New Bedford’s Education MESS: We Didn’t Choose This Fight, BUT WE ARE HERE FOR IT.

The New Bedford Public Schools is the 4th most underperforming district in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

As of FY18, only three other public school districts in MA had lower academic performance than NBPS. Two of those districts are currently under state receivership for poor academic performance.

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I’m not saying this to hurt your feelings, New Bedford. But it’s time we start getting real about your situation. And it’s time you did too.

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Now, when I’m told I’m underperforming and need to step up my game, I know what I do in my work. I dig in, make a plan, ask folks for help, GET TO WORK.

What was the New Bedford Educators Association doing this morning?

Helping struggling students?

Frantically reviewing lesson plans?

Professional development?

Meeting with parents?

Nope.

Scaring the crap out of families and the community. And lying their asses off in the process. Badly.

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Why? Because it’s clear that years of advancing a narrative around blaming students, parents and the community at large for their failure to provide a high quality of education for kids that would allow them to learn, grow and thrive was nothing but excuses and BS.

Children in New Bedford are just as capable of learning and thriving as the kids in Weston, Wellesley and Wayland. And Alma del Mar Public Charter School, in New Bedford, is doing just that. So they’re asking for more seats.

And the New Bedford Educators Association doesn’t like that ONE BIT.

Just last week, at the urging of the New Bedford Educators Association, City Councilor Hugh “Hopefully Mayor of New Bedford Someday— Maybe State Senator?” Dunn introduced an anti-Alma del Mar resolution to the council that he thought would sail through. I mean, isn’t that supposed to be a lay up for intellectually lazy elected officials to score political points with powerful special interest groups — whose special interests have everything to do with protecting our broken education system to benefit their way-too-comfortable constituency?

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Perhaps if City Councilor Dunn spent an evening talking with the families of Alma del Mar instead of trading anti-charter Facebook messages with the New Bedford Educators Association from his luxury loft in downtown New Bedford — he might understand why the rest of the council — the ones who are actually authentically connected with the neighborhoods of the city weren’t having it.

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(And I’m sorry — how is this dude the head of the SouthCoast Development Partnership? A regional economic development organization? Oh, LORD — we are going to have a field day here. Trust.)

Now keep in mind, union leadership probably doesn’t live in New Bedford and would never actually send their own children to New Bedford Public Schools.

But these are the folks who are going to try to guilt parents into fighting for schools that are actively failing their children —and attack one of the few schools in New Bedford that is actually working for children.

Why? Because Alma del Mar takes away the excuse that “these kids just can’t learn!” Because at Alma Del Mar proves that they actually can. That there’s nothing wrong with the KIDS and their ability to LEARN, but there is something wrong with what’s happening in NBPS.

Unbelievable.

Here are the facts:

The New Bedford Public Schools are a disaster and have been consistently for the last couple of generations. Listen, I know New Bedford pretty well and I know this is a blow to “New Bedford pride” and all, but the fact of the matter is this: economic development is never going to happen in the Whaling City until the school system is able to get it’s act together and start building an educated workforce that can actually support the growth of business.

This is why business leaders in New Bedford have been begging elected officials FOR DECADES to get their act together and fix the damn system. You can renovate the Whaling Museum as many times as you’d like and build as many “business incubators” as you want — but as soon as businesses are big enough to leave, they will. Because the school system is not providing them with the educated workforce they need to stay. It’s not rocket science, it’s economics.

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The region is failing when it comes to economic development and will continue to fail because of this.

In the past few weeks, the Mayor of New Bedford, Jon Mitchell (D – Running for Another Higher Office Soon) has written a bunch of factually incorrect drivel about the situation with Alma del Mar and insisting that this one, high performing school is the source of the district’s woes.

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This was actually an opportunity to show some real leadership on behalf of the community, but his fundamental lack of understanding on education issues has actually stunned some folks in political circles.

This is actually pretty funny because when he came into office, he was spouting all kinds of rhetoric about fixing the schools — in fact incorporating lessons learned from charters. And then when the NBEA blocked him from making needed changes and politically assassinated one of the most innovative superintendents ever to hit the ground in the Commonwealth, let alone the Southcoast — he found that this was going to be a tougher nut to crack than he thought. So now, attack the charter school that is actually getting the job done. For such a smart guy — this is just stupid, Jon.

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Alma del Mar was actually created by former educators in the New Bedford Public Schools out of sheer frustration with the district’s crap, a vision to do things better and love for the children they serve. The school is beloved by families of color and immigrants in the city, gets results and wants to do more. That’s why they filed to add some additional seats.

