Friday, December 4, 2015

MA: Boston's Lying Problem

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is sad. He seems to be sad specifically because he is "taking heat" But I think Walsh may be sad because of all the lying that's going on in Boston.

About a month ago in Esquire, Charles Pierce said that Marty Walsh was going "full Scott Walker" by first defeating an opponent by accusing him of being a education reform "grifter" who was trying to destroy pubic ed. And then, Pierce said, Mayor Walsh dumped Candidate Walsh and worked out a plan to close down 36 of Boston's roughly 120 school buildings, taking the BPS total to 90-- all part of a cozy partnership with charteristas in MA.

Not so, said the mayor's office. The Esquire article was untrue and unsourced-- in other words, Pierce was a lying liar who just made this stuff up.

But Pierce's article linked right back to the blog of Mary Lewis Pierce (no relation) who posted the documents (acquired by QUEST via FOIA)  that showed the driving partnerships behind the mayor's plan.

So somebody is surely lying. Maybe the blogger Pierce is lying about having the documents. Maybe she made them up. Maybe QUEST never filed a FOIA request, or maybe when they did, somebody who sent her the documentation sent her fake documents. Or maybe Marty Walsh was lying about the allegations being untrue and unsourced.

And Walsh was also sad about that number 90. True, he intended to "consolidate" some schools, but "closing" is such an ugly word. And he certainly wasn't going to do whatever it is to 36 schools.

This would fit in with Walsh's unified enrollment plan, where students fill out just one handy application and the school district puts the students in a school of the district's choice, thereby allowing the district to funnel students directly into the charter "partners" of the public system. This is a system favored at the folks at the Boston Compact, a group built on partnership between public and charter schools. What a great idea, since by its very existence, the group legitimizes charter claims to taxpayer education dollars.

The Boston Compact also has ties to the New Schools Venture Fund, a group devoted to funneling public tax dollars to private investor pockets by-- hey, wait. Where have I heard that name before? Oh yeah-- the New Schools Venture Fund is the previous employer of Jim Peyser, who explained back then how to take over and gut a public school district by "breaking down the barriers" between public and charter schools. Course that was before he took his new job-- Secretary of Education for the state of Massachusetts.

The public school advocacy group QUEST insists that Walsh told them privately about his intention to shutter 36 schools. This makes Walsh sad:

“The Mayor has never said, nor does he have a plan to close 36 schools,” mayoral spokeswoman Laura Oggeri said in a statement.  

And that might have been true on a technicality, but Walsh has since doubled down on his denial, saying, that although the meeting happened, “There was absolutely no talk about shrinking schools or closing schools — none at all." In fact, there's a whole list of things that have never happened. He has never had discussions with anybody about co-locations. The Boston Compact is sure it has no interest in or plan to increase charter market share in Boston.

So what are we to do with all these lying liars who lie. I mean, that has to be what we have in Boston, right? It's strictly he-said, she-said, and somebody has to be lying. So either the parents and QUEST are just making things up because, I don't know-- they're bored? They want to make Walsh sad? They are looking for some made-up cause so that they can give up their spare time to raise a commotion about nothing, because reasons? Or Walsh is keeping secrets and  lying because he's betrayed a bunch of constituents in order to work for big-money interests and further a privatization agenda that is widely opposed and he'd rather not have to defend it. I don't know-- which one of these scenarios seems most plausible?

Of course, I suppose it's also possible that Walsh is just sadly confused. After all, he insists that it's just a small group of parents who are raising a fuss, and the vast silent majority think this is a great idea. Does that sound familiar, too? Perhaps it's because you remember when Walsh insisted that the Bostonian opposition to hosting the Olympics was just "ten people on twitter." That turned out to be false. It also turned out that the failure to build public support was related to a failure to be transparent, open and honest with the public, as well as the discovery that the whole thing was a get-rich-quick scheme for some connected insiders.

So maybe Boston doesn't have a problem with liars. Maybe it just has a problem with officials who can neither recognize nor learn from the truth.So maybe Boston has a truth problem, which is different from a lying problem in the same way that school closures are different from consolidating takeover merger closings.

[Correction: I originally attributed the FOIA request to Pierce (the blogger), but the request was filed by QUEST. Also, somehow in the editing process a reference to a long-out-of-date article popped back in. This is what I get for writing through lunch period.]


  1. According to QUEST, the Boston Compact is a Gates Foundation baby. Shocking.

  2. Thanks for being a curmudgeon. You do such good work and I love your blog.

  3. MA governor Charlie Baker is pushing to raise the charter cap and submitted legislation in October that would allow 12 new charters yearly in the districts that perform in the bottom 25% on standardized tests. The Boston public school district is included in that list. According to The Globe, it would also remove the roadblocks for Walsh’s plan to “unify enrollment systems.” It’s a nice example of bipartisan greed.

  4. As populations change there will be a need to close schools. In the 1930's there were an estimated 143,000 students in Boston. Today it is around 54,000. I think this trend will continue in Boston for the foreseeable future. Closing schools will be inevitable.

    1. If it's all about population loss, why are we opening new charter schools?

    2. Dienne,

      Of course I did not say it was all about population loss, but it is true that if there are no children to educate schools should be closed and teachers should find something else to do.

      You might want to think about why the city is losing families. In additional to the general decline in birth rates in OECD countries, buying into the catchment area of a good urban public school can be extremely expensive (about $100,000 extra to buy the PS 321's catchment area in Brooklyn, for example). Breaking the link between street address and school may be the only way to keep a significant number of families from moving to the suburbs in order to get access to suburban schools.

    3. What trend do you mean? Boston's total population has been trending up slowly the past two decades or so. It was below 600,000 in 1990 and is now around 650,000. Whether that means more or fewer school-aged children depends on who is moving to the city and other factors, of course. Also, I doubt that Boston has the same number of public schools as it had in 1930 and this brilliant mayor just realized that some need to be closed. The relevant data, as you well know, have to do with how many students they have now and how much capacity they have in their public school system now. I have not heard that Boston has far too few students for its current public school system. If you have data on that, I would love to see it.