Podcasts of the Week Ending March 17

HUB History ::  The Curious Case of Phineas Gage

The fascinating story of the most famous brain injury.

Planet Money :: Rigging the Economy

Liberal-tarians agree!  The economy is rigged.

Planet Money ::  XXX-XX-XXX

The history of the Social Security number.

Afropop Worldwide :: Roots and Future: A History of UK Dance

Caribbean music traditions and US dance beats come together in the only place they can: the United Kingdom.  A history of jungle, garage, drum & bass, and grime.  This made very nostalgic for the dance tracks of yore.

Have You Heard? :: Strong: Lessons from the West Virginia Teachers Strike

Reporting from the West Virginia teachers strike, featuring interviews with many, many teachers.

Invisibilia :: The Other Real World

Using a reality talent show to counter Islamist extremism in Somalia.

BackStory :: Wherever Green is Worn: The Irish in America

Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes, the Molly Maguires, and other Irish Americans of lore.

Re:sound :: Analog

When I was a kid I recorded myself as the DJ of a “tape radio” station called WLTS, so I feel a kinship with Mark Talbot. Also a repeat of the Ways of Seeing story I highlighted last summer.



Book Review: When Grit Isn’t Enough by Linda F. Nathan

AuthorLinda F. Nathan
TitleWhen Grit Isn’t Enough 
Publication Info: Boston, Massachusetts : Beacon Press, 2017.

I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Linda F. Nathan is an educator and founder of the Boston Arts Academy (BAA).  Like most public high schools in Boston, the student body of the BAA is largely children of color from low-income families, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants. Reflecting on her years as headmaster of the BAA, Nathan recalls her pride in promising students “college for all,” and was seemingly successful as the BAA has high graduation rates, high college acceptance rates, and a higher than usual rates of students going on to graduate college.  But she also questions whether high schools are properly preparing students for college, or if “college for all” is even the promise they should be making.

Much of her data who comes from former students who struggled to complete college and usually not because they couldn’t handle the academics.  Instead colleges create many barriers to students based on their race and socio-economic status that make it hard for her student to fit into the college culture, get the support they need, and keep on top of all the costs of attending college.  And yes, they make mistakes – failing to fill out a form, missing a meeting with a supervisor, not keeping the grade point average up – but while these things are just road bumps for more privileged students, they can end a college career for Nathan’s students and others like them.  Not only that, but low-income students are often left with crippling debts for the course they did take, but not able to transfer those credits.  Even community college, often presented as a good alternative or preparation for a four-year college, has it’s own problems and can be exploitative of low-income students.

Nathan also investigates the “no excuses” philosophy common in many charter schools that claim to be preparing poorer children of color for college.  While Nathan is very careful to withhold judgment of charter school teachers’ emphasis on strict discipline and rote behaviors, it’s hard not to read about what Nathan witnesses in this schools and not see it as abusive and ultimately more geared to the needs of adults than the education of children.  Again and again, Nathan reveals the idea of “grit” being used to pin any failures of children on their own character rather than question the reality of poverty, racism, and inequality.

Grit is Not Enough is important read for understanding the realities of public education today.  Nathan and her former students, as well as present-day students, are voices that need to be heard more in informing our nation’s public policy regarding education.

Favorite Passages:

Deeply held beliefs frequently go unchallenged in societies.  They are how we explain phenomena or culture or history. They are often false, yet persist.  I believe that these assumptions, or what I’ve come to call false promises, persist in public education because we hold so tightly to the American ideal of equality.  It is this belief that I and many Americans desperately want to be true.  It is this belief that we fight for.  But it is also this belief that we must fully unpack, deeply understand, and interrogate if we are to uphold our fragile democracy.” – p. 6

“It is the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ ethos to which so many generations of Americans adhere.  Yet data repeatedly show hoe poverty, social class, race, and parents’ educational attainment more directly influence an individual’s success and potential earnings than any individual effort. We clearly do no yet have a level playing field, but this belief is all but impossible to challenge. Whenever we hear of another bootstraps story, we want to generalize.  We disregard the fact that luck often plays a major role.  And in generalizing and celebrating the individual nature of success, we disregard the imperative to rethink social and economic policies that leave many behind.” – p. 8

