Keane’s wobbly shot across Connolly’s bow

Call it an early shot across the bow. Whether it was intended helpfully to steer a course correction or to serve as the first big blast in the sinking of a mayoral hopeful’s dreams is unclear. In either case, Globe columnist Tom Keane undoubtedly got City Councilor John Connolly’s attention Sunday with his column titled “Connolly’s bland plan for Boston schools.” Connolly has put school reform at the center of his run for mayor, but Keane runs through the five-point plan ticked off to him by the at-large councilor and deems it “an uninspiring list.”

Though Keane offers a nod to some gains in the city’s schools in recent years, he says Connolly is “fundamentally” right in calling out the system as in need of major improvement. By extension, that also implies criticism of the man who has had control of the schools for two decades and who challenged Bostonians to “judge me harshly” on their improvement. But if Connolly hopes to unseat Mayor Tom Menino — who has yet to say whether he will in fact seek a sixth term this fall — Keane thinks he needs to come up with a bolder critique of the schools than he’s laid out so far. He says Connolly’s call for a longer school day, more staff training, and facilities improvements haven’t been shown to affect student performance — and they smack of the incrementalism that has been the most damning critique of Menino’s tenure.

Remarkably, however, Keane pays no attention to the biggest school issue of the day — the interminable effort to revamp the city’s byzantine school assignment policy, a change Menino has been promising to bring about for years, which is the focus of a controversy-plagued initiative now nearing completion. It’s not clear whether Keane chose to brush aside the issue or whether Connolly failed to make clear in their conversation that his plan for revamping the school assignment system looms larger than any of the specifics of the five points he ticked off regarding central office bloat, crumbling school buildings, and other school needs.

But Keane’s charge of bland incrementalism seems to fall apart in the context of Connolly’s approach to the student assignment revamp. Connolly has been outspoken in his criticism of the proposals that have emerged from the city-run process as no-win efforts to try to distribute more equitably the limited number of seats at schools regarded as a high quality. As Connolly has emphasized, it’s a zero-sum exercise. Together with a diverse coalition of city and state elected officials, he has proposed a plan that combines changes to the assignment system with some of the very kinds of bold reforms that Keane calls for. Under their proposal, all underperforming schools would be converted to innovation, pilot, or in-district charter schools — each of which grants much more leeway to schools over staffing, curriculum, and the structure of the school day. In challenging Connolly to embrace “big, daring ideas,” Keane asks, “How about converting all schools to charter schools?”  Connolly’s plan goes a lot farther than anything proposed to date in embracing the idea of chartering at least those schools where achievement is badly lagging.

Connolly’s school reform ideas aren’t perfect. He has signaled support for a proposal by fellow City Councilor Frank Baker for a hybrid school committee in which some slots would be elected while most remain appointed by the mayor. That’s an idea he might want to walk back. Rather than call out the school committee for lacking independence, Connolly ought to vow to appoint members who won’t be afraid to back the sort of bold change he wants to see.  After all, it’s not a change in the school committee that he needs to make a case for, it’s a change in the office that appoints the committee — and runs the city that he’s saying is overdue.

Keane correctly points out that it’s uncertain whether a school reform-based campaign will gain enough steam to put Connolly in serious contention should Menino seek reelection. But if it doesn’t, it won’t be because it lacks imagination or any big ideas.

                                                                                 –MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

More than 50 economists, led by long-time gubernatorial supporter Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University, plan to announce today their support for Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to increase the state income tax to fund transportation and education spending.

The Patriot Ledger kicks off “Sunshine Week,” the annual media effort to open up government, with a look at the Legislature’s continuing deliberations behind closed doors.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Stoughton School Committee is planning to vote on censuring one of its members, the third time this year a local Massachusetts school committee has used the rare parliamentary procedure.

Standards for issuing gun permits differ widely among Massachusetts municipalities, the Globe reports.

If you think space savers for snow-shoveled parking spaces in Boston are bad, Holyoke has a similar problem…along its St. Patrick’s Day parade route.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

States are taking different approaches on guns, Governing reports. New York and Colorado approve new gun control measures while Georgia ends a ban on guns in bars, churches, and college classrooms and North Dakota allows school districts to arm teachers.

