Tuesday, December 1, 2015

0 Confessions of a Public School Parent

The Boston Compact, Charter School legislation, possible school closures and the Mayor who left ALL Boston's children behind once he took the oath of office. School, citizen groups, weird City of Boston "partner" events, reaching out to others in places like Chicago, Philadelphia, New York - all places being decimated by education reform, reading articles and digging into data on DESE and other sites. This is what my spare time - time when I could relax or do something totally selfish with - essentially revolves around or something similar for the past 23 years. 

Confession: my youngest is now in high school and I feel like I have failed my children. I failed them by allowing those who won't even put their own children into a public school to determine how my children would be educated. I failed them by not pushing back more against their use as guinea pigs in the edu-experiments that have encompassed the past 20 years of public education in my beloved city. I have failed them by allowing them to be nothing more than data-points to those who swore their focus was the children of Boston and ensuring they would receive the best education. I failed them by not screaming louder or opting them out of the insane MCAS sooner. All of these things are how I also feel I have failed ALL of our Boston students. 

To my children: I'm sorry. I loved school, okay - not the early hours, but when I went to Boston Public Schools, despite what was written about how horrible our education was, I got an amazing education. An education that, contrary to the popular myth pushed by education reformers, actually taught me how to ask questions, research, think critically, write everything from a resume, correspondence, legal documents, this blog and read for knowledge as well as enjoyment. My education gave me the drive to continue as a scholar throughout my life. This is what I want for all of you - the children I gave birth to and those that may not even know me, for school to be a place where you love to learn, even if you don't like the hours. 

Grades are subjective and standardized tests are just standards others have decided on or the "norm", well, my kids are not and never will be the "norm" so their scores on these tests mean almost nothing to me. In my opinion, the true success of a school and district is not how many of the students can pass a single test measure, but how many of the students that they educated not only go on to have successful lives, but continue to spend their life learning and never stop. 

Despite my feeling of failure, or maybe because of it, I will continue to fight against those who see our students as nothing but a data-point or dollar sign. Right now, that includes elected officials like Mayor Marty Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker and many others who seem to be paying off campaign debts by selling off our students' (and the city's) futures. And they are backed by big money and corporations hiding behind the foundations and groups that are purportedly non-profit: Gates, Walton, Broad, Democrats for Education Reform, Families for Excellent Schools, Stand for Children. Gates has already funded the Boston Compact through the Boston Schools Fund and the Boston Compact folks are in talks with the Walton Family Foundation for more funding. All of these organizations have the objective of opening more charter schools as one of their primary missions. And yes, I have been tweeting about all of these concerns and questions to all of them.

There are many concerns surrounding the Boston Compact, not the least of which is the lack of transparency and lack of any of the true stakeholders being part of the group. If you want to learn a bit more you should really read Public School Mama's blog and the links in her posts!

Call me crazy - rightfully so, because who else but a crazy person would believe that one voice or a small group of voices can indeed make a difference? I'll own my craziness because despite everything, I also know I have succeeded in some ways because I see it throughout BPS and my children do have the desire to continue learning. I didn't do it alone, and every day I am thankful to the staff and educators, and yes, BPS district personnel, City Councilors and Mayor Menino, and most of all the awesome students, parents and groups that helped ensure that my children became lifelong learners. 

We still have a lot of work to do, but luckily I know there are many community members, parents, students, families, educators and groups who are also fighting to ensure that every student truly receives the best education we can give them and to light the spark necessary to continue their learning for the rest of their lives. I may also be a dreamer, but I truly believe we can accomplish our goals. So, to the many parents, students, families and community members feeling fatigue or, like myself, feeling like you may have failed your students, I thank you for fighting on despite the constant barrage of education reform initiatives and compacts designed to decimate public school districts. 

If you want to learn more about the current issues many are concerned about such as what the Boston Compact, Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker's education proposals could mean for Boston I hope you will join me tomorrow evening, Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. at the District B-2 Police Station 2400 Washington St, Roxbury, MA 02119 (Dudley Square).