“In middle- and upper-middle-class families, an invisible safety net typically surrounds young people planning to go on to college.  There is usually a family member or friend who will step in and remind a student about the intricacies of student loans and deadlines, or the m any requirements for staying registered once enrolled, or issues that can arise with housing.  However, if you are a lower-income student and you miss one or two e-mails or have a change in your adviser, you may find your dreams derailed.  It may be tempting to dismiss the examples above as ineptitude or carelessness on the part of individual students, but why must there be different rules, expectations, and outcomes for low-income versus middle- or upper-income students?” – p. 23

“If we allow an assumption like ‘race doesn’t matter’ to prevail, racial issues can be conveniently explained or excused as singular matters to be solved by individual intervention.  Singular responses allow us to avoid the actions needed for racial and socio-economic equity and a path toward a healthy and vibrant society and economy.” – p. 73-74

“What all the talk about grit seems to miss is the importance of putting children’s experience front and center.  In other words, when the emphasis on grit ends up as a stand-alone pedagogy, the context of student’ life and family circumstances is ignore.” – p.76

“We want to allow for growth mindsets in a way that might equalize the playing field, yet we continue to entrap so many of our young people with the assumption that if they just play by the rules, do the right things, they will be successful.  Achieving high test scores has become the only way to measure success or to prove that students have learned grit.  Equating better test results with healthy learning has reduced many schools to a narrow understanding of learning.” – p. 106

“Imagine if American high school students knew that they could study careers in music or finance in a vocational school as either an alternative or precursor to college.  Imagine if our community colleges could truly reinvent themselves and be places where students enter the allied health professions or even design professions.” – p. 133

“School can be the place where you practice how dreams are realized.  School can be where you can build a strong sense of self – an identity that you can belong to a special tribe, like artists, or change-makers, or mathematicians or inventors.  To ensure that schools incubate future dreams and dreamers, curriculum, structures, and pedagogy must encourage deep engagement both with teachers and with community members.  The walls between school and community can and should be permeable.” – p. 161

Recommended booksTinkering toward Utopia by David Tyack  and Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending March 3

WBUR News :: Rarely Heard Worcester Speech Shows Another Side Of MLK

Hear Martin Luther King speak in a more relaxed setting than most previously released King recordings, while talking about some familiar themes.

Have You Heard? :: Am I Next? School Shootings and Student Protests

Best of the Left :: The kids are alright and they are leading the way again (Parkland Shooting)

Two podcasts about school shootings and the brave teenage activists leading the way in opposition to gun violence.

Podcasts of the Week Ending January 6

Hub History :: Annexation Making Boston Bigger for 150 Years

Boston grew first by making new land in Back Bay and the South End.  Then it grew even more starting 150 years ago by adding surrounding communities of Roxbury, Dorchester, Brighton, West Roxbury, and Charlestown.  Find out how it all happened in this podcast.

Hang Up and Listen :: The 200 Seventh Graders Versus LeBron Edition

A whimsical year-end look at some sports conundrums such as how many seventh graders would you have to put on the court to defeat LeBron James playing solo.  Or, what would a NFL field or NBA court be like if they were built with the irregularities common in baseball stadiums.

Have You Heard :: Segrenomics

The long sad story of how inequality and segregation in education have long been the source of profit in the United States.

Slate’s Hit Parade :: The Silver Medalists Edition

A look back at some of the great songs that peaked at #2 on the pop charts with a special focus on “Shop Around” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Gos, and “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson.

All Songs Considered :: Ice Music: Building Instruments Out of Water

Bob Boilen interviews Norwegian musician Terje Isungset who shapes and plays instruments out of ice.

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 11

Mortified :: Kids Who Teach

Stories of kids becoming teachers, including a stunning musical defense of feminism.

