 80′s, and accelerated with MCAS ratings in the 2000′s – had a horrendous response to the recent snowstorm of 24 inches.

    The DPW head of Springfield, Al Chwalek, made the comment that in 2003, the DPW had 300 employees (as compared to 128 today) and had twice as much equipment for plowing. To cut costs (probably at the behest of the state-run Finance Control Board which left in 2008) the city privatized a lot of jobs, laid off DPW workers and replaced them with private contractors. However the contractors couldn’t handle 24″ of snow with their pickup trucks, their equipment broke or they just walked away from the job. Apparently 1/2 of the private contractors didn’t return after a mandatory break.

    There were unplowed streets in Springfield as late as the Wednesday after the storm – five days! Chwalek’s basic premise was that to be lean, we won’t be able to handle unusual conditions. That makes sense – if you remove all slack from the system for normal operations, you can’t handle anything beyond normal.

    Chwalek noted that he had been asked to cut his budget, once again, by 10% for the upcoming year. Why? Because the city cannot increase its tax levy (we’re at the Proposition 2.5 ceiling) and because the state has cut state aid yet again – I think aid has been cut 50% over the past 5 years.

    When the state cuts aid to a community like Dover, Dover can handle it because the majority of their budget comes from property taxes. Springfield gets 65% of its budget from the state. While the majority of that 65% is Chapter 70 money, a 50% cut in the remainder is still disastrous, and has led to basic services going unfulfilled.

    Personally, I think that the city should have not plowed the main streets which are main corridors leading to the cozier suburbs in the area. That would have sent a better message than leaving people on side streets trapped for five days.

    Most people don’t see the issues that are being faced in poor communities because people in wealthier communities have been able to attract the “less expensive, more resource” residents into their own communities. Poorer residents have been suffering immensely to shield wealthier residents from the policies they enact.

  2. Land of Greed

    It ceases to amaze me how wealthier people and institutions expect the masses to pick-up their tab. As a teacher in an urban school I can show you receipts of hundreds, and some years thousands, of dollars that I have spend on supplies for my classroom. Then I come to find out that in FY2012 the Institute of Art (ICA) was asked to pay only $17,198 toward Boston’s Municipal Services and paid “0”; and the Museum of Art (MFA) was asked for $259,443 only contributed $56,316! Then the MFA whined about it!

    I resent the cultural institutions in Boston for not paying their fair share for municipal services. The Mayor’s PILOT Program is asking these institutions to only pay 25% of what they would owe if they were for profit! As a homeowner and taxpayer in Boston, who is picking up 75% of their share of the bill, I want them to pay more than 25%! Mayor Menino is even willing to take off 50% of that for “community service” bringing their contribution down to 12.5%! It is unfortunate for Boston taxpayers, that those represented on the PILOT Task Force represented non-profit organizations, who were asked to phony up, and not actual taxpaying citizens living in Boston.

    Given that the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Art Department has been decimated for the last 25 years, and BPS students have had limited, if any, art classes, that their suburban peers received, I find that the Museum of Art (MFA) particularly egregious and arrogant in their refusal to pay their fair share for municipal services. According to the 2011, MFA IRS 990’s the MFA has NET assets of $941,781,237! I am not talking about art hanging on the walls, that is not even considered part of the formula! I am talking about CASH! The MFA has INVESTMENT FUNDS in Central America and the Caribbean totaling $76,796,906!

    The City of Boston PILOT program asked the MFA to contribute $518,887. Moreover $259,443. (50%) was a “community service credit!” The MFA only contributed $56,319.; $9,904. LESS than they contributed in 2010! Malcolm A Rogers, MFA Director, was paid $827.930.00! He received a “housing allowance” of $62,500.00! The Boston Emergency Shelter Commission, a Boston municipal service, reported that there were 6,647 homeless in 2011. Does anyone beside me see a problem of greed here! $518,887 is chump change to the MFA!

