Massachusetts Charter Decisions Made to Rescue Governor from “Political Cul de Sac”

It’s a complex story out of Massachusetts with a simple payoff: The state secretary of education wants charter school authorizations to be based on political considerations, and not on their educational merits.

It begins with reporter Patrick Anderson of the Gloucester Daily Times using a public records request to find a February 5 e-mail from Secretary of Education Paul Reville, Gov. Deval Patrick’s school adviser, to Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. Gov. Patrick, like many other governors, found religion in charter schools soon after the Obama administration made them a centerpiece of Race to the Top funding. But which charter school applications would be approved, and which rejected, seems to be less of an academic concern and more of a matter of political pressure. Here’s the full text of the e-mail:

Mitchell,

Hope all’s well and warm in AZ. I appreciated our talk today and your openness and flexibility. This situation presents one of those painful dilemmas. In addition to being a no-win situation, it forces us into a political cul de sac where we could be permanently trapped. Our reality is that we have to show some sympathy in this group of charters or we’ll get permanently labeled as hostile and they will cripple us with a number of key moderate allies like the Globe and the Boston Foundation. Frankly, I’d rather fight for the kids in the Waltham situation, but it sounds like you can’t find a solid basis for standing behind that one. I’m not inclined to push Worcester, so that leaves Gloucester. My inclination is to think that you, I and the Governor all need to send at least one positive signal in this batch, and I gather that you think the best candidate is Gloucester. Can you see your way clear to supporting it? Would you want to do the financial trigger even in light of likely stimulus aid?

Thanks for not seeing this as an independence issue. It really is a matter of positioning ourselves so that we can be viable to implement the rest of our agenda. It’s a tough but I think necessary pill to swallow. Let’s discuss some more tomorrow.

Paul

There has been plenty of editorializing about the e-mail itself, so I’ll just add a roundup of links and not add to it myself…

Editorial: Ed chief’s e-mail kills his, secretary’s and charter’s credibility

A political swirl on charter schools

Paul Reville must resign

Editorial: Charter chess

…but I’m also intrigued by the press play involved. The story was broken by a small local newspaper, in which the state newspaper of record (the Globe) is mentioned as one of Gov. Patrick’s “key moderate allies” that has to be appeased by approving the Gloucester application. Today, while others are calling for Reville’s head, the Globe published a puff piece headlined, “Seeking calm after charter school storm: Education chief focuses on reform.”

My favorite paragraph was this one:

Ironically, it was Reville who raised the alarm about the politicization of education six years ago, when Governor Mitt Romney proposed restoring the position of education secretary. Placing a gubernatorial appointee in charge of education, as well as other proposed changes, Reville told legislators, could allow political considerations to creep into decisions that should be based on the best interests of children.

“Ironically” isn’t the adverb I would use.

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