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An Abandoned Ship


By Mike Kendall

A .O. HIRSCHMANN'S Exit Voice and Loyalty examines two ways of encouraging and circumventing dissent by artificially controlling the options available to dissidents. The Princeton social scientist argues that a system reinforces loyalties to itself and encourages dissenters to become reformers by limiting the means of exit available to its clients. Conversely, if the exit option is encouraged and reform stifled, dissidents leave the system to those who either do not care or cannot escape. Hirschmann's latter paradigm explains why public education in Boston has been so abysmal over the past 30 years. A leading force of innovation in national education up to World War II, Boston's school system has steadily decayed to a level of clear cut mediocrity, catering to a student body ethnically and economically unrepresentative of its population.

The system's main headache has been the upper and middle class families who have either joined the white flight to the suburbs or sent their children to private schools, greatly upsetting the city's class structure. With a significant part of the educationally oriented populace choosing exit, school politics rarely deal with education, focusing instead on race and patronage. These traditional white working class concerns often have translated into "niggers" and "jobs" in so many school committee campaigns, past and present. The five-member school committee, elected at-large every two years, has never defined any coherent educational goals or policies, and has introduced few pioneering measures. The antiquated Boston Trade is the system's only vocational school. Before the federal court intervened in 1973, there were no significant specialty or "magnet" schools besides the two traditional examination schools. Boys's and Girls' Latin. The "comprehensive" neighborhood schools have failed to provide the majority of their students with a sound education: the 21 students from South Boston High School who took the SAT's in 1975-76 averaged 722 for combined scores, over 150 points below the national average.

The school board has spent most of its time agitating race relations with such former members as Louise Day (You know where I stand) Hicks and John Kerrigan, who sent his daughter to a private school when he was school committee chairman. While in the 1960s the system's black enrollment always remained significantly above 25 per cent, no non-white has ever sat on the school committee, and in the past decade the system had only one black administrator and 13 black teachers, according to State Secretary of Education Paul Parks. Federal District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered busing in 1973 because he found the school committee and system guilty of over 80 specific acts of purposeful segregation, ranging from juggling enrollments to gerrymandering school district lines. If the school committee had gradually changed the status quo instead of preserving it, Garrity probably would never have ordered busing.

The school committee's historic incompetence has filtered down to the system's administration, mainly through patronage and sheer stupidity. State Rep. Mel King. a school reform activist, claims Boston lacks a functioning educational system "for the same reasons it doesn't have any services. The system is used for a vehicle for employment, not services." Patronage has long been a publicity accepted part of Boston's politics, permeating city hall and the courtsystem, but its widespread presence has made the system close to being inoperative. The school committee returned Kerrigan's brother-in-law to his custodial job after a court found him guilty of stealing several dozen school department tape recorders. The department spends close to $7 million on custodial salaries, despite the findings of several studies recommending a more economical contracting service. This waste cannot be blamed on an inadequate bureaucracy; 396 administrators work in the central office, creating the highest administrator student ratio of any major urban system in the country

Enrollment has plummeted from 96,696 in 1970 to 73,005 in 1976, yet the budget has risen by millions every year. Busing and court-ordered reforms caused some of the increase but it took a 25 per cent jump in the city's property tax to prompt the administration to pay even lip service to reorganization and costcutting. It costs over $2200 to educate a child in the system.

Part of the reason for this mismanagement is simple: a strong, conscientious administration often runs counter to the school committee's interests. William J. Leary served as superintendent from 1972 to 1975, at the beginning of the busing crisis. Leary said last week he feels the school committee originally gave him the position because they thought he was inexperienced enough to be pliable, and they never told him why they fired him. Observers generally agree his commitment to carrying out court-ordered busing and his attempts to limit patronage led to his dismissal. His successor is Marion Fahey, who is currently earning her doctorate from a correspondence school in Florida. Her mistakes are legion. When schools opened this month thousands of students did not have rides because the school department mismanaged the bus arrangements. According to the department's own standards, 557 of its 2453 regular classrooms are overcrowded while 46 are significantly undercrowded--ten or more fewer than the specified 26-30 students. Fahey fired John Coakley, her well respected special assistant, but eventually rehired him when the pressures reached an unbearable level. University of Massachusetts Professor David Smith, a South End activist, said this week that Coakley's "honesty, ability and firing" were not unrelated.

