Madeloni urges against a state takeover of Holyoke schools

MTA President Barbara Madeloni testified against declaring Holyoke a Level 5 school district before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday, February 24, 2015.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak in opposition to the possible state takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools. I speak today not only as the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, but also as an active participant for six years in the William Peck Full Service Community School partnership.

Holyoke schools hold a very special place in my experience and in my heart. As the facilitator of the Peck working group on “unconditional positive regard,” I came to know educators and parents who shared a deep commitment to the students of Holyoke.

“We know that the answer to the question of what the children of Holyoke need is not to be found in private entities, the undoing of collective bargaining rights and the threat of job loss.”

- MTA President Barbara Madeloni

As you know, Holyoke is a city that suffers acutely from the ravages of economic injustice, including homelessness, transience and poverty. The district receives grossly inadequate funding to meet the needs of this population. While nearly half of the students do not speak English as their first language and 28 percent are English language learners, the focus on test scores leaves little time to acknowledge the rich history and culture of this community. One-quarter of the students are identified as having learning disabilities. Still, the measure of the learning is a test score.

Holyoke students need a lot: small class sizes, more bilingual education, art and music for all children, and positive working and learning conditions. What they don’t need is for the state to rush in with another new takeover plan that will create instability and dysfunction. Holyoke has suffered from this approach for over 20 years.

For example, the state intervened in Holyoke in 2004, when America’s Choice was brought in without buy-in from the community. Three years, hundreds of thousands of dollars and profound disruptions later, America’s Choice was forced to admit that it did not have a sufficient curriculum or supports for ELLs, and that its overall plan was not appropriate for Holyoke.

In fact, the private-partner model rarely works. A December 15 Boston Globe article titled “Partners fail so far to raise test scores at key schools” describes how the commissioner told Holyoke, Springfield and Boston to bring in outside partners or face takeover. The article states, “The schools took the commissioner up on his offer and enacted partnerships last fall, but all have failed to achieve dramatic, across-the-board gains in MCAS scores so far.”

We know that test scores do not tell the story of a school or district. I can tell you that the story of Holyoke under state intervention is one of tedious scripted curriculums, an excessive focus on testing and inadequate ELL services.

The MTA is bringing together parents, teachers, students, administrators and local community leaders in conversation to create a vision for the schools Holyoke students deserve. We know that the answer to the question of what the children of Holyoke need is not to be found in private entities, the undoing of collective bargaining rights and the threat of job loss.

This is a community ready to work together to develop the schools that Holyoke children deserve. The state and this board should focus on making sure that the community has the resources to do just that, not presiding over outsourcing the management of our public schools.

Thank you.