Have You Heard? :: What We Talk About When We Talk About the Corporate Education Agenda

An explanation of why major corporations have become big players in education policy and what it means for the rest of us.

Planet Money :: Your Cell Phone’s A Snitch

What personal information is gathered by your cell phones, how it’s being used by law enforcement and others, and what rights do we have under the Constitution to privacy.

99% Invisible :: Dollhouses of St. Louis

The sad story of  St. Louis’ historic black neighborhood, The Ville, where old houses are being robbed of their bricks for resale to salvage operations.

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 7th

What I’m listening to and what you should be listening to.

Have You Heard? :: Divided by Design: Race, Neighborhoods, Wealth and Schools

A history of racial segregation in neighborhoods and schools that is still feeding inequality to this very day.

To the Best of Our Knowledge :: What is School For?

I was worried that this would be peppered with corporate reform ideology and myths, but actually has some interesting stories on teacher burnout, multicultural studies, and the importance of the humanities.

The Truth :: Brain Chemistry

A funny/poignant audio drama about the life of a brain in a jar in the future, starring Scott Adsit of 30 Rock.

Hit Parade :: The Great War Against the Single Edition

It’s a good thing that Hit Parade is published infrequently, because I think I’m going to post every episode here.  This is the story of how record companies from the 1960s to the 2000s tried to make people by the more expensive full albums in order to get a copy of a popular song.  Deeply fascinating, with lots of Casey Kassem cameos.

99% Invisible :: The Athletic Brassiere

The hidden story of the sports bra (nee, the “Jock Bra”) and how it helped transform women in sports.

Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked :: A Friend in the Forest 

The Snap Judgment spinoff podcasts tells creepy stories for the month of October, and this contemporary ghost story from Ireland is particularly eerie.

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 14

Late, but still worth listening to.  There’s a lot of terrific material this week, although to be fair several of my recommendations are repackaging previously released content, so think of this as a greatest hits package of greatest hits!

Best of the Left – The inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men

Several stories debunk the myths of poverty and ask why economists don’t ask the right questions about poverty.

Have You Heard – ‘I Quit’ – Teachers Are Leaving and They Want to Tell You Why

The stress and inequity of teaching in defunded and underesourced public schools is causing teachers to quit teaching, but some of them are prominently telling the world why they’re leaving in hopes of bringing positive change for future teachers, students, and schools.

StoryCorpsBetween June and September

Stories of Coney Island from people who kept the fun in the sun destination alive during its lowest points in the early 1990s.

Politically Re-Active – Street Heat w/ Congresswoman Barbara Lee & Linda Sarsour

Interviews with two amazing progressive leaders, both women of color, and their work fighting for social, racial, and economic justice.  I seriously had no idea that Linda Sarsour was so very Brooklyn.

BackStorySkin Deep: Whiteness in America

Slavery and segregation not only meant discriminating against black people, but also defining what it means to be white.  Three stories detail how the idea of whiteness played out in different periods of American history.

Re:SoundThe Smash the Binary Show

Three stories of the experiences of transgender persons, as well as an exploration of the “feminine” qualities of straight cis men.  I was particularly touched by the story of “The Accidental Gay Parents.”




#TryPod Day 8: Have You Heard?

All this month, I’ve heard about the campaign to spread the news of podcasts called TryPod.  As I am a voracious listener of podcasts (you can see the complete list of my current subscriptions and other recommendations on my podcast page), I figured I ought to participate while I can.  So I will post about one of my favorite podcasts every day for the last 9 days of March.

Education and the politics of public education are big issues for me so it won’t surprise you that I’m recommending the podcast Have You Heard?  Journalist Jennifer Berkshire (formerly EduShyster) and education historian Jack Schneider discuss the hot button topics of market based education solutions and the real world effects they have on students and communities.  Episodes are short and released infrequently but pack a powerful punch.  While waiting for the next episode, make sure to read Berkshire’s blog, also called Have You Heard?


