The Gateway Cities Journal
News and information for leaders who care about Gateway Cities


Collaborative Leadership Up Against the Charter School Cap


Leaders in Brockton and Fitchburg are distressed by the reaction to last week's news that charters will not be awarded to applicants looking to open new schools in their communities. This episode is yet another example of how the debate around charters has become toxic.


Having witnessed how hard educators in Brockton and Fitchburg have worked to put in place innovative learning models and how their successes only strengthen their resolve, I have a deep appreciation for how it must feel to be on the receiving end of blanket statements made by candidates and columnists implying that they have failed students. They believe these comments demean their work. They also worry about the impact that this talk will have on their communities -- when parents looking for a quality education system hear this background noise and avoid these very residential cities, their neighborhoods and homeowners suffer.


Debate over the fate of the Brockton and Fitchburg charters has centered around how we define low performing districts. We have set an academic standard (tested by MCAS) that all students should be expected to reach and this is essential. However, as long as there is great variation in the types of students different schools serve, there is absolutely no logic in measuring a school's performance based on the percentage of students that meet this standard at a fixed point in time. The classic example is a school serving many immigrant students. A fourteen-year-old arriving from another country speaking little English will be placed with his peers, but it's impossible to expect him to pass the same tests at the end of the school year.


That's why the legislature, following the advice of expert statisticians, chose to use a student growth measure as the means for determining the performance of school districts. Given that both charters and urban districts serve disproportionately disadvantaged students, they each have a real stake in promoting the use of growth measures (when looking at absolute scores, charters are well represented among the ranks of the lowest performing districts in the state). It does no good for leaders who care about inclusive urban education to bemoan the use of growth measures; if anything, they should be crying foul that the student growth measure Massachusetts uses is likely biased toward affluent districts.

All that said, the central question this dustup raises isn't really about student growth measures. It is can we develop a smarter way to authorize new charters in the future?


When I was in graduate school studying city planning, my professors drilled into me how important it is to bring together a diverse cross-section of the community in any revitalization effort. This theme was so dominant that I thought they were overreacting a bit to the hard-learned lessons of urban renewal. But as I have experienced the work up close, I have gained a much deeper appreciation for why it's so critical to engage the community and build consensus before taking action. What I've witnessed is backed up by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Their research demonstrates that successful cities are invariably those that work collaboratively to solve problems (the Boston Fed found this so compelling they took the unprecedented step of creating the Working Cities Challenge. Fitchburg was one of the winners).


Given our increasing understanding of how important collaborative leadership and embracing a shared vision is to a community's long-term success, it strikes me as completely contradictory that the state's approach to charter school applications takes the opposite approach. Charters are approved without local support and consideration for how the new school fits into a broader local education strategy.


We must appreciate that Massachusetts would not be where it is today without charters. Charter leaders have led the call for standards and "no excuses" accountability systems. They helped reveal unjust socioeconomic disparities and set the expectation that it is the job of urban educators to do whatever is required of them to close achievement gaps.


Charters should continue to play an important role in fostering innovation in public education. Around the country, charters are increasingly working collaboratively alongside district schools to support the community's shared education strategy. Massachusetts's policymakers should promote this approach while leaving room for rare exceptions, where communities cannot come together to make progress on their educational challenges. The work of the receiver in Lawrence perfectly demonstrates the value of charters as change agents in an integrated district turnaround plan.


Brockton and Fitchburg are not failing. Anyone who looks carefully at the progress they've made can tell you that educators in these cities deserve recognition and support furthering their good work.


-- Ben Forman





The Boston Globe reports on a new MassINC/UMass Donahue Institute study that shows the number of working-age adults in Massachusetts with at least a bachelor's degree will top out in 2020 before declining over the next decade, raising concerns about labor shortages in a state that thrives on knowledge-based industries.


In just four years, Harrington elementary in Lynn improves from Level 4 to Level 1, a huge turnaround, the Item reports.


Following the disqualification of two new charter school applications from Fitchburg and Brockton, the two schools have now begun the appeal process with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The disqualifications quickly became a campaign issue with Charlie Baker and Martha Coakley both stating they would like to revive the bids according to the Telegram.


Chris Gabrieli,former head of the Springfield control board, goes back to the City of Homes with his Empower Schools organization to help eight of its struggling middle schools.


The Fall River school committee celebrates -- the number of perfect MCAS scores was nearly double that of the prior year with 81 students achieving excellence.


Housing & Economic Development


In town for a Boston Fed conference that takes on income inequality, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen visits Chelsea to get the pulse of the people most effected by income inequality and to ask about how the city was able to  bounced back from the sub-prime mortgage crisis, NECN reports.


On a recent tour of New Bedford's potential development sites, the executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council makes the pitch to developers that the city is worth their attention and investments.


The City of Brockton brings back land auctions in an effort to bolster city tax rolls and spur economic development. Nine properties will be up for sale and proceeds will add to the $650,000 in revenue that the program had already produced.


Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch paints a positive picture for development in the city during the Quincy Chamber of Commerce annual breakfast. He stresses the importance of infrastructure and discusses future projects planned for the city.


The US Department of Housing and Urban Development awards more than $1.7 million to fair housing organizations in Massachusetts, including Holyoke, New Bedford, and Worcester.


The City of Revere files suit against the state gambling commission on Thursday following Everett's winning of the Greater Boston license last month, the Boston Globe reports.


State and city officials battle over the name of the New Bedford's South Terminal.




The Lowell Sun reports that Lowell has received $15 million for a partnership between the city and the state's Department of Transportation to reconstruct the Thorndike Street corridor, including the Lord Overpass, Appleton Street Bridge, and the Thorndike Street Bridge.


New Bedford celebrates the completion of Runway 5-23 at the New Bedford Regional Airport, the last piece of a five year, $30 million improvement project.




The Methuen Rail Trail is getting a $243,000 boost from state funding, including a $43,000 grant to the city from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.


The closing of the Fall River Industrial Park landfill last Friday has prompted the opening of a new $6 million transfer station. CommonWealth takes a look at some of the issues municipalities are facing with trash disposal and the upcoming ballot question on the bottle bill.


Salem will soon become the first community in New England to begin recycling cigarette butts. In conjunction with TerraCycle's Cigarette Waste Brigade, new receptacles will be set up throughout the city so that people can cleanly dispose of their cigarette butts. They are then repurposed into numerous industrial materials, and the remaining tobacco is composted.


Westfield will begin its second phase of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail following a $2 million grant from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.




Charlie Baker unveils an "Urban Agenda" as he continues his push for city votes.


Former President Bill Clinton stops by Clark University in Worcester to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Martha Coakley.


Health/Public Safety


The Lowell Sun reports that Lowell is currently seeking funding to increase its police force in response to a rise in gun violence last summer. No commitment has been made yet as to any number of officers or dollar amount.


Sen. Richard Moore of Uxbridge and Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis are at odds over a community correction center, the Telegram & Gazette reports.



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