Boston students deserve more learning, less busing by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The following post is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

This fall, after 27 months of bitter negotiations, the Boston Teachers Union accepted a contract providing new forms of teacher evaluation and remediation for under-performing teachers. At the same time, they turned thumbs down on extending the school day by 45 minutes. That’s a pity because, if there’s one things students need, it’s more time in the classroom. Boston teachers are among the highest paid in the Commonwealth and put in the least number of hours. That makes their recalcitrance on this issue all the more dispiriting.

There are many exciting things going on in the Boston schools. Those accomplishments were evident in the annual Principal for a Day program run by the Boston Plan for Excellence and sponsored by Bank of America. Last week, I visited the Edison K-8 school in Brighton, headed by outstanding principal Mary Driscoll. Under her leadership, her creativity, utilizing multiple partnerships with groups like City Connects and Playworks, and taking advantage of the size of the school (838 students and a large physical plant), the school boasts a well-rounded program, with solid arts, science and physical education along with the usual academic subjects.

Teachers won’t take the same amount of pay for teaching longer hours. They made that clear, and I understand that. But there is a way to get more learning time. And that’s to take the time and resources spent to change the school assignment process. Instead of busing students all around town, convert savings of $70 million or $80 million to extra classroom time. Busing was a 1970′s court-ordered remedy for de facto segregation in the city’s schools. But now neighborhood housing patterns have largely changed, and only 13 percent of the school population is white. So children of color spend about one and a half hours a day being transported from their own neighborhoods to schools that are also largely a mix of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. So why not make sure that all schools in every neighborhood offer a quality education?

It is true that, right now, not every neighborhood has a quality school. The worst will have to be closed. Superintendent Carol Johnson pledges to do that, and to work with under-performing schools, getting the parents engaged, to improve them. Money saved from the irrational busing should follow the schools with greatest need to add time to the learning day.

My elementary school, the Alexander Hamilton, has been combined with the Edison, now K-8. Unlike when I was a Boston student (in the Pleistocene era), the teachers are young (average age at Edison in the early ’30′s), dynamic, creative, team workers and totally dedicated. They are most impressive.

If there’s anything the Principal for a Day program demonstrates, it’s that it is possible to improve quality. There’s plenty of talent in the system. Exciting learning goes on, especially thanks to the more than 200 corporate and non-profit partnerships who are investing time and talen to making the BPS top quality.

In two months, the External Advisory Committee studying the students assignment process, will make recommendations for new approaches to school selection. This isn’t just about the yellow buses.They have an enormous opportunity to affect the quality of education for all. Let’s hope they do it.

I welcome your comments below.

Hurricane Sandy death toll and causes

The New York Times yesterday had a story and graphic that identified the 97 people who perished in the New York/New Jersey region during Hurricane Sandy. It also listed their causes of death which I found very instructive. Here are the causes of death, listed in order of frequency:

Drowning – 37
Hit by falling tree – 19
Injuries from fall – 11
Carbon monoxide – 8
Fire – 5
Motor Vehicle Accident – 4
Hypothermia – 3
Medical – 3
Crushed by debris – 2
Electrocuted – 2
Bled to death – 2

Some comments: The drownings were mostly elderly individuals trapped in their homes when the water rose suddenly. The deaths from falling trees occurred in a variety of settings: some victims were out during the storm; others sitting in their homes when trees crashed through roofs; others from post-storm clean-up. I was really surprised by the number who died from falls. Almost all involved elderly individuals who had fallen down stairs in homes that were without electricity. The “medical” were folks on respirators that failed when power was lost. The carbon monoxide deaths resulted from running generators in basements or garages. The two who bled to death sustained serious cuts, one from a chain saw, the other while trying to turn off the gas in the home. The hypothermia deaths were elderly in homes with no heat.

All of these deaths were tragic, but the frequency of some of the causes – falls & hypothermia, for instance – were surprising and instructive of some of the risks not often considered.

Lincoln Spoke at Gettysburg ~ November 19, 1863

Lincoln at Gettysburg on November 19, 1963  (hatless in the center),  Library of Congress photo

In November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to deliver some remarks at the official dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, on the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the Civil War. He was not the featured orator on that November 19th day  – the famous Boston orator Edward Everret who spoke for two hours was considered the keynote speaker. Yet it was Lincoln’s 273-word,  three minute address  – which later became known as the Gettysburg Address – that would be remembered as one of the most important speeches in American history.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.



Looking for Jack Boston

The following showed up as a comment and came to me by email. I’ve never heard of Jack Boston but thought some of our readers might have. Please leave a comment on this post if you have any info.

I am looking for a picture of a man by the name of Jack Boston. Jack was a sound man (public address) from Malden Ma. He did quite a bit of work at Lowell’s South Common like events, parades, commencements etc… I cannot find anything on this man. I have scoured my local resources. He would have been in Lowell around the late 40s’ to mid to late 1950′s . Sources say that he had a car that stood out. It was a 1937 Buick/Pontiac with platforms on both the rear bumper to front affixed with loudspeaker horns …they would have been on the roof as well. This car would have been seen in parades etc…his work on South Common would have been a sound installation …i.e. speakers hanging from the trees etc… Could you help me?