By Ellen Winner and Thalia Goldstein
The Turn Around Arts initiative is a terrific thing. It is putting the arts into some of our neediest schools. In the NPR story, “Creative Classes: An Artful Approach to Improving Performance,” we read that “Savoy Elementary isn’t trying to turn these students into great artists; ultimately, they’re trying to get them to improve their math and reading.”
It is too bad that we always seem to feel the need to justify the arts in our schools by reference to the kinds of non-arts skills that may be learned through the arts. We never justify math by claiming that math education improves reading, much less improves drawing ability! And what about the evidence? Does studying the arts really improve math and reading?
We reviewed the literature on this and showed that there is no good experimental evidence for this claim (Winner & Cooper, 2000). Nonetheless, it is very possible that student achievement will improve in the Turnaround schools. Why might this happen? Because when the arts are infused into schools, kids may enjoy school more, and therefore attendance may go up. In addition, such programs are likely to excite teachers and engage them, thereby making their teaching more passionate. In other words, if the arts improve math and reading, it may well be because the arts improve school culture, and it is the improved school culture that improves math and reading. It is difficult to imagine any kind of direct link between what kids learn in the arts and their skills in math and reading, but this kind of indirect link is plausible.
If we look for more specific connections between the arts and non-arts kinds of skills, the experimental evidence for direct links is stronger. For example, for children ages 8-10 who were in the Wheelock Family Theater program in Boston, we showed that a year of training in theater improves both empathy and emotion regulation (Goldstein & Winner, 2012). For adolescents who were majoring in theater at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA or the Boston Arts Academy in downtown Boston, MA, we showed that participation in the arts improves empathy and understanding of others’ mental states (Goldstein, Tamir & Winner, 2013). This link makes a lot of sense to us. Theater training involves putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes. Doing this is likely to help children to imagine how others would feel, to understand their own emotions, and to imagine how the world seems from different perspectives.
All students should have a chance to study the arts in school, regardless of whether or not the arts have positive side effects.
Question: Do you agree with Ellen and Thalia? Is teaching the arts just as valuable without showing a direct correlation to improved math and reading?
Ellen Winner is Professor of Psychology at Boston College, and Senior Research Associate at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard University in 1978 working with Roger Brown on child metaphor. Her research focuses on cognition in the arts in typical and gifted children. She is the author of over 100 articles and four books.
Thalia Goldstein is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Psychology Department at Pace University. In addition to teaching Developmental and Cognitive Psychology, she runs the Social Cognition and Imagination (SCI) Lab. Her research interests lie in how children and adolescents engage in, understand, and react to fictional and pretense worlds. She has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation (postdoctoral and dissertation grants), the American Psychological Foundation, and the Department of Homeland Security. Thalia received her PhD from Boston College and her B.A. from Cornell University.
By Eve L. Ewing
A recent New York Times article, “Young Inmates Find a Voice Through Short Films,” tells the story of Tribeca Teaches, a program based in New York and Los Angeles that teaches high school youth the art and craft of filmmaking. Tribeca Teaches sounds like a great example of a program that uses the arts to provide youth with a platform for storytelling, a chance to develop some valuable life and career skills, and an opportunity to experience the trials and triumphs of the creative process.
Unfortunately, the article also provided an example of how easy it is to draw attention to youth arts programs without drawing the same attention to youth as artists.
In the piece, we meet Amirah Harris, a 20-year-old who created a short film with Tribeca Teaches while she was incarcerated and enrolled at East River Academy, a high school on Rikers Island. We hear that Amirah is viewing her film for the first time outside the confines of jail, that she “felt loved” after the screening, and that she got to meet the actress Taraji P. Henson. We hear from Amirah’s teacher about her experience teaching in the program, and get lots of details about the challenges of teaching at Rikers.
"She is portrayed as a successful program participant. But Amirah is not portrayed as a filmmaker. She is not portrayed as an artist."
It is always exciting to hear about great new arts education initiatives, but too often we focus on narratives about how the art has some kind of instrumental utility (job preparation, self-esteem, “keeping youth off the streets”) and less about the powerful voices of the youth making the art. In this article, we never learn what Amirah’s film is actually about. Although she undoubtedly spent hours conceiving, creating, and revising it, we never hear from her about her process or her inspiration. In short, she is portrayed as a successful program participant. But Amirah is not portrayed as a filmmaker. She is not portrayed as an artist.
