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.
John R. Connolly
Boston City Councilor At-Large

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

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.



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

0 Email Response from John Connolly to BPS Students' Email

As you may recall, on Wednesday, October 23, 2013, one week after Rhianwen had sent John Connolly, mayoral candidate, an email with her concerns about his positions regarding education in Boston, I posted that email as part of an article on the Patch. I did so because Rhianwen had not received even a courtesy response to her email from the man who claims he will be the "education mayor" and that he "will bring students in so their voices can be heard" if he is elected.

Roughly 12 hours after posting the Patch article, Mr. Connolly did finally respond to Rhianwen, which she received when she got on the computer Thursday night. I did text Mr. Connolly on Friday to ask that I be allowed to post his response here, as I am a fair person. To date I have received no response to that request, but again, because I like to be fair, I am posting it now for all to read:

Dear Rhianwen,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me.  I apologize for the delay in getting back to you, but the campaign keeps me very busy plus I try to spend some time with my three kids, including my new baby Mary Kate, so sometimes I fall behind on emails.  Thanks for your understanding.

I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying your school year at the Irving and that you are doing well.  I am running for mayor because I believe that every student deserves a great education and I will work incredibly hard to ensure that students with an IEP, ELL students, all of your friends at the Irving, and children all across the city have access to a great school.  The ELT and other great programs at the Irving seem to be working well for you and your classmates and I want to make sure that every young person in Boston loves school as much as you do.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Best Regards,

I will leave it up to each of you to decide whether Mr. Connolly's response answered Rhianwen's concerns or not.

I can be reached via email at bpsnightmare@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @bpsnightmare.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

0 A Boston Public School Student's Email to John Connolly, Mayoral Candidate

During Tuesday night's mayoral debate on WGBH, John Connolly made the statement: "I will bring students in so their voices can be heard." This reminded me to ask my daughter Rhianwen if she had received a response to her email sent to Mr. Connolly a week ago. She has not.  

Background: Rhianwen is 12, an extremely smart, loving, giving and thoughtful child who has known Mr. Connolly through my volunteer work in Boston Public Schools, especially the Roslindale Pathway, since 2009. Rhianwen has also attended the majority of school SPC/SSC and pathway meetings as well as the school committee, school choice community and EAC meetings for the past two years. Hence, my 7th grader knows far more about education policies and issues than most adults do. Over the past 7 months, Rhianwen became very involved with the mayoral race, working on a mayoral campaign herself. Rhianwen is not shy and has always spoken up about issues that concern her or to defend something or someone when necessary as she is fiercely protective and loyal. 

All of the above said, Rhianwen is also a child with special needs, who struggled for years to pass from one grade to the next and constantly would tell us that she was "dumb" and "stupid" no matter what we tried to tell her and what other successes she experienced. Since 1st grade Rhianwen has been receiving at least 45 minutes per day of services, every single day of school. Toward the end of 4th grade things started to change and she was able to really start showing, via her work, how smart she is (which everyone knew, but it was not evident via tests or classwork consistently.) This came about because Rhianwen has always worked hard and tried to do her best, but also thanks to help from the fabulous teachers and specialists at both the Mozart and Irving public schools. Over the past year Rhianwen has finally begun to experience more consistent success in school with her academics, yet even now she struggles with organization and writing, so she does not really like writing all that much.

Given the above, you can imagine my surprise last Wednesday night when she stated that she had written an email to John Connolly. I asked her to share it with me, so I am now sharing it with all of you:
From: rhianwen
Date: Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 9:33 PM
To: info@connollyforboston.com

Hello Im hopeing this goes straight to John Connolly him self. Im a 12 year old kid in Public schools and I want to be  heard Now Mr. Connolly please do not make my schools go into the dump for one I love my school how it is and I know you want to raise the charter cap thingy but please I want to tell you how important Public schools are to me. They are where I have my friends my help because I am on an IEP and I don’t want no charter schools to take away my love of my schools now. Please Don’t take away my education because I want a successful future and with no public schools no city year and stuff like that it will be harder for me to work. I got to the Washington Irving Middle School. Please don’t take the one thing I care about so much away from me.   To contact me email me at <removed to avoid spam>
I am very proud of Rhianwen, for many reasons, not the least of which includes showing more civic engagement than many voters in Boston have so far, for even thinking to send an email to Mr. Connolly, for taking the time out of fun endeavors like Webkinz, Minecraft and Skyping with her cousins to look up his website, get the email address and then putting herself out there: that she has an IEP, her thoughts and feelings about her school, her education, her future and charter schools and his stance regarding them and her understanding that more of them will impact her school and education. Sometimes my daughter literally takes my breathe away, this is one of those times. 

