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Is it Time to Rethink State Boards of Education?

Some political officials (Governor Sandoval of Nevada) and self-described policy wonks (Fordham Institute staff) are calling into question the usefulness of locally elected local school boards.  Governor Sandoval suggested replacing them with governor-appointed boards, while Fordham has argued for years against locally elected school boards and for regional authorities, possibly appointed by governors and/or legislatures. Trust us, they say, we’re from Washington and know how to make your teachers accountable.  Trust us, they say at the state level, we know how you should teach. That’s not how Massachusetts’ educational reform was ever envisioned – and the commonwealth’s reforms are well known as being the most successful educational reforms over the past half century.

Trust us, they say, we’re from Washington and know how to make your teachers accountable.  Trust us, they say at the state level, we know how you should teach. That’s not how Massachusetts’ educational reform was ever envisioned – and the commonwealth’s reforms are well known as being the most successful educational reforms over the past half century.

Our reforms set agreed-upon standards and tests, but left a lot of flexibility to localities. Our standards were far less prescriptive on pedagogical method than the Common Core is.  Our goal was to set a high bar and provide local professionals with the funding they needed to get the job done. In the 1990s, the Massachusetts Board of Education was a model for the rest of the country.  Unfortunately, no one followed it.

If there are questions about education leadership, Fordham and the governors should be asking about the performance of the two highest strata of the nation’s federal system: the US Department of Education and our other state boards of education. After half a century and hundreds of billions of dollars into enlarging the federal role in education, where’s the measurable improvement in our schools?  And, secondly, what about the performance of most state boards of education?

This kind of examination is especially timely, given the rising anger of parents and teachers across the country over the poorly written Common Core standards and the increasingly costly tests based on them that governor-appointed boards of education and appointed or elected commissioners/superintendents have imposed on local school districts.

So far, there is no record of even one state board or department of education listening to and then responding rationally to parents’ or teachers’ grievances about the Common Core standards and tests being imposed on their schools (although we have high hopes this may happen in Massachusetts this year).

Perhaps it’s time for many states to rethink quaint 19th century institutions developed with good intentions but which have outrun their usefulness. Even though there are irresponsible parents, are not most parents a better judge of the kind of education they want for their children than a state board of education, the state department of education, or the US Department of Education? Political scientists interested in questions of responsiveness to the body politic, as well as the role of outside money, would have a field day in studying the adoption of the Common Core by state boards and commissioners or superintendents of education.

Fordham and Governor Sandoval have it backwards—and that is likely because both have an interest in diminishing the power of local school boards and even local education professionals.  Fordham has long wanted a strong federal role in driving content decisions; as a governor, Sandoval would perhaps love to have more of his friends determine how schools operate.

But if we look at what has worked in American education in the past 50 years, it would be clear that the federal government and most state boards have been ineffective in increasing students’ academic achievement, and they have also been unaccountable.  Accountability should be in the hands of those who pay most of the bills for education.  And the educators whose salaries they pay should be accountable only to them, not the federal government or state boards. Just a reminder: Teachers and principals are the ones interacting with students in the schools.


Study: Refocus on Workfare to Lift Mass. Residents from Poverty

Two decades after welfare reform, only 7.3 percent of Mass. recipients are participating in workfare, compared to the national average of 29.5 percent; Mass. has the lowest rate among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

BOSTON – During the 1990s, Massachusetts led a welfare reform revolution. A key pillar of that groundbreaking reform was workfare – giving able-bodied recipients the tools to become self-reliant by making work a condition of receiving benefits.  For a decade, workfare was a central part of Massachusetts’ continued efforts to truly make welfare a vehicle to transition to the mainstream economy.

But a new Pioneer Institute study, Rebuilding the Ladder to Self- Sufficiency: Workfare and Welfare Reform, shows that today, the commonwealth has the lowest workfare participation rate in the nation.

Report co-authors Gregory Sullivan and Charles Chieppo provide a useful review of the history of the welfare reform initiative. They note that the Massachusetts’ reform allows recipients, with several categorical exceptions, to collect benefits for a maximum of 24 months in any 60 month period. It also includes a work requirement of at least 20 hours per week within 60 days of beginning to receive benefits (and for those needing it child care to support their efforts).  Those unable to find work must perform at least 20 hours per week of community service.

The result was that welfare rolls dropped by more than half – and stayed down through good times and bad. In 1995, Massachusetts’ welfare caseload was 103,000 families and 273,000 individuals. By 2005 the rolls were down to 46,000 families and 80,000 individuals.

State and federal taxpayers, who invested $706 million in the old AFDC program in fiscal 1994, were by fiscal year 2011 investing $315 million (a 55 percent drop in nominal dollars and a 70 percent drop in real dollars). Importantly, indicators of well-being like child poverty rates dropped even as the welfare rolls dwindled.

