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A contract for better schools

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A contract for better schools
“All they have to do is adopt the work rules of the best charter schools.”

A contract for better schools

Most Bostonians are unaware of a critically important negotiation presently underway. The Boston School Department and the Boston Teachers Union are trying to come to terms on a new contract. The present contract expires at the end of the month.

The performance of the teacher is undoubtedly the most important determinant of whether a child is academically successful. The quality of teaching is more important than the size of the school budget or a number of other mitigating factors. Good teachers have been known to overcome the poverty of their students or the dysfunction of their students’ families to achieve outstanding academic results. A good contract should motivate stellar teachers to perform, while a bad contract will impede their progress.

It is common for the preamble of teachers’ contracts to assert that they have been drafted with the highest interests of the students in mind. However, the academic performance at the end of the year suggests that some other considerations have intervened.

Therefore, it is very important for concerned citizens to be assured that the best practices for academic success be incorporated in the contract as pedagogical obligations. This would necessarily include aggressive efforts to involve parents in the educational process.

A citizen group called “Put Students First” has organized to assure that the new teachers union contract meets the needs of the 21st century. Now that Boston is a majority-minority city, it is certainly the time to determine whether the old approach to public education is still relevant. It is clear that some charter schools such as Roxbury Prep and the Match School have achieved great results with a new academic model. Some of those ideas should find their way into other public schools as elements of the teachers contract.

The academic effectiveness of a Boston public school education is a matter of great importance to blacks and Latinos, who account for 37 percent and 39 percent, respectively, of the student body. Only 13 percent of the students are white. Only 16 percent of black and 19 percent of Latino 8th graders scored proficient or advanced on the 2009 MCAS Mathematics exam. Asians performed at a 65 percent level, even higher than 48 percent for whites. The racial academic gap persists.

Only 63 percent of Boston Public School students entering the 9th grade in 2003 graduated from high school on time in 2007. Only 64 percent of those graduates enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college in 2008. According to projections, only 35.5 percent of those enrolled in college will graduate in six years by 2014. Looking back, it is estimated that only 14.4 percent of the original 9th grade students will graduate from college.

The rate of college graduation in America has dropped to unacceptable levels, and African Americans seem to be leading the race to the bottom. The U.S. was once the most highly educated nation in the world. According to the College Board, the lead now goes to Canada with 55.8 percent of adults, 25 to 34 years of age, with at least an associate’s degree. The U.S. now ranks 12th with 40.4 percent having post-secondary degrees. National policy makers understand that educational superiority is essential if the U.S. is to maintain its global economic dominance.

There is no better time than right now for thoughtful citizens to join the campaign for a teachers contract that will help to raise the level of educational achievement in Boston’s public schools.