Now, given his schedule, maybe Mr. Connolly has yet to see this email himself. Maybe someone, whether it was Mr. Connolly or a staffer, saw the last name and dismissed the email thinking it was from me (as I have questioned Mr. Connolly quite frequently about his education policies.) Maybe Mr. Connolly did see it and thinks I put my daughter up to it, though clearly he should know better. However, given the "voices heard" similarity to Rhianwen's email subject line in Mr. Connolly's answers last night, I suspect he has in fact read her email. So, why no response?

No matter what the endless possibilities are that Mr. Connolly or one of his staff may have contemplated, I think that his lack of response to a BPS student who reached out to him about her concerns regarding his mayoral education goals and platform speaks volumes about the reality behind the campaign rhetoric Mr. Connolly has been stumping on. 

Semantically, he may have "heard" my daughters voice when she wrote the email to him, but what does it say that she has received absolutely no response from Mr. Connolly or even a courtesy email from the campaign? 

Does this seem like the action of a person who claims he "has fought to give parents and students a voice in the Boston Public Schools" as his website claims?

Actions speak louder than words, campaign ads or stump speeches Mr. Connolly. Shame on you for not responding to Rhianwen. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

0 It's JUST a Preliminary....But Seriously Folks, Every Vote Counts - Don't Be Silent Now

Even more than the November 5th election date, today's preliminary election for Boston Mayor and city council is when everyone should get out and vote. It is really the only time when we as voters have the strongest ability to truly voice our choice for whom we want to represent us. No matter who you are voting for, I say this: GET OUT TO VOTE! After tomorrow, the outcome could effectively eliminate your real choice as an option, but at least you will know that you did get to vote your true choice of candidates first - and that is something you can be proud of.

For the first time in 20 years, the Mayor's race is a wide-open field with no incumbent to defeat, and the same is true for many of our city council seats. In January we will not only have a new Mayor, but almost a completely new city council in Boston, which quite frankly is a bit unnerving. These factors, and the important issues that have been at the forefront of all of the candidate forums, house parties, meet and greets, at dinner tables, school yards, spontaneous gatherings, on the phones and at the doors, show that our city is truly at a critical turning point in history. The results of this preliminary election could potentially change Boston in so many ways. 

There are any number of issues which people care about: public safety, transportation, casinos, city services, of course - education and many more. Whatever your main area of concern is, the issue that motivates you, please make sure to make it to the polls to vote. 

Despite what the mainstream media and campaign machines are saying via articles and polls, my experience watching elections and especially as someone who has actually personally talked to thousands of Bostonians through my own volunteer work before this election madness and since, as a volunteer and adviser for several of the candidates, is that the predictions are not reflecting the candidates Boston voters are really planning on voting for and actually supporting. 

The polls that have been done during this latest election blitz have been designed to get the results the pundits want. Of course, this is all done for a purpose: to rig the election in favor of those chosen by many of the same groups and companies that led us to where we are in America today: the 1% who reap the most profit while our citizens struggle daily, entire public school districts are closing down, and families are homeless. 

These same "king makers" count on the fact that if the polling reflects a poor prediction for a particular candidate, then that candidate's regular support base will either stay home or instead vote for one of the other candidates who seemingly have a better chance of winning the election. After all, if the polls say that the one vote you cast won't matter, why cast it? Guess what? The backers, the interpreters of the poll data, the pundits and especially the candidates' who are the darlings of these aforementioned folks, count on that as it has been an effective tool in the past. 

