Focusing on education, six of the 12 mayoral candidates looking to replace Boston Mayor Thomas Menino debated in front of a crowd of over 100 students on how to handle issues prevalent in the Boston education system at Boston University School of Education’s Fall Convocation on Thursday.
Among the candidates were City Councilors Felix Arroyo, John Connolly and Charles Yancey, former Boston Public School committee member John Barros, TOUCH 106.1FM co-founder Charles Clemons and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley. City Councilor Mike Ross and Martin Walsh and Community Organizer Bill Walczak were scheduled to attend, but did not show up.
SED Dean Hardin Coleman moderated the debate along with Alyssa Sarkis, a senior in SED, and asked the candidates questions that students submitted via social media. Candidates spent a majority of the time debating standardized testing and how they could close the achievement gap.
“We need to understand how well the teacher is doing, how well the student, is performing in class and how schools are doing,” Barros said. “We need to have it in a way that we can compare school to school and district to district. I think testing is important. [However,] teachers are teaching to the test and that’s problematic. Too many of our schools teach to the test.”
Barros said students can be taught presentation skills and public speaking skills, but they cannot hone those skills that by filling in bubbles on a test. He said there should be a balance between standardized testing and good teaching.
Clemons said every student is different and taking standardized tests is not always the best indicator of how well a student is performing academically.
“You have to be culturally sensitive and understand that children need to be inspired and children have different skill levels,” he said. “Some children work with their hands, some read. Understand that your teaching the future and not a robot, but a human being and you can always tell how great a teacher is by the student because the student would excel the teacher.”
Stressing the importance of learning for the sake of learning, Connolly said he would not want his own daughter taking a standardized test everyday.
“They have their [tests] place and they are incredibly helpful,” he said. “We want to use the common core as a way to study student progress and as a tool for teachers of where students have needs and bring high quality instruction to students.”
Although he understands standardized testing is an important part of academics, Yancey said he does not favor high risk or high stakes testing.
“Testing is a necessary evil,” he said. “You have to have a way and means of evaluating progress. If one student doesn’t do as well as other students, they could drop out and that would be a great loss. I think that’s a major problem [with testing].”
Students in the audience were able to ask questions to the candidates and Andres Vargas, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, asked how do they plan on serving students who live in the city, but are not their constituents.
Conley said students make up a bulk of the city and are extremely important even if they cannot vote in Boston.
“Students add so much vitality and vibrancy to our city,” he said. “Our students want to stay here. We want you stay. You might not participate now, but if I want to get folks excited to get involved.”
Arroyo said all college students have a voice in the workings of the government.
“I believe everyone deserves a voice in the city, registered or not,” he said. “It is now up to us to inspire you to want to stay in the city and be civically active. I ask you to be part of that community and everyone who lives in Boston deserves a voice.”
After the debate, many candidates said they wanted to come to BU to talk to college students and show they have an interest in what they want.
“I always leap at the opportunity to talk to and listen to college students today,” Yancey said to The Daily Free Press. “So even if there were two students in the audience, even if they weren’t registered to vote, I would still be here because I believe you are the future, the decision makers, and I want to be part of an effort to inspire and encourage our young people to get involved.”
Barros told The Daily Free Press that he wanted to strengthen the relationship he had with universities and the students who are the future of the city.
“As mayor I can’t talk about having a better relationship with BU and not show up to the debate,” he said. “I think our academic higher education institutions are important, important stakeholders in Boston and I want to nurture that relationship. If I’m going to care enough about that relationship, I better be here today.“
Despite making an effort to come visit campus, some students said they were disappointed with some of the candidate’s answers.
“I would have liked to see more participation from the candidates,” said Drew Salad, a junior in SED. “If there was any question that I was most disappointed in, it was the question about Teach for America. I honestly felt like they didn’t exactly know what that was. It was one of the least addressed questions.”
Kathryn Hill, a sophomore in CAS, said she liked how Arroyo presented himself even if he did not fully answer the question.
“On most of the questions, he had an answer that would be a clear step-by-step process,” she said. “He never answered how much need there was, but what he thought he would do to fix it, and just the efficacy he seemed to project, I think he would be the best.”