Letters from CPS Members

Submitted November 14, 2014

When it comes to public school policy, the Golden Rule increasingly goes like this: “He who has the gold rules”  (“Boston’s long wait for a longer school day,” Nov. 14). We’ve just survived elections sullied by a flood of noisy, expensive “speech” paid for by anonymous donors. Now we face a similar challenge to the public education debate in Massachusetts.

Scot Lehigh applauds Families for Excellent Schools (FES), a recent transplant from New York using its war chest to bolster Massachusetts’ charter school movement. FES isn’t advertising its backers, but a little digging confirms that this is no grass roots parent group. Instead of holding bake sales and car washes, FES got an $800,000 grant from Strategic Grant Partners to expand into Massachusetts. Other backers include the Walton Family Foundation and similar groups supporting corporate education reforms like high-stakes testing and charters.

Journalists once saw their mission as afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Offering free PR to groups like FES turns that on its head. Meanwhile, Lehigh has no room for the voices of public school parents who see that charters largely exclude students with disabilities and English language learners and divert public resources from district schools.  They see the creation of a two-tier system and wonder what the end game will be. Who’s listening to their voices?

Lisa Guisbond
Executive Director
Citizens for Public Schools


Submitted March 20, 2014

The Herald’s bitter attack on Senators Chang-Diaz and Jehlen reveals a warped view of public education (“Cynicism on charters,” Editorial, March 20). It’s not a sign of cynicism, as the Herald claims, but integrity that they are listening to thousands of public school parents. It takes courage to resist and not kowtow to deep-pocketed charter proponents. Parents see how charter school growth has constricted resources available for basics like art and music, gym and social workers. Lifting the cap will make this bad situation worse.

The truth is that charters don’t enroll students with the weakest English skills and the most severe disabilities. Charter schools cannot solve our state’s stubborn achievement gaps if they exclude these students.

Instead of pitting groups of parents against one another, we should emulate nations that offer quality schooling for all, through government programs that reduce child poverty, high-quality pre-school, respect and preparation for teachers — and less punitive testing.

Lisa Guisbond
Executive Director
Citizens for Public Schools

Published March 15, 2014

Calling for “the next round” of education reform and the raising of the charter school cap, the March 13 Globe op ed assigns to Public Schools families a familiar role, that of invisibility. In the flood of technocratic buzzwords and selective claims, there isn’t one reference to family input. We’re nowhere to be found in the familiar narrative of teachers’ unions as the alleged obstacle to school improvement—because we would complicate that narrative.

We haven’t found mass firings of teachers through “turnaround” measures to be supportive of our children and neighborhoods. One-size-fits-all federalized policy isn’t a true upgrade of school autonomies. Rather, it deprives educators and families of an influential voice and deprives students of substantive learning, of deepening skills and lasting connections.

Key to school strength is investment. We need full and stable staffing. We need well-equipped and well-maintained schools. Independent sources such as Moodys have indicated that charter financing is the single biggest drain on the financial health of urban school districts. The call to lift the charter cap and force further unfunded mandates on the city of Boston is irresponsible, shockingly so as we face devastating budget cuts to Boston Schools next year.

Naama Goldstein
BPS parent and Citizens for Public Schools board member

March 13, 2014

Public school parents increasingly see how charter school growth constricts resources available for fundamentals like art and music, gym and social workers (“Education reform has worked for Mass.; it’s time for the next round,” March 13).  Boston parents are pleading with the School Committee to restore huge budget cuts at their schools — cuts that will hurt students. Lifting the cap will make a bad situation worse.

It is true that charters don’t enroll students with the weakest English skills and the most severe disabilities, no maybes about it.  That’s one reason why we do have a war between district schools and charters. War is inevitable so long as schools must compete for a limited and shrinking pot of money (due in part to increasing health care costs and special education needs). Our children are in the crossfire.                                                                         

The goal of an inclusive public system is being replaced with two tiers. One has its doors open to all, including recent immigrants and those with the most significant special needs. The other is not for everyone, as the Globe concedes.

Instead of pitting parents against one another, we could emulate nations that offer quality schooling for all, through government programs that reduce child poverty, high-quality pre-school, respect and preparation for teachers — and less punitive testing.

Lisa Guisbond
Executive Director
Citizens for Public Schools

March 9, 2014

If you can close the door on a student, are you truly a “public” school deserving of funding with tax dollars? We citizens and taxpayers have a responsibility to hold all our public schools – district and charter – accountable for teaching and supporting every single student, regardless of language or special learning need.

Repeatedly, studies show that charter schools do not enroll and/or maintain – students with significant special learning needs.  A district public school accepts and must find a way to support all students.

Charter schools typically do not meet the standard of enrolling students at all various levels of learning English.

Charters are at the very top of the list of schools producing the most student suspensions each year.

Attrition rates among charter schools are shocking. Some schools lose half their original enrollment by “graduation” year.  These students return to public schools – often in mid-year. Charters are not required to replace those who have left. District schools must adapt and find a way to support such students.

