Monday, April 4, 2011
By John Schneider
Secretary of Education Paul Reville is quoted in today’s Boston Globe story about underperforming schools, “It’s a lot of hard work ahead. There are no magical cures.” We agree, and with 71 percent of Gateway City students attending a level 3 or 4 school, and with 23 underperforming schools in a Gateway City—10 in Springfield alone—we have no time to lose.
However, I worry that there is not the sense of urgency at the local level that improvement is needed now. For example, in a poll we conducted earlier this year, about half of Gateway City voters graded their schools as B or better. And few Gateway Cities have organized civic groups keeping an eye on schools, providing the external pressure necessary to school reform.
One exception is Worcester where the Worcester Education Collaborative is engaging the community in efforts to improve schools. We need to develop more of these kinds of organizations who work to engage the community—including the business sector—in strategic efforts to improve schools. It is not a magic cure. But schools alone can’t (or won’t) make the tough changes that are needed without outside pressure from community leaders. Gateway City United Ways should take the lead here.
Gateway Cities also need help recruiting innovative national nonprofit organizations that support local education reform. For example, City Year is providing tutors for the Boston public schools. That’s great—so why not Lawrence as well? ACCESS and Stand for Children are two nonprofit organizations that are expanding into Gateway Cities. But they can’t do it alone.
One school district not on the list is Brockton. I believe one reason why is the city’s commitment to using the MCAS program to change the culture of its schools (see CW’s Michael Jonas’s interview with the principal of Brockton High Schools here). It can be done. But, as BHS principal Susan Szachowicz says when asked how they did it:
The first answer I always give is: hard work, hard work, hard work. On the part of everybody—the teachers, the administrators, the students. It really has been a concerted effort.
This was no fast pirouette. This was a slow progression of change. The group that led this change was a group of teachers and administrators that were on our restructuring committee. And it started after the [MCAS] scores came out in 1998 and we had a 44 percent failure rate in English and a 75 percent failure rate in math. And then the scores didn’t get better. In fact, they actually got worse in math.
While we work to improve Gateway City schools, let’s not forget that room exists for charter schools to expand into these cities. Gateway City parents deserve more choices too, and charter schools are part of the answer. For those threatened by charter schools, the innovation school model might is another alternative. At our recent Gateway Cities Education Summit, Gov. Patrick was pretty clear: “I challenge you to be bold…to try something new.” Once again, we agree.