What really went down in Massachusetts last week…
It seems like only yesteryear that an extraordinary amount of money and influence was lining up behind the long-suffering public school students of the Bay State. But last week state senators overwhelmingly declined to doff the *cap of excellence.* Wha happened??? And are there important lessons for us to ignore from what happened? (Like that making thin-skinned white guys the irritable face of a movement that’s supposed to be about low-income kids might not have been the smartest move…) Strap yourself in, reader, because it’s time for the official EduShyster cap the cap recap.
Pale, male and stale
Can we just start by acknowledging that making entitled suburban men who are both white skinned and extraordinarily thin skinned the most visible *shoutsmen* on behalf of poor minority students was a dud? Fine—I’ll name names. I’m talking about this guy, this guy, and of course, my one true love, this guy.
Just say no
If there’s one thing the kids hate it’s compromise. Which is why the Massachusetts charter lobby seems to have made the nonnegotiable decision early on—and stuck to it—that any compromise was completely unacceptable. Their nonnegotiable position on nonnegotiating on behalf of the kids only seemed to harden as the endless process of trying to reach a deal on Beacon Hill dragged on. In other words: teachers unions.
It takes balls
As my friends at the Pioneer Institute would surely say (once plied with strong drink), you can’t have a canon (or a cannon) without balls. While Cap Cap 2014 is being spun as a battle between teachers unions v. long-suffering public school students, the real fight was between Stale, Pale, Male Inc and some extraordinarily tough lady senators, like Senator Pat Jehlen and, yes, Sonia Chang-Diaz, I speak of you. For the past 6 (600?) months, SC-D has had the unbelievably thankless task of trying to craft a compromise to satisfy her constituents—who include Boston parents on both sides of the charter divide—her Senate colleagues and the charter lobby, whose official position has been that any compromise was completely unacceptable. In other words: poison pill.
It soon became obvious to all, especially the angry white men charged with (and charging for) speaking up for the kids, that the chair of the Senate education committee had to be a tool of the teachers unions. Which is actually pretty funny because it’s a pretty poorly kept secret, by which I mean no secret at all, that Sonia Chang-Diaz has no particular love for teachers unions. (In fact, I once spent a somewhat *awkward* hour experiencing this lack of love for myself as I interviewed her for the AFT newspaper I used to edit.)
Blue state blues
It can be hard to convey to my peeps out there with blue state envy that one-party rule is still oppressive, even if your one-party rulers are donkeys. A typical debate on Beacon Hill starts and ends with a single question: what does the powerful Speaker (pronounced Speakah) of the House want? In fact, when state representatives passed their version of a bill to raise the charter cap earlier this year, it had less to do with the merits of the bill than with the fact that Mistah Speakah likes chahters (and *career readiness* for his pals, but that’s a story for a different day). Unusually, the senators who voted overwhelmingly last week against the cap lift were instructed by Senate President Therese Murray to *vote their conscience,* which they appear to have done…
What’s a constituent?
Quick: what’s the difference between holding elected office and being a *thought leader* with a single, well-funded thought? Well that was easy—the first comes with actual constituents. A super-sized shout out to the Boston parents of QUEST, students from the YOUNG coalition and others who were relentless in helping senators across the state see that, while the land of no trade offs may look great in the brochures, it doesn’t actually exist.
The end game
The big question that weighed on the minds of senators last week wasn’t the typical *charter schools: great or greatest?* but *what’s the end game?* Here’s how Lowell’s Eileen Donahue put it: *Are we going to have a 50 percent charter system and 50 percent public schools?* Having just returned from the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas, perhaps I can be of assistance here. Charter advocates and their deep-pocketed backers want everything. They want your cities, and your suburbs, and your rural areas don’t look too shabby either for that matter.
We’ve got time for one quick test question before we go. Other than the dimming of charter mania, might there be something else that this week’s Senate vote signaled? If you answered *testing fatigue* you would be right. In fact, the Bay State has come down with such a serious case of the stuff that a recent poll of business leaders found that their top critique of the state’s public schools was too much standardized testing. (The same poll, by the way, found that lifting the charter cap ranked down near the bottom of the business community’s preferences.) Add to the mix a messy back and forth over how best to determine what actually constitutes a low-performing district and, well, Cap Cap 2014 is starting to add up.
By any measure of measurable impact, it’s been a tough year for some of our favorite local education reform groups. There was the time Stand for Children attempted to purchase a mayoral candidate—who hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Then DFER Mass. once again placed its money on the wrong horse: the white guy from Southie whose last news-making event involved objecting to the Bay State’s first Haitian-American state senator hosting the annual St. Patrick’s breakfast before boldly marching in the St. Patty’s day parade—boycotted by virtually every other politician in the state due to the exclusion of gay marchers. You know what these #edreform groups could use a little of, reader? That’s right: *competition.* Which is why I am so excited that yet another Walton-funded reform group is about to set up shop in Boston. Welcome, Families for Excellent Schools!
Changing of the guard
Cap Cap 2014 wasn’t the only big edu-development in the Bay State this week. Barbara Madeloni officially took over as the head of the 120,000 member Mass. Teachers Association. One of BMad’s first acts in office was to ask members to contact their senators and urge them to vote against raising the cap. Word is that some of them actually did.