Our Schools, Our Solutions:
The Schools Boston Students Deserve
A research supported vision for all schools in Boston
Who We Are
We are students, educators, parents, school staff, and concerned community members who are deeply tied to the neighborhoods of Boston and directly affected by public education. We are committed to building a stronger and better public school system that is driven by community voices. By engaging all communities in Boston and building power through unity, the youth-driven coalition is committed to working with our elected and appointed officials and holding them accountable to the actual needs and desires of the communities served by Boston Public Schools.
As a diverse group of community stakeholders we have come together around a common commitment to public education. We believe that the best way to give every child the opportunity to pursue a rich and productive life, both as an individual and as a member of society, is through a system of publicly funded, equitable, community-based and democratically controlled public schools.
We have not reached this goal as a nation, particularly for low-income children and communities of color. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown vs. Board of Education, ruled that public schools must be integrated, and equitably resourced. We have never met that goal. We are not satisfied with an institution that finds the resources to provide some students with the most experienced and well- trained teachers, advanced technologies, expansive course options and state-of-the-art facilities, while other students languish in buildings that ought to be condemned, taught in over-crowded classrooms by teachers lacking the basic supports they need to do their job.
We are not satisfied. But we are also not prepared—as some are—to dismantle public education in the face of these challenges.
We live in the nation with the world’s largest divide between rich and poor. Millions of children grow up in oppressive poverty while the wealthiest 1% advocate for policies that increase their wealth at other’s expense. For the past twenty years, we have been subjected to intensive efforts by the rich and powerful to dismantle public education and create a new, market-based “portfolio of schools” based on competitive business models. Their strategies include increasing high-stakes testing initiatives that label and blame students and teachers, management of public schools by private for-profit companies, aggressive school closures and high turn-over in a non-unionized teacher workforce. The first targets for this approach have been poor and working-class African-American and Latino communities. Despite poor educational results, these corporate reformers have persisted.
Their consistent refrain has been “poverty doesn’t matter.” Yet, some who claim to be “saving” public education by tearing it down are the same organizations that oppose health care reform and fight against increases in the minimum wage. Many who fund these initiatives are the same organizations that created the home mortgage crisis and advocate for ever-more creative barriers to voting. Their interests have never been ours.
We need public schools that serve all children, not some at the expense of others. We need schools that are rooted in communities, and model the principles of democracy that guide our nation—where those closest to the classroom share in decision- and policy-making at all levels. We need schools where students feel safe, nurtured and empowered to become productive adults—schools that help to interrupt the pipeline to prison that too many of our children are caught in. We believe that the only way to achieve these schools is to reclaim and re-invest in the institution of public education. We are not there yet, but we envision a bold new path informed by those who are most impacted by public education.
We are parents, students and educators who have come together to fight for our schools. No longer will we allow ourselves to be divided. As much as at any other period in our nation’s history, access to good public schools that prepare all students for college and career is a critical civil and human right. We are committed to work together to reclaim the promise of public education as our nation’s gateway to democracy and justice.
These are the principles that unite us.
Boston Education Justice Alliance: The Principles that Unite Us
- Public schools are public institutions.
- Our voices matter.
- Stronger schools sustain stronger communities.
- Assessments should be used to improve instruction.
- A rich and varied curriculum is a key to student success.
- Quality teaching must be delivered by committed and respected educators. Schools must be welcoming and respectful places for all.
- Our schools must be funded for success and equity.
Public schools are public institutions.
Public schools are a community investment in our community’s future. Our public schools should be guided by a commitment to provide ALL children with the opportunity to attend a quality, public school. Privatization, corporate models of reform, and competition are incompatible with public education. These strategies seek to turn public schools over to private managers and deliberately create winners and losers. Policies driving improvements in public schools must encourage collaboration and collective accountability. Students and families should not have to compete for a quality education.
- We oppose the creation of charter schools for the purpose of privatization. Charter schools can serve as incubators of innovation, but must be fully accountable to the public and part of a unified educational system that serves all students, regulated for equity and accessibility.i ii iii
- Closing schools does not improve student academic performance. They destroy communities. School closures should always be a last resort, not an improvement strategy.iv
- Public education should not be a source of profit or wealth for the private sector.
- Public school policies should encourage cultures of collaboration, not competition. Schools should not have to compete against each other for resources and support.
Our voices matter.
