To the Editor:
I am an extremist. In a September 20 opinion piece in the Dorchester Reporter ("City gets reform"), Mayor Menino defended the reforms in the recently settled agreement between the City and the Boston Teachers Union, but stated that "the extremes will say the contract doesn't give us much...." The agreement does provide reforms above what was in the previous contract, but it is incremental change at a time when the school system needed a giant leap forward.
An improved teacher evaluation system based on a new state model was adopted by both parties, but no modifications were made to simplify and ensure successful implementation. A new teacher reassignment process was agreed to that provides more flexibility through "mutual consent" for principals and their personnel subcommittees to select teachers, but seniority still plays a role and some teachers will still be administratively assigned to schools without the principal's approval. Teachers eligible for annual step increases would be prohibited from receiving increases if they received an "unsatisfactory" evaluation, but this requirement only applies to new teachers hired after September 2013. No extended time for enrichment programs and instruction as needed is provided for students.
I am an extremist because these steps in the new contract do not go far enough to meet the needs of an urban public school system in Boston with its knowledge-based economy.
I am an extremist because:
• the outcome of this contract is one of the most important policy issue facing the City of Boston this year and one that will have a significant impact on the future direction of the Boston Public Schools;
• without significant reform to improve student performance and effective teaching, the demand by parents and students for more options outside the BPS will grow stronger;
• approximately one-third of Boston's high schools had graduation rates below 50% in 2011;
• too many BPS schools are considered as underperforming by the Commonwealth using the state's Accountability and Assistance Level report. Of Boston's 128 schools, 48% are characterized as Level 3 (48) or Level 4 (12) which means they are in the bottom 20% of all public schools in the Commonwealth.
As an extremist, I know that this contract needed to do more since the next chance to achieve contract reform will be four to five years from now. However, as a realist I know that what is important now is that the incremental reforms which have been negotiated must be fully and effectively implemented by the BPS with the collaborative support of the teachers' union.
Samuel R. Tyler is the President of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.