Monthly Archives: October 2016

When It All Comes Together

The magazine, “American Educator” is published by the American Federation of Teachers seasonally.   In their Fall Issue, in 2015, they ran an article on the relationships  between Communities and Schools.  In it they said “…(it was) understood then, and continues to understand now, that  students need the organized support of their communities to succeed, and that schools alone cannot provide all the educational and developmental experience young people need to graduate and succeed in life.” (American Educator)

“Our public schools should be centers of flourishing communities where everyone belongs and works together to help young people thrive.” (ibid)  They are saying, quite succinctly, that students need the active community that will help them identify themselves and make them a success.  My first ten years of life were spent in small towns in Iowa, and I know my uncles and my father were identifying themselves by their activity with their hometown.  One uncle owned a printing company, a large one; another owned a clothing store; and the other owned a steel manufacturing company.  My father used the GI Bill to get his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate and became a successful Superintendent of Schools in a number of towns and cities.  They all succeeded because the town they came from was very supportive of them.  They were from a flourishing community that rewarded them for their hard work and effort.

There was a rise in effort to build up a thriving school system.  Strangely, I thought, my father was never Superintendent of his hometown.  But that was his choice.  His town developed a new high school when the old one was totally usable.  They sold the old bricks from the old high school to alumnae.  That helped buy some new curriculum for the new school.

It is true that communities need to be supportive of their school system if that system is meant to last.  I have written a great deal about Lowell, Massachusetts and its school system.  It was started in 1831, and its first high school graduating class consisted of a reknown surgeon, two future governors, a war hero, and a man who founded the New Hampshire City of Manchester.  There was a great deal of community involvement in the early school system.  Its existence helped form a vibrant audience as its alumnus’s grew older.

Curriculum is difficult to assess.  It has to be timely, yet somewhat historic, it has to be true to certain values of its community,  and its larger government structure, such as the state it is in.  It has to answer to its parents, its professionals, and its professors.  Anyone can take a huge interest in it.  In Lowell, the early mill owners did not see the need for a school system, and it was up to the professionals – ministers in this case – to start the school system.  The primary individual in Lowell who had  influence enough to start the school system was the Reverend Theodore Edson, the pastor of the Episcopalean Church called St. Anne’s situated in downtown Lowell and developed for the mill girl’s betterment.

Curriculum is fluid.  But it also can be stagnant.  The early school committees in Lowell came up with very specific curriculums with which to move the education of its sons and daughters towards their goal.  One stated goal of the early school system was that “Lowell’s elected Yankee officials still believed in the link between learning and patriotism.”  Catholics, they felt, could become more meaningful partners of patriotism if they learned in public schools (Minutes of School Committee – 1850).

The Irish turned away from public schools in droves.  One destined to  be famous was William O’Connell, who would become the Archbishop later in his life.  His observation of the times was that he was “an outsider looking in.”  He could not help but notice that “the agents thrived but…all of the money enriches others than Lowell men.”

Father O’Brien became pastor and garnered his forces to exhibit Catholic mores.  Famine-ridden Irish gathered around Father O’Brien because community leadership was “a logical extension of their role at St. Patrick’s (Paddy Camps).”  Even Benjamin Butler entered into the fray.  He organized the Irish vote into a group of fellow Democrats.  In the meantime, Catholic Schools were flourishing, setting their own curriculum standards and expecting their children to become Catholic.  They used the curriculum to maintain their religious beliefs.  Every Catholic school taught Religion in its curriculum.  In spite of this, the Catholics wanted to be accepted by “Yankee Lowell.”

When Father Tucker showed up, he hired Gaelic-speaking Priests.  They furthered the cause by refusing to teach in English, despite the fact that they all understood and spoke it.  When the famous “Know-Nothings” dropped out of the curriculum question the Irish used the Yankee vacuum to build their own communities through the church.  St. Patricks was the lead church at the time.

I do not know exactly where I read this, but one researcher said that Irish mothers collected wages from the husband and the children and, on Friday, after the collection, she would buy what was needed for the home.  Hopefully, she could read so she would not be cheated.

Mill owners were, as they would be now, most interested in the bottom line.  Kirk Boott was solidly against education in Lowell.  He hired the Irish because they were cheaper than the Yankees.  (Paddy Camps)  The Irish were a “Permanent replacement for Yankee operatives in the late 1840’s.” (ibid.)

