Monday, June 9, 2014

2 Massachusetts Public Education: Are Students Really Winning?

Right now in Massachusetts the battle over public education, and the tax dollars (and tax credits!) associated with it, is coming to a head in the form of legislation, H4108: And Act Relative to Improving Student Achievement, at the state house which would raise the cap on charter schools. 

Terms like "school choice", "poor and under-privileged students", "failing schools" and more are thrown around to scare the general public into believing that our traditional public schools are failing our children and the only solution is to open more charter schools. Unfortunately, for some reason our local mainstream media outlets continue to perpetuate the misinformation campaigns through multiple articles which utilize data to prove their case, even after that same data and the reports they reference have been proven to utilize faulty data and analyses and show no significant difference in performance by charter school students over traditional public school students. 

If you are a parent, family member, friend, community member, student or concerned citizen here are some things you should be asking regarding the education that your favorite student(s) are receiving right now:

When there is no significant difference in the test scores for charter school students vs. public school students, then why are there so many corporations, political groups, politicians and individuals pushing for more charter schools instead of investing in our traditional public schools? Hint: the public education industry is approximated at $500Billion dollars.

Why are we allowing our tax dollars to become corporate profits for some of the richest companies in the world (who receive tax credits, breaks also) instead of investing them into our traditional public schools? Read: Sacrificing Our Children

When it has been proven that charter schools are not actually educating the students who have significant needs, those who live in poverty and/or with language and disability needs, how can we even compare the two drastically different populations and claim one is doing better than the other? Charter Schools and Students with Disabilities Report, Pgs 26-34

Why are we allowing one type of assessment system that utilizes high-stakes tests to determine our schools and students' success levels which feeds into education policies? For more info regarding high-stakes testing, check out Fairtest.

Why are we allowing politicians, corporations and billionaires with no education background to determine the best methods to educate our children without listening to the stakeholders' voices? Read: All Change is Not Growth

Why are so many sitting silently by and allowing our legislators, and those who finance their campaigns, to push agendas and make decisions that allow our children to be used as guinea pigs? Hint: Most of the educational policies being pushed as "education reform" have never been proven to increase educational outcomes for all students.

Why do we allow our politicians to make decisions that are better for corporations than for the constituents who voted for them, and why do we keep voting them back into office? See the interview with Diane Ravitch and then read her blog! 

Who really wins when we allow public education to become a profit tool and tax credit for the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), which has specifically targeted Boston Public Schools as one of their "target districts" to start more charter schools, and others like it who won't even pay their own employees a living wage? It is not our students who win, and the winners laugh all the way to the bank.

Think corporations and those who run them care about your children or their education? Think again. Our students education has been co-opted and is now seen as another way for shareholders, companies and foundations to make a profit at the expense of our children's future, especially for those who live in poverty, with language or disability needs, and many of our children of color. 

"College and Career Readiness" is a term that sounds great, but is used primarily to push for more charter schools, high-stakes testing and - the new favorite: school autonomy by those who want families and politicians to buy what they are selling in order to acquire more public funding that will increase their profits. These savvy corporate players know that every parent dreams of their child's future which college and careers are a part of, so it is easy to take advantage of this by corporate education reform backers

But is that really all you want for the children you love? I bet you are saying "No, it isn't." As someone who loves that child, you want the world for them: maybe they will invent the newest "big thing," maybe they will become a teacher, lawyer, doctor, engineer, city planner, or do something in the public sector where they help our city and country become better - maybe even President. You most likely want your students to be able to make good decisions and choices, be happy, experience love, have a family of their own - whatever that may look like, be involved in their community and engaged as a citizen and live life successfully as a well rounded person. And yes, this includes being ready to access either higher education or careers once they finalize their K-12 experience, but how can students do that if most of what they are taught revolves around the importance of taking tests?  



Additionally, what are the odds that your child will actually attain the goal of "college readiness" by graduating high school at a charter school here in Massachusetts? Not as high as they would be at your good old traditional public schools because charter schools have higher attrition and suspension rates and lower graduation rates than our traditional public schools. Unfortunately, you won't read about or hear these facts through any of our major Boston news sources. 

Luckily, we have alternatives for news like Edushyster whose article "Charter Cap 'n Gown" highlights the issue of graduation rates in Boston charter schools. Facts to think about: here in Boston, Codman Academy Charter School had only 6 boys graduate out of the 19 students who graduated in 2013 (9th grade incoming class of 53 students); City On A Hill had only 4 boys graduate of the 31 students who graduated (9th grade incoming class of 130 students); and Match Charter School also had only 6 boys graduate out of the 23 students who graduated (9th grade incoming class of 72 students.) More data to come on this VERY soon!

Corporate education reform is brought to you by those who helped bring about our latest recession: the hedge fund managers, investment brokers, corporations and the big banks involved with them. What "readiness" seems to mean for the corporations is ensuring that they have someone ready in the future to work for them and increase their profits. While they are pouring money into education reform, political and media campaigns designed to make you believe their front-men are looking out for your children's best interest (Stand for Children is a good example of this), they refuse to pay their own employees a living wage, yet continue to reap the profits associated with loans, tax credits and helping to sell products needed for MCAS or PARCC, and by the way, very few of their own children are affected by any of it as they attend private schools. 

