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.