Education in Massachusetts doesn’t need reform. We need a revolution.

“Without struggle, there can be no progress” – Frederick Douglass

We often talk about our state education system and the million kids it’s attempting to serve, as a simple equation that results in simple outcomes. 

Money in, educated kids out.

The reality is far more complex.

This weekend the Boston Globe had a tired look at the “cash poor” problems that seem to be plaguing the Boston Public Schools without addressing the biggest problems facing the system: salaries and pensions, a bloated Bolling Building and money not reaching children in the half empty classrooms. 

In education politics today, powerful special interest groups continue to hold any conversation about changing the 19th century Massachusetts education system hostage. They force all parties to pledge unyielding loyalty to a public education system that is completely broken for children of color, and they refuse any discussion of new ideas. 

So lazily we attempt to fix the broken system by tinkering on the edges of policy, and thinking that a reexamination of the system is not necessary. Negotiating around even a hint of compromise is considered “extortion”, and anything less than complete allegiance to our school to prison pipeline formula is tantamount to treason.

For too long, these special interest groups have been complicit in creating a system that has victimized our children and now expect us to buy their new line about how they are fighting for “justice and equity” without changing a damn thing.

Same white teachers. Same white education system. Same prisons filled with black and brown children.

Just give them more money and “no one will get hurt.”

Except children like mine.

Massachusetts, we have seen that with more money comes more problems. Nothing changes without the threat of a lawsuit, direct federal or state intervention or specific instruction directing state law to direct local systems to change.

Let’s remember that the federal government had to intervene in Boston and Springfield to desegregate the schools — a move widely opposed by a whole swath of elected officials, teachers and so-called community leaders.The failure of this intervention was not in its mandate — but the fact that the interventions simply did not go far enough.

Busing in Boston and the creation of the METCO program was an inadequate proxy for ensuring kids of color get access to good schools.

And in Springfield, only pushing desegregation in the high schools versus system-wide resulted in no real change.

We often fall short, because we would rather attempt to keep the peace to avoid conflict and potential political retribution than pursue equity for our children.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.”

Change doesn’t occur because we throw money around and hope that it all works out. Boston is a perfect example — with nearly $1.2 billion being pumped into the system with catastrophic results for children of color. Why is the city of Boston so “cash-poor”? It doesn’t take a Boston Globe article to show you.

Half-empty, falling down schools that can never be consolidated without the scream of bloody murder from the union that represents the majority white teachers who fear losing their jobs. Collective bargaining agreements that preserve the rights of mediocre white “tenured” teachers over talented young men and women of color and the need of the district to hide under the cover of darkness when attempting to collaborate with high performing charter schools under fear of political retribution.

Schools don’t just “turnaround” by throwing more money at them. They turn around through direct, emergency intervention. Maybe that’s what we’ll have to wait for AGAIN in Boston. You cannot point to a single example in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where a school has drastically improved through just a simple infusion of cash. 

Just last week the Boston Globe spotlighted that even valedictorians of color, are more likely to become homeless, than become a CEO. 

Forty percent of Boston valedictorians from 2005 to 2007 make $50,000 or less each year. In other words, many of Boston’s brightest students are struggling to make a middle-class income more than a decade after graduation.

Boston’s valedictorians were supposed to be among the students most likely to succeed. The ones who became doctors, lawyers, scientists, or business leaders — certainly the ones who earn more than Massachusetts’ average full-time salary of $62,110.

But the numbers don’t lie. They’re part of a larger pattern of Boston public school valedictorians who are falling behind economically the valedictorians from communities surrounding Boston. The one exception: graduates of the city’s three prestigious exam schools. For almost everyone else, there’s a sense that life got a lot tougher after high school.

These kids did everything right. Not only did they graduate, but they were the top of their class. And they have been profoundly failed by our K-12 system. 

We need a completely different approach.

No more band-aids placed on our system.

No more funding 25-year-old “education funding formulas” created two years before I graduated from high school — before people had regular access to the internet and walked around with cell phones. No more allowing those well-served by maintaining the status quo to dominate the conversation.

So here we stand with a chance to discuss what could potentially be one of the largest investments in education in 25 years. And the best argument the “status quo” crew has is the idea that the only problem our system has is funding.

These are same folks who have managed the same organizations that helped to create the status quo that is the school to prison pipeline for our children.

Their real goal? Not equity in outcomes,but no strings attached money to ensure that their retiree pensions and healthcare costs are fully funded by the taxpayers.

50 years ago Boston had to put important markers in place, because we knew we could not serve the children of color in the city with equitable access to high quality education.

In the last decade, the Obama administration gave an unprecedented amount of money and recognition to the state of Massachusetts with clear instructions and support for smart innovation to educate all children.

So how did we get to a place where the achievement gap has widened to near worst-in-the-nation status, and now special interest groups who built the system now get to bully us into less accountability and more money?

Make no mistake: the PROMISE Act as proposed by State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz is not an education bill, but a human resource bill — with nearly all of it will go to funding healthcare of retired and current staff as a way to fund “the future of education.”

Healthcare is in dire need of reform, for teachers and frankly for everyone, but funding nearly half a billion dollars for retired teachers’ healthcare is not going to help brown and black kids in Boston and Springfield read by the third grade.

We all deserve their excellent healthcare. But our children also deserve the education we have promised them.

If we want to talk about an education bill to address the achievement gap, it must include:

  • Teacher diversity and quality
  • Extended day
  • Universal pre-k
  • Wrap around services for children center as their schools
  • State of the art 21st century buildings and tools for learning
  • Curricula that focuses on social-emotional learning

None of these are outlined in the bill that some are attempting to bully the legislature into passing by May.

Only in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can a Republican governor come up with a more progressive education funding bill, that’s fully funded and has rules on what to spend money on, than supposedly Democratically-aligned special interest groups who are more afraid of complaints than progress.

Frederick Douglass also said:

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters.”

Now is the moment to have a real conversation about the future of education and begin down the bold path of revolutionizing a system that has failed children of color for generations.

We have a chance to create a path for every child to have an incredible start and a promising future. We have a moment to be tough on our past and accountable for our future.

We don’t need reform, we need a revolution.


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