As part of the 1996 federal reform, states received federal block grants to advance the goals of the new Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program, as long as they maintain specific funding levels. The federal law includes “caseload reduction credits” under which states can reduce their work participation requirement by one percentage point for each point drop in the average monthly welfare caseload.

No state has been more aggressive in using caseload reduction credits to demote an emphasis on workfare than Massachusetts. As Figure 1 (TANF Work Participation Rates, 50 States, FY11) shows, by fiscal year 2011, the latest year for which data is available, only 7.3 percent of Massachusetts welfare recipients were working. (The 2011 national average was 29.5 percent.) The commonwealth had the lowest work participation rate among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Massachusetts’ workfare participation rate also declined more than in any other state.

Almost two decades after welfare reform, workfare only nominally continues in Massachusetts, with only 2,732 work-able TANF recipients meeting minimum workfare requirements in fiscal 2011, down from 18,203 in fiscal 2009.  Nationwide, the number of work-able TANF recipients meeting minimum workfare requirements increased between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2011, from 275,943 to 306,495.
















Given the results of a 1999 study by the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance showing that workfare and welfare reform had triggered a substantial decline in child poverty, the subsequent phasing down of the program means the commonwealth hasn’t done enough to lift residents from poverty. Elected officials and policymakers must once again make transitional assistance a priority.

About the Authors:

Gregory W. Sullivan is Pioneer’s Research Director, and oversees the Centers for Better Government and Economic Opportunity. Prior to joining Pioneer, Sullivan served two five-year terms as Inspector General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where he directed many significant cases, including a forensic audit that uncovered substantial health care over-billing, a study that identified irregularities in the charter school program approval process, and a review that identified systemic inefficiencies in the state public construction bidding system. Prior to serving as Inspector General, Greg held several positions within the state Office of Inspector General, and was a 17-year member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Greg is a Certified Fraud Investigator, and holds degrees from Harvard College, The Kennedy School of Public Administration, and the Sloan School at MIT.

Charles D. Chieppo is Pioneer Institute’s Senior Media Fellow. Previously, he was policy director in Massachusetts’ Executive Office for Administration and Finance and directed Pioneer’s Shamie Center for Better Government. While in state government, he served as vice chair of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. He is also a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he writes for’s “Better, Faster, Cheaper” blog. He is a weekly commentator on WGBH, and his work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Boston Business Journal, Providence Journal, Springfield Republican, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Washington Times, Education Next, City Journal, and CommonWealth magazine.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.


Our Transparency Resolutions for 2015

statehouseA new year lies ahead, and with it comes new opportunities to right past wrongs. For transparency advocates in Massachusetts, those opportunities couldn’t come soon enough. After years of truly abysmal public records policy, 2015 is shaping up to be a valuable opportunity to not only get Massachusetts up to the national standard, but to set an example in open government that other states will follow.

Here’s what we’re hoping to see in 2015:

Create a State CBO

We want to reaffirm our proposal to advance true legislative transparency through the statutory creation of a State Congressional Budget Office.  The Commonwealth should establish an independent office to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for bills that would either raise revenue or involve the eventual spending of money.  Bills with an estimated financial impact of more than $1M would be subject to the analysis.

Establishing an office in Massachusetts run by the Inspector General to independently assess the cost/revenue of bills with an expected budgetary impact in excess of $1M would improve decision-making and accountability and promote both efficiency and public trust.  This office would be required to publish each analysis, including assumptions, on its website in a timely basis.  As part of the proposal, the Inspector General should be limited to a single six-year term without the possibility of reappointment.

Open Meeting and Public Records Laws Applied to State Legislature

Under Massachusetts law, the state Legislature is not considered a “public body” in a traditional sense, and therefore enjoys bizarre exemptions from open meeting and public records laws – such as the right to close a meeting to the public via majority vote or claim any discussion of policy as private “so long as no final agreement is reached.” Through these special exemptions and the lack of any real oversight beyond a toothless Ethics Committee, the Legislature controls even what questions we’re allowed to ask about what they do. While voting is public, the process that led to that vote is only as public as the Legislature wants it to be, creating the only thing worse than flagrant disregard for transparency – the illusion of transparency. We need to demand real openness in state government, and there’s no better place to start than here.

Public Money Means Public Records

Massachusetts has several “quasi-public” entities — MassDevelopment, Convention Center Authority, and Regional Transit Authorities, to name a few — that receive public funding but claim to be exempt from public laws on the grounds that they’re private institutions and don’t want to risk losing their “competitive edge” by releasing valuable proprietary information. If an entity is taxpayer-funded, taxpayers have a right now know what it’s doing with their money. Simple as that.

Invoices and Contracts for Every Vendor on OpenCheckbookgovarea

When Massachusetts Open Checkbook launched three years ago, it was fantastic step forward in how the state handled open records, providing comprehensive details about the budget to anyone with an internet connection. But comprehensive does not mean complete, and there are some critical omissions to what’s made available. Rather than just dollar amounts, we should have access to what vendors are charging us and exactly what we’re being charged for. Corruption thrives on ambiguity, and it’s not enough to simply tell us how much of our money is being spent. And while we’re at it, have Open Checkbook cover every municipality – transparency isn’t just a state issue.

