Boston District and Union Agree on Adding ‘Pilot Schools’

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City and school leaders in Boston reached an agreement with the Boston Teachers’ Union last week to expand the district’s system of small, autonomous schools, ending a 2-year-old standoff that had stalled the growth of the experimental program.

Under the agreement, which must be approved by the school board, the city would open at least seven new “pilot schools” over the next three years, including one that would be governed by the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The 59,000-student district opened the first of its 19 pilot schools in 1994, through a partnership with the BTU. The schools, which are the district’s answer to charter schools, enroll various K-12 grade levels.

“This new agreement on pilot schools will offer our students more choice and continue to provide them with a world-class education,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a statement announcing the agreement Feb. 15.

Several of the district’s 145 schools had already petitioned before the standoff to become pilot schools.

In 2003, union officials refused to endorse a plan to add more schools to the program, citing inconsistent policies for limiting teachers’ unpaid overtime and a need to extend some of the same administrative liberties—over school hours, hiring, and budgets—to other district schools.

The agreement would place a cap on the unpaid hours—at about 100 per school year—and require the district or the schools to pay additional hourly wages to teachers who worked beyond those hours.

“In the past, some pilot school teachers had to work more than 300 hours without pay,” BTU President Richard Stutman said in a statement. “This agreement resolves teachers’ concerns and paves the way for expanding this important education option for parents, students, and educators.”

Supporters of the schools argue that teachers choose to work at them and understand the extra hours that may be needed for planning and professional development. Those teachers also benefit from greater collaboration with their peers, additional support for instruction, and greater job satisfaction, a recent study found.

Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant has pushed for adding more pilot schools, saying they would allow the district to enhance one of its core improvement initiatives.

“Consistent with our commitment to provide a whole system of quality schools for all children, these additional pilot schools will increase the range of Boston Public Schools choices for Boston families,” he said in a statement.

Decisionmaking Expanded

Mr. Payzant and Mr. Stutman participated in a panel discussion last month on the effects of the pilot schools. The discussion was timed to the release of a report that found them to be more effective than other public schools in the city at raising student achievement. ("Boston’s Small ‘Pilot’ Schools Found to Outperform Others," Jan. 25, 2006.)

The study by the Center for Collaborative Education, a Boston-based advocacy organization that promotes small schools and supports the pilot school project, found that students in the network outperformed their peers across the district on multiple measures of performance and engagement.

Under the agreement, Mr. Stutman’s request for additional decisionmaking powers at other district schools would also be met. So-called “discovery schools” would be “granted some autonomy from district and union regulations in order to pursue particular innovative strategies,” a summary of the agreement says.

The pilot school issue had been a sticking point in contract negotiations between the district and the union. Those negotiations continued last week. The new agreement would be incorporated into the three-year contract that is set to begin in September.

Vol. 25, Issue 24, Page 12

Published in Print: February 22, 2006, as Boston District and Union Agree on Adding ‘Pilot Schools’
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