An education in history

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On Monday, a Globe editorial noted that

THE STATE’S new education reform law has been, by some measures, a highly utilized weapon. Turnaround efforts for the lowest-performing schools are proceeding apace, and the charter school community has responded eagerly to the challenge of expansion. But not every provision of the new law, approved in January of last year, has been fully utilized: Hopes that innovative school-transformation plans would bubble up from the community level have yet to be realized.

The 35 Turnaround efforts and the robust response from charter school operators have, in fact, led to big steps forward, even though success is by no means assured. Turnaround efforts around the country have had disappointingly low rates of success. And charter schools still need to identify, lease or buy, and modify spaces and ramp up the recruitment of talented teachers.

The Globe editorial gave a straightforward appraisal of the less than inspiring level of interest in so-called “innovation” schools included in the 2010 education law.

[O]nly a few such schools are up and running. Preliminary plans for another 28 such schools have been put forward, but more than a third lack support from local teachers unions, which could jeopardize the faculty approval required under the law. That effort has lagged noticeably in many of the state’s larger cities, where the uncertainty in the process may be deterring administrators from even trying.

Paul Reville, Massachusetts Education Secretary, did not appreciate the rather unexcited response from the Globe‘s editorial staff:

[Y]ou underestimate the Commonwealth’s first- year progress, especially when judged by the standards of Massachusetts charter schools, cousins of the new, in-district innovation schools.

Once created by law, it took two years for the first charter school to operate in Massachusetts. By comparison, two innovation schools opened within nine months of Governor Patrick’s authorization of the new law, and an additional 28 innovation schools have been proposed in less than a year and a half of the law’s existence.

The fact that this volume of activity is both historically substantial and yet just scrapes the surface of what the law is capable of demonstrates the awesome statewide potential of the innovation school model. A more accurate evaluation of year one would say, “Good start for innovation, but don’t let up.’’

Hmm. That strikes me as revisionist history. As a friend noted about the record of interest in charters schools subsequent to the passage of the state’s landmark 1993 Education Reform Act:

The law was signed in June 18, 1993. By March 1994, some 20+ charter school proposals were given tentative approval by the Secretary of Education in order to have the authority to enter into leases, make contracts, etc. for the opening of the new schools. When then-chairman of the Board Marty Kaplan was invited to the press event announcing the preliminary approval, he asked, “why are you moving so fast?”

So, there was lots of charter ferment in year one. But there’s more.

However, they could not open until the fall of 1995 under a provision of the Education Reform Act. Section 104 of Chapter 71 of the Acts of 1993 was added by the education constituencies as they were terrified by the approach of these schools – and argued that they needed time to become more competitive.

So here’s a little riddle on historical substance: If, as he so often underscores, Secretary Reville was an author of the Education Reform Act, how is it that an author of the Act does not know about this provision?

Seems the Secretary’s history is riddled with holes. If the administration stopped putting off implementation of the US History MCAS test, perhaps the Secretary’s grasp of such matters might improve…