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. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

0 How I Really Feel - Testimony Before Joint Ed Committee Regarding Charter Schools

My own testimony before the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Education Committee at the hearing regarding lifting the cap on charter schools on October 13, 2015. I hope all of our legislators read this, and more importantly, read and watch Tabitha's testimony at the same hearing as she is a BPS student and students are the true consumers of our education system.
Dear Senator Chang-Diaz, Representative Peisch and Joint Education Committee Members:
My name is Karen Kast-McBride and I am a proud Boston Public School parent, advocate and Citizens for Public Schools Board member. I want all parents to have choices in where they educate their children, but is it true choice if the choice is only for a select few - students who will most likely succeed no matter which school they attend? Is it really school choice if it is only open to those who do well on tests, sit still, behave and do not have language or ability barriers? Is it true choice when children with language or special needs are punished for their inability to conform? It is not choice, it is segregation.
Both of my daughters go to Boston Public Schools which have seen budget cuts of $300-500,000.00 per year for the past ten years. Over six years the Irving Middle School received over $3,000,000.00 in cuts while the Irving populations of SWD (37%), ELL (17.2%) and High Needs (75.1%) increased – quite a few of whom were pushed out of charter schools. The Irving has the highest number of Emotionally Impaired SWD outside of a special education school - students who have been traumatized or have severe emotional and psychiatric needs, and has the highest number of students in foster care in Boston (possibly the state), which generates a slew of new issues to address. Despite all of these factors, the Irving has become the most highly chosen stand-alone middle school in Boston and increased students’ success rates on mandated testing, and more importantly, their overall success in school and life.
Unfortunately, our true public schools are bleeding - due to budget cuts which consistently increase as federal and state education funding dwindles and charter schools take larger portions of our BPS budget which is not fully reimbursed as many charter proponents claim. By the way, charter schools are allocated 3-4 times the amount my daughters' schools receive per-pupil. I would be happy to explain the difference in per-pupil dollars allocated to a BPS school vs. the amount allocated to charter schools for the same type of students, just ask me.
The decisions you make regarding education drastically impact the thousands of students I represent along with their public schools. Both of my daughters are students with special needs, both have IEPs, and both have IQs in the 98th percentile - so like many of our special needs students, the schools are challenged to address both their gifted and special needs. All of these students are amazingly smart and will go far, but need some help which their public schools give them. I have watched many of these students not just get through and pass an arbitrary test, but truly flourish and become lifelong learners with strong voices who are now becoming the leaders in their communities.
Are you willing to make a decision that could lead to these students being unable to progress and flourish as they already have because their schools can no longer sustain quality educational programs? Are you willing to allow charter schools to continue their practice of not accepting or pushing out students with disabilities or language needs? I would be happy to educate you on why any vote to lift the cap on charter schools may actually be in direct violation of the special education laws which guarantee students with disabilities access to the same quality educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers, just ask me.  
The conversation regarding lifting the charter cap is premature until we truly invest in our traditional public schools instead of draining funds out of them and into charter schools which: 
  • practice selective enrollment as well as pushing out students who don't test well;
  • claim 100% of their graduates go on to college without clarifying that of the many 9th graders who start at their schools few are left to graduate (a traditional public school would be closed due to those results), and most who do graduate are white, contrary to the marketing done which claims charter schools are successful for students of color; and,
  • let’s not forget, there is no transparency regarding the money charter schools take in - whether public or private – as they refuse to open their books to auditors of all levels. 

The valiant steps your colleagues have taken since last year, such as review of the foundation budget, attrition, graduation and suspension rates in charter schools, and much more still need to be done prior to any legislation going forward on lifting the cap.
I am not asking you to eliminate the charter schools which already exist, I ask that we address the issues we are all aware of with this education model prior to even discussing allowing more to open. Last year, after meeting with concerned students, families and educators, many of your colleagues made a promise to concerned students, families and educators to review all of the issues prior to considering lifting the cap on charter schools again. I ask that that promise be kept and that you focus your energies on doing more to ensure the success of our traditional public schools which should be your first priority.
I ask that you vote NOT to pass the Governor’s proposal (HD 4191) and any other legislation which would lift the cap and H385, until all of the issues above are addressed. I also ask that you vote NOT to pass H444/S327.
I also ask that you vote to PASS Bills S326, H485, H490, S295, H380, S321 and H467.
Please stand up for students like my daughters, stand for the students whose parents can't even take a minute to call or email you, stand against the pro-charter school lobbyists, corporations and those who would use tax dollars to further their own wealth without any true concern for these children who cannot stand up for themselves. 

Respectfully,


Karen Kast-McBride


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 
and 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.

0 Impact of Charter Schools on Public Schools - Testimony of a BPS Student

Shared with permission, below is the text of Tabitha Kast-McBride's testimony regarding the impact of charter schools on her education as a Boston Public School student. She gave this testimony to the members of the Joint Education Committee at the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - after waiting more than eight hours to testify. You can also view the video of Tabitha's testimony here.

