But do they love her for the right reasons?
Oh Lawrence, you city by the Spicket, you. It seems like only yesteryear that everyone who was anyone was writing the damndest things about your poorest-burg-in-Massachusetts self. And here you are – not just grown up, but blown up. The edupreneurial set suddenly can’t get enough of you. Your story is even bandied about across the pond. And who’s that I see checking you out from a few states over, Lawrence? Why if that isn’t New York looking you up and down…
Whose turnaround scheme will reign supreme?
First, a trip down memory lane. Alas, a brief trip it must be, Lawrence, as all of your lanes, including those of the memory variety, are be-choked with snow these days. Our story starts a few years back when the state set out to determine what on earth had gone wrong with your schools. The answer, as you still recall but few others do, was that you were a district in utter chaos with leadership either lacking, completely inept or just plain corrupt. But what to do with your struggling self? Some, like this gentlemen, wanted to see you blown up and turned into a northern version of New Orleans. Still others wanted to see you set a float on a raft of edu-jargon. Still others–was it possible that were still other, others?–had other ideas. But whose turnaround scheme would reign supreme and become *the Lawrence model*???
Is a trick subhead, dear reader. You see, despite the fiercely urgent pleadings of the Pioneers, Lawrence was not to become Chartertown, USA. In fact, rarely mentioned in the many mentions of the *Lawrence model* is that the charters now operating within the school district are subject to the same rules that govern all schools: like serving all students in their neighborhoods and *backfilling* empty seats when said seats become empty. The teachers who teach in these charters even belong to the still-existing Lawrence Teachers Union. In other words, this is confusing and not what New York was expecting when he swiped *like* on Lawrence’s profile.
[Insert fave edu-jargon here]
All right, so we’re not exactly talking about the new New Orleans, but the new Lawrence is still a system of choice for choosy choosers, right? Or a system of schools instead of a school system? Or a portfolio district? Come on–at least it has cool new open architecture, whatever that is… Um, actually, upon closer inspection the *Lawrence model* still looks a lot like a traditional urban school district, complete with a central office, albeit sans the fancy green leather chairs and illicit printing press of the Laboy era. In fact, here’s a fun edu-insider drinking game. Next time you find yourself in close proximity to a *disruptor* (note: be sure to wear protective gear), see if you can get him (note: he will inevitably be a he) to relinquish a few choice words about what he really thinks of the man at the center of the *Lawrence model,* Superintendent Jeffrey C. Riley. If the term *traditionalist* is uttered, drink for two.
Is it time to kick the union in the teeth yet?
I don’t know about you, New York, but I’m starting to feel a little sleepy. This is not the kind of transformative change that we would have read about in Joel Klein’s book if we had read Joel Klein’s book. At least we get to crush the union, right? What???? The *Lawrence model* isn’t built upon the bedrock of crushed union sediment? What do you mean Superintendent Jeffrey C. Riley has been spotted around town sporting an AFT pin? And the local union runs an elementary school, and quite effectively at that? OK–so the relationship hasn’t always been bread and roses (and we can argue into the wee hours over the precise definition of the word *crush,*) but somehow me thinks that this isn’t what New York’s school reformer-in-chief had in mind when he started chatting up Lawrence last week…
Good money after bad
So maybe this *Lawrence model* thing isn’t quite what New York had in mind, but at least it’s cheap, right? Because I distinctly recall hearing NY’s Governor Cuomo saying something about no more money for bad schools unless they stop being bad – or something like that. Or maybe he said that spending more money on schools actually causes kids to do worse. Alas, in Lawrence as everywhere, money matters, as my fave Massachusetts school finance expert, Tracy Novick, shows here. And then of course there is the *edupreneurial elixir* of federal money and foundation grants in which Lawrence is currently a-sloshing.
That contract looks great on you
OK–so it’s not cheap, the union remains at least somewhat un-crushethed, in-district charter schools are constrained and a traditionalist rules the kingdom. There must be SOMETHING about the *Lawrence model* that appeals to the reform-minded, near and far. At last! You see, in addition to being, literally, a district-wide testing ground for test-score boosting, Lawrence is also a bold laboratory of highly-aligned innovation in which the very future of the teaching profession in Massachusetts is being petri-d as I type. Appealingly *thin* union contract? Check. Partnership with Teach for America in order to *infuse the district with new talent*? Check. Sleek new *career ladders* based on performance-based advancement? Check. Extra hyphens so that *teacher* and *leader* and their close cousins *highly* and *effective* need never be apart again? Check.
Except that a growing number of Lawrence teachers are *leading* with their feet–25% of the district’s teachers left last year alone, including many who’ve departed for neighboring districts where contracts are less slim, career ladders less sleek, and teaching is still defined as something broader than the ability to raise math and English test scores. Who is leaving also matters. Lawrence is losing teachers AND leaders who are from Lawrence–Latino/as who grew up in the city, graduated from its schools and returned to teach in them because they believe in the city and its future. Teachers like Lorena German, who taught at Lawrence High, served in the district’s teacher-leader cabinet, and received a National Council of Teachers of English Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award in 2014. She’s in Austin, TX now, along with her husband, another Lawrence native, who was an assistant principal at one of the city’s elementary schools. Lorena has a list of reasons why she decided to leave: a lack of transparency among district leaders, the overwhelming emphasis on test prep, and too many inexperienced people with no knowledge of Lawrence in positions of leadership.
And a final question that really is fiercely urgent
Which brings us to today’s final question, and for once it really is fiercely urgent. Does it matter that so many education reform efforts, including the one currently underway in Lawrence, are being led by people with no direct connection to the communities they’re in? Lorena German thinks it does. In fact, she gives that disconnect as one of her main reasons for leaving. *When you’re emotionally invested in the future of a place, you have a different measure of what success means. This is about so much more than test scores and high school graduation rates. This is about whether students in Lawrence are being equipped to succeed or whether they’re being set up for failure. Student success directly impacts the success of the community. If students leave, do well and then come back here, that shows up in the city. I’m not sure that people who are disconnected from the community really care about that.*
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