EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Columns

October 14, 2012

Column: Lawrence’s big school problem needs a big, bold solution

The usual rules apply when things work, or at least aren’t disastrously broken. That’s not the case when 15 years of failing schools have culminated in every other student dropping out.

Yet this is precisely what is happening in Lawrence, and the city and state have simply pretended that the adverse impact is not there.

Each Lawrence dropout likely costs Massachusetts citizens $300,000. Not all have considerable innate talent, but many do, and we are squandering their economic potential. Those without unique talents can still be productive citizens, but we are not benefiting from their hard work.

The children of dropouts are far more likely to remain in poverty, excluding entire generations from the possibility of upward mobility — a core value of American society. We are relegating City of Lawrence to permanent ward of the state status.

For a long time, nearly 100 percent of Lawrence’s school funding has come from the state. Citizens from around Massachusetts are subsidizing systemic failure.

It’s gut-check time. After Hurricane Katrina, the country watched as droves of people with no prospect of upward mobility poured into stadiums and the streets looking for refuge from a natural disaster. Thankfully, neither wind nor a surging Merrimack is forthcoming, but we have stood by as cohort after cohort of students has remained impoverished, unemployed, and incarcerated.

People will always be born into poverty, but imprisoning them there is not the American way. Cities will always be gateways for new immigrants, but holding down the rise of their children is not the American way.

For two decades, Massachusetts’ response to the riddle of Lawrence has been well-intentioned, but not remotely up to the task of giving the city’s 13,000 students access to the schools they deserve. In the late 1990s, two new superintendents took the reins with high hopes that they could implement much-needed changes. The second was only recently removed as part of criminal proceedings that led to embezzlement convictions.

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