The Future of Boston Schools: The Lesson in Resisting Education Reform
By, Sean Lords
When it comes to access to opportunities, education is undeniably a social justice issue. While the education reform movement thinks that throwing charter schools at its “achievement gap” can serve as a unilateral solution to a complicated issue, it is a solution that ignores the fact that this often leads to the closure of neighborhood schools, an overemphasis on tests and statistics instead of developing minds, and increased job insecurity for those tasked with educating our children. Nevertheless, while some view Martin J. Walsh’s mayoral victory over John Connolly as a victory over education reform’s big money, Walsh fails to be the radical alternative our students and teachers need.
Statistically, charter schools improve the metrics they’ve set out to improve. Charter school students perform better on standardized tests, and charter schools often have higher graduation rates. Correlation does not imply causation, however, and that leads to another thing that’s clear about charter school students: their parents were involved enough to encourage enrollment in a charter school. We also know that charter school teachers don’t benefit from the same protections as their public school counterparts. They work longer days for less pay, and their performance evaluations are frequently tied to how well their students do on standardized tests. In neighborhood schools with tenured faculty, our children can come to expect to see many of the same faces year after year—a kind of comfort and familiarity in lives that are too often plagued with uncertainty.
Education reform’s “achievement gap” is directed at black and Latino students and fails to acknowledge a worldwide correlation between poverty and educational outcomes. It’s not that the teachers have given up on difficult students, but rather that the system has betrayed them by throwing its beloved money at a symptom instead of a root cause. While Martin Walsh may not be receiving contributions from wealthy education organizations that support training our children to comply and take tests, he isn’t against them, either. Walsh sits on the board of a Dorchester charter school and supports lifting the cap on the number of charters allowed in Boston. Walsh has promised to work with teachers’ unions to create solutions that work with existing schools, but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t expect to see more charter schools or solutions that involve more of an emphasis on multiple-choice tests. Otherwise, Walsh seems dedicated to the idea of universal preschools for 4-year olds, and a focus on improving high school for 9th and 10th graders at a critical time in their education.
In the meantime, there are a few ways we can resist coming changes. We can pull our children out of school on test days and have them volunteer instead. We can listen to our children and push aside whatever assumptions we have about what goes on in the classroom. We can make friends with our children’s teachers—they are not the enemy, and most of them would really appreciate our support. This could make an impact on our children, too—it will show them that they are a cause worth fighting for, and that it’s worth it to fight for a cause.
About the Blogger: Sean Lords taught English in South Korea and is now studying to teach in the U.S. When not studying, he advises others who are looking for the right tesol course in Boston, while raising a family and working on his Masters in Education.