Does arts education bring with it lots of benefits that have little to do with the art itself? Sometimes, yes. Absolutely. But if students just make incredible art, that’s pretty phenomenal too, and we have to treat them with the same respect we would accord to any other artist. We have to see their art as art, not just as a program outcome, and we have to talk about it as such.
What do you think: Is something lost by higlighting the program instead of the art itself?
Eve L. Ewing is a writer, educator, and a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is a teaching fellow for the Arts in Education master’s program at Harvard, and one of the coordinators of the Louder Than A Bomb youth poetry slam festival, as well as the development and communications manager for the Urbano Project.
By Dana Fitchett
The title of Emily Badger’s piece “How Diverse Schools Could Help Fight the Worst Effects of Gentrification" suggests that diversifying/integrating schools can curb the negative effects of gentrification. Believing this to be true requires an initial belief that this supposedly phenomenal moment “raises the possibility… that long-segregated schools in urban America might finally, if uneasily integrate,” which I don’t find believable. What is it that makes this moment so different from the many others that might be said to have had similar potential?
Michael Petrilli’s idea shared by Badger that being a “low-income and minority” student in a school “where basically everyone else is low-income and minority—is on average a very bad place to be” is offensive and supported by an irresponsible study that claims a student’s individual SES and his/her school’s overall SES contribute to achievement growth without enough attention paid to the need to examine what might be different in the staffing, resources, opportunities, etc, of a high SES versus those of a low SES school, but rather simply suggesting that poor black kids stifle one another’s academic achievement by purely being. The study does point out teacher expectations, amount of homework assigned, advanced courses taken, and safety of school all as influential factors. So maybe it’s not poor black kids that are failing one another, but rather the larger inequitable system that creates insufficient conditions for them.
We’re operating under the same ideologically oppressive assumption that METCO was born out of: in order to get a quality education, you can’t be surrounded by poor black kids in a city public school. This is an egregiously dangerous way of thinking. As long as this idea prevails, poor black communities will always have to fear what becomes of their children when there are no wealthy white children around.
While some might see this as a necessary approach and one that employs the lesser of two evils, it sends the dehumanizing message to poor children, black children, Latino children, that they are less than. That instead of working to provide them with the quality educations they deserve in their own right, we need the incentive of more valued children attending the same schools before we make those schools right.
As long as this scenario remains a prerequisite for the education of all children, our society will never heal from the implications of our inability to provide quality educations to all, even when they’re separate. Because we’re not stating the underlying truth of this, which is that, by operating under this assumption, we’re also admitting that we fail to educate some children based on some combination of their address, skin color, and socioeconomic status, we've put ourselves in the position of creating bogus "solutions." In reality, separateness has only been configured as a problem for certain groups. If wealthy white populations can be separate and well-educated (though the conversation about what’s lost at the “best” schools is a rich conversation for another day), perhaps the separation isn’t the issue but our concealed ideas around who deserves a quality education are.
"We’re operating under the same ideologically oppressive assumption that METCO was born out of: in order to get a quality education, you can’t be surrounded by poor black kids in a city public school. This is an egregiously dangerous way of thinking. As long as this idea prevails, poor black communities will always have to fear what becomes of their children when there are no wealthy white children around."
To come back to the problem of blaming children for issues created by adults: the call for “smart placement policies” is another example of this. When I sat in on a BPS External Advisory Committee meeting on school assignment, I heard a BPS parent say it best: “If we had quality options, then choice wouldn’t be an issue.” As long as there are failing schools, there are children who will be systematically left behind, regardless of how smartly we place them. Shuffling children around based on absurdly complex algorithms simply is not the answer. Altering policies and priorities in such a way that creates school environments that nurture the most historically undernurtured learners is.
Badger’s assessment of the inadequacy of Boston’s own complex algorithm is spot-on: “The result is that children spend their after-school hours riding the bus, neighborhoods that might otherwise coalesce around the school as a civic center don’t do that, the city spends vast resources on transportation instead of education, and minority low-income children wind up busing across town to other schools full of minority, low-income children.”
Toward the end, Badger references the danger of symbolic diversity that’s not met with innovative solutions for how to accommodate many different populations, which can lead to massive levels of segregation within the walls of an “integrated” school. I see this as one of the resounding reasons to not push for integration.
