Education is the ultimate purpose of a school system, but schools do lots of other things, too. “Education” can become a euphemism for less attractive aspects of the institutions.
Boston Public Schools reform is heading in the right direction, in large part because such groups as QUEST and such officials as state Rep. Russell Holmes and City Councilors Matt O’Malley and John Connolly insisted on some straight talk. Namely, they pointed out that BPS’s school assignment zone changes were more about transportation than education. Saving enormous amounts of money on cutting busing was a worthy goal, but it didn’t ensure that students were being transported to a great education.
BPS wisely added a “quality schools” component to its plan, and even more wisely has selected an assignment plan that does away with zones in favor of a formula dependent on quality and locality.
Straight talk will remain important as we move ahead to define the elusive term “quality schools” and ensure that every public school is one and that every neighborhood has them. The definition must reach beyond “education” to include such aspects as physical and mental health care, crime stats and after-school opportunities.
We should admit that schools are as much about incarceration as education in a modern society that relies on schools as free day care. Free public schooling is an invaluable boon. But compulsory attendance also guarantees that some students will be forced to attend lower-quality schools.
We should acknowledge that school reforms and parent councils are frequently spearheaded by middle-class white parents who bring political power but also a limited perspective. Parent support is the magic ingredient in outstanding schools, so we should recognize the limits of equal opportunities for all students when their parents and their neighborhoods do not have equal means. We should beware of the tendency to want what is good for all kids, but the very best for our own.
We should be convinced that straight talk took us this far, and will take us all the way to the highest-quality school system Boston has ever had.