Archives for category: Boston

The Boston Public School board selected a new superintendent. She is Mary Skipper, who has had many years of teaching experience in Boston and is currently superintendent of the Somerville, Mass., district.

Currently the head of Somerville Public Schools, Skipper will take over at a crucial juncture for Boston, which only days ago fended off a state takeover by agreeing to a long list of improvements that she will now be charged with seeing through. She narrowly edged out the other finalist, BPS regional superintendent Tommy Welch, in a 4-3 vote.

The 55-year-old Skipper previously worked in Boston for nearly two decades, teaching Latin at Boston Latin Academy before working her way from principal to district administrator overseeing three dozen high schools. She earned a reputation for innovations at a high school she previously led. A decade ago, then-president Barack Obama held up Skipper’s school, TechBoston Academy, as a national model when he delivered a speech there.

She’s been superintendent of the roughly 4,700-student Somerville district since 2015.

Skipper was not available for comment after the vote. But she previously has said that teachers were surrogate parents to her, playing a deep role in her life, so she felt teaching was something she needed to do.

The job she’s stepping into has already been largely redefined by an agreement finalized this week between Mayor Michelle Wu and state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, who had threatened to label the district as “underperforming.” In exchange for maintaining autonomy and the district’s reputation, Skipper will have to carry out a long list of mandates from a district improvement plan agreed upon Monday that aims to overhaul special education, services for English learners, and transportation, among other things…

Skipper’s selection could carry some risk for the district, since she’s not available to take over full time in Boston until late September, after the deadline for completing 10 of 24 action steps required by the joint agreement for improving Boston’s schools…

Skipper will also have to overcome frustration from some community members that the superintendent search did not yield Black or Latino finalists. Civil rights leaders and education advocates called on district leaders to halt the vote or extend the process after the search committee presented only two finalists; Skipper is white and Welch is an Asian American.

Two other would-be finalists, a Black woman and a Latina, withdrew before the list was finalized and made public. The panel overseeing the search selected Skipper and Welch from a field of 34 applicants.

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education and the Mayor of Boston reached an agreement not to label the Boston Public Schools “underperforming” and the state backed away from taking control of the district. Perhaps they realized that state takeovers typically make things worse, not better.

Our reader Christine Langhoff is a retired teacher in Boston. She added the following informed comment.

Christine Langhoff writes:

Despite the Boston Globe’s heartfelt desire for privatization – its education reporting is outsourced to privatizers and charteristas at The Barr Foundation – public pushback had an impact. The state has had zero success in the school systems where it intervened, when measured by the metric the state board loves: test scores. Boston scores, even during the virtual schooling of the pandemic, have been higher than in Lawrence, Springfield, Holyoke and Southbridge, where the state is in charge. They failed to get this done before Governor Charlie Baker – funded by the Kochs and the Waltons – leaves office this year.

Our newly elected mayor, Michelle Wu, has her own two young sons in BPS and is committed to public education. She has refused to back away from her advocacy for the schools. Her predecessor, Marty Walsh (now Biden’s Secretary of Labor), was himself a founder of a charter school, and underfunded the schools during all seven years of his mayoralty. He made no effort to solve the issues cited in the state’s report in his quest to defund, destabilize, and destroy the school system.

Wu has managed in a brief time to recruit two excellent finalists for the superintendent’s position. Both of them are true public school educators who live in Boston. Mary Skipper’s three children are BPS graduates and Tommy Welch’s kids are presently enrolled as well. Contrast with Laura Perille, who was named superintendent by Walsh, despite being completely unqualified save for the fact that she ran an umbrella group for the foundations bent on privatization. (Perille took over from Broadie Tommy Chang, who was responsible in LA for the disastrous rollout of laptops.)

It’s a new day for public education in the city of Boston. The Waltons are somewhere, licking their wounds in defeat once again.

For a while, the state board of education was threatening to take over the Boston Public Schiols, despite the fact that state takeovers have a dismal record. Then the state threatened to label the district “underperforming,” which served no purpose other than humiliation. But a deal was reached, and the state has backed off its heavy handed tactics.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and the state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley came to an eleventh hour agreement Monday to prevent the state from designating the district “underperforming” and stepping up oversight of the district.