Dear Senators and Representatives of the Joint Education Committee:

Hello! My name is Tabitha Kast-McBride. I am 17 years old and currently a student at Tech Boston Academy – a Boston Public School. I would like to speak about the impact charter schools have had on my education in a real public school as a student with special needs.

When you hear about learning disabilities or mental health, often, the symptoms go unrecognized, sometimes until it’s too late. Some people don’t find out their kid has a learning disability or a mental illness until years have passed. Public schools offer testing, guidance, and more for students like me. Most students with special needs have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that gives them access to the help they need. Currently I go to a school that has a program that helps students who are emotionally fragile, many who have the same issues like I do with anxiety and depression. Our school has a small class for us, counselors, psychologists, specially trained staff and a special area we can go to get extra help or take a time out if needed. We are not dumb either, many of us have high intelligence and the ability to not only learn but excel, but our brains just don’t work like most peoples do.

I have many friends who have come from charter schools to BPS, and they tell me that they don’t bother to help students like me and definitely do not have these types of programs for students with special needs. The charter schools ignore the problems, which is NOT okay. Worse they often eliminate students IEPs or won’t write one, but then punish students for things that are due to their disabilities, which is not allowed in REAL public schools because of the rules they have to follow. Ignoring any type of disability whether a mental illness or a learning disability, will not make it better or go away. Because the charter schools ignore students’ problems, punish them for the things they can’t help then eventually tell them they can’t go there anymore, many of these students end up even worse. And no one punishes the charter schools for all the damage they do to these students which I think is really wrong.

More charter schools will mean more students that don’t have access to the help they need and more students taught to have a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is basically when you think your intelligence stays the same throughout your life. A growth mindset is when your intelligence grows. In charter schools they teach you what you need to pass the tests, if you don’t do well on the tests they tell you to go to a BPS school and they give you work upon work and don’t bother to help you if you are struggling. If you struggle you fall behind. When you fall behind you start to think negatively and might even give up completely.

I was really upset to hear that the Governor wants to pass a law to open more charter schools and I am really against it! I have always gotten a good education at my BPS schools, even though we keep having things like music, art, even my favorite class Applied Science, cut out because BPS can’t afford them due to charter schools taking so much of our money even though they don’t have to follow the laws my schools do. I am asking you to KEEP THE CAP on charter schools, help fix our REAL public schools and make it more fair- If my school needs to follow the laws and only gets a certain amount of money per student, the charters should have to follow the same laws AND only get the same amount my school would for their students.


Please vote to pass Bills S326, H485, H490, S295, H380, S321 and H467. 

Sincerely,

Tabitha Kast-McBride


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 
and 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.

Monday, July 27, 2015

1 David vs. Goiliath: How Big Money Is Being Defeated by Unfunded Citizen Activists in Boston

Boston, MA July 2014: For months, years really, the public was fed misinformation.  There were campaigns, and millions of dollars were poured into countless political coffers. There were non-profit organizations, (Stand for Children, Families for Excellent Schools and others) whose purposes were supposedly to help income-challenged families and students advocate for their schools, but were really fronts for those trying to destroy those schools and profit off of public funds.  Then there were millions more spent on flashy campaigns crafted to make the public believe that only education reformers and charter schools would solve the public education "crisis" we supposedly face in America. This was our Goliath (aka Democrats for Education Reform, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association et al.) Unfortunately for Goliath, David gave him a beating he didn't see coming. 

This was accomplished in much the same way the colonists of Boston achieved their goal of freedom from England: by organizing, coordinating, planning and never backing down. 

First it was just a few "naysayers" at meetings and on the social media fronts - easily and clearly dismissed by the paid lobbyists and those funding them. Very soon though those few became many, students, parents, educators and concerned residents, who worked together, each contributing selflessly to the cause. Utilizing raw data, pure and provable facts, and their many talents, these activists held meetings and attended the meetings of those who wished to acquire public funds to bolster private treasure chests. They researched, blogged and utilized social media - especially Twitter. They rallied, knocked on doors, coordinated meetings with legislators and leaders, and worked with real public education groups to inform, educate and activate others across the state. All of this was done without one single cent. 

On July 16, 2014, much to the dismay of the education reform groups heavily invested in the campaign to lift the cap on charter schools, the Massachusetts Senate voted against the Bills before it which would have decimated our public education system. Score 1 for David.