Education in the US has historically been about educating the citizenry and ensuring democracy along with giving every child the ability to live the "American Dream." Unfortunately, for those of us immersed in education policy, what we have seen, over the past 10 years especially, is that what backers of corporate education reform and bills like H4108 really want to ensure is their own bottom line by "educating" our children to conform, be complacent and make these foundations and shareholders richer.

All of the above was only further solidified a week ago, when despite my attempt to get away from the entire education debate by relaxing a bit, that hope was dashed while watching NECN Business on Sunday. Paul Guzzi, President of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and Peter Howe, NECN Business Editor, insisted that the Massachusetts House of Representatives passage of H4091 which would allow the proliferation of charter schools to continue with no increase in true accountability and oversight is the best answer for students in "horrible situations" who attend "terrible school districts" - primarily meaning Boston. Both Mr. Guzzi and Mr. Howe urged the Senators, who now have the bill in their hands as H4108, to also vote to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. If you are like me, you are asking yourself: why are the business leaders of Boston pushing for more charter schools?  I bet you know the answer!

The education of our students is the biggest responsibility we as parents, family, community members, and citizens have, yet we are failing our students every day that we remain silent and allow their education to be co-opted by businesses, corporations, organizations and billionaires who only see the profit they can make using our children now and in the future. We are failing our students by continuing to allow politicians to make choices based on campaign dollars instead of the welfare and future of our students, families, cities, states and the nation. We cannot afford to fail our students any longer.




Students, parents, families, educators, city and school leaders, politicians and citizens across the state and the country are coming together to insist that all of our students receive the quality education they deserve by investing in all of our students and schools equitably and fairly. Many of us in Massachusetts are emailing, calling, meeting with and visiting our state legislators to ask that they vote NO on H4108 and work with us to ensure more equitable funding formulas for all of our public schools, better oversight of charter schools to address all areas of concern, and to stop the over-testing of our children. 

Each of us alone has power when we raise our voice, collectively we can be truly unstoppable and the time to raise your voice, as a parent, as a family member, as a student, community member, politician or educator to ensure the educational rights of all of our students is NOW. This is not something you can put off if you want to ensure that your children, and all of our students, do not pay the ultimate price while those pushing the corporate agenda of corporate education reform turn our tax dollars into private profits.

To get involved with the fight for our students and public education, please:

Call, email, write and visit your state Senator and Representative;
Join myself and others throughout Massachusetts by:
Contacting me via email or Twitter @bpsnightmare, Mary Lewis-Pierce via email or Twitter @Googiebaba, and/or Kristin Johnson via email or Twitter @KrissyCabbage!

Also, if you use social media, be sure to check out and "Like" the Facebook page for "Keep The Cap on Charter Schools Massachusetts" and follow @KeepTheCapMass on Twitter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

0 Open Letter to Massachusetts Representatives Regarding House Bill 4091 "An Act Relative to Improving Student Achievement"




House Bill 4091 will be voted on by the Massachusetts Representatives during their session beginning at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21, 2014! Please email your Massachusetts Representative with the title Vote NO on H4091! 




Dear Representative:

Education reform, as developed over twenty years ago, initially had the right idea: ensure that every child, regardless of need, ability or socio-economic status was truly being educated. Many of us applauded that finally schools and districts would be held accountable for educating our special education and ELL students to ensure that they were not, as was the norm, just being pushed through the schools without actually being educated. Many also applauded the idea of creating a few schools where innovative ideas for educating all students could be piloted without the normal red-tape that often made it impossible for our educators, administrators and district personnel to try something new, especially since the idea was that then the "best practices" from these "innovation schools" would be shared and used in ALL of our schools to enhance our students' education and ensure that every student received a top-quality education. These are just two of the premises of the original education reform law here in Massachusetts. 

The first sign, for many of us, that something had gone terribly wrong with education reform came when MCAS was introduced and we were told that by 2014 if your 10th grade student failed to pass this test they would not receive a diploma but instead, a "Certificate of Attendance" even if they passed every other requirement for graduation. FYI - my own son was in one of the "pilot" 4th grade classes for MCAS, my middle child is in 10th grade this year and just finished taking the 2014 "no opt out" 10th grade MCAS. 

With the creation of MCAS, the public was told that this one test would determine whether a school was succeeding or failing, which seemed irresponsible to me - how can one measure adequately assess anything or anyone? As a parent and advocate I am well aware that it takes multiple measures and tools to assess whether a person has special needs or is gifted - and the usual process is to schedule the student for 2-3 sessions of testing or observation in order to ensure that the "snapshot" of that student is as accurate as possible in determining need and not just the result of a bad or good day - so how can we possibly assess something as complex as a school, made up of multiple types of students, as succeeding or failing based on one measure?

