Entries by Jim Stergios

Weak on Unemployment Insurance Reform

As we head into the end of the first half of the two-year session, it’s a good time to reflect on the promises that we began with.  During the second week in January came a raft of proposals from the governor’s office on reforms.  It was a Week of Reform, with announcements of pending change regarding public housing authorities, budget savings and unemployment insurance.  Not all of the details were fully baked or, to be honest, even truly well thought out, but it seemed clear that the governor was not going to be a lame duck cooped up in the Corner Office.  He was ready and willing to engage the legislature on some key issues that affect the cost of […]

Ed Glaeser’s Straw Man on Common Core (by Jim Stergios)

In today’s Globe, Ed Glaeser, an economist by trade and a member of the Gates Foundation advisory board for domestic programs, shares his thoughts on education standards – a topic on which we generally refer to experts. Think national education experts like Sandra Stotsky, James Milgram, Ze’ev Wurman, Mark Bauerlein, and folks who have worked in states and studied this topic closely. Ed attributes opposition to Common Core to fear (the title of the piece is “Fear of Common Core”). It’s the old win-an-argument-against-a-straw-man tactic, which he compounds by saying that critics of Common Core (I’m a card-carrying member of a loose affiliation of tribes opposing the Core) are even scared of a “bogeyman.” A ghost, a chimera, we’re seeing […]

Mass. charter schools: No sector like it in the US

In 1992, Pioneer published a book that had the kind of squishy title and wishy-washy message you have all come to expect from Pioneer Institute: “Reinventing the Schools: A Radical Plan for Boston.” Its core message was nested in the dozens of pages of the state’s landmark 1993 Education Reform Act, along with high-quality standards and accountability through teacher and student testing. Thus began the charter experiment in Massachusetts. How would it turn out? Public charter schools here as elsewhere were an experiment, the success of which would depend on state policy decisions about how to authorize, hold accountable and expand the emerging charter sector. Interestingly, in the minds of the Massachusetts Senate and the Governor at the time, charters […]

Upholding the Spirit of Boston

We at Pioneer are thankful that our loved ones are safe.  That may not be great solace to our great city and to the celebration of the revolutionary spirit that we all hold dear — and that was dirtied on Marathon Monday.  This attack caused death and injury in a way that shocks us all. For the foreseeable future, the attack will change Boston and our Patriot Day reenactments of defining battles and the ‘shot heard round the world,’ as Emerson later put it.  We will see more police, and more troops, patrolling the course and the final destination — we will see perhaps fewer runners. A day after the horror, we begin to focus on understanding who, how and […]

Open the Boston taxicab “market” to competition

The Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team has done a great job uncovering the Kafka-esque maze of half-million-dollar medallions, bribes, and indentured servitude that we call the Boston taxicab “market.”  Oddly, little has been said in that paper’s pages on how to fix things, with the exception of a good letter, noting, INSTEAD OF tinkering with the medallion system of taxi regulation, Boston should junk it and create entirely new regulations that foster highly competitive, innovative, state-of-the-art taxi services and Jeff Jacoby’s wonderful piece that opened with SO THE mayor of Boston, channeling his inner Captain Renault, is shocked — shocked! — to find that Boston’s taxi industry is a rigged and pitiless racket. Yesterday’s Boston Herald included a smart piece by Con Chapman, which […]

The state’s economic strategy is selling us short

Megan Woolhouse’s piece entitled “Shut Out” in the Boston Globe told the story of several long-term unemployed Massachusetts residents.  It was powerful in part because of the writing and the reality of people who are doing their best to keep looking for work, but also because the story so often goes untold in the press. Even after many announcements about how well we are doing as a state, we have to keep in mind that Massachusetts is still 100,000 jobs short of even our 2001 employment levels.  If the Commonwealth had grown at the same pace as the rest of the US since 1990, we would have 450,000 more jobs in the state; we’re currently above 3 million total, so it’s a […]

Is there an explosion in state government employment? Yup.

We’ve been at this one with the administration for a few years now, and every time we ask about a dataset that strongly suggests that there has been outsized growth in state employment, we get stammering replies about a one-month, one-quarter, or one-year fluctuation that goes in the other direction. Since that time, we have sought apples-to-apples information on employment to monitor changes in government employment. There are several ways to get at the question of changes in state government employment (see the three principal ones below). To give you clarity, I thought it would be useful to post up the three major data sets. On each of the measures, we observe an increase in state employment of between 10.9 […]

The Pioneer Plan for Massachusetts’ Transportation Needs

Expect more on the Pioneer Plan for Transportation in the coming days. Already in January, we issued a detailed Public Statement on the governor’s transportation plan. Expect in the next week or two a full report. In the interim, here is a further fleshing out of our view. The Governor has used the bully pulpit to focus the legislature, the media and the public on trasnportation. That’s the positive. The negative is that he has done a poor job of articulating the real benefits and real challenges our transit, highway and bridge systems face. The fact is that few of the reforms promised in 2009, with the passage of the2009 trasnprotation law, have been enacted. There’s been no $6.5 billion […]

