Entries by Jim Stergios

A first for the Board of Education

Yes, it is truly an — ahem — independent Board of Education. Yes, we will continue to hope that it will continue to be objective. Cough, cough. The SABIS proposal for a regional school to be located in Brockton was recommended by the Commissioner of Education and Department of Education staff.  Unlike many other states, Massachusetts has a strong application process that weeds out weak applications. This protects public dollars and has given the Commonwealth the best charters in the country. The proposed SABIS school was to serve 500 students to start and grow by a grade a year until it served 1300 students.  SABIS is a known entity in Massachusetts. It runs a successful charter school in Springfield.  Just […]

Nice job by Regional Planning Agencies

Kudos to the state’s planning agencies for coming together to do a great service for communities and businesses statewide. The Massachusetts Association of Regional Planning Agencies has cobbled together the basic premises for effective local permitting in its A Best Practices Model for Streamlined Local Permitting. The document lays out ways to improve communication, standardize procedures and how to implement expedited permitting for select sites, per legislation (Ch. 43D) passed in 2006. Timely and helpful work.

Two connections are missing

In a number of articles in the Boston press on the Governor’s plan to pump $40+ million into biotech firm Shire (The Globe’s Todd Wallack and AP) and on the forward movement of the $1 billion biotech plan (The Globe’s Matt Viser and the Herald’s Christine McConville), two connections are missing. Sure, the “picking winners and losers” trope is being heard, though not with the seriousness it requires. It should be noted that during a recent Joint Committee on Long-Term Debt hearing on the biotech bill, the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Dan O’Connell noted that the state might even consider investing in certain companies if the state could hold a stake in the company… Guys, if you want […]

ED Hirsch on education in Massachusetts

I’ve always been a little perplexed by the claims that teaching to the test is “narrowing” the curriculum and thereby not giving kids access to a liberal arts education.  The fact is if a student cannot read, do math or perform at a minimal level in science, it is hard to believe that he or she will be able to access a liberal arts education. And, in fact, Massachusetts is known nationwide for having the curriculum frameworks — the basic material from which the MCAS is drawn — that have the strongest academic content.   Don’t ask me.  See an op-ed in the WaPo entitled The Knowledge Connection from education guru E.D. Hirsch. Language comprehension is a slow-growing plant. Even […]

The Dome does not get it

But Steve Bailey does. Not because he mentions Pioneer’s work in yesterday’s column on business costs and unemployment insurance (UI), but because he is the one reporter who understands that the freeze on UI does absolutely nothing to reduce the cost of UI. As Bailey summarizes: Freezing the rate is a little like skipping a credit card payment – eventually the bill comes due. As with your credit card, the way to cut your bill is to cut your spending. Bailey noted earlier in his piece that the Legislature, cowed by labor, has shown no appetite about doing anything about the underlying costs. Right you are, again, Mr. Bailey. The UI rate freeze was passed without a roll-call vote to […]

Chinatown bus

I know there have been, let’s call it, some issues with the Chinatown bus service. I liked when it was called Sunshine Tours, or similar. Sure, there are more comfortable (and some, ahem!, safer) ways of going to NY. But my daughter, Teruha, and I used to like going to NY, with the styrofoam coolers of eels, scampi and fish heads in the aisles. Were those scampi? Were they what the Italians call aragostelle (whip lobsters)? For a picture of the February esoteric culinary reference, see below, for a great place to eat them see here, and for an unorthodox recipe see here). Then there are the passengers, for example, the Chinese women of a “certain age”, as the French […]

Concentrating poverty in our cities

The Globe reports in “Warehouse for the Poor” that Holyoke and other cities in Western Massachusetts are serving as destination cities for the poor and homeless, who are nudged there by the state agencies. Holyoke’s homeless shelters can accommodate four times the number of families per capita than homeless shelters in Boston. And when shelters are full in other places, the state Department of Transitional Assistance sends homeless families to shelters with open spots, often in Holyoke. Last year, 40 families from the Boston metropolitan area were referred to Holyoke, Sullivan said. “Our goal is to place families as close to the local office as possible, based on the availability of units,” said Alison Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the state […]

Milwaukee Voucher Students Have Diploma Edge

Thanks to the folks at the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition for passing on word of a study reported in Ed Week. Perhaps you will remember a series of stories a few months back on on a study of Milwaukee’s “school choice” program. The study supposedly stated that parents did not use the choice opportunity significantly. Slight problem with that study and the reporting: The survey did NOT include parents in the Milwaukee choice program… Hmm, golly, reporters getting a story wrong. Shocked. Yes, shocked. Well, EdWeek gets this one right in an article entitled “Milwaukee Voucher Students Have Diploma Edge.” Students who participate in Milwaukee’s private-school-voucher program graduate from high school at significantly higher rates than those who attend regular […]

