Boston Mayor Marty Walsh finds himself in the cross-hairs over his commitment to improving his city’s public schools and his belief that charter schools are an integral part of achieving that goal.
Perhaps the silliest assertion laid at his feet in recent days comes from a short blog by Charles Pierce at Esquire that accuses Walsh of “pulling a Scott Walker.” He borrows this line from the anti-reform Diane Ravitch blog and it is defined as “pulling a fast one once you’re elected that you never made a part of your campaign.” He goes on to to impugn charter schools and those who fund them, referring to them as “grift” and “wingnuts” while also accusing Mayor Walsh of having said that he wants to close 36 schools.
It’s certainly natural for ideologues to escalate when they don’t get what they want, not unlike a toddler when he hears the word ‘no.’ However, the facts simply aren’t on their side and their personal attacks are predictable since they cannot honestly argue this on the merits. Given that national studies have identified Boston as having the highest performing charter sector in the country, it would be reckless for the Mayor not to include them in a process specifically designed to make all Boston schools high performing.
But to compare Marty Walsh, a former union laborer and head of the Boston Building Trades Council, to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is absurd. While Walsh has been successfully negotiating new contracts with police officers and firefighters during his short term, Scott Walker has been actively fighting against collective bargaining. The comparison isn’t even a stretch – it is just plain wrong.
During the mayoral campaign in September of 2013, then Candidate Marty Walsh testified to lift the charter school cap, and voted as a state legislator in 2010 to lift the charter cap . He made no secret of his support for school choice then and no one who should be surprised by his support of charter schools now, often touting that he was a founding board member of Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester. Like Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang, Walsh sees collaboration with charter schools as one essential piece of the puzzle to make Boston Public Schools the best they can be for all families, not just some families.
Mr. Pierce uses content from another anti-charter blog in his Esquire piece. In her blog entitled Public School Mama (an ironic title since charter schools are public), the blogger takes issue with the following statement made by Mayor Walsh, which she alleges was made while speaking about school consolidation and closures.
It’s going to be controversial in some ways, but it’s going to be the right thing to do to make sure that our young people get the best education, in the best buildings, with the best principals and the best teachers in this city,” he said.
I’d imagine that even his harshest critics would be hard pressed to find any city leader doing a facilities audit who doesn’t subscribe to the same opinion. With changes in student populations and housing patterns, aging buildings, a rapidly changing economy, and a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers, it would be irresponsible for him, or any Mayor, not to consider all options.
But considering all options is not the same as saying you want to close 36 schools and Marty Walsh has never said that. There isn’t a single reputable source to which anyone can attribute that claim but the anti-charter and anti-universal enrollment parent crowd has seized upon it in the hope that it will get them what they want.
Here’s the best thing they have: In off the record meetings with parents, BPS officials have intimated that the mayor wants to get the Boston Public Schools down to 90 buildings.
Source? “BPS officials,” not Mayor Walsh.
When? No date provided.
Where? Also missing.
Names of Parents Present? None listed.
So what is driving these parents? This faux controversy around what some anonymous allegedly ‘intimated’ really began with a FOIA request around the Boston Compact, a collaboration of district, charter, and parochial, and the issue of universal enrollment, the opportunity for a parent to fill out one application for one lottery for schools. This parent group is opposed to universal enrollment, an initiative in principle supported by Mayor Walsh, Superintendent Chang, and Governor Baker that would allow for districts and charter schools to share an enrollment system. The documents that came out of the FOIA request included the names of funders. Then, opponents decided to connect their own dots, specifically the above unattributed quote and two distinct policy initatives, facilities and enrollment. In doing so, they created a narrative that is not only false but also incredibly self serving.
The truth is that Mayor Walsh is committed to the master planning process and in looking at that plan, there is not a single mention of closing 36 schools. He, along with schools chief Tommy Chang and other city leaders, have committed to looking at the entire ecosystem of BPS to evaluate how to best re-configure schools so that they serve students and families for the quickly changing economy in which we now find ourselves. The reality today, in 2015, is that charter schools (along with magnet schools) are part of that ecosystem.
Margaret Mead is famous for saying that we should never doubt the power of a small group of people to change the world; it is one of my favorite quotations, actually. But it’s unlikely that she she had in mind a small group of upper middle class parents on Twitter fighting to take school choice and universal enrollment policies away from their own city’s poorest families when she said it. These parents may have a neighborhood school they love but many low income parents in Boston are literally desperate for more choices. They don’t care what kind of school it is; this isn’t political for them. They just want their children to get the same education as the children whose parents earn far more money than they do. And the Governor, the Mayor, and the Superintendent are right to be working hard to make that happen.