Quickly, other signs that our education reform laws and regulations had taken a twisting turn toward something never envisioned followed, more each year, and each time, much more worrisome to many of us: 
  • We have watched as our schools have become test factories, our educators and students becoming so stressed about how their performance would be evaluated based on a single assessment system, that some of our best educators often leave public schools after only a few years, taking with them the experience that we need our staff to have in order to educate every student; and how our students (and their families) have become so stressed out about testing that we are now dealing with epidemic levels of depression, anxiety, self-injurious behaviors and more in our student populations;
  • We have watched as many families who are able to move out of Boston, Worcester, Lowell, Lawrence, et al to the suburbs because of the lack of support for our urban public schools, often deemed "failing" due to one test score, by our elected officials;
  • We have also watched as the "innovation" schools, aka charter schools, which in the beginning took sweat, tears and hard-work to raise any funding necessary in order to open one, have become yet another way for billionaires and their foundations to utilize tax breaks and reap more profits using our students and schools to suck tax dollars away from the neediest communities - despite the high suspension, attrition and low graduation rates at these "innovation" schools;
  • We have watched as more and more of our federal and state education funding is tied to initiatives that are untested and unproven which force schools and districts to jump through hoops for short-term funding with no long-term plans for continuation beyond the 3-5 year grant period (even if the practices did work) while foundations like the Waltons, Gates', Broad and others reap the benefit of a 39% tax credit (New Market Tax Credit which can double their investment!) at the expense of taxpayers as well as students across the country. Often, these same initiatives (MCAS vs. PARCC; state frameworks vs. Common Core) are eventually deemed to not be the answer to education issues as promised, yet our elected officials continue to vote the newest idea into law without full understanding of exactly what they are voting on or regard for the possible ramifications they will have.
Today many of you are trying to determine whether to vote to pass H4091 "An Act Relative to Improving Student Achievement" during Wednesday's scheduled vote on same. The purpose of H4091, despite the nicely worded title, is primarily to lift the cap on the amount of charter schools allowed to exist in Massachusetts and open the door to allow those behind corporate education reform to increase their own profits. 

One of the main concerns many have with H4091 is that it still does not address any of the equity issues which have been brought to the attention of all of our Representatives and Senators. Despite assertions that the previous bill's proposals, as H425 (recommended ought NOT to pass by Joint Education Committee in March 2014) and later as H3984, would address the reimbursement and some of the equity issues, neither went far enough in addressing the concerns, inequities and segregation issues brought to your attention previously. 

In essence, H4091 is the failed H425 bill, but not only does this new iteration of the bill not address the issues which the compromise proposed by Rep. Holmes and Sen. Chang-Diaz attempted minimally to do, but in fact, H4091 has the potential to do much more to harm all of our students as an end result of it being approved.

Other areas of concern include, but are not limited to:
  • Further decimation of a district's budget by allowing payments to charter schools to exceed 18% of the district budget;
  • Allowing school boards/committees to include people who also sit on the board of a charter school (including founders and CEOs) - this is a clear conflict of interest by any definition of the term;
  • Instead of protecting our students and public schools and allowing some form of autonomy to our individual districts and schools, H4091 seems to be written to limit the oversight of a school committee or board (most of which are elected members by the residents of that city aka your constituents) in several areas, not the least of which occur when a school is under review as possibly under-performing and in the school committee's oversight of spending on behalf of a school designated as under-performing and turned over to a "receiver;" 
  • In essence this bill will increase the power of the Commissioner of Education without ensuring that stakeholders have a voice in what happens with a school or their district; and,
  • Requires that districts "shall prior to consideration of any other disposition of the identified excess capacity, make a good faith offer to sell or lease in whole or in part at fair market value the identified excess capacity to a commonwealth charter school" which has several ramifications for all of our Massachusetts school districts. With this language in place districts' could be forced to sell or lease to a charter school company despite the possibility of better offers elsewhere. Across the country such leases have already caused countless issues for many school districts as often the bulk of the cost for maintenance and upkeep in lease agreements with charter schools are still the responsibility of the school district the charter school is leasing space from which is why Elgin City Council tabled entering into such an agreement in April, 2014.  
As H4091 was only released Monday night, many of us are still in the process of fully reviewing all of the possible ramifications of this proposal. Despite the short time for review, it is absolutely clear that "An Act Relative to Improving Student Achievement," H4091, is more likely to have the opposite effect by further widening the gaps we see in achievement and opportunity while also re-segregating our students not only by race, but also ability levels, language and special needs with what appears to be less oversight and more public funding paying to privatize our public education systems.

I strongly urge you to vote NO on H4091 and look forward to working with you to ensure that all of our students receive the high-quality education they deserve without further eviscerating our traditional public schools.

Karen Kast-McBride

To my readers: Please check out the Press Release from QUEST members regarding H4091 and please help us defeat this procedural end-run by calling and emailing your Representatives today. 

I will be live-tweeting from the State House with the hashtag #KeepTheCap if you would like to follow what is going on!

