Ed reform group criticized at BPS forum

August 9, 2013
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Stand for Children, a controversial nonprofit organization that advocates for public education reform, held a sparsely attended forum on July 31 at the Tobin Community Center on the future of the Boston Public Schools (BPS). The meeting was short in duration, and was more remarkable for the conflict that arose than the substance on BPS that was discussed.

Stand for Children said a summary of the forum would be sent to the mayoral and city councilor candidates.

Several representatives from educational groups, such as Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) and Youth Organizers for the Now Generation (YOUNG) Coalition, made up the majority of about seven attendees at the July 31 meeting. Those representatives criticized Stand for Children for its funding sources, lack of engagement with the community and for being in favor of lifting the cap for charter schools. A letter signed by members of those groups and other educational organizations in the state was read, criticizing Stand for Children.

“In 10 years, no one from Stand for Children has talked with us,” said Sandra McIntosh, a representative for CPS. Stand for Children established its Massachusetts chapter in 2003.

The meeting, which was supposed to start at 5 p.m. when most people are still at work, began 15 minutes late because of a lack of attendees.

BPS was not invited to the forum and Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF), a City agency headquartered at the Tobin, complained about the use of its logo on a mass-mailed flyer advertising it.

Originally founded to promote increased funding for public school systems, Stand for Children now lobbies for increased charter schools and has battled teachers unions for contract concessions, moves that have garnered both praise and criticism nationwide. Stand for Children also has been criticized for contributors and board members tied to for-profit educational institutions.

When the Gazette questioned Stand for Children on the low turnout, spokesperson Sam Castañeda Holdren noted that the July 31 forum was the fourth of nine that the organization is hosting. He said at a previous forum in East Boston there were 20 people and that there was “great energy.”

Holdren said Stand for Children has been focused on energizing other parts of the city and hadn’t turned its attention to Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain yet.

“This is a start of us introducing ourselves to this part of the city,” said Holdren.

The meeting was a brainstorming session on five topics: access to early education; effective teachers; expectations and quality of schools; safe and supportive learning environment; guidance and support to access college. Discussion lasted 30 minutes and touched on several issues, including lengthening the school day and having early education available to everyone.

When the discussion ended, Cathleen Donnelly, a representative for the YOUNG Coalition, read from a letter that criticized Stand for Children for receiving funds from corporate foundations tied to Walmart, Bain Capital and JPMorgan Chase.

The letter appears to be from last year, as it references Stand for Children ballot initiative that would have given teacher evaluations priority over seniority in making staffing decisions for schools. A compromise was eventually reached between the teachers unions and Stand for Children that averted the ballot initiative.

“We need a real conversation in Massachusetts about the best way to improve our schools, an honest, collaborative exchange that includes parents, students, teachers and the community,” read Donnelly. “What we don’t need are phony sound bite ‘solutions’ backed by big corporate money.”

McIntosh criticized Stand for Children for being based downtown on Chauncy Street and not having any offices in the neighborhoods, while others took issue with Stand for Children support of lifting the cap on charter schools.

Kathryn Alexander, a field manager at Stand for Children, said the organization does support charter schools, as they have helped close the achievement gap in Boston. She said that the organization also supports more resources for early education and that it wants to empower parents and teachers to be able to advocate for students education.

When asked to respond to the letter after the meeting, Holdren sent an email to the Gazette that said that Stand for Children seeks funding from “various grant-giving foundations and individuals who support our mission to ensure all children, regardless of background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education.”

“Virtually all of the funding that supports Stand for Children Massachusetts comes from individuals and foundations right here in Massachusetts,” he said.

He said Stand for Children works with several organizations, including Boston United for Students coalition and Massachusetts Coalition to Restore Special Education Funding.

Holdren said Stand for Children will be sharing a summary of the forums to each of the mayoral and city councilor candidates.

District 8 City Council candidate Michael Nichols attended the July 31 forum. He told the Gazette afterwards that “the education is the biggest issue facing Boston,” but would not weigh in on the debate between the two sides that took place during the forum.

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