BOSTON – 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.
Describing the day the bill was signed, Birmingham, now the Distinguished Senior Fellow in Education at Pioneer Institute, said “If you had told me that over 90 percent of our students would pass MCAS and that we would have 13 consecutive years of improvement on SAT scores, or that our students would rank first in the nation in every category on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) between 2005 and 2013, and that they would place at or near the top on gold-standard international math and science tests like Trends in International Math and Science Study, I would have thought you were unrealistically optimistic.”
Birmingham noted that the Education Reform Act also created charter public schools, which he called “the best public schools in America at closing achievement gaps” and urged that charters “be allowed to grow modestly without legislative or regulatory obstruction.”
Despite its complexity, Birmingham said the law could essentially be reduced to two core principles: A massive infusion of state dollars into public schools in return for high standards and accountability from all education stakeholders.
But Birmingham said he is discomforted by recent developments related to both core principles. Regarding funding, he noted that the inflation-adjusted education appropriation is about the same as in 2002. He also expressed concern about growing disparities, citing figures from a recent Boston Globe article that Brockton currently spends about $14,000 per student annually while Weston spends $24,000.
In terms of standards and accountability, Birmingham was troubled by the decision to replace our high-quality academic standards and MCAS tests with inferior Common Core standards and aligned tests known as PARCC. He called MCAS 2.0 “a rebranded version of PARCC” and said he fears that Common Core and the new tests have contributed to Massachusetts being among a minority of states to experience negative growth on NAEP in recent years.
“Why Massachusetts would settle for having the same English, math or science standards and rebranded PARCC tests as do Arkansas and Louisiana, whose students could not possibly meet Massachusetts performance levels is puzzling to me,” Birmingham said.
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.