At the end of the day, choice (in this iteration) is an illusion and gentrification is a primary reason for why this is so. I find it highly believable that gentrification can improve the quality of neighborhood schools. But by the time it does, it will also have raised rent costs and brought along with it expensive grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops; these dynamics force families of lower socioeconomic status to move away, likely to a neighborhood with other poor people and inadequate schools. And so the cycle goes…
Badger asserts that communities have a, “Narrow window to figure out how to leverage the arrival of affluent families willing to bet on public schools before this newfound diversity in their classrooms disappears." This window is—much like the concept of school choice—an illusion. Gentrification waits for no one and just when the hoped-for “meaningful social interaction” gains some momentum in schools and other points of contact, the socioeconomic dynamics are likely to change neighborhoods and school populations yet again.
Whether or not the theory embedded in all of this plays out, the problem of gentrification in and of itself won't be resolved without addressing the root cause by drastically changing policies and practices around community development and infuse them with concern for those who call a particular community home and do away with the singular focus on financial gain.
Prior to landing at Aspire, Dana worked in education in a number of different realms. She has worked in both public and private education, as well as with high school and middle school age students. She has been a tutor across all academic subjects, an English Language Arts teaching assistant, a modern dance teacher, and a dorm parent, and has been involved in efforts to increase educational access in all of her roles. Most recently, Dana worked at The Steppingstone Foundation, where her primary role was to provide assistance to Boston Public School families looking to enroll their children in Boston exam schools or independent schools. Dana's primary concern is increasing access to quality education and services for under-resourced populations. Dana is also a dancer and choreographer and continues to choreograph and perform as her schedule allows. She received an A.B. from Vassar College in Urban Studies with concentrations in Sociology and Black Studies.
By Jake Murray
Much has been written about the Millennium generation—American teens and twentysomethings. They are often described as confident, upbeat, social, and open-minded – and I have found this to be true among the Millennium members I know personally and professionally. Yet these profiles mask the full story. With the economic downturn, rising cost of college, fewer and more elusive job prospects than in past generations, and the protracted dependence on parents and family, many among the Millennial generation are facing a new and more challenging road to adulthood.
As many of us know, the transition from high school through the mid to late twenties is often a precarious one – especially for young men. As they enter adulthood, many young adults appear aimless or adrift – confused about their immediate future. They are uncertain what they want to do, or – if they have an idea—how to go about it. For young adults who complete high school (22% do not), many reflexively enroll in and out of college, community college, or job training programs because this is what they are ‘supposed to do.’ But according to the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity study, just 56 percent of students complete four-year degrees within six years; a mere 29 percent of two-year college students earn associates degrees or certificates within three years. Many students accumulate debt, some credits, no credentials, and thus, enjoy few job prospects. They might want things like cars, smart phones, apartments, and trips for spring break, but they can’t afford these, or they overly depend on their families and friends for support.They often have fragmented visions of what adulthood is, and take even more fragmented routes to get there.
"According to the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity study, just 56 percent of students complete four-year degrees within six years; a mere 29 percent of two-year college students earn associates degrees or certificates within three years."
Thus, while it is dangerous to generalize experiences and circumstances for all Millennial members, it safe to say that many young adults lack a clear purpose or sense of self-sufficiency, and are disconnected from education and professional pathways. And disconnectedness –or the feeling of not belonging –is, in turn, fertile ground for apathy, poor health/depression, and in some cases, aggression.
For this reason, efforts to engage young adults – those right out of high school and through their mid/late twenties— to help them find purpose and pathways are so critical. Programs that offer this, like City Year and Year Up come to mind. We should encourage and fund more alternatives like these that offer a transition year or service year for a wide range of young adults, and more importantly, a purpose and connection to community. High school guidance counselors might also extend their scope to support students well past graduation. Colleges, universities, and job training programs should strengthen counseling, career advising, and mentoring roles to support all students, and perhaps, more so, the part-time students, transfer student, and other students who cycle in and out of these settings. It cannot be assumed that these students can or will 'figure it out' on their own, or make healthy decisions.
Perhaps most counter-intuitive to what we think adulthood means is that parenting - or family engagement – should continue well into the twenties. This is not the same type of parenting/ family engagement we would expect during adolescence. Parents and family members must reshape their relationships with young adults as peers, mentors and trusted confidants. They must find ways to stay positively and appropriately engaged with their sons and daughters/nieces and nephews/young cousins, while allowing for and encouraging independence, failure and bad decisions, as well as accomplishments. This engagement need not be complex or cumbersome. For instance, an uncle might meet with his nephew for lunch or coffee every week to see what he’s ‘up to,’ listen, discuss sports and movies, and offer advice on jobs or relationships. The key is to establish enduring, supportive rituals of engagement with young adults.
