Terri Michal is a passionate public school supporter in Birmingham who belongs to a national organization of more than 50,000 who share her concerns.  She turned to this network for insight into the education landscape in Massachusetts.  Here is her report:

I’m an edugeek.  I admit it.  My idea of a good time is reading education legislation, or researching charter schools, or compiling data on test scores and graduation rates.

So with all of the talk in Alabama about the Massachusetts Miracle that Michael Sentance helped kick off in 1993, I figured, who better to ask then actual TEACHERS from the state of Massachusetts?

Here is what I’ve learned:

Read this report, written by the Citizens for Public Schools, about the 20th anniversary of the ’93 reform. You will see it predominately affected three areas: standardized testing, charter schools, and funding. It failed in two out of the three areas.

The report states: “Massachusetts ranks 31st of 49 states for the gap between Black and White student graduation rates (with 1st meaning that the gap is the smallest) and 39th of 47 states for the size of the gap between Hispanic and White student graduation rates. (The achievement gap between black and white students and non-poverty and poverty students is less on NAEP scores in Alabama than in Massachusetts.)

It also finds that “Commonwealth charter schools have not contributed to equity of educational quality and resources.”

Teacher Amy Wolpin says, “Fourteen years ago research showed that the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System)test scores really just describe the demographics of students. In 2001 the Donahue Institute analyzed the MCAS results and reported that one of the consistent findings that demography explains most of the variation in test scores from district to district. Though demography is not destiny, it sets a strong tendency… In the end, the MCAS scores tell more about a district’s real estate values than the quality of its schools.″

I spoke with David I Rubin, Associate Professor, retired, College of Public and Community Service, UMass, Boston, about the Education Reform laws written by Sentence while working for Governor William Weld:

“Under the guise of reformer, he (Sentance) worked to undermine public education, at both the K-12 and college levels, and under the guise of pressing for better performance outcomes, pushed the privatization agendas and standardized testing agendas at all levels.”

In 1996 Rubin expressed concerns about the 1993 Education Reform Law in Massachusetts. He stated,  “Governor William Weld unveiled a truly radical plan for reshaping K-12 education that could make Massachusetts the testing ground for every weapon in the privatization arsenal. Weld wants to voucherize the entire public educational system, putting an educational voucher in the hand of every low-income student in Massachusetts and radically expanding the idea of school choice by including parochial and private schools in the voucher program.

He wants to remove the cap on the number of charter schools and let them expand without limit to increase competition with public school systems throughout the state. He wants to eliminate all forms of teacher certification. He wants to limit the independence of the Board of Education, a body that has been strongly critical of Weld’s new proposals.  He has also placed fresh horses in key leadership positions in the hierarchy of public education, from kindergarten through graduate school, appointing Boston University President John Silber as the Chairman of the Board of Public Education, insurance industry magnate George Carlin as Chairman of the Higher Education Coordinating Council, and using his influence to make sure that the UMass Board of Trustees named the Massachusetts Legislature’s Senate President, William Bulger, as President of the University of Massachusetts system. All are on Weld’s ideological wavelength, all wield power ruthlessly, all are white males, and none has any significant experience in public education. This leadership troika is best understood as Weld’s management team for a hostile takeover of all levels of public education.”

You see a common thread.  the Massachusetts reforms are aimed at, and fail, the high poverty students.  With a childhood poverty rate 10% HIGHER than Massachusetts (It’s 26% here in Alabama) I don’t feel we can afford to appoint a person who not only wrote and endorsed those reforms, but has very little experience in K-12.

I feel STRONGLY that Mr. Sentance is being hired for three reasons: 1) centralize power with the governor through an appointed board as they did in MA (although you know our legislature will want to be in on the gig too), 2) to get the charter law up and running and 3) get the RAISE Act passed.  The fact that the reforms Michael Sentance brought to MA mirror our RAISE Act almost exactly is not a coincidence.

So I ask, with all of the evidence concerning his past policies (high stakes testing tied to evaluations, ending teacher tenure, independent charter operators with little to no oversight, and a huge emphasis on appointed boards leading to less local control) how in the world can anyone think he would NOT be influenced by the likes of Sen. Del Marsh, Rep. Terri Collins, Billy Canary of BCA and Mary Scott Hunter?

The fact that he is from out of state does NOT ensure that he is not in cahoots with those that wish to destroy our public schools in the name of privatization.

While I oppose Common Core, I’m wondering what good will it do our kids that live in poverty to get rid of Common Core if they have under-qualified teachers in the room, their schools are starved of resources, and they are forced to take high stakes tests that may result in their schools being closed? Let’s really take a look at the ENTIRE picture here, and see ALL of these reforms for what they are, a death sentence for  high poverty schools.