The curriculum in 1850 was very much like the curriculum now.  There was an affinity for Arithmetic, Grammar, Foreign Languages, Science, and History.  In addition, specials were taught as part of the curriculum.  They had Music, Gym, and Art.  Of course, there was no computer.  And the sewing machine and typewriter had yet to be invented.

Every generation feels that it is tackling new problems in its schools.  I am just making the observation that very little changes.  Even combined efforts to stop curses like drug problems were in vogue.

In spite of this, as the magazine said, it is necessary for the community to get involved with its children’s schooling.  With more involvement comes less confusion and the children know what the consequences will be.  In Lowell, in 1850, they did not even have grading yet.  Grading would be launched in the 1860’s.  And it  would have a massive effect on children’s learning.  I wrote about that in an earlier blog.  It is flying somewhere in the cloud.

The Lowell Sun and Charter Schools – Stage 2

The Lowell “Sun” newspaper has been endlessly quoted by those special interests who are pushing the Charter School controversy.  They have said that the Lowell newspaper has stated that there is no lack of funding for regular schools in Question 2.  Maybe, in some form, that is true.  But, it is wise to look at the “Sun’s” headlines in their newspaper of October 12, 2016.  That day’s charter school headline is “Report: Lowells charter bill soars.”  The rest of the headline says it all…”Councilors say city faces unfair burden.”  (Punctuation and Capitalization taken from the actual headline).

The first sentence says, “A new report from the city auditor portrays charter schools as having a significant negative financial effect on the city, with the city’s required payments for charter schools having undergone a “drastic spike.”  (Punctuation taken from the newspaper article),   The article states  that Lowell will be receiving more money from the state for charter schools, but, according to Lowell Auditor Bryan Perry, “costs far outpace that.” (Sun newspaper).  According to the newspaper, Councilor Jim Milinazzo states “It’s clearly costing the taxpayers of Lowell.”  (Sun)

Both the City Council and the School Committee agreed that lifting the cap on charter schools “would hurt local aid to Lowell because of the way that school reimbursements are calculated.”  (Sun)  “In Lowell, the city’s net costs for charter schools have more than doubled since the 2007 budget year, Perry said.” (Sun)  It further states that charter school costs have risen by 8.6 million dollars “while reimbursements for charter school students have stayed relatively flat.” (Sun)  The problem seems to stem from the fact that the state reimburses for the first year at 100% while reimbursements for the first five years stay at 25%.

Lowell “continues to incur a high contribution to charter schools…” according to Perry.  Further, the assessment increase “has caused a drastic spike in the city’s obligation for charter schools.

City councilors and City Manager Kevin Murphy “gave sharp criticism Tuesday to the effect charter schools have had on the city budget.”  “There are streetlights we’d like to put up…There are streets we’d like to pave, things we’ve put on the back burner.” the City Manager stated.  One councilor stated that “It might not affect an Andover, but it is going to affect Lowell.” (Sun)  The “Sun” stated that a “national think tank” stated that they came to a separate conclusion.  130 school districts in 130 towns have voted in opposition to the charter schools question.  Lowell is apparently one of them.

In a table published in the paper, between fiscal 2007 and projected costs for 2017, there has been an increase in monies paid the charter schools in the vicinity of ten million, six hundred thousand dollars that the city has to pay.

The conclusion is that the state has not reimbursed communities as much as it “should.” (Sun)

The reason that I believe this is noteworthy is because of the continued use by the special interests in favor of removing the cap of local newspaper’s editorials.  The ‘Sun’ and the Boston ‘Globe,’ and the ‘Herald,’ are quoted liberally in the commercials for a “Yes” vote on Question 2.  I have stated before that the charter schools do not hire certified teachers and pay their teachers much less than the public school systems do.  This seems to me to be in  violation of the Department of Education’s rules and regulations.  You have to be certified to teach in Lowell’s public schools.  Conversely, it seems to me, you would have to be certified to be a teacher in a charter school in Massachusetts.

Finally, again, Massachusetts has the best students in the nation.  Why not focus on making their experiences more reflective of that fact, and keep charter schools at bay?

Question 2 – What Is A Charter School?