Public Records officers for Every Agency

In the absence of a public records officer, a request is an unwanted burden, “yet another thing” an agency has to deal with. This translates into a glacial fulfillment rate, ignorant or overzealous redactions, and the imposition of ludicrous fees. Agencies need to understand that transparency isn’t a fad; people are not going to stop wanting to know what their government is doing and how their tax dollars are being spent. Assigning competent, passionate public records professionals makes everyone’s lives easier, and shows a commitment to transparency that goes beyond lip service.

Cap on Cost for Public Records that are Stored Electronically

Several agencies, most notoriously the Boston Police Department, refuse to release digital records on the grounds that such records could be altered. As a result, records such as emails, which can easily exported as .pdfs and burned to a CD, are printed out and hand-redacted, leading to prohibitive labor costs, ending requests before they’ve even begun. As a nationwide leader in technology – it is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after all – this is ridiculous. To its credit, the City of Cambridge recognized this discrepancy, and is working with MuckRock on an effective digital solution that we’re hoping to expand to the rest of the state.

Stronger Penalties for Delinquent Agencies, and an Effective Appeal System that Actually Serves the Public’s Interest
I’ve said this before, so I’ll be brief. The Massachusetts Supervisor of Public Records, the state’s ostensibly independent transparency watchdog, is at best a nonentity, and at worst an obstacle for a requester to overcome. We need a means of holding agencies responsible. We need an appeal system that offers an alternative to court costs. Secretary of State Galvin has proven to be the wrong person for both.

Eliminate “Executive Order” Privilege from Governor’s Office

Few have likely even heard of Lambert v. Executive Director of the Judicial Nominating Council, but this obscure 1997 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling upheld the Governor’s right to not comply with an executive order. As such, all public records requests to the Governor’s office are fulfilled “at the office’s discretion.” This “I don’t have to give you this, but I will do it anyway” attitude transforms public records from a right to the noblesse oblige of elected officials, and there’s no way of knowing how many requests to the Governor’s office weren’t made simply due to the looming threat of blanket denial. Gov. Baker has a valuable opportunity to make it clear that his administration serves the public interest all the time, not simply at its “discretion.”


Reinforce the Idea that the Onus is on the Agency to Explain why Something Shouldn’t be Released, not on the Requester to Explain Why it Should.

This last bit was a key part of the sadly deceased National Freedom of Information Act reform bill that we would love to see applied to Massachusetts. These are our records. This is our government. We call the shots, and public officials need to remember that. It’s not our responsibility to explain why we want to see a more transparent Massachusetts. It’s up to them to explain why they think we shouldn’t. And if they’re unwilling to have the conversation on those terms, they shouldn’t be in government. Let’s make it happen.

J. Patrick Brown is the Editor of, an organization which facilitates public record requests and serves as an independent news source covering government transparency issues nationwide.

Mary Connaughton is Director of Administration & Finance at Pioneer Institute, where she oversees transparency initiatives.


Don’t Waste the Crisis over Common Core

The entire Common Core project is rapidly going south, and within two years may be no more than a dim memory of a nightmare in the minds of a growing army of angry parents and teachers from coast to coast. Before this dystopian scheme for upgrading the academic status of low-income children emerges in a more deadly form in a newly re-authorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), we could try to salvage one of the reasonable arguments for a “common core.” We could benefit from some research-based and internationally benchmarked common standards in elementary school reading, writing, and arithmetic across states.  But not up to grade 12. As educators in other countries and most parents everywhere know, many young adolescents don’t want to go to college or can’t do college coursework and would prefer other options. But common standards up to grade 8, with flexibility in the curriculum and in school organization for that educational wasteland known as middle or junior high school, make sense.

The first task is to relabel the currently toxic package as high school-ready standards and give the forthcoming “college readiness” tests not in grade 11 but in grade 8, which is where they better fit with respect to content and cut score. There, with additions by academic experts in each state to ensure adequate content knowledge is also assessed, they can serve as nationally recognized indications of whether students are capable of authentic high school-level work in grade 9.

It won’t take long for college faculty to realize that Common Core’s tests are a better indication of whether students can do authentic high school-level work in grade 9 than of college-level work. Few post-secondary institutions will survive the pretense that grade 6/7 reading and mathematical skills denote “college readiness.” No doctors or engineers can be developed if they are at that academic level in grade 11 or 12, even when fraudulently deemed “college-ready.” How many American communities can survive without a few doctors and engineers of their own?

