Letters

While your magazine is, of course, justified in providing wide latitude to Argument authors to spin numbers as they see fit (“How to reform the charter school program,” Argument & Counterpoint, CW, Summer ’05), that’s no excuse for allowing obvious misstatements of fact.

1) Sheldon Berman’s jihad on charter schools claims: “In fact, charter schools have been protected from the recent cuts that almost all school districts have had to endure.” This is false and can’t be argued otherwise. Charters get exactly the same percentage cuts as their sending districts, by law. Berman’s debate tactic is taken from the anti-homosexual lobby—falsely claim that your opponent wants or receives “special privileges.”

2) He also argues: “Only a few Massachusetts charter schools appear to outperform their community’s public schools.” Again, this is simply untrue. In Boston alone, on the 2004 MCAS, the five charter high schools ranked Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 9 among the city’s 30 open-admission public schools. In fact, in all of the urban areas, the majority of charters outperform their sending districts.

This brings me to my main concern with Berman’s column: The school district of which he is superintendent is 96 percent white, and few children are poor. The Massachusetts charter schools he attacks are 44 percent students of color and 36 percent from poor families. Is he really in a position to deny school choice to these families?

And with all due respect to Berman, despite Hudson’s comparative advantages, the district is not distinguishing itself. On MCAS in 2004, 60 percent of Massachusetts districts outperformed Hudson in English, and 70 percent outperformed Hudson in math (according to Standard and Poor’s Web site Schoolmatters.com). Meanwhile, he can’t blame his district’s performance on charter schools, as there are none in his district, and just a few Hudson kids attend regional charters.

Charter public schools are not perfect, nor have their advocates ever claimed that they are. Each and every school has a lot of room for improvement. I hope Berman feels the same way about his district.

Michael Goldstein
Boston Charter Public School Alliance
Boston

CHARTERS AND DISTRICTS NEED TO SHARE INNOVATION

While all of the commentaries on charter schools in some way speak to the need for better understanding and sharing of successful educational practices, the authors fall into the trap of defending their own camps. “Charters are a success” vs. “charters are a failed experiment” doesn’t get us any closer to asking the essential questions of “What are the best practices being implemented?” and “How can we best share them for the purpose of making all schools better regardless of their status as charter or district schools?”

The Project for School Innovation, which Marc Kenan cites in his essay, is doing just that. A five-year-old nonprofit organization founded as an initiative of the Neighborhood House Charter School, PSI was created to cultivate professional networks of teachers (and principals) in order for them to learn from one another, building professionalism and leadership among individuals and ultimately in schools. We do this by building bridges of communication between educators and nurturing professional support networks that include teachers from all kinds of schools. From PSI’s vantage point, innovation is taking place in both charter and district schools, but it is not being shared, documented, or replicated enough to reach its greatest potential. Our goal is to create a functional “cross border” forum in which that can happen.

Even as she calls for a moratorium on establishment of new charter schools until their academic performance gets evaluated independently (“Charter system needs scrutiny, reform before further expansion”), Catherine Bou-dreau says that innovation within existing public school districts can and should continue to flourish. While professional development programs for district schools do exist, they tend to be in silos within a school, or within a district, and are generally led by external experts who may or may not have in-the-trenches experience. PSI exists to support teachers (in various configurations of charter and district teachers coming together) in developing their own space for dialogue and peer coaching, so they can share more widely what works well and how best to innovate within a school.

We at PSI will continue to seek out those educators who want to learn, share, and grow regardless of the administrative orientation of their school. We will offer support, collaboration, and our By Teachers For Teachers publication series. PSI exists in order to effect change in education and believes that this important work can, and must, be done with whichever school has something to share or something to learn. There isn’t just one answer to school reform, there are thousands, and PSI works to seek them out and share them for the benefit of all educators, everywhere.

Ruth Feldman
Executive Director
Project for School Innovation
Dorchester

HEADLINE DOESN’T TELL THE WHOLE BEST STORY

I was dismayed by the title of the Considered Opinion column (“BEST-laid plans: Training initiative was unrealistic about employers and employees alike”). However, upon reading the article by Erin Flynn, the program evaluator, I found compelling implications for future education-and-training efforts regarding the importance of addressing workers’ basic skill needs to ensure that more advanced training can be effective. Having been a contributor to the interagency team from the Massachusetts Department of Education (a partner in the BEST initiative), I was heartened to see this emphasis.

