Human Capital in Boston Public Schools

Emily Cohen, Aileen Corso, Valerie Franck, Bess Keller, Kate Kelliher, and Betsy McCorry
National Council on Teacher Quality and Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
February 2010

This in-depth look at the state of Boston’s teacher hiring, firing, and recruiting procedures sure has ignited a firestorm. Commissioned by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, NCTQ analysts reviewed the collective bargaining agreement, school board policies, and district circulars for Boston Public Schools, comparing them both to school districts around Boston, which are the city’s main competitors in the teacher market, and other districts across the land. (This is their third city-level evaluation; see Hartford’s and Seattle’s here.) Researchers also went and talked to principals, teachers, parents, and community members to see how things really worked. The answer is not well. For example, the way Boston fills vacant teaching positions incentivizes principals to hide vacancies until the last minute and teachers who plan to retire are allowed to do so at any time during the year, since a teacher’s age, as well as tenure, are taken into account (teachers will teach through their mid-year birthdays and then quit). NCTQ’s solutions to these issues are relatively straightforward, as they would systematically unwind Boston’s complex rules. But the Boston Teachers Union is less than pleased with the critical assessment; having received a good faith draft copy for comment, they blast-emailed the embargoed draft to their members (and posted it on the web), along with a few grafs of lackluster analysis. In response to NCTQ’s assertion that only 1 percent of Boston teachers received an unsatisfactory evaluation in 2008-09, the bulletin had this to say: “Memo to NCTQ: Hard to believe, but in Boston we know our percents; any sixth grader knows that 70 is more than 1% of 4,873.” Memo to BTU: You’re right, it’s 1.4 percent, but any sixth grader also knows you round down. Maybe the real problem is that the union is more interested in quibbling over fractions of a percent than in embracing reform. Read it here.

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