While recognition of and actions to counter this vulnerable transition phase will not prevent all aimlessness, misguided acts or aggression among young adults, they may change the milieu for many, and reduce feelings of apathy and angst that can accompany this time in life. These above ideas are also simple, caring practices that just make sense, and will have benefits for all young adults, no matter their circumstances. We should no longer expect young adults – especially young men – to just 'figure it out' once they walk out of high school and begin the road to adulthood.
Jake Murray is the Senior Director of the Wheelock College Aspire Institute, Wheelock’s social and education innovation center.
By Stephanie Cox Suarez and Julie Kalt
Welcome to the Documentation Studio
Making Learning Visible, a General Education Capstone course, was designed as an interdisciplinary collaboration between education and visual arts and is co-taught by Stephanie Cox Suarez, Associate Professor of Special Education and Erica Licea-Kane, Assistant Professor of Art. Making Learning Visible uses the tool of documentation to understand and interpret the learning of individuals and groups and to make this visible by creating a public display that engages a discussion and elicits multiple perspectives.
The importance of this type of learning is three-fold:
1. Developing skills in visual literacy is becoming increasingly vital in our digital world. Students learn basics in visual design.
2. Developing skills of observation creates an attitude of close listening to understand learning.
3. Skills in collaboration and negotiation as a team are essential 21st century skills. A long-term group project is a challenge that pushes these skills.
A notable element of the learning process is the opportunity for students to observe and participate in new settings that are intimate yet professional, and to witness interactions that would not normally be available to them. For example, at Perkins School for the Blind, Early Learning Center, students listened to families with toddlers with multiple disabilities and heard first-hand about daily challenges from the parents.
Documentation tells a story about learning, so Stephanie and Erica ask themselves if they can see learning in these students' displays. Students have learned that sharing the documentation -- getting another perspective -- helps a story to emerge. They hope to learn from this first round of documentation so that they can truly make learning visible.
“We’ve learned that sharing the documentation -- getting another perspective -- helps a story to emerge.”
Hayley, Connor, Andrea and Aaron documented their experience at the Assistive Device Center at the Perkins School for the Blind, a workshop that creates customized materials for children with disabilities. Unlike commercially available products, the center designs and constructs products that meet the unique needs of individuals. The materials to create these devices are affordable, durable and designed to reflect the interests and cultures of the individuals that use them. For example, a young girl might need a seat insert to go in regular chair for more back support. “It’s amazing that something as simple as cardboard can be so useful,” explained Connor. Hayley made a personal connection to the mission of the Center: “My sister is severely handicapped, and after seeing how much money my family has spent on these types of devices, I wanted to feature the Center, which creates much more affordable and durable options for children.”
Emily, Kathryn, Emily and MacKenzie worked with the Perkins Early Learning Center creating a Welcome Board entitled, “All We See is Possibility,” for new parents at the Center. The Board, which they recreated at the Documentation Studio, is meant to “introduce parents to the faces they would see at the center,” including professional staff, other families and community volunteers.
Brae, a student teacher at the Peabody Terrace Children’s Center, documented “Doctor Play"," which turned out to be an exercise and lesson in boundaries, power and empathy. After having Doctor Mary Alexander come in to talk to her students about the body, she documented, through photos and scripts how the children not only altered their vocabulary about the body, but also developed a raised awareness of the patient. Not only did they learn to be gentle when conducting an examination, but also began using words like clavicle, tendons and spine.
“My sister is severely handicapped, and after seeing how much money my family has spent on these types of devices, I wanted to feature the Center, which creates much more affordable and durable options for children.”
- Hayley Adamuska
If you would like to learn more about the Documentation Studio, contact Stephanie Cox Suarez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Daniel Michaud Weinstock
A recent HBR Blog Post on Change Management emphasizes the importance of management capacity to offset the myriad reasons that change management efforts so often fail in business. So why does change management similarly fail in nonprofit and human service organizations? Given the critical needs that these organizations try to meet, what gets in the way of their ability to respond most effectively and efficiently to the evolving realities of the people they are trying to serve? A few key realities often come into play
Who Is the Client?
