The Boston Foundation last week released a report it commissioned touting autonomy first and foremost as a means to improve schools. The report was co-authored by Dan French, head of the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE), which holds a multi-million dollar contract with the School Department to work with and promote autonomous schools. See CCE’s $2.5 million 2012-2013 contract here. The conflict of interest was, apparently, lost on the Boston Foundation, which funded the report. Then again, maybe it wasn’t.
Here’s a report from WBUR:
“A third of students in Boston Public Schools are already in schools with some degree of autonomy. A report released yesterday says the district should go further, granting more flexibility to more schools. Dan French, executive director of the Center for Collaborative Education, is one of the authors of the report.
“‘If schools are going to be held accountable for results, then resources and decision making should be placed in the hands closest to students and parents, and that that is principals and teachers,’ French said on Radio Boston. ‘That said, autonomy is not a panacea nor a guarantor of success.’
“Richard Stutman, head of the Boston Teachers Union, said this is the wrong conversation entirely. And he warned that granting schools more autonomy ‘will eventually lead to a dissolution of the public school system as we know it.’
“‘We’re talking about autonomy. We should be talking about equality, as much as accountability and autonomy,’ Stutman said.
“‘I think by favoring autonomous schools, to the extent that they benefit at the expense of non-autonomous schools, is a disservice to our students. When I caution about the dissolution of our public schools, I caution about that…'”
Listen here to the WBUR radio conversation between Richard Stutman and Dan French.
The Boston Foundation report is well worth reading and contains a number of good suggestions for autonomies that would improve our schools and make schools run more efficiently. On the other hand, a careful reading of the report also suggests that some autonomies may
exacerbate school inequality. After all, there is a fixed pie of resources, and if some schools are free to grab more resources, their gain will come at the expense of others. In any event, the report, while useful, is tainted overall as one of its three co-authors is a CEO of an organization that has had a long-standing financial stake in promoting the report’s conclusions.
None of this is to comment one way or another on the quality of work CCE does in working with the schools and staff in our district. CCE may do a fine job, but that’s not the point. It’s bad practice to ask a Coca-Cola executive to do a study of the benefits of the soft drink industry.