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Students in Boston Getting the Message from My Generation: They Count for Less

June 2, 2016

Jennifer Berkshire, aka EduShyster, wrote a compelling essay for the Progressive titled “Boston to Protesting Students: You’re Not Worth It”. Boston, like most urban school districts, bought into the “reform” idea of offering choice to high school students via a magnet school program. In order for choice to make a difference for all children, however, the school district needs to fund a robust curriculum and wide range of extra-curricular programs to attract students to these schools… and those alternative offerings cost money, which is in short supply for city school districts. Among the choices offered to students are charter schools, which draw students away from the public magnet schools and, in many cases, receive substantial supplementary funds from their underwriters. Faced with the choice between raising taxes and cutting the school budget, the Boston mayor is doing what most mayors across the country are doing: he’s cutting the school budget. Here’s Ms. Berkshire’s synopsis of the problem:

Boston’s school budget conundrum is complex but it boils down to this: rising expenses across the system, including the biggest, teacher salaries, mean that there is less to spend on “extras.” Since much of what is spent at the elementary school level is mandated by law, cuts this year are falling hardest on the high schools. Meanwhile, charter high schools continue to expand. This spring, the state Board of Education approved two more of these, bringing the total number of charter high schools in the city to 16. As these new schools expand, enrollment, and the student funding that accompanies it, is dropping. This means that the city’s high schools, including popular small schools themed around art, community leadership and STEM, are now facing the loss of what drew students to them in the first place. The latest round of education reform is now consuming the previous wave.

Choice is eating choice.

But, as Ms. Berkshire reports, Boston students are not taking these cuts lying down, nor are they unaware of the difference between the treatment they are getting as compared to their cohorts in the affluent suburban districts that surround Boston.

The Globe’s (columnist Joan) Venocchi described Boston’s student protesters as holding onto the status quo, meaning that they don’t want to give up what they have. But the status quo in Boston also means that a student body that is Black and Latino, and overwhelmingly low income, has always been treated as less than students in the more affluent—and whiter—suburbs that encircle the city….

“We looked around at the districts surrounding Boston, where these kinds of cuts aren’t happening. We saw that it’s only happening here,” Bilal Lafta, a protest organizer and a senior at the Boston Community Leadership Academy, one of the schools hit hardest by the cuts, wrote in a recent blog post:

And if you analyze the demographics of the Boston Public Schools, you realize that white students are the minority and that the district is overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic. We see these facts and we start to wonder if it’s racism.


When I attended schools in the late 1950s and early 1960s as part of the Baby Boom, I had a sense that the country was counting on my generation to advance our country, to make progress in science, and to achieve a level of harmony unsurpassed in history. I had a sense that the adults in the communities I lived in cared about us. After all, they were building new schools for us as we went through, they were building new expressways to make it easier to travel everywhere, they were building new skyscrapers downtown and new recreation facilities in the suburbs. Local service clubs bought uniforms for our baseball and basketball teams and people in the church I attended were going on marches to get equal rights for African Americans (or “Negroes” as they were called at that time). We had a President who was concerned about the military-industrial complex followed by a President who wanted us to land on the moon within a decade followed by a President who implored us to allow children of all races and nationalities to attend schools together and have the same opportunities.

I am saddened that My Generation is now consumed with the need to balance budgets at the expense of my grandchildren’s generation. That we voted people into office who want to keep taxes low at the expense of public education and public service. That we want to make certain shareholders get a good yield on their investments while nearly half of the children attending public education are eligible for free or reduced meals. That My Generation led the way to rampant inequality, crumbling infrastructure, and the funding of endless wars. That My Generation is telling today’s children that they are not worth it… unless, that is, they are fortunate enough to live in an affluent suburb or to get into a well-funded charter school. That My Generation let our country down after they did so much for us.

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