    Check out who’s not up to speed on their FY2013 PILOT Contributions! If I were Boston’s Mayor, I would have turned the MFA’s lawn and the ICA’s parking lots into “Snow Farms” during the last storm. If I ever can ever find the money to pay for a bus to take us, and if there is ever an open slot for a BPS class (after the MFA gets through scheduling the suburban schools) I’m going to let the kids swarm the MFA’s Gift Shop, it really belongs to them!

  3. do what? with what?

    As much as I agree with the post, and have so recommended it, there is one thing with which I must take issue: the entire concept of measuring school progress by graduation rates, test scores, “achievement gaps” and student rankings.

    The student is not the product. The student is not the outcome. The student is not the yardstick. How the student does, and especially how the student does in comparison to other students, is a measure, while not without meaning, is without value in this debate. Even if student achievement was something other than an oblique reference to the classroom and, in fact, held a dispositive function, there are simply too many other variables for it to be a controlling function: It’s a truly poor implementation of a plan that couldn’t possibly answer even if implemented perfectly.

    The student (and the parent) is the consumer and the product is that most intangible of services, the curriculum. Test results cannot measure how the student accepted the curriculum save in the most blunt manner possible; and that scale of bluntness varies for each student and changes for every student from year to year…/i>

    What we have now is a negative feedback loop where those who ought to be the prime architects and implementers of the curriculum, the teachers, are bullied and browbeaten into offering a shallower curriculum which couldn’t possibly answer and judged poorly thereafter because of its elliptical reference in the one-size-fits all tests designed by the bullies. If one had to design the least effective education system, then you’d probably start by hampering the teachers ability to control the curriculum…

    Doctors get paid regardless of the overall health of their patients. That’s because healthy patients are not the product, the doctors education, learning and advice are the product. Lawyers get their fees whether or no they win the case. That’s because the claimants aren’t paying for a successful court case rather they are handing over good money for the skill and acumen of the lawyer. Baseball players who don’t make the playoffs still get the paychecks. That’s because the primary service they afford is a pleasant afternoon watching sports not a championship. While healthy patients, successful court cases and championships are worthy endeavors nobody is paid to ensure these things and nobody is shamed when they are not brought about. Why should this be any different for teachers? The best service they render is a meaningful classroom experience and they should be given carte blanche to do just that. In an inchoate manner this is the rationale behind charter schools… but hamstrung by infighting, politics and missed perceptions.

    I am certain that if the teachers were allowed to fixate solely upon a shockingly good curriculum, and given the resources to implement such a curriculum, the graduation rates, test scores and most of the things we now consider adequate measures would rise significantly. Such measures, however, will never truly be satisfactory until we address other societal factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with teachers and curriculums.

    • Yes and no

      I agree that teachers should have a large say in determining what curricula are appropriate and that MCAS is overused in their evaluation. My support for the tests comes from the idea that it should be used to measure student knowledge and ability. However, your penultimate paragraph seems to imply that there is no downside to bad outcomes. I know I’d be reluctant to see a doctor who has a bad track record or a disproportionately high number of malpractice suits to his/her name. Lawyers often advertise that you don’t need to pay them unless they win your case, and if I were in need of such services I certainly would look at the win-loss record in court. Ball players’ worth very often IS tied to their record in contributing to championships.

      • Teacher evaluation

        I think the analogy of a ballplayer isn’t appropriate; baseball pay is mostly about individual performance, not team record. I like the approach that Petr is taking here; it really is about the quality of the services offered, not the end results.

        That is not to say that teachers should not be evaluated. A better evaluation system would be one which combined ratings from administrators and from parents. Allow parents to rate the teachers, and the administration determines if the teacher is getting a fair shake.

        Of course, that will never happen, because the conservative meme is that in urban (read: minority) districts, the parents are lazy (because they are minorities) and would rate the most permissive and easy teachers as the best because it would allow their kids to do the least amount of work (because they are minorities and that is what minorities desire). Then again, letting parents decide by picking charters or using vouchers does not seem to rankle the conservatives that much.

        • parent evaluation of teachers

          Hi NoPol,

          I agree that parent review could be a good part of a teacher evaluation, if handled well. It’s not a new idea.

          However, you’re wrong on the politics of has supported and opposed the idea.