Have questions or just want to see what I am working on? Feel free to email me at karen.kastmcbride@gmail.com or follow me via Twitter: @BPSNightmare

Monday, March 24, 2014

0 Massachusetts Families and Students to Protest the Joint Education Committee Proposal to Lift the Cap for Charter Schools

MEDIA ADVISORY FOR:March 25, 2014

Massachusetts Families and Students to Protest the Joint Education Committee Proposal to Lift the Cap for Charter Schools

Boston, MA—On March 25, a broad based coalition of public education stakeholders made up of families, students, educators, community members and groups representing schools throughout the Commonwealth, will come together at the Massachusetts State House to protest the announcement made Saturday, March 22, 2014 that a compromise negotiated by Sen. Chang-Diaz and Rep. Russell Holmes will allow the cap on the number of Charter Schools to increase in Massachusetts under Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”

DATE: Tuesday, March 25th, 2014
TIME: 4:30pm
LOCATION: Massachusetts State House (front steps)

Too often, public schools are subject to budget cuts and privatization partially due to the opening of charter schools.  While it is widely accepted that charter schools are also public, charter school administrators themselves argue that the schools are private entities*.  We are not “anti-charter” or seeking the elimination of charter schools. Rather, we are requesting that our elected officials work with us to ensure that the multiple inequalities and issues already identified within the current charter schools in Massachusetts be thoroughly examined and addressed prior to any legislation going forward allowing the opening of more charter schools in Massachusetts. 

We are requesting that the Joint Education Committee, at a minimum, do the following:
  •         Remove charter school language entirely from Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap;”
  •         Prior to any consideration of raising the charter school cap read the soon-to-be released audit from the State Auditor’s Office regarding charter school finances and practices;
  •         Work with constituents to draft a more comprehensive proposal regarding the charter school cap.  This proposal must address the inequalities already identified, include clear and quantifiable accountability measures that are put into place prior to such legislation being proposed, and explore more equitable or separate funding methods that do not bankrupt our public schools.

In Boston, the stakeholders have come together to build a new vision for our schools and our children—one that champions great public schools as the heart of our neighborhoods and ensures that every student, regardless of need level, receives the highest quality education available. Our stakeholders have developed a community driven movement for the benefit of our students.  This is in order to hold all of our elected officials accountable to us as their constituents and voters.  Campaign donors, foundations and corporations are not advocating for our children, but for their own bottom lines.  As a result, they will continue to back charter schools, privatization and testing.  Our state legislators must not back them.

We, have come together to do the real student and parent engagement necessary in our city and state. On Tuesday, we will be letting those who continue to make choices against the best interest of all of our students and the wishes of their constituency know that this practice will not be tolerated.


 Contact:              Karen Kast-McBride, Community Organizer
                                (617)877-2871
                                Karen.Kastmcbride@gmail.com


- ### -

Friday, January 3, 2014

0 Calling all 6 - 9th Grade Students: Your Voice, Your Future

Are you a sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth grade Boston student, or have one in your life? Want to be able to share your vision for Boston's future and possibly help the new mayor make those visions a reality? Want to meet a surprise celebrity guest, have some fun, enjoy entertainment, refreshments and an ice cream social while sharing your thoughts with Mayor-Elect Walsh?

If the answer is yes, than what are you waiting for? Get signed up now for the first of its kind Inaugural Youth Summit hosted by Mayor-Elect Marty Walsh this Saturday afternoon, January 4thThe Youth Summit will be held at Roxbury Community College in the Media Center, 1234 Columbus Ave., Roxbury, from 3:00 - 6:00 p.m. If you need transportation or want more information, please call 617-357-5777 x215.  Click here to RSVP! 

The goal of the Summit is for Mayor-Elect Walsh to hear the hopes and dreams of Boston’s youth and inspire our youth to achieve those dreams and play a part in Boston’s future by becoming involved themselves. Mayor-Elect Walsh realizes that our youth are our future leaders and citizens, so he hopes to see many of our awesome Boston students on Saturday!

I have to admit, with a celebrity guest, all the socializing, entertainment and refreshments, it definitely sounds like a fun event for sixth through ninth grade students to be attending on Saturday after being out of school for a couple of weeks, and possibly cooped up due to the snowstorm! (I am kind of jealous - maybe this should be the format for all school committee meetings? Hint Mayor-Elect Walsh!)

I know this will be a fun event for Mayor-Elect Walsh also and kind of wonder if he requested that the committee have an ice cream social. What? I am pretty sure he hasn't had much time to enjoy ice cream since his campaign started, and let's face it, listening to our youth has got to be more relaxing than what he has been doing for the past year!

Whether you are a student who is just curious about the event and come for that reason, or are concerned about things like education, the environment, making sure your voice is heard, jobs, or you have ideas and suggestions that can help move Boston forward, make sure you come to the youth summit on Saturday. Only you can make sure that Mayor-Elect Walsh knows what the youth of Boston want to see happening in their city, now and in the future!

My own daughters, 12 and 15 years old, were very involved throughout the election process so will be at the youth summit Saturday. They have a lot of ideas to share with Mayor-Elect Walsh regarding Boston's future. Of course, I am 90% sure that the promise of food, meeting other students, fun and the ice cream social factored into their decision to go also!

Want to see if friends are going or connect with others who are attending? You can check out the youth summit event page on Facebook too!

And, if you are the parent or friend of one of the students who decides to attend and want to hang out and wait for your fabulous student, please consider volunteering to help out, that's what I will be doing! (Otherwise I am sure my girls will think I am "watching" them - which no teen ever wants their parent doing while they socialize!) 

Also, please mark your calendars now for the Walsh Transition Committee's Youth Public Hearing on Thursday, January 9, 2014, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at English High School, in the Auditorium, 144 McBride St. Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.