Boston, MA: Again, for over a year residents were fed misinformation. There were secret documents, citing "confidentiality," which residents were not allowed to see, millions of dollars spent to be chosen as the USOC's city of choice for the 2024 Olympic bid and to market it to the citizens. There were lightly veiled threats that without the Olympics our public transit, highways, infrastructure and other public needs would not receive the upgrades necessary. This was all being done by politicians and Boston2024, a group that made the decision to push for the Olympics bid without ever having asked the residents of Boston beforehand if they wanted the Olympics in Boston. The fact that Boston2024 had several incestuous relationships with the political leaders of Boston and Massachusetts certainly did nothing to assure residents that anyone was truly watching out for the needs of the city or its citizens.

As soon as the push to bring the 2024 Olympic Summer Games to Boston was out in the open, citizens across the state started raising questions about the lack of public input and dialogue. They asked about the money needed to get the state prepared to host such a large scale, albeit short time-frame, event and the impact which the event would have on residents livelihood and neighborhoods, etc. Groups formed: No Boston 2024 and No Boston Olympics became the "face" of the skeptical residents who demanded answers. Soon Boston politicians joined in on questioning Boston2024's lack of transparency, refusal to listen to the concerns of so many, and they too pushed for answers and the truth.

Boston 2024 and the politicians who were part of the plans from the beginning, felt the heat of the uprising that grew. Then there were the polls which continuously showed that the people of Boston and the entire state, did not support the bid for the 2024 Olympics. Despite the revamping of Boston 2024, and the release of the original bid documents submitted to the USOC, the poll numbers never moved. Yet still, those hyperbolic and clearly malcontent naysayers not only continued to object, but also expanded their ranks.

On July 27, 2015, the USOC made the decision to pull the bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics in Boston. Much to the dismay of Goliath, he was again beaten by David. David 2, Goliath 0.

Some would argue that a first of its kind Olympics debate on TV, the failure of Governor Baker to signal his support, and then a traitorous statement by Boston's Mayor Walsh refusing to sign a contract which would put taxpayers on the hook for the expected overruns the Olympics historically have, is what led to the Bid’s withdrawal. Surely, this did play a small part in the USOC’s decision. 

However, anyone who believes that the above are the only reasons for the downfall of Boston2024's bid, is sure to continue the trend we see across the country. That where political leaders, corporate sponsors and those wearing the guise of "community groups" discount the clear voice of the people who elected those political leaders, the workers who assist the corporations in acquiring their billions, the families and "little people" who live in this country, who are clearly fed up with what is going on, is sure to be part of their downfall.

These are only two examples of how citizen activists are working to protect their beloved schools, cities, public services (transportation, infrastructure etc) and their rights and freedom from those in power. Those in power seem to have forgotten who they are truly answerable to, not those who strive to line their own pockets with the money of the hardworking majority. And despite Mayor Walsh's claim that “The opposition for the most part is about #10peopleonTwitter and a couple people out there beating the drum beat.” clearly the multiple polls show that to be false.

Maybe it is time that some of our politicians - here and in D.C. - wake up and start working for those who elected them. Much like the small actions that took place before the "shot heard 'round the world" and the defeat of tyranny from England, I believe these latest defeats to those with deep pockets are just the small skirmishes leading to something much bigger. 

I will always put my money on the "Davids" of the world, especially the residents of Boston and Massachusetts, because we are educated, informed, outspoken, demanding and willing to put our talents, sweat and yes, if necessary, money, into protecting our people and our cities. Of course, as has been shown many times over, Massachusetts residents, and especially those of us lucky enough to live in Boston proper, also tend to be a bit of a rebellious bunch too!

I look forward to continuing to advocate, collaborate and educate with all the great residents of Massachusetts. For though this battle is over, the war is not yet won!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

0 1st Quarter Massachusetts Education Recap 2015

Though quiet for awhile now, I have not been absent or ignorant of what has been happening in my beloved school district and the state. Unfortunately, having to search for and then get up to speed in a new job, and because it has been a hard year for my daughter and that, along with high school applications and auditions for my younger daughter, has led to my silence over the past few months. Whether you considered it a nice break (yes, I know some did), or missed my voice and insights - plus the knowledge gained over 22 years as a Boston Public School parent - I am here to say I am back to help keep folks informed and educated. We all need to be aware of what is going on, because if we aren't I daresay by the time my youngest graduates, Boston Public Schools will become the Boston Charter School District, standardized testing will be the only thing our students do in school and the Olympics will be on the way here.

