THE STATE’S new education reform law has been, by some measures, a highly utilized weapon. Turnaround efforts for the lowest-performing schools are proceeding apace, and the charter school community has responded eagerly to the challenge of expansion. But not every provision of the new law, approved in January of last year, has been fully utilized: Hopes that innovative school-transformation plans would bubble up from the community level have yet to be realized.
First, the good news. Thirty-five so-called turnaround schools have been targeted under the legislation, which gives superintendents enhanced powers to restructure those troubled institutions. More than half of those schools have extended the school day, and 20 have new principals. Teachers have been replaced as well. And despite fears that the turnaround label would scare off students, this hasn’t happened so far.
On the charter school front, the State Board of Education recently approved 16 new charters, all of which will open this fall or next. Thirteen will operate outside of traditional school systems, while three are in-district charters. Those new slots will provide important new options for kids in Boston, where 10 of the schools will be situated, and also in Lawrence, Chelsea, New Bedford, Salem, and Springfield.
Unfortunately, the third major thrust of the new law hasn’t borne similar fruit. The statute provided for converting existing schools into flexible, responsive, entrepreneurial “innovation’’ schools.
But only a few such schools are up and running. Preliminary plans for another 28 such schools have been put forward, but more than a third lack support from local teachers unions, which could jeopardize the faculty approval required under the law. That effort has lagged noticeably in many of the state’s larger cities, where the uncertainty in the process may be deterring administrators from even trying.
To urge districts and union leaders along, frustrated parents, energetic teachers, concerned community leaders, and hopeful students all need to make their voices heard. Education reform can channel enormous creative energy toward the cause of better schools, but only if communities take advantage of all the opportunities the law provides.