BLE believes success for Boston students requires a diverse system of public schools with increased autonomy and accountability for individual schools and choice for parents.
After decades of school reform, Boston has not made sufficient system-wide progress in improving students’ academic outcomes. Given that similar disappointing results characterize most urban school districts across the country, BLE believes that the current model of a highly centralized system imposing uniform practices across the district will not result in success for Boston students, and must transition to a model with more decision-making at the school level.
Despite the fact that Boston has not made breakthrough progress system wide, most charters and some district schools have succeeded. The most critical factor for those schools that have succeeded is Autonomy, coupled with Accountability. Autonomy is the ability to make decisions based on the needs of the individual school, students, and community. Accountability means being held to state standards and being accountable to the parents of Boston. This requires Informed Parent Choice, understandable, public data for school performance.
Great leaders and teachers are successful when they have the autonomy to act in the best interest of kids in their school community. Currently, constraints both from management and labor have made it impossible for Boston district schools to adjust programming, hire great staff, and remove weak performers. Autonomy in schools has been successful in Boston's Public Charters and BPS schools. Some BPS schools, when given autonomy, as part of state and federal legislation for “Turnaround Schools, have shown early improvement in their results. However this autonomy for turnarounds is only in place for a limited time. Historically, once a school loses the autonomy they begin to lose momentum in their improvements and often begin to see declines in student achievement.
BLE believes that we need a system of highly autonomous schools that maintain their autonomy as long as they perform to high standards. The autonomy should include decision-making authority for policies governing budget allocations, human capital, schedules, data use, and curriculum.
All individual schools, whether charter, district, or other structure, should be accountable for achieving state standards. Schools that fail to meet standards should be transferred to other providers either from within the district or from outside. This includes new leadership that can select their own staff and make decisions about strategy and implementation of the educational program.
Informed Parent Choice
No parent should be forced to send their child to a failing school. This does not require that parents select any school anywhere in the city of Boston. Today many parents send their children to low performing schools across town, at great transportation expense, and to no benefit to their children. Rather it means that parents must have access to good schools in their neighborhoods. Many parents in Boston are not aware of how their children’s schools are performing. To make them advocates for change BLE must make school performance data available to them.