Progressive idea? Regressive in practice

That health care benefits are provided through employers for the most part as a pre-tax benefit is the most regressive kind of tax policy around. Let me get this straight: I work and therefore can pay taxes, and I get my health care benefits, which are really a form of compensation, free of tax. But then there are people who are without a job temporarily (or worse) or work for a company that does not sponsor their health care, and that person has to pay taxes on the coverage they purchase? So the folks who are better off get health care pre-tax and the employer can deduct the cost, but folks who purchase their own coverage have to buy it […]

Change or Die

Vermont Technical College President Ty J. Handy, in the Winter 2008 New England Journal of Higher Education, writes an interesting article (Differentiate or Die”) about the future of New England higher education. His argument is that, given the significant decrease in the number of students coming out of the K-12 “pipeline” in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the smaller decline in Rhode Island, and the static population in Massachusetts, New England colleges and universities will have to differentiate their brands to appeal to people farther and wider. The numbers are pretty depressing for ME, NH and VT. They are not great for the other New England states (see below). But what leapt off the page was what the demographic trends […]

Tough fight but they are right

Lenore and Skip Schloming of the Small Property Owners Association play in rough waters, where landlords are seen as the Grand Exploiters. SPOA represents folks who own 5, 10, maybe 50 units and don’t get the big state support enjoyed by big developers. They’re essentially small business owners, many of whom buy in urban areas because they can build up equity and grow. In addition to fighting back on ever-more ingenious attempts to reinstate rent control, SPOA is pushing some ideas that make eminent sense–and could actually do something for the low-income market and the homeless. First, from a recent newsletter: Officials and nonprofit leaders keep pursuing the same old housing strategy for the poor–try to get more tax money […]

The 100,000 student mark

A number of states have now reached or are approaching the 100,000 student mark in terms of enrollment at charter schools. Arizona with its 500 charter schools Texas with its almost 300 charter schools California has over 200,000 students with its 600-plus charter schools Florida with its 350 charter schools Michigan with its 250 charter schools Ohio is approaching 100,000 students with its 300-plus charters With the number of charter schools in places like LA, DC, Detroit, and New Orleans growing fast, they are increasingly a key part of the urban education landscape. Consider that almost two-thirds of New Orleans’ students are now in charters, and that they constitute the following percentage of students in other cities: Dayton, OH: 28% […]

A taste of feuds to come

It is interesting to view from afar what is happening with other governors. If you want to get a taste of the fight to come on pricey new proposals, the appetite for new revenues and dependence on casinos as a cure-all, read a report by Steve Stanek of Budget & Tax News reports on Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. The Illinois General Assembly in 2007 was supposed to finish its business in May, but seven months later lawmakers remained in session to wrestle with mass transit funding in Chicago and the surrounding counties. Political observers say the record overtime session was due at least in part to personal animosities between Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and key lawmakers. As the Italians […]

Why go down this road again

More on the Patrick administration’s moves to gut education reform. The Patrick proposal creates a Secretary of Education. It gives the Secretary broad budgetary power, reducing the Commissioner of Education to being a department head. It stacks, packs and racks up the members of the Board, so that the power starts from the Governor, flows through the Secretary and leaves the Commissioner and Board to rubber stamp. Once upon a time, in a not far off time, the current Chairman of the Board, S. Paul Reville, did not think this such a good idea. For the full testimony see here. The testimony was provided in June 2003, when a previous Governor proposed a weak Secretary (no real budgetary power, no […]

To tell the Whole Truth, Nothing but the Truth

Some people have noted that Pioneer is overstating the risk to education gains posed by the Governor’s proposal to “pack the board.” Some even take exception with the term “pack” which clearly refers to FDR’s notorious attempt to jam through legislation that could not pass muster at the Supreme Court. Well, none other than Governor Patrick’s pick to be Chairman of the Board of Education has opined against the major elements of the Governor’s plan: “So, Horace Mann and generations of subsequent leaders in the State House saw fit, for well over a century, to insulate educational policy from the ebb and flow of politics. This as accomplished by putting some distance between the chief policy making entity, the Board […]

MATCH School inspires my home town

The Mayor of my home town (Cumberland, RI), Daniel McKee, is engaged in a very interesting experiment. As Ed Week noted, if McKee: and a coalition of other Rhode Island town leaders have their way, they’ll ditch public education’s current bureaucracy and start over with a clean slate. It’s just not clear yet exactly what they will be able to write on it. The plan, as Mr. McKee and his Coalition of Communities Improving Rhode Island were planning to announce it late last week, is to set up a regional, mayorally headed network of charter schools—something that charter school experts say has never been attempted in quite the way the coalition is proposing. Yes, the Cumberland teachers union rep is […]