Under these conditions alone, exiting from the Boston school system would be necessary for the educationally concerned. But the potential reform elements left the city long before the schools started to degenerate. The Yankees, who Parks claims were Boston's only clite group, left decades ago, soon after the Irish gained control of the city. The G.I. Bill and the rise of suburbia--along with a good deal of blockbusting--brought Boston's Jews, an ethnic group traditionally supportive of public education, outside the city limits to places like Milton. Brookline and Framingham.

To compound this problem, Boston is unusually small for a major city. Its population of 660,000 occupies an area of land with little room for development. As the middle and upper classes grew, the suburbs became the only place to move. Boston is a white working class community where people consider themselves members of a neighborhood, not of a city. The median income is $9000 in an area which is 10 per cent more expensive to live in than the rest of the country. Consequently, Leary blames the city's racial troubles on underlying class tensions. The street corner troublemakers who fought so tenaciously and blindly defending Southie High (a 1901 structure with a new wing built as one of FDR's WPA projects in the '30s) from black school children saw their neighborhoods' prized possession being "taken" by a threatening, upwardly mobile group.

Not all of those who have chosen exit from the mainstream schools have left Boston. The Latin schools have furnished a traditional haven for white, middle class residents and METCO, a program that voluntarily buses minority students to suburban schools, remains an option for thousands of blacks. Also, Boston, as might be expected of any predominantly Catholic city, has a significant parochial school system. Robert B. Schwartz '59. Mayor Kevin H. White's education expert, estimates that one-third of all white school-age children in Boston attend parochial schools. Nonwhites comprise only 20 per cent of the city's population, yet they make up almost 50 per cent of the public school enrollment.

The black community, unable to afford private education or flee to the suburbs, became Hirsehmann's captive dissenters who had no choice but to seek reform. During the '60s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was the leading school reform organization in the city. But unfortunately, as Mary Ellen Smith, executive director of the community oriented City-Wide Educational Coalition (CWEC), said. "In the midst of the civil rights fights desegregation became integrally linked with reforms of the schools." Racism frustrated attempts to upgrade the education of black as well as white children. Arthur Gartland, a school committee incumbent, lost re-election in 1965 when he ran on a reform slate with two blacks.

Parks claims the city has gone without any educational leaders since the era of Horace Mann. The present school committee won election in 1975 with 3 moderates taking control. They no longer publicly race-bait and plunder the system in the fashion of their predecessors, but David I. Finegan. John McDonough and Kathleen Sullivan have proven to be a disappointment. Unpaid school committee membership is usually regarded as a springboard for higher office; with visions of the mayoralty dancing in their heads, the committee members failed to rise above the soap box and job recommendation mentality.

While the school committee has been guilty of sins of commission. Mayor White has been guilty of sins of omission since his first election in 1967. As State Rep, Barney Frank '61. White's administrative assistant from 1968-71, said about White this week. "He didn't want to get involved with schools." White did campaign for a reform plan in 1973 but it lost. David Smith maintains White's push for Plan 3 was a half-hearted gesture. White has long maintained that he should have direct control of the school's administration and budget, but considering his past behavior and the potential for patronage involved, it makes as much sense as giving Nixon a third term. In all fairness to White, he has run the city better than the school committee has run the schools. Also, Schwartz says White has all the patronage he needs. White failed by never providing the city with moral leadership. As David Smith said. "We got to 1974 with segregated schools and no public official saying it was wrong." White never risked his political standing to confront the Kerrigans and Hicks' head-on over educational reform and desegregation.

Schwartz believes "the precedent to educational reform in the city of Boston is political reform." But even with an unresponsive school committee unlikely to improve in this November's election, gradual change has begun. Garrity's comprehensive court order, which some feel did not go far enough, forced desegregation, affirmative action and educational innovations onto a resisting system. In the short run it has produced violence and a significant enrollment drop but it has brought the system's mediocrity to the forefront of people's minds. It will take years to change the system but at least now, there is some potential. David Smith said of years past. "The Mayor, [teachers'] union and corporate community might have stepped in and become a public counterweight to the school committee. None of them did." Because of Garrity's order, they, along with parents, local universities and several other organizations have finally become loyal dissidents.

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