Podcast of the Week: “Uncovering the Stark Disparities Behind School Money”

The Podcast of the Week from ProPublica strikes close to home as we’re dealing with serious underfunding of urban school districts in Massachusetts while other communities have invested in creating some of the top public schools in the nation. Sadly this is a problem throughout all of the United States.

For more on the issue follow the NPR School Money series

Podcast of the Week: “Pass/Fail: An American History of Testing” from BackStory

Testing is a big topic of debate in education circles these days.  Tests are increasingly been used not just evaluate what students are learning in class but to make high-stake decisions such as a student advancing in school, whether teachers are given rewards or are fired, and even to justify closing entire schools!  With tests being given so important, a lot of classroom time is being given over to test preparation,  and a lot of money is being given over to the publishers of the tests and test prep materials.

The American History Guys at the BackStory podcast provide an interesting historical background to testing in the United States.  The first written tests in American schools only date to the 1840s.  But there are other types of tests, and podcast examines the tests of faith for early Puritans, the civil services tests, and the questionable scholarship behind the IQ test and the Myers Briggs test.  It’s a fascinating hour of history.

Walk-In and Rally for Boston Public Schools

Yesterday morning, I was one of hundreds of Bostonians who gathered together to rally against cuts at Boston Public Schools and deliver a message to Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker to support our public schools. The Walk-In and Rally was organized by the Boston Education Justice Alliance and coincided with a national movement to oppose budget cuts and privatization efforts for public education.  You can sign the petition to stop budget cuts at MoveOn.

At Boston City Hall we heard parents, grandparents, teachers, school nurses, religious leaders, concerned citizens, and students speak about the effects of slashed budgets on our schools. As always, the students are the most inspiring and the real leaders of this cause. About half the group “walked-in” to City Hall to deliver a petition to the Mayor’s office (sadly, Walsh did not make team to speak with them). Then we marched down the streets to Massachusetts State House. I didn’t have time to join the action at the State House, but there was another rally within and presentation of a petition to the governor. Like Walsh, Baker declined to meet with his constituents. As student K’Damse McGee was quoted in the Boston Globe article, maybe he’s scared?

Below is some news coverage and then some photos I took of the event.

If there’s any coverage I missed, post a link in the comments.

Podcast of the Week BONUS: Have You Heard?

There’s a new podcast in my feed from Jennifer Berkshire who blogs about education issues at Edushyster.

The podcast is called Have You Heard? and also addresses education issues.

The first episode is up and is about African-American parents in Pennsylvania opting their children out of high-stakes testing.

Book Review: The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn

Author: Alfie Kohn
TitleThe Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting
NarratorAlfie Kohn
Publication Info:Tantor Audio (2014)
Summary/Review: The current generation of children are often described by the media, politicians, and even parents as entitled and narcissistic.  Alfie Kohn shows through his research that 1. similar statements have been applied to children for centuries, 2. there’s no evidence to show that these statements are true for any generation, and 3. strategies and policies for parenting and education formed by a belief that children are particularly “spoiled” today are actually harmful to children.  This is a fascinating book that offers a lot of research that shows that parents and teachers are actually too controlling.  There’s an idea that life is all about competition and the kids “better get used to it now” which forces children to experience everything as a competition rather than a learning experience.  As Kohn succinctly states “Competition undermines achievement,” which is something our leaders and policy makers fail to understand especially when it comes to children.  Definitely a must-read book!
Recommended booksReign of Error by Diane Ravitch,  Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood by Steven Mintz, and Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch

Author: Diane Ravitch
TitleReign of Error
Publication Info: Knopf (2013)

This is the most important book I’ve read all year and one that I think every American should read.  Educational historian Diane Ravitch unravels the multi-pronged attack of the “school reform” movement on public education, teachers, and the core principles of democracy.  While school reformers appropriate the language of the civil rights movement, Ravitch details how their programs are often untested (despite grandiose claims), increase segregation, and divert public money earmarked for the least privileged communities to corporate interests.

