Thursday, March 29, 2007

New State Pilot School Approved for Boston

Wednesday's Boston Globe reported that the state Board of Education has approved four chronically under-performing schools, including English High in Boston, to be converted to State Pilot Schools in order to improve their performance within two years.

Pilot Schools are an innovative strategy championed here it Boston that give greater control and flexibility to each school for budgetary, hiring, governance, length of the school day, and professional development time for the staff. Boston's Pilot Schools are part of the Boston Public School system, students are assigned according to the same procedure as the non-pilot schools, and the whole process is even spelled out and approved as part of the Boston Teachers Union contract.

Pilot Schools are distinct from Charter Schools: the former are, in Boston, formed and run as part of the school district; the latter are chartered by the state and run completely independently of any school district. Pilot School teachers are all part of the BTU collective bargaining unit and receive the pay and benefits spelled out in the BTU contract; Charter School teachers are not.

Boston has 20 such Pilot Schools (including two dual status Horace Mann Charter Schools). Pilot Schools in Allston-Brighton include: Another Course to College (G9-G12), Baldwin Early Learning Center (K0-G1), Boston Community Leadership Academy (G9-G12), and the most recent to convert to Pilot status, the Gardner Elementary School in North Allston (currently K1-G5).

The state is looking to copy that model. Unfortunately, they are using it as a tool to fix the some of the most problematical schools in the state in lieu of having a state-run takeover.

The article quotes Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, as saying:

"There isn't a shred of evidence that making people work longer hours without any rights and forcing students to go on extended day . . . will be a positive experience... We hope it works. But there's no evidence that it will work."

Not so. The Center for Collaborative Education's "The Essential Guide to Pilot Schools" (Overview, September 2006) states:
"[On] the whole, students are performing better than the district averages across every indicator of engagement and performance. Compared to other BPS schools, Pilot School students have higher performance on the statewide standardized assessment (MCAS), higher college-going rates, and higher attendance rates."
Their report can be found at the CCE website. (For the record: I sit on the Governing Board of the Baldwin ELC, and the CCE is the independent organization that provides onsite coaching, professional development, and networking opportunities for educators in the Boston Pilot Schools.)

Let's hope the state can replicate the success of the Boston Pilot Schools model, rather than just putting the worst-performing schools into this category as a poison pill to reject the model. The Boston model uses innovative methods to improve school performance, but is not necessarily the best model for turning around a chronically under-performing school.

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