Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Charter, Private, and Public Schools Work Together in Boston: Teachers, with Very Different Experiences Teaching Very Similar Students, Tear through Artificial Boundaries of School Politics to Ask How They Can Better Serve Students

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Charter, Private, and Public Schools Work Together in Boston: Teachers, with Very Different Experiences Teaching Very Similar Students, Tear through Artificial Boundaries of School Politics to Ask How They Can Better Serve Students

Article excerpt

It is Wednesday afternoon, a professional development day. Students have gone home early, leaving a classroom full of teachers to their monthly ritual of pedagogical discussions.

Today, the conversation is unusually animated. At one table, three teachers are discussing a math lesson they have just seen on video:

"I have never seen those manipulatives used this way to teach fractions."

"It takes practice for them to get the hang of it, but, over the long run, it pays off."

"I can see how this could be helpful to English language learners when illustrating story problems."

What makes today such an exciting session? The format is nothing out of the ordinary, but today is a meeting of the minds that rarely takes place in urban education. For the first time, teachers from the neighborhood charter, public, and Catholic schools have come together to share ideas and practices. Three groups of teachers, with very different experiences teaching very similar students, are tearing through artificial boundaries of school politics to ask the question, "how can we better serve our students?"

These teachers from Edison K-8 Boston Public School, St. Columbkille Parochial School, and Conservatory Lab Charter School are participating in one of five school-based partnerships that are part of the Boston Compact between the Boston Public Schools, Archdiocese of Boston, and the Boston Charter Alliance. Their goal is to improve results for all students in Boston, regardless of school sector or governance. The Compact and its partnerships are committed to raising student achievement and student growth percentiles for ELL, black and Latino boys, and/or students with disabilities by intensely working together and holding each other accountable for results. The Compact set goals for the partnerships to increase the rate of growth for these three groups by 20% and reduce by 30% the gap between their level of performance in 2011 and 100% proficiency, as measured by Massachusetts' composite index.

"Our learners struggle with the same things in every classroom. It is helpful to get the perspective of other teachers at the same grade level," shares one teacher from the Conservatory Lab Charter School. Across the room, heads nod in agreement.

Cross-sector school collaborations like this one have powerful implications for the future of school choice and sustainable school improvement. Meaningful collaborations among charter schools, public schools, and private schools are unusual. When they occur, they often take the form of a one-way mentorship relationship between a thriving and struggling school that is often conceived and directed from on high.

Three factors make the Boston's School Performance Partnerships unique:

1. The partnerships represent an all-kids-are-our-kids agenda, transforming the portfolio-based notion of schooling from one of market-driven incentives that prioritize survival of the fittest to one of support and improvement that acknowledges that the different choices parents and families in a community make are all legitimate.

2. Teachers and administrators drive the partnership activities, focusing on specific teaching and learning challenges shared by schools. While the partnerships began life as a top-down initiative, their success and sustainability depends of the organic development of collaborative professional communities that move beyond politics and policies.

3. The partnerships are based on reciprocal relationships with each school bringing something to the table; everyone has something to give and something to gain. This reciprocity breaks the conventional one-way street paradigm that positions charters as the benevolent mentor and the district school as the grateful student.

An all-kids-are-our-kids agenda

Cross-sector school cooperation represents a major shift in Boston's political and educational landscape. …

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