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Standard-Times all in on New Bedford schools

Posted in: Current Affairs   Health care   *Jack Sullivan   Taxes
Tags: Educationdebt ceiling

In this continuing era of reduced resources, it is both noteworthy and newsworthy when a newspaper devotes time, space, and manpower to examine in depth an issue that is critically important to its readers.

Last month, the New Bedford Standard-Times launched a seven-part series, running every Sunday, that not only looks at the sorry state of the city’s schools but compares the district to four similar urban school districts from around the country that have faced the same challenges and dissects how each made a successful turnaround.

The genesis of the series came when former School Superintendent Portia Bonner was forced to resign last year, a move that was followed by a scathing state report that showed New Bedford students, especially poor minorities, were continually mired in underperforming schools.

The Standard-Times took its city reporter, Charis Anderson, and made her the education beat reporter, and then gave her the time and support to really examine the schools and find out what was wrong. In her first installment, Anderson detailed the problems facing the schools: graduation rates, attendance, and MCAS scores far below the state average and chronic absenteeism that showed a lack of parental involvement.

“Identifying the problem is easy — many children are simply not succeeding in school, and American students, as a whole, are lagging behind students in other countries,” Anderson wrote. “Figuring out a solution has proved more difficult.”

Anderson was given a month to identify school districts around the country and then spent a week at each one, talking with teachers, students, parents, and administrators. The schools are in North Carolina, El Paso and Houston, Texas and Long Beach, California. This past Sunday, the paper looked closer to home, examining successful programs in Brockton and the University Park Campus School in Worcester.

Included in each package is a graphic comparison, also available online, between each of the story’s subject districts and New Bedford, including population demographics, SAT scores, teacher salary and experience, dropout and graduation rates, and student demographics, among a slew of other useful information.

The result, so far, is an eye-opening package that not only shows the investment the paper has made in telling the story but the investment the Standard-Times has in being a part of the solution. This Sunday, the series wraps up with interviews with parents, teachers, administrators and, most of all, students, offering ideas of how to build better schools in New Bedford. Given how much they’ve put into the effort so far, though, it’s a lock that the end of the series is not the end of the story – or the paper’s involvement.

It’s an effort that deserves accolades and, hopefully, other papers around the region will steal the idea. It is, in a way, a throwback to advocacy journalism in the best sense, bringing stakeholders together in the pages of the newspaper and serving as a prime example of what the Fourth Estate can do when it makes an investment in all manners.

“We at The Standard-Times did not believe we could simply criticize from the sidelines,” the paper wrote in an editorial that accompanied the first story in the series last month. “Instead, we decided to try to do what we could to help.”                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                                              --JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

State officials defend their use of business tax breaks to create jobs, saying they are one tool in their tool box, the Lowell Sun reports.

Radio Boston discusses state efforts to regulate midwives.

Lawmakers are in no hurry to spend unexpected revenue surpluses, saying funds are needed to replenish reserve accounts. Lawmakers also ready a two-day sales tax holiday for August.

A new state report says there is little reason to believe an expanded bottle law would drive up beverage costs or reduce consumer choice, but prospects still seem iffy for legislation to widen the scope of the 30-year-old law to include bottled water and other non-carbonated drinks

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, with an eye on union support as he runs for US Senate, has refused to tell the Newton Tab where he stands on the new municipal health care law or whether enrolling in the state Group Insurance Commission would save the city money.

The owners of a Lawrence ambulance company appear before a grand jury weighing evidence against Mayor William Lantigua and his administration. The company provides emergency ambulance service in Lawrence and has made charitable ambulance donations to the Dominican Republic, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

As Boston gets ready to launch its bike-share program, the grumbling begins over neighborhoods that won’t have bike kiosks.

The Haverhill School Committee approves new union contracts, declining to take advantage of the new municipal health care reform law. Mayor James Fiorentini says the move may have cost the city more than $300,000, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Freetown officials want to ban nonresidents from using town beaches because of broken glass and other debris found left along the beaches apparently by the out-of-towners. Selectmen discussed placing trash barrels in the area but took no action.

