Delivering high-quality instruction during a pandemic
Though young people did not suffer as severe a health impact as a result of COVID-19, students have experienced an estimated seven months of learning loss due to pandemic-related school closures, and low-income and minority students have been hardest hit. Pioneer has focused on serving as a resource for parents, educators, leaders and policymakers at the school, district and state levels, offering lessons from other models and other parts of the world, on best practices for safely reopening schools, and for delivering high-quality remote instruction. The pandemic has demonstrated the market’s responsiveness to parent demand for alternatives, and Pioneer helped bring wider attention to pods and micro-schools, homeschooling, and the remarkably resilient and adaptable private, religious, and vocational-technical schools.
Within the first week of the COVID-19 outbreak, Pioneer made linkages between nationally recognized virtual learning practitioners and Massachusetts education commissioner Jeffrey Riley, and leaders in the voc-tech, Catholic, and charter sectors. Pioneer worked with Julie Young, founder of Florida Virtual School and currently with ASU Digital Prep, to advise the Archdiocese of Boston schools on an online Catholic academy, which is currently in development. Pioneer shared expertise and showcased effective online programs through: research and op-eds co-authored with ASU Prep Digital and the Distance Learning Association; a virtual policy briefing series featuring Young and Christensen Institute co-founder Michael Horn; and a 20-part remote learning resources guide drawn from hundreds of materials across the curriculum and curated by PioneerEducation Director Jamie Gass. Pioneer devoted numerous episodes of its The Learning Curve national education podcast to models of success with experts and commentary on homeschooling, digital learning, micro-schools, and remote learning resources.
Pioneer highlighted COVID response best practices from two Catholic schools, Boston College High School and Saint Joseph Prep, through a video campaign and op-eds placed across Massachusetts. These two schools offered consistent, structured, rigorous, and supportive instructional programs via remote learning that kept students engaged. After Pioneer’s targeted social media campaign, Massachusetts’ Catholic schools won national recognition in The Wall Street Journal and Fox News, and at a time of enrollment declines nationally, increased their own enrollment by 4,400 students.
Best practices for remote instruction & in-person learning
Building on a decade of award-winning digital learning initiatives, Pioneer encouraged state leaders to modernize online education offerings and bring them into parity with other leading states, remove bureaucratic regulations and geographic restrictions on enrollment, end funding disparities, and address the digital divide. Pioneer published a series of reports: Keeping Students Academically Engaged During the Coronavirus Crisis, Class Dismissed: Massachusetts’ Lack of Preparedness for K–12 Digital Learning During COVID-19, Shifting to Online Learning in the COVID-19 Spring, Accountability in Massachusetts’ Remote Learning Regulations, and How Should Massachusetts Reopen Its K–12 Schools in the Fall? Lessons from Abroad and Other States. The series offered remote learning and safe school reopening guidance from experts in the U.S. and other countries, and urged state and federal policymakers to articulate clear guidelines on school closures, a plan to avoid future learning gaps, and standard criteria for instructional time and grading. Another report by Pioneer and ASU Prep Digital, Shifting Special Needs Students to Online Learning in the COVID-19 Spring, presented practical tips and ways for the state education department to address issues of equity.
Pioneer published op-eds disseminating these findings in The Boston Globe, CommonWealth magazine, and state and national outlets. In its revised regulations, the state education department adopted two Pioneer proposals regarding the maintenance of the spring 2021 MCAS and local district grading for accountability. Through an online COVID resources hub, Pioneer provided an interactive map of districts’ in-person, remote, or hybrid reopening plans so the public could cross-reference the data with town-by-town case prevalence using Pioneer’s COVID mapping tool. Through these efforts, Pioneer played an instrumental role in providing the research basis for the Baker administration’s stronger stance in support of reopening Massachusetts schools in the fall.
The Learning Curve – Pioneer’s Education Podcast
Raising patients’ awareness & engagement
Pioneer promoted greater transparency in healthcare pricing, which is essential for patients to seek high-value, low-cost services. A Pioneer report, Analysis of Spending on Shoppable Services in Massachusetts, projected consumer savings in one Massachusetts county if patients were to switch providers for 16 non-emergency healthcare services. Another report, The Status of Healthcare Price Transparency Across the United States, surveyed states on price transparency laws and the availability of cost information. These reports received coverage in several noteworthy industry publications, and the findings were amplified in op-eds published in The Hill, CommonWealth magazine, and regional outlets across Massachusetts supporting passage of a federal healthcare price transparency law, which took effect in January 2021.
Ensuring patient access to vital medical services
The COVID outbreak required a greater response from the healthcare system to meet the needs of pandemic victims, shifting resources from other patients and creating a shortage of medical personnel. Pioneer has long supported increasing patient access to care provided through registered nurses and telemedicine, to ease wait times and lower costs, going back to research from 2015 on expanding scope-of-practice laws to allow state-certified nurse practitioners to provide some medical services. A 2017 Pioneer study on telemedicine, covered by WBUR and other news outlets, highlighted its potential to reduce healthcare costs and shorten treatment times. In just the beginning phases of the pandemic, community health centers across Massachusetts reported that total telehealth visits increased from 500 to 83,000, and from 500 to 22,000 for behavioral health services.
Early in the pandemic, Pioneer’s Senior Fellow in Healthcare, Josh Archambault, placed op-eds in Forbes and CommonWealth magazine, and provided information to state policymakers and legislators, urging adoption of a robust telehealth framework that removes barriers across state lines, and rejects payment mandates. The Governor issued three executive orders which included Pioneer’s input, and signed into law An Act Promoting a Resilient Health Care System That Puts Patients First, preserving both telehealth and scope of practice reforms.