The real problem with Alma del Mar has nothing to do with the high quality of education they provide students — and everything to do with the fact that they make the  Mayor of New Bedford and the NBPS look bad.

Yes, children of color, low income children — even children in New Bedford — are capable of excellence.

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And when schools and educators are freed from the burden of bureaucracy and BS, and are free to do the things we know help KIDS — not adults — they can succeed.

Here’s the crap the NBEA has on their website and are now spreading around the city’s schools:

So let’s break this thing down with ACTUAL FACTS:

Charter public schools in New Bedford have NOT decimated student enrollment in the district.

The very first charter public schools opened in New Bedford in 2008. Since then the district has filled more than 1,050 of the 1,100 seats that became empty when families decided to send their kids to charter public schools.

When those +1,000 new NBPS students came to the district over the last decade, they brought their per pupil state aid with them, which means there has been no devastating impact to enrollment in NB to date.

(Enrollment numbers reflect the actual numbers the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education uses to calculate payments throughout the year.)

The seats that Alma is proposing to add would not come all at once — but instead over the course of five years. And given the pattern in New Bedford Public Schools of increased enrollment — the numbers should actually stay about the same.

Now, LET’S TALK FUNDING! Well, more specifically WHO CONTROLS IT! Because we all know that this is where the real problem lies: who controls the money.

Seriously? This feels like a hostage negotiation.

YES YES YES! We’ll pay you NOT to teach these kids — just please — let them go to a school that can actually teach them how to read! HOW MUCH MONEY DO WE HAVE TO PAY YOU NOT TO FAIL CHILDREN?

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Charter public schools are NOT to blame for any supposed district financial problems.

NBPS schools is NOT losing $13.8M nor will they LOSE $30M. When they claim the 14 and 30 million figure, they are assert that they believe the district should be paid full tuition for students that left the district as long as 10 years ago.

HOW DO WE ACTUALLY KNOW THIS?

Because of the increase in enrollment NBPS has seen every year for the last 10 years since charter public schools opened, they have had NO net decrease in enrollment that would FORCE them to lay anyone off.

If anything this has helped them STAY CLOSE TO THE SAME SIZE and NOT have to add new buildings or classrooms or cram more students into crowded classrooms.

State education funding is dedicated to educating students in whichever type of public schools their parents decide is best for them – district, charter, vocational, etc. Districts do not have an exclusive right to these funds.

We know that change is hard and your feelings get hurt when parents make decisions about their kids that don’t involve their district schools. That’s the states gives you five whole years of step down funding to get over your feelings and adjust your budget to meet the needs of the children who are currently in your system. FIVE YEARS.

All school districts are funded through a combination of state money (Chapter 70) and local money.

Charter public school student tuition comes from state money, not district/city money. District schools act as the fiscal agent to give the money to the charter schools. It doesn’t belong to them, but because it enters their account, they feel like it does.

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In New Bedford, enrollment has stayed the same for the district PLUS they have received extra money for the charter kids. How you ask?

In Massachusetts we do this CRAZY thing where we give districts reimbursement ONLY when families decide to send their kids to charter public schools.

The charter school reimbursement was intended to be a soft-landing fund for districts as they adjust to changes in student enrollment. Massachusetts is one of the few states in the entire country to offer this kind of funding — because it literally doesn’t make a lot of sense. We are literally paying district schools FOR YEARS, NOT to educate children — so they can have a chance at a higher quality education in a charter public school. Literally bribing district schools to give these kids a chance.

The problem is, in some cases, the district doesn’t take the parent demand for charter schools as a wake up call to improve their own schools so that parents will stay in the district — and they also become addicted to the “free money” they get NOT to educate kids and feel like they are entitled to be paid to continue doing a crap job.

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Districts literally receive six years of reimbursement for students they no longer serve (100% for the first year, and 25% for the remaining five years).

Again, reimbursement is completely unique to charter schools. When students/families move out of the city to attend other district schools or enroll in local voc-tech or private/parochial schools, they receive zero reimbursement.

In New Bedford, ~1,200 kids attend private/parochial schools and about half of all NBPS 8th graders decide to enroll in Greater New Bedford Regional Voc-Tech High School instead of NB High. The district receives NOTHING for these kids from the state. NOTHING.

Why isn’t the mayor complaining about them? Because it’s politically impossible for him to do so. Business leaders and the politically powerful LOVE the voke school. And do you know how many of them attended Bishop Connolly?

Now if we want to talk about gaps, the ONLY actual gap in funding is with the reimbursement program: in the last few years, the state has not fully funded the charter school reimbursement for the FULL 6 years. That’s not the fault of Alma del Mar — that’s all on the LEGISLATURE. Some of the greatest anti-charter champions who whine about the finance situation voted NOT to fund the reimbursement — THIS YEAR.

