Letters

I don’t know Christopher Lydon personally, though I know of him pretty well, I think, from my own experiences with editors who thought highly of him and his work and his manner during my years as an editor at The Boston Globe, from 1966 to 2000.

I’m not typing to quarrel with Lydon’s central thesis (“An Emersonian transformation under way,” CW, Spring ’06) that the once-powerful Globe has been diminished greatly by culture shocks of a high order, by technological advances that brook few comparisons for the speed with which they have changed the advertising and editorial worlds of daily print journalism, by an ownership change—one family, the swamp-Yankee Taylors of eastern Massachusetts, who had run the Globe for 120 years, sold it to another family, the Jewish Ochs-Sulzbergers of Manhattan, who have run The New York Times since 1896—and by the retirements, push-outs, and leave-takings of so many Globe men and women who had lived through all or part of the Winship Era.

Lydon has drawn an accurate bead on the situation as I see it from my seat in retirement in the classrooms of Boston College, but I would like to add one observation by way of a question: Could the often-cannibalistic media culture of 2006, locally and nationally, abide even for a minute the ways and means of Tom Winship when he was at the editorial helm of the Taylors’ Globe from 1965 to 1984?

As Lydon knows but does not mention in his lengthy discourse, from 1965 to 1981 (when Martin Nolan was appointed editor of the editorial pages and told to report to the publisher directly) Winship was the top editor in the newsroom and the last voice heard in the editorial and op-ed section when the Ivory Tower folks went home for the night. I was the night editor of the Globe from mid-1976 to the time when Tom let loose the reins of the editorial pages. During those years, it was common practice for him to call me well past first-edition deadline from his home in Lincoln or from his up-country place in Randolph, Vt., to tinker with the lead editorial. Often, he had taken a late call from one of those 10,000 people Lydon mentions who knew he’d answer the phone, and they had persuaded him to rethink what he had approved seven or eight hours earlier. In other cases, he would wonder if a “which” should have been a “that.” And in yet other cases, he’d ask me what I thought of the Globe’s stand on the issue at hand. Sometimes we’d change the tone; sometimes we’d change the beginning, the middle, or the end. These were pre-computer days mostly—they certainly were non-computer for Tom, who disdained their use—and it was no easy thing to get the composing room to change the lead editorial 10 minutes after deadline. But they did.

As this was going on, Tom was also running the paper on the newsgathering end. I always saw him as a progressive, a reformer. His campaigns for the bottle bill and against leg-hold animal traps, to name two such, were driven by his insistence that the news pages regularly run staff-generated stories on these issues. The stories didn’t always push the Winship position, but readers could hardly miss the drift of the coverage.

I also saw him, as Lydon does, as an editor who thought being a pain-in-the-ass to those with influence on public policy and public affairs came with the territory.

Aside from his crusades, Tom Winship wanted the Globe to be fetching in commentary and presentation—readers would pick up their morning Globe and be confronted on Page One by a Mary McGrory column on Richard Nixon or a George Frazier essay from the Super Bowl—and to be as unpredictable as was possible in what it covered. In short, he wanted it to be interesting. Two things his paper was not were denatured and faceless, to use Lydon’s words.

And there is no question that there were days when the mandate to be provoking meant going overboard in content and presentation. Readers with a yen for the journalistically logical and expectable were regularly disconcerted by these happenings—such as when Tom forbade his columnists from writing about the busing situation as the city went to pieces on the front page and on television screens across the country. It was a decision he came to regret, and publicly, although he never stepped back from his position that the key issue at stake in the busing controversy was the need for citizens to obey the law as cited in federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity’s court rulings.

Who today would countenance in thought or deed the idea of an editor known for having a “progressive” agenda running both editorial ends of a major metro daily? Not too many, I suggest. Tom Winship was a pioneer blogger with an edge—declaiming on the editorial pages about things he had engendered on the news pages.

To read the listing Lydon gives of the various blogs he checks regularly is to gasp at his diligence in getting what he wants to read. But is this something today’s distracted citizens are willing to do consistently? I doubt it. Will the “next best thing” be a daily Boston Globe Tribune, an online news site with an opening page of headlines and summary paragraphs linked to Web sites run by an endless procession of men and women who think they have something important to say to the rest of us? And maybe with some news of the town and the state and the country and the world in the pages beyond?

And will my children and grandchildren read it, saluting a grand old newspaper name while doing so? I don’t know; I’m from another time and place.

Thomas Mulvoy
Medfield

CHARTER SCHOOLS HAD HELP FROM THE START

Readers of “No charter school to be left behind” (Inquiries) might inaccurately conclude that until the Department of Education launched its recent assistance initiative, these publicly funded, privately run schools were somehow on their own to sink or swim. The record suggests otherwise.

Even before the first charter schools opened, the conservative Pioneer Institute, in concert with the DOE, had set up a “resource center” to guide would-be school founders through the application process, offer direction to established schools, and facilitate the flow of private funds to augment the public dollars charters were drawing from the mainstream system. At the same time, Pioneer and its affluent backers were working the media for positive coverage and lobbying legislators for a favorable regulatory climate. Pioneer was pouring almost $1 million a year into subsidizing this supposedly “free market experiment.” Meanwhile, charter proponents such as Weld administration advisor Steven Wilson and board of education chairman James Peyser were working inside government to shape policy or interpret rules ensuring charters a competitive advantage over their public counterparts.

