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Boston Mayor Switches Course On Charter Schools01:42
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Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wants to create city-run charter schools to fix failing schools. And if that doesn't work, he says he'd work to lift the cap on charter schools in Boston — something he's opposed during his 16 years in office.

His plan is short on details, but with low graduation rates and half of Boston public schools considered under-performing, Mayor Menino admits it's time to try something new.

"Although we've made tremendous gains in the Boston public schools, I am frustrated with the pace of our progress, especially in our low-performing schools," he said Tuesday, speaking to a group of business leaders. "And I am not alone."

Menino told the group he is going to ask state lawmakers for the authority to bypass some union restrictions when trying to fix failing schools. "Our schools need greater flexibility," he said. "Flexibility in hiring, budgeting and staffing; in the way teachers collaborate; and in the hours kids are in school."

To get that type of flexibility, the district created pilot schools, but it can only open a pilot with union approval. The mayor's proposal wouldn't need any union buy-in.

If he can't win Statehouse approval for the idea, Menino said he was willing to do something else. "I'm prepared for another way forward," he told the business leaders, to applause. "I will call for lifting the cap on charter schools."

City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty said he's glad Menino is embracing charter schools after all these years. "But I think he may be 16 years too late," he said. Flaherty proposed lifting the cap on charter schools on Monday, a move that many speculate prompted Menino's about-face.

The mayor has opposed charter schools during his four terms in office, because he said they siphon money from cities and towns. Still, many of Boston's charter schools have very long wait lists.

The president of the Boston teachers union isn't taking a position yet, saying he wants to see more details first. Some of the biggest advocates for charters say Menino's new position comes at the right time to take advantage of federal stimulus money aimed at innovation in districts with thriving charter-school movements.

Marc Kenen, the executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said Menino should skip this middle step, and go straight for charter schools.

"We're worried that this process will lead to mediocrity in these schools, instead of the high-quality charter schools that already exist in Boston," Kenen said.

Studies are mixed on the results of charter schools. But one recent Harvard study showed Boston's charter schools outperform traditional schools in Boston when it comes to test scores and college attendance. The same study showed that Boston's pilot schools, in some cases, weren't performing as well as traditional schools.

This program aired on June 10, 2009.

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