Have questions or just want to see what I am working on? Feel free to email me at bpsnightmare@gmail.com or follow me via Twitter: @BPSNightmare. 


 






Tuesday, December 17, 2013

0 Boston Truth’s Light Shines for Public Education

At a time when our public school students are continuously taking high-stakes standardized tests which are used to judge our public schools, students and teachers as "failing" by the results of those tests; which most often lead to the closing of said "failing" schools and the handing over of that same school facility and funds from the local public school district's budget to "school management corporations" that re-open the schools as "in-district public charter schools”; or alternately are utilized to deny a student a diploma; while supposedly showcasing the "success" of corporate backed charter schools who do not take all students while taking funds from the local school district at 2-3 times the amount allocated for per-pupil costs of students staying at the district public schools; a time when here in the United States foundations like The Walton Foundation (Walmart)The Gates Foundation (Bill and Melinda), and The Broad Foundation (Eli and Edythe) finance the attack upon public education throughout the nation, the recent National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education on Monday, December 9, 2013, was a breathe of fresh air. 

Well, maybe not so much to the privatization peddlers who hawk their wares and policies through fear, intimidation and multi-million dollar sponsored "research" and "news articles." But for those of us who never bought the lies; who dug into the raw data behind the manufactured "proof" and reports; have been fighting for and defending public education for decades; educators, youth, families, advocates and community members pushing for investment in our public schools to ensure all students access to a quality education beyond how to take a test, for us, this was a wonderful day! 

The Boston Education Truth Coalition (BETC or Boston Truth), a youth-led coalition made up of students, educators, families and other community members who are directly affected by public education, which officially formed this past summer, sponsored the Boston event, The Future of BPS: A Town Hall to Transform the Public Education Agenda for Boston, which was held in Cardinal Hall at Madison Park High School in Roxbury. 


The town hall agenda was preceded by dinner and an opportunity for interactive activities including: a photo-booth to share why public education is important to you; art activities where you could draw or write what you would see inside your dream school, what a quality school looks like, and a complete the sentence "On our way to better schools...", which could then become part of the ongoing "school bus" and "the school all students deserve" art projects which the coalition plans to have at all future events.  

Despite it being a cold and crummy night, over 250 attendees came out from every neighborhood of Boston, which further substantiates what became evident during the recent elections: the right of all students to a high quality public education is the civil rights issue of our time as it affects the majority of people nationwide. The diversity of Boston was clearly evident among the youth, families, educators, community and labor (union) members who attended along with those in charge of public education, such as Boston Public Schools Interim Superintendent, John McDonough, elected officials and their representatives and Fran Lawrence, the Executive Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) (a sponsor of the Reclaim the Promise campaign). 

The formal agenda started with a video clip of the 1990 visit to Madison Park High School of Nelson Mandela, in honor of his accomplishments and life-long emphasis on the importance of education. 

"Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use in order to prepare our youth for their role as leaders of tomorrow." Nelson Mandela states to the crowd filling the MPHS auditorium in 1990. This comment, along with Nelson Mandela's other remarks regarding students dropping out and his charge to the youth to take it upon themselves to ensure that they receive the highest education possible, seemed to affect attendees just as strongly today as it did those who attended the 1990 event, as these issues are just as relevant today.

After a moment of reflection the official event got under way with, appropriately for a youth-led coalition, Alex Roman, a member of Boston Truth and the Boston-area Youth Organizing Project (BYOP), getting everyone to chant along with him:

"Everywhere we go - people want to know
why we're here - so we tell them,
we are the *students/parents/teachers - the mighty mighty students/parents/teachers
fighting for justice - and an education"
*each separately

Alex definitely brought everyone together - even our city leaders were chanting along with Alex! This fabulous "ice-breaker" was followed by introductions of a few representatives of the diverse coalition membership: Melonie Griffiths, a BPS parent and Jobs With Justice (JWJ) Organizer; myself as a BPS parent and Boston Parent Union (BPU) representative; and Jessica Tang, a Boston Teachers Union (BTU) representative. Each representative had a role which included acknowledging politicians and education leaders, the introduction of a video of interviews of some of the coalition members, and the introduction of Fran Lawrence, AFT EVP, who spoke about the nationwide fight to reclaim the promise of public education while standing united together. 

Carlos Rojas, another youth member of Boston Truth as well as the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM)Youth on Board (YOB), and the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC), then gave a brief overview of the history of the Boston Education Truth Coalition and the "Principles That Unite Us" which were created through multiple community meetings over the past couple of years, sometimes utilizing the increasingly popular charrette process which ensures all voices are heard.  It should also be noted that the principles have been and will continue to be an evolving document through future meetings, town halls and other discussions, such as those that took place Monday night. 


Each one of the eight principles was introduced by student and youth members, who had posters stating the principle, which they read along with a brief description of it, and also spoke individually about what that particular principle meant to them personally. All of them did a great job in front of a huge audience, which is daunting enough, especially when sharing your personal feelings - they truly are the "mighty mighty students!" 