The Brockton City Council voted to limit the “look back” period to three years for city’s Water Department to collect the difference between estimated bills and actual metered usage. The issue arises after hundreds of residents received five-figure bills for water usage dating back five years or more.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Kevin Williamson writes in the National Review if the debt ceiling talks collapse and the government’s credit rating takes a hit, it will have a disastrous effect on the still-teetering financial system including banks, the FDIC, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and a host of other institutions relying on federal backing.

The White House may have a compromise on borrowing limits and spending cuts. The Senate’s Gang of Six completes its destiny as a bickering rock supergroup and reunites. Dana Milbank envisions Ronald Reagan as a modern-day Dem.  Here is the Globe take on the Gang of Six proposal.

With one foot out the door, Tim Geithner does Barney Frank a solid.

President Barack Obama backs a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

ELECTION 2012

NECN’s Jim Braude hosts antitax advocate Barbara Anderson and Sue O’Connell, publisher of Bay Windows, and they talk about the presidential race. Neither likes Michele Bachmann. That sentiment isn’t shared by Republican voters, though: Bachmann has vaulted into second place, behind Mitt Romney, in a new Wall Street Journal national poll. Texas Gov. Rick Perry managed to poll third, despite not being in the race.

Elizabeth Warren plans to throw rocks at Republicans. No word yet on whether the metaphor will prove to be too bloody for polite company.

The Outraged Liberal is darned near giddy over the Herald’s focus on Mitt Romney’s spending habits.

FISHING

A group of Gloucester fishermen’s wives has started a cooperative “fish share” program that’s landing more fresh seafood on local dinner tables and benefiting both the fishermen and local consumers who may not have been able to buy the fish before it’s shipped out.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Northeast Health System, which includes hospitals in Beverly, Gloucester, and Lynn, is merging with Lahey Clinic. Northeast tells the Lynn Item that the merger is not a takeover or a purchase but an affiliation.

State Street announced a huge round of layoffs, with 558 of the 850 positions targeted for elimination based in Massachusetts.

Interesting twist. Bread company expands in North Andover in space previously owned by technology company, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Flipping the usual NIMBY reaction on its head, neighbors of the Boston Herald site in the South End are disappointed in redevelopment plans, saying it doesn’t  pack enough onto the 6-acre parcel.

Time reports on Groupon remorse.

EDUCATION

Westport officials are studying whether to spend $1 million on a temporary fix to clean-up high PCB levels at the middle school or send students to another building this fall and explore building a new school.

Marc Hauser, a Harvard psychology professor who has been on leave since being found responsible for multiple instances of scientific misconduct, has resigned his faculty position, the Globe reports.  

North Adams schools are ahead of the curve in implementing new state guidelines for school cafeterias, reports the North Adams Transcript.

HEALTH CARE

The state may be a national leader in health care, but it could do a lot more to promote healthy lifestyle practices that prevent illness in the first place, according to a new report from The Boston Foundation and NEHI, a Cambridge health policy organization, that graded the state in 14 areas of public health.

US News & World Report is out with its annual “Best Hospitals” survey and two Boston hospitals -- Mass. General and Brigham and Women’s -- are two of just 17 around the country making the “honor roll” out of 5,000 hospitals that were surveyed.

A new study from Tufts University says the posted calorie counts on restaurant menus are reliably unreliable.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Christian Science Monitor talks to experts who say the Vermont fight over whether states or federal authorities should have the power to allow aging nuclear plants to keep running will ultimately end in the Supreme Court after Green Mountain State officials won the first round to close down the Vermont Yankee plant.

Swampscott takes some baby steps to reduce garbage, by limiting to two the number of trash barrels residents can put at the curb for pickup.  The rationale is that by limiting trash, recycling will rise, the Salem News reports.

A Falmouth wind project is on hold for at least three months after NStar determined the town needs to install a device on the turbine to allow it to be remotely shut down in case it overloads the local power grid.

MEDIA

In Newsweek, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger details how his newspaper broke the Murdoch scandal, with a little help from the New York Times and others.

HISTORY

A West Virginia man is seeking federal help in his suit to have the city of Marlborough return to Harper’s Ferry  the bell made famous by abolitionist John Brown after a group of Massachusetts soldiers recovered it in 1861.

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