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MIT to Help with Cambridge Schools

By Frank Dabek


MIT will be asked to take a larger role in the Cambridge public school system under a “charter of responsibility” to be developed between the Institute and the city.

Announcing the agreement at the first ever State of the City address, Cambridge Mayor Anthony D. Galluccio said, “It is difficult to defend [the performance of] our schools in light of the fact that we are in the education capital of the world.” Cambridge schools performed poorly on state-wide standardized tests, placing 203rd out of 208 districts.

Under the agreement, MIT and fellow Cambridge educational institutions Harvard University and Lesley University will “accept direct responsibility” for segments of the Cambridge public school system, Galluccio said. He suggested that MIT might be responsible for technical education and Lesley, traditionally known for its education school, for working with teachers.

Although Galluccio repeatedly referred to MIT’s role in terms of “taking responsibility” and “accepting accountability,” MIT officials downplayed how directly the Institute would be involved in the school system.

“All three of the universities involved must take their lead from [Cambridge public schools] superintendent” Bobbie D’Alessandro, MIT Co-Director of Government and Community Relations Paul Parravano said. “Universities don’t have all the answers but they have some resources.”

President Charles M. Vest described the agreement as forming an even less directly involved “advisory committee to help the city develop focused strategies to improve the quality of its schools.” Responding to Galluccio’s characterization of the agreement, Vest reiterated the advisory nature of the agreement: “What we have agreed to do is form an advisory committee. We will work hard toward improving the success and effectiveness of education, but of course we are not ‘responsible’ for the school system,” he said.

Others in the city government seemed to favor the greater involvement suggested by the mayor. Vice Mayor and former school committee member David Maher said that Cambridge’s universities have a responsibility to share their knowledge and resources with the community.

Agreement reached at dinner

The agreement announced last week had its genesis at a dinner President Vest hosted for members of the MIT faculty, City Council, and School Committee.

At the meeting, Vest said that officials discussed ways that MIT students and faculty already volunteer assistance to the school system. A document distributed by Parravano listed 30 different programs that assist Cambridge schools ranging from donating conference space and computers to running seminars for local science teachers.

Galluccio acknowledged the large number of existing programs which involve local universities with the public school system but said that such efforts were “piecemeal.” The universities have “no real sense of ownership” with respect to the schools, Galluccio said.

Although it is unclear what programs this new agreement would add to MIT’s involvement with the schools, Parravano said that a possible goal for the collaboration would be an increase in qualified MIT applicants from Cambridge. The Institute could help to achieve that goal by becoming more involved in science education, through programs such as the Science Expo that MIT sponsors each year.

Despite the stump-style address in which the proposal was presented, the mayor ruled out political motives. “This is about the kids,” Galluccio said.