I have done more studying on this one issue than any other I have covered.  That is saying a lot.  Charter Schools are the children of our frustrations with the school departments that we hear about, and they stand to compete with our school system for students and money.  Some say that they are good things, that teach our students to focus in a more penetrating way on the lessons of the day.  Others say that they are akin to private schools,  taking students out of the mainstream and giving them less of a chance to make a mark on their world.  One woman scolded me when she found out that I was against Question 2, telling me that they were smaller schools and they were more efficient.  My response was not to respond.  I just turned and walked away.

First, there is no accountability in Charter Schools.  There is no public method to allow taxpayers to scrutinize Charter Schools.  In Massachusetts, which has the reputation of being one of the most progressive and accomplished school systems in the nation, if not in the world,  Massachusetts schoolchildren are “Number One in the Nation.”  So where is this pressure coming from to make us see our school system as a failure which needs fixing and Charter Schools?  According to Paul Georges, the Union President of the United Teachers of Lowell (UTL), it is coming from Madison Avenue where there is reportedly a significant effort to make Charter Schools into  something that is possibly wrong for the State of Massachusetts.  The no accountability argument is Paul Georges.’  There is no School Committee in a Charter School.  Little has to be done to make the school liable to any of the rules written into the legalities  of the laws which force school systems to perform in an acceptable fashion in exchange for their receipt of tax monies.  Charter Schools do have a master,  but they do not need to deal with a School Committee, a State Department of Education (DOE), or any other of the recognizable barriers that regular school systems must dance around.

Accountability is an issue.  There is no requirement that students have certified teachers in a Charter School.  All that the schools require is a Bachelor’s degree in a subject related to their classroom curriculum.   The Master of the school does not need to be certified either.  He or she is governed by an independent board.  “Money is paid by taxpayers,” according to Mr. Georges.  In Lowell, Massachusetts the independent board released a director who was “doing a good job.”  The concept was that Charter Schools would offer options, but one option that they offered was to return recalcitrant students to the public schools, helping the student body in the Charter School believe that they were special.  Not as in special needs, special as in better than  those students forced back into the regular system.

The idea in Massachusetts, with the acceptance of Charter Schools was that the school would offer options.  The idea was working back in the 1990’s, creating the fertile field on which Charter Schools were able to grow.  “Wall Street takes an interest in Charter Schools because it benefits their bottom line,” says Mr. Georges.  Education in the United States, if I got this right, costs 500 Billion a year.  It is a big business.  The local newspaper, which is quoted by the people in charge of the Charter School challenge, stated that 10.7 Million spent on changing the Charter Schools and opening them up for Question 2, was forwarded to the state by outside funding sources.

“Hedge fund operators,” according to Mr. Georges, are vitally interested in Charter Schools.  But the question remains, why change when your public schools are making the school systems in the public arena first in the nation?  The narrative has been about a system of failure.  But the Massachusetts teacher is hardly a failure if our students are first in the nation.

Compared not only to other states, but compared to the western world, Massachusetts students are also on the top of the list.  Boston, and Boston is tough, has one of the finest city school systems in the country, it is said.  Testing determines that rank but testing of the entire school system in a city or town, has been taking place since the 1860’s.  If you have been reading my articles, you know this.

“Now we have high stakes testing,” says Mr. Georges.  “I would give them a quiz once a week to see what they retained,” he stated.  All teachers want to know if their lessons have been retained.  Few wouldn’t.  Testing has added a whole new dimension.  You emphasize testing now.  At one time the educators, some of them anyway, bought into a grant called “Race to the Top.”  This was not done in collaboration with educators.  I personally have a problem with “Best Teacher” awards.  Most teachers are the best teachers.  But, in some cases, the fellow teachers are the ones who pick the best teachers.  Then the teacher will usually say that they could not have done it without their fellow teachers.

“Common Core” is a problem, according to the UTL.  The problem with Common Core, they say, is that a group of investors in Manhattan   believed that Common Core would “make a new market for a product,”  according to Mr. Georges.  That undermines support for the product you are using now.  You start to believe that it is not working.  It portrays negatives.  We had to make allowances in the 1980’s and 1990’s for our own influx of new immigrants, many of whom could not speak the language.  They were still sent to public school.  Charter Schools would not have had to take them into their bosum.  Many of the students had no idea how to live through the winter, because there is no winter in Cambodia, Vietnam, or Thailand.

I remember my first few days in Lowell.  A twin girl and boy asked me to teach them English.  I would learn some Greek.  They would learn alot of English.  They did so well, that the girl became the Valedictorian of my graduating class in 1976.  Sometimes home-schooled students go to Harvard.  Not all but some.  Sometimes the quietest child will become the speaker at graduation.  You do not need Charter Schools to make wonderful things happen.