A POWERFUL VOICE FOR VICTIMS
After the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review released an evaluation that would limit treatment options for cystic fibrosis (CF) patients, Pioneer partnered with Gunnar Esiason, a prominent advocate who is living with CF, to raise public awareness, on a webinar that received nearly 2,000 views, an op-ed in Morning Consult, and a report on the growing threat of drug-resistant infections that was featured prominently in Politico Pulse.
“ICER’s model does not value years of life equally for people who are terminally ill compared with people who are healthy.”
– Gunnar Esiason, in Morning Consultant
Protecting all patients & medical innovation
Pioneer’s New England Life Sciences Initiative (NELSI), led by Visiting Fellow William Smith, has been raising awareness across the country about the dangers of applying the quality-adjusted life year (QALY) methodology, used by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), to issue decisions about patient eligibility for life-saving therapies. COVID brought new urgency to this disturbing and problematic approach. Through research, traditional and social media campaigns, and appearances at policy forums, NELSI continued its efforts to ensure that patients, their physicians, and caregivers — not ICER and other one-size-fits-all methods — have a say in such serious matters.
A Pioneer report, Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY): The Threat to Older Americans concluded that the QALY methodology has the potential to deny seniors’ access to high-quality, life-saving treatments. Another study, Legal Challenges of Adopting QALY Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), found that the QALY methodology would decrease the availability of effective treatments for people living with a disability. Pioneer amplified key findings through digital campaigns that earned over 100,000 web clicks, reaching over 500,000 people. Pioneer shared this research with U.S. Senator Warren and seven colleagues, who urged the federal government to ensure that the disabled and older adults do not face discrimination for COVID treatment.
Smith also published research and op-eds clearing up misconceptions about the pharmaceutical industry, and the obstacles it faces as it strives to develop breakthrough therapies. Pioneer’s report The Negative Impact of COVID-19 Upon the Biopharmaceutical Sector dispelled myths about these companies profiting from the pandemic. Another report, Five Reasons Why Drug Rebates Are Harmful to Patients and to the Healthcare System, critiqued the complex incentive structure between drug manufacturers, health plans, and pharmacy benefit managers, which distorts the market for branded drugs and boosts out-of-pocket costs for consumers.
Smith partnered with AEI’s Kirsten Axelson on an op-ed in The National Interest calling for the extension of a federal CARES Act provision allowing for 90-day prescription refills, especially helpful for patients with limited mobility. In an op-ed published by CommonWealth magazine and in a Bloomberg Bay State Business radio appearance, Smith vigorously opposed Governor Baker’s drug pricing penalty plan, which could harm innovative, life-saving research by Massachusetts companies.
CHECK OUT SOME HEALTHCARE AND LIFE SCIENCES CONTENT:
Equipping the Bay State for global competitiveness
As a recognized leader on economic policy, Pioneer was well-positioned to become a resource during the pandemic crisis. Over several decades, the Institute has been publishing research on long-term trends in business formation and job creation across the Bay State, through a seven-part “Massachusetts New Economy” series, and on elevating Massachusetts’ international profile. In a Winter 2020 report, Greater Boston as a Global Competitor, Pioneer synthesized dozens of economic, lifestyle, and governance indicators from global cities rankings into categories encompassing education, economics, innovation, healthcare, and transportation that are key to improving the city’s ability to compete for talent and investment.
In December 2019, Pioneer launched MassEconomix, a user-friendly online tool that presents employment and business establishment trends across the Commonwealth. Using 20-plus years of data on every firm in Massachusetts that has been compiled by the Business Dynamics Research Consortium, MassEconomix provides viewers with the ability to analyze industries, sub-industries and trends in highly specific as well as statewide geographies. In 2020, Pioneer released regular reports on growth in individual cities and towns, as well as in specific industries. Some Big, Broad Economic Trends in Massachusetts showed that while the number of jobs and businesses has risen steadily over the years, the average size of Massachusetts firms has decreased. Other research, including Broad Industry Sector Trends in Massachusetts, 1998- 2018, charted job gains especially in the healthcare sector, but also in education; and explored specific regions such as Worcester and Lowell. Pioneer’s MassEconomix website and research have earned 60,000 pageviews as well as mentions in State House News Service, Boston Herald, MassLive, WBUR, WBZ, and other news outlets across the state.
In 2021, Pioneer expects to leverage MassEconomix to tell the story of what is really happening in the Massachusetts economy and to begin the process of expanding the tool to other states through partnerships with think tanks, universities, and other institutions.
Ending protections for government officials
In the summer of 2020, the world watched in horror a viral video of a white Minnesota police officer suffocating a Black man named George Floyd, the latest in a trail of incidents of police brutality and racial injustice that ignited rioting all over the country. While acknowledging that most officers sworn to protect all Americans abhor such actions, Pioneer immediately recognized the need for a reevaluation of practices within our law enforcement agencies, and for a larger conversation about how to increase economic and civic participation among all Americans. The Institute issued a public statement addressing the tragedy, describing initiatives across all our policy areas aimed at improving the quality of life for people of color, and encouraging victims of government abuse to submit complaints through our civil liberties hotline. In op-eds placed in WGBH and regional news outlets across Massachusetts, commentary on WBUR, a Hubwonk podcast episode with Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, and social media, Jim Stergios called for changes to the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which nearly exempts public officials from civil liability for their actions. A state legislative commission has been established to review this doctrine.
Restoring public trust
The Center for Public Integrity has given Massachusetts an “F” on public access to information, in part due to the legislature’s and governor’s exemptions from public records laws. Pioneer has long called for the legislature to be subject to the same laws that apply to municipalities and the rest of state government. In 2020, Pioneer launched a video campaign that earned over 180,000 views on YouTube and social media, to highlight the difficulty of accessing Statements of Financial Interest submitted by officials in Massachusetts compared to other states.