Holy State Takeover!

Nine state takeover takeaways (because I ran out of time before I could come up with #10)

HolyokeWell that certainly didn’t take long. The official state takeover time piece barely registered two hours and the Holyoke Public Schools had officially entered a new state: taken over. If you are keeping count at home, that’s about half as long as the public hearing that preceded the vote, during which some 1,000 + Holyokesters, including some who stood for four hours, packed a hall to register their objections to the state’s takeover plans. In other words, nothing to see or hear here folks, especially, it seems, if you were one of the ten members of the state’s 12 member Board of Education who didn’t actually visit a single Holyoke school prior to casting your vote…

One Holyoke
First, can we just acknowledge the extraordinary display on state takeover eve, when residents of a city so divided that whites live up in the Heights while Latinos live in the Flats, came together to oppose the state’s plans? But where you and I saw a standing-room-only crowd and overwhelming opposition, members of the state Board of Education seemed to see something different. Board chair Paul Sagan saw a *data point,* as well as the many theoretical community members who silently supported the state’s takeover but declined to join the two actual community members who spoke in favor of the state takeover at the hearing. Note: if you are watching from the comfort of your own state-run district, you will recognize a familiar turnaround trope. As for this guy, Dennis Birks, who raised the roof with his impassioned defense of his city and its schools, I don’t think we’ve seen, or heard, the last of him…

walkout holyokeStudents matter
For once I managed to type those words with straight fingers. How about a shoutout to the students who walked out of Holyoke High School to protest the state takeover? Or this valedictorian, who manages in three and a half minutes to explain the utter nonsensicality of the state’s policy on teaching the students-still-learning English who make up 30% of the student body in Holyoke. And most especially, this student: Donald Willyard, the Board’s sole student member, who took it upon himself to take the unusual step of taking a trip to see Holyoke’s schools prior to voting on whether to take them over. Which he voted against.

Getting fired and having to reapply for your job are not the same thing
Can we just be clear about that? Also, enough with the fearmongering career pathalready. There will be no mass firing of teachers in Holyoke. OK—so you will all be expected to be reapplying for your jobs, and if our experience in Lawrence is any guide, one third of you will throw in the towel right away while the rest will move on to less *disruptive* settings shortly thereafter. In other words, the state’s takeover of the Holyoke schools is a great opportunity for teachers who want to take over vacant teaching positions. Like the 11 current openings at Holyoke’s Morgan Elementary, which the state handed to an outside operator last year.

This is Holyoke’s Katrina moment
Remember when the takeover mobile arrived in Lawrence, and this guy kept talking about Lawrence’s Katrina moment, and some of us, like me, for example, were all *that is a really inappropriate metaphor*? Alas, the Katrina krewe is now running the show. Like this guy, our new Secretary of Education, seen here waxing lyrical about the schools that Katrina built, and the beauty of the *un-district* with it’s un-unionized teachers.

MillionairesDemocracy costs money
That’s right young Holyokester: Democracy ain’t free. If you want a say over your schools it’s going to cost you. Just how much? Well definitely more than $19,968, which is the per capita income in Holyoke. And absolutely more than $16,987, which is the per capita income in Lawrence. It’s a well known true fact that millionaires love democracy, which is why they tend to cluster in state takeover free zones like Dover and Weston.

But turning around school districts doesn’t
Speaking of money, did you hear the one about how the state received extra excellent outcomes for the Lawrence Public Schools without spending any extra money? It isn’t close to being true, as sister blogger, Twitter heroine and Worcester School Committee member Tracy Novick documents, imploring Secretary of Education James Peyser to *stop reading press releases and start reading spreadsheets.* Which he apparently ignored as he makes the same easily debunkable claim here. In fact, even residents of the Nutmeg State got a chance to learn about Lawrence’s no extra money miracle recently…

Poverty isn’t an excuse
I’m just going to type that one more time, reader, in case you missed one of the many times that Brothers Peyser, Sagan and Chester either stated that claim outright or implied the same. Poverty. Isn’t. An. Excuse. Got it? Also, there are these amazing charter schools that can work miracles without having to do anything about the kind of concentrated poverty that plagues the likes of Holyoke. Like the Mystic Valley Charter School beloved by Brothers Peyser and Sagan which has solved the problem of persistent low performance by students-still-learning-English by not enrolling any of those students.

BrightFrom no news to good news
As my blogging friend forever Tracy Novick has pointed out, the paucity of news coverage about education issues in Massachusetts in general and Holyoke in particular has been nothing short of, well, alarming. Which is why it’s such great news that the Boston Globe is teaming up with the Gates Foundation and Bright to bring us *rigorous,* solutions-focused topics in education today—like state takeovers, and charter schools. You see reader, we know what works, because we’ve been reading about it in the Globe for years.

Watch your back, Chelsea
You know what solution works great for school districts that enroll high concentrations of poor students and English language learners? State takeovers! Which means it’s already time to start thinking about where to turn the turnaround vehicle next. Any guesses?

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  1. All props to Tracy Novick and her amazing Twittering thumbs – she has been the equivalent of Revere and Dawes, broadcasting to citizens across the Commonwealth that the privatizers are coming.

    The ideologues are in charge and we are in an evidence-free zone. The listening tour to Holyoke and that now underway in Fitchburg on the topic of MCAS vs PARCC are NOT hearing tours. The deal is done, voices of those taxed are ignored. But it isn’t over. Patriots Day was just last week and were are reminded that like public education, the Revolution began here. 700 British troops vs. 77 farmers.

    As to Chelsea – John Silber (he and Peyser were BFF’s) went there and did that, and BU folded its tent and pulled out after 20 years. As in Lawrence, some money went in, but only for a while, though consultants made bank and political careers were advanced. UMass Dartmouth published an excellent study on the Chelsea model which included this salient observation:

    “Perhaps most importantly, there is a growing awareness that the school district doesn’t own the problem; that it is a community problem, and it will take the entire community’s resources and willpower to address the needs of its youth in a proactive and effective way. The growing community collaborations with outside agencies and non-profit organizations have already begun to show promise as a major reform strategy.”

    Though we are in an evidence free zone, here’s the reference:

    One other thing, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that one of the first things the state does is eliminate the dual language program from Holyoke’s schools. 79% of kids in the schools are Latino (the majority of them Puerto Ricans, thus American citizens) and 48% are identified as having English as a second language. But those running the department of ed see bilingualism as a deficit. (They were SHOCKED! when one of Holyoke’s City Council members began her remarks at the hearing in Spanish.) The Dever elementary school in Boston was taken over by the state earlier this school year. The very first thing the charter operator did was eliminate the successful dual language program. Of course, linguists know that the only way to build literacy is to begin with the child’s first language. Repeat after me, evidence free zone!

    The fact of a large Puerto Rican population in Holyoke matters. (At the Dever, too, many of the families are Puerto Rican.) As citizens, many Puerto Ricans transit between the island and the mainland due to family and employment factors (again, poverty – when there’s no work, you go back to live with abuelita). Children who move between school systems must be fluent in both languages to flourish academically, as public schools in Puerto Rico are conducted in Spanish. Being bilingual is a necessity and the argument of “if they want to live here, they need to learn English” holds no water when compared with the obligation of the state to provide a free, appropriate education to its citizens.

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