I know that most of us here in Massachusetts are still reeling from the results of the Presidential election, but I feel compelled to share some thoughts on the outcome of the vote to raise the cap on charter schools.
On one hand I am delighted by the result of the vote. The voters of Massachusetts have spoken and they absolutely oppose any attempt to expand charters at the expense of traditional school districts. But on the other hand, I am utterly outraged at what the corporate education reformers have put our kids, our teachers and our school districts through over the last ten years given how little electoral support we now know that these champions of privatization have across the state.
Clear Message to MA Legislature
- Seven of these communities are located in one single state rep’s district on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
- The other nine are spread across six other state rep districts.
- And the only other district where a majority of voters voted 'yes' is in Education Committee Chair Alice Peisch's district in Metro West.
This means that the 'yes' side only carried two of the 160 state rep districts in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. It was even defeated by a 2 to 1 margin in Speaker DeLeo's district of Winthrop/Revere.
And after years of supporters claiming massive support for raising the cap in minority-majority neighborhoods, 'yes' lost by jaw-dropping margins in those neighborhoods - particularly in Boston.
What is astonishing about this outcome is that over the last decade elected officials on Beacon Hill have shown tremendous deference to proponents of lifting the cap, largely out of fear that they might someday follow through with their repeated threats to take this fight before the voters where polling, they claimed, showed them easily winning a ballot referendum.
And so for at least the last ten years education policy in Massachusetts has been created under a cloud of political fear as the privatizers, conservative think-tank researchers, neoliberal officials and their allies in the media have whipsawed state legislators, policy makers, school district officials -- and even some of our teacher union leaders -- into accepting the assumption that the corporate agenda was fait accompli.
They used their political clout to bluster and bully their way through Massachusetts politics, forcing the adoption of a whole host of policies that "test and blame" teachers and "test and shame" children.
And all of this was done with the explicit intent of setting up urban schools and school districts to fail and then using this manufactured "failure" as a pretense for transferring the control of public funds over to private, for-profit interests.
Those who might attempt to deny this need only recall Governor Baker’s television commercial targeted at white suburban voters, telling them that they had nothing to fear about Question 2 hurting “their” schools because the new powers granted by its passage would only be used to liquidate urban public school districts (wink wink).
Last spring the lead corporate privatizers were offered another very generous compromise by leadership of the state senate. But after so many years of getting their way the privatizers scoffed at the offer, instead opting to take the issue to the voters, thinking they would easily win.
Instead, they got absolutely, utterly crushed as the citizens of Massachusetts united behind their public schools -- even in every one of the 93 communities where Donald Trump won. In 250 communities the ‘yes’ side failed to garner even 39% of the vote. And in 150 communities, it failed to reach even 35%.
If that is not an electoral mandate, then electoral mandates do not exist.
Through their own arrogance and overreach these corporate reformers have helped to prove two things that elected officials on Beacon Hill had better take note of:
- that Massachusetts voters absolutely cherish their traditional public schools and reject any expansion of charters at the expense of traditional district budgets, and;
- Massachusetts voters want so-called 'failing' schools fixed - not closed - so that every child in every corner of our state can receive an excellent education.
Here in Massachusetts we know what it takes to build great schools. We have done it from one side of the state to the other, both in wealthy districts as well as low-income neighborhoods, and every other type of community in between. In spite of this, we all know that there are some schools in Massachusetts that need to be fixed, and many that need increased support.
Reject the Spin
As we move forward from this election we need to reject the continued ‘spin’ of the privatizers and make great schools for all kids our number one educational priority. And this means an about-face on policies that were designed and implemented as the build up to raising the charter cap and shifting toward privatization.
- We need to end high-stakes testing as a requirement for high school graduation.
Yes, we can and should still test kids – but with much less frequency. And we should not be sending children who have attended school and passed their course requirements into a 21st century economy without so much as a high school diploma simply because they failed a single metric. Doing so only dooms their chances of a hopeful economic future.
- We need to stop closing and/or taking over schools based solely on student test-scores.
- We need to stop forcing schools to compete against each other for dollars and students.
- We need to stop demonizing urban school teachers for problems that these brave educators have dedicated their entire professional careers to trying to solve.
- We need to stop the state Board of Education from using a school ranking and punishment system that guarantees that the lowest income communities will automatically have the most number of designated "failing" schools.
- We need to pass the Fair Share amendment, also known as the ‘millionaires tax,’ so that we can properly fund our education and infrastructure needs, and;
- We need to fix the foundation budget so that schools that serve all types of kids have the chance at a world-class public education.
And most importantly, as this election proved, we need to stop letting a small handful of people with a corporate-driven agenda dictate policies that we know are bad for communities and horrible for lots and lots of our children.
Twenty-five years ago Massachusetts led the way in education reform and now our public schools rank among the best in the world. Let's continue that work together, without the corrupting influence of for-profit privatizers, and together we can build a public school system where every single child has the opportunity to attend a great school.
Ted Chambers is proud to be a Boston Public School Teacher. He works at the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown.
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