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Is John Connolly an education maven?

Boston’s mayoral race has been rife with misconceptions that have only intensified since September’s preliminary election. Unfortunately, some have delighted in perpetuating them. For instance, there is the idea that Marty Walsh’s candidacy draws its support exclusively from unions whereas John Connolly’s message has cut across racial, economic, and political lines. In truth, Walsh's endorsements demonstrate that he has an equally diverse base. Others claim that the state representative is resentful of Connolly, in a swipe at the former’s working-class background. But, Marty Walsh helped John Connolly get on the Boston City Council. The biggest untruth, however, is the idea that compared to Connolly, Walsh cannot really contribute to the discussion on education. In fact, he has a plan for education reform that is comprehensive and impressively detailed.

To appreciate Walsh's plan fully, it would help to review what John Connolly has to proffer. He spent two years as a volunteer teacher at the Nativity Mission School in New York. He then returned to Boston for a third year of teaching at Boston Renaissance Charter. This is the extent of Connolly's teaching experience, and it was sandwiched between his undergraduate studies and law school. Many Boston Public School teachers and education activists have, therefore, roundly criticized his attempt to present himself as an experienced teacher or an education expert. Indeed, after law school, he chose to practice corporate law. Further, since his brief stint as a teacher, Connolly has engaged in little parallel activity that recalls his time in education. His recent work on the Boston City Council is the notable exception. So, his work with children, while admirable, does not amount to a career in teaching. Moreover, in attempting to compare his experience to that of people that have chosen this profession, Connolly appears disingenuous.

Still, he and some of his supporters argue that his period of teaching, despite its brevity, had an enormous impact upon him. But, his actual plans on education belie this argument. John Connolly's "Hubs of Opportunity" initiative could be heralded as bold and fresh were it not for its strong similarities with the Boston Compact, which was championed by Councilor Rob Consalvo during his mayoral run. Then, there is Connolly's recent emphasis on strengthening the educational programs for students that wish to practice a trade. At a mayoral forum, which was held last week at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, he unabashedly poached some of Marty Walsh's ideas, including calling for the expansion of the hours and services of vocational programs and schools.

A closer look at the final two mayoral candidates reveals yet more holes in the "John Connolly is the 'education mayor'" narrative. Walsh explicitly acknowledges the correlation between a solid educational system and a vibrant economy by putting together a blueprint for educational reform that marries the concepts of access, accountability, transparency, and collaboration. There are several particularly interesting elements from this union: a stronger focus on the middle school curriculum, the redesign of the Boston Public Schools' office, the establishment of an online progress monitoring system, and the institution of community service learning. As for his actual achievements in this area, they are listed at the end. Connolly adopts a different approach. His road map to boost the Boston Public Schools largely reads as a list of platitudes. A rehash of his work on the council's Committee on Education, coupled with his accomplishments, which are interspersed throughout the plan, serves to plump up his vision.

John Connolly has presented himself as an authority figure on education. Nevertheless, the thinness of his teaching experience as well as the lack of innovation and vim surrounding his ideas for education reform suggests otherwise. Certainly, Connolly offers little more than a carefully crafted image and bromides. But, such things do not bring about substantive, meaningful change, which is precisely what Boston needs in order for the residents to enjoy a secure and bright future.