Last Friday the commissioner of education, Mitchell Chester, announced that the state had declared that two Boston schools, Dorchester Academy and the Henry Grew, were to be placed into Turnaround Status.
|Ed Czar Chester issues warnings|
He also announced that the Dearborn was an immediate target to be placed into state receivership.
Across the state the commissioner moved three schools in Springfield and one in Worcester into Turnaround Status, and he also warned three more middle schools in Springfield that they were immediate targets for state receivership, as per the Dearborn.
In taking these steps, Dr. Chester is continuing his determined effort to target urban school districts in Massachusetts for punishment. See the commissioner’s press release.
|Burke Celebrates, Deservedly So (photo, courtesy BPS)|
There was some good news last week:
The Burke High School became the first high school in the state to leave Turnaround Status. This is cause for celebration for the Burke, and we commend the school community for their hard work. At the same time, however, we wonder at what cost the Burke had to suffer through these last four years of state-imposed punishment.
The commissioner sent out a batch of warning letters last week:
“You’ve-made-some-progress-but-not-enough” letters went to English High School and the E Greenwood.
“…While there have been some gains at the school, the modest trajectory of the school’s progress does not yet give me confidence that the conditions are in place that would lead to successful school turnaround…”
Read the congratulatory letter to the Burke, but you will note the thinly-disguised warning to staff:
“…State regulations allow for you to propose, for my approval, a continuation of authorities that come with Level 4 status. I strongly encourage you to apply for this continuation if there are authorities that you cannot secure through other means that would help you continue to meet your ambitious goals for the school…”
We can translate what these sentences mean: The Burke can go to Level 3, the step above Turnaround, provided it continues to operate as a Level 4 school. Many of the same Turnaround rules and structures will remain in place. The commissioner can — and will — maintain a stranglehold over the Burke.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind here.
Once a school goes into Turnaround status, it never escapes unless it “voluntarily” adopts significant aspects of the Turnaround Plan e.g., extended day without reasonable compensation, loss of due process rights, yearly need to obtain administrator’s approval to remain in the school.
According to federal guidelines, the district has 4 options when it comes to implementing a Turnaround strategy: Turnaround, Restart, Closure, and Transformation. The district has traditionally gone in the direction of Turnaround in which no less than 50% of the staff are moved out. Read here about the four different options.
What about the future?
The entire ‘corrective’ process is flawed as it punishes schools for much of what they have little control of:
- Dorchester Academy, for example, is in its third building in a few years. This year it shares a building with CASH, formerly a small school located at Hyde Park High School. All are housed in the Grover Cleveland, which was designed as a middle school. Dorchester Academy is a tightly-knit, proud school, whose nomadic existence hasn’t given it a solid chance for success.
- The Dearborn, now housed on the third floor at the Burke, is also in limbo and has been beset with uncertainty for the last
The Dearborn has been threatened with Receivership
few years (as well as the next few). The commissioner has just added one more straw, a heavy straw, to break their back. This, too, is a strong community that has worked for many, many years on a STEM plan for success.
- Ditto for the Grew. A cohesive and proud building, with staff working 24-7 to make the school better. The Grew deserved better, and its inclusion as a Turnaround surprised many, as did the others’.
Finally, this “target, blame, and punish” approach is not going to go away by itself. Only a legislative change at all levels will stop this takeover process. We cannot afford — year by year — to lose any more schools, whether it be to Turnaround, Turnaround with continued guidelines, or Receivership.
This is everybody’s problem and there cannot be any comfort in a school’s having escaped this year. The population of Level 3 schools is by definition membership in the lowest 20% MCAS-performing schools in the state. There will ALWAYS be a lowest 20%, and that lowest 20% will always be linked somewhat to poverty — the Springfields, the Worcesters, and the Bostons.
Rest of State
|Schools Threatened with Level 5 Status||1||0||3||0|
We need to join forces with those concerned about the continued sustainability of public education and work with our parent allies, our student allies, our community allies, and our teacher allies to force a change in this phony accountability system. Otherwise there will continue to be more Grews, more Dorchester Academies, and more Dearborns.