Five education priorities looming large when voters fill out their ballots Nov. 7
A city can only be great if it has a great public school system. That requires a School Committee whose members work hard, understand the issues and want to move the district forward without needless delay. When you vote Nov. 7, please vote for School Committee candidates who can move our public schools forward in a way that serves the inseparable goals of equity and excellence.
What are the issues the School Committee needs to address?
Obviously, early childhood education. Cambridge is one of the richest cities in New England, yet we don’t have a system that guarantees all Cambridge children can attend a high-quality, affordable preschool program. The School Committee, which is charged with closing the income-based achievement gap, must take leadership on this issue and solve this problem in the next two-year term.
Our high school. The Somerville Public Schools just won a $300,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to work with the Center for Collaborative Education to redesign Somerville High School. The goal? To emphasize personalized learning, apprenticeships and college and career readiness. Last year, Somerville won a $10 million grant from the XQ Super School Project to create a project-based alternative high school in Powderhouse Square. The Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school has wonderful, unique learning opportunities, but they need to be linked into coherent pathways that give every student the chance to pursue a challenging program of authentic learning.
The middle schools. We are five years into the Innovation Agenda, and the promised increases in achievement for low-income students have not yet materialized. With many sixth- to eighth-grade class sizes exceeding the target of 22 students, and teachers asking for “more hands, hearts and minds in the classroom,” this is not surprising. We need to staff these schools in ways that support the achievement of all students.
The elementary schools. In 2014, I co-wrote a report, “Unequal Schools: How Unequal Staffing, Demographics, and Neighborhood Characteristics Create Unequal Opportunities for Low-Income Students to Learn in CPS Elementary Schools.” Analyzing the fiscal year 2015 budget, my co-author and I showed that staffing across the 12 elementary schools was inequitable. Some JK-5 staff have been added since, but our elementary schools are still not adequately or equitably staffed. In particular, the district needs to provide small class sizes for all first- through third-graders, a verified best practice.
Measuring quality. For two decades, Cambridge has followed the national mandate to use high-stakes tests to measure school quality. The result has been a narrower curriculum, increased standardization and more worksheets. For the foreseeable future, Cambridge students will still take state-mandated tests. But we also need to do what many forward-thinking districts are doing: adopting robust, reliable measures of school climate, instructional quality, leadership quality, extracurricular learning and, most important, measures of postsecondary success: graduation from college or career training programs, satisfying employment and participation in civic life in young adulthood.
Please vote for School Committee candidates who work hard, understand the issues and want to move this district forward without delay. Cambridge deserves a great public school system, and there is no reason we can’t have one.
Emily Dexter is a first-term member of the School Committee, running for reelection. Her two daughters attended the Cambridge Public Schools, K-12, and she works as an educational researcher. All candidates are invited to share their thoughts with readers and voters on Cambridge Day.