Massachusetts vs. competition

Massachusetts is backing off its experiment with competition in education, writes Thomas Keane, Jr., a Boston Herald columnist.

Next year’s state budget imposes a one-year moratorium on new charter schools. (Charter schools, part of the 1993 reforms, are public schools that exist free from local control and largely unfettered by traditional union work rules.) The moratorium, a seemingly mild proposal to explore improvements in the funding formula for charters, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Its short-term effect is to shut down five schools — in North Adams, Salem, Lynn, Marlborough and Cambridge — that were slated to open in September. (Gov. Mitt Romney has promised a veto, but it appears there are enough votes for the Legislature to override him.) More broadly, though, the moratorium is the culmination of a fierce campaign to dismantle the state’s charter law. Its passage signals a major defeat to supporters of competition.

The Boston Teachers’ Union is fighting the creation of semi-indepependent “pilot schools,” which are popular with some young teachers.

Teachers at the Gardner Elementary School in Allston had voted by a two-thirds majority to become a pilot school. The head of their union, Richard Stutman, vetoed the plan. Stutman’s stated concern was that teachers at pilot schools didn’t have sufficient seniority rights (never mind that the teachers apparently did not share that worry). The real issue, however, is that pilots have grown in popularity; there are now 15 of them. Once just an annoyance, they are now a genuine threat to the status quo.

The sense of crisis has been lost, writes Keane. There may be failing schools in poor neighborhoods, but most voters no longer see an urgent need for change.

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  1. Jack Tanner says:

    This article about ed reform in MA is much better

    They have informed the teacher who mentioned the little problem that they won’t need her next year

  2. Benjamin Yng says:

    Unions are determined to block meaningful educational reform. It’s all about power. Unions don’t give a damn about the kids or their future.

    That’s not news to most of you.

  3. Humm, how to go about this? First, fair disclosure: I was an AFT (American Federation of Teachers) member for fifteen years and NEA member for eleven. I served on three negotiating teams.

    Now, unions negotiate working conditions. Ineducation’s case it means class size, sick leave policy, preperation periods, duties, and such.

    A union is not an entity any more than the White House is. It is it’s members. We individually are not all about power. We want to teach. We want conditions that let us do that. We did not go to college and get degrees and do all the coursework to maintain our credentials in order to make sure that nobody learned anything. That would be nuts.

    Speaking from my 42 years of experience and knowing hundreds of teachers, what keeps us in this game is that feeling we get when you see the lights go on in some kid when they really get it. There is no feeling like it. It doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is. It could seeing the kid look through a microscope for the first time.

    Ok, where was I?

  4. Dang, sometimes my computer won’t let me go on until I post something and then go on. Anybody else have that problem?

    So: In places where unions have lots of power the teacher’s unions have lots of power too. Boston is a good example. Very very few places are like that. What kind of power do unions have where you live?

    Down to some kind of bottom line here. Teacher’s unions never hire anyone, never fire anyone, never pass a single school district policy, never impose taxes. The NEA at it’s convention can pass all kinds of resolutions but they have no force. They are just position statements.

    Jack, the first poster informs us that the teacher who

  5. Sorry folks, my computer did it again. As I was saying, Jack, this first poster informs us that the teacher who blew the whistle on the operation got a pink slip. That is what unions do as best they can–protect people from reprisals. But first you have to have tenure, which I guess this person did not.

    Enough for now.


  6. Although atlas seems a loyal union cadre trooper, I think the Boston Herald article speaks for itself.

    Benjamin may be laying it on thick, but clearly in this case unions are a reactionary force, preventing reform. I seriously doubt that this is an unusual situation, where charter school are concerned, since charter schools are non-union and clearly present a threat to union officials.

    Unions have plenty of money from member dues to influence political decision on a local, state, and national level. Benjamin seems to be correct that reform hasn’t a prayer if unions can help it.

  7. mike from oregon says:

    On the one hand, Atlas is or was correct – once upon a time unions main concerns were things such as wages, schedules, sick leave, etc. That was then, this is now – which is not to say that they still don’t concern themselves with such matters, it’s just that they have expanded the items that they now meddle in.

    In the neighboring state of Washington, they don’t have any charter schools. Why? Because the person in charge of the educational boards for the legislature in that state will not allow any bills for charter schools to go through. Why? Because her campaign is heavily supported by the teachers union in that state.

    In Oregon we do have charter schools, but the union hates them. They have tried and tried to either cut the funding or have the charter schools refused, mainly because they run under different rules than the “regular” schools. Bottom line is as long as the unions contribute to campaigns, and as long as unions have lobbyists, they have moved into areas that they weren’t originally intended to be in. As long as they have political motives and muscle, the educational objectives seem to have moved into the background.

  8. For the record, I love the idea of charter schools. To me, they hold much promise. I’m a teacher but I’m also a biologist. Evolution is tough on the individual but good for the community, usually.

  9. Rita C. says:

    Well, the Herald can be a little hyperbolic. Of the communities mentioned, I’d really only call Lynn (largely Hispanic) seriously poor. And only Allston-Brighton (a largely Asian community) is in the Boston Public School System — North Adams, as a matter of fact, is out past the Berkshires near UMASS, so I’m not sure what the BTU has to do with a school out there. Now, if pilot schools were under local control, presumably Lynn, North Adams, and Salem could say to hell with Romney and start them up anyway.

  10. I think MFO is right. When unions became a powerful political lobby, they discarded virtually all concerns about education and focused on concentrating and enlarging their power.

    Obviously charter schools are a threat. They must be crushed.

  11. Lemmie try again. The function of a union is to improve and protect the conditions of the members. The function of the UAW is not to produce better cars, it is to protect the workers and improve their lot.

    Hopefully this results in a better product since it restrains management from piling on an impossible work load resulting in an inferior product but making the temporary bottom line look good. They will do this you know. They will also lie, cheat and steal. Read the newspaper.

    The NEA is an organization whose main purpose is to take care of teachers. And you know what? I teach 25 kids a lot better than I do 35 kids. I also last longer. I’ve tried it. It’ll kill you.

    Now when you get to the national level of any union things get a little far removed from the trenches. Outside of the Bostons and the New York Cities, you have local chapters of unions sitting down with school boards and hammering out an agreement.

  12. My computer did it again, posted in the middle of my thought. I hate my computer.

    Anyway, I was about finished. We hammer out an agreement that we can both live with. It is called negotiations and it is as American as apple pie.

    It works for both sides. I’d like to have four kids in my class and go home at noon. They want fifty kids in my class and I drive the school bus and repair the desks. We compromise. It works. Most people are reasonable and minds meet.

    Again, I don’t know what to tell you about the big cities. A place with five hundred schools is beyond my ken.