What’s next for ed reform?
Massachusetts’ landmark Education Reform Act of 1993 – the gold standard for America’s standards movement – was driven most effectively by a group of business leaders concerned about the quality of the workforce. From that push came uniform curriculum standards, MCAS tests, charter schools and both good and bad consequences, the good being Massachusetts’ top ranking among states on the “nation’s report card” – the National Assessment of Education Progress. No Child Left Behind, the Race to the Top and the Common Core standards followed.
Now a group of business leaders focused on education is at it again.
The Mass. Business Alliance for Education released a poll of employers, finding that 69 percent have difficulty finding employees with appropriate skills, and a report that found the progress of Bay State students had stalled, causing them to fall behind their peers in many other countries. From the press release:
Recent standardized test results suggest that the state’s rate of improvement has slowed and in some cases stalled; the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) results indicate that Massachusetts’ performance in 4th grade reading has actually slipped backwards in the last two years. The 10-year improvement trends in NAEP between 2003 and 2013 show Massachusetts in the middle, not the front, of the pack in the U.S.
International comparisons from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that Massachusetts is a long way behind the world’s top performing systems. Meanwhile, other nations, including Poland and Germany are making faster progress and could surpass Massachusetts in the coming years.
I haven’t studied the full report yet (you can find it here), but its main recommendations seem to move us beyond the tired debate over standardized tests:
· Giving autonomy, including budget and staffing authority, to schools and school leaders including the flexibility to choose among school models that best meet student needs, eliminating the need for a charter school cap and encouraging innovation;
· Initiating a district redesign competition that will lead to new models of district operation fit for the 21st century and consistent with growing school autonomy.
· Developing and adopting new models of schooling that are student-centered and personalized: where students can learn anytime, anywhere; where teaching is more tailored to student needs and aspirations; where students play a more active role in their own learning; and where they move ahead once they master relevant knowledge and skills.
· Establishing a state-wide network to provide opportunities to enable gifted and talented students, whatever their background, to excel in a wide range of fields.
· Focusing on the importance of teachers through aggressive recruitment, intense in-classroom training, higher standards for licensure and re-evaluation of tenure, new career ladders that support master teachers and a more systematic approach to identifying, developing and deploying strong principals.
· Incentivizing the rapid development and application of innovative technologies that close the gap between what students are taught and what they need to know and do in the 21st century with an Accelerated Learning Challenge, bringing together educators, the State’s growing education technology innovators and venture capitalists to develop new pedagogical tools.
· Investing in high-quality universal pre-K education and expanding extended learning time with longer days and years, especially in low-income communities.
· Prioritizing implementation of new assessments of college and career readiness.
Meanwhile, on Beacon Hill, the leaders of the education committee – Alice Peisch and Sonia Chang-Diaz – have extended until Wednesday their deadline to report out a new education reform bill, but it appears they are stuck, yet again, on charter schools and funding formulas.