Mission-driven and human service entities are established with a guiding purpose – to most effectively respond to the needs of the population(s) they serve. The guiding question should always be, “How are we operating in the best interests of our clients/to most effectively meet our mission?” However, too often, as organizations evolve over time, adding service delivery strands, layers of management, and/or back office functions, the needs and interests of people within the organization subsume those of the clients. Healthy organizations need to ensure that they are meeting the needs of the people that are working to meet the needs of the clients – but not at the expense of the clients themselves. Change management efforts must always be directly tied to effectively addressing the interests of the clients so that everyone affected is asking, “How can I, in my role, ensure that we are best serving our clients/most effectively meeting our mission?” Leaders need to model this, and make sure that it is multi-directional process, so that staff has the time, space, and safety to identify what they need from colleagues all levels of the organization.
An organization’s initial design and infrastructure is an important artifact in change processes. It reflects the context in which the organization was founded. Over time, the organizational structure and the functional tasks for which people are responsible emanate from that original design. It is the dirt roads upon which modern roads were laid, and busy streets now operate. While the need for change is tied to various internal and external factors, it can be helpful for the organization to revisit that early artifact, and examine to what degree the original dirt roads meet the current needs of the organization. Sharing in this archaeological digging can help people recognize that the imperative for change is not tied to any one individual and is not personal – it is tied to processes and practices that date back to the organization’s inception.
"Sharing in this archaeological digging can help people recognize that the imperative for change is not tied to any one individual and is not personal – it is tied to processes and practices that date back to the organization’s inception."
And depending on the magnitude of the change involved, mere refurbishing of these early roadways will not suffice; new pathways may need to be established and built, and therefore everyone in the organization needs to learn these new traffic patterns together. As Heifitz’ framework of technical versus adaptive change suggests, effective change management – and leadership therein – demands clarity about whether the change entails a technical fix in function, process or role (“if we just repaint the lines, widen this road, add a traffic light, install a bike lane…”) as opposed to more significant overhaul that requires a new way of being from everyone (“we need to dig up our old roads and start anew…”). And, with the latter, people need the time, space, and safety to adjust, try new routes, share mistakes and successes, and develop and adjust roadmaps for the future.
Intent versus Impact
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” builds on the metaphor in the previous point. As leaders promote change, the imperative may be client-, mission-, and/or data-driven, placed in an historical or a future context, or connected to many other variables. All of these may be justified and tied to best intentions for the organization to function most effectively. However, even if the people affected – be they employees or clients – can make and accept that intellectual justification, good intentions only go so far. People have the need to understand, “what does this really mean for me?” They want to know the impact – and need the time, space, and safety to adjust. Leaders need to be transparent about motivations and intentions, and need to be similarly clear about desired impact. However, the pressure will still build as people experience the inevitable gap between intention and impact, aspiration and reality. Providing rest areas and other outlets to release some of this pressure for all impacted by the change is an important consideration in change management.
Organizational change is a process that demands context, clarity, communication, and shared commitment. A main street in Cambridge is under construction, and the message on the digital signs both leading up to and during the construction reads: “Western Ave under construction for 2 years. Seek alternate routes.” I have heard many people scoff at the notice of two years. Yet it has helped to prepare people in advance while continuing to remind everyone that it is ongoing and they may benefit from making a change in their commute. Implied, too, is that it will require everyone’s patience and understanding. For organizational change to succeed, people need to also know why the change is happening and what it will lead to, when, where and how they can give feedback, what the alternate routes entail, with guidance and coaching along the way. They need time, space, and safety to adapt. Organizational leaders can embrace, model and provide these kinds of supports internally to help transition from “under construction” to transformation.
Daniel Michaud Weinstock is an organizational development consultant, coach, and facilitator. He has over 15 years of experience working in and with nonprofit, human service, and educational organizations and systems. He has both led and been a part of organizational change processes, and continues to learn from and celebrate his successes and mistakes.
By Julie Kalt
“Aspir(e)ing Profiles” is a series where we feature leaders in education, child and human development and health and wellness connected to the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. Look out for our monthly profile. You might be next!
Katie Everett, Executive Director of the Lynch Foundation, exudes passion for philanthropy and social change. Her perspective on lessons she’s gleaned over the past 16 years are honest and abundant, “There are no stupid questions and no one solution. It takes a village and whole network of people working to get anything done. No one organization is going to solve every problem. Great intentions go far. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Katie grew up in a home where the culture was to always give back. “My mother was a public school teacher and a girl scout leader. My father was a marine, a banker and Treasurer for Pine Street Inn. We spent Thanksgivings helping to serve at Pine Street.”