          Typically it’s been the union which has blocked it in urban areas. Often, I’d add, with reasonable concerns. Example Rochester.

          When parents evaluating teachers has been proposed more recently, it’s been in red states like Idaho and Texas. While some liberal groups cheer it, other liberal voices have belittled the idea.

        • No evaluation system

          is perfect. If the point is to provide usable feedback to decent teachers, parent evaluations might be helpful, but there are a host of problems with them.

          First of all, what does a parent know about the teacher and his performance? The older the kid gets, the less a parent is involved. I’m a popular teacher. My students parents will have heard of me and have good feelings about me. What does that say about whether I’m doing a good job teaching? Parents can and do give feedback to administrators about teachers. (My wife certainly does). Administrators, for all their flaws, are trained to evaluate a teacher. What qualifies a parent to do so? Particularly without trained observation?

          There is a question of quality of service, but formal parent evaluations would be unlikely to yield useful information. You’d have complainers who may or may not have legitimate complaints, the content parents who may or may not have a reason to be content, and the disengaged parents who could care less. It would be next to impossible to figure out what’s what from that sample of opinion.

          FWIW, the new evaluation system does consider interaction with parents.

          • Parental input

            It’s a fair point that many parents don’t interact much with teachers, especially as students get older. Many parents are involved, though. I tend to favor democracy over autocracy and I tend to believe that the public should generally be trusted. A model where the administration primarily decides a teacher’s value is a bit like a film critic making choices as to what actors should be paid. That’s why I suggested a hybrid model, with parental ratings which are validated by the administration.

            I do cringe a bit about treating taxpayers as “customers”, but there is validity in that view of the world. People move to communities because of the services provided. Schools do need to ultimately serve the public’s needs and desires. Ultimately, word-on-the-street reputation is what matters to a community, so parental opinion is very important.

            Goldstein, the reason I made the comment about conservatives not liking parental evaluation is that conservatives pushed for MCAS primarily because of urban districts. I view MCAS as “punish the minorities”. The vision painted is a school/district where students (read: blacks) get passed along from year to year, parents are OK with the system because they’re too busy having welfare babies to care.

            It might surprise you to realize that many schools deemed “failing” in urban districts are strongly supported by the parents whose children attend them. A great example is the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield, which will be closing next year because its charter was going to be revoked due to them not making adequate progress.

            The parents all showed up at a recent meeting, despondent, begging for the school to not close. Do you know what the tone of the mostly conservative newspaper user comments was? That the parents were ignorant, lazy, didn’t know that the school was bad, and only supported the school because it stole money from the public and distributed it among the minorities.

            See – a top-down approach whereby disinterested parties decide what is “best” for a smaller group of people who felt they were being well-served by the school, where the disinterested parties determined that because it was a mostly black school, the blacks couldn’t possibly know what was best for their children.

            • Motives aren't always so simplistic.

              I favor the MCAS concept and the district I attended and teach in is at least 85% white. Therefore, the students whose promotions I have questioned are also largely white. It’s hard to generalize about parents too. I’ve seen involved parents and hear horror stories in the teachers’ room about difficult parents. What I would like to see is removing the parents’ right to veto a school’s judgement that a child should be retained in a given grade. For me if anything I have high expectations for children of every race and background, which is preferable to what George W. Bush refered to as the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

            • No Politician, I understand where

              you’re coming from. I teach in East Longmeadow and half of the teachers in my department once taught in Springfield. My principal taught in Springfield. My assistant principal taught at Commerce and was an assistant principal there for a year. I also get METCO kids who live in Springfield and go to school in EL.

              You’re right about MCAS. It started out with the belief that teachers and kids were lazy and that testing would whip them into shape. Education reform–from charter schools to Teach for America to testing–is something that is done to poor people, who tend to be black or Hispanic.

              The assumption is that all kids are the same and that there is no difference between my EL kids and the Springfield kids that can’t be fixed by improving test scores. My students can have problems too, but they also have parents with a lot of income to deal with those problems, lawyers to smooth over arrests with intent to distribute, insurance to cover rehab.

