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Menino proposes legislation to boost student achievement

Howard Manly

Mayor Thomas M. Menino proposed state legislation to boost student achievement by streamlining bureaucracy and limiting teacher’s union veto power.

The proposal comes at a time when the Boston Public School system is revamping its complicated school assignment policies to improve student achievement throughout the city. It also comes at time when Menino is undergoing rehabilitation for recent medical problems.

“I’m not done fighting for quality schools,” Mayor Menino stated in a release. “Above all, parents want quality for their children, and the District should have the power to make improvements in every single school, for every single child.”  

For years, Menino has proclaimed himself the “Education Mayor,” and has offered numerous legislative proposals to close the city’s achievement gap. Just two years ago, the Boston School department focused on improving education in a “Circle of Promise,” an area in Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain and the South End where 11 of the city’s 12 underperforming schools are concentrated.

Under current state law, a school must be designated as a lowest-performing, or Level 4, school before being given expanded tools and flexibility to improve quality.

Menino’s new proposal would afford this flexibility in the Level 3 schools that make up about 50 percent of the District’s total. Many of these schools have the same challenges as Level 4 schools,  Menino stated, but lack the tools and flexibility to rapidly improve instruction.

As proof, Menino argued, Boston’s 11 Turnaround Schools, identified as underperforming in 2010, have successfully shown dramatic improvement and higher-than-average growth. With longer school days, quality school teachers and leaders, as well as extra time for teacher training and support, the release stated, 44 percent more families are selecting these schools as a top choice than just three years ago.

“When it comes to quality schools, we know what works,” Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said. “BPS has the proven tools to improve our schools and help children achieve — but we only have these tools in a handful of our schools. The Mayor’s legislation would make these advantages available to every Boston child.”

Menino has also proposed eliminating the cap on In-District charter schools, as well as the union’s veto power on these schools’ renewals in order to provide charters with the utmost flexibility in boosting student achievement and promoting innovative curriculum.

The administrative process for the application, approval and management of in-district charter schools would also be streamlined.

To level the playing field for charter schools and District schools, the Mayor has proposed setting aside enrollment in charter schools for students with disabilities and English Language Learners (ELLs).

In addition, the proposed legislation would allow for single-sex schools, classes and educational programs; support the growth of Innovation schools by clarifying the voting process and union approval requirements; and allow charter schools to enroll students based on geographical preferences rather than automatic city-wide lotteries.  

“The combination of student assignment reform and this new legislation will offer families better school choices by expanding the tools we already know will raise student achievement — by the start of the 2014 school year,” Menino said in a statement.