BPS needs a democratic vision for the future of open-enrollment schools – The Boston Globe

The proposal to close Charlestown High School and reopen it as an “innovation and inclusive high school” gets solid marks for its aspirations, but fails when it comes to ensuring the students and families directly affected by the proposal have a voice in shaping the effort or even a school to go to in the future. Indeed, the “Innovation School Prospectus” would radically alter the makeup of the school by granting enrollment priority for three elementary schools — the Eliot K-8 Innovation School, Harvard-Kent Elementary School, and the Warren-Prescott K-8 School — with higher-than-average white student populations and by setting a “priority goal of 25 percent enrollment for students with disabilities,” down from 31.5 percent of the student population. That’s why many of my colleagues and I vehemently oppose the plan to “innovate” our high school.
While there are some promising initiatives outlined in the proposal such as a fully funded co-teaching model — some of which students and staff support — the wholesale remaking of the school without community input smacks of elitism and circumvents democratic safeguards meant to ensure all children receive an equal education.
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I know of no Charlestown High School student, family, or teacher input that was sought in the creation of this proposal. What stopped the authors of the prospectus from engaging with families living in the Charlestown Apartments, the Boston Housing Authority’s largest housing community? Which “students” and which “families” does this prospectus represent?
Since community members were not consulted, the prospectus is, naturally, riddled with falsehoods. Of note, the prospectus states that “almost 50 percent of students at the school have a disability and are taught with limited or no access to a learning experience in an inclusive setting.” This is false. One hundred percent of diploma-bound students with individualized education plans at the school take academic classes in an inclusive setting alongside their peers. Additionally, 17 percent of students are in our Life Skills program. These students and their families have decided they are not diploma-bound and they receive a certificate of attendance and occupational and transition services. The prospectus would end the 135-student Life Skills program and set a “priority goal” of 25 percent enrollment of students with IEPs, jettisoning even more students and families. Again, we must ask: inclusion and innovation for whom?
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As one of just seven open-enrollment high schools (out of Boston’s 28), Charlestown High School is front and center in the resegregation of schools. Our school serves 95 percent students of color; 71 percent of the surrounding Charlestown neighborhood is white. The prospectus would use “direct pathways from local community schools” to change the demographics of the students served at the school. One need only look at the history of Boston’s other comprehensive innovation school, the Eliot K-8, to understand where this might lead.
The Eliot K-8 student population has ballooned from 35 percent white before “innovation” to 62 percent white today — making the school four times whiter than the overall demographics of Boston school-aged children. The Eliot attracts donors who were able to give an average of $400,000 per year in total, for the past five years, to general operations and enrichment opportunities.
The future of public education in Boston is on the line. As Ross Wilson, one of the authors of the prospectus, put it on the Shah Foundation podcast: “I want to be clear, this isn’t just about Charlestown High School, it’s a model for all open-enrollment high schools . . . .There are families that would like to invest in open-enrollment high schools.” Is it not the function of a truly public education for the community to make this investment on behalf of all families, regardless of that family’s individual ability to “invest”?
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Rather than incentivizing some parents to fund their vision through the “innovation school” loophole created by a misguided 2010 state education reform law, BPS must make an affirmative plan for all open-enrollment schools. We need stability of leadership, adequate funding for our co-teaching model, and facilities upgrades for our students to thrive.
A three-member screening committee will make a decision on Jan. 19 whether to accept the prospectus. We call on the committee to reject the prospectus and call on BPS to work with students, families, and teachers to build an affirmative, democratic vision for the future of our open-enrollment high schools.
Cole Moran is a teacher at Charlestown High School.
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