              My students don’t have to worry about staying out after dark. They don’t have to worry about gangs. With the exception of Conor Reynolds, the Cathedral kid who was murdered a couple of years ago, they don’t know anyone who has been murdered. In fact, they experience very little violence, even fights. In short, my kids have significantly fewer major and minor distractions than their urban peers.

  4. Level the playing field, it's time to pony up!

    I believe that ALL parents want the best education for their child. In 25 years of urban teaching, at what is perceived to be some of the worst schools in Boston, I have yet to meet a parent who wanted me, or any other teacher at these schools, to lighten up and let a kid slide. There are other factors at play that the posters here might be unaware of.

    Boston Public Schools (BPS) is the best urban school system in the United States according to the Council of the Great City Schools. That would not have happened if those in direct service to children, their teachers, were incompetent. But BPS PUBLIC schools have not been playing on a level playing field, what could have been accomplished if we were!

    The Boston Public Schools (BPS) historically has set up traditional public schools to fail. They did this to supplement the districts budget. In the past when that happened the BPS qualifies for more federal and state funding, and foundation grants. Since “no child left behind,” BPS set-up schools to fail, and then targeted these traditional schools for pilot, Horace Mann in-district charter (HM), and “innovation” schools. Examples of this include, the Emerson (Dudley St Neighborhood HM Charter), Clap (Innovation), the small schools at South Boston High (Boston Green Academy HM Charter) and Hyde Park Education Complex (New Mission Pilot & BCLA Pilot), and Madison Park “Innovation” High School. Gavin Middle School, now UP HM Charter, where the district didn’t buy seats for the ELL/SEI Vietnamese students and the multi-handicapped students remain in the Gavin/UP Building and are not part of UP Charter, but their names appear on the Murphy School roll! The under-resourced Marshall School, slated to be UP Charter 2, is the most recent to fall victim.

    You can tell which schools are on the BPS “Office of Strategic Planning” hit list because first they are under-resourced, and then are saturated, inequitably, with an inordinate percentage of Special Education and English Language Learners that does not reflect the district as a whole, these are programs with populations of students who have a track record of MCAS failure.

    The English High School is a perfect example of this. Back in 2005, it was cut-up into “Small Learning Communities,” (Gates & Carnegie Grants) then on the eve of being taken over by the State, it became a “Commonwealth CO-Pilot” (State Grant) that never took off. How could it, EHS had a 35% SPED population, and a 66% ELL population – the highest in the State! When that money ran out, EHS was “transformed” into a “turnaround” school that qualified for “Race to the Top” money!

    The MADOE exacerbated Boston’s problems when they allowed the charter school network to saturate Boston with charter schools who’s demographic population in no way reflects the districts ELL/SEI and SPED populations. These charter schools, segregation academies really given their selected cherry picked populations of students, take away an inordinate amount of money from our traditional schools. Let me explain, to educate a Regular Ed student in BPS cost $11,558. However, when you add the cost of all the BPS Special Ed & ELL/LEP students, the cost averages out to $14,704! Charters are paid the average $14,704. even though their population of students is mostly Regular Ed, and in no way reflects the demographic of the Boston Public Schools!

    What a windfall for these charter schools that have flooded Boston! Not only do Charters not service BPS SPED or ELL/LEP students, they legally swindle BPS out of $3,146+ per student! That $3,146+ comes out of the budgets of traditional BPS schools that are servicing Boston’s neediest children! Charter schools also receive “non-tuition revenue” which includes the state and federal nutrition funding, transportation reimbursements, a state grant related to Academic Support Services, and federal entitlement grants including Title I funding directed to the school’s tutorial programs, IDEA funding directed at the school’s Special Education program, and Title IIA Improving Educator Quality. Then there are the busing fees BPS pays for to bus charter students citywide, BPS predicts charter transportation to be $20.3 million by 2014!

    I’m sure the taxpaying families of students in Boston’s traditional schools, and other urban schools in Massachusetts that have been under-resourced, are tired of their schools and teachers “doing more with less.” After 12 years in a traditional Boston school a child is not getting $37,752.+ worth of services that a child in a charter “public” school receives in the same city! It’s even more money when you consider the 5% yearly increases anticipated and budgeted for charter schools, and the non-tuition revenue! The state has set-up and created a two-tier system of education in Massachusetts and if we are depending on the education system to drive economic success it is time for the state to pony up and invest in ALL Massachusetts students.