Since I last posted a lot has happened, but the most important to me are as follows: our new Governor, Charlie Baker, took office, a new Education Secretary was appointed, James Peyser, who is a champion for charter schools - no conflict of interest there, right? and a new Superintendent for Boston Public Schools, Tommy Chang from LA, was selected. Each of these on their own is concerning to me, but put together with a Boston Mayor who has made it clear that the only campaign promises Mayor Walsh will keep are those to the Unions and big money donors, it is downright alarming. I'm still waiting to be called for that Charter School Accountability Task Force Mayor Walsh promised the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) and Boston Educational Justice Alliance (BEJA) he would establish to happen. 



The trend toward further privatizing our public schools continues in our state legislature, where talk of charter schools and lifting the cap on them continues despite the clear voices of thousands of families across the state having already told elected officials that this conversation is premature until we fix the issues with our public education districts by investing more in them instead of draining funds out of them and into schools that: selectively enroll and push out many students who don't test well, schools which claim 100% of their graduates go on to college without clarifying that of the many 9th graders who start at their schools very few are left to graduate from their 12th grade classes (a traditional public school would be closed due to those results) - and most of the students who do are white, unlike the marketing done by charter schools claiming they are successful for students of color or from low-income families. And let's not forget, there is no transparency regarding the money charter schools take in - whether public or private - they tend to refuse to open their books to auditors of all levels. 

And of course, let's not forget the battle waging across our state and the nation: MCAS, Common Core and PARCC assessments being used to deem a student able to graduate and public schools failing by a "deeply broken system" (Mitchell Chester re: MCAS) and before most students have had more than a year or two of the Common Core curriculum taught in their schools. This testing battle has been heating up and gaining momentum not just across this rebellious state, but the entire nation, and it seems, much to ed reformers horror everywhere, that legislators from city to federal levels are starting to realize that families are fed up with their students being taught to take tests so are opting their students out of those tests and the legislators are now making moves to change the way tests are being used to assess students, educators and schools. 

Never fear my ed reform readers, for if the legislators fail you again here in Massachusetts, the education reform groups like Families for Excellent Schools, Stand for Children, Mass Charter Public School Association, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and the many others backed by the ed reform conglomerates like the Walton Foundation, Gates, Broad et al, are diligently working toward putting in place a Ballot question for 2016 (and funding the campaign work necessary to push it through of course) by selling you the same old lie: that our public education systems do not work and we must privatize our public schools. After all, if you don't buy what they are selling, how can they make the $500 Billion dollar profits they gain from their New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) they invest in in the name of helping our low-income, urban and students of color?

Isn't it interesting that despite the horrible conditions our public school students endure here in Massachusetts (you know, those rowdy demanding educated parents and students, teachers unions, groups like Citizens for Public Schools that fight to protect our public schools, schools built before WWII, allowing students from low-income families or with language and special needs to attend our schools), our public schools in Massachusetts still rank 1st in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for the 5th year in a row? Huh, imagine what we could do with more funds invested in them?

Does this mean we are perfect? No, we still have a lot of equity, opportunity and achievement gaps to overcome, especially in an urban district like Boston. But when has defunding something we are trying to fix ever been the right solution? Great example of this is our latest winter and what happened with the MBTA - for years multiple experts and groups told the legislature and voters that we needed to maintain, upgrade and invest in our public transit system, yet no one wanted to spend their money on a system that is integral to the future of our state's economy because "I don't use the T", and so, many had no way to get to work and lost wages. 

Similarly, we hear the same type of argument from folks: "I don't have children" or "My children go to private schools, why should I pay more money for public schools I do not use?" The simple answer: funding public education, like our transit system, is integral to every single voter in Massachusetts as it impacts our future, economically, socially and as a true democratic state and nation. 

And, no, the Olympics coming to Boston is NOT the answer to either our transit or our education needs - in fact, it will drain even more from our citizens and their families, so I hope you haven't bought into that lie!

All in all, it has been a busy few months for Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh, and those who assisted them into office. And it seems no matter what the constituents want, both of them will insist on continuing to ignore the voters of Massachusetts in favor of the corporations, lobbyists and education reform operators who pull their strings. 

Unfortunately for them, I am happy to report that unlike just two short years ago, more families are becoming aware of the differences between our traditional public schools and "charter public schools," more educators and families are saying that standardized testing is not the answer to what ails our public education systems, and more citizens are standing up to voice their objections to the privatization of our public education system. And the voices of these educated citizens are being heard by the legislators at the city, state and federal level. It really might be time for Governor Baker's and Mayor Walsh's advisers to clue them both in that they may very well be assuring that they each only have one term in their respective offices. 

The best evidence for why we all need to pay attention to what is happening with our public schools comes from the ultimate consumers of education services: our students, so please be sure to read EduShyster's article "Students say the darndest things."

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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