Ravitch doesn’t just criticize and complain, though, as she also offers solutions that will address educational achievement gaps in schools as well as addressing the crisis of poverty that often undermines even the best intended educational programs.  I’ve listed them below, but please be aware that each solution is accompanied by a chapter-long description and action plan.

  • Solution No. 1: Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.
  • Solution No. 2: Make high-quality early-childhood education available to all children.
  • Solution No. 3: Every school should have a full, balanced and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education.
  • Solution No. 4: Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.
  • Solution No. 5: Ban for-profit charters and charter chains and ensure that charter schools collaborate with public schools to support better education for all children.
  • Solution No. 6: Provide the medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers.
  • Solution No. 7: Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and rely instead on assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do.
  • Solution No. 8: Insist that teachers, principals and superintendents be professional educators.
  • Solution No. 9: Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards or by boards in large cities appointed for a set term for more than one elected official.
  • Solution No. 10: Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.
  • Solution No. 11: Recognize that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good.

Favorite Passages:

“In this book, I show that the schools are in crisis because of persistent, orchestrated attacks on them and their teachers and principals, and attacks on the very principle of public responsibility for public education. These attacks create a false sense of crisis and serve the interests of those who want to privatize the public schools.”


“I contend that their solutions are not working. Some are demonstrably wrong. Some, like charter schools, have potential if the profit motive were removed, and if the concept were redesigned to meet the needs of the communities served rather than the plans of entrepreneurs. It is far better to stop and think than to plunge ahead vigorously, doing what is not only ineffective but wrong.”


“Testing in the early grades should be used sparingly, not to rank students, but diagnostically, to help determine what they know and what they still need to learn. Test scores should remain a private matter between parents and teachers, not shared with the district or the state for any individual student. The district or state may aggregate scores for entire schools but should not judge teachers or schools on the basis of these scores.”


“If you want a society organized to promote the survival of the fittest and the triumph of the most advantaged, then you will prefer the current course of action, where children and teachers and schools are “racing to the top.” But if you believe the goal of our society should be equality of opportunity for all children and that we should seek to reduce the alarming inequalities children now experience, then my program should win your support.”


“The “reformers” say they want excellent education for all; they want great teachers; they want to “close the achievement gap”; they want innovation and effectiveness; they want the best of everything for everyone. They pursue these universally admired goals by privatizing education, lowering the qualifications for future teachers, replacing teachers with technology, increasing class sizes, endorsing for-profit organizations to manage schools, using carrots and sticks to motivate teachers, and elevating standardized test scores as the ultimate measure of education quality. “Reform” is really a misnomer, because the advocates for this cause seek not to reform public education but to transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy. The groups and individuals that constitute today’s reform movement have appropriated the word “reform” because it has such positive connotations in American political discourse and American history. But the roots of this so-called reform movement may be traced to a radical ideology with a fundamental distrust of public education and hostility to the public sector in general.”


“Disabling or eliminating teachers’ unions removes the strongest voice in each state to advocate for public education and to fight crippling budget cuts. In every state, classroom teachers are experts in education; they know what their students need, and their collective voice should be part of any public decision about school improvement. Stripping teachers of their job protections limits academic freedom. Evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students undermines professionalism and encourages teaching to the test. Claiming to be in the forefront of a civil rights movement while ignoring poverty and segregation is reactionary and duplicitous.”


“The states of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado, which volunteered to participate in TIMSS, ranked among the top-performing nations in the world. Massachusetts, had it been an independent nation would have been ranked second in the world, behind Singapore.”


“Eliminating unions does not produce higher achievement, better teachers, or even higher test scores. Eliminating unions silences the most powerful advocate for public education in every state. It assures that there will be no one at the table to object when the governor or legislature wants to cut the budget for public schools. The union’s main role is to advocate for better working conditions and better compensation for its members. Better working conditions translate into better learning conditions for students, such as reduced class size and more resources for the schools. Better compensation attracts and retains teachers, which reduces teacher attrition. That too benefits students.”


