It's mostly over but the waiting now: The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has completed intensive audits and one-on-one interviews in Boston on the state of Boston Public Schools and is now compiling a report that could determine whether its board votes to take over Boston schools, a BPS official told city councilors today.
Drew Echolson, BPS deputy superintendent of academics told a City Council committee that, based on what he's been asked and seen, the state has zeroed in on three main areas that will determine whether Boston loses control over its own schools: Outcomes for special-education students, transportation and the state of BPS buildings.
DESE Superintendent Jeff Riley declined the chance to address the committee, saying it would be premature before the report is done.
Several councilors expressed opposition to a state takeover, saying that Mayor Wu should be given a chance to prove herself, that Gov. Baker is going to be leaving office soon and that the three districts the state is already running - Lawrence, Springfield and Southbridge - have failed to show any improvement at all under receivership.
Echolson and other BPS officials, in fact, said that based strictly on the sort of outcomes the state loves to measure - MCAS scores - Boston is doing far better than not just those three cities but other urban districts in the state.
And on other criteria, they said, Boston is not just a state leader but a national leader in urban education. They also pointed to investments, first announced by Mayor Walsh, to pour significant amounts of money into renovating Boston's school buildings, most of which went up before World War II, the addition of nurses and other support staff and to contract talks with bus drivers that might lead to more efficient ways to get students to and from school.
Councilor Kendra Lara (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) questioned why the state is reviewing a three-year "memorandum of understanding" it signed with BPS in 2020 now and wondered whether it's because the state only has a year after a formal "review" to take over a school district and the deadline for that after the review that led to the 2020 agreement had passed.
She noted the discussions come even as Boston tries to figure out what to do about a referendum last fall in which residents overwhelmingly voted to return to an elected school committee, something that might come to naught if the state appoints a receiver who would have the power to select a replacement for Brenda Cassellius, leaving as superintendent at the end of this school year.
"We should do everything in our power to ensure receivership is something that doesn't happen here," she said.
Councilor Ed Flynn (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, Downtown) said he wants to keep local control over local schools, but said he's willing to at least hear the state out, to see what issues BPS and the city might have missed - that they could then begin to address short of a state takeover.
Councilor Brian Worrell (Roxbury) acknowledged that BPS "isn't where we want it to be," but said nobody knows the system better than local folks.
Peter Piazza, a researcher for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment, a group that includes BPS, said he worked on a study of the "empowerment zone" the state set up in Springfield and said that after seven years, all it's done has been to "reduce student learning to test preparation," with schools dramatically expanding math and English classes at the expense of such classes as social studies and arts, which are not on the MCAS.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, blasted the way the state conducted its review, which included intensive "audits" at 42 individual BPS schools that meant pulling teachers out of classes where they were supposed to be helping students get ready for the MCAS and in general just creating "a climate of fear and anxiety."
But beyond that, she called receivership as practiced so far in Massachusetts "ineffective, anti democratic and, honestly, racist."
She said there are already two local examples of the failure of a state takeover at the Dever and Holland schools, where the schools now have trouble keeping teachers and parents are more likely to try to get their kids into parochial schools than want to send them there. She said the Dever has has five principals in seven years.