The agreement between the state and city, announced Monday night, details district improvement efforts following a state review that found Boston Public Schools was failing to make enough progress in addressing long-standing problems, including providing services to English learners and students in special education.

“These commitments will set up the district for success right away,” said Wu in an interview Monday night. “I’m eager and ready for the work ahead.”

The deal comes after weeks of negotiationsand political brinksmanship that, at times, played out before the public. After the state in May released its audit outlining chronic dysfunction in Boston Public Schools, Wu pushed back on the state’s initial proposals to improve the district, which would have made her directly accountable to Riley for improving schools and imposed short deadlines for addressing problems. She instead called for a “partnership” with the state.

And when talks broke down last week, the state upped the ante by recommending Boston receive more oversight and be labeled underperforming, an embarrassing designation that can take years to reverse.

The negotiations have cast a feeling of uncertainty over the district, as it searches for a new superintendent. The Boston School Committee meets Wednesday to vote on two candidates: Mary Skipper, the Somerville superintendent; and Tommy Welch, a regional school superintendent in Boston Public Schools and BPS parent.

Welch has said he could begin Friday, after outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius departs. Skipper has committed to staying in Somerville until the fall.

The agreement includes deadlines as early as August for the city and school system to complete many steps.

It’s hard to imagine any meaningful reforms that can be completed in the next six weeks.

The state board of education in Massachusetts, dominated by “reformers” is itching to take control of the Boston public school district. State takeovers have consistently failed. Failure never deters “reformers.”

Dear families, students, educators and community partners,

[Español aqui. Todos están invitados a unirnos para el foro comunitario y la protesta en DESE]  

The Receivership issue is heating up again. Yesterday, Commissioner Riley recommended that the Board vote to declare BPS an “underperforming district.” See the BTU bulletin here for more information. You are invited to join us for two events:

1) We are holding an EMERGENCY Town Hall this Sunday, June 26 from 7:00pm to 8:00pm to discuss what Commissioner Riley’s new proposal to declare BPS “underperforming” is and what would happen to BPS if the Board votes to do so. This will be a public town hall, and we encourage you to invite fellow families and students. Sign up now.

2) This Tuesday, June 28th, we will gather at 8 am outside the DESE headquarters (75 Pleasant St. in Malden) to rally against state takeover and for a BTU contract now. At 8:30am we’ll enter the meeting to watch public testimonies when the board meeting begins at 9am. RSVP at bit.ly/Rally628. There’s garage parking right next to Malden, easy Orange Line access, or if you’d like to take the bus with us from the BTU, email Daphne (dsoto@btu.org) to reserve your seat.

In solidarity,

Ari + the BTU

Sent via ActionNetwork.org. To update your email address, change your name or address, or to stop receiving emails from Boston Teachers Union, please click here.

Reader Christine Langhoff sent a warning that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is poised to take control of the Boston Public Schools. This would be a mistake. No state takeover has ever led to better education. The state is not wiser than the city. If anything, the state education department is far removed from daily practice, as it is simply another bureaucracy. The current board is dominated by advocates of choice. Apparently they are unaware that the root cause of low test scores is poverty. The best the board could do would be to reduce class sizes and to promote the creation of community schools, which makes the school the hub of valuable services for children and families. Such proven strategies are unfamiliar to choice advocates. They prefer a failed approach.

Christine Langhoff wrote:

It seems that MA DESE is poised to place Boston’s public schools under receivership, perhaps by a vote as soon as May 24. Doing so would fulfill the Waltons’ wet dream which has been frustrated since the defeat of ballot Question 2 in 2016, which would have eliminated the charter cap.

The board is appointed by Governor Charlie Baker, whose donors are, of course, the Waltons and the Kochs. Four members of the board have day jobs tied to the Waltons: Amanda Fernández, Latinos for Education; Martin West, Education Next; Paymon Rouhanifard, Propel America; and Jim Peyser, New Schools Venture Fund and the Pioneer Institute. Baker is a lame duck, which may explain the haste to pull this off.

No state takeover has yet been successful, and once a system enters receivership, there is no exit. BESE has pointed to low MCAS scores to say our schools are failures, but Boston’s scores, invalid as they may be during the covid pandemic, are higher that in the three districts the state runs: Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge.

