Deflected attention

Public education advocates were in good company in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House this past Monday, March 7. The Joint Committee on Education held a hearing on seven bills, including two in response to ballot initiatives (the charter cap lift and repeal of Common Core), one on summer learning, one on mental health education in high schools, and three others. I'd prepared testimony in opposition to the charter cap lift (written and oral).

A number of DESE staff were on hand for most of the hearing. Commissioner Chester gave his testimony in opposition to the Common Core ballot question. Two of my BESE colleagues, James Morton and Ed Doherty were there, too: James to give testimony in support of the summer learning bill, and Ed in opposition to the charter cap bill.

I had thought I would do a bunch of tweeting on the Committee's proceedings, but I lost focus for quite some time due to the compelling BPS student walkout happening on twitter.

I had caught wind of the protest as it was developing over the weekend (twitter), thanks to parents who shared their excitement of their kids taking civic responsibility on their own terms, planning the event in order to speak out about the $50M in proposed cuts to their schools.

The pictures began showing up on my twitter feed, telling the story of students leaving school at about 11:30 AM, some
bringing posters and signs they had made, and meeting at the gazebo on the Common. First there were images from around
the city of students getting ready to make the trek. Then there were hundreds beginning to gather. Then hundreds more. And the kids were streaming up and out of the trains, headed to the gazebo, and soon there were hundreds and hundreds of students there. And then there were a thousand students peacefully assembled on the Common and still the students continued coming up from the trains and it was clear that there were well over a thousand students. Someone tweeted out that there were about 2,000 students. And after that, someone said that there were about 3,500 students.

An exuberance of students on the Common.

Then, they began their procession across the Common, up to the State House and I could barely keep up with the pictures then - and I tried to retweet them all, to no avail. Beacon Street was full of students. A sea of students from the front of the State House, expressing their dissatisfaction with the proposed, devastating cuts to their schools.

I couldn't hear from inside the State House, but apparently there was chanting. Periscopes and short videos were attached to tweets. Councillor Tito Jackson was being interviewed out in front. He said he supported the students. He said that the recent approval by the BESE to expand charter seats in Boston would add nearly $20M more to the BPS shortfall. I was riveted. It was a powerful display of youthful concern and civic engagement.

Eventually, I had to turn my full attention to the hearing when it was time to give my testimony. I spoke as part of a panel with Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director of Citizen's for Public Schools, and Kevin Murray, Executive Director of the Program for Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University's School of Law (their November 2014 case study of Massachusetts charter schools is a must read). Lisa noted new waitlist data that CPS had analyzed and Kevin cited an article that related charter school conditions reminiscent of the subprime mortgage crisis. (Parent Imperfect blogged about the article).

Public ed hearings are a great opportunity to see many fellow/sister advocates, friendships forged in the fight for strong public schools for all kids, and to make new face to face connections. It was great to finally meet Heshan and to briefly catch up with Tito. Barbara, Paul, Angela, Tom, Paul, Phyllis - frequently a presence at the State House when the the Joint Committee is hearing testimony. Great seeing them. And I always enjoy hanging out and catching up with Tracy and Margaret whenever possible. 

My testimony didn't feel complete - there's just so much to say about charters and so little time! So, I gave a short testimony on Monday, and sent a long written one to the Committee today.

I left the hearing a bit before 4:00; Tracy tweeted out that the hearing adjourned at about 5:00. If you want to read a more coherent account of the hearing, you'll want to read from her blog.