    • the truth needs to be heard

      jshore, excellent post! I’m still waiting for a real expose on charter school operations by a major media outlet-it’s time for the great press they receive to end. Sham entrance lotteries, the releasing of students who are not a “good fit”, no SPED or ELL services, teacher burnout, director salaries, and on and on-all well-kept secrets. And shame on all the politicians jumping on the band-wagon, selling out the public schools.

      • Charter school expose

        I read this one the other day:


        It outlines how charter schools screen students so that they get those most likely to succeed – even when it is expressly illegal to do this.

        • There's a lot I disagree with

          about charter schools, but my research over the last month or so suggests that Massachusetts has much better laws and regulations in place than other states.

          Research shows that Massachusetts charters school a different, more easily education population, but our law strictly prohibits the abuses detailed in that article. It also prohibits for-profit charter schools, which is a very good thing indeed.

          • Laws should be followed...

            but I believe the charters in Boston are finding ways around them. I firmly believe they are selecting and skimming students from our schools. Why do they require a current report card, claiming it is only used to prove grade level? Not one of the students from my school who transferred to the uber successful charter school were in the “warning” category of MCAS scores and only 1 was low “needs improvement”. The others were all either high “needs improvement” or “proficient”. Meanwhile, we are expected to make AYP even though the higher achieving students we have brought along since K1 (teaching most English and breaking them into the test taking process) have been picked from our school. Why do these families leave? Because charters are able to expel or avoid enrolling the disruptive students and problematic families that hinder our progress, while public schools must educate all comers. All I currently have is anecdotal evidence, but it really is this simple-skim the motivated, non-SPED 5th graders from the area elementary schools and achieve great results on the MCAS.

            • Thanks.

              Is this all Boston charters or particular ones?

              I think the process itself does more than enough to skim students from BPS. I’ve been looking for information on charter school admissions, but the charters websites are generally free of details.

              Personally, I’d like to see a moratorium on new charters. As it is, they’re looking for state money to subsidize their facilities. That’s nation-wide and the Massachusetts Charter School lobby is on board.

              • Secretive they are

                I believe this is true of the newer charters, and especially true of Excel Academy in East Boston. And there is UP Academy, run by Unlocking Potential, the company given a no-bid contract to take over the Gavin Middle School. Mayor Menino is boasting that they are teaching the same students that were enrolled there and are making enormous gains. Not quite. A full 15% of Gavin students are at other BPS schools-they must not have filled in the form to remain at the school they were already enrolled in! Or maybe they were “encouraged” to go to a school that was a “better fit”. jshore did a great job outlining the other sleight of hand moves these charters are getting away with. What is the big hurry to open more? The ulterior motive is to privatize education and drive down teacher salaries and the pols and public are falling for it. Charters are not the cure they are portrayed to be, and it’s not the students they really care about.

                • Definitely not a cure.

                  Definitely part of the problem. I have some sympathy for some of the charters in Western Mass that actually offer something our public schools don’t offer, namely immersion in the Chinese language or performing arts. These schools also don’t poach students from the cities.

                  I also think some of our charter operators have good intentions, but they are all part of the neo-liberal plan to capitalize public education.

  5. Agree with petr

    I thank you all for your comments. One point of clarification on my end:
    Petr said that he/she took issue with my post inasmuch as I implied that it was a positive that school progress was measured ‘by graduation rates, test scores, “achievement gaps” and student rankings.’ I did not intend to imply that as I don’t think that that’s the way schools or students ought to be measured. Problem is, it is the world we live in, and I should have given that as a introduction. Our school systems are unfortunately measured by data. Data-driven is the holy adjective that drives all analysis. It is truly regrettable as there is so much more to schools and students–and teachers–than a ‘data-driven’ assessment of the the strengths and weaknesses of all of the above targets of this data-driven culture.

  6. "You get what you pay for"

    Didn’t that used to be a conservative idea?

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