Of course, there is also the misleading campaign literature and advertisements by candidates, which when people compare them with their actual professional experience and record of achievements, amounts to nothing more than the proverbial house of cards. Add in the campaign workers who have been imported not just from the suburbs, but from all over the country, who tout certain candidate's misrepresentations with a smile, and instead of a true picture of some candidates, you can almost see the actual players behind them - those who they will be beholden to once in office - those who will try to make our city their newest source of profit one way or another.

Well, I am here to tell you a secret the alleged political experts are terrified will get out: YOUR ONE vote counts MORE than any poll conducted by those who would steal your voice and choice from you. Each one of us who decide to get out and vote for OUR chosen candidate, despite what the polls might say about their chances, disproves the predictions and add to the likelihood that the results of our election will more closely resemble the collective voice of BOSTON residents - not those paid to influence them or those who will tear our city apart without a second thought. 

So, please, don't let the polls, misrepresented records and supposed achievements spouted via campaign literature and ads, the endorsements by mainstream media, corporate backed groups, or the outright lies of certain ordained "front-runners" fool you. Don't allow the people and groups behind the polls decide for you: instead, go with what YOU know from your own research and those of us who are living here in Boston with you. Let it be OUR voices that are heard at the end of the night. 

As Big Papi recently said, unfortunately due to a horrendous and cowardly act that has already changed our beautiful city: "This is OUR city. And nobody going to dictate our freedom." 

Don't let others dictate what our city will become. Show those who would profit off our city while bankrupting our future that Boston voters understand their rights and what true freedom really is.

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: @RebelInBoston.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

0 The Facts About Charter Schools That No One Tells You

There is a lot of talk about charter schools and raising the cap to allow more of them to open in Massachusetts. Boston is ground zero for the charter school "education reform" conglomerates, individuals and organizations, like the newly formed "Boston Forward" group, which are greedily counting the millions of dollars to be made off of our students if this is allowed to happen. This situation has led to a lot of questionable push-poll results being passed off by our larger media news sources as charter school "facts" which are further confusing the argument for the public even after those "facts" have been proven incorrect or unsubstantiated. 

Add in a Mayoral race filled with many candidates, most of whom are willing to sell out our students for campaign funds by spouting the "raise the cap" chant (only three are against raising the charter school cap), and you may understand one of the reasons why education has become a major focus of the elections in Boston. If you think the Mayoral and City Council races aren't a big deal right now, you may really want to start paying attention, because they are!   

Other than knowing that charter schools are an "alternative" to "regular public schools" most people do not fully understand: how they are funded, the student populations served, their actual graduation rates and the differences between them except for their separate "lottery" admissions procedures. This became more obvious to me through a number of conversations in several venues so my inner-educator-activist kicked in to write this article that I hope will help families and the broader community understand why so many people, education advocates and organizations that care about educating all of our students are saying "don't lift the cap" on something that, in theory, sounds good.

Many people think charter schools are privately funded, which is false. The money that pays for students to attend a charter school comes out of the sending district's budget. Here in Boston, for each student that attends a charter school instead of one of the BPS schools, the charter school receives $15,527.00+ per pupil from the BPS budget, which is $4,000.00 more than the base per pupil funds allocated for BPS' own students. 

Then there is the transportation of charter school students per Massachusetts state laws which dictate that charter school students can be transported city-wide on BPS buses or vehicles paid for out of the BPS budget. Meanwhile "regular" BPS students are restricted to transportation only within their zone in elementary and middle school. In high school our BPS students are given MBTA passes and expected to get to and from school on their own. Exceptions to the zone-based and T-pass transportation for BPS students is generally for students with special needs when their IEP indicates the need. There will clearly always be busing in Boston even with a new "Home Based" assignment model as we must transport students with disabilities (SWD), charter school and private school students. The larger cost to BPS will be for transporting our own students with special needs according to my discussions with John McDonough, then CFO of BPS who is now our Interim Superintendent, but there is clearly an amount of funding which will be in our budget to pay for transporting charter school and private school students across the city. The only way to change this practice regarding charter and private school transportation is to lobby our state legislators to change it via the law.

