The latest version of the education reform bill to come out of the joint committee on education has many laudable elements that could improve education in entire schools and even school districts. The Innovation Schools look like they’re heading in the right direction. Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the bill are potentially workable although they include absurdities such as the statement: “Not more than five percent of the public schools in the commonwealth may be designated as underperforming or chronically underperforming at any given time.” This is a perfect example of how our education bureaucracy drives our system with data. It mandates how many schools can be underachieving and, viola, the rest are gone. Welcome to Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average.
Section 1, subsections ‘d’ and ‘o’ of the bill provide a long list of elements that the Joint Committee on Education apparently deems essential to providing a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in underachieving districts. In fact, most of the elements listed would benefit every school in the Commonwealth. It seems to me that students whose schools are underachieving but excluded from the services listed in subsections ‘d’ and ‘o’ have just cause for a suit against the state for knowingly not providing FAPE.
In creating the innovation plan required in subsection (b), the superintendent may, after considering the recommendations of the group of stakeholders: (1) expand, alter, or replace the curriculum of the school, including the implementation of research-based early literacy programs and the teaching of advanced placement courses, if the school does not already have such programs or courses; (2) reallocate the uses of the existing budget of the school; (3) provide additional funds to the school from the budget of the district, if the school does not already receive funding from the district at least equal to the average per pupil funding received for students of the same classification and grade level in the district; (4) provide funds, subject to appropriation and following consultation with applicable local unions, to increase the salary of any administrator or teacher in the school, in order to attract and retain highly qualified administrators or teachers or to reward administrators or teachers who work in underperforming schools that achieve the annual goals set forth in the innovation plan; (5) expand the school day or school year of the school; (6) for an elementary school, add pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten classes, if the school does not already have such classes; (7) following consultation with applicable local unions, require the principal and all administrators, teachers, and staff to reapply for their positions in the school, with full discretion vested in the superintendent regarding his or her consideration of and decisions on any such reapplications; (8) limit, suspend, or change 1 or more school district policies, as such policies relate to the school; (9) include a provision of job-embedded professional development for teachers at the school, with an emphasis on strategies that involve teacher input and feedback; (10) provide for increased opportunities for teacher planning time and collaboration focused on improving student instruction; (11) put in place a plan for professional development for administrators at the school, with an emphasis on strategies that develop leadership skills and use the principles of distributive leadership; (12) establish steps to assure a continuous pipeline of high expertise teachers by aligning the following processes with the common core of professional knowledge and skill: hiring, induction, teacher evaluation, professional development, teacher advancement, school culture, and organizational structure; (13) develop a strategy to search for and study best practices in areas of demonstrated deficiency in the school; (14) establish strategies to address mobility and transiency among the student population of the school; or (15) include additional components, at the discretion of the superintendent, based on the reasons why the school was designated as underperforming and the recommendations of the group of stakeholders in subsection (b).
This type of “choice” has no value because it is only a choice to put your child’s name in a lottery that might lead to something better. The alternative is to quietly accept sub-standard education. The blatant truth is that we cannot afford – or are not willing to pay – to adequately educate all of our children. Legislators could choose to improve that situation by, for example, the elimination of unfunded and counterproductive regulations; or redirection of funds and other resources from consultants, bureaucrats, and charter schools to public school classrooms. Families in underachieving schools do not need a choice between supposedly good and supposedly bad schools; they need a Free and Appropriate Public Education. It’s the law.