Frustrated by the teachers’ union, worried about losing federal funds and enticed by a study showing charter school performance gains, Boston Mayor Tom Menino wants to convert 51 failing schools to charter schools. That’s a turnaround for the Democratic mayor, Jon Keller writes in Wall Street Journal.
“I believe that the increased flexibility that charters provide can . . . help us close the achievement gap,” (Menino) declared.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has threaten to withhold federal education funds from cities and states that refuse to reform, including allowing charter schools.
“That’s $5 billion, b-i-l-l-i-o-n, up for grabs,” moaned Mr. Menino in an interview with me. “I’ve gotta sit here sucking my thumb because I can’t get reforms?”
Boston has “pilot” schools with “limited managerial flexibility in making personnel and budget decisions,” Keller writes. The mayor wants to create in-district charter schools that would differ from pilots in one critical respect: No union contract.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mr. Menino told me, came when a principal of one of the struggling school accepted a grant from ExxonMobil to give teachers small bonuses when their students excelled. The unions “took us to arbitration,” Mr. Menino said, essentially killing the bonuses. So for good measure the mayor included a call for merit pay in his blockbuster school-reform speech. “Every time we try to do a reform they stop it.”
If the unions block his plan for district-run charter schools Menino “vows to lobby for lifting the state’s restrictive cap on the number of “pure” charter schools.”
A recent Boston Foundation study found charter students outperforming similar students in regular public schools and pilot schools.
Menino’s children are considering Boston charter schools for two of his grandchildren next fall.