Additionally, there are other funds which a sending school district may end up allocating to charter schools (at least the *"in-district" ones) such as: additional equivalent per-pupil cost of a service if the charter school chooses not to purchase a discretionary central support service from the sending district. A sending district may also end up agreeing to provide non-discretionary services as BPS often does (including but not limited to: transportation, employee benefits, facilities, payroll, safety, food service, and other central office services) as *"in-kind" support for the charter school. *Though "in-kind" means that no money is given directly to the charter school, instead the sending district provides personnel/services/benefits, the costs for those in-kind services are paid for out of the budget of the sending district. This also means that certain district personnel or services are at least partially, if not totally, unavailable to do their job for the district itself.

In addition to all that I outline above, in the recent agreement with Unlocking Potential (aka UP a self-described "school turnaround organization" which is taking over the Marshall) that the Boston School Committee members voted to approve on November 7, 2012, BPS will provide the following:
  • BPS agrees to identify which centrally-funded supports would typically be provided by the Office of Special Education and Student Supports (OSESS) to a BPS school with UP’s projected enrollment, including but not limited to any allocation of staff and service providers. The full value of these supports will be added as non-restricted funds to UP’s budget annually. Non-restricted funds mean that UP may use those funds for anything, not necessarily special education services. 

  • UP shall establish and maintain a separate bank account under its exclusive control which BPS agrees to transfer any funds not allocated or budgeted for salaries or stipends into at least two times a year. The transfer will be based upon the difference between the total Lump Sum Budget provided by BPS to UP Academy and an estimate of the amount of funds UP Academy anticipates spending on stipends and salaries.

  • UP has the sole discretion to select the staff for any and all positions at the school. UP may select staff without regard to seniority within the particular union or past practices between the Boston School Committee and any bargaining unit. 

  • UP, through its board of trustees, shall manage its staff independent of the school committee. Except as outlined in the Application and Charter, UP is exempt from the provisions set forth in the applicable collective bargaining agreements.  Staff shall execute an election to work agreement containing the working conditions every year. UP may develop its own staff evaluation guidelines and evaluation instrument(s) in accordance with all current laws and regulations. 

  • UP may involuntarily excess members of the BTU, Guild, and BASAS bargaining units as well as any other staff members and the provisions in any relevant collective bargaining agreements regarding excessing, seniority and transfer shall not apply to UP except that members of the collective bargaining units shall continue to accrue seniority.

  • UP shall be operated and managed by its Board independent of the Boston School Committee. As written in the agreement: "The parties expressly acknowledge that UP is an entity independent of the Boston Public School Department and that Boston Public School Department shall not be liable for the acts or omissions of UP, the Board, its officers, agents or employees except to the extent consistent with the law, including the provisions of M.G.L. c. 71, §89 and regulations promulgated in connection therewith."
In addition to all of the above, charter schools also get millions in venture philanthropy dollars each year. So, as you can see, charter school funding has a huge impact on our BPS budget that goes well beyond just the base per-pupil and transportation funds.

Also, through the above information, you can clearly see that though many people believe that "In-district charter schools" are controlled and overseen by the public school district in which they are operating, this is false. According to the agreement with UP, even if the BPS Superintendent or School Committee believes that UP is not serving the best interest of BPS students, they must go through a complaint procedure first with the Board of Trustees of UP, and if dissatisfied with the Trustees' findings, then initiate a complaint to the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. It does not sound like BPS has any more control over the "in-district" charter schools than they do over the Commonwealth charter schools to me!

Charter schools state that they have a "lottery" system regarding admissions. When applying to schools for my oldest daughter we did apply to a couple of charter schools because they had sent us literature. During my discussions with the admissions personnel I revealed that my daughter had special needs and would be going through the normal evaluation process. Why did I do that? I wanted to be sure they could handle her needs as I was fairly certain she would need some minimal special education services and supports. I was then politely but firmly "discouraged" from completing the application process by the admissions personnel. Though my inner advocate wanted to respond a totally different way, in the end I chose to refrain from submitting the applications, which those who know me may find shocking. For me it came down to this: if they don't want my daughter because she might have special education needs, then they don't deserve to have her as their student at all. (FYI - she tests as post-graduate grade level in everything except math which is her disability area and her IQ is 148 - only 2% of world population has an IQ of above 140).

