This past week, in a display of the state’s teacher unions’ raw political power triumphing over deliberative debate, reasonableness, and the best interests of urban students, the Legislature quietly discarded state education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s bold effort at compromise in the ongoing saga over the Alma del Mar Charter School’s expansion in New Bedford. The Boston Globe editorial board rightfully awarded Beacon Hill a grade of “F” for its lack of political courage in moving forward with the Commissioner’s New Bedford charter proposal.
The 26 years since passage of the landmark 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA) have brought broad-based success. Charter schools have been a big part of that success, especially in larger urban districts. As numerous gold-standard research studies have shown, the Bay State’s charters are the best public schools in America in terms of bridging class- and race-based achievement gaps. These charters have also always served as a bellwether regarding how serious state legislators are about bucking the entrenched special interests that populate the State House and pushing for genuine structural improvements to our public school system.
This short-sighted demise of the Commissioner’s compromise proposal for a New Bedford charter school is just the latest regrettable example of the extraordinary depths to which teacher unions and their allies in the Legislature will stoop to protect the status quo. And make no mistake about it: It is an ugly status quo for anyone who prizes the state’s constitution or harbors a sense of justice. More than a quarter century after MERA, and after hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested in our public schools, over 100,000 largely poor and minority Massachusetts students are trapped in failing urban public schools. Yet, self-described progressives in the Legislature shunt aside proven alternatives like charters and positive in-district reforms in favor of protecting the narrow self-interest of the adults who preside over the state’s major urban school districts.
Shame on the unions and the legislators who enable them. The Commonwealth, its citizens, and their schoolchildren, deserve far better. Beacon Hill must do better. Thankfully, in this case Commissioner Riley and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s plan B will still allow Alma del Mar to expand, and even more New Bedford students will have access to that charter public school’s unique brand of academic excellence.
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CommonWealth magazine: New Bedford pols fail kids with opposition to charter expansion
New Bedford Standard Times: New Bedford officials scheme to deprive kids access to high-performing schools