Once common ELA and math standards serve to guide a curriculum that makes most students ready for real high school work by the end of grade 8, we can work out alternative high school curricula—the upper secondary options that appeal to a broad range of students even today—and give young adolescents a choice of the kind of curriculum they are willing to commit themselves to—with change always possible. This is what most developed countries do, including Finland.  Our aim would be to try to make sure that all students complete a basic education through grade 8, before compulsory schooling ends and before they choose their upper secondary curriculum.

Do not think I exaggerate our predicament.  At present, we are spending billions of dollars trying to send students to college and maintain them there when on average our high school students read at about the grade 6 or 7 level and their mathematical knowledge is not much higher—in comparison to their peers in high-achieving countries.  Two independent sources converge on that reading level: Renaissance Learning’s latest report on the average reading level of what our students in grades 9-12 read (whether assigned or chosen), and the average reading level of the books that colleges assign to incoming freshmen for summer reading (the titles can be found in the latest Beach Book report). As for mathematics, most high school graduates do not do much in mathematics beyond what students in high-achieving countries complete in algebra and geometry by the end of grade 8.  Common Core asks for little more than that by the end of grade 11.

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, as we have been regularly told.  And here’s one we should take advantage of in order to salvage a battered public school system. If we don’t come to grips with Common Core’s notion of “college readiness,” we face dissolution of our entire education system. And there are other English-speaking post-secondary institutions outside of this country eager for students who can do high school-level reading and mathematics.

Sandra Stotsky was Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education in 1999-2003 and responsible for its K-12 standards in all major subjects.  She was also a member of Common Core’s Validation Committee.


Charlie Baker at podium (1024x682)

Congratulations to Gov. Charlie Baker

As a new Governor takes office today, words of advice will flow from many quarters. Pioneer Institute has for 26 years shared advice with political leaders and policymakers, and most importantly with the media and the general public.  Our job is simple: Drive public debate on the handful of policy areas that will make Massachusetts residents better educated, healthier and more prosperous.

We don’t mind admitting that our hopes for Governor Baker are high. With good reason – for over 25 years, we have known him as someone who appreciates the value of evidence-based research.

He understands the potential impact of state policy. He understands that government must lend a helping hand, and that it can also act as a hindrance to our residents as they pursue their individual hopes and dreams.  He understands numbers with the depth to grasp that you have to count more than dollars spent on a service to get good outcomes – you have to track effectiveness and push hard to get there.

Pioneer knows better than most what effective public services look like.  We’ve promoted innovative programs from across the country through our Better Government Competition for 23 years.  And we know the benefit of focusing on improving the most critical pieces of the policy puzzle – education, health care, government effectiveness and job creation.  In pursuing our work, we can be at times very attentive to government failures like the squandering of hundreds of millions of dollars at the Health Connector, but it is because each dollar wasted is a missed opportunity to invest in priorities, whether they be public or private.

Our hopes are high because we believe the new Governor understands the need to give evidence a seat at the table, so that it can compete with the wish lists of powerful special interests in the debate over how best to serve the public.

Our confidence stems in part from the fact that the new Governor was one of this organization’s first executive directors, and played a role in a number of research initiatives since that time.  Our founder, the late Lovett C. “Pete” Peters, is surely smiling down on today’s Inauguration with a great deal of pride.

Pete famously told Charlie back in 1988, “It took us 75 years to get into this mess, it will take 75 to get out. We might as well start today.”  The list of Pioneer’s accomplishments since that time is lengthy, but Pete’s long-term view – his insistence on looking at the future and multi-generational impacts – is why Pioneer has from day one cared most deeply about the quality of education in Massachusetts.

But there’s so much more to do. And Pioneer will continue the work of generating innovative ideas rooted in research. That’s why we kicked off this week with our “Baker’s Dozen” – 13 ideas for a healthcare policy agenda.

There is more to come. We will continue to offer the latest research from some of the best minds in country, and our team of highly experienced analysts – including Greg Sullivan, Mary Connaughton, Charles Chieppo, Jamie Gass, Josh Archambault and many others – will continue to serve as trusted resources to the policymakers and the media.

In a tribute to former Governor Bill Weld, the Governor-Elect said, “Ideas are not partisan… Smart people will take good ideas and turn them into policy and programs to do good things for the communities that they live in and for the people that they serve.”

That’s advice worth taking.  We look forward to driving important debates – that is the strength of our commonwealth and our country.

Arne Duncan, fiction writer


News flash for Washington watchers!  Now we know what Arne Duncan will do once his service as US Education Secretary comes to an end.  In the Boston Globe on Monday, he demonstrated a flair for fiction, with a panegyric to Gov. Patrick’s stewardship of education policy.  My reaction is posted here and at the Globe’s Podium section:

Who says Common Core advocates don’t like fiction?  In his Globe opinion piece (Under Deval Patrick, Mass. has led the nation in education, January 5), US Education Secretary Arne Duncan got one fact right: Massachusetts leads the nation in education.  Attributing that progress to Gov. Patrick’s leadership is like suggesting that a pinch runner who finds himself on third base hit a triple.

