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

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