Those closest to the education process—the educators, administrators, school staff, students and their parents—must have a voice in education policy and practice. Our schools and districts should be guided by them, not primarily by corporate executives, entrepreneurs, or philanthropists. Top-down reform typically doesn’t address the real needs of schools or students.
- Our districts should be democratically controlled. We are wary of mayoral control, as it has served primarily as a vehicle for corporate reform in many cities. We oppose state takeovers as the removal of local decision-making.
- Real school transformation comes when students, educators and parents are empowered and take ownership of their schools and classrooms, rather than disingenuous strategies like sham community hearings and “parent trigger laws” where the real decisions are made by others.v
- Student voice, particularly in high schools, should have authentic representation in decision- making bodies and processes, including hiring and evaluation.
- Autonomy should be given to students, parents, and teachers in making decisions they know are best for their school.
- School leadership should prioritize supporting and strengthening decision-making bodies that include the voices of educators, students and parents.
Stronger schools sustain stronger communities.
Schools are community institutions, as well as centers of learning. While they cannot single-handedly eradicate poverty, schools can help to coordinate the supports and services their students and families need to thrive. Education policies must address the challenges that students bring with them to school each day, and reflect the fact schools are an inextricable part of the communities in which they sit.
Full-service community-based schools offer a comprehensive vehicle for stronger schools and communities, coordinating wrap-around services and resources to meet the needs of children, families and neighborhoods.vi
We support early childhood programs that nurture learning and social development.
Public education should begin with fully funded universal pre-school.
Extended learning time—as whole school reform, not an add-on—provides students with additional opportunities for enrichment, and teachers with additional time to collaborate and plan. We support programs that expand the school day and year, as long as they are designed and developed with and approved by all stakeholders at the table, and as long as teachers and school staff are fairly compensated for their additional time.
School closings destabilize communities and should be used as a last resort, and only when a school has been given sufficient resources and support to improve.vii
Assessments should be used to improve instruction.
Assessments are a critical tool to guide teachers in improving their lesson plans, and framing their instruction to meet the needs of individual students. Assessments are misused when student results are available too late to inform instruction, when their excessive use takes away valuable instructional time, or when they are used for purposes they were not designed for. Assessments should be used to inform instructional decisions, not to punish educators or students.
- All students deserve a strong academic experience that is rich as well as rigorous and not narrowly defined by standardized testing.
- Assessments must be aligned to a culturally relevant and comprehensive curriculum including the arts and physical education.
- Any assessment system must contain multiple measures—to identify a variety of student attributes and progress through a range of means. Assessments must be administered in a timely manner to inform and guide improved student achievementviii.
- Assessments should not be used to rate and rank teachers, administrators or schools, or be linked to financial rewards or bonuses.
- There is an over-reliance on standardized assessments. Instead, schools should employ a variety of comprehensive assessments, including performance assessments and student portfolios, to evaluate student progress and achievement.ix x
- Standardized testing should not be a barrier to graduation. Alternative measures, such as performance assessments and portfolios, more accurately reflect a student’s readiness to graduate.
A rich and comprehensive curriculum is a key to student success.
A high-quality education is not limited to tested subjects. Students need access to rich and varied classroom experiences to grow both academically and personally, harness their unique skills and interests, and realize their full potential. Schools need to provide opportunities for students to explore and strengthen their skills across a wide-range of courses in order to prepare them to succeed in an increasingly complex world. Instruction should be comprehensive, challenging, and meaningful in order to prepare students for college, careers, and life.
Instruction should include opportunities for experiential learning and field studies that create connections to the students’ community and life experiences.
All students should have access to honors and Advanced Placement courses in order to maximize the individual student’s full potential and ensure that students are prepared for college.
Districts must prioritize meaningful, preventative health and wellness instruction.
Schools need adequate resources to provide students with quality instruction in the arts and social studies. They are core components of a curriculum and should not be cut for any reason.xi xii
Schools should support the expansion of ethnic studies. Curriculum and instruction should be culturally relevant and honor the heritages of all students.
Students who are not reading at grade level by the third grade need to receive intensive interventions and supports through all possible means.xiii
Special education students and English Language Learners must be provided with the necessary supports and resources that will help them achieve. Successful Inclusion models, Sheltered English Immersion programs, and two-way bilingual opportunities must be expanded.xiv xv
Character, citizenship, and leadership development should be an integral component of curriculum and instruction; this includes the social-emotional development of the child.
