Archives for category: Boston

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.



Neema Avashia learned that her middle school in Boston was going to close. She decided that she would stand and fight. She did. She is a true patriot. She made a difference. She defeated the powerful. She is a hero of the Resistance. She joins the honor roll of this blog.

She writes:

My gloves came off the day representatives of my school district told us they would be closing our school. Our students would be sent to a turnaround high school that had never taught middle school students. Recently arrived immigrant students in language-specific programs, which the high school did not offer, would be dispersed across the city. As for our staff, the representative from Human Capital glibly told us, “We have no plan for you.”

What does it mean when the school system that you’ve poured your heart into doesn’t have the decency to consider a thoughtful transition plan before making the decision to close your school?

It means they never saw you as human in the first place.

It means that your job, then, is to make it impossible for them to look away from your humanity.

I went home from work that afternoon and opened a Twitter account. Opponents of other district proposals had successfully used Twitter to shame city leadership into changing course.

The John W. McCormack Middle School on Columbia Point. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“I am a @McCormackMiddle teacher,” my first tweet read. “Today the district announced they will be closing my school, and I am left full of questions.”

Once I began, there was no stopping. I knew that if the McCormack closed, I would not be a teacher anymore. That the work it took to build these relationships, and this community, was not something I could take up a second time under the scepter of further closures.

On Twitter, I relentlessly poked holes in the plan: BuildBPS was founded on the premise of renovating pre-WWII buildings, yet our building was constructed in 1968. Multiple schools have failing heat systems and leaking roofs, but our building had received a new boiler, windows and roof within the last ten years. BuildBPS purported to prioritize the most vulnerable students, yet disrupted the education of our English Language Learners.

My recklessness knew no bounds. I went before the Boston School Committee and announced, “I’m here to give you a history lesson,” then reminded them that our students had merged with a turnaround previously — the elementary school next door — and that doing so had placed the elementary school under even higher scrutiny from the state.

Read her story. Hers is the kind of dedication that the corporate reformers and Disrupters can’t buy. She is a champion of children, not a billionaire’s lackey. She carries within her the spark of revolution that inspired patriots in the 18th century.  She is a patriot for our times, uncowed by  money and power.

Maurice Cunningham is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts who writes a blog that”follows the money.” He also happens to be one of the heroes in my new book “Slaying Goliath.”

In this post, he warns that philanthropists are using their vast resources to buy control of the news, in this case, the Boston Globe. You may recall that Eli Broad gave the Los Angeles Times $800,000 a year yo increase its education coverage at the same time that he was trying to buy control of the LAUSD school board and ultimately put half the city’s children in charter schools. Fortunately, another billionaire bought the paper who was not interested in the schools, and Broad’s money went down the drain.

In Boston, as Cunningham explains, the Barr Foundation made a $600,000 gift to the Boston Globe. He explains that the Barr Foundation has a long history in the privatization movement.

This is not an innocent, no-strings-attached gift.

Cunningham writes:

The announcement last week of the $600,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to the Boston Globe was presented as a public spirited philanthropy offering the Globe the means to research our education system’s failures and report back on how to fix them.  It is not. It is the dawn of philanthro-interest group journalism.

That’s a mouthful so let me explain. Journalism is easy – the Globe is the most important media outlet in the state. Philanthropy is something that generates positive responses as leading citizens “give back” to the community. What? You’d rather have them buy another yacht? But philanthropies are increasingly acting like interest groups[1] and that is what Barr is doing. It’s expending money to gain influence for its policy preferences on education.[2]

Get over the idea of Barr as a disinterested philanthropy scrupulously pursuing only the public good. It’s an interest group. How so?

Consider the political operating charities Barr has been supporting in the bitter contest between union and civil rights and community groups versus the wealthy interests who wish to privatize public education. Barr’s Form 990 tax returns show it routinely donates to political non-profits that promote privatization.

