Will voters judge Walsh on schools?

It was almost 25 years ago, in 1996, that Mayor Tom Menino issued his famous challenge to voters to “judge me harshly” if he didn’t deliver significant improvements to the Boston Public Schools.

He didn’t, but neither did they.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Boston switched to mayoral control over its schools, a reform designed to bring greater accountability for results. The track record, however, has been one of lackluster school performance and little evidence that voters have made mayors pay the price for it.

Against that backdrop, today’s Boston Globe declares in the headline of a lengthy editorial, “Failing schools must be focus of next Boston mayoral race.”

We’ll see.

The paper calls it “especially refreshing” that City Councilor Andrea Campbell offered pointed criticism of the schools following Mayor Marty Walsh’s State of the City address earlier this month in which he pledged $100 million in new school spending.

Campbell found Walsh’s speech wanting when it came to the state of the city’s schools, saying “we need more than announcements & money thrown at the problem.”

With a third of Boston’s schools in the bottom 10 percent statewide, it’s hard to argue with her, says the paper.

“Campbell’s strong words about the troubling state of the Boston schools reflect widespread and justified disappointment over the lack of progress at closing persistent achievement gaps in the system, which consistently produces sub-par results for black and Latino students,” says the editorial.

Campbell is mentioned as a possible mayoral challenger next year, and the Globe seems eager to see a contest that includes the Mattapan councilor, who has made education a top priority and has not been shy in calling out shortcomings in the district.

“If the exchange is a taste of what’s to come next year, then public education is poised to take the front-burner position it deserves heading into the 2021 election,” the editorial says.

Given the crucial role of schools — and the fact that they account for more than $1 billion of the city’s $3.5 billion annual budget — they ought to occupy a front-burner position in every mayoral race. But that’s not been the case, despite similar framing of their central role in earlier races, including the 2013 contest for the open seat that Walsh won to succeed Menino.

The longstanding lament has been that the families who rely on the district’s schools do not make up a sizeable enough share of the voters who turn out and decide city elections.

As it happens, new BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius unveiled her five-year strategic plan for the district yesterday. It has five big components, two of which directly address student achievement issues. Among her plans, she will propose that the district adopt MassCORE, a sequence of high school courses that the state says are a minimum requirement to prepare students for college and post-secondary success.

It’s outrageous that Boston has not been on board with MassCORE — which 90 percent of all high school students in the state must follow. Even more troubling was the talk that efforts by former superintendent Tommy Chang to bring MassCORE to the district got pushback from others in the system who worried it would hurt the BPS graduation rate.

Gains in graduation rates but graduates who are woefully ill-prepared to make it in college has been the problem for too long in Boston, where leaders have looked for positive data points to highlight while the underlying reality of education in the Athens of America has been a very different story.

Whether voters will demand more is an open question.



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