The Boston Teachers Union has an action letter if anyone is so inclined to support public education in the city where it originated:

Boston has had mayoral control of the schools since 1992. On November 2, the voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly supported the return of an elected school board. Mayoral control was sold as a “reform” panacea that would lead to higher achievement. It didn’t. Boston joins Chicago as cities where the public wants to abandon autocratic rule of the schools. The vote in Boston to restore an elected board went 4-1 in favor.

The newly elected mayor, Michelle Wu, said before the election that she would be open to a board in which a majority of members were elected, and some were appointed by the mayor.

The Boston Globe wrote:

The Question 3 ballot measure, which passed with 78.7 percent of the vote, was nonbinding, meaning it doesn’t carry legal weight. But councilors say it will prompt them to push for changes that will democratize school decision-making and empower communities of colorwho have long felt ignored by the appointed committee.

I previously posted the decision by the Boston School Committee to change the requirements for admission to its elite examination schools. What I didn’t know was that there was a minority report from the school committee’s Task Force that was voted down.

Since then, I learned that there was a minority report by two Task Force members who offered a different approach (actually there were two minority reports). Rosann Tung and Simon Chernow wrote a dissent, printed here in part:

…By dissenting, Simon and I urge Boston Public Schools to go further and faster. BPS will not achieve justice until we eliminate the structures that uphold White supremacy and capitalism — structures like the tracking that is the accelerated grades 4–6 Advanced Work program in some schools and like the three tiers that our high schools still represent (exam, application, and open enrollment). Permanent ranking and sorting are a major root cause of the fact that 40 percent of our schools require assistance or intervention for poor outcomes. Many scholars have shown that children who attend truly diverse schools benefit both academically and socio-emotionally. The segregation of students by race, socioeconomic status, learning style, language, and special needs leads to our most vulnerable students receiving inadequate resources and support.

Another structure that upholds power and privilege is standardized testing. Every standardized test ever created shows group mean differences, because standardized tests measure more than just academic content; in fact, they cement unequal opportunities.

An oft-leveled critique has been that the human, financial, and political capital poured into this admissions process is misguided and should be put into improving the other 120-plus BPS schools. Actually, we believe that when the admissions of the three schools become test-blind and lottery-based, and when all of the students who test well attend more than just three schools, system-wide improvement will accelerate…

The Boston Globe interviewed parents and discovered a groundswell of exhaustion and frustration caused by the closure of schools and their new roles at home. I don’t think these parents will want more of the same when school reopens. The kids and their parents will be thrilled to see their teachers and classmates again when that happy day arrives.

It was music class that finally drove Melissa Mawn over the edge.

She was already dutifully arranging her quarantine workdays around the expectations of her three children’s math, English, and science teachers, surrendering her work station to their Zoom meetings.

Now, the music teacher was proposing a “fun activity” and Mawn’s thoughts immediately turned to the recorder — the piercing woodwind instrument that her twin 10-year-old boys are learning to play this year.

“I mean, we’re stuck here in the house, and I cannot have recorder class for an hour,” said Mawn, who is working full time from the Wilmington home she shares with her three children, her husband, and her in-laws.

“We have to live here and, like, not kill each other,” said Mawn, “and the recorder is definitely going to knock one of us over the edge.”

Mark the fourth week of school closures as the moment when parents began to crack. The state’s experiment in home schooling may have been interesting for a week or two, but as social media rants reveal, many parents are now fed up. Managing their children and their anxieties amid a global pandemic, and working from home if they still have jobs, some parents have begun resisting the deluge of demands coming from their children’s teachers.

“It’s just overwhelming. Everybody’s overwhelmed,” said Mawn, who aired her frustrations last week on a Facebook page for Wilmington residents.

“I understand a love for the arts but in a state of emergency, I can’t teach music and gym,” she wrote. “My children can play outside, in their own backyard or ride their own bikes in our driveway. That will have to count for gym.”

Around the same time, Sarah Parcak, a renowned archeologist from Maine, was drafting a lengthy, expletive-filled Twitter thread reiterating what she’d already told her son’s teacher: First grade was officially over for the year.

“We cannot cope with this insanity,” Parcak wrote. “Survival and protecting his well being come first.”