The above considerations demonstrate the wide difference between the “public” aspect of charter schools and those of district schools.

Ann B. O’Halloran
President, Citizens for Public Schools
MA History Teacher of the Year, 2007

March 7, 2014

The best thing about Scot Lehigh’s op-ed is the headline, “Want a longer school day? Pay up” (March 7). Of course we need to pay qualified, experienced teachers for their extended time if we want to give our students high-quality educational and enrichment programming.

Unfortunately, what follows the headline is a disappointing piece of free advice to gubernatorial candidates. It amounts to underpaying teachers who work in districts with the greatest needs. No one would dare suggest this for any other profession with a straight face. Is the solution to our health care problems to pay doctors a stipend for taking on extra patients?

Here’s my free advice: Ask teachers in our most challenged districts how much time is wasted preparing for and giving standardized tests. One Boston principal told me her school is giving standardized exams for 90 out of 180 school days, half this school year.

The real question for all of us, including our candidates, is this: Want school days filled with learning instead of testing? Test less; teach more. It won’t cost a cent.

Lisa Guisbond
Executive Director
Citizens for Public Schools


July 28, 2011

As a Lawrence High School alum, I was delighted to see two op-eds in the Globe on Lawrence on Thursday. I am proud to be from Lawrence and all it stands for. Indeed, my immigrant grandfather put his body on the front lines of the Bread and Roses strike, a seminal event in our nation’s history.
However, as a former math teacher, an educational consultant, and President of Citizens for Public Schools, I continue to be disappointed with the Boston Globe’s promotion of the charter schools movement. According to Edward Glaeser’s op-ed (“Educate Cities Back to Life”), charter schools are having “remarkable results with Hispanic students”. Who says? Where is the data to support his position?

Anyone who has been seriously following the ed reform debate for any length of time knows that the studies that extoll the “remarkable results” of charter schools are considered seriously flawed by critics. According to one such source, a 2009 META brief, as reported in Education Week, results in this area are a mixed bag ( http://www.edweek.org/media/metacharterschoolbrief.pdf).

Research from across the nation continues to reveal the sad truth. In the aggregate, charter schools, with all of their advantages – engaged families and motivated students, to name a few – do no better nor worse than the public schools. At the same time, charters undermine the ability of public schools to do their job by siphoning off much needed and dwindling funds from shrinking school budgets. How is this even a fair comparison?

Just follow the money trail back to what Diane Ravitch calls ‘the billionaire boys club”, and it quickly becomes clear that today’s assault on public schools is a cruel and concerted attempt to undermine public confidence in public schools and public educators. Oh, yes, and their unions. Let’s not forget about them.

Brilliant. Raid the public till and kill the groups that protect workers’ rights and the middle class. My grandfather would be weeping – but Machievelli, himself, would surely be proud.

Paula Parnagian

Jonathan King

February 5, 2011

To the Editor of the New York Times:

Your article describing the unfortunate decline in science fair participation accurately depicts the negative impact of excessive standardized testing (“It May Be a Sputnik Moment, But Science Fairs are Lagging,” Feb. 5). Such overtesting was mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act and has been escalated by the U.S. Education Department’s Race to the Top campaign.

But the damage goes deeper than Science Fair enrollment. Authentic experiments, field trips, student-designed projects, and inquiry-based learning in the sciences are being pushed out of the classroom by the need to score well on standardized tests. Standardized tests cannot capture the experience of students encountering the natural world. Working scientists and science teachers have always understood that engaging and exciting students about science depends on their encounters with real problems in the real world–learning to observe, to experiment, to interpret. The rote drill-and-kill preparation aimed at increasing standardized test scores represents a return to 19th century pedagogy. This alienates students and is driving the most effective and creative teachers out of the classroom.

Sadly, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s agenda and programs contradict the President’s message. To really promote strong science education and understanding, President Obama must correct the counter-productive education policies of his own administration.

Jonathan King
Prof.of Molecular Biology

Bruce Ditata

February 4, 2011

To the Editor of the Globe:

An odyssey through the labyrinth of education reform (“The Talent Strategy,” Feb. 3) brought us no closer to a workable definition of what makes a good teacher, but the Carnegie Corporation’s position is, apparently, on the side of linking teacher performance to high-stakes testing.

Carnegie applauds the Federal governments Race to the Top initiative for having “placed new emphasis on data systems that can trace teachers’ success in raising student achievement.” In the case of Massachusetts, it matters not to the ivory tower thinkers that the MCAS generates invalid results and is discriminatory to many of the students it purports to accurately assess.  Placing teacher evaluations in tandem with an invalid instrument only deepens the chasm.

And while trumpeting the idea that there is a “need to offer (teachers) a career path that provides opportunities to expand their reach,” Carnegie offers no insights other than the bromide of “accountability” that is “ongoing and data-based.”

Translation: No real innovation here- just another precinct heard from, clamoring for better teachers but offering little more than a “system” of test results as a solution.

Sincerely yours,
Bruce C. Ditata