After attending Boston College, Katie went on to work at the Boston Inner City Scholarship Fund where she first met Peter Lynch, the Chair of the Board at the time. She quickly went from managing their personal philanthropy and board relationships to helping build what is now a $100M foundation devoted to education, culture and historic preservation, healthcare and medical research, and religious and educational efforts of the Roman Catholic Church.
Katie explained what’s so unique about Lynch’s approach to investing. “We have an open concept application unlike many other foundations and respond to everyone that engages with us. We have high expectations, but also provide a lot of support for the people and organizations we invest in.”
“There are no stupid questions and no one solution. It takes a village and whole network of people working to get anything done. No one organization is going to solve every problem. Great intentions go far. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Also unique to a family foundation, the majority of trustees of the Lynch foundation are not family. What’s more, the Lynches are intentional about comprising their board with a mix of relevant skill sets, including a historian to add insight to their cultural and historic preservation issue area. “We continue to learn and grow. We make mistakes, which we aren’t afraid of. The Lynches like to identify young talent they can invest in, like Wendy Kopp and Paul Farmer, both of which are now having global impact.”
When I asked Katie about her personal passions apart from her work with Lynch, she admitted that it’s hard to separate them because she’s been working with the Lynches for well over a decade. “I moved my kids from the suburbs to the city and enrolled them in Boston Public Schools. What I get to see in my job ignites a certain passion inside of me. Equity and opportunity for all children is possible, and we can get it done.”
Katie embodies the values of the Lynch Foundation – humility and opportunity. She explains that philanthropy began to help forge solutions to social problems, so you must accept the risk alongside the extraordinary reward that comes with it.
Although Katie concedes there are inevitable challenges, she is working so that the Lynch Foundation can continue to push the conversation about what is possible, particularly in the arena of public policy.
The Lynch Foundation has made investments in two of the Aspire Institute’s programs: The Boston Family Engagement Partnership and the Wheelock Catholic Schools Initiative. “Parents,” Katie said, “will be the next voices to push policymakers.”
What is your phrase to live by?
Go big or go home.
What issue are you following?
The Mayoral race. Who isn’t following that?
If you could meet anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
Sheryl Sandberg. We are going to “Lean In” together.
The Wheelock College Aspire Institute was recently selected as the fiscal sponsor for the Boston Compact, a citywide effort to bring public, charter and Catholic schools together.
Klare Shaw, Special Assistant to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson, Kevin Andrews, founding Headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School and Mary Grassa O'Neill, Superintendent of the Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Boston shared with us their vision for the Compact, early wins and the challenges that lay ahead.
1. Why does the Compact make sense right now? For each sector? For Boston?
Mary: We have always been very siloed. There has been not much interaction between students, principals and school leaders. [Through the Compact] we have committed to the City of Boston that we all have the same education focus and want to make sure that all children have the same opportunities to develop the skills and access the opportunities to have a very successful life.
Klare: The relationships we already have make good groundwork [for the Compact], and there is a lot of fluidity between the systems right now that didn’t exist before. This is true for leaders, teachers and families who are familiar with the multiple sectors. The mayor reflected that we are one city and schools need to cooperate and accommodate families.
Kevin: I got involved [in the Compact] because there was too much animosity between charters and districts across the Commonwealth and in Boston. I credit Dr. Johnson and the Mayor with establishing the Compact. Superintendent Johnson was open to talking about how we can work better together rather than as separate entities. With some change in BPS and with the help of leadership in Mayor’s office, there is a sense of urgency that moves us forward and reminds us that we need to serve every child in city of Boston.
"I got involved [in the Compact] because there was too much animosity between charters and districts across the Commonwealth and in Boston." -Kevin Andrews
2. What do you hope to achieve? What are you particularly excited about?
Mary: I hope we develop a high level of trust between and amongst educators and in those leading the organizations so that we can be open about what we do well and where we can improve. Each sector is known for particular things, and one thing the education world has not done well is to build on a practice of excellence. We want that practice of excellence to be seen and recognized in all schools no matter which sector it came from.