After all of the above took place, attendees took part in facilitated discussions regarding the principles and each person was asked to give input on what was needed to help BPS ensure a quality education for all students. The goal was to continue to add to the principles with what was shared as well as synthesizing all the comments for presentation at a public hearing being held the next night at English High School by Mayor-Elect Walsh's Education Transition Committee. Over the next hour each group discussed their thoughts on three questions:

What is BPS doing well?
Where does BPS fall short?
What do we want to propose to BPS?

The small group discussions were facilitated by youth members of the coalition while other coalition members took extensive notes. Looking around it was clear to see that the level of engagement was high as animated conversations were taking place at every table. At the end of the hour allotted for these discussions, a few of the facilitators reported back regarding what their group felt were the main issues to be shared with the coalition, BPS leadership, all legislators, and of course, Mayor-Elect Walsh's Education Transition Committee the next night. 

Attendees then volunteered to come up and share their reflections on the night, ideas and comments. 


The event came to a close with Alex, Jessica, Melonie and myself thanking all who attended, explaining the next steps, and urging all attendees to continue to speak up, share their suggestions, get involved with their schools and the district, their local representatives, community and elected leaders and the coalition and/or its member groups.

Though there were many adult "big-wigs" in attendance, I believe the event was such a success primarily because it was our ultimate stakeholders, the students and youth who attend our schools, who are leading the movement here in Boston. The parents, families, educators, community and labor members, though important in their own right, can never give the same perspective as our students who have the experience of being the guinea pigs of corporate education reform and are already paying the price daily.

One thing that I found concerning: not one of our Boston School Committee (BSC) members attended the event. The members were personally invited via hand-delivery by Deross Jordan, BSAC/YOUNG member, in conjunction with his verbal invitation and the opportunity to dine with him if they came a little early. I was fairly certain a couple of them would not attend, but am disappointed in all of the BSC members , because this was an opportunity for them to hear from so many of the stakeholders of BPS and have some truly meaningful conversations with many who will probably never attend a BSC meeting. Hmmm, maybe that exact prospect is why they failed to show up?

Since the formation of Boston Truth, and especially since Monday night, I have heard from a couple of people I know that they believe the principles are dictated by the BTU, AFT and other educator and union based groups. Though the unions and others are in agreement with the principles, and indeed did have a voice in developing them, the assumption that the principles are dictated by them is false, and to continue to promote that fallacy dismisses the voices of thousands of invested students, parents, families and other community members and the time they gave to develop them. Those who continue to believe that the principles are dictated by the AFT, BTU, et al; that members and supporters of Boston Truth, and other groups like it across the country are "just union sympathizers," may never believe otherwise no matter how much of the truth is shared with them. 

Take heart though! Since Monday night I have heard from so many people who wanted to share how wonderful the event was and how it inspired them, inclusive of BPS administrators and politicians. All week I have continued to see the affects of the event as, through email and social media, new voices are joining with us. At Tuesday evening's public hearing, and Saturday's Town Hall, both held by Mayor-Elect Walsh, the majority of voices continued to speak up to reclaim the promise here in the birthplace of public education. The tide has turned, and will continue to gain strength and momentum as each day more people become involved and sign onto the principles that unite us. They join in to reclaim not only the promise of public education, but also promises made by our elected leaders. We are united across the city, state and country, and unlike those who would dismiss us, our numbers grow daily.

I was personally most inspired by the youth whose voices were evident throughout the principles as well as the night. As I said during the acknowledgements: "If it weren't for our students, our youth, none of us would be here." I have watched the youth groups and movement in Boston flourish over the years, but having the opportunity to work with them as part of the coalition, and spend a lot of time with them thanks to my own daughter getting very involved with BSAC, I see that they are no longer being ignored as they once were (speaking from experience); that those in positions of power are starting to listen and work with them, at least the smart ones are!

Over the 20 years I have been a BPS parent, I have been actively involved with some of the most dynamic groups around: each of my children's school parent and site councils; especially the original Boston Special Needs Parent Advisory Council (SNPAC) and the Citywide Parent Council (CPC). I have to admit that, other than when lobbying at both the state and federal level regarding special education laws and, in 2002, fighting to retain funding for all the citywide PACs as Chair of SNPAC, Monday night's event was truly one of the most inspiring and empowering events I have attended!

I urge those who read this, no matter your role in the community, to at the very least sign the Boston Truth petition to our elected officials and get involved with your local school and community group. If you want to become involved with Boston Truth, please sign up for the email group or feel free to contact me directly.

Event slideshow: beginning to end! 


Have questions or just want to see what I am working on? Feel free to email me at karen.kastmcbride@gmail.com or follow me via Twitter: @BPSNightmare. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

0 Two Candidates, One Choice: But Not An Easy One

Full disclosure: I have worked closely with Councilor John Connolly on a couple of education issues previously. If you are a frequent reader of my blogs you will remember I did an extensive assessment of his "Quality Choice Plan" (QCP) for education in Boston Public Schools (BPS) last October; until that time, John and I were friends and he would generally return my calls and answer my emails, since then and another incident where I questioned something his chief of staff Ann Walsh said at an External Advisory Committee (EAC) meeting, not so much though. Marty Walsh I only met during this historic mayoral election process and have really gotten to know since the preliminary. Also, though education is my primary issue that affects how I vote, I also have other concerns: public safety, Veterans, health care and other issues. So take my opinions and research for what they are worth to you.