Massachusetts has led the nation in all subjects tested on sampled national assessments for a decade.  In fact, before Gov. Patrick’s inauguration in 2007, Massachusetts had been one of the fastest improving states in the nation.

Secretary Duncan makes glowing reference to Massachusetts’ performance on the international PISA tests.  But, again, already in the spring of 2007 the commonwealth’s students had taken the Trends in Math and Science Study (TIMSS), a higher-quality international test than PISA, and ranked in the top six countries in math and science.

Only a politician, or an Education Secretary playing one, would attribute Massachusetts’ success to Gov. Patrick.  The very best one can say about overall student achievement in the commonwealth during the Governor’s terms in office is that it has been stagnant.  An objective observer would note significant areas of decline:

  • Since the adoption of Common Core in 2010, sampled national tests show fourth-grade reading scores, the best predictor of future success, falling more significantly in Massachusetts than anywhere else in the country.
  • During Governor Patrick’s time in office, Massachusetts students’ SAT scores have fallen by 20 points.  (Prior to 2007, SAT scores had risen for 13 consecutive years.)
  • When Patrick took office, 67 percent of third graders scored advanced or proficient on the state’s third-grade reading tests (again, an important marker); that number is now 57 percent.

The one area where I do agree with Secretary Duncan is in his praise for the work being done in the Lawrence Public Schools.  There the Patrick Administration has demonstrated strength of purpose and a willingness to bring in outside partners to advance the interests of all children.

Secretary Duncan’s suggestion that this uninspiring record is path-breaking no doubt stems from his own support of policy changes Gov. Patrick made.  The most significant of these is the governor’s abandonment of two pillars of Massachusetts’ original, bold reforms — academic content standards that approached those in the highest-performing nations and a unique accountability system focused on improving district leadership and performance.

It may also stem from the malady that most plagues our nation’s capital—that toxic mix of self-importance and the inability to see reality.  After his six years in Washington and tens of billions of dollars spent on policies that centralize power at the Lyndon B. Johnson Building and away from classrooms, the Secretary continues to believe that his policies have been “game-changing,” a term he seemingly has on speed-dial.

Six years later, any policy analyst can review the data.  Arne Duncan’s impact on student achievement in the United States is no different from that of his predecessors—imperceptible.

When it comes to education, I hope Governor-elect Baker opts for empirically proven policies rather than the Secretary’s empty PR.

Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, visit Pioneer’s website, or check out our education posts at the Rock The Schoolhouse blog.

BakersDozenFinal (1024x892)

Baker’s Dozen: A Common Sense Healthcare Agenda for the Next Governor

Pioneer Institute is pleased to present, “Baker’s Dozen: A Common Sense Healthcare Agenda for the Next Governor” – 13 steps we can take that cover everything from transforming incentives in the system and bringing transparency to pricing, to needed reforms to our public health system, patient engagement, and ways to lower the cost of insurance. We have been highlighting one section per day but all four sections are contained in the PDF file that is available for download below. 

Day 4: Lowering Insurance Costs

healthcare_costs_scrabbleIn this fourth and final installment of “Baker’s Dozen: A Common Sense Healthcare Agenda for the Next Governor,” Josh Archambault and Neil Minkoff suggest reforms to lower health insurance costs. The administration has the potential to engender decreases through a comprehensive independent review of all health insurance mandates and by repealing the misguided health insurance premium caps set into current law.

Review All Health Insurance Mandates By Conducting a Comprehensive Independent Review
Massachusetts is a leader in mandating forms of health insurance coverage that are driving up premiums to small businesses and individuals. As a result, small businesses in the Bay State pay some of the world’s highest premiums.

The Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) is required to review many proposed mandates and provide information about costs. A recent analysis shows that the aggregate is over $100 million for the Commonwealth. The impact falls disproportionately on those least able to handle extra costs: small employers and individuals purchasing coverage on their own or through the Connector.

Previous Installments

Day 1: Transforming Through Transparency

1. Release the Data

The state has pressed both insurers and providers to be more transparent about cost, clinical and financial information. The time has come for the state to lead by example. The state should move to immediately release all de-identified data from the All-Payer Claims Database (APCD) to the public. Government can serve as a convening platform to help non-profits and private companies sort out the complex pricing system that exists in the state and help patients navigate it. Such an action would reinforce the Commonwealth’s leadership in claims-based population research and give health researchers and economists the opportunity to mine the data for inefficiencies and improve the quality of care (see more on this topic in Proposal 5). Read more…

Day 2: Reforming Public Health Programs

Day two of “Baker’s Dozen: A Common Sense Healthcare Agenda for the Next Governor” highlights the need for immediate public health program reform. Josh Archambault and Neil Minkoff argue for the protection of resources for those who are in need by auditing and reforming MassHealth (also known as Medicaid). A plan is proposed for getting the Massachusetts Connector back on track through greater promotion of transparency, possible executive and legislative branch participation, and an overhaul of the board. The suggestions for state and municipal health reform include offering employees greater plan choice and rewarding smart shopping. The next two installments will put forth ideas for how to create a more patient-oriented medical system and lower insurance costs.