The parent rebellion is not at all fun for teachers, who have found themselves in a no-win situation since schools were closed in mid-March. First, they were hounded by some hard-charging parents who expected more daily structure and an immediate and effortless switch to online instruction. Teachers had to quickly develop new coursework and ways of presenting it, and jet into families’ living rooms via video conferencing, where their every move would be scrutinized.

Now, with teachers more regularly holding classes online, parents are pushing back, saying the expectations are unmanageable — particularly for younger children who can’t handle the technology on their own and need a parent by their side.

One mother reported that her Dorchester nursery school is offering twice-a-day Zoom meetings for her toddler and preschooler — a gesture that she appreciates but that she considers more trouble than it’s worth.

The first time they participated, she said, “it was like a nightmare.” The 4-year-old did not understand: “Why can’t they hear me? Why can’t I talk?” she said. When the girl did get time to speak, she grew shy and clammed up.

“And five minutes later she wants to do it and the Zoom call is over and then she’s hysterical,” the woman said.

One irony is that many parents have been schooled to limit young children’s screen times; now they’re being steered to it by preschool teachers.

It feels like some weird science fiction story, said the Dorchester mother

The story them goes on to quote one parent at length, who happens to be the leader of the Walton-funded Massachusetts Parents Union. she is not exactly typical because the MPU pays her a salary of $172,500 to advocate for charter schools and against teachers’ unions. Professor Maurice Cunningham, a specialist in dark money who is featured in SLAYING GOLIATH, has the story and the tax returns here.

The celebrated Boston charter City on a Hill is closing one of its schools and imposing budget cuts at another due to falling enrollments.

Once a shining star in the Boston charter school world, City on a Hill Charter School is facing a massive financial crisis, prompting trustees on Monday to enact a series of dramatic budget cuts: It will lay off 23 teachers, administrators, and other staffers at its Roxbury and New Bedford campuses and will close the New Bedford campus in June.

This is a really difficult decision and we don’t take it lightly,” said Cara Stillings-Candal, chair of the trustees in an interview following their Monday morning board meeting. “We wouldn’t have made these decisions if it wasn’t in the best interest of families and students.”

The sweeping budget cuts represent the latest turbulent turn for the nearly 25-year-old charter school, which has been struggling with high leadership turnover, lackluster academic performance, and financial woes. Earlier this year, state officials placed the New Bedford campus on probation, and a year earlier teachers at all three sites unionized, a rarity for independent charter schools, which place a premium on operational autonomy.

The severity of this fall’s financial crisis emerged after headcounts at the three campuses revealed enrollment had dropped for a second year in a row. That, in turn, will lead to a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in per-student aid from the state and federal governments. The three campuses operate as independent schools overseen by a single board of trustees and an executive team.

Just 570 students are currently enrolled in grades 9-12 across City on a Hill’s three campuses, leaving 270 seats empty. The Boston campuses receive about $20,000 per student in state aid and the New Bedford site gets about $15,000 per student. Last year’s enrollment drop resulted in an $842,000 loss in state and federal aid.

The decline in charter enrollments mirrors a trend seen in a few states, like Michigan, where charters have lost their luster.

Now here is good news!

The new superintendent of the Boston Public Schools Brenda Casellius announced a reduction of district tests.

This does not affect the state-mandated tests, but it is a welcome acknowledgement that students need more instruction, not more testing.

School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius has announced a moratorium on district-mandated standardized tests, according to a Sept. 19 memo to school leaders.

To read the memo, click here.

“For this school year, we will take a pause in requiring that schools administer specific assessments,” the memo says.

It also announces an end to “End-of-Year” district assessments in English Language Arts and math, and says BPS will stop giving the Terra Nova standardized test to students in grades four and five. That test has been used to decide which students should be invited to Advanced Work Class (AWC) for the following year. The Terra Nova will still be given in third grade as a gateway to AWC in grade four.

The memo does recommend continued use of certain reading tests and district assessments that are used to evaluate students’ academic progress during the year. “Administration of these assessments is highly recommended,” Cassellius wrote, “but completely optional.”

(MCAS tests are not affected by the new policy because they are mandated by the state, not BPS.)

Cassellius says one reason for the new policy is to “shift attention from executing the status quo to … reflecting upon our practice.”

This is a welcome contrast with New York City, where a spokesperson recently declared that there would be four additional off-the-shelf standardized tests each year, to prepare for the state tests.