Entries by Tom Birmingham

Rigorous Civics Education Needed Now More Than Ever

After decades of being overlooked, the importance of teaching US history and civics in public schools is at last gaining momentum. At the same time, the American Rescue Plan will bring an influx of tens of millions of dollars into Massachusetts schools. The confluence of these two events could transform civics education, but turning potential into reality will require combining a high-quality, fact-based curriculum with strong accountability measures.

Tax credit scholarship program would give Catholic schools fighting chance

I am among the countless individuals whose lives have been shaped by Catholic education; in my case, it was attending high school at Austin Prep. Despite a stellar record, Catholic schools are facing a grim financial picture. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision gives new hope to the schools and to the many Massachusetts families with children who would benefit from attending them.

Voc-tech schools thriving despite pandemic strictures

HANDS-ON EDUCATION plays a critical role at Massachusetts regional vocational-technical high schools, where students alternate weekly between academics and shop classes. Given that reality, you’d think the schools would be particularly hard hit by the switch to hybrid models under which students are in a physical school building only half the time. But thanks to innovative approaches to coping with pandemic-related restrictions, voc-techs are successfully bucking statewide public-school enrollment trends.

MCAS testing essential to address falling test scores

Amid the chaos that was created by schools suddenly being shuttered in March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it made sense to cancel administration of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests. But supporters of pending legislation that would place a four-year moratorium on using MCAS as a high school graduation requirement and create a commission to study alternatives to the tests are no longer responding to a crisis; they are using it to advance their anti-reform agenda.

The Virtual Lessons Catholic Schools Can Teach

This op-ed originally appeared in The Boston Pilot. By Tom Birmingham In a time when COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges, Catholic schools like St. Joseph Preparatory High School in Brighton and Boston College High School have risen to the occasion and delivered consistent, high-quality education during the pandemic. Sadly, that hasn’t been true everywhere. With the resumption of traditional classes this fall appearing less likely every day, schools across Massachusetts should draw lessons from successes like St. Joseph Prep and B.C. High. I’m proud to include my own alma mater on the list of Catholic schools that have stepped up during this time. Recently, Reading’s Austin Prep used the resumption of religious services as part of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan […]

Easthampton High Scores A National Educational Victory During The COVID-19 Pandemic

This spring, Massachusetts’ Easthampton High School was crowned national champion in the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” contest. The competition brings together about 1,200 students from across the country to answer civics questions based on America’s Founding Documents including the U.S. Constitution; The Federalist Papers; and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Mass. schools must recommit to knowledge-based curriculum

The Bay State’s leadership role has continued into the current century. Massachusetts made tremendous strides in the years following passage of a landmark 1993 education reform law. But it has been backsliding since 2010, when it adopted weaker English and math standards known as Common Core. To get back on track, Massachusetts must reform its school- and district-level curriculum to emphasize imparting a shared body of background knowledge and social commitment to students in all ZIP codes.

Don’t mess with success of voc-tech high schools

For more than 25 years, Massachusetts vocational-technical high schools have done everything state officials have asked of them. Instead of moving the goal posts by compelling them to switch to a lottery system, we should expand the schools. 

More students, employers need to benefit from voc-tech schools’ winning formula

This op-ed appeared in Commonwealth Magazine and New Bedford Standard Times. A recent visit to Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School demonstrated why career and technical high schools are rightly considered a Massachusetts success story. But it also serves as a reminder that we must not let them become victims of their success. Greater New Bedford Regional Voc-Tech gets most of its 2,139 students from New Bedford, though it also serves Dartmouth and Fairhaven. It can’t keep up with demand, with about 700 students on the wait list. Twice that many students and their parents attend when the school holds an open house. Greater New Bedford Regional Voc-Tech is the most sought-after secondary school in New Bedford, ahead […]

Remarks at 25th Anniversary Event for the Massachusetts Education Reform Act

Massachusetts Education Reform Act co-author and former Senate President Tom Birmingham praised the historic success that has been achieved since the law was enacted in 1993, but expressed concern that the Commonwealth is veering away from basic principles of the law that produced that success at a State House event marking the 25th anniversary of the Education Reform Act.

Lessons for Education Policy Makers

I’ve known E.D. Hirsch for some years, having spoken on the same programs with him on a number of occasions. I have the greatest respect for Professor Hirsch’s work and am happy to consider him a friend. Professor Hirsch is the author of several books including the seminal work Cultural Literacy and most recently, The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools, where he makes the case that a paramount goal of American public education is to produce sentient human beings capable of participating as intelligent citizens in a democracy.

Core Academic Knowledge

Thank you for being here today and caring enough about this important and timely issue. I’m here as the warm up act to the main event; here to introduce Professor E.D. Hirsch and to provide some Massachusetts context to our ongoing discussion about the nature and level of expectations to which we can appropriately hold our public school students.

Has Education Reform Stalled in Massachusetts?

To Pioneer Institute, let me say thanks for hosting what really is a very timely event. Let’s cut right to the chase. The bloom is off the rose of education reform. If by hosting events such as this, you can re-invigorate and re-inject the enthusiasm that heretofore had characterized our efforts to improve our public schools, you will be performing a great public service. So, Pioneer Institute, thank you very much for getting us to focus on this issue.