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Globe Editorial

Ready for better schools

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June 12, 2008

A PLAN BY the Patrick administration to create autonomous "readiness schools" should help students, provided the proposal does not become a stalking horse for an attack on charter schools. There is plenty of room for both models, especially in cities and towns with poorly performing schools.

Substantive ideas are starting to emerge from the subcommittees of the governor's Readiness Project - a 10-year strategic plan to improve the quality of public education in Massachusetts. The readiness schools are a particularly clever example. Like state charter schools, they could offer flexible scheduling, budgeting, staffing, and governance - a function of being free from many union work rules and bureaucratic meddling. But unlike charter schools, the per-pupil funds needed to educate the students would remain with the local school districts.

There is plenty to like about readiness schools. But there is one major concern. School committees are slow to change, and teachers unions are loath to cede control. They will be looking for incentives to try something new. One possibility under discussion, according to Board of Education Chairman Paul Reville, is to put a freeze on new charter schools in a district provided it embraces the readiness school model. This idea is worrisome; some school districts would be only too happy to rid themselves of the competition for funds and students.

Incentives may be in order, such as planning grants or operating subsidies. These ideas are also under discussion, says Reville. But he and Governor Patrick shouldn't even be thinking of sacrificing future charter schools, which consistently outperform their district counterparts on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test. Thousands of students are on the waiting lists for the state's 61 charter schools. Charter schools pioneered the longer school day and teaching innovations that inspired the readiness schools.

Patrick should also be aware that even districts that embrace change can fail to follow through. With support from the city's teachers union, Boston committed to in-district pilot schools - similar in operation to charter schools - in the 1990s. But the union leadership has now cooled on the subject, so the city is making no progress on the creation of new pilot schools. Readiness schools could face similar roadblocks. In contrast, several new charter school applications are put forward each year to the Board of Education.

The public is more than ready to see the full results of Patrick's Readiness Project later this month. But it shouldn't mean laying a trap for charter schools.

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