Lowell High School is the second largest in the state.  It has academies, like the Latin Academy, which does not teach Latin necessarily, it is just a group of students whose parents or who themselves wanted to focus on traditional academics.  Traditional curriculum.  The people pushing Charter Schools do not have this in their perspective.  “When I hear the scenario of failure, it creates an environment of distrust in the system.”  So saith Mr. Georges.  I have to agree with him.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, herself an academic in the past, states in the Boston Globe, that she will not be voting Yes on Question 2.  I blame John Adams for our eternal questions being given to the voters for their consideration.  Adams wrote the progressive Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which included ballot questions.  I come from states that rely on the legislature for direction.  They do not necessarily allow their citizens the right to change their own laws.  The legislature does that.

The refereendum is called Question 2, and it calls for lifting the cap “on the number of charters allowed in the state, allowing for as many as 12 schools a year.  Warren said that charter schools are “excellent” but voiced her concern about Question 2 meaning “this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters, Education is about creating opportunity for all of our children, not about leaving many behind.” (Senator Warren in the Boston Globe).  She takes exception to Charter Schools, pointing out that “Public Officials have a responsibility not just to a small subset of children but to all of the children, to make sure that they receive a first-rate education.”  She obviously believes that the living in an academically separated society is not in the best interest of all of our school children.  “Public officials have a responsibility not just to a small subset of chidren but to all of our children, to make sure that they receive a first rate education.” (ibid.)  Education guru Diane Ravitch reported on her personal blog that Warren is unlikely to fall in line with charter school doctrinaire.  “Now we know Ravitch’s assertions were well-founded.”  (ibid.)

The Charter Schools cadre who are pushing Question 2 say that they will not take money from the local school districts.  In fact, in addition to being ill-certified, Charter Schools are in fact draining their towns and cities.  Northhampton reports that six nearby charter schools are projected  to drain 2.3 Million dollars from their education budget.  The response was that the Council said that they would never support Question 2. One hundred fifty towns and cities had the same outlook.   Charters state that local schools are just moving money from one school to another.

That is not quite true, according to the newspaper.  “The money does not follow the child.”

Now, people are worried that Charters will have a tendency to exclude students who are more difficult to teach.  “Massachusetts charter schools in particular have had a history of cherry-picking students.” (ibid.)

Do charter schools have a history of under-enrolling students with disabilities?  Do they discriminate against  students whose first language is not English?  Do they discriminate against students who have problems with the harsher rules of the charter school?  It seems that the opponents of the current educational system believe that they do.

Finally, who is funding Question 2?  I do not know but they are interested in turning the good Massachusetts record around, it appears.  Today, I went by a local city park and found two signs stuck on public land in favor of Question 2.  Some of Massachusetts taxpayers feel that the use of public land for signs shows a lack of strong support for the initiative, whatever it may be.   Most of the money appears to be coming from outside of Massachusetts.  My question is, why are they picking on us?  We already have the best educational system in the United States.

The author of the article is Jeff Bryant, the manager of the Education Opportunity Network.  The article does not say if he is a liberal or conservative.

I believe that there is an interest in taking money from the public school system in the Charter School question.  I believe that few people in Massachusetts are so unaware of outside influences that they would vote for Question 2.  I do not know if I believe that outsiders are behind the question.  I do believe that Massachusetts citizens are too smart to be taken over by people trying to fund a question that is so biased against our excellent school systems.

Finally, in his book “A Call to Economic Arms,” my brother-in-law, Paul Tsongas stated that “Education is America’s great calling…Republicans talk about it…Money for serious funding of schools?…Gee, that is really a local and state issue.” (Page 32)  I do not believe, had he lived until today, that Paul would have been interested in the Charter Schools referendum.  “Improvements in education, to many Democrats only means a lot more money.”  He asks, “Is public education in America the top priority?”  “The answer to the question must be a resolute Yes!”

Paul’s messages are still appropriate in today’s economy.  The answers to the question of rejection of Question 2 should be a “resolute Yes!”  Money needs to be poured into school districts.  Charter Schools should continue to be what they always have been.  That is a way to handle children with learning difficulties that need warm and caring teachers who can identify with their students.  It should not be a drop-off for children who can master the higher learning in an established district.  It should be a school for those with special needs.