Saturday, February 07, 2009

It's time to end busing in Boston

WE MUST end school busing as we have known it. Parents want high-quality schools in their neighborhoods. The mayor's School Assignment Task Force that I co-chaired several years ago held dozens of meetings where parents in every neighborhood said they would prefer to send their children to quality schools near their homes. Some lamented the lack of appropriate facilities in their communities, understanding that it would take time to reestablish a comprehensive network of facilities and programs. All indicated that sending their children across the city diminished their ability to engage with teachers and learning; they preferred more involvement with their children's education.

We can no longer afford to spend $72 million a year to bus children across Boston to schools that are not demonstrably better than schools near their homes. About $32 million will still be required to transport children with special needs. The other $40 million is a vestige of the 1970s court mandate that Boston redress decades of racial discrimination in its schools. Busing students from one neighborhood to another does nothing to change the racial, cultural, and caste demographics of classrooms, while devouring financial resources that could be better spent on teaching and learning. That $40 million would better prepare students for success in college and would support arts, music, technology, and physical education instruction.

The city's demographics have changed. In the 1970s, Boston was largely a "bicultural" city with a "white" majority and a significantly smaller "black" minority. Federal court cases indicated that financial and facility allocations clearly favored the white majority. The current student population is "majority minority." Boston today is a multicultural city as multifaceted Asian, African, Latino, and other immigrant communities contribute to the city's rich diversity. Two-way adversarial dialogue has been replaced by nuanced conversations about how to improve learning for more diverse families than lived in Boston three decades ago. Busing does not address the complexities of strengthening urban education for all our varied residents.

Little positive learning occurs on a bus, and reducing busing can increase the time students can learn in classrooms. Many buses run on routes and schedules that have not been modified in two decades, sending half-empty buses to schools locked into inflexible starting times. As we transition to less bus dependency, the application of Fed-X or UPS delivery strategies could reduce costs and significantly improve scheduling efficiency.

Choices already exist in Boston's schools. About a quarter of Boston's parents still opt out of traditional public schools by sending their children to charter, pilot, parochial, or METCO schools. Many parents voluntarily transport their children to these alternatives. Bus-dependency to achieve school choice is now perceived as less desirable than in the past.

Emotion has drained out of the busing argument. Eighty percent of Boston's residents did not live here during the 1970s. Boston's new melange of residents carries little direct memory of the emotionally charged arguments that drove politics then, and like most 21st-century Americans, Boston's residents look forward, rather than back to that time of civic strife and violence.

Busing undercuts efforts to make Boston more energy-sustainable. Hundreds of diesel buses running twice a day through neighborhoods dramatically increase our carbon footprint. Based on what we learned during the violence reduction successes of the early 1990s, public transportation on expanded routes can also provide safe and secure student transport.

Fewer than 20 percent of Boston's ninth-graders today will graduate from college. As president of the largest New England college educating the next generation of architects, interior designers, landscape architects, and urban planners, I support partnerships with Boston's schools to graduate diverse students. Our colleges are thwarted by the lack of preparedness in Boston's graduates. Colleges need to do more to help public schools, and public schools need more resources to prepare graduates for success. The $40 million a year we now spend on busing, phased in over time as high-quality schools are returned to every neighborhood, would go a long way toward achieving this goal. It is time for the Boston Public Schools to end busing as we have known it.


Eighties flops 'would now easily pass maths A-level': Cameron warns of falling British exam standards

Students who would have failed A-level maths 20 years ago are now being awarded Bs and Cs thanks to `dumbing down' under Labour, David Cameron has claimed. The warning from the Tory leader came as he appointed Carol Vorderman, former co-host of Countdown, as his adviser on how to improve numeracy. He said there was an `apartheid' opening up between independent schools and the best state schools, which offer rigorous tuition and examination, and failing state schools.

Mr Cameron unveiled plans to allow state schools to follow leading independents and ditch GCSEs and A-levels and offer alternatives such as the international GCSE. He said he wanted to see every school become an academy because `revolutionary change' was required to make Britain's schools the best in the world. Basic numeracy, he insisted, was not `nice to have, it's a must-have'.

Improving standards in maths, he said, was crucial to ensure Britain emerged stronger from the recession. But he said it was clear there was a maths 'problem' in Britain and the record on GCSE maths was 'not good enough'. He said: 'Almost half of 16-year-olds taking GCSE are getting less than a Grade C and that is a problem because maths is not only vital for life in terms of the jobs everyone does and the bills we pay and all of that, but maths is also vital for other subjects. 'If you want to do well in economics or do well in science, it is really important. 'Countries with more mathematicians do better and we are sliding down the maths league tables in the world.'

Experts at Durham University had found shown that pupils who would have received a U grade in maths A-level in 1988 received a B/C in 2006. 'Our exams are dumbing down, so we have got some real problems,' Mr Cameron said, adding that many maths teachers did not now even hold a degree in the subject. He also highlighted figures indicating that the poorest children are faring particularly badly at maths. Of pupils who received free school meals, around 60% - 44,368 - received a D or below at GCSE in the subject last year. By comparison, information from parliamentary questions showed that just 3,312 achieved an A or A .

'I think the answer will lie, rather like with reading, where we said you have got to get back to rigorous teaching methods, teaching synthetic phonics, absolutely the vowel sounds and the letters, so you can decode the words,' Mr Cameron said. 'I suspect the same is happening in maths, we are not persevering enough with some of the pure concepts and the pure building blocks of maths and we are dumbing it down and I think that is a terrible mistake.'

Mr Cameron said Miss Vorderman had agreed to examine teaching methods, how to address people's 'fear' of maths, and whether tests have got easier. The TV presented said that in the last ten years, 3.5m children had finished school without a basic maths qualification. 'Maths is critically important to the future of this country but Britain is falling behind the best performing countries,' she said. 'If children are to get the best jobs in the future and Britain is to emerge stronger from the recession we have little choice but to sort maths out now. There are many centres of excellence and many fabulous teachers but help is needed for the children being failed.'

Schools Minister Jim Knight insisted the gap between the poorest and the rest in GCSE achievement was "narrowing year on year". The Government was also introducing specialist maths teachers in every school. 'The latest major international study last year showed that we are leading Europe in maths and have risen 11 places in world league tables since 2003 to 7th place,' Mr Knight said. 'While Labour is rolling out catch-up support for seven year olds at risk of falling behind in maths, David Cameron's policy is to wait until children are 11 and force those who don't make the grade to resit their last year of primary school. 'This is a recipe for chaos and bigger class sizes which has been condemned by teachers and parents and I hope Carol Vorderman's review will reject it too.'


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