The Third Way – Blazing an Optimistic Path Ahead in K-12 Education

Last month I attended the Boston Chamber of Commerce special event: Education Reform and how to succeed in Boston.  It was an eye opening experience in how corporate foundations are driving the discussion around education policy in Boston. After that experience, I’ve been reading more about the various “champions” of public education reform. This led me to my outing yesterday to the ICA on Boston’s waterfront. It was a beautiful day and the ICA is a lovely setting.

Here is a brief description of the event:

Join us at a kickoff event for the Third Way where we will explore some of the ways pioneering educators have been forging a Third Way ahead here and nationally.  We will hear from the frontlines how these efforts already positively affect the education and lives of thousands of students in Massachusetts.  Come to hear US Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. (pro-charter) and MA Secretary of Education James Peyser (pro-charter) speak.

Presented in partnership by Empower Schools and The Boston Foundations – both pro-charter organizations


It sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  I include the “pro-charter’ label because contrary to their slick marketing as this being a collaboartive movement between public and charter, this seems to be a repackaging of efforts to privatize and profit from the work of public education. Who was in attendance? As I stood in the ante room during the “networking” session, I was struck by how white and how corporate the room looked. By my count, there were 5 people of color in a room of at least 100 people. If this was a symposium about public ed in cities like Lawrence, Springfield and other “gateway cities”, where were the faces that reflected our districts? Well, host an event at 9:30 am and that will ensure that working parents and teachers will be unable to attend. Students, for fear of being reprimanded for speaking up for the education, also can’t attend. That is unless they are kids that are speaking on behalf or in a commercial cheering the benefits of Empower Schools agenda then they will get a pass for missing that ever important “instructional classroom time”

We then filed into the large auditorium. I ended up sitting next to Beverly Holmes, who it turns out is on the Board of the Springfield Empowerment Zone. I didn’t realize this at the time so she probably thinks I’m a lunatic. She asked which organization I was with and I replied – “Just an interested resident and BPS parent” She commented her surprise at the number of venture fund people she had met in the networking time and how few educators. I commented as to how white I found the event and the fact that I feel poverty is the issue not public education. Well, it was longer than that but that’s the short version.  Then they turned off the lights and the event began. What followed, began with a well-produced commercial featuring happy kids and what I supposed were teachers and parents talking about the miracle of “Third Way”. This love fest about “The Third Way” then continued for 2 hours.

While I didn’t take notes because it was dark and I can’t see without light, Tracy Novick of Worcester and Margaret Driscoll of Melrose were more prepared than I. Here are their notes as well as the panelists:

I’d like to discuss what I didn’t hear. The hosts of the event did not acknowledge that the crowd was not reflective of the districts they were proposing to “fix”. A few panelists did. Only four out of I think 24 panelists raised the issues of race and poverty in the context of addressing the challenges facing urban districts. Both Jim Peyser and Paul Grogan were clear in their position that charters are the only solution they see working in public ed. There was no acknowledgment of the impact of poverty on these schools and districts. Well, there was. The head of the Lawrence teachers union spoke passionately about the fact that many of their student live in “abject poverty”. Other than that, it was “failing schools” and how this “Third Way” was the next great hope for poor kids.

There is the root of my discomfort and frustration with the leaders of the foundations and non-profits driving education policy in urban centers. They don’t represent the constituencies their policies most directly impact. They don’t have their kids in these schools. They either live in the suburbs, send their kids to private schools or their kids are in one of the “good public schools.”  I’m not judging their decisions as parents to find the best option for their kids. I understand that kids don’t have the luxury of time. But the hypocrisy of it is gnawing at me. They may be driven by a desire to make the world a better place but until they acknowledge their privilege and bring more voices, even voices of dissent to the table, they are only perpetuating the very systems of oppression that have created the disparities between “successful” and “failing” schools. The people in positions of power and priviledge are dictating the terms of success by which families of color and families living in poverty (which in Boston are inextricably linked) have to abide. They do so without their input, dismiss dissent as uninformed and misguided and withhold resources for programs unless they are ones they deem worthwhile. In order for this to be a collaboration, all parties need to be welcomed to the table and the proposed solutions cannot be predetermined.

While I have been advocating for BPS, I don’t pretend to think that I know the all the issues facing the various families in my district. I’m working very hard to not be part of the problem.