But if this program had been fully funded in FY 2017, total district spending for New Bedford would have increased by just 0.9%. LESS THAN 1%!

Fun fact: New Bedford has received more than $18M in reimbursements since 2008 for students they’re no longer educating.

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TO RECAP: Enrollment has been replenished, including the state aid that comes with those students, and they’ve received 18 million dollars. It sounds like new charter public school seats actually help the district GET money they would not otherwise received.

Oh, and overall school spending in NB is up, as is per pupil spending.

But wait, let’s just say you close all the charter schools down tomorrow. Give the students back to the district. Guess what? The district would still spend a similar amount of money, if not more, to educate the 1,100 kids currently in 3 charter schools.

OTHER STUPID THINGS THE NBEA IS SAYING:

Charter public schools ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The Massachusetts Constitution does not ALLOW for PRIVATE CHARTER Schools to exist in MA. Private charter schools in MA are NOT A THING. Just because they are not union-controlled does not mean they are PRIVATE.

As public schools, charter public schools CANNOT DISCRIMINATE in their admissions PROCESS. It consistently fascinates me how some folks refuse to understand the concept of a BLIND LOTTERY. There are SO MANY PARENTS that are desperately trying to get into charter schools that they have to PUT THEIR NAMES IN A HAT AND PICK RANDOMLY.

The district doesn’t even tell parents that charter schools are an option. They have to go out and tell the community that they exist, that they are a public option and ask parents to apply. There is NO CHERRY PICKING. It would be ILLEGAL and LAWSUITS WOULD BE FILED. But you know who can cherry pick? District schools that are exam schools. District schools that are magnet schools. And yes, voc-tech schools.

CHARTER SCHOOLS IN URBAN AREAS INCLUDING IN NEW BEDFORD SERVE SOME OF THE MOST VULNERABLE STUDENTS in THE STATE. But don’t believe me.

LOOK AT THE NUMBERS FOR YOURSELF:

Metric New Bedford Public Schools Alma del Mar
Math: Grades 3 – 8 (2017 MCAS) 29% meeting or exceeding 54% meeting or exceeding
English: Grades 3 – 8  (2017 MCAS) 28% meeting or exceeding 45% meeting or exceeding
Math: Grades 3 – 8 (2017 MCAS) 34% Student Growth Percentile 59% Student Growth Percentile
English: Grades 3 – 8 (2017 MCAS) 37% Student Growth Percentile 56% Student Growth Percentile
Loss of students: one school year to next 11% 5%
Loss of students: during the school year 9% <3%
Suspensions (%) 5% 3%
African American & Hispanic Students (% of total pop.) 51.8% 63.6%
Economically Disadvantaged (% of total pop.) 67.4% 58.4%
ELL( % of total pop.) 29.8% 22.0%
Students with Disabilities (% of total pop.) 21.3% 15.7%
High Needs (% of total pop.) 79.9% 72.4%

WOW — a school that is serving the same population, but does it a hell of a lot better has the AUDACITY to apply to serve MORE CHILDREN?

HOW OFFENSIVE.

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And y’all want to talk about PUSHOUT? Alma has a lower rate of suspension than NBPS.

Toward the end we get to the REAL REASON why the union is nervous. Control.

When they say control, they mean union control. The union wants to be in control of everything. The schools, the superintendent, the school committee — all under their control. To them, that’s “justice”.

Charters — in New Bedford and everywhere else in the Commonwealth — are held to higher standards than NBPS.

They have public boards, who operate under public and open meeting laws, they are subject to public finance and procurement rules, their teachers are PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS THAT RECEIVE MA PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER RETIREMENT BENEFITS.

And they are approved and regulated by the DESE and the BESE. PUBLIC/STATE ENTITIES. And the standards to get a charter public school approved ARE FIERCE.

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Since 1994 BESE has reviewed 452 school prospectuses and ultimately approved ~111 charters, averaging a 25 percent approval rate over that time. 

And every five years charter public schools can be shut down if they are NOT doing right by students and families.

Oh, you don’t believe it? Of these ~ 111 charter public schools that have been approved since the 1990’s in MA, ~ 20 percent have been surrendered, revoked, or non-renewed over the years.

There are public hearings for these charter seat applications and for any new charter schools. And anyone can attend.

So those currently filling children and families with fear and flooding the community of New Bedford with fear, lies and manipulation — please understand:

We see you. We see what you’re doing.

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We did not choose this fight, but you can bet your ass we are here for it.

 

What do you think?

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