Kevin: This is always about building relationships. At the principal/teacher level, I hope we see the sharing of best practices, whether with Black boys, English language learners or students with disabilities. I want to look back and say that teachers are working together because of the Compact. We’ve seen pockets of that, but we want to see it more. For example, principals are talking across sectors on their own about how to make schools better.
Klare: The Compact has an intentional focus on the city’s most vulnerable learners. [I want to see] people come together to set priorities about what the city needs in the name of progress.
3. What are you proud of so far? Any early wins?
Mary: School doors are literally and symbolically open to have folks from all sectors visiting and learning. No educator who has taken advantage of this opportunity can say he has walked into a school and not learned something. I am excited that some of this has spilled over into emergency planning, for example. We feel we can call and speak with one another, which is unprecedented. It is difficult to find somewhere in the country where this is going on to the same degree.
Klare: I went to a conference convened by the Gates foundation, and out of all of the other locations where similar work is happening, not only was the level of relationship building [in Boston] greater, but also the goals to serve specific student populations were so clearly set out in our compact, was very different than other cities there.
Kevin: [I am proud of the] Mayor coming on board, efforts to bring in the Catholic schools, the school-to-school partnerships and the school showcases. [The philanthropic organizations that comprise] the Boston Opportunity Agenda said this would have been unthinkable five years ago. There are still a lot of naysayers, but I think that group is becoming smaller and smaller.
Klare: It’s extraordinary to see students from all three schools playing music together.
Kevin: Meg Campbell, the Head of the Codman Square Academy (a Commonwealth charter school), was appointed to the [Boston] School Committee. How many other cities have done that?
Mary: In the past, one sector would tear other sector down to raise itself up. Early on, it was decided that we were not about that. I want to give as many kudos as I can to Dr. Johnson because it would have been easy for her to say she didn’t have the time to commit to this effort.
"We feel we can call and speak with one another, which is unprecedented. It is difficult to find somewhere in the country where this is going on to the same degree." - Mary Grassa O'Neill
4. What are some potential challenges that you anticipate?
Kevin: The true test of the Compact is sustainability, which usually has to do with people and relationships. Who the new mayor is going to be will dictate how successful the Compact is going to be. Who knows what the Superintendent is going to do? How do we become an oasis of something people see as very positive no matter who is in what leadership role?
Mary: It’s very important that we stay focused and produce compelling evidence. This is the beginning of something great that can turn around education for every family in Boston.
Klare: We all continue to have various financial challenges – [a challenge will be] continuing to support and extend activity with appropriate financial support.
5. Is there a full understanding of the Compact at the teacher level?
Kevin: I don’t believe that our teachers are fully aware of what’s happening with the Compact. We have not dug deep enough. Some principals are on board. All charter school leaders and Catholic school leaders aware of the Compact, but I don’t think we are digging down deep enough.
Klare: The School Committee is aware of it, but within BPS other people might not be as polite or may have fear around what the Compact means. But if you speak to some of our principals, they are extremely enthusiastic about the time for reflection and collaboration.
Mary: We cannot overlook that it’s much newer for principals and teachers. I think it will take some time for relationships to mature and develop.
6. What is the significance of the Boston Compact nationally compared to what other cities are doing?
Kevin: Seven cities are being funded for implementation and 16 with planning grants, which might join in phase two. Boston is the only Gates Compact city explicitly committed to serving populations that have been traditionally underserved. It is fertile ground for us right now. We are also only one of two cities to include Catholic schools. All of us represent 83% of children in the City of Boston. We have to thank Gates for national connections and Wheelock/Aspire for local connections. I think Gates believes Boston is a major player in this effort.
Mary: I think if leaders and educators are willing to open up, we can be joined together and become a team. We have a lot of good work to do ahead.
"...the goals to serve specific student populations [are] so clearly set out in our compact." - Klare Shaw
Kevin: The proof of the pudding is in the eating! I am very much encouraged by the work done to date and really believe that for Boston and all its problems and history, we will be a city that people will point to if they want to see collaboration happen.
Mary: We are excited, enthusiastic and will make this happen. We will make a difference.
This interview was conducted by Jake Murray, Senior Director of the Aspire Institute and Julie Kalt, Communications and Operations Specialist at Aspire. For more information on the Compact, please visit bostoncompact.weebly.com.
By Adam Berinsky
The debate over the merits of public versus charter schools has been contentious in recent years. While the evidence on the performance of charter schools is mixed, the public has weighed in strongly in favor of charter schools. According to a poll conducted last year by Gallup for Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK), for the third year in a row, over two thirds of the American public favored the idea of charter schools. What are we to make of these results?
