Wednesday, October 03, 2012

BPS Napalm in the Morning


The smell on looming conflict permeated MA State House hearing room 437 this morning. Ostensibly, two Boston City Councilors and four state Reps offered up an "alternative student-assignment plan." While that may seem harmless enough, I predict much angst and yelling, and eventually improved outcomes for students, parents, schools and teachers.

Cue the helicopters.

The plan (here in PDF) is about far more than choosing schools.  It means to push and drag a stagnant school system into modernity, accountability, efficiency, and respect for its constituents. As head of the Committee on Education for the past three years, at-large Councilor John Connolly has the energy, perseverance and maybe enough masochism to analyze and wrangle the BPS and its budget (the largest component of the city's expenses, at over $1 billion). He also has kids he intends to put through the system.

By the bye, he's joined us on Left Ahead several times to talk schools or elections.

Like a true progressive, Connolly looks toward understanding systems, and then improving them short, mid- and long term. His hand shows heavily in the plan the group released today.

Other group members who have been attending the advisory group on school assignments and participating in developing this plan are Representatives Linda Dorcena Forry, Nick Collins, Ed Coppinger and Russell Holmes, and Councilor Matt O'Malley. While being quick to say everyone had input in the new plan, Connolly also admitted he drove this and is willing to take most of any resulting heat.

For a quick but reasonably detailed overview, check Adam Gaffin's take at UniversalHub.

Connolly has made it plain that he did not get that he wanted for the schools in the recent teachers' contract. That included no longer days and or more meaningful teacher evaluations. This morning, he told me he had kind of gotten over that, at least came to peace with the situation.

As a parent who confronted the BPS to get three sons through, I am all the more impressed with the new plan. We have an 11-year gap between son one and son two, so our experience with BPS' bureaucracy, and often indifference and incompetence spanned decades...and numerous versions of assignment plans. Like Connolly, we are true believers in public education. The difference here being he is in a position and of a mind to make it better, much better, for others.

You can get more details than just the plan, as well as sign on to its concepts on the new website for this purpose. If you aren't yet up for poring over the full plan, start with the FAQ.

I'll be analyzing it against the other proposed plans and do more on the topic here soon.

Meanwhile I think about the likely blowback from this new plan. There's a lot of potential for NIH (not invented here) by the BPS superintendent, committee, teachers union, and even the Mayor and other Councilors.

Granted, with his hand on the rudder of the Education Committee, Connolly seems to be doing what he sees as right for everyone involved (students and parents utmost). Yet with all the satraps involved, I sense a lot of figurative pearly clutching already. He went to legislators for support and includes new laws. He proposes zoneless assignment, he wants guaranteed kindergarten seats near kids' neighborhoods, and he wants numerous commitments from the BPS. That latter includes the likes of making sure all schools offer such now-rare features as advanced work. He also wants 16 citywide schools with education specialties.

In short, his group has codified what various superintendents and School Committee iterations should have done long ago to vastly improve a so-so system. He must love the smell of Napalm in the morning.

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