Thursday, September 3, 2009

Round-up of first mayoral debate

The four candidates for Boston mayor held their first debate last night, and the state of Boston Public Schools (and what to do about them) was brought up several times.

The moderator, Jon Keller, introduced the education issue halfway into the debate by noting that 8000 Boston families are currently on wait lists for charter schools. So should the cap for charter schools be lifted?

City Councilor Sam Yoon supported lifting the cap, although he said that charter schools “will not be a magic bullet for education in our city.” He said that charter schools with a record of success should be allowed to expand.

City Councilor Michael Flaherty also called for lifting the charter cap. He said he wasn’t just embracing charters. He was embracing good charters schools. He also said principals should be given more autonomy and schools should have appropriate-sized budgets, not a one-sized-fits-all approach..

Contractor Kevin McCrea said that the other candidates use “charter schools” as the latest buzzword to pretend that they care what’s going on in BPS. He’s against raising the charter school cap. “We know what works – longer school days, longer school years, and greater parental involvement.” He promised not to cut the school budget and to visit every school in the district.

Mayor Tom Menino said he supports the idea of turning underperforming schools into in-district charter schools, which would be controlled by BPS, unlike traditional charter schools, which have more autonomy.

At the end of the education discussion, McCrea said that Flaherty, Menino, and Yoon all got their kids into their first-choice schools in Boston. Whaaaat? Is this true? WBZ had to go to commercial break, so no one could rebut this point and I’m not sure they would have addressed it anyway, since it’s kind of gossipy and deals with their families. I can’t even think of three families who got their first-choice schools this year.

Now, everything I’ve heard says that everyone (even politicians) are in the same boat when it comes to the lottery. Am I wrong?

Separately, all four contenders also answered questions about food and restaurants for the blog Where to Eat. The final question was about food policy. Menino and Yoon provided answers about local food. All laudable. Flaherty did the same, but in the context of school food. He said, “School cafeterias will have healthy, locally-sourced products and nutrition-based curriculum will be folded into all academic disciplines.”

Are many of the school cafeterias even equipped to deal with a lot of fresh food? It seems like some of them are so tiny that they could only be used to serve food, not prepare it. It’s an admirable goal though. And having nutrition added to the curriculum would be great. (Will that be on the MCAS?)

The first round of the election will be held Sept. 22. The last two candidates standing will then compete for the mayor in the November elections. In future debates, I'd like to see them focus more on BPS and less on charter schools.

Here is the Globe’s story on the debate.
For links to the candidates’ education platforms, see my earlier post.

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