I am not an education scholar, but I am an expert in the study of opinion polls. Based on my readings, there are several reasons to think these poll results might better reflect diffuse opposition to government involvement in general, and not firm support for charter schools.
For one, this question reflects the responses of the full public – many of whom have no direct current experience with a school of any sort. In the 21012 PDK/Gallup survey, two thirds of respondents had no children in school. Experience with schools is certainly not a prerequisite to have an informed opinion, but it could be that the particular question asked by PDK stimulated a “top-of the head” response rather than a carefully formed opinion.
One thing we know from 75 years of public opinion polling is that if we ask people questions on surveys, they will answer them – regardless of their interest or knowledge about a particular issue. Political scientists have found that a great number of survey respondents will even answer questions about completely fictitious policies and programs. This is an extreme example, but we know that in the absence of direct experience with a given issue or controversy, survey respondents will look to the question wording to find cues to allow them to navigate an unfamiliar issue.
"Based on my readings, there are several reasons to think these poll results might better reflect diffuse opposition to government involvement in general, and not firm support for charter schools."
PDK asked, “As you may know, charter schools operate under a charter or contract that frees them from many of the state regulations imposed on public schools and permits them to operate independently. Do you favor or oppose the idea of charter schools?”
There are several cues in this question that might lead to an increased level of support for charter schools. “Regulation” has long been a dirty word in American politics. Thus anything that would “free” schools from regulation might be seen as a good thing, regardless of the merits of that alternative. In addition, the question does not ask about support for charter schools per se, but rather support for “the idea of charter schools” – a more abstract concept.
The results of the poll lend additional support for the idea that the charter school question might be picking up more generalized anti-government sentiment than real support for charter schools. On this question – like questions of economic policy and government regulation – there exists a large gap between Democrats and Republicans. While a bare majority of Democrats (54%) favor charter schools, 80 percent of Republicans express support for charters.
In sum, while it is true that large majorities of American express support for charter schools, further polling with better tailored questions needs to be conducted before we are sure that this support represents a considered opinion; for now, it seems more a transient belief.
Adam Berinsky is a Professor of Political Science at MIT. He studies the political behavior of ordinary citizens. While he is primarily concerned with questions of representation and the communication of public sentiment to political elites, he has also studied public opinion and foreign policy, the continuing power of group-based stereotypes, the effect of voting reforms, and the power of the media.
By Najeema Holas-Huggins
The New York Times recently posted an op-ed on the dire need for investments in early education, penned by John E. Pepper, Jr. and James M. Zimmerman, former executives of Procter & Gamble and Macy’s, respectively. The op-ed mirrors another printed in The Boston Globe recently from the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children’s (BTWIC) board and committee members Jed Swan of Drydock Ventures and Ron Friedman of Richards Barry Joyce & Partners. With more and more members of the business community standing up, the message is becoming harder to ignore: early childhood education is in the best interest of the business community and the nation at large, and it needs to be available to every child.
“Capitalists for Preschool,” the NYT op-ed, highlights the urgency of the need, noting that China aims to offer 70% of its children three years of preschool, a move that will no doubt bolster and strengthen their future workforce. Meanwhile, the US debates the issue and slow progress, with critics saying benefits gained in pre-k peter out by 3rd grade. Pepper and Zimmerman rebuke this notion, stating “this (the decrease in positive impacts) is mainly attributable to differences in the quality of preschool and of the schooling that follows – not a deficiency in preschool itself.”
We hope more “capitalists” will stand up and verbalize their support for increased investment in early education, particularly in Massachusetts.
We hope more “capitalists” will stand up and verbalize their support for increased investment in early education, particularly in Massachusetts. Their wisdom, culled from decades of leading various businesses to economic success, can change the conversation at the legislative level and lead to a revolution in the way the public views, and prioritizes, early education. Meanwhile, BTWIC will continue to engage our business leaders to support early education in Massachusetts.
Najeema Holas-Huggins is the Manager of Marketing and Associate Researcher for the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children (BTWIC). In this role, she’s worked for nearly four years to increase the visibility for BTWIC and its work and impact on children, families, and the early education field in Massachusetts through traditional marketing activities, social media, and donor cultivation. She has also co-authored multiple research reports, including BTWIC’s 2010 “Blueprint for Early Education Compensation Reform.”