CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.
Question 2 Was Defeated – Now What?
While the best-known race on November 8th was the presidential election with its profound ramifications on our lives, those of us working in progressive education in Massachusetts were intently watching another heated contest unfold: Question 2, which proposed to lift the cap on charter schools by authorizing up to 12 new charter schools each year, forever. An onslaught of money, totaling over $24 million, was spent by proponents. Over 85% of this money came from outside of MA and most of it as “dark money,” with its original donors left undisclosed. Despite capturing the attention of pro-charter advocates nationwide, Question 2 was defeated resoundingly by 62 to 38 percent.
While proponents used the narrative of depicting urban students as “trapped” and charter schools as saviors, every urban community in the state voted No on 2 at similar or wider margins than the state aggregate. In Boston, 241 out of 255 precincts (95%) voted No on 2; the 14 precincts that voted yes were largely more affluent, white neighborhoods. This lopsided no vote was mainly accomplished by a unified grassroots effort, led by thousands of teachers, parents, and community members rallying their communities—telephoning, canvassing, knocking on doors, and engaging the public in conversation.
The worst fear of those of us who opposed the measure—that Question 2 would dismantle public education, district by district, and leave charter schools free from accountability to the communities in which they reside—will not come to pass. Instead, we saw a resounding affirmation of the need to educate all students and of the belief in the capacity of public school districts governed by school committees to accomplish this goal. Moreover, communities of color have made their choice. No longer can charter advocates make the false claim that their approach to education is representing the collective desires of families of color in urban school districts.
With this victory at our backs, supporters of public education cannot rest easy. Those of us who pushed to defeat this measure argued that it was not the right solution to improving public education; now it is incumbent upon us to ensure a just education is provided to every student. We need to trust that teachers are the educators who best know our students and empower them to create school cultures, curriculum, instruction, and assessment that fully engage students in high quality, equitable, authentic, and relevant educational experiences. We need to leave behind standardized testing as the sole measure to determine whether students and schools are succeeding or failing, and adopt new models that include rich, curriculum-embedded performance assessments and multiple measures of assessing school quality. Our state accountability system should be restructured to first and foremost support improvement rather than a predominant focus on sorting, ranking, and punishing schools.
We need to challenge the predominant narrative that public school districts stifle innovation and begin to provide pathways for change within districts. We need to redouble our efforts to foster and incubate promising new and redesigned schools that place resources and decision-making squarely in the hands of administrators, teachers, parents, and students in our schools. Central offices need to focus less on compliance and more on supporting innovation. At CCE, we are doing our small part with our Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network, comprised of urban public in-district schools that are designed around 21st-century innovative principles such as competency-based progression, anytime/anywhere and engaged learning, personal learning pathways, and robust performance assessments. This work builds upon our longstanding work supporting Boston’s and Los Angeles’ in-district autonomous schools.
For those of us who were terrified to see question two up for vote, let last week’s results at the polls be a call to arms and not a sigh of relief. Every single child deserves equitable opportunities for a high-quality education, regardless of zip code, race, or first language. We should not be dismantling our districts; rather, we should be jumping with this reveille to use our resources to incubate and support schools that work for all kids.