Entries by Jim Stergios

A few thoughts on the new Boston school superintendent

Recently on Greater Boston, when asked his appraisal of the final candidates for Boston superintendent, former state education secretary Paul Reville sniffed that it was a weak lot.  I don’t often agree with Paul, given that under his leadership Massachusetts went from among the fastest improving states on the Nation’s Report Card to stagnant (and declining in early grade reading), the state ditched the US History MCAS graduation requirement, he and the commissioner politicized what was a pretty objective charter school approval process… I could go on but in the great Greek tradition of “let bygones be bygones,” I feel like after you get a few digs in, you must leave more for another day. Reville was right on the pool […]

Tocqueville on the threat of a mild despotism

Pioneer focuses on four policy issues that we believe are critical to making Massachusetts freer and more prosperous — a world-class education for all, accessible and affordable health care, government that can do big things but is not overweening, and a dynamic economy. That’s the mission, but the mission is informed by a deep belief in a republican form of democracy (both small r and small d) and a standard issue copy of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America on the night table. Bedtime reading brought me to a passage in Volume II that is both powerful and worthy of reflection.  Not because of this or that individual law, but because of, if you will, the accumulation, the “network of small complicated rules, […]

Getting our priorities straight on the BCEC and the MBTA

Scot Lehigh and Shirley Leung in the Globe today both focused attention on the idea of, as Lehigh put it, “tak[ing] the $1 billion in bonding bandwidth it last year dedicated to expanding the Boston Convention Center & Exhibition Center and instead apply[ing] it to helping improve the MBTA.” The background here is that at the end of January, Gov. Charlie Baker put the brakes on a $1 billion bond offering approved last summer to pay for expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC).  The Governor ordered a two-month delay so his finance team could address emergency 2015 budget issues while simultaneously preparing the governor’s 2016 budget proposal. Pioneer had long called for state leaders not to move […]

Getting our priorities straight on the BCEC and the MBTA

Scot Lehigh and Shirley Leung in the Globe today both focused attention on the idea of, as Lehigh put it, “tak[ing] the $1 billion in bonding bandwidth it last year dedicated to expanding the Boston Convention Center & Exhibition Center and instead apply[ing] it to helping improve the MBTA.” The background here is that at the end of January, Gov. Charlie Baker put the brakes on a $1 billion bond offering approved last summer to pay for expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC).  The Governor ordered a two-month delay so his finance team could address emergency 2015 budget issues while simultaneously preparing the governor’s 2016 budget proposal. Pioneer had long called for state leaders not to move […]

A run through the budget jungle

There were some protesters outside the press conference where Baker discussed his FY2016 budget proposal this afternoon.  But the fact is there is not much to protest here. This budget is characterized by lots of programs level funded.  I understand that some advocates want much more funding for their specific program of interest, but the pain, to the extent that there is any, is spread across all areas of government.  And it is worth remembering that the budget is increasing by $1.1 billion dollars, or 3 percent, to $38 billion total. Notwithstanding that growth in the budget, the administration still needs some big moves to make revenues match up with spending.  Going into the budgeting process, the estimated shortfall in revenues […]

Working from facts on the crisis at the MBTA

With all eyes on the MBTA, it is probably to be expected that dueling visions would emerge on a Thursday afternoon, just after the noon hour, as to what ails the T and how to fix the Authority.  That came in the form of a Public Statement from Pioneer and a report from the group Transportation for Massachusetts (MASSPIRG, Conservation Law Foundation). I had a chance to speak with Kirstie Pecci of MASSPIRG on WGBH’s Greater Boston  about the challenges faced by the T.  Good conversation, but a few clarifications would be helpful. The T is important to the Greater Boston area, but really services as an essential cog in the role of the Hub across Massachusetts and the region.  […]

What’s driving the state’s budget gap?

With 2015 revenues off by a sliver ($18 million), the state is facing a $750 million hole in the budget.  My friend at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Noah Berger, notes that tax cuts in the 1990s led to decreased state revenues on the order of $3 billion. I find his view unconvincing for a number of reasons, including the fact that those tax cuts were part of changing the brand and the reality of living and doing business in Massachusetts.  Notwithstanding my own view that taxes (and the regulatory costs of doing business) are too high in the state, it is really hard today to assail the state with the worn slur of Taxachusetts.  The change in brand and […]

A tax on accumulated wealth?

