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Boston Picks a New City Superintendent

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The board of the Boston Public Schools selected Brenda Cassellius as its new superintendent. She is the former state superintendent in Minnesota, where she served from 2010 until last January. She is an educator, not a refugee from the corporate world, so that’s a good sign.

The board hopes she will repair relationships that frayed during the brief tenure of Tommy Chang. It is also hoping she will raise test scores,  stop the decline of enrollment, and close achievement gaps.

That is a tall order for any superintendent, and Cassellius would be wise to set her sights on realistic and achievable goals. She will need to obtain new state resources to improve struggling schools, for example, by using research-based methods like reducing class sizes for the students who need e trap attention and support.

”Reformers” like to set public schools up to fail by setting unrealistic goals that they can’t reach in their charters except by kicking out kids they don’t want. The public schools must enroll everyone, including the kids pushed out by charters.

One troubling note. In interviews, Cassellius identified one of her “victories”:

She pointed out that while she served for eight years as education commissioner, she pulled together the state’s teachers union and the administrator and school board associations to craft a new teacher evaluation system. The process included trade-offs, including a major concession by teachers: the use of student test scores in their performance reviews, a practice that teachers nationwide tend to oppose.

Does she know that test-based evaluation has been discredited over the past five years? Does she know that the Gates-funded program to try this methodology in three urban districts and four charter chains was evaluated by AIR and RAND and found to have no effect, other than to discourage teachers from teaching high-needs students, who are likely to reduce their ranking? It did not raise test scores or graduation rates, did not close achievement gaps, and did not weed out “bad” teachers. Teachers oppose it because it is unfair and ineffective.

Cassellius does not arrive spouting Reformer ideology. That’s a good sign. Bostonians must work together to support their public schools and to restore confidence in them. If she can do that, she will succeed.

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