Public Statement: A Responsible Reply to the Fall River Superintendent’s Comments

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In a recent opinion piece, Charlie Chieppo, a Pioneer Senior Fellow, and Jamie Gass, the director of PioneerEducation, argued that Massachusetts state government should consider requiring that it be able to appoint school committee members in underperforming districts in a number proportional to the percentage of state funding contributed to a district’s school budget. The idea was floated because, more than 25 years after the passage of the Education Reform Act and the state’s investment of over a hundred billion dollars, a number of larger urban districts have not significantly improved the quality of their public education.

In response to Pioneer’s op-ed, former Massachusetts Education Secretary and current Fall River Superintendent Matt Malone noted on Twitter:

It was an odd enough occurrence that the Herald News of Fall River had to highlight a superintendent’s public use of such language. There will be no name calling in response. Per Pioneer’s brand and ethos, just facts (with links to data and sources).
Pioneer Institute wishes Superintendent Malone well. We also hope he will focus more on improving the quality of the public education offered to Fall River’s schoolchildren than on misusing the Fall River Public Schools’ Twitter account. It is worth reminding the superintendent that:
  1. During his tenure as the Brockton Public Schools superintendent, he demonstrated his now established habit of name calling while using the public’s time and resources. In his campaign against a proposed charter school, his intemperate comments about the Lebanese charter public school operator were overt ethnic baiting. His derogatory remarks about a respected, elderly Brockton resident who supported the charter application were clearly unacceptable for a public official and educator. It is no wonder the Brockton School Committee gave Superintendent Malone very low marks, especially for communication, as he was leaving that position.
  2. During Malone’s tenure as state education secretary, he showed little interest in tangible reform but great interest in visiting schools. While his mileage was measurable, his leadership, as evidenced by falling statewide NAEP scores in reading and math, was not.
  3. During his last months as state education secretary, he unsuccessfully sought out the position as Boston Public Schools superintendent, a district that has an appointed school committee, which is similar to what Chieppo and Gass suggested in their opinion piece. It is also worth noting that while in urgent need of continued improvement, with an appointed school committee, the Boston Public Schools have ranked among the best urban districts in the country on the Nation’s Report Card.
  4. The state has a long history of appointing receivers to address urgent school underperformance in Chelsea, Springfield, Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge. The Lawrence receiver, appointed by the Patrick Administration and now the state education commissioner, moved the high school completion rate in the city’s public schools from 50 to 72 percent and cut the dropout rate in half.

Superintendent Malone may like to describe others as bullies, but that is exactly what he seeks to do with threatening language. Pioneer is undeterred and will energetically continue to advance the interests of students over those of the various associations in the system, whose priority is the protection of the status quo. It is troubling when someone holding the public trust repeatedly degrades public discourse, but that sadly is the age we are passing through right now.

Pioneer is more interested in ensuring that the students of Fall River are not denied their constitutional right to a good education than we are in Malone’s misuse of the district’s Twitter feed. As superintendent of schools in an important Massachusetts city, he should be focused on the schoolchildren as well. If he delivers real academic progress for Fall River kids, Pioneer Institute will applaud his work. If not, we will hold him and the Fall River School Committee accountable in the public square.