“The claims made by Teach for America distract the nation from the hard work of truly reforming the education profession. Instead of building a profession that attracts well-qualified candidates to make a career of working in the nation’s classrooms, our leaders are pouring large sums of money into a richly endowed organization that supplies temporary teachers. If we were serious about improving teacher quality, we would encourage all future teachers to get a solid education and preparation for teaching, and we would expect districts and states to construct a support system to help them get better every year. Instead of expending so much energy on whom to fire, we would focus energy on making teaching a prestigious profession in which classroom teachers have considerable professional autonomy over what and how they teach.”


“Charter schools satisfied a long-standing ideological drive by libertarians to remove schools from government control and shift public assets into private hands. ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council—immediately saw the possibilities. ALEC, an organization of some two thousand state legislators and business leaders, promotes privatization and corporate interests. ALEC’s model law for charter schools is called the Next Generation Charter Schools Act. It has several key points: first, it insists that charter schools are public schools, even though they may be controlled by private boards and operate for profit; second, charter schools should be exempt from most state laws and regulations applied to public schools; third, charter schools may be authorized by multiple agencies, such as the state board of education, universities, and charter-friendly organizations, which maximizes the opportunities to open new charters; and fourth, the governor should have the power to appoint a board to authorize charters and override local school boards, which are often reluctant to grant these charters because they drain resources from the school system whose interests they are elected to protect. This legislation encourages the acceleration of privatization and undermines local control of schools. The corporate agenda of privatization and free markets, in this instance, takes precedence over the traditional conservative belief in small government and local control. In that sense, the reform agenda is not really a conservative agenda but a radical attack on local control that serves corporate interests, not Main Street.”


“At present, our national policy relies on the belief that constant testing will improve the education of children in the poorest neighborhoods. But this is the cheapest way to supply schooling, not the best way or the right way. The children with the greatest needs are the most expensive to educate. They will not have equality of educational opportunity if their schools focus relentlessly on preparing them to take state tests. Like children in elite private schools and affluent suburbs, they need the arts and sports and science laboratories and libraries and social workers; they need school nurses and guidance counselors. They need to learn history and civics, to read literature and learn foreign languages. They need the latest technology and opportunities to learn to play musical instruments, to sing in groups, to make videos, and to perform in plays. They need beautiful campuses too. It will not be cost-effective to give them what they need. It is expensive. What is needed most cannot be achieved by cutting costs, hiring the least experienced teachers, increasing class size, or replacing teachers with computers.”


Recommended booksThe Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz,  Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann.
Rating: ****1/2

Boston Public Schools Budget Cuts: The Legislature Needs To Hear Our Voices

The Massachusetts State Legislature is still coming to terms on the Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”  There’s a lot of pressure on our elected leaders to lift the cap on charter schools without first getting a better understanding of how funding charter schools in the state negatively affects the funding and resources for district public schools.  Whether or not you think charter schools are a good option for educating children, I think we can all agree that all schools should be fully funded to allow for equitable education for all students.


If you live in Massachusetts, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Write your elected leaders. Contact information available from this website: http://www.wheredoivotema.com/ The message I sent today to the chairs of the education committee Sonia Chang-Diaz (Sonia.Chang-Diaz@state.ma.us) and Alice Peisch (Alice.Peisch@mahouse.gov) as well as my representative Liz Malia are below (Chang-Diaz is also the senator for my district).  Feel free to crib for your own message.
  • Sign and share information about the QUEST petition with your friends and family. The petition can be found at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/adequate-funding-for?mailing_id=21010&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=8757554. A Spanish translation can be found at http://tinyurl.com/mk6opsv.
  • Join other parents and students at the State House in Boston at 4:30 today, Tuesday, March 25th. This protest is organized by Boston Public School parents from many schools who see the effects of charters on our schools and our children on a daily basis. (See: Facebook page for event)