Pioneers tend to be people who read words carefully.  When the president speaks, we listen.  And in the State of the Union, there was one sentence that stuck out.  He said, “ Let’s close loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.” Does anyone have a clear sense what this means?  Clearly, what the president has in mind is not a change in taxes on earnings.  Is the implication that he is looking at end-of-life taxes?   That wouldn’t be likely given the political downsides during an upcoming election cycle.  Is it a new tax?  The president’s is one of those odd locutions that didn’t just land there by accident. […]

Arne Duncan, fiction writer

News flash for Washington watchers!  Now we know what Arne Duncan will do once his service as US Education Secretary comes to an end.  In the Boston Globe on Monday, he demonstrated a flair for fiction, with a panegyric to Gov. Patrick’s stewardship of education policy.  My reaction is posted here and at the Globe’s Podium section: Who says Common Core advocates don’t like fiction?  In his Globe opinion piece (Under Deval Patrick, Mass. has led the nation in education, January 5), US Education Secretary Arne Duncan got one fact right: Massachusetts leads the nation in education.  Attributing that progress to Gov. Patrick’s leadership is like suggesting that a pinch runner who finds himself on third base hit a triple. Massachusetts has led the […]

Thoughts on what everyone hates talking about (testing)

No one wants to talk about testing except the people that want to get rid of it.  Which leaves the field of debate on a critical aspect of education reform in pretty partial hands. Above all other states, Massachusetts should understand the important role of standardized testing. Former Senate President Tom Birmingham, chief architect of the state’s landmark 1993 Education Reform Act (ERA) has noted that in 1992 the sole state-imposed graduation requirements were “one year of American history and four years of gym.  The “absence of a comprehensive statewide system of standards,” he continued, “imposed real hardships on poor and minority school districts” given “society’s low expectations as to what their kids could learn.” The ERA changed all that, leading to the development of […]

BPS’ all-in adoption of PARCC is bad for kids, and is illegal

A front page article by Jamie Vaznis in the Boston Globe today carries the news that all lower-grade Boston district schools will drop the MCAS and adopt the new Common Core-aligned PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) test. Most Boston public schools would drop the MCAS next spring in favor of a new online testing system the state is trying out… The recommendation, being presented to the School Committee Wednesday night, would affect more than 22,000 Boston students in grades 3-8 who must take state standardized tests every spring. Tenth-graders would continue to take the MCAS, which remains a state graduation requirement. The most important consideration here should be the impact on learning and the pace […]

WGBH: METCO Matters As Never Before

Six decades ago, the Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision sought to ensure that all children had access to good educational institutions. With the civil rights movement’s continued emphasis on education as central to economic freedom, 48 years ago the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) desegregation program was established to serve Boston and Springfield. READ FULL ARTICLE ON WGBH

We Now Have a Smart Exit Strategy from Common Core

Rick Hess and Mike McShane back in the spring wrote in the National Review Online that At the end of March, Indiana became the first state to repeal the Common Core standards. The aftermath has not been pretty. And they were right.  Hess and McShane noted that Critics have raised valid concerns but failed to put forward a notion of what happens next. This is a problem. Common Core adoption meant that Indiana schools set in place not only new reading and math standards but also new tests, curricula, instructional materials, and teaching strategies. And the abrupt shift could be a train wreck for students and educators. Already back in 2011, Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation and a few others […]

Representative misrepresenting

Chalk this one up to elected officials representing people other than their constituents, Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke tells MassLive.com all the reasons why he opposed the charter school cap lift in the House a few weeks back. Vega was asked if he would have supported the House bill if his two favored amendments had been adopted. “I would be more inclined to,” said Vega. “But there are other issues around compensation for the teachers; they’re not unionized.” So, in Holyoke, where 734 schoolchildren are served in two schools, and where there are 324 schoolchildren on waitlists, he opposes the charter bill because, well, they need to be unionized.  Why is that? Yes, you know. In a wonderful demonstration of someone who […]

The Globe on Common Core and Poetry

It is not stereotyping poets to say that they burn with a particular passion.  Just as a biochemist has insatiable curiosity about living organisms, the ways in which genetic information gets stamped into DNA, nucleic acids and lipids, poets have a burning passion for creating worlds, images and associative metaphors and paradoxes with words.  They are believers in The Word. That’s why it may seem so unthinkable for a curmudgeonly poet like Philip Larkin to insist that his diaries be shredded and burned.  But of course, that is easily understood given that he likely saw himself as editing out unreadable stuff or at least stuff that others would use to reduce his poetry to “buggery,” as he’d put it. (Well, […]