Protect Resources for the Needy by Reforming MassHealth (Medicaid)
Few realize that the MassHealth program has grown to serve over 25 percent of the state population and accounts for 40 percent of the state budget. The growth of the program is crowding out spending on education, local aid, and transportation. It is arguable that recent tax increases have more to do with healthcare spending and Medicaid than the public reasons used to justify the hikes. Read more.

On day three of “Baker’s Dozen: A Common Sense Healthcare Agenda for the Next Governor,” we challenge the new administration to create a more patient-oriented medical system. One possibility is to increase the supply of care settings for patients by reforming or phasing out antiquated and bureaucratic Determination-of-Need laws that have been shown to harm patient health, and increase costs.  An additional suggestion is to grant patients greater choice of medical professionals by reforming the Scope of Practice laws, to allow providers to practice to the top of their training.  Authors Archambault and Minkoff also encourage the removal of misguided insurance regulations. The final segment of “Baker’s Dozen” will offer recommendations for lowering insurance costs.

200253040-001Day 3: Increase the Supply of Care Settings for Patients By Reforming or Phasing Out Antiquated Determination-of-Need Laws

Determination of need (DON) laws are the healthcare equivalent of the rules and regulations that require all students to fit into the same one-size-fits-all public schooling model developed in the 19th century. Public educational systems are moving toward reform that embraces more flexibility in the form of public charter schools, district school autonomy and even online learning. Similar approaches are needed in healthcare.

Thoughts on what everyone hates talking about (testing)


No one wants to talk about testing except the people that want to get rid of it.  Which leaves the field of debate on a critical aspect of education reform in pretty partial hands.

Above all other states, Massachusetts should understand the important role of standardized testing.

Former Senate President Tom Birmingham, chief architect of the state’s landmark 1993 Education Reform Act (ERA) has noted that in 1992 the sole state-imposed graduation requirements were “one year of American history and four years of gym.  The “absence of a comprehensive statewide system of standards,” he continued, “imposed real hardships on poor and minority school districts” given “society’s low expectations as to what their kids could learn.”

The ERA changed all that, leading to the development of world-class academic standards in English, mathematics and science, together with testing.  Unlike what we had seen before — where poorer districts were treated to easier reading texts and lower-level math — all children in the commonwealth were now given access to crucial elements of a strong liberal arts education.  The law translated into among the nation’s largest gains in student performance—for all students.  In 1993, Massachusetts stood in 11th place in the country on national assessments.  Since 2005, Massachusetts has outperformed every other state on national assessments. Since 2007, when Massachusetts competed as its own country in international math and science testing, the Commonwealth has been among the world’s highest performing nations in 4th and 8th grade math and science.

The clearest case for testing comes from a subject where the law’s requirement for testing was ignored by Massachusetts policymakers—U.S. History.  On the civics portion of the 2010 national assessment, only seven percent of America’s eighth graders correctly identified the three branches of our government.  Massachusetts is no exception in that dismal outcome.

There are today problems with testing, and they largely stem from federal impositions of one-size-fits-all policies.  Massachusetts’ 1993 law required standardized testing but not in all subjects in each year.  The Bush administration’s 2001 No Child Left Behind law and the Obama administration’s Common Core policies have reduced state autonomy over standards, curriculum and testing. Today, federally funded testing consortia (PARCC in Massachusetts) have expanded testing beyond the appropriate and reasonable balance that was struck in Massachusetts.

There are of course other issues associated with testing as it is done in Massachusetts today, including the March to May period for the tests and the time it takes to get the results back.  To be fair to teachers, and to represent the value of the work they have done with students, we need to make every effort to push the tests to late May or even mid-June.  As for the results, there is little benefit to parents when the results come back half a year later.  The fact is that parents will make an effort to address areas where their children need to improve – and the summer is a great time to do that.  Missing that window of opportunity is inexcusable.

And the MCAS can and should be improved.  The frequency, the timing of the test and the distribution of results, as well as ways to improve the test should all be debated.  But the value of standardized tests is only a matter up for debate among a rarefied and self-interested group of individuals who have a very short memory. We’re not going back to one year of history and four years of gym.

Good policy requires thoughtful definition of a high-quality liberal arts education and consideration of equity for all students, accountability for results, and impacts on the classroom.  Evidence suggests Massachusetts should fulfill the promise made in 1993 and test US History instruction, but jealously guard its autonomy over policy in an age when the federal government is stoking a testing frenzy.  It also suggests that the state should not be ashamed to push back at federal policy mandates wherever we, as a national leader in education reform, believe we can do better.

Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, visit Pioneer’s website, or check out our education posts at the Rock The Schoolhouse blog.