A bit like asking if we should build the South Coast rail link

A friend on Friday mentioned her visit to infamous Gravina Island. Ah, Gravina Island, you ask. Pray tell, where is that? You may recall a certain Bridge To Nowhere. You may also remember that at the end of the summer Governor Palin from her perch in the fair capital city, Juneau (yes, that is the capital), decided not to push for the construction of the BTN, thereby putting the $200+ million to use on other highways and bridges in the Last Frontier State. You may also recall that the BTN was to have run from the balmy (for Alaska) city of Ketchikan (pop. 8,000) to Gravina Island (home to 50 permanent residents). What I did not know was that the […]

Green Dots in LA and now in NYC

Steve Barr has become a lightning rod for many in LA and now also in NYC (and here infecting UFT chief Randi Weingarten) as he works with the State University of New York to open up a Green Dot school in the South Bronx. What union opponents (and it is not everyone) don’t seem to get about Green Dot schools is that the formula is very attractive to many teachers.  Especially younger teachers, many of whom would otherwise leave the teaching profession. Attractive?  Why?  Site-based management means teachers and principals have authority over 80-90 cents of each budget dollar, over curricula, and over work rules.  As a result,  decisions are made closer to the student and are more relevant to […]

Noble rhetoric, base motives

Wrap Gov. Patrick’s proposal to overhaul public education governance in whatever rhetoric you want, at its core, his plan is about taking control of the Board of Education. His plan, simply put, is to give the Urban Superintendents, Mass Association of Superintendents, the Mass Association of School Committees and the Mass Teachers Association what they have been clamoring for the past decade.  Reminder to all: These are all a really nice bunch of well-meaning people who never forget to mention the children when they talk about their own interests, which are control, control, control and, hmm, control… in that order. They’ve had enough of the pressure to change business as usual. That pressure comes from the state’s accountability system, competition […]

Mother’s wisdom

I am visiting my mom, who is really nice. Hard to believe, huh? Apple falls far from the tree in this case. We are enjoying a coffee and leafing through Roxbury Prep Charter School (a public middle school) annual report. First, how many district schools provide an annual report as clear as the one distributed by the Roxbury Prep Charter School? How many focus as clearly on results? On values? Harumph. The MCAS results are important and inspiring. Consider the following comparisons on the Math portion of the MCAS: Boston District students are proficient in the following percentages for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders: 29, 26 and 27 percent, respectively. (Not a good trend line, for the math-phobic.) Massachusetts District […]

NEA dollars at work for whom?

This is a long one. But if you like following the money, it is pretty interesting. A friend passed on an analysis of the National Education Association’s financial disclosure report for 2006-7. And you wonder why certain special interests support higher taxes and government largesse to the non-profit sector. As you read this list of advocacy groups who received funding from the NEA, remember that Pioneer takes no money from government sources and therefore can be objective about how to improve government. We don’t take your money via government and that’s why we ask for your support. The [NEA] nearly tripled its contributions [to advocacy groups] from the previous fiscal year. The expenditures include a host of payments connected with […]

One reason we do not pay teachers more

Passed on by a friend is the shocking bulge in hiring for grades K-8: In the past year, there were 52,000 new K-8 students nationwide, and 42,500 new K-8 teachers hired. The National Education Association today released its annual report, Rankings and Estimates: Rankings of the States 2006 and Estimates of School Statistics 2007… Teacher hiring is completely out of control. Yes, believers in the eternal teacher shortage, you read that correctly. A trend that was obvious after last year’s edition of Rankings and Estimates is now glaring. The last of the Baby Boomer’s kids are working their way through high school and they are not being replaced. NEA estimates that K-12 enrollment grew by only 0.3 percent in 2006-07, […]

Urban education on the move… elsewhere

Passed on by Whitney Tilson of Democrats for Education Reform: Some great news from Washington DC — and by a 10-3 vote! (courtesy of the Center for Education Reform): The Council of the District of Columbia approved the Public Education Personnel Reform Act late this afternoon, 10-3, after several hours of deliberations. The act would give D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee the authority to turn around the district, including cutting ineffective or unproductive personnel in central administration. A majority of the Council embraced this historical landmark reform, recognizing the need for drastic change within the D.C. Public School System. This act shall take effect after final approval by Mayor Adrian Fenty and a 30-day period of Congressional review. In DC they […]

Rehabbing Urban Redevelopment

This report surveys 14 Massachusetts cities outside the immediate Boston metropolitan market, which other studies have identified as “weak market” or “gateway” cities. While useful designations, this report employs the term “Middle Cities.”

Government Effectiveness Index: A Cross-State Survey

The central objective of the Government Effectiveness Index (GEI) is to assess how Massachusetts is doing in comparison to other states. It seeks to provide measures of effectiveness based on the efficient use of resources (inputs as a function of quantity or output) and on performance outcomes (quality of output). It does so in regard to eight “core” functions of state government (functions common to most states): K-12 education, higher education, highways, transit, state police, the judiciary, corrections, and financial administration.