A Fractured Testing Landscape

One of the benefits of waking up at 3 am to do some work is that you get to read everything without interruption from kids who have questions about their Common Core-aligned homework. EdWeek just emailed out this nifty map on the status of testing plans for states in the US. It interested me for a number of reasons but here is my list of four big takeaways: What will happen to the ever dwindling PARCC?  Nine states?  They started out with 25 states participating and now they are down to 9?  (Just a year ago, according to the USED, they stood at 19.)  How tenable with that be going forward given that with fewer states come fewer student customers and […]

Orchard Gardens Against the Machine

Yvonne Abraham’s column this week bemoaned the resignation of Andrew Bott from the Orchard Gardens School in Roxburyto take the helm of the K-8 Lincoln School in Brookline The column and most of the commentary I’ve heard focuses on why Mr. Bott, by all accounts an effective principal, is leaving. To the Boston public schools’ long list of woes, add this one: Andrew Bott is leaving. Bott is the principal of Orchard Gardens K-8, the Roxbury school that has become the shining, nationally recognized poster child for successful turnaround efforts. A few years ago, the school defined failure and faced a state takeover. Bott, equipped with a strong vision, federal funds, and autonomy to hire teachers, brought about staggering improvements […]

Building the Machine – a review

What is Common Core?  How did it start–and who drove it?  Are the standards high?  How will it change our understanding of authentic college-level work?  Are Common Core proponents well-intentioned?  Or are they DC office-sitters who’ve rarely had any direct impact on a school or classroom but who really believe that they deserve control of key levers of education policy?  What is the purpose of education?  These are the kinds of questions that make up the greater part of the storyline of  Building the Machine, a documentary film produced by the Home School Legal Defense Association. Let me start this movie review by donning my Roger Ebert hat (decidedly not the Pauline Kael scarf) and getting the movie buff comments out of the way: […]

South Coast Rail not the way to go

RESIDENTS OF MASSACHUSETTS’ South Coast believe their region hasn’t received the state investment it deserves. They’re right. The Big Dig vacuumed money away from transportation projects across Massachusetts. More recently, the South Coast has not been a major focus of recent bridge repair projects. And, today, efforts are underway to plan new mega-projects like expanding the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (already New England’s biggest building) at the expense of investments elsewhere in the state.  Read the full post on CommonWealth Online.

Detroit Breakdown

The New York Times today is reporting that Detroit is eligible to shed billions in debt in the largest public bankruptcy ever in the United States, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, while also finding that the public pensions could be reduced during reorganization despite a provision in Michigan’s Constitution. and that Under the ruling, the vastly diminished city… will be allowed to search for a way to pay off some portion of its debts and to restore essential services to tolerable levels under court supervision. The goal, according to Kevyn Orr, an emergency manager appointed by the state of Michigan, is to emerge from court protection next year with a formal plan for starting over. Beth Healy of the Boston Globe […]

Common Core, the Gettysburg Address & human intent

(H/t to Civil War Daily Gazette) History will always be a blurry image, whether in real time today, or our understanding of it in the past.  The picture above of President Lincoln at the platform in Gettysburg strikes me as powerful for all that I know and what I can only imagine of the scene and the moment in time. The battle of ideas over how we educate our young is moving fast.  The nationwide controversy about Common Core and what it means for kids in the classroom is now garnering hundreds of news articles (mainly negative) every week.  That is the result of mounting pressure from parents, teachers, and legislative staff regarding the the quality of the content and the […]

6 Takeaways on New Orleans’ charter initiative

Earlier this week, at a Pioneer forum we had the pleasure of hosting an impressive roster of speakers on the enormous shifts in the charter and school choice sectors in New Orleans and Washington DC.  Representing NOLA, we had Neerav Kingsland, the CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, who gave an overview of the student outcome data resulting from the significant expansion of charter schools in New Orleans post-Katrina, and Jed Horne, the author of  Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City. (Representing DC, we had former Mayor Adrian Fenty and University of Arkansas scholar Patrick Wolf, who has studied the impact of the DC Opportunity Opportunity Scholarship program for the federal […]

Who you calling dumb?

