Thursday, January 7, 2010

What does it take?

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester just won't give up. You likely recall that Chester was the recipient of the infamous email wherein Secretary of Education Paul Reville urged his underling to approve an inadequate school because a refusal would:

cripple us with a number of key moderate allies like the Globe and the Boston Foundation

With Reville and Chester shoving their weight around, the application to open this charter school was approved. But playing Massachusetts education as their political plaything would come to undermine them. Upon request, the Massachusetts Inspector General reviewed the situation and agreed with the obvious, reporting that the school should never have been approved:

the process used in approving the GCACS charter was procedurally defective...granting of the charter was without authority of law

Wihtout Chester's obstinancy, however, we'd perhaps not have learned that his incompetence extended into a "Big Jim Rennie" style of skullduggery:

DESE and CSO officials apparently implemented a policy of disposing of virtually all documents containing the written records of individual DESE and CSO evaluators in determining whether the GCACS charter school application had met the criteria of the final charter school application; and 3) The OIG finds that DESE was not fully responsive to document requests made by the OIG and by legislators for records of DESE and CSO evaluators in determining whether the GCACS charter school application had met the criteria of the final charter school application.

So an illegal decision was made after quite possibly shredding key documents to prevent review, and efforts at oversight were given a stiff-arm. A hands-on executive would have dispatched Chester and Reville long ago. But Deval Patrick is a guy who stood by people like Dan Grabauskas and Jim Aloisi beyond belief. Hopefully, continuing pressure on the governor will convince him to engage in leadership and enact accountability among his allies/appointees. You'd think he'd with the others (and Marian Walsh), this corruption will not die out as a Republican State Senate leader Tisei is calling on Chester to step down.

Shredded documents...contravening the law...currying media favor for the boss...all in service of the private sector to the decrement of the public sector. Even Governor Patrick admits this charter venture is a loser, and has done a 180 by coming out against the charter. As for Mr. Chester, he said on Thursday that:

I recognize that the controversy surrounding [the charter school], whether grounded in truth or not, has created a negative perception of our process.

Oh, he does admit that there may be lessons to be learned in this episode. Tinpot bureaucrat dictators are always happy to learn lessons...when they get caught.

If Chester still has a job on January 31st, Paul Reville should be gone on February 1st.

If Paul Reville and Mitchell Chester both have jobs on February 28th, we can ask if Deval Patrick should continue in his.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Reville, Mr. Chester, and Chairman Banta:

Today’s Salem News includes a commentary signed by Paul Reville and Mitchell Chester. The opinion piece makes the case that we are finally establishing a plan to close the achievement gap, a problem that most would agree needs to be rectified. It is my view that ignoring the real problems at the suburban level is a growing problem that should have been addressed years ago. Runaway costs such as health insurance and pensions as well as asking suburban districts to fund suburban charters are just a few examples of places where the Commonwealth could and should step in for the purpose of helping those of us in the suburbs. Cutting teachers and needed administrators has translated into reductions in program availability and has reduced the ability of districts to keep up with the burdens of unfunded mandates passed from either the federal government or the Commonwealth.

At a time when confidence in those being asked to oversee public education in Massachusetts cannot get any lower, it would be refreshing to advance the idea of true ‘Ed Reform.’ Former House Chair to the Joint Committee on Education, Pat Haddad, said it best when she spoke in December 2009. She commented that, “Ed reform is much bigger than this bill needs to be.”

Closing the achievement gap is admirable, but so too is insuring that the continued deterioration of public education programming in the suburbs is stopped. Clearly we need to find a way to rebuild what has been torn down over these past few years. Given the funding problems in my community (Swampscott) you may well be closing the achievement gap simply by ignoring the real problems in non-achievement gap communities.

Perhaps the most disappointing development this week was the House’s decision to not fund an adequacy study. The adequacy study issue along with the irresponsible history of non compliance with the requirements of MGL, chapter 70, section 4, leave me with the impression that political interest trump those of kids and taxpayers. The unwillingness on the part of all involved to look at cost containment strategies such and true municipal group health reform leave me with the impression that the strategy for solving school funding issues is rendered a non starter in an environment where revenue is a problem. Certainly saving a dollar equates to having an additional dollar of funding.

Finally, I admit to some degree of satisfaction is seeing the credibility of Mr. Reville, Mr. Chester, and the BOE called into question. For too long there has been an unwillingness on the part of state education officials to actually listen to those that have contrary opinions. I call it the “smartest guy in the room” syndrome. Having sat across the table from angry parents with an interest in wanting to understand why music, band, or PE is being cut gives me the right to have an opinion as does having two children in the Swampscott Public Schools. You have a long way to go before decisions made by the BOE are viewed thru the prism of reason given the mess created in Gloucester. Every adverse or positive decision made relative to charter applications in the past few years as well as those made in the future will be questioned in light of the “credibility gap” you have managed to create. It clearly is time to stop blaming others and take a introspective look at who you are and what you’ve done to create a mess at a time when the economy has rendered change difficult but not impossible.

On Monday start the discussion on how to close the “credibility gap.” A place to start is an admonition that the suburbs need help and a realization that until Gloucester is in the rear view mirror, every decision you make will be compromised by your failure to fix a self inflicted mess.

David P. Whelan, Jr.
Former Swampscott School Committee member


Anonymous said...

Deval was for the Gloucester charter before he was against the Gloucester charter.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where I can find a copy of the letter from Chester in response to the IG report online? I've been writing a series of series on problems in the national market for public charter schools in the blog "This Week in Education", and am turning to the GCACS fiasco tomorrow.


Marc Dean Milloty