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More Boston schools need flexible ‘turnaround’ rules

Mayor Menino may appear to be using his 2013 legislative agenda to pick an unnecessary fight with the city’s teachers’ union. But the mayor, in calling for a dramatic increase in the number of schools with flexible staffing rules, is making a strong statement by choosing school improvement over labor peace.

State law already grants widespread powers to school districts to sidestep existing teacher contracts at so-called “turnaround schools,’’ a euphemism for the roughly 40 lowest-performing schools in the state. But the difference between the turnaround schools — 12 in Boston alone — and the next-lowest performance level based on standardized test scores is often marginal. There are 48 of these “Level 3’’ schools, which have weak MCAS scores, in Boston. And Menino rightly assumes that many of them would benefit significantly from the imposition of a longer school day, staff shake-ups, alterations to the curriculum, merit pay for teaching staffs, and other measures allowed under state law for turnaround schools.


The Menino administration has pledged to raise the quality of schools across the district. The success of its current efforts to assign students closer to their homes will depend largely on convincing parents that they don’t need to bus their children across town to find quality classrooms. Boston and other struggling school districts can fix the broken parts of their systems, but only if the state Legislature gives them the tools.

Menino also wants state lawmakers to remove the cap on in-district charter schools, a hybrid model that uses unionized teachers but limits the scope of work rules that interfere with education reform. There are only five in-district charter schools in Boston, and the system would benefit from several more. It would also benefit from the eradication of a foolish state provision that gives teachers’ unions veto power over the renewal of the in-district charter schools.

Unfortunately, Menino’s legislation wouldn’t stop there. His initiative also places ill-conceived restrictions on independent charter schools, including widespread changes in funding formulas and transportation policies. Menino favors in-district charter schools that require school committee authorization over the models that operate independently of local school districts. That’s his business. But he has no business undermining the mainstream charter school movement in the process.