I am a citizen of Boston residing in the Forest Hills/Woodbourne area of Jamaica Plain.  My 6-year-old son Peter is a Kindergarten 2 scholar at the nearby BTU Pilot School, a neighborhood public school with excellent, hard-working teachers and staff and the heart of our neighborhood community.  In recent months, we’ve learned that our school is facing severe budget cuts that will cause the school to lose teaching staff, social workers, Playworks, a school supplies budget, field trips, and other resources vital to equitable education.  Our school is not alone as most schools in Boston are facing their own budget cuts, and other school systems in the Commonwealth are facing similar challenges with dwindling resources.
I believe the Massachusetts Legislature can help address the inadequacies and inequality in funding and resources for public schools in Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”  One issue is charter schools that are receiving a larger piece of the pie in state funding, while the state has neglected to reimburse public schools (see this chart created by a Boston Public School parent: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BjRzkXVCcAE1WEK.jpg:large).  I’m not opposed to charter schools as an educational option for some children, but it seems grossly unfair that one type of school is fully funded while another has to beg for scraps.  The legislature should make it a priority to fully fund all public schools.  
With that in mind, please consider the following steps:  
• Remove charter school language entirely from Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap;”
• Prior to any consideration of raising the charter school cap read the soon-to-be released audit from the State Auditor’s Office regarding charter school finances and practices;
• Work with constituents to draft a more comprehensive proposal regarding the charter school cap. This proposal must address the inequalities already identified, include clear and quantifiable accountability measures that are put into place prior to such legislation being proposed, and explore more equitable or separate funding methods that do not bankrupt our public schools.
I understand that you are receiving a lot of attention from lobbyists of the charter school cause.  These groups are backed by billionaires and corporations who have their own ends in supporting the charter school cap that may not be in the best interests of Massachusetts’ children.  Please listen also to the voices of your constituents – the parents, students, and educators of some of the best public schools in the nation and do the right thing for all the state’s children.


Boston Public Schools Budget Cuts: Maintain the Cap on Charter Schools

Following up on my earlier post regarding severe budget cuts to Boston Public Schools, here is an issue that requires immediate attention from any residents of Massachusetts who read this blog.  Currently there is legislation moving through the Massachusetts legislature that will decide if the cap on charter schools in the state will be lifted.  This is a contentious issue as vocal groups of charter school supporters advocate lifting the cap with help from deep-pocketed investors.  Meanwhile the parents and educators of children in Boston Public Schools are contending that the cap should remain until we have a greater understanding of the financial pressures that charter schools exert on traditional district schools and that the current charter schools in our state are held to greater accountability for serving all children.

The Boston Public Schools are facing a 60 million dollar deficit shortfall and  most of the 128 schools are being asked to make cuts that would lose teaching staff, social workers, Playworks, supplies, and other resources. One reason for the shortfall is that traditional district schools are not being fully reimbursed for loses to charter schools.  Whether or not you support the charter school movement, I think we can all agree that education at any school should have full-funding and resources.  It will do no one any good to have a fight over limited funds.

Fortunately, my state senator Sonia Chang-Diaz from the Second Suffolk district is working on the Joint Committee of Education and is committed to making a compromise that will support all forms of public education in the Commonwealth.  She, and by extension the children of Massachusetts, deserve our support.  You can take action by following the steps below.  A statement from Senator Chang-Diaz follows.

Senator Chang-Díaz Statement on Joint Committee on Education 1-Week Extension

Today the Joint Committee on Education voted on a one-week extension on bills dealing with turnaround and charter schools. Over the past few months, stakeholders from all sides of this issue have been hard at work coming to compromises on various aspects of a composite bill, and we have come to agreement on a number of issues. We are down to the final aspects.

I continue to fight to find a balanced third way that breaks from the us-versus-them mindset when it comes to district and charter schools. All are public schools and both are needful of our attention and advocacy. I have been on record in both words and actions that I am committed to getting a bill out of committee that continues to close the gap between populations served by charters and districts, mitigates the financial stresses that even the best charters present for district schools, and allows targeted expansion of good charters. To that end, I’ve offered multiple proposals for balanced compromises. These proposals have been met with consistent “no’s” from the charter advocate community, with no counter proposals that bring us toward a compromise. While I am disappointed that we must resort to a one-week extension today, I remain committed to forging a resolution. My door is wide open to anyone who has ideas about how we can move forward on a middle path that treats all kids with compassion and fairness.

