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Hey Wellesley, Let’s Support Access to Great Schools for All Massachusetts Children and #LifttheCap

(This piece first ran in The Wellesley Townsman here on July 27, 2016)

 

I graduated from Wellesley High School in 1991. I was lucky to have excellent schools in the premier zip code that became my own in 1979 as a young girl entering the first grade at Hardy School. And now as a former educator and current education advocate and blogger, I have become even more aware of just how unlevel the playing field is for kids and families when it comes to accessing good schools.

The contrast between the offerings and resources in Wellesley’s schools and what I later saw in both urban and even non-urban schools can only be described as shocking. Truth be told, it is hard to fathom the disparities without seeing them with your own eyes. Putting aside the lack of gymnasiums, sports fields, and books for each kid, the opportunity to take Calculus and AP courses often doesn’t even exist. Kids take buses to the nearest YMCA for PE and teams have to walk to local city parks for their daily practices.

Massachusetts currently has a cap on charter schools that is preventing low income families from accessing high quality schools like the ones that we from Wellesley have come to take for granted. I had no idea how uniquely good my K-12 experience was until I spent time working in and visiting schools in far less affluent places. It’s hard to imagine not being able to bring books home or not having qualified teachers in classrooms or doing 5th grade level work in 8th grade classes. But it’s all happening a mere twenty minutes away from Quebrada Bakery and The Cheese Shop.

Governor Baker wants the charter cap lifted and as the mother of three young sons, I am on the governor’s side.  As a former teacher at Wellesley High School, I am on the governor’s side. And I’m confident that by November, most in my hometown of Wellesley will also be on his side, at least on this issue of giving parents the ability to choose the right school for their children.

Thousands of Massachusetts families have found hope by way of the Bay State’s high performing charter sector. They are attracted to a public and tuition-free alternative to what their zip code has to offer and they are chomping at the bit to exercise their right to school choice. They themselves have already voted, with their feet.

There are currently 34,000 students on waiting lists for charter schools in Massachusetts. Their parents are desperate for a better education than their neighborhood schools offer. They want the cap lifted.  But status quo protectors do not and Barbara Madeloni, the “grand puba” of status quo protectors and president of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Union is determined to block parents from enrolling their children in the schools of their choice.

Governor Baker has repeatedly said that he does not believe that any parent should be expected to send their child to a school that he himself wouldn’t be comfortable with for his own children. Madeloni disagrees with him. And a ballot question this November will decide it for all parents statewide.

It’s scary how rarely certain constituencies actually focus on (or even mention) the well-being of students. They’ll go to war over their jobs, buildings, teacher evaluation, and money but they stop short of doing battle for the children who most need a warrior on their side. On the contrary, they fight against the kids and families who are the most in need of better schools and more options. The children for whom moving to the ‘burbs or paying for private school is simply not in the cards.

While thousands of children wait for a better option, the Massachusetts Teachers Union celebrates obstruction. Social media is full of pictures of smiling teachers, almost all of whom are white, holding signs saying “#keepthecap.”

In the meantime, most of those teachers have never set foot in the struggling schools in which they’re trapping vulnerable children. They continue to teach in districts with average home prices that are out of reach for for a majority of Massachusetts residents, while enrolling their own children in the same high quality schools that remain inaccessible to those on charter school waiting lists. While more than sixty school committees have passed official resolutions to “keep the cap”, I’m grateful that Wellesley is not one of them.

Wellesley boasts a median home price of $1.2 million. Neighboring Weston’s even higher at $1.4 million. Sure, the schools in these communities are public but only to the the very small fraction of families who can afford to access them by way of buying real estate.

As someone who has seen the best schools, the worst schools, and everything in between, it is my hope, prayer actually, that Wellesley voters will take a moment to put themselves in the shoes of the parents unable to access a decent school for their child because of an arbitrary charter cap.

As a former member of two teachers’ unions myself, I ask you to ignore the union machine and the “save our schools” and “keep the cap” crowd trying to convince voters in the Bay State that the current way of doing things is working. It isn’t. Massachusetts has the third highest achievement gaps in the country based on race and income; the system is quite simply not working for everyone.

 

 

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