Steps for States to Follow to Replace Common Core

To help out governors and state legislatures that really want to get state-tailored standards close to the quality of the pre-2010 Massachusetts and California standards–or the Indiana 2006 standards–I have provided an outline of the steps or procedures a state legislature could follow (see below).

The outcomes remain open-ended.  But these procedures, based on my experiences in Massachusetts over 10 years ago, and in other states in recent years, ensure that no special interest groups, including a state’s board, commissioner, or department of education, can take control of the “process,” deceive the parents of the state, and feed back a warmed-over version of Common Core as is now happening in South Carolina and Oklahoma, and as has happened in Indiana and Florida.

These procedures, among other things, are designed to ensure that those in charge of revising mathematics, science, or English language arts standards for a state actually know the content of these disciplines and teach in a state’s own higher education institutions.  If anyone knows what college readiness should mean for a particular state, they should.

Procedures for state legislatures to use to establish standards development committees to replace Common Core’s Standards

STEERING OR EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE to be chosen by the State Legislature


  • Chancellor of State System of Higher Education
  • State Legislators (3)
  • Others?   PLUS (when chosen)
  • ELA Standards Development Chair
  • Mathematics Standards Development Chair



  • Oversees the entire project
  • Final approval of all content and work of the committees
  • Final approval of all committee membership
  • Supported by Attorney General’s office



  • Selected by and reports to Steering Committee
  • Oversees entire standards process
  • Assures accurate communications to the Legislature, the Governor. and the public at large
  • Works directly with ELA and Math Chairs, and directs work of the ELA and Math Scribes


Document SCRIBES (paid) selected by the Steering Committee

  • ELA Scribe
  • Math Scribe



  • Expertise in subject matter
  • Adept at digital technology
  • Report to ELA or Math Chair on Steering Committee



  • Organization
  • Prepares database of all nominees
  • Processes nominations to various committees
  • Coordination
  • Schedules and secures sites for all in-person and virtual meetings
  • Arranges for the services of meeting facilitators where needed



  • Takes and transcribes detailed notes of all meetings
  • Creates minutes from Steering Committee meetings
  • Provides ongoing updates of standards-writing process to all committees and the public
  • Posts appropriate information on webpage
  • Maintains all drafts and revisions throughout the writing process
  • Compiles public comments
  • Coordinates responses to public comment




  • Undergraduate teaching faculty in the arts and sciences
  • Math Chair must be a faculty member in a science, mathematics or engineering department
  • ELA Chair must be a faculty member in an English literature/language department
  • Nominated by the president of the candidate’s four-year accredited university or college that maintain graduate-level programs (not a member of faculty of college of education)
  • At least 2 candidates for each committee will be nominated to the Steering Committee for final selection


  • Maintains schedules and timelines
  • Leads and coordinates the work of the Standards Development Committees
  • Assures that standards are written with an emphasis on disciplinary content and accuracy
  • Works with Executive Director



District superintendents may nominate up to a total of 6 teachers for the subgroups in ELA and Math (i.e., no more than 1 per subgroup).


Membership of ELA Standards Development Committee

  • ELA Chair
  • ELA Vice Chair — Teaching faculty member in an undergraduate English Literature

Department at a four-year university (selected by the ELA Chair)

  • 4 Pre-K to Fifth Grade school teachers
  • 4 Middle school teachers (Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade)
  • 4 High school teachers at each grade level (Ninth Grade-12th Grade)
  • 1 Librarian (nominated by State’s Library Association)


Qualifications for teachers (District Superintendents are to use one-page nomination forms:

  • Minimum 7 years experience at the educational level of the subgroup for which they are applying: Current teaching assignment at one of the grade levels in that subgroup
  • At least a minor in English and/or list courses completed in literature, composition, or rhetoric for those seeking middle or high school subgroup
  • Reading methods coursework for those in PreK-grade 8
  • Steering Committee in conjunction with the ELA Chair and Vice Chair make the final selection of those to serve on the subgroups


Membership of Math Standards Development Committee

  • Math Chair
  • Math Vice Chair — teaching faculty member in an undergraduate Mathematics Department at a four-year university (selected by the Math Chair)
  • 4 Pre-K to Grade 5 teachers
  • 4 Middle school teachers (Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade)
  • 4 High school teachers (Ninth Grade-12th Grade) to Include:
  • Algebra I teacher
  • Geometry teacher
  • Algebra II teacher
  • Precalculus or Trigonometry teacher
  • 1 Engineer (nominated by a state engineering professional organization or university faculty)


Qualifications for classroom teachers (District Superintendents use a one-page nomination form):

  • Minimum 7 years experience at the educational level of the subgroup for which they are applying: Current teaching assignment at one of the grade levels in the subgroup
  • At least a minor in mathematics, science, or engineering
  • Steering Committee in conjunction with Math Chair and Vice Chair make the final selection of those to serve on the subgroups