Calling your opponents “stupid” is the refuge of those who can’t be bothered to consider their arguments.  That is precisely what Bill Keller does in his New York Times piece on Common Core. There are certainly some who, as Keller writes, disapprove of anything President Obama supports.  As Keller notes there is indeed a “if-that-Kenyan-socialist-in-the-White-House-is-for-it-I’m-against-it crowd.” But driving to make our schools internationally competitive requires that we all (and that includes the at times very partisan Keller) put political friendships in the back seat.  There are those on the right and left who support Common Core — some are friends.  The same is true of the opposition. At Pioneer Institute, our focus for 25 years has been on getting education […]

Common Core is neither internationally benchmarked nor state-led

I have nothing against IHOP.  I eat there if there is nothing else better around.  But I wouldn’t take my kids there on a regular basis. The food may have the moniker of “international” but I don’t think that anyone actually believes that.  (It’s not even close to mom’s cooking.) Alas, the syrupy Common Core website dishes all kinds of nonsense about the national standards.  I’m glad to see that it wiped the website clean of its claim that Common Core was “internationally benchmarked.”   Many other proponents, such as the Foundation for Excellence in Education, say similar things (“benchmarked to top performing schools around the world”).  Interestingly, if you look at Common Core’s website today, their claim has been watered down […]

Brief take on the tax holiday

(from the Providence Journal) Tax holidays are fine.  I like feel-good events as much as the next guy.  But the fact is that they have little long-term impact on investment, business growth and job creation.  No business owner I know will hire anything more than temporary help for that one Sales Tax Holiday. Comparing the number of jobs in Massachusetts today to the number in 1990, one observes really no growth in jobs.  Meanwhile entire cities in Massachusetts have had over 10% unemployment for the last half a decade. What we need instead is a different approach to business – where we lower the costs compared to their competitors elsewhere and where we make it easier to hire people.  That’s […]

Some takeaways on FL Commissioner’s resignation

Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press (Indiana office) did some crack reporting on the question of how the A to F accountability system worked in Indiana.  What he dug up were emails that clearly showed troubling lapses in judgment on the part of former Indiana state superintendent of schools and current Florida commissioner of education Tony Bennett.  It is alleged that Dr. Bennett stayed on the case with his analysts until a school went from a C rating to a B rating ultimately to an A rating.  You can see the emails here, here, here, here and here. Pioneer came out early and called for Bennett’s resignation, saying that: Bennett needs to resign his Florida position for violating the trust […]

Public statement on the resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett

Dr. Tony Bennett did some good work in Indiana and more recently in Florida to advance key K-12 education reforms. Some of these reforms were very important, including expanding parental choice options. Pioneer Institute believes that public accountability for school performance is an integral part of state K-12 education reform efforts. Without strong accountability, it becomes very difficult to undertake hard reforms like raising the academic expectations we have for our children and providing high quality school options such as private school choice, public charter schools, and digital learning. But all public leadership and especially public educational leadership must teach by example and uphold the public trust by setting the very highest standards of conduct. In regards to schooling and […]

The implosion of the PARCC assessments

As they say, where there is smoke, there may be fire. EdWeek was reporting last week that the Partnership for Readiness in College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, one of the two state consortia developing national assessments, announced its product pricing.  At $29.50 a student, it was in line with Massachusetts’ pricing for the MCAS test, but it is two and three times the amount in many of the member states.  There are also big questions about the assessments viability. In recent months, a number of states have pulled out of PARCC.  After the pricing announcement, Georgia pulled out of PARCC.  Just now came a press release from Indiana: GOVERNOR PENCE ANNOUNCES INTENT TO WITHDRAW INDIANA AS A MEMBER FROM THE […]

Is Detroit coming to Massachusetts’ cities?

Anybody who expects a Chapter 9 filing in Massachusetts in the next couple of years does not know what he or she is talking about.  Feel better now?  You shouldn’t. Not that I want it to occur — hardly the case as it is painful, unfair, and proof that our political institutions are showing rot. Here are some basic facts on Detroit’s Chapter 9 filing and what it means for Massachusetts. Chapter 9 is not a frequent occurrence, and Detroit’s filing should not lead us to expect a wave of Chapter 9 filings. Only a few states allow it. It’s tough medicine. Chapter 9 wipes clean the past – all pension deals, all bargained wage agreements can be rendered null […]

The Boston Globe: Madison Park school needs autonomy to succeed

Madison Park school needs autonomy to succeed By Jim Stergios | July 11, 2013 Originally published here. TWO-AND-A-HALF years have passed since Boston Mayor Tom Menino promised, in a State of the City address, to make Madison Park Technical-Vocational High School a model for the city and state. We have seen no such transformation. Nor is that transformation likely to materialize from the proposal by Governor Patrick and Menino to have Madison Park partner with Roxbury Community College, itself a troubled institution. The right answer lies in the 2012 report issued by the mayor’s own blue-ribbon panel, which called for moving the school “to an operational structure outside of district control, just as is the case in the state’s successful […]