Holy Reconstitutions, Batman!

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All right, so the Governor has made a $1 billion bet on the biotech industry. And he is also betting that there will be 15,000 jobs at the end of the $1.4 billion New Bedford-Fall River rainbow—I mean, rail line. All this suggests that he will be a betting man on gambling as well.

But before you go and cancel your bus tickets to Foxwoods, we have another pretty big gamble coming up in the next couple of weeks.

Governor Patrick is widely rumored to have up his sleeve an ace that will please the unions, superintendents, and school committees—a reconstitution of the Board of Education and the creation of a Secretary of Education. The Secretary’s post, according to the rumor mill, will report to the Guv and limit significantly and/or curb the independence of the Board of Education.

That’s a big gamble.

Massachusetts is currently #1 in the nation on NAEP tests. Those results aren’t anywhere to be seen in our cities; thus, the reason why and perhaps where the Governor is looking to for change. But what happens if change comes and does not go well for the students, or the Governor?

Pioneer’s Jamie Gass has noted the problems with reducing the independence of the board—it will weaken the state’s resolve on MCAS and accountability generally, and it will politicize charter school oversight (perhaps limiting further the number of charters granted and lessening the board’s appetite to close poorly performing charters).

Well, let’s look outside the Massachusetts fishbowl for a second. Adrian Fenty, newly minted DC Mayor, is proposing a governance restructuring of his own. Like Michael “I have so many billion dollars I want to give one to Pioneer Institute” Bloomberg (NYC Mayor) and Richard Daley (Chicago Mayor), Fenty wants control of the city board of education. That’s understandable. The DC schools still rank very poorly. Also, as a big supporter of charter schools, Fenty is looking to streamline the charter approval process, bringing it from an action that needs to be taken by two boards down to the action of a single charter school approval board.

Then there is Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who in his previous term had opposed a $200 million gift aimed at increasing and strengthening charter schools in Detroit. After his re-election, Kilpatrick seems a new man on schools, visiting a charter school right after his State of the City speech. The rumor is that there too a restructuring of school governance may be in the offing. But, again, Detroit has not seen the progress we have over the past 13 years.

If states often march to the soundtrack of the good, the bad and the ugly in California (the proliferation of citizen petitions, sometimes irrational environmental regulation, and the rise of celebrity in politics, in that order), cities seem to be entranced by the Pied Piper of Cities, Mike Bloomberg, who with Governor Spitzer is betting heavily on charter schools. Kilpatrick is now open to expanding new charter schools and even to getting private schools to create satellite schools in Motor City.

Governor Patrick has pushed some big chips—restructuring governance and even raising the specter of changing the state’s funding formula—to the center of the table. But before the Guv shows his cards, he might do well to take a deep breath and remember what we have so painfully learned so many times in the past (and what, it seems, only Colin Powell remembered in 2003): If you break it, you own it.