Local committee ends Massachusetts’ first virtual school

The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald are reporting that last week the Greenfield School Committee voted to shutter the state’s first and only public virtual school. Here’s the Globe piece by Evan Allen: The academy opened in 2010 and serves about 470 students in kindergarten through eighth grade from all across the Commonwealth. It will close on June 30, according to committee members. … One of the district’s major objections was that the School Committee would no longer have had direct oversight of the school. “It would be an autonomous school governed by a separate committee that would not be publicly elected,” said committee member Marcia Day, who voted in favor of not submitting the proposal to the state. […]

Why do district superintendents oppose charter schools?

When you ask that question, the usual answer is something about the kids, equity, and the unfairness of all the flexibility that charters get. It’s hard to get a superintendent to go beyond the platitudes. Perhaps the superintendent will raise all the good work that’s going on in the district. There may in fact be lots of work going on, but without a judgment on whether it is good or not so good of work is really dependent on results. Otherwise, such statements are simply assertions of exertion. With the closing of ranks in Brockton by the Brockton school superintendent and the district’s school committee in opposition to a proposed high-quality charter application, I got to wondering: Why? Why such […]

Suicide and the stress from school

We often hear that kids are stressed by school — and most times MCAS testing is considered the culprit. Let’s look at the broad picture first. Indiana University’s High School Survey of Student Engagement suggests the following about US District High School students: 82.7% spend no more than 5 hours a week on homework. 42.5% spend an hour or less each week on homework. In contrast, according to a 2009 Korean National Statistics Office: The average Korean high school senior spent 11 hours per day studying The all student average was 8 hours (with about 3 hours per day of studying occurring outside the classroom). Of course, that begs lots of questions — important questions about culture, familial expectations, and […]

Hope the governor had a nice vacation

The governor’s Colombia trip is over and here is what your money paid for. The Memorandum of Understanding between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Colombia comes with a translation into Spanish. That’s the good news. The rest of the story kind of goes as follows: They probably didn’t spend much time on it given the obvious typo of the word Party (Partiy) in Article 9. The document is clear in stating that it does not provide any legally binding obligations. (So, remind me why the governor’s presence was required when the agreement includes no obligations…) The document is extremely artful in its use of indeterminate gobbledy-gook speak like “foster” and “encourage.” All this is a little bit like John Cage’s […]

An easy vote for the Board of Education

Tomorrow’s Board of Education meeting expects a crowd. Applicants for five new charter schools and 11 expansions will be on hand, as will detractors. There will be those on hand who pursued and opposed new charters that were denied the commissioner’s recommendation and therefore will not be brought to a Board vote. Push into that mix the oddly timed, late Friday news release (to one news source) that the Renaissance charter school is likely to be placed on probation, and you have a pretty full agenda and set of possible items that could come up. So plenty of opportunity for eruptions, interruptions, and controversy. On the underlying five new charter and 11 expansion applications that will be at the center […]

Two new charter schools for City on a Hill

For the past decade and a half, February has served as the month during which the state’s Board of Education votes on proposed charter schools. The process is a long one, involving during the previous year the submission of concepts, detailed applications, revised applications, interviews with proponents and evaluations by the Charter School Office, which is today located within the state’s Department of Education. This year, the state’s education commissioner Mitch Chester has recommended a handful of the original 22 charter applications move forward. At next Tuesday’s education board meeting, final votes will be taken on the 5 new charters and 11 charter expansions recommended by the department. If all of the charters recommended by the department move forward, there […]

Boston Kids Need Another Brooke Charter School

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s vote later this month on a new set of charter school proposals is an opportunity to give thousands of Massachusetts kids access to a great school. The list of proposed charters includes new proposals for Boston, such as City on a Hill Charter Public School, which is proposing to open a second 280-student high school in Boston to open in 2013. (City on a Hill has also applied for a separate, new high school in New Bedford to serve 280 students.) In addition, a number of Boston charters have looked at expanding their existing enrollment caps, including Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter School, a 5-12 charter that would like to serve […]

Give Brockton students a choice

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s vote later this month on a new set of charter school proposals is an opportunity to give thousands of Massachusetts kids access to a great school. The list of proposed charters includes the following schools in cities outside of Greater Boston: Argosy Collegiate Charter School in Fall River the replication of Boston’s successful City on a Hill Charter Public School in New Bedford the replication of Springfield and Holyoke’s successful SABIS charter model in Brockton (the International Charter School of Brockton) the replication of Chelsea’s successful Phoenix Charter Academy in Springfield, and YouthBuild Charter Academy in Lawrence In the Greater Boston area, there are also two charter proposals, replications of the Pioneer […]

