Entries by Jim Stergios

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. […]

Fallout from election 2012 on education

You can summarize the fallout of the elections on schools in three simple outcomes: No change in federal policy, two big state charter expansions got passed–and through ballot initiatives (!), and in a blow to supporters of national standards and tests the state superintendent of schools in Indiana got shown the door. In more detail, on federal policy: 1. Arne Duncan stays US Secretary of Education. 2. The next four years will look like the last three years. That is, the first Obama administration was split between a Year 1 and Years 2-4. Year 1 was all using the bully pulpit to get state legislatures to revamp charter laws. It was a sea-change on the education landscape, with the dynamics […]

Indiana’s airball on national education standards

Basketball fans will remember the scene from the epic 1986 Gene Hackman movie, Hoosiers , where Coach Norman Dale (Hackman) is taking his small-town high school team, Hickory, on the road to the Indiana state championships. As they peer into their opponent’s massive gymnasium, his players grow understandably nervous. Taking out a measuring tape, Coach Dale has them measure the distance to the free throw line and size up the height of the rim, and says: “I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory.” I’ve often thought about that scene when interacting with Indiana’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, himself a basketball coach, which is clear to anybody who meets him. […]

Why is the state not implementing the MCAS for U.S. history?

We are in the middle of a U.S. Senate campaign and, while passions may run high on both sides of the partisan divide, what is a young Massachusetts student to think of the race? Given his or her ignorance of the role of a senator, whether in Massachusetts state government or at the federal level, the fact is he or she is unlikely to think beyond the partisan commentary that populates television and the internet. That is a shame and sadly ironic in Massachusetts where state Senate leadership was the driving force, behind the landmark 1993 Education Reform Act (MERA), which has brought many benefits to our students and to the state. In 1993, as former Senate President Tom Birmingham […]

Lawrence Eagle-Tribune: Lawrence’s big school problem needs a big, bold solution

Jim Stergios The Eagle-Tribune The usual rules apply when things work, or at least aren’t disastrously broken. That’s not the case when 15 years of failing schools have culminated in every other student dropping out. Yet this is precisely what is happening in Lawrence, and the city and state have simply pretended that the adverse impact is not there. Each Lawrence dropout likely costs Massachusetts citizens $300,000. Not all have considerable innate talent, but many do, and we are squandering their economic potential. Those without unique talents can still be productive citizens, but we are not benefiting from their hard work. The children of dropouts are far more likely to remain in poverty, excluding entire generations from the possibility of […]

Huck, Jim and our interest in education

Twain famously noted that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug. Getting words right is arguable the key task in educating an individual, for precise use of language is critical to developing the ability to observe and to think. Then there is the sinister twisting of language for reasons of power (most often political power). This was a topic of intense focus by George Orwell, who in his staple of 9th grade reading courses, Animal Farm, described how the vision of Old Major was transformed to the darker purpose of other animals after his death. In the novella, the animals rebel against the drunken farmer Mr. Jones for […]

The Democrats’ Platform on K-12 Education

Here is the Democratic National Platform on K-12 education, taken from the national Democrats.org site: An Economy that Out-Educates the World and Offers Greater Access to Higher Education and Technical Training. Democrats believe that getting an education is the surest path to the middle class, giving all students the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and contribute to our economy and democracy. Public education is one of our critical democratic institutions. We are committed to ensuring that every child in America has access to a world-class public education so we can out-educate the world and make sure America has the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. This requires excellence at every level of our education system, from early learning […]

The GOP Platform on K-12 Education

Here is the Republican platform on K-12 education, taken from the National GOP web portal: Education: A Chance for Every Child Parents are responsible for the education of their children. We do not believe in a one size fits all approach to education and support providing broad education choices to parents and children at the State and local level. Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential. Today’s education reform movement calls for accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of State and local control of our schools, and it […]

Waiting for the candidates to debate education

There are many lessons to learn from this year’s two major party conventions, many of which extend beyond education—the focus of this blog. The “scriptedness” of the events was only outshone by the color coordination of the sets and clothing. Viewers and attendees came away feeling like the proverbial man behind the curtain (as in the Wizard of Oz) had projected words onto the teleprompters and that those stepping to the mikes were little more than political actors. The exceptions—Clint Eastwood’s chair routine and Mayor Villaraigosa’s handling of the vote to re-insert “God and Jerusalem” into the Democratic Party platform—were cringe-inducing as much for the substance as for the contrast from the rest of the convention schedule. The second takeaway […]

Schools and the conventional wisdoms

Facts are, as John Adams famously noted, “stubborn things.” But facts are also what makes politicians of good will less stubborn; that is, it is empirical evidence that allows both major parties to to coalesce around reforms that will work. Compromise for compromise’s sake, or hewing to conventional wisdom, is most often pandering with an eye toward one’s own ambitions. But, armed with facts, people of even the most strongly held principles can come to very surprising positions. We’ve been hearing a lot about how education may be the area for compromise between the two major parties. What’s driving this coalescence? Hard choices by the Obama administration? Empirical evidence? Or it is conventional wisdom? With Labor Day now behind us […]

An expert’s view of national standards’ focus on non-fiction texts

(Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times) The Common Core national standards are increasingly controversial, with Utah, Indiana and a number of states that had adopted them now reconsidering. A recent New York Times education blog notes the following: Forty-four states and United States territories have adopted the Common Core Standards and, according to this recent Times article, one major change teachers can expect to see is more emphasis on reading “informational,” or nonfiction, texts across subject areas: While English classes will still include healthy amounts of fiction, the standards say that students should be reading more nonfiction texts as they get older, to prepare them for the kinds of material they will read in college and careers. In the […]

Sunset the Lawrence district school monopoly

One of two kids in the Lawrence Public School system do not cross the 12th grade finish line. Even that is beyond what the “soft bigotry of low expectations” crowd can explain away on the basis of factors like poverty and family situation. Sadly, that dropout reality holds true in a couple of other urban districts around the state. But no other district is in school receivership… in a city that is in state fiscal receivership. And no other district can boast of the on-the-record, court-documented corruption within the school district office that we’ve seen in Lawrence. As noted in several previous blogs (such as this one), in Lawrence, just over 1,000 students of the 13,000 in the district will […]