Quality teaching must be delivered by committed and respected educators.
We believe that teaching should be honored as a profession. Over the past five years, teachers have been vilified and unions have become scapegoats. It is time to stop. The highest performing states such as Massachusetts all have strong unions, and the lowest performing states do not. Students benefit from policies and improved teaching and learning conditions that teachers and their unions advocate for. Our teachers should be well-trained, supported, and given the opportunity to assume leadership roles in their schools, as well as in policy-setting on a broader scale.
Teacher preparation should be comprehensive, and include significant student teaching time in the classroom under the supervision of a highly skilled experienced teacher.xvi xvii
Districts must address the disparities in the distribution of experienced teachers. Alternative teaching programs with minimal and inadequate teacher preparation components should not be targeted exclusively at low-income schools or our most vulnerable students.
Professional development should be school-based and targeted to the individual needs of the teachers in the building.xviii
Coaching by master teachers with appropriate content and grade level experience should be available for teachers to help them improve their instruction.xix
Career ladders, or similar structures allow the most highly skilled teachers to take on new roles—with compensation—to help mentor, and guide less experienced teachers.
No high stakes evaluations or other measures should be applied to teachers unless and until they are provided with the full resources they need to do their jobs. Individual evaluations should not be made public.
Class size matters. Particularly in the most struggling schools, class size must be kept low enough that teachers are able to differentiate their instruction and provide individualized support to their students. xx
The diversity of the teaching staff should reflect the diversity of the students and communities in which they live.
Schools must be welcoming and respectful places for all.
Schools should be welcoming and inclusive of all members of our diverse communities. Students, parents, teachers and community residents should feel that they are respected and valued for their contributions. Schools that push out the most vulnerable and treat parents as intruders cannot succeed in creating a strong learning environment. Respectful schools are better places to both work, and learn.
School offices should be accessible to families whose primary language is one other than English. School enrollment forms and other materials should be available in languages that are significantly represented in the community.
School personnel and staff must be able to demonstrate cultural competency and welcome families that are too often marginalized.
Respect between administration and staff is a crucial component of a strong and healthy school climate.xxi
Respect for students includes elimination of zero-tolerance and other punitive policies that push students out of school. Students should play a role in creating and enforcing discipline policies that are grounded in restorative practices.
Public schools are intended to serve and develop the talents of all students. Schools should not utilize any practices that push out or set up barriers to enrollment for any group of students, including students with past behavioral issues, undocumented students, students with special needs or English language learners.
Schools must enforce policies and practices that promote tolerance and prohibit bullying in any form.
Schools must develop practices and policies to create welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth and staff.
Our schools must be fully funded for success and equity.
A just and democratic society requires an equitable educational system that empowers students to become engaged global citizens committed to human rights and social justice. For too long, our schools have been short-changed—expected to do more with less. If we value education, we must dedicate more of our nation’s vast wealth to supporting it. A full commitment to creating a just system includes a full commitment to funding it. We must have the political, economic, and social will to do so.
- Corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy must pay their fair share of taxes at the local, state, and national levels so that our schools have the resources they need to succeed.xxii
- We must end the practice of funding our schools based on local property wealth. Only when we take responsibility for all our schools, and all our children, will schools succeed for all our society. State funding should be used to even out the disparities.
- Education funding should reflect real costs rather than budgetary convenience or economic circumstances.
- The district should de-centralize the budget and give schools autonomy so that the school community, including teachers, parents, and students, can decide how to best use funds for the schools. All decisions should be driven by equity.
- As workplaces, schools must be safe and secure, as well as resourced for the purposes of teaching and learning. All schools should have high quality facilities, with state-of-the-art technology and resources for teaching and learning.
A Call to Action
As community stakeholders most impacted by and invested in the public schools of Boston, we agree to these principles, and commit to working together to achieve the policies and practices that they represent.
We will not be divided. Our schools belong to all of us: to the parents who support them, the educators and staff who work in them, the students who learn in them, and the communities that they anchor. Top-down reforms that disregard our voices, and attempt to impose a system of winners and losers to divide us must end.
