Friday, February 4, 2011

The Invisible Students in Boston

Tonight, reading Karina's posts on the parent listserv about how the Boston Public Schools refuses to support kids who are living in poverty if they happen to do well on a standardized test in 6th grade and attend the Boston Latin School, a public exam school. Thank you Karina for being an organizer and role-model parent, inspiring others to speak up, you are missed at school!!!!!

Reposted with Karina's permission:

Date: Fri, 4 Feb 2011 18:40:06 -0500
From: Karina Meiri
Subject: Re: [BLSVillage] poverty among PBS students

But this isn't a race to the top or the bottom, this wasn't about
O'Bryant, and its not a zero sum game. In fact everybody loses. I'd just
like people to acknowledge that there's a considerable portion of the BL
community who are losing right now (26.9%) in fact. My point is only
that no-one is looking after the poor kids at BLS whether there are 10
of them or a 1000 (which there may well be by the same argument).

And the cherry tables are a total red herring - all the cherry tables in
the world won't buy one teacher. And all the cherry tables in the world
never got anyone into college (especially when the library shuts at 2:30
because there's no staff).

For parents who aren't following this, this is what I wrote to someone
off line today, by way of explanation:

"Now about your other issue. Its true BLS has a huge endowment that
other schools don't have (although other schools certainly have alumni
too. It just seems that BLS made enough difference in people's lives to
make them want to give back). But they are very restricted in how they
can spend it, which is a source of great frustration. They can't spend
it on operating costs or any service that the BPS should provide for the
school - such as teachers or the basic curriculum. For example a few
years ago the library was closing at midday due to lack of staff, but
BLSA wasn't allowed to pay for a part time librarian to keep it open.

So what they have traditionally spent it on has been capital
improvements (like the arts wing) or scholarships. (They gave out about
$600,000 in scholarships last year when my daughter graduated). Some of
those are endowed scholarships, as you'll find out when your daughter
graduates "A scholarship from Mr J. Henry Brown class of 1924 for the
student ranked in the middle of the class who has shown exceptional
promise with the trombone" I kid you not. So there's nothing to be done
with those, they have to obey the restrictions that were put on them
when they were donated in the first place.

It is possible to donate and endow a 'specialty' program, although it
costs a huge amount of money. The one you're probably thinking of is
"Facing History and Ourselves" which was endowed by a BLS alum. It is
arguably the single class that makes most impact on students' lives.
Both my kids took it and I strongly urge your daughter to take it too
(its for juniors and seniors). The Roche family also donated several
million dollars to the athletic program. But that doesn't put math
teachers in the classrooms either. So they're caught between a rock and
a hard place. A library with better furniture in it than I have at home,
but no-one to work there because of rules about what the endowment can
be spent on. And that's what people don't see beyond I'm afraid when
they think of BLS as an elitist place."

You won't get any argument from me about BPS and its multitudinous
defects, nor about the correlation between affluence and performance on
standardized tests.

But what this discussion was about was the fact that the affluent
parents of BLS don't seem to feel any special relationship to those poor
kids who have managed to battle their way into the school. They'd rather
spend their time at the barricades for unknown students at other schools
rather than for their kids classmates' in their own backyard.

KM '06 '10.

Date: Fri, 4 Feb 2011 13:00:18 -0500
From: Karina Meiri
Subject: Re: [BLSVillage] poverty among PBS students

Well you need to read what I said more carefully. If you take total
numbers of students it is true, if you take it as a percentage of total
it isn't.

So 28.6% of 2400 = 696 whereas 50% of 1234 = 617.

The difference is that O'Bryant gets federal resources for its kids and

BLS doesn't.

Karina Meiri

"Date: Fri, 4 Feb 2011 09:02:39 -0500
From: Karina Meiri
Subject: Re: [BLSVillage] School budget proposal would cut 250 positions - The Boston Globe

I feel fortunate that I no longer have a dog in this fight. But I would
like to raise one final point that bothered me the entire time I was at
BLS. For the large part it motivated everything that I did there, budget
advocacy and otherwise.

There are more students living below the poverty line at BLS than there
are at any other school in the BPS system. They are your kids' invisible
classmates who can't afford coats and calculators, don't hang out at the
Gallerias, and who may not even have a home to go to at night. There
are many, many more than you think.

They have no advocates.

Certainly not in BPS, which denies them any of the federal support to
which they are entitled and which other BPS kids living in poverty
receive, merely because their numbers do not reach some aribitrary
percentage of the total number of students (and I say aribitrary
purposely because this is a rule BPS made up, and which disadvantages
only two schools in the system - BLS and the Manning school in JP.

Certainly not in members of the BLS parent body who, knowing their own
circumstances to be privileged, find it not quite nice to advocate for
their childrens' own classmates who will have one shot, this one shot,
at a transformative education. Kids who have shown incredible will and
determination to seize that opportunity but who are going to lose out
because $4000 buys study halls but not AP classes. Teachers who have to
spend their time managing kids not teaching them.

There would be more credibility in going out to save the system if you
first took care of your own backyard. Donate, volunteer, send in your
cast off computers and coats, but don't hold these defenseless kids
hostage to the overwhelming tyranny of middle class guilt.

To the parents who provoked this diatribe. Apologies. I have no way to
know your own circumstances, so please don't perceive this as a personal

BLS manages to push one last button.

Karina Meiri

On Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 10:37 PM, Karina Meiri <

This maybe a case of us being divided by a common language John.
In English English, which is what I speak, whammy doesn't have the
pejorative overtones you appear to be ascribing to it.

In any case, of course special needs students require more
funding. ELL I'm not convinced. They need a special kind of
instruction, that's for sure, but I can't see why it needs to be
more expensive to teach a high school curriculum in two languages
rather than one language. People all over the world do it very

With respect to school size, you've got it backwards. Its not that
large schools are cheaper, its that small schools turned out to be
much more expensive - duplicating top heavy expensive
administration to no apparent good end that was reflected in
better performance. But that's beside the point.

If you take a look at our budget analysis you'll see the main
question is why is your _non-special needs, non-ELL_ exam school
kid worth less to the City of Boston ($4000) than the average
_non-special needs, non-ELL_ non-exam school kid who gets on
average $10,000 a year for their education. Hopefully this new
funding formula will make things more equitable by giving them
both $7000. Or do you think exam school kids should just suck it up?

Karina Meiri

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