I soon found out from several other parents that the experience I had was not an anomaly as they had similar experiences. As I had also started asking questions about the lottery process, I learned that the "lottery" consists of charter school personnel reviewing student data and records to select those students who, though they may not have high MCAS scores, are children with high-average to superior intelligence according to other measurements including IQ scores when available. Those students then emerge as the "winners" of the "lottery" and are invited to attend the charter school. Additionally, through record reviews personnel are able to determine which children with special needs have high or *low-incidence disabilities or language needs which also determines which of our ELL and special needs students "win" the "lottery".

In the world of special education, "High-incidence" are the most common special needs which are primarily able to be addressed in a general education classroom with possibly a second staff member assisting the student in the classroom or some pull-out services; "low-incidence" are the more significant disabilities with more educationally intensive and costly needs and can mean they need more pull-out services, substantially separate classes, though if done right a true full-inclusion program can educate both types of students together.  

Which leads to the next difference between charter schools and our "regular" public schools: populations.

School Populations: 
It has become clear through several sources, such as the 2012 Charter Schools and Students with Disabilities Preliminary Analysis of the Legal Issues and Areas of Concern prepared by The Center for Law and Education (CLE) with the Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys (COPAA), our own BPS district numbers and Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MADESE), that despite claims to the contrary charter schools are not educating the same population of students as the Boston Public School District does. 

As noted above, charter schools are able to select which students they will educate and multiple sources of information including utilizing the raw data from school profiles on the MADESE site without any interpretation, have and continue to prove that the charter schools claims of serving the same students as BPS does is false. Utilizing the raw data from the MADESE site which has profiles of every "public" school in the state, my friend and I put together a snapshot of the top 5 (who has highest #s) and bottom 5 (who has lowest #s) for each type of school in Boston (BPS, In-District Charter, and Commonwealth Charter schools) based strictly on MADESE data not "selective choice" as some may suggest. There is no interpretation of this data at all, we are just showing the actual numbers themselves for comparison. There is more to come very soon and every school WILL be included!

Our major news media outlets are constantly hyping that charter schools are much better at educating students than the "regular BPS schools", but now you can clearly see that the information they have been stating as "fact" are actually "spin". Hopefully, if you hung in this far, by now you can clearly see for yourself that the pro-charter groups and reporters are spreading misinformation, as there are drastic differences between the types of students who are being served in charter schools versus regular BPS schools which makes a huge difference in comparing who does a better job.

Here are a few other little known facts about charter schools which should be extremely concerning to us all: 
  • Charter schools have a worse graduation/retention rate than our BPS schools do! As it has already been laid out quite well in an article by another blogger in March, until the school by school comparison my friend and I are preparing is finalized, I will direct you to that article: Charter School Attrition.

  • Charter schools have a higher rate of suspension that our BPS schools do, see the article here: Raise the Cap on Traditional Public Schools.

  • Charter schools' "teach to the MCAS" method of educating students does not set the students up well for SATs as proven through MADESE data again: Charter School Achievement Gap
Recently, Boston students organized a press conference and rally at the state house which I will write a bit more about in another article, but if you would like to see a brief synopsis of the press conference and rally despite the lack of credit given to those awesome students, please check out this article. This was a student initiated movement, contrary to the title and focus on what the adults had to say. The students of the Youth On Board, Boston Student Advisory Council, and other groups give me great hope for the future, and should not be ignored as they are the true experts on all of this right now because their education depends on them.

I will be writing much more on this topic as the battle, and yes, it is a battle, to save our public schools is heating up. In the meantime, if you would like to read more about the truth behind education "reform", check out some of my favorite bloggers:

Edushyster: Keeping an eye on the corporate education agenda, in Massachusetts and beyond. "Ed" combines facts and wit throughout the articles.

Mommy On the Floor: has just started writing about charter school issues, but has many great articles beyond charter schools!

I would love to connect with those of you who are as concerned as I and others are about the charter school cap being raised, so please contact me via email bpsnightmare@gmail.com or Twitter @bpsnightmare.


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