Tuesday, October 23, 2012

0 Final Thoughts on the Quality Choice Plan

For parts 1 - 5 of this series regarding the Quality Choice Plan, please go to October 2012.

Is the Quality Choice Plan offered by Councilor John Connolly et al really the answer to Boston Public Schools' assignment and quality issues? 

I began this series not only to answer the above question for myself, but also to review the Quality Choice plan in a comprehensive way in the hope of answering the questions I and others were asking regarding the proposal. Please read the earlier articles to see the complete list of questions and concerns I raised, plus some answers from John Connolly's office.

Let me state again: at this point, I am not for or against any of the proposals, whether by Boston Public Schools or community members. Apparently, my asking questions translates to mean that I am against this plan to some folks. I am not. Yes, I ask hard questions, but after 20 years of studying education law and school districts, especially BPS, I have knowledge, insight and experience about how things generally get done, and it does not always benefit our students. Our students are the ones I care about. 

The fact that no one was prepared for the level of questions that myself and others are asking about this plan, as well as others, is concerning given BPS' history. Without answers to the questions and concerns raised, how can I or others possibly support any of the proposals? This is true of ALL of the proposals. 

Being fortunate enough to have worked with Councilor Connolly on several education related matters over the years, I do know that he wants quality education throughout our city and I believe his co-creators do also. I think the Quality Choice plan has some great suggestions and ideas for how to improve our Boston schools and move us forward.

According to the email sent out on October 3, 2012, John Connolly states: 
However, we are convinced that our plan, the Quality Choice Plan, presents a creative alternative that focuses on improving school quality and bridging the divide between those who want schools close to home and those who want broad choices.
Reading that line, I am sure many, like myself, expected a detailed step-by-step plan outlining how Boston could accomplish the task of improving every school and revamping our assignment process. Unfortunately, this plan did not live up to my expectation above, but instead led to questions about the demands it makes for BPS to create and implement a plan.
  • How do the creators think the above will happen?  
  • What time line for creating and actually enacting such a plan would BPS have, if they chose to pass this plan?
  • What would the deadline be for all schools to become quality schools? 
  • Again, who would oversee this process?

Still, comparatively, the Quality Choice Plan is well-written and easier to conceptualize, to some extent, for me given my knowledge and experience with BPS. However, a well written plan does not always mean it is a plan which can be implemented and become reality. Though the QC plan is well written with links to where data/ideas came from, as far as I know, per my conversation with John Connolly's staff a couple of days ago, we have yet to receive any of the nitty-gritty details laying out the steps and resources necessary or the time-lines and no one has run the actual numbers for this plan, or told us, besides "transportation savings" and "increased enrollment", where the funding will come from. The proponents of any proposal should have had all the detailed plans, data and budgets run prior to release of a proposal, not expect BPS to do it for them. I urge the QC creators to provide the above on their website as soon as possible.

As it stands, any transportation savings will not be realized immediately (more like 5 -8 years from now) and even then it is questionable whether those savings would ever be enough to make a true impact on our schools. Increasing enrollment is a long-term goal, so again, no immediate impact for our students. Putting a plan in place without a guaranteed funding source from the beginning, especially given possible government tax cuts ahead of us, would be irresponsible and potentially disastrous for our students. This means we must have other funding sources that are guaranteed and immediately accessible. I know BPS would be appreciate more funding to help improve the schools!

If we do not have a plan which clearly lays out all the relevant details, time-lines, and especially funding, there is the potential for failure and our students are the ones who will pay the price. Despite not being an accountant or even liking math, I can read and use a calculator, so did some rough math utilizing BPS' 2013 budget numbers which showed me that this would be an extremely expensive proposal to put in place even when only "converting/transforming" current schools. As this is something I know the creators are well aware of, I urge them to let the public know how and where this funding will come from, whether the funding is guaranteed and how it is guaranteed.

Additionally, the plan's proponents seem to either be unaware of or have forgotten that, in order to transform schools into Pilot and in-district Charter schools, that must be approved by 2/3 of the voting members of the BTU at that school. That alone can take years to make happen, despite the teachers wanting the same thing families do: quality education for every student. There is no way anyone, whether BPS central admin or Boston politician, can guarantee that this can be done. 

At the October 9th community meeting at Mildred Avenue, I did speak with Representative Russell Holmes, one of the supporters of the QC plan, and asked him if they had run the numbers for this plan. Rep. Holmes told me that the creators/supporters have not run the numbers and that they felt it was up to BPS to do that. I also asked Rep. Holmes what his thoughts were regarding the segregation issues that have been raised and he informed me that it did not bother him whether schools were segregated as long as they were quality schools, to which I honestly did not have a quick response as it concerned me to hear him say that. No matter which plan is put in place, segregation is a real possibility for some of our students and will occur as soon as the plan is implemented, whereas a school becoming a mid-high level quality school may take several years, so how do the creators feel about that? Segregation is about more than ethnicity, it is also about ability levels, language barriers and economic status to name the three constants which BPS struggles to help students overcome every year.

Thursday night, October 18th, at the Condon school community meeting, John Connolly presented again, but this time with a power-point and about 30 minutes of floor time.  I urge John to put that power-point on the QC website for the public to review. I have extended an invitation to John Connolly et al to a community meeting which would be open citywide where he could present this plan and have a real question and answer session, something which has not been possible at BPS meetings. I am told his schedule would not allow for this through the first week in November, so asked about anytime after that, but the short answer seems to be no at this point, which is disappointing. 

We know that the EAC will most likely propose a hybrid plan made up of the best of all the different proposals to Dr. Johnson. I do believe that the Quality Choice Plan has some great ideas for how to improve our district and I urge the EAC and BPS to incorporate some of them into any plan BPS finally decides on. 

That said, myself and others are still awaiting responses to other questions raised both through these articles and those brought up by Anne Walsh's email. 

Maybe once I receive those answers, which will be shared with everyone, I can be more supportive of the QCP, but until that time I stand where I started: concerned about some portions, especially funding, segregation of certain populations and the possible impact on our most at-risk students.   

Update, October 23, 2013: To date, none of the questions beyond the email from Ann Walsh in my prior article have been answered though many have asked them!


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