Countdown to World Class Schools

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on

The next two years are going to see the roughest state and local budgets in memory. While we have to balance the books, I am hoping that whoever is governor from 2011 will understand that there is a lot we can do even in a tight fiscal environment to pick up the pace in our schools.

For 12 days, I’ll lay out actions that are possible even in a time of constrained budgets. One set of actions each day. Consider it something of a countdown, a Countdown to World-Class Schools, that will summarize what could–no, what should–be the agenda for the incoming governor.

A Little Background
Enactment and partial implementation of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA) have improved our K-12 schools in a way few imagined. Our students outperform the rest of the nation, and the 2007 Trends in International Math and Science (TIMSS) showed the Commonwealth outperforming most of its global competitors.

Back in 1992, we couldn’t say that. Then, Massachusetts’ 4th and 8th graders were 9th or 10th in the nation National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams of math and English performance. By 2005 we ran the table on the NAEP tests, and then repeated the achievement in 2007 and 2009. Looking at the SATs, from the 1970s to 1992, Massachusetts SAT scores had lagged. From 1993 to 2008, our improvement has been significant, even as student participation on the SAT in the Bay State is double the national average.

No other state has demonstrated the remarkable improvement seen in Massachusetts. But this is no time to be complacent or to celebrate. Standing still carries risks — risks that progress to date will be reined in and attacked by those who want to go back to the past.

12 actions that could change the lives of the million K-12 students in Massachusetts: For Under $50 million

While, in January, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation that will over a number of years double the number of K-12 students in public charter schools, there’s been a lot of work to undo the reforms that have gotten us here. The state’s accountability office was defunded in 2007. Multi-billion dollar proposals from the Patrick administration had no basis in empirical data; with ideas like free community college for all, one had the sense that shoot-from-the-hip policymaking or, horrors!, politics had trumped data-driven reform. The administration tried to slide in a soft skills approach to academics and lessen the focus on content. Today our nation-leading standards (and with them our high-stakes testing system) are at risk. Teacher testing will follow.

Then, there’s the fact that while Massachusetts has maintained its national leadership in overall student achievement on the national assessments (URL NAEP), student performance has flattened since 2007. Some other states are improving faster—e.g., Florida’s Hispanic students are gaining on national assessments fast than ours are. We need to be ready to build on our success but also learn from others, when there is data to back up their actions.

A Reform a Day for 12 Days: Reforms that Can Be Done Even in a Budget Crisis

So, yes, lots of challenges ahead, but that is the point of this series. Every day for 12 days, I’ll be describing actions that could change the lives of the million K-12 students in Massachusetts. Twelve very practical actions that can be done now — even in the current tight fiscal box we have to live in. Twelve actions that will raise academic student achievement across the state, in key subjects like math and science, and for racial and educational subgroups.

Crossposted at’s Rock the Schoolhouse blog.