I also want to be transparent that, should we be able to reach resolution and report a bill out of Committee, there are still key decisions about funding fairness that will be made over the coming months through the budget process, which occur outside the Education Committee. These decisions will impact the effects of any bill on the schools in which the majority of students remain and therefore will be large factors in my ultimate vote for or against a bill on the Senate floor.

Budget Cuts for Boston Public Schools?

Last night at the Parent Council at my son’s elementary school in Jamaica Plain, it was announced the Boston Public Schools are requesting that schools prepare for drastic budget cuts.  It’s been reported that these cuts will be for as much as 20% of the current budget.  The immediate effects of such cuts to my son’s school and to other schools in the city will be loss of staff, Playworks, learning interventions, the learning center, and even shortening the school day.  Public schools are already making do with limited budgets while being assailed from all sides in political battles, so further cuts will have drastic consequences to providing quality innovative education to all children in the city.  So far there has been coverage on Universal Hub (http://www.universalhub.com/2014/bps-schools-told-prepare-cuts) and social media, but the news has not been disseminated through traditional media.

If you live in Boston and value public education, please join me in the following steps:

  1. Attend a Boston School Committee meeting.  The schedule is here: http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/Page/253
  2. Write a letter expressing your concern to BPS Superintendent McDonough (superintendent@bostonpublicschools.org and jmcdonough@bostonpublicschools.org) ,Mayor Marty Walsh (mayor@cityofboston.gov), and the School Committee (moneill2@bostonpublicschools.orgcmartinez6@bostonpublicschools.orgmcampbell5@boston.k12.ma.ushcoleman2@bostonpublicschools.orgggroover@bostonpublicschools.orgmloconto@bostonpublicschools.orgmmckenna4@bostonpublicschools.org).  Feel free to copy other city leaders and local  media.
  3. Share your thoughts on Twitter to https://twitter.com/bostonschools and https://twitter.com/marty_walsh.  Use the hashtag #bospoli to draw attention to your tweet! And retweet others in our community).
  4. Share your thoughts on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VoteMartyWalsh?fref=ts and https://www.facebook.com/bostonschools?fref=ts
  5. Do whatever else you can to share this news with others, make your feelings known, and in general make a big noise to let the BPS know that we will not accept cuts to our schools.

Below is the content of the email sent to the Mayor and Superintendent.  Please feel free to crib what you like for your own message.  It does not have to long, or eloquent.  Just write to make sure that your thoughts are heard.


I am discouraged to learn that Boston Public Schools are being instructed to make severe cuts to their budgets for the upcoming school year.  It’s been reported that cuts of up to 20% are being requested.  My son Peter, six years old, is a Kindergarten 2 scholar at the Boston Teachers Union School in Jamaica Plain.  At his school, such drastic cuts will lead to the loss of staff, Playworks, learning interventions, the learning center, and even the length of our school day being shortened.  This is an innovative school striving to provide equitable education to the children of our city, but it cannot do so without the proper finances and resources. Like many, if not all, public schools in Boston, the BTU School is already struggling to make do on limited resources.  I believe further cuts to our schools’ budgets will have drastic consequences
Public education is something I value highly.  I believe quality education for all children regardless of their economic, social, or racial background is one of the most important things our community and government provides.  I also believe in holding accountable leaders of the schools and the city to follow through on this promise to our children. The city of Boston cannot prosper without a thriving working class and middle class who feel that their children can get a quality public education.
The Boston Public Schools have proclamations that our schools are high-performing, but this will be possible to maintain without the proper funding and resources.  Mayor Walsh declared “I will not cut back on the education budget,” (Boston Herald, 12/5/2013), and I expect him to hold to that promise. I ask of all the leaders of our schools and city to work toward restoring the budge to previous levels, and, hey perhaps even a little bit more to help increase quality, innovative education in Boston.  Our schools should be the first priority for our city, our children, and our future.