  • In both 2015 and 2016 Barr gave $200,000 to Stand for Children, a beard for privatization interests. (SFC, then funded by members of Strategic Grant Partners, was behind the 2010 charters ballot measure and the 2012 anti-union ballot proposal, both of which ended in compromise legislation).
  • In 2016 Barr gave $125,000 and in 2017 $175,000 to Educators for Excellence “to support the launch of E4E’s Boston chapter.” E4E is a faux teachers operation, a company union alternative to real teachers’ unions.[3]
  • Barr has contributed to Massachusetts Parents United, the Walton family front that executes privatization activities for the WalMart heirs.[4]
  • Just this year Barr funded the rollout of SchoolFacts Boston, a new operating non-profit headed by former mayoral candidate John Connolly, whose candidacy was backed by $1.3 million in dark dollars from Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts. Connolly recently appeared at a DFER event.

We also can’t ignore the history of the money man behind Barr, Amos Hostetter Jr. (By the way, did Hostetter donate to DFER for the 2013 Boston mayor’s race? We’ll never know. DFER is a dark money front).

  • In 2009 Hostetter contributed $32,500 to the Committee for Public Charter Schools, the ballot committee formed by Stand for Children to support a ballot initiative in support of more charter schools.
  • In 2016 Hostetter secretly donated over $2 million to Families for Excellent Schools in favor of Question 2 to increase the number of charter schools. Because Hostetter hid his donations behind that dark money front, his largesse was not known until the Office of Campaign and Political Finance ruled that FESA had violated state campaign finance law and ordered it to disclose the true sources of its funding. Hostetter was the fourth largest individual donor to FESA.[5] If not for OCPF, we’d never know.[6]

Keep reading. The Barr Foundation is buying influence. It’s money will be used to point the Globe to ideas favored by Barr and to ignoreodeas that Barr dismisses.

This is a new-dangled kind of corruption.


Christine Langhoff, retired teacher and education activist, welcomes Brenda Cassellius, Boston’s new Superintendent of Schools. She is not a Broadie, and she is not a Walton stooge. She’s experienced and she arrives ready to lead, untethered to the disruption agenda. That’s good news.

Langhoff writes:

The screening process was secretive and deeply flawed. Three candidates were selected for presentation to the school community. None met all the requirements laid out for the position.

One, Oscar Santos, was the hometown boy, with limited experience, having run a small town school system in a nearby suburb. Randolph has about 2600 students, to Boston’s 55,000. He was the protégé of Michael Contompasis, former Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent, as well as longtime Headmaster of Boston Latin School. Santos, president of a Catholic high school, was also a member of the Gates-inspired Boston Compact, featuring a unified enrollment system and cooperation among charter, Catholic and private schools – a favored initiative of the mayor. He received no votes.

The second, Marie Izquierdo from Miami-Dade, was a Broadie supernintendo and a Jeb! Chief for Change alumna. The school committee’s two Latina members voted for her, citing a need for an experienced bilingual leader in a city where 46% of the population is Latinx. In the few days after the announcement of finalists and before the vote by the mayorally-appointed school committee, the Boston Globe published two stories in her support. In the first: “Supporters say ‘next logical move’ for Marie Izquierdo is BPS” … Amanda Fernández, MA BESE member endorsed her. Fernández’, organization, Latinos for Education, is funded by the the Waltons.

The second, by the senior editorial writer, published just before the vote, scolded Mayor Walsh for playing it safe and choosing Cassellius. That Izquierdo did not get the Boston position is also a rebuke to the state board’s other two Walton connected members, Margaret McKenna and Martin F. West and to Governor Charlie Baker as well. The Pioneer Institute, where Baker was Executive Director, and which is funded by the Walton and the Kochs, has so desperately wanted a Walton takeover of the state’s largest school system.

Brenda Cassellius quickly became the consensus candidate of the many parent and community activists. She spoke of being a Head Start student herself, of her failed attempt to slash required SPED paperwork in Minnesota, said she will begin her term with a listening tour of parents, teachers and community advocates. She’s not a big fan of standardized testing and called for the scrapping of Massachusetts’ required exit exam, the MCAS. That last has many folks’ panties in a bunch, as if the MCAS were a sacred right of passage.

“’I believe in a standards-based education; I just don’t believe in test-based accountability. We have had test-based accountability since No Child Left Behind, and it has not worked,’” said former Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, in the first of her four public interviews today. Standardized tests can help guide large-scale policy, she said, but ‘I don’t think that tests ought to be used for individual high-stakes decisions ever.’ ”

Might there have been a better candidate for superintendent of Boston’s schools? We’ll never know (unless Bob Mueller is looking for a job). But for the first time in more than 15 years, I’m not worried that the person running our schools is incompetent, a privatizer or a saboteur. I don’t think parents and advocates will be strewing rose petals along Brenda Cassellius’ path to her new office, but this one is a win for now, and we’ll take it.


