Everything that’s wrong with urban education reform in a single, bitter-tasting tale
Reader: I feel that I must address the elephant in the room. I’m talking, of course, about history—the sore subject that is absolutely not being eliminated from the Boston Public Schools. And irregardless of what you may have heard, there is no truth at all to the rumor that students in the city’s schools will now receive their daily dose of history and social studies only at lunchtime, served up from the schools’ fallow salad bars by historical impersonators. I’m happy to report that a growing number of students in Boston can look forward to a rich and nutritious curriculum, if by rich and nutritious you mean *two squares* of math and English.
Boston Ed Talks
A glimpse of the menu that awaits Boston’s students, especially those of the low-income variety—which is to say most of them—was on vivid display recently at an event called Boston Ed Talks. Held at the Boston Foundation, Ed Talks featured seven teachers representing a mix of public, charter and Catholic schools. And since food metaphors are the order of the day, I will use another here: the teachers who made it through the rigorous and highly competitive Ed Talks selection process represent the cream of the crop. [Note: the following sentence was typed in a spirit of the utmost sincerity. These teachers are seriously impressive as you can see for yourself here.]
The ELAphant in the room
At last it’s time for the main course, and please don’t blame me if you don’t like the way it tastes; I am merely your server today. You see, there was an uncomfortable element to this particular appreciation of teachers—an elephant in the room, if you will. Three of the selected teachers, Neema Avashia and Chun Ying Wang, who talked about early warning indicators for dropouts, and Brandon Lee, who described his work teaching engineering to elementary students, just happened to be from a school that was recently placed into receivership by the state—and the respondent was none other than the receiver in chief: our career readiest education commissioner, Mitchell D. Chester. In other words, *awkward.* What say you, Commissioner Chester?
So, I need to address the elephant in the room. I don’t mean this as a personal attack, but 3 of the 7 presenters tonight are from a school that I have decided to put into receivership. The Dever-McCormack is a failing school. For the past several years, science, literacy, and math scores have been low. What that tells me is that you might be doing creative things at your school, but you’re not teaching the basics. Kids aren’t learning the foundations. And that means that you teachers need to do more for your school.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week
In other words, happy Teacher Appreciation Week (which it was, by the way). Now I should explain that the Commissioner’s extraordinary statement was captured on video, which was available for the world to see—for two days, after which the Boston Foundation took the video down and edited his remarks out of it. [Note: I made a request to the Foundation to view the original but received no response]. When the Foundation makes that video available, I will happily correct any errors in the above paraphrase, provided by one of the teacher panelists, who had the foresight to write down the Commissioner’s remarks.
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out
What followed was a substantive discussion regarding how failing schools are defined, and how it is that some of our best teachers can teach in struggling schools when we know for a fact that it is the teachers themselves who cause the failure. Actually, nothing of the sort ensued; the Commissioner left, leaving the elephant in the room behind. A meeting between Commissioner Chester and the Dever/McCormack teachers has been scheduled for June 24th. And not a moment too soon. Panelist Brandon Lee leaves for California, where he’ll be starting a new job teaching elementary engineering at a brand new tech school in San Diego, on June 30. Brandon: take us home.
I was really excited two years ago when I accepted my job at the Dever Elementary. My work at Tufts University as an undergrad focused on how to incorporate engineering into the elementary classroom, from robots to technological fluency and programming. I’m leaving Boston because I can’t teach what I want to teach. I fervently believe in engineering education, but there aren’t opportunities to teach that in Massachusetts. The Commissioner made it pretty clear in his response to my Ed Talk on the topic that it is less important than teaching the basics. How can I exist in this setting if the person running the show doesn’t think this is important? On the other side of the country, my new school focuses on STEM education with a project-based learning model. I will be able to do long term engineering projects that engage students. I am sad that I will be leaving my students, but if I just can’t teach due to the circumstances, what else am I supposed to do?
An excellent question. I’m looking forward to hearing Commissioner Chester’s answer.
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