Far from being a lesson in laissez-faire, charter schools are a textbook case of what political connections and big money can buy. Charter schools have evolved to become, essentially, gated communities, serving few low-income and special needs students and almost no children learning English as a second language. Their growth has come at the expense of the vast majority of children whose public schools have been left with a higher percentage of needy students and fewer resources to offer them.

Paul Dunphy
Policy analyst
Citizens for Public Schools
Boston

SCHOOL SPENDING RANK GETS BAY STATE WRONG

Education Week’s state rankings of “resource equity” in K-12 spending (“Grading the graders,” State of the States) are based on a flawed methodology, one that conveys a false picture for Massachusetts. On average, Massachusetts’s poor districts spend more per pupil than rich districts, yet Education Week gives the Commonwealth a grade of C- on resource equity.

EW’s grade is based primarily on indexes that make no distinction be-tween states where spending is higher in poor districts and those where it is higher in rich ones. According to the logic of EW’s measures, there is a disparity in per-pupil funding, and hence an inequity, in either case.

EW relies heavily on the “McLoone Index,” a measure of how close low-spending districts are to the state median. For Massachusetts, however, the below-median districts have less than half the poverty of the rest of the state. Consequently, the index is actually measuring how much it would cost to raise the spending of rich districts toward that of poor districts. Most readers would hardly consider this a sign of inequity, and yet, since Massachusetts ranks very poorly on this index (43rd out of 49 states), the state receives a low grade on “resource equity.”

By contrast, Education Trust, a national organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority youth, annually ranks Massachusetts at or near the top of the nation in resource equity, because it uses a straightforward measure: the gap in per-pupil spending (from state and local funds) between districts in the poorest quartile and those in the richest quartile. States like Massachusetts (New Jersey is another) that spend more on poor districts are ranked highly by Education Trust, rather than being penalized for it.

A more complete analysis can be found in my article “Equity v. Equity: Why Education Week and the Education Trust Don’t Agree,” in the Summer 2005 issue of Education Next (www.educationnext.org). The problem has been known for a long time, yet Education Week continues to use the same discredited methodology. Informed scholars in the field do not take their rankings seriously.

Robert M. Costrell
Education advisor and chief economist
Executive Office for
Administration and Finance
Boston

MORE FACTS DISPUTED IN ARLINGTON HISTORY

Bitter Pill” (CW, Growth & Development Extra 2006) purports to be a historical review of development regulations leading to the conclusion that Arlington has an “aversion to apartments” which has “suppressed” the growth of this densely built town. Unfortunately, the article is little more than a confection of factual errors and misleading data.

Some of the many obvious historical errors demonstrate carelessness in basic research. The 5.5 square miles that is now Arlington is comprised of not only a section of Cambridge that became the independent town of West Cambridge in 1807 (and not 1867, the year in which a mere name-change occurred). The large section of Arlington’s present territory that borders Somerville, Medford, Winchester, and part of Lexington was annexed from Charlestown in 1842. The town certainly was not home to “the first grist mill in New England.” And although Arlington experienced rapid residential growth in the early 20th century, it had already evolved into a commuter suburb in the previous one. Its many Victorian-era subdivisions attest to this fact, and these emerged following arrival of both rail and streetcar service in Arlington in the mid-19th century.

The lack of accuracy in basic research was annoying, but more disturbing was that statistics cited on building permits for units in multifamily structures arbitrarily end in 1999, with the tantalizing comparative description of “only 66 permits in the 1990s.” Yet in the subsequent six years, approximately 200 units in multifamily structures have been permitted; most are now occupied. Another 250-plus are on the drawing board, including “smart growth” redevelopment of the former Symmes Hospital site, to name the single largest. To omit activity since the year 2000 amounts to hiding data that could contradict the central premise of the article.

Lastly, to ignore the Massachusetts real estate crash of 1990 was irresponsible. That economic crisis had much more to do with the lack of multifamily development in the decade that followed than any supposedly burdensome regulatory process. A major example is the 20-acre Reed’s Brook condominium project, where groundbreaking took place, but the over-extended developer promptly went bankrupt, along with the bank that was providing the financing. When the real estate market rebounded at the end of the decade, multifamily developments proceeded to be planned and built once again, and the number of these in Arlington continues to grow apace.

Richard A. Duffy
Arlington

Alexander von Hoffman responds:

My thanks to Richard Duffy and to John Worden (“Correspondence,” CW, Spring ’06) for pointing out certain factual errors pertaining to Arlington’s history, which I regret and which I corrected in the version of the study published by the Rappaport Institute (available at www.ksg.harvard.edu/ rappaport). As to Duffy’s point about recent construction, he is correct that residential development in Arlington has picked up since 2000, but it is unlikely that the number of dwelling permits in this decade will match what the town approved in the booming 1980s (about 600) or economically troubled 1970s (about 800), let alone in the 1960s, when it permitted almost 3,000 units.

Regardless, no one has disputed or refuted the main point of the piece: Since the early 1970s, Arlington, like many other Massachusetts towns, significantly tightened its regulations for approving residential construction. As a historical case study, Arlington is interesting not because it is worse than other places—indeed, it’s better than some—but because its rapid shift in policy in the 1970s vividly reveals the politics behind anti-growth regulations.