In 1993, a head-clearing decision by the state’s highest court set the stage for the Massachusetts Education Reform Act. In McDuffy v. Secretary of Education, the Supreme Judicial Court declared that Massachusetts had failed in its constitutional duty to provide an adequate public education for all children, rich and poor, in every city and town in the state. The court based its decision on the wide disparities in educational opportunities available in the state’s richest and poorest communities.
The McDuffy decision kick-started the 1993 education law that is credited with helping Massachusetts students attain the highest scores in the country in mathematics and reading. Our students also score among the best in the world on international math and science tests.
Education Reform resulted in several positive changes, including establishing curriculum frameworks and a foundation budget intended to ensure adequate and equitable funding. It also led to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and a requirement that new teachers pass licensure exams to prove they have the knowledge and skills needed to teach in their disciplines.
Last year, Massachusetts appropriately earned a waiver from the Adequate Yearly Progress requirement of the No Child Left Behind law because it was already implementing accountability and support systems for districts and evaluation standards for educators. The Massachusetts Teachers Association played a key role in developing those standards to help ensure the highest-quality learning conditions for students, along with good working conditions for teachers and staff.
Yes, overall our students do well. But as we move forward in preparing students for life in the 21stcentury, our progress as a Commonwealth should increasingly be measured with an eye toward narrowing the large and stubborn achievement gap that persists among students, especially in the state’s Gateway Cities. In 2012, Massachusetts’ overall state graduation rate was 85 percent, but African-American and low-income students trailed by more than 10 percentage points – with rates of 73 percent and 72 percent respectively. The rate for Hispanic students was 66 percent.
In December, the VIVA MTA Teachers Idea Exchange published a study, “Addressing Education Inequities: Proposals for Narrowing the Achievement Gaps in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities,” that outlined policy recommendations proposed by classroom teachers. The report concluded that change is possible with collaboration, shared professional development and additional funding.
Governor Deval Patrick has been a champion on the funding front, especially in protecting resources for preK-12 public schools and in his proposals for significant additions to public higher education and early childhood education budgets. But some in our Legislature balk at raising the revenues needed to invest, even though positive future returns are certain.
At this writing, a conference committee of House and Senate members is working out a budget for fiscal 2014 to send to the governor. One proposal
would set up a Foundation Budget Review Commission to analyze funding resources. The foundation budget, intended to enable students to meet state standards as embodied in curriculum frameworks, has not been updated in any meaningful way since it was developed more than 20 years ago. This commission needs to be approved.
Public colleges and universities need more funding to help prevent tuition and fee increases during a still-vulnerable time for the economy, and scholarship support should be raised to help our students pursue higher education without taking on decades of debt.
In 1993, Massachusetts education officials looked forward to a day when all students would be educated in schools that receive adequate funding. If we put our minds and our resources together and continue to wrestle with the tough issues we face today, we will realize the vision that was put in place when Education Reform was adopted.