Bureaucratic teacher evaluations bring no change

Back in April 2011, the Globe editorial page touted “Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s proposed regulations linking teacher evaluations to student performance” as “a long-awaited step toward rewarding effective teachers and unmasking incompetent ones.” Many have seen the new evaluation system as a huge step forward, but I’ve always been highly skeptical that it will do anything but create a lot more paper. In this regard, as I noted at the time, I think the Worcester Telegram & Gazette was the media outlet with the most detailed and most accurate view of the new evaluations: The state’s new regulations for the evaluation of educators… establish that MCAS test results will play some role in teacher evaluations; they state that student and […]

The incredible shrinking voc tech dropout rate

On January 6th the Boston Globe published a thoughtful opinion piece on the cost of dropouts by Alan Leventhal, who in his day job serves as chairman and chief executive officer of Beacon Capital Partners. It opened with a good overview of the challenge in the country: EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for education has been a social and moral imperative of our society. In the looming budget battles, it is now an economic imperative. The secondary education system annually produces 1 million dropouts nationally — 10,000 in Massachusetts alone — at a staggering cost to society. The cost of a dropout over a lifetime has been estimated at up to $500,000 in lost wages, increased entitlements, and criminal justice spending. If the […]

Lots of art, little science in transportation plan

Rich Davey’s attempt at recreating the magic of Steve Jobs missed the mark in presenting the policy reasons for lots more transportation spending. At the release of the new transportation plan, his Jobs-like headset masked just how over-miked and overstated were the opportunities within our reach if we just put more fuel in the transportation accounts, as well as the too-good-to-be-true “multiplier” effects that will come with the new government spending. No, there was no discussion of the negative (even regressive) nature of much of what is being proposed. Payroll tax increases, no worry. Gas and green taxes, no problem. Then, of course, all of the projects cited – every last one of them – is a “need.” There was […]

I could support the bottle bill if…

Last year saw a lot of movement within the legislature on the bottle bill, but ultimately no action. The bottle bill seeks to expand the types of beverage containers that require a 5-cent deposit to include water and juice bottles. In theory it sounds really good. Create an incentive for individuals and businesses to redeem their deposit and therefore keep plastic bottles from getting thrown into the regular trash stream and from being strewn all over the streets and highways. Here are my problems with it: (1) At the most personal level: When I recently brought regular water bottles (the cheap kind!) to a local Whole Foods, there was more than a frown about my bringing non-Whole Foods Lemon Italian […]

A new law expanding virtual schools?

Back in January 2010, there was a lot of hope that the charter school expansions associated with the new law would work out well. The data on that is largely tremendous. The new charters are faring very well, thank you. There were other elements in the law including the creation of statewide “virtual schools,” schools where students could do much of their coursework online. That promise was not kept, as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education put into place what were onerous regulations that dissuaded all but the Superintendent of Greenfield Schools from attempting to create such an entity. Susan Patrick, perhaps one of the most informed policymakers on virtual education, noted at a recent event in Massachusetts that […]

Advice to the President and Arne Duncan

In 2009, Pres. Obama effectively used the “bully pulpit” to expand charter schools, changes that were adopted by state legislatures around the country. During the next three years, the administration opted for a “top down” approach, with Race to the Top pushing state compliance with federally defined state reforms. These included not yet field tested Common Core standards, not yet complete national tests and bureaucratic teacher evaluation systems. In a second Obama administration, these efforts are likely to get bogged down in the complexities of implementation; importantly for Massachusetts, they undo key reforms that have driven our remarkable success. Instead, I’d advise the president to do three things. First, revert to using the bully pulpit, this time to improve the […]

The perfect storm facing Jewish Day Schools

More than 100,000 students in 10 states – including Rhode Island and New Hampshire – are currently educated under tax credit programs. Massachusetts has so many exceptional private and parochial education options, and our school children deserve the same options. Jewish Day Schools, for example, are facing a perfect storm of rising costs and declining philanthropic support.

Don’t Count Your Chickens Before Elections: Tony Bennett’s Defeat in Indiana

In what you might call a “count your chickens before they hatch” moment, even as late as the morning of Super Tuesday (November 6, 2012, 7:16:15AM EST) Virginia Edwards of EdWeek’s “Leadership Forum” sent an email invitation entitled “Save the Date: Road Maps to Common Core Success in March 2013.” I invite you to attend Road Maps to Common Core Success. This Education Week Leadership Forum is taking place in Indianapolis, IN on March 11, 2013 and in White Plains, NY on March 21, 2013. At this day-long event, you will hear from state and district leaders, education experts in, and other colleagues on their common core implementations, and discover and share new ideas on curricula, teacher training, and assessment. […]