We call on our communities, and commit the power of the organizations that we represent, to pursue these principles in our schools, districts and states. Together, we will work locally and nationally to make this vision of public education a reality.
i “CHARTER SCHOOLS: Additional Federal Attention Needed to Help Protect Access for Students with Disabilities,” Government Accountability Office, June 2012. Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/sites/democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/files/documents/112/pdf/lette rs/Charter%20School%20SWD%20full%20report_%20June%202012.pdf
ii “Success Academy parent's secret tapes reveal attempt to push out special needs student,” New York Daily News, August 30, 2013. Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/success-academy- tapes-reveal-attempt-transfer-student-article-1.1441098
iii “Access Denied: New Orleans Students and Parents Identify Barriers to Public Education,” Southern Poverty Law Center, December 2010. Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/publication/SPLC_report_Access_Denied.pdf
iv “Closing Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts,” The Pew Charitable Trusts, October 19, 2011. Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Philadelphia_Research_Initiative/Closing- Public-Schools-Philadelphia.pdf.
v “Parent Trigger: No Silver Bullet,” The Center for Education Organizing, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, 2012. Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://annenberginstitute.org/pdf/ParentTriggerPolicyBrief.pdf
vi “Community Schools Results,” Coalition for Community Schools, June 2013. Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://www.communityschools.org/assets/1/AssetManager/Community%20School%20Results%202013.pdf.
ii “Closing Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts,” The Pew Charitable Trusts, October 19, 2011. Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Philadelphia_Research_Initiative/Closing- Public-Schools-Philadelphia.pdf.
viii For additional information on multiple measures, see Laura Goe’s “Evaluating Teaching with Multiple Measures,” or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Ensuring Fair and Reliable Measures of Effective Teaching.”
ix Shepard, L.A., Hammerness K., Darling-Hammond, L., Ruse, F., with Baratz-Snowden, J., Gordon, E., Gutierrez, C., & Pacheco, A. (2005). Assessment..
x Darling-Hammond, L., & Brandsford, J. (Eds.), Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What teachers should learn and be able to do (pp. 275) San Franciso, CA: Jossey-Bass
xi Common Core (March, 2012). Learning Less: Public schools teachers describe a narrowing curriculum. Washington, D.C.: Farkas Duffett Research Group. Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://commoncore.org/maps/documents/reports/cc-learning-less-mar12.pdf
xii Common Core. (2009). Why We’re Behind: What top nations teacher their children but we don’t. Washington, D.C..Retrieved 12/2/13 from http://commoncore.org/maps/documents/reports/CCreport_whybehind.pdf.
xiii Campaign for Grade level Reading: “Reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success.”
xiv Goldenberg, C. (2013). Unlocking the Research on English Learners: What We Know—and Don't Yet Know— about Effective Instruction. American Educator. Retrieved from: http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/summer2013/goldenberg.cfm
xv Salend, S. J & Garrick Duhaney, L. M. (1999). The Impact of Inclusion on Students With and Without Disabilities and Their Educators. Remedial and Special Education, vol. 20 (no. 2), 114-126. doi: 10.1177/074193259902000209. Retrieved from: http://rse.sagepub.com/content/20/2/114.refs.
xvi LaPage, P., Darling-Hammond, L., Akar, H., Gutierrez, C., Jenkins-Gunn, E., & Rosebrock, C. (2005). Classroom management. In L. Darling-Hammond and J. Bransford (eds.), Preparing Teachers for a Changing World, (pp. 327- 357). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
xvii National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (2010). Transforming Teacher Education though Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers. Washington, D.C.: NCATE
xviii Darling-Hammond, L. (1999). Teaching and California’s future: Professional Development for Teachers, Setting the Stage for Learning from Teaching. Center for the Future of Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from: www.cftl.org/documents/Darling_Hammond_paper.pdf
xix Edutopia Interview. (2001). Linda Darling-Hammond: Thoughts on Teacher Preparation. Edutopia. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/ldh-teacher-preparation
xx “Class Size Reduction and Student Achievement: The Potential Tradeoff between Teacher Quality and Class Size,” with Steven Rivkin, Journal of Human Resources, 44(1), 2009, pp. 223-250
xxi Center for American Progress . (July 2011) “Reforming Public School Systems through Sustained Union- Management Collaboration”. Washington, DC: Rubinstein, S.A. and McCarthy, J.
xxii “Corporate Tax Dodging in the Fifty States, 2008-2010,” Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Citizens for Tax Justice, December 2011. Retrieved 12/2/13 at http://www.ctj.org/corporatetaxdodgers50states/.