Why don’t poor minority students get to have public schools?
It’s time for yet another edition of our long-running reality series, As the School Turns. In today’s episode, we’re heading to Roxbury, Massachusetts, home of the Dearborn STEM Academy, for a fresh take on a now familiar saga. Let’s call it As the School Turns: $70 Million Dollar Listing. That’s right, viewer, we’re in spin-off territory, as in the Dearborn is literally being spun off to a private contractor. It’s been a long season, full of surprising twists and turns, sudden rule changes, last minute hurdles and some extremely questionable assertions. Now at last we’re down to the final two finalists. So which of our private operators will reign supreme after the votes are not cast? Let’s tune in and see.
First, the good news
Now if by chance you’ve yet to watch any of this season of As the School Turns: $70 Million Dollar Listing, here’s what you’ve missed so far. Things got off to a rousing start with the news that, after seven long seasons, the Dearborn STEM Academy was FINALLY going to get a brand new building. That sound you hear is the studio audience applauding wildly. You see, this was to be the first new public school building in Boston in more than a decade and would feature all sorts of cool STEM stuff, like state-of-the-art science, technology and engineering labs. This wasn’t just a feel good story, viewer, it was a feel great story as the $70 million project symbolized a major investment in Roxbury and in the future scientists, engineers and STEM-sters who live and go to school there.
Plot twist time
A happy ending, to be sure, but alas, this was what’s known in the biz as a *fake-out/fade-out,* in which a scene ends like the show is over, only to jump back in with plot-twisting developments. Like the announcement that Boston’s first new school building in more than a decade would no longer be a Roxbury neighborhood school but a city-wide charter school to be run by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, and which students would have to enter via a lottery. Suddenly the feel great story looked more like a made-for TV mystery with all sorts of perplexing puzzles—like where would the Dearborn’s Cape Verdean students be packed off to next? And why was it that alternate endings, like making the Dearborn a Roxbury community school, seemed to have been rejected in advance? Oh, and who thought it was a great idea to warehouse the existing Dearborn students on a single floor of the crumbling Burke High School building while the debate plays out over the best way to brighten the futures of future Dearborn students?
But wait, there’s more
But the season still wasn’t quite over. Faced with strong viewer backlash, the Boston Public Schools suddenly called for re-writes. The Dearborn would not be going full charter starting in 2015 but instead would get a new director in the form of a private operator who would be paid an unspecified amount to run the school. This was essential, BPS officials explained, because without a new director, the state’s executive producer of educational outcomes, Mitchell D. Chester, would likely step in and hand the Dearborn over to a private operator who would be paid an unspecified amount to run the school. The best part of all? There would be an element of audience participation as students, parents and Roxburians could weigh in on essential questions, like *who should manage your school?* *What are the qualities you look for in a private operator?* Or *what kind of private operator would you like to see running the Dearborn 6-12 STEM Academy in 2015-2016?* There was even a cool social media component where audience members could share their thoughts on Twitter with a special #OurDearborn hashtag.
Welcome Chicagoland viewers
If by chance you happen to be viewing this show from, say, Chicago, you’re probably feeling like this is a repeat. You see, on Chicago’s South Side a very similar battle has been playing out over the future of Dyett High School, the last open-enrollment high school in Bronzeville. After the Chicago Public Schools announced plans to close the school, students, parents and community leaders fought back, putting forward their own story line: for a community-based plan to make Dyett a neighborhood STEM school. And just like in Boston, officials in Chicago blinked. Dyett can stay open, but there’s a catch: a private operator will be brought in to run the school. Community organizer Jitu Brown—take it away. *Why can’t we have public schools? Why do low-income minority students need to have their schools run by private contractors?* As Brown sees it, handing the school to a private operator isn’t much better than closing it. *We want this school to anchor the community for the next 75 years. We’re not interested in a short-term contract that can be broken.*
Why can’t we have public schools? Why do low-income minority students need to have their schools run by private contractors? —Jitu Brown, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.
Meet the final finalists
Meanwhile, back in Boston, no one seemed to be asking—or answering—this *awkward* question. Instead, As the School Turns: $70 Million Dollar Listing was hurtling towards its penultimate episode: the selection of the final finalist to take over the Dearborn. Would the final finalist be the Boston Plan for Excellence, the rapidly expanding outfit behind the original excellent plan to convert the Dearborn into a city-wide charter school? Or would it be the Mass. Prep Network, which embraces the *broken windows* approach to schooling that is increasingly controversial in other cities, but has plenty of super fans here in Beantown? (Note for example the fate that awaits young STEMsters who talk in the laboratory…) In other words, anything could happen, if by anything you mean that a private contractor will be chosen to run the Dearborn like a charter school with a STEM focus. STEM, by the way, now stands for *students taking English and math,* the only ratings that matter with this particular show.
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