The analysis is correct, too, about the need for the meaningful engagement of employers for such initiatives to achieve positive results. Their understanding of workers’ needs for industry-based training must be accompanied by a willingness to support an investigation of their basic skill needs and a commitment to support more intensive education-and-training strategies to address both issues. Employers often understand that their workers have deficits in basic skills; however, they rarely understand (nor should they) what educational services are required to address them. Adult basic educators know that quick fixes do not do justice to Massachusetts’s workers. In workplace education programs funded by DOE, a planning process is required where employers, educators, and workers collaborate to identify both the needs for education and training within the workforce, and also the employer commitment to in-house efforts to address them. We find that good planning supports good practice.

Flynn’s conclusions imply that broader and deeper conversations must occur about the wide range of workers’ skill needs and the best (no pun intended) ways to meet them. Dialogue should include ABE providers, employers, training providers, workers, and government representatives. BEST began such discussions, MassINC and the Workforce Solutions Group are continuing them, and the evaluation of the BEST initiative by FutureWorks suggests that even more opportunities are needed. With informed and invested stakeholders, education-and-training efforts can be successful.

I recognize that the article does inform the reader about some of the benefits of the BEST initiative, but I fear that the overall impression from the title is that the state wasted resources. As a former active participant, I believe that this is far from true. Making such an implication seems risky in a climate where the public distrusts government to manage resources wisely. Through BEST, interagency collaborations were started, industry-based education and training efforts were piloted, and significant goodwill resulted from the mutual understanding built among a wide variety of partners. (I’m already aware of one successful effort spawned by a BEST collaboration.) These outcomes should not be minimized; they are critical first steps in the long-term process of preparing Massachusetts’s workers for the future.

I hope that state leaders, especially employers, will see the importance of investing in the Commonwealth’s workforce, and that the lessons learned from BEST about gaining employer buy-in and addressing workers’ basic skills needs will be instructive to any new education-and-training efforts that might emerge.

Andrea Perrault
Lynn

REPLICA OF HANCOCK HOUSE CAN BE FOUND IN NEW YORK

Readers intrigued by James Horrigan’s article about John Hancock’s demolished 1737 mansion (“Homeless on Beacon Hill,” Two Bits) might be interested to learn that a replica of this imposing Georgian mansion is owned and operated as a museum by the Ticonderoga (New York) Historical Society. Faithfully executed in 1926 from measured drawings made before the Boston original was destroyed, this replica is constructed, as was the original, of Weymouth granite, and two interior rooms and the main hall duplicate those in the original Hancock house.

Closer to home, the ornate paneled interior of the Isaac Royall mansion in Medford, a National Historic Landmark managed by the nonprofit Royall House Association, is believed to have been carved by Shem Drowne, the same Colonial woodcarver and sculptor responsible for both the Hancock house interior and Faneuil Hall’s beloved grasshopper weathervane. Originally a simple farmhouse on the property of the Commonwealth’s first governor, John Winthrop, the Royall House was enlarged and enhanced in the 1730s by Isaac Royall Sr., a wealthy plantation owner, businessman, and slave trader. The mansion is considered one of Massachusetts’s best remaining examples of mid-Georgian architecture. The Royall House property, which includes the only extant freestanding slavequarters in the northern United States, is open to the public from May 1 to October 1, Wednesday through Sunday, from 2 to 5 p.m. Private spring or fall tours can also be arranged. More information can be found on the www.RoyallHouse.org Web site.

Gracelaw Simmons Durney
Board Member
Royall House Association
Medford

BETTER TO GROOM FUTURE LEADERS THAN MOURN PAST

Your article on “Corporate Citizens” (Roundtable, CW, Spring ’05) was timely and raises important issues for the future of our city and region. We will be looking to health care, education, and finance for future leaders. I also want to suggest that we needn’t sit back when it comes to developing the next generation of leaders. The Greater Boston area needs a more inclusive and collaborative leadership model for the future, and we can have just such a model if we look to the outstanding young professionals emerging in our current corporate and nonprofit sectors. There is a great deal of talent already there. Our job now is to bring that talent to the table and make sure they are groomed and ready for significant leadership positions in the very near future.

The next generation of leaders must reflect that we now live in a majority minority city. Our program has worked with 158 such individuals over the last four years. Almost half of them (74) are people of color—two thirds are from our major corporate entities—and they are ready to practice inclusive and collaborative leadership. Let’s not mourn the past; let’s embrace the future and its opportunities for positive change.

Sherry H. Penney
Professor of Leadership and
founding director
Center for Collaborative Leadership
University of Massachusetts–Boston