December 3, 2011
By Larry Harmon, Globe Columnist
STATE EDUCATION commissioner Mitchell Chester is now a one-man school committee for the city of Lawrence. The vote this week by the state Board of Education to place Lawrence schools into receivership strips the city’s seven-member school committee of its authority over policy decisions, hiring, and budgetary matters. Already, things are looking up in down-at-the-heels Lawrence...
Chester shouldn’t rule out any options if he expects to turn around a system that ranks in the bottom 1 percent of student performance on statewide assessment exams. One good step would be to expand the role of Lawrence charter schools, which have a sensational record for educating low-income Hispanic youngsters who make up about 90 percent of the city’s student population. Everyone in the 13,000-student district would benefit from the longer school day, improved curriculum, and flexible hiring and firing policies that characterize state charter schools.
Lawrence kids can and do excel. Sixth-grade students at Community Day charter school, for example, rank first in the state based on the percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced on assessment tests in sixth grade math. Eighth graders at the Lawrence Family Development charter school rank in the top quarter of schools statewide on the English portion. Meanwhile, students in district schools scrape bottom. It will require dramatic changes in these classrooms - and not just changes in overall governance - to transform public education in the city.