  • Each Standards Development Committee as a whole selects for use a highly-rated pre-2009 set of state standards as the foundational blueprint (for ELA: California, Indiana 2006,    Massachusetts 2001 or condensed/revised 2013, and for math: California, Indiana 2006, Massachusetts 2000, or Minnesota).
  • Each subgroup addresses each relevant grade-level set of standards by adoption, modification, or rewrite.
  • Standards Development Committee as a whole examines entire set of standards and revises when necessary
  • Submits the documents to the Steering Committee for review and approval




  • Remaining nominees not selected to be on Standards Development Committee


  • Teachers review all standards at their own educational level for appropriateness and wording
  • High school teachers review all documents
  • Comments are recorded by the Scribes and sent to the Standards Development Committee for review and possible action
  • First draft presented to the Steering Committee for approval


SECOND DRAFT REVIEW by higher education and special interest groups


  • State Chamber of Commerce
  • State business and industry professional organizations
  • State engineering organizations
  • Early childhood advocacy organizations
  • Special education advocacy organizations
  • English Language Learners advocacy organizations
  • School counselor professional organizations
  • Speech pathology professional organizations
  • Undergraduate teaching faculty in science, engineering, mathematics and English literature/language


  • Review content standards and advise on:
  1. a) Classroom application
  2. b) Vertical alignment
  3. c) Provide comment on how the standards affect the population they represent.
  • All responses must be signed and submitted electronically
  • Comments on any recommended changes to the Second Draft are recorded by the Scribes and sent to the Standards Development Committee for review and possible action
  • Second draft presented to the Steering Committee for approval. Steering Committee reviews recommendations and provides direction to the ELA and Math Chairs and the Standards Writing Teams as they edit the second draft.



The presidents, provost, and faculty of the 4 year colleges nominate two well known or well published experts in each subject area.


Membership: Selection is by the Steering Committee

  • Individuals do not teach at a state college or university
  • Qualifications determined by Steering Committee


  • The External Reviewer will report on the quality of the standards
  • The External Reviewer will report to the Steering Committee and the State Legislature



After the second draft review, the Standards Development Committees will review, revise and submit a final draft to the Steering Committee. Final draft will be submitted for a 45-day public comment period and public hearing at the State Capitol. Public comment will be incorporated as deemed appropriate by the Standards Development Committee

Final Draft submitted to the State Legislature for Legislative Hearings and final approval.





apple on open book

Common Core’s standards can be replaced by first-rate standards overnight

In a funny story in the Washington Post on December 24, 2014, Mike Petrilli and Michael Brickman (experts on nothing at all) claim that it will not be easy to replace Common Core’s standards with something better.

They even go so far as to claim that “The basic problem is that it’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.”

Why is their claim funny?  Because we have already had standards that did exactly that, looked nothing like Common Core, and were remarkably easy to implement. As I noted here:

Unlike Common Core’s standards, which are not designed to prepare American high school students for authentic college coursework, the Commonwealth’s previous standards accelerated the academic achievement of minority groups in the state and did prepare our grade 10 students for authentic college coursework.

We know that achievement on the grade 10 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was related to authentic college readiness from a report relating our high school students’ performance on their grade 10 MCAS to the type of public college they enrolled in after graduation in 2005 and the extent of remedial coursework they needed.* Almost all the students at the Advanced level and about 80% of the students at the Proficient level who had enrolled in four-year public colleges and universities in the Bay State in 2005 needed no remediation in mathematics or reading.  They were college-ready as well as high-school diploma-ready, whether or not they took a mathematics course in their senior year of high school (which the report doesn’t tell us).

On the other hand, about half of the 2005 high school graduating students who had enrolled in a Massachusetts community college in 2005 and had earlier been placed at the Needs Improvement level on a grade 10 MCAS test needed remediation in mathematics, reading, or both.  (Again, we don’t know if they had taken a mathematics course in their senior year of high school or tried in other ways to improve their academic records in their junior and senior years of high school.)  Sounds completely rational.

How do I know that it was easy to implement the Massachusetts 2001 English language arts and 2000 mathematics standards?   Because, unlike Petrilli and Brickman, I vas dere, Charlie.  Bay State teachers did not moan and groan after these standards were officially approved by a Board of Education chaired by incoming Secretary of Education James Peyser.  They simply implemented them without a fuss.  In fact, when it was time to start revising the 2001 ELA standards (by statute), less than 30 teachers in the entire state bothered to reply to the Department of Education’s survey on what changes they wanted.  None were substantive, and none were from English teachers. Moreover, there is no record of complaint by Bay State parents, either.

Why don’t Petrilli and Brickman ask each Department of Education or Department of Public Instruction in each state to send out a survey to all the state’s teachers just asking for suggestions to upgrade the state’s Common Core-based standards.  They will soon find out how welcome a different set of standards would be.  And how much they might support a new use for Common Core-based tests so long as they are tied to accountability for education schools, not the teachers they graduate.   See