The National Review pans a federally funded health study that ties the Tea Party to big tobacco interests.

Kimberly Atkins watches Sen. Elizabeth Warren take Washington financial regulators by storm.

The American Spectator argues that Daylight Savings Time actually does more harm than good, if it does any good at all. Try telling that to Ed Markey.

ELECTIONS

Boston Mayor Tom Menino won’t pick sides in the Democratic Senate primary.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan signed a distribution deal with a local food manufacturer to make and package his grandmother’s kale soup complete with his face and the Braga Bridge on the label for sale in area stores, including Stop & Shop supermarkets..

EDUCATION

U.S. News & World Report gives a sneak preview of its graduate school rankings, which come out tomorrow, and Harvard lands third on the Top 10 for medical research while the University of Massachusetts Worcester takes fifth place for primary care.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the push to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts, describing the liberal-leaning state as an unusual model for the movement.

In CommonWealth, Irene Sege asks: What is a “rigorous” preschool curriculum?

The Item examines the high turnover at the top in the Swampscott school system.

Officials from Tabor Academy in Marion will testify in the bankruptcy case about the stock gift the school received from an alumnus now serving jail time after being convicted in a $110 million securities scam.

In another sign of the burgeoning tiny-house movement, a Hampshire College senior is living in and writing about the experience of a 130-square-foot house for her senior project.  

RELIGION

The speculation in Rome over a possible papal nod for Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley continues apace.  At home, a less-than-scientific sampling of opinion — local parishioners leaving Mass yesterday — finds strong support for the idea.

HEALTH CARE

Former employees of Framingham-based New England Compounding Center talk to 60 Minutes about what went wrong at the company.

The latest health care cost bogeyman: “facilities fees” that sometimes lead to hundreds of dollars being tacked on to bills for fairly minor procedures and routine office visits.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer becomes the latest GOP boldfacer to embrace Obamacare, although she still has some work to do winning over her own state party. Related: Rep. Paul Ryan still wants to repeal the health care law.

TRANSPORTATION

Former transportation secretary James Aloisi says in a CommonWealth opinion piece that House Speaker Robert Deleo’s vision for the state’s transportation system is a step backward, not forward.

A new flight path out of Logan Airport designed to maximize fuel efficiency is drawing noise complaints from Milton and Dedham residents who live under the newly narrowed flight path.

Massport commits $32 million to revitalize the Worcester Regional Airport, NECN reports.

Metro West officials appreciate Gov. Deval Patrick’s transportation bond bill but argue that it doesn’t even begin to meet the need.

People like public transportation; they really do.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Clinton hopes to save money by buying solar power from a private developer’s project in another town, the Telegram & Gazette reports. The complicated subsidy system that makes the savings possible is explained in a recent CommonWealth story.

The Berkshire Wind power plant in Hancock is generating more electricity than expected.

Having just returned from a Florida vacation where temperatures dipped to 50 degrees, Jon Keller says New England’s complaints about the surprise snow storm last week are all relative.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

In the latest installment in the timeless saga in which the best thing police often have going for them is the criminal mind — in all its limited glory — a high-speed police chase in New Hampshire sputtered to a halt on I-293 as the suspect’s car ran out of gas.  

The seven chemists working at the State Police crime lab in Sudbury have been buried by a backlog that grew from 400 cases to more than 14,000 in the wake of the Annie Dookhan fiasco.

MEDIA

Dan Kennedy catches the Globe “reprinting” a year-old AP story on the fight over gay marriage in Rhode Island. In fact it’s the entire page A11 in the eReader edition of the Globe that’s a reprint of March 8, 2012.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Bill Keller of the New York Times does a “what if” type of story on what would have happened if Pfc. Bradley Manning had leaked classified documents to the Times instead of WikiLeaks.

Ben Franklin would be proud: The Provincetown Public Library plans to assist a dozen writers with publishing and marketing their books on the Internet.