The mainstream media has said that John Connolly and Marty Walsh are so similar that it is hard to differentiate enough to make a choice, and on the surface that may appear to be true, but once you stop looking at only what they claim they want to do and start looking at their track-records and character, there is a very distinct difference. 

There are a number of ways to find out the track record and where candidate's stand on particular issues, besides their own websites and social media sites, when they have worked in the type of government roles both our candidates for mayor have. Unfortunately, because Boston City Council does not put everything online in a concise and comprehensive way, Mr. Connolly's record of voting was also frustrating and daunting to get a true handle on. 

Thankfully, the same is not true of the state house, so you can assess Marty Walsh's record of sponsored and co-sponsored acts here and also a list of votes on other legislative actions through Project Vote right here

Luckily a local writer for the Boston Dig put together a few articles outlining John Connolly's record of votes and sponsored bills while on the city council. This accounting is accurate: I verified it myself via the online list of council meeting minutes, my own record of meetings I attended or watched, and via multiple news sources. Please check out the compiled records via the articles here:

John Connolly's City Council Record 2008-2009

John Connolly's City Council Record 2010-2011

John Connolly's City Council Record 2012 - Present

If you would like to see Mr. Connolly's history via the council's own records, they can be found via the Roll Call Votes pages (56 to be exact) and the Meeting Minutes pages though you will need to note that there is a link for meetings prior to 2011 as they are on a different system. 

Okay, so now we know get an idea of where the candidates stand on most of the key issues,  along with what they have accomplished while in office. But that doesn't tell me everything I need to know, so I went into OCPF records for both candidates to look at where their campaign funding has come from, both in prior campaigns as well as this one. 

John Connolly's OCPF Reports 2005-Present 

Marty Walsh OCPF Reports 2002 - Present
NOTE: There is a drop-down box on the right side of the grey menu bar - to see prior campaigns select "Periodic Reports")
  
Please be sure to also click on "Related Reports" which takes you to the IPAC funding reports (Independent PAC payments on behalf of a candidate) which will show you the "outside money coming in from we don't know where" (John Connolly on NECN November 3, 2013). Quick campaign finance lesson: though candidate's must itemize and report exactly where each individual donation comes from including name, address, occupation of a donor and donation amounts are limited to $500 max per individual ($250. if you are a lobbyist) and no corporate/business donations are allowed, IPACs do not have the same reporting requirements, so the money they spend on behalf of candidates can indeed come from "we don't know where." 

I found it interesting that Marty Walsh never tried to hide that outside money and people from out of state were helping his campaign via "Work for America" and other groups, while John Connolly did not clarify that his own campaign benefits from outside money via DFER and Stand for Children who also paid for ads, mailers, phonebanks and canvassers, some of them also people from outside Boston being brought in to campaign for him. 

And this leads to my last factor: who I trust more to lead the city I love. 

It would make sense for me to just pick the man I have worked with for years, who called me friend, and who, despite it all I still think is a nice enough guy to know. However, in the past year I have seen a side of Mr. Connolly that started to make me question whether he was actually a good representative for Boston even before he announced he was running for Mayor. Because of how Mr. Connolly responded when asked questions about his plans (whether on education or his mayoral campaign): avoiding not only me, but many parents and advocates who questioned his plans; his office failing to respond to his constituents questions whether via email or social media venues; his reactions when questioned or challenged; his lack of responsiveness to one of the students he claims to be on the side of until her email to him was posted on a news website, and even when he did respond, he never actually addressed her concerns. 

Additionally, knowing that the groups backing him are pro-corporate education reform and who backs them, and having read all his policy plans for the city, I worry that Mr. Connolly will help those groups accomplish their goals of turning our public schools into profit centers for their backers. I was happy to see that at least Mr. Connolly has now agreed:

  • "To meet with the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) three times a year, every year he is mayor, to discuss charter accountability, as well as any other public education issues BSAC brings to him. 
  • that he "will also include BSAC and YOUNG in his decisions and work around the Charter School Compact. 
  • Furthermore, BSAC/YOUNG, and Boston Truth along with adult stakeholders, will be involved in creating a Charter Accountability Plan if John is elected." 

I only met Marty Walsh because of the mayoral campaign, initially while I was working on Rob Consalvo's campaign, but about a week after the primary Mr. Walsh called me personally. Mr. Walsh told me he really needed my support. Well Mr. Walsh, this lady's support isn't quite that easily attained. As a friend who was in the room said after the call was done: "Every other person Marty Walsh called probably said yes right away, but not you! YOU proceed to grill him on issues and his votes for 20 minutes and even then say 'I will consider it, but we need to talk more!' Priceless."  

Since that call Mr. Walsh and I have had multiple conversations about his plans and ideas and the concerns I and others have regarding the privatization of schools, government, city and other services as well as  his record as a Representative. The very next time we really spoke was actually because my 12 year old daughter, who spends too much time with me at education related meetings apparently and was very involved in Rob's campaign, stated that she wanted to meet with Mr. Walsh to discuss his education platform. Her request led to a meet and greet at my house, though I made it clear to the Walsh campaign staff that even then I was still not sure how I would vote. Mr. Walsh came specifically to speak with my daughter, but also answered a few questions by friends who also attended, and clearly told my daughter that he would invest in not only her school, but all of our BPS schools. Since that time he has also listened to not just myself, but countless other families, students and I will gladly share the many other conversations I have had with Mr. Walsh if you are interested, feel free to email me if you like. 