The board of the Boston Public Schools selected Brenda Cassellius as its new superintendent. She is the former state superintendent in Minnesota, where she served from 2010 until last January. She is an educator, not a refugee from the corporate world, so that’s a good sign.

The board hopes she will repair relationships that frayed during the brief tenure of Tommy Chang. It is also hoping she will raise test scores,  stop the decline of enrollment, and close achievement gaps.

That is a tall order for any superintendent, and Cassellius would be wise to set her sights on realistic and achievable goals. She will need to obtain new state resources to improve struggling schools, for example, by using research-based methods like reducing class sizes for the students who need e trap attention and support.

”Reformers” like to set public schools up to fail by setting unrealistic goals that they can’t reach in their charters except by kicking out kids they don’t want. The public schools must enroll everyone, including the kids pushed out by charters.

One troubling note. In interviews, Cassellius identified one of her “victories”:

She pointed out that while she served for eight years as education commissioner, she pulled together the state’s teachers union and the administrator and school board associations to craft a new teacher evaluation system. The process included trade-offs, including a major concession by teachers: the use of student test scores in their performance reviews, a practice that teachers nationwide tend to oppose.

Does she know that test-based evaluation has been discredited over the past five years? Does she know that the Gates-funded program to try this methodology in three urban districts and four charter chains was evaluated by AIR and RAND and found to have no effect, other than to discourage teachers from teaching high-needs students, who are likely to reduce their ranking? It did not raise test scores or graduation rates, did not close achievement gaps, and did not weed out “bad” teachers. Teachers oppose it because it is unfair and ineffective.

Cassellius does not arrive spouting Reformer ideology. That’s a good sign. Bostonians must work together to support their public schools and to restore confidence in them. If she can do that, she will succeed.


This is a story that made me happy. I graduated from a non-selective, open admissions public high school in Houston. It was untracked (but unfortunately it was racially segregated like all schools in Houston because I graduated in 1956). I never heard of selective admissions until I came to New York City. Or tracking or magnet schools (which were originally designed to promote racial integration, not as havens for white students).

Matt Barnum writes about studies showing that it really doesn’t matter whether a student goes to a selective high school.

“Studies looking at the test-in schools in those cities and in Chicago have found that students receive little if any measurable benefit from attending them. Students with similar qualifications who attend high school elsewhere end up with comparable SAT scores and college admissions offers, they find.

“There is perhaps too much attention on these test schools as if they’re lifesavers, and we have evidence that maybe they’re not,” said Tomas Monarrez, who studies segregation at the Urban Institute….

”In a 2014 study titled “The Elite Illusion,” Pathak and other researchers compared students who just made the cut to attend a test-in school in Boston or New York City and similar students who fell just short. (Notably, the Boston schools, unlike New York City’s, don’t rely exclusively on test scores for admissions decisions.)

“The difference in test scores, including on the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, between the two groups was largely nonexistent.

“Perhaps more important to parents and students is whether attending one of those household-name schools helps kids get into a better college. The answer, according to a separate study focusing on New York City’s specialized high school graduates between 1994 and 2013, is not really.

“There was no evidence that those students were more likely to enroll in college, complete college, or attend an especially elite institution than comparable students who went to high school elsewhere. There was also little difference between students who just missed the cutoff for Stuyvesant but got into another of the test-in schools, like Bronx Science.

“The Boston study came to similar conclusions.

“In some cases, there were even negative effects: Students who just made it into Brooklyn Tech were actually 2 percentage points less likely to graduate from a four-year college as a result….

”The many clubs and activities found at some exam schools may expose students to ideas and concepts not easily captured by achievement tests or our post-secondary outcomes,” wrote the Boston and New York City researchers.

“That idea strengthens the case for adjusting the selection process to admit more black and Hispanic students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to those resources.

“It is still important to try to open the door of these schools,” The Urban Institute’s Monarrez said. “But perhaps [we should] just not think of these schools as the best and only answer to these problems.”