Mr. Walsh has also agreed:



"To commit to not allow the charter cap to be lifted or raised until he establishes a Boston Charter School Task Force. Students, including YOUNG coalition members, parents, teachers, administrators, experts and other community stakeholders should all be part of the Task Force. The role of the task force will be to:
· Design a Charter Accountability Plan and oversee its implementation
· Monitor for-profit corporate interests in the city and the Commonwealth
· Monitor the cap on charter schools and make recommendations on any activity pertaining to it"


Everything I listed above and more factored into my decision, which I made in the past two weeks, but was solidified through the latest agreements with BSAC and YOUNG. 

Because of his honesty and straight-forward way of dealing with everyone, the character he has shown despite numerous attacks on him, his willingness to listen to the concerns and the way he has handled criticism of his policy ideas even from those not old enough to vote, I am now supporting Marty Walsh for Mayor of Boston.  I hope you will all join me in voting for Mr. Walsh tomorrow!




0 Fact-Check John Connolly: Boston's Not for Sale! Or Is It?

The past two days of more political spin has left me wondering if people really buy it. I don't, because I realize that Mr. Connolly has been accepting outside money for several years thanks to the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) - both the national group as well as the Massachusetts group recently. Also, I wonder if the spokes-Mom in NECN's story has asked Mr. Connolly "who are they" regarding the donors as well as what DFER, Stand for Children and all their contributors who helped pay for quite a bit of Mr. Connolly's campaign expect in return from him as she asked during the news segment of the groups backing Mr. Walsh's campaign? I also wonder if the Connolly supporters even realize that Mr. Connolly has actually been getting funding for his campaigns from outside Boston since 2011? 

At any rate, my fact-checking shows pretty clearly that despite how Mr. Connolly would like to spin the latest news regarding the new "One Boston" political committee that has bought media time for Mr. Walsh, the reality is that he is doing the same thing. 

So, if Boston IS indeed for sale, now you need to ask yourself: which groups are more likely to care about what actual Bostonians care about? Those funded by a group whose purpose is to help give voice to the average working American regarding issues important to them such as good jobs, affordable health care, education, retirement security, corporate accountability and real democracy as Working America does, or those being funded by the investment groups and foundations like Stand for Children (see the article about SFC's dramatic change in focus) who are very similar to those who helped lead our country into the financial crisis of 2008? 

You get to voice your choice tomorrow - make sure to get out and VOTE! 


John Connolly via bounce.myngp.com 
3:21 PM (12 minutes ago)
to me
Dear Friends,
Just last week, an anonymous SuperPAC bought a half million dollars worth of television ads on behalf of my opponent. We don’t know who’s behind this shadowy special interest group. We don’t know what they expect in exchange for all that money.
We just know that this is wrong. And moms, dads and kids from across Boston aren’t standing for it.See what they had to say at our rally yesterday:

They’re right. Boston is not for sale. 
Please stand up against these special interests by voting tomorrowNovember 5. Use your vote to send the message that outside anonymous money has no place in our election.
Sincerely,
John R. Connolly
Boston City Councilor At-Large
ConnollyForBoston.com


P.S. Please click here and sign up to volunteer on Election Day.
  

Paid for and Authorized by The Connolly Committee
The Connolly Committee
P.O. Box 320550
Boston, MA 02132
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Contribute Now to January 2011: Boston City Councilor John Connolly

by DFER Reformer of the Month

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DFER's mission is to encourage a more productive dialogue within the Democratic Party on the need to fundamentally reform American public education. Each month, we identify one candidate who is standing up for meaningful reform and innovation, and we help demonstrate the broad base of support for his or her efforts. Please give as generously as you can.

January 2011: City Councilor John Connolly

It’s exciting to see dramatic changes in Boston. In the 90’s, the Hub was an original incubator for ed reform ideas. But charter schools eventually hit their cap and statewide complacency set in, and the wheels fell off the reform truck.

John Connolly and FriendsIn the last few weeks, though, Mayor Tom Menino has been talking tough about a new teachers contract that would extend the school day, give principals more hiring leeway, and tie teacher pay to student performance. It’s spurred a debate Boston really hasn’t seen before.

These changes are on the table today because of the work of a Boston City Councilor, John Connolly. John, who chairs the city’s education committee, orchestrated an eight-hour hearing on the 255 page union contract. He called parents, students, community organizers, and education experts to testify about the importance of a longer school day. In the process, he completely reset the agenda.

John is a dyed-in-the-wool ed reformer. He grew up in Boston and went to Harvard, where he wrote his thesis on charter schools. He even taught at a charter school before running for a seat on the council.

Here’s the rub: Connolly is up for reelection this year. Don’t think for a second that the deep-rooted special interests in Boston will just let this happen. What John needs right now is money. Contribution limits are low in Boston, so every dollar goes an especially long way.








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